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]

Platonic Dogs

JM Coetzee, The Childhood of Jesus

reviewed by Matthew Ingleby

At one point in JM Coetzee’s new novel, the worried Simón finds ‘the boy’ that is and is not his son watching Mickey Mouse on the telly in the apartment of a rival father-figure, the disreputable Daga. The dog in this fictionalised version of the Disney cartoon we know as Pluto is here renamed ‘Plato’, a funny yet disconcerting switch upon which the laconic narrator characteristically neglects to remark. The slight change of the vowel, which effects the replacement of one improbable... [read more]

Local Constellations

Peter Brooker, Sascha Bru, Andrew Thacker & Christian Weikop (eds.), The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines, Vol. III: Europe, 1880–1940

reviewed by Louis Goddard

One of the first places ever to publish my writing was The Morning News, a venerable online magazine that has been running in various forms since 1999. Before a major redesign in 2011, the site’s About page included an epigraph of sorts, a quote from Woody Allen’s classic 1979 comedy Manhattan: ‘I was going to a do a piece on Sol [LeWitt] for Insight—do you know that magazine? It’s one of those little magazines. I mean, they’re such schmucks up there, really mired in ’30s... [read more]

Optimistic Europhilia

Ulrich Beck, German Europe

reviewed by Jamie Mackay

The title of Ulrich Beck’s latest sociological tract is a raw provocation. At once a diagnosis, a description, a prediction and a challenge, the highly charged image succinctly distils a media zeitgeist debated daily among the plethora of Europe’s increasingly differentiated dinner party sects. It is self-consciously paradoxical, unashamedly emotive and charged with a bluntness that was always going to bring colour to the cheeks of certain light-footed liberal commentators who have... [read more]

Out of Our Minds

Sam Byers, Idiopathy

reviewed by David Anderson

Idiopathy, the debut novel from Sam Byers, is billed as a novel of ‘love, narcissism and ailing cattle', a golden triangle of depth, surface and wit. I wonder if it is really of any of these things, or if it is really a novel about an integral lack, about characters locked into the frameworks of their lives, desperately searching themselves for a subject. The book is worked up from the short story 'Some Other Katherine', originally published by Granta in their Spring issue of 2012. It... [read more]

A Sentimental Streak

George Saunders, Tenth of December

reviewed by Mary Hannity

Readers of George Saunders’ first and most brilliant short story collection, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (Random House, 1996), will be familiar with the strange spectacles of artifice and corporate cultivations of reality that compose his debut version of modern America, in which the approximated and poorly-rehearsed gimmick of the real supplants the real itself. In his most recent work, Tenth of December, only the remnants of this world remain. Less concerned with the miscarriage of good... [read more]

Meta-theory on theory

Fredric Jameson, A Singular Modernity: Essay on the Ontology of the Present

reviewed by Marc Farrant

Fredric Jameson, now 78, is undoubtedly the leading Marxist critic in North America, and has carried this mantle since at least the publication of The Political Unconscious in 1981. Arguably, however, Jameson is most well-known for the publication (originally in essay form) of Postmodernism: Or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (Duke University Press, 1991). Jameson's theorisation of postmodernism as the lived experience of late capitalism - of the time of a ‘perpetual present’ - has... [read more]

Having and Being Judith Butler

Judith Butler & Athena Athanasiou, Dispossession: The Performative in the Political

reviewed by Sarah Keenan

I had high hopes for this book. Iconic critical theorist and public intellectual Judith Butler teaming up with exciting young feminist theorist Athena Athanasiou to work towards an understanding of dispossession beyond the logic of possession. That is, to seek an understanding of, and take a normative stance in relation to urgent political issues of dispossession (such as forced migration, homelessness, foreclosures, and extreme disparities in wealth) without resorting to an argument that... [read more]

‘A man of heart, goodness and sensitivity’

Julian Barnes, Through the Window: Seventeen essays (and one short story)

reviewed by Alexis Forss

Julian Barnes may bristle at the attempt at maxim-coining, as he does at those of Connolly, Wilde, and La Rochefoucauld, but the attempt shall be made nonetheless: an author finding himself in possession of the Booker Prize shall also find himself in possession of a soapbox. That this soapbox may be experienced as more of a station of the cross than a venerated pulpit is borne out by the recent example of double-winner Hilary Mantel, whose comments on the Duchess of Cambridge were subtle and... [read more]

Our Interior Worlds

Deborah Levy, Black Vodka

reviewed by Sara D'Arcy

Following her recent success as an independently published Man Booker Prize 2012 shortlistee, Deborah Levy’s latest literary gem is a beguiling collection of short stories, Black Vodka. Like its predecessor, Swimming Home (And Other Stories, 2011), this slim volume of ten short stories is a testament to Levy’s power of subversion; complex motifs bubble disturbingly beneath seemingly conventional storylines. The collection explores the themes of love, depression and estrangement in... [read more]

The Grim Dance

Gregory Sholette and Oliver Ressler (eds.), It’s The Political Economy, Stupid: The Global Financial Crisis in Art and Theory

reviewed by Pascal Porcheron

It’s the Political Economy, Stupid is both a book and a series of artist-curated exhibitions intended as a response to the various crises that have engulfed the world’s economies, leading to one of the deepest, longest recessions in living memory. It is designed, as the book’s editors put it, to be ‘an object lesson in backtalk, of impertinence objectified’. Of course ‘impertinence objectified’ might easily be read as ‘stylised protest’, a fate made poignant by the book’s... [read more]