David Trotter

David Trotter is emeritus professor of literature at Cambridge. Brute Meaning, a book of essays, some of which were first published in the LRB, came out in 2020.

On 2​ january 1931, Valentine Ackland sent her new lover, Sylvia Townsend Warner, a book about bisexuality. ‘After reading it carefully,’ she reported with evident relief, ‘I discover that you and I are admirably suited to each other.’ Warner was quick to imagine bisexuality as a kind of physiological oscillation. ‘Do we do it in alternate spasms, do you think, like synchronised oysters ... or is one both at once?’ The book’s author, Theodore J. Faithfull, described on the title page as ‘principal of the Priory Gate School’, had something altogether less strenuous in mind. To him, bisexuality did not concern sexual preference. Rather, it was a way to acknowledge the bipolar presence in an individual of the ‘attributes, instincts and desires generally attributed to males and females respectively’. One is bisexual psychologically, Ackland explained. She was the sort of person whose ‘psychological sexual balance’, in Faithfull’s terms, demanded the frequent ‘discharge of libido’. When it came to libido, others might prefer to ‘receive’ and ‘retain’ rather than to discharge. By Ackland’s account, Warner belonged to the second category.

At the Towner Gallery: Jananne Al-Ani

David Trotter, 12 May 2022

Jananne Al-Ani​ is an artist whose recent work has done much to illuminate the ways in which modern media can resemble a process of delineation: a drawing or writing with light (photo-graphy) or with motion (cinemato-graphy). The resemblance is established in Shadow Sites I (2010), which reinscribes by means of its own kind of graphic manoeuvre an already existing inscription. A shadow site...

Investigate the Sock: Garbo’s Equivocation

David Trotter, 24 February 2022

The problem with Garbo is that she rapidly became, and still remains, iconically iconic. It isn’t just that when we talk about Garbo we’re talking about what it means to be talked about – to the extent that the person she was and the films she made now seem almost beside the point. It is rather that, to judge by the tone of much of the commentary, the person and the films were never the point in the first place.

No Shortage of Cousins: Bowenology

David Trotter, 12 August 2021

There are​ more weird households per novel in the work of Elizabeth Bowen than in that of any comparable writer. She liked to imagine the nuclear family as radically estranged from itself – by the death of a parent or a child, by childlessness, by emergency or neglect. Twenty-year-old Roderick Rodney in The Heat of the Day (1948) ‘would have esteemed, for instance, organic family...

Stainless Steel Banana Slicer

David Trotter, 18 March 2021

Agimmick​ is a gadget that flatters to deceive. It reminds us of the difference between what we need and what we can be persuaded to want. Raspberry mojitos hint at arcadia, but they’re never going to taste as good as the ones nobody thought to add raspberries to. An ironing board is a plank with a collapsible undercarriage right up until the moment you try to replace the one you have...

Hauteur: ‘Paranoid Modernism’

Adam Phillips, 22 May 2003

What is now called trauma theory informs contemporary biography as much as it does the academic practice of literary history. Belief in trauma as a kind of agency, as a cultural force – in...

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Spitting, Sneezing, Smearing: Messy Business

Marjorie Garber, 10 August 2000

Once, recycling was a way of life, conducted without civic ordinances, highway beautification statutes, adopt-a-motorway programmes or special bins for paper, glass and metal. Until the mid-19th...

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Reading Cure

John Sutherland, 10 November 1988

The Wellesley Index originated in its founding editor Walter Houghton’s The Victorian Frame of Mind, 1830-1870 (1957), a manual which was influential among students of the Sixties....

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Fit and Few

Donald Davie, 3 May 1984

‘Fit audience, though few,’ said Milton; and thereupon declared the terms in which the issue of reader-response would be considered by poets from his day to ours. The widely-read...

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On Aetna’s Top

Howard Erskine-Hill, 4 September 1980

So Pope wrote in 1737, since which time Cowley has passed almost entirely into the hands of academic literary historians, whose chief service to him has been the rediscovery of his unfinished...

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