The Oxonian Review Fri, 30 Jan 2015 15:00:39 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Weekly Round-Up: Six Short Histories—Celebrated Survivor, Preeminent Playwright, Female Forms, Rejuvenating Rhymes, Stylish Strings, Crude Creativity Fri, 30 Jan 2015 15:00:39 +0000 The Oxonian Review presents the Weekly Round-Up, featuring articles the editorial staff have found interesting, illuminating, or otherwise noteworthy.

1. “Eileen Battersby: ‘In Memory of Primo Levi, author and Auschwitz Survivor’“, The Irish Times: Battersby remembers a meeting with the great scientist and writer, and especially his recollections of not being ‘Jewish enough’, frustration at a reputation for being a testifying witness rather than an author, and the mystery of his death.

2. “John Lahr: ‘I Want to Howl’“, The London Review of Books: a new biography of Eugene O’Neill (A Life in Four Acts by Robert Dowling) delivers on the information, according to Lahr, but not on the narrative flow needed in a great biography. Baggy, loose, stuttering: this biography fails to grip, despite its revelations about the great playwright.

3. “Kate Chisholm: ‘’Strange and Sometimes Worrying’“, The Telegraph: Chisholm’s review of David Bainbridge’s book on women’s obsessive interest in their own bodies points out the concerning dimensions of this book. Bainbridge, according to Chisholm, far from explaining the ways in which women feel pressured into adorning their own physical appearance, may instead add to that pressure.

4. “Belinda Jack: ‘The Rise of the Medical Humanities’“, Times Higher Education: it is an interesting idea that a poem could be prescribed for its medical properties. Amusement, yes; reassurance, certainly; inspiration, without a doubt. But can a poem cure us?

5. “Marion Jacobson: ‘The Rise and Fall (and Rise) of the Ukulele’“, The Atlantic: it’s back! You can’t move for the ukulele these days. This article traces the fascinating history of this modest little instrument.

6. “Adam Thirlwell: ‘Can Art Still Shock?’“, The Guardian: Grayson Perry has announced that we are now unshockable. Thirlwell hopes not. He argues passionately that the shocking art of the future will have to take on aesthetic convention as well as political orthodoxy. It is in startlingly new forms that shock may continue.


If you would like to suggest a link, please email Benedict Morrison

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I Move in Legal Circles Thu, 29 Jan 2015 08:58:59 +0000 Matthew Cheung Salisbury

The Trial
By Philip Glass & Christopher Hampton
Based on the novel by Franz Kafka
Oxford Playhouse, 3 November 2014

This is a democracy! It’s peacetime! We’re all subject to the rule of Law! What right have you to turn up in my bedroom? How dare you!

In this way begin the protestations of the tormented, bewildered everyman Josef K, a bank clerk arrested in his bedroom for unexplained reasons in the opening moments of Philip Glass’s reimagining of Kafka’s The Trial. The story is both a captivating illustration of bureaucratic nightmare and a classic tale of profound existential crisis. The defendant is unable to discover the crime of which he has been accused and the courts, which occupy almost every attic in the city, seem to be as chaotic and corrupt as their officers. Josef K seeks release in a series of traditional solutions to existential malaise, including in turn work, women, art, the Law, and finally the Church before rejecting all of these things and accepting his fate.

The Trial, which premiered at the Linbury Studio Theatre at the Royal Opera before a national tour last month, is the third Glass opera to be taken on by Music Theatre Wales, after The Fall of the House of Usher (1989) and a rendition of Kafka’s short story In the Penal Colony (2010). In the case of the latest collaboration, the novel was adapted by screenwriter Christopher Hampton (Atonement), whose faithful libretto captures both the irony and poignancy of the original with dialogue which is pithy and light of touch but also infused with potential hidden meanings.

One of the attractions of The Trial is that it feels as potent now as when Kafka first wrote it one hundred years ago. For the theatrical director Michael McCarthy, Kafka’s protagonist is “a study of modern man in a state of paranoia.” As a result, Josef K (Johnny Herford) vacillates between righteous indignation, temptation, and trusting innocence, and, like his fellow defendant Block (Michael Bennett), comes to be obsessively consumed by attempting to find out about his case. Other characters, meanwhile, are at pains to avoid taking too much responsibility for their own actions. Much here is familiar to the modern eye; as Glass remarks, “There’s nothing that would have to be changed in the script in order to bring it up to date […] in a world which has become so chaotic and bureaucratic, […] immoral and violent.”

The simplicity of production design further renders the story universal. “We’re going to place Josef K in a space,” says director McCarthy, “in which he’s almost being conducted through a social experiment, it’s like an ant being placed in a fish tank […]. [W]e’re going to completely disorientate him, play with his location.” The audience is submitted to this vision, for the sparse concrete set resembles nothing so much as a holding cell. Numerous doors and windows on mostly bare walls serve as a means of movement as well as portholes from which out-of-character cast members pointedly observe the action on stage. The resourceful lighting design by Ace McCarron carefully establishes setting and mood, and sketches unseen light sources and shadows alike to give depth to the stage. Basic objects serve to distinguish various settings, and the use of cast members to move props and furnishings encourages the idea that the world is moving wildly around the static, helpless, bewildered figure of Josef K.

That said, there is much humour in Kafka’s novel which the opera does much to exploit. Where the librettist has refined the dialogue for greater laughs, the composer adds sympathetic and sometimes archly funny music, for instance the kitsch, melodramatic musical swell following the exclamation in the first scene, “You can’t leave: you’re under arrest!” Beyond humour, though, there is also implicit, awkward historical irony in the face of this pre-totalitarian world: “We don’t put people on trial for no reason.”

