:: Essays

One Language published 14/01/2019

2.4 A setting for the most elementary use of language appears in the beginning of Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations. It consists of only four words: block, pillar, slab, and beam. A builder calls them out one by one, and an assistant hands them over in the order in which they are requested.

2.5  From there, the Investigations goes on to show how our language is so much more complicated than such words that identify simple objects. We use a plurality of language games to do a variety of things: joke, lie, sing, greet, thank, curse, praise, promise, pray, and so on.

2.6  Yet the “complete primitive language” that sets Wittgenstein’s philosophical argument in motion is a clear nod to that time when “the whole earth was one language, one set of words.” What his two lonely builders agree to erect seems very much like the Tower of Babel, which led to the confusion of humanity’s language and the dispersion of its original form of life.

David Kishik on Babel.

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Dustan Revisited published 12/01/2019

These obsessive evocations of a gay ghetto of bars and casual sex, modelling itself closely on late-capitalist values of repetition-compulsion and instant gratification, are wilfully perverse celebrations of impersonal intimacy: an anti-assimilationist cri de coeur that riled critics, gay and straight alike. For one of the strange ironies of AIDS was that it became the perfect PR piece for a new, conservative gay agenda: a crusade for nuclear family values and middlebrow bourgeois respectability, alienated from any kind of liberationist critique of the status quo. It was only through the scourge of AIDS that homosexual identity could be redeemed, safely rehabilitated into the family, with gay men remade into victims deserving of sympathetic interventions and public pity. Writing against this narrative of suffering and ersatz redemption, Dustan incarnated an impish, cavalier irresponsibility.

Daniel Culpan revisits Guillaume Dustan‘s life and work.

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Like Life: Radical Realism and the Fiction of Sam Pink published 11/01/2019

Pink has been described variously as “surreal,” “bizarro,” “experimental,” and “minimalist,” among other attempts to characterize his short novels and stories. That reviewers might respond differently in assessing a writer’s work is of course inevitable, but in Pink’s case such disparate labels is surprising, since all of the fiction he has published so far seems readily identifiable as realism, albeit a particularly plotless, episodic kind.

By Daniel Green.

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The Weight of a Body in a Photograph published 09/01/2019

I dream of the sea. Entering fully clothed where the tide ends. Diving in where the waves break. My wet hair feels as slick as the fish that swim past caressing my sides. I want to remain here. At first it is hard to keep my body from floating up. Then, it becomes heavy. I sink to a place opposite the sea floor where a substance neither like air nor water keeps all bodies both apart and touching. The fear you feel when you hear or see someone who approaches, then disappears.

By Elisa Taber.

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The Death of “the Death of” published 08/01/2019

If we truly are witnessing the novel in its death throes, it is but one casualty among many in an accelerating age of cognitive stratification, increased specialization, fish tank communities, and proliferating aesthetic niches. The internet has made so much of this possible, and it’s hard not to see every art form going the same way. No taste is triumphant anymore. This is to say that the mainstream is itself in peril as much as the domination of any narrative art within it. Indeed, the very notion of a mainstream seems to be perishing in overproduction and disaffection with the cultural gatekeepers.

Jared Marcel Pollen on the death of the mainstream.

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Those Poisonous Fields published 17/12/2018

It was a strange week to be in London, and Irish. It was particularly strange to be in London, and Irish, and doing the work I was doing. I was there to look dispassionately at the letters in the Tate archive between Betjeman and Clark, engaged in conversations about cultural diplomacy—and propaganda opportunities—between Britain and neutral Ireland during the Second World War. At the same time, the daily news was focused upon Britain’s withdrawal agreement with the EU, due to be finalised that week, though it seemed to be foundering on the question of the Irish border. Anglo-Irish relations were being rudimentarily summarised in every paper for English readers hitherto evidently unfamiliar with it. The degree of ignorance of even basic facts about Northern Ireland—spoken about as if it were a distant place, as if it were not part of the United Kingdom—was astonishing.

By Nathan O’Donnell.

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When Negativity Don’t Pull You Through: Asides 2 published 14/12/2018

Schopenhauer’s pessimism stands as a challenge to attempts to justify the value of life. As indicated above, the pessimist case was articulated by Schopenhauer in the nineteenth century and it was for a couple of decades as controversial an issue as Darwinism. A few quotes give the detonating flavour of his thesis:
‘We will not have to seek hell below the earth because we already are living it here and now.’ ‘The world is hell, and we humans are its tormented souls and its devils.’ ‘The essential meaning of the world famous monologue in Hamlet is this: that our life is so miserable that complete non-existence would be preferable to it.’   ‘The purpose of our existence is indeed to declare nothing more than the knowledge that it is better we never existed.’

Richard Marshall on Schopenhauer’s Pessimism and the Controversy that Followed.

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Another Way of Seeing published 12/12/2018

John Berger in Ways of Seeing speaks of the woman in terms of the surveyor and surveyed: she is constantly scrutinised by men, and so comes to regard herself accordingly, instinctively. I knew what it was to be surveyed when young, but only through the lens of being mixed-race. What I realised quickly was that it was a distraction to others: they were too busy commenting on my (imagined) intelligence and my looks. And so they thought my mind also must be on things they ascribed to the culture they could see—being obedient and studious, the perfect stereotype, even though I was only half. So I began to lose myself in those active images, where a woman seemed to give as much as she received, instinctually understanding her importance in the role of pleasure and seizing it. If no one would let me be in other ways: just a child allowed to fail or act up, not a curiosity in a city where I and my mother were immediately identifiable as something else, then I would be myself in the way they couldn’t see, and what was more, I would never define myself in terms so they could understand.

By Tomoé Hill.

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Goats & Quinces published 11/12/2018

If Le Quattro Volte is a film about the cycle of life, then Victor Erice’s El sol del membrillo (which translates as ‘The Quince Tree Sun’) is a still life, a natura morte.

By Richard Skinner.

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When Negativity Don’t Pull You Through: Asides on The Pessimismus Controversy 1 published 05/12/2018

In Bostridge’s obsession we’re drawn to a frozen non-identity creeping about, a Byronic lover going beyond whatever is now absent, beyond anything existing, finding the weight, beauty and indissoluble actuality of negation. Dylan’s ‘Clothesline Saga’ from the official Basemeant Tapes works the same inconsequential ramble, freighted with the refusal of deep memories and the certainty that nothing can happen. When nothing happens we remember the date and the name of the bridge from where its mystery is thrown off. We remember the weather which is just another sinister shaggy dog story. Another nothing.

Richard Marshall`s aside on negation’s creative hand.

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