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Index: Alan Wall Essays

Tragedy: The modern heist.

By Alan Wall.  •  The Tragic Dilemma he gods still lurk in the background of modern tragedy. Characters cock one ear to see if they can make out the congratulation or tears from afar. But they hear nothing, or perhaps they hear the distant sound of laughter. It is not a cheering sound. It is […]

‘King of infinite space’.

The Virtue of Uncertainty. By ALAN WALL. ◊ t is a curious fact, a vivid historical coincidence, that the great French scientist Laplace was formulating his notions at precisely the same moment that John Keats was writing his letters about Shakespeare. Laplace was an eloquent spokesman for classical causality: we can summarise this crudely by […]

The Lad from Stratford.

A Fortnightly Review. ◊ Elizabeth Winkler Shakespeare Was a Woman and Other Heresies: How Doubting the Bard Became the Biggest Taboo in Literature Simon and Schuster 2023 | £13.77 $19.38. • By ALAN WALL. ll that follows is by way of deeply troubled reflections. I do not have any fixed opinions on the authorship question. The […]


Signs of the Times By Alan Wall. e couldn’t have had the Renaissance nowadays. Too many books involved. A fire hazard. Health and Safety would not have stood for it. If it’s not online, it can’t be relevant anyway. The accessibility of knowledge is the proof of its utility. If it’s not mainline, then it’s […]

Birthing the Minotaur.

Alan Wall: ‘The price of civilization is our emotional crippledom. You want the Taj Mahal, Michaelangelo, aeroplanes? Then go buy yourself a mental walking-stick.’

The Persistence of the Song.

Alan Wall: ‘Blues has had an incalculable influence on modern song. Many of the basic riffs of the Rolling Stones come straight out of standard blues refrains: Keith Richards has been an assiduous student of black music.’

M. Baudelaire’s nightlife.

Alan Wall: ‘Nineteenth-century France does appear to be full of fellows slagging off their old mums at every opportunity, and having tea with them the following day. Oedipus reconciled, eh. Baudelaire’s trial for obscenity took place in 1857; Flaubert’s in 1859.’


Alan Wall: ‘Etymology is mostly strict and scholarly these days. Even to the point where it contradicts our presuppositions. Faced with the word ravenous, we might reasonably suppose that a raven lives there. After all, this is a big, commanding, eye-plucking bird. Pruk-pruk. It used to make a feast of our dead, lying around after battle – maybe it will again one day. But here the etymology disappoints.’

Representation by millimetres.

Alan Wall: ‘G. K. Chesterton once remarked that the phrase ‘He has lost his reason’ is often the precise opposite of the truth. He has lost human affection, any sense of balance, any residue of charity or compassion, but his reason continues. Whirring away in a vacuum. And that is Dr Strangelove.’

The Metaphoric Graveyard.

Alan Wall: ‘Obviously, the words are not always to hand. Words disappear; they fall out of use irretrievably, particularly when a language substantially changes form.’

‘No Worst There Is None’: Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Alan Wall: ‘Hopkins is exercising extreme intelligence inside this text; he is helping the words to locate themselves with maximum vigour and force. This is the ultimate vindication of the task of the philologist-poet. To find eloquence not in smoothness, but in the jagged soundings of potent speech.’

The poet as essayist.

Alan Wall: ‘When George Oppen wrote ‘Of Being Numerous’ in the 1960s he was a writing a consciously, formally democratic verse. It fragments and recombines. It celebrates the ‘shipwreck of the singular’. The ‘I’ has been fractured. It is no more an isolated entity, a singularity that commands its world.’

A Note on Inscape, Descriptionism and Logical Form.

Alan Wall: ‘They have achieved a significant form that grafts them on to one another, as though they were organically related, or at least symbiotically fused. The space between them ceases to be homogeneous, and becomes shaped instead. Homology signifies a shared origin in function and development. For example, pectoral fins, bird wings, and the forelimbs of mammals – all are homologous, whereas bird wings and insect wings are merely analogous.’


Alan Wall: ‘We are outnumbered by the dead. Should they all return at once, our world would be crowded, perhaps beyond endurance. Bob Hope waits in cryonic suspension, ready for that moment when the medical technology can restore him to the ranks of the living, where he might once more set the table on a roar, as Yorick too had done, before they laid him in the earth, before digging him up again. A prolepsis of archaeology.’

Shakespeare’s dysnarrativia.

Alan Wall: ‘What happens if your dysnarrativia is willed? What kind of language are we looking at if the subject deliberately disconnects from communal usage and expectation, for whatever reason? Hamlet does just this.’