In the Critics this week

Žižek on Shakespeare, Barghouti on Palestine and Gray on the money.

In the Critics section of this week's New Statesman, Slovenian philosopher and cultural theorist Slavoj Žižek discusses Ralph Fienne's film adaptation of Shakespeare's Coriolanus and explains why the play is better than Hamlet. He writes that Fiennes "has done the impossible... He has fully broken out of the closed circle of interpretative options and presented Coriolanus not as a fanatical anti-democrat but as a figure of the radical left." Žižek writes: "Without changing a word in Shakespeare's play, the film looks squarely at us, at our predicament today, offering us the figure of the radical freedom fighter."

In this week's lead book review, John Gray praises Philip Coggan's new book Paper Promises: Money, Debt and the New World Order, calling it "the most illuminating account of the financial crisis to appear to date". Gray examines Coggan's exploration of the origins of money up to the present financial crisis and surmises that "little has been learned since the crash and, as a consequence, a crisis that our leaders have never properly understood is now entering an even more dangerous phase".

In the Books Interview, Jonathan Derbyshire talks to Mourid Barghouti about his new book, I Was Born There, I Was Born Here, which is about his return to Palestine from his current home in Cairo. "It's painful to restore the past, to try to relive it," says Barghouti. "Nobody ever returns completely and nothing is ever restored completely... What you crave is the moment, the time you spent in those places."

Also in Critics: Yo Zushi reviews Kathy Peiss's Zoot Suit: the Enigmatic Career of an Extreme Style and Rosie Goldsmith says that this year's Best European Fiction anthology falls short of its predecessor. Ryan Gilbey praises Chilean director Raúl Ruiz's latest film Mysteries of Lisbon and Rachel Cooke has a nauseous reaction to The National Anthem on Channel 4. Plus: a break down of this year's finest cultural events, Will Self's Madness of Crowds, Antonia Quirke on Radio 4's The Tenant of Wildfell Hall and a poem by Matthew Hollis.

Iain Cameron
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Meet Scotland's 300-year-old snow patch, the Sphinx

Snow patch watchers expect it to melt away by the weekend. 

This weekend, Scotland's most resilient snow patch, dubbed Sphinx, is expected to melt away. The news has been met with a surprising outpouring of emotion and nationwide coverage. Even The Financial Times covered the story with the headline "The end is nigh for Britain's last snow". The story has also gone international, featuring in radio reports as far away as New Zealand.

So what is it about Sphinx that has captured the public’s imagination?  Some have suggested it could be symbolic. The Sphinx represents how we all feel, helpless and doomed to a fate determined by leaders like Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un. 

Regular contributors to the Facebook page “Snow Patches in Scotland”  have their own, more prosaic theories. One tells me that the British are “generally a bit obsessed with weather and climate”, while another says snow-patches are "more interesting than anything Trump/May/Boris or Vladimir have to say”.

Those more interested in patches of snow than the existential consequences of international relations could be dismissed as having seriously skewed priorities, but there's more to the story of Sphinx than lies on the surface. 

For a start it's thought to be 300 years old, covering a small square of the Cairngorms for centuries with just six brief interruptions. Last time the Sphinx disappeared was 11 years ago. Though it may melt away this weekend, it is expected to be back by winter. 

Iain Cameron, the man who set up the Facebook page "Snow Patches in Scotland" and someone who has recorded and measured snow patches since he was a young boy, says that Sphinx has shrunk to the size of a large dinner table and he expects it will have melted entirely by this Saturday.

It came close to disappearing in 2011 as well, he adds. In October of that year, Sphinx at around its current size and only a heavy snowstorm revived it.

"They tend to keep the same shape and form every year," Cameron tells me. "It might sound weird to say, but it’s like seeing an elderly relative or an old friend. You’re slightly disappointed if it’s not in as good a condition."

But why has Sphinx survived for so long? The patch of land that Sphinx lies above faces towards the North East, meaning it is sheltered from the elements by large natural formations called Corries and avoids the bulk of what sunlight northern Scotland has to offer. 

It also sits on a bid of soil rather than boulder-fields, unlike the snow patches on Britain's highest mountain Ben Nevis. Boulder-fields allow air through them, but the soil does not, meaning the Sphinx melts only from the top.

Cameron is hesistant to attribute the increased rate of Sphinx's melting to climate change. He says meterologists can decide the causes based on the data which he and his fellow anoraks (as he calls them) collect. 

That data shows that over the past 11 years since Sphinx last melted it has changed size each year, not following any discernable pattern. “There is no rhyme or reason because of the vagaries of the Scottish climate," says Cameron.

One thing that has changed is Sphinx's title is no longer quite so secure. There is another snow patch in near Ben Nevis vying for the position of the last in Scotland. Cameron says that it is 50:50 as to which one will go first.