All Essays

ESSAY England's House Divided

by Josh Mcloughlin

Labour’s failure in the 2019 election stemmed from a misreading of the political map. The North punished Westminster for austerity by voting for Brexit, duped by a Leave campaign ‘wrapped [. . .] in social-democratic colours’ and forgetting it was the EU’s Regional Development Fund that invested in the North while it was left to rot by the coalition. As Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings played to the gullible Northern galleries, John McDonnell ‘devoted most of his energy to placating opinion in the City rather than popularising Labour’s economic programme in the regions’. Labour blocking the withdrawal bill was the final straw: the Conservatives gained an unprecedented number of seats in the North, causing the so-called ‘Red Wall’ to crumble. [read full essay]

ESSAY A Sense of Cycles

by Tobias Carroll

Sam Pink’s fiction documents the quotidian routines of people working jobs they hate while finding unlikely moments of grace along the way. In a review of Pink’s novellas The Garbage Times and White Ibis for The New Republic, Michael Friedrich writes that the two works ‘are about coping with daily struggles and pushing out of complacency.’ The first time I saw Pink read, he went on a long digression about the 1990 Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle Lionheart. All of which is to say that Pink can be hauntingly complex when he wants to — but he also understands the value of the gloriously random. [read full essay]

ESSAY Gravid Cherries

by Stuart Walton

Writing sex has always been an elusive aspect of literary art. In the 18th century, it was an offshoot of the nascent novel itself, before disappearing from view in the Victorian age. When it explicitly re-entered literature in earnest with Lawrence and Joyce, it had the function of documentary realism, even where cloaked within elaborate aesthetic codes, as in the Circe chapter of Ulysses. Superseding this forensically unsparing approach, it has since gradually recovered something of the culinary function it enjoyed in the Georgian era, where finely detailed depictions of sexual congress that have had their sensual materiality restored to them play a similarly appetitive role to Lucullan descriptions of food and drink. Each ought properly to stimulate the sensual imagination of the recipient, but there is no evading the fact that a well-crafted narrative of sex should also make the reader want to masturbate. [read full essay]

ESSAY Every Last Myth and Slander

by Adrian Nathan West

The minstrel, and its countless permutations on television, radio, film, and advertising in the century since vaudeville’s decline, poses a challenge to those who would dismiss black Americans’ complaints of enduring racial injustice with the line: ‘The Civil War ended a hundred and fifty years ago.’ For many whites, certainly those I grew up around in Tennessee, informal history — not the work of historians, but the partial, flawed version of history that suffuses popular conceptions of self and community — has tended to emphasise the monumental importance of the Civil War as a way of overlooking the subsequent evils of Jim Crow, redlining, convict leasing, or forced appropriation of black-owned lands. As to the possible effects of a two-century-long reduction to the wily, red-lipped buffoons seen stealing chickens or running from alligators on stage and screen, to lawn jockeys or mascots for Nigger Head Oysters and Pickaninny Peanuts, stock responses are ignorance, baffled embarrassment, or pointless affirmations about the pitfalls of judging yesterday by the standards of today. [read full essay]

ESSAY This is Not Sentimental Verse

by Ed Simon

African-American literature is a literature of syncretism. Critic John Leland writes in Hip: A History that ‘slaves and freedmen worked an early form of verbal jiujitsu, imposing African values about the foreign vocabulary’, and this is abundantly clear in Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassins. If the poem is haunted by the lacunae of the first African-American poets, and if it engages an African aesthetic of signifyin(g), then it also enacts this syncretism, not least of all in the form which Hayes has chosen to write in. Few poetic genres are as ‘Western’ as the sonnet (even if it can be historically traced back to the European periphery as a form used heretical Albigensians during the Middle Ages). The earliest of 13th-century sonnets were written in languages from Sicilian to Provencal, Arabic to Ladino, so that Hayes’ post-modern sonnet sequence drawing from the patterns of Wolof and Yoruba becomes its own continuation of tradition. [read full essay]

