Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Campus Novel


There is a whole subgenre of 'campus brutalism', and in the university (where, interestingly, they were less likely to be critiqued by sociologists) 1960s Modernists had perhaps the best opportunity to create their ideal cities: the self contained community of the campus college, set somewhere on the edge of a city, usually in parkland: Denys Lasdun's UEA being perhaps the most majestic and typical example, in its extraordinary formality and high suicide rate. So, accompanying my sister last week on a college-visiting jaunt, it was interesting to see the current state of the creation of artificial-academic space.


Most staggering of these was, by far, Edward Cullinan's Terminal Beach for the University of East London: a linear strip running parallel to the runway of city airport and the purposeless lake of Cyprus dock. For all his drably liberal intentions, this exponent of the 'organic' (as in his preposterous wooden school in Greenwich Millenium Village) consistently creates stunning non-places, outside of time and history. UEL's housing pods and expressionist classrooms, and their 'simulated trading floors' are bracingly desolate, feeling not so much like the edge of London but the edge of the world. After this the more urban interventions - Alsop at Goldsmiths, Libeskind at Metropolitan - seem positively normal, for all their extremism: the latter's metallic weaponry plunges into the Holloway Road with impressive force, but has nothing on Cullinan's awesome (if no doubt inadvertent) Ballardian-Blairite sterility.



I have a 'did you know' on Wikipedia! (scroll down...) This makes me inexplicably happy. Also found via wikipedia: these lovely pages of Czech Constructivist book covers.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Reclaiming Resentment

One thing I would quite like to do is try and reappropriate the notion of 'resentment' from a miserablist one to one based on action. The bizarre social peace of Brazilified London, a place where poor-on-poor crime occurs in shooting distance from enclaves of the super-rich is partly based on the decline in a certain form of resentment: rather than disdaining, resisting or straighforwardly hating the rich in their midst, they are either invisible or aspired-to. Resentment is the force that refuses to let its wounds heal, that remembers the old defeats in order to one day take revenge. In pop terms, it's the lunatic self-aggrandising class war of Pulp's 'I Spy', in political terms its the new revolution always being a ghostly return of the old.

There is though, I can't deny, a more dubious kind of resentment, one that is particularly virulent post-pomo. As someone who has crossed classes, as it were (a category in which, incidentally, a great many bloggers I've met could be included), there's always a chip-on-shoulder drive to know what you're talking about, to amass facts and ideas, a kind of hoarding, almost, in order to gather ammunition. This can go horribly wrong, however. Anne Massey's Hollywood Behind the Screen is a book that from its introduction tries to define itself as a defence of her working class parents' aesthetic, and it mounts an interesting but ultimately pomo-damaged defence of the populist art deco and moderne that was popular among the suburban WC and lower MC in the 20s and 30s - the opulent, glamorous pulp modernism of say, Wallis Gilbert and Partners against the supposedly elitist world of 'true' Modernism. Therein I came across an anecdote from a similarly class-mobile architect (whose name I forget) who was brought up in an Edgware suburban house, and was then told that the entire aesthetic world he gre up in was passe, tasteless, and was immediately recommended the works of Le Corbusier. Now this seems awful, and the writer in question seems full of indignation at this affront. But transfer architecture to art here, and imagine someone outraged that the paintings on his parents' walls were considered worthless by his teachers in comparison with Picasso (or Pam Ayres for Baudelaire, or whatever) - nobody would bat an eyelid. But the acceptability of architectural illiteracy enables that move, where resentment turns into mere philistinism.

There is another resentment though, the one in which as Tricky once hissed, one 'masters your language' rather than clings doggedly to one's own, or tries to valorise the mundanity of one's own former surroundings: the Material Cultures move whereby the working class everyday is always outside of politics and history and flying ducks are worth as much as Brancusi, etc. Resentment is always more complicated than this, and perhaps there should be a reclamation against the capitalist realist consensus of that supremely arch phrase that dismisses the autodidact: malcontent.

Plakaty 144

Friday, May 25, 2007

Obsession Corner

I've been working on wikipedia profiles of the two leading cliques of Constructivism: the gestalt Formalists of ASNOVA and the clinical scientific socialists of OSA. If any editors want to come inna my face then they are quite welcome to do so. Postcard from this chap's flickr pages.

