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ReadySteadyBook is an independent book review website devoted to reviewing the very best books in literary fiction, poetry, history and philosophy.
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1. From Communism to Capitalism

Just out from Bloomsbury, Michel Henry's From Communism to Capitalism: Theory of a Catastrophe (translated by Scott Davidson):

Both a unique witness of transformative events in the late 20th century, and a prescient analysis of our present economic crises from a major French philosopher, Michel Henry's From Communism to Capitalism adds an important economic dimension to his earlier social critique. It begins by tracing the collapse of communist regimes back to their failure to implement Marx's original insights into the irreplaceable value of the living individual. Henry goes on to apply this same criticism to the surviving capitalist economic systems, portending their eventual and inevitable collapse.

The influence of Michel Henry's radical revision of phenomenological thought is only now beginning to be felt in full force, and this edition is the first English translation of his major engagement with socio-economic questions. From Communism to Capitalism reinterprets politics and economics in light of the failure of socialism and the pervasiveness of global capitalism, and Henry subjects both to critique on the basis of his own philosophy of life. His notion of the individual is one that, as subjective affect, subtends both Marxist collectivism and liberalism simultaneously. In addition to providing a crucial economic elaboration of Henry's influential social critiques, this work provides a context for understanding the 2008 financial shock and offers important insights into the political motivations behind the 'Arab spring'.

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2. Where is our Graham Harman?

As I tried to make very clear in my post on Sunday, the small and contained argument that I'm advancing is not that serious and interesting writing about books is not happening online. Categorically, it is. I listed five blogs and bloggers in my original Guardian postThis Space, David Winters, 3:AM, Flowerville, Time's Flow Stemmed – and in my follow up blog, I listed several more – John Self, Berfrois, LARB and Dan Green. Very many more wonderful book-related spaces and places could be mentioned – The Quarterly Conversation and HTMLGiant both deserve a shout, as do Marooned Off Vesta, Infinite Patience and in lieu of a field guide. Without all this fine online work, the cultural landscape would be very much more bleak. Thank god for websites!

I'm really not sure how more clearly I can say this: I'm not saying interesting work is not going on; I'm not saying you can't find great writing about writing online; I'm simply pointing out the observable, and to me rather odd, fact that in very many other fields (all kinds of genre writing, political blogs, philosophy blogs, food writing etc, etc) a named individual of real skill has emerged from the blogosphere to change the debate in their respective fields. Richard Seymour fundamentally changed, and often set, the debate in his part of the Left. Graham Harman has changed the debate in Continental Philosophy regarding realism for good.

Or lets take the offline example of James Wood – via his 'criticism'/reviewing he has changed the conversation by banging on about e.g. Hysterical Realism or bringing our attention to Free Indirect Discourse. Sadly and strangely, nothing remotely like this has come out of the online conversation about books. Take also e.g. Blanchot's NRF monthly essays from back in the day – quietly and insistently his interventions changed the conversation, altered perceptions, re-routed thinking. The Blanchot example could perhaps be seen as being a little arcane, but I think it might be the best example. Blanchot's monthly essays – no requirement here whatsoever that the blogging should be daily or even weekly – slowly, via their form, percolated into the consciousness of literary France, and changed literary critical discourse for good.

Blogging has added more critical voices to the general clamour. Great. Good to have more voices, excellent to have more views. But neither in content or form has it substantively affected the wider book conversation. These days we just have lots more reviewers mimicking newspaper reviews. Plainly, noting this does not equate with suggesting in any way that blogging is dead, or that online writing is not a considerable cultural boon.

The question remains, however, why have no serious literary critics emerged, maintaining a blog, doing innovative work and gaining a following for that work and changing the wider conversation, as we have seen in plenty of other fields? Where are the lit-critical Jack Monroes, Graham Harmans, Paul Slaines, Richard Seymours, Ian Bogosts? I don't see them. And I regret the lack.

In the UK, one blogger, John Self, has become a talisman. John is a superb book reviewer. Everyone should read him. He writes straight up and down reviews in the broadsheet style, penetrating and amusing, incisive and witty, and he has rightly been embraced by the Guardian, and thousands of eager readers. He is a tremendously good writer. He is not, however, a literary critic, and his writing, on the blog, echoes the form and style of response we see every week in the newspapers. That is not a value judgment, it is a fact. And it echoes another fact: no literary critic has yet emerged from the blogosphere; no writer has yet emerged from the large and informed online writing community and changed the wider conversation about writing on writing.

