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Archive for July 2009

“the real tragedy of england” / office park socialism

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The real tragedy of England, as I see it, is the tragedy of ugliness. The country is so lovely: the man-made England is so vile. (D.H. Lawrence).

Perversities – inner-originated or outer, who knows – conspired to put me back in the gynaecological surgery ward during the same week when I finished reading Ballard’s Crash. Too bad Ballard’s sexo-aesthetic didn’t take – perhaps I’d have been wafting along in some sort of dark erotic reverie instead of melting into a puddle from anxiety and wanting-to-be-homeness. I spent three days and two nights, and I’m just back now, and so very happy to be back.

I hate hospitals, I really do. We were taught quite a lot at Catholic school about the fucked up fort-da games God plays with hell – a glimpse of the All-Most and Everythingest, and then lost, lost forever, that sort of thing. You’re hottest most excellent fantasy, but when she turns (and keeps turning forever and ever) there are maggots for eyes and yuck for breasts and burning hot coals where the… you know what I mean. Hospitals are like that for me too. Single rooms in them impersonate austere hotel rooms (love those!) but then add into the mix nervous electronics (hate that!) and people who burst into your room unannounced to do unpleasant things (hate that even more! in a visceral sort of way!) that completely blow the fantasy that you’re trying to keep in place that this is just a lovely few days spent somewhere with an interesting view and worse TV choices than at home.

Anyway, we spent three days and two nights. With luck, we are now absolutely finished with absolutely everything having to do with the medical end of bringing children into the world. We’ve had our two, my wife was injured and then injured worse, and now we’re done. We’ve replaced ourselves, and now, well, it’s your turn! We’re done!


Best of all, we got to do our three days and two nights during the runup to what appears to be a full-scale swine flu pandemic. You heard it here first – they’re clearly in the process of shifting hospitals from their normal and normally gory work of hacking and sawing and sewing and injecting into H1N1 Containment Camps. Shit. I overheard unpleasant conversations between nurses in the lifts (elevators) detailing the geometrical increase of infected patients in their wards: we had none yesterday, three today, and they’re telling us to be ready for nine tomorrow. The reassuring thing is that none of the staff seemed particularly worried about this outbreak, except in terms of what it is about to do to their next few workweeks. But clearly, this thing is happening.

from the side

Apparently, infection makes the lights go out wherever you are, and turns your hands sort of black to white, white to black, and green in the dirty spots. Worse than you thought, huh? But it does make it easier on the Underground. If the person you’re tit-to-tit with during the morning rush starts to cough and sputter, simply give a little left-and-down juke and see if there’s any green aura involved. Saves on swabs.


Anyway, I had lots and lots of time to start out our 13th floor window. Here’s some rain happening over the Thames Estuary. I thought less abstractly and interestingly about things like aggregate fiction, and more poignantly and pressingly about simply wanting to be out of the hospital, down on the street, and back on schedule with my work. I could see all of my workplaces – the libraries and my office and even the tops of buildings that contain my favorite coffee places at street level – from up here.

I’ve decided that I want the following image (properly and professionally cropped, of course) to be used on the cover of some book soon, perhaps even the one I’m finishing now.

northwest mittel-europa

northwest mittel-europa

One of the reasons why the image is an appealing choice for a cover is because it’s so fucking weird. And not just this scene – London from above, with the exception perhaps of stuff along the river, is weird in general. Funny to think how few images you see of London from above. There are easy and hard reasons why this is so. The easy ones generally have to do with the ugliness of the city. It truly is ugly – you can come and see for yourself if you like.

I will photoshop out the cranes if I use this for a cover, as they are not really real, not in the realest sense of real – like the BT Tower is real.

My wife and I decided that in certain senses, London from above reminded us most (or best) of things like the boringer parts of Toronto seen from on-high, or the way Waterbury, Connecticut looks from the 84. (If you know what I mean with that last one, specially NY-NJ to NE driving props to you…) Obvious, if you look in just the right directions, it’s a bit different, but in general, blah.

