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Wu-wei

Jonathan Barnes

24 July 1986
The World of Thought in Ancient China 
by Benjamin Schwartz.
Harvard, 490 pp., £23.50, January 1986, 0 674 96190 0
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... rediscovered or the glories of Chou revived. Nonetheless, it was a sort of triumph. And in 136 BC the Emperor Han Wu-ti declared Confucianism the official cult of the State. Such is the main plot of BenjaminSchwartz’s history of ancient Chinese thought. The concept of ‘thought’ is in principle construed in the most generous way possible. But in practice Schwartz concentrates his attention on the ...

Through the Trapdoor

Jeremy Harding: Walter Benjamin’s Last Day

19 July 2007
The Narrow Foothold 
by Carina Birman.
Hearing Eye, 29 pp., £7, August 2006, 9781905082100
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... the authorities. Hans was in central France at a camp in Vernuche; Lisa was near the Pyrenees in a ‘women’s camp’ in Gurs, which had been holding refugees from Spain. (Hannah Arendt and Walter Benjamin’s sister Dora were also interned at Gurs, while Benjamin had spent several weeks in Vernuche.) As the Germans advanced deeper into France and the administration reeled, evasion or negotiated exit ...

The End

Malcolm Bull

11 March 1993
Posthistoire: Has History Come to an End? 
by Lutz Niethammer, translated by Patrick Camiller.
Verso, 176 pp., £19.95, January 1993, 0 86091 395 3
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When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture 
by Paul Boyer.
Harvard, 488 pp., £23.95, September 1992, 9780674951280
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... irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned ... This storm we call progress. Like Kant’s misinterpretation of the angel of Revelation 10, the angel in the ninth of Walter Benjamin’s ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ stands between history and the future. He has come to end the destruction of what he would like to think are the last days. But he cannot. Time continues ...

The View from the Top

Sanjay Subrahmanyam: Upland Anarchists

2 December 2010
The Art of Not Being Governed: An Anarchist History of Upland South-East Asia 
by James C. Scott.
Yale, 442 pp., £16.99, January 2011, 978 0 300 16917 1
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... literature on the ‘invention of tradition’, but he also makes explicit use once more of material on Latin America following the Iberian conquest, including the work of Frank Salomon and Stuart Schwartz on forms of adaptation, ethnic reinvention (or ethnogenesis) and mestizaje in its aftermath. This famously brought down on the two American historians the Olympian wrath of Lévi-Strauss, who ...

How far shall I take this character?

Richard Poirier: The Corruption of Literary Biography

2 November 2000
Bellow: A Biography 
by James Atlas.
Faber, 686 pp., £25, November 2000, 0 571 14356 3
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... This is the first comprehensive biography of Saul Bellow and the first to receive his co-operation over the complete, ten-year span of its writing. The author, James Atlas, whose biography of Delmore Schwartz appeared in 1977 and who is the general editor of the Penguin Lives Series, was given full access to Bellow’s letters and unpublished manuscripts and final permission to quote all the passages he ...

More than a Million Names

Mattathias Schwartz: American Intelligence

15 June 2016
Playing to the Edge: American Intelligence in the Age of Terror 
by Michael Hayden.
Penguin, 464 pp., £21.99, February 2016, 978 1 59420 656 6
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... famous ratio. For the US Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, the 4 per cent of convicts exonerated after execution are significant enough to justify sparing the other 96 per cent. It was Benjamin Franklin who said it was folly to trade ‘essential liberty’ for ‘a little temporary safety’. According to Hayden, we must also consider the number of innocent people who may be killed in a ...
10 December 1987
Meeting the British 
by Paul Muldoon.
Faber, 53 pp., £9.95, May 1987, 0 571 14858 1
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Partingtime Hall 
by James Fenton and John Fuller.
Salamander, 69 pp., £7.50, April 1987, 0 948681 05 5
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Private Parts 
by Fiona Pitt-Kethley.
Chatto, 72 pp., £4.95, June 1987, 9780701132064
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Bright River Yonder 
by John Hartley Williams.
Bloodaxe, 87 pp., £4.95, April 1987, 1 85224 028 8
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... Soutine, the Mabinogion, O. Henry, Spinoza, Giraldus Cambrensis, Louis Aragon, Gerard de Nerval, Terence Malick, lots of Yeats, lots and lots of Masefield’s ‘Cargoes’, Scott Fitzgerald, Delmore Schwartz, Marilyn Monroe, Un Chien Andalou, Hart Crane, Ben Hur... An index to proper names in the book would be several pages long. This all-pervasive cosmopolitan glamorousness, often treated ironically, is ...

All That Gab

James Wolcott: The Upsides of Sontag’s Downsides

24 October 2019
Sontag: Her Life 
by Benjamin​ Moser.
Allen Lane, 832 pp., £30, September 2019, 978 0 241 00348 0
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... Benjamin​ Moser begins his biography with a bang: ‘Susan Sontag was America’s last great literary star.’ In my gaudier moments I prefer to think of Sontag as American literature’s first and last ...

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