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Index: Notes & Comment

On Simon Blackburn’s Truth.

Anthony O’Hear: ‘ In Blackburn’s book, short as it is, there are what among intellectuals and the like are the now ritual swipes at the election of President Trump, at Brexit, and even at the second Iraq war. No doubt it is good to get such things off one’s chest, but given that in the first two cases anyway electoral majorities went one way rather than the other, one wonders what has happened to the commonality of our common pursuit. Who are the “we” here?’

Augustus Young’s ‘Heavy Years’.

Marianne Mays: ‘A book about the NHS could hardly be more timely or relevant than in this year of that institution’s seventieth birthday. The story covers the last decades of the twentieth century, tracing the inexorable growth of bureaucracy, with its proliferating superstructures and substructures, its conflicting interest groups and its tangled politics. ‘

Somewhere else.

Simon Collings: ‘Basildon, or ‘Baz’ as it’s referred to by locals, wasn’t meant to be like this. The vision for Britain’s post-war ‘New Towns’ described prosperous and happy communities – places of architectural and natural beauty which would, it was hoped, create a better type of person. The gap between the political vision, and the reality as recounted by local residents, is huge. This is the focus of New Town Utopia, a new documentary feature by Christopher Ian Smith. ‘

A short history of an always-growing national debt.

Nick O’Hear: ‘The main current issue is not that the national debt is too large, but that it is growing in a time of peace and prosperity. The argument revolves around the need for austerity and a more Keynesian view that we should invest for growth. Martin Slater points out that even Keynes believed in restraint.’

Pierre Loti.

Henry James: ‘The closer, the more intimate is a personal relation the more we look in it for the human drama, the variations and complications, the note of responsibility, which the loves of the quadrupeds do not give us. Failing to satisfy us in this way such a relation is not interesting, as Mr. Matthew Arnold says of American civilization. M. Pierre Loti is guilty of the perpetual naïveté (and there is a real flatness of repetition in it) of assuming that when exhibited on his own part it is interesting.’

Permanently Uncanonical.

A Fortnightly Review of Heretics of Language by Barry Schwabsky Black Square Editions 2017 | 248pp | $20.00 £15.04   By NIGEL WHEALE. BARRY SCHWABSKY IS art critic for The Nation, a prestigious American weekly with a list of contributors that includes Toni Morrison, E.L. Doctorow, Noam Chomsky (and Henry James, back in the day). […]

Doing silly on the equinox.

Nigel Wheale: ‘The Faction’s Dream is a dream, because each element is as compelling as another. But there is an angle. Tamarin McGinley’s Hippolyta gives ‘I was with Hercules and Cadmus once’ with a winky glance to audience. ‘

Artaud in Ireland.

Peter O’Brien: ‘Is it possible, entre-deux-guerres, to be more insightful than to imagine and begin planning for the coming apocalypse from the western precipice of the continent? And is there a safer place in Europe during the years of World War II than a lunatic asylum? Artaud spent the entire span of that second war in various asylums. When France was occupied by the Nazis, various of Artaud’s friends ensured that he was transferred to the psychiatric hospital at Rodez, in south-central France, well inside Vichy territory.’

Ibsen’s new drama.

By JAMES A. JOYCE. TWENTY YEARS HAVE passed since Henrik Ibsen wrote A Doll’s House, thereby almost marking an epoch in the history of drama. During those years his name has gone abroad through the length and breadth of two continents, and has provoked more discussion and criticism than that of any other living man. […]

The new life of Whistler.

Walter Sickert: ‘If Whistler has himself left, in an interesting and passionately felt life-work, a contribution to our better understanding of the visible world, he has also done another thing. He has sent the more intelligent of the generation that succeeds him to the springs whence he drew his own art — to French soil. ‘

Whistleblower Lit.

Anthony Howell: ‘We live in bewildering and depressing times. Recently, Labour’s victory in the local election was spun as a defeat in all the mainstream papers, even those papers that are supposedly inclined towards socialism. The BBC, which used to host satirical programmes and intense contrarian debates, is now perceived simply as a mouthpiece for government, with prospective employees routinely vetted by our secret services to ensure they adhere to the government line. ITV is little better. Gone are the vivid days of “Spitting Image”.’

1922, that liminal point.

Alan Wall: ‘he significance of the year 1922 is beyond question. Kevin Jackson in Constellation of Genius calls it Year One of modernism, and Ezra Pound took to dating his letters from the date of completion of Ulysses. This was the end of the Christian era. Yeats had already remarked, after watching Ubu Roi: “After us, the Savage God.” ‘

Jeffrey Kripal and the secret body.

A Fortnightly Review of Secret Body: Erotic and Esoteric Currents in the History of Religions by Jeffrey J. Kripal University of Chicago Press 2017 | 448pp | $45.00 £34.50 By JAMES GALLANT. JEFFREY KIRPAL HAS devoted a substantial part of his academic career to what he sometimes calls, in ironic deference to modern skepticism, “impossible” […]

Looking back in anger.

Alan Wall: ‘Kitaj was obsessed all his life with Cézanne, and Cézanne certainly believed that everything needed in life and art was here, right before us, but we had to learn to see with utter integrity, and that meant ridding ourselves of false visual conventions. It is not the subject-matter of art that makes it lofty, but its method of perception. ‘

Literature, operationalized.

Chloë Hawkey: ‘After I smiled and granted that I was enchanted, I was left with the what? What does this mean to my life or to Franco Moretti’s? This deepens my understanding, in a very technical sense, of the text, but does it enrich the experience I have reading in it? And does it enrich the life I lead once I’ve capped my pen and returned the book to the shelf?’