Exploratory CW essay pieces look at the broader trends in contemporary society, politics and culture.

A selection of the Battle of Ideas’ Battles in Print is also available here.

Saturday 28 December 2013

How Deeply the Fish Knife Cuts: Coloniality and its Discontents

A response to ‘Decolonial Aesthesis: From Singapore, To Cambridge, To Duke University’ by Walter Mignolo

We are not merely products of the sum of the societal forces which mould us; we have the ability to make out for ourselves the circumstances that surround us. We are will, and that is why we are more than them all.

Tuesday 1 October 2013

Larger than life

What does The Great Gatsby owe to Le Grand Meaulnes?

Once I’d realised the echoes in the characters and the themes, a host of smaller details hit me with their reverberations: in both novels there are grand parties that are thrown with total abandon; both festivities happen at sumptuous mansions, with romantic turrets and banks of lawns; later, there are fateful gunshots in each; and episodes of looking up at windows, waiting for lights to signal behind the curtains.

Thursday 27 June 2013

A closer look at surrogacy

Is commercial surrogacy, or 'fertility tourism', necessarily exploitative?

What this all really comes down to is an inability to comprehend why surrogates behave in ways that contradict traditional ideas of motherhood and womanhood in general.

Saturday 8 June 2013

The Ascendancy of the Ass-Backwards Masses … and How We Can Still Turn It Around

Culture itself is now our counterculture … or it can be and must be if we still entertain any hope of combating the boorishness and buffoonery eating away at our life, public and private alike.  It is time for a groundswell.  We need a new protest movement centred around the notion that we must demand more of ourselves and each other, that we cannot be satisfied or complacent in the face of the culture of trash besieging us on all fronts.

Wednesday 31 October 2012

My struggle with Mein Kampf

One woman's fear of flying... and the Holocaust

This past summer I had to make the decision whether or not to bring a copy of Mein Kampf (one my Jewish great uncle brought home from war as ‘loot’ in 1945) onto my flight to Germany for research purposes. I couldn’t do it. Here’s why…

Saturday 22 September 2012

Beyond capitalism?

Could new technology make the world more free and equal?

We are now facing the prospect of a world without need, a world in which suffering can become a thing of the past and some stronger semblance of equality can be easily realised. We can help forge a world in which the current paradigm of capitalism, based on individualism and conspicuous consumption, can fall by the wayside.

Saturday 7 July 2012

Hamlet as literature

Shakespeare: the invention of the human, by Harold Bloom (Riverhead Books, 1998)

The invocation of divine status leads Bloom to claim that Shakespeare’s intellect is greater than that any other writer, including ‘the principal philosophers, the religious sages, and the psychologists from Montaigne through Nietzsche to Freud’ (p.2). I offer the suggestion that Bloom may be over-stating his case here. Worse, in the process of assigning Shakespeare divinity, Bloom decouples him from his rightful place in the history of literature and art.

Tuesday 8 May 2012

‘Dialogue is the objective of dialogue.’

Chinese writers and controversy at the London Book Fair

If the exclusion of authors disliked by the Chinese government was a necessary condition for the British Council’s programme to go ahead, so be it. Whether it in fact was necessary is a separate discussion to have; what matters is that some established writers visited from China to exchange ideas about new literary genres, globalisation and e-publishing, and to search for commercial opportunities.

Friday 16 December 2011

Is technology making us smarter or dumber?

A talk given to the Brighton Salon, 2 November 2011

We can argue with the current shape of technology and propose how it might be better. But there is seldom much engagement in this direction. More common is dour warnings about our impotence in the face of new technology; that it is the agent and we the passive recipient.

Friday 11 November 2011

The middle of nowhere

Arcelormittal Orbit, by Anish Kapoor, Stratford, London

Towers are monuments to our uncertainties. When Johnson talks with hopeful vagueness of the ‘mythic’ nature of towers, the word he is really after is ‘magic.’ The Orbit was designed to make the Olympic Park a ‘must see’ destination; the Orbit, that is to say, is a coercion; all towers are. Towers attempt to convince us that they, and by extension we, stand at the centre of things.

Monday 7 November 2011

The 40 hours that shook European elites (and the timid Left)

Lessons for the Left from the Greek referendum debacle

The radical Left in Greece has always considered the European Union as the watchdog of European capital and a barrier to developing a different model of development and progress for the Greek people. Nevertheless, when the moment came, for the first time in 30 years, to challenge this burden, they seemed to consider the situation unbearable, and were afraid to step forward and lead.

Saturday 10 September 2011

Relocating to the Man Cave

A new genre of mainstream film dramatises young men’s retreat from the public spere

The characters and settings of the Man Cave films are grotesque caricatures, and the dudebro is, in reality, a tendency rather than an actual person. But the driving force behind the stories — the retreat from public life, the elevation of the domestic, and the use of a stunted emotional development for the forging of brotherhood — are all genuine features of contemporary society.

Wednesday 17 August 2011

La vie bohèmienne

La Bohème, ENO, the Coliseum, London

In fact, central to bohemianism was a kind of ambivalence – were these real artists, or were they simply avoiding the traditional expectations of their stations by legitimising their own pleasure-seeking? This question of the status and quality of art was a genuine one and remains with us today, albeit tangled in quite contemporary concerns.

Tuesday 16 August 2011

The evolution of a weird super-story

We are building a scaffold for investigative journalism out of the Dowlers’ suffering

The big story we have accepted has a very strange aspect. In one way it completes a triptych of betrayals of the people: the greedy bankers destroying the economy; the MPs’ expenses scandal; and now the press, in cahoots with politicians, big business and the police misleading the courts and carelessly pursuing a morally reprehensible course of invasion of privacy and bribery. We are all supposed to be joining in the circle of condemnation and moral outrage, waving our pitchforks at a newly discovered monster in our midst.

Wheezy arguments

Civil Liberties: Up in Smoke, by Simon Davies (Privacy International, 2011)

Advocates of the smoking ban don’t trust ordinary people to resolve any conflict between smokers and non-smokers, or not to chain smoke in front of their babies. In the same way, Simon Davies seems to think that readers need exaggeration and sensationalism in order to be convinced that the smoking ban is wrong.

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Culture Wars in association with the Battles in Print, specially commissioned essays for the Battle of Ideas festival, with 2010’s essays now online.

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