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

The Private Life published 04/02/2014

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The private life isn’t simply what we do when we’re at home, but owes more to the fact of not being at home … This is the wisdom of Freud, and of Blanchot. For the latter, the myth of Orpheus and Eurydice is about the passion for the invisible; Orpheus’s impossible desire to see Eurydice not when she is visible and worldly, but when she is invisible and obscure. This, for Cohen, is the private life. It’s that which can’t be brought to light because that’s precisely where it hides; that which can’t be paraded on TV or kept discretely behind closed curtains. ‘This isn’t a secret lurking in the dark. It’s right there on the face across the breakfast table, in the mirror.’ Arendt’s logic finds an unexpected corollary in tabloid snooping; both imagine that the private life can be reduced to secrecy; they simply differ on what is to be done with it. Both rub balm on a more unsettling fact: the less we hide, the more we’re hidden; even from ourselves. Aren’t your closest friends, your family, your lover, so much stranger to you than the person you pass on the street? Like that difficult book you held so close to your face that its long words blurred and became incomprehensible, the closer we draw people towards us, the more they confound us. The less you conceal the stranger you become.

Will Rees reviews Josh Cohen‘s The Private Life: Why We Remain in the Dark.

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Time, History and Literature published 10/01/2014

Auerbach located in Dante a profound cultural change. Where ‘… the indestructibility of the whole historical and individual man turns against the divine order… and obscures it. The image of man eclipses the image of God. Dante’s work realized the Christian-figural essence of man, and destroyed it in the very process of realizing it.’ Here is another version of ‘reversal and continuation’, an extreme form that knows that the paradoxical realities embedded in religion are secular truths – and vice versa. To speak them threatens to erase everything, or walk you back to the start again for another attempt.

Richard Marshall reviews Auerbach’s Time, History, and Literature.

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Stewart Home’s po-mo homer published 29/12/2013

Stewart Home’s ecstatic absurdity is an assault on modern culture bringing a Homeric pre-Socratic anti-Platonism to the table on the twin-back fun-ride of the funky German materialism started in the 1850s and the materialist-based Marxism a little later.

Richard Marshall on Stewart Home’s Proletarian Post-Modernism.

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The map is not the territory published 26/12/2013

Critics of UE highlight the staunchly white, male and middle class demographic of what Garrett refers throughout as the ‘scene’. While Garrett’s own role as recent PhD researcher documenting it fits squarely in this bracket, the scene itself and the internet activity associated with it is without question bound entirely by one-upmanship and the fetishisation of photographic equipment (which join seamlessly in the ‘hero shot’ now associated with media reports of the groups’ activities e.g. masked solitary poses in sewer outfalls or on the ledge of tall buildings) and climbing kit, the book does little to dispel this.

Andrew Stevens reviews Bradley L. Garrett‘s Explore Everything: Place-hacking the City.

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Beyond Stonebridge Park published 21/12/2013

Keiller is often lumped into the psychogeography camp but here he reminds us that “the dérive is not an end in itself”, something often overlooked as urban walking has become synonymous with psychogeography as if it would merely be enough to go for a wander round the East End to shatter the Spectacle. He points out, “In London now, psychogeography leads not so much to avant-garde architecture as to gentrification”, and relates the way the Surrealists appropriated buildings and areas to the mechanics of modern property development as estate agents dream up new names and narratives for run-down districts to boost prices and draw in house-hunters looking for the new up-and-coming investment opportunity.

John Rogers reviews Patrick Keiller‘s The View from the Train.

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love and loss in ¾ time published 18/12/2013

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In this novel, Trabal draws on modernism’s interest in psychological representations, surrealism’s delight in the unexpected, and a cinematic flair to tell the story of a young man’s sexual and romantic coming of age. Trabal’s comically incisive representation of middle-class society, combined with his unrelenting depiction of his 19-year-old protagonist Zeni’s missteps and misjudgments, make Waltz a delightful read, particularly for readers interested in a Catalan classic of modernism.

Kristine Rabberman reviews Francesc Trabal‘s Waltz.

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Notes on Aspirational Dating: Identity & Belonging in The Flamethrowers published 13/12/2013

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Many of the book’s most poignant vignettes relate, in one way or another, to traces left behind: whether it is the protagonist photographing the tyre-marks of her motorcycle on the salt flats of Bonneville; or a colleague at the film lab relating his wonder at the macabre discovery of a real-life execution (of an Italian fascist by partisans in World War Two) among reels of stock footage – those ‘small integers of life’ preserved forever; or a fleeting description of an Asian pin-up girl on a 1950s calendar, ‘her face faded to grayish-green, smiling under all that lapsed time.’

By Houman Barekat.

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The Body as Society, Prison, and Torture Device: José Donoso’s Fiction published 11/12/2013

José Donoso (1924-96) is a vast writer. Though considered part of the Latin American “Boom” of the 1960s, Donoso remained on the periphery of the movement, little known until he produced his masterpiece The Obscene Bird of Night in 1970. Though Donoso’s work shares some superficial surrealist, political, and indigenous touches with the famous writers of the era (Garcia Marquez, Vargas Llosa, Fuentes, and Cortazar being the big four), Donoso’s achievement is considerably different from theirs, and in my opinion inestimably greater, fit to stand alongside the equally brilliant Juan Rulfo.

By David Auerbach.

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The Laing Cross-examination: Why Writers Drink published 10/12/2013

The subtitle of Laing’s book is Why Writers Drink but trawling through her catalogue of suicide, psychosis and broken homes, the reader is faced with a chicken-egg question: do people drink to excess because they are fucked up or are they fucked up because they drink to excess? The cruelty of alcohol’s relationship with mental illness is that drink offers short term relief while feeding greater demons. Those who have journeyed into the darker reaches of mental distress may be familiar with the term depersonalisation – literally, when you are so hammered by hungover anxiety, you actually doubt your own existence.

Max Dunbar on Olivia Laing ‘s The Trip to Echo Spring.

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Review of Ravi Mangla’s Understudies published 04/12/2013

Ultimately, Mangla’s narrator has to confront these deeper questions of authenticity and meaning. As Understudies goes forward, he becomes more and more enamored with watching the actress, looking to her as the embodiment of all his conflicted and unfulfilled feelings about fame. His fascination, though, is really just a fascination with semblance.

Michael Jauchen on Ravi Mangla’s Understudies.

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