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Archive for September 2009


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17,000 words or so this month, subdivided into a bunch of small projects. Am currently only late for a single deadline – a massively long review of Jameson’s Modernist Papers. That must count for something! Oy. It’s in my bag, the book. Oh, and something for the journal that pollian runs – sorry, pollian! Has it gone long enough that I can swap books? Could I do this instead? Would love to have the right to a review copy, as Ads is complexly, on paper, broke!

Have developed some form of graphomania as a result of this schedule, and am spending the spare moments today between meetings with students converting an old post from this site into a piece that I will submit to a journal tonight,  on spec, just before the deadline listed on the cfp. Decided just this morning to do this. Why not?

A longer post to come, almost done,  about academia and grub street but for now: lists of things to do, incessant small movement forward, these hold the darkness at bay, it is true.

UPDATE: It’s now the next morning. Fell asleep at 10 PM last night, woke at 3 AM. It’s like there’s an internal alarm clock that rings exactly five hours after consciousness flickers out. But I spent 3 AM – 7:15 AM sitting at my kitchen table, and now have a finished piece, the first one to be wholly drafted on here. Will send in a few hours from my office. But we’re now at 20,000 words for the last thirty or so days. That is, by the way, nearly double the pace that reputedly killed George Orwell:

Suddenly he was a widower and a single parent, eking out a threadbare life in his Islington lodgings, and working incessantly to dam the flood of remorse and grief at his wife’s premature death. In 1945, for instance, he wrote almost 110,000 words for various publications, including 15 book reviews for the Observer.

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September 30, 2009 at 2:49 pm

Posted in grub

busy man i am

with 11 comments

1. Was browsing in the LRB Bookshop today and picked up a particularly handsome and fronttabled book about literature in my period. Hmm… Lovely, I thought, I’d like mine to look just like this. I wonder who the publisher…

My heart fell when I realized that the book was published by a house that had read my dissertation back in 2005 and expressed enthusiasm about publishing the fucker. I had turned them down, as said fucker needed work, and besides, we were taught, back in the golden years and by people whose career paths had been paved in gold, not to publish with commercial presses as it looks bad on the CV.

Fuck. Fuck. Perhaps I’ll try again with them now, in a much worse publishing environment, and several years on. But the thought of all I might have been doing with this monstrosity off my plate…. Fuck.

2. Have been writing (and missing deadlines) more or less constantly. For the current thing, all the famous people have theirs in; mine is basically the only one outstanding. And I am not famous, sadly. But the interesting thing is that approximately a third of the piece was cut and pasted (and, sure, heavily editted) from the blog, which actually seems to be becoming the notebook-type resource that I’ve always intended it to be.

Good news is that I think this thing I am just about to finish is probably the best thing I’ve written since the piece that got me both jobs that I’ve had. You have to wait for Ads’s products, but sometimes Ads’s products are ok. Wish I could link to all of it on here. One day! Soon!

3. Went to a meeting with my kid’s school teacher today. They start a year earlier here than they do in the US, which I suppose means one day my daughter, if we ever move back to the US, will turn out to be brilliant and troubled. Anyway: was astounded by the amount of material that we learn when we go to school. The letters and numbers, counting and reading, writing and adding. And then all the other stuff.

The teacher has asked me, in my capacity as a university lecturer, to come do things for the kids. I am thinking Isotypes. What do you think?

One of the other girls, quickly becoming one of my daughter’s friends, has a pair of academic parents. What sucks is that the mom likely just read a friend’s job application that didn’t work out. (They didn’t hire me either when I applied….) What is funny is that the dad reminds me of a character on Mad Men, spitting image, but it’s not that flattering a comparison. He also flirted like shit with my wife tonight, unaware perhaps that I was her husband. Hmmm…..

4. I am a bit crestfallen that I won’t have an opportunity to go on my daily run tomorrow. What busy lives we lead! But running is actually starting to help – I go to sleep earlier than I’ve ever done, as I’m actually normal-tired at the end of the day instead of rangey-exhausted.

5. A year and a half in, and I am actually starting to make friends with my colleagues. I mean I was friendly enough before, but now there’s a weekly meetup of guys, and this is a good sign for me, you have no idea.

