Dissidence, Compromise and Submission in Higher Education Today

by Scarlett Baron

It is risky to teach or conduct research in ways that depart from certain modish formulae. To teach in ways which do not fit the assessment-focused, packaged-learning formats that are currently in vogue is to risk jeopardising one’s own standing within a department, but also, via the National Student Survey, to damage that department in the eyes of the faculty, the school, the university, and of course the media and its league tables. And to carry out research into areas of thought or knowledge that are not currently fashionable (that is, easily convertible into mercantilistic political clichés), is drastically to reduce one’s chances of obtaining external funding, the securing of which is key to the realisation of major scholarly projects. So by and large we muddle on, teaching in ways we hope are worthwhile whilst also (or despite) satisfying fee-paying students; and writing often preposterous research proposals which make promises about ‘impact deliverables and milestones,’ gush about ‘leadership development plans,’ and detail unique ‘project management skills.’ [read full essay]

Look Again, More Carefully

Lydia Davis, Can't and Won't

reviewed by Anna Coatman

‘I was recently denied a writing prize because, they said, I was lazy. What they meant by lazy was that I used too many contractions: for instance I would not write out in full the words cannot or will not, but instead contracted them to can’t and won’t.’ So goes Lydia Davis’ two-sentence story ‘Can’t and Won’t’, from which her latest collection takes its title. On the first read, the piece seems uncomfortably self-effacing. But as soon as the words have sunk in they start... [read more]

Parallel Lives

Brian Unwin, A Tale in Two Cities: Fanny Burney and Adèle, Comtesse de Boigne

reviewed by Stuart Walton

The novelist Fanny Burney was the second daughter of the musicologist Charles Burney. Born in 1752, she had a typical Georgian upbringing, with virtually nothing in the way of an education, muddling her way through in later life to an appetite for literature and the ambition to write. Her father’s connections to the metropolitan theatre world of Drury Lane, where he moved the family after inauspicious beginnings in King’s Lynn, introduced her to the cultural luminaries of Hanoverian London... [read more]

Agamben’s Cat-and-Mouse Game

Jenny Doussan, Time, Language, and Visuality in Agamben’s Philosophy

reviewed by Alex Fletcher

To borrow Foucault’s quip that this century would become known as ‘Deleuzian’, one could argue that the last few years – or decade, perhaps – would in fact be better titled Agambanien. Both celebrated and reviled, Giorgio Agamben’s prominence in contemporary philosophy and political theory cannot be denied. Although often (uncritically) cited in fields such as aesthetics, art theory/history, and visual culture, there is little sustained critical engagement with the philosopher’s... [read more]

Between Discipline and Practice

Warren Carter, Barnaby Haran & Frederic J. Schwartz (eds.), ReNew Marxist Art History

reviewed by Tom Hastings

ReNew Marxist Art History comprises a collection of new essays by scholars at work in the expanded field of Art History. Its title presents the reader with a body of writing and a choice. Either one traces a specific way of thinking about art’s relation to history and criticism from its base in Marx, through the development of a ‘School’ during the Interwar period, to its fragmentation under the energetic promise of the New Left and total subsumption under explosive currents of strong... [read more]

Interpreting Sontag

Jonathan Cott, Susan Sontag: The Complete Rolling Stone Interview

reviewed by Marika Lysandrou

Against being ‘ghettoized’ as a female writer; against demagogic interpretations; against ‘digging’ behind works of art to find their true meaning; against viewing the act of taking a photograph as innocent of its didactic purpose – Susan Sontag certainly expressed formidable ideas in her various critical works. The Complete Rolling Stone Interview, which is a transcription of over three hours’ of conversation between Jonathan Cott, editor of Rolling Stone magazine, and Susan... [read more]

Pushing Labour Leftwards?

Arthur Stanley Newens, In Quest of a Fairer Society: My Life and Politics

reviewed by Ian Birchall

The recent death of Tony Benn prompted the question: what has happened to the Labour left? A similar question is posed by the autobiography of Stan Newens. Newens was a Labour MP from 1964 to 1970, and again from 1974 to 1983; after that he was for fifteen years a Member of the European Parliament. His memoirs, clearly based on detailed notes, record his activities over several decades; to someone like myself, a little younger than Newens and a rank-and-file activist, they provide a fascinating... [read more]

Looking Through the Window

Patrick Keiller, The View From The Train: Cities & Other Landscapes

reviewed by David Anderson

A train is an extraordinary bundle of relations because it is something through which one goes, it is also something by means of which one can go from one point to another, and then it is also something that goes by. Michel Foucault's 1967 sketch of the ‘heterotopia’ identified one of rail travel's peculiar qualities: that mixture of attachment and detachment with the world outside the window. It's not dissimilar from what Michel de Certeau had to say in The Practice of Everyday Life,... [read more]

What Is The State?

Louis Althusser, On the Reproduction of Capitalism: Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses

reviewed by Daniel Whittall

In the quest for the clearest exemplification of Louis Althusser’s conceptualisation of the State, as formulated in On the Reproduction of Capitalism, one could do much worse than to settle on the Mark Duggan case. Duggan, as is now well known, was executed on the streets of London by officers of the Metropolitan Police. The Met, ensured that their public relations operation went into overdrive immediately, putting out a systematic campaign of disinformation. In the immediacy of the event,... [read more]

‘The finest books are those which have the least subject matter’

Michael Sayeau, Against the Event: The Everyday and the Evolution of Modernist Narrative

reviewed by Katie Da Cunha Lewin

Michael Sayeau’s Against the Event: the Everyday and Evolution of Modernist Narrative is an intensive study into the way the event shapes and constructs narrative in the modernist movement. Sayeau blends contextual socio-political details that informs modernism as a whole, with analysis of the structural imperatives he finds in modernist texts to suggest the inextricable relationship between the event in the life of the subject and the event in the scope of society. The introduction... [read more]

What Survives

Morrissey, Autobiography

reviewed by Nicolas Padamsee

The contours of life are not the contours of art: the former coils, the latter arrows. We wend our way forwards with caducuous dreams, stop-start careers and capricious slews, whereas (successful) fictional characters follow a lodestar – their motivations fixed, their attachments delineated, their nadirs and their peaks manifest. For this is what lures us to films and novels: definiteness, the placement of pattern. So. What then of the autobiography? Well, the salient lure is... [read more]