Two British scholars were among six writers shortlisted for a prestigious essay prize worth £20,000 - for pieces on the First World War and living with a pet rabbit.
The winner of the Second Notting Hill Editions Essay Prize was announced at the London Literary Festival, held at King’s Place last weekend. The top prize was taken by the American novelist and activist David Bradley for a piece reflecting on the “public burial for the N-word”, held in 2007, at the “historically black Memorial Park Cemetery”.
However, two academics were among five other authors who also made the shortlist. Kate McLoughlin, associate professor of English literature at the University of Oxford, used the ongoing centenary celebrations to reconsider a book which “literary scholars and historians return to obsessively, with a mixture of admiration and irritation”, Paul Fussell’s 1975 The Great War and Modern Memory.
The admiration came, for example, from “the way in which Fussell pioneered thinking about the war in terms of its impact on cultural history” and “the emotional intensity of his argument”. Less welcome was his exclusion of female voices, for example, through “his insistence upon combat experience as the only basis on which truly to know the war”. Professor McLoughlin attempted to tease out why Fussell still matters today.
More directly personal was the essay by psychoanalyst Josh Cohen, professor of modern literary theory at Goldsmiths, University of London, about the time when he was “lumbered with the daily care of a rabbit…for a few wintry months before he lost his head to a fox”.
Unlike the hyperactive Duracell Bunny and Rampant Rabbit vibrator, he argues, his real pet seemed notable for a “serene emptiness” which “can’t be attained even by a monk in the solitude of a mountain retreat” – and “certainly not in the saturated spaces of our networked world”. But if our lives constantly require us to make decisions, why have many people noticed “an epidemic of indecision” all around us – and why did many of Professor Cohen’s patients seem to be attracted to a state of rabbit-like torpor?
The five shortlisted authors, out of 333 submissions in all, each received £1,000. These, and the winner, have now been published by Notting Hill Editions in a book titled A Eulogy for Nigger and other essays.