African Modernism

by William Harris

Still, modernism’s ideological vagueness was lent structure by the rise of the welfare state, with big public projects taking up much of its focus. And while the welfare state rose, colonialism fell, leading anxious colonial powers at times to bestow public institutions on colonised populations as gifts of appeasement. Protests shook Ghana after British officials jailed a young Kwame Nkrumah and colonial authorities responded by building more schools; a decade later trade boycotts led to a new community center in Accra. On the eve of independence African states prepared to inherit universities, libraries, housing blocks, garden cities – the patchy and underfunded skeletons of state infrastructure, much of it designed by modernists. [read full essay]

A Debt Beyond All Counting

Garth Greenwell, What Belongs to You

reviewed by Thomas Storey

‘The whole bent of my nature is toward confession,’ admits the unnamed narrator of Garth Greenwell’s What Belongs to You. It is this tendency towards confession that gives this hugely accomplished debut its poignancy and its emotional incisiveness. Greenwell’s novel is an attempt to confess both desire and shame in order to better unravel the interwoven, psychologically destructive force of these conjoined emotions. It is a tale of unrequited love that seeks to document the potentially... [read more]

‘To be a fucking human being’

Adam S. Miller, The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace: Boredom and Addiction in an Age of Distraction

reviewed by Elsa Court

Adam S. Miller’s The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace: Boredom and Addiction in an Age of Distraction is the first book to address religious language and ideas within the work of one of the most celebrated of America’s contemporary novelists. If the book has one precedent, a chapter dedicated to Wallace in Hubert Dreyfus and Sean Dorrance Kelly’s All Things Shining: Reading the Western Classics to Find Meaning in a Secular Age (2011), it makes a strong case against it. Taking... [read more]
 

Wall Street Feminism

Liza Featherstone (ed.), False Choices: The Faux Feminism of Hillary Rodham Clinton

reviewed by Claire Potter

When Hillary Clinton became the first female Democratic Party nominee for President of the United States on June 6 2016, the theme was women’s history. Secretary Clinton traced her political forebears back to Seneca Falls in 1848, giving a special nod to her mother, who was born the day that women’s suffrage became legal. Clinton’s historic victory was not, she said, ‘about one person,’ but for all the people, past and present, who had worked for this victory. But the debate in the... [read more]

To Occupy the Terms

David Herd, Through

reviewed by Dan Barrow

What lies behind the one short and six long poems of David Herd's third collection are the crises that the last decade have precipitated in global migration flows. That is, the vast surge in the numbers of those fleeing civil war, resource conflict and economic collapse to other countries, the increasingly authoritarian and racist character of European and particularly British border regimes, the climate of public xenophobia that increasingly harasses migrants and their descendants, and the... [read more]
 

The Mental Game

David Foster Wallace, String Theory

reviewed by Melanie White

Tennis rarely seems to figure among the best literary sports-writing. Baseball and boxing are two well-covered arenas (Gay Talese on the former, in his profile of Joe DiMaggio, for example, and Norman Mailer’s ground-breaking participatory chronicling of the latter). Hunter S. Thompson’s famously wild, kinetic take on the Kentucky Derby for Rolling Stone revealed at least as much about himself as the actual event, memorably conjuring the frenzied scene in his signature Gonzo style.... [read more]

Cult Figure

David Clark, Victor Grayson: The Man And The Mystery

reviewed by Ian Birchall

‘Nationalisation of land, canals and railways . . . the eight-hour work day . . . universal education and free school meals . . . abolition of the House of Lords.’ One can imagine the sage, moderate journalists and politicians admonishing us that such ‘extreme’ programmes do not win elections. But in the summer of 1907 it was just such a radical programme that launched Victor Grayson (1881 – 1920) on his brief but spectacular career with a by-election victory in the West Yorkshire... [read more]
 

Declaring Allegiance

AO Scott, Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think about Art, Pleasure, Beauty and Truth

reviewed by Daniel Green

In Better Living Through Criticism, AO Scott first of all demonstrates that he is eminently qualified to be the chief film critic of The New York Times. On the basis of what the book reveals about Scott’s breadth of knowledge, interpretive skill, and belief in the importance of criticism, we would be justified in concluding that this own reviews, whether we ultimately agree with them or not, are written from a comprehensive understanding of the history and purpose of criticism and with a... [read more]

Eagleton’s Aesthetic Education

Terry Eagleton, Culture

reviewed by Rafe McGregor

Terry Eagleton is Distinguished Professor in the Department of English & Creative Writing at Lancaster University. He was a student of Raymond Williams at Cambridge and has, according to the publicity information from Yale University Press, published more than one book each year for the last 50 years. He is best known as one of the United Kingdom’s foremost public intellectuals, as a very influential Marxist literary critic, and as the author of Literary Theory: An Introduction (1983), the... [read more]
 

What is the Rent Trap?

Rosie Walker & Samir Jeraj, The Rent Trap: How We Fell into It and How We Get Out of It

reviewed by Tom Gann

In The Housing Question (1872), Friedrich Engels distinguished between the permanent condition of capitalist housing in which ‘the working class generally lives in bad, overcrowded and unhealthy dwellings’ and its periodic conjunctural intensification. In the late 1860s the ‘sudden rush of population to the big towns’ was the spark for the intensification of the crisis, but there are a range of possible factors that can intensify a chronic housing crisis. These intensifications have two... [read more]

Setting the Record Straight

Richard Seymour, Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics

reviewed by Elliot Murphy

Richard Seymour’s latest book, Corbyn: The Strange Rebirth of Radical Politics, is a damning account of some of the most virulent media attacks on Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party. His main intention here is to chart the rise of Corbyn; or rather, the rise of the institutional and popular forces which allowed him to win the Labour leadership campaign so decisively. This is ‘the first time in Labour’s history that it has a radical socialist for a leader.' Corbyn was... [read more]