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Corn

Malcolm Bull, 6 January 1994

The Road to Wellville 
by T. Coraghessan Boyle.
Granta, 476 pp., £14.99, October 1993, 9780140142419
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The Collected Stories 
by T. Coraghessan Boyle.
Granta, 621 pp., £9.99, October 1993, 9780140140767
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... If Haile Selassie, whom some remember as a bit of a biker from his days of exile in the West of England, had been stretched to 6’3” and given a part in Easy Rider, he would have looked rather like Tom Coraghessan Boyle as he appears on the front of the Collected Stories – an improbable confection of soulful eyes, hollow cheeks, frizzy facial hair and black leather ...

How smart was Poussin?

Malcolm Bull, 4 April 1991

Nicolas Poussin 
by Alain Mérot, translated by Fabia Claris.
Thames and Hudson, 336 pp., £65, November 1990, 0 300 04763 0
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Nicolas Poussin: Dialectics of Painting 
by Oskar Bätschmann, translated by Marko Daniel.
Reaktion, 176 pp., £27, September 1990, 0 948462 10 8
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Ideal Landscape: Annibale Carracci, Nicolas Poussin and Claude Lorrain 
by Margaretha Rossholm Lagerlöf.
Yale, 256 pp., £35, November 1990, 0 300 04763 0
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... When Bernini saw Poussin’s Landscape with the Gathering of the Ashes Phocion, he pointed to his forehead and said: ‘Poussin is a painter who works from up here.’ Subsequent commentators have almost all endorsed this view, and the history of Poussin’s critical fortunes can be read as an elaboration of the sculptor’s telling gesture. The 17th-century critic Bellori noted that Poussin had the ‘most prized gifts of intelligence ...

It’s the Poor …

Malcolm Bull, 26 January 1995

The Ruin of Kasch 
by Roberto Calasso, translated by William Weaver and Stephen Sartarelli.
Carcanet, 385 pp., £19.95, November 1994, 0 85635 713 8
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... Roberto Calasso is an Italian publisher who writes erudite works of non-fiction so elegantly self-indulgent they can be marketed as novels. He is working on a trilogy, or perhaps tetralogy, of which The Ruin of Kasch is the first part, and The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony (which preceded it in English translation) the second. According to the author, the former deals with history, the latter with myth ...

Hot Dogs

Malcolm Bull, 14 June 1990

Mine eyes have seen the glory: A Journey into the Evangelical Subculture in America 
by Randall Balmer.
Oxford, 246 pp., $19.95, September 1989, 0 19 505117 3
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In God’s Country: Travels in the Bible Belt, USA 
by Douglas Kennedy.
Unwin Hyman, 240 pp., £12.95, November 1989, 0 04 440423 9
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The Divine Supermarket 
by Malise Ruthven.
Chatto, 336 pp., £14.95, August 1989, 0 7011 3151 9
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The Democratisation of American Christianity 
by Nathan Hatch.
Yale, 312 pp., £22.50, November 1989, 0 300 44470 2
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Religion and 20th-Century American Intellectual Life 
edited by Michael Lacey.
Cambridge/Woodrow Wilson Centre for Scholars, 214 pp., £27.50, November 1989, 0 521 37560 6
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New Religions and the Theological Imagination in America 
by Mary Farrell Bednarowski.
Indiana, 175 pp., $25, November 1989, 0 253 31137 3
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... In recent years, nothing has done more to reinforce the European sense of cultural superiority than the sight of America’s televangelists. Easily stereotyped as politically reactionary, sexually hypocritical, intellectually retarded and financially dishonest, the televangelists confirmed every prejudice about American society. That such men should be allowed, not only to appear on television, but to run for the Presidency of the United States, is taken as proof of the immaturity of the nation’s social institutions and the inherent gullibility of its people ...

Pure Mediterranean

Malcolm Bull: Picasso and Nietzsche, 20 February 2014

Picasso and Truth: From Cubism to Guernica 
by T.J. Clark.
Princeton, 352 pp., £29.95, May 2013, 978 0 691 15741 2
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... window seems to come right through her, through a hole in her chest, with a strange red and white bull’s eye sizzling in the middle of the blue’. For Clark, the ‘women are demons’ and the painting as a whole ‘is terrible, or terrifying … For the terror – this is my thesis – has to do with Untruth: with what art has to be if Truth is no longer ...

The Catastrophist

Malcolm Bull: The Apostasies of John Gray, 1 November 2007

Black Mass: Apocalyptic Religion and the Death of Utopia 
by John Gray.
Allen Lane, 243 pp., £18.99, July 2007, 978 0 7139 9915 0
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... It is not too fanciful to suppose that “posterity”, in the year 2032, will be celebrating the events of November 1917 as a happy turning point in the history of human freedom, much as we celebrate the events of July 1789.’ Not too fanciful, in 1932, for Carl Becker, the American historian who first cast a quizzical eye over the utopian designs of the Enlightenment in The Heavenly City of the 18th-Century Philosophers ...

Can the poor think?

Malcolm Bull: ‘Nervous States’, 4 July 2019

Nervous States: How Feeling Took Over the World 
by William Davies.
Cape, 272 pp., £16.99, September 2018, 978 1 78733 010 8
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... Thanks to the work of behavioural economists there is a lot of experimental evidence to show what many of us would have suspected anyway: that people are not the rational, utility-maximisers of neoclassical economics, but loss-averse sentimentalists who, faced with even the simplest cognitive problem, prefer dodgy short cuts to careful analysis. Behavioural economists generously characterised those susceptible to cognitive bias as ‘Humans’ as opposed to ‘Econs’, but it has recently been suggested that, while to some degree universal, such human failings are characteristic of certain categories of person ...