But don’t get me wrong. It is one of the most loveable things about this place. There are big problems with photogenicness as well – a kind of hyper-realness that of course never feels real enough, as per almost every single street in Manhattan. London feels at times like an only-slightly post-medieval Los Angeles, with the invisible hand dropping what it would as the city sprawled. Terraced houses are nice. Modernist apartment blocks are nice. Terraced houses giving way for six units to modernist apartment blocks and then back again doesn’t look all that nice – and that’s the rhythm of the entire city.  And because of that rhythm, which repeats itself in large scale in the act of dropping a sublimely iron-curtainy looking telecommunications tower into Fitzrovia,  you can take insipidly beautiful / excitingly ugly pictures like the one above. And this rhythm has much to do with the sense of generic urbanity, raw unmarked urbanness, that London gives off in all of its parts – a sense that when felt deeply suggests that Ballard didn’t even have to go to the highway networks that mesh Heathrow. Tottenham Court Road fits the bill just as well.

postcardic (and not really my picture)

But on the other hand… or perhaps on the same hand but only somewhat differently, there’s the question of what to make of all the greenglass newbuilds like the one pictured, the hospital in question above. (The BT Tower picture was taken from that central column of windows in the tower, thirteen floors up…) Nu-language utilitarianism rendered in transreflective window treatments, the design might well have been plucked from an office building on the Rt. 1 pharmacorridor in New Jersey. It is big, it is banal, but it is clean and new. Despite the fact that the photo above (full disclosure – not mine this time) could easily work as a nouveau-nostaligic entry worthy of a future decade’s Architectures de cartes postales, but of course it never will. People have changed, and our architecture is regrettable. But still, perhaps only the Americans in the audience can appreciate how wonderfully funny and more than funny it is to get medical care in a hospital that looks like it could be the regional office of Merck & Co., but which contains no cash registers at all, except the ones at the newsstand and the cafe.

I can’t help but fantasize, from time to time but insistently in spots, about the repurposing of all of the slick office buildings, with their employee cafes and openplan offices, into workspaces for a new bureaucratic rationality, distributing goods and services rationally. Just as in 1984, the characters struggle to remember what these places were before they were rebranded into totalitarian ministries, I tease myself with the thought at times of what sort of conversations might occur over the corian-countertops and leftover cubicles of media company officebuildings put to better use.

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July 18, 2009 at 11:28 pm

ikea modernism

with 2 comments

Facing an editorial query tonight, perhaps you can help…. Does Zizek ever reference the following Spike Jonze Ikea ad?

I’ve never seen or heard of him doing so, but someone thinks that he has? Has he?

(Beautiful ad though, no?)

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July 14, 2009 at 12:39 am

Posted in ikea, zizek


with 2 comments

Ugh. Sorry about the awful post last night. It’s gone now. Parenthood comes along with a level of fatigue so profound that one ends up late at night confused and only vaguely making sense. Said fatigue has lasted straight through into today, tonight. I shouldn’t post when I’m that tired!

Good stuff to come!

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July 11, 2009 at 10:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

the politics of time

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I didn’t realize that Peter Osborne’s The Politics of Time is available on-line and in full. Shows how the world’s changed in only a few years. I heard about this book just as I was finishing my PhD not too many years ago, and checked it out of my university’s library. It was astoundingly good and helpful… The stuff on Heidegger and Benjamin, in particular, left a real mark on me and has influence my work significantly. But the problem was, back then as I was finishing up, that there was only one copy in our library and as soon as I would get my hands on it, it would get recalled. I hemmed and hawed because it was out of print, and the only copies on Amazon were selling for more than $100. Eventually, that’s just what I paid for it – and probably had it back in my hands too late to use it the way I needed to.

At my previous job, I insisted that my graduate seminar of 20+ students read it… Even if it was unlikely that all or any of them would be able to get their hands on copies. (I reproduced the last chapter for them…) Anyway, all of this would have been moot if it had been on-line as it is now. So, you know, obviously – go read! It’s free!

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July 9, 2009 at 2:28 pm

Posted in temporality, theory

cunts, twats, pussies, assholes (this’ll bring the punters)

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Scrolling through the things I call myself on a nightly basis, it occurred to me: wow are the really bad words ever different over here. I’ve picked up a few that I use at home. (Not in front of the children, for chrissake, at least not on purpose!) At first they drew me steely looks from my wife, and then verbal correction. But somehow I’ve now used them enough that I can get away with it, especially if they seem especially unpremeditated. We are I guess becoming a little bit, you know, British.

The two words that come round most often – and they are bad, misog. words so avert your eyes if you feel the stirrings of offense – are cunt and twat. Remember – I didn’t make these things up, nor did I invent anti-female-genitalic shittalking! So please don’t get mad at me!

The two mean almost the same thing, but not quite. I am not sure I am going to be able to describe it all that well. They’re not that far off from a certain usage of the word asshole at home. Cunt is more angry; twat is more dismissive. (I was about to do a demonstration employing everyone’s favorite popular “philosopher,” but IT is right – it’s time to buy him cake, not call him the platonic ideal of twatitude….)

But here’s the interesting thing. Americans have their own very bad words and they too are derived from the business-end of the female of the species. But if an American in America were to call someone either by the C word or the T word, it would probably sound either affectedly-anglophilic or Chelsea-gay or maybe just maybe greasy New Jersey.

