All posts filed under: Literature

Haruki Murakami, Poet of Loneliness

Do you ever want to take a walk? Not around the neighbourhood. Not around the park. Not around the city. Nothing planned. Nothing orderly. A walk with a beginning but no middle and no end. That is the fate of many characters in the novels of Japan’s Haruki Murakami. It is also his appeal. The reader goes for a walk: starting somewhere familiar and going somewhere strange. There is much one could dislike about Murakami’s books. The prose can be cliche-ridden. The tropes can seem cloying. The characters and plots can seem predictable. While he has been consistently popular, Murakami’s critical reception has been mixed. “Falling out of love with Murakami” was the title of one essay in the Guardian. His popularity, indeed, exposes him to cynicism as his fans can be among the most cultlike in literature: whimsical “Harukists” who love his most formulaic elements and bemoan his annual failure to win the Nobel Prize. One could easily imagine a satire of his books. A single man lives alone, cooking miso soup and listening to the Beatles. He …

Read Houellebecq To Free Your Mind

Let’s say that you, like many Quillette readers, are part of the broad coalition that aims to promote greater engagement with dangerous ideas and fight political correctness – call it cultural libertarianism if you wish, but in reality the coalition includes many social conservatives and others who don’t really fit that label. What should you read? Who should your intellectual heroes be? An obvious answer is John Stuart Mill; approving references to Mill’s wonderful On Liberty have become something of a ritual for those of us with such concerns. But there’s room for more heroes besides Mill, and room for disagreement and debate about who those figures should be. In this essay, I’d like to suggest that the contemporary French novelist Michel Houellebecq may be such a figure. Though Houellebecq has a large international audience and many Quillette readers are surely familiar with his work, I find that his name isn’t invoked that often in the discussions of cultural issues with which we are concerned. But it should be. Houellebecq has something to offer to …

Germaine Greer and the Emma Dilemma

Rescuing Jane Austen from Both Her Well-Meaning Admirers and Her Less Well-Meaning Political Critics In the commentaries devoted to Jane Austen this year on the two-hundredth anniversary of her death, the cultural basis of her importance as a historical figure and of her great appeal as a novelist was largely overlooked, neglected, or misunderstood. The best way to approach this question is by comparing Austen’s Emma with Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch. Though at first glance these two books, one a work of fiction, the other of non-fiction, but each influential in its own way, would seem to have little in common, the story of Austen’s heroine in fact anticipates the actual experience of many modern women, including Ms. Greer. To begin by clearing up one large misconception: Greer’s treatise is not only about women’s liberation. Greer herself emphasized this point in drawing a distinction between “reform” feminism and “revolutionary” feminism. Reform feminists believed women could gain the same legal and political rights, equality of opportunity in education and career choices, and sexual freedom that …

Born 100 Years Ago, Anthony Burgess was a Genius who Fought for Free Speech

Anthony Burgess, who would have celebrated his 100th birthday in 2017, is probably best known as the author of novels such as Earthly Powers, Nothing Like the Sun and A Clockwork Orange. Despite his worldwide reputation as the creator of nightmare futures, many people are unaware of Burgess’s credentials as an outspoken opponent of literary censorship. From the beginning, his career as a novelist was plagued by legal difficulties. The second volume of his Malayan trilogy, The Enemy in the Blanket (published by William Heinemann in 1958), was the subject of a successful claim for libel in the High Court in Singapore. The judgement was overturned on appeal, but Burgess gained a reputation for being troublesome. Matters were not improved when another novel, The Worm and the Ring, was also judged to be libellous in 1962. Unsold copies of the book were pulped, and the novel has never been reprinted in its original form. This was the context in which Burgess became a champion of free expression. When, in the early 1960s, his friend William …

Bald Men Fighting Over a Comb: Arguments About the Classical Tradition

Part II: A review of The Lesbian Lyre: Reclaiming Sappho for the 21st Century by Jeffrey Duban. Clairview Books (30th June 2016). The classical tradition in literature is essentially dead. The English poet Alice Oswald may be the only prominent contemporary writer who has read deeply in Latin and Greek poetry. A few other poets (Ruth Padel, Anne Carson, Alice Stallings) have made names for themselves as classicist-poets; though their contributions to literature and scholarship have been uninspiring; their work is more often praised than read. Most of the praise comes only from Classics teachers, or others easily impressed by a thin veneer of learning. It is impossible to name a novelist, short-story writer or playwright active today who engages seriously with classical history, myth or literary form. Jeffrey Duban tries valiantly to revive the tradition in his ambitious, pugnacious, eccentric, sprawling new book The Lesbian Lyre: Reclaiming Sappho for the Twenty-First Century. This is not all Duban tries to do: he also provides a learned introduction to ancient Greek lyric poetry, offers translations of …

Bald Men Fighting Over a Comb: Arguments About the Classical Tradition

Part I: A review of Classics, The Culture Wars and Beyond by Eric Adler. University of Michigan Press (1st November 2016). Classics, the study of Greek and Latin literature, involves philosophical and historical texts as well as literary works. Classicists may also be interested in the systematic study of language and expression, and (to a lesser extent) art history and archaeology. In fact, Classics encompasses virtually every aspect of ancient Greek and Roman culture between the first Olympic Games in 776 BC and the fall of the Roman Empire in AD 476. Still, classicists have traditionally focussed their attention on Athens between 508 and 323 BC, and Rome between the mid-first century BC and the late second century AD: most of the important classical texts, monuments and works of art were created in those places during those periods. Classics requires a long training: there are two ancient languages which take years to master, and a large body of impressive but often difficult literature in Greek and Latin that cannot be avoided. If you have not …

Browsing the Tate Bookshop

In the last week of April 2017, a light squall of controversy hit the majestic ship that is Tate, Britain’s state-sponsored multi-gallery institution for British and modern art. Its Director, Nicholas Serota, was moving on (to another public art satrapy, as chair of Arts Council England) and, according to reports, staff were being asked to contribute to a leaving present, despite their low-pay, casualization and the removal of a canteen discount.  And not just any leaving present, but a sailing boat. For the staff union, it was proof that Tate management had become divorced from reality. That same week I visited Tate Britain, Tate’s original neo-classical edifice, just down the Thames from Westminster. Looking for a present for a friend I stopped off in the (extensive) shop. It would be an exaggeration to say that I felt like I’d stumbled into the Socialist Workers Party’s Bookmarks which, after all, is in the more salubrious Bloomsbury. However, the experience was striking enough for me to feel guiltless in at least suggesting the parallel. Several factors clearly …