One and Only

Malcolm Bull, 23 February 1995

The Holocaust in Historical Context. Vol. I: The Holocaust and Mass Death before the Modern Age 
by Steven Katz.
Oxford, 702 pp., £40, July 1994, 0 19 507220 0
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... Each person who dies has attributes that are shared with others, and almost every death can be ascribed to a cause that gives rise to multiple mortalities. Some deaths, like that of the Turkish hunter who was recently shot by a snake coiled around his gun, are freak accidents unlikely to be repeated; most are easily categorised by the identity of the deceased and the cause of death ...

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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... Four angels held back the winds of destruction. Until the redeemed had received the seal of the living God, nothing could be harmed. But now the servants of God are sealed, and the seventh seal has been opened. Six trumpets have sounded. A third of the trees have burned, a third of the sea has turned to blood, a third of the heavens has been darkened, and a third of mankind has been killed ...

Hate is the new love

Malcolm Bull: Slavoj Žižek, 25 January 2001

The Fragile Absolute or why is the christian legacy worth fighting for? 
by Slavoj Žižek.
Verso, 182 pp., £16, June 2000, 1 85984 770 6
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... Get into the car sometime and drive out of town. Once you have got past the suburbs, and the industrial estates, and the home-made signs (‘Buy British’, ‘Our Beef With Blair’) that mark the transition, you will find yourself in another England, barely inhabited, tranquil, timeless. It is easy to see yourself in this world; its unruffled surface seems to reflect a clearer picture of who you are, free of the distorting pressures of urban life ...

The Whale Inside

Malcolm Bull: How to be a community, 1 January 2009

Bíos: Biopolitics and Philosophy 
by Roberto Esposito, translated by Timothy Campbell.
Minnesota, 230 pp., £14, April 2008, 978 0 8166 4990 7
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... No man is an island; unless, Donne might have added, he becomes a whale: ‘Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were.’ But even if the whole feels the loss of a part, the part may not feel the loss of the whole. It is what happens to the clod or the promontory that counts, and in his earlier poem about metempsychosis, ‘The Progress of the Soul’, Donne describes the soul entering a whale so vast that it is as if ‘seas from Afric’s body had severed/And torn the hopeful promontory’s head’ (the Cape of Good Hope), allowing it to swim off into the southern ocean ...

Great Again

Malcolm Bull: America’s Heidegger, 20 October 2016

Ponderings II-VI: Black Notebooks, 1931-38 
by Martin Heidegger, translated by Richard Rojcewicz.
Indiana, 388 pp., £50, June 2016, 978 0 253 02067 3
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... From 1930​ until the end of his life, Heidegger kept a private philosophical journal in a series of black notebooks. He intended it to be published as the very last of his collected works, but his executors, recognising its importance, have allowed it to appear ahead of schedule. When the first three volumes were published in Germany in 2014, they caused the expected controversy, and prompted Günter Figal, the chair of the Martin Heidegger Society, to resign on the grounds that he could no longer represent the figure that emerged from their pages ...

Am I right to be angry?

Malcolm Bull: Superfluous Men, 2 August 2018

Age of Anger: A History of the Present 
by Pankaj Mishra.
Penguin, 416 pp., £9.99, February 2018, 978 0 14 198408 7
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... In​ The Passions and the Interests, published in 1977, Albert Hirschman revisited the 18th-century argument that the pursuit of worldly self-interest might be the most effective way of controlling destructive emotions like anger. The pursuit of interests that are constant and predictable potentially offers an escape from the see-saw effect of trying to curb one passion with another ...
Modernity and Identity 
edited by Scott Lash and Jonathan Friedman.
Blackwell, 448 pp., £45, January 1992, 0 631 17585 7
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Fundamentalisms Observed 
edited by Martin Marty and Scott Appleby.
Chicago, 872 pp., $40, November 1991, 0 226 50877 3
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The Post-Modern and the Post-Industrial 
by Margaret Rose.
Cambridge, 317 pp., £35, July 1991, 0 521 40131 3
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Under God: Religion and American Politics 
by Garry Wills.
Simon and Schuster, 445 pp., £17.99, February 1992, 0 671 65705 4
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... Although the modern has been with us since the end of antiquity, it has, at least until recently, always avoided becoming antique. As early as the 17th century, some were arguing that by virtue of longevity, the moderns must already be more ancient than the ancients themselves; but unlike the true ancients, who remained trapped in undying senility, the moderns seemed to have the secret of eternal youth, and for another three centuries they grew younger as their predecessors aged ...

Help yourself

Malcolm Bull: Global Justice, 21 February 2013

On Global Justice 
by Mathias Risse.
Princeton, 465 pp., £27.95, October 2012, 978 0 691 14269 2
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... Global inequality has become one of the forms of the statistical sublime. There is a strange pleasure to be had from discovering that the top 0.5 per cent of the world population owns 35.6 per cent of global wealth, while the bottom 68.4 per cent controls a mere 4.2 per cent; or that the richest thousand or so billionaires are worth more than one and a half billion of the world’s poorest people; or that the wealth of the world’s three richest people is equal to the combined GDP of the 48 poorest countries ...

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