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Public Talk Maynooth: Daniel Finn on ‘One Man’s Terrorist’

Dan Finn

We’ve, meaning the doctoral students in Maynooth’s Arts and Humanities Institute, been lucky enough to get access to funding to bring in a speaker that coincides with our overlapping interests, and I’m happy to ‘announce’ that Daniel Finn exists in this overlap.  He’ll be talking about his new book out from Verso but if you’re not familiar with his other writings on subjects as diverse as the PKK, Corbynism and the life and work of critic and commentator of Fintan O’Toole, you should be imo

If you happen to be around Maynooth at the advertised time, we’d be very happy to see you there!


Time to Say Good-Bye

The Untranslated

Gerard ter Borch, Man on Horseback. Image Source

There is no better opportunity to announce the closing of The Untranslated than after climbing the K2 of world literature (i. e. Stefano D’Arrigo’s Horcynus Orca), for the place of Mount Everest will always be reserved for Finnegans Wake, while Zettel’s Traum is more like the Mariana Trench. If you have read my fifth-anniversary blog post, this announcement should not come as a complete surprise. Some of my readers have been genuinely puzzled about all the effort that comes into my reviews, and this realisation has finally caught up with me. I would like to find a different use for this energy, preferably more enjoyable and fulfilling for myself. I’ve realised that being a polyglot whizz kid who can read Ulysses-like books in multiple languages and write painstakingly detailed reviews of them is not a thing for…

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Archives anarchistes

Né le le 22 janvier 1882 à Marseille. Terrassier à Aubervilliers (Seine). Anarchiste à Aubervilliers et Saint-Denis (Seine), correcteur à l’anarchie.

Petit Journal 23 décembre 1910. Gallica

Marius Beausang aurait participé au début des années 1900 à la colonie L’Essai fondée à Aiglemont (Ardennes) par Fortuné Henry. Beausang était correcteur au journal l’anarchie, selon le Petit parisien.

Il avait subi 5 condamnations.

En 1910, il connut, Jules Lefebvre dit Jully, secrétaire du syndicat des terrassiers de Saint-Denis, dans des réunions syndicales. Ils devinrent amis, Beausang se rendait journellement chez Jules Lefebvre qui vivait depuis deux ans avec Jeanne Gobinet. Beausang finit par en tomber amoureux et avertit Jully de ses sentiments envers Jeanne. Il lui fit remarquer que les principes libertaires admettaient l’amour libre. Jully sembla d’accord et Jeanne devint sa maîtresse. Puis subitement Lefebvre devint jaloux.

Le 18 mai 1910, Jully tira sur Beausang, sans…

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Fiction: ‘She Flies far From the Land’

Happy to post I’ve a short story in the winter issue of Banshee, which you can get here

She Flies Far From the Land was the first story I wrote when I first started trying to do it properly, it’s been through many many drafts and has been rejected by many many outlets and I’m so glad that its been placed in a journal as good as this un




Vegan Chocolate Orange Torte



200g of dark chocolate

1 orange

100g cornstarch

3 apples

225g caster sugar

100 cornstarch

icing sugar

100ml olive oil

Put the olive oil and chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pot of water, brought to the boil and left to simmer, till the chocolate melts.

Core your apples and place whats left in a food processor with the caster sugar until its nearly fully liquified. No need to peel them.

Peel your orange and slice each wedge into four or five relatively thin slices. You’ll need quite a sharp knife for this if you’re to avoid mangling these completely. Once they’re all cut up, throw them into your chocolate/oil mixture.

Add your apple/sugar mix to the chocolate/oil/orange mix, bring them all together.

Heat the oven to 160 C, pour your mixture into a cake tin. Bake for 25 minutes or until you can put a skewer and pull it out clean.

Once it’s cooked leave it to cool in the tin before taking it out for a bit. Leave it to cool completely on a wire rack and dust with icing sugar.

Note: If you want that a bit more fruit two oranges is fine and I’ve gotten good results from a bit less (75g) cornstarch too, the less the better if you want it to turn out lighter


Marx, Agamben, literary history and Underwood

I think Ted Underwood’s Distant Horizonsis probably the first book about computational literary studies, stylometry that I would feel confident in recommending to anyone interested in literature and not just other grad students who analyse it via stats, for the reason that the findings are so interesting on their own terms, not just because it advances promising lines of flight for the discipline, though it does that too.

