Friday, June 29, 2007

Radical Revivalism?

In Rodchenko's diaries, confused and depressed by the 1940s and 50s, he reminisces about the salad days of the avant-garde. He fastens onto the Moscow Planetarium, and rapturously cherishes his memories of this temple to science, and the photos he took there. The Planetarium survived Stalin, Lysenko and Yeltsin, but it fell to Yuri Luzhkov, being travestied in a botched 'restoration' last year - the glazed staircase you see below removed for reasons best known to the 'restorers'.

I got my copy of the MAPS' report Moscow Heritage at Crisis Point last week, and highly recommended it is too: the fact that something of such massive historical importance as Ivan Nikolaev's 1930 Dom Kommuna (top) is literally rotting to pieces is genuinely something to make the most detached archi-aesthete angry. Yet I can't help having a bad thought. Isn't there something truly avant-garde about the lunatic model of heritage held by the Moscow authorities? Building whole series of extra stories atop 17th century villas, 'finishing' a ruined 18th century castle, putting billboards of historical buildings over their soon-to-be-demolished ruins, treating the whole city as totally mutable and extendible: isn't this the dreams of the indeterminates and metabolists finally fulfilled by the revivalists?

Archaeology of Popism

A few things to add to Simon's list of the prehistory of Popism: 'popism' itself is increasingly not a particularly useful term, as it limits the critique to the Freaky Trigger/ILX/Poptimism axis, who contributed a fair amount of interesting debate once upon a time, and because this is a far wider phenomenon, extendible from Channel 4, to the Universities to New Labour. But here are a few early instances of the 'Popist' move (the consummated and unconsummated affairs between intellectuals, the avant-garde and mass culture), which also show a history that gradually degenerates into mere cheerleading for capitalism:

First and foremost, Eccentrism, a movement in 1920s USSR, basic theory being: 'slapstick comedies (Keaton, Chaplin etc) are superior to all previous Western art'. General popist valourising of all things American, commodified and so forth in their manifesto, which is a really very exciting read. Meanwhile, my own short thing about them is here. The differences are twofold with today's vastly less interesting version: a) political commitment (linked with general popist epatering of bourgeoisie but also 'aha, Laurel and Hardy are better than the Bolshoi' as workerist gesture and b) interest in using popcult to create the new and avant: Eisenstein, Modernist par excellence, was pals with this lot, and their own films were distinctly disjunctive as well as circus-populist. See also the work of Vesevelod Meyerhold, the craze for the 'Red Pinkertons' in the mid 20s, i.e detective novels with a Marxist-Utopian slant, often written by Formalist linguists such as Marietta Shaginyan's Mess-Mend; and the bizarre attempts to create a 'Red Douglas Fairbanks' and so forth. In fact there's a whole Russo-German leftist/intellectual appreciation for American masscult in this period that someone (that is, me) is going to write a thesis on.

Reyner Banham, principally in his book on LA and the delightful BBC film Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles, which is available on Google video, and whom I briefly discussed here. A sort-of-Warholian/Ballardian cheering of the freeway, the strip and the billboard from Late-Modernist architecture critic. Like the above, this is more a Pulp Modernism which is superficially similar to but far more critical and intelligent than the actual phenomenon that K-Punk and others have critiqued. Pulp Modernism is unlike Popism in that it takes Popcult at its most disruptive, and most futuristic: taking the popularity of Sci-Fi, comics and fantasy as its pop launchpad as opposed to what actually sells, which is a mixture of this and a fair amount of the entirely worthless. Archigram are a fine exemplar of this trend, as were the Independent Group, and Banham had links with both. See also Streamline Moderne a few decades prior.

