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no more evening standard for me

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I read papers. I subscribe to two (in the old fashioned paper version – I subscribe to six on the iPad) which are dropped every early morning through my mailslot in a wake-me-up kind of way. And I read one on the way home – the Evening Standard. I like living in a city that has an evening paper, a rare thing nowadays. And I was happy when it went free, although it did occur to me to consider the horrific changes in my home metropolis’s weekly paper, The Village Voice, when the same happened to it.

But I think I’m about to stop reading The Evening Standard, as much as a habit and sometimes a pleasure it is. What they tried to do to Labour in the city was one thing, despite what happened with the actual vote. And you know, I could do without daily updates on what’s happening in the capital’s poshest private schools. (Doesn’t seem to be on-line, but there’s an article today on page 8 about “muck-up day” at £14,000 a year City of London. Last week, there were two articles in the first 10 pages about Westminster School and its parents and pupils).

But what’s really making me throw the towel in – and make a decision to read something better on the way home tomorrow and for the tomorrows to come – is Lebedev’s, and thus the paper’s, weird edit-free support of the Tory candidate for London mayor, Ivan Massow.

An article praising him seems to appear every day. (As with the potential of a Labour national victory, feels as though Lebedev is a bit terrified of what might happen to him and his extended stay in London were Labour to win, though with the mayoralty, I doubt it’d be anything as bad as the end of the non-dom exemption). Massow seems like an OK guy – despite the fact that he seems to have a lot to get out in front of with today’s article, entitled “I’m a gay, dyslexic ex-alcoholic… vote for me.” (One suspects that a left candidate with the same “credentials” might get a different treatment from the Standard – take for instance the fact that he seems to have impregnated his lesbian roommate. One wonders whether Sadiq Khan would get a calm “explainer” opportunity if that was the case with him.)

But anyway, what’s annoyed me today is a single sentence in the latest puff piece they’ve run for Massow. The paragraph in which it’s contained runs:

“It’s been true since Dick Whittington that anyone can come to London and make it even if they have nothing in their pockets. In New York it’s all about what university you went to. In Paris you have to be Parisian. But London is a city that loves outsiders.”

That sentence about New York is simply a lie. If anyone was editing this rubbish, or even mildly “curating” it, that sentence would have to come out. Let’s take a look at the facts.

London has had two mayors. One was Independent-Labour, who – it is true, never went to university. The other, the Tory, well, yes, he went to Balliol College, Oxford. Which is about as “what university (and secondary school of course) you went to” as you as could possibly get.

On the other hand, let’s do a (relatively) recent list of New York City mayors and their undergrad alma maters:

Bill DeBlasio – New York University

Michael Bloomberg – Johns Hopkins University

Rudy Giuliani – Manhattan College

David Dinkins – Howard University

Ed Koch – City College of New York

Abraham Beame – City College of New York

So we’re back to 1974 with that. There’s one “elite” university on the list (Hopkins- though it’s not really a “king-maker”) and another one (NYU) that’s become very expensive now, but certainly wasn’t considered elite when DeBlasio attended it. In other words, what Massow’s said is complete bullshit – propagandistic bullshit that at once shines his own “self-starter” badge as well as shimmies up to his “aspirational” audience. So… whatever, it’s a throwaway line, right? Well, if I’m going to read a newspaper, and if even if it’s going to pimp for a candidate, I’d like there to be at least a semblance of honesty, objectivity, and backchat-upon-factual-error. Massow’s simply wrong in his claim – and no one at the Standard cares. Or they do, but they’re wise enough to know that crossing their oligarchical boss is probably a very, very bad career move.

I don’t think it would ever be reasonable for us to expect the Standard to present an “unbiased” portrayal of national or local politics, what Lebedev is doing for Massow is over the line. But the point is, they opined against the beliefs the constituency they pretend to journalistically represent. And now, they’re stumping for another one of the same sort. Watch forwhat they’re about to do to any Labour or further left candidates that run for the London office.

For myself, I’ll not be picking up a Standard tomorrow – and won’t be again until the London election is over. I encourage you not to too.

