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]

On Giving a Shit

Peter Smith, Between Two Stools: Scatology and its Representations in English Literature, Chaucer to Swift

reviewed by Christina Black

‘Celia, Celia, Celia, Shits!’ So goes Jonathan Swift in one of the most infamous lines in all of English poetry – the last word often blotted out with a demure dash to preserve the reader’s sensibilities. Happily, however, there exists another type of reader who remains just as interested in ‘shiterature’ as Swift and his literary predecessors were. Peter Smith is this reader, and his book, Between Two Stools: Scatology and its Representations in English Literature, Chaucer to... [read more]

House-training the Id

Marina Warner, Once Upon a Time: A Short History of Fairy Tale

reviewed by Helen Tyson

Once upon a time, my mother took a school friend and me to a theatre production of Grimm’s fairy tales. I don’t remember much about the performance, but seared into my mind is one vivid scene: one of the ugly sisters, cloaked, hunched, sinister, and very ugly, reaches across and plucks out the other sister’s eye, a trail of bloody tendons spewing out like a rainbow in its wake. My seven-year-old self, more familiar with the 1950 Walt Disney Cinderella, with its friendly cooing birds,... [read more]
 

'It’s a funny country...'

Charles Ferrall & Dougal McNeill, Writing the 1926 General Strike: Literature, Culture, Politics

reviewed by David Renton

The General Strike of 1926 has entered collective memory as a decisive moment in British industrial history. It was the the turning point when the two great strike waves which sit on either side of the first world war came to an end. After periods of ruling-class concession and then hostility it was the occasion when it became clear that there was not going to be a British counterpart to the Russian Revolution of 1917. All this history is often summarised in the one fact that everyone knows... [read more]

A Special Kind of Wealth

Zoe Williams, Get it Together: Why We Deserve Better Politics

reviewed by Elliot Murphy

With the recent election of a new Tory majority government, it is timely to consider Guardian columnist Zoe Williams’s urgent assessment of the central problems of British politics. Get it Together: Why We Deserve Better Politics reverses the common Tory mantra of ‘individual responsibility’ by insisting that if someone is in full employment and suffers from a lack of food and warmth, then the fault lies not with them, but with the structure of their utilities provider and food supply.... [read more]
 

The Dancing Narcissus

Karl Ove Knausgaard, Dancing in the Dark: My Struggle Vol. 4

reviewed by Hilary Ilkay

Meeting Karl Ove Knausgaard at the Edinburgh Book Festival last August was both a thrilling and terrifying experience. After binge-reading the first three instalments of My Struggle, I felt intimately connected to the narrating Knausgaard, who leaves no introspective stone unturned, but I had no idea what I would say when confronted with the grizzled, bearded Norwegian himself. Knausgaard lays bare the figures in his life, both transient and lasting, with as much candour as he does himself, and... [read more]

So Just How Fucked Are We?

Danny Dorling, Inequality and the 1%

reviewed by Luke Davies

According to Professor Danny Dorling, Halford Mackinder Professor of Geography at the University of Oxford: pretty fucked. Inequality and the 1% is more of a statistical overview than a polemic. Published towards the end of last year, now seems like a good time to remind ourselves of its existence. Because it’s devastating. And because it’s full of sober, irrefutable data analysis – it is a product of research, with 50 pages of footnotes. In other words, not the kind of public school... [read more]
 

We Need to Talk About Bifo

Franco 'Bifo' Berardi, Heroes: Mass Murder and Suicide

reviewed by Robert Barry

I have been getting worried about Franco Berardi. He seems upset. Should someone be checking up on him? From the evidence of his latest book for Verso, Heroes, the Italian writer and activist, known as Bifo, is in the midst of one god-awful funk: obsessing over catastrophe, spending all his time reading dubious websites composed of mass-murderers’ manifestos, seemingly incapable of finding enjoyment in any other form of media. ‘Why,’ he asks repeatedly throughout the text, ‘did I write... [read more]

The Question of Power

Victor Serge, trans. Mitchell Abidor, Anarchists Never Surrender: Essays, Polemics, and Correspondence on Anarchism, 1908–1938

reviewed by Ian Birchall

Victor Serge was witness to some of the most momentous events of the first half of the 20th century. He was an anarchist in Brussels and Paris, then, after a spell in jail, went to post-Revolutionary Russia. He supported the Revolution loyally for some years, then opposed the rise of Stalin, returned to the West and ended up in Mexico, escaping the Nazi occupation of France. Best known for his Memoirs of a Revolutionary (1951) and novels such as The Case of Comrade Tulayev (1967), he was also a... [read more]
 

‘An infinite degradation of everything’

Eric Hazan and Kamo, First Measures of the Coming Insurrection

reviewed by Stephen Lee Naish

If the proposed revolution in First Measures of the Coming Insurrection is successful then future generations will recall right-wing commentator and television host Glenn Beck unwittingly promoting the subversive literature that brought about the revolt. In 2014, Beck drew conclusions to mankind's downfall via the nihilistic content of a little-known philosophy book by Eugene Thacker entitled In the Dust of This Planet (2011), the popular TV show True Detective (the show’s writer Nic... [read more]

Against Foukant

Maurizio Ferraris, trans. Sarah De Sanctis, Introduction to New Realism

reviewed by Paul Ennis

Introduction to New Realism is an interesting text for a number of reasons. It is a short, but fruitful introduction into the English-speaking world of the Italian philosopher Maurizio Ferraris. Ferraris is a proponent of the philosophical position of new realism. What makes his thinking distinct is that Ferraris emerged as a thinker from a postmodern culture wherein antirealism was long considered the default position. The book is structured as follows: it begins with a detailed Foreword by... [read more]