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Empson’s Buddha

Michael Wood, 4 May 2017

... There is​ something very Far Eastern about this,’ William Empson says in Some Versions of Pastoral, meaning the manner of Marvell’s poem ‘The Garden’. The remark is mildly intriguing but pretty loose, and even if we think of Empson as having the thought while he lectured to his Japanese students before he wrote it down, the Orient still seems stereotyped and far away ...

Great Scott Debunked

Chauncey Loomis, 6 December 1979

Scott and Amundsen 
by Roland Huntford.
Hodder, 665 pp., £13.95
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... a manic depressive, Dennis Rawlins has discredited Robert Peary’s claim to the North Pole, and William McKinlay has proved that Vihjalmur Stefansson was a selfish cad. Debunking probably was inevitable. These men were all of the heroic age of exploration that began in the mid-19th century and ended at the beginning of the First World War. Explorers of any ...

Antinomian Chic

Danny Karlin, 2 June 1988

Blasted Allegories: An Anthology of Writings by Contemporary Artists 
edited by Brian Wallis.
New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York/MIT Press, 431 pp., £13.50, January 1988, 9780262231282
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Empire of the Senseless 
by Kathy Acker.
Picador, 227 pp., £10.95, May 1988, 0 330 30192 6
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The Western Lands 
by William Burroughs.
Picador, 258 pp., £10.95, March 1988, 0 330 29805 4
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... Kathy Acker, wild and woolly avatar of William Burroughs, is also one of the Blasted Allegorists, contemporary American artists whose self-important and talent-free doodles about Life, the Universe and Everything are hyped by Brian Wallis in his Introduction, a piece of writing conceivably worse than the pieces it introduces: For the writers in this book, these critical forms, such as interviews, monologues, jokes, dream narratives and parables, oppose the imposed narrative structure, the unquestioned hierarchy of characters, and the easy closure of much conventional – or even modernist – literature ...

Puritan Neuroses

Blair Worden, 19 April 1984

The Puritan Gentry: The Great Puritan Families of Early Stuart England 
by J.T. Cliffe.
Routledge, 313 pp., £18.95, March 1984, 0 7102 0007 2
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The Puritan Moment: The Coming of Revolution in an English County 
by William Hunt.
Harvard, 365 pp., £30.60, April 1983, 0 674 73903 5
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Godly People: Essays on English Protestantism and Puritanism 
by Patrick Collinson.
Hambledon, 604 pp., £24, July 1982, 9780907628156
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Laud’s Laboratory: The Diocese of Bath and Wells in the Early 17th Century 
by Margaret Steig.
Associated University Presses, 416 pp., £30, September 1983, 0 8387 5019 2
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The Puritan Conversion Narrative: The Beginnings of American Expression 
by Patricia Caldwell.
Cambridge, 210 pp., £17.50, December 1983, 0 521 25460 4
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Protestant Reformers in Elizabethan Oxford 
by C.M. Dent.
Oxford, 262 pp., £17.50, June 1983, 0 19 826723 1
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... place in any reputable account of the origins of the ‘Puritan Revolution’; and high time too. William Hunt, whose book is ostensibly about pre-Civil War Essex but really about many things besides, calls it The Puritan Moment. The argument nowadays is not about the political importance of religious conflicts but about their nature. If there is an orthodoxy ...

Stanley and the Women

Tony Gould, 25 July 1991

Stanley: The Making of an African Explorer 
by Frank McLynn.
Constable, 411 pp., £17.95, October 1989, 0 09 462420 8
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Stanley: Sorcerer’s Apprentice 
by Frank McLynn.
Constable, 499 pp., £25, January 1991, 0 09 470220 9
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Dark Safari: The Life behind the Legend of Henry Morton Stanley 
by John Bierman.
Hodder, 401 pp., £17.95, January 1991, 0 340 50977 5
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... documentary sources,’ he writes, ‘include the hitherto unpublished expedition journals of William Grant Stairs and memoirs of Alice Pike Barney’; he also pays generous tribute to Richard Hall’s earlier biography, ‘a model of hard-nosed and painstaking investigation’. Hall was the first to reveal Stanley’s secret engagement to Alice ...

Grunge Futurism

Julian Loose, 4 November 1993

Virtual Light 
by William Gibson.
Viking, 336 pp., £14.99, September 1993, 0 670 84081 5
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Terminal Identity: The Virtual Subject in Post-Modern Science Fiction 
by Scott Bukatman.
Duke, 416 pp., £15.95, August 1993, 0 8223 1340 5
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... The future isn’t what it used to be. In one of William Gibson’s first published stories, ‘The Gernsback Continuum’, a photographer is assigned to capture examples of ‘futuristic’ American design from the Thirties, the kind of dream architecture that graced the covers of pulp science fiction magazines like Amazing Stories ...

