Men of Letters: 100 Years of Hugh Trevor-Roper

by Minoo Dinshaw

The Oxford Examination Schools see a lot of action beside their official purpose. Here Christopher Ricks has displayed his agility and Geoffrey Hill his ferocity, during their respective reigns as Professor of Poetry. More recently the admirers of Hugh Trevor-Roper (1914-2003), Lord Dacre of Glanton and onetime Regius Professor of History, gathered here on a chilly January morning a few days before the centenary of his birth. Trevor-Roper’s literary executor, Blair Worden, welcomed the company – enough to fill the South School’s broad expanse – and said he believed ‘Hugh would be pleased, and indeed surprised.’ He also congratulated us on our range of ages. This range was technically rather than visibly wide; the glossy manes of a few young Prize Fellows of All Souls peeked out from the silver sea. [read full essay]

'There’s more past than present here'

Kamila Shamsie, A God in Every Stone

reviewed by Michael Duffy

In Shame, Salman Rushdie refers to the modern state of Pakistan as a palimpsest – an historical document that is barely legible beneath hundreds of years of writing, erasing and rewriting by various colonising forces, visionary leaders and military dictators. Kamila Shamsie provides another look at that palimpsest in A God in Every Stone, a novel that straddles two historical moments as two archaeologists – a master and her apprentice – look for the hidden layers in colonial Peshawar and... [read more]

Writing, Not Lack

Emma L. Rees, The Vagina: A Literary and Cultural History

reviewed by Jane Cleasby

It is virtually impossible to begin reading Emma L. Rees’ The Vagina: A Literary and Cultural History without the spectre of Naomi Wolf’s 2012 publication – Vagina: A New Biography – hovering over it. That Wolf herself offers the primary quote of praise on the back cover of Rees’ book is cause for trepidation. Thankfully, The Vagina offers none of the narcissistic memoir, dressed up in Cosmo-style, essentialist pseudo-science that is peddled by Wolf: the similarities between their two... [read more]

Free To Do the Right Thing

Daphna Erdinast-Vulcan, Between Philosophy and Literature: Bakhtin and the Question of the Subject

reviewed by Andre van Loon

What kind of people would we like to be? And, perhaps more importantly, how should other people, in an ideal world, behave? Such questions can sustain idle gossip as much as high philosophy, both perhaps driven by a feeling that what happens between us is not quite right. There is always a next time, a chance to do better; the other can be more loving, less disappointing. We – and they – can become more virtuous, more understanding. And we do not need a transcendental God, long dead or... [read more]

The Functions of Intelligence

Aaron Lecklider, Inventing the Egghead: The Battle Over Brainpower in American Culture

reviewed by Nick Witham

When I teach a special subject on the American ‘culture wars’ to final-year undergraduates, I make a specific effort to combat the disparaging attitudes they often hold about their counterparts across the Atlantic. As we discuss contemporary US thinking on issues such as abortion, gun control, gay rights and the place of religion in public life, my students often resort to declarations that Americans are ‘stupid’ or ‘crazy’, as if these designations somehow explain the strongly held... [read more]

Something To Cling To

Zoe Pilger, Eat My Heart Out

reviewed by Jessie Burton

You almost worry, reviewing a book like Zoe Pilger’s Eat My Heart Out, that you are going to sound precisely like the critic-wankers satirised within its pages – a confident, ignorant consumer of creative endeavour who would pay £500 for some ‘limited edition dead bees’ collected in a jar, or who’d call a cocktail glass in an art instalment ‘a visual madeleine.’ These people, Pilger suggests, wouldn’t know a good painting or a duff philosophy if it came and hit them round the... [read more]

The Event of the Advent

Mark Currie, The Invention of Deconstruction

reviewed by Niall Gildea

The relationship between deconstruction and historical scholarship is famously and multifariously fraught. On one level, deconstruction remains widely misrecognised as ahistorical in its attitude to language and signification; on another, it remains widely caricatured as methodologically anti-historical in its disclosure of classical metaphysics’ survival in modern epochs; on still another, certain extant historical accounts of deconstruction are often hagiographies of Jacques Derrida, which... [read more]

Always / Never

Eric Schlosser, Command and Control

reviewed by Will Wiles

A Titan II missile silo could kill you in more ways than you might expect. The nervous eye is naturally drawn to what the Titan II carried: a W-53 nuclear warhead with a yield of 9 megatons, ‘about three times the explosive force of of all the bombs dropped during the Second World War, including both atomic bombs.’ But try to forget about that for a moment. Consider instead what the warhead sat atop: a two-stage missile containing, in total, about 100,000 pounds of fuel and 200,000 pounds... [read more]

Inside the Space of the Frame

Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

reviewed by Sarah Emily Duff

The idea that only white men are capable of producing the Great American Novel remains oddly persistent. When Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom was published four years ago, the author appeared on the cover of Time, confidently labelled the Great American Novelist. As many pointed out, other novels by women which appeared at the same time could just as easily be held up as capturing something essential about early 21st-century American life: Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit from the... [read more]

Theatre as Provocation

Alain Badiou, Rhapsody for the Theatre

reviewed by Luke Davies

The central claim of Alain Badiou's 1990 philosophical treatise Rhapsody for the Theatre, reprinted here with additional material, is that 'cultural-political intervention [...] has only one possible destination: the theatre.’  That will sound unlikely to anyone familiar with the dreary and anodyne fare of, for example, mainstream contemporary British theatre, which is mostly either lifestyle porn or pseudo-intellectual fodder. But Badiou isn't talking about the orthodoxy, referred... [read more]

A Banquet of Canapés

Lynne Segal, Out of Time: The Pleasures and the Perils of Ageing

reviewed by Gee Williams

In 1996, Jenny Joseph’s poem ‘Warning’ was voted the most popular post-war poem by BBC viewers and listeners. When I am old I shall wear purple has spoken to at least two more generations since its 1961 birth. It spoke to me once. It said there’s one less thing to worry about then. Reading Segal’s dense literature search on the same subject left me with a strong need to check back with Joseph. (Find her, now eightysomething, reading it on YouTube. I did.) Maybe a fan letter is... [read more]