PS. If you want to read a weird wikipedia page, read Lebedev’s. According to it – brief as it is – he’s the strange sort of lucky, but simple, pub owner and restauranteur who also happens to own an 800,000 circulation newspaper. Thinking about buying my local, so that I can do that sort of thing too…

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May 18, 2015 at 6:08 pm

Posted in london

notes on the novel, genre, woolwich

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What else does the novel, by the very nature of its elemental form, teach us than that there is some relation, or at least should be, between our internal subjective states and the world in which we move. Foreground / background. Protagonist / context. Romance / history. The family / the city. Wires run between the one to the other, from the outside in and back again. Almost every name of a novelistic subgenre or period movement (realism, naturalism, modernism, postmodernism, to name just a few of the recent ones) names a different mode of wiring. Shifts in genre represent new ideas about how to write the machine. How tangled or untangled it is, how many wires run hither and how many yon, what buttons there are to push to control the voltage and wattage of the link up, how much bandwidth in total is carried.

***

Has there ever been a “terrorist attack” as uncanny as the one that happened yesterday in Woolwich? And uncanny is the right word – utterly familiar (tropes of beheading, tropes of “bringing the fight back to the oppressor,” the visibility of violence) yet at the same time utterly not (the refusal of both escape or self-immolative martyrdom, the implicit invocation of the laws of war when it comes to “innocent bystanders,” the further refusal to “let the event speak for itself,” or be spoken for by leadership organisations far away and ex post facto, or through pre-recorded statements aired after the event,  and the immediate extinguishing of the fear of further attacks, at least by the same actors, as per Boston). With this one, we seem to slip from the genre called “terrorism” to something else: a gruesome morality play about the calculus of war, the algebra of carnage. Street theatre allegory that trades the fake blood for the real.

So was it the “genre shift” that explains the strange reactions of the bystanders who observed the attack and its aftermath? Women reportedly ran over, in the course of the attack itself, to attempt to help the dying or dead soldier, thinking that the three actors in this play were rehearsing an all-too-common everyday scene we call “a car accident.” Who was it, and why was it, that someone stayed to film a man whose arms were drenched in blood, who carried a knife and a cleaver in his left hand, while he delivered his final soliloquy? What to make of these recorded conversations between the killers and their audience?

Is there a better answer than that a genre had been disrupted or reinvented, and thus the rules that normal apply (murders try to escape, bystanders flee, etc) were unavailable for consultation?

***

Genre is also another name for myth. While it sometimes postures as science, it has far more in common with superstition. Throw salt over your shoulder, and lucky will occur. One character says something, the other, naturally, touches wood. We now, in our pharmacologically-lexiconed period, are far more likely to call superstitious practices the symptoms of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. One has to check, and check again, that the water’s not running in the bathroom before one leaves the flat. Push hard three times on the front door to make sure it’s locked… or else another storyline will ensue, the one that has an evening return to a gaping door, the laptop gone, the bedroom drawers dumped. This is literally it – some sort of chemical depletion or superfluity occurs, some traumatic event takes place, and then an almost mystical belief in certain irrational storylines takes over. To disobey the mandates of genre is to open oneself to an unhappy ending.

Last night: this news-story. On television and especially on the web. Fraught conversations about the arithmetic of death. And then a phone call. Bad news of the sort that late night phone calls usually bring. The trope of the middle-aged son and the ailing parent. The novel teaches us to think of the one thing as related, if complex, to the other. At least metaphorically, or even just formally. What is happening out there of course is a prelude to what is about to happen right in here, in the space of the family home and especially the skulls (and bodies) of those that inhabit it.

Think of the script. The call in the night in the movie. The early middle-aged son who ignores the call momentarily, caught up as he is in an argument about the gruesome news on television. The politics of violence, the physics of the world system. The cigarette whose space allows a second thought, a second glance at the mobile phone. Ominous – we can imagine what will happen next. The film that will play out from its start in a graphic sequence of news images morphs into a dark family drama. How does one cope when the worst comes home to roost?

***

A fallacy (a word quite close to “myth” and “superstition”) that doesn’t have a name, one that is hardwired into the DNA of the novel as a form. I’ve tried to name it in things that I’ve written, in seminars that I’ve led. Sometimes it seems to have more to do with temporality. What happens after what, or at the same times as each other. We could call it presumptive fallacy. Retro-prospective fallacy. The fallacy of coincidence. Sometimes it’s simply about the structural mandate that the foreground be read in the light of the background and vice versa. Contextual fallacy? Flaubert, disrupter through over-fulfilment of so many genre mandates, so early in the game, was aware of the problem. Think of Frédéric waiting for Madame Arnoux while the revolution kicks off a few blocks away in L’Éducation sentimentale.  The New Critics liked to label fallacies on the part of the reader. I am more interested in the fallacies inherent in artistic forms themselves, even though obviously these can turn into the former and often do through the sort of training that novels provide. 

