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The Excommunicant

Richard​ Popkin: Spinoza v. the Synagogue

15 October 1998
The God of Spinoza: A Philosophical Study 
by Richard Mason.
Cambridge, 272 pp., £35, May 1997, 0 521 58162 1
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Spinoza, Liberalism and the Question of Jewish Identity 
by Steven Smith.
Yale, 270 pp., £21, June 1997, 0 300 06680 5
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... philosophical being. He then worked out a stoic-like ethical system in which the highest good for man is to see the world from the aspect of eternity, and to achieve the intellectual love of God. As RichardMason reminds us, Spinoza’s neglect of epistemology made him of little interest to those who insisted that the problem of knowledge as set out by Descartes defined what philosophy was properly ...

Short Cuts

Thomas Jones: Looking Ahead

18 May 2000
... A special 25th anniversary edition of Edward O. Wilson’s Sociobiology: The New Consensus was published in March. Harvard University Press are advertising it together with Richard Lewontin’s new book, The Triple Helix: Gene, Organism, Environment, presumably to let everyone know they’re not taking sides. Lewontin and Wilson, fiercely opposed to each other intellectually ...

At the Movies

Michael Wood: ‘Boyhood’

16 August 2014
... and go straight to the next chosen moment, from the take-off to the landing say, without the details of the long flight. But they don’t always invite you to ponder the missing minutes or years, as Richard Linklater’s films do. There is a brilliant elision of this kind in the new film Boyhood – well, there are maybe eight of them, but one is especially eloquent about the gap it leaps over. Patricia ...
6 August 1992
The Lyrical Ballads: Longman Annotated Texts 
edited by Michael Mason.
Longman, 419 pp., £29.99, April 1992, 0 582 03302 0
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Strange Power of Speech: Wordsworth, Coleridge and Literary Possession 
by Susan Eilenberg.
Oxford, 278 pp., £30, May 1992, 0 19 506856 4
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The Politics of Nature: Wordsworth and Some Contemporaries 
by Nicholas Roe.
Macmillan, 186 pp., £35, April 1992, 0 333 52314 8
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... The best-known publication date in English literature,’ says Michael Mason of 1798. But the terse, intelligent Introduction to his new edition of the Lyrical Ballads seems out to disperse the sense of unique significance sticking to the year. Mason points out that the ...
17 July 1997
Mason​ & Dixon 
by Thomas Pynchon.
Cape, 773 pp., £16.99, May 1997, 9780224050012
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... Hats away into the brisk Wind off Delaware’ – that’s what it says right now in the window of my local bookshop. It’s been painted on the glass by hand. It’s from the first sentence of Mason – Dixon. Thomas Pynchon was born on Long Island, New York in 1937. He studied engineering, physics and, later, English literature, at Cornell University, then worked as a technical writer for ...

Flirting

P.N. Furbank

18 November 1982
The English World: History, Character and People 
edited by Robert Blake.
Thames and Hudson, 268 pp., £14.95, September 1982, 0 500 25083 9
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The English Gentleman: The Rise and Fall of an Ideal 
by Philip Mason.
Deutsch, 240 pp., £9.95, September 1982, 9780233974897
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... the development of Parliament (Robert Blake), ‘War and Peace with Wales, Scotland and Ireland’ (Hugh Trevor-Roper), art and popular taste (Quentin Bell), the evolution of the English landscape (Richard Muir) – are excellent and briskly-written popularising surveys. But the whole enterprise, I do think, is compromised by those gestures towards ‘the English Spirit’, ‘the making of a tradition ...

Don’t you care?

Michael Wood: Richard​ Powers

22 February 2007
The Echo Maker 
by Richard​ Powers.
Heinemann, 451 pp., £17.99, January 2007, 978 0 434 01633 4
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... At one moment in Thomas Pynchon’s novel named after them, Mason and Dixon pause to wonder what history’s verdict on their most famous work is likely to be, its ‘assessment of the Good resulting from this Line, vis-à-vis the not-so-good’. A voice ...

Falling Stars

Alan Coren

5 November 1981
Richard​ Burton 
by Paul Ferris.
Weidenfeld, 212 pp., £7.95, September 1981, 0 297 77966 4
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Peter Sellers 
by Alexander Walker.
Weidenfeld, 240 pp., £7.95, September 1981, 0 297 77965 6
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... It is not easy to determine which is the better book. Richard Burton was printed by Butler and Tanner Limited, Peter Sellers by the Fakenham Press, and since the one establishment is in Somerset and the other in Norfolk, it is fair to absolve both of them from ...