More akin to actual 'Popism' (or as yet unfinished new term) avant-la-lettre - Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown's Learning from Las Vegas, an early 70s anitmodernist urbanist tract. There are elements here that are more Pulp Modernist than Popist. The book divides roughly into two sections, the first on Vegas, which is more Pulp - the neon phantasmagoria of the garish and lurid billboards and the lettering on the casinos, the rippling 'Braziloid' Modern of Vegas' buildings and so forth. But the second part, 'The Decorated Shed', a call for the 'dull' and revivalist in architecture, is much more like 'Popism' as is, as can be seen in the little charts of oppositions that punctuate it: boring is better than interesting, consumerism is better than collectivism, advertising is better than art, the Client (read: consumer) is king, you know the drill - only here unlike in Warhol, Ballard and others it goes the whole hog into neoconservatism via the 'nothing interesting can happen anymore' mode and the attack on paternalism and the avant-garde leading to reclaiming of the straightforwardly, uncritically corporate: 'all that appears is good, all that is good appears', as Debord puts it.

The important point, for a rationalist theory of Pop, is the maintenance of the critical - popculture's ability to throw up all manner of excitement and brilliance is surely beyond dispute (albeit it's been having a distinctly lean few years), and despite postmodernists' self-aggrandisement on this one, this is something with a long avant-garde and Modernist (and politicised) history. Yet as has been pointed out, when we end up with this sort of thing, an impasse has clearly been reached. Forgive me for my literalism, but isn't this 'our Vietnam'??

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Alien Nation Effect

'The most appropriated motif from science fiction was 'Ullya, Ullya, we are the Martians', a version of the Martians' call in Wells' War of the Worlds as they made their inexorable advance on a terrorised London. This phrase was used by the Russian Futurists as a sort of war cry heralding their own advance with that which was radically new and which threatened to destroy the old completely: Khlebnikov used it in 1916 in his 'The Trumpet of the Martians', and Shklovsky picked it up in his opening sally for a programmatic article of 1919 entitled 'On the art of the Revolution' (and elsewhere).'

Katerina Clark, Petersburg

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Give me Back the Berlin Wall, Give me Stalin & St Paul

Interesting discussions mit Endlose Gedanke und An und Fuer Sich on some of the upshots of Zizek's materialism conference at the weekend. I only caught a couple of papers, but these seemed to crystallise several elements of his (and Badiou's) philosophy that I have always been extremely uncomfortable with - a reclaiming of the Christian tradition, St Paul, Plato, a Leninism that doesn't so much critique as ignore all Luxemburgist/Councilist/Situationist critiques of vanguardism, and a mystical idea that the Augenblick is always just around the corner - in fact becomes antipolitical, a conciliatory sop that the revolution/revelation will somehow appear out of the ether after 30 years of defeats for the Left. The missing 'historical' prefix to our materialism is always necessary, and one should be very suspicious when it gets taken out. As Debord points out in his Commentaries, history and democracy were born in the same place at the same time, and died together too - and some would seem ready to welcome this in the name of their Christian Communism.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Resentment (Bad)

'Story by Michael Blakemore about Albert Finney, who told it to him. When Albert made his million on Tom Jones and went on his sabattical trip around the world, he stopped in Acapulco. One evening he was drinking Dom Perignon on a balcony with the most beautiful girl in Mexico. He took her into the bathroom and put his cock into her. With every thrust, he said, out loud: 'That's for Dad, and that's for Mum, and that's for Uncle Ted, and that's for Cousin Jim, and that's for Auntie Marron...' A whole working-class family shared that fuck.'

Diary of Kenneth Tynan, 9th January 1973

Resentment (Good)

Antigram on the British ruling classes' increasing tendency to push their luck. A headline in one of the Tory papers a few years ago declared 'WEALTH GAP MAY LEAD TO RIOTING', which, as Savonarola has pointed out, effectively translated as 'CLASS STRUGGLE MAY LEAD TO REVOLUTION'.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Halfway to Democracy

Momus has uncovered on YouTube a few short clips from John Berger's BBC masterpiece of intellectual montage, Ways of Seeing, the precursor to the book. A while ago I saw a compilation of his documentaries at the NFT, and it was intriguing how alien their approach to art and culture seems today. The earliest, Drawn from Life was particularly interesting as an exemplar of the alleged paternalism of the 50s/60s BBC being vastly more complicated than it appears today. Three 'members of the public' were asked their opinion on selected paintings, whether 18th century oils, constructivist canvases or impressionism: and the responses of his uneducated interlocutors were respected, taken seriously, demystifying the mandarin practice of art criticism. But then Berger would argue with them, add something they hadn't thought of, formal or historical knowledge that they would not have had. This dialectical approach is unimaginable now, not just for Berger's position as expert, but for the assumption that a plumber could grasp cubism. Instead we have the Simon Schama model of the Oxbridge idiot-expert.