I am not sure they know what either of these words mean out in Wisconsin.

But we have our own nasty word, another one that I’m not supposed to use at home, and it is pussy. And that word, when used properly, that is as a descriptor of a person, means only one thing: coward. Oh, or homosexual I suppose. This is suddenly quite interesting to me. I can’t think of a British vulgarity that is generally applied to cowardice, and the Brits don’t as a rule use the P-word since they have all these others that work just as well…. and, perhaps, cowardice isn’t the issue that it is at home. *

So we hate timidity and effeminacy. And they hate… what? I have the words, but I’m still not in a position to define…. Help me out.

* Asshole, in American parliance (and it’s really ours, as they’re never quite sure whether or not to convert it to arsehole, which we’ll all agree just don’t carry the same punch….) is an interesting one as well, as it generally carries at least a tiny bit of respect along with the disapprobation. They guy who cuts you off in traffic is an asshole. Wall Street types are as a rule assholes. Somebody who knocks you down a bit, especially if unjustly, is a bit of an asshole. Hmmmm…. Do most Americans aspire to be assholes? Does America as a whole?

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July 8, 2009 at 11:53 pm

Posted in bad words

muldoon and me, me and poetry

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(What follows is exactly the sort of confessional post that makes some of my readers, in particular those that I see in person with relative frequency, cringe a bit. So be it. I work things out on here – makes me cringe too, trust me! Especially this one!)

It’s been ten years, just about this month, since I graduated from college. So that’s what all those emails with “reunion” in the subject line were about – I summarily and instantly delete anything from that place. Which I shouldn’t do. I have daughters now, who might one day be what they call legacy applicants. Look at that – all that I believe in, and believe in deeply, disappearing across the haze of parental anxiety!

I know it is a bit embarassing vis a vis the poet types that read this blog, and poet-types do seem to be a major sub-demographic, but I was just thinking about the way my relationship with this guy (watch it, it’s funny – sorry can’t be embedded in wordpress) has sort of indexed or paralleled at least my life since the start of my academic work, since I left home.

The first time I had a sense that I might be good at all of this came during my first year of college. I wrote a paper on The Annals of Chile for a course called Reading Poetry. I really loved the book, and went all out in writing the paper. Spent time with an Irish dictionary in the library and everything, but I am sure – despite the fact I can’t now find the paper, but also knowing what I know about the predilictions of the department I was in – that the paper was hung on good close reading.

I got the paper back in the mail that summer. The professor (who would soon become my advisor) wrote across the bottom, “Ads, this is fucking great! Amazing!” The “fucking” echoed, made me a bit dizzy, and a tiny turn that would in the course of years become highly significant, encompassingly so, shaped itself into the road that I was on.

It bears saying that at the same time I was also taking a course called Writing Poetry I. Now, it was nearly impossible for first-year students to get into this course. It was capped at 15, and generally speaking you had to be in the second or third year to get in. I submitted a sample of my work, and along with one other first-year, was allowed into the class.

The other first-year student was an interesting case. Her work was very good and was often chosen as the material for group discussion in the weekly workshop. She was a slight and attractive girl from Georgia. Unassuming but had a real way with words. After the first year, though, she disappeared. When I finally got around to asking someone what had happened to her, I learned that she had in fact gotten pregnant and had decided to keep the baby. She had moved back to where she grew up – the suburbs of Atlanta. I don’t know the rest of the story, but really wish right now that I did – or that I even remembered her name.

My work, on the other hand, was rarely chosen for class-discussion. Something went a bit wrong. I waited until the last minute to write my stuff; I didn’t follow the rules of the assignments. After this class was over, I never took another creative writing course again. I had come to college thinking that I was a poet, first and foremost. I ended the first year, given the differential between the comments on my critical and creative work, thinking I was a critic. That doesn’t quite tell the whole story, but it’s a start, an approximation. Other things happened – thing I haven’t thought of for years – in that writing class, but nothing for me to share with you now.

Time passed. I kept reading Muldoon. I decided to write my senior thesis on Pound – a senior thesis that somehow got me into a good grad school, though my secondary advisor’s letter to Helen Vendler at Harvard didn’t seem to do the trick. Their bad – I have been a model post-grad student. I have filled the “Our students have taken jobs at….” with good proper nouns, attractive places – places that even Harvard would be proud of.

The guy who picked the poems for the workshops, and who wrote “fucking great” on my paper on Annals, was in his late sixties. He’d never published a monograph, or a serious piece of criticism. After I left, he placed a single poem in the New Yorker, the publishing coup of his entire life. A pseudo-vanity press published a slim volume after that. He was a good teacher, I suppose. Once his wife had caught him cheating, and had tried to run him over with the family car on the little street in front of the English Department. Later, he married someone else and bought a Lexus.

