What are you reading? – 8 June 2017

A weekly look over the shoulders of our scholar-reviewers

June 8, 2017
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Shahidha Bari, senior lecturer in Romanticism, Queen Mary University of London, is reading Laurent Binet’s The 7th Function of Language (translated by Sam Taylor, Harvill Secker, 2017). “Binet’s first book HHhH was rapturously received, so I went into this sulky with envy, but this is a treat – hilarious, scabrous and knowing. He rewrites the death of philosopher Roland Barthes in a road ‘accident’ as a murder mystery, entangles a pre-presidential François Mitterrand and poor Roman Jakobson into the intrigue. A nincompoop French detective, in the style of Clouseau, is tasked with solving the ‘murder’ and tracking a philosophical dossier that reveals the mysterious ‘7th function of language’. It’s a rollicking ride, with Michel Foucault, Jacques Derrida, Julia Kristeva and a preening Bernard Henri-Lévy popping up to have their say. How Binet dared to risk the wrath of the French philosophical intelligentsia, I’ll never know. I dare you to read it and not hum the Pink Panther theme throughout.”

Richard Howells, professor of cultural sociology at King’s College London, is reading Rudyard Kipling’s The Complete Stalky & Co. “School stories, and presumably schools, have changed a great deal since Stalky & Co. was originally published in 1899. This is no Hogwarts – or even Jennings Goes to School. Here we have essentially affirmative representations of bullying, beating and (for example) a supposedly hilarious episode with a dead cat, secreted under the floorboards to stink out a rival dormitory. The cat had been killed especially for the purpose by our schoolboy heroes. Another episode about the cadet force and the flag presents a much more complex framing of patriotism and class when read more than 100 years on. I’ll leave it to my colleagues in other disciplines to adjudicate on Kipling’s literary merit, but to the sociologist and cultural historian, these stories are pure colonial gold.”

Carina Buckley, instructional design manager, Southampton Solent University, is reading Jack Thorne’s Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (Pottermore, 2016). “Nineteen years after the defeat of Voldemort at Hogwarts, Harry Potter must do battle again, but this time with his truculent teenage son Albus, assigned to House Slytherin and best friends with Scorpius Malfoy. Add in a time-travel device, a few spells and a certain dark lord, and you have more than the average youthful rebellion. Capturing the essence of the original series, this play – based on an original story by J. K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne – dashes along with great energy from one disaster to the next, and from one dramatic (and surely spectacular) set piece to another. While staying in familiar Rowling territory of absent fathers and troubled paternal relationships, this is ultimately about regret and how we must all learn to live with our pasts in order to face the future.”

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