Books in Brief: Giovanni Frazzetto, Robin Blackburn and David Marsh

Three new books you may have missed.

How We Feel: What Neuroscience Can – and Can’t – Tell Us About Our Emotions
Giovanni Frazzetto

Which goes further to explain feelings of guilt – a brain scan or a Caravaggio painting? As a student, the Italian neuroscientist Giovanni Frazzetto was moved by the transcript of Max Weber’s 1918 lecture “Science as a Vocation”, in which Weber argued that the process of intellectual rationalisation (termed Entzauberung, or “disenchantment”) produces human progress but adds nothing to the store of human meaning. Frazzetto’s book guides readers through the latest neurological research, stopping at each revelation to question what has been discovered. He asks which is better for fending off anxiety: medical research on rats, or philosophy? Is a bizarre neurological syndrome the key to understanding love, or did Shakespeare crack that one in his sonnets? 
Doubleday, 320pp, £20

The American Crucible: Slavery, Emancipation and Human Rights
Robin Blackburn
In his analysis of the rise and fall of slavery in the Americas, the historian and former editor of the New Left Review Robin Blackburn shows how the trade in African slaves – a catalyst in the shift from agriculture to industry – helped the rise of capitalism on both sides of the Atlantic. The spread of ideals born of Enlightenment thinking in France and North America led to a series of emancipatory moments in Haiti, the US, Cuba and Brazil, forging many liberal ideas that remain influential today.
Verso, 520pp, £14.99
Europe’s Deadlock
David Marsh
David Marsh, the chairman of the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum, argues that crisis management will never fix the existential problems at the heart of the European Union. What is required is the restructuring of the project as a whole. Marsh lays out a number of options in this neat and concise book – all of which are being “blocked by indecision and incompetence at the top”.
Yale University Press, 130pp, £7.99
La Procure bookshop in Paris. Photograph: Getty Images.

Philip Maughan is Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 19 August 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Why aren’t young people working

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Why so-called lesbian films make me nervous

The upcoming Cate Blanchett vehicle, Carol, is already being feted as a lesbian blockbuster. I should be excited, and yet it just makes me feel sweaty.

An odd thing has started to happen to me in the build-up to new lesbian blockbusters: I sweat. I’m quite sweaty as it is, but I’m probably at my sweatiest when the entire internet – or so it seems, in my panicked state – is going on about Cate Blanchett gaying up for her latest role.

And, no, this isn’t a sex thing. Yes, I have eyes; I realise Blanchett is extremely attractive (and talented, and what have you… yes, feminism). In fact, I don’t necessarily agree with this, but I’ve been told that my “type” is blonde, patrician and spikey (so, the exact opposite of me and everyone I’m related to). I can’t account for Blanchett’s spikiness, although she definitely plays spikey well. I’m also so unsure of whether Australians can be posh, that I just Googled “can Australians be posh?”. But, Antipodean or not, she has that “former captain of the Roedean lacrosse team” thing going on, right? And, yeah, she’s blonde. So, on paper, her playing a lesbian should make me sweaty for sex reasons.

But – here’s where I implore you to suspend your disbelief – that isn’t it. Along with “vigorous cheese grating” and “talking to people”, I’m adding “having to pretend to be excited about a straight woman playing a lesbian” to my list of things that make me sweat. All the hype around Carol, which looks set to be the biggest lesbian film since Fucking Blue Is The Fucking Warmest Colour (actual title) and hits UK cinemas this week, is propelling me into a frenzy of panic the likes of which I haven’t felt since I got this inexplicable pain in my nose and convinced myself it was nose cancer.

Disclaimer: I realise lesbian visibility is important. Any given lesbian can talk about the sorry state of lesbian representation in film and TV for seven solid hours. If you want to see filibustering at its finest, just ask a gay woman what she thought of The Kids Are All Right.

So why the sweat? Yes, straight actors get to put on gayness like a gorilla suit, every time they feel like having an Oscar lobbed at their head. Blanchett did “mental” in Blue Jasmine (very well, actually) and now she’s doing gay. Why panic though? Lesbian blockbusters starring almost entirely straight women are better than nothing. But lesbianism in films is cursed with being a big deal. When’s the last time you saw a film about, say, some bounty hunters who just so happen to be lesbians? (note to self: write that screenplay). No, not “lesbian bounty hunters”, I mean “bounty hunters… who are in a relationship, and both of them are women, I guess… and what’s your point?”

The panic comes from the lesbian aspect of any mainstream film being the driving force behind a hoo-hah of epic proportions. The tremendous fanfare that heralds the lesbian blockbuster is enough to give me palpitations. And this absurd pomp wouldn’t exist if lesbian representation were slightly less concentrated. Years pass without any lesbians at all then, all of a sudden: “CATE BLANCHETT IS GAYING IN A FILM AND IT’S GOING TO BE STUNNING AND BREATHTAKING AND YOU’RE GOING TO CRY SEVENTEEN TIMES AND IF YOU’RE NOT HYPERVENTILATING RIGHT NOW YOU HAVE NO SOUL AND YOU’RE NOT EVEN A PROPER LESBIAN”.

Admittedly, I haven’t seen Carol yet, so I’m going to have to reserve judgement. Perhaps I will cry seventeen times. I have seen the trailer though and, complete with a moody vocal jazz track and a woman gazing mournfully out of a rain-spattered window, it’s already starting to tick “every lesbian film ever” boxes.  

It’s all the hype, accompanied by knowing that I’m going to have to have #opinions about Carol and probably every other lesbian film, until I die, that makes me sweat. That and also knowing that, in order to be aforementioned “proper lesbian”, I’ll have to find someone to take with me to see Carol on a date, except neither of us will really know whether or not it’s a date, and, during the sex bits (of which I’m sure there are… some) we’ll have to look at our shoes and cough, and sweat.

Eleanor Margolis is a freelance journalist, whose "Lez Miserable" column appears weekly on the New Statesman website.