:: Reviews archive ( click for articles pre-2006)

Don’t Worry About the Future published 14/01/2015

One of the book’s truly thought-provoking themes is the tendency of gizmos to quickly go out of fashion. In “The Longhand Option”, Dinesh Allirajah’s satirical take on the future of writing, a granny coming to visit her family sends her luggage ahead. “The blimp contained one item of office equipment: a pen. There was also an electronic breadmaker – ‘That thing was an antique when she bought it,’ – Dill eventually managed to say – and sixteen bags of flour.” You sense that the breadmaker must have been bought new. As for the pen, it can be programmed to guide the user’s hand, yet fails to overcome that ancient, never-ageing condition, writer’s block.

Anna Aslanyan reviews Beta-Life (Martyn Amos and Ra Page eds.)

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Balzac’s Physiology of the Employee published 13/01/2015

Does being demoralized but self-aware save those of us who manage it? It must, to some degree. Balzac’s The Physiology of the Employee can be read by those who are not self-aware, and the reward of studying it can teach a despairing employee to recognize their despair as well as to locate allies in the annals of history.

P.T. Smith on Honoré de Balzac‘s The Physiology of the Employee.

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Are we electoral fundamentalists? published 05/01/2015

At the heart of Van Reybrouck’s book is a provocative contestation of the commonly held belief that “democracy” is synonymous with “elections.” Based on a comparative and historical analysis of democracy’s evolution from Ancient Greece to the Renaissance, the French and American Revolutions to present day, Van Reybrouck proposes a bi-representative system. Alongside elections, he says, we should re-introduce the classical Athenian practice of sortition, or the drawing of lots.

Claudia Chwalisz on David Van Reybrouck‘s Contre les élections.

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The Curious Legacies of the Brothers Grimm published 22/12/2014

There’s a sense of improvised sketching in them, as if the torso of some earlier attempt is being hinted at, some failed draft to get further. But that is just an illusion. The tales refuse the fixture of print, its authorities and policemen and prefer the threads and cobwebs of speech that become theophanies of an unwritten and ever-long tragedy fit for laughter and sacrifice. These are tales from the undercurrents of shamanic crazies, the terrifying anonymous oddness of women from the family tree of Sycorax.

Richard Marshall on Jack Zipes on the Brothers Grimm.

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“breeding and feeding” published

Tiffany views her role as a wife, devoid of a career, as a parallel to Stephen’s term for the ornithological lifestyle. She “breeds and feeds” now, after entering her thirties with a useless liberal arts degrees and a series of menial jobs. Marriage offers Tiff the promise of financial stability, above anything else. “Breeding and feeding” may not be such a pejorative. For Tiff, aside from economic freedom and the ability to read, think, and observe, her married life is comprised almost solely of unwanted sexual attention from an inexperienced and selfish sexual partner.

Patrick Disselhorst on Nell Zink‘s The Wallcreeper.

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For the Chymically Wasted Old Reader: A note on Marc Vincenz and Tom Bradley’s This Wasted Land and its Chymical Illuminations published 20/12/2014

If Vincenz and Bradley have proved nothing else by their beautiful book, it is the final excommunication of The Waste Land from the literary into the manumission of capable and fecund literacy.

T. Thilleman on Marc Vincenz and Tom Bradley’s This Wasted Land and its Chymical Illuminations.

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The Body and the Gaze: On Jacques Rancière’s Intervals of Cinema published 16/12/2014

It is the spectator, as ever, who matters to Rancière; he argues that it is still the case that art is conceived as being either a transmission of knowledge from a pedagogical artist to a spectator, thus creating a hierarchical relation between artist and spectator, or, on the contrary, an attempt to bring the spectator into the same position as the artist, thus denying her freedom precisely as a spectator. Rancière instead insists that the criticism of culture must instead create a position of the emancipated spectator, who is creating her own work in defiance of the hierarchical relations by which art has usually been defined.

Tristan Burke on Jacques Rancière‘s The Intervals of Cinema.

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beautiful losers published 11/12/2014

To wring success from failure, and printed beauty from online ephemera, and then to strike the balance between weightless comedy and surprising scholarly depth: let’s just say The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure does more than a book of humour is required to do. Taken as a whole, it brings to mind the spontaneous pleasure of a barstool conversation with an overeducated but unpredictable, boozy and boisterous, wholly unpretentious friend.

Julian Hanna on C. D. Rose‘s The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure.

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Postmodern Cold War published 10/12/2014

Reading military memoirs of the 2000s, you get the sense of a cultural shift: the transition from conventional warfare to asymmetric or three block war, where soldiers spend as much time working with communities and trying to win ‘hearts and minds’ as actually fighting physical enemies. This approach has even been called postmodern war. Maybe we are now in the middle of a postmodern Cold War. In a fascinating report for the Institute of Modern Russia, analysts Peter Pomerantsev and Michael Weiss explored how this works in modern practice. Vladimir Putin’s regime rules by information as much as violence. His propaganda channel RT combs the West for cranks, neo-Nazis and fantasists, which it presents as ‘experts’ to lend credibility to staged reports and conspiracy theory directed against democratic countries. A Buzzfeed reporter even uncovered ‘troll farms’ — battalions of internet commenters to spread similar rhetoric.

Max Dunbar reviews Jeremy DunsNews of Devils: The Media and Edward Snowden.

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More Than That: Contemporary Complexity in Mathias Énard’s Street of Thieves published 08/12/2014

Mathias Énard is a writer whose literary identity and spirit seem unbounded. Deep knowledge of the past and presentiments of the future inform his perspectives and insights into the present. With Street of Thieves, he’s written an accessible novel of ideas and politics, propelled by longing for love and freedom.

Lee Klein on Mathias Énard‘s Street of Thieves.

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