Category Archives: Culture

Zola’s ‘Money’

Rougon-Macquart #18 A powerful anti-capitalist novel. Emile Zola’s wonderful 1890 novel ‘L’Argent’ (‘Money’) is set in the world of finance and share-speculation in 1860’s Paris. It is still fresh and relevant and should be on any reading list of anti-capitalist … Continue reading

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Finding our voice in a crisis.

Blogging in the 2020s. It can be hard to write in a time of crisis. What can we possibly say that could be of any use to anyone? But when things are this bad, it’s also hard not to write. … Continue reading

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Learning from Utopia

What is the function of alternative political and economic systems, whether actually existing or imaginary? Is it to offer hope that change is possible, or at least to provide some perspective on our own way of life?
Draws on ‘The Dispossessed’ by Ursula Le Guin. Continue reading

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‘Bewilderment’ by Richard Powers

Bewilderment is an entirely rational response to what we are collectively doing to our planet. Confronted by the injustices, dysfunction and unsustainability of the world we’ve created, how can we not react with bewilderment? This wonderful novel is both an … Continue reading

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“You either bend the arc or it bends you”

‘Attack Surface’ by Cory Doctorow. ‘Attack Surface‘ (2020) is a gripping action-packed story of oppression and resistance with plenty of insights into the potential of new technologies and big data. It is also a powerful manifesto for the necessity of … Continue reading

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‘Light Perpetual’ by Francis Spufford

‘Light Perpetual’ is a wonderful celebration of life and love. It opens with some extraordinary time-stretching to describe the impact of a split-second destructive event in wartime. Then time is shrunk and stretched repeatedly in order to follow the ‘lost’ … Continue reading

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Zola’s ‘La Curée’ and the corruption of desire.

Rougon-Macquart #2 Emile Zola’s ‘La Curée’ (1872), translated as ‘The Kill’, is an extraordinary novel of unbridled appetites, material and sexual, and of the moral decay and rottenness of unfettered capitalism. It shares a setting and many common themes with … Continue reading

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Seven ways to avoid a Frankenstein education.

Seven ways to avoid a Frankenstein education – Philippe Meirieu. The French educationalist, Philippe Meirieu, in his 1996 book ‘Frankenstein Pedagogue’ reviews popular accounts of attempts to fashion a person to a maker’s design. Such fictional person-making often proves futile … Continue reading

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‘Listen to this’.

There’s something to be said for being told to ‘listen to this’, ‘look at this’ or ‘read this’. An important aspect of any educational programme is presenting learners with something new or re-presenting something familiar in a new context. And … Continue reading

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‘The Ministry for the Future’ by Kim Stanley Robinson

Fiction can change the world and the didactic approach or the ‘novel of ideas’ can be compatible with good storytelling. Like any work of art, a work of fiction can change us as individuals and, through us, help to make … Continue reading

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Tsitsi Dangarembga’s ‘Nervous Conditions’.

The personal is political, and this wonderful book is both entirely personal and deeply political. Nervous Conditions (1988) is the story of Tambudzai, a young woman growing up in rural Zimbabwe (then known as Rhodesia) in the late 1960’s, told … Continue reading

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In praise of lightness – Calvino’s Leggerezza.

The Italian writer, Italo Calvino, was invited to give the Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard University in 1985 but died before he was able to deliver them. Luckily, we have the text of 5 of these 6 planned lectures … Continue reading

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The mighty pencil

The mighty pencil It’s just a pencil Making a mark in a specific place On a specific piece of paper On a specific day. It only takes a second or two, No time at all. Such a simple thing. But … Continue reading

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‘Unsheltered’ by Barbara Kingsolver

Barbara Kingsolver’s novels are always fascinating and rewarding and her latest, Unsheltered (2019) is no exception. We follow two stories over a hundred years apart and set in the same location; Vineland, New Jersey, a town originally established as a … Continue reading

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‘The Overstory’ by Richard Powers.

Richard Powers is an extraordinary writer. If you’ve not yet discovered his novels, I strongly recommend them. He tackles big ideas which concern all of us while at the same time telling compelling stories about complex and conflicted characters who … Continue reading

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