Call It Capitalism

Thomas Jones: Pynchon

10 September 2009
Inherent Vice 
by Thomas Pynchon.
Cape, 369 pp., £18.99, August 2009, 978 0 224 08948 7
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... as Corey, who was once described by Kenneth Tynan as a ‘travesty of all that our civilisation holds dear and one of the funniest grotesques in America’, accepted the ‘stipend’ on behalf of ‘Richard Python’. ‘The great fiction story is now being rehearsed before our very eyes, in the Nixon administration,’ Corey announced. He described Gravity’s Rainbow as ‘a small contribution to a ...
6 December 1979
The Ghost Writer 
by Philip Roth.
Cape, 180 pp., £4.95
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... comedy in Nathan’s response to all this – with his awed shyness of Lonoff, his literary big-headedness and then the almost hysterical embarrassment at being a witness of ‘scenes’. The Richard Benjamin of Goodbye Columbus could walk straight into the part. There are no other notable actions. The rest of the novel’s interest lies in the ramifying material. There is the Henry James story ...

Consider the lions

Peter Campbell

22 July 1993
The House of Gold 
by Richard​ Goy.
Cambridge, 304 pp., £60, January 1993, 0 521 40513 0
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The Palace of the Sun 
by Robert Berger.
Pennsylvania State, 232 pp., £55, April 1993, 0 271 00847 4
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... a monument to power on a much grander scale. His palace frontage is not the jolliest Classical building in Paris, but it is still the most impressive and among the most magisterially consistent. Richard Goy and Robert Berger, in their respective accounts of the construction of the Cà d’Oro and of Louis XIV’s Louvre, remove ambiguities which hang around the word ‘built’. They ask who made ...

O cruel!

Michael Mason

16 June 1983
Far Away and Long Ago 
by W.H. Hudson.
Eland, 332 pp., £3.95, October 1982, 0 907871 25 9
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W.H. Hudson: A Biography 
by Ruth Tomalin.
Faber, 314 pp., £13.50, November 1982, 0 571 10599 8
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... motifs. The book’s theme has considerable subtlety – and considerable topicality today. The purple land lost by England is Uruguay, given up by her in favour of the Falklands. The novel’s hero, Richard Lamb, at first much regrets the exchange of this ‘green world’ for ‘the desolate haunt of seals and penguins’. After he has roamed its fastnesses and met its half-wild inhabitants his views ...
7 January 1999
What is Love? Richard​ Carlile’s Philosophy of Sex 
edited by M.L. Bush.
Verso, 214 pp., £19, September 1998, 1 85984 851 6
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... fanatic for premarital chastity), but there is a promising cohort of liberationists among the period’s other radicals: William Thompson, Francis Place, George Petrie, Thomas Spence, Robert Owen and Richard Carlile. In his day, Carlile was no less celebrated as a political agitator, and as a polemical atheist, than he was as a sexual reformer: some such mix of activities was the rule for this group. But ...

Stifled Truth

Wyatt Mason: Tobias Wolff and fictions of the self

5 February 2004
Old School 
by Tobias Wolff.
Bloomsbury, 195 pp., £12.99, February 2004, 0 7475 6948 7
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... dynamics of modern life, ‘difficulties between husbands and wives, fathers and sons, sisters and brothers’. Most were written by established names, among them Frank Conroy, Stuart Dybeck, Richard Ford, Joyce Carol Oates, Robert Stone and Amy Tan. Those writers known partly for formal experimentation whose work Wolff did include (among them Lorrie Moore, Denis Johnson and Mary Robison) did not ...

Prize Poems

Donald Davie

1 July 1982
Arvon Foundation Poetry Competion: 1980 Anthology 
by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney.
Kilnhurst Publishing Company, 173 pp., £3, April 1982, 9780950807805
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Burn this 
by Tom Disch.
Hutchinson, 63 pp., £7.50, April 1982, 0 09 146960 0
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... again, by my reckoning, is a class of poems that are neither distinguished nor memorable but certainly creditable. And here figure Mairi MacInnes, Miriam Levine (two), Gerry Loose, Paul Coltman, Richard Dankleff, Robin Ivy, Pete Morgan (two), Phyllis Koestenbaum, Barbara Moore, David MacSweeney (one out of two), Randall Garrison, Donald Stallybrass, Ellery Akers, Peter Abbs, John Hodgen, Andrew ...

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