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“I won’t have seen the ‘kiki’ of a single Chinese man.” (reading the weekend papers)

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Trying to unwind as my term’s now over – the busiest term I’ve ever had by a mile – I’ve been reading the papers this weekend. Lots of stuff to point out to you:

1. Terrific long piece in the NYT today by Nicolai Ouroussoff featuring ideas for urban investment in America. Concrete (mmm) ideas here about both what sort of projects might be taken up, and even better a suggestion toward the end about how the funding might work:

I am also a fan of a National Infrastructure Bank, an idea that was first proposed by the financiers Felix Rohatyn and Everett Ehrlich.

The bank would function something like a domestic World Bank, financing large-scale undertakings like subways, airports and harbor improvements. Presumably it would be able to funnel money into the more sustainable, forward-looking projects. It could also establish a review process similar to the one created by the government’s General Services Administration in the mid-1990s, which attracted some of the country’s best talents to design federal courthouses and office buildings. Lavishing similar attention on bridges, pump stations, trains, public housing and schools would not only be a significant step in rebuilding a sense of civic pride; it would also prove that our society values the public infrastructure that binds us together as much as it values, say, sheltering the rich.

2. A little snippet appeared in the Saturday Guardian’s “This Week in Books” column that, had I missed it, might well have seriously messed up some writing I will do in the near future.

These days, the Parisian intellectual is commonly seen on both sides of the Channel as a species on the fast track to extinction. But there are still enough of these old dinosaurs roaming the Left Bank to cause a noisy literary scandal. This is what happened after the recent publication of two journals by Roland Barthes, the philosopher and critic who died in 1980. The publishers of Carnets du Voyage en Chine (“Notebooks of a Journey to China”) and Journal de Deuil (“Diary of Mourning”) have been attacked because these unfinished texts were never meant for publication and allegedly reveal intimate secrets about Barthes’s private life. His admirers are arguing loudly that these secrets undermine his authority as a thinker.

It’s true that the China book places Barthes closer to Russell Brand than his more high-minded peers. The diary of a “fact-finding” trip to China that Barthes made in the company of like-minded Mao fans in 1974, it begins with the author moaning Pooterishly about the airline food and a stain on his new trousers. The tour is a dreary round of ping-pong matches and choir-singing. Not surprisingly, on a trip to see Buddhist statues in Henan province, the author’s attention wanders. Contemplating his imminent return to Paris, he laments: “I won’t have seen the ‘kiki’ of a single Chinese man.”

The novelist Philippe Sollers – a fellow traveller on the expedition in every sense – has been quick to defend Barthes’s point of view here as “heroically political”, a comment on sexual repression in Mao’s China. Others have been less kind, pointing out that the word “kiki” is rarely used by anyone of either sex over the age of 11. The veteran wit Raphaël Sorin has likened the text to an unworthy parody. Angriest of all is Barthes’s former editor François Wahl, who has launched a fierce attack on the publishers and talked of a betrayal of the real Barthes.

Barthes’s 1974 trip to China is going to be a pivotal moment in the monograph I’m going to write after I finally finish my dissertation book. Luckily, the above doesn’t at all contradict the thing that I’m going to say about it. No, rather, it’s, um, material confirmation of just what I was thinking. Good…

3. Also in the Guardian‘s Saturday review was a fine piece by Brian Dillon on Chris Marker’s La Jetée of 1962 and Marker’s career as a whole. Here’s La Jetée, in case you’ve never seen it….


4. Lots of reviews of Geoff Dyer’s Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi, including this one. Just ordered it after a valiant attempt to purchase said volume the honorable way at my local (and largely useless) bookseller. So that makes the grand total for the weekend (ugh this is bad): the Dyer novel, the new Paul Muldoon, the Barthes bit on China, Marker’s Immemory DVD, Harold Pinter’s Plays (Vol. 2), Dyer’s The Ongoing Moment, Xiaolu Guo’s 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth (I like Chinese fiction, like stories about “making it in China,” especially like reading them now that the entire machine is running in reverse.) I was also given The Watchmen, Chekhov’s Plays, and an edition of Longinus (I think I was given the last two – Pollian left them on the desk in the guestroom when he departed…) Jesus. I always do this at the start of the summer. I don’t, per se, read during the school year, so there’s this spike of ambition that happens and I buy a shitload of books.

5. Where did the Guardian’s Saturday “Writers’ Room” feature go? I can’t imagine that they’re discontinuing it. Here’s the one for Dyer, while we’re on the subject, from a little ways back. (As a Canadian national – CANUSA dual citizen – I was seriously thrown by the “Don Cherry” thing in that article… Is he once of us, I thought? But it must be another Don Cherry, right… Just to keep things clear, I’m going to put a photo of the real DC over my desk at the university the next time I’m there…) Anyway, maybe they’re just taking the week off with the feature – or they’ve run out of writers to call up and annoy. I think I’m especially fascinated by these rooms lately because (as I’ve grumbled about many times) I don’t have a writers’ room of my own. I’ve included an image of my, erm, workspace before, and here’s one of my current home library:

6. IT’s not a newspaper, but she has posted a very good paper by Jeff Kinkle and Alberto Toscano on The Wire. More to say on this when I have time….

7. This “op-art” in the NYT by Miranda Purves and Jason Logan is worth looking at….

In the weeks before the M.T.A. vote, the artist Jason Logan and I spent a lot of time on the buses and subways that, unless the state steps in with a last-minute rescue package, will soon be gone or severely cut back. We met people whose jobs or health depended on their routes; we met some who simply didn’t want to walk far in the cold. Many — and it seemed often those most dependent — were unaware that their means of transportation could disappear.

Both Jason and I have always been drawn to this phenomenon of people, behaving for the most part civilly, getting from here to there, side by side. And we wanted to find some way to convey the less tangible costs of service cuts and fare hikes. Here (pdf), large X’s are adults; small x’s are children.

8. An interesting piece in the Observer today by Tristram Hunt on the long history of attacking banks here in London. I doubt I’ll make it out to any of the fun, wish I could, wish I could….

Written by adswithoutproducts

March 29, 2009 at 10:01 pm

Posted in barthes, criticism

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