Josef K is drawn more and more into the frustrating world of the Law and his case, which strangely results in neither prison nor what we would recognise as trial proceedings. Yet within this relative freedom, control, escape, and resolution are impossible; instead, Josef becomes a passive pawn at the whim of the wills and vicissitudes of others. Some work colleagues have knowledge of his arrest, and some significant action takes place at the bank. Josef’s Uncle Albert (Michael Druiett), despite a well-meaning offer of assistance, is responsible for taking him to the lawyer Huld (Gwion Thomas), who becomes the manipulative source of further intrigue. Interactions with women, played by Amanda Forbes and Rowan Hellier, have a constant sexual frisson, culminating in a romp with his lawyer’s nurse-cum-mistress. This escape route, too, is unsatisfactory. Neither is religion an answer: the penultimate scene is a long discourse between Josef K and the prison chaplain which establishes that altering the outcome of the trial is inconceivable.

With each iteration of the phrase “legal circles” in the second act it becomes clearer that the legal process and the society which suffuses it, are consigned to be circular, recursive, and repetitive, failing to make progress. In this production, circuitous movements of furniture and performers around what is noticeably the same room help to emphasise the fact that the courts and their activities are inescapable. In an interesting parallel the representative of artistic agency, the court painter Titorelli (Paul Curievici), in addition to offering scores of identical landscape paintings and inaccurate portraits of vain, junior judges, propounds an ersatz, inadequate substitute for progress: postponement of the trial rather than acquittal. This association of art with circularity, together with the fact that the exit from Titorelli’s studio leads to a corridor in the law courts, reveals that art contributes very little.

The naysaying listener might associate such circularity or lack of Affekt with the œuvre of Philip Glass himself. His work is sometimes dismissed, unfairly and unperceptively, for its apparent monotony and sameness (and, in fact, for its duplicable and seemingly identical techniques). But these qualities of gradual development and contrast from sameness here, as elsewhere, allow compositional ideas to be developed in the large-scale structure of works as well as through subtle rhythmic and harmonic variation.

The score of The Trial is at different moments oppressive and playful, with the contour of the dialogue and rhythmic mimicry of text-declamation in sung passages complemented by the composer’s signature repeated melodic intervals and regular pulse. Humourous and plaintive moments are suitably set: various settings of the word “underwear,” the rhythmic motif accompanying floor-scrubbing, and Fraulein Bürstner’s exclamation “No, go away, stop torturing me!” would not be out of place in lighter musical theatre. Equally, saccharine, legato strings led by a flute accompany the query “Heart playing up again?” at the sickbed of lawyer Huld, while accompaniment for the prison chaplain’s speech is as rich and flexible as the voice of dramatic bass-baritone Nicholas Folwell. The final, upsetting scene may seem to be a dramatic departure from the rest of the second act, resuming relentless progress towards the inevitable (“Tomorrow I would have been thirty-one. I’m not going one more step”) is characterised by hemiola, greatly expanded percussion, a mesmeric klezmer-like motif in the trumpet, and haunting vocalise before the brass stabs one last time through the texture.

The court “wants nothing from you,” says the prison chaplain, and “releases you as you go.” The end of The Trial is, in a sense, peripheral to the working-out of the proceedings, a departure from the legal circles that define life. Throughout the two-hour performance of The Trial the listener’s senses and understanding, normally calibrated for the blatant and literal, are re-fashioned through humour, irony, and Glass’s unusually diverse and innovative musical palette so that divergences from the pattern, from the established and quotidian, become even more noticeable, and like the ultimate verdict of all trials, the whole picture—sonic, moral, and relational—“is not suddenly pronounced, it slowly evolves from the proceedings.”

Matthew Cheung Salisbury is lecturer in music at University College, Oxford.

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Photo of the Week: Dajeong at Gwangjang Wed, 28 Jan 2015 23:12:16 +0000 Andrew Cummings


Korea is famed for its traditional food, and one of the best places to try it is at a market. Gwangjang market in Seoul is one of my favourites. It’s can be hard to know where to look sometimes: halmeoni (elderly women) call at customers to sit down, ajumma (middle-aged women) bark at you to move out of their way, people talk and laugh, and all the while your eyes are led from seaweed rolls to spicy rice cakes to cow guts. Sometimes, the best thing to do is simply to take a seat and chew on pig intestines – it’s surprisingly therapeutic (not to mention tasty).

This term, we are featuring photographs by Andrew Cummings, a graduate of St Anne’s College, Oxford. He now lives in Seoul, South Korea, where he does lots of things, including teaching, studying, translating, and taking photographs. You can find more photos by visiting his Flickr or tumblr pages and can follow him on Instagram.

If you have a photo to submit, please email Laura Ludtke.

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Ereignis Tue, 27 Jan 2015 10:26:10 +0000 Marcel Inhoff



schrill fiel das licht
in den erhabenen raum
gesäumt von aufrechten

zwei schlossen sich
miteinander ein und mit
dem gefallenen licht


A shrill light fell
in that elevated space
lined with uprights

two joined together
with each other and with
the fallen light

translated by Alfred Corn





Marcel Inhoff is a German literary scholar, translator, poet, writer, and reader. His first German poetry collection Prosopopeia has just been published.

Alfred Corn is a prizewinning poet, novelist and critic. Among his most recent publications are the poetry collections Unions (2014), Tables (2013) and the novel Miranda’s Book (2014).

