Critic, Historicize Thyself!
Blueprint for a ‘total historicism’ in literary studies, reconciling political commitment with aesthetic judgement amid the slow death of humanities departments. Benjamin Kunkel continues the discussion of critical strategy focused around Joseph North’s Literary Criticism.
Brecht In L.A.
From the author of Signs and Meaning in the Cinema, a rediscovered appraisal of Bertolt Brecht’s war-time exile in California. Tracing the swirl of interconnections between salonnières and stars, exiles and dissidents, artists of stage and screen. Beyond Hollywood frustrations, what of a Brechtian cinema?
A Brazilian Comi-Tragedy
A vivid account of Roberto Schwarz’s new play, Rainha Lira, staging the political turmoil of contemporary Brazil. Intricacies of class conflict and Caesarist reaction, bourgeois rejoicing and favela discontents, in a polyphonic epic that foretells the troubled conditions of Lula’s return.
For Love of Beauty?
Engaging sceptically with Joseph North’s Literary Criticism: A Concise Political History, Anahid Nersessian questions the terms of a leftist literary criticism built on an opposition to idealism, rather than a reckoning with the material crises besetting academia.
A New Intuition
Plots that stylize class conduct, literary structures imitating historical ones, formal fractures indexing historical impasses, literature as the discoverer of new knowledge: Roberto Schwarz’s studies of Machado de Assis as models for a distinctive Marxist criticism.
The Politics of Fernando Pessoa
Pessoa was one of the greatest and strangest poets of the 20th century, famous for the elusive profusion of his ‘heteronyms’. Yet in light of the first biography worthy of him, and recent Portuguese studies of his work, he emerges as perhaps the most passionate—and productive—political writer of all the original modernists, as Portugal lurched from the noisy overthrow of its monarchy to the quiet tyranny of Salazar.
By Their Epithets Shall Ye Know Them
In response to Paul Claudel’s dictum—‘fear of the adjective is the beginning of style’—a defence of adjectival extravagance, mobilizing Nabokov and Mann, Joseph Roth and Herta Müller, to showcase the literary power of the epithet, and its ability to alchemize the noun.
The Roads to Rome
Twenty years after ‘Conjectures on World Literature’, Franco Moretti reassesses the research methodologies of close and distant reading in literary studies. Interpretation and measurement, history and textuality, struggle and discovery—how practicable a synthesis of their approaches?
Mathematics and Modern Literature
If modernist literature has been fascinated by the possibilities of mathematical formalism, mathematicians have repaid the compliment in their use of that paramount avant-garde form: the manifesto. Here we publish extracts from Alice Bamford’s bravura treatment of experimentation at Bourbaki and Oulipo.
The Bond of Shame
Is shame for one’s country, not love of it, the truer mark of belonging? Lineaments of a political emotion, at the intersection of biology and history, from Nestor’s invocation on the battlefield of Troy to Primo Levi’s remembrance of the Red Army. How might we imagine the boundaries of a shame-based community?
The Ends of Criticism
In response to the recent debate between Francis Mulhern and Joseph North on the means and purposes of literary criticism, Lola Seaton examines the play of method and personal experience in Raymond Williams’s The Country and the City and its contemporary rebound in the ‘hauntology’ of K-Punk’s Mark Fisher.
Art and Revolution
Commissioned by Eric Hobsbawm for Einaudi’s Storia del marxismo, a synoptic survey of avant-garde movements in the era of 20th-century revolutions. Disputing the received view of a series of chaotic, short-lived experiments, John Willett traces the emergence of an internally coherent cultural renaissance, stretching from Moscow and Vitebsk to Mexico City.
One of China’s greatest modern writers, Eileen Chang reframed its traditional fictional forms to grapple with post-1919 realities: decline of the Qing aristocracy, price of female emancipation, devastation of the Sino-Japanese war. Jiwei Xiao asks how publication of her long-suppressed last novel alters understandings of Chang’s work.
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.
Worlds and Letters
Peter Morgan on Alexander Beecroft, An Ecology of World Literature. Local literatures and their bonding into greater unities; the cosmopolitan residues of great empires; vernaculars and national literatures. A framework for comparison from Sumeria to the globalized present.
Antonio Candido 1918–2017
Pioneer analyst of a Brazilian literary space, Candido surveyed Western cultural centres and their contending theories, not simply to measure up local experience, but to test them against it. Portrait of a gifted teacher and literary critic, subtle master of his country’s complex ex-colonial condition.
Against the Universal Library
A librarian reflects on her profession’s destructive and preservative urges, from microfilming of newspaper archives in the 1940s, via stress-testing experiments and de-acidification gassings to digitization and the coming of the ebook, as the library becomes a hollowed-out portal onto the private sector.
Fears of mass culture generating visions of rule not by fear, but by the narcotics of conformity and abolition of privacy, in the fiction of Huxley and Eggers—‘total sociability’ resistable only by figures of the doomed individual. The fading even of high culture as notional refuge in the passage beyond the Brave New World.
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.
Mapping London’s Emotions
What light can be shed by quantitative analysis and digital text-mining on fictional cartographies of happiness and fear? Semantics of space and class in the nineteenth-century novel, polarized between normative landmarks of West End wealth and power, and the East End’s nameless warrens, a literary geography of the unknown.
By the Fireside
The solitary reader devours the novel, and the lives of its protagonists, as fire consumes the logs in a hearth; big business casts its shadow over a fading world: a life’s meaning is grasped by reflection on its end. In a hitherto untranslated 1933 review of Arnold Bennett’s Old Wives’ Tale, Benjamin reflects on the nature of storytelling and the novel.
The Novel as Cryptogram
Prose of the world, or literary genre of an age of guilt? Claudio Magris reflects on the novel’s course, and its Mitteleuropa exceptions. Why did the Austrian Empire produce no significant examples in the nineteenth century, and masterpieces of the most advanced kind in the twentieth?
On Re-reading Life and Fate
Against conventional comparisons with War and Peace, Fredric Jameson offers a path-breaking formal reading of Vassily Grossman’s great fiction of the Battle of Stalingrad. The war against Hitler as crucible for a new collectivity, in which freedom finds itself, or as grounds of social—and thus narrative—totality.
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.
What can quantitative linguistic analysis reveal about global institutions? From Bretton Woods to the present, the language of World Bank reports has undergone telling modulations. Moretti and Pestre track the decline of concrete referents and active verbs, the triumph of acronyms over nation-states—and irresistible rise of ‘governance’.
Lukács’s Theory of the Novel
Centenary reflections on one of the landmarks of twentieth-century thought about literature. Lukács in tension between Novalis and Weber during the Great War, and the implications for literary enquiry today of a conjugation that could never historically be repeated.
How and when did ambition cease to be a moral fault in the European mind and acquire the trappings of ambiguous virtue it possesses in modern times? The ardent hero of Stendhal’s novel of Restoration France as cynosure of the change, and its implications for the social order.