Posted on by David Gelber

‘I love to lose myself in a mystery’, Sir Thomas Browne confesses in Religio Medici. I know what he means. There are few more enjoyable pastimes than snuggling up with a good murder. But such mysteries are penetrable, ‘susceptible of rational explanation’ as Sherlock Holmes might say. Holmes, incidentally, is currently to be seen in […]

The Hunting of the Kundalini

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

This magazine’s Bad Sex in Fiction Award has never shied away from speaking truth to power as well as literary celebrity. Alastair Campbell is a two-time nominee and Tony Blair was touted for an account in his memoirs of feral sex with Cherie. This year’s most newsworthy erotic piece of writing concerned animals more domestic: […]

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Plumped Pages

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Boxers loom large in the early pages of this magnificent anthology from the years in which the New Yorker became more profitable, better established and fatter than ever before – at one stage, it was necessary to limit the pages in a weekly issue to 248 – without compromising the standards set by its fabled […]

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Schools of Thought

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

There has always been something self-righteous about the notion of science. In its classical sense, the Latin word scientia meant not just knowledge, but knowledge gained in a heroic struggle against the forces of ignorance and folly. By the time of the Renaissance, it referred to esoteric information gathered through sustained study, as opposed to […]

Drop Dead Gorgeous

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Dedicated followers of fashion have always been prepared to go to ridiculous extremes. Today we scoff at models falling off their eight-inch heels or Lady Gaga sporting a dress made from meat. The past has furnished equally ludicrous examples, such as the Georgian woman whose hoop petticoat became entangled in a ram’s horns and the […]

In the Shadow of Mercury

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

If aliens somehow manage to tap into our internet then I wonder what they’ll make of the Vulcan Language Institute. Its website proclaims, ‘In addition to language lessons and many pages with specialized terminology, we have information on noted Vulcans, Vulcan history etc.’ The planet is, of course, the fictional home of Star Trek’s Mr […]

Dividing Lines

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

‘When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best,’ Donald Trump said during the speech announcing his presidential candidacy in June 2015. Most agree that Trump’s stunning poll numbers in the Republican primary owe a great deal to his domination of the immigration issue. While most of the Tea Party’s agenda – guns, god […]

Immortality For Who?

Posted on by David Gelber

Just before his death, the speechless Kafka scrawled this wry joke on a conversation slip: ‘Tremendous amount of sputum, easily, and still pain in the morning. In my daze it went through my head that for such quantities and the ease somehow the Nobel Prize…’ Why was Elias Canetti awarded the Nobel Prize in 1981? […]

Look on My Works, Ye Mighty

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Among the myriad horrors perpetrated by ISIS in Syria and Iraq, why does the destruction of ancient buildings provoke such special outrage? Every instinct tells us that old stones are as nothing against living human beings beheaded, mutilated or sold into slavery. Nevertheless, the dynamiting of places such as Palmyra stands out as uniquely appalling. […]

By Any Other Name

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

On 21 April 1525, a notarial act was drawn up to divide the property of Gian Giacomo Caprotti di Oreno, best known to posterity as Salaì. Salaì, who was a particular favourite among the pupils and assistants of Leonardo da Vinci, had met a violent end in his native Milan the previous year. Among the […]

Dig for Victory

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Bill Ash is a genuine Boy’s Own hero of whom you have probably never heard. But because Patrick Bishop writes like a dream, you are unlikely ever to forget him. Born in Texas, Ash was appalled by the rise of Nazi Germany. Long before the US entered the war, he renounced his American citizenship, travelled […]

Citizen Vain

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Simon Callow’s magniloquent biographical endeavour has taken a quarter of a century to compose and is still not complete. A final, fourth volume, dealing with the last two decades of Orson Welles’s life, is yet to come. So far, in giving three very long cheers for Orson Welles, he has succeeded in ravelling the sacred […]

Hermit of the Himalayas

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Of all those ‘orientalist’ British officials who spent as much time studying India as ruling it, none was more elusive than Brian Hodgson. Like some of the hundred or more bird species Hodgson was the first to identify, sightings of him were rare, though his call was often heard from afar. Indeed, so numerous were […]

Encompassing Genius

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

The Compasses, a dingy pothouse in High Wycombe, was not the most likely place to encounter John Milton, Isaac Newton or Benjamin Franklin. Yet it was here, in March 1794, that Samuel Taylor Coleridge claimed to have met a man of ‘the greatest information and most original genius’. His ‘philosophical theories of heaven and hell’ and ideas of ‘daring impiety’ kept the poet awake until three the next morning. As Coleridge said to his brother

Poems, Possum & Pram

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

One winter’s day in the late 1950s, the book designer Frank Herrmann and his wife, Patricia, left their baby daughter in her pram near the entrance to the offices of Faber & Faber in London’s Russell Square. The Herrmanns went upstairs for a business meeting. When Patricia came back downstairs, she was shocked to find […]

Inner Worlds

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

In the early 1940s, two researchers on either side of the Atlantic, child psychiatrist Leo Kanner in Baltimore and paediatrician Hans Asperger in Vienna, independently identified and classified a condition they both called autism (from autos, Greek for ‘self’). This conjunction ‘is still considered one of the great coincidences of twentieth-century medicine’, writes Steve Silberman […]

Lest We Remember

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

Bucked from his half-broken horse in Jorge Luis Borges’s famous short story ‘Funes the Memorious’, Ireneo Funes suffers a head injury that leaves him pathologically unable to forget. ‘He knew the forms of the clouds in the southern sky on the morning of April 30, 1882, and he could compare them in his memory with […]

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Esprit de Corpse

Posted on by Frank Brinkley

As a visiting professor in Germany in 2011, I found myself alone above the gravestone of Richard and Cosima Wagner at Wahnfried, the couples’ legendary home in Bayreuth. I was studying the corrosive influence of the cult of genius on the Nazis. The anti-Semitic Wagner, however beautiful his music, played a central role in that […]

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