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

Levinas Defaced published 25/10/2013

Sparrow brilliantly captures [Alphonso] Lingis’s work: it reads as though ‘William James and Levinas were coopted to author all of the guide books in the Lonely Planet series’. ‘The time’, he writes incontestably, ‘is ripe for Lingis studies to be extended.’ Lingis is the itinerant philosopher, the Levinas that Levinas sometimes — but all too rarely — seems to be; an evil twin, a deviant Levinas, a Levinas perverted by spending too much time with Nietzsche and Bataille. His appeal for Sparrow is obvious; perhaps more than anyone he has reinvigorated the concept of sensation for phenomenology.

Will Rees reviews Tom Sparrow‘s Levinas Unhinged.

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Adventures in Truth published 16/10/2013

One might, such as I do, curiously wonder what such a fertile opportunity would yield from some of our current compelling contemporary philosophers given this opportunity, such as Catherine Malabou, Jacques Rancière, Peter Osborne, McKenzie Wark, Babette Babich, Tom Cohen, Quentin Meillassoux, Judith Butler, Simon Critchley, Eugene Thacker, Graham Harman, Slavoj Zizek, Julia Kristeva, Adrian Johnston, Ray Brassier and of course Arthur Danto (and many others). Still vibrating with this fuzzy and dreamy indulgence, let us now turn to the “truth” of the matter. With admirable aplomb, Bernard-Henri Lévy (considered to be one of France’s most influential intellectuals — read pop philosopher — if not its most innovative) has curated a sumptuous art exhibition entitled Adventures of Truth at Olivier Kaeppelin’s Maeght Foundation in Saint-Paul-de-Vence (inaugurated in 1964 by dealer Aimé Maeght). I found it artistically exciting, but I was somewhat ambivalent, and thus disappointed from a discursive standpoint, concerning its philosophical aspects. In this classic modernist-based exhibition, Lévy posed the question of whether and when philosophy or painting triumph over each other, beginning with Plato’s banning of art from his ideal Republic. Dip in the Braque pool, anyone? Stroll in the Miró labyrinth?

By Joseph Nechvatal.

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The Worm and the Garden published 08/10/2013

Thieves, rapists, drug dealers and other predatory men poured into the Haight: Charlie Manson was one of these men. By now Manson had modified his pimp dream to the fashion of the area, and was able to build up a hardcore of female disciples. He styled himself as a guru of light and love, and targeted the young, shy, strung-out and damaged, who after repeated words of powerful but ultimately meaningless rhetoric (‘The way out of a room is not through the door; just don’t want out, and you’re free’) were ready to sign their liberty, person and possessions over to him. But there was a problem. To hear Guinn tell it, Haight-Ashbery in the late 1960s teemed with gurus, prophets, seers and mystics: it was like a scene from Life of Brian. Manson knew that if he should lose sight of his followers at a party, he risked losing them to some other fellow just down from an LSD trip and raving of the Way and the Light. It was his need for control as well as the sake of his self belief that led to the Tate/La Bianca murders.

Max Dunbar reviews Jeff Guinn‘s Charles Manson biography.

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begin with the scars at the bottom published


What might blood say if it could speak—not only the blood as it pulses through one’s veins, but also the blood that is let in the act of a murder, the stains it leaves behind on furniture old enough to have supported monarchical bodies? What, then, might an exegesis of blood, lineage, promise, and betrayal entail? What do inhabited and uninhabited spaces have to offer one keen on tracing images back to their origins: what might these interiors and both their real and imagined occupants say to bear witness to a wound laid bare, as raw as history and as ripe as a knife?

K. Thomas Kahn reviews Jason Schwartz‘s John the Posthumous.

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From A to X published 12/09/2013

And time, let’s not forget, is the main dimension of the book. Here are A. and X., exchanging their watches: “All we could do was wear each other’s time”. “Time all scrambled up” is the key motif, the state when “[t]ime is suspended, left hanging” being the norm rather than the exception to the book’s continuity rules. The anisotropic nature of time echoes the lack of symmetry which A. is trying to mend. If “coming face to face with the Other is a non-symmetrical relationship,” then symmetry can be restored by imposing some order on the Other. When a situation doesn’t allow for a neat solution it can be twisted around: “You aren’t my happiness, but maybe I was yours?”

Anna Aslanyan reviews Masha Tupitsyn‘s Love Dog.

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How Not to Read Literature published 11/09/2013


What can we expect the beginning reader to have read? What can we expect any reader to have read? The answer is nothing. And the question is irrelevant. The fact is that a book about reading, or a book setting out to teach anyone anything, shouldn’t expect the person to know anything in order for the writer of said book to do a halfway decent job. If Eagleton makes a claim, he should back it up. It’s as simple as that. And then no one has to guess what anyone else has read. But Eagleton’s lack of evidence to provide support for his claims, though a tell-tale sign of his laziness, is not the worst of his transgressions.

Alex Estes skewers Terry Eagleton‘s latest.

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Kafka’s Insight published 08/09/2013

What is the difference between the last insight and the last attempt at rescue? Happy in his unhappiness he forges a condition of profound dislocation from the world where ‘everything has fallen apart’, where ‘no voice can reach out to him clearly any longer and so he cannot follow it straightforwardly.’ He perfects a calm and laconic tone to express catastrophes. A way in to understanding Beckett is to begin by noting that Beckett hated this tone and expressed his catastrophes in a different register. Beckett’s characters are all wreckages, Kafka’s aren’t.

Richard Marshall reviews Reiner Stach‘s Kafka: The Years Of Insight.

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In Praise of Martin Millar published 07/09/2013


Whenever I read Martin Millar, I think to myself: How is it possible that a writer of such warmth, talent and narrative gifts remained so obscure for so long? It is one of the last great literary scandals that Millar has spent twenty years bouncing from one ramshackle independent publisher to another, while his idiotic contemporaries dominate books lists and broadsheet reviews. And if this sounds a bit fanboy, I should tell you that Neil Gaiman agrees with me. He says that ‘I [don't] understand why Martin Millar isn’t as celebrated as Kurt Vonnegut, as rich as Terry Pratchett, as famous as Douglas Adams . . . I’ve been a fan of his work for almost twenty years.’ Here’s the thing: if the market really was the ultimate indicator of talent, Martin Millar would right now be poolside in his Van Nuys estate, and Dan Brown would still be in Exeter, writing crosswords.

Max Dunbar reviews The Anxiety of Kalix the Werewolf.

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The Weight of an Aphorism published 28/08/2013


The aphorism, by virtue of its musicality or its lapidary concision, is always an instrument of seduction, and often its truth is not proportionate to its beauty; aspects of the second are apparent at first reading, while the first is only rendered clear through the application of the aphorism to the decidedly unaphoristic matter of life.

By Adrian West.

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Hidden Behind Walls published 16/08/2013


Bauca (1940-2005), a reclusive Catalan writer troubled by alcoholism and schizophrenia who believed that the writer should lead a furtive life, placed great, possibly excessive, value on enclosure. Bauca, a self-confessed “apartment hermit,” needed walls. He hid behind them where they existed, erected them where they didn’t, and much of the action in the three novellas collected here takes place within the hermetic confines of inescapable rooms in which his obsessive narrators spool out uninterrupted monologues on everything from the mysteries of the female sex to the value of corporal self-punishment.

Stephen Sparks on Miquel Bauçà‘s The Siege in the Room

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