You may well think that the world doesn't need literary critics. Fine response! You may well think that book reviewing suffices. It's an entirely valid point. You may well want to ignore my actual argument and tell me that great writing is happening online here, there and somewhere else. And, as I've stressed, I can only agree that it absolutely is. Wikipedia tells me the "term 'weblog' was coined by Jorn Barger on 17 December 1997." So blogging has been around for a long time. And blogging is just part of the wider online writing revolution, the vibrancy, breadth and depth of which can only be applauded; it astounds and amazes. But in very many other fields, writers have emerged from online and changed their respective fields for good. Particularly noteworthy, as I've said, is the rise and rise of speculative realism which has fundamentally changed the debate raging in modern European Philosophy and is setting the agenda for exciting work ahead. It's a wonder to behold. Has this happened in the field of literary criticism? No, it has not.

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3. Writing in a Digital Age

I was honoured to be invited to speak at The Literacy Consultancy's Writing in a Digital Age conference yesterday. (A particular personal pleasure because I got to see Lynne Hatwell and Sam Leith again, and it had been far too long in both cases.) Huge thanks to the organisers for inviting me. Seemed to be a very vibrant and well run affair, and I enjoyed the discussion immensely.

The conference was the occasion for writing this piece (What became of literary blogging?) for the Guardian last Monday. It was the subs at the Guardian who framed the piece thus: I hoped that blogs could provide an outlet for the serious criticism missing from the mainstream media. I didn't reckon on Twitter but it doesn't give a terrible sense of my thinking.

Principally, I wanted to make the observation that whilst the book blogosphere had thrown up some fine writers (those I mention at the foot of the piece, but several others could be cited - and, indeed, the comments thread, whilst occasionally inane and dyspeptic as per Guardian comments threads, throws up some fine examples) it had not thrown many good literary critics. This is simply a fact.

Blogging has been around a good decade now, and the online writing revolution has touched every sort of genre and created well-known writers of many stripes. We've had the rise of fan-fiction (E.L. James), paranormal fiction (Amanda Hocking), women's fiction (Anna Bell) and erotica (James, and H.M. Ward); we've had food writers (Jack Monroe), political blogs (from Paul Slaine / Guido Fawkes to Richard Seymour / Lenin's Tomb) and philosophers (the rise of and rise of speculative realism and all its countless blogs and forums) all hugely affecting their respective fields; we've had wonderful book bloggers (like John Self) arrive on the scene and add sparkle and insight to the book review pages of the MSM; and we've had exciting Multi-Author Blogs (like 3:AM, Berfrois, LARB) arriving to show how broad-based, intelligent and informative online writing can be. All this shows the wonderful diversity and energy of online writing. Most all examples are to be welcomed. But despite the fine work of a few (and I should mention Dan Green here because Dan has worked hard over the years to use blogging as a means to write seriously about books and literature) good literary critical writers have not turned up in droves. I wish I was wrong about this. But it's a fact.

I'm deliberately not defining literary criticism above because by not defining it I'm hoping to keep the category as wide open as possible; I'm not being proscriptive here: if you think it's literary criticism, that's good enough for me. I think most would agree that book reviewing and literary criticism are very different (even if they can be on a continuum). And we all know the difference between a Guardian review and an essay in the LRB and a book by Gérard Genette. Many fine book reviewers have emerged from the blogosphere, but I don't think we can hide from the fact that no serious literary critics have emerged, maintaining a blog, doing innovative work and gaining a following for that work as we have seen in plenty of other fields.



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4. Musical Sunday

 

Two music-related books to get me through Sunday...

Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys by Viv Albertine (she of The Slits; if you don't know, you probably won't care, but maybe you should – she writes well about "art school, squatting, hanging out in Sex with Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren, spending a day chained to Sid Vicious, on tour with The Clash, and being part of a brilliant, pioneering group of women making musical history").

And Emily Petermann's The Musical Novel: Imitation of Musical Structure, Performance, and Reception in Contemporary Fiction:

The Musical Novel builds upon theories of intermediality and semiotics to analyze the musical structures, forms, and techniques in two groups of musical novels, which serve as case studies. The first group imitates an entire musical genre and consists of jazz novels by Toni Morrison, Albert Murray, Xam Wilson Cartiér, Stanley Crouch, Jack Fuller, Michael Ondaatje, and Christian Gailly. The second group of novels, by Richard Powers, Gabriel Josipovici, Rachel Cusk, Nancy Huston, and Thomas Bernhard, imitates a single piece of music, J. S. Bach's Goldberg Variations.