In my final year of college, I would hop in my own car (not a Lexus) and drive down to the city to see Muldoon read at the 92nd Street Y, elsewhere. I never stopped writing poetry.

It’s about to get a bit complicated in light of my pseudonymity. But I ended up, next, living rather proximately to Muldoon. One of his best poems was written about a canal that ran right past my first post-undergrad apartment – a canal that flooded rather badly during my first months of grad school. I assigned the poem to some of my students this year for a writing exercise; I had to provide ample footnotes.

One of things chronically misunderstood about the place where I went to grad school is the fact that the creative writers aren’t a part of the English department – they exist in their own part of the school, with a separate building and everything. This had some hilarious effects. Year after year, we were ranked by US News and World Report as the top department in African American studies in the country, despite the fact that we had neither a single African American working in the department for most of the time I was there, nor a specialist in African American Studies. I won’t explain – you can do the arithmetic if you like.

I did not work on poetry during graduate school. I worked – and I continue to work – on the novel. There are reasons both simple and complex why this happened – a sense that I’d done my work on Pound, and that was enough for awhile, the persistence of theory at that point and the tendency of theoretical work to focus on narrative texts, brutal self-repression and a sense (wrongheaded and not) that prose is actually more difficult to work on than poetry.

Later, toward the end, I went out for dinner with Paul Muldoon and a few other people. It’s not like he was inaccessable – some of my fellow students were working with him in one capacity or another. But as you might imagine, this was a bit momentous for me, given all I’ve said above. Since then, there’s been a men’s room run-in, at a conference somewhere for something where he gave a keynote reading, and during which my look of surprise and recognition (I am guessing, I am safely assuming) provoked him into a polite look of slightly baffled recognition. “Ah hi again!” I am sure he didn’t remember, why would he, but there you go.

I have continued ordering all that he writes, and I have continued writing poetry, on nearly a daily basis, and I have continued not sending any of it out. Perhaps I’ll do something about that in the next week or so, if I get a minute. Recently, Waterstones sent me by mistake two copies of some new and trendy poetry that I’d ordered. I gave one of them to a colleague, my “mentor” or “buddy” or whatever he is semi-officially called. He is a fairly prominent poet. He said to me, when I gave it to him, But Ads, I did not think that you were a reader of slim volumes. Oh, but a secret one, a sureptitious one, I am.

A little while ago, Muldoon made an appearance on the Colbert Report. (Sorry – video only available in the US or if you have a slicko proxy like me….) I watched the segment with great pleasure, you can be sure, as it’s been awhile. And then I showed it to my wife, who said something like, Oh dear. He is looking so much older, isn’t he? I snapped back Of course we all are, aren’t we? We’re all looking a bit older since the 92nd Street Y! And then, that night, I started to write this post…

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July 8, 2009 at 12:10 am

Posted in poetry

book now at the grand hotel abyss, brighton

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The conference will take place 6th of August in the IDS Building on
the campus of the University of Sussex, Brighton, BN1 9RE (see map

The conference will be free-of-charge. However, places will be limited
so please register beforehand to avoid disappointment.

Anyone wishing to attend the conference should register via email to
Simon Mussell:

Speakers include

Prof. Max Paddison – University of Durham
(Chair: tbc)
“Aesthetics, Politics, and the Ideology of Nature: Adorno Reconsidered”

Prof. Alexander Duettmann – Goldsmiths
(Chair: Keston Sutherland)
“Kafka, Adorno, and the Life of the Letter”

Dr. Drew Milne – University of Cambridge
(Chair: Gordon Finlayson)
“Ideology and Idiolects: Adorno and the Grammar of Argument”

Please see here for further details.

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July 7, 2009 at 8:40 pm

Posted in adorno

every not so often, helen, trust me

with 3 comments

Helen DeWitt seems to have been trying to defend Alain de Botton yesterday in a couple of posts on her blog. I’ll admit that it’s a little hard for me to see what she’s getting at – seems to me a lot of goalpost shifting going on there, whereas Caleb Crain’s initial review seems to me perfectly clear. DeWitt seems to want to fault Crain for not recognising that there are forms of work that aren’t compensated. I’m pretty sure he’d be on board with that, but it’s not what he’s getting at. He’s getting at the fact that AdB can’t stop condescending and generally sneering at the workers that he interviews / features in a book as they don’t live up to some sort of silkgloved idealisation that he arrives at by looking at work from a distance…. I see the problem, sure, with the first sentence, but that’s not really the point that’s up for grabs, is it? And her implicit argument that somehow Crain is more at fault for not naming Bourdieu (why Bourdieu in particular rather than any of the other many, many theorists of work?) than De Botton is baffling. Anyway, a bit hard to make sense of, all this. But on the other hand, this paragraph of DeWitt’s is easy to make sense of, and not only to make sense of, but to call it out as bullshit:

