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Fit and Few

Donald Davie

3 May 1984
The Making of the Reader: Language and Subjectivity in Modern American, English and Irish Poetry 
by David Trotter.
Macmillan, 272 pp., £20, March 1984, 0 333 30632 5
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... but himself. If he is in earnest – and if he isn’t we’ll not bother with him, any more than David Trotter does – he thought that he was testing his society by moving out to the periphery of that society, speaking for and with the disaffected, the vagabonds, the ill-adjusted. How disconcerting, then, to find that the disaffection he thought he was ...

On Aetna’s Top

Howard Erskine-Hill

4 September 1980
The Poetry of Abraham Cowley 
by David Trotter.
Macmillan, 162 pp., £10, September 1979, 0 333 24167 3
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... rediscovery of his unfinished epic The Civil War, edited by Allan Pritchard in 1973. What pleases David Trotter is the conception of Cowley as a poet of cultural crisis, of the ‘intellectual revolution’ of the 17th century. Three leading ideas help him to take this view. The first is Eliot’s hypothesis of a 17th-century dissociation of ...

Words washed clean

David Trotter

5 December 1991
From Puritanism to Postmodernism: A History of American Literature 
by Richard Ruland and Malcolm Bradbury.
Routledge, 381 pp., £35, August 1991, 0 415 01341 0
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... the death of one child and abduction of another, to behave like a cross between Margaret Mead and David Attenborough. It is quite untrue to suggest that she averted her eyes from the realities of the ‘wilderness’; and equally untrue to suggest that her faith encouraged her to do so. It was precisely her conviction that providence works in mysterious ways ...

Book Reviews

David Trotter

24 January 1980
... There is a poignant moment in the recent New Left Books volume of interviews with Raymond Williams* when he is congratulated on the ‘combativity’ of his writings. Poignant because the neologism, however barbarous, answers to a real scarcity: the scarcity, in our cultural repertoire, of sustained polemical address: Not that our literary pages don’t witness occasional outbreaks of revenger’s tragedy ...
3 March 1988
The Renewal of Literature: Emersonian Reflections 
by Richard Poirier.
Faber, 256 pp., £14.95, March 1988, 0 571 15013 6
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... What to believe, in the course of his reading, was Mr Boffin’s chief literary difficulty indeed; for some time he was divided in his mind between half, all, or none; at length, when he decided, as a moderate man, to compound with half, the question still remained, which half? And that stumbling-block he never got over.’ What to believe, Mr Boffin’s chief difficulty in Our Mutual Friend, is also likely to be the chief difficulty facing the reader of Richard Poirier’s ambitious and eloquent plea for the ‘renewal’ of literature and criticism through a better understanding of Emerson ...

Troubles

David Trotter

23 June 1988
The Government of the Tongue: The 1986 T.S. Eliot Memorial Lectures, and Other Critical Writings 
by Seamus Heaney.
Faber, 172 pp., £12.95, June 1988, 0 571 14796 8
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... In Belfast, in 1972, Heaney planned to record some poems and songs with his friend, the singer David Hammond. While they were on their way to the studio, a number of bombs exploded in the city: casualties were reported. Hammond decided not to perform: ‘the very notion of beginning to sing at that moment when others were beginning to suffer seemed like an ...

Hauteur

Adam Phillips: ‘Paranoid Modernism’

22 May 2003
The Short Sharp Life of T.E. Hulme 
by Robert Ferguson.
Allen Lane, 314 pp., £20, November 2002, 0 7139 9490 8
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Paranoid Modernism: Literary Experiment, Psychosis and the Professionalisation of English Society 
by David Trotter.
Oxford, 358 pp., £35, September 2001, 0 19 818755 6
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... original sin, secularised as the problem of anti-social behaviour, has been remarkably resilient. David Trotter believes that what we have learned to call Modernism is more akin to the cumulative trauma of secularisation, and that if we can’t get a wholly convincing sense of the beginnings of Modernism, we can get the next best thing: a sense of what ...

Spitting, Sneezing, Smearing

Marjorie Garber: Messy Business

10 August 2000
Cooking with Mud: The Idea of Mess in 19th-Century Art and Fiction 
by David Trotter.
Oxford, 340 pp., £35, February 2000, 0 19 818503 0
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... self. In Cooking with Mud: The Idea of Mess in Nineteenth Century Art and Fiction, David Trotter, the author of several other books about 19th-century writers, proposes what he calls ‘mess-theory’ (and, as a corollary, ‘litter-theory,’ which he regards as the point at which ‘waste’ and ‘mess’ overlap). ...

