Thursday, January 31, 2008

Aristocrats to the Scaffold

Nothing to rouse one like the return of an old adversary, and for a moment, such unlovely archicorps as Piano or Foster and their whimsically stacked trading floors suddenly seem a positively good thing. Note also the terrible decline of Berlin to the point where Prince fucking Charles approves of its urban design policy...

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Down with the Olympiad

Miscellaneous urbanist links: the ever-insightful Entschwindet on Hadid's 'accidental brutalism'; Savage Messiah and attendant Massive are now blogging at We Are Bad, and have, as you see above, been fucking up the Lea Valley Wall (and they win 'subject list of the decade', from 'class cleansing' to 'yuppie bashing' and 'future bodies'); and in a similar vein, go to Boredom is Always Counter-Revolutionary, who, one might surmise from the picture, has also been a Teenage Manics Fan in a past life.

Kino Mode

I’d like to organize a Festival of Home Movies! It could be wonderful — thousands of the things… You might find an odd genius, a Fellini or Godard of the home movie, living in some suburb. I’m sure it’s coming… Using modern electronics, home movie cameras and the like, one will begin to retreat into one’s own imagination. I welcome that…
JG Ballard

I don't have a camera phone, but the Festival of Ballardian Home Movies seems worth borrowing one for - it's about time someone started using the peculiar forms of the cameraphone to aesthetic purposes. I particularly appreciate the 'edited in camera' clause, a very 1968 cine-tract idea...

In addition, may I remind anyone in London or anyone intrepid that Kino Fist is returning this Sunday at the E:vent Gallery, at 96 Teesdale Street, Bethnal Green London E2 6PU, on the theme of Film & Fashion. The usual - 2pm, 2 quid, nibbles and booze and smoking, with a free zine and the following features: Slava Tsukerman's Liquid Sky with support from Chuck Jones' Hare Conditioned, and the video to Bowie's 'Fashion'. Come along, if you know what's good for you.

Go Karte

Enjoyably busy, with Travels in Mitteleuropa and final tweakings to Another Effort Comrades, if you would be Modernists, as it will be called unless someone has a better idea. I'm open to suggestions. In Ljubljana, the most bourgeois city I have ever been to (imagine a medium-sized Swiss city, only even more reserved, and cleaner) I spent some time searching out the little remnants of the glorious days of self-management socialism (append long anti-Stalinist disclaimer here). There are photographs and some magnificent book covers to come, but I did find several quite wonderful postcards, from the 40s to the 80s which are well worth a gander. Some of the best I've ever found, in fact, well worth adding to any forthcoming Boring Postcards-Ost.

In a more brightly-coloured vein, go to Popcards and A La Ville, for some fine French examples of the form, at I Like.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Tonight I'm gonna Party like it's 1929

Monday, January 21, 2008

Instant Ruins

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Too Good for the Working Man

'The working class suddenly scared themselves; they drew in their collective breath (the belt would come later). After the first decade in which the working class, in the shape of union muscle, had the power and the gumption to say yes or no to government policy, and had said no frequently and long, the working class felt they were teetering on a precipice - on the edge of what they chose to call anarchy, the big bad no-comprendez wolf, but which was really power. Somewhere in the Seventies, if the working class had wished it, they were stong enough to pull it off, pull it all down. But their Vice Anglais, their desire to be bullied and led by their betters, got the better of them. The working class felt that they had become demonic hedonists, because they had acquired a fondue set; they felt they had too good a time in the Sixties, because they had been told it was the decade of Spend Spend Spend and Live Now Pay Later. For a few lousy cars and fridges, the Puritan in the English character (the Welsh and Scottish never fell for Thatcher) blamed itself rather than the government.'

Julie Burchill occupies a similar position in my litany of loves and hates as the Manic Street Preachers: I know it's wrong, I know they've said and done awful things...yet somehow it doesn't bother me (not that I would listen to any record/read a book by either after 1996 or thereabouts). Both exemplify the autodidactic combination of total conviction, terrifying erudition and occasional utter idiocy that so fascinates me, despite being decidedly over-educated. She's also the only person writing in Britain today who I could imagine being starstruck at meeting, massive weight gain and appalling politics and all. So imagine my joy at receiving in the post a book of hers I'd lent out years ago, with my dog-ears, overthumbed pages and general air of wear and dilapidation all in place: the 1985 'best of' collection Love it or Shove It.