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5. The politics of depression

I’ve suffered from depression intermittently since I was a teenager. Some of these episodes have been highly debilitating – resulting in self-harm, withdrawal (where I would spend months on end in my own room, only venturing out to sign-on or to buy the minimal amounts of food I was consuming), and time spent on psychiatric wards. I wouldn’t say I’ve recovered from the condition, but I’m pleased to say that both the incidences and the severity of depressive episodes have greatly lessened in recent years. Partly, that is a consequence of changes in my life situation, but it’s also to do with coming to a different understanding of my depression and what caused it. I offer up my own experiences of mental distress not because I think there’s anything special or unique about them, but in support of the claim that many forms of depression are best understood – and best combatted – through frames that are impersonal and political rather than individual and ‘psychological’. (More...)

Fantastic article from Mark Fisher on why mental health is an exigent political issue over on Occupied Times.

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6. Fitzcarraldo Editions

These guys popped up on Twitter the other day (@FitzcarraldoEds): "a London-based publisher, will be publishing long-form essays and novels." They start publishing "[i]n August, a novel: ZONE by Mathias Enard (originally published by @open_letter in the US and @ActesSud in France)... In September, an essay: MEMORY THEATRE by Simon Critchley, with images by Liam Gillick."

Great books to start with. (ZONE was reviewed by Steve at This Space here: "Everything is coursed into a recital, a unique poetic ritual of mourning to reach the destination that is itself. Zone is indeed soaked in trauma yet, in Mathias Énard's hands and Charlotte Mandell's fluid translation, it is exhilarating, and has to be read."

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7. Three Carcanet Poets on the Forward Shortlist

Carcanet Press "are delighted to announce that the Carcanet poets Louise Glück, Kei Miller and Jeffrey Wainwright have been shortlisted for the 2014 Forward Prize for Best First Collection and Best Single Poem category!"

William Sieghart, who founded the Forward prizes in 1991, said the writers on the shortlists 'bring news that stays news, in fresh and startling language', and that their voices 'remind readers that, in an age of shortened attention spans, good poetry can communicate insights and visions with a power other art forms can only envy'. This year the Forward panel is led by Jeremy Paxman, alongside the musician Cerys Matthews and three poets: Dannie Abse, Helen Mort and Vahni Capildeo. The winners will be announced on 30 September.

LOUISE GLUCK
Faithful and Virtuous Night
SHORTLISTED FOR BEST COLLECTION
"One of the purest and most accomplished lyric poets now writing" - Robert Hass

KEI MILLER
The Cartographer Tries to Map His Way to Zion
SHORTLISTED FOR BEST COLLECTION
"Raise high the roofbeams, here comes a strong new presence in poetry" - Lorna Goodison

JEFFREY WAINWRIGHT
‘The Empty Road’ from PN Review
SHORTLISTED FOR BEST SINGLE POEM

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8. OMD - Souvenir



All I need is co-ordination
I can't imagine, my destination
My intention, ask my opinion
But no excuse, my feelings still remain
My feelings still remain...

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9. Sorrow is nothing but worn out joy

"Sorrow is nothing but worn out joy..."

Nice review of one of my favourite films here:

"Old Joy is a movie where nothing and everything happens. It is perfectly paced, wonderfully acted and incredibly shot. The score by Yo La Tengo is also extraordinary and it helps the movie feel so sacred..."

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10. The Actuality of the Theologico-Political

The Actuality of the Theologico-Political conference starts at Birkbeck, London, today:

Today’s (post) political thought has been turned into an ethics and a legal philosophy. The business of politics is supposed to promote moral values and ethical policies which are reached either through a discursive will formation (human rights, humanitarianism, freedom etc.) or through the language of rights (original positions, striking a balance between individual rights and community goods, rights as trumps etc.).

Religion can help to revive the political, to re-politicize politics: it can help the construction of new political subjects who break out of the ethico-legal entanglement and ground a new collective space. In early Christianity, the communities of believers created the ecclesia, a new form of collectivity. Asimilar role was played in early Islam by the umma. Paraphrasing Kierkegaard, one can say that we need today the theologico-political suspension of the legal-ethical.


