The Last Man: Gauguin in the Marquesas

Victor Segalen, author of the enigmatic novel René Leys, is now celebrated as a writer who wrote primarily about China, but he also played a significant part in the posthumous rise to fame of the artist Paul Gauguin, whose Tahitian works (including his underrated sculptures and prints) are currently on show in the exhibition Gauguin…

Overwhelmed by Aura

Atget’s Paris   Eugène Atget (1857-1927) was a pioneer of documentary photography, and is now famous for his street scenes of Paris, which provide an invaluable sense of the city in the years following the destruction of the Commune and what came to be known in retrospect as “la Belle Époque”. His work was discovered…

Getting the Eye in

  Kathleen Jamie’s Nature Writing     I used to be on very good terms with Kathleen Jamie around the time I was studying medicine at Glasgow and she was emerging as a talented poet: I still have a copy of her first volume Black Spiders (1982), published when she was barely twenty, with its…

My Old Dressing Gown

or A Warning to Those with more Taste than Money   This, one of Diderot’s most light-hearted pieces, was written as a note of thanks to Madame Geoffrin, a wealthy patron who had sent him a new dressing gown along with some pictures and ornate furniture in return for his help in the matter of…

The Dancer and the Body

More than a hundred years after its first publication in German, NYRB Editions has released the collection “Bright Magic: Stories”—edited and translated by Damien Searls and with an introduction by Günter Grass—which allows us to read Alfred Döblin’s early expressionistic work along with some later fables and “incomprehensible stories”. One of its entries “The Ballerina…

Praise for the Siesta

I’m no fan of the term “downtime” which reinterprets leisure as a kind of absenteeism from productivity (by analogy with outages in industrial systems and power networks), and only grudgingly concedes that “human capital” needs to “resource” itself. Many cultures across the world, not least those around the Mediterranean, long ago adapted to the human…

Mad on Metrics

As the Indo-European languages tell us, medicine and religion have much in common, not least in offering a measure of salvation to the sinful. In her ambitious novel Corpus Delicti (English title: The Method), the socially committed German novelist Julie Zeh considers how much personal liberty we would be prepared to forego in a future…

Madder and indigofera

A professional visit to St Lucia, 2009 Our unexceptionally torpid meeting at the Ministry of Health on the Castries waterfront was enlivened by one of the beautiful local crested hummingbirds hovering in a blur of blue for a few moments outside the plate glass of our office on the fourth floor.               It brought to…

Being Nice to Nietzsche

In his vagabondage around western Europe in the decade of white-hot creativity that was granted him after he resigned his chair in philology at the University of Basle, three other cities were of particular importance to the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche: Nice, Genoa and Turin—all cities with an Alpine background. The last of them impressed…

A Doctor’s Dictionary

A copy of A Doctor’s Dictionary can be pre-ordered directly from my publisher Carcanet Press, or through Amazon. In this pithy abecedarium, doctor and poet Iain Bamforth takes a close look at the conflict of values embodied in what we call medicine – never entirely a science and no longer quite the art it used to be….

Pressed Pushkin

Review, The Queen of Spades and Selected Works Pushkin Press was founded in London in 1997, and has found a niche in a difficult market, publishing pocket-sized, beautifully produced Monotype editions of classic and contemporary literature, much of it in translation; only now does its list include a volume by the author it honours eponymously….