6. School starts next week. Americans will be shocked to hear this, but the first week of university here is mostly taken up with drinks parties – no, not just for us, but for us with the students, i.e. new undergraduates. What a dissolute place this is. I have pledged myself to remain not quite dry, but dry enough, during said parties. I do like the party involving the MA students, who again, now that the pound has fallen against the dollar, will be largely American. It’s funny to see their faces fall when it dawns on them that they’ve paid all this money to participate in enormous numbers of seminars with a guy from New Jersey.

7. I am not sure, but I think I might have a sockpuppet problem.

8. I have decided to ask my parents for some money, as I likely need it. You might have heard, but the cost of living in London is a wee bit high.

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September 24, 2009 at 11:43 pm

Posted in academia

sunday post – 660 AM

with 10 comments

We almost always end up eating separately, in various combinations, now. Sometimes it’s my wife and I in the kitchen and the kids in the other room (in front of the tv, ugh, sorry god of parenting!) but tonight it was my wife and the baby in the living room and my daughter and I at the table in the garden.

She actually sits and the table and eats. She is 4 and I am still 32. Negotiates, of course, but does eat. There is corn on her plate – they call it sweetcorn here, but I say of course it’s sweet, it’s corn for christ’s sake! She doesn’t want to eat it because it is yellow and yellow “is not a tasty color.” I know what she means, but still – it’s fucking corn!

I tell her that she is American, and that all Americans, by nature and nuture, love corn and so she should eat it. She reiterates the issue of the yellowness. But still she is sitting and eating with me, alone at a table and under the broad London sky, and I think a new thought: ah, a lifetime of having dinner with my daughter. I will take her out when she is 8 and when she is 16. I will visit her at the university she attends – maybe I’ll give a paper at the university she attends and have dinner with her after. I will be older then, and she will tell her friends that she is having dinner with her father, who is giving a paper.  And then later too, when she is working and loving and maybe having her own kids. We will sit like this.

I am surrounded by females. It is as if someone were around to bless me because this is not what I deserve. I deserve much worse than to be surrounded by females, which is what I would have selected from the menu if menu there were.

I tell her about corn on the cob. It is astounding, in a sense, that she does not know what this is. When I was growing up, I can remember right from the start the special corncob holders, the plastic holders with metal spikes. I will get her some – they sell corn on the cob at Tesco, I noticed. The holders may have to wait till we’re in the US at Christmas.

I decide that we should listen to the Yankee game, in the late summer eating dinner in the garden – in our yard. But the iPhone indicates that the Yankees are playing later. We try the Mets instead – and the iPhone feed is WFAN. I tell her that her grandfather and I listened to WFAN together all the time, and before WFAN was WFAN we listened to its predecessor, WNBC. Both at 66o AM in New York, in New Jersey. She asks if Poppy is listening to this too, the Mets game, and I tell her maybe, though I doubt it. I tell her that we listened to this station while he drove me to school everyday, and since she has just in the last week or so started going to school herself, she is interested.

I eat my salad and my buttered bread. I soak up the dressing with the last piece. I promise to dance with her if she eats four bites of the corn that she calls sweetcorn, and she does, and we then dance.

I’ll be a better father to them the older they get. I tell myself this, but it is probably true. My daughter, at any rate, is now a person, one who eats dinner with her father and talks about stuff.

I hope all of  the females in my life will forgive me –  I will get better at this as I go along.

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September 20, 2009 at 11:59 pm

Posted in america, in the yard

cross your fingers

with 4 comments

Henri Lefebvre in the second volume of The Critique of Everyday Life:

Up until now, one of the great paradoxes of the twentieth century has been that capitalist economy has apparently taken the form of a “pleasure economy.” Like a caricature of itself, this economy some times goes so far as to become organized waste. Since it conceals the economy of power while organizing, controlling and pulverizing pleasure, it is a form of mystification. In fact, as regards quantity and quality, it is very restricted. In a contradictory way it arouses many needs and desires, some artificial, the rest unsatisfied. Satisfaction is characterized by accident and contingency. It is “a stroke of good fortune”, a windfall, a happy piece of luck. In so far as the words mean anything, joy and happiness consist of a series of favourable encounters and chances. Freedom, so frequently exalted, is no more than the skill of making the most of luck and chance…. This explains the importance of luck and chance both in the highest theoretical thinking and in the ideologies some extremely unsophisticated people adopt and “live” on a practical basis.