More...

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11. One day last summer...




One day last summer, a visitor came. Greedily devouring my bookshelves with their eyes, finally they landed on the only place appropriate...

(Nabokov fans feel free to reproduce these photographs, but please credit ReadySteadyBook. Thanks.)

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12. Terence Davies' Of Time and the City


Of Time and the City is a 2008 documentary collage film directed by Terence Davies. The film has Davies recalling his life growing up in Liverpool in the 1950s and 1960s, using newsreel and documentary footage supplemented by his own commentary voiceover and contemporaneous and classical music soundtracks. The film premiered at the 2008 Cannes Film Festival where it received rave reviews... (wikipedia)

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13. The Meaning of Faith and Reason

It’s good practice, if you are going to argue with something, to aim at the best version of that thing you are arguing with. In Reason, Faith, and Revolution, Terry Eagleton argues that opponents of religion like Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens (or ‘Ditchkins’ as Eagleton calls them) should criticize religion as it actually exists, not the lesser versions of their imagination. Reason, Faith, and Revolution, originally from the Dwight H. Terry Lectures in 2008 at Yale, finds Eagleton wading into the “religion debates” made famous by the New Atheists. As Dawkins and other New Atheists continue to tour and lecture on the topic, these debates continue to hold a place in the cultural conversation.
Read more over at Yale Books Unbound... Read the rest of this post

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14. Cindytalk: Love comes in from nowhere

Cindytalk got me through... much of my youth, and most of my twenties. This is an unreleased demo track recorded in 1982. It was, as Gordon Sharp says in the YouTube comments, one of the first ever Cindytalk recordings...

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15. Getting close to Tomas Tranströmer

I'm not sure I understand the concept of 'closeness' in Tomas Tranströmer's poems, but in attempting to get near I am confronted by the distance between what I gather in and what they offer up. The gap between the gift and my receptivity – how far I find myself from what is being said, so limpidly, and what I understand – is a paradoxical limitlessness. I'm being shown simplicity but it looks, to me, like illimitable complexity. In that way, a poem is like a smile or a shrug, a beckoning or a barrier: how you take the gesture makes of it the certainty it never had when it was proffered. Retroactive causation, perhaps: the moment you decide that you know something about ambiguity that it doesn't know about itself is the moment it becomes what it might never have been.

"The sick boy," in After the Attack (in Robert Bly's translated collection The Half-finished Heaven) sits "with his back toward the painting of a wheatfield... At the far end of the field a man." And what of him? "... his face in shadow... / He seems to look at the dark shape in the room here". Is the dark shape in the reader's room, the narrator's, or the boy's? Or is it the reader, narrator or boy themselves? Regardless, the man "has come nearer" ("as / though to help"). Tranströmer says "No one notices it." But everyone who reads notices. Indeed, every reader has been told. Perhaps just the boy doesn't notice, but he is not everyone. The man in the field, the stranger, is close, closer now than at the start of the poem (and the poem, we presume, commences after the titular attack) – he moves as the poem moves, he moves through it. Always closer, now the poem is over.

How does this proximity play out in The Couple? "They turn the light off... and they sleep... It is dark and silent." But in their beds, in a hotel, in a city, in the dark, the surrounding houses "come nearer... They stand packed and waiting very near, / a mob of people with blank faces." This is threatening – mobs always are. And we can't begin to know what this mob is thinking, what it wants. Its proximity is no aid to understanding, indeed its closeness is what is so threatening; the closeness makes thinking about what they are thinking about more troubling than if they were a less exigent threat. The mob presses close, but we don't know why; and always closer, as the poem closes.

I'm not sure I understand the concept of 'closeness' in Tranströmer's poems, but I'm threatened by it. Threatened that the man whose "broad hat leaves his face in shadow", or the houses that might steal closer to mine in the middle of the night, know more about my sickness than I do. Like "a man [who] goes so deep into his dream / he will never remember he was there / when he returns again to his room" (Track).

In Kyrie Tranströmer writes "At times my life suddenly opens its eyes in the dark." When this happens, what do you see? Darkness. A darkness, perhaps, not as jet as when your eyes are closed. If you are lucky. What, then, do you know? That you are not alone; that what you see is not all there is. That you are not alone and that the knowledge is no comfort. Knowledge, it would seem, is simply knowing that the threat has come just that little bit closer.

