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Lorna Scott Fox

Lorna Scott Fox translates from Spanish.

From The Blog
16 January 2020

Since last September, Monday to Friday, City of London Magistrates’ Court has been filled by Extinction Rebellion defendants from around the country. XR court supporters are on hand with vegan snacks, hugs and advice, within limits. We’re not legally trained but we’re learning, recording arguments and outcomes, watching for patterns. It’s gumming up the system: the trials, single or in batches, may occupy all three courtrooms all day. At the end, the district judge typically commends the defendants for their high-minded unselfishness (a pleasant change, one said, from the usual lot), expresses personal sympathy with their concerns – and finds them guilty as charged.

Manuel Rivas

Lorna Scott Fox, 19 May 2011

Manuel Rivas writes in Galician, the least known of Spain’s official languages. Franco’s repression of the four regional languages ended up doing a great deal to stimulate their revival, and Rivas chooses to write in Galician even if not all his characters would have spoken it, even if it means his work’s literary life will be led mostly in translation. Jutting out over...

Clarice Lispector

Lorna Scott Fox, 8 April 2010

‘You killed my character!’ Clarice Lispector said angrily to the nurse who stopped her from marching out of hospital the day before she died of ovarian cancer, aged 57, in 1977. The Brazilian writer and her characters had always been close, and it seems that self and creation had finally merged in her mind. Others had already made the connection. After she left her husband in...

Fred Vargas’s romans policiers

Lorna Scott Fox, 9 April 2009

Fred Vargas is a woman. Said to be the sixth best-selling author in France, she is unusual there in being a female crime writer, in contrast with women’s dominance of the genre in Britain. Vargas also writes like a woman, if that implies an interest in character, feeling and motive, rather than ‘brutality and eroticism’ (Queneau’s description of the polar – a...

David Lodge

Lorna Scott Fox, 8 May 2008

Thirty years ago, the campus novels of David Lodge and Malcolm Bradbury mythologised a setting that expressed, better than any other, the cultural and ideological chaos of the 1960s and 1970s. The main characters were rarely students, but all the energy in these comedies of social transition flowed from the young: it was their politics and their sexuality that the generations above them were...

Return to Santiago

Lorna Scott Fox, 14 December 2006

The Moneda Palace in Santiago is white, and remarkably small. I recognise it from photographs taken on 11 September 1973, in which the bombers close above seem small, too, like fat flies. I must once have seen this building and found it large – my father was British ambassador to Chile from 1961 to 1966. As children in Santiago we led supervised lives, between the garden, the Austin Princess and the Alliance Française school. I had a faint sense of who Salvador Allende was in 1964, when he stood for president against Eduardo Frei Montalva. I’m being taken to church and low on a wall there’s a poster with sad-looking crowds, flags and exclamation marks, and Allende’s massive spectacle frames.

Lydie Salvayre

Lorna Scott Fox, 26 January 2006

The grumble from the camp of the so-called Anglo-Saxon model is that people have too easy a time over there in France. Social safety nets, protection of small businesses, quality food, pampered workers, productive yet lovely countryside, cheap dentists: you name it, it’s got to stop. But those to whom these errors look rather attractive will be confused by Lydie Salvayre’s radical...

A novel plea for silence

Lorna Scott Fox, 2 June 2005

When I said I was moving from northern Spain to Seville, the same warning came from every northerner I knew: those Andalusians always act so friendly, but watch out, you can’t trust them. I found this puzzling, for the only thing I’d want to trust them to be was friendly, however superficially; I didn’t expect them to save my life, or even to keep my non-existent secrets. In...

Martha Gellhorn’s Wars

Lorna Scott Fox, 2 September 2004

Martha Gellhorn, the war reporter and writer who feared nothing on earth so much as boredom, and hated the ‘kitchen of life’, was enamoured of a different drudgery – life’s cardboard boxes. She moved house obsessively from continent to continent, America to Europe, the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, back and forth: I daren’t venture an exact number of proper...

Diary: Aznar’s Mistake

Lorna Scott Fox, 1 April 2004

The bodies were still being collected, and the families had just begun their anguished search through hospitals and morgues, when Spanish embassies abroad received telegrams from their government instructing them to pin the blame on the Basque terrorist group ETA, to the exclusion of all other hypotheses – ‘in order to dispel whatever doubts certain interested parties might seek...

