Literature

Vampire juice

I’m not sure if the retinol serum makers know that when they push a face-cream I’m immediately put in mind of Bulgakov’s Margarita smearing her face with the stuff before becoming a witch. In this case art trumps science. The pot of cream isn’t going to make you become a witch, it’s designed to give you vampire skin instead — much better. It doesn’t matter which face-cream it is, even picking up a more ethical brand the words of this literary master hang in the air. It is worth wondering if it is a very male view of an ageing woman that these products should have such an occult inference. But...

John Brown through different eyes

Many in the Abolitionist movement to destroy US slavery were originally pacifists, militantly anti-slavery but hoping to convince slaveowners to abandon the institution. Many of the growing number of black Americans who joined the movement opposed such ideas, and events would severely test even those Abolitionists most committed to non-violence. When the Civil War finally came in 1861, the vast majority backed the Northern war effort. Abolitionist leader John Brown, the subject of recent seven-part TV series The Good Lord Bird, was frankly opposed to non-violence. He devoted himself to...

"Love jihad": why Hindu fascists are attacking Netflix

The Hindu nationalist far right in India and beyond is waging a campaign against Netflix for showing the BBC TV series A Suitable Boy (adapted from Vikram Seth’s novel, set in India in the 1950s). Their objection is to a romantic relationship between a Hindu woman and a Muslim man (though it's clear they object to other aspects of it too). They have minimally dressed up their bigotry by saying they are offended by the lovers kissing by a Hindu temple. Members of the ruling Hindu nationalist BJP party are calling for the Indian government to investigate Netflix – and in fact the Modi regime has...

Rebecca: feminist failure

This article contains spoilers for Wheatley’s 2020 Rebecca film, the 1940 Hitchcock film, and the original 1938 Daphne Du Maurier gothic novel. Ben Wheatley’s Rebecca, showing on Netflix, was always going to be haunted by Hitchcock’s 1940 film. Wheatley and screenwriter Goldman were right to try and create a new film adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s novel, rather than a remake of the Oscar-winning classic. They tried to give us a more explicitly feminist Rebecca, but sadly do not pull it off. Rebecca, in all her incarnations, is in many ways a feminist hero. She refused to let marriage crush...

Black culture and resistance: the Harlem Renaissance

One hundred years ago, an arts movement was forming in a mainly-black district of New York City. Later known as the Harlem Renaissance, it was primarily cultural but also inescapably political. Literature, poetry, jazz, theatre, sculpture and more articulated the lives and demands of African-Americans no longer willing to be grateful that they were no longer enslaved. O black and unknown bards of long ago. How came your lips to touch the sacred fire? How, in your darkness, did you come to know The power and beauty of the minstrel’s lyre? Who first from midst his bonds lifted his eyes? Who...

Walter Benjamin: 80 years later

Things never seemed to work out for Walter Benjamin. He failed to obtain the teaching post he wished for in Germany and, for the rest of his life, made only a precarious living through his writing. As a Jew, he fled Germany to exile in Paris, and then had to leave Paris in 1940 as the German tanks approached. Having obtained a US visa he eventually made his way to the very south west corner of France and crossed the Pyrenees to the relative safety of Spain. What happened next has always been unclear. On crossing the border and arriving in the Catalan town of Portbou he was told by the local...

Another look at Camus' The Plague

The Plague (La Peste), written by the French-Algerian Albert Camus in 1947, has, unsurprisingly, undergone a surge in sales in recent months (up 1,000 per cent). It was his best-selling novel, and is considered by some to be an allegory of the wartime occupation of France by the Nazis. It is set in the Algerian port of Oran where, at some unspecified time in the 1940s, there is an outbreak of bubonic plague. The disease spreads rapidly despite the efforts of Doctor Rieux (the main character) and a team of helpers. Eventually, after many months, thousands of deaths and severe quarantine...

The Handke controversy

The Nobel Prize in Literature 2019 has been awarded to Peter Handke “for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.” Born in 1942, Handke is an Austrian novelist and playwright, best known for works including Offending the Audience and The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick. He is also known for his film scripts, one of which, The Left-Handed Woman, an adaptation of his own novel, was nominated for a Golden Palm Award in 1978. The awarding of the Nobel Prize to Handke has caused controversy, owing to his shameful...

Becoming wiser and stronger

Note: this review discusses themes from the latest Philip Pullman book but avoids major plot spoilers; it does discuss previous books in depth, however. Twenty-four years have passed since Philip Pullman first published Northern Lights, the first volume of the groundbreaking His Dark Materials trilogy. In the world of Northern Lights, people’s consciousness exists both inside their heads, and in the form of a daemon, an animal that reflects aspects of their personality/consciousness/soul, which is both part of and independent from their human counterpart. The book follows the adventures of...

More comments on Lukács

First I want to thank Martin Thomas for his “more sceptical assessment” of the work of György Lukács (Solidarity 518). This is precisely what is needed. In the same vein my thanks also to all those who attended the session on Lukács at Ideas for Freedom 2019 recently and gave me the benefit of their thoughts and criticisms. These comments will no doubt find their way into the book I am currently writing on Lukács (excuse the plug!). I don’t feel able at the moment to render a fully detailed response to Martin’s comments, so what follows will no doubt appear rather haphazard in response. The...

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