Every so often an academic reads several hundred examination scripts and is appalled by the ignorance, the tendentiousness, the lack of sophistication – and so tackles the problem by taking a paid sabbatical and writing a book showing what proper treatment of the subject looks like. What the academic does not do is show how the subject can properly be treated in a 4 45-minute 1000-word essays. Nor does the academic show how his mastery of the material is to be achieved by candidates who are holding down part-time jobs, who can’t buy books, who are kicked out of their halls of residence three times a year to make way for conferences. If one were to give all several hundred candidates a paid sabbatical, and if one were then to permit them to organize treatment of the subject on their own terms, at book length, a substantially higher number might be expected to achieve respectable results. If one simply locked each candidate up with a computer and gave him/her unlimited time to write to a specific word count, a substantially higher number might be expected to achieve respectable results. We don’t do that, so what we see is, unsurprisingly, that a small number of students can both learn under unfavourable conditions and display knowledge coherently under unfavourable conditions.

I understand that this is deployed as some sort of allegorical device, a parallel instance, but… WTF? Hard not to sense a bit of slippage from the footnoted academics mentioned and “the academic” as a generic breed. * But I know, we academics are sooo spoiled. Let me just assure you of a few things, readers:

a) the implied storyline here, despite the fact that DeWitt seems to know of an actual example of this sort of thing happening, is ridiculous. Just to be empirical about it, I’ll knock on my department head’s door today, tell her that I’m still feeling a bit frustrated about the exam scripts I marked a few weeks ago, and ask her if I can take next term off in order to write something that sets the little buggers right about a few things.

b) there are problems with academia, teaching, but the lack of compassion of instructors for students, lack of understanding for the busy lives they lead, is not one that stands out from the bunch. Believe me, we are in solidarity with the students on all of this – it only makes our lives and work harder when they are overworked, bookless, worried about administrative issues, empoverished, and lacking the appropriate amount of time it takes to finish their assignments properly.

c) “What the academic does not do is show how the subject can properly be treated in a 4 45-minute 1000-word essays.” Yes, I don’t spend tons of time writing about that because, in term, I spend oh about 10-15 hours of contact time actually doing that, face to face. And 10-15 hours contact time, as anyone in the business knows, comes along with 20-40 hours non-contact preparation time.

d) We don’t write our books out of frustration with our students. Sorry. I am not sure what was going on where and when DeWitt went to university, and I’m sure the assholery and general poshness runs a bit thicker at the Oxbridge places than elsewhere, but this is simply not the case anywhere I’ve ever been, and I’ve been a lot of places now, very posh and not so posh.

I’m not sure if DeWitt’s going for some sort of complicated performative endorsement of AdB’s blinders-on condescension here, but whatever it is it makes as little sense as either an element of her argument (if there is one… hard to know…) or as an “every so often” bit of jobsite portraiture.

* Where do we find the slippage in question? Note the present tense of the first sentence… and the fact that the two guys mentioned were teaching at the Oxford of yesteryear when they wrote their books, where sure there were poor kids, but probably not the basketcases in bulk needed to make the posh prof / pathetic student body scenario work in the way DeWitt needs it to….

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July 7, 2009 at 7:43 pm

reclusive blogauthor makes public appearance one night only

with 6 comments

Ok. So I’ve said lots about what I did this weekend. What about what I didn’t do? I was supposed to WORK ON BOOK WORK ON BOOK WORK ON BOOK YOU FUCKER! But that’s neither here nor there. And write a letter of reference, will take care of that tomorrow when stationary is at hand. And finish reading Crash, but I’ll do that tonight.

But also, I was supposed to write a talk on a certain very famous Irish author for a lecture I’m giving at a charity bookshop Monday evening. They asked, and what was I supposed to say – world hunger is at stake! I will scrabble something up tomorrow. But if you’re very bored and at the same time utterly fascinated by the author of this blog (and, really, how could you not be! I mean, look at this stuff! and I am cute in person!) I hereby formally invite you to my charity bookshop lecture. Um, you’ll have to write me for the details, for reasons of pseudonymity, but I’d love to a) see some friendly faces and b) not lecture to a single bored person who was otherwise sifting the LPs and c) this won’t happen again, probably, as it’s a unique combination of no-ID required lecturing, not a pay-in-advance conference and stealth enough for me to let you know on here without giving the game away.

It’s out in West London somewhere. No, not the Harrods branch of Oxfam. Further west. The event is free, except you’ll have to buy one of the sixteen copies of Rushdie’s Shalimar the Clown that they have in stock if you come. In return, I will supervise your PhD (if applicable – paying punters only, please!)

