Caliphate Redefined –


Caliphate Redefined –
The Mystical Turn in Ottoman Political Thought
By Huseyin Yilmaz
Princeton University Press – £34.00

In Ottoman thought, the anchor term for rulership around which the entire political discourse revolved was ‘’sultanate’’ (saltanat), in the sense that it refers to executive power through which sovereign authority is exercised. Yet, the sultanate itself did not stand for legitimacy or convey any specific conception of rulership except that, by definition, it meant the type (my italics) of political authority wielded by a sultan.’’

(‘The Sultan and the Sultane’)

Do not say, ”I conquered this much land with my own sword.” Indeed, the kingdom (memleket) belongs to God, then to the Prophet, and then, per God’s will, to His caliph.

(‘The Caliph and the Caliphate’)

This book isn’t so much an introduction, but rather, a revamped and substantial revaluation of the occasionally dense subject matter at hand. In other words, it’s not caliphate for dummies; but more of a published work for the caliphate inclined – for those whom are already (relatively) well versed in the history of Ottoman political thought, ideas and legitimizing practices.

As the president of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Daniel Varisoco, has since written: ”Yilmaz provides a sweeping and well-documented rereading of the impact of Sufism on Ottoman rule.”

Although what accounts for Caliphate Redefined – The Mystical Turn in Ottoman Political Thought being what it essentially is – an altogether lucid justification of Ottoman political legitimacy – is its comprehensive and most scholarly approach and varied investigation(s): ”Modern studies on the question of Muslim rulership repeatedly assume that the historical caliphate, as conceived by Muslim jurists during the Abbasid period (c.750-1258), continued to define both the concept and the institution in subsequent political thought and praxis. This assumption confines the theoretical construction of the caliphate to jurisprudence, overlooks the impact of later historical experiences, and disregards the formative influence of broader intellectual traditions in framing the caliphate as both an institution and an ideal” (‘Introduction’).

The mere fact that ”later historical experiences” are so openly, if not brazenly taken into account, is what partly accounts for these five chapters thoroughly meandering betwixt that which we categorically know to be true, and that which we really ought to take on-board.

After all, it is knowingly easy to regurgitate the repetition of history, but to dissect as much within the parameters of the most trying, if not perplexing prognosis, is no easy feat. Especially given the following: ‘’Know that the nature of humans, when their dispositions were created, varied in terms of different talent and various characteristics. For this reason their reception of the lights of the manifestations of Beauty differed, and, because of that difference, their aims, words, practices, beliefs, attributes, and morals also differed. Thus divine wisdom necessitated the appointment of a just ruler and leader to protect the oppressed from the oppressor and apply rules, and treat people equitably, so that order may last until the end of days. And the first person appointed for that position was the father of humanity, Adam’’ (‘The Sultan and the Sultane’)

These 286 pages (excluding Acknowledgements, Notes on Translation, Transliterations, and Pronunciations, Notes, Glossary, Bibliography and Index) are an unquestionable
masterful work of scholarship.

In fact, to define Caliphate Redefined as a comprehensive study of pre-modern Ottoman political thought, is to offer an extensive analysis way beyond the wealth of previous unstudied texts (in Arabic as well as Persian and Ottoman Turkish).

Which just leaves me to conclude that this book is an altogether varied, informed and most rewarding read.

David Marx

Nothing Really Matters In Life More Than Love


Nothing Really Matters In Life More Than Love
By Agustin Fernandez Paz
Small Stations Press

To call this book utterly wonderful would be a most profound understatement.
There again, it ought to go without saying that the countless and assorted shades of love arrive in many a splendid form.
And is (as such) oft embraced by unanswerable magnitude.

The sort of unimaginable magnitude that has irrevocably been devoured by nigh every meaningful poet since Adam (mis)interpreted the hots for Eve.

With a most suave and succinct title like Nothing Really Matters In Life More Than Love, might it not go without saying that this book would clearly/immediately penetrate the most dormant parts of the soul – most books leave behind?