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Weekly Round-Up: Consciousness’s Confusions, Sade’s Satisfactions, Cliché’s Calamity, Philosophy’s Fulfilment, Eagleton’s Evaluations, Larkin’s Labours Fri, 23 Jan 2015 14:28:44 +0000 The Oxonian Review presents the Weekly Round-Up, featuring articles the editorial staff have found interesting, illuminating, or otherwise noteworthy.

1. “Oliver Burkeman: ‘‘Why Can’t the World’s Greatest Minds Solve the Problem of Consciousness’“, The Guardian: Burkeman traces the disputes between Science and Philosophy over the Hard Problem of Consciousness: how does the brain create our sense of being? Does pain really exist? What are zombies thinking? Do iphones have feelings? Tied in with Tom Stoppard’s new play on consciousness—The Hard Problem—this is a gripping read.

2. “Tony Perrottet: ‘Who Was the Marquis de Sade?’“, Smithsonian Magazine: was Sade a pioneer proto-psychoanalyst? A champion of gay rights? The author of the first pro-women novel in Europe? Or a scandalous misogynist, who dabbled in depravity in order to secure his own immortality?

3. “Joseph Epstein: ‘Sound Familiar? A Report from the Battlefield in the War on Clichés’“, The Weekly Standard: we are surrounded by clichés, that source of ready refuge for the unoriginal. Orin Hargraves, in It’s Been Said Before, is out to exterminate the pest, to rid us of cliché by exposing its feebleness. Journalism and the mighty blogosphere, as the true homes of cliché, are Hargaves’ first targets. Instead, as we write and read prose, Hargraves advocates imagination and precision.

4. “John Fanning: ‘The Uses of Art’“, The Dublin Review of Books: Fanning defends Alain de Botton from those who would dismiss him as a lightweight, pseudo-philosophical pragmatist, out only to dupe impressionable readers. Instead, we encounter a de Botton who encourages a genuinely thoughtful and humane view of the world and the possibility of further study in philosophy.

5. “John Schad: ‘Interview with Terry Eagleton’“, Times Higher Education: Terry Eagleton, star of many publications including The Oxonian Review, gives another interview. He explains why he likes to be described as a Communist these days, what it was like to grown up amongst the Catholic Left, and the importance of comedy to Radical politics. Whether Eagleton’s words are source of hope or despair is for each reader to decide.

6. “Dana Gioia: ‘The Greatness of Philip Larkin’“, Commentary: Larkin’s greatness as a poet, this article suggests, emerges only when it is disentangled from Larkin’s disappointment as a man. Do not let, the warning goes, his murky politics put you off. For his poems resonate with a generosity and beauty which his biography cannot prepare us for.


If you would like to suggest a link, please email Benedict Morrison

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From Dereliction To Innovation Thu, 22 Jan 2015 07:18:36 +0000 Elaine Lillian Joseph

Birmingham Open Media,
Chaos Computer Club Exhibition

15 November 2014-1 March 2015
Tuesdays to Sundays

As the youngest city in Europe, it is understandable that Birmingham goes through periodic identity crises. How can it define itself against its big sister capital? Does it deserve its second city status? Now something is happening in Birmingham. There is change in the air, in the bricks even. The old is being unceremoniously torn down to make way for a tidal wave of urban regeneration, centring on the £600m refurbishment of New Street station due to open later this year and the ever-controversial High Speed Rail (HS2) estimated to cost a staggering £50bn. But among the latest string of “Birmingham boom” articles heralding the city as a profitable alternative to London, there is an overwhelming focus on infrastructure, business and real estate, and a worrying absence of culture.

The second city has pioneered developments in technology and science since the Industrial Revolution, and so it seems natural that Birmingham’s newest cultural space is a hub dedicated to contemporary creative technologies—art fully integrated into the digital age. Nestled in the city centre’s most vibrant district, Southside, home to Theatreland, the Chinese Quarter and the Gay Village, Birmingham Open Media (BOM) brings a new model of digital innovation to the city. So often criticised for cutting us off from the world, BOM celebrates technology as a platform for collaboration, interaction and communication. A smorgasbord of creative disciplines, exploring the interstices of art, science and technology, co-inhabit open working space and help to develop BOM’s artistic programme with an emphasis on public participation.

This spring BOM will plug into BBC Digital Week (16-20 March), University of Birmingham’s Arts and Science Festival (18-24 March) and Flatpack Film Festival (19-29 March), as well as launching its own international programme of live talks and workshops streamed to arts and science spaces in Amsterdam and Brussels. Unlike most galleries and cultural venues, BOM transforms visitors into citizen scientists, DIY biologists and amateur coders with its interactive exhibitions and educational workshops.

The current exhibition in collaboration with the Chaos Computer Club (CCC), the largest group of ethical hackers in Europe responsible for one of the most internationally infamous hacks to date, features playful installations that challenge the viewer’s conception of personal data. Artists Leon Trimble and Lily Wales respond to the CCC’s recent research into modern security in their collaborative piece Recreational Retina. The disconcerting effect of the artist’s staring eye dares the viewer to stare back in an endless loop of surveillance and the piece also invites visitors to become part of the installation with their fingerprints scanned and projected onto the gallery’s white walls.

