Books in Brief: Sergio de la Pava, Rose George, Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster

Three new books you may have missed.

A Naked Singularity
Sergio De La Pava
A Naked Singularity was originally self-published by its author, a New York public defence lawyer, in 2008. The University of Chicago Press republished it in 2012 after a positive reaction online and slowly growing sales. Now, the book is front and centre in indie bookshop windows across Europe, bolstered by praise from critics who applaud De La Pava’s Pynchonian energy, inventiveness and hysterical cast of lawbreakers (and makers). The novel tells the story of Casi, a lawyer on the front line of America’s war on drugs, licking his wounds after his first defeat. The narrative takes the form of a slippery, disorganised projection of the New York justice system, a verbal descent into madness.
MacLehose Press, 864pp, £20 
 
Deep Sea and Foreign Going: Inside Shipping, the Invisible Industry that Brings You 90 Per Cent of Everything
Rose George
 
“Friday. No sensible sailor goes to sea on the day of the Crucifixion, or the journey will be followed by ill-will and malice.” The first two sentences of Rose George’s book prepare the reader for timetables, ships and superstition. It is a travelogue of sorts, written in clear, straightforward English, about the people, pirates and machinery that make up the modern maritime industry: a series of complex, ancient and solitary traditions hidden from most, but as vital to life as ever.
Portobello Books, 308pp, £14.99 
 
The Hamlet Doctrine: Knowing Too Much, Doing Nothing
Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster
 
In her essay “On Being Ill”, Virginia Woolf said that “rashness” was essential for appreciating Shakespeare, whose work was heavily guarded by patrician literary critics. “Illness,” she wrote, “in its kingly sublimity, sweeps all that aside and leaves nothing but Shakespeare and oneself.” Critchley and Webster write about Hamlet in short, vitriolic chapters, proposing a series of darkly intelligent questions and asserting Ophelia’s place as the real hero of the play. It is an ode to the spirit of “rashness”.
Verso, 288pp, £14.99
Eyes down, look in: Book shoppers in Munich. Photograph: Getty Images.

Philip Maughan is a freelance writer in Berlin and a former Assistant Editor at the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 16 September 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Syria: The deadly stalemate

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Harry Styles: What can three blank Instagram posts tell us about music promotion?

Do the One Direction star’s latest posts tell us about the future of music promotion in the social media age - or take us back to a bygone era?

Yesterday, Harry Styles posted three identical, captionless blank images to Instagram. He offered no explanation on any other social network, and left no clue via location serves or tagged accounts as to what the pictures might mean. There was nothing about any of the individual images that suggested they might have significance beyond their surface existence.

And, predictably, they brought in over a million likes – and thousands of Styles fans decoding them with the forensic dedication of the cast of Silent Witness.

Of course, the Instagrams are deliberately provocative in their vagueness. They reminded me of Robert Rauschenberg’s three-panelled White Painting (1951), or Robert Ryman’s Untitled, three square blank canvases that hang in the Pompidou Centre. The composer John Cage claimed that the significance of Rauschenberg’s White Paintings lay in their status as receptive surfaces that respond to the world around them. The significance of Styles’s Instagrams arguably, too, only gain cultural relevance as his audience engages with them.

So what did fans make of the cryptic posts? Some posited a modelling career announcement would follow, others theorised that it was a nod to a Taylor Swift song “Blank Space”, and that the former couple would soon confirm they were back together. Still more thought this suggested an oncoming solo album launch.

You can understand why a solo album launch would be on the tip of most fans’ tongues. Instagram has become a popular platform for the cryptic musical announcement — In April, Beyoncé teased Lemonade’s world premiere with a short Instagram video – keeping her face, and the significance behind the title Lemonade, hidden.

Creating a void is often seen as the ultimate way to tease fans and whet appetites. In June last year, The 1975 temporarily deleted their Instagram, a key platform in building the band’s grungy, black and white brand, in the lead up to the announcement of their second album, which involved a shift in aesthetic to pastel pinks and bright neons.

The Weekend wiped his, too, just last week – ahead of the release of his new single “Starboy”. Blank Instagrams are popular across the network. Jaden Smith has posted hundreds of them, seemingly with no wider philosophical point behind them, though he did tweet in April last year, “Instagram Is A BlackHole Of Time And Energy.”

The motive behind Harry’s blank posts perhaps seems somewhat anticlimactic – an interview with magazine Another Man, and three covers, with three different hairstyles, to go along with it. But presumably the interview coincides with the promotion of something new – hopefully, something other than his new film Dunkirk and the latest update on his beloved tresses. In fact, those blank Instagrams could lead to a surprisingly traditional form of celebrity announcement – one that surfaces to the world via the print press.

Anna Leszkiewicz is a pop culture writer at the New Statesman.