Archive for May 2007
1) Somewhat refreshing to take a break from posting and even scrolling through the RSS feeds. Amazingly, I took this break despite having free internet access here in Amsterdam. For me, it’s been nothing but the IHT and the Guardian at night, and some hotel bar writing (on paper!) and that’s that. I think I have a slight case of nostalgia for pre-totally-immersive ‘net days, which I’m not sure what to do with. Surely the boredom of being back stateside in a week will take care of that.
2) Amsterdam has won me over. If it is possible for my wife and I ever to haul off and make it as independent intellectuals (she’s much further along on this than I am, what with her book underway and agent and so forth), I vote for right here. Paris is lovely. But Amsterdam, it’s something else. The magazine store alone, up in the little square along with the American Book Store, is reason enough.
3) Looking for a place to calm the kiddo down for a nap while in Paris (by “calm the kid down” I of course mean seriously overdue unweaned boobie action but whatever. STFU) we wandered into the Place Dauphine, which is the sort of thing that happens in Paris. See Andre Breton, Nadja, for the significance of the place, the “clitoris of Paris”…
4) All for now, but thanks for continuing to read… I’ll be back on regular schedule soon enough…
I am a strange bird, when it comes to travel.
For on the one hand, the number one reason I crush the credit card to
go, and the number one deciding factor that informs the choices I
make in terms of where to visit, is that I am almost pathologically
addicted what we might call the banally exotic quotidien. Look, I go
to museums, I see the sights. Or at least I did in the past. But what
gets me out here is stupid stuff like street-signs and supermarkets
and the way people serve coffee and when they buy their newspapers
and where they buy them and what they look like. Laugh at me all you
like – perhaps you are a gourmand, or a sex-tourist, or you only go
where you’re likely to find, what, the best thriftstore buys.
Whatever. But in a certain way, my special preoccupation with the
everyday in my travels undoubted comes close to what travel for
pleasure and edification has always boiled down to…
People are always asking me, in the real world, if my work intersects
with that of Michel de Certeau, and the answer is always no, not
really. But, strangely enough, I am a practices of everyday life guy
through and through when it comes to those couple of weeks a year
that I’ve paid to remove from my usual activities and (at the moment)
incredibly bleak surroundings. Go figure.
But on the other hand, my little addiction to the small stuff is, in
a certain sense, something that my personality-construction is almost
categorically unfit for. Why? I am one of those people – I can’t tell
if we are rare or not – who is compulsively fearful of making little
mistakes in everyday performances. I hate not knowing, for instance,
whether it is appropriate or not to ask for a coffee à emporter at
this establishment or that. I hate not knowing how to use a subway
turnstile. I hate being baffled by menus, I hate not understand how
to hail a taxi, I fear running afoul of written or unwritten rules
about smoking in public. I am addicted to foreign newspapers, even
those I can’t read – but I am terrified of buying them, for fear that
the newsagent will wonder after I leave “Why the fuck was he buying
that if he doesn’t have the language.” It is ridiculous, I agree.
There are a few major factors that go into this personality defect
(and it is, for sure, a defect): my upbringing by fastidiously-
correct anglo-canadian parents, who made minor forms of impolite or
awkward behavior feel like, what, public urination. An pathological
need to “be in the know” about everything (this need is one,
obviously, that intersects with my internet compulsion, blogging,
etc…) doesn’t help. And with Paris in particular, it also has
something to do with my weird relationship to the French language,
which I really am supposed to know, both because of my education and
because, for chissakes, I write on and teach French authors
constantly… but even if I can read French authors in the original
at a level that has permitted me to develop, from what I can tell,
some very very insightful arguments based on microscopic close
readings of the language itself, I still cannot properly order a
fucking coffee in French, and I stand blankly stunned whenever anyone
says anything that I am not prepared for.
So I am, yes, a strange bird in my own quiet little way. (I wish my
psychokinks were more interesting – for your sake, as readers…) But
what I am wondering about today is what this combined fascination and
fear has to do with my work, the issues and texts that I am
interested in and the arguments that I am trying to articulate about
them. For one thing, it clarifies quite a lot of the backstory of why
I am so interested in a figure like Read the rest of this entry »
Sorry that I’ve been off my pace lately here. More is coming, I promise. But it might not be immediately. I have a very large and time-sensitive writing project that I need to bring to some sort of a firm stop by Wednesday or so. And there’s – of course – all the end of semester wrapping-up to do. And then I’ll be on vacation for two weeks. Which takes us to the beginning of June. If I can get access and time, I’ll likely throw some stuff up while I’m away…
Just don’t give up on me – I’ll be back.
For now, you can go visit the little conflagration I’ve started over on LS….
So you end up broken in half, as a student of modernism, by the split in the period and in its emblematic works. On the one hand, the hyper-psychologized dystopias of individual complexity and political ineffability. On the other, the union of form and function under a banner of progress (even real progress). The former is the reflexive stance of the modernist literary text; the later, of modernist architecture and design. Think Joyce vs. Corbusier. Woolf vs. Niemeyer, Kafka vs. Tiege. You find the architectural / progressive motif more attractive – more potentially useful today – as a seed for revivification. But, on the other hand, you work with literature – this is what you do for a living.
It is tough to mine the latter from the former, the simple from the complex, the beautiful utility from the gratingly indifferent. It is tough to find, in short, the other modernism in literary texts. After all, literature doesn’t love hopeful contentment, and work (vs. dark dreamlife) toward that end – and most of all, it does not love utopia, whether actual or anticipated, whether exuberant or fadedly just OK.
Or maybe it’s just you, er, that is, me, as Owen Hatherley has found it hiding in plain sight in a J.G. Ballard’s Vermilion Sands.
[T]here is only one instance of a speculative community approaching a Ballardian ideal – a site where we definitively leave the Anglo-Saxon tradition of the cautionary, anti-Modernist dystopia – and that is in Vermilion Sands. This is a 1971 collection of stories spanning his first published story, ‘Prima Belladonna’ (1956) to 1970, all set in the same community: a dead or dying desert resort, populated entirely by the elegantly, wanly idle, most of whom are involved in strangely calm psychodramas. Vermilion Sands is a synthetic and synaesthetic landscape of psychotropic houses that respond to their inhabitants’ desires and fears, singing sculptures, and a place where everything in sight seems to glitter, to take on the qualities of crystal, a flickering chromaticism suffusing everything from stairways to hair colour and eye pigments. It is, as Ballard writes in the 1971 introduction, a picture of an ideal he wanted and expected to see realised. The dystopian tradition is refuted in this introduction: ‘very few attempts (in SF) have been made to visualise a unique and self-contained future that contains no warnings to us. Perhaps because of this cautionary tone, so many of science fiction’s notional futures are zones of unrelieved grimness.’ So could there be here a sort of affirmative retort to the insistence that all Modernist or utopian communities inevitably end up in dystopia?
From n+1′s blog, a piece by Jana Prikryl that oscillates between the recent UNICEF report on the well-being of children in rich countries and the author’s recollections of the benefits and drawbacks of a childhood under socialism.
It’s a smart idea, the essay that vividly if ambiguously illustrates the dry but incredibly significant document, as this one does…