Gustave Moreau

“”Moreau’s diverse and often paradoxical oeuvre lies at the crossroads of apparently contradictory trends in 19th-century art”, Peter Cooke observes at the end of his monographic study of Gustave Moreau (1826-98). Often described as a proto-Symbolist—and less often as a history painter—Moreau has proved hard to classify. The best of his elaborate biblical and mythological tableaux are hauntingly memorable but they are difficult to decode. Gustave Moreau: History Painting, Spirituality and Symbolism succeeds in illuminating a very peculiar and compelling figure on the margins of French art.

“Moreau’s classic oil compositions feature figures in isolated areas of light surrounded by large areas dark enlivened with coloured highlights, bestowing these grottoes and throne rooms with a bejewelled appearance. The expressions of the characters are restrained and their gestures anti-naturalistic and hieratic. Intricate decoration covers garments and architecture, causing paintings to exude a pseudo-organic quality.

“By the end of the Second Empire salon history painting had sometimes become an exercise in sensationalism, titillating with visions of gratuitous horror and nudity. It is difficult not to see Moreau as—to some degree—wilfully martyring himself by adhering to the history-painting tradition which he suspected was moribund…”

Read the full review at THE ART NEWSPAPER, 1 May 2015 here:

http://www.theartnewspaper.com/comment/reviews/books/155001/

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Michel Houellebecq: Submission

“The history of modern France has been punctuated by a series of seismic shifts in ideology. Ever since the revolution of 1789, not only have regimes fallen – sometimes with considerable bloodshed – but whole concepts of governance and nationhood have been swept away nearly every generation or so. No other Western European nation has endured such huge and frequent changes during the modern era. Yet, endured France has. Human nature being what it is, a strong continuity persists. And even while revolutions, sieges and insurrections take place, the bourgeoisie finds a way of maintaining its social customs, moral standards and duplicities. The French have had to be so adaptable simply through necessity. So the central conceit of Michel Houellebecq’s novel Submission, about a France under the governance of an Islamist-headed government, is not an inconceivable dystopia, but an elaborated extension of French history of the last 200 years.

“Submission begins by sketching out the ethnic factionalism and the loss of faith in secular institutions that leads to a Muslim Brotherhood compromise candidate winning (with the backing of the Socialists) a 2022 presidential election against Marine Le Pen of the Front National…”

Read the full review at SPIKED, 28 August 2015 here: http://www.spiked-online.com/review_of_books/article/the-islamic-republic-of-france/17370#.VeB9BPldU5k

Robert Crawford: Young T.S. Eliot

The Waste Land has stimulated, perplexed and antagonised millions of readers since its appearance in 1922. A multilingual collage of myth and observation, composed with sections of verse both original and filched, this epic poem popularised literary modernism (even though it was not the first modernist poem). Using new sources, and with the freedom to quote the poet’s writings, Robert Crawford has combined biography and literary analysis, in Young Eliot: From St Louis to The Waste Land, to illuminate one of the most complex and influential poems in the English language and assess its author, TS Eliot.

“The Eliot family were upper-class Unitarians from New England who moved to St Louis, Missouri, before the birth of Tom. Born in 1888, young Tom grew up in a bubble of Puritan gentility in the commercial bustle of a polluted Midwestern city. Long before Tom became an expatriate American in London, he had already lived his life as an outsider. While he was a Harvard student, Eliot toured London, Paris and Germany and found his passion for European culture deepening. In 1911, while in Munich, Eliot wrote his first masterpiece, The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, in which the protagonist is an indecisive onlooker of life, aware of his impotence and marginality as if ‘etherised upon a table’. He effectively captures the situation of a man hemmed in by moral and social inhibitions that prevent him from functioning. ‘Do I dare?’, he asks himself, to eat a peach or change my fashion.

“Crawford’s biography shows how Eliot’s life experiences and reading material were woven into the rich tapestry of The Waste Land and other poems…”

Read the full review on SPIKED, 6 March 2015 here:

http://www.spiked-online.com/review_of_books/article/ts-eliot-among-the-bankers-and-bloomsberries/16744#.Vd-O__ldU5k

Patrick Modiano: Suspended Sentences

“The Nobel Prize for literature is an annual occasion for the average person to feel parochial and uncultured. In a good year, a laureate might be a writer you’ve heard of – perhaps even read – but confronted with a Swedish poet or Chinese novelist who has never had his writings translated into English, one cannot be blamed for simply shrugging and forgetting the name.

“Patrick Modiano is a name that is unlikely to have meant much to Anglophone readers before 9 October 2014, when he was announced as recipient of the Nobel Prize for literature. Fewer than half of his novels, novellas and memoirs have been translated from his native French into English and most of those are now out of print. Previously, he was best known outside of France through his work on the script of the Louis Malle film Lacombe, Lucien (1973).

“A newly published collection of three of Modiano’s novellas in English gives English-speaking readers the chance to assess the 2014 laureate…”

Read the full review on SPIKED, 14 November 2014 here:

http://www.spiked-online.com/review_of_books/article/modiano-master-of-the-oblique/16186#.Vd-LaPldU5k

William S. Burroughs: Letters, vol. 2

“Volume 1 of William Burroughs’s letters took readers from 1945 to 1959, following his frequent changes of location from New York to Texas, Mexico City, Tangiers and Paris, as he turned his hand to junk pushing, cannabis growing, pea farming, psychopharmacological investigation and – finally – writing. Burroughs skipped bail and left Mexico for good after accidentally shooting his wife dead, leaving their son Billy to be raised by his grandparents in Florida. During this early period, letters were a vital conduit for Burroughs’s political and intellectual ideas and for the continuation of friendships, principally with Allen Ginsberg.

In Volume 2 we pick up the story with Burroughs living in Paris, just having sent off the proofs of Naked Lunch to the printers…”

Read the full review on SPIKED, 30 March 2012 here:

http://www.spiked-online.com/review_of_books/article/12298#.Vd94GPldU5k