As I mentioned last Monday, I'm enjoying Steven Shaviro's new Whitehead-meets-Speculative Realism (SR) book Universe of Things, but before I (hopefully) review it, I should perhaps make a brief comment on why I'm reading it. And that particular story makes better sense if I mention that I'm also reading Peter Wolfendale's Object-Oriented Philosophy: The Noumenon's New Clothes (from the always excellent Urbanomic) and briefly mention why I'm reading that...
I read more philosophy books than books on any other topic – and, to be honest, it's probably more than time that RSB reflected that a little more clearly. It's a little... read more
Austin Roberts reviews Steven Shaviro's The Universe of Things: On Speculative Realism:
One of the most interesting trends in recent philosophy is what is sometimes called Speculative Realism. The name comes from a conference in 2007 at the University of London that brought together four very different philosophers who nevertheless were united in their efforts to resurrect realist metaphysics: Quentin Meillassoux, Ray Brassier, Graham Harman, and Iain Hamilton Grant. Each of them hold quite different metaphysical positions, but all four critique what they name "philosophies of correlation." As a theologian and not a philosopher, I can't help but make a connection... read more
From World Literature Today, review of The Contemporary Spanish-American Novel: Bolaño and After:
This unique collection of essays by fifty scholars and writers on the work of sixty-nine contemporary novelists from Spanish America is a valuable resource for scholars and readers alike. The authors included for discussion were born between 1949 and the early 1970s and have published the bulk of their work since 1996. The essays on individual writers are organized in six chapters based on their point of origin from one of the following geographical and cultural regions: Mexico, Central America, the Spanish speaking Caribbean and Venezuela, the Greater... read more
Collapse Vol. VIII
is finally ready for pre-order. Do it.
With the public trial of 'Casino Capitalism' underway, Collapse VIII examines a pervasive image of thought drawn from games of chance. Surveying those practices in which intellectual resources are most acutely concentrated on the production of capitalizable risk, the volume uncovers the conceptual underpinnings of methods developed to extract value from contingency - in the casino, in the markets, in life.... read more
According to standard interpretations of 19th-century European philosophy, a stark ’either / or’ divided Hegel and Kierkegaard, and this divide profoundly shaped the subsequent development of Continental philosophy well into the 20th century. While left Hegelians carried on the legacy of Hegel’s rationalism and universalism, existentialists and postmodernists found inspiration, at least in part, in Kierkegaard’s critique of systematic philosophy, rationality, and socially integrated subjectivity. In Kierkegaard’s Relation to Hegel Reconsidered, Jon Stewart provides a detailed historical argument which challenges the standard assumption that Kierkegaard’s position was developed in opposition to Hegel’s philosophy, and as such is antithetical to it.... read more
Launch of Stewart Home's new novel The 9 Lives of Ray The Cat Jones (Test Centre) on Thursday 6 November 2014 at 6.30pm, at The Function Room,
Upstairs at The Cock Tavern, 23 Phoenix Road, London NW1 1HB.
This is also the final opportunity to see Stewart Home & Chris Dorley Brown's current
exhibition The Age of Anti-Ageing at The Function Room.... read more
Daunt Books, best known as a bookshop chain in affluent parts of London, is also a publisher. As well as issuing contemporary fiction such as Philip Langeskov’s story Barcelona, Daunt has been quietly – perhaps too quietly – reissuing some very interesting 20th century authors, including Jiří Weil and Sybille Bedford. When I saw praise for this reissue, accompanied by an image of its striking cover (by AKA Alice), I was sold.
La Femme de Gilles (1937, tr. 1992 by Faith Evans) was Bourdouxhe’s first novel. It opens in unignorable style, with the title character, Elisa, making soup as she awaits her husband’s... read more
Click here to read my review for The Guardian of Helle Helle’s strange and seductive novel This Should Be Written in the Present Tense. It’s her first novel to be translated into English, which is surprising given that she is, according to the author blurb, Denmark’s most popular novelist. Or is she? Read the comments below the article…
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Pushkin Press, two years into new ownership and going from strong to stronger, is one of the few publishers I buy books from on reputation alone (see also: NYRB Classics, CB Editions, Penguin Modern Classics). Their untouchably handsome Pushkin Collection titles, designed by Clare Skeats and David Pearson, are usually new translations of overlooked 20th century world fiction. This is a slight variation: a reissue of a book already translated: the first English edition was published thirty years ago. Fortunately, Pushkin’s eye has not dimmed: this tiny novel, which Alan Sillitoe called “the book of this damned century,” was worth reissuing.
