Men of Letters: 100 Years of Hugh Trevor-Roper

by Minoo Dinshaw

The Oxford Examination Schools see a lot of action beside their official purpose. Here Christopher Ricks has displayed his agility and Geoffrey Hill his ferocity, during their respective reigns as Professor of Poetry. More recently the admirers of Hugh Trevor-Roper (1914-2003), Lord Dacre of Glanton and onetime Regius Professor of History, gathered here on a chilly January morning a few days before the centenary of his birth. Trevor-Roper’s literary executor, Blair Worden, welcomed the company – enough to fill the South School’s broad expanse – and said he believed ‘Hugh would be pleased, and indeed surprised.’ He also congratulated us on our range of ages. This range was technically rather than visibly wide; the glossy manes of a few young Prize Fellows of All Souls peeked out from the silver sea. [read full essay]

Ideology Without Ideology

Slavoj Žižek (ed.), The Idea of Communism 2: The New York Conference

reviewed by Luke Davies

Alain Badiou's contribution to this collection of papers (from a 2011 New York conference entitled, 'Communism: A New Beginning') straight away deals with the difficult subject of communism's shady past. Writing on its relation with terror, he argues for the need of a new 'historical sequence' in which 'the absolute necessity for the communist Idea in opposition to the unbounded barbarism of capitalism' can be realised alongside an acceptance of 'the undeniably terroristic nature of the... [read more]

A Press Release is A Perfidious Thing

Marie Calloway, What Purpose Did I Serve in Your Life

reviewed by Alexis Forss

What Purpose Did I Serve In Your Life, the debut work of blogger Marie Calloway, is a work that is formally distinguished and thematically urgent in ways that both belie and betoken the author’s 21 years, but that’s not what’s really at stake here. Indeed, reviewing this book has made me guilty of a number of things, among them two minor infractions of Anthony Lane’s maxims for critics: 1) never read the publicity material, and 2) whenever possible, pass sentence on the day after... [read more]

Endless Fucking and Fighting

Matthew Specktor, American Dream Machine

reviewed by James Pulford

Towards the end of the 1984 mockumentary, This Is Spinal Tap, the band look back on their career. Although the American tour they’ve just finished has been an unmitigated disaster — they’ve lost their lead guitarist, been overshadowed by miniature scenery and played support to a puppet act — guitarist David St Hubbins and bassist Derek Smalls are in good spirits. ‘We’re lucky you know,’ says Smalls, ‘people should be envying us.’ ‘I envy us,’ muses St.... [read more]

Off-Shore Shadow Theatre

Finn Brunton, Spam: A Shadow History of the Internet

reviewed by Robert Barry

Two weeks ago, I received an email from a Mr Zaheya E. Attar, Secretary to the Internal Auditor of the General National Bank of Dubai, containing the promise of ‘a very confidential and profitable business proposal.’ It would seem that a consultant for Chevron, Mr. Richard Burson, having deposited $10million in Attar's branch, had had the misfortune to perish in a plane crash in 1999. ‘The most astonishing of my discovery,’ Mr Attar informed me, employing a grammar unique to the... [read more]

A Struggle, a Search, a Hallucination

Franco Moretti, Distant Reading

reviewed by Jamie Mackay

It is a rare event that a 254-page book on narrative morphology hits high street bookshops as part of a ‘double-release’. But then, Franco Moretti has always worked hard to bypass the closed-circuit hubris of academic publishing. This is the same author, of course, who with the charismatic flair of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra has periodically descended from his world-famous tenure at Stanford University’s ‘Literary Lab’ to proclaim certain millenarian truths: the advent of a digital... [read more]

We Are All Ugly Betty Now

Janet McCabe & Kim Akass (eds.), TV's Betty Goes Global: From Telenovela to International Brand

reviewed by Mike Gonzalez

Ugly Betty has changed her name many times in recent years as she travelled and was reborn in South Africa, Greece, Spain, China, Israel. But unusually she first appeared on Colombian television screens, as Betty la Fea, between 1999 and 2001, in a soap opera – or telenovela – which was to become, more than any other Latin American series, a global franchise. This collection of essays explores the reasons for its enormous (and continuing) success in so many different cultures. At one level... [read more]

Wordless Understanding

James Salter, All That Is

reviewed by Matt Lewis

The publication of All That Is, James Salter’s first novel in 34 years, has been a major literary event. Some critics, ever eager for an angle, have seized on the fact that the author will turn 88 this year. Others have used the book as an opportunity to reassess the North American canon and lament Salter’s lack of renown and recognition, describing him variously as ‘the best living American author you’ve never heard of’ and ‘one of the great American post-war writers’. The phrase... [read more]

Coalition Beginnings

Andrew Adonis, 5 Days in May: The Coalition and Beyond

reviewed by Abigail Rhodes

5 Days in May is written by the Labour Party peer, Lord Andrew Adonis, from the perspective of his party during the negotiations that followed the UK General Election of 2010. In the Introduction, written in April 2013, the sense of ‘historic importance’ of these five days in May 2010 is, in hindsight, given its full weight. The first half of the book was written in June 2010 in the style of a diary and catalogues the interactions between the ‘dramatis personae’ (listed at the start... [read more]

Politics By Other Means

Rachel Kushner, The Flamethrowers

reviewed by Marika Lysandrou

Through the eyes of a young woman from Nevada we see the colourful, vibrant scene of the 1970s SoHo art world. Through these same eyes we see masked men and angry women thronging in protest on the streets of Rome during the Years of Lead. The young woman, Reno, is the narrator of Rachel Kushner’s latest novel, The Flamethrowers. She arrives on the New York art scene with aspiration. She is into motorcycles and ski racing – which she describes as ‘drawing in time’ – and soon becomes... [read more]

The Parent is Always Wrong

Thomas Wartenberg, A Sneetch Is a Sneetch and Other Philosophical Discoveries: Finding Wisdom in Children's Literature

reviewed by Jeffrey Petts

The guiding idea of Sneetch is that philosophy is connected to childhood via children’s ‘innate inquisitiveness’, their ‘Why? Why? Why?’ questioning. And that picture books – like Dr Seuss’ The Sneetches – capture philosophical issues and can be used by parents to cultivate philosophical questioning. It’s an idea in the tradition of Gareth Matthews’ seminal 1980 book Philosophy and the Young Child. Matthews presented evidence that young children ask questions that are... [read more]