Ways of Seeing is in many ways less odd to the present viewer. Lines could be drawn from here to Chris Marker and Adam Curtis, not least in the gorgeous electronic soundtrack by Delia Derbyshire that ripples through the later sections, and the dense, allusive montage. Unlike Curtis' Reithian-nostalgic tendencies however, for Berger the postwar settlement was merely 'a society halfway to democracy' - a compromise, and one in which the class struggle that Curtis obsfucates was still raging just beneath the surface. This is what makes Berger more akin (despite his tankie tendencies) to the SI rather than to his BBC contemporaries. They shared a love for the Facteur Chaval's Palais Ideal (subject of another Berger doc) yet never in the manner of 'Outsider Art' discourse, in which such a project would be patronised as some eccentric efflorescence of peasant creativity. There's a world of difference between this and the fetishisation of 'innocence' around, say, Daniel Johnston. This sort of act, this construction was taken seriously, as a model for an art not based on privilege and possession: and as against Platonist fantasies of the 'few' being the creators and holders of art, in a truly democratic society it will be made by all.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Miniscule Art

A quick round-up of Borrowed Icons, Matchbox Constructivism, 'Babies' and Byt which I shall not write of at length:

Kiri points out that current major (and frankly somewhat majestic) Fostrosity Wembley stadium plagiarised designs by Oscar Niemeyer for a stadium in Rio: which, in turn, rather resembled Le Corbusier's Palace of the Soviets: this is surely the best we can ask for from Market Stalinism, that it build constructivist monuments that were considered unbuildable by Stalinism proper - after all, they're a veritable repository of the oh-so-sought-after 'iconic'.

I am currently obsessed with Maraid's flickr page of East European matchboxes: these things are just achingly beautiful, designs evoking Deineka, Karel Teige and M Sasek (whose This is London, which I flicked through yesterday, features a lovely pic of Fleet Street's finest building) put to use in the tiniest, most mundane level of the everyday. And what do we get? Artist-designined Becks labels.

Simon Sellars informs of a brutalist-ballardian exhibition in Birmingham, which looks potentially very interesting, especially now that the ex-future is getting another one of its ritual bashings.

And any London crew should head for the basement of the Festival Hall, which is showing 'Jarvis Cocker's Subconscious', a programme of free films, seemingly focused on the intersection of the fantastical and the mundane - comfortingly, the free events at Jarvis' Meltdown seem to be far more interesting than the paying stuff. The films span The London Nobody Knows, non-diegetic sound comedy Girl Chewing Gum, a compilation of spectacularly lurid early 60s pop videos, and his own student films, which I haven't seen yet. The videos he did for Pulp are of course little masterpieces of mundane montage by themselves - such as the two videos to 'Babies', which I once showed to explain 'imagery' or somesuch when at 6th form.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Tie his hair in bunches, fuck him, call him Rita if you want

Emmy Hennings, brilliant, on The Holy Bible. While I'm loath to be drawn into the murky area of Manics fandom - the I was a teenage Manics fan post will remain infinitely postponed - this piece rings very true, not least in the emphasis on the group's appeal to teenage girls being both a source of their power and of the persistent patronisation they've been subject to; on the inevitable failure of their project from the start; and on the extremely strident, disciplinarian elements of their aesthetic when at its most interesting, ie on this pitiless, absurd record.