Well within reason, these 152 pages do just that.
As beauty – just like lust, just like love – lies firmly in the malcontent eye (and heart) of the lost and the lonely.

And boy does Agustin Fernandez Paz, author of this altogether overtly captivating book, realise as much; especially when quoting the great Spanish poet of the Generation of ’50, Jose Angel Valente:

Your body can
fill my life,
just as your laughter
can drive away the dark wall
of sadness.

A single word from you breaks
blind solitude to bits.

The above words – or should I say open delicacy – can be found within the book’s first of ten short stories, ‘A Radiant Silence;’ which in itself, drips with the most apt of social melancholy: ”She spent many hours shut up in her crystal tower, as required to in the daytime, but also in the evening, a routine she hadn’t minded until something inside her had changed and she’d realized life, real life, was flowing relentlessly by on the other side of the glass walls.”

To be sure, each of these stories ignite some sort of synthesis of soul drenched melancholy; the sort of which is as regal as it is resolute.

As it is undeniably romantic.

David Marx


D-Day Through German Eyes


D-Day Through German Eyes –
How The Wehrmacht Lost France
By Jonathan Trigg
Amberley Publishing – £20.00

”Out in front everyone is holding out, everyone; my grenadiers and my pioniere and my panzer crews, they’re all holding their ground. Not a single man is leaving his post. Not one. They’re lying in their foxholes mute and silent, because they’re dead. Dead.”

                   (Generalleutnant Fritz Bayerlein, July 1944)

Soldiers are simple creatures in the main, and nothing is more central to a soldiers’ life than the food he eats every day. As the playwright and poet Bertholt Brecht wrote before the war in Die Dreigroschenoper (The Threepenny Opera): ‘Erst kommst das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral’ (‘first comes food, then comes morality’). In Normandy, German rations were pretty miserable.

                    (‘Festung Europa – Fortress Europe’)

Crystal clear, succinct, analytical, as well as exceedingly well researched; D-Day Through German Eyes – How The Wehrmacht Lost France, is (as might be expected from the all to the point title) an altogether absorbing read of idiosyncratically immense historical endeavour.

As is immediately brought to bear within the book’s cover: ”[…] a barbaric enemy was defeated by Allied ingenuity, courage and overwhelming military force, helped by dreadful German command errors and the terrible state of Wehrmacht forces in the West – but is all this true?”

Suffice to say, one could quite easily surmise that what extends or constitutes as the being the truth, really does depend on ones’ own – hopefully objective – point of view. Although there really is no denying the degree to which these 294 pages (excluding Appendix, Bibliography, Notes and Index) completely penetrate the cold, light of day, utter harshness and brutality of what D-Day was all about.

As much is all the more poignantly punctuated by the aforementioned Generalleutnant Bayerlein; when, in Chapter Ten (‘La Belle France Abandoned’) he is once again quoted: ”With typical hyperbole, Fritz Bayerlein said that no campaign in history ‘can approach the battle of annihilation in France in 1944 in the magnitude of planning, the logic of execution, the collaboration of sea, air and ground forces, the bulk of booty, or the hordes of prisoners.”

Hey, no argument from me, that’s for sure; but what accounts for Jonathan Trigg’s assessment of said subject matter jumping out of the indelible norm, is his altogether sweeping stance of the oft deliberated upon truth. A fine example of which opens Chapter Five’s ‘The Battle for Caen’: ‘’The United States of America is a great country, and without it, Great Britain could not have liberated western Europe and then helped the Soviet Union defeat Nazi Germany. Having said that, it is also true to say that since the end of the war, an impression has been created in certain quarters that it was the US which did the lion’s share of the heavy lifting – particularly on D-Day and thereafter – and here, Hollywood especially must shoulder some responsibility for what is a misconception not borne out by the facts and figures […]. Saving Private Ryan is a classic example, with not a Tommy or Canuck insight at any time, and just one very brief – and derogatory – mention of Montgomery (‘He’s overrated!’) as the leitmotif for what is portrayed pretty much as an American-only operation.’’

Now there’s a surprise!

