Reading List

Cultural and Literary Theory: Verso Student Reading

Bogie_reading_chandler-

We bring you a list of books to fill your Cultural and Literary Theory shelves, including key titles from the likes of Raymond Williams, Mark Greif, Michele Wallace and Fredric Jameson. Discover the answer to the age-old problem of the relation between philosophy and literature in Alain Badiou's Age of the Poets; let Terry Eagleton explain to you the very function of criticism... Your shelves are empty without these classics!

Raymond Williams made a central contribution to the intellectual culture of the Left in the English-speaking world. He was also one of the key figures in the foundation of cultural studies in Britain, which turned critical skills honed on textual analysis to the examination of structures and forms of resistance apparent in everyday life. Politics and Letters is a volume of interviews with Williams, conducted by New Left Review, designed to bring into clear focus the major theoretical and political issues posed by his work. Introduced by writer Geoff Dyer, Politics and Letters ranges across Williams’s biographical development, the evolution of his cultural theory and literary criticism, his work on dramatic forms and his fiction, and an exploration of British and international politics.

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.

In the place of “World Literature”—a dominant paradigm in the humanities, one grounded in market-driven notions of readability and universal appeal—Apter proposes a plurality of “world literatures” oriented around philosophical concepts and geopolitical pressure points. The history and theory of the language that constructs World Literature is critically examined with a special focus on Weltliteratur, literary world systems, narrative ecosystems, language borders and checkpoints, theologies of translation, and planetary devolution in a book set to revolutionize the discipline of comparative literature.

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.

For Jameson, Brecht is not prescriptive but performative. His plays do not provide answers but attempt to show people how to perform the act of thinking, how to begin to search for answers themselves. Brecht represents the ceaselessness of transformation while at the same time alienating it, interrupting it, making it comprehensible by making it strange. And thereby, in breaking it up by analysis, the possibility emerges of its reconstitution under a new law.

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.

Eagleton’s account embraces Addison and Steele, Johnson and the 19-century reviewers, such critics as Arnold and Stephen, the heyday of Scrutiny and New Criticism, and finally the proliferation of avant-garde literary theories such as deconstructionism. 

The Function of Criticism is nothing less than a history and critique of the “critical institution” itself. Eagleton’s judgements on individual critics are sharp and illuminating, which his general argument raises crucial questions about the relations between language, literature and politics.

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.

Moving across literary ecologies of varying sizes, from small societies to the planet as a whole, the environments in which literary texts are produced and circulated, An Ecology of World Literature places in dialogue scholarly perspectives on ancient and modern, western and non-western texts, navigating literary study into new and uncharted territory.

aRaymond Chandler, a dazzling stylist and portrayer of American life, holds a unique place in literary history, straddling both pulp fiction and modernism. With The Big Sleep, published in 1939, he left an indelible imprint on the detective novel. 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. But this essentially urban and spatial work seems also to be drawn towards a vacuum, an absence that is nothing other than death. With Chandler, the thriller genre becomes metaphysical.

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. Novels to emerge since struggle to reconcile the social conditions of their own creation with the history of this mode of writing: the so-called modernist novel is one attempted solution to this conflict, as is the ever-more impoverished variety of commercial narratives—what today’s book reviewers dub “serious novels,” which are an attempt at the impossible endeavor to roll back the past.

Fredric Jameson examines the most influential theories of artistic and literary realism, approaching the subject himself in terms of the social and historical preconditions for realism’s emergence. The realist novel combined an attention to the body and its states of feeling with a focus on the quest for individual realization within the confines of history.

**************

See all our student reading (and full T&Cs) here!