The pace of change in detective versus sci-fi writing

Some of Underwood’s most interesting findings include i) the notion that the novel is a generic excrescence from biography, with a preference for physical description and sense-perception at the expense of more intricate and conceptual language, ii) that detective fiction is a far more coherent genre across time than science-fiction is and iii) segmented gender roles have become increasingly difficult to identify in fiction over the past two hundred years, and instances in which these divisions are maintained are primarily within texts written by men. By rendering these findings in the form of headlines I omit the clarifiers to which they are subject and the methods through which they were devised and I thereby do a disservice to Underwood’s work. I can only recommend that you take the time to read it yourself, as this blog will be more invested in taking up the notion of periodisation in his work by way of his previous work, Why Literary Periods Mattered.

The words which correlate with fiction (left) and those which correlate with biography (right)

If Underwood’s two books have a common ground between them, it is to challenge the terms by which literary criticism, and literary history specifically, operates. His first book provides a short history of the various institutional, historical and national interests to which the survey course, the particular modular approach in which literary history is rationalised and doled out into discrete eras or temporally bound discourses such as elizabethan, victorian, modernist etc.

The bifurcation of fiction + biography

Underwood relates the institutionalisation of these periods in university curricula to the concerns of nineteenth century historiography, and how they sustained themselves via the pre-requisites of what Gramsci would have referred to as the cultural imperatives of Fordism. Underwood does so by way of Gellner, arguing that they formed an apparatus within the nation state’s cultural legitimation: a heterogenous but shared literary history belied by an essential deep structure provides the foundation on which a collective identity may be founded.

Periodisation is therefore enormously productive, not least because it allows us to render literary history intelligible to undergraduates within increasingly industrialised universities, but it undermines our research in a number of ways. The account Underwood presents of modernist scholars nuancing what it is that makes their subject area unique versus that of their victorian colleagues (the birth of the individual, the shifting modalities of industrialisation, the growing of a gulf between the rural versus urban) rings true, and it is in this spirit that Underwood proposes his own longue duréemodel of literary history, where these changes are subsumed within much broader histories otherwise imperceptible to scholars used to focusing on quite narrow sections of the literary timeline. This would bring us to one of the more engaging findings in the book that I mentioned earlier; Underwood’s analysis does not identify the classic rise of the novel in the eighteenth century, the achievement of its classical apex in the nineteenth and its explosion in the early years of the twentieth, but rather a differentiation from non-fiction and biography along a far longer time frame. None of this necessarily invalidates the models which have been erected upon this schema; as Underwood notes, close reading needs to be a part of any literary history and far exceeds the capacity of quantitative methods at a more fine-grained textual level.

Despite the fact that I also agree with Owen Hatherley’s contention that gradualist theories of cultural production versus ones of breach and fissure are quite boring, I am with Underwood on this, as any new re-conceptualisation of literary history does need to contend with the fact that discreet phases of time are quite rarely represent decisive shifts, so much as what Lee Oser refers to as different stages in the digestion of the same metaphysic. Since coming around to stylometry myself, I’ve become more and more drawn to this notion of literary history. I nevertheless contend it leaves us with a number of other problems which I will sketch out by way of Agamben.

I was struck, when reading Agamben over the past few weeks, just how distinct his notion of temporality is when compared to that of literary criticism. It seems philosophy has far more elastic temporal boundaries as a discipline. I wouldn’t be the first to criticise Agamben’s shortcomings in respect of his speaking in broad and idealistic terms about particular intellectual trends which were fashionable or, insofar as we can tell, dominant in a particular conjuncture and thereby taking them as as representative, so we move from Aristotle to Kant to Hegel, Arendt, Heidegger, Benjamin, early modern painters and Foucault’s tendency subsume the whole of history, from the earliest of these thinkers to the last to an Entire History, which germs of the same apparatuses, laws of capture are operating effectively in perpetuity. Agamben does allow some history to emerge here and there with regard to civil liberties since 9/11 and the securitisation of the neoliberal subject, the concentration of domestic policing is one which is often missed within an contemporary account of economic forces, but these are few and far between, his notion begins with Foucault’s notion of governmentality and the instrumentalisation of the ‘mass’.