Some out and out classics are in here: the lament for the Jewish homosexual pop moguls 'The last days of the Locust'; airport novel appreciation 'Working Class Neros'; the mighty 'The End of America'; and the fine study of Graham Greene that suddely turns into a psychotic no-poperie screed, 'Greeneland Revisited'. But the best thing in here is the astonishing opening 'How I learned to stop worring and Loathe the Proletariat'. It practically negates everyhing she's written since the mid-90s as self-appointed guardian of the reputation of the working class (so hanging-and-flogging and racism runs alongside an unrepentant Stalinism). Instead, this is an essay stricken by the betrayal of the Miners, not only by the TUC but by the bulk of English workers, the failure of imagination that meant that making sure your son could go down pit after you was the ideal, other than self-emancipation, education; it fingers Wilson as the proto-Thatcher, giving away a history of struggle for colour TVs and holidays. It's an unreasonable, hopeless rant delivered with the fervour of the recent apostate. The most intriguing suggestion is that the real reason for the turn to the Tories in 1979 was that we became afraid of ourselves, and have paid ever since for that failure of nerve. Perhaps it's no closer to the truth than her current prole-idolatory - but it feels more convincing, less an act of guilty self-abnegation (if you're a highly paid journalist from the age of 16 then you're in an entirely different world, no matter how much you flex your roots) and more the real simmering rage and resentment not only at one's 'betters' but at the class you've escaped from.

Monday, January 14, 2008

English Disease

Go read the following things, all of which seem to hinge upon a certain dialectic of grimness and escape in dear old blighty: IT has a brilliant photo-essay on the aforementioned journey through the ruins - the eventual purpose of this trip will be explained presently.
The Impostume staking its claim as Maze Hill's answer to David Thomson, with an excellent discussion of Sexy Beast. Someone give the man a contract for a book extending his British film posts.
End Times on Roxy and a (sartorial) nation of no imagination, with a response from Ms Hennings;
And a rare but welcome K-Punk post, this time on the class conflicts necessitated by middle class gastronomic pieties. I admit I had a slight tinge of class pride when the burgers were being pushed through the school fences...

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Pursuit of the Millennium

Yesterday I went with some friends to the vast expanses of horrid luxury flats and seemingly endless waterways that make up the the Royal Docks: mainly as an attempt to get photos of Spillers' Millennium Mills, an enormous industrial hulk, left decomposing for decades, and the peculiar 'D Silo' that sits in the scrubland in front of it, before they get tidied up in the imminent regeneration. This was a bit tricky, given the high fences that surround it. Braver folk than we have scaled the fences (unless they dug tunnels or something) to photograph its distended innards, documented in this Flickr photoset, which it transpires is part of a wider project of industrial-archaeological chutzpah.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

All that Heaven Allows...

Me on Fassbinder, in Socialist Worker.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Special School

Far too much hedging of bets here (well, it is The Guardian). The sheer corporate grossness of the city academies - the fact that essentially, the state pays a business, occasionally with self-righteous sally army tendencies, to use a school as a mode of advertising - shouldn't obscure a more difficult question. The rhetoric of choice has been attacked as a neoliberal alibi, which it is. But where it works is by hijacking a particular leftish critique of the huge statist bureaucracy etc, proposing 'choice' and 'diversity' as against the sausage factory we all know and love. I spent a depressing half hour arguing with an old school friend recently, who is now 'Director of Learning' in a West London Academy. He'd benefitted, like me, from a 'bog standard' (as New Labour like to put it) comprehensive, a glassy 60s thing designed by one L. Berger, the city architect.

Due to Southampton's dearth of Secondary schools it had a huge cross-section of people: Punjabi kids from St Marys, unterkinder from the local Flower Estate (like myself) and loads of middle-class folk with leftish parents. Meeting, and befriending the latter changed my life (not to put too fine a point on it). And here was one of them, justifying a system that would have ensured that I would never have met him, on the grounds that it would have been good for me. 'You can't have some robotic system where everyone in the country does the same lessons at the same time.' That's the choice: special schools for the edification of the business ego, or a system of educational Fordism.

The tragedy is that the left has no outlet to construct anything different. In the 30s, in the grip of an equally grim antisocial consensus, there were little incursions, social condensers and Peckham Experiments that suggested that there were other choices, alternatives. Now that the 'new ideas' and the fancy architecture are on the other side (no matter how botched the city academies have been in practice, as per the overwhelming evidence), how can we fight back without hearing the cry of 'reactionary!' from those dragging us back to the 19th century?

Dejansko Obstoječi Socializem

Any Slovene Crew (according to site meter, there are some), come down to (oh yes) The Workers and Punks University on the 24th January, where I, along with Doctors Nina Power and Alberto Toscano, am doing a symposium on the ever-vexed question of Totalitarianism. My paper is on domesticity, consumerism and socialism, and the abstract is translated thus:

Predavanje bo osredotočeno na vsakdanjo retoriko in prakse v socialistični estetiki v državah in institucijah, ki so se deklarirale kot ‘socialistične’, najsibo Dunaj v dvajsetih ali ‘dejansko obstoječi socializem’ NDR. Dom, vsakdanje življenje in običajne družbene prakse so bile vselej prizorišča bojev med različnimi načini ustvarjanja socialistične estetike. Predavanje bo namenjeno socialističnemu odnosu do in spopadanju z nakupovanjem, modo in opremo stanovanja, ki so vse domnevno značilnosti kapitalizma. Predavatelj poskušal pokazati kako so socializmi poskušali ustvariti drugačne verzije teh praks in z njimi povezanih želja. Pristaši kulturnih študij menijo, da je želja po potrošništvu zrušila ‘socializem’. Predavatelj bo trdil nasprotno – da je to, dokaj običajno, pojmovanje le priročen mit.