Auferstanden aus Ruinen

There's fairly clearly something of a rehabilitation of Albert Speer's Theory of Ruin Value afoot right now, and I worried somewhat if this didn't have a few things in common with the aesthetic propounded here from time to time, of the beauty and pregnancy of the relics of Social Democracy and State Socialism. Helpfully, Dominic Fox proposes a distinction between the ruined and the defunct - the ruin is fundamentally dead, while the defunct can be remade, reivigorated and restarted. This then is the important question asked by Murphy's hauntogeography: The beauty of situations such as this should not just be reduced to some guilty eschatological pleasure, what can we take from this into our own production? But more to the point, what is its affective power - why should we use it in our production? Because its picturesque, or because it contains within it something promised and still with latent forces within it?

Further questions of reinvigoration, and of the dialectical switch of the moribund and the reified into the revolutionary come in 'Britney Spears explains the Commodity Form', a truly superlative post by Voyou (with video accompaniment) which takes up the other version of the Frankfurt School, the one in which fashion, cartoons, advertising and the 'look-but-don't-buy' aesthetic and anticipatory futurism (eg - the Gallery of Machines, top) of the great expositions is taken to have latent (and not so latent) revolutionary potential. An aside here, not entirely connected: while the materials of the Expos Benjamin writes of have as their motif the fetishist maxim of 'look, don't touch', in the Soviet Pavilion at the 1925 Paris Expo there were reports that French workers were rifling through the books and stroking the glass and wood of the building - 'now this, this is our club', one of them apparently said: a tactility that the building deliberately encouraged, an abolition of the divide between the apparently differing perversions of the frotteur and the scopophile.

Plakaty 143

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Signposting the Uncanny

Watching The Singing Detective for the nth time, someone who hadn't seen it before was after around 5 episodes slightly perturbed by how it seemed to analyse itself - in the sense that Zizek talks about of the concoction of symptoms that are in themselves easily solveable. While its psoriatic protagonist declares his preference for 'all clues, no solutions' it gradually becomes clear exactly what exists only in his head and what in reality, and the Real referents that provide the raw material for his fevered imaginary - as opposed to the doors within doors of Inland Empire (more fascinating observations on which at Antigram) where solutions are abandoned altogether - and Lynch is in this a surrealist in the strictest sense, ensuring that there are always moments which evade comprehension altogether, even in his less violently oblique films. This doesn't strike me as a defect in Potter though, more a difference in the Surrealist approach and the Brechtian. While the Surrealist disjunction and alienation is fundamentally unsolveable and irrational (and promising its own irrationalism: hence perhaps Lynch's real-world conservatism) in the Brechtian example the disruption is still, in a sense, constructive: Potter's Marlow is not the sum of other people's perceptions that Laura Dern is in Inland Empire, but a subject - of a particularly fractured and fragmented sort, and capable of reconstructing himself.

The usual critique of that would be that it leaves out the Uncanny: but this ignores that the uncanny in Potter isn't signposted, isn't reducible to mere weirdness or psychedelia but a strangeness of the everyday. While the pop songs in Terence Davies' Distant Voices Still Lives are made present, actual, lived, part of some sort of struggle, in The Singing Detective the real singing voice is always recorded. The eeriness of the scenes where Marlow's parents play the Ink Spots is provided by the fact that it isn't mimetic: we don't hear the sound of Alison Steadman playing the piano, but the 'original' recording in all its crackliness, echo and antiquation: the song as the boy would remember it coming out of a speaker, listening in from the stairs. But then there's the opening scenes of the psoriatic body, stiff with pain, hissing 'I've Got You Under my Skin' through gritted teeth: a complicated dialectic of the everyday and the fantastical rather than a dedication merely to the latter.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Let Down