I could go on to wonder about the highly Western nature of these accounts and why the concentration camp became, for Agamben, the paradigmatic mode of being, if we accept this, and I’m not sure we should, surely we should be starting with imperialism, the training grounds for any given security state, or Prussia, rather than the civic/political divide instantiated in Aristotle’s philosophy or how Agamben reminds me of Arrighi’s critique of Gramsci which said that between coercion and consent Gramsci never contends with the kind of real social power the capitalist class have access to by virtue of their control over the means of payment and that this state of exception is in fact a disguised norm and I sort of already have, but I won’t for much longer, suffice it to say that Agamben is fairly dead set on rendering this as a logical rather than an historical argument, which is annoying. As opposed to three diagrams of two circles overlaping to varying extents you could just tell me about the British Empire.

There’s something in Agamben’s approach that touches off some of Underwood’s institutional history of comparative literature (which I hope to see him return to, there’s the germ here of a far more substantial and lengthy study that I would really relish reading about English studies pedagogy and material interest), namely, his tendency towards perennialisation, which runs parallel I think, to critiques of new modernist studies, such as one authored by identified here by Gayle Rogers. The earliest I’ve yet heard the emergence of modernist form put back to is now the fourteenth century, whereas previously I would have understood it as a pre-war phenomenon, with some fragmentary bits of proto-modernism floating around Paris in the 1850s. As Rogers argues, modernism has accumulated some degree of cachet over the past number of years and the identification of previously overlooked authors or movements as modernist, especially when they were quite avowedly not, has become sort of necessary for a new generation of grad students. To put it in more straightforward terms, there’s significant amounts of pressure behind researchers to, in the pursuit of ever-shrinking amounts of grant money, well-paid positions, to re-invent the literary-historical wheel every time they write a book. This is why Underwood’s repudiation of Marxian historiography within this overall critique of periodisation, in the same clause as Saint-Simon and Spengler (!!) are referred to, is so mystifying, as if Marx was of a kind with these two in erecting two historical moments on either side of a crevasse and never the twain shall meet. It’s a particular bugbear of minethat people read Marx’s early and polemic writings as all about the grand and powerful dialectic bestriding the planet when anyone who has taken the time to read his major works that if you are interested in how the old contains within it the seed of the new and the new the remnants of a transformed old, there is no one but no one you should be reading more attentively than Marx. It’s a bit of a shame that Underwood, who places machine learning at the centre of a new departure for quantitative literary studies precisely because of its capacity to open up computational logic to greater degrees of fuzziness and exploration is more indebted to a notion of Marxism as stagist rather than a really good way of grounding and articulating the relationship between concept and the material evidence available for it within particular contexts.

I author this more than slightly hectoring paragraph because Underwood is very aware that the most significant issues within literary criticism are structural, which is why his anecdote about a Google founder recommending teaching literary history in computer science departments rather than trying to develop the latter within English departments so chilling; this is a properly convincing solution. If periodisation represents a problem though, there needs to be some serious thought about how a posited solution doesn’t create further problems or pass over them as if they were not there. For one, in order for us and our various regimes of knowledge production to make it to the other end of the century, history is going to have to change quite quickly, everywhere and even if gradualism is a more accurate approach, and machine learning is less messianic than many of the claims which were made for DH in its early days (which has definitely been, and remains a problem) we should be wary of shedding some sense of the revolutionary altogether.

László Krasznahorkai’s ‘The World Goes On’

I sometimes wonder if developing an interest in Marxism ruined novels for me. Treating contemporary fiction as part of a broader totality of commodity production rather than a generational turnover of competing styles or dispositions means that when reading recently published novels, I become frustrated and rarely make it much further beyond the halfway point. Some of the reasons for this include i) valorising individual action, ii) making the point that nothing essential ever changes iii) not in some way emphasising that we’re twenty years into a century we won’t be coming out of. I can sometimes give a bit longer to writing which is more wry or playful because I can fool myself into thinking the elision of fundamentals might be self-conscious or deliberate, but even then it begins to grate more intensely, playing games with a failure to clarify is one of those devices I’ve seen operationalised so many, so many times times it’s become impossible for me to care about a novel postulating that there is no ultimate truth without even having the decency to be funny. To come to the point, László Krasznahorkai’s The World Goes On was the most recent book that annoyed me.  

