Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Apologetic Architecture

Outside of my East Greenwich flat is a council estate that exhibits perhaps the least known architectural idiom of social housing, namely the 'We're Sorry!' style. That is, the 'vernacular' of little houses and gardens introduced by Labour councils in the 70s and 80s as a direct response to the failure of Modernism (really, the failure of their backhander-riven experiments in shoddy prefabrication the previous decade, but never mind). It's one of the better examples. The houses are as geometric and strong as much as they are homely, with a park in the middle, and the little Barratt incursions and 30s semis at the Estate's edges make the quality more obvious. There's a fine one of them near where I grew up in Southampton, called Mandela Way, in fine 80s Labour council stylee. Although it's as feared as much, if not more, than any 1960s concrete estate.

Perhaps the greatest instance of this was the house-building programme of Militant when they controlled Liverpool City Council: defying both Thatcher and Kinnock to build thousands of new Houses with Gardens, directly inspired by anti-Corbusian tracts like Utopia on Trial. Giving workers what they always said they wanted in every survey from the 20s on, rather than slotting them into a middle class Fordist Fourier fantasy. But looking at them (eg in Tony Mulhearn and Peter Taafe's book Liverpool, a City that dared to Fight) they look utterly uninspired, an astonishing failure of imagination compared with their municipal socialist precursors in Vienna, Frankfurt, or Liverpool itself, let alone Lubetkin or Goldfinger's towers. There's little other than the lack of gables and pretend pediments to mark them out from that supreme built incarnation of Thatcherism, the Barratt estate. The 'loony left' Labour councils of the 80s might be more politically impressive than their forbears, the complacent, corrupt T Dan Smith types with their aspirations to be 'Brazilia of the North', but their built legacy is sometimes barely indistinguishable from that of their most loathed enemies.

This came to mind reading this little piece about London's Coin Street housing Co-Op. In the early 80s, their Waterloo site hosted a battle between Thatcherite plutocrats and Labour leftists. But the former had as their designer the Marcuse quoting neo-Constructivist Richard Rogers (then at the height of his powers, working on Lloyds), while the latter favoured the 'vernacular'. They won, but their buildings - in red brick 'don't look at me!' style, like the base of the Oxo tower, with slightly more interesting things recently, are vastly less inspiring than their politics. They're now planning a 43 storey tower, and by filling it with offices and private flats revealing themselves as impeccably New Labour. Nonetheless, there is in this a lesson of some sort for the left aesthete. Of course, the choice of Houses and Gardens isn't even on the agenda in London right now, but still, one hopes that Defend Council Housing, would that they might win their campaign, could have an architect or two on board, a few people to throw ideas around, rather than more of the same. It doesn't have to be (though I'd love if it were) Lebbeus Woods reimagining Tower Hamlets as floating fortress, but at least something that announces that, unlike Thatcher herself with her Dulwich Barratt cottage or the disurbanists of the Thames Gateway, we don't wish it were still the 19th century.

Monday, October 29, 2007

He was the Manager!

Winner of the apposite phrase of the month award - Tom Ewing for 'Managerial Rock', to describe the 'safe pairs of plectrum-carrying hands' that blight the British airwaves. (Photo via this Pelican page)

Update: Monster Bobby corresponds thus: 'I'm afraid my man jonny f invented the terms "office rock" and "corporate guitar" about two or three years ago with much the same

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Stock Flotations

Escape all this Hideousness!

The Impostume is marvellous on Withnail & I, a film which deserves rather more intelligent discussion than the drinking game studentiness that it is usually lumbered with. Perhaps not on a formal level - naturally it doesn't exactly experiment in with the very perameters of the medium, but is exquisitely put together. That depressive seediness is conveyed by sets (Monty's flat evoking Des Essientes as an ageing homosexual) locations (that caff, the Finchley towerblocks, a rural landscape as cold and unforgiving as North London), music (especially Al Bowlly, establishing Monty's one-time bright-young-thing interwar mileu) and devices (almost every scene seems to begin with someone entering a room, peculiarly) as much as performances. It might be televisual sometimes, but for a film about thesps, it's never just filmed theatre.

