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What is concrete?

Michael Wood: Erich Auerbach

5 March 2015
Time, History and Literature: Selected Essays of Erich Auerbach 
by Erich Auerbach, edited by James Porter, translated by Jane Newman.
Princeton, 284 pp., £27.95, December 2013, 978 0 691 13711 7
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... and much else. It changed the way we think about many literary texts and questions, and it still has a great deal to tell us – although it perhaps won’t now quite tell us what it used to. JamesPorter, the editor of Time, History and Literature, suggests that Auerbach ‘sought to derive something like a history of mentalities under the guise of Romance philology’, and Emily Apter, in Against ...

Inside Out

John Bayley

4 September 1980
The Collected Ewart 1933-1980 
by Gavin Ewart.
Hutchinson, 412 pp., £10, June 1980, 0 09 141000 2
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Selected Poems and Prose 
by Michael Roberts, edited by Frederick Grubb.
Carcanet, 205 pp., £7.95, June 1980, 0 85635 263 2
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... Towards the end of Gavin Ewart’s delightful and comfortable volume there is a poem called ‘It’s hard to dislike Ewart’. Too true, as Clive James or Peter Porter might say, possibly with a certain wry exasperation. Generally speaking, our fondness and admiration for poets does go with a potential of patronage or dislike, a pleasure in our sense of the ...

Simply Doing It

Thomas Laqueur

22 February 1996
The Facts of Life: The Creation of Sexual Knowledge in Britain 1650-1950 
by Roy Porter and Lesley Hall.
Yale, 414 pp., £19.95, January 1995, 0 300 06221 4
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... women’s magazines, month after month, to reveal ‘The Secrets of Sex in just Ten Minutes’ (this in January’s Cosmopolitan) suggest that maybe there is nothing to tell, only telling itself. Roy Porter and Lesley Hall say they agree with Michel Foucault that ‘sex must be understood as discursively produced.’ (Actually, I don’t think they do agree, but more about that later.) If we take the ...

At Tate Britain

Peter Campbell: Van Dyck’s Portraits

12 March 2009
... to exercise his uncanny skills of visual transcription. Compare Cornelis van der Geest in the National Gallery, painted around 1620 when he was just out of his teens, with the Metropolitan Museum’s James Stuart, Fourth Duke of Lennox, painted in 1633. The former is a small picture: you look at it close. Threads of white paint highlight the old man’s hair, beard, watering eye and damp lip. Paint and ...

Even Immortality

Thomas Laqueur: Medicomania

29 July 1999
The Greatest Benefit to Mankind: A Medical History of Humanity from Antiquity to the Present 
by Roy Porter.
HarperCollins, 833 pp., £24.99, February 1999, 0 00 637454 9
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... No one should take comfort from the title of Roy Porter’s shaggy masterpiece of a history of medicine. ‘The Greatest Benefit to Mankind’ – the phrase is Dr Johnson’s – begs for a question-mark, a rising inflection of incredulity, if not ...

Living on Apple Crumble

August Kleinzahler: James​ Schuyler

17 November 2005
Just the Thing: Selected Letters of James​ Schuyler 1951-91 
edited by William Corbett.
Turtle Point, 470 pp., £13.99, May 2005, 1 885586 30 2
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... and goes on: ‘I love it here; real mad fun. Especially the evening game of gin rummy before beddy-by (9.30); the 8 p.m. cup of cocoa.’ The letter was written on 15 November 1951, a few days after James Schuyler had been admitted to Bloomingdale Hospital, a mental institution in White Plains, New York. Schuyler still gets his semi-colons right, and his appetite for gossip is undiminished: ‘Is it ...

Spiderwise

Peter Porter

4 September 1986
... To Clive James Trapdoor The origin of metaphor is strange. As boys we used (but don’t let me forget I only watched, I wasn’t very brave) To put two spiders in a bottle, wave It over flame, which usually made ...
22 January 1987
Other Passports: Poems 1958-1985 
by Clive James.
Cape, 221 pp., £9.95, November 1986, 0 224 02422 1
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... he might be, he wasn’t going to be primarily a poet, even if he cast his messages to the world in verse. This nostrum begs many questions, but it remains a good rule-of-thumb. By this test, Clive James is a true poet. Line after line of his has a characteristic personal tone, a kind of end-stopped singingness which is almost independent of what it says. The following are taken at random from Other ...