It is intrusive, it is provocative and unnerving but most of all, the exhibition encourages visitors to “be aware” (fittingly the name of BOM’s free wireless internet) of their social and cultural responsibility when using technology. In an age where we are monitored more than ever by third parties, the CCC and cultural laboratories like BOM inspire us to help shape this digital generation. BOM’s commitment to open culture, funded by a diverse range of support from universities to property investors, enables knowledge and workshops to be offered for free to its visitors. And in turn this brokers the distance between audience members and artist, technologist, ethical hacker or scientist in order to create an integrated and intelligent community of movers and shakers, devoted to pushing new innovations in technology.

Never before has a co-working space for artists and members of the public been so centrally based. There is an unmistakable buzz in Birmingham’s city centre and a sense that a space of this kind was long overdue. Indeed Karen Newman, former curator at the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology (FACT) and OpenEye in Liverpool, re-imagined a site that had been derelict for ten years and pushed the model of a digital laboratory, as a centre to plug the regional gap in digital skills and nurture new conversations and experimentation in the public eye. The new space boasts a gallery, a wetlab, a darkroom, two commercial partners and numerous studios to hire. In March the BOM Artist Fellows will stage their upcoming projects and collaborations in the gallery, live before various audiences, exploring computer programming in art, open science, and ethical hacktivism, all essentially looking at how we can re-imagine technology. It is this ability to re-imagine and regenerate that keeps Birmingham fresh and relevant, despite the odd bit of identity angst. The city and its thinkers, artists and creative public can tinker away at the old to give us new perspectives into the digital future.

Elaine Lillian Joseph graduated last year with a BA in English and German from The Queen’s College, Oxford.

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Photo of the Week: Pipe Dreams Wed, 21 Jan 2015 18:38:36 +0000 Andrew Cummings


Growing up by the countryside, we were always exploring places, climbing trees, and building dens. In cities, though, it’s feels harder to do that: your route from A to B is mapped out by urban planners, your sense of adventure hindered by a barrage of ‘no entry’ signs. It’s one thing I miss about living at home. Recently, I’ve been trying to recreate that in Seoul, interacting with the city in the same adventurous way you might with nature. This time, we climbed on pipes, we danced, we hid from each other, we did handstands on the railings

This term, we are featuring photographs by Andrew Cummings, a graduate of St Anne’s College, Oxford. He now lives in Seoul, South Korea, where he does lots of things, including teaching, studying, translating, and taking photographs. ou can find more photos by visiting his Flickr or tumblr pages and can follow him on Instagram.

If you have a photo to submit, please email Laura Ludtke.

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Germany: A Nation Built, Represented, And Remembered By Men Tue, 20 Jan 2015 08:43:25 +0000 Ellen Pilsworth

Germany: Memories of a Nation. A 600-year history in objects
16 October 2014-25 January 2015 at the British Museum,
and BBC4 radio series,
Germany: Memories of a Nation, presented by Neil MacGregor

The British Museum’s exhibition and BBC 4’s 2014 radio series on the history of Germany have been met with wild enthusiasm and an unexpected amount of interest. If you scroll through the tweets using #MemoriesOfaNation over the last few months , some have raved about Neil MacGregor’s elocutionary brilliance and others have responded positively to specific items on display in the exhibition. A few, however, are rather less impressed. The exhibition and series have been criticised for being too simplistic, too cramped, for focussing too much on high culture, or for funnelling complex issues into too obvious nutshells. (The GDR is represented only by the fall of the Berlin Wall, for example). My personal criticism is that both the exhibition and radio series’ view of Germany is completely dominated by men. Charlemagne, Dürer, Luther, Gutenberg, Goethe, the Grimms, Marx, Bismarck, Wilhelm, Hitler—oh, and Käthe Kollwitz (twice.) This is how you could sum up the approach of both the exhibition and the radio series. I ask—what about all those German women?

The purpose of the exhibition and radio series are ostensibly to get a fresh look at the rich and complex history of a nation blighted by its most recent past. It is a shame that the organisers did not take this opportunity to question the way we traditionally view history in general—as being the collected stories of a few well-educated and powerful men and what they said and did. It could have been mentioned, for example, that the Grimm brothers learned most of their fairytales from their female acquaintances. An interesting addition to the Goethe shrine could have been something about Bettina Brentano, whose Goethe’s Correspondence with a Child (Goethe’s Briefwechsel mit einem Kind) presents the author from a less obvious perspective. Charlemagne could have been offset by Hildegard von Bingen (medieval visionary, polymath, writer, and composer). The Nazi propaganda film poster of The Eternal Jew (Der ewige Jude) might have been presented beside a copy of Anne Frank’s diary, and perhaps a “Mutterkreuz” (Cross of Honour of the German Mother) would have provided greater insight into what it meant for German people to live in Nazi Germany. Instead, the only women to be mentioned by name in the collection are Käthe Kollwitz (who also makes a guest appearance as model for Ernst Barlach’s statue, Der Schwebende) and the Bauhaus ceramic artist Grete Marks. True, the exhibition does feature a pair of objects that suggest the involvement of women in the history of the country, such as the cart used by refugees expelled from Eastern Europe in 1956 which was probably dragged by a woman, or the child’s vest made from paper—probably also made by a mother trying to keep her child warm. Yet these are minor pieces in the exhibition as a whole.

However, women do appear figuratively and symbolically in the collection, though for different purposes. From the early modern period there are the broadsheets using sensationalist images of women, be that for their eroticism (as in the illustrated commentary for the song of songs, depicting a naked female dancer), or their fright factor (as in the image of female Siamese twins). A print of a Hans Sachs poem mocks marriage and presents women as terrors to their husbands. This section of the exhibition presents a series of early modern stereotypes of women—exotic, erotic, uncontrollable, frighteningly “other”. A comment showing some awareness of early modern gender ideas in Germany could have made these images more useful as part of the history of a nation that has always included women as well as men.