The film's language, with its exquisitely odd intonations and cadences or its more famous verbal fireworks is, quite rightly, what any analysis of it would focus on. Thinking about it (not easy, with something this familiar), the depiction of Withnail and Monty's extravagance, their love of rhetorical flourishes and pronouncements, can't help but seem tied up with Marwood's (and, if you'll excuse the biographism, Bruce Robinson's) class. This might seem predictable from here, but it's interesting how often it seems to be assumed that the two are both down-at-heel for the same reason. On the contrary, it's only Withnail who is able to get keys for houses in Penrith at will, leading to the supremely haute bourgeois formulation 'free to those who can afford it: very expensive to those that can't'.

For all Withnail's attempts to establish him in some sort of context (Monty) would undertand, Marwood didn't go to the other place. His dulcet non-accent slips here and there, especially when he's naked, in a corner. Withnail could be saved perhaps, from his poverty, if not his alcoholism, by the family he never talks about. 'They don't like me being on stage'. 'Well, they must be delighted with your career', sneers Marwood in a rare moment where he rivals Withnail's bitchiness. Withnail's rants, pomposity and grandiosity are admired from a distance where you just don't talk like that but are amazed and impressed that anyone would. There's an envy in that distance as much as an admiration. That facility with language, ineffectual and self-destructive as it may be, is enviable for a jittery lower-middle class junior thesp like Marwood, that one could be (admittedly in a hysterical manner) so comfortable, so immersed in words that even several whiskies, pills and lighters down you can declaim in fantastically elegant English. And (biographism alert again) that can then be acquired by the nervous upstart, as can be seen in Robinson's similarly linguistically pitched novel, and the interviews in the collection Smoking in Bed - demonstrating an eloquence and perversity that might come naturally to Etonian Withnails immersed in books from an early age, but rather less so for highly-strung boys from Broadstairs.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Hollowed Out

An excellent, forensic Shykitten post (a few months old but just noticed) on the Postal Strikes and the language of 'restructuring': not 'modernisation', but 'postmodernisation' - Postmodernisation excavates the interior of the public body - its working practices, social function - but retains the exterior as a mythic prop in order to try to convince people of its survival.


This isn't a proper post about New Order, but some barely connected threads. First of all: I found my copy of Substance by New Order in my Mum's bookcase around 15 years ago. It's in a white rectangular cardboard box (like this one) marked Fact 200c, one of those typically Factory commodity-fetish devices, with a slip with artwork and two cassettes inside. Nobody knew who it belonged to. A lot of people came and went in that house, so presumably someone left it after a 'social' - occasions in which sweaty Trots would get together, argue, smoke rollies and eat homemade ratatouille and flapjacks, all in aid of the 'fighting fund'; quite exciting, as a vision of what adulthood would be like - and never returned to claim it. I was aware of 'World in Motion', but these tapes were, if such a thing be possible, even better. It would be almost permanently lodged in the car stereo driving round the Isle of Wight, leading to the curious fact that when I hear 'Everything's Gone Green' I see rolling hills and empty roads as much as I do post-industrial bleakness. My Dad used to sing along to 'Procession', of all things.

At the weekend I bought a copy of TheNewOrderStory on video for a quid at Save the Children, which I hadn't seen since I watched it with someone I used to live with, a very highly strung art student who had been the only person I had the slightest thing in common with in a halls of residence, who would quit his Goldsmiths place within a year and skulk around the Tate cafe as a cleaner, occasionally arguing with Germaine Greer or Jeremy Deller if they happened to be there. He had all the other things that weren't on Substance, like a gorgeously sleeved Low Life and the baffling Movement. I frantically taped them all off him before I moved out, sometime after he abandoned his camp gestures and quiff for shellsuits and No Limit records in an attempt to not stick out quite so much in Peckham. He gave me his copy of 'Video 586', with Jon Wozencroft's dazzling artwork. He wasn't satisfied as a SE15 rude boy any more than he was as an out-of-time new romantic from Kendal. The last I heard of him he'd erected a tent on Peckham Rye, whether as an art project or out of neccessity I'm not sure. The documentary is annoying and silly, with too much Keith Allen and one of Paul Morley's most self-parodic scripts, but I was glad to see it again. I've not seen the person in question for 6 or 7 years, and would be less pleased to see him again.