Although I've never had the money to actually go to Meltdown (although I'd like to point out that I did once eat at the Festival Hall's People's Palace restaurant) you can only imagine my joy as Jarvis Cocker was chosen to curate this one. After being chosen he commented on the beauty of the South Bank, and how 'concrete is really underrated as a material'. Oh Jarvis! I sighed, and imagined all manner of joys. In 1998, Pulp stood in for John Peel on Radio 1 for a week, and I taped one of the shows, which would become a list of interesting and weird music that I subsequently sought out - Jacques Dutronc, DAF's 'Der Mussolini', Magazine, soundtracks...that and this compilation led me to picture some sort of collision of kitchen sink, disco and Trunk-style moribundia, in the settings of London's greatest Modernist showpiece. So this really isn't good enough - in fact, it looks like it was compiled by the editorial staff of Uncut, a list of the mouldering, the rockist, the reformed and the never-knew-you'd-been aways - The Stooges, Devo, Cornershop, Motorhead, Roky Erikson, the Jesus and sodding Mary Chain, John Barry, the 'KPM allstars' and 'ladies of folk' as the sole concessions to non-rock. The first three songs on his solo album might be pretty dreadful and I'm aware he wasn't going to hire Donna Summer to cover 'Acrylic Afternoons' or put on 'The Drift- the Opera', but I expected something better than this lot.

And then there's this, about Harland Miller's Penguin paintings - which are very cute and very funny, but also unintentionally exemplify the shift from accessibility to exclusivity in brit aesthetics very well.

Plakaty 142

Cutty Ranks

Police suspect Arson in the Cutty Sark fire. I have been pre-empted here by the IT girl, but as a fellow inhabitant of the London Borough of Greenwich I must offer my support to the conspiracy theory. What do we have here? A huge stretch of river with a PUBLIC SQUARE, purely for the support and perusal of a historical artefact. Obviously such a thing would have to be destroyed, and replaced forthwith with some rows of brick n' pine flats to overlook the gooey flow of the Thames. Alternatively, given the boat's history in imperial trade and the tendency of Greenwich to be bombed by inept terrorists (cf the 'outrage' described in Conrad's The Secret Agent), this could be an oblique protest - long overdue revenge for the Opium War, perhaps.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

Pods, Slabs and Ribbons

My paper on the CIAM for All Planned Out is now up at The Measures Taken. The images (mostly from two essential and out of print books, the brilliant Town and Revolution by Anatole Kopp and Pioneers of Soviet Architecture by Selim Khan-Magomedov, as well as a few from Karel Teige's Minimum Dwelling) were often scans of photocopies of copies, hence the scragginess - which was not intended to give it a worn, hauntological quality, honest. The pic above is of the Kirov Town Hall in Leningrad, meanwhile, designed by one Noi Trotsky in 1932. Pods for all!

Friday, May 18, 2007

Foster in Vermilion Sands

Curiously enough, while generously offering their services to the no-unions no-nonsense no limits on general hedonism if you have enough money rulers of the United Arab Emirates, Baron Norman Foster and his partners appear to have designed some sort of cross between Ballard's desert suburb and a kind of Radiant Mall. Interestingly, in a place with vast quantities of oil money sloshing around, everything is 'zero carbon and waste free', with no cars, and entirely self-sufficent. And they said irony was dead. This reinforces nicely the notion that the rich can afford to be ecologically friendly, while the rest of us just have to live with the guilt of climate change on our consciences - but I'm sure people in Abu Dhabi or Dubai sleep very well indeed.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Slow Death of Indeterminacy

One of the key ideas of the last serious architectural avant-garde, the futurists and indeterminates loosely grouped around late Buckminster Fuller, Archigram, Cedric Price, Geoffrey Copcutt and the Japanese Metabolists (and of their corporate outgrowth, the high-tech of Rogers, Piano, Foster etc) was that their designs could be adapted, built on, rebuilt, plugged and unplugged, and were never merely fixed edifices. The question has to be asked, then, now that one of the most famous (one might even use the 'I' word) of these, Kurokawa's Nagakin Capsule Tower is slated to be demolished: has any building of this sort ever actually been treated with the disrespect intended? Have the expected adaptations ever actually been carried out? Or do they either simply get demolished and replaced or left as landmarks that are functionally the same as any other?

