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The Marxist and the Messiah

Terry Eagleton: Snapshots of Benjamin, 9 September 2021

The Benjamin Files 
by Fredric Jameson.
Verso, 262 pp., £20, November 2020, 978 1 78478 398 3
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... well-known theorist fits this description, from the Russian Formalists to the poststructuralists. Roman Jakobson, Roland Barthes, Julia Kristeva, J. Hillis Miller, Hélène Cixous, Jacques Derrida: all of them are admirably close readers. Marxist critics like Jameson are among the more notable targets of this bit of intellectual indolence, which is the ...
Shakespearean Negotiations: The Circulation of Social Energy in Renaissance England 
by Stephen Greenblatt.
Oxford, 205 pp., £22.50, April 1988, 0 19 812980 7
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Representing the English Renaissance 
edited by Stephen Greenblatt.
California, 372 pp., $42, February 1988, 0 520 06129 2
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... a number of contributors draw on contemporary social and cultural theory, from Mikhail Bakhtin and Roman Jakobson to Jacques Lacan and Georg Lukacs: given the concern with collective representations, it is surprising to find no reference to Emile Durkheim. However, other essays in the volume have little in common with Greenblatt’s work, beyond some ...

Tsk, Ukh, Hmmm

Michael Newton: Forgetting to remember to forget, 23 February 2006

Echolalias: On the Forgetting of Language 
by Daniel Heller-Roazen.
Zone, 287 pp., £18.95, May 2005, 1 890951 49 8
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... Heller-Roazen’s book sets out to explore. He begins by looking at the nature of infant babble. Roman Jakobson observed that as babies we are able to produce a range of sounds and articulations far greater than the limited set of phonemes required by any single language, or group of languages. Phonetically gifted beyond the dreams of adults, the baby ...


Marina Warner: Baba Yaga, 27 August 2009

Baba Yaga Laid an Egg 
by Dubravka Ugrešić, translated by Ellen Elias Bursác, Celia Hawkesworth and Mark Thompson.
Canongate, 327 pp., £14.99, May 2009, 978 1 84767 066 3
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... which has its own stories and figures – Baba Yaga herself, the Firebird, Koshchey the Deathless (Roman Jakobson estimated that a third of Russian fairy tales were unknown outside the country). Pushkin, Leskov, Platonov, Rimsky-Korsakov, Stravinksy, Kandinsky and Chagall drew inspiration from the oral literature polite society had hitherto left in the ...

We do it all the time

Michael Wood: Empson’s Intentions, 4 February 2016

... in the 20th century. Russian formalism haunted French structuralism, and not only because Roman Jakobson and Claude Lévi-Strauss worked together; Walter Benjamin’s thinking was often, perhaps always, inseparable from the turns his language took. Even the austere Adorno said that one could ‘hardly speak of aesthetic matters ...

Making saints

Peter Burke, 18 October 1984

Saints and Society: The Two Worlds of Western Christendom 1000-1700 
by Donald Weinstein and Rudolph Bell.
Chicago, 314 pp., £21.25, February 1983, 0 226 89055 4
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The Norman Conquest and Beyond 
by Frank Barlow.
Hambledon, 318 pp., £22, June 1983, 0 907628 19 2
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Miracles and the Medieval Mind 
by Benedicta Ward.
Scolar, 321 pp., £17.50, November 1983, 0 85967 609 9
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The Great Debate on Miracles: From Joseph Glanvill to David Hume 
by R.M. Burns.
Associated University Presses, 305 pp., £17.50, July 1983, 0 8387 2378 0
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Saints and their Cults: Studies in Religious Sociology, Folklore and History 
edited by Stephen Wilson.
Cambridge, 435 pp., £35, December 1983, 0 521 24978 3
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... already been recognised as holy. Contiguity is important as well as similarity (or, as the late Roman Jakobson would have put it, metonymy as well as metaphor). Weinstein and Bell speak of veneration ‘by association’. Felice of Cantalice and Camillo de Lelis were men of real merit, but they would probably have been the first to admit that they were ...


Christopher Tayler: The Fabulous Elif Batuman, 17 February 2011

The Possessed: Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them 
by Elif Batuman.
Granta, 296 pp., £16.99, April 2011, 978 1 84708 313 5
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... comp. lit. PhD, raised in New Jersey by Turkish parents, Batuman draws strength from Foucault and Roman Jakobson, studied with Franco Moretti and has a blog on which she uses words like ‘w00t!!’. Still, both the Russians and the people who read Russian books in her autobiographical essays behave in accordance with long-standing traditions. Professors ...

I Contain Multitudes

Terry Eagleton: Bakhtin is Everywhere, 21 June 2007

Mikhail Bakhtin: The Word in the World 
by Graham Pechey.
Routledge, 238 pp., £19.99, March 2007, 978 0 415 42419 6
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... his gradual rehabilitation got underway, partly through the good offices of the Formalist scholar Roman Jakobson. Bakhtin enthusiasts in the Soviet Union, at least one of whom did not realise that the great man was still alive, pressed for the republication of the Dostoevsky book, which after a protracted struggle with the authorities saw the light of ...


