Edward Said: The condition of exile

Edward W. Said was a linguistic virtuoso, and his theory of Orientalism is far too erudite, complex and nuanced for shorthand definitions. He wrote contrapuntally, thought in long circles and connected seemingly dissonant events, and so any brief account of his oeuvre is bound to fall short. In his magnum opus, Orientalism (1978), Said fused … Read more

Elia breaks the fall

Charles Lamb has often appeared at the margins of other people’s stories. As the companion of famous men – Samuel Taylor Coleridge, most notably, but also William Godwin, William Wordsworth and many other leading Romantic figures – Lamb has figured in the pages of multiple biographies as witness to and commentator on the lives and … Read more

Inherently despicable?

What is the moral justification for espionage and counter-intelligence? Should those engaged in such work feel good about what they do, or are their labors, as Kant had it, an “infernal art”? In Spying Through a Glass Darkly: The ethics of espionage and counter-intelligence, Cécile Fabre offers “an account of the rights and duties which … Read more

No God required

Richard Rorty’s reputation as a thinker has fluctuated more rapidly and more wildly than most. His rise, from the anthology The Linguistic Turn (1967) through his early masterwork Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979) to Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity (1989) was meteoric, at least as these things go. He scored MacArthur and Guggenheim fellowships. … Read more

Hardly a walk in the park

The assassination of two high-ranking government officials in Dublin’s Phoenix Park during the Irish Land War of 1879–82 remains one of the most infamous events of late-nineteenth-century Irish history. In the early evening of May 6, 1882, members of the extremist oath-bound society the Irish National Invincibles butchered the new chief secretary for Ireland, Lord … Read more

The Iron Duke’s feminine side

For two centuries, gossip, rumour and legend have befogged reports of the Duke of Wellington’s relationships with women. Even his most celebrated words about one liaison are apocryphal. The claim that he returned a blackmailing letter from the courtesan Harriette Wilson (who demanded money to keep the names of eminent patrons out of her memoirs … Read more

The boy wonder from Urbino

The National Gallery’s splendid Raphael survey – organized, appropriately enough, with limpid lucidity – has been in a large part made possible by the enduring British love for the artist. The gallery’s director, Gabriele Finaldi, notes that the exhibition “draws, in the first instance, on the extraordinary richness of the collections in this country … … Read more

There were teeth problems

In an early short story by Jon McGregor, “The First Punch” (2003), a jealous husband rolls his jacket into a pillow to place underneath the head of a suspected rival he is beating up. He has already brought his target to vomiting point through savage punching, headbutting and kicking. After pillowing his victim’s head, he … Read more

Purple patch

One theory has it that she who puts pen to paper or fingers to keyboard is, whatever the ostensible genre, writing fiction: our imperfect memories and our human subjectivity so inform whatever we write that even in crafting nonfiction, we create as well as record. If one accepts this theory, then with Gathering Blossoms Under … Read more

One system, different culture

From the moment, in July 1997, that China became Hong Kong’s sovereign, two visions of the city-state’s future vied for ascendancy. Hongkongers wanted democracy, the Chinese Communist Party demanded obedience. Hongkongers wished to preserve their traditions, the CCP resolved to uproot them. In the eyes of China’s leaders, Hongkongers were unpatriotic, calling themselves “Hong Kong … Read more