Macbeth, Macbeth is that rare thing, a truly collaborative fiction, written by two of the world’s leading Shakespeare scholars, Simon Palfrey and Ewan Fernie. The authors enter the wounds of Shakespeare’s dark work, recovering life from Shakespeare’s ‘strange images of death’, at once continuing and reliving Macbeth’s original terrors. In doing so they create a whole new world from its embers – and speak to the play as never before.
Desire: a memoir is the radical autobiography of Jonathan Dollimore, probably the most important and controversial writer on literature, sex, and masculinity of the last thirty years. Here he explores the darkness and dangers of his own past, dominated by the twin sirens of sexual transgression and death. The book is remarkable for its candour, unguardedness, and tenderness, a true act of critical self-accounting. Desire explores what it might be, what it might take, to construct an ethics, to make or to unmake a life, truly faithful to the implications of sexual desire.
Orpheus and Eurydice (OE), by artist Tom de Freston and award-winning poet and novelist Kiran Millwood-Hargreave, is another unique collaboration, creating another uniquely hybrid work. This is no ordinary graphic fiction, in which a story is told through generic cartoons and simple narrative stubs. De Freston’s dizzying, multiform pictures refract the story of Orpheus’s search through the underworld for his beloved Eurydice, spoken through the discovered traces of Millwood-Hargreave’s plaintive, sensuous poems. OE is as much a quest between artforms as it is a quest of love.
Character as Form is an extended meditation on fictional lives by the Californian poet, critic and aphorist Aaron Kunin. His questions go right to the heart of modern living. He explores what it means to be a character, and whether individuality as commonly understood is possible or even desirable. This is criticism as a sustained act of comedy – not simply because the writing is witty but because it is radically ironic, offered as possible thoughts to which Kunin does not require or even expect assent. Kunin posits things way beyond our culture’s unthinking conformities and pieties. Perhaps the most startling thought of all is that literature, with its devotion to types rather than individuals as the model of the human, might just be true.
The Winnowing Fan is what happens when the eminent philosopher Christopher Norris takes to thinking in verse, and indeed in rhyme. Here then is a series of verse-essays on a host of canonical philosophical concerns: truth, death, desire, symmetry, love, beauty, and on and on. Along the way we meet or pass a host of giants from European poetic history – from Homer through the work of French symbolists such as Mallarmé to moderns such as Yeats, Benjamin, Heaney, Larkin, and Barthes. And then there are the philosophers, about whom, with whom, and indeed to whom, Norris writes: Hume, Leibniz, Heidegger, Althusser, Derrida, de Man, Rorty, Deleuze, Badiou and Agamben. Both thought and criticism here finally return to the strange ways of verse.
Ceaseless Music summons into presence the five-part version of The Prelude left incomplete when Wordsworth died. For acclaimed poet-critic Steven Matthews, confronting this ‘shadow’ Prelude involves retracing the unfinished lives we ourselves once led, but have left behind. In a series of original poems interspersed with prose meditations, Ceaseless Music shows what happens when vivid encounters with literature erupt into real life, and vice versa. If revisiting The Prelude involves listening intently for the ‘ceaseless music’ of the River Derwent which ran behind Wordsworth’s childhood home in Cockermouth, it also means revisiting a working-class boy’s memories of gunmen in the woods near his Colchester home during the Irish troubles. In this tender and disturbing book, poetry stands for death withheld – for now.