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July 5, 2009 at 10:26 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

sunday evening post: columns, bad dads, drink, london, women, men, sex, procreation, cricket, birthday parties

with 12 comments

Noticed this attack on female “confessional journalism” by Hadley Freeman in the Guardian the other day:

Here’s how it goes: a female journalist describes her obsession with her weight/breasts/ageing face/food or alcohol problems/inability to have a happy relationship. The article is illustrated by the journalist looking as miserable as possible. There are tales of daily woe. It concludes with the writer still sufficiently unhappy to be commissionable for another very similar piece.

This genre has nothing to do with journalists opening a window into what life is like for women today. It does women no favours at all. It is entirely about perpetuating an editor’s misogynistic image of what women are like (self-hating, self-obsessed) and making a semi-celebrity out of the writer in the belief that readers like to read journalists whose names and faces (and breasts) they recognise.

I have no doubt that the women who write these articles truly feel the emotions they describe. But these women need help; they do not need to be made to feel that their professional USP is to play up their misery.


Aside from everything else, this kind of journalism sets feminism back by about 50 years, because not only does it perpetuate offensive stereotypes about women as needy, helpless, childlike narcissists, it suggests that the most interesting thing a woman can offer up to others is her own battered, starved, bloated, enhanced or reduced body. And that seems a lot sadder to me than any shocking revelation I ever read in a single piece of confessional journalism.

Sure, of course, this is all true. But what else is true that the second-smoothest path for women into the papers, after the ritualized self-abuse that she describes here, is to write a piece slagging off other women for doing X, Y, Z. Doesn’t really matter what – writing confessional pieces about being fat is a good if safe choice. I live with a woman who dwells (or dwelt, back before she was working on her book / having kids, but soon will dwell again) in fragrant corridors where la commentaire feminine is manufactured, and it is a testament to her ethics and general above-the-frayness that she resolutely and persistently disregards my suggestions that she write this or that take down of some misdirected female writer or trend.

And so I put these ideas on my blog instead. Refused male musery mine!

But just to keep all these balls in the air, I want to confess that I’ve fallen under the spell of my own confessional columnist – a male one, but one who’s been doing a sort of pitch perfect translation into guy-voice of just the sort of thing that upsets Freeman above. Honestly, it’s not since Hitchens came unwound in the pages of The Nation in the weeks after 9/11 that I’ve actually purchased a magazine on a weekly basis in order to read a columnist. But now, instead of flipping through The New Stateman and making a decision up or down on whether to buy a (reduced-price, via the UCU store) copy, I purchase it without flip-through, as I’ve become a devoted reader, perhaps to my discredit, of Nicholas Lezard’s “Down and Out in London” column.

(Just to be clear, I’ve generally read anything that Owen or Dr. Power have in there before I have an actual copy in my hands… Apparently, I can read Lezard that way too – not sure why this hasn’t occurred to me before…)

Anyway, I’m not going to cut and paste any of the Lezard stuff, and I think the effect 1) works best cumulatively and 2) might only work for those who can understand the situation he is in. And I certainly can… He’s got two kids and apparently was kicked out of his house for good for coming home one too many times plastered, and now lives in a shabby flat with another guy, spends quite a lot of time at his local, is broke, etc. Um, well…. Right. So I’ve seemingly gotten a lot better and have at least one of my nine or so lives left as I’m still here. But there were moments when it definitely looked like a grubby shared flat with nothing but my MacBook Pro and a hasty selection of my clothes had become my immediate and irremediable future.

Having kids is hard on marriages, partnerships. Unspeakably hard, really. The paradigm shift that’s slowquickly been happening over the past few decades, making marriage into a union of buddies and workpartners who (often) spend significant portions of their formative years together and childless only to take the big dip fairly late and find that everything has changed forever. Unexpected though age-old gender roles reassert themselves when you weren’t looking, and you learn how much you depended on that hour-and-a-half walk that you took every evening. Often, one partner works (in the out of the house sense) less than they used to, and different forms of dependency take root. You have no time or venue to talk, or fuck, or be by yourself. When you see friends as a couple, you see them differently. Everything changes, everything is really hard.

But there’s something else, a little less personal and identificatory, that appeals about Lezard’s column in the NS, something I’d like to post more about later. It somehow, his column captures and encapsulates the specific sort of squalor that characterizes London. It’s a very different sort than tinges the atmosphere of, say, New York. There’s a bit of Hollywood to the New York sort, a sort of intersection of money and sex that comes through – just for instance – in the bar girl that I once watched for an entire evening trying to work the fucking Midtown Marriott lobby during the Christmas season. I’ll say more about this later, but London is, in part, about conventional types going softly but insistently wrong.


