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

Violins, Dirty Shoes and Broken Biscuits: Laurie Lee as unknowing British Beatnik published 16/02/2015

At one point among the most celebrated writers of his day, Lee’s legacy in contemporary culture is accompanied by an eerie silence. Along with Down and Out in Paris and London, Midsummer Morning, is one of the definitive chronicles of the aimless wandering generation of Europe caught between two world wars. Each town with a real identity, and most characters displaying an at times laughably innocent vision of the world, the book portrays what feels to me at least as the last embers of an authentic European experience, before the destruction of war took place, and the subsequent white-washing of mass tourism took hold.

Robert Greer on the oft-overlooked early British beatnik, Laurie Lee.

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The Sensation of Failure published 15/02/2015


There’s the Freudian slip, and then there’s the Freudian insertion. I’m suspicious, usually, when in the course of a perfectly ordinary essay the writer chucks in a bit of Sigmund. It feels like a cheap trick, performed with the purpose of saying: look, perhaps what I’ve written isn’t that interesting but think about what I’ve not written, or how it is that what I’ve written – or not written – may signify something else, then think about the process of my writing, the effects of the meditation that has gone on while I’m producing these words, isn’t that the real prize, for profound and soulful people like you and me.

Emran Mian on love, betrayal and its politics.

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War and Morality published 08/02/2015


America’s wars have in fact always been represented, in films and novels, in the media, in the protests, in terms of their morality as much as in terms of their horror (or their glory). This manner of representing wars is very much like putting the cart before the horse.

Fred Russell on Ignorance and Morality.

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What Marxist Ideology Can Set In Motion published 07/02/2015


If the reason current U.S. free speech doctrine protects unrestricted spending by the wealthy in elections is because this insures that the political system does the bidding of plutocrats, then most people have no reason to affirm the free speech value of unlimited political spending by the wealthy: if free speech is a value, it must be good for everyone, not just the wealthy. (Notice that what is at stake is the moral status or acceptability of the legal claim: the status of the claim qua legal does not depend on these considerations.)

Brian Leiter on Marxist Ideology.

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Two Pieces on Film: Hitchcock & Bresson published 02/02/2015

The theme of existential doubt – Am I really me? Am I really sure of not having done or seen or heard that which I cannot remember in any way, but which everything at present colludes to assure me that I heard it said or saw it done? – appears in almost every Hitchcock film.

Clément Rosset on Alfred Hitchcock and Robert Bresson.

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What Leo Strauss set in motion. published 31/01/2015


Strauss has an ironic, double meaning here as in almost all the names he chooses. What Strauss thinks is being hidden is the urging of the rule of one best man, reactionary and in our times, authoritarian or fascist rule. Similarly when Strauss speaks of Natural Right and History in a lecture series in honor of the Declaration of Independence, a superficial reader will imagine him to be talking about natural rights – of individuals. But he actually affirms “the classical view: inequality ” and means natural right as the “right” to dominate of the stronger

Alan Gilbert on Leo Strauss’s esoteric fascism.

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European Marks published 24/01/2015


A Mark (or March, Marches) is the European name for a border, a frontier, a “boundary” territory; its name comes from early Middle Ages. The Franks called it marka, Anglo-Saxons called it mearc, but both nations meant only one thing by the word: something that is situated between two sources of power, political and economical influence, and law.

Kirill Kobrin on borders.

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Why does America torture? published 02/01/2015

Habeas corpus – the right of each prisoner to a day in court and not to be tortured – is, as Philip Soper argues, the central feature of a system of law as opposed to despotism. It is what had distinguished (somewhat, if one does not disregard genocide against indigenous people, the ordinary practice of slavery, Jim Crow and the like, which mark American history…) the US or English system of law from, say, the Chinese.

Alan Gilbert on US Torture.

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America at War: Errol Morris and the Era of the Perpetrator published 31/12/2014

Morris, by not a priori taking the point of the view of the victim, is asserting the political dimension of human suffering that cannot be captured by the simple reaffirmation that violence causes pain and, as such, must be deplored. He is trying to draw out the intellectual link between the vicissitudes of power and the causes of human suffering.

Julian Cosma on the role of the perpetrator-witness in Errol Morris’ Fog of War, Standard Operating Procedures, and Unknown Known.

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World Versus America: Ballard And The Global Asylum published 30/12/2014

An insane text, with the capacity to mutate into image, is the only form able to project Ballard’s wasteland-cityscapes, abandoned cinemas, motorways and mental hospitals, all populated exclusively by the terminally insane. That unsustainable strain of condensation in Ballard’s writing was released by 1973 with Crash, but by a final aberration, it returned to his work in the notebook form of his final fiction project, World Versus America, from around 2005, when the contemporary world has become a global insane asylum of arbitrary reversals and compulsions, and a European coalition of America’s former allies must now unite to destroy it, using terrorist strategies, as the only means to annul its irrepressible neo-colonial manias.

Stephen Barber autopsies J.G. Ballard.

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