What are you reading? – 2 March 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

March 2, 2017
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Lisa Hopkins, professor of English, Sheffield Hallam University, is reading Shakespeare and Greece, edited by Alison Findlay and Vassili Markidou (Bloomsbury Academic, 2017). “This is a fascinating collection that brilliantly teases out the tension between the order and authority of classical Greece and the very different status and nature of a Greece under Ottoman rule, thus also feeding into the growing interest in early modern views of Turkishness. As well as the usual suspects – Troilus and Cressida, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Timon of Athens, Pericles – the contributors manage to find evidence of a response to Greek thought and culture in some less expected places, such as King Lear and Love’s Labour’s Lost, and draw out the often neglected Greekness of The Comedy of Errors and The Two Noble Kinsmen. This really is a collection whose whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”

Matthew Feldman, professor in the modern history of ideas, Teesside University, is reading Marjorie Perloff’s The Edge of Irony: Modernism in the Shadow of the Habsburg Empire (University of Chicago Press, 2016). “This is another swell study from the doyenne of modernist studies. It uses Ludwig Wittgenstein’s notion of ‘becoming a different person’ as an apt metaphor for Austria: shrinking from 50 million subjects at the Great War’s end to 6 million citizens after the Treaty of St Germain; from polyglot Dual Monarchy to ideologically riven republic in mere months. Against this desiccated backdrop, Perloff makes the overdue case that ‘Austro-Modernism’s’ ‘deeply skeptical and resolutely individualistic’ literature has been unjustly de-canonised by scholars. This neglect is rectified with relish via chapters on Robert Musil, Elias Canetti and Joseph Roth – all maturing in Red Vienna’s ‘earthquake years’ – and ‘the greatest Holocaust poet’, Paul Celan, born as the Empire died. Especially captivating is her superb opening chapter on Karl Kraus, our contemporary in a ‘post-truth’ news-scape.”

John Shand, associate lecturer in philosophy, the Open University, is reading David Holbrook’s Nothing Larger than Life (Brynmill Press, 1987). “Written in the Eighties but set in the Sixties, this is the last of Holbrook’s 10 novels and really deserves to be in print. Holbrook was a fellow of King’s and of Downing College, Cambridge, but don’t let that give you the idea that there is anything dry or academic about this novel. It is brutal in its emotional honesty, and indeed excoriatingly revealing, as it is autobiographical and exposes the inner workings of a marriage and family. There are some Freudian reflections interwoven but also perhaps clinging uneasily to the narrative; some may find them illuminating. It’s a bruising read, but one that says and shows valuable things that many other purportedly honest novels shy away from.”

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