Death and Life in Knausgaard

by Andy Merrifield

The search for answers became Knausgaard’s quest for self-clarification, his attempt to find wholeness again – or perhaps to find wholeness for the first time. It was a literary quest as much as anything else: how to find the right words to represent a life, prompted by a sudden insight into death. Writing wasn’t and still isn’t cathartic for Knausgaard; he insists on that. It is torture, a twisted medium that buys time, that somehow offsets death. My Struggle became Knausgaard’s personal struggle, his trial, perhaps even The Trial. Only here K. is Knausgaard himself, and The Trial in question is one in which Knausgaard – let’s henceforth call him K. – is both judge and jury. The case that follows is to prove his own innocence – or guilt. In My Struggle, K. accuses himself. [read full essay]

Press Management and the Spin Principle

Paul Brighton, Original Spin: Downing Street and the Press in Victorian Britain

reviewed by Elliot Murphy

While its title may not be entirely accurate – given that its chronological span also encompasses a considerable chunk of the late Georgian period and the reign of William IV – Paul Brighton’s Original Spin: Downing Street and the Press in Victorian Britain is a perceptive and comprehensive account of how successive British prime ministers from Pitt the Younger to Rosebery dealt with the numerous problems and possibilities the emerging print media presented. As the three major Reform Acts... [read more]

'Mortality Will Be Sexy'

Dodie Bellamy, When the Sick Rule the World

reviewed by Jean-Thomas Tremblay

In the essay ‘In the Shadow of Twitter Towers,’ from her recent collection When the Sick Rule the World, Dodie Bellamy writes: ‘This piece has 117,002 characters. That’s 836 tweets. Some students—even in graduate writing programs—make each sentence a new paragraph. It’s like they don’t know how to connect one thing to another. Perhaps these one sentence paragraphs best reflect our current reality—a series of discrete bits—better than my horse and buggy paragraphs that trot... [read more]

Pap and Pralines

Terry Eagleton, Hope Without Optimism

reviewed by Stuart Walton

One of the central dilemmas of late modern experience has been the question of how it may be possible to retain hope in the face of widespread catastrophe. To go on whistling in the dark after the mounting evidence of atrocity is the demeanour of the unhinged, but to surrender to nihilistic fatalism, in the sense of believing in nothing other than fate, only comforts catastrophe's perpetrators. If disillusioned consciousness refuses to be pacified with Pope's suggestion that hope springs... [read more]

A Responsibility Towards Reality

Wolfgang Hilbig, trans. Isabel Fargo Cole, ‘I’

reviewed by Tristan Foster

He has two antagonists; the first presses him from behind, from the origin. The second blocks the road ahead. He gives battle to both. To be sure, the first supports him in his fight with the second, for he wants to push him forward, and in the same way the second supports him in his fight with the first, since he drives him back. But it is only theoretically so. For it is not only the two antagonists who are there, but he himself as well, and who really knows his intentions? His dream, though,... [read more]

In Place of Change

Fredric Jameson, The Ancients and the Postmoderns: On the Historicity of Forms

reviewed by John O'Meara Dunn

Modernism is the moment when resistance embodies revolution. This line can be towed more or less cleanly through Fredric Jameson’s The Ancients and the Postmoderns: On the Historicity of Forms. This work bookends 2013’s The Antinomies of Realism and continues Jameson’s wider six-volume project, ‘The Poetics of Social Forms’ and that series’ exploration of the ways in which history and art inform each other’s inscription. Carried through from his last work is the concept of two... [read more]

Stuff and Things

William Viney, Waste: A Philosophy of Things

reviewed by Jeffrey Petts

How much philosophy is there in a story about shoes? It's a feature of using things, for humans, that it involves more than just a mere description of functioning. Will Viney introduces his account of ‘things’ with stories related to his everyday life, describing the ‘use-time’ (as he calls it) of his running and walking shoes, ‘putting out the rubbish and jogging.’ Then there is ‘waste-time’ too; worn-out or forgotten, not in another ‘space’ but ‘outside time’. (Viney... [read more]

Vicarious Autobiography: John Berger’s Portraits in the Past Tense

John Berger, Tom Overton (ed.), Portraits: John Berger on Artists

reviewed by Dominic Jaeckle

Events are always to hand. But the coherence of these events – which is what we mean by reality – is an imaginative construction. […] Reality, however one interprets it, lies beyond a screen of clichés. Every culture produces such a screen, partly to facilitate its own practices (to establish habits) and partly to establish its own power. Reality is inimical to those with power. John Berger, ‘The Production of the World’ To the world of power I was only childishly... [read more]

All Or Nothing

Bernard Porter, British Imperial: What the Empire Wasn’t

reviewed by Jeremy Wikeley

There are a number of strange things about Bernard Porter’s rise to the position of ‘king of the sceptics’ in British imperial history. Take, for instance, the fact that he seems so keen to embrace the title. Porter frames British Imperial: What the Empire Wasn’t as popular history, setting out to challenge a variety of myths and misconceptions about the British Empire’s rise, rule, fall and legacy, but it is difficult not to read British Imperial as a good-natured shot across the... [read more]

April in Arizona: Nabokov’s West

Robert Roper, Nabokov in America: On the Road to Lolita

reviewed by Elsa Court

Vladimir Nabokov enjoyed offering lists of his own personal tastes and dislikes, in fiction, in interviews, and even in private. Admittedly, this habit tested the patience of those who knew him personally, but while the list of his most hated things is entertaining, eclectic and seemingly incidental (‘jazz, [bullfighting], progressive schools, music in supermarkets, swimming pools, brutes, bores’), his personal passions are presented as fewer, more carefully elected and often... [read more]

Rigor Artis

John Banville, The Blue Guitar

reviewed by James Pulford

‘The past beats inside me like a second heart.’ So says Max Morden, the narrator of John Banville’s Booker-winning novel The Sea (2005), in an aside that could have been uttered by almost any of the soul-searching narrators Banville has created in the past 45 years. Banville has, after all, been writing the same kind of literary humanism for most of his career, and The Blue Guitar is certainly no departure. Like Max Morden before him (and other narrators, such as Alexander Cleave in... [read more]