Death of the Critic
by Rónán McDonald
is a sophisticated argument that recognises the relative autonomy of
the critical, rather than treating it as a mere adjunct to the creative
process or handmaiden to the market. Criticism is part of a cultural
dialogue; a strong critical voice is crucial in a vibrant culture, with
writer and critic in a tense but symbiotic relationship.
by Ophelia Benson and Jeremy Stangroom
battle lines have been drawn, armies marshalled and weapons assembled,
welcome one and welcome all to the catch-all conflict of our times:
Truth vs Postmodernism. Choose your side wisely or you’ll be lost
in the crossfire...
Ridings: Motorcycles and the Meaning of Life
by Craig Bourne
once, Bourne’s judgement is unerring when he decides to dedicate
a mere page to discussing Zen’s incoherent 'metaphysics of quality'
(likening it to - you guessed it - existentialism). One can only hope
that his own similarly ill-fated journey marks an end to philosophy’s
Sounds (and Politics) of Silence
Music, silence and shared meaning
It would be worrying if ‘too much music’
or ‘too much talk’ were the be all and end of the problem,
as the answer seems to lie instead in better structured discussion and
more collective decision-making about what music is heard and where.
Myth of Mars and Venus: Do Men and Women Really Speak Different Languages?
by Deborah Cameron
to Cameron, it’s educated people who adhere most to the myth that
men and women speak different languages, and this is because it’s
among them that the greatest amount of change in socio-sexual roles
has taken place over recent years, thus giving rise to unwanted uncertainties
and the desire for some social stability.
Politics of Heaven: America in Fearful Times
by Earl Shorris
is surely right to dismiss the ‘left-liberal’ thesis of
people like Thomas Frank that people are simply voting against their
own interests as tantamount to calling people stupid, an anti-democratic
thesis. Yet his own view of the masses is scarcely better.
Anger to Apathy: the British experience since 1975
by Mark Garnett
shows that the British have adopted an attitude of ‘contemptuous
subservience’ to their rulers over the past three decades. He
rightly highlights the sense of powerlessness that grips people today
because of the fact that neither party offers any real choice to the
Farewell to Alms
by Gregory Clark
developing world has been failed by globalisation in the past, and more
than a hundred years on much of the world is being failed still. But
the problem isn’t unfair trade or the appropriation of wealth
but a lack of productive activity in the world’s poor economies.
New Labour as an artist
Artistic independence and the pitfalls of state funding
it’s high time to reassess this distinction between ‘fine’
artists and everyone else. After all, it’s only relatively recently
that artists stopped being seen as useful, productive members of society
and got stuck on pedestals, regarded as odd, gifted shamans in some
remote ivory castle called ‘the art world’.
Ways of Life Collide: Multiculturalism and Its Discontents in the Netherlands
by Paul M Sniderman and Louk Hagendoorn
result of multiculturalism is a divided society, uncomfortable with
its commitment to tolerance. But ironically, the very conformism which
makes people resent minority groups for being different also makes people
reluctant to criticise multiculturalism, which is enforced ‘top-down’.
by Perri 6, Susannah Radstone, Corrine Squire, Amal Treacher (editors)
emotivist advocacy discourse takes for granted a very dispassionate
and uncompromising consensus about individual responsibility for one’s
health, which crucially means only ‘innocent victims’ are
likely to be ‘included’ in the new social frame of entitlements.
Hugh Ortega Breton
Time of the Rebels
by Matthew Collin
can’t explain why the uprisings in Belarus and Azerbaijan didn’t
take off, whilst those in other countries did. The really important
question – why did political and business elites, the police,
and the armed forces switch sides to support the protestors in certain
places and not others – is not addressed.
Childhood: What Parents Need To Know To Raise Happy, Successful Children
by Sue Palmer
literally gives hints on what parents can say to their children in the
morning, at mealtimes, at bedtime, in the shop, in the kitchen, outdoors
and in the car. What family has got itself into a situation where parents
cannot talk to their children without having to read a book to find
out what to say?