Jackson Lears: On Chomsky, 4 May 2017

Why Only Us: Language and Evolution 
by Robert Berwick and Noam Chomsky.
MIT, 215 pp., £18.95, February 2016, 978 0 262 03424 1
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Because We Say So 
by Noam Chomsky.
Penguin, 199 pp., £9.99, August 2016, 978 0 241 97248 9
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What Kind of Creatures Are We? 
by Noam Chomsky.
Columbia, 167 pp., £17, January 2016, 978 0 231 17596 8
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Who Rules the World? 
by Noam Chomsky.
Hamish Hamilton, 307 pp., £18.99, May 2016, 978 0 241 18943 6
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Chomsky: Ideas and Ideals 
by Neil Smith and Nicholas Allott.
Cambridge, 461 pp., £18.99, January 2016, 978 1 107 44267 2
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... Penn in 1955, but attracting attention en route for his innovative theoretical work. The linguist Roman Jakobson invited him to become a researcher at MIT, and he was soon made a full-time faculty member. MIT has been his institutional home ever since. Over the next half-century, Chomsky, and eventually his students and colleagues, transformed the ...


Frank Kermode: B. S. Johnson, 5 August 2004

Like a Fiery Elephant: The Story of B.S. Johnson 
by Jonathan Coe.
Picador, 486 pp., £20, June 2004, 9780330350488
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‘Trawl’, ‘Albert Angelo’ and ‘House Mother Normal’ 
by B.S. Johnson.
Picador, 472 pp., £14.99, June 2004, 0 330 35332 2
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... and political opposition, can thus be taken as a justification for rescue work. It may be, as Roman Jakobson believed, that its virtue lies in its power to protect us from ‘automatisation, from the rust threatening our formulae of love and hatred, of revolt and renunciation, of faith and negation’. Since the transgressive has this value it will ...

Getting Ready to Exist

Adam Phillips, 17 July 1997

A Centenary Pessoa 
edited by Eugénio Lisboa and L.C. Taylor.
Carcanet, 335 pp., £25, May 1995, 9780856359361
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The Keeper of Sheep 
by Fernando Pessoa, translated by Edwin Honig and Susan Brown.
Sheep Meadow, 135 pp., $12.95, September 1997, 1 878818 45 7
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The Book of Disquietude 
by Fernando Pessoa, translated by Richard Zenith.
Carcanet, 323 pp., £9.95, January 1997, 1 85754 301 7
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... collected in A Centenary Pessoa agree – Borges, Steiner, Josipovici, Hollander, Cyril Connolly, Roman Jakobson, Mark Strand – it is a compounding of Pessoa’s mystery that he has been anonymous for so long in Anglo-American culture. A canon that includes Pessoa seems infinitely less claustrophobic and bossy. There is, Pessoa writes in The Book of ...


Terry Eagleton: Lawrence Sanitised, 5 February 2004

D.H. Lawrence and ‘Difference’: Post-Coloniality and the Poetry of the Present 
by Amit Chaudhuri.
Oxford, 226 pp., £20, June 2003, 0 19 926052 4
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... false. In fact, almost all of the best-known literary theorists engage in close reading: witness Roman Jakobson on Baudelaire, Roland Barthes on Balzac, Fredric Jameson on Conrad, Julia Kristeva on Mallarmé, Edward Said on Jane Austen, Paul de Man on Proust, Gilles Deleuze on Kafka, Gérard Genette on Flaubert, Hélène Cixous on Joyce, Harold Bloom on ...

When were you thinking of shooting yourself?

Sophie Pinkham: Mayakovsky, 16 February 2017

Mayakovsky: A Biography 
by Bengt Jangfeldt, translated by Harry Watson.
Chicago, 616 pp., £26.50, January 2015, 978 0 226 05697 5
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Volodya: Selected Works 
by Vladimir Mayakovsky, edited by Rosy Carrick.
Enitharmon, 312 pp., £14.99, November 2015, 978 1 910392 16 4
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... entirely on board with free love. He was acutely jealous of Lili’s other liaisons. In 1919, Roman Jakobson told her sister Elsa that ‘Lili tired of Volodya long ago; he has turned into a real bourgeois philistine who is only interested in feeding and fattening up his woman. This of course is not Lili’s style.’ Victor Shklovsky said that ...

Jottings, Scraps and Doodles

Adam Shatz: Lévi-Strauss, 3 November 2011

Claude Levi-Strauss: The Poet in the Laboratory 
by Patrick Wilcken.
Bloomsbury, 375 pp., £30, November 2011, 978 0 7475 8362 2
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... Surrealists were less help than another friend he made in New York, the exiled Russian linguist Roman Jakobson. Listening to Jakobson lecture was like reading ‘a detective story’. Jakobson introduced him to Saussure’s Course in General Linguistics of 1916, and to the idea ...

Where little Fyodor played

Stephen Greenblatt, 24 January 1991

... shortly after the announcement of the poet’s death, one of his friends, the great linguist Roman Jakobson, wrote that suicide was an act Mayakovsky had long contemplated and repeatedly articulated in his most intense poems, an act at once intimately personal and bound up with the tragedy of an entire generation. Mayakovsky was the embodiment of a ...

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