Thursday, June 23, 2011

Broken Biscuits

Uncommon - an essay on Pulp, is out tomorrow, on Zero Books - it's the pink one at the end just above. This article has a lot of the themes from it summarised, and an extract from the book, on the subject of 'Mis-Shapes', up at Up Close And Personal. and Richard King's Domino Radio show has me rambling about Pulp and playing their particularly outre numbers, followed by Dan Hancox saying much more important things about grime and student protest and then returning to filth via 'Ramping Shop'. The first review of it is, as ever, in 3:AM.

Mercifully not on the subject of Pulp, on the subject of Southampton council workers' co-ordinated strike - a (rare) pleasure to feel proud of the city.

Thursday, June 02, 2011

(Bad New) Things

Or, rather, a post a bit like what you might get at Things, only somewhat less generous. It may or may not have escaped attention (though it has not escaped the attention of the Oxonian Review) that Zero Books is having an extraordinarily good run at the moment - so here's plugs for four I think especially worth plugging. Three books on film, in the loosest sense, which confront - just in case anyone was about to bandy about a word nearly rhyming with neuralgia - some current products of the culture industry at its most base and ruthless. Masha Tupitsyn's oddly dreamlike immortalisation of her twitter feed Laconia has been very well discussed by Giovanni Tiso here; two books which seem more precisely linked are Evan Calder Williams' Combined and Uneven Apocalypse and Steven Shaviro's Post-Cinematic Affect. Despite the cold precision of the latter and the dialectical poetics of the former, both seem to subscribe, while disassociating themselves from it as a political 'strategy', to a kind of accelerationism of aesthetics - a plunging into the sheer wrongness of the contemporary moment as a means of inhabiting and understanding it, deranging the senses so as to be more clear. Both are excellent, gripping books. (a post in the unwritten pile at present is an attempt to use Shaviro's analysis to talk about Night Watch and Day Watch; another time). More domestic, albeit deceptively so: Rosa Ainley's irascible, brief-yet-capacious 2 Ennerdale Drive, an 'unauthorised biography' of a suburban house in Colindale. Into this frame she crams a trenchant analysis of suburbia itself, both against those who would condemn it and against those who would celebrate it, an Angela Carter-esque saga of acting dynasties, and a smartly Benjaminian take on the ubiquitous family history genre. I took a picture of the house in question in Colindale for the cover, but it wasn't used in the end. So here's the road sign instead.

Given that I'll be disappearing down a thesis-shaped hole again quite soon, here's a round-up of recent things, mostly by me but thankfully not exclusively. An interview, in Russian, on the subject of Soviet and post-Soviet architecture, at OpenSpace.Ru. The interview itself was in English, as I am useless, and then translated, by the esteemed Oleksiy Radynski, editor of the Ukrainian section of the frankly impressive Polish broad left journal/publishing house/discussion group/etc Krytyka Polityczna (who now also have an English branch). I'll put the full English version up here soon, partly as a placeholder for some unwritten posts on Warsaw, Łódź, Kiev and Moscow - I've been amassing lots of pictures and notes on the former in particular which I've just not had the time to do anything coherent with, as yet. A far more informed take on the fascinating and horrible aesthetics of contemporary Russia than anything I can do is an excellent OpenSpace post on the neo-fascist/new urbanist/new rich/neo-Stalinist/neo-colonial porn that is being used to advertise the Sochi Olympics, translated into English by Thomas of Chto Delat.

Extracts from Uncommon will be online soonish, but here's a small Flickr album of photographs taken from the propagandist literature of post-war Sheffield that I was going to use in the book but didn't, because they had a moire pattern on them. This might be a blessing in disguise, as it means the book isn't quite so much a product of a currently perhaps somewhat worn aesthetic, naming no names etc. More interestingly, here's Pyzik's take on it for the 90s' blog, via her blog and Lampa - aside from making it clear that she actually *enjoys* Freaks, which puts me to shame, the post has many intriguing things to say about the way that Pulp did and did not translate into the Polish context. On which note, in case you missed it, here's her Guardian piece on Polish art as alternately sold abroad and as an attempt to create new spaces at home.