Cultural Contradictions of Democracy: Political Thought Since September
by John Brenkman
Brenkman produces an incoherent and dangerously weak critique of the
Iraq war. If the problem was the war's lack of legitimacy and inadequate
attention to nation-building, then presumably a more competent, powerful
US administration doing the same things legally would pose no problem
whatsoever for Brenkman.
Men: Guantanamo Bay and the Secret Prisons
by Clive Stafford Smith
is one thing to hear an allegation of a crime and quite another to hear
the testimony of the victim. Clive Stafford Smith is one of a band of
lawyers representing the Guantanamo detainees and, with unique access
to the incarcerated, he provides us with extended and comprehensive
accounts of the crimes alleged.
Healing the Rift
by Ivan Hewett
Hewett says, 19th century audiences listened with their hands as well
as their ears to the same symphonic repertoire that struggles to find
an audience today. Participation is absolutely necessary for classical
forms to continue as living art rather than a passive and nostalgic
in Human Civilisation
by Azar Gat
the historical detail is often interesting, Gat’s syncretistic
approach yields a vague and indeterminate level of abstraction. Thus
Gat’s sweep is broad enough to stimulate anyone by providing eclectic
insights, but rarely deep enough to satisfy anyone with an in-depth
knowledge of a particular field.
Defence of Atheism
by Michel Onfray
closer Michel Onfray gets to elucidating a positive worldview of his
own – based on a version of hedonism – the further he leaves
behind other ‘atheists’ who don’t happen to share
it. Indeed, atheism itself ought to be the least interesting thing about
by David Kynaston
introduction in 1947 of the New Look, with its long, voluminous skirts,
was regarded as frippery by socialists (‘The ridiculous whim of
idle people’ thundered Labour MP Bessie Braddock): by the end
of the year, some 10 million women had or desired the New Look.
Their Time: the World of Child Labor
by David L Parker
is difficult to know what conclusion you are supposed to draw when child
labour is made to sit next to images of imminent child abuse. Its all
the same apparently, an indictment of what adults do to children in
Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, Nepal, Morocco, Mexico, India, Bolivia and
Turkey – the world over.
Corruption of the Curriculum
edited by Robert Whelan
convincingly argues that global citizenship seeks to eradicate national
government from the political consciousness of young people. Young people
are literally taught to ‘think global, act local’ but not
to engage in national politics.
World of Beryl Cook
by Jess Wilder and Jerome Sans
ladies, saucy sailors, hen parties. Yes, we’re in the garish,
giggly girly world of Beryl Cook. But there’s more to Cook than
the art establishment view of an amateur painter who got lucky and captured
the public imagination.
Pulling up the roots
neat series brings together some of the best of the last century’s
thinkers in a handy, heady package, aiming to popularise radical thought
for a wider contemporary audience.
Descartes: Reason, Ideology and the Bourgeois Project
by Antonio Negri
points to how Descartes' dualism retains an implicit awareness of the
hegemony of the bourgeois form of social existence, and how this can
be translated into an imposition on the state’s mode of producing
and existing. The seeds of the revolution are sown.
by Anna Politkovskaya
entries on the Russian regime's abuse of the poor and powerless should
be required reading for anyone who thinks the absence of independent
media or the subversion of the rule of law only impinge on the rights
of the intelligentsia.
A Short History
by Augustus Richard Norton
carefully records how Hezbollah has come to accept the limitations of
the politics of identity, and to celebrate them, discarding in the process
any threat it might have paused to the Lebanese ‘system’
for which it once had so much disdain.
Threat to Reason: How the Enlightenment was hijacked and how we can
by Dan Hind
not theology, has become the arena in which we must fight for the victory
of Enlightenment, since it is through their claims to rationality and
scientific understanding that our guardians bind us in obedience to
the established order.’ This is a brilliant insight, but sadly
it is not followed through.
in Love: Philosophy for a Passionate Heart
by Christopher Phillips
hasn’t historically meant the sort of gloss-thin enthusiasm it
denotes today, and neither does it fit easily with the rational life.
