Gabriel Josipovici’s What Ever Happened to Modernism? —an Appreciation

Note: this is neither a review (critical assessment of the strengths and weaknesses) of the author’s book nor one of my “Digested Reads” (in which I attempt to give both myself and the reader as complete an experience of the author’s arguments as I can manage in as short a space as possible), but an “Appreciation”— as in a quotation-heavy, somewhat-lengthy summary of and rumination upon some of the author’s key insights, but leaving out much of the particularity that make the book so worth reading. Whereas a “Digested Read” might be seen, by those in a hurry, as a substitute for reading the entire work, the following should hopefully take both you and I back to the book itself: it’s that good! Finally, unless otherwise…


Digested Read: Talking To My Daughter About The Economy, by Yanis Varoufakis

This is a “Midrash“, gloss, or “digested read” of Varoufakis’s book, not a critical analysis or a review. As such it presents the author’s arguments as he makes them, and does not attempt an evaluation. I do provide a review of the book over on my blog, however. 1 Why So Much Inequality? The book begins with a simple, childish question, one that any daughter could ask of her father: why is there so much inequality in the world? Some babies are given special status-projecting clothes purchased from a boutique baby store, while a vast many others are wrapped in rags—how is this so? To answer this question, Varoufakis has to describe to his daughter how capitalism works, how it differs from all other economic…


Digested Read: The Reactionary Mind by Corey Robin

Cory Robin Reactionary Mind

This post functions more as a midrash or a gloss upon the second edition of Corey Robin’s book The Reactionary Mind: Conservatism from Edmund Burke to Donald Trump. As such, this probably won’t work for you if you are looking for a critical analysis or a review ( my much shorter review of the book can be read here. This article, by contrast, will attempt to restate in some detail Robin’s understanding of how we got to Trump from Burke, of what has changed over time in conservative thought, and what has stayed the same. Part of what has changed is that the conservatives have largely won: throughout the industrialized west/north there is no longer any viable left to oppose them. This, as we shall…


Daniel Green’s Beyond The Blurb: On Critics and Criticism

These days literary scholars are preoccupied with ‘what you want to make of a text’, mostly dismissing ‘what it wants to make of itself’ and ignoring ‘what it wants to make of you’. It’s 1990 and I am in a Joyce seminar in grad school, and we students (there’s about 15 of us) are supposed to run the class: the Prof regularly chimes in, but we are collectively in charge of conducting the two-hour seminar and every other week we are expected to take on a chapter of Ulysses and teach it to the others. Usually this involves linking it up with its sources, chasing down its allusions, etc. etc., and then patiently taking the class through a “close reading” of the chapter. Our goal…


This Is Capitalism: The Vision of Ellen Meiksins Wood

The late Ellen Meiksins Wood had a long and illustrious career teaching the history of political thought at Toronto’s York University. In light of her death earlier this year, it is fitting to recount just how much she taught us about the specificity of capitalism. Her sizable body of work not only spans the entire history of western political thought, it also thereby clairifies for us just what makes capitalism so different from the economic systems of other eras, and in doing so provides an understanding of the contemporary politico-economic reality that is a useful alternative to the perhaps more influential ‘post-Fordist’ or ‘commercialization model’ theorists such as David Harvey, Immanuel Wallerstein and others.

Wood teaches us how, in order to more fully appreciate the present moment of capitalist history, it will be necessary to distinguish ‘essence’ from ‘accident’ in capitalism…


Capitalism and its Discontents: On Utopia or Bust, by Benjamin Kunkel

I have written on the intersection of capitalism and literature in the past, and I’m intrigued about Benjamin Kunkel’s project in Utopia or Bust of giving a number of leftist thinkers (some of whom are more relatively unknown than others, especially to North Americans) a public hearing. I find his style to be engaging, personable, and forthright. Note:I will be adding reflections on each chapter of the book as I get to them — as of right now Chapters 1 and 2 are complete and can be found below.


Ask the Pessimist

Misinspired by George Saunders’ “Ask the Optimist!”, “Ask The Pessimist” asks you to ask the pessimist…well, anything! Just don’t expect to like the answer you get…


8-Track (A Short Story)

Gerald (hungover and morose from the previous night’s compulsive overindulgence, what with, he told himself, the Leafs having fallen yet again to the Habs) was in no mood to be social. He, like his somehow still-unconscious siblings, had missed the 11:00 Mass, and was now unpardonably late for the habitual Sunday Brunch. He grabbed a coat on his way out the door, didn’t put it on, and threw it carelessly into the back seat of the car (mom and dad, obviously up to something, had gone to Church with Emma and her folks), while his other hand fumbled in his rugbypant pocket for the ignition key to his father’s brand-new “Silver Ghost Metallic” 1980 Olds Delta 98 Regency…


A Polyphonic Spree: Notes on Milan Kundera’s The Art of the Novel

Kundera

I have always been obsessed with Milan Kundera, and wanted to figure out why, so I grabbed his book The Art of the Novel, and sat down to take notes. What follows is my account of his account of why he writes the kind of books that he does….


Football & the Death of the Hero in “56-0” by TC Boyle

Robert Downey Junior’s character Derek Lutz (in Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School (1986)) may well have been poaching, with tongue-in-cheek, from Don DeLillo’s End Zone when he quipped that “violent ground acquisition games such as football are in fact a crypto-fascist metaphor for nuclear war,” but TC Boyle takes Lutz’s (or Delillo’s) conceit up a notch or two in “56-0”, which I jealously think is one of the most perfectly crafted stories that I have ever read. “56-0” can be found in Boyle’s Stories, but it was previously published in his 1992 collection Without a Hero, whose title is a perfectly apt controlling metaphor for the story as a whole, since, with seemingly effortless grace, Boyle has somehow managed not only to revivify one of American culture’s most clichéd of plotlines (an underdog team’s attempted, “against all odds” heroic “comeback”), but also to bring the ossified Aristotelian unities magically back to life, such that his story gains a remarkable, athletic equipoise, in which humour is locked into a dialectical deathgrip with existential gravitas. And—somehow—Boyle manages to make writing like this appear to be the most natural thing in the world….