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Reading List

Cultural and Literary Theory: Verso Student Reading

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We bring you a list of books to fill your Cultural and Literary Theory shelves, including key titles from the likes of Oscar Wilde, Fredric Jameson, Raymond Williams, Mark Greif, Michele Wallace and Fredric Jameson. 

All books are 40% off as part of our Student Reading Sale. Ends September 30 at 11:59PM EST. See all our student reading lists here.

In Mimesis, Valery Podoroga develops and elaborates his analytic anthropological approach with startling effect, excavating the identities and forms of Russian literature and society. He places an emphasis on how a literary work is a process of world building: both internally by creating a fictive world, but also how it reflects the wider world in which it was produced, and the power with which it changes the world. Finally, the literary work’s ability to exist in a time that is other than its own time, a time where it does not have a contemporary reader and an author who exercises his will, but where it nonetheless continues to mean something. Mimesis is rightly seen as the masterwork of one of the world's leading literary thinkers. 

This major new work by Fredric Jameson is not a book about “method,” but it does propose a dialectic capable of holding together in one breath the heterogeneities that reflect our biological individualities, our submersion in collective history and class struggle, and our alienation to a disembodied new world of information and abstraction.  

In this personal portrait of Edward Said written by a close friend, Dominique Eddé offers a fascinating and fresh presentation of his oeuvre from his earliest writings on Joseph Conrad to his most famous texts, Orientalism and Culture and Imperialism. Eddé weaves together accounts of the genesis and content of Said’s work, his intellectual development, and her own reflections and personal recollections of their friendship, which began in 1979 and lasted until Said’s death in 2003.  

Raymond Chandler, a dazzling stylist and portrayer of American life, holds a unique place in literary history, straddling both pulp fiction and modernism. Fredric Jameson offers an interpretation of Chandler’s work that reconstructs both the context in which it was written and the social world or totality it projects. Chandler’s invariable setting, Los Angeles, appears both as a microcosm of the United States and a prefiguration of its future: a megalopolis uniquely distributed by an unpromising nature into a variety of distinct neighborhoods and private worlds. 

In Praise of Disobedience draws on works from a single miraculous year in which Oscar Wilde published the larger part of his greatest works in prose—the year he came into maturity as an artist. Before the end of 1891, he had written the first of his phenomenally successful plays and met the young man who would win his heart, beginning the love affair that would lead to imprisonment and public infamy.

For nearly fifty years, Vivian Gornick’s essays, written with her characteristic clarity of perception and vibrant prose, have explored feminism and writing, literature and culture, politics and personal experience. Drawing on writing from the course of her career, Taking a Long Look illuminates one of the driving themes behind Gornick’s work: that the painful process of understanding one’s self is what binds us to the larger world. 

The four poets, whose work is collected in English translation here alongside the Chinese originals, all wrote in the classical style, but their poetry was no less diverse than their politics. Chen Duxiu led China’s early cultural awakening before founding the Communist Party in 1921. Mao Zedong led the party to power in 1949. Zheng Chaolin, Chen Duxiu’s disciple and, like him, a convert to Trotskyism, spent thirty-four years in jail, first under the Nationalist regime and then under their Maoist nemeses. The guerrilla leader Chen Yi wrote flamboyant and descriptive poems in mountain bivouacs and in the heat of battle. 

The Benjamin Files offers a comprehensive new reading of all of Benjamin’s major works and a great number of his shorter book reviews, notes and letters. Its premise is that Benjamin was an anti-philosophical, anti-systematic thinker whose conceptual interests also felt the gravitational pull of his vocation as a writer. What resulted was a coexistence or variety of language fields and thematic codes which overlapped and often seemed to contradict each other: a view which will allow us to clarify the much-debated tension in his works between the mystical or theological side of Benjamin and his political or historical inclination.  

From Dickens’s insomniac night rambles to restless excursions through the faceless monuments of today’s neoliberal city, the act of walking is one of self-discovery and self-escape, of disappearances and secret subversions. Pacing stride for stride alongside literary amblers and thinkers such as Edgar Allan Poe, André Breton, H. G. Wells, Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys and Ray Bradbury, Beaumont explores the relationship between the metropolis and its pedestrian life. 

Against World Literature: On the Politics of Untranslatability argues for a rethinking of comparative literature focusing on the problems that emerge when large-scale paradigms of literary studies ignore the politics of the “Untranslatable”—the realm of those words that are continually retranslated, mistranslated, transferred from language to language, or especially resistant to substitution.

The Age of the Poets revisits the age-old problem of the relation between literature and philosophy, arguing against both Plato and Heidegger’s famous arguments. Philosophy neither has to ban the poets from the republic nor abdicate its own powers to the sole benefit of poetry or art. Instead, it must declare the end of what Badiou names the “age of the poets,” which stretches from Hölderlin to Celan. Drawing on ideas from his first publication on the subject, “The Autonomy of the Aesthetic Process,” Badiou offers an illuminating set of readings of contemporary French prose writers, giving us fascinating insights into the theory of the novel while also accounting for the specific position of literature between science and ideology.