***

But of course, myths are also true in a very serious sense. I don’t simply mean that what we believe we are. What we think is the only thing there is. Although that may well be true. In this case, it is also useful to think of myth or superstition or even fallacy as a customary practice, a mode of operation, running orders against confusion. The world, as we know, lives out the demands of its many operative genres every single day. Perhaps now as much as ever. A myth is habitus, generated by practice, an operating manual written and re-written each time we act.

The novel makes us stupid in one sense, solipsistic, tends to make us look for our angle on things, what does this mean to us? What were the attackers yesterday, in both his words and deeds, and deeds both during and after the attack, trying to say to me? Or at least us? There is a counter-instinct, for those disciplined a certain way, to try to climb up the ladder of transcendent wisdom, to disavow the inwrought narcissism of our conditioned response. To gasp and yell when the news commentators reduce a global to a local question, an a serious question to a matter of insanity or unanchored spite. They might think what they want, but they have no right to act it out here. To force us into these stringent attempts to adjust the genre back to something we’re comfortable with. 

But the attempt to climb out of the fray of self-interest, however complex, however Wallace-ianly convoluted and self-reflexive, is of course a trope in yet another sort of story, another sort of myth, one that – we need to remind ourselves – has the deepest affinities with an imperial mindset, one that takes the world panoptically, one for whom impersonality is a transferable skill.

What retards political development – and really contemporary thought as a whole – more right now than an inability to come to terms with the relationship between the self, located wherever it might be, and the world-system as a whole? At least here where we are? What are we, sequestered in the posh uptowns and suburbs of the global system, meant to think or say when we are in the wrong jurisdiction? We know not to fall into the ethical mode, charity is of no use, but there may be an exitless cloverleaf, a highway cul de sac, ahead if

Despite all the complicities of the novel, these generic demands and the demands of its sub-genres, the promise remains that the bad faith strictures themselves make space for revelatory manipulation, clarifying detournage. They even, potentially, lead us toward the formulation of simpler questions, question more pressing in their semi-solipsistic simplicity. Like this one, that with the little revision, some shifts in seemingly inevitable consequence, the script I outlined above could be made to ask:

Who has to die in the prime of life, and who is afforded the luxury of death that comes at an actuarially appropriate stage? 

“new possibilities emerging from riots and abandoned construction sites”

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It’s hard for me to understand how anybody reads this sort of thing as anything other than a strange form of ad copy, a surreptitious pro-bono for the forces of gentrification themselves:

But after the cameras have gone, as the recession grinds on and the Eurozone spirals further into meltdown how will the Lea Valley look in 2013? 2013 is Year Zero, it signifies the beginning of new spaces opening up, of new possibilities emerging from riots and abandoned construction sites. The Masterplan will be eroded by the persistence of nature and the desire of the young to take back territory from the overarching boredom of the Westfield aesthetic . . . I imagine stalled housing projects, empty flats in yuppiedromes across the capital reactivated. I envisage stadia and velodromes covered in ivy, occupied and surrounded by transient and nomadic architecture, like Constant’s New Babylon, moving cities, interlinking, nomadic structures. I think this new ‘park’, the result of a corporate land grab, will, after the two weeks of televized spectacle, return to the physical reality of the wilderness.

It’s the same effect as Ballard – although I rather think that Ballard was far more fully aware of the dialectical perversity of his work than Ford is. A block of posh condos, a new megamall of the periphery, the traffic-locked Westway – all of these things become more interesting when someone encourages us to imagine them as anteriorly or futuraly haunted by outbursts of primal sex, violent agitation, or eroticised Michael Bay-type fireballs. Did you think Ballard was critiquing these things, given how appealing you find them in their gory transfigured forms? No more than marketing firms are critiquing the products they shill. Cars are more interesting – and thus more salable – when their utilitarian functionality receives, via the ad campaign, some Bukkake shots of sex and death, when they’re rolling you around the end of the world scenes of late capitalism.