The last line is a zinger. Sometimes it seems to be that the left-philosophical / theoretical tradition as a whole placed its chips on black when it should have been red, chance and contingency when it should have gone with the opposite of those things (patient waiting? slow building?). As a result, it learned only to dream permissible dreams, became fascinated by the very dynamics of a system that it would replace.

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September 18, 2009 at 3:40 pm

Posted in lefebvre

awk, ads

with 3 comments

It’s not hard to describe the pain of writing. You type and the other part of you says No, not good or sometimes scribbles in the margins in ink visibile only to you AWK. And so the first you backspaces and starts again. And again you hear, from the other guy, Nope. Awkward. And this goes on for quite awhile until you finish the piece, progressing in a way best described as an inside-outing of the Zeno’s arrow paradox.

I am rewriting a section of this into my piece on waiting. The blog is the only place (perhaps you can tell – ugh) where the process above does not apply. And thus I’m beginning to have a sense that the most efficient way for me to get writing done is simply to scribble every night on here and then, later, go back and see what can be combed out of all this knotted stuff. I am combing more out of this knotted stuff, and it seems to be OK to do that.

Interesting to think: I only write easily when I write under another name. When I have a sense that my own name is going to be on the thing – and it’s hard not to have that sense when I tap into the first two lines of every document THE TITLE and then MY NAME, right back to Catholic school training that, see also APOTAAAYM.) But under the pseduo, even though the pseudo is becoming increasingly less pseudoffective all the time, I can simply type. If I could remember my Derrida on some level other than a sort of intellectual muscle-memory, I could probably come up with something clever to say about all of this. But now, really, back to the cutting, pasting, and strenuous editting.

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September 17, 2009 at 11:31 am

Posted in blogs, writing

the list

with 11 comments


So the MLA job list is out. Totally not on the market, myself, thank god… just spectating and for-statisical-purposes-only looking. I wouldn’t be happy if I were going out this year – I’d imagine that there are half or a third of the jobs available vs. the year when I first went out, and  maybe only one that I’d have been relatively happy to have. Of course there’s still more to come, but what do people think? How’s it look to you?

Just to explain, for people who aren’t in the business: the MLA job list, which contains almost every job that will be available during the coming year in language and literature departments in North America, comes out once a year, today actually. The process is incredibly long, getting an academic job in literature – the listings that arrived today won’t be filled until late January at the very earliest. Gruelling, it is. You spend the summer preparing your stack of job materials (CV, writing sample, dissertation description, teaching statement), send off and wait. Later, you might be asked for another writing sample. If you’re lucky, sometime in November or so will invite you to an interview at the conference (this year, like almost every year it seems, it’s in Philadelphia. I’ve already been to two in that city.) After that, three or four people will be asked to visit the campus, give a talk, meet with students and potential colleagues, and go out for a few awkward dinners. Then, after all of that, you wait for the department to get its act together, schedule a meeting and vote (in most cases – some place do the actual deciding part differently).

So much more complicated and arduous than the process in the UK, where you get a stack of apps, read them, a committee argues out four to bring in, then you interview them serially and make a call within an hour. Doesn’t take much more than a month, listing to filling. But that’s what America gets for being a great big country full of land-grant universities, I guess. And I’ll cop to preferring the campus visit, in the end. It is strange, passing strange, to be offered a job without having met your future colleagues in any scenario other than the gladiatorial contest of the interview. *