Over the course of the weekend, my wife said two very dirty things that were also very funny. I can only remember one of them now. I threatened to put it up on here, but clearly I am too much of a gentleman for that.


There’s an Italian restaurant / cafe at the centre of my neighborhood, literally at the old Roman crossroads or whatever it is, that is known as the sort of characteristic neighborhood establishment. We have started eating there every day that we can, as it is cheap and the food is good and you can eat outside. So…. it’s the characteristic neighborhood establishment of a neighborhood that is in some (class limited, of course, of course) sense the characteristic North London neighborhood. Since I am a real North Londoner now, I further believe that North London is the truest embodiment of London as a whole. So…. this place is really fucking Londony, in some strange but true sense. (Cf the bit in Conrad’s The Secret Agent about London Italian restaurants – that should sort some of the logic that I’m not writing out longhand for you if you need that to happen….)


When I go in there, I absolutely and in a way that happens in none of the many other Italian restaurants I’ve eaten in during my time here, absolutely, positively, feel like I am back in New Jersey. Hmmm. It’s all a bit joisy guido – they show the Godfather on plasma screens over the dining room, the decor screams Rt. 17. Is this hard to understand? Fine, here’s a small but telling materialization of what I’m talking about, from the Men’s Room:

What we have there, folks, is the product of the unholy union of High British Paternalism (“mind the gap, morons!”) and the italomammalovethathurts that embraces my native state and its great recent artistic products in its sagging, well-fed arms…. Uncanny! The way you found them…. Ha!


One of the hardest things to decipher: the look that young women give to men pushing strollers filled with children. It seems neither, at least not in any obvious way, to mean mmmm give me some of that wouldja. Nor does it completely not mean that, from what I can tell. It is hard to describe. Perhaps its the look of the generic erotic, the animal gone human and social, of the code playing its games of generality and specificity right there on the high street, shortly after pasta lunch.


Later, Saturday afternoon, I walk out and onto my bucolic street of terrace houses to get a bottle of water at the off-license at the corner. Two women, stylishly dressed, attractive, are stumbling a bit as one of them tries to work her phone. They have just come out of a house, three doors down. The phoneless one says to me, as I pass, “Carry me.”

She translates my eyes-on-the-pavement non-response into the question, “Where would you want me to carry you?” for she answers in turn,

“Just to the end of the street, or wherever. Just carry me.”

I walk on, unable to translate the bolt of British vernacular that she drops on me next into Sober and American. They are gone when I return, swallowed whole by the bucolic, the terraced, and the directions someone gave them over the phone.


Sunday morning, on the way to Hampstead, my wife said to me, I looked at one sentence of the Ballard that you left on the kitchen table last night and I knew immediately what you mean.

There’s a post coming on what I mean. I flew through the first fifty pages of Crash, a bit excited. Since then, well, slower going. I’ll tell you about it soon.


The Jews for Jesus were out in full force today in Hampstead. I can’t even imagine how or why that works here, though then again, maybe I can. But it’s sublimely odd.


I visited both Daunt Books in Belsize Park and Waterstones in Hampstead. All I bought, sadly, was Vladmir Sorokin’s The Queue. I’ve never heard of it, but I’m excited to read it. I wanted to buy something else, but it was on 3 for 2, and I couldn’t find another 2, and so I left it for another time. Waterstones needs to think carefully about that promotion – likely I would have just bought the book if it weren’t for the sticker on it.


Another Sunday, another kid’s birthday party. Woof. A lot of them now, almost one a week. Luckily this one was better than a lot of the others – and there weren’t any birds. The parents in question went lo-tech with the thing and just scheduled it for the lovely fenced in play area in the Parliament Hill part of Hampstead Heath. Since the weather was pretty much perfect today, it was actually a lovely way to spend a Sunday afternoon, lolling on the grass, watching the kids do their thing.

This is going to start to sound a bit newspaper column-ish, but I’ve started to take more and more note of something kind of interesting. Most people at this party (the adults I mean – the kids were all 3-4) were in their early thirties (like us) to mid-forties – the general and universally prevalent age of childbearing for urban professional / intellectual types in the English speaking world. In fact, this scene, owing to the neighborhood I guess, was a little younger and hipper than the one that we’re a part of by virtue of the school that my daughter attends in our neighborhood. Someone was wearing a Joy Division shirt, and the mom of the birthday boy only wears vintage stuff. You don’t see all that much vintage stuff where we live.