‘Philosophy for a passionate heart’ should be more about
a steam-rolling mania for knowledge than about a comfortable (albeit
sort of interesting) pondering over love.
More Philosophers Think
by Julian Baggini and Jeremy Stangroom
seems that our intellectual positions arise largely out of our individual
temperaments, experiences and aspirations, rather than, as people like
to think, out of pure reason. (This is why even the most rigorous debate
almost never results in anyone changing their mind.)
How 'personalisation' devalues education and diminishes citizenship
The personal in ‘personalised public services’ has more
than one meaning. As well as promising greater flexibility in the provision
of services, it also means the citizen taking 'personal' responsibility
for them, and consequently that the state becomes involved in the personal
life of the individual, helping to ‘shape the self’.
Aversion: Tolerance in the Age of Identity and Empire
by Wendy Brown
state’s call to tolerate other people’s deviant or minority
culture is a way of affirming the neutrality or ‘culture-less’
character of liberal society. We are outside culture, whilst the sub-group
we tolerate is unable to achieve the same level of transcendence.
Marxism: Adorno or the persistence of the dialectic
by Fredric Jameson
problem with using Adorno to reveal the alienating praxes at work within
capitalist social relations, is that it’s not really capitalism
that’s the problem for Adorno. The ‘reification’ discerned
under capitalism is ultimately absorbed back into what Adorno perceives
as a far longer history of reification per se.
and History: Montesquieu, Rousseau, Marx
by Louis Althusser
one subscribes to the now-deceased Althusser’s now-deceased project
or not, his attempt to identify what makes a thinker radical deserves
serious consideration; and the book is indeed ultimately worthy of inclusion
in this Verso series.
Culture: Contemporary threats to free expression
by Robert Atkins and Svetlana Mintcheva (editors)
contemporary society, censorship is rarely recognised as such. And rather
than shielding children from the evils of violent and sexual art, ‘being
sensitive’ by banning often serves to create a comfort zone for
adults, where difficult questions never arise and important issues are
Politics Without Sovereignty: A critique of contemporary international
by Christopher J Bickerton, Philip Cunliffe, Alex Gourevitch (editors)
is much to admire in the way the book tries to situate the loss of confidence
in the merits of democratic accountability, and expose how new developments
in international relations theory and practice represent a degradation
of human agency from the high point represented by Enlightenment ideals.
Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms,
Schools and Society
by Scott E Page
is an economist’s take on diversity. As such, those looking for
a tract on fairness and tackling cultural conflicts should look elsewhere.
Such issues are dealt with merely by implication and inference, if at
all. Rather, the ‘better society’ of the title is a society
that can better solve its practical problems.
left of Christianity?
The politics of belief in 2007 AD
as the demise of the political left forces us to rethink what is at
stake in politics, and how we might seek to shape the future, the transformation
of religious thinking raises important questions about the meaning of
truth and morality, the nature of authority, and indeed what it means
to be humane.
Futures: From Thinking Machines to the Global Village
by Richard Barbrook
asks why he is still being offered the same version of the future he
was forty years ago. The answer is that technology, while presenting
itself widely to military and civilian consumers, has very rarely and
for only short periods of time acted to temper unequal production and
by Julie Burchill and Daniel Raven
its long-standing status as a home to gangsters, gays and showbiz types,
Brighton is a sort of Soho-on-Sea, making it look glitzily unpromising
as a source for many nationally applicable norms. But the couple are
able to mine plenty of national truths from their seaside home.
