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Death (and Life) of the Author

Peter Wollen: Kathy Acker

5 February 1998
... Writing about Goya’s Black Paintings in Art After Modernism , a collection of essays published in 1984 by the New Museum in downtown New York, Kathy Acker wrote: ‘The only reaction against an unbearable society is equally unbearable nonsense.’ She once said she didn’t expect anyone to read any of her books all the way through from beginning to end: ‘even in Empire of the Senseless , which is the most narrative book, you could read pretty much anywhere ...

When the beam of light has gone

Peter Wollen: Godard Turns Over

17 September 1998
The Films of Jean-Luc Godard 
by Wheeler Winston Dixon.
SUNY, 290 pp., £17.99, March 1997, 0 7914 3285 8
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Speaking about Godard 
by Kaja Silverman and Harun Farocki.
New York, 256 pp., $55, July 1998, 0 8147 8066 0
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... I was living in Paris in 1959, the year of both Jean-Luc Godard’s Breathless and Budd Boetticher’s The Rise and Fall of Legs Diamond, and I went to see both of these films the week they were released. In fact, I went back to see them a number of times. I couldn’t help noticing that Godard quoted from another Boetticher movie in the course of Breathless, in the scene where the small-time gangster Michel Poiccard, played by Jean-Paul Belmondo, dives into a cinema on the Champs Elysées in order to shake off a wearisome tail ...
4 July 1996
‘Salome’ and ‘Under the Hill’ 
by Oscar Wilde and Aubrey Beardsley.
Creation, 123 pp., £7.95, April 1996, 1 871592 12 7
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Aubrey Beardsley: Dandy of the Grotesque 
by Chris Snodgrass.
Oxford, 338 pp., £35, August 1995, 0 19 509062 4
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... Yeats had no doubt how and when the fatal blow was struck. In his memoirs, he noted that ‘the condemnation of Wilde had brought ruin upon a whole movement in art and letters.’ Yeats himself was fortunate that the Celtic Revival, which ran in close tandem with Decadence, had special resources of its own. Two of the great iconic victims of the social purity movement, the repressive engine of Late Victorianism, were themselves Irish – Parnell and Wilde – and Yeats was able to incorporate their tragedies into his heroic narrative of Irish nationalism ...

Hare’s Blood

Peter Wollen: John Berger

4 April 2002
The Selected Essays of John Berger 
edited by Geoff Dyer.
Bloomsbury, 599 pp., £25, November 2001, 0 7475 5419 6
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... John Berger’s selected essays run to nearly six hundred pages, yet that is just the tip of the iceberg if one looks at the totality of his published work: the essays and reviews about the visual arts – drawing, painting, photography, film – but also short stories, journals, screenplays, travel articles, letters, television scripts, translations, novels, poems, even a requiem in three parts which gives a wrenching account of the untimely deaths of three of Berger’s neighbours ...

Tankishness

Peter Wollen: Tank by Patrick Wright

16 November 2000
Tank: The Progress of a Monstrous War Machine 
by Patrick Wright.
Faber, 499 pp., £25, October 2000, 0 571 19259 9
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... The tank, I was surprised to learn, was a British invention. It provided a much-needed response to the recent development of barbed wire, fortified trenches and rapid-fire machine-guns. Armoured against both wire and gunfire, the tank could lurch across trenches and traverse roadless battlefields pitted with shell craters. I was even more surprised to learn that the tank was developed in the first instance not by the Army but by the Navy, which had already armoured its gunships and was open-minded about new inventions, prepared to back them even if they had no naval relevance ...

From Plato to Nato

Christopher Norris

7 July 1983
Literary Theory: An Introduction 
by Terry Eagleton.
Blackwell, 244 pp., £15, May 1983, 0 631 13258 9
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Essays on Fiction 1971-82 
by Frank Kermode.
Routledge, 227 pp., £9.95, May 1983, 0 7100 9442 6
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Deconstructive Criticism: An Advanced Introduction 
by Vincent Leitch.
Hutchinson, 290 pp., £15, January 1983, 0 09 150690 5
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Readings and Writings: Semiotic Counter-Strategies 
by Peter Wollen.
Verso, 228 pp., £15, March 1983, 0 86091 055 5
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Knowing the Poor: A Case-Study in Textual Reality Construction 
by Bryan Green.
Routledge, 221 pp., £12.95, February 1983, 0 7100 9282 2
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... of the rise and present institutional character of English Studies. A similar case was argued by Peter Widdowson and his contributors in the ‘New Accents’ volume Re-Reading English. It is hardly surprising that their arguments were met with great hostility by those (not only ‘Leavisites’) who continue to believe in the vital role of English as a ...