To be sure, there are many other instances throughout this altogether revelatory book, but the above alone ought to account for what makes D-Day Through German Eyes such an imperative and important read.

After all: ‘’The amount of paper produced about what became the Normandy campaign could cover all five landing beaches, but very little of that valuable work has been written from the German perspective, and even less from that of the men who did the fighting.’’

So read on, because this really is an eye-opening/ terrific book: well written, well researched, and well…don’t take my word for it.

Find out for yourself.

David Marx

Heart of Jupiter


Heart of Jupiter
By Ledicia Costas
Small Stations Press

From afar, it looked like a field covered in quince jam, inviting you to start running and launch yourself into that abyss of warm light. A delicious descent into the heart of childhood.

                                                                     (‘Behind The Sunflowers’)

With each of this book’s twenty chapters kicking off with a quote from some of the finest writers of modern-day fiction (everyone from J. D. Salinger to William Golding to Charles Dickens to Melvin Burgess), I do have to confess that Heart of Jupiter is a mighty big relief of a departure from the rather dark and altogether disturbing book, also by Ledicia Costas, An Animal Called Mist.

Reviewed on this site, the latter is a resoundingly harrowing investigation unto the many subliminal horror(s) that has somehow beset the human psyche; whereas the former is something of a jolly, veritable traipse through the park in comparison.

Anchored within the everyday, vexed foreboding of prime protagonist Isla, these 199 pages reveal that which is somehow woven betwixt teenage angst and trepidation, lust and anxiety: ”There is a lot of tyranny in adolescence.”
Nigh all of which is wrapped amid the astute parameters of an on-line relationship with someone by the name of Jupiter.
Hence the book’s title.

That said, Heart of Jupiter is also about friendship, understanding, and dare one say it: change – which is where the begin essentially begins: ”Moving city is much more than just putting things in boxes, taking advantage of the occasion to have a sort-out and throw away what you no longer need. Moving city has another meaning that needs to be viewed from a deeper perspective. Because confronting the dimensions of an empty house cannot be reduced to packaging tape and a removal van. Something really important is happening. You’re leaving behind the space that has contributed to everything turning out the way it has over the last few years. Living somewhere else, things will never be the same. That is the essence of chaos theory […].”

Change can indeed be the overt ”essence of chaos theory;” although for my money, it can also denote the complete opposite – which is why you should read this book.
It really could enhance your day!

David Marx




By Paul Harding, Ray Bartlett & Ashley Harrell
Lonely Planet – £14.99

Belize is a bit Latin America, a bit Caribbean, and just a little bit British (the language is a giveaway) but it all works beautifully. I love the low-key, laid-back nature of the people and the seamless mix of cultures that make up the street life, music, food and festivals – Belizean, Creole, mesitzo, Garifuna, Maya and even Mennonites and expats. I love that you can be snorkeling on the barrier reef one day and hiking in the jungle the next. And I love that Belize still feels just a little undiscovered…but perhaps not for long.

                   (Paul Harding)
                   ‘Why I Love Belize’

So yeah, Belize; know nothing about the place – although according to this Lonely Planet Travel Guide: ”with one foot in the Central American jungles and the other in the Caribbean Sea, pint-sized Belize is packed with islands, adventure an culture.”

Reasons to be most cheerful if you ask me, and three reasons (among many others) to thoroughly investigate the country further, which I will soon endeavour to do.

Hence, this review of Belize, which for all intents and curiously tinged purposes, has already enlightened me unto a whole bunch of stuff I never knew – such as it’s fascinating history: ”Belize hosted one of the great Mesoamerican civilizations of ancient times, the Maya.The Maya created vibrant commercial centres, monumental religious temples and exquisite art works. They possessed sophisticated knowledge about earthly and cosmological environments, much of which they wrote down […]. The Maya ranged across Central America, from the Yucotan to Honduras, from the Pacific to the Caribbean. They were not ethnically homogeneous but only loosely related, divided by kinship, region and dialect […]. Archaeological findings indicate that Maya settlements in Belize were among the oldest” (‘History: From Lordly Realm to Lost World: Ancient Maya’).

