Berfrois

November 2011

Undoing the Image

Undoing the Image

Barbara Stanwyck as Phyllis Dietrichson in Double Indemnity, Paramount Pictures, 1944 by Paula Quigley Depending on your position, the phrase ‘film theory’ can refer either to a critical rigour informed by mainly European intellectual currents, or a ponderous and parasitic dependence on certain schools of thought, particularly psychoanalysis. The...

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Beckett’s Fear of the Other Side

Beckett’s Fear of the Other Side

Samuel Beckett, Avigdor Arikha, 1971 From London Review of Books: At the turning point of this second volume of Beckett’s letters, which is also the turning point of his professional life, the moment when, after so many years of ‘retyping … for rejection’, his best work is finally to...

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What Counts

What Counts

Books & Books, Gibbs M. Smith From Lapham’s Quarterly: When we speak of literature, we should not imagine that we are speaking of some stable and enduring Platonic entity. The history of literature has always been about its highly mutable institutions, whether bookstores, publishers, schools of criticism, or, for...

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Peter Betjemann: A Precise 32

Peter Betjemann: A Precise 32

Vase by Janet Leach, c. 1980 by Peter Betjemann Consider what comes first to mind when one thinks about handcrafted ceramics. I myself would venture that many people’s initial vision of a handmade vase would involve some aspect of irregularity: perhaps a bold one-of-a-kind design, an imperfectly round rim,...

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‘Every place deserves an atlas’

‘Every place deserves an atlas’

At the bottom of the cover of Infinite City: A San Francisco Atlas it says, “Rebecca Solnit,” but this is not really, or entirely, her book.  Rather it is the result of an amazing collaboration among artists, cartographers, geographers, activists, historians, gadflies, ecologists, photographers, and a law scholar, all...

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Why do supernatural experiences matter for history?

Why do supernatural experiences matter for history?

Heroldsbach, 1949, via From The Hedgehog Review: In the 1950s, in the midst of what came to be known as the Economic Miracle, West Germany was positively deluged with other wonders: mysterious healings, mystical visions, rumors of the end of the world, and stories of divine and devilish interventions...

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Lisa Rosner: To Burke

Lisa Rosner: To Burke

Burking Poor Old Mrs Constitution Aged 141, William Heath, 1829 by Lisa Rosner What could possibly link Britain’s Catholic Relief Act of 1829, the first in a series of Parliamentary reforms leading to full Catholic emancipation, with the horrific Burke and Hare anatomy murders? The answer is a series...

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As a Fly

As a Fly

Williams skipped college, enrolling directly in the University of Pennsylvania’s medical school in 1902, and it was there that he met Pound, along with Hilda Doolittle, who would become the poet known as H.D. when Pound showcased her poems in the various Imagist manifestoes and anthologies that flourished in...

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Hilary Plum: Behind the Headlines

Hilary Plum: Behind the Headlines

by Hilary Plum The Room and the Chair, by Lorraine Adams, Vintage, 366 pp. The Submission: A Novel, by Amy Waldman, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 320 pp. Zone, by Mathias Énard, Translated from the French by Charlotte Mandell, Open Letter Books, 517 pp. Lorraine Adams’ The Room and the...

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High on the Scoville Scale

High on the Scoville Scale

#occupyucdavis, photograph by California Aggie by Deborah Blum One hundred years ago, an American pharmacist named Wilbur Scoville developed a scale to measure the intensity of a pepper’s burn. The scale – as you can see on the widely used chart below – puts sweet bell peppers at the zero...

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Fed

Fed

On a big platter in the middle of the full table sits the fat novel, its dust jacket a cracking bronze, peeling at the edges, its pages sliced and curling, its story stuffed with, well, stuffing: characters mixed with plot in a warm, moist setting, everyone talking at once,...

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Squeezed

Squeezed

by Justin E. H. Smith In 1994 I was admitted to a few Ph.D. programs, but only two of them were not from my back-up list. One of these was UCLA, where I was admitted with full-funding for the doctoral program in Slavic linguistics, and the other was Columbia,...

