Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Have you been to the English Deer Park?


(some of this will be familiar to people who've read this)

'Villages, unlike towns, have always been ruled by conformism, isolation, petty surveillance, boredom, and repetitive malicious gossip about the same families. Which is a precise enough description of the global spectacle’s present vulgarity.'
Guy Debord on Marshall McLuhan, from Comments on the Society of the Spectacle (1988)

A couple of weeks ago a London listings rag had a cover story on Urban Vilages. It's a little preposterous now to think that Time Out was once considered some sort of hotbed of radical soixante-huitard insurrectionism, but it does pay occasional lip service to its roots, most obviously in the tedious class-warrior posturing of Michael Hodges, a columnist so irritating he actually makes one yearn for Robert Elms. Incessant point-scoring is made in his columns usually at the expense of, in Jack Straw style, 'Hampstead liberals' and generally anyone too much of a milquetoast to throw themselves into London's maelstrom without sufficent cocksmanship. Now without wanting to add any grist to the dark satanic mill of those estate agents who call Peckham 'Bellenden Village', this is an increasingly familiar and annoying plaint.


Part of what makes London such a pain in the arse to live in, and the most obvious consequence of its peculiarly inept version of US capital, is the progressive upping of rents when a place becomes in some way 'hot', when a 'vibrant' area is made unaffordable for those who actually create said 'vibrancy'. Admittedly this comes in part from personal bitterness at paying 80 quid a week to live in a room above a pizza shop, but I digress. Now the people (much like myself) who live in multiracial bits of inner London tend to have the temerity to fetishise what is (once you strip away the picturesque detailing) poverty, squalor and chaos in terms of buzzing, humming, teeming (pick your animalistic metaphor), and sneer at anyone who just can't take the pace. Oddly, cheap(ish) holidays in other people's misery seem to be considered noble today.


So Hodges spends lots of time sneering at anyone not London enough, usually those involved in something with the suffix 'village'. Now places like Blackheath or Hampstead may be hotbeds of the irredeemably smug and offensively twee, but the suggestion seems to be that the London bourgeois should throw away their prejudices and move next door to council estates, ignoring the fact that this is exactly what they're doing.


The attempts at creating a non-London within London, whether in Thamesmead, the Barbican or even Greenwich Millenium Village propose, in their rather botched way, that this is a city that can be something other than an overgrown plutocratic mess. The latter, built on what is essentially a toxic wasteland and imposing on it a rationalist mesh of aluminum and pine, as if it was a suburb of Malmo, is a great deal more morally defensible than moving somewhere where you can smugly reflect that black-on-black crime doesn't affect you, while pricing those whose markets are so quaint out of the area. Now that everything is a village, with all the insularity and segregation that entails, these ex nihilo places seem like the true international zones. People on the Left are afraid of these places (partly due to a total abandonment of utopianism in favour of 'resistance'), usually holding the strange belief that the outgrowths of untrammelled capitalism are actually those chimerical 'communities'. London is utterly ripe for class warfare, with the rich often living on the same streets as the poor. Isn't the talk of community a mask for fear of what this community might one day do if it became a collectivity?


Blogger it said...

Fierce, excellent piece, O, even if you still can't spell Millennium (heh heh, we had this conversation only yesterday!). Glad you're coming round to the village (both senses)...

Think the key point is the one about the characteristic movement patterns of 'left'/liberals: 'a total abandonment of utopianism in favour of 'resistance'', where resistance is usually nowt more than resisting the urge to move a million miles away cos you felt a bit unsafe...but any positive housing project (and Malmo is indeed exactly the correct reference) would be deemed elitist, snobbish, etc. even if in principle, it needn't be. Obviously in the age of fuck-all new communal housing and only a few scraps for 'key-workers' (we reward you for your anti-capitalist mental illness! You want to help people!) the utopianism is minimal...but formally speaking, you're right, it's there, ready, waiting...the Barbican will be ours...

This discussion of 'resistance' reminds me of the giant grafitto in Stokey where someone had written something Situationist like 'The Biggest Secret of the State is the Misery of Everyday Life' and dear J**** (you know who I mean) had spray-painted underneath 'Resistence is never futile'. I often wanted to add 'but spelling is...?' Allegedly that recent slammed film 'The Village' is a kind of critique of left liberal desire to live in a community a la Time Out...have you seen it? I doubt it, knowing you stop at about 1976.

11:25 pm  
Blogger HKM said...

great post, feel much better about living in highgate now; no false consciousness here ;).

10:50 am  
Blogger owen hatherley said...


viz 'positive housing'- was arguing abt this with monstre bobby last night, (as we were arguing over 'the state' vs 'autonomous collectives'- he's been at the d&g) with ref to a housing co-op in new cross that a friend lives at, and how the back-slapping hippy 'autonomy' of such things is way less genuinely socialist than the mass scale and provision of say, 60s council housing...

(there is a fair bit of stick bending here though, and i'm not moving from deptford to dulwich anytime soon)

12:53 pm  
Blogger Dominic said...

"Is it a crime to want / something else...?" (NMA, Small Town England)

Reminds me of Ballard's professed enthusiasm for airport departure lounges, which you think is a delicious pose until you realize it's not at all a pose.

I think this cuts a couple of different ways, though. On the one hand there's the way that "community" acts as surrogate or hypostatised "family", a neuroticising structure providing the illusion of security - and yr hippy co-ops are absolutely terrible at this: drive each other mad, just like your mum and dad. On the other there are the positive virtues of "neighbourliness", "community spirit" and so on, which I think can have a more utopian bent to the extent that they're about intersubjectivity and hospitality (and hence potentially extensible beyond the confines of the immediate community) rather than propitiating the communal Big Other.

2:40 pm  
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3:52 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've been to London many times,and every time I went to that place..I feel so relax..But there was a time when we rent an apartment there,the apartment was a mess!!My goodness,their comfort room was really dirty!!I regretted that day..By the way,where is English Deer Park located?just asking..

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