Thomas Jones edits the LRB blog, and presents the LRB podcast, from Orvieto.
In 1982, when James Joyce, had he lived, would have turned a hundred, William Empson wrote a piece for the London Review of Books on ’the ultimate novel‘, which begins with some backhanded praise for Hugh Kenner – ‘it is wonderful how Professor Kenner can keep on about Ulysses, always interesting and relevant and hardly repeating himself at all’ – and then almost immediately takes issue with a ‘new idea’ of Kenner’s that ‘urgently needs refuting’. According to Kenner, Stephen Dedalus ‘is practically blind all through the book’; Empson demonstrates not only how that can’t be true, but also how Kenner came to fall into error. ‘The explanation is simple,’ Empson writes. But ‘this is not quite the end of it …’
The bespoke recording apparatus that Milman Parry took to Yugoslavia in the summer of 1935 – manufactured by Sound Specialties Inc of Waterbury, Connecticut, it had two turntables and a toggle for switching instantaneously between them – got me wondering about the history of such devices. Parry used his equipment for recording rather than playback, but it’s the same principle that later allowed generations of DJs to keep a dancefloor grooving indefinitely.
The illiterate performers who recited or sang epic poems in Ancient Greece did not learn them by rote. (Boris Johnson’s botched renditions of the Iliad are a double failure: failing to learn it by rote and trying to learn it in the first place.) Rather, a poet would improvise his song using formulaic words and phrases. Every performance was in some sense a new composition, but also a seamless continuation of the tradition.
Ed Harriman, who has died at the age of 77, wrote half a dozen pieces for the London Review between 2004 and 2007, reporting on the waste and corruption that followed the US-led invasion of Iraq. An award-winning documentary film-maker as well as a print journalist, who had worked for Granada TV’s World in Action during the 1980s and Channel 4’s Dispatches since 1991, he went to the Middle East in 2003 to make Secrets of the Iraq War for ITV. His previous films included investigations of ethnic cleansing in Bosnia, of the mismanagement of nuclear waste by both the US and Russia, the handover of Hong Kong, and new houses in Britain built on contaminated land.
Azadeh Moaveni talks to Tom about the situation on the Polish border, where women and children fleeing Ukraine face numerous dangers, including kidnapping, trafficking and forced labour.
Andrew O’Hagan talks to Tom about the power of defunct objects, from the life-enhancing gadgets of his childhood to Seamus Heaney’s fax machine, and the role lost things play in fiction.
Florence Sutcliffe-Braithwaite talks to Tom about how events in the 1960s, including the Aberfan disaster and a shift in strategy by the Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru, helped pave the way for devolution...
James Meek talks to Tom about the events leading up to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, from the fall of Yanukovych to the wars in the Donbas and Nagorno-Karabakh, and considers what may happen next.
Tom Stevenson talks to Thomas Jones about the situation in Ukraine, the effectiveness of some of the weapons in use, from anti-tank missiles to economic sanctions, and the risk of nuclear escalation.
Jeremy Harding talks to Tom about the long and resilient reign of King Hassan II of Morocco, and its repressive measures, as described in a new book by Aziz BineBine, who suffered 18 years of brutal detention...
Rivka Galchen talks to Tom about two recent books on the history of vaccine opposition and reluctance, from smallpox to covid, including the role of 'Big Supplement' and the effectiveness of mandates.
Laleh Khalili talks to Tom about the mythology of covert military operatives, through romance novels, self-help books and, more recently, the business guru, in the form of retired US army general Stanley...
John Lanchester and Rupert Beale talk to Tom about the spread of the latest variant, where we might stand in the story of Covid, and the failures of the state in coping with the pandemic.
Clair Wills talks to Tom about Netherne psychiatric hospital, where her mother and grandparents worked, and which became a national centre for art therapy. Wills asks how asylums such as Netherne – ‘total...
Tom talks to Charles Nicholl about the craze in the 1590s for plays representing recent, real-life murders on the London stage.
Rosemary Hill talks to Thomas Jones about the painter John Craxton: why he wasn’t a romantic, why he wasn’t interested in being famous, and his relationship with Lucian Freud, who very much was.
David Runciman talks to Thomas Jones about Silicon Valley’s best known investor-provocateur, his prescience, his mistakes, and why, despite his ultra-libertarian ideology, he owes so much to the state.
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