The legacy of Bertolt Brecht is much contested, whether by those who wish to forget or to vilify his politics, but his stature as the outstanding political playwright and poet of the twentieth century is unforgettably established in this major critical work. Fredric Jameson elegantly dissects the intricate connections between Brecht's drama and politics, demonstrating the way these combined to shape a unique and powerful influence on a profoundly troubled epoch.

First published in 1990, Michele Wallace’s Invisibility Blues is widely regarded as a landmark in the history of black feminism. Wallace’s considerations of the black experience in America include recollections of her early life in Harlem; a look at the continued underrepresentation of black voices in politics, media, and culture; and the legacy of such figures as Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Cade Bambara, Toni Morrison,and Alice Walker. Wallace addresses the tensions between race, gender, and society, bringing them into the open with a singular mix of literary virtuosity and scholarly rigor. Invisibility Blues challenges and informs with the plain-spoken truth that has made it an acknowledged classic.

Everything to Nothing is the award-winning panoramic history of how nationalism and internationalism defined both the war itself and its aftermath—revolutionary movements, wars for independence, civil wars, the treaty of Versailles. It reveals how poets played a vital role in defining the stakes, ambitions and disappointments of postwar Europe. In this cultural history of the First World War, the conflict is seen from the point of view of poets and writers from all over Europe, including Rupert Brooke, Anna Akhmatova, Guillaume Apollinaire, Gabriele D’Annunzio, Vladimir Mayakovsky, Rainer Maria Rilke and Siegfried Sassoon. 

The leading critic Francis Mulhern uncovers a hidden history in the fiction of the past century, identifying a central new genre: the condition of culture novel. Reading across and against the grain of received patterns of literary association, tracing a line from Hardy and Forster, through Woolf, Waugh and Bowen, to Barstow, Fowles, Rendell, Naipaul, Amis, Kureishi and Smith, he elucidates the recurring topics and narrative logics of the genre, showing how culture emerges as a special ground of social conflict, above all between classes. The narrative evaluations of culture’s ends—the aspirations and the destinies of those whose lives are the subject of these novels—grow steadily darker over time, and the writing itself grows more introverted.

Against Everything is a thought-provoking study and essential guide to the vicissitudes of everyday life under twenty-first-century capitalism.

Mark Greif is one of the most exciting writers of his generation. In this invigorating collection, he challenges us to rethink the ordinary world and take life seriously – in short, to stay honest in dishonest times. In a series of coruscating set pieces he asks why we put ourselves through the pains of exercise, what our concerns about diet or sex does for our fundamental worth, what political identity the hipster might possess, and what happens to us when we listen to Radiohead or hip-hop.

Note: this book not available in North America

Literature of Revolution explores the pivotal texts and topics in the Marxist tradition, drawing on the works of Marx, Trotsky, Luxemburg, Lenin, and Althusser. In close dialogue with common themes and arguments in revolutionary Marxist thought, Geras brings some of his persistent preoccupations to the fore: the relationship between Marxism and justice; the debates on political organization; and the role of revolutionary mass action and party pluralism; as well as an enthralling exploration into the literary power of Trotsky’s writing.

Legend, saga, myth, riddle, saying, case, memorabile, fairy tale, joke: André Jolles understands each of these nine “simple forms” as the reflection in language of a distinct mode of human engagement with the world and thus as a basic structuring principle of literary narrative. Published in German in 1929 and long recognized as a classic of genre theory, Simple Forms is the first English translation of a significant precursor to structuralist and narratological approaches to literature. Like Vladimir Propp’s Morphology of the Folktale, with which it is often compared, Jolles’s work is not only foundational for the later development of genre theory but is of continuing relevance today. A major influence on literary genre studies since its publication, Simple Forms is finally available in English.

This wide-ranging book argues that criticism emerged in early bourgeois society as a central feature of a “public sphere” in which political, ethical, and literary judgements could mingle under the benign rule of reason. The disintegration of this fragile culture brought on a crisis in criticism, whose history since the 18th century has been fraught with ambivalence and anxiety.

What constitutes a nation’s literature? How do literatures of different countries interact with one another? In this groundbreaking study, Alexander Beecroft develops a new way of thinking about world literature. Drawing on a series of examples and case studies, the book ranges from ancient epic to the contemporary fiction of Roberto Bolaño and Amitav Ghosh.

The Antinomies of Realism is a history of the nineteenth-century realist novel and its legacy told without a glimmer of nostalgia for artistic achievements that the movement of history makes it impossible to recreate. The works of Zola, Tolstoy, Pérez Galdós, and George Eliot are in the most profound sense inimitable, yet continue to dominate the novel form to this day.

From our finest radical literary analyst, a classic study of the great philosopher and cultural theorist.

All books are 40% off as part of our Student Reading Sale. Ends September 30 at 11:59PM EST. See all our student reading lists here.