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]

Cognitive Mapping

Alberto Toscano & Jeff Kinkle, Cartographies of the Absolute

reviewed by Alex Fletcher

In a world abounding with mapping devices of various kinds (from SatNavs to GoogleMaps and GIS) there is nonetheless a surfeit of social, political and economic disorientation. Visual art and literature (as well cinema and television) often explore cartographic forms as a means for manufacturing a fragile compass for orienting the increasingly complex spatial and social relations of contemporary global capitalism. Yet such cartographic prominence, as Alberto Toscano & Jeff Kinkle highlight in... [read more]

The Prophet Reassessed

Paul Le Blanc, Leon Trotsky

reviewed by Ian Birchall

One of the most remarkable figures of the Russian Revolution was Leon Trotsky, a brilliant writer – as a young man his nickname was ‘The Pen’ – a great orator, addressing crowds of thousands, and a formidable organiser, building the Red Army during a ruthless civil war. But by 1928 Trotsky was forced into travelling from one place of exile to the next and was eventually murdered on Stalin’s orders, being denounced as a ‘faithful servant’ of fascism. Paul Le Blanc’s short... [read more]
 

Reality Hunger

Chris Killen, In Real Life

reviewed by James Pulford

Behind the bluster and the speculative sightings of literature’s own four horsemen, the suggestion that the internet could be the death of the novel – an idea seriously entertained by some – is underpinned by an interesting question: how do novelists writing today acknowledge the presence of the internet and digital media in their fiction? Much has been made of the power of social media in particular and its influence on human behaviour and relationships, and fiction writers, always keen... [read more]

The Rotating Bed

Paul B. Preciado, Pornotopia: An Essay on Playboy’s Architecture & Biopolitics

reviewed by Jane Cleasby

Those coming to Paul B. Preciado’s Pornotopia: An Essay on Playboy’s Architecture & Biopolitics having read the genre-splitting, sexually graphic critical memoir that was 2013’s Testo Junkie may be surprised at the former’s comparable conventionality. Save for the preface and the postscript, Preciado is barely visible in the pages of Pornotopia, and readers may be disappointed to find his writing in a much more traditionally academic style. This is likely due to the book’s genesis as... [read more]
 

Using Buildings as Cyphers

Sharon Rotbard, White City, Black City: Architecture and War in Tel Aviv and Jaffa

reviewed by Alison Hugill

In his essay ‘On the Concept of History’, Walter Benjamin writes - quoting the Austrian dramatist Hugo Hofmannsthal - that the true historian must ‘read what was never written.’ Echoing this sentiment, and taking up the task, Sharon Rotbard remarks that ‘…the most interesting chapters in Tel Aviv’s account of itself are, without doubt, the ones that have been left out.’ From this conceptual starting point, he aims to lay bare the myth of Tel Aviv’s architectural history,... [read more]

The Question of Age

Robert Pogue Harrison, Juvenescence: A Cultural History of Our Age

reviewed by Peter Marshall

In the preface to his new book, Juvenescence: A Cultural History of Our Age, Robert Harrison states that the question his book intends to examine, ‘How old are we?’ specifically refers to the ‘we’ of post-war America, and sets readers up for what we can assume will be a cultural critique by way of a philosophic and historic reflection on the phenomenon of age. There are plenty of instances when one should trust the work more than the author, and this is one. Though Juvenescence is... [read more]
 

Intoxicology

Johann Hari, Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs

reviewed by Stuart Walton

'Of the making of books about drugs these days, there seems no end,' said Nicholas Lezard in the Guardian, opening a review of my own contribution to the field 14 years ago. And nor should there be. While the amorphous terminology never changes, drugs – by which we might mean the entire field of intoxication practices, licit and illicit – go on multiplying as fast as freelance laboratories can alter their molecular structures to produce new compounds. Meanwhile, the ancestral substances... [read more]

Moonbeams on Her Brow

Daisy Hay, Mr & Mrs Disraeli: A Strange Romance

reviewed by Polly Bull

In 1868, Mary Anne Disraeli was awarded a peerage by Queen Victoria. With the new title of Viscountess Beaconsfield, she became a darling of the English public. Newspapers sang her praises, calling her the ‘First Rose of England’ and claiming that the Queen had never done ‘a more popular act’. Mary Anne was seen as the ideal wife of a great man: the outgoing Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli. The new title not only recognised her own virtue, but that of a husband who had asked the Queen... [read more]
 

Rival Dealer

Alexander R. Galloway, Laruelle: Against the Digital

reviewed by Dominic Fox

Philosophy promises something. Students of philosophy are enticed by this promise; amateur philosophers keep the flame alive. Professional philosophers are in a sense professional promisers, makers and curators of philosophical promises. No matter how skeptical or reticent they may be, how epistemically humble or ontologically parsimonious, they maintain the promissory structure of philosophy. One day, but not yet – not yet, but soon – philosophy will deliver on its promise. The... [read more]

Forever Love

Sam Riviere, Kim Kardashian's Marriage

reviewed by Frith Taylor

'When did poems start having to fuck with people constantly?' Sam Riviere, 2014. With Kim Kardashian's Marriage, Sam Riviere continues many of the themes of his earlier collections, 81 Austerities (2012) and Standard Twin Fantasy (2014). An uncompromising examination of contemporary life, this collection explores ideas of celebrity, artifice, performance and voyeurism, with the humour and irreverence that has become characteristic of Riviere's poetry. Charting Kim Kardashian's 72-day... [read more]