Book Review: Understanding Jennifer Egan by Alexander Moran

Understanding Jennifer Egan by Alexander Moran is the first book-length study to provide critical analysis of all of Jennifer Egan’s published fiction to date. Arriving in the same year as Ivan Krielkamp’s A Visit from the Goon Squad REREAD,[i] the rising critical attention to Egan’s work is a welcome sight, correcting the tendency to overlook Egan’s constant and significant presence in contemporary fiction. Continue reading

Book Review: The Cult of the Constitution by Mary Anne Franks

The Cult of the Constitution is a rich and insightful account of the role of the U.S. Constitution in American political life. Arguing that 1787 marked the creation of ‘not merely a constitution, but a cult’ (34), Mary Anne Franks draws out the parallels between fundamentalist approaches to religion and to the Constitution. A vital point of commonality, Franks argues, is a practice of ‘victim-claiming’ in which powerful individuals and groups position themselves as vulnerable and therefore entitled to use their power to disarm and censor those threatening them (xii-xiii). This line of thought enables the penetrating account of the Constitution’s role that Franks develops, which situates the Constitution firmly and productively within its immediate socio-political context. Continue reading

Book Review: The Victims of Democracy: Malcolm X and the Black Revolution by Eugene Victor Wolfenstein

The Victims of Democracy: Malcolm X and the Black Revolution (2021) is a new rendition of Eugene Victor Wolfenstein’s 1981 The Victims of Democracy. It constitutes a biographical study of Malcolm X’s life, heavily drawing from the model that Alex Haley utilised in his 1965 The Autobiography of Malcolm X. Wolfenstein is in conversation with the fields of psychoanalysis, Marxism and critical race theory. He draws on Malcolm X’s published speeches and a number of different historical materials to support his main arguments. Continue reading

Book Review: The Rise of Common-Sense Conservatism: The American Right and the Reinvention of the Scottish Enlightenment by Antti Lepisto

Why were historians of conservatism shocked by Donald Trump’s rise? Antti Lepistö, an intellectual historian at the University of Oulu, Finland, seeks to answer this question in his first monograph, The Rise of Common-Sense Conservatism: The American Right and the Reinvention of the Scottish Enlightenment. The work is split into six chapters each focusing on a different element of neoconservative thought. The first- and second-chapters study journalist Irving Kristol’s use of ‘common man’ rhetoric in the late-1970s and early-1980s, and how social scientist James Q. Wilson built upon this. Continue reading

Book Review: Infamous Bodies: Early Black Women’s Celebrity and the Afterlives of Rights by Samantha Pinto

In Infamous Bodies: Early Black Women’s Celebrity and the Afterlives of Rights, Samantha Pinto thinks about the ways in which black women come into political view by interrogating the premises of the female celebrity genre. She carefully considers what it means to be a political figure and situates the discourse of vulnerability at the centre of politics. Infamous Bodies consists of five chapters, each of which deals with a celebrity of the eighteenth or nineteenth century. Pinto thinks through five case studies, the private and public lives of Phillis Wheatley, Sally Hemings, Sarah Baartman, Mary Seacole, and Sarah Forbes Bonetta, and the ways in which they reverberate across different political moments and are taken up again in the following centuries. Continue reading

Book Review: The American Weird: Concept and Medium edited by Julius Greeve and Florian Zappe

The American Weird is an essay collection divided in two parts: ‘Concept’ and ‘Medium’. Its claim to originality lies in the latter part’s focus on manifestations of the weird in non-literary media running the gamut from film and music to television and videogames. Naturally, however, these cannot be discussed in isolation from the first part’s question of ‘concept’ – of what the weird is. Continue reading

Book Review: Diane Di Prima: Visionary Poetics and the Hidden Religions by David Stephen Calonne

Poets have often figured as the liaison between mystic items and the vast audience to whom the inner meaning of such items was mysterious or unknown. In this sense, poets act as prophets, translators of symbols or, more metaphorically, bridges. It is precisely the idea of the poet as a bridge which David Stephen emphasises in Diane di Prima: Visionary Poetics and the Hidden Religions. In this 2019 volume, the legendary figure of the late di Prima is portrayed in turn as a bridge between cultures, key literary and intellectual movements, and ethnicities. Continue reading

Book Review: Trump and Us: What He Says and Why People Listen by Roderick P. Hart

Roderick P. Hart’s book was written in a time noisy with the sounds and echoes of Donald Trump’s Twitter feed.  The political world is quieter now.  Former President Trump can hardly be heard from his Florida base.  He has not disappeared, and his continuing influence on the Republican Party and on the practice of US politics is evidenced by the nervous cotillion being performed around him.  Witness Senator Mitch McConnell who, in rapid succession, voted to acquit Trump in the second impeachment trial, made a speech excoriating Trump for his role in prompting the January 6th 2021 attack on the US Capitol, and only days later affirmed that he would ‘absolutely’ support Trump’s return to the White House should the Donald gain the GOP nomination in 2024. Continue reading

Book Review: Laughing to Keep from Dying by Danielle Fuentes Morgan

Laughing to Keep From Dying centres its discussion on the ways satire enables a social commentary which illustrates the power of Black selfhood; satire becomes a new form of social justice. (2) The texts discussed in this book ‘reveal critical anxieties about race and critique the irrationality of racialization’. (3) This critique draws attention to the mistreatment of African Americans and initiates a discourse about racial inequality in America. Continue reading

Book Review: The Age of Hiroshima edited by Michael D. Gordin and G. John Ikenberry

The essays chosen for The Age of Hiroshima are an attempt by its editors to, in their words, ‘unsettle’ the legacy and understanding of the bombing of Hiroshima, an act that ushered in the nuclear age. (2) This collection explores the nuclear age from a global perspective, rather than simply through the viewpoint of the Cold War. Continue reading