"Our technology has outpaced us to the degree that human understanding is no longer at the centre of it." Olivia Sudjic
Contexts
It is us they burn

It is us they burn

In the course of the 2005 youth riots that broke out across France, thirty-two libraries were burnt down or so badly ravaged that their contents had to be thrown away. If one looks at the period covering 1996 to 2013 the tally rises to more than seventy. Libraries come under attack in the banlieues again...
After shock

After shock

On 4 July, a little under six months into Donald Trump’s presidency, I joined a packed audience of over 2,000 at the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall for an engaging and impressive keynote speech by Naomi Klein based around her latest book No Is Not Enough: Defeating the New Shock Politics. Klein equates Trump’s election...
Alpine dreams

Alpine dreams

The German language is a wondrous thing. Among its many mischiefs and perplexities, the word for ‘nightmare’ must be a recurring source of dismayed jollity: an Alptraum is not a dream on an idyllic Alpine peak, tarn or flowery green meadow gone awry, but a night-time experience never to be forgotten – if survived. It...
A dream of good fortune

A dream of good fortune

“When he’d heard the name ‘Flower Island’, he thought they were going to some paradise overlooking the ocean” – with not much more than these words, a thirteen-year old and his mother must choose between a life of increasing impoverishment and a promised alternative of redeeming ‘enoughness’. The choice seems obvious, and in Familiar Things...
Sun on grey water

Sun on grey water

There is no time or place in human history without a crisis (not even the Garden of Eden of Adam and Eve). Whether in the form of socio-political or cultural earthquakes of greater or lesser magnitude, or as underlying tensions, festering wounds or unquietened, maddening murmurs, crises are at the heart of the very act...
Bitter chocolate and the laughter of tears

Bitter chocolate and the laughter of tears

If chocolate-coated ‘Teffi’ bonbons tasted nearly as good as Nadezdha Alexandrovna Lokhvitskaya’s own prolifically produced literary confections, they must have tasted perfectly delicious: light on the palate and yet a rich mouthful; intriguingly exotic textures and aftertastes enveloping an unadulterated kernel of pure truth. ‘Teffi’ perfume would have been equally alluring, causing men to melt...
Watching the river flow

Watching the river flow

The creative process is a funny thing, but when I’m in the middle of it I don’t do much laughing. As an idea gestates in my mind, hour upon hour of writing time can flit by with my skull hitting the desk more frequently than my fingertips hit the keyboard. Trying out a new genre...
Howling whispers

Howling whispers

Aeschylus wrote the Oresteia at the age of 67, after a life that had included divine inspiration (he was advised by Dionysus in a dream that writing plays, rather than cultivating vineyards, might perhaps be his true calling), overwhelming and continuous political change in his native Athens, valour in battle during the Persian wars, fighting...
The dream of a ridiculous man

The dream of a ridiculous man

This is a dark firecracker of a book – a deceptively slim volume dominated by a single, long-drawn voice that holds tremendous evocative powers and contains almost overwhelming quantities of undiluted pain but also startling wisdom. The storyline is almost risible – and the main character is convinced that the murkiest ridicule is his quintessential...
Freedom from democracy

Freedom from democracy

The electoral process has often been compared to a marketplace in which ideas are sold by parties to voters who make their consumption choices in the voting booth. In his compelling study of American democracy, Golden Rule (1995), US political scientist Thomas Ferguson argues that we need ‘a different account of political systems in which...