From the modern period, there are examples of art works that use women deliberately in the process of symbolising national or historical events. For example, we see a porcelain statue of Luise and Friederike, (members of the nineteenth-century German royal family), but sadly there is no mention of the way Luise was idolised as the ideal of feminine “Germanness”. Skipping ahead to the aftermath of the Second World War, we see Max Lachnit’s sculpture, Bust of a Trümmerfrau. This does finally acknowledge one way in which German women have been actively involved in the building of their nation (as does the radio programme dedicated to it) if only in the sense captured by Mrs Lintott in Alan Bennett’s The History Boys, who asks, “What is history? History is women following behind … with a bucket.” In Ernst Barlach’s statue Der Schwebende, woman is again used in a figurative sense. Those who died in the First World War are memorialised in the figure of an angel with the face of Käthe Kollwitz, her eyes gently closed. Kollwitz’s son was killed in the war, and here she represents the archetypal figure of “the grieving mother”. Whilst Kollwitz’ own work often depicts grieving fathers and mothers, it is grounded in a realist aesthetic that does not shy away from the suffering and destruction inflicted on families by war. Barlach’s use of the female figure to represent something transcendent is much more traditional—somehow anaesthetised—and distances the work from the realities of war in a way that Kollwitz’ own work never does. It is a shame that none of her own pieces from this period were displayed.

The final piece on view in the exhibition is Gerhard Richter’s Betty (c. 1991). The painting shows his daughter Betty turned away from the viewer to regard one of his other art works, which becomes the background of the image. Though the exhibition presents this as a work interrogating the conflicts between generations, asking where young Germans will look for their cultural identity in the future, we could equally read it as a piece exploring the failure of our cultural narratives to adequately address the role of men and women in history. If what we want is a complete picture of a whole German nation and its history, like Betty, we will have to look elsewhere.

Ellen Pilsworth graduated in 2012 with a BA in English and German from The Queen’s College, Oxford. She is currently a PhD candidate in German at University College London.

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Metaphors Behaving Badly Mon, 19 Jan 2015 01:18:34 +0000 Fergus McGhee

Denis Donoghue
Harvard University Press, 2014
£18.95 (hardback)
240 pages
ISBN: 99780674430662

Discussions of metaphor tend to begin with Aristotle. Denis Donoghue, however, refuses to bend the knee. “The understanding of metaphor,” he writes, “has been inordinately governed by a few sentences that Aristotle jotted down sometime between the years 360 and 355 [BC].” Refreshingly, the philosopher doesn’t make an appearance in Metaphor for sixty or so pages, which gives a good indication of the book’s distinctive approach to the subject. Despite its bluntly definitive title, Metaphor is neither an introductory primer nor by any means comprehensive. Donoghue is a delightfully idiosyncratic guide, who complements his literary enthusiasms with adventurous critical interests. If his study suffers from a certain lack of focus (and, it has to be said, some lousy editing), it is redeemed by its verve and suggestiveness.

For Aristotle, metaphor was one of the ornaments of rhetoric, literally (or rather, metaphorically) hêdusma, “seasoning” to the meat of discourse, to be sprinkled with discretion. Aristotle’s characteristic caution extends to the composition of metaphors as well as their use. The peculiar genius of metaphor, he thought, was to perceive similarities in things dissimilar—but not too dissimilar. He scorns the far-fetched, just as Samuel Johnson would censure poetry like Donne’s, in which “the most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together.” A metaphor that oversteps the boundaries of decorum is what Johnson would call, in a term dripping with implication, a “conceit”. For Donoghue, by contrast, it is of the very essence of metaphor to be badly behaved (although he is careful to admit that most metaphors do indeed toe the Johnsonian line).

Donoghue arrives at this view by applying considerable pressure to the relation between a metaphor’s two elements. These are conventionally defined as “tenor” and “vehicle” (as in “Juliet [tenor] is the sun [vehicle]”) after the example of I.A. Richards, whose Philosophy of Rhetoric (1936) laid the groundwork for much modern thinking about metaphor. Donoghue has an ingenious metaphor of his own for thinking about this relation, which he is led to via an autobiographical excursion.

As a boy growing up in County Down, Donoghue used to stroke the syllables of Thomas Aquinas’ great Latin hymns, Panis angelicus and Adoro te devote. Like the “metaphysical” poetry Donoghue clearly admires, Aquinas’ lyrics are lush with metaphor and wordplay. He hones in on the angelic doctor’s use of the word figura: in the first hymn, the heavenly bread puts an end to figures (figuris terminum), while in the second, God is said to hide himself under figures (sub his figuris vere latitas). But Aquinas isn’t talking about rhetorical figures; by figurae he means the multitude of visible forms through which an invisible God makes himself legible. Read aright, almost everything could be found to testify to the divine, but the most prominent figurae were those Old Testament “type” figures whom the Fathers had interpreted as foreshadowing Christ, from Isaac to Moses. This is what Panis angelicus is getting at: the consecrated host, embodying the real presence of Christ, banishes such pale portents with its own blinding light, even as it fulfills their promise.