Human Rights: A History
by Lynn Hunt
rights is a concept that only came to prominence during the eighteenth
century. The central questions Lynn Hunt seeks to address are how human
rights were invented, and why this invention – and its self-evidence
– occurred in when it did.
by Jonathan Haidt
mentions in passing what it took this former moral philosophy student
six years of study to see clearly: that the crucial point about human
behaviour is not so much that we very rarely act purely rationally,
but that rationality has no meaning without desire.
by Geoffrey Wheatcroft
Blair was not the sharpest tool in the box (you don’t have to
be an Aquinas or Ayer to spot the philosophical flaw in his declaration,
‘I only know what I believe’), he was considered to be the
man who could fulfil what it was felt that Middle England wanted, that
is ‘market economics powdered with caring rhetoric’...
by Ernesto Laclau
real disappointment for this reader is not the rarefied language, but
the fact that Laclau rejects the possibility of formulating the Enlightenment
notion of a totalising universal identity, and with it washes down the
drain any project of uniting the world under a single banner of rationality.
of Modernism: Against the New Conformists
by Raymond Williams
critique of cultural pessimism remains relevant given the still current
trend to disavow the future and its alternative potential, and to categorise
new technologies alternately as both determinants of social change and
threats to established artistic, now 'classicalised', forms.
Hugh Ortega Breton
by Anna Quindlen
come to terms with British English, Quindlen was relieved. 'I had purchased
an adaptor! I could convert the current!' The attraction and the power
of this writer is this directness and lack of guile, which renders what
to an American may seem a weakness on her part, into a strength.
Rebuilding a Strategy Against Global Terror
by Ian Shapiro
Shapiro argues that containment aimed to defend 'diversity', was an
'anti-imperial stance' and is essentially 'to refuse to be bullied,
while at the same time declining to become a bully', its actual record
is precisely the opposite. The very problem Shapiro confronts is itself
a product of that policy.
by Jean Baudrillard
is always tempting to imagine Jean Baudrillard preparing to write a
book by sharpening an axe, swinging it into his computer monitor, then
gluing the shattered pieces to a celluloid film reel, projecting it
to a crowded room full of admirers and absolutely forbidding them to
take it seriously.
by Bran Nicol
can a phenomenon so ingrained in our consciousness be so recent an occurrence?
This is the question driving Bran Nicol's survey of the subject. Throughout
the book, Nicol asserts that stalking is both an old and new phenomenon.
Woolf: A Life
by Victoria Glendinning
is the story that Glendinning tells: Viriginia as demanding genius,
Leonard as selfless husband. And though she convinces quite thoroughly
that Leonard was undoubtedly an unselfish, kind, good person, one if
left wondering whether this goodness meant that his own potential was
Trap: What Happened to our Dream of Freedom?
conclusion of Adam Curtis' new three-part BBC series is that liberal
democracies have diminished our humanity, not by deliberately setting
out as the Communists did to make a perfect society, but simply by organising
around an impoverished notion of freedom.
to Everytown: a Journey into the English Mind
by Julian Baggini
Baggini is off to discover what people really think about politics,
food, aesthetics, holidays, immigration, metaphysics, youth, gender
and the good life, in short, to find out what the English folk philosophy
is. Which means he's actually off to Rotherham: statistically the most
average place in England.
Guides to Climate Change and Ethical Living
by Duncan Clark and Robert Henson
second of these titles is an entire book dedicated to small scale self-flagellation
- without the first's interesting titbits of climate science. It is
more along the lines of the traditional Rough Guides - a handbook to
dip into, rather than a textbook - if, God help you, you felt compelled
to live by it.
Vertigo: On the Road from Newport to Guantanamo
by Bernard Henri-Levy
has supplanted 'the city' as the focus of fear and loathing in the centuries-old
critique, described so well by Ian Buruma as 'Occidentalism', of modernism,
of soulless rationality, commerce and rootless cosmopolitanism.
Liberty and the Limits of Government
by Charles Fried
that our liberties must be pre-political rather than created by the
state, and that liberty cannot be based on what freedoms the government
of the day decides to grant us, but the question of where the rights
of the individual and the interests of the majority collide is never
an Intimate History
by Lynsey Hanley
describes how Minister for Housing in Wilson's 1964 government, Richard
Crossman, 'set about the task of rehousing the slum dwellers of the
major cities with a pragmatic zeal that would have made him a star of
future Labour administrations'. Well not this one, with its 'sustainable
wanna be in my gang, my gang, my gang?
