How far can the path from Thatcher to Blair be written as a dynamic of Ukanian constitutional involution, or devolution? Francis Mulhern questions whether classes can be so quickly bundled off-stage. Is it possible to speak of nations—English, Scottish, Irish or any other—as political communities, without social or ideological dispositions?
BRITAIN AFTER NAIRN
Twenty-five years ago, Tom Nairn published The Break-up of Britain. There would be no need for the question-mark that some thought only prudent, he felt sure: that historical future was already upon us. Today, in a successor volume whose title likewise steals a march on the calendar, he does not even pause to say ‘I told you so’. The process of disintegration ‘is indeed under way, and there is now almost no one who believes otherwise’. After Britain, the first of a planned two-book set on the politics of the North Atlantic ‘archipelago’, aims to show that New Labour has unwittingly pitched the old state into terminal crisis, to specify what must now be done in Scotland, and to make a first estimate of the challenge now facing the most enigmatic of Westminster’s nationalities, the English.
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In response to a bold reconstruction of Anglophone literary studies challenging the political self-understanding of the reigning historicism and looking to a new, interventionist departure on the left, some critical considerations on disciplinary history, the place of ‘knowledge’ in the fictional order, as well as the discourses that address it, and the precedent of Leavis and his followers.
William Empson, Nonesuch
Francis Mulhern on Michael Wood, On Empson. Reclaiming the heterodox thinker for literary criticism.
A Tory Tribune?
Francis Mulhern on Ferdinand Mount, English Voices: Lives, Landscapes, Laments. The literary and political sensibility of Britain’s most independent-minded Conservative thinker, aide to Margaret Thatcher, admirer of Virginia Woolf, and devotee of William Gladstone.
Francis Mulhern on David Bromwich, The Intellectual Life of Edmund Burke. Thought-world of the liberal ideologue of counter-revolution.
Afterlives of the Commune
Francis Mulhern on Kristin Ross, Communal Luxury. Political imaginary and afterlives of the Paris Commune.
A Party of Latecomers
Over the past decade the American political-intellectual scene has undergone a significant change with the emergence of a lively nexus of journals, ideas and activities, constituting a new kind of cultural left. Francis Mulhern etches the portrait of the Brooklyn-based n+1, which has been both forerunner and intellectual flagship of this effervescence.
Francis Mulhern on Rob Colls, George Orwell: English Rebel. The protean cult of Eric Blair finds its latest iteration.
Francis Mulhern on Eric Hobsbawm, Fractured Times. Considerations on the fates of bourgeois high culture, avant-gardes and mass art, in the ‘age of extremes’ and beyond.
Culture and Society, Then and Now
The idea of culture in Raymond Williams’s classic work, and discrepant readings of it, fifty years on. Gestation amid CP debates on the English tradition, hidden affinities with the Frankfurt School, and counterposition to the verities of today’s liberal multiculturalism.
Conrad’s Inconceivable History
The fascination of Joseph Conrad’s novels with the transformative pressures of capitalist modernity threatens a revelation so intolerable, Mulhern suggests, that it can only be contained within dense narrative strategies of deferral and disavowal.