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Coruscating on Thin Ice

Terry Eagleton: The Divine Spark

24 January 2008
Creation: Artists, Gods and Origins 
by Peter Conrad.
Thames and Hudson, 529 pp., £24.95, September 2007, 978 0 500 51356 9
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... existing, which was more than could be said for the Supreme Being. The supposed divinity of the artwork, however, could never withstand much critical scrutiny. It certainly doesn’t receive much in PeterConrad’s encyclopedic new study of artistic creation. For one thing, God’s act of creation is from nothing, which can scarcely be said of Mansfield Park or Dead Babies. Like cooking or carpentry ...

Modern Masters

Frank Kermode

24 May 1990
Where I fell to Earth: A Life in Four Places 
by Peter Conrad.
Chatto, 252 pp., £16, February 1990, 0 7011 3490 9
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May Week was in June 
by Clive James.
Cape, 249 pp., £12.95, June 1990, 0 224 02787 5
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... Henry, after all, was never president of the Footlights, avoided the distraction of television, and, if he lived all he could, did so in what seems to have been an altogether more sedentary fashion. Conrad, who lists only nine previous books, is nevertheless a long way ahead of his somewhat late-developing Polish namesake, but then going to sea is among the few aids to introspection he seems not yet to ...

Newsreel History

Terry Eagleton: Modern Times, Modern Places by Peter Conrad

12 November 1998
Modern Times, Modern Places 
by Peter Conrad.
Thames and Hudson, 752 pp., £24.95, October 1998, 0 500 01877 4
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... rise of the faceless masses, the human individual as fractured, estranged, disorientated: all this is now as drearily familiar a discourse as the Elizabethan world picture, if somewhat more accurate. PeterConrad’s monumental study of Modernism falls foul of such platitudes from time to time, not least in its tendency to a kind of newsreel history. ‘The 19th century, powered by the internal ...
17 July 1980
Imagining America 
by Peter Conrad.
Routledge, 319 pp., £7.50, May 1980, 0 7100 0370 6
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... of perception, preceded them into battle, creating the illusion that in front of them was only what they intended to find. Though he doesn’t mention Rosenberg, or any other critic for that matter, PeterConrad, Fellow of Christ Church, Oxford, is convinced that a similar destiny was in store for the English writers of the 19th and 20th centuries who ‘imagined’ America during their visits to it ...

Illustrating America

Peter​ Campbell

21 March 1985
Willem de Kooning: Drawings, Paintings, Sculpture 
by Paul Cummings, Jorn Merkert and Claire Stoullig.
Norton, 308 pp., £35, August 1984, 0 393 01840 7
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Abstract Expressionist Painting in America 
by William Seitz.
Harvard, 490 pp., £59.95, February 1984, 0 674 00215 6
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About Rothko 
by Dore Ashton.
Oxford, 225 pp., £15, August 1984, 0 19 503348 5
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The Art of the City: Views and Versions of New York 
by Peter Conrad.
Oxford, 329 pp., £15, June 1984, 0 19 503408 2
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... to American painting in the post-war decades as a place where such ideas circulated. Only in a few of de Kooning’s paintings does it appear as subject-matter (or at least give title-material). PeterConrad, whose subject is versions and visions of New York, thus has no place for Rothko or de Kooning in his book: with the Pop artists – like Oldenburg – he finds work which can illustrate his ...

Heads and Hearts

Patrick Parrinder

28 May 1992
by Peter Conrad.
Chatto, 252 pp., £14.99, April 1992, 0 7011 3895 5
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A Case of Curiosities 
by Allen Kurzweil.
Hamish Hamilton, 358 pp., £14.99, March 1992, 0 241 13235 5
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Rotten Times 
by Paul Micou.
Bantam, 266 pp., £14.99, May 1992, 0 593 02621 7
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The Republic of Love 
by Carol Shields.
Fourth Estate, 366 pp., £14.99, March 1992, 1 872180 88 4
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... Last week, in another part of the city, a human head turned up.’ The severed head which opens PeterConrad’s first novel suggests that contemporary fiction might be defined by its increasing convergence with the weird tale, the story based on a deliberate disruption of the natural order. The head is ...