Although I couldn't in all honesty make a case for practically anything else they've recorded, here it all works: the tensile bark, the tremendous lyrical density, the glacial, scraping Empires and Dance guitars, and their inability to sound anything other than anthemic making something like 'Of Walking Abortion' into thrilling, preposterous stadium-postpunk Foucault. The last time I listened to it, rather than being intensely embarassed (which is what I had expected, and certainly I'll gladly never hear the Clash farrago of 'PCP' again), much of it sounded like Big Black with Albini's cod-redneck pose replaced with terrifying erudition, the flip misogyny with a vision of the world pervaded by Stalinism, porn, prostitution, voracious capitalism and depression - much resembling the concerns of particular collectives of the blogosphere in fact. If only they'd stopped there...

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By Alexander Deineka, soviet sachlichkeit painter turned socialist realist. Fitting very much the perameters of this sort of thing.

Low Flying Aircraft

Me at Nothing to See Here on Woolwich's great and pointless free ferry. A fun thing about the area that I forgot to mention was the slightly chilling proximity of City Airport. Perhaps it's coming from Southampton that makes me romantic and/or sentimental about ferries or trains and generally hostile to air travel (other than questions durational and environmental) - the town was essentially killed by Heathrow, making the entire reason for its existence as passenger port superfluous, leaving it as a place that has been trying ever since to decide what it's for, eventually settling on shopping as the answer.


Not all my flickr pictures are terrible. Incidentally am now planning a stupidly overambitious genealogy of public housing on said site, from Siemensstadt to the most substandard Southampton estate - currently more of the former than the latter up there, mind you.


Is Doug's neologism to specify a particular kind of glass-walled gentrification-based structure, usually erected in inner London, and one that I think deserves to join 'capitalist realism', 'smugonaut' and others in the glossary of 21st century idiocy. Initially I found it difficult to hate Foster (and associates) - the fact that he wasn't Terry Farrell, the steel and the glass, the fact that he hadn't been allowed to design anything in Greater London except a factory in Thamesmead and Stansted Airport until the late 90s: but my god, the sheer quantity of gentrifi-infill made by the 'associates' in the last 7 years is genuinely astonishing: and its obvious that, like Skidmore, Owings and Merill, or Arup, or Kim Il Sung, Baron Foster will live on after his death, his gospel of mild-tech glazing being maintained after the master himself has passed on, maintaining a shinily grinning face over the City's destruction of London.

(this post was inspired by a list of mainly Foster buildings in thelondonbleedingpaper for architecture week, some of which were truly Speerian in their middlebrow pomposity - accompanied, of course, by the verbiage about how London was really a pioneer again, a creative and daring city, sniff sniff. The phrase 'world capital of architecture' was used, to which I plead incredulity)

Monday, June 18, 2007

You're a Big Man, But You're in Bad Shape

Saturday Night Kino

Kino Fist returns triumphant with a Sexpol special - Note Change of Venue.


For questions, directions and so forth email me (right-hand corner) or wearekinofist(at)

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Infinite Technicals

It has been requested by Comrade IT to highlight that her blog, due to seemingly interminable technical problems with Cinestatic, can, at least temporarily, be found here.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

The City of London made my Ceiling fall in

Bat and Michael Rosen in SW on the decidedly 1929 property lunacy that currently has London in a vice-like grip. As has been pointed out, this can be put down to the absurdly bloated position the City holds, morphing and twisting the entire metropolis for its own purposes. This is currently a subject close to my heart, as my shared flat above an East Greenwich chippy (one of several carved out of a dilapidated Victorian building) currently has a partial ceiling, as, seeing as property is a licence to print money, another flat is being constructed on top of it: the wait for the whole bloody thing to collapse nicely parallels the wider tedium of waiting for this preposterous economy to fall apart.