Cedric Price was always a scathing opponent of the idea of listing or preserving buildings if they no longer served a social purpose (famously, 'Q: what should be done with York Minster? CP: tear it down!'). When his community centre in North London, designed specifically for adaptability was scheduled for the wrecking ball as (sigh) an 'eyesore', he supported the move, as long as they could come up with something better (they didn't). But meanwhile, as Ian Abley has pointed out, Rogers' indeterminate Lloyds building isn't exactly being reconfigured in interesting ways by the stockbrokers. Likewise Cumbernauld town centre's inbuilt possibilites were ignored in favour of turning it into just another mall; while the Capsule Tower, instead of being expanded (as it was always supposed to be) is just getting obliterated. A meaner person than I would suggest this was merely another example of architects not really understanding capitalism, but perhaps there's a subtler point here as well - that spatially, late capitalism incessantly builds and rebuilds, but is incapable of ever really progressing.

(On which matter: read this, and this.)

Plakaty 141

1990s one-hit wonder one-upmanship Contribution

OK, OK, I didn't last long...Anyway: this is because 'Your Woman' is too obvious, and by posting the forgotten follow-up to actual one-hit wonder I am crowned king of obscure 1990s pop. Unless anyone wants to come test...

Making Way for Winged Eros

There’s a sleevenote I’ve always loved in its combination of the politically and amorously earnest, on an entirely forgotten post-Dexys record from the mid-90s. It asks: ‘would you agree never to fall in love again if it meant the miners winning in 1985 or a Labour victory with a socialist manifesto behind it?’ And would you? Would I? More interestingly, why is this the choice?

In the year or so before his suicide, Vladimir Mayakovsky, revolutionary poet and zealous Constructivist, wrote two plays for the theatre of Vsevelod Meyerhold, both of which would be condemned by the press and regarded with suspicion by the censor. The first of these was The Bedbug, performed in 1929, with sets and costumes by Rodchenko and music by Shostakovich, seemingly the Soviet avant-garde in full force. However the play is full of doubt, rancour and bitter satire, caught between a shabby present and an antiseptic future. Prisypkin is a typical product of the compromised semi-capitalism of the NEP, an ex-worker done rather well who ‘fought the revolution for the good life’ – and a heartbreaker, jilting women here and there and having a grandiose wedding to a well-fed bourgeoise (‘both her breasts weigh eighty pounds each’). He is interrupted in his carousing, frozen and awakened in 1979, after the triumph of the world revolution.

What happens next will be familiar to fans of Woody Allen’s very similar Sleeper, with its orgasmatrons and icy rationalism. Prisypkin is reunited with one of the women who he spurned, and who attempted suicide in response, now an ageing scientist: she is baffled that she was ever interested in his melodrama and sentimentality. Yet these very qualities spread through the new society like the diseases carried by the bedbug that accompanies him in defrosting. ‘The professors say it’s an acute attack of the ancient disease they called ‘love’. This was a state in which a person’s sexual energy, instead of being rationally distributed over the whole of his life, was compressed into a single week and concentrated into one hectic process. This made him commit the most absurd and irresponsible acts.’ He becomes a museum piece, carefully fumigated so that his absurdities don’t spread. Passers-by declare ‘I’d better not look. I can feel those ‘love’ microbes infecting the air!’ Prisypkin demands an art with a ‘melting feeling’, which can’t be found in the new world. Mayakovsky essentially traps himself: he can’t bear the ‘petrified crap of the present’ and the sentiment and possessiveness of its sexuality, yet the future dreamt of by the Constructivists, biomechanicists and rationalists purges love in favour of a strictly utilitarian sexuality which is barely an improvement.

Mayakovsky had tried to unite Constructivism and an illusionless Romanticism for much of the 1920s, and in The Bedbug you can hear him giving up in frustration, as in his last poem ‘At the Top of My Voice!’ (1930)

‘I’m fed
to the teeth
with agitprop,
I’d like
to scribble for you
they’re charming,
and pay quite a lot.
But I
mastered myself
and crushed under foot
the throat
of my very own songs.’

