Form-fitting, brain-bending theory

FormsI’m not going to apologise for being overly excited at what I think is a highly original and unusual contribution to thinking, analysing and being political emanating from literary theory. And I’m not going to apologise for the feeling that because this contribution speaks directly to some frustrations I’ve had living in this world of research, theory and analysis, that I might be overstating its case. Towards the end of last year I read Michael Wood’s review in the London Review of Books of Caroline Levine’s Forms: Whole, Rhythm, Hierarchy, Network. Despite the review, I was intrigued (maybe ensnared) by the subject matter and set out to find the book which took quite some determination before I actually located it online and managed to buy it.

I then waited a bit once it arrived because it felt like this book was going to open up something important and I didn’t want to spoil it, or discover I’d been wrong. But I so wasn’t wrong about it. However, at the outset I need to say that Caroline Levine is a literary theorist steeped in Victorian writing (and this is the soil which provokes her thinking but doesn’t contain her range of ideas), I, on the other hand am a shameless magpie with an interest in the literary, a job in media studies and a weariness about grand theory (especially now that we’re living through another revolution and still talking the same talk of the previous ones, as though more and louder will be the trick).

So how to start? Continue reading “Form-fitting, brain-bending theory”

How to be both

Ali Smith

Some of the best thinkers and writers I know failed to get their PhDs. One of them is Karen Armstrong whose story of that failure really needs to be read (in the second — or third — of her autobiographies The Spiral Staircaseand another is Ali Smith, whose story of walking away from a doctorate I don’t know quite so well, but am already convinced that like Armstrong it was pivotal to her prolific and idiosyncratic writing career.

I had never heard of Ali Smith until the Edinburgh World Writers’ Conference decided to focus on South Africa in 2012 and invited, among others, Antjie Krog and Njabulo Ndebele to speak. Eyjafjallajökull was the precise reason I encountered Ms Smith. The volcano erupted, the South Africans were grounded, and video conferencing had to be resorted to. As a result I was on a site full of fantastic authors talking and eavesdropping from afar. The Ali Smith lecture on Style vs Content (see link below) was completely fantastic and hooked me immediately. Continue reading “How to be both”