The exegetes of the early church thus endowed the events of the Old Testament with what Donoghue calls “a metaphorical destiny”. With the exception perhaps of Origen, for whom the Old Testament had to be read in the light of the New if it were to be the slightest bit worthwhile, they paid due respect to the tenor while affirming the shatteringly interruptive character of the vehicle. Metaphors of this kind have a prophetic quality, and, like prophets, tend to be considered a nuisance by sensible persons. To those of a classical disposition, they flaunt every principle of good taste; to Romantics like Donoghue, they are triumphs of imaginative liberty. “Metaphor,” he writes, “expresses one’s desire to be free, and to replace the given world by an imagined world of one’s devising.”

For Donoghue, then, metaphors are more than just clever comparisons. It is this that distinguishes them from similes, which tend to draw attention to local degrees of likeness on the reader’s behalf. If similes invite us to admire their own brilliance, there is also something limited about what they can achieve: in a simile, “each of the constituents holds its character; nothing is changed.” Metaphors both demand more of us and give us more in return. Given Donoghue’s passion for quotation, it’s a shame he couldn’t make space for Coleridge, who is better on this subject than anybody:

You feel him [Shakespeare] to be a poet, inasmuch as, for a time, he has made you one—an active creative being.

This creative participation is not a simple case of mapping correspondences from a source to a target, as cognitive linguists like George Lakoff and Mark Johnson like to insist. For one thing, as Richards pointed out, disparities between tenor and vehicle are just as operative in any metaphor as similarities. And nor is it really a question of saying “A is B”. Donoghue agrees with Northrop Frye that metaphor is not so much a matter of predication as of perspective: closing the distance between two things, not necessarily making any assertions. It means giving something “a different life, a new life.” And (again, pace the cognitivists) it goes both ways. “Interaction” is the obvious word: Donoghue prefers Donne’s splendid coinage, “interinanimation”.

Donoghue’s book, I should say, is not short of examples. They are woven into the fabric of his zigzagging narrative, and his finely-tuned close readings both instruct and delight, a depressingly rare combination. By contrast, too often the critical literature he adduces is allowed to go without comment, such that it is often difficult to tell exactly what Donoghue thinks of the point at issue. These difficulties are compounded by a general lack of historical perspective; to the extent that they are situated within wider historical and intellectual contexts, Vico and Schlegel and Paul Ricoeur might as well be contemporaries. Donoghue is further let down by some distinctly shoddy editing: at a trivial level, this manifests itself in spelling mistakes (“the philosopher Thomas Nagle”), wandering punctuation, mistitled books (“The Metaphors We Live By”) and careless tautologies (“mostly… for the most part…”). On a more serious scale, a lengthy Kafka quotation is permitted to appear twice over, while an entire paragraph of observations about Proust, which appears on page 132, is repeated verbatim on page 171. Although insignificant in themselves, collectively these lapses create an impression of haste.

Let’s return to those elegant examples. Donoghue draws our attention to George Herbert’s ‘Prayer (I)’, noting its paratactic “procession” of metaphors, twenty-seven in all, from “the Churches banquet” to “something understood”. These figures do not depend upon resemblance: “each is a quality or power linked now to prayer, not already found there.” As the late American philosopher Max Black suggested, it often makes more sense “to say that the metaphor creates the similarity than to say that it formulates some similarity antecedently existing.” Not that Herbert’s metaphors are in the business of assertion (the poem contains no verb); they persuade by simply offering no alternative.

To many commentators, this insinuating power is evidence enough of metaphor’s fundamental shiftiness. Ideas that keep dodgy company are apt to get themselves into trouble, as the narrator of Middlemarch memorably suggests:

For we all of us, grave or light, get our thoughts entangled in metaphors, and act fatally on the strength of them.

Donoghue demonstrates that the narrator draws a false conclusion here: Casaubon’s fatal misprisions, he shows us, are not metaphorical but literal. He was mistaken in marrying Dorothea, but not because he thought of her as money in the bank, as his metaphor about “large drafts on his affections” implied. Indeed, if one might be indulged in a spot of good old-fashioned character criticism, the comparison seems both beneath his sensibility and beyond his wit.

Donoghue also pours cold water on the cognitivist claim that so-called “dead” metaphors insidiously condition our ways of thinking because they litter our language. If I say your argument is without foundation, it’s rather feeble to protest that if only I thought about argument as a merry dance rather than a building I might see things differently.

That said, I doubt whether metaphors are as benign as Donoghue seems to think. Indeed, they strike me as one of the deadliest instruments of malice available to language. In Great Expectations, Wemmick is described as having “such a post-office of a mouth that he had a mechanical appearance of smiling.” It’s the kind of insult that it is simply not possible to refute, like Faulkner’s wicked description of Henry James as “one of the nicest old ladies I ever met.” If Labour lose the next election, to what extent could we attribute such an outcome to the wag who first called Ed Miliband “Wallace”?

I wonder, too, what Donoghue would make of Worcester’s denunciation of the metaphor-drunk Harry Hotspur in Henry IV, Part I:

He apprehends a world of figures here,
But not the form of what he should attend.

Unlike Casaubon, Hotspur really does seem to lose his head in the pursuit of his own metaphors (“To pluck bright honour from the pale-fac’d moon…”) and his intoxication becomes a substitute for a serious politics. Or is his honest romanticism to be preferred to Worcester and Northumberland’s pragmatic plottings?

The impulse to be elsewhere, to escape from “the importunity of objects, things, and faces” runs deep in the motive for metaphor, argues Donoghue. This is especially so in the wilder regions of Symbolist and modernist poetry, from Rimbaud’s “slow kiss rising to the eyes of the ocean” (from Le Bateau ivre) to Hart Crane’s “adagios of islands” (from Voyages). These examples lend weight to Donoghue’s lyrical description of metaphor as “an irruption of desire, specifically the desire to transform life by reinterpreting it, giving it a different story.”

