Sarah Boyes: assistant editor

Sarah Boyes is assistant editor of Culture Wars. She writes on literature and criticism and has an interest in the broad relationship between art and intellectual life. She has been invited to speak at debates exploring the popularity of the X-Factor and world music, and has produced debates on the meaning of music and ‘the cultured ear’. In particular, she is interested in the role of the critic.

November 2012

Crocodile shoes

Sometimes the dancers function as symbols or sylphs, for example appearing as birds to comfort the lonely Queen or as fawning girls to dote and climb adoringly all over Caesar. At other times they serve to paint a character’s emotion more vividly or convey a sense of overall musical mood.

May 2012

Terrible burdens of the Promethean spirit

The music takes its temper and tempo from the sea, with its growling timpani thunder and the swirling chromatic whirlpools of strings. The sea also represents both the site of the Dutchman’s fateful aspiration and his current prison and jailer.

December 2011

Russian spring

What is most refreshing about the story is its understated defiant quality. At a time when too much contemporary fiction seems expected to deliver superficial messages, it is good to read something based on more acute and genuine social observation.

October 2011

For unfussy intelligence

In fact, the overall atmosphere in footage shown throughout the series is noticeably unburdened compared with today. The unfussy intelligence and well-meaning conviction is compelling.

Away from the editor’s knife, the knife

What Carver’s collection bears out, though, is the way the real craftsmanship of good authors lies not in any superficial treatment of words as such – the editor’s art - but in a whole approach to the subject-matter.


Shifting, shimmering, leaping

Purcell’s music in particular stands out from its contemporaries and even later composers in its exuberant, life-affirming quality, its assuredness in handling mood, from unabated joy to harrowed emotional longing and despair.

September 2011

A musical voice transcending historical hype

Overall though, it is the texture of Weinberg’s music that’s most arresting, the loose tonality and regular use of drums and bells, the often bare and brittle melodies and wide open bits of chord, odd bits of jazz and tugging dissonances. Musically, it is at once easy to listen to but difficult to get lost in, giving way to a state of sort of resigned semi-alertness.

August 2011

La vie bohèmienne

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.

A most formal resolution in Thrace

The only untied end is Tigrane - who is left dangling - his love for Polissena unfulfilled and perhaps not quite fitting into the final order of events. In some ways it is him who is easiest to identify with: he seems the more mysterious yet most real person of the piece.

June 2011

In the academy and beyond

The truth is that the crisis in the humanities is as deep as it is profound. The NCH was never going to solve all that. But it is right and good to defend a more open-ended approach in higher education, regardless of the funding source, while still mustering the strength to be critical of individual experiments when they fall short of the mark.

June 2010

Notoriously popular Puccini

This awareness of artistic conceit, the self-conscious construction of the characters to depict something real, and in turn their own play-acting and the overarching authority of the plot, the position in which this puts the audience - is both noticeable and starkly modern. As you watch and listen, you realise the characters- and by extension people in general - have really nowhere else to go but death if their grand plans fail.

May 2010

Arts funding: hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil

What is important is to foreground the public aspect of arts institutions, to think about what is good for the wider society. It is this that has real potential to go beyond the empty form of many political ideas and realities and fill things out with real content. And even, to maybe break free of the stifling managerialism that tempers most political discussion and social realities elsewhere.

February 2010

The only thing that could ever reach me

The sense is more one of self-belief, but one which can at times genuinely push out into the world. A touching moment is when this young man discovers new types of music, reggae, afrobeat…classical!

Embracing the inner Madonna-whore

Indeed, it’s this ambiguous legacy, seen most clearly in the superficial tension between choice and moral prescription, especially around the family, which points towards a deeper lack of direction that comes through in the present day – where it seems there’s been a return to more conservative gender roles albeit updated - the ‘yummy mummy’, the WAG, even Michelle Obama is considered a sort of fashion icon.

January 2010

Oddly innocent moments

What’s noticeable in fact is the lack of any deep sense of good and bad beyond what personally affects the protagonists (many have lost those close); there are simply ‘sides’ - and ‘people’.

The personal and the political

A new biography of Lenin recreates his exile years in fine-grained detail, but it intriguingly invokes feminism as a prism through which to makes sense of the past.

October 2009

Modern man made flesh

Secrets are something the characters both make for themselves and construct themselves around, they form the fulcrum for their engagement with the world, allowing them to have both private and public parts. The content of these secrets frequently goes unrecorded and untold.

August 2009

A more or less partisan press?

Counter to the underlying implication in this collection, it cannot be simply business’ bloodthirsty desire for profit that has led to the disintegration of stalwart journalism and civic life today. There is also the matter of a very real defeat of the left, and the discreditating of any alternative, which has hurried on apathy, cynicism and lack of political contestation tout court.

Cold and oppressive yet strangely comforting

Overall, the charm of this book lies in the innocent, imaginative playfulness of the young narrator, and the unselfconsciousness of his voice. Whether it was the best book published in English in the whole world in 2005 remains an open question.

May 2009

Rational chairs and empty tables

Though this introduction still offers an analysis at the level of individuals, it attempts to integrate political scientists’ normative theories of reason with social scientists’ explanatory uses of rationality in a bid to go beyond rational choice theory.