The audience new music needs
matters is not simply bums on seats, but the engagement of a particular
any artform can be universal, it has to be particular. It is particular
scenes or artistic milieux that give birth to new ideas, and also keep
a tradition alive; without them, tradition quickly degenerates into
the Shores of Politics
by Jacques Rancière
Rancière's aim is to criticise the post-political consensus that
has replaced yesterday's battles. Some genuinely winning and original
insights come through, but beneath the arch-theorising, Rancière's
vision of politics amounts to little more than a tired fantasy of liberal
by Paul Virilio
is no consistent argument in any article, let alone any broader theme
developed across the collection as a whole. Instead, it is a jumble
of categories and neologisms ('globalitarian') with no analytical heft,
mixed in with portentous quasi-mystical rambling about technology.
The Culture of Revival
by Elizabeth Guffey
Guffey, retro isn't simply nostalgia. She argues that the rise of retro
amounted to ambivalence about modernity. She doesn't consider that people
may have rejected Modernism in the plastic arts not because of any dislike
of modernity as such, but because it's boring and unattractive.
Cutting Through the Crap
by Bali Rai
is a book that depicts political life as acne, not aspiration. It takes
as its premise the unsophisticated assumption that the only way to engage
young people is to adopt their view that politics and politicians are
full of crap. Never once is political activity shown to be exciting
or laden with potential.
Democracy Possible Here?
by Ronald Dworkin
seems to be clutching at straws when he starts making concrete suggestions
about how to improve things politically. No matter how much legislation
is introduced to try to 'wise up' political debate on television, it
unlikely to happen unless the substance is there in the first place.
cheers for selection: how grammar schools help the poor
by Norman Blackwell
supporters of comprehensive education see the relevance and need for
some streaming (or setting, banding etc.) within a mixed-ability school,
but are completely averse to the idea of selective education, because
fundamentally it does mean something different.
Reflections on post-feminism
embrace of what you might call 'girliness' marks a retreat from the
traditional feminist urge to underplay physical and psychological differences
between men and women. Indeed,
there almost seems to be a cultural pressure these days towards the
exaggeration of gender differences.
Culture of Corruption: Everyday Deception and Popular Discontent in
by Daniel Jordan Smith
as occult practices are sometimes blamed for all manner of problems
and injustices in Nigeria, this book shows how corruption has become
detached from any description of actual events and has instead
a mystical explanation for anything and everything bad that happens
by George Walden
is disappointing that another anti-immigration polemic is drowned not
in rational argument but in a despairing voice and that ubiquitous tone
of disillusionment, alienation, and weakness in the face of destructive
power that seems to define political language today.
Very Short Introductions to 19th century philosophy, by various
short introductions serve as intellectual polyfilla, simply plugging
a gap in one's knowledge, but the
overriding impression here is of a century of thinkers peddling the
practical import of philosophy. And the distinction between thinking
and acting is not always straightforward, and needs teasing out.
Cammell: A Life on the Wild Side
by Rebecca and Sam Umland
tortured artist is a regular fixture of the cultural scene. But is he
a product of nurture, nature, or a combination of both? To answer this
question is as difficult as resolving the nature/nurture debate itself.
How good a job does this biography of an artist who indeed walked on
the wild side do?
How to Read Heidegger, by Mark Wrathall; Being and
Time, by Martin Heidegger
critique of modernity, interpreting a particular social experience as
an ontological predicament, actually presupposes and perpetuates alienation.
Severed from a collective political project, Heidegger's portrait of
the senseless rationality at work in the social world touches the alienated
to the Desert of the Real
by Slavoj Zizek
prospect that terrifies our leaders is that we might recognise mere
survival as a fate worse than death. How convenient, then, to use the
most irrational form of self-sacrifice to tar the very possibility of
political alternatives in general.
Pathology of Democracy
by Jacques-Alain Miller
pathology in question, it seems, is the desire of the state to regulate
psychotherapy - to intervene in that intimate relationship between therapist
and what is called, for want of a better word, 'client'.
Here is Miller's reply on behalf of all psychoanalysts and psychotherapists