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16. Weil's attentive neighbourliness

Simone Weil's life is fascinating. Left-wing activist with a critique of both Orthodox Marxism and Trotskyism she moves ever leftwards, soon finding herself arguing for a radical syndicalism. She then finds herself at – or, better, in need of – theology. She writes herself to self-understanding coming to a heterodox Christianity which sees in Greek thought, especially The Iliad, one of the highest expressions of human wisdom. (For more on the life see McLellan's Utopian Pessimist: The Life and Thought of Simone Weil, Pétrement's Simone Weil: A Life, and Cabaud's Simone Weil: A Fellowship in Love.)

In her life and work politics, literature and philosophy, and theology are each tested – and found wanting. Nothing of this earth (hence accusations of her Manichaeism) quite lives up to her demand for Truth, but the Truth which Weil finds in Christ can, to some extent, be found in attention and, by extension, neighbourliness. She writes: "Not only does the love of God have attention for its substance; the love of our neighbor which we know to be the same love, is made of this same substance... The capacity to give ones attention... is a very rare and difficult thing; it is almost a miracle; it is a miracle."

So, these two concepts (attention and neighbourliness) can be brought together under the concept of love. Weil's god is not an apophatic abstraction (although her mysticism sometimes feels like apophaticism, for sure) but rather radically approachable, perhaps even attainable, through attention. Attention's neighbourliness brings Weil's late thought back into contact with her earlier radical syndicalism. Neighbourliness might just be another word for solidarity. Solidarity is certainly another word for love. It is a love that has to be radically honest about its object. It has to be able to critique ideology. It has to pay the closest of attention...

One part of that attention, for Weil, was directed at George Herbert's poem LOVE (III) (on George Herbert (1593-1633), John Drury's recent, lovely biography Music at Midnight: The Life and Poetry of George Herbert is recommended). I almost think it is paradigmatic for her. Weil: "it played a big role in my life, for I was busy reciting it to myself at the moment when, for the first time, Christ came to take me. I believed I was merely resaying a beautiful poem, and unbeknownst to myself, it was a prayer."

Close reading, attention, moves here in two seemingly opposing but actually complementary directions: paying absolute attention is at the same time opening oneself up entirely. Attention on the object initially breaks it down (perhaps this is the move we see in deconstruction) but attention then allows the object wholly to be itself, allows the deconstruction to loop back from the object to the subject itself, in a move like a transference/counter-transference that we see in psychoanalysis. Transference, "the phenomenon whereby we unconsciously transfer feelings and attitudes from a person or situation in the past on to a person or situation in the present", from analysand to analyst, is met with feelings transferring back from analyst to analysand. The process of analysis works through the transference stage to get to the real relationship. It pays attention, and pushes past first, second, third impressions to something that is true, but a truth that has been created only after the hard work of attention. And this is work, in truth, that we all want to shy away from:

Love bade me welcome, yet my soul drew back,
     Guilty of dust and sin.

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17. Weil and Attention

In Simone Weil: An Introduction to her Thought, John Hellman shows that Weil's concept of attention is not simply some kind of effortful application of concentration (Weil: "Most often attention is confused with a kind of muscular effort ... [a] kind of frowning application") but rather "the link between several aspects of her thought: her ascetic intellectualism, her love for mathematics, her concern for the poor and oppressed, her innovatively focussed politics, and her unusually empathetic sensitivity." Attention, then, is a complex, compound term with several overlapping concerns. Whilst singularity of focus and uncluttered thought are obviously part of the definition of attention, Weil also says, "Attention consists of suspending our thought, leaving it detached, empty and ready to be penetrated by the object." Our thought, she says, "should be empty, waiting, not seeking anything." So too for prayer, of course ("prayer consists of attention. It is the orientation of all the attention of which the soul is capable toward God.")

In Robert Pippin's After the Beautiful: Hegel and the Philosophy of Pictorial Modernism, Pippin writes: "in the case of pictorial art, the ability of painting to arrest time and thereby to 'make present' can render aspects of human action available" to us like nothing else. Life rushes past, but art pays attention. In the same footnote, Pippin goes on to write: "Hegel can also be summarized by saying that art has the task of the 'Vergegenwärtigung des Absolutes', the bringing of the Absolute to presentness."