Victor Serge

Lorna Scott Fox, 22 May 2003

In The Long Dusk, Victor Serge’s novel about the fall of France, his alter ego Dr Ardatov escapes death just as the author did, on a boat out of Marseille in 1941. One of Ardatov’s companions, a much younger woman, Hilda, joins him on deck. She says something intense, he counters with something pompous. With a familiar irritation, she thinks: ‘I wish you were thirty years...

Mike Davies

Lorna Scott Fox, 4 April 2002

Mike Davis has gone from meat-cutting and truck-driving to a migrant professorship, from the hands-on New Left to the New Left Review, from California to Edinburgh, Belfast and back. He is one of the last relics of madder, more eclectic days. The poet and environmentalist Lewis MacAdams claims that ‘in a Greek restaurant one night I saw him talk his way through an entire dinner, from...

Haunted by du Maurier

Lorna Scott Fox, 2 November 2000

There is a whiff of apology about the beginning of this book. Daphne du Maurier is known to be a trashy writer of escapist romance: you’re likely to find Jamaica Inn, Frenchman’s Creek and Rebecca in the teenage section, and the other titles practically nowhere – so why this ardent study? By the end of it, though, Nina Auerbach has achieved quite a rehabilitation. This du...

Bullfighting

Lorna Scott Fox, 20 July 2000

Most people who are obsessive animal-lovers as children grow out of it. I didn’t. I still feel a helpless identification with most of them, and the scene in Apocalypse Now in which scurrying specks are bombed from helicopters simply made it harder for me to step on ants. So I find it difficult to justify my liking for the bullfight. My excuse – which, I should say, has never convinced anyone – is that of all our dealings with animals, bullfighting at its best seems the most dignified. I was nine when I read the memoirs of the great Peruvian fighter Conchita Cintrón. Fascinated by falconry, and pretty pompous about training the family dog, I was very taken with the technicality of bullfighting – and by Cintrón’s ability to recall vividly, almost lovingly, the details of each creature’s character. Hers was not an adversarial approach, which meant that I was spared the machismo. At my first bullfight years later in Arles, I lapped it up in horror and rapture.’

A Cézanne-Like Vision of Peaches

Lorna Scott Fox, 30 March 2000

At last a full-length biography of the Mexican painter and muralist Diego Rivera: a famously fat, genial, enigmatic and ruthless man, with the politician’s mix of idealism and opportunism; an artist on the loose in the public world who made his mark on the first half of the 20th century. Following Bertram Wolfe’s political portrait of 1939, most of the reassessments have lain hidden in scholarly monographs, and Rivera is chiefly remembered these days as the husband of Frida Kahlo, Gender Studies’ emblematic victim – not least because it was Rivera who received all the attention during their lifetime. It’s a shame, then, that this book provides so little analysis of his impact on American culture, both north and south of the border.’

From The Blog
23 October 2017

‘Here, the dead are more alive than ever,’ the ad on the radio said. ‘That’s why I love Mexico.’ I was on my way to Tlayacapan, one of Mexico’s pueblos mágicos, a category invented to promote tourism. Tourism is down in this magic village. Located near the epicentre of the earthquake of 19 September, in Morelos state, south-west of the capital, it experienced the worst impact in living memory. There are husks of adobe homes on every street, most of the churches are damaged, and the town hall clock tower fell; the arches where the last scene of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid was filmed are still standing, pocked and scuffed as if after a gun battle. I saw a sign flapping taped to a gate: ‘Careful with the wall.’ A woman was organising a tequio, the old indigenous form of community labour, to make adobe bricks. Scrawled in purple all the way across a yellow house, its outbuildings now tidied into piles of rubble, was: ‘Thanks to everyone for your help.’ The state is nowhere to be seen, apparently.

From The Blog
2 April 2014

There’s a video online purportedly of the moment last night’s earthquake struck northern Chile. We’re in a small flat, maybe in Iquique. Women scream, a man keeps saying ‘It’ll pass, it’ll pass,’ as the mobile phone, presumably held by a heartless teenager, sways through rooms where everything is bouncing and falling off the walls. The noise is deafening. That’s what scared me most during my first quake, the huge one (magnitude 9.5) in Chile in 1960. I was too small to understand till much later how deadly it was. Apart from the racket – imagine every single object in the house coming to life, banging, sliding, rattling, creaking, and often crashing down – it was rather fun: tiles flying off the roof, the swimming pool slopping from side to side, the cook on her knees, imploring the Virgin at the top of her voice.