April 2009

Conventional liberty; unconventional God

It is a shame that it seems to be reactive fear of a dystopic future – be it totalitarianism, environmental catastrophe, corporate consumerism or a militant sharia state – that motivates a defence of liberty; and not a more generous project for freedom, stressing ongoing human liberation and what it’s good for – what we can make with it as a society – in a way that can inspire others.

March 2009

I’m not an Arab - get me out of here!

Salaita gives an analysis in terms of institutionalised racism, showing how it fosters domestic legitimacy for aggressive interference in the Middle East whilst underpinning the stranglehold of ‘white liberals’ on what it means to be progressive, mainstream and American. Underneath, this is a humanist argument with Enlightenment roots, though one with an interesting twist.

December 2008

Nonsense, reborn

The philanthropists of the past were often the gatekeepers of elite culture and values; and those calling for a new renaissance today are little different.

November 2008

Whose culture is it anyway?

When it comes to thinking about culture and artworks, torn between a multiculturalist melange and celebration of cynicism, the problem seems not to be we don’t know who artworks or culture belong to, more that we want nothing to do with the whole lot of them.

The Truth? - you must be making it up!

The Truth concerns a lot more than scientific platitudes: all sorts of figures have laid claim to knowing the truth about the human condition and their societies, from novelists and journalists to campaigners and politicians. In fact, one of the most important things about putting forward new ideas and persuading others is that no particular credentials are necessary.

October 2008

‘Get involved in the Cultural Olympiad!!’

If the Games are for only the best athletes and Londoners the main beneficiaries, then getting involved with culture has been presented a cheap and cheerful opportunity for people across the UK to join in.

September 2008

Slightly mad but strangely workable

One of the first Edinburgh Fringe musical shows to not be a ‘musical’, Opera Shorts is based on a similar format to the fashionable ‘Future Shorts’ film series, now a nationwide phenomenon.

August 2008

Chaotic creativity; critical chaos

Any view that holds the ‘democratisation’ of criticism and generation of Web 2.0 responsible for the current state of critical thinking, puts far too much emphasis on the technology itself; and at the expense of recognising the superficiality and sometime coerciveness of the supposed democratisation.

For the love of God

Aside from the moral posture led by Government, the general attitude towards ‘radical views’ today looks like the self-indulgent smile given to a small puppy naughtily walking all over the new family sofa.

July 2008

Self-regulate or be doomed

The Left is in fantasy land when it comes to the internet, but the libertarian nature of its technology makes it easy to idealise from both sides of the traditional divide.

Dancing around the issues

On a case by case basis, arts charities that aim towards ‘reintegration’ do some worthwhile work. But the broader context is one characterised by a general lack of cultural authority in the arts and criticism about them.

June 2008

Savage civility

Rong is dual spokesman: Outer Mongolian to the Chinese and Chinese to everybody else, not caught between fact and fiction but navigating a path between the two roles.

March 2008

The end of faith is not the answer (on romanticising reason)

Leering under the surface of both these texts is a fear of ideology, of anything with a utopian tinge, and a tendency to merge having ideals with both these things. Rather than vetting individual beliefs for rationality, Harris would be better settling for rationality as a bearer of value and cornerstone of a broader world-view.

January 2008

What does music mean?

Despite using no words, instrumental music speaks volumes. A simple jig makes people dance in delight and a melancholy melody reduces people to tears; union songs, hymns, football chants and even the national anthem bring people together with shared values, ideas and aims; and everybody has their own special songs.

Why Truth Matters

The 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…

December 2007

The Sounds (and Politics) of Silence

Hello darkness my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again… in 1963 Simon and Garfunkel gave shape to the comfort of many melancholics to come, releasing a single now famous to folk fans and sometime drunks, ‘The Sounds of Silence’.

September 2007

On Harry Potter

Harry Potter shows what stories can mean to people when they grip the popular imagination. His popularity shows that, no, stories aren’t dead; they can inspire, motivate and comfort, they can say something about contemporary society - however obvious - they mean things to people.

August 2007

What is a radical thinker?

How should thinkers balance intellectual integrity with the need to be understood; how should radicalism express itself in order to be received positively; and if the ultimate aim is doing something, how can theories become manifestos?

July 2007

Yes, Socrates, Indeed

Fetishising the figure of Socrates serves only to feed the very cultural problem it is supposed to solve.

June 2007

Self-ish censor

This inch-thick collection of critical essays about American arts censorship is, then, a thoroughly unsettling, madly challenging but brilliantly necessary read.

May 2007

Attitudes towards science and freedom

Häxan couldn’t have been made without Freud. A short introduction to psychoanalysis later and the feeling becomes justified. First released in 1922, it is one of the first – and perhaps only – films of its kind. The unfortunate problem with this is that it makes Häxan difficult to judge.

April 2007

The Housekeeper

These are characters without character; they have no morality, no will, no responsibility. How soon you realise their inability to speak and absence of name signifies lack of participation impacts heavily on how effectively they work.


The Orange Prize: Friend or Phony

Culture Wars’ commissioning editor for books considers a vexed question.



The real disappointment for this reader is not the 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.

Culture Wars was included in creativetourists’ Top 25 UK Arts & Culture Blogs 2009.