The Bedbug, in its atypical ambiguity, is in part something of an argument with Sergei Tretyakov – Mayakovsky’s co-editor at Novyi LEF, with whom he had split in 1928. Tretyakov had, also for Meyerhold, attempted his own forensic analysis of love in a Communist society in the play I Want a Child (1926): in which ‘love is placed on a operating table.’ A female Party member chooses an appropriately handsome and powerful worker to father a child, on the condition that he renege all rights over either her or the child. Although according to Christina Kaier, in her analysis of the play, the conclusions reached are ambiguous, in his introduction to a mooted screenplay of 1928 Tretyakov sounds much like those who would scrupulously avoid ‘love microbes’, intending that in the future it ‘will be possible to return to conception the purity, all the clarity and social responsibility, that it lost choking in orgasms and gonococci.’ What we have here is a kind of Platonic fucking, in which, at the risk of the anticommunist crassness of quoting Orwell in reference to the USSR, a couple may ‘do our duty to the Party.’

However it doesn’t necessarily have to be like this. An oft-trotted out Zizekian anecdote concerns some young dissident Lacanian Yugoslav types asking a Party apparatchik if he makes love to his wife like a Communist. His affirmative reply is, apparently, ridiculous: but we should ask why this should be, and why the idea of Communist sex is so risible. At the heart of the project of demystification that accompanies, of necessity, the Modernist project, is a demystification of Love. However, this demystification is too frequently an abandonment or a fear of love altogether, an avoidance of it – the sense that it is somehow uncomfortable. The voice in the other speaker in the Gang of Four’s ‘Anthrax’, nervously setting out its stall, is one of the best instances of this: ‘these groups think they appeal to everyone by singing about love because apparently everyone has or can love or so they would have you believe anyway but these groups go along with the belief that love is deep in everyone’s personality and I don’t think we’re saying there’s anything wrong with love just don’t think that what goes on between two people should be shrouded in mystery’. The defensive peevishness of this almost occludes its very sound political point: as the voice in the other speaker describes its emasculation, love becomes a source of weakness, against true revolutionary uprightness: think also of Public Enemy’s declaration ‘your general subject LOVE is MINIMAL - it’s sex for profit’.

Is there a way out of this? A demystification in which one can be in love, or a love without illusions? One Lacanian suggestion here that seems strikingly reactionary is a sort of revival of Courtly Love: a sort of endless seduction with no assumption of consummation, a sort of sex-economic counterpart to the pomo horror of teleology, to which the Reichian fetish for the cataclysmic orgasm actually seems rather preferable. The other contemporary options all seem equally grim: the aggressive alliance of the curtain-twitchingly perverse and the censoriously traditionalist that seems to characterise sexual politics in Britain that one wag dubbed ‘Pruritant’; a simple carrying on as before, where the old marriage contract is secularised into the mortgage; and so forth. An issue underlying the semi-utopia of something like Ballard’s Vermilion Sands is a sort of degeneration of the sexual-utopian imaginary from its Fourierian roots: here it is no easier to imagine the end of jealousy or marriage than it is for us to imagine the end of capitalism.

Some revolutionaries have disdained this as a question altogether: Rosa Luxemburg once rather cutely compared discussions of sexuality to the pseudo-revolutionary posing of Reformists: one should do it rather than talk about it. Sharp as this is, there is the other tradition of love mobilised for the revolution: the early Wilhelm Reich, Mayakovsky’s About This, and the writings of Alexandra Kollontai, who in the early years of the Soviet Union declared that the petrified byt that Mayakovsky lamented should ‘Make way for Winged Eros’: that with both sexes given space, equality, education, outlets for their abilities irrespective of class, a love that was unambiguously physical but totally divorced from any notion of property – emotional or legal – could be the component of a non-capitalist libidinal economy.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Not Gone Enough

I once saw Tony Blair at an assassin's proximity, and had I known (or if I had been older than eleven) I like to think I would have done something. He was speaking at the Tolpuddle Martyrs annual do in the early 1990s, I remembered his name because I thought he may have been the Daily Mirror cartoonist 'Blair', and was a little disappointed when he wasn't. I'm currently thinking of boycotting all news until the bastard's gone, so I don't have to look at another eulogy to this religiose far-right shit, or behold again the dewy-eyed lickspittles that act as the remnants of the Labour Party kidding themselves they aren't serving in the most rightwing government in British history. This is just splenetic and short enough, until the fucker's in a cold cell in the Hague.