One of the most beautifully pithy demolitions of this ludicrousness is in the film The London Particular, which links it correctly to the nonsense talked about 'regeneration' and especially the purported regeneration provided by the 'creative industries'. There is still a pervasive myth that there is somewhow some sort of conflict between artists and big business, centring around their squabble over who has the right to the ex-warehouses and tenements of E2 - and a useful corrective to this is Chin-Tao Wu's book Privatising Culture, which explains in painstaking detail how the decline of previous art funding (arts council, dole, free education etc) has led to art being taken over by the very businesses down the other end of Bishopsgate that are allegedly their antipodes.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Notes on Andro-(ab)normativism

'While it is indisputably true that sexuality is always being politicised, the way in which having sex politicises is highly problematical. Right wing politics can, for instance, emerge quite easily from a sentimentalising of the armed forces or of blue collar workers, a sentimentalising which can itself prolong and sublimate a marked sexual preference for sailors and telephone linemen'

From Leo Bersani's Is the Rectum a Grave?, which I was recently sent by Dominic. The section of this essay in which various transgressive and/or utopian spaces are listed and found wanting spurred thoughts of Fassbinder's Fox and his Friends, in which a naif lottery winner enters the bathhouse world cited here, and finds that class, even (or especially here) came before sexuality. Which brings us to the inability or unwillingness of queer theorists to think about collectivity, with reference to this and this.

In conversation k-p has talked about the existence of a 'relationship normativity' rather than the heteronormativity that Edelman was using as an over-ridden hobby horse. Bersani writes precisely that it is 'the degeneration of the sexual into a relationship that condemns sexuality to becoming a struggle for power': and the two options presented by queer theory at the Edelman conference were the relationship or one-bedroom apartment serial promiscuity, surely two sides of the same coin. The notion that here inactivity or indeterminacy would be more genuinely anti-normative - Mark has mentioned Morrissey here. Some of the most interesting, and dare I say it truthful lyrics on sex can be found in his work: the seediness and desperation of 'Handsome Devil' or the languid doubt of 'Stretch out and Wait'. There is what Bersani calls, in reference to Dworkin, the desire for 'The Criminalisation of Sex Itself Until it has been Reinvented', and it seems to be this that motivated Morrissey's particular stance, rather than mere puritanism or disgust. The question, and one which Bersani doesn't quite answer, in preference for an obliterative jouissance, is what this reinvention would look like - and this why a new Sexpol is needed to think this out.

Another point not quite touched on: how this all relates to dress, and to style, given that the apparently transgressively privileged androabnormative is currently as sartorially conservative as anywhere else. Having been incorrectly identified as gay and subsequently subjected to verbal abuse and/or been knocked about a fair few times, I've never really enjoyed the irony that one's adversary would blend into a Soho crowd much easier than I would - and this is where the limiting of queerness to sexual activity is so tragic. Said pummelling/shouting was perhaps not because I looked like I might well have slept with men, but because I looked effete or effeminate, which was unnerving - queer, if you will.

Which brings us to one of the reasons why I've always preferred Bowie to Ferry: (save for the records being overwhelmingly better after 1972) partly because Ferry's suave mannishness was so much less interesting than how alien Bowie was. Not as in the early 70s Ziggy period when the alien was constantly flagged up, but from 75-80, where the lack of ostensible 'look ma, no eyebrowws' brought out the queerness of his body, gestures and expressions. What made Velvet Goldmine so fascinating (and, once you get past Ewan Macgregor's appaling performance so underrated - cf Mark Sinker) was its restablishing these links between queerness and glamour, a line which neccessarily sidesteps machismo, transgression and the merely parodic.

You said you wanted some Space...

Although it shows up my utter photographic amateurism - given my rather iffy old camera and penchant for buying film in pound shops in Woolwich I'm not doing myself any favours - I've thrown caution to the wind and set up a Flickr account. Currently up there are some shots of Woolwich, and a few of Colonel Seifert's Space House, for a revisionist piece on this generally reviled speculative architect that is currently in progress. Anyone who wants to send me a half-decent (or, heavens above, digital) camera, my email address is top right.

