According to the foreword in a 1978 reprint, ‘Agent of Chaos is extremely popular with convicts’ and ‘certain sectors of the radical political left’. But the novel’s libertarian anarchism seems more in tune these days with the mainstream political right. In 1999, Spinrad said: ‘I’m an anarchist – but I’m a syndicalist. You have to have organised anarchy, because otherwise it doesn’t work.’ The real Boris Johnson has said his ideal form of government would be a ‘rules-based anarchy’.
While the executioner’s knowledge of anatomy engendered these ironic side jobs, it was acquired with a singular purpose: efficiency. Each was judged on his meticulous ability to carry out a death sentence while avoiding the excessively bloody spectacle of a botched execution. Public executions—by sword, fire or wheel—were the culmination of a theatrical performance through which the crown enacted its deadly authority. The performance of justice needed to be seamless enough to appear natural—any disruption might be interpreted by the gathered crowd as an intervening act of God, a repudiation of the divine rite of kings. Hence it needed to be expertly enacted. To botch the highly choreographed routine was seen as an affront to justice.
The good folks at Dorothy labored over a tremendous “Book Map” depicting the settings of some 600 literary works based in London. The books, poems, and essays selected for the map run the gamut from T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land” to J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.
All this is by way of saying that in the United States we haven’t got any actual royals, and yet almost the very first stories we hear are about princes and princesses, kings and queens. When a little American kid first learns that there is such a thing as real, live princes and princesses, who live in actual palaces, this is liable to come as a terrific shock, though in general a pleasing one. One would like it to be true; it’s a very nice idea, that there is such a thing as an incorruptible person for whom everything will — everything must — come right in the end.
Northern England has its own distinct genre of crime fiction, yet it’s never taken off abroad the way its counterparts in Scandinavia and Scotland have. In The Guardian, AK Nawaz wonders why this is, arguing that “there is an argument for a common and marketable ‘Northernness’ – if not an identity, then perhaps a literary state of mind.”
The brand new Library of Birmingham opens next week, and the gigantic structure is said to be “Europe’s largest public library.” In addition to its modern architecture, the facility also offers “a room from the 19th Century … to house one of the UK’s most important Shakespeare collections.”