Literature

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...

Sweden in the 1930s: a “shithole country”

“It’ll be a pleasure to leave this impoverished shithole of a country behind,” says the main character Harry Kvist in the Stockholm Trilogy of historical crime novels by Martin Holmen. Sweden is now reckoned one of the top ten of countries in the world for quality of life, but eighty years ago much of the population lived in abject poverty. Holmen’s three novels — Clinch, Out For The Count and Slugger — paint a grim picture of the life of the urban poor in 1930s Stockholm. Most of them suffer flea bites, their bedsheets doused in strong vinegar to keep the pests away. Summer months bring...

The life and work of Georg Lukács

Georg Lukács (pictured above in 1919) was one of the best-known Marxist writers of the 20th century. He joined the Hungarian Communist Party in December 1918 and was a People's Commissar in the short-lived Hungarian Soviet Republic of March-July 1919. After fleeing to Vienna, he published History and Class Consciousness (in 1923, but collecting texts written since 1919). He lived in the USSR between 1929 and 1945. He was a minister in the reforming Nagy government in Hungary in 1956, survived the Russian invasion and the repression, and died in 1971. John Cunningham talked with Martin Thomas...

Reading or stagnating?

“You can never get a cup of tea large enough or book long enough to suit me.” – C. S. Lewis When I was a young child, I learned an appreciation for the written word through both of my parents reading aloud to me and through listening to audiobooks on long car trips. Somewhere during the dreaded forced reading during my secondary and tertiary schooling, I lost my fascination with reading. Then, over time, with that lack, I noticed other things were lacking. There are so many reasons to read: to inform, to amuse, to connect, to understand, to critique, and so on. Reading is a fantastic way to...

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