All of which contributes to the quirky, yet perhaps quintessential thinking of what might have been had Columbus never set sail in 1492…

As mentioned in my previous Lonely Planet review (Dominican Republic), the writers always place a great deal of emphasis on a country’s history, which, along with maps, photos and hyper-up-to-date, holiday induced information, I have always found of particular value.
As well as most inspiring and appealing.
Rather like these 311 pages (excluding Behind the Scenes, Index and Map Legend).
And Belize is by no means the exception.

It is simply packed with the most forthright of relevant stuff and analysis one might wish to know about Belize; which, unlike most guides, happens to include seven pages dedicated to ‘Diving & Snorkeling’ alone: ”Belize is a world-class destination for diving and snorkeling – after all, the world’s second-longest barrier reef parallels the country’s entire coastline. From north, central and south cays to stunning offshore atolls, whatever your level of underwater experience you’ll find a place to explore and indulge in Belize.”

Moreover, said section(s) include: When to Go, What to Read, Best for Snorkelling and Best for Diving – replete with explanations on Lighthouse Reef, Glover’s Reef, Central and Northern Cayes (not to mention Learning to Dive and Responsible Diving).

Whether or not I’ll partake in actual diving is an altogether different matter; although I must say: I’m undoubtedly looking forward to visiting and finding out about Belize.

Especially now I know a little more thanks to this most fantabulous of travel guides.

David Marx

Wartime Notebooks


Wartime Notebooks –
France, 1940-1944

Andrzej Bobkowski                                                             

Yale University Press – $35.00

Everyone encumbered with bundles and suitcases. Anything with wheels became useful. An old woman was pushing a wheelbarrow loaded with stuff, somewhere else there was a tricycle with a box perched in front. In the box sat an old woman holding a large dog in her lap. A man was pedalling with difficulty. And so it went for kilometers, as far as the eye could see. I watched it all sitting in my truck and wondered why these poor folk and these old people were fleeing. Clearly no one here knew where they were headed. They were moving along with no goal, just to go, because others were going. Possessed, poisoned by the poison of flight. But at the same time, all this seemed to have nothing to do with me. All I feel right now is curiosity, intense, deep, collecting in my mouth like saliva. Observe, observe, absorb, remember. For the first time in my life, I am writing, taking notes. It’s the only thing that absorbs me. Other than getting my fill of that magnificent freedom, that chaos, in which one has to fend for oneself.


The navy-blue gowns, the dirty bandages, the women’s bare legs, bluish with veins. Torn shoes and slippers, the over-painted faces, the greasy hairdos and earrings. Amid all that, the skeletal rattle of the piano and the lady ”singers” from the graveyard of broken-down artists, hopping about and blowing kisses to living corpses.


As the title succinctly suggests, this book is a thorough and fine literary recording of Andrzej Bobkowski’s experience(s) of his tenure in wartime France. That is to say: ”a cosmopolitan outsider’s perspective on politics, culture, and life under duress.”

The detailed and altogether forthright assimilation of which accounts for Wartime Notebooks – France, 1940-1944 being what it unquestionably is: an exceedingly well written and vivid re-telling of what it was like to live in occupied France as an aspiring, young Polish writer.

That Bobkowski was a writer – an occasionally philosophical one at that – lends what could quite easily be construed as being a dour subject matter, with a certain amount of nuanced melancholy.
In fact, a most wordy melancholy which lingers throughout.
Not to mention idiosyncratic observation – a facet immediately apparent right from the very outset: ”Silence and heat. Paris has been emptying out and becomes emptier by the day. Departure, however, takes place somewhat furtively. People leave on the sly, assuring their friends until the last moment that ”we are not budging.” But the sight of cars slipping through the streets, heavy baggage fastened to the roof, speeding off toward the south, becomes increasingly common. Better not to notice. Uncertainty and mystery have descended on the city. I was constantly struck, as I walked the streets, by how mysterious the most ordinary aspects of daily life now appeared. Cars were moving rather strangely, as though more silently and faster, and in the metro stations one waited not only for the train but for something more. Falsehood and evasion hung in the air” (May 20, 1940).