In addition, though, to the parent / child parings, there were four extra adults, childless, in their thirties by the looks of it. It took me awhile to figure out that they were childless; so distracted was I by their supermarket bags full of Stella Artois and white wine that they had brought with them that I simply became reflexively envious and paranoically resentful that I didn’t have my own bag full of fun stuff to drink that until my wife pointed their non +kid status, I simply didn’t notice they were ohne Kindern.

So they were drinking and looked incredibly bored. Of course they were – they were childless adults at a farking four-year-old’s birthday party. But who knows, maybe they were bored in other ways as well. And the parents were certainly bored too – and I’m sure I wasn’t the only one glacing a bit enviously at these people without shit stains on their shirts and who didn’t have to whip out a tit every 45 minutes to sooth the thing hanging from your front in a Baby Bjorn and could instead just crack open another can of Stella and think about what they were going to do for dinner later. Maybe the four of them took off just after we left to sit around doing adult things like getting shitfaced in a pub. Who knows.

But here’s what I’m trying to get to: there’s an interesting sort of tension, a fraught detente, that starts to form between the childless and the childed during this stage in life. Most of the time it’s not right on the surface, perhaps, but when they’re forced into co-presence (whether through a birthday party like this one, or more casually at restaurants, on transit, and the like…) it starts to come through. From what I imagine, further, there’s a bit of tilt on axis that comes a bit later. Right now, the parents of infants can’t help but think, however much they love their children, christ what did I get myself into – I’m only fucking 32! while the still childless can look on with the there but for the grace thing running through their heads. Give it a decade, less, and many of the childless will have punched their own ticket into the exciting world of parenting. But the others who haven’t may have different strings running frontcourt and back through their minds.

Banal, column-fodder, but still true and hugely important. I’d like to do more serious writing about this, actually. Having kids (or not having them) brings to the front some really big questions about society and its perspective on happiness, time, work, life. All the issues that any proper socialist needs to think through first before taking a single step forward toward the development of a theory, let alone a practical path. It’s a shame that more men don’t take up the issue – perhaps I’ll start, perhaps I have started.


Ooops. I just posted this and noticed that the title promised cricket. Here:

I watched some cricket on the Heath today. I like watching it; I still don’t understand it at all.


Again the kids are asleep by the time we make it back from the Heath, so we take advantage and stop somewhere for a bit. By the time I return to our table with the beverages, a sodden guy is talking to my wife. I overhear, Ah but you must know what part of Ireland your people come from, because god do you ever look it, and you know I would knows as you can tell from the way that I speak I come from there myself and do you ever visit? Would you want to? What the fuck. I sit down and he’s not sure whether to refer to her as my wife or not, and probably for more than one reason. He is fifty years old. He lost his glasses, ha ha, last night. He is a clean man whose clothes are dirty. And his friend has run to Tesco for something. He asks me what part of Ireland I am from, and I respond that I am not Irish. He is getting very confused. But before we leave, break ruined, he tears a menu in half to write down his email address and tells us to be in touch – come and stay! – if we are ever in rural Ireland.

On the way home, my wife responds to my jokes and japes, “Yeah, there’s nothing I’m more attracted to than sodden drunk guys like….”

Significant pause. Cue laughter.

It was a very nice weekend indeed.

Written by adswithoutproducts

July 5, 2009 at 9:28 pm

Posted in london, new jersey, sunday


with 7 comments

Oh man, I bricked my fucking eee. I had Mac OS X up and running on the damn thing this morning. The only niggle was that I could get it to wake up from sleeping – which is sort of a big issue, as it takes about eight minutes to boot the machine under Mac OS. So I found a fix online, flashed the BIOS, which didn’t fix the sleep problem but did screw up the screen size such that you could see neither the top nor bottom menus and there weren’t any other options available for screen resolution. Efforts to remedy ensued, efforts that only made things way, way worse.

So now my little constructivist tool-friend is a piece of fried plastic and silicon. It basically can’t load from anything, has nothing but foolishness on its flashdrive. I’ve tried pretty much everything at this point, and basically can recognize that I’m swiftly sinking into a hole of broken BIOS, a hole from which there’s no escape.

My wife thinks this is a ploy to be allowed to buy a MacBook Air. Maybe. But know what? I hate computers. All around. From databases to facebook, from godforsaken twitter to spreadsheets, I hate them and all that they do and honestly believe that the world was a better place when it was all newsprint, cheap pens, and spiral notebooks.

With semi-broken computer an unattractive option to use today, I hauled out a hipdork moleskine notebook and some printouts of what I’ve been working on. I spent a few hours of actual productivity – rare this week – that way. Hmmm….

Pollian? Interested in a little recovery project? After all, erm, you suggested that I… well…. No, that’s not fair, is it?

Written by adswithoutproducts

July 3, 2009 at 11:19 pm

Posted in Uncategorized