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How to make a Greek god smile

Lorraine Daston, 10 June 1999

Wonder, the Rainbow and the Aesthetics of Rare Experiences 
by Philip Fisher.
Harvard, 191 pp., £21.95, January 1999, 0 674 95561 7
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... In his lucid and bold meditation on the aesthetics of the extraordinary in art and science, Philip Fisher seeks to restore it to its Cartesian pride of place as a passion fit for grownups and intellectuals. It is a tonic to put down the latest issue of a scholarly journal and pick up this short but ample book, in which ...

What kept Hector and Andromache warm in windy Troy?

David Simpson: ‘Vehement Passions’, 19 June 2003

The Vehement Passions 
by Philip Fisher.
Princeton, 268 pp., £18.95, May 2002, 0 691 06996 4
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... may not have now come to an end, wrecked or perhaps just beached on the shores of the Postmodern. Philip Fisher’s new book, however, makes a daring case for the continued relevance of pre-Christian ideas about the passions. His argument is that we underestimate the positive potential of the ‘vehement passions’, long understood only as forces that ...
Still the New World: American Literature in a Culture of Creative Destruction 
by Philip Fisher.
Harvard, 290 pp., £18.50, May 1999, 0 674 83859 9
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... by special studies of anonymous or bestselling authors now suitable for academic recovery, Philip Fisher’s Still the New World marks a return in some ways to an older and less suspicious idea of ‘classic American literature’. Fisher is a critic who has written extensively on realist prose and painting, and ...

The Inevitable Pit

Stephen Greenblatt: Isn’t that a Jewish name?, 21 September 2000

... in a brilliant new book on this Emersonian vision and the economic order it celebrates,† Philip Fisher argues that democratic social space in America depends on and fosters what he calls ‘a culture of abstraction’, atomistic, unbounded and transparent. The United States lacks virtually all of those elements that, to European thinkers of the ...

Deadly Eliza

Ruth Bernard Yeazell: ‘The Whole Family: A Novel by Twelve Authors’, 1 November 2001

The Whole Family: A Novel by Twelve Authors 
by William Dean Howells et al.
Duke, 416 pp., £13.50, November 2001, 0 8223 2838 0
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Publishing the Family 
by June Howard.
Duke, 304 pp., £13.50, November 2001, 0 8223 2771 6
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... Britain and the Continent. There are apparently honourable exceptions to this rule, including Philip Fisher and Jean-Christophe Agnew, ‘yet Americanists writing about sentimentality rarely cite them (nor, for that matter, do they cite each other).’ Howard’s own chapter on sentimentality makes a valiant effort to get beyond stale debates about ...

When the Mediterranean Was Blue

John Bayley, 23 March 1995

Cyril Connolly: A Nostalgic Life 
by Clive Fisher.
Macmillan, 304 pp., £20, March 1995, 0 333 57813 9
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... regrets and frustrations of his literary generation. He was a mixture of Pan and Peter Pan. Clive Fisher, who has written a very good book on Noel Coward, was quite right to give this elegant study the subtitle ‘A Nostalgic Life’. Being Anglo-Irish helped the nostalgia. Connolly senior had been a Major in the British Army and when he retired became an ...

Rose’s Rex

David Cannadine, 15 September 1983

King George V 
by Kenneth Rose.
Weidenfeld, 514 pp., £12.95, July 1983, 0 297 78245 2
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... a model for royal biography successfully followed by Lady Longford on Queen Victoria, Sir Philip Magnus on Edward VII, Lady Donaldson on Edward VIII, James Pope-Hennessy on Queen Mary and Sir John Wheeler-Bennett on George VI. Now the wheel has come full circle, and we are back to George V again. Is there any need for this? If plain history does not ...

The Coburg Connection

Richard Shannon, 5 April 1984

Albert, Prince Consort 
by Robert Rhodes James.
Hamish Hamilton, 311 pp., £15, November 1983, 0 241 11000 9
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... be no occasions of it. The first two occasions offered dismal precedents. Mary I’s consort, King Philip of Spain, was dangerously powerful in his own right, and only Mary’s barrenness saved England from becoming yet another component of the Habsburg Empire. Her half-sister, Elizabeth I, avoided the problem by avoiding matrimony altogether. Anne’s ...