Evental Sites

Interesting things coming soon in London, specifically next week:

The Moscow Architecture Preservation Society are hosting a talk: Just back from Russia, Clementine Cecil will show fresh slides of Moscow’s avant garde buildings. These will include well-known monuments such as the Melnikov House and Narkomfin, but also less famous buildings such as Le Corbusier’s Tsentrosoyuz, Konstantin Melnikov’s Burevestnik Club and Moisei Ginzburg’s apartment building on Gogolevsky Boulevard. Moscow’s extraordinary avant garde legacy has been poorly treated since its construction but the tide is changing...May 15th, 19.00, the basement studio, 70 Cowcross Street, London, EC1M 6EJ nearest tube Farringdon. Entrance: £5 for non members

The McClintock Factor premieres at Corsica Studios in the Elephant and Castle, free entry, profiling the founder of the Right Path Party ('because Britain is Right'). “I’ve flirted with Marx, sure – now I’m flirting with Marks & Spencer… Politics is about opportunities, it’s all about doing deals. What was it Darwin said? ‘Give an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters and you’re bound to get at least one rich monkey.’ That’s human nature for you: it’s all about monkeys.”

All Planned Out, a conference planned by Audacity which decidedly contentiously calls for a repeal of the 1947 Town & Country Planning act: which, irrespective of its more dubious aspects, would then potentially lead to lots of homes being built, the collapse of the housing market, and hopefully the collapse of the British economy along with it. This conference also features me, speaking on the CIAM, in particular on its unheralded Soviet and German sections: 'Karel Teige vs Le Corbusier' is the gist.

Plakaty 140

Pillboxes and Ziggurats

Updates on Shanghai to Shepperton: Ballardian has some fantastic photos and a comprehensive report, while Obscene Desserts has a fine pic of a collapsed pillbox and a link to, at Rick McGrath's site, the very Ballard article I quoted in my paper: wherein, escaping my attention, there is a reference to 'the ziggurat residential blocks at the University of East Anglia'...

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Woolwich Buildings and Society

Woolwich is a place built, essentially, for war, so you'd think it would be flourishing around now. But despite the barracks at one end and the (long since disused) Arsenal at the other, and some piecemeal attempts at regeneration/gentrification, its a very depressed place, particularly when one is there in order to make a claim for jobseekers' allowance. And it's raining. In Ian Nairn's Nairn's London (the greatest cityguide in the history of the genre: a building as 'the satisfied laugh of a full-bodied lady that doesn't give a damn' being just one of its joys) Woolwich is one of London's highlights: an independent industrial city plonked into South East London, 'thumping selfcentred vitality, a complete freedom from the morning train into work'. The main shopping street, Powis St, a cornucopia of odd shops and bustle. Needless to say, 40 years later any vitality has been sapped out by the chain stores, yet at Woolwich's edges there's still a strangeness that marks it out from the stockbrokers' dockland on the other side of the river.

Coming up from Charlton, there's the barracks: 'no need to go to Leningrad', writes Nairn, when this rationalist quarter mile of classical accommodation for war is in a corner of London: and up a bit from that, Nash's creepy rotunda and inexplicably, a black geodesic dome; and further on into Powis St itself, there's a pair of brilliantly demonstrative architectural curios, both built by the Royal Arsenal Co-Operative Society, the most militant of the co-ops. The earlier one, of 1903, is a redbrick and terracotta eccentricity, featuring amid the curlicues inset screaming heads (the cry of the toiling workers? Of the capitalists about to be expropriated? Some oblique Munch tribute?), and at its centre a statue of some tremendously sideburned co-op worthy, staring grandly at its counterpart across the street, with 'EACH FOR ALL AND ALL FOR EACH' above him, like some sort of Fabian Musketeer. The other Co-Op building is a heartbreakingly dilapidated art deco confection of 1938, its tiles flaking off and in some places missing entirely, an adaption of the picture palace to some sort of palace of social democracy - appropriately, in a terrible state. The aforementioned slogan can be seen in there somewhere, just below a rectilinear tower that can still be seen in most of Woolwich.

