N e w F r o m V e r s o Why It’s Kicking Off Everywhere The New Global Revolutions PAUL MASON In this compelling new book, Paul Mason explores the causes and consequences of this great unrest. From Cairo to Athens, Wall Street and Westminster to Manila, Mason goes in search of the changes in society, technology and human behaviour that have propelled a generation onto the streets in search of social justice. In a narrative that blends historical insight with first-person reportage, Mason shines a light on these new forms of activism, from the vast, agile networks of cyberprotest to the culture wars and tent camps of the Occupy movement. The events, says Mason, reflect the expanding power of the individual and call for new political alternatives to elite rule and global poverty. “The writing style of this reportage is compact, urgent, present-tense, declarative, and addictive.” Andy Beckett, Guardian “He’s lively, funny and engaging, trading in the energy derived from the thrill and significance of what he’s witnessing.” Phil Harrison, Time Out Paperback / 978 1 84467 851 8 / £12.99/$19.95 / 244 pages / January 2012
The Metamorphoses of Kinship MAURICE GODELIER With marriage in decline, divorce on the rise, the demise of the nuclear family, and the increase in marriages and adoptions among same-sex partners, it is clear that the structures of kinship in the modern West are in a state of flux. In The Metamorphoses of Kinship, the worldrenowned anthropologist Maurice Godelier contextualizes these developments, surveying the accumulated experience of humanity with regard to such phenomena as the organisation of lines of descent, sexuality and sexual prohibitions. “This is a blockbuster of a book. Nothing like it has been written since Levi-Strauss’s Structures élémentaires de la parenté (1949) or Meyer Fortes’s Kinship and the Social Order (1969). Yet in the sweep of its evidence and argument, Godelier’s summa is more ambitious and far-reaching than either of these. It is at once a major intervention in the discipline of anthropology, and a work of the widest human interest ... The book is both a monument of scholarship and a gripping set of reflections on universal experience. It is certain to be read and discussed for years to come.” Jack Goody, New Left Review Hardback / 978 1 84467 746 7 / £30.00/$49.95 / 654 pages / April 2012
Rebel Cities From the Right to the City to the Urban Revolution DAVID HARVEY Long before the Occupy movement, modern cities had already become the central sites of revolutionary politics, where the deeper currents of social and political change rise to the surface. Consequently, cities have been the subject of much utopian thinking. But at the same time they are also the centers of capital accumulation and the frontline for struggles over who controls access to urban resources and who dictates the quality and organisation of daily life. Is it the financiers and developers, or the people? “David Harvey provoked a revolution in his field and has inspired a generation of radical intellectuals.” Naomi Klein “Harvey is a scholarly radical; his writing is free of journalistic clichés, full of facts and carefully thought-through ideas.” Richard Sennett Hardback / 978 1 84467 882 2 / £12.99/$19.95 / 206 pages / April 2012
The Faith of the Faithless SIMON CRITCHLEY The return to religion has perhaps become the dominant cliché of contemporary theory, which rarely offers anything more than an exaggerated echo of a political reality dominated by religious war. Somehow, the secular age seems to have been replaced by a new era, where political action flows directly from metaphysical conflict. The Faith of the Faithless asks how we might respond Following Critchley’s Infinitely Demanding, this new book builds on its philosophical and political framework, also venturing into the questions of faith, love, religion and violence. “A thoughtful, illuminating exploration…erudite and measured.” Publisher’s Weekly “[A] movingly optimistic work...’Everything to be true must become a religion,’ Wilde says, and Critchley, poetically and persuasively, suggests ways in which this might be accomplished. ” Stuart Kelly, The Guardian “[A] sustained and fascinating reflection on the place of religion in political discourse.” Giles Fraser, The New Statesman Hardback / 978 1 84467 737 5 / £16.99/$22.95 / 302 pages / February 2012