Incompetents

Stephen Bann

16 June 1983
Worstward Ho 
by Samuel Beckett.
Calder, 48 pp., £5.50, April 1983, 0 7145 3979 1
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That Voice 
by Robert Pinget, translated by Barbara Wright.
Red Dust (New York), 114 pp., $10.95, May 1983, 0 87376 041 7
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King Solomon 
by Romain Gary, translated by Barbara Wright.
Harvill, 256 pp., £7.95, May 1983, 0 00 261416 2
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A Year in Hartlebury, or The Election 
by Benjamin Disraeli and Sarah Disraeli.
Murray, 222 pp., £8.50, May 1983, 0 7195 4020 8
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The Sentimental Agents in the Volyen Empire 
by Doris Lessing.
Cape, 180 pp., £7.95, May 1983, 0 224 02130 3
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... occasionally dazzling novels of Pinget. A less apocalyptic way of expressing it is suggested by Peter Wollen, in one of the semi-fictional contributions to his illuminating collection, Readings and Writings.5 Wollen argues: ‘if there is to be a theory of linguistic “competence” – if, indeed, this is the ...

Vehicles of Dissatisfaction

Jonathan Dollimore: Men and Motors

24 July 2003
Autopia: Cars and Culture 
edited by Peter Wollen and Joe Kerr.
Reaktion, 400 pp., £25, November 2002, 1 86189 132 6
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... Gridlock is a great leveller. It immobilises the fastest roadster as surely as the slowest truck. It reminds us that the car is an indispensable part of what we are, but also a threat to us. Without it we couldn’t live at the pace we do; with it we’re grinding to a halt. Once the symbol and instrument of progress, now it drives us to gridlock and road rage ...

Literary Friction

Jenny Turner: Kathy Acker’s Ashes

18 October 2017
After Kathy Acker: A Literary Biography 
by Chris Kraus.
Allen Lane, 352 pp., £20, August 2017, 978 1 63590 006 4
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... of the condition of being screwed up.She married her second husband, the composer and musician Peter Gordon, ‘in the throes’ of this first scare, in an attempt to get coverage from his medical insurance, but the lump turned out to be benign. It would be the first of several until the discovery, in 1996, of a lump that wasn’t.‘At that time,’ Acker ...

Ackerville

Gary Indiana: Nymphomania, antic incest and metaphysical torment

14 December 2006
Lust for Life: On the Writings of Kathy Acker 
edited by Amy Scholder, Carla Harryman and Avital Ronell.
Verso, 120 pp., £10.99, May 2006, 9781844670666
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... so often confused with it – a confusion which Acker herself did nothing to discourage. Peter Wollen’s essay in Lust for Life focuses attention on Acker’s lifelong involvement in politics and the visual arts, her studies with Herbert Marcuse, and the influence on her writing of conceptual art, the Black Mountain poets and Burroughs’s ...

Union Sucrée

Perry Anderson: The Normalising of France

23 September 2004
Le Rappel à l’ordre: Enquête sur les nouveaux réactionnaires 
by Daniel Lindenberg.
Seuil, 94 pp., €10.50, November 2002, 2 02 055816 5
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Esquisse pour une auto-analyse 
by Pierre Bourdieu.
Raisons d'Agir, 142 pp., €12, February 2004, 2 912107 19 9
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La République mondiale des lettres 
by Pascale Casanova.
Seuil, 492 pp., €27.50, March 1999, 2 02 035853 0
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... out under his direction in 1984. By the time the last set appeared in 1992, the enterprise had swollen to seven volumes and some 5600 pages, mustering six times as many contributors as the Dictionnaire critique de la révolution française, from a more ecumenical range of scholars. His aim, Nora declared in his initial presentation of the project, was an ...

Diary

Thomas Laqueur: Memories in German

4 December 2003
... English was not very good, so we didn’t see much of the neighbours. Tante Biba and Onkel Peter, the friends from Istanbul, lived twenty or thirty miles away, and with them I spoke German. Then on to Bluefield, the ‘air-conditioned city’, where coal poured in from the bituminous fields. It was here that I started to learn English seriously. I ...

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