The World Goes On is a collection of short stories, but it contains within it a certain number of tropes and recurring voices that had me thinking at first that it was a fragmentary novel, even though the blurb had told me it was a collection of short stories and I had read this blurb many times. Someone said to me recently that all short story writers are very good at doing one thing and do that same thing over and over again and I think that Krasznahorkai in fact does up to two and a half things over and over again. I’m not going to itemise those things, so much as talk about the deeper tropes or attitudes that I think they point towards, though I did skip a few of them, one in particular was an especially egregious instance of that tweetthe precise wording and authorship of which escapes me at the moment about how male writers are prone to representing women ‘her enormous breasts bounced boobily’ etc.  

Krasznahorkai is perhaps especially irritating in this respect because he intuits that there are things about modern life which are bad and that there are persisting remnants within it which have the potential of being good. There is a stable basis for proceeding here. Unfortunately, what has the potential of being good is a languid Paterian awe in the face of Art and The World. Of course this would all be a bit naff in the present conjuncture, so Krasznahorkai has it taking on a slightly sharper edge or valency, where it partakes more of a disaffection with yearning characteristics. ‘Bankers’ is one story which consists of a man named Fortinbras meeting Paul and his friend in Kiev and overhearing their conversations regarding financial transactions/their co-workers. The stories these men share are purposefully aimless and either impossible to, or not worth, following. Fortinbras spends some time in a hotel room and groans internally about the incongruous and irregularly laid out buildings in the area. A friend of mine complained to me recently of the persistence with which irregularly laid out architecture will be criticised in contemporary fiction, as if the aesthetics were the foremost problem and not that no-one can afford to live in them. I would agree with this critique, and locate its origins in the works of J.G. Ballard. I think much of Ballard’s persisting influence resides in the fungibility of his analysis and its capacity to encompass critiques of the Soviet model, the British welfare state and private capital, as if the problem with post-modernity was that it’s a bit weirdly laid out. 

The title of the collection originates in a short story of the same name which, along with ‘Universal Theseus’, presents the thesis that effectively nothing ever changes, to exist in the world is to exist in a state of slavery and what change there is can never be understood let alone challenged because everything is too complex. The former story also contains a rather bizarre digression on 9/11 and how it was without precedent, shattered all our illusions about the world that existed before, created a wholly new one and all other kinds of cod-analysis which denies its material and historical origins, consequencies. In line with this, the aforementioned ‘Bankers’ contains a paragraph which lists names of banks, ruminates on the interminable and inscrutable nature of their internal structures and the oligarchic fiefdoms they ultimately generate, variously attributed to or associated with the old communist regime, #Putin, anything other than globalised capital. In this way, Krasznahorkai abides by a very nineties understanding of politics, where the loss of older modes of kinship or cohesion in favour of a vacuous private consumption comes to be regarded as the primary issue rather than a symptom. Fortinbras then visits St. Sophia’s Cathedral and mourns that the spiritual values that the saints used to represent no longer do so. Rather than going to visit the Bulgakov house, Fortinbras’ hosts insists they sit in a kitschy café and gossip, and how Kiev is the only place where someone without a university degree can get a management job, all of which Paul, his name taking on at that stage an increasingly symbolic valency, to what end I’m not sure, insists is ‘much more interesting’. There is an acute sense of ‘the horror, the horror’ overlying all this, as if it makes a jot of difference to anything if we were all to sit around in tasteful cafés taking turns to swoon over Bulgakov or St. Sofia’s Cathedral. Fortinbras is then brought to a brothel where sex workers ply him with a drug that brings him into touch with the cosmos and I can only agree with Krasznahorkai that the problem with modern life these days is that sex workers in luxury hotels are always trying to give me drugs that allow me to experience a universal and fundamental happiness, albeit one slightly compromised and undergirded by a banal ennui. 

There’s another story about Yuri Gagarin unable to express the wonder of the cosmos in a Soviet system, which is not treated in any historical specificity, rather used interchangeably with a rationalised bureaucracy of ultimate and inhuman evil because it cannot accommodate Gagarin’s visionary religiosity and contentless humanism. In the story ‘György Fehér’s Henrik Molnar’, we read an extensive excerpt from a screenplay the narrator wrote, which effectively re-enacts Kafka’s The Trial. The screenplay’s apparent moral is that the worst thing about a man being prosecuted for no reason and no recourse is that his judges do not ‘understand’ him. What we see in Krasznahorkai then is a long and remorseful howl right from the confused heart of the weltanschauung of a liberal literatus. No wonder it was shortlisted for the booker.