I have a (not online) piece in the current Red Pepper on why the left should be advocating municipal modernist council estates rather than certain, somewhat over-romanticised 'bottom-up' forms of urbanism (which also entailed an audio interview with me along with Anna Minton and others, here). Something similarly offline but older that I've forgotten to link to: a piece on walkways for Landscape Journal, not online. Online is a short piece on the Pepys Estate in Deptford for The London Column, a topic better dealt with by Harry, from DAGE in his Resonance FM communiques. Some more southern Urban Trawls. On Brighton; with Croydon next, then Plymouth, then the Valleys, then back northwards to Edinburgh, Aberdeen and finally Belfast. Suggestions as ever are very gratefully received. You should also read immediately Douglas Murphy on Kate Macintosh's masterful Dawson Heights.

Three recent things in the Guardian - a double-review of Lars T Lih's brilliant new Lenin and Eagleton's workmanlike Marx, a piece on the BFI's new Kino early Soviet film season (on which note, those even remotely interested should rush without the slightest hesitation to see Pudovkin's virtually never-seen proto-Neubauten Germanic metal-bashing masterpiece Deserter); a short comment piece on the apparent demise of the property-owning democracy. Which led to this, which I don't really know what to say about.

Finally, Southampton!

Socialists! Where Is Your Vortex?

Among recent things which I have forgotten to plug is a piece for volume One of the new Journal of Wyndham Lewis Studies*. It's an expansion and development of previous things on Vorticism, or more specifically the question of why and how Vorticism didn't become a British analogue to the continental avant-garde, despite distinctly looking like one in 1914. It contains, however, an opening attempt at counterfactual fiction, part of which I'm posting below, because a) there's a Vorticism show at the Tate and everything and b) as a way of making clear why I don't write fiction. Enjoy, or not, as the case may be).

1929, London, capital of the Union of British Socialist Republics. A decade after the end of a short and brutal Civil War, and 14 years after the British Expeditionary Force was driven out of Europe by General Ludendorff's victorious offensive. The capital of a devastated country, denuded of its Empire but now tentatively regaining some of its former prominence as the most industrially powerful of the Socialist Republics that now make up half of Europe - though trade between them is difficult, with the Baltic Sea cut off by the vast German Empire, its trade embargo assisted by the anticommunist United States. At the turn of the 1930s, the UBSR is starting to construct new cities.

This is not happening without controversy. Through much of the country, pastoral garden cities are rising from the ruins, the towns destroyed first by Zeppelin raids and then by the Black & Tans. New towns like Connolly outside Dublin, Maxtonburgh in Strathclyde or Morristown in Hertfordshire have been planned by Raymond Unwin using local materials, craftsmanship and winding streets, to the splenetic derision of the Vorticist International. Based in London, Glasgow, Newcastle and Leeds, but with corresponding branches in Budapest, Warsaw, Moscow and Leningrad, this group has the ear of the more enlightened commissars of the UBSR's four constituent republics. Edward Wadsworth and Frederick Etchells' redesign of West Yorkshire into a model Vorticist Metropolis is proceeding apace, with their intricate, jagged structures of concrete and glass sprouting walkways and towers that criss-cross the factory chimneys of Halifax and Huddersfield. Wyndham Lewis, the group's chair, is finally completing his government commission to transform Regent Street, which was halfway through Reginald Blomfield's neo-baroque redesign when interrupted by of the 1919 Whitechapel Insurrection. Monumental sculptures by Jacob Epstein adorn the House of Soviets on the site of the demolished Houses of Parliament, though the 'compromised' classical-Vorticist design by Charles Holden was subjected to much Vorticist scorn on publication.

Opponents of the Vorticists are keen to remind them of their roots in a pre-revolutionary art movement. Commissar Harry Pollitt told the Daily Worker that 'not so long ago these were bohemians who sneered at the proletariat, who hoped to 'kill John Bull with art' when John Bull was trying to kill the British bourgeoisie'. Some mutter darkly about counter-revolutionary activity during the Civil War on the part of some in the group, with Edward Wadsworth under particular suspicion. But although their eager participation in the reconstruction has allayed the suspicions of many in the Trade Unions and the Workers' Councils, perhaps their antisocial reputation isn't completely undeserved. Interviewed on his work at Regent Street, Lewis, dressed in a far from proletarian dinner jacket offset by a hammer and sickle pin, told the Daily Herald ‘when I say that I should like to see a completely transfigured world, it is not because I want to look at it. It is you who would look at it. It would be your spirit that would gain by this exhilarating spectacle. I should merely benefit, I and other painters like me, by no longer finding ourselves in the position of freaks.’

* (which can be obtained from here, and features several far less silly and more intelligent papers)