COLUMNS In Praise of Curiosity

by Ed Simon

The Argentinean writer Alberto Manguel, a close friend of Borges, argues that ‘“Why?”, in its many variations, is a question far more important in its asking than in the expectation of an answer. The very fact of uttering it opens numberless possibilities, can do away with preconceptions, summons up endless fruitful doubts.’ Curiosity requires a willingness to embrace negative capability and to be mired in skepticism, but the results of individual questioning — even if the process remains unanswered — is the entrance into a reality more expansive in infinite potential than that offered by mere certainty. Such an ethos isn't that of our current discourse (maybe it never was), for curiosity is a skill like any other, but today its teaching isn't given pride of place. [read full column]

ESSAY There is Nothing Better

by Stuart Walton

The historian Barbara Rosenwein is the latest to wonder whether a typology of the myths of love might be teased out of the centuries-long obsession with its elusive ideal. She distinguishes five of these: the miraculous kinship that unites soulmates; the transcendent rapture of the besotted state; selfless devotion to the loved one; ineradicable yearning that feeds on itself; and the blinkered carnal rampancy of the sex appetite. For all that its elements have propagated into five, there is an unmistakable hint here of Plato's triune definition of the soul, descending from the noble ideals housed in the head to the spirited adventures of the heart, and thence to the importunate hungers of the nether regions — the belly and genitals, their lust for possession. [read full essay]

Fiction as Service

Mark McGurl, Everything and Less: The Novel in the Age of Amazon

reviewed by Christopher Webb

The last decade or so has seen an increasing number of literary critics turn their attention to one of the most obvious yet interpretatively confounding forces to have shaped the novel in recent times: the internet. While the novel itself appears to have had no problem facing up to it (we might think of the recent work of Lauren Oyler or Patricia Lockwood), literary criticism on the other hand seems to have adopted a more troubled posture, often finding itself cautious or sceptical about the... [read more]

A Bunch of Losers

Sam Riviere, Dead Souls

reviewed by Huw Nesbitt

Sam Riviere is a rip-off artist. In his new book Dead Souls, he can’t write a sentence without stealing someone else’s ideas, yet somehow this becomes its allure — let me explain. His new novel is a knockoff, a forgery, a fake, and is so full of deception that even its press contains outright lies. (Already a distinguished poet, Riviere’s Dead Souls is marketed as his prose fiction debut, when in fact this was Safe Mode, his 2017 ‘ambient novel’). Instead of writing an original... [read more]

Golden Hayfields and Wildflowers

Margarita Liberaki, trans. Karen Van Dyck, Three Summers

reviewed by Lamorna Ash

Until today, I did not believe in crying over books. I had heard reports of such occurrences, sure, but I remained sceptical of their validity. I didn’t believe the way people tend to read (in short bursts, mostly) could produce spontaneous tears. Crying in films seemed more plausible. In a dark cinema, especially, you are held captive by the narrative’s emotional arc, unable to look away, to split its duration into fragments so as to minimise its impact on the heart. But, then, moments ago... [read more]

We are all bitched from the start

Sandra Spanier & Miriam B. Mandel (eds.), The Letters of Ernest Hemingway, Volume 5: 1932–1934

reviewed by Elena Zolotariov

When one thinks of Ernest Hemingway, two images usually spring to mind. There is the familiar Ernest of the 1920s in Paris: youthful, energetic, courageous and fearless, with dimples in his cheeks; an image perpetuated by the author himself in his posthumous memoir A Moveable Feast. Then there is the seminal image of Papa Hemingway in his Christian Dior sweater as immortalised by celebrity portraitist Yousuf Karsh. Gazing purposefully far into the distance, freckled from the sun, sagacious and... [read more]

A Ring of Echoes

Thomas Karshan & Kathryn Murphy (eds.), On Essays: Montaigne to the Present

reviewed by Erin McFadyen

In their introduction to On Essays: Montaigne to the Present, author-editors Kathryn Murphy and Thomas Karshan invoke the voice of the American poet and essayist Rachel Blau du Plessis, who writes on the essay from the perspective of a practitioner. ‘Given,’ as Blau du Plessis puts it, ‘that the essay is all margin, marginalia, and interstitial writing, it rearranges, compounds, enfolds, and erodes the notion of the centre in textually fruitful ways.’ Blau du Plessis asks where the... [read more]

What We Call Progress

Alice Hattrick, Ill Feelings

reviewed by Connor Harrison

There is a feeling that the COVID pandemic has treated us all, to some degree or another, as ill people. Isolated, masked and watching our bodies for signs of change, the lockdowns have engendered the idea that we now know what it is to live with chronic illness. Time started to curdle by late morning; holidays and trips out became impossible; it became plain that the government saw us at best as customers, and at worst, as cattle. And as the rules were shifted and nudged to the point that... [read more]

Suddenly an Aubergine

Claire-Louise Bennett, Checkout 19

reviewed by Liam Harrison

Claire-Louise Bennett likes stuff. She likes things, objects, bric-a-brac, and she likes contemplating their dimensions, curvature and tactility. ‘I’ve always been very taken with aubergines,’ the narrator states in Bennett’s new novel Checkout 19, ‘with the way they are so tightly sheathed in a shining bulletproof darkness.’ Bennett takes an everyday object – the humble aubergine – and lets her mind linger on it, dwelling on fleeting sensations until the object appears... [read more]

Is Tragedy Dialectical?

Simon Critchley, Tragedy, The Greeks, and Us

reviewed by Joel White

Notions of what dialectics mean abound. Are they a philosophical method invented by Plato that attempts, through refutation, to elicit the truth of what something is without resort to the particular thing itself: a method that sorts nature into kinds so as to rid us of epistemological doubts? Or, are dialectics the movement of the concept as it actualises itself into actuality? To what extent does this second, more Hegelian notion of dialectics, as that which cannot catch its breath to speak or... [read more]

Another End of the World Is Possible

Srećko Horvat, After the Apocalypse

reviewed by Maša Uzelac

The Croatian philosopher Srećko Horvat made his name through his collaboration with philosopher-superstar Slavoj Žižek (in 2013 they co-authored What Does Europe Want? The Union and Its Discontents) and his work as a political activist: in 2016 Horvat along with Yanis Varoufakis founded the pan-European political movement DiEM25 advocating radical democracy and promoting international cooperation. His latest book, After the Apocalypse, continues the line of thought from Poetry from the... [read more]

Wittgenstein on the Poetic Frontline

Richard Barnett, Wherever We Are When We Come to the End

reviewed by Tim Murphy

At the outbreak of the First World War, Ludwig Wittgenstein, then in his mid-20s and a member of the second wealthiest family (after the Rothschilds) in the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, volunteered as a private soldier in an Austro-Hungarian regiment. The young philosopher, who volunteered despite being eligible for a medical exemption, went on to win several medals for his bravery. Wittgenstein wrote the notes for his early treatise, the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (hereafter TLP), while he... [read more]