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Seen through the Loopholes

David Simpson: ‘War at a Distance’, 11 March 2010

War at a Distance: Romanticism and the Making of Modern Wartime 
by Mary Favret.
Princeton, 262 pp., £18.95, January 2010, 978 0 691 14407 8
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... from my sight’. This superimposition of destructive masses on an empty, rural space is the mark of wartime consciousness. A similar act of imagination allows Favret to find in the picturesque ambience of William and Thomas Daniell’s painting The Bridge at Serinagur (first exhibited in 1800) an allegory (indeed a history) of the fragile human form in ...

The Mourning Paper

David Simpson: On war and showing pictures of the dead, 20 May 2004

... movement. This wasn’t the reason given: the claim has been that withholding such images is a mark of respect for grieving families, and accords with their own expressed desires. A First Amendment activist named Russ Kick petitioned the Defense Department for the release of the photographs under the Freedom of Information Act. To his reported ...

Floreat Brixton

Tam Dalyell, 5 December 1985

An Eton Schoolboy’s Album 
by Mark Dixon.
Debrett, 118 pp., £10.95, November 1985, 0 905649 78 8
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... Henry VI founded Eton, his “College Roiall of oure Lady Eton”, in the year 1440.’ So says Mark Dixon in An Eton Schoolboy’s Album. He may or may not have learned much history, but somewhere along the line Dixon, who left Eton in 1980, has learned how to write in an entertaining and elegant way. I find it difficult to judge the impression it might ...

Because We Could

David Simpson: Soldiers and Torture, 18 November 2010

None of Us Were Like This Before: American Soldiers and Torture 
by Joshua Phillips.
Verso, 237 pp., £16.99, September 2010, 978 1 84467 599 9
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... no information to hand over. Here again the manual becomes important: it interprets silence as the mark of a hardened terrorist, someone trained (as by the SERE unit) to keep mum under pressure. There is a name for this: ‘advanced resistance’. The typical response to it is to apply more and more pressure, a cycle known as ‘force drift’. The result in ...

Are we there yet?

David Simpson: Abasing language, abusing prisoners, 17 February 2005

Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror 
by Mark Danner.
Granta, 573 pp., £16.99, February 2005, 9781862077720
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The Torture Papers: The Road to Abu Ghraib 
edited by Karen Greenberg and Joshua Dratel.
Cambridge, 1284 pp., £27.50, February 2005, 0 521 85324 9
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... others, often involving the Special Forces, perhaps yet to be explored or convincingly resolved. Mark Danner’s opening thesis, formulated of course before this latest round of revelations, is that the wide circulation of the Abu Ghraib photographs, startling though they were when first released, has increasingly worked to ‘block a full public ...

What kept Hector and Andromache warm in windy Troy?

David Simpson: ‘Vehement Passions’, 19 June 2003

The Vehement Passions 
by Philip Fisher.
Princeton, 268 pp., £18.95, May 2002, 0 691 06996 4
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... soul), no longer looks so modern. But the declared redundancy of the classics would continue to mark much of the scientific project throughout the long modernity which may or may not have now come to an end, wrecked or perhaps just beached on the shores of the Postmodern. Philip Fisher’s new book, however, makes a daring case for the continued relevance ...

Hard-Edged Chic

Rosemary Hill: The ‘shocking’ life of Schiap, 19 February 2004

Shocking! The Art and Fashion of Elsa Schiaparelli 
by Dilys Blum.
Yale/Philadelphia Museum of Art, 320 pp., £45, November 2003, 0 300 10066 3
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... of ‘icons’, frocks that supposedly changed the world, but this little jumper really did mark a moment in the making of the modern woman. It was offered, after all, to the first generation to grow up with the possibility of owning a dress they could put on without help. They were used to real ribbons and bows that had to be removed and laundered ...

Mad Monkey

Jackson Lears: ‘Matterhorn’, 23 September 2010

by Karl Marlantes.
Corvus, 600 pp., £16.99, August 2010, 978 1 84887 494 7
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... are quickly negated by the overwhelming fecundity of tropical nature. ‘The company left no more mark on the jungle than a ship’s wake on the sea,’ Marlantes writes. Advanced technology is repeatedly undone by weather and topography: fixed-wing aircraft are useless in the highlands, and helicopters are vulnerable to hidden sniper and artillery ...