Brechtian Faux-Lesbian Russian Pop Film Announced

Fresh from fighting homophobes and fascists on the streets of Moscow, tATu are starring in a film. The forthcoming Finding tATu is directed by Roland Joffe (of Killing Fields fame). 'In a recent interview, producer Sergey Konov stated the film is very similar in structure to O Lucky Man!'
This does sound like by quite some way the greatest thing to have happened in the 21st century so far.

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Tuesday, June 12, 2007

National Grid

As seen in an unexpected place. Edwin Lutyens is an architect that postmodernists got very excited about in the 70s and 80s, an exemplar of a free classical tradition that was interrupted by the continental lefty funny accented emigres of the '30s, with their grids, their concrete and their politics. So naturally one has to oppose him and everything he stands for - something not too difficult, given the twee villas, pompous edwardian offices, mock castles and imperial fantasies that made up his output. Unfortunately he could do some really quite bafflingly original work when he could be bothered, and hence the inexplicable, brilliant Grosvenor Estate, on Page Street in Pimlico.

What we have here is a line of Zeilenbau blocks, locked into a grid plan, in a grid shape, modelled into a portland stone and brick grid, and probably the most advanced buildings in London for the time (late 20s), save perhaps Charles Holden's London Transport offices or Etchells' little High Holborn block. It's position, just by Westminster, the home office and surprisingly, a classic caff goldmine, make it even eerier - as does its continued use as social housing. Although they never gesture at the Italianate prettiness of Portmeirion, there's something very Prisoner about this place - a peculiar, regimented, somewhat dictatorial yet cute aesthetic that could only be English.

Plakaty 147

Montaging Ecstasy

The photomontage above is by Dali, and is called 'The Phenomenon of Ecstasy': having just come across it in L'Amour Fou - Surrealist Photography, it seems to me an instructive contrast with the images in IT's recent montage (link when cinestatic is back up), which uses similarly rum photography as the Dali one. The comparitive facial expressions seem to imply something historically depressing.

Monday, June 11, 2007

Plakaty 146

Critique of Post-Paternalist Reason

Strange that anything 'educational' or 'difficult' is deemed to be oppressive and elitist, whereas programmes which explicitly tell people (usually working class) how to dress, eat and clean their houses are perfectly acceptable. It's OK to suggest that someone looks haggard because they have neglected the botox (rather than because they have been doing a miserable job and looking after kids for the last thirty years) but anything even remotely smelling of cultural or intellectual improvement is verboten.

This puts the dominant cultural logic in a nutshell. The disturbing thing though is the sheer popularity of these programmes, the revelling in abjection and general crapness of British life: it amazes me on the rare occasions I watch TV just how much of this stuff there is (my Mum is a fan), whole cable channels devoted to these injunctions at the proles. Isn't the makeover fixation linked though, to the obverse phenomenon of a collective collapse of self-respect? Walk round most British high streets and see a George Grosz landscape of illness, abjection, ugliness and grim poverty (I include myself in most of those categories, by the way). The strange willingness, when told by the master class what shit you are to cry 'yes! That's exactly what we are!', encapsulated by the less that proletarian (Kelvin Mackenzie - Dulwich, Rebekah Wade - The Sorbonne, etc...) Sun creating a grotesque caricature of the working class to its almost universal approval.

To digress, there was certainly a definite discourse of 'how clean is your house?' in the intellectual circles which eventually coalesced into the postwar Beveridge/Attlee/Reith establishment: think of Bill Brandt's photos of East End families in grossly dilapidated houses for Picture Post, the Modernist obsession with dust and dirt, which would presumably conspire to make the inhabitants tubercular; the worry that council house designers had that tenants would store coal in their baths, and so forth. The line between Shutte-Lihotsky's kitchen and How clean is your Arse is not an unbroken one, though: though there might have been a definite paternalist discourse of cleanness, of injunctions at the proletariat, it was always joined up with some sort of systemic critique: the assumption was never that people chose to live like this, or that if they did, their choice was frankly wrong and they had to be convinced otherwise.