Nothing remarkably incisive to say about all of this beyond the capsule rendition of how it works. It is an engine of professionalization, though. American job candidates, almost all of them, spend an entire year focused almost exclusively on this sort of thing – well, save for any teaching they might be doing, and frantic nighttime dissertation finishing. You enter into your first year on the market a kid who likes to read and write; you exit a fully fledged professional academic. Don’t get me wrong – there are good and bad things both about this sort of professionalization. But it is something to note, and perhaps something worth thinking and writing about a bit more, what effect the rhythm of the market has on intellectual life in the academy. Of course it’s always present, informing the decisions that people make about their work etc. But it becomes profoundly present, definitive, in bursts. There the struggle to get into a PhD program, and then relative calm for a few years. Then a frantic burst of market-awareness, then a bit of calm (at least on that front) as you start your job. Then the tenuring process, and after that, if you’ve made it, calm again… until you decide to look for another job… Goes on and on. **

Anyway, here’s Berryman, in a not very successful Dream Song, on the MLA…. Happy hunting to those that are!

* Coetzee actually writes up, quite accurately, the differences between the UK (SA imitating the UK, in this case) and the US style of English department hiring in Summertime, fyi. Wish I had time to type it all in, but not just this minute, as I have my own job to keep.

** Please note: I am fully aware that I am describing only one sort of track through the field, and that there are other tracks. Not everyone, or even most, don’t end up in a straightforward PhD to tenure track to tenure line.

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September 17, 2009 at 11:21 am

Posted in academia

“such as are supplied by the advertising pages of a newspaper or the traffic of a big city”

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Lil help. There’s this clip that one sees in documentaries highend and low centered on London / urban life. A mass of pedestrians, circa say the 1950s, are crossing a busy intersection – actually a circle, if I recall correctly. They don’t wait for the lights – they stride out as a clump, wait at an island, clump out again this time halting a car rather than waiting for it to pass. That’s the whole thing.

Some of you know the clip I’m talking about. Black and white. Crops up all the time. Am writing something and would love to snag a still or stills of this. I’ve seen the clip many times (in fact, recently) but I can’t find the source.

Obviously, it’s not in the one above – that’s just a gift from me to you, a day-brightener.

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September 16, 2009 at 11:33 am

Posted in benjamin, cities

isotypes have trouble sleeping too

with 6 comments

Appreciate this excellent Neurathian post on sleep troubles by Christoph Niemann at the NYT. Been having a lot of trouble in this department lately – not so much of the universal can’t get to sleep at night type but rather, and ominously, of the Old Guy wake up way too early in the morning and can’t get back type. Frustrating.

Sorry about the light blogging and even light comment returning. Of the course of a week or so, I’ve had exactly 9800 words due, split into three separate pieces. All excellent, exciting things to do. But they suck up even the reserve tank of writing juice, as well as repeated refills of my new and totally beloved french press. More to come I’m so sure.

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September 16, 2009 at 10:32 am

crisis coming in the mail now too

with 2 comments

Oh dear. My wife received one of these in the mail today. I guess the check bounced. The Philly Inquirer was a good paper, too.

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September 15, 2009 at 1:30 am

Posted in crisis

“is stuffed, de world, wif feeding girls”

with 9 comments

Even the people who know me best would guess wrong, perhaps maybe with one important exception. Given a list of books that I would most like to write something just like, people might guess Ulysses, or Portrait, Disgrace or Diary of a Bad Year. Madame Bovary would figure. Or maybe Underworld, Infinite Jest, fucking Netherland in the worst case? Others might say Postmodernism: The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism. I’ve hinted that I’d like to write a new Kapital – it’s mostly a joke. Principles of Literary Criticism?

But actually, really, what I’d love to do is something like John Berryman’s The Dream Songs. I have the right disposition, I am sure of that. All of the other that goes into something like this, who knows – doubt it strongly. There’s a chance that if I prepared for my tutorials properly…  But dispositionally, sure, have that in spades. Ugh.

What an odd text. Shakespearean brilliance, that sort of line play, cut with downmarket thematics. Get a bit baffled by his virtuosic breaks, willingness to indulge himself with the short line. It’s actually the only thing in the world I willingly reread. Purchased for a strange class with BLeithauser, from what I can remember, sometime in 1998-1999. It was the first time I saw anyone use a french press, which someone recently had to reteach me how to use. The American Long Poem, was it? Just before I changed sides to the novel. Remember staying up late at that table in the kitchen (Missus? You souviens?) to write the papers for it. Wish I could remember what I wrote about, but I know it wasn’t Berryman.