The impressively youthful End Times has a fine post about Substance, drawing out the strangeness of New Order, usually suppressed by the blokeishness and the shadow of their rather more dramatic past. New Order are very strange indeed. I was always convinced that Bernard was gay. Not just because of that 'woooah, I am boy you can enjoy!' on 'Hurt' and all the shirtlessness, but also the tete-a-tete on 'Perfect Kiss', where he wonders whether he should have stayed in and committed the sin of Onan rather than go out with his 'strange' friend with his 'gun' - oh, and then there's the exquisitely melodramatic '1963' where a seemingly very intense male friendship is ended by a surprising, phallic gift. Maybe this is why I've never heard in them the lumpenness they get accused of, instead the non-sequiteurs and hesitant, boyish tones always sounded ambiguous and mysterious.

There's the sublimely cool gesture of replacing Ian Curtis with an impassive, deadpan female keyboardist, rather than a charismatically sexual frontperson or focal point. Technocratically marshalling blocks of metallic compulsion, as in the film footage of 'Everything's Gone Green', where the entire sound is dominated by her grids. Watching live footage of New Order it always occurs to me that female synthesiser players (see also - Candida Doyle, Lisa of Wendy and fame) are consummately my feminine ideal. Each of the versions of 'Blue Monday' - even those live ones where the lyrics are improvised and the bass rumbles in bizarre places - is equally exciting, something that shouldn't work but does. A rhythm held down 'with pins' as Quincy Jones admiringly put it, with all manner of strangeness allowed to happen around it. Especially the 22 minutes of 'Video 586' where the arpeggios are put through a schaffel stomp morphing into a seemingly endless kosmische loop. Maybe even the mythic Sunkist advert, or the innumerable bastard pop versions that I used to hear when I used to go out in the evening. This is what, maybe because this little box was one of the first things I ever really listened to, rather than being merely aware of, I always imagined pop music was, and would be like. Cold, driven, electronic, odd, and somehow considered normal.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Hard Choices

Remember when perusing these little bits of information, that the likes of Gordon Brown, his privatisers, his non-governmental advisers, those who cling to the Labour Party as it continues the most rightwing policies in British history, these people are the realists.

Melissa Benn on how the Pimilico School, an internationally admired late 60s futurist comprehensive is being sold off to a Tory, Christian venture capitalist, who is apparently going to take advantage of the proximity of Westminster barracks.
It's far too difficult to convince business leaders to back renewable energies, so Labour consider not bothering to cut carbon emissions - on the same day that a report claims, yet again, that climate change going to be even worse than the even worse that was predicted last time.
And astonishingly, people continue to imagine that there's a class system. Preposterous!

Monday, October 22, 2007

On the Beach

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Poem of the Right Angle

For anyone offended by the uncharacteristic flowing lines of the pictures below, here's a clip from Theodore Ushev's fantastic Tower Bawher. The full film is here - thanks to Rob Annable for the link.

Socialism or Aestheticism

In Margarethe von Trotta’s film Rosa Luxemburg, there is a depiction of the Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands’ new year’s eve party of 1899/1900. Barbara Sukowa’s Rosa is dressed in the style of Japonisme, a red kimono and sticks in her hair; Clara Zetkin in a black feather boa; and the revisionist Eduard Bernstein, with whom Rosa refuses to dance, wears a clown’s pointy hat. Dancing waltzes and tarantellas, Leo Jogisches and our heroine discuss the pleasures of belonging to a mass Party. At the scene’s end, August Bebel declares ‘the proletariat enters the 20th century!’ flanked by a dance band in Pierrot costumes. This delightful little scene, which is likely to be fairly accurate, given the film’s historical scrupulousness, is, on the face of it, a reminder that even the left wing of the second Socialist International was bourgeois in its tastes – a bunch of Mikado Marxists, even on Rosa’s leftist fringe. But there’s something more interesting here. This is a conflation of two seemingly opposed tendencies of the fin de siecle: aestheticism and socialism.

