Sexuality, Repression and the Problem of Evil: Remembering François Mauriac

by Robin Baird-Smith

So who was François Mauriac? He was a French novelist, essayist, public intellectual and later in life a prolific journalist. These days, though his novels are somewhat out of fashion, he still has a strong contingent of admirers. His novels, like those of two other modern Catholic novelists, Muriel Spark and Beryl Bainbridge, were short but exquisite and perfectly formed. Written with beautiful economy and profound psychological depth, they are a brilliant study of the murky depths of the human personality. There was little that was outside his creative range: incest, miserable marriages, sexual ambiguity, religious hypocrisy and the endless capacity of human beings for self-deception. [read full essay]

Grief Like Environmental Disaster

Andrés Neuman, trans. Lorenzo Garcia & Nick Caistor, Talking to Ourselves

reviewed by Matt Lewis

One critique often made of postmodern fiction is that it lacks heart. As if by appealing to the brain and intellect of the reader, the visceral emotions are somehow overlooked; it is one academic making another academic smile wryly over a demitasse of espresso. However flawed or short-sighted that logic may be, the power to move people is, at least in the reviews one finds in the pages of the NYRB, TLS and LRB, an oft-overlooked skill in fiction writing. Well, literary-fiction writing anyway.... [read more]

'Holdfast in wild water'

Jen Hadfield, Byssus

reviewed by Frith Taylor

Jen Hadfield's latest collection, Byssus, takes its name from a mussel's 'beard', the fibres that anchor it to the seabed. As with her previous collections, much of Byssus is principally concerned with Shetland's landscape, although 'nature poetry' is too neat a term to describe it. Gorgeously realised and replete with original, peculiar images, Hadfield creates poems that hint at a kind of Wordsworthian sublime, yet without lapsing into romanticism, and meditations on home that are resolutely... [read more]

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]