Think about it: what if Ballard wrote a novel about what really goes on in the up-market high rise? And what if those who are selling the condos and buy-to-lets couldn’t rely on the residual grime as both an edgy selling point, a marker of victorious progress, and a feigned tell that the punter is going to get a very good deal indeed. The logic of the paragraph above is the very logic of gentrification – the edgy is valued as authentic but also as a good investment. The fact that the Lea Valley was first encountered by the artist “through the rave scene of the early 90s” is a consumer testimonial, might as well be a part of a branding operation.

In truth, the reality will be, I imagine, much more boring than in the quotation above. Flats will fill Stratford, the mall will continue to expand, the fringe areas nearby will be swallowed, until school catchments and distance from the transport hubs put a cap on the encroachment. There won’t be squatters – no more than there are in Canary Wharf. But in our flats – after all, “we” are the demographic who are meant to occupy these things, right? – paintings of the previous inhabitants, wasted ravers, decorative drunks at a shitty bar, post-coital squatters in dirty bedrooms, empty bottles and over-flowing ashtrays, will hang on each and every reception room wall.

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August 17, 2012 at 2:19 pm

morning scene

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The sounds of singsong anger and general tautness. But in little girls’ voices, voices that have somehow been wrecked for the adult world. That have receded or regressed somehow.

Out the window, then, two women seated on the stairs leading into the building across. They are squabbling, it seems, but then the squabble turns into a sort of sexual rubbing, the one frantically rubbing the crotch of the other.

Are they both women or not?

One jumps from the stairs and darts between two parked cars. She drops her trousers and squats and a circular puddle forms on the street.

Passers-by do not look, do not stop to look, even though assuredly they can hear what she is doing even though they do not stop to see it.

She moves back to the steps, to her companion.

On these steps, each a week just before the weekend, a couple – posh and white, tenants of the building – sit and await the arrival of a delivery. He repeatedly checks his phone until two others roll up on bicycles – a man and a boy. There is some small talk, some awkward attempts at customer-service and good-customership in the form of feigned racial cross-toleration, and then an exchange of goods for a wad of cash.

But today, the woman in the flat across the street and one story down leans out of her window to look. She is blonde, in her late thirties, and a window peeper without the excuse of smoking. Normally when she sees that she is seen in her peeping she pulls back and yanks the curtain across. As she does now.

More playground noise. They are in the course of a transaction of some sort. Then one of them – not the one who peed on the street – pulls tight to the area railing and from her hands comes a massive flame. Though she is smoking crack, she sits back to chat as she tugs on the pipe. Casually, like an office-worker on her break, chatting with a colleague.

Another arrives. This one, unlike the others, is white. And apparently elderly, or at least looks that way. She is wearing enormous fluffy slippers on her feet and she walks with an injured shuffle. She shuffles down the middle of the street toward the pair on the stoop and stops to complain or cajole and then begins to weep. The tears of a little girl.

The curtain across the street is drawn again and the blonde woman reappears, extends her head out the window, as well as an arm whose hand grips a mobile phone tightly.

The tears of the old-looking woman continue as the pipe runs out and is returned to the smoker’s backpack. There are more faces visible at more windows. A man – overweight and of a certain age, but still in his way dashing in his way – exits the door behind them. With arthritic difficulty, he negotiates the steps and then heads south on Great Titchfield Street.

Now the two black women are taunting the white woman. Laughing at her and then laughing harder when she extends an open hand toward them, palm up, imploring them to share with her. The tears continue; the black women embrace wildly, again as if to show the other her place in this association. A man passes, and then a well-dressed woman. Someone is setting up tables outside the pub at the corner.

The woman at the window across draws the curtains again and disappears. She will not reappear during the course of this vignette.

The women on the stairs stand and begin to walk down the sidewalk, past the puddle and below the window of the woman who just now was watching. More tinkling taunt talk, more weaving and some rail-grabbing for steadiness’s sake – and more tears from the white woman who shuffles slowly in her slippers, too slow to keep up.

Only when the two in front turn to taunt does she make up ground on them. If they were to walk normally and ignore her they would quickly leave her behind.