There is, on the face of it, only one figure who really reconciled art for art's sake and commitment to revolutionary social transformation – Oscar Wilde, whose The Soul of Man under Socialism is the most brilliant of socialist polemics, not least for its scorn for the ‘usefulness’ of charity and reformism (‘the worst slave-owners were those who were kind to their slaves and so prevented the horror of the system being realised by those who suffered from it’). While disdaining the direct social application of art, and in so doing rejecting his arts & crafts background – sent to build bridges or what have you when he was tutored by Ruskin – Wilde’s aestheticism is not just a gleefully non-utilitarian gesture in a decomposing society, prizing ‘contemplation’ and languor above all action (although it is that too). In ‘The Decay of Lying’, a tangle of self-destructing aestheticist pronouncements, there is the claim:

‘(the Greeks) knew that life…can form herself on the very lines and colours of art…hence came their objection to realism. They disliked it on purely social grounds. They felt in inevitably made people ugly, and they were right. We try to improve the conditions of the race by means of good air, wholesome water, free sunlight, and hideous bare buildings for the better housing of the lower orders. But these things merely produce health, they do not produce beauty. For this, art is required, and the true disciples of the artist are not his studio-imitators but those who become like his works of art…in a word, life is art’s best, art’s only pupil.’
The ‘hideous bare buildings’ are hateful not for their contemptible social intent (although Wilde was certainly jibing at reform, if not revolution) but for being merely utilitarian. An intensification of art would necessarily create an intensification of life, and in that sense Wilde is not so far from the socialist aesthetes of the 1920s as one might imagine. Formally, of course, he is several million miles away.

There were three serious outgrowths of arts and crafts as, perhaps, the first real attempt at socialist aesthetics, of a sort. The familiar, tweedy, folksy exultation of popular tastes (as long as they were pre-industrial) that runs from William Morris through to Woody Guthrie; the concreteness and productivism of Constructivism/Neues Bauen and its many permutations (the link goes via the garden cities); and art nouveau. The latter, with its sinuousness, decadence, headiness, richness, would seem to be the odd one out. But the link is there. From Mackmurdo to Henry van de Velde, its practitioners were mostly trained in Ruskin's moralist craft socialism. Aubrey Beardsley and Ernst May were both Morris disciples of a sort.

In this sense, Adorno, though he meant this as a denunciation, wasn’t far wrong when he wrote that ‘from a distance, the gap between the Bauhaus and the Wiener Werkstatte (the craft workshops of the Viennese secession) is not so wide’. The obsessive redesign of the everyday indulged in by the latter (Olbrich, Josef Hoffman, Klimt etc) may have been intended for a more bourgeois public than the former, although the largest experiment in socialist architecture outside the USSR and Germany was made by ex-Sezessionists in Red Vienna. The idea is essentially similar, even if the line is different, as Pevsner recognised in Pioneers of Modern Design. The jugendstil colony of Darmstadt and the workers’ siedlung of Dammerstock have more in common, in their implicit desire to transform a world, no matter how compromised or contradictory that might be, than Gropius does with Gehry.

It is a little whimsical, perhaps, to try and imagine a Huysmans Socialism, or people waving the little yellow book as much as the red one. Nonetheless – let’s look at the architectural products of art nouveau, outside of the innumerable villas. There’s Victor Horta’s (demolished) headquarters for the Belgian Socialist Party in Brussels, with its twisting lines of iron and glass, as famous a work in its time as were his surviving luxury residences. Or three buildings in Ghent: in the centre, commanding a medieval square, towering over the gables, is ‘OUR HOUSE’, a wildly eclectic mix of Lautrec motifs reassigned from woozy hedonism to aggressively house the Socialist Workers’ Union, or the offices by the same architect for Forwards, the Party newspaper. These turn of the century works are the product of something advancing, confident, and turning not just extravagance but novelty over to the workers’ movement. Meanwhile Henry Van de Velde, a public supporter of the Belgian socialists, and whose 1930s tower for the University Library straightens the jugendstil line, was so obsessive an aesthete that his wife had to wear specially designed clothes to match the interiors.

