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

Absalon, Absalon! published 25/07/2013

There is a danger that Okotie will not reach the readers he deserves, and that those who do pick up the book, attracted magpie-ishly by its McCall-Smithesque blurb and brightly coloured cover, will be left feeling baffled and annoyed. There will be others, however, who will see the ambition, originality, thoughtfulness and, crucially, the humanity in Simon Okotie’s writing, and in Absalon the making of a modern classic. Whatever Happened to Harold Absalon? might not be for everyone…but who wants to read a book that’s for everyone, anyway?

Adam Biles reviews Simon Okotie‘s Whatever Happened to Harold Absalon?.

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24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep published 10/07/2013

So chapter 2 put me in the bummer mood I feel when reading books like Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (1985) by Neil Postman. That sort of over-reach-scare rhetoric can’t help feeling but like the over-heatedness of a delusional gold sales-pitch scam right wing fanatic. As both of us are, or were, based in New York City (The City That Never Sleeps) the claim that “the marketplace now operates through every hour of the clock, pushing us into constant activity and eroding forms of community and political expression, damaging the fabric of everyday life” feels to me more like provocative pumpkin hyperbole than a threat to the sensibilities of human perception. Yes we can shop on the internet all day long every day, but you are not required to do so.

Joseph Nechvatal on Jonathan Crary‘s 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep.

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The Observer Effect published


George Saunders’ peerless collection of delicate modern tales is set in an instantly recognizable America—one of former mining towns and pick-up trucks, burger chains and credit-card debt. Old houses are ‘re-purposed’ as 7-11s, or else undergo foreclosure. Saunders’ characters talk lovingly of ‘ma’ and ‘pa’. This is a world of words made simple by corporate promises and trademarked slogans, in which feelings may be glossed over with pills and casual oblique phrases: ‘I guess’.

Pascal Porcheron reviews George SaundersTenth of December.

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The Unknown Nabokov, part 1: Poetic Prose or Prosaic Poetry? published 08/07/2013


It’s easy to overlook the extent to which verse pervades Nabokov’s entire œuvre. When we cast together the words Nabokov and poetry, Pale Fire, the author’s so-called literary ‘Jack-in-the-box’, is surely the first (and, for some, perhaps, only) thing that springs to mind. But there is in fact a substantial corpus of the verse-writing to the author’s credit. Whether overshadowed by the dazzling brilliance of his prose work or neglected on a premise of lesser quality or import, there’s no denying that poetry was integral to Nabokov’s output; indeed, it was almost omnipresent, a constant apparition throughout his art as it was his life.

The first part of Bryan Karetnyk‘s exploration of neglected aspects of Nabokov.

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3:AM Salutes Sian S. Rathore published 02/07/2013

In the autumn of 2010 a beautiful, exasperating young woman appeared in Manchester: Sian Rathore. A singer-songwriter, critic and poet, her inventive approach to the spoken word made her a hit at the poetry nights there, and in terms of content her work eclipsed the more established mediocrities of that city. Sian is very much a poet of the digital age with a lively presence on Twitter, a plethora of blogs and tumblrs, an occasional column for the Huffington Post and a passion for something called ‘flarf poetry’ which I am too old to pretend to understand.

By Max Dunbar.

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The man don’t give a f**k published 01/07/2013

The book is more than just an anthology, it also contains the result of a collaborative writing exercise whereby the contributors put their contributions into one large document and let the other contributors edit and make additions to a collaborative poem. This sort of compositional bed-hopping has resulted in a peculiar and very interesting sensation: individual voices and quirks of style and expression are preserved but there’s a kind of sticky cohesion uniting the anthology as a whole.

Colin Herd reviews Fuck Poems.

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On Remembering, and Technological Progress published


Fast forwarding to the present day, we see that ‘prior claims of productivity’ are asserting themselves once again. As Barack Obama’s administration mires itself in all kinds of legal and semantic gymnastics to give the appearance of respectability to its indefensible drone warfare policy, one increasingly gets the sense that it isn’t really the President’s call to make. The machinery of the National Security apparatus has a momentum that is largely independent of developments in the political sphere, and relatively immune to interference from civil society.

Houman Barekat revisits W.G. Sebald‘s On The Natural History of Destruction .

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The Essence of the Thing Elsewhere published 25/06/2013


The theme of ‘elsewhere’ is what ties this otherwise disparate collection of works together. Paintings sit next to poems, and short fictions follow historical translations because each work asks us, in their different ways, to imagine like Pessoa; to imagine a grey hunter with Skelton; an infinite landscape with Noon de Winter; a winter lake with Brennan; a king with bird feathers instead of hair with W. B. Yeats and even the beyond-nothingness of God in Yeats’ other piece. Even the more religious and philosophical final third of the journal only emphasises the type of metaphysical withdrawal at work. But where withdrawal means something more, where in the limit of our expression and memory something is able to overflow.

Adam Potts reviews Reliquiæ #1.

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The Paradox of Romance published 21/06/2013

So much for the narrative arts, you might think – but it’s a shame that Baudelaire didn’t pursue what little prose he wrote, for Fanfarlo is a great piece of work, it just could have done with being longer. Samuel Cramer is a promising young roué along the lines of Clovis Sangrail or Dorian Gray. In describing him, Baudelaire captures perfectly disaffected young adulthood, full of big dreams without concomitant effort and discipline: ‘One of Samuel’s most natural failings was to deem himself the equal of those he could admire; after an impassioned reading of a beautiful book, his unwitting conclusion was: now that is beautiful enough for me to have written! – and, in only the space of a dash, from there to think: therefore, I wrote it.’ He adds: ‘In today’s world, that sort of character is more widespread than we think; such beings teem on the streets, in public walkways, taverns, and all the refuges for strollers.’

Max Dunbar reviews Charles Baudelaire‘s Fanfarlo.

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Canicule: Vanishing published

Sometimes life is just a long farewell. That’s when we know the flesh is sadder than all the books. Rimbaud thought he’d acquired supernatural powers and then in disgust buried his imagination, pagan words and memories in his belly. He discovered rapture in destruction and rejuvenation in malevolence. Dying, he ‘summoned executioners to bite the butts of their guns’ and plagues to ‘smother him in sand, and blood.’ Armand’s characters are always intense, shedding more tears than God demanded.

Richard Marshall reviews Louis Armand’s Canicule.

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