From The Blog
1 October 2012

On 25 September, thousands of Spanish citizens from students to pensioners set out to surround the parliament building in Madrid, demanding an end to the current political system and the establishment of a new Constituent Assembly. The deputy prime minister dared to compare it to 23-F, the failed coup in 1981 when pistol-popping Civil Guards took the parliamentary chamber hostage. Days before last week’s action, the national police fenced off the whole area. I was in a bar nearby when three cops wandered in for a drink the night before the demonstration. What did they think about it? ‘As police officers, we’ll do our job,’ said one. ‘But we are also individuals in society. I’d be out there with them.’ ‘Yup, 90 per cent of us would be there,’ said another. Maybe the other 10 per cent included the riot police, who in the event did their job with convincing enthusiasm.

From The Blog
4 April 2012

On 20 March, a Spanish judge gave prosecutors leave to proceed with a case against an 80-year-old nun charged with kidnapping. According to lawyers for victim groups, as many as 350,000 babies were stolen from poor, single or left-wing mothers between 1938 and the late 1980s. Sister María Gómez Valbuena, who had links with a maternity clinic and put ads in the paper offering help to unmarried mothers, is the first persoas many as 350,000 babies were stolen from poor, single or left-wing mothers between 1938 and the late 1980sn to be prosecuted for it.

From The Blog
18 January 2010

Around 1985 I found a badly printed little paperback at Grant & Cutler called De viaje por los países socialistas, by Gabriel García Márquez. It was an eye-opener – the first playful, thoughtful, intimate, non-ideological take on the Eastern bloc I’d read. García Márquez has always called himself a journalist. It turns out that his literary-intellectual formation was nurtured not only by the chatty spirits around his grandmother and the depredations of the United Fruit company, but also by the fabulous variations of Communism he observed on a couple of semi-clandestine trips in the late 1950s.

The book was a trove of weird anecdotes and shrewd assessments. Slightly unpolished, perhaps, but still, why hadn’t it been translated?

Who was Calvert Casey?

Lorna Scott Fox, 1 April 1999

‘Calvert Casey was born in Baltimore and raised in Havana. Calvert Casey was born in Havana and raised in Baltimore. American or Cuban, it’s the same … The only certainty is that he was a writer.’ This is how Guillermo Cabrera Infante, who knew him as well as anyone did, got around the vagueness that still surrounds the early life of Calvert Casey, the cult author of 17 stories, a handful of critical articles and a poem. There has been little research on his life or the unpublished texts that are rumoured to exist, and the stories we have are hard to date more precisely than to the ‘early Sixties’ or ‘late Sixties’, in accordance with his three original collections of 1962, 1963 and 1969; but this is likely to be rectified soon. Casey’s mildly tragic life and meagre oeuvre are being rediscovered by a new generation of Latin Americans, who’ve had enough of the magic realist/political masters and their sensual and linguistic excesses. A wholesale ‘structural adjustment’ has taken place within the culture: if Casey was obscured during the age of thick tomes, his economical, almost ecological restraint in dealing with both the gross and the infinitesimal now provides a precedent for younger writers, while the crucial ineptitude for living that he expresses is entirely appropriate for the disabled Nineties.‘

Mario Vargas Llosa

Lorna Scott Fox, 17 September 1998

Some time in 1970 or 1971, I was picking boring books at random off my employer’s shelf – I was an au pair in Barcelona – when I opened a novel that had me laughing, and transfixed, by the bottom of the first page. My ignorance meant that I was one of the few people to discover One Hundred Years of Solitude without all that baggage of pleasures foretold. I was excited, and on learning that this was not simply one book, but part of the Latin American boom, I decided to study these works at university. Two authors gradually displaced the overripe, over-imitated Márquez from the top of my list: Julio Cortázar and Mario Vargas Llosa. The first constructed a dream of Buenos Aires and Paris, balancing paper-thin speculations in a bubble of eternal studenthood. The second couldn’t have been more different. A pungent brutality steeped the many voices in sexualised politics; and there was a cruel numbness that seemed the condition, somehow, of being Peruvian – I’ve been afraid of visiting that country ever since.’

