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]

The ‘Paradise of Cities’

Marie-José Gransard, Venice: A Literary Guide for Travellers

reviewed by Francis O'Gorman

How long does it take to know Venice? Or – is such a thing possible? Here is a city peculiarly hampered by myths. It is supposedly the place of intrigue, sex, decline, decadence, cruelty, and death. It is, certainly, an environment that does not long remain itself. Now, yet again, Venice is in a state of transition. This time the cause, and the symptom, is the decline of the resident population. How is it possible to make a decent living on the lagoon now? Certainly, more bars,... [read more]

Thinking Like a Human Being

Steven Shaviro, Discognition

reviewed by Alfie Bown

My family and I play our own brand of modern day Family Fortunes using a smartphone. In my role as Les Dennis, I Google the start of a phrase and the contestants (my wife, sister and mother) attempt to guess the world’s most popular searches beginning with the combination of words I have chosen. If you type ‘what is it like to…’ into Google, the most popular result is the most predictable: ‘what is it like to fall in love.’ The second result, more popular than ‘what is it like to... [read more]

Putting the World and the Self in Parentheses

Maurice Blanchot, trans. Michael Holland, The World in Ruins: Chronicles of Intellectual Life, 1943

reviewed by Calum Watt

Maurice Blanchot (1907 – 2003) was one of the most remarkable French writers of the 20th century. A reclusive figure much admired and regarded as an authority by Jacques Derrida and Michel Foucault, as well as a close friend of Georges Bataille and Emmanuel Levinas, it is difficult to underestimate Blanchot’s importance for the development of post-war French deconstructive philosophy and, by extension, much of the work being done in the humanities today the world over. In addition to... [read more]

What's In a Name?

Elizabeth Strout, My Name is Lucy Barton

reviewed by Alice Falconer

Her name is Lucy Barton, but who is she? When Lucy’s mother visits her daughter’s New York hospital bed while she recovers from a mysterious illness, she calls Lucy by childhood nicknames: ‘Wizzle,’ ‘Wizzle-dee,’ ‘Lucy Damn-dog Barton.’ Sweet as this may seem, from the opening pages Lucy’s adult sense of identity seems to dissolve in the presence of her past, her family. Strout’s previous, Pulitzer-winning novel, Olive Kitteridge (2008), considered the ways that identity... [read more]

Meaningful Enactment

Charles Taylor, The Language Animal: The Full Shape of the Human Linguistic Capacity

reviewed by Gareth Carrol

In the preface to his book, Charles Taylor describes how he began writing The Language Animal in the late 1980s. His aim was to outline a new theory of the linguistic system, based not on traditional views of the descriptive power of language, but intended to show how language shapes every aspect of our lives and sense of self. Now, some 25 years later, he presents what is still only Part One of his opus. He explains that his intention was to support his theoretical account of the constitution... [read more]

‘Everybody's got dead people’

Samantha Hunt, Mr Splitfoot

reviewed by Jason DeYoung

All stories are ghost stories, we are told in Samantha Hunt’s new novel, Mr Splitfoot, a book that uniquely argues for and against belief in anything beyond our world. Set in upstate New York, Mr Splitfoot is part ghost story and part road trip, with forays into religious cults, con artistry, meteorite mapping, abandonment and motherhood. It is a smart, well-structured novel with Dickensian twists and an equally knotted cast of characters. I could deploy with a straight face descriptions like... [read more]

Importing Manga

Casey Brienza, Manga in America: Transnational Book Publishing and the Domestication of Japanese Comics

reviewed by Susan Burton

Manga are highly-stylised graphic 'cartoon' stories from Japan, typically featuring characters with large, doe eyes, spiky hair, and pointed chins. Collected in manga comics, serialised manga stories are categorised by age and gender. Shounen (boys) and seinen (young male) comics feature stories on sports, politics, business and science fiction, and sometimes also erotic or sexually perverse tales. Shoujo (girls') and josei (womens') manga comics are pastel and candyfloss-coloured magazines... [read more]

‘A Preparation for Something That Never Happens’

Kirill Medvedev, trans. Keith Gessen, Mark Krotov, Cory Merrill & Bela Shayevich, It's No Good

reviewed by Andre van Loon

BIG RUBBER COCK I saw it every day on the way to school. I know that’s not the best way to start a poem, but there’s nothing I can do about my memories, I can’t take the rubber cock out of my mind and replace it with, say, a New Year’s Tree. Welcome to the poetry of Kirill Medvedev, Russia’s ‘first authentic post-Soviet writer,’ in the words of his translator, Keith Gessen. We’re a long way from the lyricism of Alexander Pushkin or Mikhail Lermontov. Medvedev’s... [read more]

‘There are many people in the oyster restaurant'

Joanna Walsh, Vertigo

reviewed by Dominic Jaeckle

Vertigo, as with any fear, serves as a form of post-justification. It’s a condition termed to contextualise a feeling and ground an unknown – a cocktail of responsive atmospheres charted as a measurable phobia underneath the guise of a catchall term. The word fails, of course. We think of Hitchcock’s Vertigo, and James Stewart’s face will always tell us more of the nature of his bodily response than would the term ‘vertigo’ alone; the sensation is something we can only ever... [read more]

Becoming Posthuman

Mads Rosendahl Thomsen, The New Human In Literature: Posthuman Visions of Changes in Body, Mind and Society after 1900

reviewed by Imogen Woodberry

By the early years of the 20th century the nature and boundaries of human identity had become increasingly destabilised. One of the many conceptual revolutions provoked by Darwinism was the recognition that the present state of humanity was temporary; this led to a volume of speculation on what could next lie in store for the human species. Despite Darwin’s charting of human development as an upward trajectory, a move from simpler sub-species to more complex entities, change, it was feared,... [read more]