In The Soul of Man, one of the reasons for the necessity of socialism is to make everyone a potential artist. The essay is dismissive of the idea that ‘popular taste’ can be ‘improved’, at least in a society based on private property – when he mentions the resurgence of British design that led to art nouveau, he stresses how it was initially as a slap in the face for public taste. Yet when a mass form is needed – e.g., in ‘housing for the lower orders’ – it’s not possible for everyone to be a perfect aesthetic individualist. In an interview recently, Oscar Niemeyer recalled Walter Gropius telling him of one of his curvaceous constructions, ‘it’s beautiful, but it can’t be mass-produced’. ‘As if I intended any such thing! What an idiot’. This exemplifies nicely why the bauhaus reformist might have been a lesser ‘artist’ but a better socialist, although the Brazilian was the card-carrier. In terms of constructivism’s theoretical and technological seriousness, art nouveau is mainly whimsical, facile stuff – and maybe its employment by socialists reflected a certain confusion and aspiration to the cultivated. Maybe, yet how fantastic is the image of the revolutionary dressed as Pierrot or Red Rosa dancing around in a red kimono before manning the barricades? In another period where widespread aesthetic whimsy is concomitant with a barbarism fiercer than ever, it’s worth reminding yourself that a fair few of the fin de siecle decadents dreamed of serving the masses, so that as Wilde put it, socialism could bring a true individualism into being.

All Doomed

Two discrete signs lately that everything is rapidly going to pot. One: one of the numerous types of medication I am prescribed has been held up for, so far, around three weeks because of problems with supply. Two: my local chippy - in fact, the chippy below my flat - has a sign detailing price increases for reasons of the price and scarcity of fish and potatoes, and a new demand for cooking oil to power cars. These are not very healthy events...(see also: Simon on popcultural doom, gloom and inertia)

Tings in Boots

You'll never guess who I thought of the very second I saw this picture in the paper...

Monday, October 15, 2007

Belgian Resistance

Off to Ghent tomorrow for a few days, so things may be a little quiet. Anything worth seeing (other than Van de Velde's book tower) that people would like to suggest would be most welcome...

Post Facto

There still seems to be a few wildcat actions, which always gladdens the heart, but in the postal strike there's the prospect of a capitulation, which would be a terrible shame. One would assume that posties were one of the most liked and trusted sections of society - people that come to your house and give you stuff, even when a large proportion of that might be bills. Then again, the Fire services would be even more so, and I don't recall a huge wave of solidarity a few years ago. Even so, the wave of huffing Toryism that accompanied the Tube strikes seems to be absent over this. A couple of weeks ago in a Time Out survey, a majority thought Tube drivers shouldn't be allowed to strike. That's Time Out - even this long after it was any sort of critical voice, one would think its readership were a bit to the Left of Paul Dacre, but apparently not. So only slightly relevantly, here's a clip from Cavalcanti/Auden/Britten's GPO film Night Mail, which can be watched as nostalgic remnant of a time when posties and train drivers were idealised, which might well have been patronising, but seems hopelessly sweet in a world where heiresses and plutocrats are idolised and public sector workers ignored, except for when they have the temerity to defend themselves.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Commodity Fetishism Corner

Miscellaneous interesting blogging, mainly in a beautiful artefacts vein:

I know the Plakaty have been rather thin on the ground of late - even the Sputnik anniversary was lacking one. So, stepping rather spectcularly into the breach, here's Alexander Zakharov's A Soviet Poster A Day. This is really impressive work, well beyond the call of duty - each poster translated and given a commentary, something which I could never manage with my toddler's Cyrillic. The remit is well beyond mine (I avoid pretty much anything between the early 30s and the late 60s, and at least half of em were by the Stenberg brothers) but the results, I'm sure you'll agree are fine indeed. Note also a lovely Sputnik poster on October 4.

In a similar vein of pretty pictures well organised and intelligently commented on, the 'Woebot Lite' pictorial periodisation of Hip Hop (in several parts) is excellent: I even own ooh, about 6 or 7 of those. And I for one would love to hear his party rendition of 'Paid in Full'. I've always especially enjoyed that 'plate of fish - which is my favourite dish' line. Actually maybe a food-in-hiphop post would be in order, which could include Lord Shafiyq's great culinary-Nation of Islam lyric 'if I were a Pork Chop/I would commit suicide/leap in the pan/and then get fried' amongst others.

