Perspectives on the UK General Election

by Elliot Murphy

The success of the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens is strong evidence that building left alternatives is much more effective when done outside of Labour, not within it. Efforts to combat climate change may well be, simultaneously, the anti-austerity and anti-establishment driving force that British politics is in dire need of. The two things must surely go hand in hand. If not, then the resulting environmental cataclysm will drown out all the major ideological debates about people vs profit, independence vs unionism and socialism vs neoliberalism, and the only remaining social agenda will be survival. [read full essay]

A Poor Rate of Return

Thomas Piketty, trans. Arthur Goldhammer, Capital in the Twenty-First Century

reviewed by John P. Merrick

In May 1968, graffiti on the walls of Paris held the now famous declaration ‘BE REALISTIC, DEMAND THE IMPOSSIBLE.’ Fast forward nearly 50 years and a new book has taken the English speaking world by storm (written by a ‘Balzac-loving French intellectual,’ as every major newspaper has yet to tire of declaiming), which seems to have taken the opposite route in offering what seem to be rather timid, liberal, and realistic proposals which, it constantly states, are in fact ‘utopian’... [read more]

The Principle of Hope

Mark D. White, The Virtues of Captain America: Modern-Day Lessons from a World War II Superhero

reviewed by Jeffrey Petts

You can’t help but like a man who punched Hitler in the face. That was Captain America, right from the start (Volume 1, No.1, 1941). But two things made it easy for frail, young Steve Rogers to be transformed into the moral saint, ‘Cap’: Professor Reinstein had injected him with superhero serum, and the enemy was Nazism. As thought experiments in ethics go, it doesn’t reveal much, if anything, about human moral character and the problems of choosing the right thing to do. But the Cap... [read more]

The Medium is the Message

Steven Fielding, A State of Play: British Politics on Screen, Stage and Page, from Anthony Trollope to The Thick of It

reviewed by Alexis Forss

The third series of The Thick of It aired late in 2009, as Twitter neared its fourth birthday. Notice how, in the third episode, when Malcolm Tucker broaches the matter of another character’s ‘tweets ... on Twitter’ as the potential source of a leak, it sounds like he’s talking Estonian (earlier in the episode, Nicola Murray also needed to have the microblogging service explained to her). Nearly five years later Tucker’s bemusement threatens to date the show. At the time of writing... [read more]

A Matter of Life and Death

Göran Therborn, The Killing Fields of Inequality

reviewed by Andrew Blackman

Inequality kills. With these two powerful words, Göran Therborn opens his latest contribution to the equality debate. What follows is an avalanche of statistics from all corners of the globe, detailing the ways in which millions of people’s lives are stunted, damaged and prematurely ended by the crushing effects of inequality. To pluck a few from the huge number offered: life expectancy is 46 years longer in Japan than in Sierra Leone; a college-educated 50-year-old white man has 6... [read more]

Stranger Than Fiction

Paul French, North Korea: State of Paranoia

reviewed by Stephen Lee Naish

My Google news feed is often set as to prioritise news stories that emerge from the socialist wasteland that is the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea as we refer to it in the West. The slow trickle of internal news and rumour, that comes sourced via China and South Korea's gossip bloggers, and from more serious academics, can last for months at a time and provoke bursts of laughter at the absurdity of some of the content (a recent example, the discovery of a unicorn... [read more]

Being 'Another Philosopher'

Andrew Benjamin, Working with Walter Benjamin: Recovering a Political Philosophy

reviewed by Joel White

Already in 2000, with the second publication of the co-edited Walter Benjamin’s Philosophy: Destruction and Experience, Peter Osborne wittingly remarks that ‘Benjamin’s prose breeds commentary like vaccine in a lab.’ Despite the incessant and industrial abundance of this commentary, the pile of books still grows. The ‘Benjamin Industry’, as it has aptly been called, shows no sign of halting. The only difference at present is that the commentary of yesterday is now the blotting paper... [read more]

The Last Laugh

Slavoj Zizek, Zizek's Jokes

reviewed by Marc Farrant

The American scholar, Barbara Johnson, once said of the philosopher Jacques Derrida that his writing traces the movement of desire without reaching its fulfilment. In contrast, Slavoj Zizek’s notoriously joke-laden prose fails to even hint at the possibility of seduction, and generally prefers instead to prance out of the dark like a molesting arm, punch you in the genitals and scuttle away. Zizek’s Jokes is overly brimming with examples of these peculiar verbal grope attacks (‘nicely... [read more]

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]