A Childhood... read more
Click here to read my review in The Times of Monique Roffey’s new novel House of Ashes. It’s based on an attempted coup in Trinidad in 1990, and was gripping and enlightening, though not without weaknesses.
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Whenever R.E.M. released any of their last half dozen albums, I used to say that they should call it Return to Form: that, after all, was what everyone was desperately hoping for – though without much hope. In reality there were always critics handy who would call it that anyway. Return to form is such a loaded phrase, ostensibly positive but carrying ahead of it the acknowledgement that the recent work has been sub-par. On the other hand, it does say that there was a form worth returning to.
And as for us – the consumers – because we have human loyalties, we want... read more
Click here to read my review in the Sunday Times of Paul Kingsnorth’s The Wake, which is the first crowdfunded novel to be longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. It is, in addition, written in a ‘shadow tongue’ which mixes Old English with variant spellings of modern words, though that might not make it unique in Booker history – David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas had one section (‘Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After’) which had a similar linguistic approach. Have there been any others?
... read more
Even before I opened up the book, I wondered about the front cover of Full Circle Edition’s new title After Sebald. The list of the nine contributors (excluding Jon Cook, the volume’s editor) – three visual artists, four writers, and two academics – suggested a welcome new approach to Sebald, a possibly refreshing change from the steady appearance of theory-infused academic volumes that have been appearing regularly for years. But first I had to ask if my tally of four writers was correct. Was “John Coetzee” really J.M. Coetzee, the Nobel Prize winning novelist? I had never, ever seen his... read more
The latest issue of the Journal of European Studies (vol. 44, no 4, December 2014), contains a section called “Three Encounters with W.G. Sebald (February 1992 – July 2013),” edited by Richard Sheppard. Sheppard also provides some introductory remarks. (The complete Table of Contents for the issue can be found here.)
The first encounter is a reprint of Toby Green’s 1992 revealing interview with Sebald called “The Questionable Business of Writing,” accompanied by a new introduction by Green. This first appeared on the Amazon.UK website, where, somewhat surprisingly, it can still be found.
The second encounter is a transcript of a reading... read more
In The Correspondence Artist, Barbara Browning’s debut novel, Vivienne has a paramour whose identity must be kept secret. But since Vivienne seems to want to tell us all about him or her, she invents a handful of personas to stand in for her lover: a world music rock star from Mali, an Israeli novelist, a Basque revolutionary, and a Vietnamese artist. Vivienne moves the story deftly back and forth between her fantasy lovers, telling us about their trysts and sharing their discussions on film, contemporary art, jazz, literature, Jacques Lacan, and other topics familiar to the international art intelligentsia. In... read more
This is the third of four posts on the recently published anthology Witnessing, Memory, Poetics: H.G. Adler & W.G. Sebald, edited by Helen Finch and Lynn L. Wolff. The third section of the volume is “Memory, Memorialization, and the Re-presentation of History”and contains two essays, the first being Dora Osbourne’s “Memory, Witness, and the (Holocaust) Museum in H.G. Adler and W.G. Sebald.” With their occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939, the Nazis converted Prague’s Central Jewish Museum into a storehouse for material goods confiscated from the city’s Jewish population. It also served as a private museum for Nazi officials, offering “a... read more
Dr Helen Finch (University of Leeds) will be giving a talk entitled “W. G. Sebald’s Literary Capital: The Sebald Effect in Holocaust Literature?”
