Consequences of Empire

Neal Ascherson

When Iremember the British Empire, two scenes – two stage sets, really – come to mind. One is a courtroom in Uganda, when it was still a British protectorate. Joseph Kiwanuka, a battered but irrepressible editor, was being tried yet again for ‘criminal libel’ – the favourite charge used by the colonial authorities to deal with seditious newspapers. As the...


Poor Surrey

Jonathan Meades

In​ 1993 the soothsayer John Major advised that fifty years hence Britain ‘will still be the country of long shadows on county grounds, warm beer, invincible green suburbs, dog lovers and pools fillers’. Still? That suggests these properties were extant in 1993. And maybe they were, somewhere. The optimist premier equated country with county, with his native patch, Surrey, where...


Campus Speech

Amia Srinivasan

A question: if universities and colleges ‘should’ condemn Hamas’s morally abhorrent attack, why ‘shouldn’t’ they also condemn Israel’s morally abhorrent war of revenge?


Reading Raphael Samuel

Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite

Raphael Samuel​ adopted his notetaking method from Beatrice and Sidney Webb, progenitors of Fabian socialism, who developed it in the late 19th century:

Each thought or reference to a source was written or pasted onto a single side of a loose sheet of paper. It might be the source itself – an advertisement, a jam-jar label or an extract from a Xerox – it mattered only that it was...


Pakistan’s Political Future

Tom Stevenson

The twin cities​ of Islamabad and Rawalpindi represent the perfect inversion of the idea that military forces should be confined to barracks far from the seat of government, keeping the capital free for civil administration. Pindi is a busy contemporary metropolis. Right at its centre is the grand frontage of the Pakistani army’s general headquarters. The parliament, presidency,...


Rushdie, Khomeini and Me

Amir Ahmadi Arian

In​ his new memoir, Knife, Salman Rushdie composes an imaginary dialogue with the man who attacked him on 12 August 2022 as he was about to give a talk in the town of Chautauqua in New York State.* He tries to prove to Hadi Matar that the Rushdie he thought he knew has nothing to do with the real writer, at one point borrowing a metaphor from ‘The Shadow’, a short story by Hans...

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Ballard’s Enthusiasms

Edmund Gordon

By the time​ H.G. Wells died, in August 1946, the genre he’d done more than anyone to establish was headquartered on the other side of the Atlantic. John Wyndham and Arthur C. Clarke, the most important British science fiction writers to emerge after the war, published in the pages of American magazines. Attempts to revive the domestic scene failed to gather momentum until 1954, when


Italian counterfactuals

John Foot

Inthe dreadful 2001 film version of Louis de Bernières’s novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, a miscast Nicolas Cage plays the soldier hero. The opening scene depicts the (second) Italian invasion of Greece in 1941. Mussolini’s first invasion, in 1940, had been a political and military disaster, the first sign that Italian fascism’s ambitious war aims were...


Aztec Anachronisms

Adam Mars-Jones

Culture shock​ seems too mild a phrase to describe the arrival of Europeans in South and Central America. In his 1976 maverick classic, The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind (its category speculative neurohistory, at a guess), Julian Jaynes proposes that, at the time Pizarro and his men reached them, the Inca didn’t have full mental autonomy but only...


On Sarah Maldoror

Jeremy Harding

Awoman waits​ in a bare room for a meeting with her lover, who has been detained as an anti-colonial agitator. He is escorted from the cells by a Portuguese plain-clothes officer. This is Angola, sometime in the 1960s. The couple embrace; he asks for news of their children. Waiting outside, the security man overhears the woman promise to bring the prisoner a ‘full suit’ on her next...

Short Cuts

At the UCLA Encampment

Anahid Nersessian

On​ 25 April, a large group of students at the University of California, Los Angeles, set up an encampment on the main quadrangle of their campus. Flanked on all sides by plywood barricades, the Palestine Solidarity Encampment included smaller tents for sleeping as well as larger enclosures for food, first aid, electronics (phone chargers, batteries), musical instruments and art supplies....

At the British Museum

‘Life in the Roman Army’

Thomas Jones

Among​ the swords, daggers, scabbards, spearheads, shields, helmets, belts, cuirasses, trumpets, tombstones and portrait busts of emperors that you might expect to find in an exhibition entitled Legion: Life in the Roman Army (at the British Museum until 23 June) are a number of less martial, more everyday objects: louse combs, drinking vessels, tent pegs, manicure sets, games and, perhaps...

At the Movies

‘La Chimera’

Michael Wood

‘Judge ye,’ Ezra Pound says of a character in one of his poems, ‘Have I dug him up again?’ One answer is obviously yes. In ‘Sestina: Altaforte’, the old troubadour Bertran de Born – with his ‘whoreson dogs’ and ‘hell blot black’ – is as alive as any written character can be, and more alive than many of Pound’s...


Percival Everett’s ‘James’

Deborah Friedell

In​ 1867, Mark Twain went to Europe aboard the Quaker City, the ‘first luxury cruise in American history’. He was underwhelmed by the Titians in the Doge’s Palace – ‘there is nothing tangible about these imaginary portraits, nothing that I can grasp and take a living interest in’ – but awestruck by his tour guide. The man appeared to be – was...


Medieval Minstrels

Irina Dumitrescu

Of all​ the medieval people who sound as though they should be made up, Roland le Pettour, also known as Roland le Fartere, must be near the top of the list. An entertainer who worked for Henry II, Roland is recorded in several medieval registers as holding substantial tracts of land north of Ipswich. His yearly service to the king, at least as it has come down to us, was ‘saltum,...

Close Readings 2024

In our pioneering podcast subscription, contributors explore different areas of literature through a selection of key works. This year it’s revolutionary thought of the 20th century, truth and lies in the ancient world, and satire.

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Partner Events, Spring-Summer 2024

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