Glaswegian Haunto-Brutalist Entschwindet und Vergeht, who should write more long posts, with a great little vignette about Lubetkin's burial of his Lenin Monument, plus the vagaries of the block that was once to be called Lenin Court, pondering the question of what role exactly the fetishism of the buried and the ruined plays in the cultural politic today. Finally - and more on this later, perhaps after I've seen Control - this frankly stunning Emmy Hennings post on Joy Division's sound from broken homes.

Have a Go

Southwark Council have a little series of posters and billboards proclaiming their campaign on anti-social behaviour. A typical one runs:

We will catch you.
We will prosecute you.
No excuses.
No exceptions.'

Then, as a final flourish,
'No place to hide'.

No liberal rhetoric here: I've spent enough time on estates to be quite familiar with the unpleasantness of constant petty violence and brutality. But this is horrible. Who is this 'we'? Council tenants? Doubtful, seeing as the number of people that vote in council elections in Southwark is roughly the same as the election in Blackadder the Third. The 'we', then, is the fundamentally unelected council itself - one that is no longer a provider of services, with housing, health, leisure all busily sold off to the highest bidder - which is left as a security state rump, making staccato declarations at the youth unlucky enough to be living in the remnants of their former, welfare state incarnation. Like the Benefit Fraud 'Dole Spotlight' ads (eg the one above), which are truly ethically vile in a state that has turned itself into an offshore tax haven, these posters are about surveillance, singling out, terror - the vigilante's simulacrum of popular action.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007


Mid-way through a justified lambasting of the creaky Arvo Part sulking of late Godard ('the man who idolised Tashlin appears not to have seen The Simpsons'. You know, a post on JLG, who I'm decidedly ambivalent about, has been planned for oh, ages...) Colin MacCabe adds the following in a footnote. A strangely invigorating assertion, I think.

'There can be no denying, however, that the Hollywood cinema is to all intents and purposes dead. This should not surprise. If we look at the vital lifetimes of the Elizabethan stage or Attic tragedy they hardly stretch two decades while Hollywood had nearly eight. Even in the nineties occasional flickers like Groundhog Day and A Perfect World recalled former greatness'
from Godard, 2002

Cheese not on the Shelves

The Impostume returns, not overly impressed, from The Bolivarian Republic Of Venezuela. In Zizek's Did Someone Say Totalitarianism there's an apposite, if typically having-and-eating-one's-cake critique of the function that the other supposed to struggle has for the Western leftist, in terms as much of the 'good example' of Cuba as well as the familarly indefensible (and hence so much more appealing to SZ) Eastern Bloc. And obviously a country which appears to have a monarchical succession, a Castro dynasty, seemingly, recalling Brecht's term for the USSR as a 'workers' monarchy', is a dubious model of Socialism. But even so, as a (perhaps atypically impoverished) proverbial Western Academic Marxist, I always desperately want to believe in such places - and especially in Latin America, the only place outside pockets of Western Europe where socialism even exists as a positive idea, irrespective of whether it's an actual reality. That there must be somewhere where we're winning, even if that 'we' wouldn't go down all that well in the barrios. Or even when you have these peculiar alliances springing up, the decidedly odd idea of a petrol-fuelled anti-imperialist front made up of Iran, Belarus, Venezuela and Ken Livingstone's wildly neoliberal London.

Mind you, it's funny how even here, critiques of socialisms actual or alleged always centre on what you can and can't get in the supermarket.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Social-Democratic Counterfactuals

Intriguing little piece by Neil Clark on what might have happened and not happened had Jim Callaghan called an election in 1978 (and as few of the as ever rabidly commensensical rightwing comments point out, even the '79 election was a close-run thing) - in short, that Britain wouldn't be a vicious little neoliberal basket case - with an also very fine response on what this might have meant for Pop from Robin Carmody. I find this very seductive, but almost impossible to think: Thatcherism's grim inevitability seems almost given now, and let's not forget it was a worldwide phenomenon, as much to do with the IMF and World Bank as the British electoral process. Yet the idea that Britain going Scandinavian, and never becoming the neoliberal 'success' flung at the rest of the world might have been a model for the post-Soviet states is a particularly sad 'what if'. But even so - would these states still have had their gastarbeiter, their colonial wars, their indenturing of the rest of the world...?