Discovered the other day that #14 is hung on the wall right outside my office. Omen I missed, somehow. But how did I miss it? Perhaps because I don’t believe in omens.

Watch. Will do something strange with this blog. Why not at this late stage in the game?

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September 10, 2009 at 1:26 am

Posted in poetry


with 6 comments

Does fucking suck when someone pinches your shit and publishes well with it. Not a nice feeling. Attribution is all it would take, really. But this does confirm what several friends have told me about the person in question, and what basically I already knew.

Tempting to go line for line, but why bother. Still, makes me question the whole blog endeavor – why one places stuff out there anonymously etc. World of greying idealess shits, that much is long since clear.

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September 7, 2009 at 11:55 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

en attendant attendance

with 41 comments

Little help from all of you. About to start writing a piece about waiting. In particular, the sort of waiting that one does in cities. I have to move very very quickly on this piece, and it’s pretty important that I do a decent job, so…

Can you think of novelistic / poetic / graphic / filmic representations of waiting? Pastoralia like Godot doesn’t really work. I have my own set, but it’s all French, not that there’s anything wrong with that, but I’d like to have some others. Even more French ones, if that’s what it takes.

Fire away, SVP.

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September 7, 2009 at 10:50 pm

situation comedy

with 4 comments

In Disgrace, Coetzee writes (Lurie thinks) something like Reversals: the very stuff of bourgeois comedy after seeing a student play. Something like that anyway – my copy is at the office.

So last night I escorted my 4-year-old daughter to another kid’s birthday party, up behind Alexandra Palace. Strange, late-night affair for the 4 and 5 year old set. At moments, I laugh like I don’t normally. All good. On the way home (on the W3 bus) she editorializes against buying a VW Golf. She says that she prefers trains and buses, as cars make her sick and you have to wear a seatbelt.  Good. Settled then.

Kids to bed and I am being moderately difficult with my wife. Just moderately. She expresses a reservation about my behavior and I say Oh just wait! I have something to read to you! You read it while I was out I am sure but let me just read it to you again to ensure that the import was not lost.

And so I grab up the Guardian Review section and search through for the paragraph in James Meek’s intelligent review of Coetzee’s Summertime that was the cover piece this week. The paragraph that I had wanted to read, but never quite did, was this one:

I don’t believe Coetzee had a choice here. If he hadn’t run the risk of seeming self-indulgent, he wouldn’t have been able to capture an essential truth about “great men” – that the women who reject them in the early days are not necessarily blind to their potential. A woman who chooses not to sacrifice her life to the kind of selfish, cranky, vain, obsessive, unstable slobs who tend to become “great men” may be making a wise decision.

But I didn’t read it to her. The reason why is that when I opened up the section to the appropriate page, I found that the paragraph was underlined. That she had underlined the paragraph….. Hmmm…

And so, instead of reading it to her, I ask: It means something different for you to underline this paragraph than for me to um read it to you, doesn’t it?

She nods her head. I continue. It could, for instance mean that you thought that I was a great man and chose to put up with me anyway.


Or that, rather bleakly, you never recognized any of these things, and thus decided to stay with me.

She cuts me off: There are more options on the table than that. Those truly aren’t the only options.

And then she pointed to her notebook, the one that I’m not allowed to read, as if to suggest that the answers to all of my questions – not just the ones that I am asking but all of my questions, are to be found there, written out in ballpoint pen. But I’m not going to get to read them.

(Cue laff track. Cue Ad’s repeating the scene of picking up the paper, discovering the underlining, over and over again to at first increasing and then gradually diminishing choruses of laughter…)

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September 6, 2009 at 8:37 am

Posted in coetzee

cold in the freezer (redo)

with 4 comments

It is a little admitted fact, but capitalism is in fact a technology for the storage of pain. Like a freezer in England, it keep the old stuff cold and below.

What does this mean in practice? It means, for the recently ascendant, that every love comes glanced with a desolate fuck behind the only bar in town, just after closing hour and with the last girl in the room. Every job comes quick with the jobs you shouldn’t ever have, being what you are. It leads to arrogance, which is of course only the flipside of fear, rather than confidence, which only those far removed from the trauma of rising are permitted.