Salvador Dali

Lorna Scott Fox, 2 April 1998

Modern artist as con-man: Salvador Dalí. The phoniness of Dalí’s work from the late Thirties until his death in 1989 coincided with the period of his greatest notoriety and wealth. He threw political and aesthetic principle to the dogs, becoming a born-again supporter of Franco and a fervent monarchist in order to ensure his security after the defeat of the Spanish Republic, and spent the rest of his life as a salon jester of cosmic pretensions.

Diary: ETA goes to the Guggenheim

Lorna Scott Fox, 13 November 1997

Jeff Koons didn’t know how right he nearly was when he told a reporter from El País that his monumental flower sculpture Puppy had an ‘untamed’, ‘belligerent’ quality. The next day, Monday 13 October, a florist’s van pulled up outside the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and two men proceeded to unload a delivery of shrubs as if to stick them onto the giant dog looming over the esplanade. It so happened that Koons, though failing to produce the works for the Jeff Koons Room inside, had kept to schedule with Puppy and no more greenery had been required since Saturday. For this reason a member of the autonomous Basque police, the Ertzaintza, checked the numberplate of the van – and found it to be false. When he asked for identification, he was shot in the back (and died the next day). Three men fled; one was caught later with the help of passers-by, while 12 anti-tank grenades and a remote-control device were found in the pots.’‘

Dancing in Her Doc Martens

Lorna Scott Fox, 18 September 1997

‘Dares to be intellectual,’ breathed the Guardian’s review of Patricia Duncker’s first novel, Hallucinating Foucault. But co-opting the defenceless Michel Foucault into a romanticised fantasy about the Reader does not guarantee a novel’s intellectuality. The story of the timid Cambridge student who falls in love with the subject of his thesis – French writer Paul Michel, a malign blend of Dany Cohn-Bendit and Guy Hocquenghem – and carries him off from an asylum, struck me above all as daring to be improbable. Not because this couldn’t happen, nor because of any objection to the post-psychological and post-realist, but because the most artificial kinds of writing usually aim at coherence on some non-psychological, non-realist level, whether emotional, formal or imaginative. Or even intellectual. But here some notions are launched only to stagnate in repetition, while the rest are noisily hammered into shape for our entertainment. Foucault, for instance, stars as Michel’s imaginary interlocutor and ideal reader, antagonist and alter ego; his death may have precipitated Michel’s breakdown. But this promising idea is continually restated rather than developed, and has no significance beyond itself.’

Like Heaven

Lorna Scott Fox, 22 May 1997

I wonder how many culture-pilgrims have journeyed to Martinique since Texaco won the Prix Goncourt in 1992, to see whether a shanty town of that name really exists. The novel may be a lush documentary or it may be a historical romance: we can’t be sure. In any case, it is likely to change the way we think about the lives and circumstances of millions of people living on the periphery of large cities in underdeveloped parts of the world. With its mangrove-like proliferations and sinuous shapes and rules, the quartier of Texaco is the urban embodiment of black memory. That memory, dislocated and improvised, does not include Africa. The story begins with chaos in the belly of a slave ship, continues with the slave cabins scattered around the Grand-Case, the first incarnation of City – or l’En-ville – to which Texaco later appends itself, and goes on to trace the faltering attempt, after Abolition, to create a separate society in the hills. It culminates in the mass gravitation back to the edge of l’En-ville, an orderly ‘Western’ centre which, Chamoiseau says, is only given meaning by its turbulent margins. And these, in turn, need l’En-ville ‘like having a breadfruit tree by the hutch’.’

Diary: Reality in the Aguascalientes

Lorna Scott Fox, 23 January 1997

Village names in the Mexican state of Chiapas read like a rosary of Indian aspirations and frustrations. There’s Liberty, Solitude, Hope, Sigh, Alliance, Future; Triumph lies not far from Revenge. As poet and stage-manager of the three-year-old Zapatista insurrection, the EZLN leader Subcomandante Marcos can’t have been unaware of the resonance of choosing poor, forgotten Reality as his base in the eastern part of the state. ‘We are together in Reality … dreaming is both possible and necessary,’ Marcos announced confusingly at the close of July’s Intercontinental Encounter. ‘To find anyone to answer your questions,’ I was told on New Year’s Day by a ski-mask (as opposed to a rank-and-file bandana), ‘you’d have to be in Reality.’ I was certainly in the wrong place, at Oventic rather than La Realidad, misled by assurances that I would find the local leader, Comandante David; I was stranded where not much was happening for the third anniversary of the uprising. But was I the only one who was not ‘in Reality’?