The Imperial Messenger Thomas Friedman at Work BELÉN FERNÁNDEZ “Filleting the silliest man on the planet needs a sure scalpel, and Belén Fernández wields hers with deadly finesse.” Alexander Cockburn, editor of CounterPunch Paperback / 978 1 84467 749 8 £9.99/$16.95 / 204 pages / November 2011
The Impostor BHL in Wonderland JADE LINDGAARD and XAVIER DE LA PORTE “Cruel enough to be funny, serious enough to be credible ... The angle and method of the two journalists has the merit of simplicity: to take Bernard-Henri Lévy at face value, in other words to read his books, articles, interviews, to watch his films, to listen to his public talks and interventions in the media.” Télérama Paperback / 978 1 84467 748 1 £9.99/$16.95 / 288 pages / February 2012
Michael Ignatieff The Lesser Evil? DERRICK O’KEEFE “This is an important book that anyone who cares about Canada’s political future should own and read.” The Columbia Journal Paperback / 978 1 84467 615 6 £9.99/$16.95 / 192 pages / November 2011
NEW IN PAPERBACK
Dispatches from the Dark Side On Torture and the Death of Justice GARETH PEIRCE “The great theme of her book and, arguably, her professional life too [is] that justice dies when the law is co-opted for political purposes.” Stuart Jeffries, The Guardian “A timely reminder of the darker side of lawlessness in freedom’s name.” Shami Chakrabarti, The Observer “An antidote to the current propaganda.” John Pilger, New Statesman Paperback / 978 1 84467 759 7 / £7.99/$14.95 / 154 pages / February 2012
Introduction to Antiphilosophy BORIS GROYS “One of the most astute commentators on the art scene today.” New Left Review “Groys has claimed a defining role in the reception of the Russian avant-garde” Radical Philosophy Hardback / 978 1 84467 756 6 £16.99/$26.95 / 272 pages / April 2012
NEW IN PAPERBACK
Cities Under Siege The New Military Urbanism STEPHEN GRAHAM “Look, you’re just going to have to read this book... after a while you begin to wonder whether books like this will be allowed to be published for much longer. ” Nicholas Lezard, Guardian “An agit-prop classic” Glasgow Herald Paperback / 978 1 84467 00762 7 £14.99/$26.95 / 432 pages / November 2011
www.versobooks.com p u l p i t t homas marks
The Writings on the Wall
They are putting Tennyson up in the Olympic village. Last year, the final line of ‘Ulysses’ – ‘To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield’ – prevailed in a public competition to select ‘Winning Words’, which means it will be emblazoned on a purpose-built wall on the Stratford site by the time the immense, sweaty circus comes to town this summer. It’s meant as an uplifting mantra for the athletes as they set about winning and losing, a taking-partthat-counts riff on the Pindaric victory ode. Clare Balding, the BBC sports presenter and member of the judging panel, said the line ‘encapsulated the endeavour, the glory and the dance with failure that Olympic sport entails’. A press release for a recent tiein event sounded neither so convincing nor so convinced: ‘Why did we choose the words of a pirate hat wearing, big bearded Victorian giant’, it asked, ‘as a motto for London 2012?’
Well, partly in a pragmatic effort to promote poetry – and in this regard, the installation is welcome. I often feel that London’s buildings and monuments are somehow inimical to poetic inscriptions (whenever I hurry past Sue Hubbard’s ‘Eurydice’ in that cold underpass at Waterloo, for instance). Even so, Victoria’s great laureate has always seemed under-represented on the city’s surfaces. The age’s huge suburban cemeteries are dense not with stanzas plucked from In Memoriam but with an array of commemorative doggerel. And Tennyson himself had little truck with inscription poetry: it seemed an Augustan hangover by the middle of the nineteenth century, at odds with the introspective sensibilities of post-Romantic verse. ‘I hate doing this kind of thing,’ he remarked with his characteristic gruff humour when asked for an epitaph, ‘but they bother one out of one’s life if one refuses.’