But they also contradict another of his claims, namely that “if something is possible in language, it is possible at least as a mental entity, a picture, and therefore a figure.” The dependence of metaphor upon imagery seems reasonable at first glance, and has been theorized by everyone from Aristotle to Hegel, but there is cause for scepticism. Donoghue’s remark sounds suspiciously close to an archaic conception of language in which words correspond to particular mental images, as if “uttering a word [were] like striking a note on the keyboard of the imagination”, as Wittgenstein contemptuously puts it in the Philosophical Investigations (1953). Metaphors may indeed give rise to a play of images, but this isn’t always the case. What does an adagio of islands look like?

Crane’s metaphor doesn’t bow to so mundane a power as common sense. It is “scandalous to resemblance” and “indifferent to shame.” Donoghue is quoting Crane again when he says that such metaphors offer us “the thrill of ‘new thresholds, new anatomies.’” This is the exhilarating rhetoric of a high Romantic, a Shelley, for whom poetry “creates anew the universe”. In Thieves of Fire (1973), Donoghue had written about the Promethean imagination that “does not allow objects to assert themselves or to hold out for their right”, and we might well expect the man who wrote the book on Walter Pater (Walter Pater, 1995) to sympathize. Indeed, although he does not make the reference, Donoghue’s conception of metaphor corresponds closely to Pater’s definition of Romanticism: the pursuit of “a strange beauty, to be won, by strong imagination, out of things unlikely or remote.”

Yet Donoghue’s romance with metaphor ends with what he calls “blank failure”. Wallace Stevens’ late poem ‘The Motive for Metaphor’ is the occasion of this breakdown. Stevens strikes a Worcesterish pose as he defines that motive as a matter of “shrinking from / The weight of primary noon, / The ABC of being.” As Donoghue says, had he written nothing else we might have taken him for a “sturdy realist” (though even here his language betrays him: what would Johnson have made of “the weight of primary noon”, one wonders?) Like Stevens, Donoghue has always been acutely conscious that there is a cost to asserting one’s own imagination. Or to put it another way, metaphors have the faults of their virtues, just like the rest of us. On a bad day, the desire to transform the world can look awfully like an attempt to run away from it. In his 1968 book The Ordinary Universe, Donoghue envisaged a perpetual rivalry between “Supreme Fictions” and “Ordinary Things”. The secret is they depend on each other. The romance of idealism, as well as its weakness, is precisely that it goes too far. Metaphor, our revolutionary hero, may be doomed to a “noble defeat”, but what could be more irresistible?

Fergus McGhee is reading for a second BA in English at Harris Manchester College, Oxford. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Oxonian Review.

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A Knack for Profundity? Mon, 19 Jan 2015 01:16:38 +0000 Hugh Burling

Graham Ward
Unbelievable: Why We Believe and Why We Don’t
IB Tauris, 2014
£20 (hardback)
288 pages
ISBN: 9781780767352

The latest publication of Oxford’s Regius Professor of Divinity, Graham Ward, is a rich offering. It is simultaneously a work in philosophy of mind, epistemology, applied psychology, neuroscience, archaeology and bio-anthropology. Ward’s analysis of the way in which assenting to ideas and acting on them runs through, and is conditioned by, all human behaviour casts a wide net in search of stimuli. There are extended accounts of theories in evolutionary anthropology and neuroscience in Part I. Parts II and III are high- and low-cultural criticism in the modern theological vein at its best: suggestive and inspiring while remaining accessible. In one sense the scope of this book is ambitious, tying together so many and such diverse threads. In another, however, it is cautious, conservative even: Ward’s highly ambiguous style makes it difficult to discern what precise claims he wishes to defend, and this reader could never be quite sure whether they were more than unsurprising commonplaces with which few working in epistemology or philosophy of mind could disagree.

Perhaps these are not the people Unbelievable was written for. Nevertheless, there are surely standards of exposition and scholarship appropriate both to “academic” and “popular” books. When Ward cites evidence from fields he’s not expert in, does he choose uncontroversial figures to represent the consensus in those fields? If Unbelievable is a popularizing project, does he put lay readers in touch with illuminating further reading? The answer to both these questions is, sadly, no. There are no page references, despite extended quotations full of ambiguous terms. The bibliography doesn’t include all the works cited (or, at least, there’s no indication as to which of the works in the bibliography a citation is from). The scientific works cited are almost all coffee-table forays into the philosophy of mind or religion by neuroscientists and evolutionary anthropologists. One thing a non-specialist reader needs is confidence that the author understands the specialist material he is representing, and presents it faithfully. By the time Ward was quoting an archaeologist’s description of her own dreams as evidence that the Chauvet caves were the site of pre-historic mystery cults, most of my confidence had been undermined.

There’s no point, however, at which Ward tells us this is a book aimed to entertain a general intellectual audience, rather than those better acquainted with any of the debates at hand. There is a persistent, breathless rhetoric of innovation and urgency throughout, which suggests that Unbelievable may be a presentation of positive research, not just a way of inspiring a lay readership to think more carefully about their political and religious beliefs. Ward describes it as an “interdisciplinary project” and he does occasionally claim to be making an “argument”, an “investigation”, the conclusion of which concerns something which “is really at stake”. (The thinkers and scientists he draws on are almost all “groundbreaking”—I presume the intention here is to glorify the sources and let that reflect on Unbelievable. Perhaps Hegel was “groundbreaking” in 1807, but I suspect his glory is too far and faded to reach us now.)

