“You have one body and one life to live and you only get this one shot – and that reality can drive you crazy.” Ottessa Moshfegh
Contexts
Polar bears in Auschwitz

Polar bears in Auschwitz

“When I was in second grade, I found a piece of paper on my desk with the words, ‘You are a Jew’. I went home and asked: ‘Mum, what is a Jew?’ She explained that people have different religions, Christians, Protestants and Jews in Czechoslovakia. I said: ‘And we are Jews?’ The answer was a...
A complex complicity

A complex complicity

“I’ve forgotten such a lot. Most of it, really. Certain things stick of course, although I’ve no idea why. I don’t understand how it works. I read something and then I go across the room to check what’s for dinner and completely forget what I’ve just read. I think, wait a minute, I’ve only just...
Man the measure

Man the measure

Back in the roaring Sixties and Seventies, literary criticism and especially the philosophy of literary aesthetics and of socio-political analysis through literary texts acquired a distinctly ‘cool’ status. At last, academia was coming out of the dusty cupboards, climbing down from its ivory towers and marching into the streets arm in arm with the most...
Life on the edge

Life on the edge

Rodrigo Fuentes’ Trout, Belly Up is an extraordinary collection of tales that weave together to create a dark picture of contemporary rural Guatemala. The stories coalesce around Don Henrik, a kind but unlucky landowner of Scandinavian descent, whose abortive agricultural projects include trout, cardamom and melon farming. We hear from family members and employees how his attempts...
A paean to the death of Central Europe

A paean to the death of Central Europe

Józef Wittlin, like Homer’s Odysseus whom he so much admired, was a man of many minds, human experiences, geographical and national homes. Born in Galicia, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, he would come to be hailed as one of the most important voices of a new-born independent Poland. A Jew by birth, a Christian...
A fetching destination

A fetching destination

It’s not every day I find myself eyeing up pornographic imagery with a Chinese man and a veiled-up African Muslim woman. The three of us were gathered around a counter and inspecting some aphrodisiac pills, the packaging of which displayed a photo of a man (with what I pray was a prosthetic penis) in session...
Visions and monsters

Visions and monsters

The Monstrous Child, which has just completed a very successful run at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre, is one of the first and most audacious examples of a new genre: highly evocative classical opera especially written for teenage audiences. Adapted from the YA novel of the same name by Francesca Simon with music by...
You didn't understand...

You didn’t understand…

In May 2016, Gresham College in London hosted a symposium on the subject of ‘Cultural Heritage and War’. Chaired by Professor Tim Connell, it featured Sir Derek Plumbly, speaking on British and American policy and the temporal lapses between historical awareness and political action, Dr Elisabeth Kendall, discussing ‘poetry as war’, ‘poems as swords’, and...
Love, judgement and forgiveness

Love, judgement and forgiveness

“Children begin by loving their parents. After a time they judge them. Rarely, if ever, do they forgive them”, said Lord Illingworth to Mrs Arbuthnot in A Woman of No Importance. It is perhaps one of Wilde’s most chilling aphorisms, as much a witticism à clef, as it must have felt like a presentiment and...
"I remember a macabre joke..."

“I remember a macabre joke…”

“The witnesses of the Holocaust are old and nearing death. The murder of 6m Jews… will soon be history, not memory… The new horror is that this Everest of evidence [that now exists on Nazi Germany and the Final Solution] may not be working as a warning,” wrote Bryan Appleyard on 20 January 2019 in...