Having said that, and on the back of the comments box posts below (evidently I should write about the SI more often!) it's clear that paternalism was never enough. The problem now is that the demise of state socialism and social democracy leads to a certain rearguard action - a defence of both of these experiments against the still widespread calumnies, up to a point - which can obscure the critiques of both from the Situationist, Trotskyist, Surrealist (etc) sections of the Left. This blog is wholly guilty of this, of course, mainly due to my own somewhat morbid fixation on both. Proletarian self-organisation would be, of necessity, opposed to them as much as to Neo-Liberalism. Let's not forget what side Reith was on in the General Strike.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Hate the Game

'In 1963 Michele Bernstein produced a series of works in plaster with toy soldiers, cars, tanks, etc. With such titles as 'the Victory of the Bonnot gang', 'The Victory of the Paris Commune', 'The Victory of the Budapest workers' Councils of 1956', these works sought to de-reify historical events, to rescue them from artificial entombment in the past. They tended at once towards two goals: the rectification of the history of the workers' movement and the realisation of art.'
Raoul Vaneigem, The Revolution of Everyday Life

This couldn't help but put me in mind of Mark Sinker's typically tortuous and/or brilliant defence of the Re-Enactment from a few months ago, Your Own Private Quatre Bras. It's arguable that what Bernstein was doing here is a historically revisionist version of the Waterloo games Sinker writes about here, and it also points to the poverty of this notion of re-enactment: without dissenting from the valid point that this kind of practice or game could offer insights into history through the mimetic movements, the physical presence, that would be lost in text, in these re-enactments, whether of Ziggy, Neubauten or Waterloo, isn't it the case that the same thing always happens? A re-enactment of the aftermath of the Civil War, say, in which the Levellers beat Cromwell, would have a different meaning entirely - suddenly we have possibility. Perhaps there's something of this in The Battle of Orgreave re-enactment, where the wounds still being open were capable of doing something that the mimetic re-enactment can't? My re-enactment consultant Kiri may be able to add something in the comments boxes here...

We didn't Come here to Answer Cuntish Questions

The Situationists (or, as some would have it, 'Situationism') occupy a peculiar position in political and aesthetic theory today. Or rather they do as a total, unitary project: Debord and Debordism is now totally assimilated into a certain kind of discourse, given the obligatory citation in every post Hardt/Negri disquisition and inserted, with massive inappropriateness, into the moribund world of fine art. The Debord myth is rather pernicious, and is something he himself obviously cultivated - the strategist poring over Machiavelli and Sun Tzu, with murky dealings, a liking for fine claret, a glamorous suicide and an ambiguous autobiography. The SI as a whole seems to have declined in proportion to the rise of this myth. But then there's the other side, the necessary constructive (they would have said 'creative', but that word has ugly resonances nowadays) concomitant to the work of negation.

It's difficult to find, then, a book as wildly unfashionable as Vaneigem's The Revolution of Everyday Life, with its unashamed call for radical subjectivity, alongside today's Maoist ontologies. And whereas with Debord there is a rather mandarin tone, what with his recondite references to military strategy and renaissance intrigue, Vaneigem's book is rich with allusion and detail, whether historical or artistic - Brecht, Victor Serge, The Palais Ideal, The Watts Towers, all corraled into the Situationist Project of a life worth living. One might occasionally bristle at its Romanticism and semi-Vitalism, and like so much 60s leftist thought, it seemed to imagine the postwar settlement was permanent - the possibility of a return to laissez-faire is nowhere to be found - the future of capitalism is seen to be the New Deal, Khrushchevism or Swedish social democracy, and perhaps the SI would have been less scathing about them if they'd have known what they had been replaced with. Perhaps. Yet for all that I would still take the SI over everything ever to have come out of the Ecole Normale Superieure. The Revolution of Everyday Life (which I prefer to the French title, Treatise on Living for the Young Generations, in its evocation of the Constructivist interventions into byt or alltagsleben) is the major work of Situationist Practice, and it reminds constantly of the reason for poverty of art for the last 30 years: its divorce from the everyday.

