An Absence Made Present

by Thom Cuell

With The Holy Bible the Manics created a myth that would haunt their future. This extraordinary album will be the band’s legacy, one which they can never fully embrace nor truly escape from. It has been re-released twice in special editions, for the 10th and 20th anniversaries of its release; they have also vowed never to perform songs from it again. When I first encountered the Manics, in the downtime between The Holy Bible and Everything Must Go, they were a band on hiatus, with no definite sign they would return – the madwoman in the attic of British rock. Since then, they have enjoyed commercial success, fallen in and out of fashion, and created eight albums. Fans have grown up, left, returned. Borrowing from Joseph Heller, if they were charged with not writing anything as good since The Holy Bible, they could justifiably respond with ‘no, but neither has anyone else’. [read full essay]

Better Lives Elsewhere

Maxine Beneba Clarke, Foreign Soil

reviewed by Melanie White

Literary stories about immigration and refugees could not be more timely. Maxine Beneba Clarke’s debut collection, Foreign Soil, was first published two years ago in Australia after winning an award for best unpublished manuscript. It now comes to the UK amid heated political debate over immigration threats to domestic security, in the wake of terror attacks in Brussels and in the run-up to the EU referendum. Clarke, an Australian slam poetry champion of Afro-Caribbean descent, explores... [read more]

Uncommon Fine

Stefan Collini, Common Writing: Essays on Literary Culture and Public Debate

reviewed by Rafe McGregor

Stefan Collini is Professor of Intellectual History and English Literature at Cambridge and although he claims that the two fields joined by the conjunction are not readily distinguishable, Common Writing fits firmly in the former category. In his review of The Letters of T.S. Eliot Vol.2: 1923-1925 (Faber, 2009) in the second chapter, Collini notes that the letters constitute a guide to Eliot’s editing (of the Criterion) rather than to his critical or literary practice. In a similar vein,... [read more]

When the Nazis Ruled Paris

David Drake, Paris At War: 1939 – 1944

reviewed by Ian Birchall

That Paris under German occupation was a brutal and frightening place (and far, far worse if you were a Jew) will come as no surprise. But even to those who think they know something of the period David Drake’s fascinating book will provide a mass of new and illuminating information. Based on ten years’ research and a range of sources including the memories of survivors and police archives, this is a detailed and vivid narrative of 50 horrific months. Drake carefully intertwines an... [read more]

Recovering Relationality

Andrew Benjamin, Towards a Relational Ontology: Philosophy's Other Possibility

reviewed by Joel White

In 1966 Gilles Deleuze wrote a review of a work by the French philosopher Gilbert Simondon. The opening to this review stated that, until now, the principle of individuation had been largely avoided by modern philosophy; that although the accomplishment of physics, of biology and of psychology had relativised and attenuated the concept, individuation had remained, until Simondon, un-interpreted. The purpose of Deleuze’s review was to highlight the force of Simondon’s philosophy, a... [read more]

The Reaches of Our Souls

Han Kang, Human Acts

reviewed by David Renton

Human Acts is set during and after the Gwangju Uprising of May 1980. Following the death of South Korea’s military ruler Park Chung-hee in 1979 and the seizure of power by another general Chun Doo-hwan, protesters called for the end of military rule. Paratroopers shot at the demonstrators, but the troops were resisted, with increasing numbers of people from across the city joining the demonstrations and the soldiers retreated. For five days the city was held by a Kwangju Commune, with... [read more]

The Engine Oil of Culture

Dan Fox, Pretentiousness: Why it Matters

reviewed by Rosanna Mclaughlin

Dan Fox’s Pretentiousness: Why it Matters sets out to rehabilitate a much maligned term, arguing that pretentiousness is a force for cultural good. Over the course of this essay – in which Fox considers such subjects as Plato’s distrust of actors, pop music’s penchant for grandiose appropriation (think Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’) and the author’s own upbringing – Fox takes aim at our historic prejudice against conspicuous pretenders. ‘Used as an insult,’ Fox writes,... [read more]

The New Internationalists

Immanuel Ness, Southern Insurgency: The Coming of the Global Working Class

reviewed by Daniel Whittall

Neoliberal capitalism can appear a complex beast, but recent happenings have laid bare its central dynamics. An Indian-owned multinational announces plans to sell off its steelworks in Port Talbot, Wales, because of the collapsing global steel prices driven by the dumping of cheap, often lower-grade steel produced in factories run by the Chinese State. In doing so, it blames environmental regulations and high overhead costs. Neoliberal theory has traded off the idea that it unleashes market... [read more]

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]