Thursday November 20, 2014, 5:30PM – 8:00PM
Location: Fischer Hall, University of Notre Dame, 1-4 Suffolk Street, London SW1Y 4HG
From the website:
W. G. Sebald’s work focuses largely on history, memory, and decay around the theme of the Holocaust and post-war Germany. Initially, it was received both as something new in literature and also something linking to the past, which harks back to the high modernism of Kafka and the melancholic realism of Adalbert Stifter. Thirteen years after... read more
This edition of “Recently Read” features two books – both blue! – that are as delightful to read as they are to hold. Some books – particularly small books, I think – just feel right in the hand when the publisher has put extra care into the design and production. And today’s books come from publishers who do things right: the Christine Burgin imprint at New Directions and the new Fitzcarraldo Editions. Both are physically handsome, modestly sized, modestly priced, and short (80 and 68 pages respectively). Howe’s book comes hardbound with blue cloth covers and a reproduction of a... read more
Painting is practical day-to-day thing I think. One might say something clever, one might say something big, but one does something limited. It’s a serious thing – like religion – like love – one does the persistent thing, and then the really remarkable happens when something’s there that wasn’t there before.Frank Auerbach's words from fifty years ago were pasted above my student work desk without ever prompting attention. Inspirational quotes are there to be ignored, after all. Only lately has the contrast between his trust in a modest routine and apparent wonder in the presence of art demanded examination. After... read more
This week marks ten years since this blog was born. Appropriately, the first post was about beginnings. As I tell Mark Thwaite in this interview about literary blogging, it wasn't the first blog I'd written for, but this was the first solo effort: Almost immediately I recognised This Space as my true home, a miraculous release into a limitless expanse in which writing could be explored in the direction demanded by the work under discussion. The editorial identity was soon established and gave me what I had lacked until then. My only responsibility was to sustain that exploration. Perhaps ten... read more
In the relaxed confines of the LRB Bookshop on a warm August evening, Lars Iyer marked the publication of his fourth novel by telling an audience that as a youngster he had been drawn to philosophy rather than fiction as a means to find a way to live, to think his way to life. It's an old question – how to live? – and one often so pressing that philosophers have made it central to their lives. This indeed used to be the definition of a philosopher: someone who lived consistently with their beliefs. Ludwig Wittgenstein is one example. For... read more
Some novels offer the perfect opportunity for reviewers to palliate otherwise desolate and sundered lives. Notable examples in recent years include Vila-Matas' Montano's Malady, Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones and Tao Lin's first novel Eeeee Eee Eeee. There are many others but Tao Lin's Taipei, published last year, is an extreme case. One reviewer found relief in the "vapid stupidity" of its prose, another in its "massive discharge of waste matter", a third in its "mindless kitsch". As we watch them scurry in haste to the well-furnished bunkers of polite literary society, we can infer each reviewer found clarity and... read more
Revue LISA, a print journal published by the University of Rennes, has a very welcome edition dedicated to the work of Gabriel Josipovici. It is also online.
Readers new to his fiction and criticism would do well to read Vesna Main's Beyond the "Grammar", in which the grammar is "the formulaic apparatus of most novels", and Victoria Best's very moving essay on The Cost of Creativity in his work.
The editor Marcin Stawiarski is also organising Zig Zag, Twist and Turn, a conference on Josipovici's work, to be held at Dalarna University in Sweden this... read more
Going back to a beloved novel after many years can be a disconcerting experience. Often you wonder what you saw the first time around to prompt such nostalgia and loving reverence. Much of the detail is unfamiliar, alien even. Unlike a poem, whose aura is embedded in words recited both subconsciously and at will, a novel is recovered en bloc, masking many details and existing almost like a Platonic form we contemplate with awe in its absence. But, when trodden again, the perfect lawn has molehills.
In effect, our personal library is a collection of portals... read more
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent
Picador (August 2013)
378 pages, hardback
Bought by me, from Amazon
I savoured the thought of reading Hannah Kent’s debut novel for almost six months. I pre-ordered it, and then hoarded it, like I do with books I hope I’m going to relish. It ticked lots of boxes for me: historical fiction; female protagonist; set in a cold climate; dark murderous plot. The book itself was beautiful, with its stark and striking cover and black edged pages. It sat patiently on my TBR, always hovering near the top, while the accolades came rolling in: it was chosen... read more
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie - Americanah
Hannah Kent - Burial Rites
Jhumpa Lahiri - The Lowland
Audrey Magee - The Undertaking
Eimear McBride - A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing
Donna Tartt - The Goldfinch
I know, I know, the Baileys shortlist has been out for almost a week now and is officially Old News in the blogosphere, but I've only just properly caught up. It's been a busy little time for me recently. We're about to move house for the second time in two years, this time out to the country. I'm six months into my part-time PhD and it... read more
Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid
The Austen Project, The Borough Press, March 2014
352 pages, paperback proof
Kindly sent by the publisher
I've never read Val McDermid before, and I heartily wish now that my first encounter hadn't been with Northanger Abbey. If there was ever a book that wasn't for me, it's this one. I eagerly snapped up a review copy because I was quite curious about The Austen Project- which has commissioned six bestselling authors to reimagine Austen's novels in contemporary settings - and because I enjoy following Val on Twitter. I'm not a huge crime fan; Austen is far more... read more
The Dynamite Room by Jason Hewitt
Simon and Schuster, March 2014
Paperback proof, 374 pages
Review copy from the publisher
A puzzling reading experience, this one. The proof comes replete with glowing recommendations from Nathan Filer (winner of this year’s Debut Costa for The Shock of the Fall) and Samantha Harvey (of The Wilderness fame), and it has been long-listed for the Desmond Elliott Prize this week. But I struggled to get through it: 374 pages dragged by and I had to bribe myself to keep up a steady pace. It wasn’t that I was disappointed or bored as such (although I was a... read more
I didn't realise how long it had been since I last posted. Over a month. Ahem. So much for my new year resolution to write more frequently. Better get back on the horse.