Friday, January 04, 2008

Greater London Council Vortex, Again

An extraordinary film, in the BFI’s Mediatheque archive: Living at Thamesmead, directed by Charmian and Jack Saward. This is a short propaganda piece made by the Greater London Council in 1974, depicting the concrete idyll that is the aforementioned aborted Ville Radieuse (once described by someone as my ‘spiritual home’ – though at the very least a haircut and a more restrained wardrobe would be required before I could make it my actual one). The innocence and hope of this utopia of the slum overspill is personified in our pubescent protagonists, bathed in the sunlight that reflects off the concrete surfaces. Opening with scenes of the communal lakes turned, seemingly, into Butlins, filled with frolicking children, we move onto a walk through the gigantic estate, soundtracked by a bucolic electro-acoustic ditty that demands reissue on Trunk. The couple can’t keep their hands off each other: at one point they lay down on the playing fields and the camera closes in on the girl’s red, parting lips, then dissolves. Their traversal of the concrete walkways is at every level sexualised, their evident desire to go off into the proverbial bushes made symbolic of the appeal of the sparkling, ex nihilo city.

What’s funny, and sad, is that even in this film, made purely to convince people to move to the estate, the (justified, no doubt) complaints keep coming. There’s not enough facilities. The rent is too high. It’s too isolated. The public transport isn’t good enough. What isn’t mentioned, except by allusion, is the architecture, and the sheer confidence and total sweep of its Modernism (the directors not chastened by A Clockwork Orange two years before). At one point the boy looks over to the school and exclaims ‘it looks like a factory!’ and the girl replies ‘better than my old one. Old was the word for it!’ The very things that are now considered so inhuman, so criminal about Thamesmead and it’s lesser versions – the walkways, the towers, the concrete, the lack of any ornament or historicist ‘context’ (context with what? The poisoned wasteland that was there before?) – are not considered worthy of comment by the people in the film, both those fictional and real. The camera, meanwhile, adores the architecture, and the directors have the characters acknowledge it, silently: as at one moment across the walkways, where our couple turn back to see the geometries line up starkly behind them, a row of gradated towers stepping back, one after the other. A glance that would now have to be one of fear is of wonder.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Winter Disco

The phrase above, from a Jon Dale review of the Junior Boys, encapsulates very nicely my current choice of music-for-January-dejection: The Best of Chic Volume 2, or 'the records after 'Good Times' that nobody bought'. Chic were already a glacial, almost forbidding group, with their melancholic and strangely Appollonian imprecations to dancing. This stuff does away with the lushness/bleakness tension of their two unimpeachable masterpieces, C'est Chic, Risque (and their Diana Ross LP) and mostly just leaves the bleakness. Sparse, spatial and catatonic funk, riven by memory ('Flash Back'), lots of lachrymose ballads that sound decidedly MOR until their off-centredness and perversity sinks in, and just occasionally, Teutonic-disco marches that are almost uplifting in a peculiarly static, blank way ('Believer'). The sound of misery in a Tuxedo.

Teaching Nothing, Very Well

Another kind of mastery, disavowed in this case and all the more pernicious for it – I know enough to tell you that you do not need to know. It is the supercilious attitude of the newspaper columnist who chucks in references to Marx, postmodernism, etc. before airily informing the less-informed reader that he or she doesn't need to bother finding out anything about them for themselves. Equality of intelligence is here smothered by the laziness, not of the students, but of the teacher. The fear masked here, both by assuming student apathy and by preserving the knowledge you yourself possess, is the idea that actually there is nothing 'special' about your capacity to learn.

IT, excellent on education, class and confidence, and offering no easy answers to a particularly grim conjuncture. I admit to being extremely suspicious of Ranciere's attempt to do away with 'mastery' here, but haven't read The Ignorant Schoolmaster so I'll shut up on that subject... but reading his The Politics of Aesthetics recently, I realised that in my 'work' I do practically everything he warns against. And being immersed in the Arcades for the last couple of months really brings home by negative comparison the sheer poverty of reference, historical detail, political rigour and general aesthetic conservatism of post-Althusserian French intellectuals (Mallarme, check; Antigone, check; Holderlin, check)...

'It was the Night before New Year's..