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April 12, 2012 at 11:30 am

Posted in addiction, london

hatherley on the riots and urban regeneration

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Owen Hatherley has an excellent piece on the riots and “urban regeneration” on the Verso website. Here’s a bit:

Look at the looted, torched places, look at what they all have in common. Look at Bristol, a port where you could walk for miles and wonder where its working class had disappeared to, which seems to have been given over completely to post-hippy tourism, ‘subversive’ graffiti, students and shopping. Well, those invisible young, ‘socially excluded’ (how that mealy-mouthed phrase suddenly seems to acquired a certain truth) people arrived in the shiny new Cabot Circus mall and took what they wanted, what they couldn’t afford, what they’d been told time and time again they were worthless without. Look at Woolwich, where the former main employer, the Arsenal, is now a vast development of luxury flats, and where efforts to ameliorate poverty and unemployment centre on a giant Tesco, just opposite the Jobcentre. Look at Peckham, where ‘Bellenden Village’ pretends to be excited by the vibrant desperation of Rye Lane. Look at Liverpool, where council semis rub up against the mall-without-walls of Liverpool One, whose heavy-security streets were claimed by the RIBA to have ‘single-handedly transformed Liverpool’s fortunes’—as if a shopping mall could replace the docks. Look at Croydon, where you can walk along the spotless main street of the central privately owned, privately patrolled Business Improvement District and then suddenly find yourself in the rotting mess around West Croydon station. Look at Manchester’s city centre, the most complete regeneration showpiece, practically walled-off from those who exist outside the ring-road. Look at Salford, where Urban Splash sells terraces gutted and cleared of their working class population, to MediaCity employees with the slogan ‘own your own Coronation Street home’. Look at Nottingham, where private student accommodation looming over council estates features a giant advert promising ‘a plasma screen TV in every room’. Look at Brixton, where Zaha Hadid’s hedge-funded Academy has a disciplinary regime harsher than some prisons, and aims to create little entrepreneurs, little CEOs out of the lamentably unaspirational estate-dwellers. Look at Birmingham’s new Bull Ring, yards away from the scar of no-man’s land separating it from the dilapidated estates and empty light-industrial units of Digbeth and Deritend. This is urban Britain, and though the cuts have made it worse, the damage was done long before.

 

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August 14, 2011 at 2:29 pm

Posted in london, riots

the day after

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August 12, 2011 at 11:12 am

Posted in london, riots

the next five minutes

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It’s another one of those times when things actually start to look like Ballard’s “next five minutes.” In some cases, exactly like it. They’re putting up riot fences around the giant Westfield shopping mall today in West London….(via here). Elsewhere, the other night, there was this:

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August 8, 2011 at 1:30 pm

fitzrovia notebook (i)

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The random collision of American undergraduates abroad with UK nondom locals at the, um, local. Seated together outside, nondoms buy the drinks and make fun of the males for having gay sex last night with each other while, as it were, the girls drunkenly cooked.

It is an extrapolation, a fiction…

The nondoms are in the import-export trade while the Americans are in shorts.

The boys take it. They are wearing sandles. They are not gay. They are confused by the morés of their new neighborhood, where they will live for the summer. Perhaps the girls are too, but they won’t show it.

Knowing looks all around.

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June 11, 2011 at 4:39 pm

Posted in london

financial districts and everyday life: a fragment

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Had to look up a place on Google Maps a few days ago, and came across this “user review”:

Went weeks before to sample canapes, some served on the night were not the std. we tried – Arancini tasted like absolutely nothing. Specified music we’d like the DJ to play weeks before as well; on the night he played few songs people wanted, when we went up to ask for 80s he said he wasn’t allowed to play it (although we said we’d like some when we first met Laura, the manager/operator)!? After repeated attempts to get the music changed he just said that what we were asking wasn’t really his speciality! It was agreed security would tick people off the list and hand out the drink tokens on arrival but on the night the security guy refused to do both so we had to have someone handing out the tokens while he found names (and he still took an age). One bartender had some serious attitude – asked if my drink was a double, to which he replied, “who’s the bartender, me or you?”(!!!). At the end of the night there were two security staff (or one and his mate), at the front door but weren’t opening it to let people out as they left, just talking to eachother and texting. Venue itself is funky, however wouldn’t book it for a work do again, maybe just go there for an afterwork drink?