Art – and Pippin is arguing about pictorial art here, but I'm applying this more loosely and broadly – pays attention, and gifts to us the complexity of a present moment (and the present, of course, is doused, drowned, in God; the Absolute in German Idealism is a term that is not simply a synonym for God, but that can comfortably stand in for the divine, amongst other things.) We need to be fully open to art to attend to it completely in order to hear all that it is saying. It is, perhaps, Eliot's still point in a turning world: where the dance is, where past and future are gathered, where our attention has to lay if we are ever to find the wisdom appropriate to our own confusions.

Eliot and Weil are, of course, profoundly religious writers. Hegel formulated his system within the explosion of theological debate at the beginning of the 19th Century. (And it is noteworthy that the post-Kantian aesthetics of German Idealism flower at this particular moment of theological crisis.) Using any of these thinkers to help one articulate something, anything, about aesthetics leaves its traces, of course. Or, more positively, reveals a truth: aesthetics are undergirded by the human truths contested in ethics and theology. Aesthetics isn't masquerading as something it is not, but if we pay attention it turns out to be more than we often think it is. It feels, actually, like an ethical demand. Like Levinas's call of the Other - something finally unknowable, but exigent. It cannot be ignored. Reading closely, then, is perhaps a paradigm of engaged engagement. It is about paying attention to paying attention and realising that such can take us well beyond the words on the page.

This all leads me to want to discuss Blanchot, Levinas, Object Oriented Ontology-inspired ideas about "withdrawal" and a host of other things because all of them nourish and inform how and why I read, and how and why I respond to what I read in the way that I do. But before I address such, I want to say a little more about Weil, Pippin and modernism... Read the rest of this post

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18. Re-beginning again

I started ReadySteadyBook because I wanted to record my reading and to review books. I had reviewed for Amazon (where I had worked for a time) and was beginning to review in the TLS and for the broadsheets. RSB was to be a continuation and extension of all that. Perhaps a place where I could write at greater length, and certainly where I could engage with books that the papers showed no particular interest in. For many years it (more or less) served this purpose. Increasingly, however, over the course of the past decade, and particularly over the last four or five years, I've found reviewing books to be – well, for sure, a non-optimal way for me to respond to them...

Reviewing concentrates the mind. One reads more carefully than one might otherwise, pencil in hand, taking notes along the way - and then one makes one's evaluation. But such an evaluation always struck me as crude and incomplete. Not worthless, certainly – book reviews very often offer a fine service to the would-be reader and the rare really good book review can be a delight to read. So, I'm speaking very personally here. Book reviewing wasn't – isn't – an adequate response, for me, to the books that I read.

Certain friends – Stephen Mitchelmore, David Winters – offer a solution. Both these enviably talented, incisive and intelligent writers seem to be able to respond, diligently and inspirationally, to the particular book under review whilst, at the same time, contributing to their wider project (each essay seems to reveal yet more of their weltanschaung). Both seem to be able to see the trees in all their glory and yet simultaneously cultivate their wood; I only ever seemed to misapprehend the tree and build nothing beyond it. I found myself alone, feeling foolish, looking in dismay at the blunted axe I'd just been wielding: destruction that was anything but creative.

My own failure in this regard is particularly upsetting because I do see each book I read as being both sui generis and yet part of a... call it "ethical whole" that I'm trying to deal with. Each and every book is a challenge. The first challenge is: how do I respond fully, properly, carefully to this? I think the answer has to be in writing. But for me it is not via something called "reviewing". I think Simone Weil's concept of the primacy of attention may help me explain this a little better... Read the rest of this post

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19. 'Subterraneans' from Low (1977)

Writing in The Quietus, Nix Lowery gets it spot on, calling 'Subterraneans' Bowie's "most po-mo moment on Low, and also arguably the most beautiful":