Nevertheless, the laureateship brought its inevitable trickle of literary chores and courtesies. Westminster Abbey has his striking lines on the cenotaph of the Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin (‘Not here! The white North has thy bones’) and a tribute to the diplomat Stratford Canning; and he penned a quatrain for the (bombed-out) Caxton window in the adjacent church of St Margaret’s. He was also unofficially commissioned to provide a poem for the base of Cleopatra’s Needle, which arrived in London in 1878 after a nautical misadventure involving its abandonment at sea, half a dozen drowned sailors, and a farcical dispute about salvage.
In the event, the five couplets that Tennyson supplied were quietly forgotten. But with their confident, wry suspicion of what verse notched in stone might be called on to do, they make for what is, to my mind, the finest of his inscription poems. The obelisk was to have spoken with fatalistic self-awareness: ‘I have seen the four great empires disappear./I was when London was not. I am here.’ These are lines that recognise how poetry tends to be used in the built environment, as a sort of wishful assurance of its legacy (which is why verse is thought so suitable for gravestones).
The ‘Ulysses’ wall has been touted as a legacy in its own right,
since it will be bequeathed to the residents of the revamped Lea Valley when the athletes’ digs are transformed into housing after the Olympics. A CGI mock-up of the installation shows virtual schoolgirls paused in front of it and a mother and daughter strolling past. There’s barely a male figure in sight, an apt omission given that Tennyson’s dramatic monologue gives voice to an old sea-dog as he coaxes his men to abandon home again. In fact, the more one considers how the wall has been pledged as part of the architectural legacy of the Games – which have been so contentious before they’ve even got started – the more ironic the entire project seems. Few poems fret as intensely as ‘Ulysses’ about our inability to control our own afterlives.
You can sense this anxiety in the final line, as the verse yields at the very moment its speaker declares he will not. More generally, there’s Ulysses’s fear of what it means to have ‘become a name’ and to have to live up to it and, poetically, how the monologue testifies to things left behind or transformed on journeys (in the slippage from the Greek Odysseus to the Roman Ulysses, or from Homer to Dante’s Inferno to a Victorian blank-verse miniature). And there’s nothing to indicate how Ulysses’s mariners will respond to him: the poem is a piece of rhetoric that ends without letting us measure its success.
‘Ulysses’ has star billing among the so-styled ‘permanent poems’ to be dotted about the Olympic venues. Four newly commissioned works will be etched on wooden slatted boxes built to disguise the electricity transformers in the main Olympic Park, which sounds not only haphazard but also like hazardous planning (one of the poems, John Burnside’s ‘Bicycling for Ladies’, has a good quip about ‘danger of death/forgotten’). It ’s interesting to see three of these poems turning back to the radical heritage of this part of east London: Burnside to the suffragettes at Bow, Lemn Sissay to the 1888 match-girls’ strike, and Caroline Bird to Joan Littlewood’s visionary plans for a ‘Fun Palace’ on the banks of the Lea River. In doing so, they gesture to the rich historical weave that many local writers and artists feel has been torn up by the Olympic grand project. I’m not convinced that lyrics tacked onto camouflaged infrastructure will do enough to preserve previous legacies. They risk looking like piecemeal excuses for wholesale erasure.
A poem by our current laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, will feature at the former Eton Manor Boys’ Club, once a community sports centre and the venue for this year’s wheelchair tennis competition. ‘Eton Manor’ is the least mischievous and most dogmatic of all the Olympic inscriptions (Caroline Bird’s poem includes a cheeky puff for Joan Littlewood’s chain-smoking, at the heart of the world’s largest sporting event). It reworks ‘To strive, to seek…’ without any of Tennyson’s inflections of doubt, as it celebrates the philanthropic past of the club: ‘young lives respected, cherished, valued, helped/to sprint, swim, bowl, box, play, excel, belong’. ‘This is legacy’, it insists. Which is quite a claim for any poem to make. r a p r i l 2 0 1 2 | Literary Review 1