In this week’s TLS – a note from the Deputy Editor
New biographies of two leading figures in English intellectual life whose influence extended far beyond the academy and into politics, R. H. Tawney and Richard Hoggart, prompt our reviewer Stefan Collini to wonder whether “their way” can any longer be “our way” – whether the ethical sensibility and tradition of social thinking they embodied have been permanently undermined by what Tawney identified as the “distinctive modern pathology”: the single-minded pursuit of financial gain. Unfashionable as these two former giants might seem, “it is hard to see how anyone”, Professor Collini writes, “faced with the social destruction wrought by unchecked ‘market forces’ in recent decades, could regard [their] concerns as altogether passé”. Simon Jarvis reviews a “subtle, complicated and counter-intuitive” study of William Blake (pictured) which shifts attention away from that great poet and artist’s radical, revolutionary “enthusiasm”, and maintains a “resolutely agnostic stance on the question of the real extent of Blake’s connections with practical politics”.
For the novelist Jonathan Lethem, politics is personal: “my life was a demonstration”. Lethem’s new novel, Kate Webb writes, develops a critique of the American Left; he “has fun with the drama of revolutionary politics while remaining wary of its self-intoxications”. The America of the Revolutionary War itself is the subject of a book about the leaders on the losing side, reviewed by Mark G. Spencer, and also features in a history of the connections between America’s greatest academic institutions and the transatlantic slave trade – “the American campus stood as a silent monument to slavery” being just one of its “overstatements”, according to George Bornstein. “We dare not America now spurn”, lamented Victor Plarr, a fading minor poet, a few months after he had met the pushful Ezra Pound. And: “The Quack survives when Arts of Learning die, / And every critic learns to cringe & lie!” Pound and Plarr were both guests at the Peacock Dinner, 100 years ago this week: in Commentary, Lucy McDiarmid untangles the insults that were digested along with the peacock.