:: Criticism archive ( click for articles pre-2006) 2000-2005, click for articles pre-2006)

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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Hello Daddy, Hello Mom published 02/12/2013

To portray the ills of Western civilisation in a work of fiction without sounding prudish or reducing the narrative to an opinion column is a tall order, requiring the author to concentrate and pick only the most relevant threads. Despentes, best known for her shocking debut novel, Baise-Moi, later turned into a controversial film, chose to blend thriller elements into her social commentary, presumably to make the pages turn faster. But the two genres don’t mix seamlessly: one can never keep up with the other, so when the detective yarn inevitably overtakes the more contemplative passages, you have no time to fully appreciate the latter.

Anna Aslanyan reviews Virginie DespentesApocalypse Baby.

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Materialities of Myth published 19/11/2013


Oulipan tricks and intricacies abound: from the recurring April fool’s fish motifs, to the Sisyphean circularities of Harold playing himself in a play which re-enacts his own escape. The layered formal framework adds convoluted threads which put pressure on the authenticity of the narrative with amusing but sometimes unnecessary flourishes. These distractions are underpinned by something more interesting however: an uncomfortable examination of the constraints of the shifting modes of narrative presentation. And it is here that the novel truly stretches past its formal constraints, allowing the process of ‘fabrication’ (both literal and metaphorical) to be continually interrogated.

Daniel Fraser reviews Philip Terry‘s Tapestry

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Writing in Built Up Areas published 11/11/2013

In contrast to the pictures, the text is full of details, both visible and invisible to the eye; there are plenty of historical facts and everyday trivia unearthed by Rogers as he plans and goes on his expeditions that take him as far as Erith Pier in the east and Hounslow Heath in the west. Some of this information comes from books whose titles range from the esoteric The 21 Lessons of Merlin: A Study in Druid Magic & Lore to the practical County of London Plan, 1943; the rest is obtained through fieldwork. On one such occasion, eager to find out what wassailing is, Rogers joins a group of locals in Hackney for this fertility ritual, which involves singing and drinking to fruit trees, an unorthodox way to explore the Lea Valley on a cold January day.

Anna Aslanyan reviews John RogersThis Other London.

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honest work: an experimental review of an experimental translation published 09/11/2013


If you want the real review, you’ll have to hire a camera crew to follow me for the rest of my life. Pretend you’re the book’s author and translator searching for evidence you’ve had an effect on me. If you see no effects, you’ll have your answer. If you do see effects, you’ll have to ask yourself whether my reactions were genuine or if I performed for you and your readers’ benefit.

Matthew Jakubowski on Chantal Wright‘s translation of Yoko Tawada‘s Portrait of a Tongue.

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Raw Power published 07/11/2013

What’s most interesting about Science Fiction, some would say, is its dystopian bent. The genre twitches if not bulges with works containing a pulse-pounding progressive inclination complete with overarching themes that speak of anxieties about and enthusiasms for the unraveling of society. Eschewing pseudo rationality and techno fetishism such works deal not so much with prediction, but instead hold a mirror up to the present. Radical ideas are applied to fantastic narratives by writers like Orwell, Dick, and Dave Wallis (Only Lovers Left Alive). But the grooviest, hottest and horniest of these is surely Robert Anton Wilson, high and fly and way too wet to dry.

So, why is the late RAW largely forgotten and overlooked these days? This is the teasing question raised by John Higgs, the main speaker at a recent event at London’s Horse Hospital to celebrate Wilson’s life and achievements.

By Richard Cabut.

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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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