Spanish for Beginners

Lorna Scott Fox, 14 November 1996

The fake Spanish dancer Lola Montez, née Eliza Gilbert, had one of those lives which make us aware of unlikely simultaneities. Operetta clanked against Western as she toured the gold-towns of the American West and Australia with a skit called ‘Lola Montez in Bavaria’. It was a farcical whitewash of her most infamous hour, when as a fake countess she had rocked an Ancien Règime court in the Year of Revolutions. The play consisted of five scenes: ‘The Danseuse’, ‘The Politician’, ‘The Countess’, ‘The Revolutionist’, ‘The Fugitive’ – the last being the real story of her life. Hounded out of theatres, countries and continents, she was always on the run and always bounced back, expiring with one finger on the Bible in 1861.’’

Nothing but the Present

Lorna Scott Fox, 23 May 1996

The first thing the literary world noticed about Dale Peck was his youth. Now 28, he produced the harrowing Martin and John (attractively published in Britain as Fucking Martin) at 25. Why do we expect so little of the (not all that) young? Peck’s sophistication needs no excuse or applause on those grounds. There is something far more remarkable about him within the youth consensus itself, and that is his death wish – or that of his fiction. It’s an uneasy distinction in this case, as his two novels deliberately flaunt their processing of personal experience to give us multiple redneck fathers, dead mothers and their avatars in the trailer homes and desperate suburbs of Long Island and Kansas where Peck grew up. A narrow but inexhaustible set of elements is folded over and over into the narrative, rolled into flakes of raw life streaked with story-telling, and scattered incompletely, like the body of Osiris, across both books.’

Behind the Waterfall

Lorna Scott Fox, 16 November 1995

He was a middle-aged had-been, returning in a flurry from his entrada into the Spanish Main with a crop of tall stories and a bag of glittery sand, to the yawns of Queen and country. More favoured courtiers sneered that he’d never been to Guiana at all. This repudiation persists, leaving Walter Ralegh as little more today than the cloak-and-pipe fellow who was dropped for the Earl of Essex. His other colonial fiasco (the North Carolina settlement which vanished without trace in 1586) is only slightly more remembered. Britain was never seriously to colonise South America, and there never was an El Dorado in the form Ralegh sought.

Barbie Gets a Life

Lorna Scott Fox, 20 July 1995

‘Barbie can be anything you want her (yourself) to be!’ Thus the sales pitch for a plastic toy that in most people’s minds simply represents the essence of bimbo-ness. But what if the big hair and tacky costumes were actually vehicles of patriarchal and racial hegemony, while also enabling a potentially subversive network of reappropriative authorial narratives? Investigations like Barbie’s Queer Accessories defy you to giggle as they unfold with Monty Pythonesque obliviousness to the gulf between high-minded scrutiny and its silly object. But the premise of mickey-mouse academics is often fruitful: that the least cultural droppings are microcosms of a wider political dynamic, to be prodded and tested in a reflexology of the social body.

Dirty Linen

Lorna Scott Fox, 6 April 1995

At the end of Hunger of Memory, Richard Rodriguez’s 1982 account of becoming an American, he tells how his mother came across one of his articles and was moved to write to him. Her letter begins tenderly, urging Rodriguez not to blame himself, as he appears to do, for giving up Mexican culture in order to ‘make it’. Then: ‘Writing is one thing, the family is another … Especially I don’t want the gringos knowing about our private affairs … Please give this some thought. Please write about something else in the future. Do me this favour.’…

Castration

Lorna Scott Fox, 24 November 1994

Ever since 1956, when Fidel Castro left Veracruz for Santiago de Cuba like a conquistador in reverse, Mexican-Cuban relations have been a sensitive area. Cynical Mexicans might take the view that their government’s attitude is, or rather was, a matter of ‘I’ll support your revolution – and appear to take a stand against the US – if you don’t export it over here.’ At one stage in the early Nineties, therefore, there were dozens of Cuban artists in Mexico, enjoying the Velvet Exile. They could come and go from Cuba, eat their fill, lose money and innocence at capitalist roulette; but they still had to watch what they said. This began to seem like the worst of both worlds, and before long they all leapt off the Mexican trampoline into the great beyond. Until August this year, when Castro threw the frontiers open, it was a painfully irrevocable choice.’