So it seems that familiar standards can be legitimately applied when assessing how sound his “argument” is and how successful his “investigation”. Does he choose salient evidence for his conclusions? Are the conclusions warranted by that evidence? Are the conclusions stated precisely enough for us to know what it would mean for us to disagree with them? Ward uses a range of strategies to make these questions too difficult for readers to answer confidently. The most identifiable of these strategies is the use of the central terms of his discussion—“belief”, “disposition”, “intentionality”—in a deeply ambiguous way, their connotations and implications shifting from page to page. Fallacies of equivocation, not to mention just plain non sequiturs, sing their siren song in every chapter.

Part I sets out to give us an “archaeology” and “architecture” of believing. Ward claims that he wants us to think of “belief” as a “disposition”, but a disposition to do what? The most often implied answer is “a disposition to believe”, which leaves us none the wiser about how he’s using the term “belief”. He brings to the table lots of evolutionary anthropology to make the case that “belief”, construed in this way, is inevitable for human beings since the activities belief is a disposition to do are what distinguish us from animals (notice that circularities loom unless “disposition” gets defined differently from the way Ward uses it). His “architecture” of believing mixes in some cognitive psychology and neuroscience to push the well-established notion that beliefs, affections and bodily states are connected in all sorts of interesting, and problematic, ways. Ward advertises these views—a dispositional rather than attitudinal view of belief, and the interdependence of feelings, bodily states, and beliefs—as controversial and revolutionary using a well-worn strategy: find a group of analytic philosophers writing decades ago who pushed the initial, simple versions of a now discredited or much-refined view; identify all current mainstream philosophy with that view; reject that view. Now, as far as the non-specialist reader is concerned, the author is a revolutionary striking out against an obviously mistaken consensus.

This strategy works even better if the author can misrepresent the philosophical view, and recent science, enough to make it look as though the science discredited the philosophy. That way, he can make himself look like a man of the future and mainstream philosophers look like vain speculators. Ward readily avails himself of this technique, seeming to present the anthropology and neuroscience as empirical evidence for his views about the “architecture of belief”. Doing so, however, sits very ill with his postmodern jibes at the scientific method that crop up now and again: we’re told that “Enlightenment aspirations to objectivity have been shown to be myths masking various levels of human interest and cultural bias”, and psychobiologist David Lewis-Williams is castigated for believing in the hypotheses supported by his research in spite of the fact that his job and lab exist in a social context. It’s not at all clear how Ward can claim the scientific method is unreliable because it’s socially constructed, whilst also claiming its deliverances as good evidence for his views.

There are other hangovers from Ward’s days as a leader among the movement of postmodern theologians known as “Radical Orthodoxy”, which sought to cast all post-Medieval intellectual developments merely as heretical deviations from the manifest truth of Patristic theology. An undefined rationalist bogeyman lurks just beyond view at all times, totemically kept at bay with periodical repudiations of “Western rationalization” and “Post-Cartesian lenses”. There is the occasional sentence which appears to have been algorithmically generated by the Modern Theology Profundity Machine™: “this is the origin of conscious belief: the going out of oneself—that’s a projection—towards a recognition of communication with the other that makes the self also understand something about itself.” Somewhat more irritating are the inventive discussions of the meanings of Greek words and one particular passage in which the grammar of Hebrews 11:1 is made out to have highly implausible phenomenological or metaphysical implications: Ward reckons that the “is” in “faith is the substance of things hoped for” is Paul’s description of “the ontological conditions within which the subject [faith] is located.” This strikes me as, at best, a confusing way to explain what that verb is doing here.

Parts II and III are more successful, possibly because appeals to scientific evidence imply one’s position is being held to a high bar for substantiation and precision. The exercise of unpacking music videos, Tolkein, and Graham Greene with the help of Sartre, Barthes and Merleau-Ponty is a different sort of intellectual activity, subject to subtler standards. Part II suggests that coming to assent to an idea and live by it requires imaginative work. This is an important proviso to the more familiar claim outlined in Part III that works of the imagination, far from being innocent entertainments or pristinely aesthetic objects, are thoroughly inscribed by ideology. Ward’s presentation of the way in which Lana Del Rey and Chris Brown appeal to messianic motifs to tie patriotism and romantic satisfaction up with moral victory and the hope of salvation is intelligent, plausible and exciting.

The latter two parts thus present a non-hostile variation on an old-fashioned Marxist hermeneutics of suspicion: Ward tells us not to take for granted our meaning-making structures, but not to presume there’s anything “behind” them, or that the one we have is not the one we should want. This is the sort of message which a general intellectual audience needs to hear. Those of us who aren’t sceptical about political messaging should be. Those of us who are already disciples of suspicion should recognise that the provenance or purpose of a superstructure does not necessarily make it misleading.

Finally, Ward attempts to argue, with the help of Merleau-Ponty (and insisting, but not showing, that the science in Part I supports this view), that the meaning-making, the filling in of epistemic gaps, in which we always and must engage even in looking at household objects and identifying them, goes beyond the “visible” in a way that allows beliefs in and about invisible objects (such as God) to be regarded as natural, legitimate extensions of what every atheist also does when they “see” the sides on the back of a cube. Expressed in the terms of mainstream epistemology of religion, rules of rationality which rule out theistic belief can be shown to lead to radical skepticism. But this, again, is a view at least as old as Thomas Reid and John Henry Newman.

Hugh Burling is reading for a PhD in philosophy of religion at St John’s College, Cambridge.

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