Reconstituted Chicken

Philip Kitcher, 2 October 1997

This is Biology 
by Ernst Mayr.
Harvard, 340 pp., £19.95, April 1997, 9780674884687
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... details shows us why the same phenomenon is to be expected in other years as well. Since R.A. Fisher’s work on selection for sex ratios, we’ve had a better explanation. Fisher pointed out that if the sex ratio in a species like ours departs from one to one at the time of sexual maturity there will be a selective ...

Bang, Bang, Smash, Smash

Rosemary Hill: Beatrix Potter, 22 February 2007

Beatrix Potter: A Life in Nature 
by Linda Lear.
Allen Lane, 584 pp., £25, January 2007, 978 0 7139 9560 2
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... and, despite Darwin, the natural world could be studied safely by the pious with the aid of Philip Gosse’s Evenings at the Microscope. Potter, with her brother’s microscope and the encouragement of her father, developed into an accomplished naturalist and botanical artist. It was the ideal childhood for a writer, intense, isolated and untrammelled ...

At Maison Empereur

Inigo Thomas, 10 May 2018

... of the sea: in Fernand Braudel’s The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II, Marseille is mentioned so often that when you turn to its entry in the book’s index, you find no page numbers, just a word – passim. Lauso la mare e tente’n terro – praise the sea and stay on the land – is a Provençal proverb, and Marseille ...

Tiny Little Lars

Joanna Kavenna: Von Trier’s Provocations, 15 April 2004

Trier on von Trier 
edited by Stig Björkman, translated by Neil Smith.
Faber, 288 pp., £16.99, February 2004, 0 571 20707 3
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directed by Lars von Trier.
May 2003
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... whores, dying horses and abandoned children. In The Element of Crime (1984), a ravaged cop called Fisher (Michael Elphick) struggles through a flooded landscape, trying to solve a crime. Fisher is a particularly bad detective: he has an affair with a prostitute who turns out to have been the lover of the murderer he is ...

Enlarging Insularity

Patrick McGuinness: Donald Davie, 20 January 2000

With the Grain: Essays on Thomas Hardy and Modern British Poetry 
by Donald Davie.
Carcanet, 346 pp., £14.95, October 1998, 1 85754 394 7
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... to join the silent conspiracy which now unites all the English poets from Robert Graves down to Philip Larkin, and all the critics, editors and publishers too, the conspiracy to pretend that Eliot and Pound never happened. Tomlinson refuses to put the clock back to pretend that after Pound and Eliot, Marianne Moore and Wallace Stevens have written in ...


Alex Ivanovitch: William Boyd, 4 June 1998

by William Boyd.
Hamish Hamilton, 310 pp., £16.99, February 1998, 0 241 13928 7
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Nat Tate: American Artist, 1928-60 
by William Boyd.
Twenty One, 77 pp., £9.95, April 1998, 1 901785 01 7
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... had been called Gilbert Kline, Jonathan Pollock, Cyril O’Hara, Jennifer Krasner, Timothy Rivers, Philip Tate?’ The question is left hanging but the answer, in Tate’s case, is that this little practical joke would surely have gone out into the world without its best gag. Had the guests at Modern Painters’ New York party read The New Confessions, for ...

The Crowe is White

Hilary Mantel: Bloody Mary, 24 September 2009

Fires of Faith: Catholic England under Mary Tudor 
by Eamon Duffy.
Yale, 249 pp., £19.99, June 2009, 978 0 300 15216 6
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... king’s presumed supremacy of the Church, his divorce and the Boleyn marriage. Thomas More, John Fisher and the Carthusian monks whom Henry had executed were now cast as religious martyrs. Henry himself, worse than Nero, was guilty of incest and adultery, and heading straight to hell. Pole’s manuscript was suffused with a sense of his own aristocratic ...

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