Buffers

David Trotter

4 February 1988
Argufying: Essays on Literature and Culture 
by William Empson, edited by John Haffenden.
Chatto, 657 pp., £25, October 1987, 0 7011 3083 0
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... I thought I had best begin by expressing some old-buffer prejudices in general,’ Empson told the British Society of Aesthetics in 1961: ‘but now I will turn to English Literature, which it is my business to know about, and try to examine the fundamentals, the basic tools.’ As he turns to literature, he shelves the old-buffer prejudices and begins to display instead the rationalism which spoke habitually of the ‘basic tools’ of imagination, and the sensitivity to language which enabled him to examine and test those tools ...

Internal Combustion

David Trotter

6 June 1996
The Letters of Rudyard Kipling. Vol. III: 1900-1910 
edited by Thomas Pinney.
Macmillan, 482 pp., £50, December 1995, 9780333637333
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... Day after day in the course of October 1907, Rilke returned to the two rooms at the Salon d’Automne devoted to Cézanne’s memory. The letters he wrote to his wife describe his intense admiration for the ‘emptying out of love in anonymous work’ which had enabled Cézanne to render the ‘substantiality’ of the natural world. What finally persuaded him, however, of the essential loneliness of Cézanne’s effort to strip away the preconceptions which separate us from that world was not the pictures themselves, but a quirk of scheduling: ‘the Salon no longer exists; in a few days it will be replaced by an exhibition of automobiles which will stand there, long and dumb, each one with its own idée fixe of velocity ...

Saved for Jazz

David Trotter

5 October 1995
Modernist Quartet 
by Frank Lentricchia.
Cambridge, 305 pp., £35, November 1994, 0 521 47004 8
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... There are some curious aspects to Frank Lentricchia’s study of four Modernist poets: T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, Ezra Pound and Wallace Stevens. For a start, it’s a book about poets which doesn’t seem much interested in poems. Lentricchia has written a lengthy chapter on each member of his quartet. Yet Eliot is represented by ‘The Love Song of J ...

Platz Angst

David Trotter: Agoraphobia

24 July 2003
Repressed Spaces: The Poetics of Agoraphobia 
by Paul Carter.
Reaktion, 253 pp., £16.95, November 2002, 1 86189 128 8
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... The last three decades of the 19th century were phobia’s belle époque. During this first phase of investigation there was, it must have seemed, no species of terror, however febrile, which could not talk its way immediately into syndrome status. In 1896, Théodule Ribot spoke of psychiatry’s inundation by a ‘veritable deluge’ of complaints, ranging from the relatively commonplace and self-explanatory, such as claustrophobia, to the downright idiosyncratic, such as triskaidekaphobia, or fear of the number 13 ...

Making doorbells ring

David Trotter: Pushing Buttons

22 November 2018
Power Button: A History of Pleasure, Panic and the Politics of Pushing 
by Rachel Plotnick.
MIT, 424 pp., £30, October 2018, 978 0 262 03823 2
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... Towards​ the end of his time at Mack Sennett’s Keystone Studios, Charlie Chaplin began to direct as well as star in the short slapstick films that were the company’s staple product. The crucial event in one of these films, The New Janitor, which was released in September 1914, is the pressing of an electric button. It’s Charlie’s first day at work, and his enthusiastic abuse of soap and water soon earns him the sack ...

Savage Rush

David Trotter: The Tube

21 October 2010
Underground Writing: The London Tube from George Gissing to Virginia Woolf 
by David Welsh.
Liverpool, 306 pp., £70, May 2010, 978 1 84631 223 6
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... as an occasion for otherwise elusive experience. It came to represent the modern in general, as David Welsh ably demonstrates in two immense chapters, one on utopian fantasy from the turn of the 20th century, the other on the inevitable ensuing sourness. In Anticipations (1902), H.G. Wells imagined the Metropolitan Railway’s ‘black and ...

In the Soup

David Trotter: Air Raid Panic

8 October 2014
The Next War in the Air: Britain’s Fear of the Bomber, 1908-41 
by Brett Holman.
Ashgate, 290 pp., £70, June 2014, 978 1 4094 4733 7
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... appalling effect. The pronounced if uneven enlargement and sophistication during the 1930s of what David Edgerton terms Britain’s ‘warfare state’ has been extensively studied from a variety of angles, most recently in Richard Overy’s The Bombing War: Europe 1939-45, which includes an authoritative account of the evolution into doctrine of the belief ...

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