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Literature & Criticism

Joseph Conrad on board the special service ship Ready, 1916

Conrad Jumps Ship

Fredric Jameson

4 April 2020

Joseph Conrad’s commitment to precision finds a striking contradiction – if it is not, in fact, a confirmation – in Henri Bergson’s sense that it is language which first imposes a spatialising deformation on experience. Noun, verb, adjective: the noun reifies the object by classification, the verb turns an act into a thing, the adjective ornaments this frozen reality like a Christmas tree.

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A nice girl like Simone

Joanna Biggs

4 April 2020

Almost​ from the moment she published The Second Sex in November 1949, Simone de Beauvoir was asked why she’d never written a female character who lived a free life, the sort she imagined in . . .

‘Cleanness’

Edmund Gordon

4 April 2020

In​ U&I (1991), his book about John Updike, Nicholson Baker imagines explaining the appeal of Alan Hollinghurst’s The Swimming-Pool Library to his literary hero. ‘You know, once you . . .

Revism

Joe Dunthorne

21 March 2020

In​ 1963, the novelist Gerard Reve became the first openly gay public figure in the Netherlands. By the end of the decade, it was known that he lived with two friends in an open relationship and . . .

Caroline Gordon v. Flannery O’Connor

Rupert Thomson

21 March 2020

According​ to one of her cousins, Mary Flannery O’Connor was ‘a very peculiar child’. When she was six, she drew countless pictures of chickens. To discourage classmates from sharing . . .

Updike Redux

Patricia Lockwood, 10 October 2019

When he is in flight you are glad to be alive. When he comes down wrong – which is often – you feel the sickening turn of an ankle, a real nausea. All the flaws that will become fatal later are present at the beginning. He has a three-panel cartoonist’s sense of plot. The dialogue is a weakness: in terms of pitch, it’s half a step sharp, too nervily and jumpily tuned to the tics and italics and slang of the era. And yes, there are his women.

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Down with Creative Writing

Elif Batuman, 23 September 2010

The world of letters: does such a thing still exist? Even within the seemingly homogeneous sphere of the university English department, a schism has opened up between literary scholarship and...

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Stefan Zweig

Michael Hofmann, 28 January 2010

Romain Rolland, one of Stefan Zweig’s many illustrious friends (he seems not to have had any other kind), expressed surprise that he could be a writer and not like cats: ‘Un...

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The Social Text Hoax

John Sturrock, 16 July 1998

Way back in the pre-theoretical Fifties, a journalist called Ivor Brown used to have elementary fun at the expense of a serial intruder on our insular peace of mind, a bacillus known as the LFF,...

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The Fatness of Falstaff

Barbara Everett, 16 August 1990

One day early in the 1590s a clown came onto a London stage, holding a piece of string. At the end of the piece of string was a dog. The dog, possibly the first on the Elizabethan stage, I want to...

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Paul de Man’s Abyss

Frank Kermode, 16 March 1989

Paul de Man was born in 1919 to a high-bourgeois Antwerp family, Flemish but sympathetic to French language and culture. He studied at the Free University of Brussels, where he wrote some pieces...

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Diary: On the Booker

Julian Barnes, 12 November 1987

In Madrid the other week a literary journalist told me the following joke. A man goes into a pet shop and sees three parrots side by side, priced at $1000, $2000 and $3000. ‘Why does that...

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Sounding Auden

Seamus Heaney, 4 June 1987

I want to explore the relation between the kind of poetic authority which W.H. Auden sought and achieved and what might be described as his poetic music. By ‘poetic authority’ I mean...

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Fairy Flight in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’

William Empson, 25 October 1979

This​ is the new Arden edition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and it is splendid to have the old series still coming out. Full information, and a proper apparatus at the foot of the page:...

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‘Empty Words’

Adam Thirlwell, 19 March 2020

In​ Mario Levrero’s novel Empty Words a writer, unable to change the vast mess of his life, decides to improve one small part of it: his handwriting.My graphological self-therapy begins...

