'Thanks': On Negative Criticism

by Orit Gat

The commonplace complaint is that no-one reads reviews anymore, and that reviews sections are consequently a nonissue. But we should read reviews, and we should read them carefully and think about the huge role they play in a magazine. The reviews section in any given publication is oftentimes the largest section and covers a substantial number of artists. It is thus a place where we need to scrutinise representation, but also a place in which a magazine asserts its stakes: if the reviews section is an entryway into the features well, then both the artists covered and the writers assigned may be involved with it more closely in the future. It’s where writers learn to write and where artists often get their first significant bibliographical notation. Lastly, the reviews section has a significant financial role in any given magazine. The fact that advertising and revenue models are changing because of the internet only makes this more crucial. [read full essay]

No Parallel Sacrifice

Danny Dorling, All That Is Solid: The Great Housing Disaster

reviewed by Joseph Finlay

Listen to any debate about our housing crisis and within seconds you’ll hear someone proclaim that ‘we need to build more houses’. All political parties accept this as holy writ, vying with each other in their pledges to build the most homes. In All That Is Solid, Danny Dorling makes a powerful case against this assumption. There are 66 million bedrooms in England and Wales, for 55 million people. Many of these people, being married or cohabiting couples, share a room. Even in densely... [read more]

The Power of Pop

Christopher Partridge, The Lyre of Orpheus: Popular Music, The Sacred and The Profane

reviewed by Eugene Brennan

Despite – or perhaps because of – the ubiquity of online cultural studies commentary, popular music’s place in contemporary culture seems to be particularly susceptible to being fetishised as a space of purity, not to be contaminated by intellectual inquiry. The popular success of Slavoj Zizek’s documentaries comprising Lacanian demystifications of Hollywood films, for example, didn’t seem to meet with defensive reactions along the lines of ‘It’s just about the movies, man.’... [read more]

Alternative Heroes

Agata Pyzik, Poor But Sexy: Culture Clashes in Europe East and West

reviewed by Sebastian Truskolaski

Agata Pyzik’s Poor But Sexy is a timely and personal rumination on the explosive culture clashes between Eastern and Western Europe. Over the course of five thematically arranged chapters, the author discusses a wide range of examples from art and popular culture, prodding at the fault-lines on the European map left by the dismantling of the ‘iron curtain’. The overall sentiment of the book points in two directions: on the one hand, it expresses the pervasive sense that, after 1989, the... [read more]

On The Borderline

Branden Hookway, Interface

reviewed by Robert Barry

In Arthur C. Clarke’s Hugo Award-winning 1972 novel Rendezvous with Rama, scientists discover an alien spacecraft careening towards our solar system, just beyond the orbit of Jupiter. Upon entering the ship, however, they find it abandoned by its presumed masters and the astronauts are left to glean what information they can about the absentee extraterrestrials from the way they have designed their tools. Slowly, patiently, the human explorers construct an image of the alien others by... [read more]

The Promise of Common Sense

Monique Roelofs, The Cultural Promise of the Aesthetic

reviewed by Chris Law

The premise of Monique Roelofs’ The Cultural Promise of the Aesthetic is that notions of the promise, bound up with ideas of relationality and address, are central to the functioning and failures of the aesthetic. Roelofs proposes that ‘the aesthetic’ is enjoying a renaissance, following a period of disdain and critique. Contemporary invocations of ‘the aesthetic’, Roelofs tells us, span ‘academic disciplines, bodily regimes, commemorative projects, archival collections, methods of... [read more]

A New Social Contract

Andy Merrifield, The New Urban Question

reviewed by Daniel Whittall

If we are to believe the McKinsey Institute, ‘the growth of cities in emerging markets is driving the most significant economic transformation in history.’ A growing ‘consuming class’, especially to be found in the cities of China and India, are the drivers of future economic growth. Over the course of the next 15 years, cities in the USA alone will contribute fully 10% of global GDP growth, though that fact might be met with some disbelief by the people of Detroit in particular. 600... [read more]

'Unless One Thinks, Unless One Changes This Structure'

Jacques Derrida, trans. Peggy Kamuf, The Death Penalty, Volume I

reviewed by Niall Gildea

The Death Penalty, Volume I is the third of Jacques Derrida’s seminars, or ‘teaching lectures’, to be translated into English, following Volumes I and II of The Beast and the Sovereign (the seminar series which directly followed Derrida’s Death Penalty seminar) in 2011 and 2012, respectively. In all cases, these translations have arrived very shortly after the publications of the French volumes. The present text records the first year of Derrida’s seminar on the Death Penalty at the... [read more]

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]