While I've been away the Orange Bailey's Prize for Women's Fiction longlist has been announced, and what an excitingly rounded list it seems. I've read The Luminaries so far, and have Burial Rites by Hannah Kent and All the Birds Singing by Evie Wyld waiting in the wings. Of the others I'm keen to get my mitts on The Signature of All Things, Reasons She Goes to the... read more
The Fish Can Sing by Halldor Laxness
Translated from Icelandic by Magnus Magnusson
The Harvill Press, 2001 (first published 1957), paperback, 246pp
Bought by me, from a bookshop somewhere.
The Fish Can Sing wasn't the book I was expecting. When I read Laxness' extraordinary sheep-farming epic Independent People I was overwhelmed and unsettled. It has stayed with me over the years, growing more majestic and psychologically acute in my mind. That novel - especially the first 2/3 of it - is a great cosmic shout, a conjuring of both the grandeur and limitations of human life. The Fish Can Sing is a... read more
I have been reading this wonderful anthology While Wandering - A Walking Companion, one or two pieces every few days, and several have been about walking rhythm, the walker's tempo and where it may lead.
If you listen to the music of Erik Satie it makes complete sense to learn that he was a great walker, setting out most mornings to walk the ten kilometres into Paris from his home in Arcueil. Kilometres still mean nothing to me but it's just over six miles. Satie would visit friends and then walk around the city, to Montmartre or Montparnasse, either catching the... read more
There was one walk on Dartmoor that we particularly wanted to do in November.
I had borrowed a book from the library, With Magic in My Eyes - West Country Literary Landscapes by Anthony Gibson (yes, of course I have now had to buy a copy). The author known locally for many years as the voice of the National Farmer's Union here in the Shire, but also, as I was to discover with this book, a keen historian and an extremely engaging writer. I was browsing through the pages on the usual suspects, Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, Daphne du Maurier... read more
Dynnargh dhe Lanstefan, welcome to Launceston.
Twenty or more years of parking the car in the town and looking across to the castle and I'd like £1 for every time we have said 'Must go up there one day.'...
Three things finally persuaded me to climb to the top, where I then found myself looking across the town from the vantage point of Brian de Bretagne, first Norman Earl of Cornwall, and understanding why this castle was never besieged and never captured.
It might have been Ian Mortimer's reference to the importance of castles in his latest books, Centuries of Change, that had... read more
'Today's allotment is not just a place to grow vegetables but a socially mediated space, shaped by local and national politics, by immigration, economics, public health and social change.'
We know plenty of people who have had, or have an allotment, but we have never had one ourselves. I think that might be because we have always been fortunate enough to have a plot of our own to tend, but I don't think that prohibits application because there can be much more to allotments than just the growing and the feeding. This is about community too and there's nothing better than... read more
'You never enjoy the world aright till the sea itself flows in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens and crowned with the stars, till you so love the beauty of enjoying it you are earnest to persuade others to enjoy it too.'
Centuries of Meditations ~ Thomas Traherne (1636-1674)
And quoted by John Lewis-Stempel in Meadowland The Private Life of an English Field (p236) and adopted by me as the loveliest little thing I have read in ages, so it's walking boots and woolly hats on everyone, we are off for a persuasive trek. Bookhound has packed the flasks of hot... read more
There is nothing like a book about something very specific, let's say an ash tree, to suddenly make me notice ash trees all over the place, and where previously I may just have walked past...
This one, spotted on the Tamar Walk a few weeks ago, diverted me off course for about ten minutes, especially as we were crossing private land open for one day a year only, so this a tree not usually up for the public's gaze. I wanted to take my fill...
Of course my one dread is that someone will say 'That's not an ash tree... read more