Not sure why, but I find it hilarious and fascinating. When we were in grad school, the fad for cultural studies cum textual materialism was starting, and we spent lots of time looking at printed near-detritus from the 18th Century. By trade, I’m a canonical modernist – one who works on the big obvious novels – but there is a part of me tempted to start forging some sort of real-time Arcades Project out of fragments like the above. Feels like the electronic version of something scrawled on the outer wall of a taberna in Pompeii…

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February 22, 2011 at 6:14 pm

london…

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… can be slightly depressing at times. What saves it only is the fact that the chicken bits die daily for our sins.

Or I could make a Septimus Smith joke here. Tough call.

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January 18, 2011 at 9:10 am

Posted in london

notes on violence and justice

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1) Rewatching the first season of the Sopranos (can it really have been a decade since?) and amongst all of the wonderful (and wonderfully woven) thematic threads is one that I’d forgotten. In S01E09, which is best remembered for the Uncle Junior “South of the Border” sequences, Tony and the boys decide to punish their daughter’s soccer coach when it’s discovered that he was sleeping with one of his charges. What follows is a sequence in which the males are frustrated in their plans through the reasonable intervention of several women, especially Artie Bucco’s wife (who identifies the egotism inherent in the planned action – the fact that the coach would die more than anything else for the collective satisfaction of the mobster fathers) and Jennifer Melfi, Tony’s shrink, who asks the critical question: Why is it that Tony feels that it’s his job to exact justice in every case?

2) The stage is set for the anti-climactic ending by playing the potential climax out in advance, only in small scale and in a banal setting. Artie Bucco and Tony are out for dinner, and they see a young guy wearing a baseball cap in this relatively swish restaurant. After a conversation-that-aging-white-guys-like-to-have about declining social standards and the like, Tony gets up from the table, walks over to the becapped diner, and tells him to take off the fucking hat. The kid does so, embarrassing himself in front of his girlfriend in the process.

3) I’ll admit, I have a little bit of a problem with this sort of thing myself. It’s important, I think, to draw an immediate distinction between calls-to-action that really are yours (your wife / your daughter / your son / your husband is in trouble and its up to you, and only you, to respond) and this other category of events that the Sopranos episode is highlighting.

I’ve ended up in problem after problem in life by throwing myself into frays that were not mine – always, always, on the side of “justice,” or at least what seemed just to me at the moment – it ways that might seem absolutely baffling to someone wired otherwise. They would ask me, just as I am now asking myself, “Why is it your business, business that you actually have to bring to some sort of conclusion, if for instance some young kid hits on a girl in a bar over-aggressively? Why is that your fight to fight?”

4) I don’t like spitting on the street. The other day I was walking down the road when the kid in front of me hocked up a huge one and sprayed in on the pavement. I was just about to tap him on the shoulder to ask why the fuck London seemed like him the right place to blow his brown sputum around when I realized it was one of my tutorial students from last year, one of my favorite ones. I ducked away without him seeing that I was behind him.

5) What exactly is my problem with protest? I’ve been trying to sort it out this week, obviously in the wake of the big demonstration in London on Wednesday. I hate going to them, though often have. Obviously they have to happen, but for some reason (just being honest here – perhaps in the tradition of Orwell on the sense that he could never quite overcome that poor people smelled – and hopefully in service of some larger claim) I can’t help but walk around incredibly fucked off at everyone around me. Whether self-satisfied later-day liberals or kids who don’t seem to know what they’re actually protesting, whether anarcho-thugs bent on violence for its own sake or annoying academics taking a break from skimming the New Left Review – I am an equal opportunity hater, even if – as is generally the case – I am fully on-board with the cause in question.

6) When I was in grad school, I attended one of the anti-WTO protests in New York. After I proudly reported this fact to one of my smarter and more pragmatic friends, he asked me – quite simply – what it was exactly I was protesting. I could not coherently answer.

For whatever reason of bearing or position, people don’t often ask me questions like that, questions based on an assumption that I simply am too ignorant to answer. It was an awkward 30 second exchange whose import I’ve never quite shaken.

7) I was in my office meeting with students during the early stages of the protest this Wednesday. I’d check the BBC News video feed on my computer and as things heated up at the Millbank Centre I decided that I really wanted to go down there. I mean like viscerally.