It's almost inevitable, then, that this melancholy beauty is on the way out: the first thing to fall, apparently, to the march of gentrification, as Greenwich Council plan its demolition prior to the replacement with luxury flats/retail/whatever, preserving some (I must admit) horrible 60s offices nearby. Still, there is more of the same round the corner, two picture palaces (one now dedicated to bingo, the other to God) still in decent enough condition albeit dedicated to rather depressing practices. Then you're opposite the Ferry: a gloriously pointless free boat that gets you to the wonderfully named (if not all that interesting) Silvertown, and to the 'London Teleport', a field of satellite dishes opening themselves out at the Thames for no immediately apparent reason. Unlike on the North side, the South is still all turrets, chimneys and towers, smoke-blackened and crumbling. Then there's a covered market, still full of shabby and potentially interesting stuff all over the place. However, according to Nairn, on the Silvertown side there is a pub that is a 'good private place to hatch a revolution...right out of England, never mind out of London - something from another planet.' A derive to said pub is being plotted.


This was originally supposed to be in the middle of the Ballard post, backing up what seemed to me the very obvious point of The Atrocity Exhibition's influence on popculture, but youtube uselessness meant that it popped up thus. Either way: isn't this a very exciting thing.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Another Effort, Frenchmen, if you would be Neo-liberals


Perhaps the most depressing upshot of the victory of Nicolas 'I've fucked them all!' Sarkozy (that is, if one isn't living in a French housing estate) is what, once upon a time, might have been called a hyperstitional one: that certain habits of thought will be inscribed by it. Specifically, that it reinforces the mind-boggling brain-lock that There Is No Alternative to neoliberalism, particularly in its current British form: the bloated Brownian debt-economy that is no doubt wonderful if one either a) works in the City of London, b) owns lashings of property or c) is an arms dealer (and what noble professions they are), but is otherwise an overworked rat-run with collapsing public services, an astronomical cost of living and a general air of casual brutality. So we have to hear, yet again the claim that France can't afford its extremely mild Gaullist sub-Social Democracy; again that the British model WORKS, dammit; and again that Modernisation consists of a a queasy time-travelling to the 19th century.


Of course there are many retorts one could make to this: that a country who votes for someone on the slogan 'work more to earn more' evidently desires some sort of self-punishment for having a half-decent quality of life, or that curiously, the waves of migration seem to be south across the English Channel rather than North to use our terrific public transport system and enjoy our happy-go-lucky conviviality. Nonetheless, this election means that we will have to hear this sort of guff again and again and again, as if after it has been repeated often enough it will become true. So as The Institute has brilliantly pointed out, now we have a phantasmatic 'liquidation' (what a delightfully Stalinist term) of 1968 as the equivalent to Thatcher's liquidation of 1945: and the riots have been put in early.


Yesterday I went to an enjoyable if rather fluffy talk on Stalinist biopics of famous composers (man sits at piano and suddenly! orchestral music runs through his head! Then the landlady comes in. or: aristocrat hears songs of peasants, realises their beauty and writes orchestral pieces based on them, etc): opulent costume dramas, emblematic of the sheer bourgeois drabness that the USSR had come to eulogise by the '50s, desperately trying to prove that they could do the old culture just as well as the West, the days of conductorless orchestras, industrial symphonies and Lenin's theremin lessons long behind them.

Much truer, perhaps, to the avant-garde promise of early Soviet iskusstvo was actually in the cinema building itself: an elegantly standard Gordon Square terrace which suddenly, on entering one of the doorways, becomes a wildly angular Deconstructivist space by Surface Architects. I often find this sort of garish, expressionistic stuff a little jejune, but in the right disruptive context, as opposed to in a place where one expects strangeness or architectural excess (art galleries, banks and so forth) it works beautifully.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Throwing out the Kitchen Sink

Ann Quin's was a new British working-class voice that had not been heard before: it was artistic, modern, and - dare I say it - ultimately European. It looked beyond the constructs of our society. It was fresh, alarming, and idiosyncratic. It wasn't static; it moved with the times.

Realated to the Ballard post below: a piece (via) on Ann Quin, the brilliant British experimental writer, whom Ballard himself would claim to have 'walked out of the pages of The Atrocity Exhibition. There's a whole other argument to be had about an occluded British avant-novel of the 1960s, BS Johnson, Quin et al, of which Exhibtion would very much be a part...