You will always recognise yourself in portraits of fear and disease. You will feel penniless despite your full pockets. You will feel inept despite your great successes. You will write and rewrite and develop elaborate techniques to avoid writing – mainly through recession back into what you essentially are. You will learn how to lie, because that is the only thing that this world has permitted you to do well. It has catered to your lies, at least thus far. When you tell one, it buys you another drink.

You only visited, but you will never truly leave XXX, Ontario – the mill town where you were born and weren’t born at the same time.

As with what’s left in the freezer, you will never be able to forget that there’s perfectly good stuff to eat if you’d only unlaze and thaw it out, cook it up for family dinner. You can order out, but eventually everyone’s going to have to pitch in and cook and eat the stuff that’s kept below.

(Sorry – deleted this one this morning, but now I’ve decided to add it back after just a bit of encouragement to do so. I broke some links and prolly lost pollian’s comments…)

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September 5, 2009 at 8:38 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

ads without product placement

with 20 comments

Via One-Way Street, Bob McCrum on Alain de Botton’s new gig in the Guardian:

De Botton has taken quite a bit of flak for this assignment, and no doubt some of the abuse will be reheated and thrown at him all over again when his book comes out later this month, but what’s his crime ? Why shouldn’t he accept the BAA shilling? Sure, it’s not Proust or Happiness (two of the themes he has so successfully made his own), but it’s not pornography or racism, either, and – why the hell not? It will be interesting to see if he can rise to the challenge of a seemingly impossible task of writing about check-ins, fast bag drop and airport security. Dickens, no question, would have had a lot of fun with BAA.

Alain de Botton is not Dickens, but in taking this job, he is behaving like a very traditional literary animal. I’m sure there are many other examples of the resilience of literary life in the new world of cyber-publishing, but these three, coming together, do seem to make a trend

Just to be clear, and especially for the benefit of non-UK readers, BAA is a company that owns many of the privatized airports in Britain. It’s neither British Airways (itself privatized in 1987, under Thatcher) nor is it a public entity. It’s owned by the Spanish company Grupo Ferrovial, world-leaders in managing (mismanaging?) formerly public infrastructure. Even the BAA’s name is misleading. While it originally, while still public, stood for “British Airports Authority,” the company now claims that the letters don’t stand for anything at all. In other words, it pays to impersonate a public authority.

Notably BAA has of late been involved in a protracted PR / legal war with climate protestors (actually, the Climate Camp people) who’d rather BAA wasn’t permitted to build a third runway at Heathrow. It’s impossible not to see the De Botton book as the product of some PR firm’s mid-to-highbrow targetted re-branding campaign. Ah, BAA – patrons of the arts, patrons of the nice guy who writes about Proust. And in fact, if the whole thing calls to mind anything, it is a post-privatised version of this wondrous thing:

But of course, Auden and Britten were actually working for the GPO Film Unit when they made Night Mail, and of course again, this was long before the GPO was split into a million privatized and semi-privatized pieces by, yep, Thatcher.

This, of course, is mostly just politics talking, but in my ideal world, not only would Alain de Botton not be shilling CO2 for BAA, but there’d be no BAA Ltd., only the old, public BAA. There’s been a little spate of public organizations going into the publishing business lately, mainly as a sort of fund raising scheme. (I’ve not started reading, but will treasure for a long time, my Royal Parks boxed set of short stories, which I purchased at place I’ve been coming to, albeit far more frequently of late, since the mid-1980s, the restaurant at the end of the Serpentine in Hyde Park…) It’s very very red, but I’m not sure the general decline of prose fiction couldn’t be reversed if all prose was commissioned and paid for by entities like Transport for London and the NHS, the US Mail and, christ, the IRS. At some point (promissory, promissory – forgive me, for I am soooo tired), I’ll try to write about the aesthetic effect that such a development might possibly have.

On the other hand, what De Botton’s up to is just what it is – providing a profit hungry corporation with a bit of good PR, all dressed up as if it were simply a matter of one of the purest things on earth – infrastructural enthusiasm.

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September 1, 2009 at 11:34 pm