At the National Portrait Gallery

Peter Campbell: On being photographed, 15 April 2004

... are the arena of invention. Some photographers use the control they have during a session to mark the image with their own style. Cecil Beaton, whose portrait photographs are on show at the National Portrait Gallery until 31 May, instead made images which show the style of his sitters – or at least find a suitable one for them. Beaton, who also drew ...


Mark Ford, 2 February 1989

W or the Memory of Childhood 
by Georges Perec, translated by David Bellos.
Collins Harvill, 176 pp., £10.95, October 1988, 0 00 271116 8
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Life: A User’s Manual 
by Georges Perec, translated by David Bellos.
Collins Harvill, 581 pp., £4.95, October 1988, 0 00 271999 1
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... their shadows, a body close to their bodies. I write because they left in me their indelible mark, whose trace is writing. Their memory is dead in writing; writing is the memory of their death and the assertion of my life. The autobiographical chapters alternate with a fictional story Perec originally invented when he was 13, centred on ‘W’, an ...

Hitler’s Teeth

Neal Ascherson: Berlin 1945, 28 November 2002

Berlin: The Downfall, 1945 
by Antony Beevor.
Viking, 490 pp., £25, April 2002, 0 670 88695 5
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... instinct to scatter seed as widely as possible. If true, that does not help much. He is nearer the mark with a reference to ‘bonding’: military gang-rape can be a sort of comforting oath-ritual among men frightened by what they have already done. My own sense (in Beevor’s phase two) is less esoteric: soldiers rape for sex. Frightened men violently force ...

I am Prince Mishkin

Mark Ford, 23 April 1987

‘Howl’: Original Draft Facsimile 
by Allen Ginsberg, edited by Barry Miles.
Viking, 194 pp., £16.95, February 1987, 0 670 81599 3
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White Shroud: Poems 1980-1985 
by Allen Ginsberg.
Viking, 89 pp., £10.95, February 1987, 0 670 81598 5
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... following. It was Ginsberg’s old Columbia colleagues, John Hollander, Norman Podhoretz and Louis Simpson, all cutting their teeth in the New York literary scene under the approving auspices of Lionel and Diana Trilling, who led the charge against the Beats. ‘It is only fair to Allen Ginsberg to remark on the utter lack of decorum of any kind in his ...

Doing Chatting

Eleanor Birne: Asperger’s, 9 October 2003

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time 
by Mark Haddon.
Cape, 272 pp., £10.99, May 2003, 0 224 06378 2
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... to the responsible few, and whether or not this is generally the case, it makes excellent copy. Mark Haddon’s fictional inside story is told through the medium of 15-year-old Christopher Boone, who lives in Swindon with his father and his pet rat, Toby. His mother, he tells us, died of a heart attack two years ago. He hates brown and yellow, France, his ...

Everyone’s Pal

John Sutherland: Louis de Bernières, 13 December 2001

Red Dog 
by Louis de Bernières.
Secker, 119 pp., £10, October 2001, 0 436 25617 7
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Sunday Morning at the Centre of the World 
by Louis de Bernières.
Vintage, 119 pp., £6.99, October 2001, 9780099428442
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... been trained in Panama by the US Army, at their own expense, and he painted a little white mark on the door of his jeep for every whore there had been’. But purchases (or further acts of ‘liberation’) in the village prove sticky on this occasion. Massacre, gang rape, hideous torture and rebellion ensue (again and again), all narrated in the ...

At which Englishman’s speech does English terminate?

Henry Hitchings: The ‘OED’, 7 March 2013

Words of the World: A Global History of the ‘Oxford English Dictionary’ 
by Sarah Ogilvie.
Cambridge, 241 pp., £17.99, November 2012, 978 1 107 60569 5
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... and the 1933 Supplement. In ‘deleting’ these items (‘dropping’ might be nearer the mark), was Burchfield banishing words that had earned a rightful place in the OED or was he simply removing ones that had never merited inclusion? We get an idea of what he thought he was doing from his description of the 1933 Supplement as a ‘riffraff ...

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