If Only Analogues...

Ange Mlinko: Ginsberg Goes to India, 20 November 2008

A Blue Hand: The Beats in India 
by Deborah Baker.
Penguin US, 256 pp., £25.95, April 2008, 978 1 59420 158 5
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... perhaps to re-create the disorientation of the senses recommended by Rimbaud and diagnosed by William James. The groupuscule we call the Beats (short for ‘beatitude’) was by 1961 geographically and emotionally scattered: Kerouac (barely present in Baker’s book) hunkered down at his mother’s house, Burroughs cocooned himself in Tangier, Neal ...

Sublimely Bad

Terry Castle, 23 February 1995

Secresy; or, The Ruin on the Rock 
by Eliza Fenwick, edited by Isobel Grundy.
Broadview, 359 pp., £9.99, May 1994, 1 55111 014 8
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... Yet one wants more in the end, perhaps, than silly-pastoral and the fleeting satisfactions of camp. The case for reading Secresy has to be made on more compelling grounds. One might begin by pointing, as Fenwick’s editor Isobel Grundy does (somewhat briefly) in her Introduction, to Secresy’s broader historical significance: what it reveals about the ...

We Do Ron Ron Ron, We Do Ron Ron

James Meek: Welcome to McDonald’s, 24 May 2001

Fast-Food Nation 
by Eric Schlosser.
Allen Lane, 356 pp., £9.99, April 2001, 0 7139 9602 1
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... to join an ambulance unit destined for the Western Front found themselves in the same training camp in Sound Beach, Connecticut. One of them was Walt Disney. The other, only 15 years old, was Ray Kroc, the man who later made McDonald’s an empire. When Kroc and his comrades went off to the nearest town on furlough to look for girls, Disney stayed in ...

Who Will Lose?

David Edgar, 25 September 2008

Inside the Presidential Debates: Their Improbable Past and Promising Future 
by Newton Minow and Craig LaMay.
Chicago, 219 pp., £11.50, April 2008, 978 0 226 53041 3
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... wasn’t unprecedented: Lincoln presented the arguments of the Whig presidential candidate William Henry Harrison in the 1836 presidential campaign.) In a 1948 primary campaign, Harold Stassen and Thomas Dewey debated the outlawing of the American Communist Party on national radio. The idea of a televised presidential debate was proposed in 1959 by ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘True Grit’, 3 February 2011

True Grit 
directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen.
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... the simple life, it never quite chases the shadows of cruelty and corruption away, and what William Empson called the trick of simplification was always the thing. The mode kept remembering what it was ostensibly getting rid of. Charles Portis’s funny and violent novel True Grit (1968) is the perfect pastoral of the ungallant west. It presents a world ...

At the Jeu de Paume

Brian Dillon: Peter Hujar, 19 December 2019

... sitters can resemble figures by Nadar or Julia Margaret Cameron. Some of them were famous – William Burroughs, Brion Gysin, John Giorno – or soon to be: Hujar recorded successive generations of downtown scenesters, including Gary Indiana, Fran Lebowitz and Cookie Mueller. Even if he had been only a portraitist, Hujar’s work would be an essential ...

Jingling his spurs

P.N. Furbank, 10 October 1991

Private Words: Letters and Diaries from the Second World War 
edited by Ronald Blythe.
Viking, 310 pp., £16.99, September 1991, 0 670 83204 9
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... Chase, plus ten English fags. To my surprise he jumped at the chance and I became the owner of William Prescott’s History of the Conquest of Mexico, and of Peru. A great work, but the only trouble was the thought of having to hump it around when we moved. But I said to myself that I would think about that when the time came, and got down to some serious ...

Nothing nasty in the woodshed

John Bayley, 25 October 1990

Yours, Plum: The Letters of P.G. Wodehouse 
edited by Frances Donaldson.
Hutchinson, 269 pp., £16.99, September 1990, 0 09 174639 6
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... Mr Usborne, really! I thought everyone knew Robert Browning’s poem ‘An Incident in the French Camp’. Young lieutenant comes to Napoleon with the news that they have taken Ratisbon. Napoleon quite pleased. He notices that the young man isn’t looking quite himself. ‘You’re wounded!’ ‘Nay,’ the soldier’s pride Touched to the quick, he ...

Foodists

John Bayley, 25 February 1993

A History of Food 
by Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, translated by Anthea Bell.
Blackwell, 801 pp., £25, December 1992, 0 631 17741 8
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... eating potato’. Henry James would have seen the point. In 1870 he wrote to his elder brother William from Malvern, England, where the hotel fed him mostly on mutton and potatoes, to say how much he missed ‘unlimited tomatoes & beans & peas & squash & turnips & carrots & corn – I enjoy merely writing the words’. The words are what counted, and they ...

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