Thursday, March 27, 2008

Cabinet Magazine

Billed as a quarterly journal of art and culture, Cabinet currently features an interview by Brian Dillon with Robert Macfarlane, author of The Wild Places, and Original Copy, an interesting feature on Freud and porcupines: "The Porcupine Illusion" by George Prochnik, and "Being There" reflections on visiting Martin Heidegger's hut, by Leland De La Durantaye:

Thursday, March 20, 2008

"That Smidge of Chaos - that's how we like it"

Iona and Peter Opie explored children's literature, nursery rhymes, childhood street culture, and playground games in a remarkable series of books, published between 1946 and the year 2000. One of these was Iona Opie's The People in the Playground (1993). Taking this book as his starting point for a series of programmes on Radio 4 this week, Michael Rosen has been exploring the self-organisation and creativity that characterises children's play in an over-organised world.
Each programme is only 15 minutes long - so take advantage of the BBC's listen again feature:

Saturday, March 15, 2008

The Magna Carta Manifesto

A recent British Library poll revealed that nearly half the UK population (45%) don't know what Magna Carta is. The ancient charter dating from 1215 set limits to the arbitary rule of the King - although its concerns were those of the powerful barons, rather than of the unfree peasantry. The poll was commissioned by the British Library to accompany launch of the Library's new Magna Carta website and forthcoming exhibition: Taking Liberties: the Struggle for British Freedom and Rights which will run from 31 October 2008 to 1 March 2009.

Just published is a new book from Peter Linebaugh, that uses Magna Carta to explore "the current state of liberty and show how longstanding restraints against tyranny–and the rights of habeas corpus, trial by jury, and due process of law, and the prohibition of torture–are being abridged."

Linebaugh draws on primary sources to construct a history of the Great Charter and its little-known companion, the Charter of the Forest, which was created at the same time to protect the subsistence rights of the poor. "In providing a sweeping history of Magna Carta, the source of these protections since 1215, this powerful book demonstrates how these ancient rights are repeatedly laid aside when the greed of privatization, the lust for power, and the ambition of empire seize a state."

The Magna Carta Manifesto is published by the University of California Press. Peter Linebaugh is also author of The London Hanged, and co-author of the award winning The Many Headed Hydra.

British Library website

The Magna Carta Manifesto:

Friday, March 07, 2008

Sheila Rowbotham

Professor Sheila Rowbotham, author the the ground-breaking book Hidden From History: 300 Years of Women's Oppression and the Fight Against It (1975) and many other books has been told by the University of Manchester that her contract will not be renewed at the end of 2008. Sheila only wants one-third of her current salary to continue teaching at the university. The University (which is currently paying novelist Martin Amis £80,000 for working 28 hours a year) is pleading that it can no longer afford to pay Sheila.

According to the Telegraph the University has already cut 600 posts (many of them teaching staff) in order to reduce its £30 million deficit.

According to Womensphere some of the people who will be making the final decision about Sheila's case have admitted that they are not acquainted with her credentials or background.

To ask the University to reconsider their decision please email the following by the 10th March:

Please email by 10th March 2008:
* Head of Social Sciences (professor)
* Dean of Humanities (professor)
* President and Vice Chancellor (professor)

Please c.c your letter of support to

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

BBC News

The BBC regularly reports instances of repression from around the world - instances such as the arrest of opposition activists in Moscow following the recent elections there. Yet similar events that occur in this country go completely unreported. Take for example the recent arrests of members of the Brixton-based group "Reclaim Your Food" for "anti-social behaviour".

or the arrest of Simon, a lone protestor outside Downing Street, under laws supposedly intended to tackle "serious and organised crime":

or an incident in Birmingham when police forced a press photographer to delete images from the memory card in his camera in clear breach of ACPO police-press guidelines:

These are just a few sample incidents that have occurred recently and it is quite clear that what used to be occasional and random instances of repression directed at protestors are becoming much more organised and systematic. If the BBC doesn't have the time or the inclination to show what is happening perhaps Russian t.v. might take an interest?

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Julian Rathbone - "An old-school lefty"?

Novelist Julian Rathbone died last week - a prolific author of some of the best contemporary thrillers and historical novels. Tight plots and good characterisation - see for example A spy of the Old School (1982), or Lying in State (1985) - were his hallmark. Although his writing often dealt with overtly political themes - his books were also quietly subversive in the way he portrayed relationships between men and women, as in Dangerous Games (1991)- as well as anticipating new social issues such as genetic engineering, ZDT (1986). In recent years he reached a much wider audience with his historical novels The Last english King (1997) A Very English Agent (2002) and most recently The Mutiny (2007).

Nick Coleman, in the Guardian describes Rathbone as "an old-school lefty. He said so himself. His detestation of privilege and the structures which maintain it was profound. His contempt for them was expressed by turn frighteningly, wittily and sexily, and often all at once, but never, ever dully or merely rhetorically." but Julian Rathbone was more than that, describing himself in an article for the Independent as "a romantic optimist with anarchist leanings"*
It was this libertarian socialist vision that suffuses Rathbone's books and makes them quite unlike those of any other modern English writer, giving them an alternative system of values and ideas which appealed to the ordinary reader.

*Julian Rathbone: "Futuristic Notes: sorry to disturb you. Tax Control here,"
The Independent, Sep 30, 1998

Julian Rathbone: "Englishness in The Last English King and Kings of Albion"

Nick Coleman in The Guardian:,,2261780,00.html
Bob Cornwell interview with julian Rathbone for Tangled Web UK:


...and lastly, here is Julian Rathbone discussing "War and Britishness" at a symposium at the University of Tubingen, originally mentioned on Booksurfer in 2002:

Sunday, March 02, 2008

Author Interviews

There are some serious and thought-provoking author interviews on the Book Depository website including interviews with Gillian Darley, author of the recently reprinted Villages of Vision, and a new biography of John Evelyn; Ken Worpole, author of the seminal Dockers and Detectives; novelist Robert Goddard, biographer Hilary Spurling, and literary theorist Toril Moi. Altogether there are nearly 100 interviews with new material being added all the time - to say nothing about some great book deals - nearly two pounds lower than the Amazon price on James Simpson's new book Burning to Read - and free delivery.

Book Depository interviews at:

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