'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]

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]

Parallel Lives

Brian Unwin, A Tale in Two Cities: Fanny Burney and Adèle, Comtesse de Boigne

reviewed by Stuart Walton

The novelist Fanny Burney was the second daughter of the musicologist Charles Burney. Born in 1752, she had a typical Georgian upbringing, with virtually nothing in the way of an education, muddling her way through in later life to an appetite for literature and the ambition to write. Her father’s connections to the metropolitan theatre world of Drury Lane, where he moved the family after inauspicious beginnings in King’s Lynn, introduced her to the cultural luminaries of Hanoverian London... [read more]

Agamben’s Cat-and-Mouse Game

Jenny Doussan, Time, Language, and Visuality in Agamben’s Philosophy

reviewed by Alex Fletcher

To borrow Foucault’s quip that this century would become known as ‘Deleuzian’, one could argue that the last few years – or decade, perhaps – would in fact be better titled Agambanien. Both celebrated and reviled, Giorgio Agamben’s prominence in contemporary philosophy and political theory cannot be denied. Although often (uncritically) cited in fields such as aesthetics, art theory/history, and visual culture, there is little sustained critical engagement with the philosopher’s... [read more]

Between Discipline and Practice

Warren Carter, Barnaby Haran & Frederic J. Schwartz (eds.), ReNew Marxist Art History

reviewed by Tom Hastings

ReNew Marxist Art History comprises a collection of new essays by scholars at work in the expanded field of Art History. Its title presents the reader with a body of writing and a choice. Either one traces a specific way of thinking about art’s relation to history and criticism from its base in Marx, through the development of a ‘School’ during the Interwar period, to its fragmentation under the energetic promise of the New Left and total subsumption under explosive currents of strong... [read more]