Review: Erica Benner ‘Be Like the Fox’

An apocryphal story relates that, before he made his confession, Niccolò told his grieving friends about a dream he’d had. In it he saw a crowd of people, emaciated and in rags. When he asked who they were, he was told that they were the blessed souls of Paradise, because it is written, ‘Blessed are the poor, for they shall reign in heaven.’45 These vanished; then he saw a gathering of people in royal and courtly robes, deep in conversation about politics and philosophy. Among them he recognized Plato, Plutarch, Tacitus, and other famous men of antiquity. Asking who these were, he received the answer that they were condemned to Hell, because it is written: ‘Knowledge of sacred things is inimical to God.’ Asked which group he would like to join, he answered: ‘I’d rather burn in Hell for all eternity with the second lot than suffer in Paradise with the first.’ (p.314)

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Ross McCleary's Post-Irony

While attending the Saboteur Awards 2017, I discovered the intriguingly titled humorous novella Portrait of the Artist as a Viable Alternative to Death. With its James Joyce parody title and the author, Ross McCleary, standing in the crowd dressed as a panda, it was impossible to resist. Experimenting with font size, bold typography, second person voice, motifs of violence, mortality, solipsism and a great surfeit of meta-conceits, Portrait of the Artist as a Viable Alternative to Death is an analysis of what it means to be an artist—in that sense, it has continuity with Joyce. A single conceit, or formulae, structures the book. Each paragraph, separated from its predecessor by a hard break, begins ‘He says[…]’ and proceeds to a statement of some insight from the titular artist, speaking directly to ‘you’ the reader. It has a mesmeric quality: ‘He says it only rains when he takes an Ordinance Survey Map in the shower with him.’

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Last of the Summer Manuscripts

August is not a great time to ‘aggressively promote a brand’—to use one of the corny buzz phrases that parasites into the vulnerable mind of any go-getting freelancer. People are keener on taking vacations than having their novels cut up and surgically stitched back together for the prospective discerning, if brutal, attention of agents and publishers. Nonetheless, it is an undertaking (or, more loftily, vocation) to which I am currently committed.

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Metaphysics & Gossip

Aside from utopias and related genres, the metaphysics of stories is my most enduring monomania—one I can precisely trace to a single influence. During my formative journey through such topics as ontology, aesthetics and philosophical anthropology, the British writer Raymond Tallis was key. And in his incisive early essay ‘Notes Towards a Manifesto for a Novel of the Future’, collected in The Raymond Tallis Reader, he begins with a statement to which I often return, ‘In my more honest moments, I am inclined to admit that I find only two things in the world truly fascinating: metaphysics and gossip.’ It’s an arresting dichotomy that demands unpacking.

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My best (weird) books





























For a while I have wanted to do a blog showcasing the best (weirdest) books from my personal collection. I am fascinated by what artists and authors can do when they treat books not merely as dull vehicles for prose, but as aesthetic objects in themselves. Despite not sharing the popular distaste for ebooks, I love the physicality of volumes and volumes of books. The look of text on paper and the playful repurposing of manuscripts. These are examples I evidently loved so much I needed to keep them. I could have chosen a different set and my process for picking was admittedly haphazard and whimsical, but I think this exemplifies a lot of what is possible.

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