This is why there's something Situationist in the hardcore continuum - one of the glimpses of possibility that are alluded to by Vaneigem where the democratisation of technology and mass participation are able to create something far more advanced than the autonomous artist can muster. Similarly this is the extension of the art-into-life campaigns of Constructivism, this time stripped of substitutionism. This couldn't be more hostile to the current state of art, which remains utterly contemplative, still stuck in the gallery. Grime (at least when it was at its height) was more Situationist than Hal Foster, artists collectives or university screenings of Debord's films. For all its mystifications and brutalities its proletarian futurism and its sheer everyday mundanity was almost exactly what they had in mind: even its occasional thuggishness reminded of the SI's talent for invective (as in their riposte to the ICA which serves as our title). The SI, like Alexei Gan, declared 'long live the construction of everyday life', and in that the Watts riots and the Watts towers were part of the same thing - and couldn't be further from the panegyrics, eulogies and laments that make up so much of current Leftist thought. The question is, though: what are the instances today of the Construction of everyday life?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Crap Britannia vs Cool Britannia as False Ethical Choice

I was strangely proud to find today that one of the Caravan Gallery' series of grim British postcards depicts Shirley, the Southampton district where I spent two very happy years in my late teens just before I fucked off permanently to London, a time which I devoted mostly to exploring its charity shops, second hand bookshops, cemeteries and council estates, and was probably permanently aesthetically damaged by what I found there. These cards do undeniably represent something peculiar - has a country ever been so proud of its own crapness as Britain in the 21st century?

This might originally have served as a corrective to the vainglory of Blairism (the unctuous war criminal even slotting into his resignation speech the claim that this is 'the greatest country in the world'), and in some cases it's distinctly necessary: the countering of London triumphalism in this month's Blueprint for instance. But then look at these postcards, and the things depicted, and find an ethic almost as bad as the seamless Barratt world it counters: whether Cumbernauld, the Tricorn centre or the New Towns, its usually yet another kicking adminstered to the all-too-brief notion that Britain could be Modern, revelling in its spalling concrete and overgrown wastelands: a negative flipside to their recent rehabilitation, loudly proclaiming that they were always already crap, the attempt doomed from the outset, their taglines raising the familiar easy laugh at the country getting ideas above its station.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Bareback Boredom

At the weekend myself and the usual suspects had the interesting experience of being 'queered' at a Queer Theory conference, on Lee Edelman's No Future. This, as has been pointed out, is an excellent book: an assault on the figure of the sacred child that presides over contemporary capitalism's infantilism and cult of innocence: but in its attack on 'reproductive futurism' there was the strange idea that the future is in any way a prized category in the current conjuncture. This didn't really prepare for the baffled reaction at any mention of collectivity, or politics at the conference. Edelman's own paper meanwhile gave off the unpleasant air of a sort of Hegelian used-car salesman, trying to sell Bareback Porn as THE definitive negation of 'Reason, Sociality and Identity', as if these three things were what held up the oft-cited 'normativity'. Accordingly, queerdom is reduced from something that has, in its universality of perversion something in common with the indeterminate sexualities and third sexes of an Edward Carpenter or Magnus Hirschfeld, to 'but some are more queer than others', so we end up with another round of wanking into a jar in the name of radical alterity, also impressively without registering the seemingly obvious point that the fetishism of ejaculation and aimless expenditure he lauds is dominant in the mainstream as the appropriately named 'money shot'. But most disappointing of all here was the abandonment of the book's most brilliant point for more pseudo-dialectics. Apparently, in their polymorphous perversity and asociality, children are just like queers, and it is this that elicits their disavowal. In that case, both are the figure of ideology.

в стиле "конструктивизм".

The Soviet architecture live journal! Why I didn't think of googling in cyrillic before is a mystery. In a similar vein - these elegantly crumbling rectilinear constructions - lots of them in brick, which should make Ian Abley happy; and also Constructivism in Yekaterinberg. In English, the 'Siberian Chicago', Novosibirsk in the 1920s, is interestingly dissected, and beautifully illustrated here.