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‘The Mirror and the Light’

Colin Burrow, 19 March 2020

At moments Mantel might have heeded the words addressed by her Wyatt to Cromwell: ‘Be careful . . . You are on the brink of explaining yourself.’

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Ubu Jarry

Hal Foster, 19 March 2020

What happens when a travesty of authority becomes a template for power, when Dada sets up in the White House or at 10 Downing Street?

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On Lawrence Joseph

Michael Hofmann, 19 March 2020

If​ it answers to now, if it’s sufficiently fearless and adaptable and capacious, why not write the same poem again and again – in couplets, in slabs, in measured stanzas, in irregular...

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‘Hurricane Season’

Adam Mars-Jones, 19 March 2020

The​ title of Fernanda Melchor’s unrelenting novel brings together disruption and regularity, a break in the pattern but also the pattern that underlies the break. Early in the novel...

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‘American Dirt’

Christian Lorentzen, 20 February 2020

One of the more ludicrous aspects of the affair involved some photographs, circulated by Jeanine Cummins on social media, of a prelaunch promotional dinner during last summer’s BookExpo Conference...

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William Gibson

Thomas Jones, 20 February 2020

‘Souls can’t move that quickly, and are left behind, and must be awaited, upon arrival, like lost luggage.’ Whether or not you like Gibson’s novels will depend less on your enthusiasm...

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Buchan’s Banter

Christopher Tayler, 20 February 2020

Between​ the wars, the journalist Richard Usborne recalled in 1953, there was a feeling that John Buchan was good for you. ‘If not exactly the author set for homework, Buchan was certainly...

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Fiction and the Age of Lies

Colin Burrow, 20 February 2020

If you believe the Ngram viewer, the phrase ‘damned lies’ has passed its peak, and ‘lying politician’ was far more commonly used in the late Victorian and Edwardian periods than...

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Rereading Bowen

Tessa Hadley, 20 February 2020

Her prose was sophisticated, her references depended on all kinds of knowledge I didn’t have: this writing was not addressed to me, but over my head. Who were these people and what did they want,...

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Walter Pater

Elizabeth Prettejohn, 6 February 2020

Few authors​ of such historical importance have so high a proportion of their writings forgotten or neglected as Walter Pater. I used to think his essays on ancient sculpture the least studied...

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On Paul Muldoon

Clair Wills, 6 February 2020

Paul​ Muldoon enjoys leading his reader astray. On that the critics agree. I have been looking back at reviews of his work over the years. It is remarkable how often people quote from an early...

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Leanne Shapton

Namara Smith, 6 February 2020

My​ mother used to tell a story she heard in the Peace Corps in the 1970s. An American couple somewhere in the South Pacific decided to swim across a narrow but deep channel where tiger sharks...

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‘Your Duck Is My Duck’

Christian Lorentzen, 6 February 2020

Deborah Eisenberg​ spent the summer of 1963 at a school for labour organisers and civil rights activists in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. She was 17. ‘It was a proudly Klan...

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C.J. Sansom

Malcolm Gaskill, 23 January 2020

In​ 2000 Christopher Sansom took a year off from his job as a solicitor to write a novel: it had occurred to him that the dissolution of the monasteries might make a good backdrop to a murder...

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'The Pillow Book'

Rivka Galchen, 2 January 2020

The​ Pillow Book was written in Japan more than a thousand years ago. Little is known about its author, Sei Shonagon, save for what can be deduced from the text itself. In 993, when she was in...

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Helen Phillips

Adam Mars-Jones, 2 January 2020

Helen​ Phillips’s disconcerting new novel starts on a note of thrillerish urgency. Molly, at home alone with her small children, hears footsteps in the other room. She clasps them to her,...

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Ghosts

Michael Wood, 2 January 2020

‘What is​ a ghost?’ Stephen Dedalus asks in Ulysses, and promptly answers his own question. ‘One who has faded into impalpability through death, through absence, through change...

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