There again, as Laura Engelstein writes in the book’s Introduction: ‘’The participant- observer recorded his surroundings like a cultural seismograph and used his observations as the basis for philosophical reflection. Today’s reader may find him more interesting as a writer than a thinker, however. The observations may appear fresher than the ideas, but the need to observe is in fact consonant with his intellectual posture […]. For his is a casual and vivid language, fluid and unpretentious, making the most of Polish plasticity, refusing a formal literary posture in favour of a literature of immediate sensation.’’

The language throughout Wartime Notebooks is assuredly ‘’casual, fluid and unpretentious,’’ which, having already read a few snippets, is just one of the many reasons I was attracted into reading it in the first place.

Moreover, that Grazyna Drabik and Laura Engelstein have done an unquestionably sublime job in translating from Polish into English – the latter of whose excellent Russia in Flames (Oxford University Press) I recently reviewed on this site – no doubt assisted within the parameters of this book’s ultimate fluidity and unpretentious nature.

Reason being, it’s obvious Andrzej Bobkowski had a very special and rather unique way with words, none of which has, fortunately for us, been lost in translation:

Protest should aim for the future. That’s the only constructive form of protest (‘1944’)

I have decided to be subjective, radically subjective. In this era of grovelling ‘’objectivity,’’ there’s no other way to behave (‘1944’).

To quote Norman N. Naimark of Stanford University: ‘’Bobkowski is a marvellous discovery.’’
As is this altogether assertive, wry and wonderful book.
Simply because it bestows upon the reader almost everything that is so sorely lacking within so much of today’s clinical, unabashedly sanitised literature.

David Marx


Bob Dylan In Performance


Bob Dylan In Performance –
Song, Stage, and Screen
By Keith Nainby & John M. Radosta
Lexington Books – £65.00

Dylan insists: ”songs to me are alive…They’re real songs and they’re right now.’’

After fifty years of touring, writing, and examining the human condition, Dylan is qualified to make the call: everything, in fact, is broken. As he told us at the 1991 Grammy Ceremony, when he accepted the Lifetime Achievement Award.

                  (‘The Tempest’)

[…] when listeners engage his work, we are participating in a process through which we are partly reshaped; Dylan himself is not only a specific performing artist producing records, films and concert events that we might consume, but also a part of the vast fabric of culture by which we come to know and enact ourselves and our relationship to one another. Second, his work consists of audible (and, occasionally, visible) aesthetic choices that reflect his own engagement with that fabric of culture; by examining these choices, even though our examination will, like his choices, inevitably be partial and frayed rather than seamless transferences of cultural materials, we can ourselves engage culture in a more complicated way. Third, our opportunity to make sense of culture in and through Dylan’s work is not limited to a study of formal aesthetic choices that are bounded by the aesthetic artefacts of mediated recordings nor by the temporal episodes of concerts or listening sessions; the ”performance” extends to the myriad everyday practices by which we communicate with ourselves and with one another.

                    (‘Eternal Circle’)

Clearly, the two authors Keith Nainby and John M. Radosta have devoted many an hour wrapped within the aesthetic of Bob Dylan’s more than considerable catalogue of work(s). Works, which have not only spanned six – going on seven – decades; but are in every conceivable way, an adjustment of tonality, reference and influence – way beyond any pale of the most profound of categorisations: ”Any attempt to ”solve” or ”pin down” Dylan’s myth must necessarily be futile. Nevertheless, the struggle can lead to deeper understanding not only of the artist, but ourselves, and so we choose to delve, as others have before us, into his songs and his legacy.’’

A cold light of day fact, I’m convinced Dylan himself would be among the first to adamantly admit. As hasn’t the songwriter not always continued to coax and cajole both journalists and audiences alike, into semi-subliminal, artistic subversion?

