Letters: Summer 2022

Responses from readers to the Spring 2022 issue of the Oxford Review of Books

Send all letters to the editors to orbeditor@gmail.com

Heavy Weather

To the Editors:

In the midst of a climate crisis that still doesn’t get the attention, let alone the policy response, that it demands, this most recent issue of the ORB is refreshing for the emphasis throughout on the climate crisis. When climate issues are discussed in the media, we often hear about the same dire consequences like sea-level rise and extreme heat, and we often talk about them as distinctive climate phenomena. There is a sense that if a climate repercussion isn’t named, everything else will continue to be normal. This is, of course, not true.


We don’t discuss the many other ways that climate change will change our lives, society, and politics. Robert Merges does a good job of discussing exactly these other repercussions in his article ‘Heavy Weather’ in the Spring edition of the ORB. In comparing the future effects of climate disruption to the inflation we are

currently experiencing, he explains, in a way that we can easily grasp, how unpredictable climate-induced economic problems will strain our politics. Essentially, in a warming planet, we will consistently be met with economic shocks that we are ill-equipped to predict and prepare for.


We are also living through a crisis of democracy. We make a grave mistake when we fail to understand that these crises are connected. Addressing the climate crisis with the urgency it requires is one of the best things we can do to preserve democracy for coming generations.

– Peter Jarka-Sellers

Berlin, Germany


Rebel, Rebel

To the Editors:

While this article rang true in many places for me, being a student at Oxford myself, I found it basically unsympathetic to the student condition. Oxford students, in Adrian Kreutz’s eyes, seem to be a watered-

down version of the Daily Mail’s image of them: a little too posh, a little too ‘woke’; at the same time, too apathetic and overall disengaged. ‘Most students are tame says Kreutz.


Yet, with eight-week terms, overwork and stress, high rents in poor housing, is it surprising that, when faced with a near millennia-old institution that treats them as barely a distraction from its endowment preserving ends, Oxford students stick to nights out at Plush and the politics of the ‘pose’, something that they may at least control and achieve, rather than grinding their heads against the wall of capital (and this I say as a student and as a communist, who doesn’t

mind a little head-grinding)?


Kreutz’s solutions, though, are much better than his analysis. If we are to reinvigorate student radicalism, it must be by (re)creating those ‘pockets of interiority’ where student revolutionaries may exist beyond the fleeting immediacy of the student campaign and the short Oxford terms. Only here can a true culture

of student radicalism be cultivated. I hope to see him there.

– Callum Friend

Oxford, UK

Sheer Loudness of Voice

To the Editors:

Cora MacGregor makes convincing and just comparisons between Julian Barnes’ latest novel, Elizabeth Finch, and Benjamin Lipscomb’s fourway biography: The Women Are Up to Something.


Of course, the sex lives of female authors have always been subject to biased interrogation. Rather than see this as a trap for two male authored ‘biographies’, though, MacGregor tackles a well-worn debate with an incisive eye.


But what of the ethics of writing biography, especially fictional ones? MacGregor poses questions about how much philosophy should inform the project of writing a life, but it would be exciting to see some answers.

Lucy Thynne

London, UK

The View From Here

To the Editors:

In “The View From Here,” Isabella Crispino makes the very astute statement that “The way the West understands the existential threat that climate change poses renders the crisis ineffable, looming in perpetuity. Always in the process of arriving, never having yet arrived.”


Crispino discusses this portrayal of the crisis as emblematic of the Western tendency to decenter the Global South in climate change discussions, failing to acknowledge those who have already begun experiencing severe impacts of climate change. Crispino is right to emphasize that the more we see climate change as a problem of the future, the less we are disposed to take action to address it now. As of April 2022, only 49% of the American public reported to Pew Research that they felt climate change was an issue that needed to be addressed “right now”. In addition to the gradually intensifying impacts of climate change, this attitude toward the issue as a future one can be traced to how we often discuss solutions, or climate change mitigation actions.


Entities which make such long-term pledges must substantiate these pledges with interim deadlines and incremental actions. The degree to which these entities succeed or fail to meet their interim objectives must also be widely publicized. Interim goals must be treated as essential to more comprehensive solutions, and entities must be held accountable at each stage, so as to avoid a situation in which governments and organizations fail to pace their changes in line with the urgency of emissions mitigation actions.


A broader question prompted by Crispino’s article is whether we can somehow use the

widely shared, deep emotions associated with the climate crisis and with climate policy to inspire

greater action. Can we draw upon these shared experiences of grief, loss, and anxiety to cut

through other distracting political considerations and construct solutions based in empathy, in

addition to practicality? How have different groups already channeled emotions prompted by the

climate crisis into productive actions, and how can others learn from them?

– Elizabeth Jackson

New York City, USA


Artwork by Izzy Fergusson