A rather different counterfactual, although again one based on the belief in the postwar consensus as something dynamic, rather than the grimly stagnant Brezhnevism we're led to think of, is at k-punk: essentially on - what if the new spaces of postwar Britain had really been accepted, or more precisely adapted, their residents? And this didn't even have to be as a Smithsons-Goldfinger-Foxx space of raw concrete and streets in the sky, but the sweetness and elegance of East Kilbride, as profiled at I Like - low-rise, thoughtfully planned New Towns that wouldn't necessarily have had to produce A New Kind Of Man to live in them. But in the same way that I'd really rather Tony Benn won an election than Jim Callaghan, the utopianism of the Brutalists seems more exciting than that of the New Towns - more Pop, sexier, more bloodymindedly ambitious - but the future could have been either of the two, rather than the aesthetically and politically hideous reality we got instead.

Friday, October 05, 2007


Any Birkbeck crew, or indeed anyone around Russell Square on a regular basis, is welcome to come to the following, where I foist Banhamite-Bolshevist propaganda upon unsuspecting postgraduates:

20th Century and After: Reproduction
Room 503, 30 Russell Square, at 7.00pm

10th October: Autonomy and Production
Texts by Sergei Tretiakov, Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, Simon Reynolds, Laszlo Moholy-Nagy

24th October: Standardisation
Texts by Theodor Adorno, Yevgeny Zamyatin, Moshe Safdie

7th November: Biopolitics
Texts by Shulamith Firestone, Lee Edelman, Olaf Stapledon

21st November: Automation
Texts by Samuel Butler, Marshall McLuhan, Situationist International, Kodwo Eshun

5th December: Postmodernism, Parody, Pastiche
Texts by Jean Baudrillard, Fredric Jameson, others TBC

Photocopies will be available from the Photocopy Room on the second floor of 30 Russell Square (door marked 'no entry')

For further information email Owen Hatherley (owenhatherley(at)yahoo.co.uk) or Andrew Barlow (andrewpbarlow(at)hotmail.com). Texts subject to change. Any other ideas for texts, disagreements and requests appreciated.

Fellow Traveller

I missed the 50th anniversary yesterday, but just to make up for it - viva Sputnik! Viva! Viva!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Nostalgia for the Interplanetary

My review-feature-attempt-at-brief-history-of Richard Pare's The Lost Vanguard, and more generally Constructivism via science fiction and ruins, is now up at Archinect, veering from HG Wells and Bogdanov to Okhitovich and Trotsky in far too many words. The piece is an early version of a chapter from The Forthcoming Book, so any comments and critiques will be very highly appreciated. Incidentally, of the many excellent links provided in the text by the esteemed Mr Jourden, this paper on the extremely unpleasant politics of Philip Johnson is one of the most intriguing.

Embarassments, Spatial and Linguistic

Yesterday I watched Dennis Potter's Stand Up, Nigel Barton for the first time. There isn't much that I can add to the k-punk take, except for a particular point about the acute linguistic embarassment of that utterly agonising final scene in front of the television, where the protagonist talks of his belonging neither here (Oxford) nor there (the WMC). In Lynsey Hanley's Estates (a book which I mention perhaps more often than is really necessary, probably because it's a book I wanted to write, although not in quite the same way) there's a rather incongrous moment, for such a soft left tract, where she cites the Situationists and the derive, and claims that you couldn't derive through an council estate - you'd look like a wally. This isn't actually a spatial question, but one of getting ideas above your station - looking silly, breaking the obligatory screen of bluff, aggression and disinterest. So when Nigel talks about 'walking a tightrope' between his family and Oxford, the point is almost lost in the seeming floridness of the image - his father knows that they'll take the piss at the pub over that one, at how embarassingly metaphorical his language has become. The impregnable, empiricist exterior has to be maintained at all times.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007


Perhaps the best example yet of the perfect postcard: young ladies, brutalism, and the European grey of the former Bloc. (courtesy of IT)