Against the Origin Story

Hazel V. Carby

History​ is written by the victors, but diligent and continual silencing is required to maintain its claims on the present and future. It is a mistake to believe that white supremacy is something nurtured and reproduced by extremist organisations and ‘bad apples’ in the armed forces and police. White supremacy is ubiquitous in the US. It operates in the most mundane aspects of daily life; in the economic order that decides who has what and how they get it; in the historical amnesia that makes some stories disappear; in the language we use to speak and name the past. Central here is the uncritical regurgitation of the mythologies of European settlement, the origin stories of the nation that are institutionalised at all levels of local, state and federal history and cultural memory. In Exterminate All the Brutes, Raoul Peck discusses his own refusal to affect the pose of the ‘restrained, moderate, balanced, judicious and neutral’ filmmaker. I too have broken with the conventions of intellectual neutrality in my work.

From the blog

Heart and Hood

Niela Orr

20 May 2022

Kendrick Lamar’s recent single ‘The Heart Part 5’ samples ‘I Want You’, Marvin Gaye’s torch song for Janis Hunter. The 1970s saw Gaye whipsaw from socially conscious poet (What’s Going On, 1971) to lover man (Let’s Get It On, 1973) to lovelorn Janis-stan (I Want You, 1976). (Maybe he was all of these things at many times in his life, as David Ritz’s biography suggests, but his public-facing self seemed to transform with each new record.)


Diamond Fields

Rosa Lyster

Diederik  De Beers took full control of the distribution channels, setting prices and constraining supply to ensure that diamonds remained aspirationally expensive even as the astonishing output of the South African mines showed that they were not particularly rare. It would be a perfect story for explaining the concept of monopoly to a child. 


On the case for civil war

James Meek

Liberal opinion in North America and Western Europe has tended to be gung-ho about pro-democracy protesters storming ruling institutions in other countries, notably Ukraine in 2014. But it’s one thing to imagine, as Barbara Walter encourages her readers to do, the gradual spread of white supremacist, anti-government terrorism across America against a democratic framework, until one day the progressive left, and the people of colour she suggests are likely to be targets of violence, arm and organise for self-protection. It’s another to wake up one morning and find that without any bloodshed or violence, without any seeming change in the smooth running of traffic signals and ATMs and supermarkets, without, even, an immediate wave of arrests or a clampdown on free speech, your country is run by somebody who took power illegally. Something must be done! But what, apart from venting on social media? And by whom? Me?

At Tate Modern

‘Surrealism beyond Borders’

Hal Foster

There​ is an urgent project in the humanities today to ‘provincialise Europe’, to open its cultural histories to critical views from elsewhere. One of the project’s imperatives is to decolonise European modernist art, to reveal its underpinnings in empire, including movements such as Surrealism that were more engaged than most with other perspectives and places. In...

Travels for the Mind

Travels for the Mind

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Europe’s Monsters

Jan-Werner Müller

In​ 1990 the heavy metal band Scorpions released ‘Wind of Change’, a song celebrating the end of the Cold War: ‘The future’s in the air/Can feel it everywhere.’ It also contained the hopeful lines: ‘Let your balalaika sing/What my guitar wants to say.’ It turns out, though, that they had it the wrong way round: it is Putin who calls the tune to which...


Edna St Vincent Millay

Ange Mlinko

When​ Edna St Vincent Millay was found dead at the bottom of the stairs in 1950, it came as an abrupt change in register – from Cinderella story to domestic tragedy, or addiction parable. She was 58. There was a wine glass and a bottle beside her, amid a spill of papers. Her husband, Eugen Boissevain, who had been her caretaker during their happily-ever-after of almost three decades,...


At Sandymount Strand

Anne Enright

I pass Sandymount Strand on the train into town. I might think of Joyce and Nora, but more often about Stephen’s encounter with the tide. I might also briefly consider eternity – it is hard not to, given the stretch of the view – or the drowned man at the end of ‘Proteus’, with the tiny fish darting in and out of his buttoned trouser fly. 

LRB notecards

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That Year Again

Collected pieces from the LRB on the year 1922, now available online and at the LRB bookshop. Featuring Helen Vendler on T.S. Eliot, Michael Wood on Nosferatu, Lewis Nkosi on the Harlem Renaissance and poems by Don Paterson and Anne Carson.

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