ESSAY Burgess and the ‘Smut-hounds’

by Josh Mcloughlin

Burgess purloins his theory of aesthetics straight from the Stephen Dedalus playbook, and thus ultimately from his beloved Joyce. The Irishman was not simply Burgess's favourite writer but was profoundly important in shaping Burgess’s attitudes towards censorship. As Graham Foster points out, ‘Reading Ulysses by James Joyce was perhaps the first time that Anthony Burgess had experienced forbidden literature’. Not only Burgess’s formative literary experiences but his development as a writer throughout his career — he continued to measure all of his fiction against the yardstick of Ulysses — was bound up in Joyce's brush with the censors in 1922. The novel’s suppression in the UK holds the key to the ironic peripeteia that concludes Burgess’s speech in Malta. The author’s ultimate failure to control the reading of his text mirrors the inability of the authorities to suppress obscenity which, like literature, always has a habit of exceeding whatever boundaries are erected to circumscribe it. [read full essay]

ESSAY Preppers, Chernobyl & Dr Seuss: Finding Hope in the Apocalypse

by Liam Harrison

O’Connell is attuned to the contradictions, both large and small, that recur on his travels. He traces the neo-colonialist vision of the would-be Mars explorers like Elon Musk, the layers of historical ethno-nationalism contained in preppers’ rhetoric, the tech billionaires’ disregard for indigenous cultures in New Zealand, the absence of diversity in the audiences of space travel conferences, and the middle-class inflections of wilderness solo camping. Despite the subtle critiques of power relations that O’Connell performs so dextrously, we rarely hear from the voices that are most at risk from the late capitalist neo-colonialists that O’Connell exposes, or get a sense of where alternative futures might be possible. [read full essay]

ESSAY Impossible Professions

by Jess Cotton

The university’s futures depend on finding a politics of work and a politics of care adequate to this moment – a moment that has shifted, in the time of writing, from the ever suffocating conditions of working in higher education, as it congeals around new forms of neoliberalism and fosters incipient fascisms, to being a time of pandemic, of breakdown, of strike, but also, hopefully, of solidarity, a time when care in common breaks through the ordinary and becomes the arsenal of political possibility. [read full essay]

ESSAY Sounding Out the House: Thinking Sound and Sight in Poetry

by Elliot C. Mason

It felt like I had only ever seen poetry; like it had always been some kind of shining flotilla flashing up ink on immense blank spaces, distracting me with repetition: the same sight again, another configuration of the visual. Sound seemed constant, against the binaries of these repetitions. In every sphere of capitalist existence – production, circulation, consumption – repetition is the code to keeping the whole machine enthralling. Occasionally a wave, like sound, punctures the production line. As Benjamin Bratton neatly put it: ‘Repetition means legibility, and legibility helps with the distracted audience problem.’ Kaminsky seemed like every clichéd metaphor of inspiration imaginable. It impelled me to consider where else in poetry there is sound. [read full essay]

ESSAY He Who Has Ears to Hear, Let Him Hear

by William Poulos

Trying to retrieve this spirit of dialogue, Bate presents the thesis that Shakespeare helped create an English Protestant culture which took its inspiration from ancient Rome while separating itself from modern Rome and the Catholic Church. Although interesting, this thesis isn’t exactly new. Bate’s novelty is in his attempt to link Shakespeare’s plays to ideas and idioms found in Plautus, Terence, Virgil, Horace, and Cicero: authors who were extremely influential but aren’t compared to Shakespeare as often as Ovid and Plutarch are. These parts of the book are disappointing. Bate gathers a great amount of evidence from many sources to support bland conclusions: Plautus and Terence included taverns, drunks, and whores in their comedies, and so did Shakespeare. Horace wrote about male friendship and a retirement to the country, and so did Shakespeare. Cicero wrote about civil war, and so did Shakespeare. [read full essay]