Living It

Andrew O’Hagan: The World of Andy McNab

24 January 2008
Crossfire 
by Andy McNab.
Bantam, 414 pp., £17.99, October 2007, 978 1 84413 535 6
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Strike Back 
by Chris Ryan.
Century, 314 pp., £17.99, October 2007, 978 1 84413 535 6
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... band of born-again Christians, dopers, Buddhists and New Agers who gleaned their precepts from kung fu movies and Oprah Winfrey.’ Wright introduces us to a cast that includes Corporal Harold James Trombley, a 19-year-old who sits in the back of a Humvee ‘waiting all day for permission to fire his machine gun’. And when he does fire, the thrill of the fight represents a kind of ecstasy for ...
13 October 1988
Snakecharmers in Texas 
by Clive James.
Cape, 373 pp., £11.95, July 1988, 0 224 02571 6
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... Among Australians, there are punishments for making one’s career abroad, just as there are for living and writing at home. Few of these punishments have come Clive James’s way. His poetry used regularly to be left out of Australian anthologies, but that is an old bad habit we may have grown out of by now. Mr James’s name attracts far more affection than odium ...

Subjects

Craig Raine

6 October 1983
Peter PorterCollected Poems 
Oxford, 335 pp., £12.50, March 1983, 0 19 211948 6Show More
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... Nevertheless they are subject to the law of diminishing returns, however strong their initial impact. Hardly any good poems came out of the conflict in Vietnam and most of those were written by James Fenton, a poet alert to the eerie surrealism of war. What happens when the war is banished from the front page and into the history books? Pound said, in the ABC of Reading, that ‘literature is ...
21 February 1980
The Children’s Book of Comic Verse 
edited by Christopher Logue.
Batsford, 160 pp., £3.95, March 1980, 0 7134 1528 2
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The Children’s Book of Funny Verse 
edited by Julia Watson.
Faber, 127 pp., £3.95, September 1980, 0 571 11467 9
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Bagthorpes v. the World 
by Helen Cresswell.
Faber, 192 pp., £4.50, September 1980, 0 571 11446 6
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The Robbers 
by Nina Bawden.
Gollancz, 144 pp., £3.95, September 1980, 0 575 02695 2
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... would have to see on the stage before he could laugh. (Or does the humour of disaster appeal only to the Western mind? We were once the only Europeans present at a Boxing Day performance of Oh Mr Porter in a back-street cinema. Four men were whirled around on the sails of a windmill; we fell about with laughing, the Pakistani children who made up the rest of the audience were silent. They either ...

Walking on Eyeballs

E.S. Turner: The history of gout

7 January 1999
Gout: The Patrician Malady 
by Roy Porter and G.S. Rousseau.
Yale, 393 pp., £25, September 1998, 0 300 07386 0
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... Cyclopaedia, the resident doctor in which has always had a crusty, no-nonsense attitude to those who bleat about their non-lethal and non-infective conditions, of which gout is one. Nor do Professors Porter and Rousseau tell us anything about the present-day treatment of gout, under the National Health Service or otherwise. Perhaps they should have spared a leaf or two from their 100 pages of notes and ...
19 May 1988
The Public Health Challenge 
edited by Stephen Farrow.
Hutchinson, 160 pp., £12.95, November 1987, 0 09 173165 8
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The Truth about the Aids Panic 
by Michael Fitzpatrick and Don Milligan.
Junius, 68 pp., £1.95, March 1987, 9780948392078
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Dangerous Sexualities: Medico-Moral Politics in England since 1830 
by Frank Mort.
Routledge, 280 pp., £7.95, October 1987, 0 7102 0856 1
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Medicine and Labour: The Politics of a Profession 
by Steve Watkins.
Lawrence and Wishart, 272 pp., £6.95, May 1987, 0 85315 639 5
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... power, suggesting a monolithic plenitude of power: in reality, what counts for most in an intricate and pluralist society may be the complex arrangement of checks and balances which serves to hamper James Anderton no less than Gay Liberation. Between them, Mort and Watkins offer astute assessments of the scope and limits of medical politics in Britain past and present. In these days of Aids and Aids ...

White Lies

James​ Campbell: Nella Larsen

5 October 2006
In Search of Nella Larsen: A Biography of the Colour Line 
by George Hutchinson.
Harvard, 611 pp., £25.95, June 2006, 0 674 02180 0
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... One night it did not work. He rose from the bed and told the woman that he was a Negro. “You are?” she said. “I thought maybe you were just another wop or something.”’ Twenty years earlier, James Weldon Johnson, a black man who served as American consul in Venezuela and Nicaragua during the Theodore Roosevelt and William H. Taft administrations, opened his novel The Autobiography of an Ex ...

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