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Disconcerted

Disconcerted

Poster by Charles Sharland, 1913 by James Warner In The Line of Beauty, Alan Hollinghurst explored the iconoclasm of the Thatcher years. But in The Stranger’s Child, he seems to portray England as a country self-defeatingly focused on its past. For some generations now, novels largely set in large...

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Owen Flanagan: Naturalistic Buddhism

Owen Flanagan: Naturalistic Buddhism

by Owen Flanagan In 2000, I was part of a small team of philosophers and Buddhist adepts invited to spend a few days in Dharamsala, India talking with the 14th Dalai Lama on the topic of destructive emotions. Several prominent neuroscientists attending the meetings were hatching ways to study...

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Eli Evans: Rajoy’s Inheritance

Eli Evans: Rajoy’s Inheritance

by Eli S. Evans Mariano Rajoy’s date with the Spanish presidency has arrived some eight years late. In 2004, as the handpicked successor to José María Aznar, Rajoy’s electoral victory was all but guaranteed. The years of rapid growth over which Aznar had presided, as the ruling Partido Popular’s...

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Are the Chinese prone to money illusion?

Are the Chinese prone to money illusion?

China’s monetary policy and its inflation have got people talking – particularly about the effect on other countries. But what about its effect on China’s people? Are they fooled by money illusion?

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Logan K. Young on The Replacements

I, myself, was barely six months old when Twin/Tone put out The Mats’ Let It Be. The day, they say, was Orwellian: Tuesday, October...

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Tyranny Is a Growth Industry by Vladimir Savich and Zachary Bos

Tyranny is a growth industry. Each day brings exciting new developments. These events imprint themselves upon the world in the form of newspapers, magazines,...

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Tjoa Shze Hui: 1920s

Of the many witticisms that make up The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, one voiced by Picasso really gets under the skin. He says...

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Elias Tezapsidis on Lorentzen, Batuman, Lerner, Smallwood and Stein

Contemporary narrators feel entitled to their own realities now more than ever. The internet has created this fascinating binary, one in which individuals can...

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Henry Giardina on Bob Hope

All mythical creatures need an origin story. The Bob Hope character springs into being, Athena-like, from out of the head of Preston Sturges in...

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Mattilda B. Sycamore: Yearning From Spurning

One problem with gentrification is that it always gets worse. But then I go into a Hooters, and it’s a vintage clothing store. A...

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Alexander McGregor
Alexander McGregor: Trauma

Following World War II, the German philosopher Theodor Adorno wrote, “Nach Auschwitz ein Gedicht zu schreiben, ist barbarisch”: to write poetry after Auschwitz is...

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John Crutchfield: Chords

But music, even bad music, is a symptom of hope, is it not? Naturally one would prefer the music to be good, but any...

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Menachem Feuer on Robin Williams

Regardless of whether you are from Europe, the United States, Asia, or Africa, we can all agree that there is something special about the...

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Reality Principles: Berfrois Interviews Frank Smecker

I don't know if I ever wanted to become a theorist. I struggle with this position. For me, it's a hystericized — and therefore...

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Albert Rolls: Which (Side) Are You On, Man?

James Parker begins his review of Inherent Vice with the quip, “If Thomas Pynchon were a stand-up comedian, and Inherent Vice his newest routine,...

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Keith Doubt
Keith Doubt on Serbia

The intellectual integrity of cultural anthropology is based largely on its commitment to cultural relativism as a principled notion. Cultural relativism is the principle...

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A Gosse in Woolf’s Clothing by Andre Gerard

On May 31, two weeks after his death, and the day before Orlando was sent to the printer, Woolf noted his death as follows:...

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Andrew Gallix: Let’s Go!

Retro-futurism, as we now call it, came out of the closet in the late '70s due to the widespread feeling that there was indeed...

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