Static

Lorna Scott Fox, 22 September 1994

Born in Jackson, Mississippi, in 1909, the daughter of two ‘outsider’ parents, an Ohian and a Virginian. Eudora Welty has made a life’s work of belonging. She wandered only briefly, to the University of Wisconsin and then to Columbia, NY, an episode which left no trace in her writing. Soon she was back with her mother in Jackson, where she lives to this day, setting almost all her work within a hundred-mile radius of her home.

Dark Underbellies

Lorna Scott Fox, 24 March 1994

Here are three strangely similar book openings:

Diary: Reviva Zapata!

Lorna Scott Fox, 10 February 1994

‘The Zapatistas a the best. Because they eat snake. They eat lion, and birds, like that one,’ whispered the little girl. She had come running up with a fistful of woven bracelets, the minute we’d edged past our first soldiers into the square at San Cristóbal. Night had just fallen, and it was almost empty. The ‘problems’, as everyone called the war, were hurting the crafts lifeline of the Chamula Indians as well as the tourist industry: mass cancellations meant that when the last of the reporters had left, the town would he bankrupt. We bought our first bracelets, and asked the child which army she preferred. She squirmed before saying ‘soldiers’ and laughing at us.

Letter

The Real Ulises Lima

6 September 2007

It’s not entirely true, as Benjamin Kunkel states in his welcome piece on Roberto Bolaño, that ‘Distant Star concerns the sole poet in Bolaño whose work we are able to read’ (LRB, 6 September). The Savage Detectives, being the definitive novel about the Mexican cultural scene of the 1970s, is also a roman à clef. Having lived in Mexico City, I recognised several...
Letter

Wotcher chavvy

21 October 2004

In Spain, a word for ‘child’ is chaval or chavala; it’s both shorter and more grown-up in Mexico, where chavo, chava means ‘teenager’ or ‘young person’, with many colloquial uses beyond that age. Chavos banda are the stylish young gang members of Mexico City. The origin is Romany.
Letter
I don’t know why Ian Birchall (Letters, 5 June) thinks I was being ‘dismissive’ in calling Victor Serge’s muffled deviations from the Comintern line on Germany ‘ultra-leftist’ – nothing wrong with that in my view. But he is right to qualify the tendency. Serge, I wrote, had been sent by the Comintern to analyse the German Revolution, but what follows –...
Letter

Machismo

14 December 1995

Argentine society is no doubt plagued by a particularly feeble brand of machismo (anything from the novels of Manuel Puig to the current President), but the tango-strutting woman whose waist is ‘about to break’ (LRB, 14 December 1995) is getting neither ‘laid’ nor ‘killed’. She’s going to perform a flashy movement in a dance with dazzling scope for power and...
Letter

Libellous

24 March 1994

Katie Hickman’s melodramatic outrage betrays once more the superficial traveller, unable to accept criticism of her failure to penetrate the Mexican mask (Letters, 28 April). In this she is no worse, as I implied in my review, than the hundreds of voyagers and writers (the only exception is B. Traven) who have exploited a similarly prejudiced, exotic view of this country. Her originality resides...
Letter

Fox into Lady

16 April 1981

SIR: I would like to correct the error committed by Alasdair MacIntyre in his review of Descombes’s Modern French Philosophy (LRB, 16 April) concerning my sex, which is female. However limited the clues afforded by a mere initial, it is probably a good rule never simply to assume the masculinity of translators (or of anyone else).

Podemos

Dan Hancox, 17 December 2015

‘I have defeat​ tattooed in my DNA,’ Pablo Iglesias said in a debate on television last year, a month after announcing the formation of a new political entity called Podemos....

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Strangers

Alasdair MacIntyre, 16 April 1981

It is no secret that philosophy as it is taught and studied at UCLA or Princeton or Oxford is very different from philosophy as it is understood at Paris or Dijon or Nice. An intellectual milieu...

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