'Subterraneans' is a multi-layered and celestial piece, a sonic painting brimming with referentiality and subtext. With a reversed bassline taken from his rejected The Man Who Fell To Earth soundtrack, Bowie references his attachment to the film, to his character Thomas Newton, and to the general sense of a man out of step, and out of time, with his surroundings – allegorically explored earlier in his work through his 'Major Tom' character. The main melody, a sweeping and encompassing phrase, contains a melody audibly mirroring Edward Elgar's 'Nimrod' from his Enigma Variations. Whether coincidental or deliberate, there are subtexts to be read here. 'Nimrod' is part of a series Elgar wrote in which each piece obliquely referenced one of his acquaintances. 'Nimrod' referenced Augustus J Jaegar, who convinced Elgar, when in a moment of great despair, to continue writing music, citing the German composer Beethoven as an inspiration. Bowie, too, was surfacing from a period of disillusionment, despair and drug induced creative drought – perhaps Visconti and Eno were his Jaegar? Or perhaps the idea of Berlin, and its isolated idealists, was his muse? The shimmering ethereal backwards melodics combined with synth-strings recall Eno's solo work significantly – on 'Subterraneans' more so than on any other Low composition. Lyrically, Bowie echoes the cut-up style of beat poetry, and a lone jazz saxophone answers the lyrical call, summoning surrealism and the creative fire of Burroughs and Ginsberg. Regardless of the replete referentiality of this track, its real beauty is that it works emotively, a contemplative and fragile beauty like ripples on a lake, Subterraneans' melodies flow organically. Ripples too, of its magic can be discerned in Vangelis' Blade Runner soundtrack, and most audibly in Angelo Badalamenti's collaborations with David Lynch – Subterraneans reaches towards futurity with a surreal and mystical architecture.

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20. Ten years on

In October last year, ReadySteadyBook had its tenth anniversary. I let the date pass without comment not only because the anniversary was not particularly noteworthy – plenty of websites have been around for as long or longer – but also because RSB has been pretty quiet for a long time now and so the anniversary didn't quite feel earned.

Regardless, time has passed. And what I conceived of ten years ago as a "book review website" has come to mean much more to me than that. What exactly it means, though, I'm still not quite sure. And that is because what is means is so intimately interwoven with what reading means to me and how reading or, rather, my relationship to it, has altered over the last decade.

I will, then, over the next coming weeks, attempt to write about those shifts and the (re-)engagement with philosophy they have occasioned, and try to indicate what those shifts and twists in my thinking mean for my ongoing engagement with reading and writing, and my despair at much of the "culture of response" I see (and read) around me.

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21. Quercus ebook deals

Quercus – with whom I ply my daily trade – have some amazingly generous ebook deals going on right now. (As do MacLehose Press). Great deals can be found on Amazon here, and some via this page quercusbooks.co.uk/ebook-deals. Enjoy!

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22. Collapse 8

Some details on the contents of the long-awaited volume 8 of Collapse are up on the Urbanomic site. Includes such delights as Quentin Meillassoux's Mallarmé's Materialist Divinization of the Hypothesis, Nick Land's Transcendental Risk and Suhail Malik's The Ontology of Finance: Price, Power, and the Arkhé-Derivative. Could be me, but I'm not seeing an actual publication date... Read the rest of this post

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23. Northern Theory School

"This new interdisciplinary network – launched in 2013 – gathers together researchers at northern universities who work in the field of critical and cultural theory. It will promote new collaborative research in critical theory via a range of initiatives including annual symposia, workshops, reading groups and other events MORE..."

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24. Edmund Wilson and the Poets

Edmund Wilson and the Poets by Tony Roberts at PN Review Online:

Edmund Wilson (1895-1972) was the most influential of twentieth-century literary and social critics in America, a journalist in the biographical tradition of Johnson, Arnold and Sainte-Beuve, who energised the magazine columns until the 1960s. A Princeton graduate and friend of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the much-published Wilson was editor at Vanity Fair (1920- 21) and then The New Republic. He also reviewed for The New Yorker and The New York Review of Books.

Wilson's blind spot is said to have been poetry. Worse, in an infamous essay from 1934 he wrote of it as a 'dying technique'. At the same time, he wrote occasional poetry himself and contributed some necessary and judicious work on the Modernists in Axel's Castle (1931) and on Civil War poetry in Patriotic Gore (1962), a monumental study of the literature and character of that time, as well as some significant essays in his collections The Shores of Light (1952), Classics and Commercials (1950) and The Bit Between My Teeth (1966). These are the books his reputation lives by and where his contribution to the poetry of his time is remembered. MORE...

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25. An Encounter with Simone Weil

"What response does seeing human suffering demand of us? Filmmaker Julia Haslett seeks an answer in the controversial French philosopher and activist Simone Weil (1909-1943), whose life and work took on this question in a dramatic way..."


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