Sad to hear that Robert M. Pirsig, the American writer and philosopher best known for his “novelistic autobiography” Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, has died at the age of 88. Laurel Wamsley reports for NPR:
“Zen was published in 1974, after being rejected by 121 publishing houses. ‘The book is brilliant beyond belief,” wrote Morrow editor James Landis before publication. “It is probably a work of genius and will, I’ll wager, attain classic status.’
Indeed, the book quickly became a best-seller, and has proved enduring as a work of popular philosophy. A 1968 motorcycle trip across the West with his son Christopher was his inspiration.”
Pirsig was also the author of Lila: An Inquiry into Morals, published in 1991.
As spring arrives in Cardiff, I divide my time between teaching responsibilities and reading. This week marks the final week of semester before Easter break. In my spare time, I am reading Marilynne Robinson‘s 2005 novel, Gilead. And in light of Teju Cole‘s essay collection, Known and Strange Things, I have have also been keen to return to his breakthrough novel, Open City.
Over the weekend, I watched an interesting documentary on the life and work of the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein. The film was produced for BBC’s Horizon series back in 1989, and in just under 49 minutes manages to mount an engaging profile of the twentieth-century thinker. The film includes interviews, anecdotes, and rare photographs of the people and places connected to the philosopher’s life. All in all, it’s a good general primer. For those interested in finding out more about Wittgenstein’s life, Ray Monk‘s excellent biography, Ludwig Wittgenstein: The Duty of Genius, is the place to go.
A new study explores the potential for agency and flight in post-war working-class writing
“I’m not working-class: I come from the criminal classes.” These words by the actor Peter O’Toole play on a broader prejudice that aligns working-class identity with marginality and transgression. Roberto del Valle Alcalá explores these thematic links in British Working-Class Fiction, which traces an alternative literary history of the British Isles, spanning from 1950 to the economic collapse of 2008. Alcalá documents life on the hard shoulder of modern capitalist progress, offering an analysis of working-class experience through detailed theoretical readings of Alan Sillitoe, Pat Barker, Irvine Welsh, Monica Ali and others. [Read More]
This extract is from my review of Roberto del Valle Alcalá’s British Working-Class Fiction: Narratives of Refusal and the Struggle Against Work, published in the Times Literary Supplement, 24 February 2017.
Neil Badmington discusses his fascination with the work of Barthes, the continuing relevance of critical theory, and his own approach to academic style
What led you to write The Afterlives of Roland Barthes?
‘Who’ rather than ‘What’, really. It’s all the fault of my good friend Jürgen Pieters, who has repeatedly led me, with our conversations over the years, in new directions. In 2006 Jürgen and Kris Pint (who was Jürgen’s PhD student at the time) organised a conference at their home institution of Ghent University on Barthes’s lecture courses at the Collège de France, which had recently appeared in print for the first time. I’m not sure why I was invited to participate: the other speakers were people with formidable reputations in the field of Barthes studies (Andy Stafford and Claude Coste, for instance), while I’d never written extensively about Barthes. His work had often informed mine up until that point — he’s there in Alien Chic and even the Posthumanism anthology, for instance — but he’d not been the primary object of analysis: I’d written with Barthes, not on Barthes. And the Barthes with whom I’d written had been the familiar Barthes, the ‘classic’ Barthes — the Barthes of S/Z and Mythologies, for example. But the unexpected invitation from Jürgen and Kris led me to look closely at the various volumes bearing Barthes’s name which had been published long after his death, and I was struck by how a different Barthes, another Barthes, was emerging gradually into print — not just the Barthes of the Collège years, but the Barthes of Travels in China, the Barthes of the seminars at the École pratique des hautes études, and the Barthes of Journal de deuil (or Mourning Diary, to give it its English title). It was the appearance of the latter in French in 2009 which really convinced me that The Afterlives of Roland Barthes needed to be written, in fact. I remember reading it at the time and realising as I turned the pages that it was altering my established perspective on Camera Lucida. This ‘new’ Barthes was reshaping the ‘old’ Barthes. In short, then, I wrote Afterlives to take stock of some of the posthumous publications which have appeared in recent years, and to ask how they might lead us to reconsider our understanding of the well-known publications which appeared during Barthes’s lifetime. (more…)
Curating some of the best recent links across literature, philosophy, and the arts
A selection of the articles, reviews, interviews and miscellany that have caught my eye this week. Highlights include: an interview with President Barack Obama on his life as a reader and writer; the late Mark Fisher’s discussion of post-punk group Joy Division; a free Yale course on the American Novel since 1945; and much more. (more…)