'Virginia Woolf: Life, Art, Vision' at the National Portrait Gallery is a assemblage of portraits, each one a moment captured, defined; but together, they form a diverse arena of images, collectively communicating the partiality of any single attempt to represent their subject. The exhibition as a whole forms a portrait, but an anti-authoritative one, built out of fragments and glimpses which represent their subject as multiple, fractured, mutable. [read full essay]
Eldritch Priest, Boring Formless Nonsense: Experimental Music and the Aesthetics of Failure
reviewed by Andrew Key
On page 221 of Eldritch Priest’s Boring Formless Nonsense, a study of post-avant-garde aesthetics in the context of experimental composition, there is a quotation attributed to the multi-use artistic pseudonym (those familiar with the radical Italian author-collectives Luther Blissett/Wu Ming will recognise this concept) Karen Eliot:
I write fictions, what others might call little ‘reality machines,’ about music that I have not in fact written or listened to.
Following the... [read more]
Valeria Luiselli, trans. Christina McSweeney, Sidewalks
reviewed by Ben Millson
Not quite a book about walking, not quite a book about writing, Sidewalks is a collection of essays about living as a free-thinking individual in a world of cities bridged by technology. In a little over one hundred pages the peripatetic Luiselli covers Mexico City, Venice and New York - amongst others - with a quick eye and a scholar’s heart. She is a keen excavator and expositor; the history of places, people, words and ideas are deftly woven together in brief tapestries of a life lived... [read more]
Florian Illies' 1913 is a highly original cultural portrait of the West as it stood in the year before the Great War. Originally published last year in Illies’ native Germany, where it quickly achieved bestseller status, it is a month-by-month account of the year that critic Jean-Michel Rabaté terms ‘the cradle of modernism’. For the most part Illies, a journalist and art critic, focuses his attention on German-speaking central Europe and on Vienna in particular, that ‘capital of the... [read more]
Adelle Waldman’s debut novel, The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P., tells the story of Nate Piven, a determinedly 'literary type' living the yuppie lifestyle in modern day Brooklyn. Waldman guides the reader through the best part of a year in this writer’s consciousness, where we are helpless observers to the romantic detritus accumulated around the literary scene of New York.
If you care little for literature and the literary, then the carousel of social engagements that Waldman narrates... [read more]
Michael Calvin, The Nowhere Men: The Unknown Story of Football’s True Talent Spotters
reviewed by Joe Kennedy
When I was much younger, my brother and I would occasionally find ourselves kicking a ball around together on a beach, in a park, or down by the river. From time to time, we’d spot someone in the distance who had paused to watch our improvised game. Inevitably, the question was asked: ‘Do you reckon he’s a scout?’ Soon, the figure would turn and walk on, leaving us to our speculations.
The scout had legendary status amongst young football players until relatively recently. He was a... [read more]
When Alain Badiou asks, in a previously unpublished text of 2002, collected in this chronologically arranged compilation of his writings on film, 'May I be permitted to say, simply, lamely, that cinema combines stories, performances, places, sounds, and colours?', one hopes the question is rhetorical. If not, the temptation is to respond by saying, simply, bluntly, 'No, you'll have to do better than that'.
Badiou's late thought has been characterised by its retreat towards an increasingly... [read more]
It took until the end of the ‘Phoney War’ for the British to really act on the fear that German, Austrian and Italian migrants might rise up to augment a potential invasion, forming an insidious ‘fifth column’ of hostile forces. Up until 1940, only 486 ‘aliens’ had been interned, but as the prospect of German advance loomed ever greater, pressure from the right-wing press coalesced with growing nationalist sentiment, and was enriched by the voices of figures like Nevile Bland (who... [read more]
What are the true edges, the outer limits, of a book? Of this particular book, with its ‘fully interactive paperback jacket’ (‘download the free Blippar app...’), ‘also available in a beautiful limited-edition hardback, an e-book or audio-digital download’? Where does it start, where does it begin? This is the kind of question to send us scurrying for the succour of literalism, but that will not do for this book, which is about how these questions are more mysterious to us now than... [read more]
Stephen Mulhall, The Self and its Shadows: A Book of Essays on Individuality as Negation in Philosophy and the Arts
reviewed by Josh Dickson
Stephen Mulhall’s The Self and its Shadows continues the intellectual project that formed in Mulhall’s previous monograph, The Wounded Animal: JM Coetzee and the Difficulty of Reality (Princeton University Press, 2008). In that study, Mulhall is primarily concerned with elucidating JM Coetzee’s novel Elizabeth Costello (Secker and Warburg, 2003) and discussing its eponymous protagonist, a fictional novelist who spends the entirety of the text giving lectures on issues of moral and... [read more]
Curtis White, The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers
reviewed by Joel White
In a recent article written in the wake of Margaret Thatcher’s death, Slavoj Žižek lists some of the key characteristics that determined both the success and the danger of Thatcher’s political stance. The most prominent of these characteristics can be summarised by a rather entertaining response that Thatcher once gave when posed the question: ‘What was your greatest political achievement?’ After pausing to think, she simply replied: ‘New Labour.’
The politico-philosophical... [read more]