Founding Moments

Stuart Macintyre

11 March 1993
The Oxford History of Australia. Vol. II, 1770-1860: Possessions 
by Jan Kociumbas.
Oxford, 397 pp., £25, September 1992, 0 19 554610 5
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The Rule of Law in a Penal Colony: Law and Power in Early New South Wales 
by David Neal.
Cambridge, 266 pp., £30, March 1992, 9780521372640
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Waterloo Creek: The Australia Day Massacre of 1838, George Gipps and the British Conquest of New South Wales 
by Roger Milliss.
McPhee Gribble, 965 pp., February 1992, 0 86914 156 2
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Living in a New Country: History, Travelling and Language 
by Paul Carter.
Faber, 214 pp., £14.99, July 1992, 0 571 16329 7
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... Tasmania’s prodigal son, PeterConrad, suggested recently that his island-state had ‘unwritten its own history’ in accordance with ‘a self-protective incuriosity about origins’. Tasmania’s origins lay in an act of genocidal ...

Firm Lines

Hermione Lee

17 November 1983
Bartleby in Manhattan, and Other Essays 
by Elizabeth Hardwick.
Weidenfeld, 292 pp., £8.95, September 1983, 0 297 78357 2
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... excepts Orwell (who rather resembles Wilson in his analyses of the Depression, of false language and of Kipling). Indeed, the last essay in Bartleby in Manhattan is an attack on an English critic, PeterConrad, for trying his hand at just this sort of thing. In these American observers and explainers two characteristics recur. The first is a close attention to the significance of detail (‘no ideas ...
22 June 1989
Hopes and Impediments: Selected Essays 1967-87 
by Chinua Achebe.
Heinemann, 130 pp., £10.95, January 1988, 0 435 91000 0
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... Joseph Conrad was a thoroughgoing racist.’ This quotation is taken from ‘An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad’s Heart of Darkness’, a lecture delivered by the Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe as long ago as 1974 and now collected in Hopes and Impediments. In City Without Walls, W.H. Auden included this ...

At Tate Britain

John Barrell: Late Turner

18 December 2014
... by late Turner, or disappointed by the relative colourlessness of the world out in the street compared with the feast of colour in the gallery. ‘Emerging from Turner’s heliocentric cathedral,’ PeterConrad wrote in the Observer, ‘I felt I had cataracts: it takes time to re-accustom your dazzled eyes to the wan, monochrome mock-up we call reality.’ Turner, and his great advocate Ruskin, would ...


David Bromwich: This was Orson Welles

3 June 2004
Orson Welles: The Stories of His Life 
by Peter Conrad.
Faber, 384 pp., £20, September 2003, 0 571 20978 5
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... with ease and éclat. When he died in 1985, at the age of 70, it was possible to think he had a movie up his sleeve. This was an illusion he encouraged, and there was some pleasure in sharing it. PeterConrad’s Orson Welles: The Stories of His Life does not treat the actual life of Welles or its salient circumstances: his collaborations with John Houseman and Joseph Cotten and Michéal Mac Liamm ...


Blake Morrison: On the Independent on Sunday 

27 May 1993
... on the life of Sylvia Plath, Alison Lurie’s obituary of Mary McCarthy, Salman Rushdie on Graham Greene, Claire Tomalin on Coleridge, Anthony Burgess on Fielding, other reviews by Anita Brookner, PeterConrad, Roy Foster and Hilary Mantel), and as the limits on the new paper’s resources became apparent I thought how hard it would be to put together pages of comparable stature. There was one ...
7 May 1981
... I cannot raise much interest in the ‘metaphysical’ dimension referred to in the blurb, and rather think I don’t need to. My first reading, before any reviews appeared, concurs with what I took Peter Ackroyd to be saying on Kaleidoscope, that the bulk of the narrative can be read and enjoyed in a moderately literal way as a mystery story set in London, even though the mystery turns out to be not ...

Just one of those ends

Michael Wood: Apocalypse Regained

13 December 2001
Apocalypse Now Redux 
directed by Francis Ford Coppola.
August 2001
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Marlon Brando 
by Patricia Bosworth.
Weidenfeld, 216 pp., £12.99, October 2001, 0 297 84284 6
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... completely lose the Africans as anything other than metaphors for what might happen to European souls, just as American mythology loses the Vietnamese as anything other than shadows in a psychodrama. Conrad’s Kurtz is the emissary of light who discovers the ancient darkness in himself – or in the less primitivist reading the novella also allows, discovers that within himself there is nothing at all ...

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