'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]

The Functions of Intelligence

Aaron Lecklider, Inventing the Egghead: The Battle Over Brainpower in American Culture

reviewed by Nick Witham

When I teach a special subject on the American ‘culture wars’ to final-year undergraduates, I make a specific effort to combat the disparaging attitudes they often hold about their counterparts across the Atlantic. As we discuss contemporary US thinking on issues such as abortion, gun control, gay rights and the place of religion in public life, my students often resort to declarations that Americans are ‘stupid’ or ‘crazy’, as if these designations somehow explain the strongly held... [read more]

Something To Cling To

Zoe Pilger, Eat My Heart Out

reviewed by Jessie Burton

You almost worry, reviewing a book like Zoe Pilger’s Eat My Heart Out, that you are going to sound precisely like the critic-wankers satirised within its pages – a confident, ignorant consumer of creative endeavour who would pay £500 for some ‘limited edition dead bees’ collected in a jar, or who’d call a cocktail glass in an art instalment ‘a visual madeleine.’ These people, Pilger suggests, wouldn’t know a good painting or a duff philosophy if it came and hit them round the... [read more]

The Event of the Advent

Mark Currie, The Invention of Deconstruction

reviewed by Niall Gildea

The relationship between deconstruction and historical scholarship is famously and multifariously fraught. On one level, deconstruction remains widely misrecognised as ahistorical in its attitude to language and signification; on another, it remains widely caricatured as methodologically anti-historical in its disclosure of classical metaphysics’ survival in modern epochs; on still another, certain extant historical accounts of deconstruction are often hagiographies of Jacques Derrida, which... [read more]

Always / Never

Eric Schlosser, Command and Control

reviewed by Will Wiles

A Titan II missile silo could kill you in more ways than you might expect. The nervous eye is naturally drawn to what the Titan II carried: a W-53 nuclear warhead with a yield of 9 megatons, ‘about three times the explosive force of of all the bombs dropped during the Second World War, including both atomic bombs.’ But try to forget about that for a moment. Consider instead what the warhead sat atop: a two-stage missile containing, in total, about 100,000 pounds of fuel and 200,000 pounds... [read more]

Inside the Space of the Frame

Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

reviewed by Sarah Emily Duff

The idea that only white men are capable of producing the Great American Novel remains oddly persistent. When Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom was published four years ago, the author appeared on the cover of Time, confidently labelled the Great American Novelist. As many pointed out, other novels by women which appeared at the same time could just as easily be held up as capturing something essential about early 21st-century American life: Jennifer Egan’s Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit from the... [read more]

Theatre as Provocation

Alain Badiou, Rhapsody for the Theatre

reviewed by Luke Davies

The central claim of Alain Badiou's 1990 philosophical treatise Rhapsody for the Theatre, reprinted here with additional material, is that 'cultural-political intervention [...] has only one possible destination: the theatre.’  That will sound unlikely to anyone familiar with the dreary and anodyne fare of, for example, mainstream contemporary British theatre, which is mostly either lifestyle porn or pseudo-intellectual fodder. But Badiou isn't talking about the orthodoxy, referred... [read more]

A Banquet of Canapés

Lynne Segal, Out of Time: The Pleasures and the Perils of Ageing

reviewed by Gee Williams

In 1996, Jenny Joseph’s poem ‘Warning’ was voted the most popular post-war poem by BBC viewers and listeners. When I am old I shall wear purple has spoken to at least two more generations since its 1961 birth. It spoke to me once. It said there’s one less thing to worry about then. Reading Segal’s dense literature search on the same subject left me with a strong need to check back with Joseph. (Find her, now eightysomething, reading it on YouTube. I did.) Maybe a fan letter is... [read more]

Leaving For Good

Eimear McBride, A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing

reviewed by Jeffrey Petts

Fear death by drowning – an extreme unction – an atheistic, watery reminder of one’s life, no oily, priestly redemption at the end, all one’s life, every sordid detail revealed, purposeless, without reason. If the whirlpool miraculously pops me back up for air, should I share my life review? And why? And how? As soon as she’s born, Eimear McBride’s ‘half-formed girl’ knows dying – her brother, three years older than her, has a brain tumour. Attention is on him, and on her... [read more]

Political Cinema After Politics

Angelos Koutsourakis, Politics as Form in Lars von Trier: A Post-Brechtian Reading

reviewed by Andrew Marzoni

‘What can I say? I understand Hitler,’ said Danish filmmaker Lars von Trier, at a press conference during the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, where his film Melancholia was screened for competition. As he stutters on, describing how he can ‘see Hitler in his bunker’ despite his having done ‘some wrong things,’ identifying himself as a Nazi while insisting that he is ‘not against Jews,’ Melancholia’s star, Kirsten Dunst, shifts uncomfortably in her chair, rolling her eyes, laughing... [read more]

Mass Culture and Working Class Longing

Fred Inglis, Richard Hoggart: Virtue and Reward

reviewed by Benedict Clarke

In ‘Culture is Ordinary’ (1958), a short essay which was to become tremendously influential in the development of cultural studies, Raymond Williams wrote: There is a distinct working-class way of life, which I for one value - not only because I was bred in it, for I now, in certain respects, live differently. I think this way of life, with its emphases of neighbourhood, mutual obligation, and common betterment, as expressed in the great working-class political and industrial... [read more]