The totally ambiguous outcome of which bequeaths the merely curious, as well as many a self-confessed Dylanologist, with (surely) far more question than answers; something which in and of itself, makes for a multiplicity of idiosyncratic outcomes. The likes of which is almost immediately touched on in this book’s opening chapter, ‘Eternal Circle: ”Meanings are deferred, and narrative closure consistently frustrated. Our central claim is that Dylan’s art confounds and defers and resists, that it works through mystery and multiplicity to challenge us as listeners […]. Conceptual ambiguity, like characterological ambiguity, is a common approach in Dylan’s work.’’

The unquestionably dense, and almost sublime of assimilation(s) addressed throughout Bob Dylan In Performance – Song, Stage, and Screen makes as much for inspired reading as it does informative.

To be sure, each of its 265 pages (excluding Credits, Acknowledgements, Bibliography, Discography, Videography, Index and About the Authors) engages the reader in such a compact and comprehensive manner, I found myself reading only a certain number of pages within separate sittings.
Partly I guess, to fully digest what I’d just read.
And while such a consequentialist and didactic nature may partially account for the book being broken into two parts (Formations and Transformations), its all-round definition isn’t always easy to quantify.
Let alone clarify: ‘’What we address throughout this book is the set of engagements we allow ourselves, as listeners (and occasionally, viewers) when we interact with Dylan’s recorded art. In this sense, this book is a work, not of musicology nor music theory, but of phenomenology. Our interest is in the way we hear Dylan taking up language, breathing into the air with and through that language, using recording technologies to meet us as the narrator of ”Eternal Circle” presses his heat and light onto the skin and into the thoughts of ”she.” This book is our response, our effort to step ”to the light.”

Our effort to step ”to the light’’?
But which one (as there are so many within the canon)?

That Bob Dylan has always admittedly delivered ‘’with an ear for hidden inferences and innuendos,” doesn’t make the above wont for calculation an altogether easy task. That said, there has been many an unquestionably astute and particular (musical) reference point throughout Dylan’s career from which to embark on some sort of translucent understanding.

Be it the release of his debut album in 1962 (”Recalling the process of recording his debut album and its absence of multiple takes despite it being the twenty-year-old’s first major recording session, Dylan said, ”Mr. Hammond [the album’s producer] asked me if I wanted to sing any of them over again but I said no. I can’t see myself singing the same song twice in a row. That’s terrible”) or the release of his mercurial masterpiece in 1966 (”Dylan valorizes the sound of Blonde on Blonde as ”the closest I ever got to the sound in my head… that thin, that wild mercury sound. It’s metallic and bright gold.” These records are impossible to imagine without their anchoring in the physical power of rock music, a music with qualities like ”wild” and ”metallic.” The same can certainly be said of other artists’ later rock-based depictions of alienation and resistance on such records as Never Mind the Bollocks, Darkness on the Edge of Town, and Nevermind. Dylan’s contemporary art continues this process, as Greil Marcus names 1997’s Time Out of Mind ”a state-by-state, city-by-city guided tour of an America that has used itself up and a portrait of an American who has used up his country’’).

Moreover, whether or not one subscribes to there being” sufficient parallels in the lyrics to suggest that he doth protest too much,” is naturally down to the acceptance of each individual interpretation. Although there can be absolutely no denying that Bob Dylan In Performance – Song, Stage, and Screen is a truly rewarding read.

Nainby and Radosta’s finely honed analysis has once again re-confirmed the degree to which Bob Dylan avowedly continues to re-write the musical, as well as the lyrical, template.

The template by which all others are judged (and rightly so): ‘’In this book, we examine Dylan’s lasting influence within popular music and the cultures that have emerged in response to popular music, using research from performance studies, sound studies and literary criticism […]. We situate him not as a socio-political catalyst, nor as a text-based poet of the sort who might earn Nobel Laureate recognition (as he did in 2016). Instead. We situate him as a performing artist who articulates songs – his own and others’ – in distinctive, and distinctively compelling, ways that help shape our understanding of our contemporary culture.”

David Marx