In Praise of the Dialectic

I've been tempted to write a post on Dialectics - spurred on somewhat by the K-Punk-Shaviro-Miller contretemps over Zizek, as a defense of the method against variously Deleuzian affirmationism, 'nihilation' and Slavoj Z's increasing tendency to merely use it as a kind of flip diamat alibi for lazy contrarianism - perhaps relating it to the game attempt of the teacher in the film Half Nelson to teach a sort of version of Brecht's Hegel-via-Lao tzu dialectic, and how above all the value of dialectics as a theory of change. I don't think I will though, mainly because this really quite tremendous post from a distinctly on form Antigram on Madchen in Uniform and Half Nelson does this and a great deal more besides.

Ballard in Anglia

Webster watched the images of the young woman on the screen, sections of her body intercut with pieces of modern architecture. All these buildings. What did Talbert want to do - sodomise the Festival Hall?

If one is going to hold a conference dedicated to JG Ballard anywhere, then surely one of the best places to do it is at the University of East Anglia. A whole mini-city planned on the scrublands at the edge of Norwich by Denys Lasdun in the early 1960s. The concrete walkways run past the laboratories to a series of living quarters designed like concrete ziggurats, while the surrounding greenery teems with beautfully incongrous rabbits. At the end of the walkways is one of Norman Foster's first major buildings, an art gallery of gleaming white metal, housing the Sainsburys' collection of ethnographic relics in an antiseptic hangar.

Nonetheless, the upshot of the conference was something of a tussle over Ballard, between those who would claim him for the British postwar avantgarde (pop, the Independent Group, Paolozzi, Banham and the New Brutalists) amd science fiction (New Worlds, the SF short story) against those who would claim him for Literature. Obviously there have always been tensions here, with him owing as much to Conrad as to Burroughs, but, well, when someone describes the Atrocity Exhibition as a failure because it wasn't sufficently realist, a point has been missed somewhere. This critique seemed to suggest that it didn't connect with a mass audience because of its experimentation, a bizarrely inappropriate sub-Lukacs line to take with this book. Not least because of its absolutely huge effect on pop. Working class teenagers like Ian Curtis or John Foxx read The Atrocity Exhibition no doubt because of its jarring, oppressive, overloaded qualities, and surely this book (along with High Rise and Crash) had more influence on Pop Culture from around 1976 to 1983 than any other work, by anyone. Sadly Ballard's own self-confessed lack of interest in music means that some of his most interesting descendants never get discussed at these sort of unlike with say, Paolozzi, he was never likely to collaborate with Cabaret Voltaire. Perhaps his gradual absorbtion by South Bank Show types can be put down to this too.

So there were some strange recuperations here, most memorably an attempt to read High Rise as some sort of sententious Family and Kinship in East London style anti-Modernist critique. But some excellent papers came out of it as well, some of which apparently will end up in a two-volume book - highlights being papers on Ballard's links with everything from micronationalism, Blake's prophetic books, the Independent Group, to Tom Wesselman's Great American Nudes and Siegfried Kracauer's Mass Ornament - but here's my contribution, without my nervous gestures, mercifully.

Apollo Disaster

Talented young Douglas Murphy has started a blog. The first post is of the liquifacient remains of Victor Pasmore's midpoint of sculpture and architecture, the Peterlee Apollo Pavilion - or as it is occasionally known, 'the Monstrosity'. I present to you: Entschwindet und Vergeht: or, roughly speaking, Disappears and Goes, in my appalling pidgin German. Evocative, nicht wahr?

Travels with my Aunt

A temporary hiatus in any attempt to move away from the dubious Ostalgie tendencies of this blog: my Aunt Sarah went to the USSR in 1971 for a school trip (I don't think her parents' tankie tendencies were a factor...) where she took some pictures with an instamatic. Many of them it would seem were taken from the coach, although there may be other explanations for the layer of silt. The ensuing slides eventually got scanned in, then emailed to me (after an attempt to convince her that I really wouldn't find them boring). Here is a selection.