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

Neither Scylla nor Charybdis: Gauging Crisis published 27/01/2014


While Alex Rosenberg suggests that literary scholars have overextended their expertise by trying to read literature into science (or science into literature) without a real understanding of what science is, William Deresiewicz’s scathing article decries the reductionist reading (and what historians would refer to as ‘upstreaming’ or a whiggish interpretation of history) performed by a political scientist and science writer seen as not possessing a sufficient understanding of literature—nor, probably, of history. The problem with Rosenberg and Deresiewicz is the way in which they rush to pass judgment, using a few straw man examples (and an effort at disciplinary gate-keeping in the case of Rosenberg) to condemn entire areas of scholarship.

By Clarissa Lee.

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What Does Literature Know? published 24/01/2014

Alex Rosenberg’s diagnosis of the ills of the humanities is in fact aimed at literature departments, which he describes as suffering from “self-inflicted wounds.” But his confident attack on literary studies reveals a basic ignorance of the field. The one book he refers to as exemplary of the failures of literary research — Proust Was a Neuroscientist — was written not by a literature professor, but by a journalist subsequently discredited for plagiarism. Rosenberg’s claim that women and minority authors have shoved out the classics in English curricula is untrue in every department with which I am familiar. (We teach Phyllis Wheatly alongside Walt Whitman; Shakespeare’s stock has never been higher.) Finally, Rosenberg’s suggestion that humanities majors are in sharp and recent decline is misleading. While there was a big drop in the mid-seventies, for the past three decades the percentage of B.A.’s who receive English degrees has been stable.

Michael W. Clune responds to Alex Rosenberg.

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Ich bin ein Dandy published 22/01/2014

So, what is a dandy? In some respects, dandyism is a form of magic, or at least it requires a certain amount of magical thinking. Many dandyish affectations (smoking a pipe, drinking absinthe, wearing a cravat) involve a ritualistic set of activities, performed largely in private, with the aim of altering the consciousness of the participant. A well-tailored suit, the right pair of shoes or accessory, can confer a profound feeling of calm, confidence or wellbeing in the wearer as much as any concoction of herbs brewed up in a cauldron. Perhaps it is easier to identify dandyism than it is to define it. Sartorial elegance is clearly a requirement; the dandy must dress with a unique twist, develop a trademark, whether it be Oscar Wilde’s green carnation or Gerard de Nerval’s pet lobster, which he would walk on a lead through the Palais Royal gardens in Paris.

By Thom Cuell.

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Dead Mentors Talk: The pop world of Ballard and Burroughs published 14/01/2014

It is perhaps easy enough to see why Ballard/Burroughs might sate the avant-garde yearnings of that minority in the pop world who seek to reach beyond the sex and sentimentality of the genre’s early lyrics. The pair seemed to share an alluring aesthetic: alien and alienating whilst revelling in earthly trappings, a solipsistic individualism and a belief that reality is not all that it seems. Savage, stark, amoral, relentlessly transgressive, dismissive of conventional love and sex alike. Both used elements of science fiction whilst managing to transcend the presumed gaucheness of the space-bound clichés of the genre. Profoundly urban, like pop, the pair dwelt in high rises and retail parks, drugstores and alleyways. Completely lawless, like rock (or rather rock’s projected image), the characters in their work reject societal niceties and conventions far more completely than the seediest hoodlum you might find in crime literature.

By Ben Granger.

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What Colour is Time? Derek Jarman’s Soho published 12/01/2014

In 1984, the year when Derek Jarman took a lease on a studio flat in Phoenix House, above the Phoenix Theatre off Charing Cross Road, a compactly minuscule, but functional base, the uncurtained window set like a grid framing the Soho skyline, I associate time then with aqueous white rain skies over Leicester Square, and as candy coloured stripes: pink and white, maroon and grey, pistachio and russet bands according to my abstract notation of big city seasons.

Jeremy Reed recalls Derek Jarman‘s Soho for 3:AM.

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Memory games with Bolaño, or Of what is lost published 09/01/2014

I can’t tell you exactly, I can’t quote from the books of course, but what seems to unite Bolaño’s works is that all the characters are uncertain. For example, in The Skating Rink, no one can understand or explain their own behaviour, no matter how bizarre it becomes. In Bolaño’s early novella Monsieur Pain, the protagonist is not sure whether he is being followed and no longer knows who to trust – also, the crime at the centre of the story goes unsolved, so uncertainty wins out in big ways as well as small. All Bolaño is the same, it’s doubt doubt doubt, and no more so than in 2666.

By Rodge Glass.

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The new paideia published 07/01/2014

Both scientists and humanists use the wrong standards to evaluate their disciplines. While science advocates typically defend the worth of the humanities by whether humanists have generated theories that eventually bore practical fruit, humanities’ stewards defend the worth of the science on the basis of their contribution to human understanding. Simply put: scientists judge the worth of humanities with the same bar with which they judge the worth of the sciences, while humanists judge the worth of sciences with the same bar with which they judge the worth of the humanities.

Felipe De Brigade argues why and how the war between the sciences and humanities must stop.

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cura te ipsum published 02/01/2014

Too often the humanities’ defenders seek to show that writers, artists, and other cultural figures made important contributions to science, or even preempted or prefigured empirical discoveries not made until centuries later. “Proust was a Neuroscientist” may sound like a clever book title to admirers of that great author. But if Proust ever wrote anything that sounded like what some cognitive scientist said decades later it was entirely by accident.

Alex Rosenberg addresses some of the problems facing the humanities.

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Borders of the land & mind published 19/12/2013

Where did this novel-in-progress all start? Well, I’ve been attempting to start it, in various forms, for years, but a news piece in The Herald newspaper back in June this year triggered the real beginning to the process. This piece reported on a small community of Chileans who escaped the Pinochet regime in 1973, settling in Scotland on their arrival. Until 2012 I had lived in Glasgow for 15 years, it had been my education, and I wanted to write about it, but from a distance. Here was an opportunity.

By Rodge Glass.

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


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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