8 You really learn what it means to live in a country without a revolutionary tradition when you watch the news media – and even various student representatives – go into an absolute fucking flutter over the destruction of a rather incidental amount of property. America gets panicked about a lot of things, but christ, I can’t imagine the response to some equivalent act of group vandalism taking quite this tone and intensity. Sure, the building housing the Conservative Party HQ isn’t some random Starbucks or Gap outlet, but still….

9) The left response to the seizure of the building has been incredibly incoherent, incoherent in the guise of semi-reasonableness but really wearing the hairshirt of fear and irresolution. For instance:

Why couldn’t Solomon explain her actions? One assumes that she and the other who participated in this event actually did have reasons for doing what they did. One further assumes that she here on Newsnight she wanted to avoid falling into a trap that she presumed Paxman (and the British media in general) was laying for her, but ended up blundering into a far worse situation in the end. In refusing to answer directly, what ends up filling the gap where the reason should be is not the presumption of violent intent. It’s the presumption of stupidity, collective stupidity.

Even worse, some sort of on-message conspiratorial stupidity – which becomes the global effect when one considers many of the articles and documents written in support of the occupation. Again and again, the occupation is explained as an effect of amorphous “student frustration” – which only again begs the question of what, exactly, this act would do to assuage or ameliorate this frustration. It doesn’t get much better in things like the now infamous “Goldsmiths Lecturers Letter” (full text here):

We also wish to condemn and distance ourselves from the divisive and, in our view, counterproductive statements issued by the UCU and NUS leadership concerning the occupation of the Conservative Party HQ. The real violence in this situation relates not to a smashed window but to the destructive impact of the cuts and privatisation that will follow if tuition fees are increased and if massive reductions in HE funding are implemented.

Well OK. That’s pretty carefully worded, but ultimately says not much more than “look over there not here!,” which doesn’t really amount to a serious appraisal of the actual event that the letter is ostensibly focused on but which it ultimately skirts. As such, it opens itself even more flagrantly to the exact sort of co-optation that it ultimately and quickly suffered from. Co-optation without side-effect, as there was nothing in the statement to poison with reason those who would use it irrationally.

Again, assuredly there were reasons, even if uncomfortable ones, for entering the building. It’s my hunch that they would in fact play better than this sort of thing that we’re seeing from the left on television, in the papers, and in a series of petitions and collective letters. If occupations and the like are going to be conducted, if windows are, yes, going to break (as Solomon vaguely promises during the programme), mightn’t it be a good thing to be able to describe why in fact they are happening? The collapse of the London Eye is nothing compared to the wholesale destruction of Higher Education in the UK. The collapse of the London Eye is a deeply-felt expression of student frustration. I don’t want to talk about the collapse of the London Eye, even though I planted the charges. I want to talk about student fees. I’m afraid it didn’t play well this time, and will play even worse next time.

10) At the end of the Sopranos episode that I mentioned above, Tony actually bows to the reasonable arguments advanced and decides to call off the hit. He ends up rolling on the floor of his house, in a drink-n-valium fueled stupor, only able to say to his wife “I didn’t hurt nobody.” He’s restrained his impulses for once, thought something through for once, let the “system work” for once, and ends up an incoherently frustrated mess, basically a very large child in a semi-coherent state.

While most of us are able to step back comfortably from an endorsement of mafia-style vigilante violence of the sort dealt with there, I still think that the episode serves as a very vivid and ambiguously wired political or ethical allegory. That is to say, the crossing of ethical demand and psychological need, the complex relationship between instantaneity and process, and in particular the very complex question of impersonal involvement, even violent involvement, in the pursuit of justice of one stripe or another, are persistent ones, insoluble but worth seeing (I hope, I hope) presented vividly.

11) Why did I want so badly to go down to Millbank? Was it simply because there was the possibility of violence? Why didn’t I go down to Millbank? Well that, my friends, is a longer story than I can possibly tell here.

It’s bad form in even a vulgarly dialectical essay like this one, but I hope that you can see the aporia that’s looming over this piece.

12) Of course some of the impulse to violence in the service of justice is hardwired, written into our basic codes and structures. Interesting to think so, though. Seems an animalian holdover, something quite primitive, but on the other hand: do animals commit vigilante violence?

I suppose the question of vigilantism comes down to an issues of numbers, sets. Family – herd – neighborhood – any random victim on the street.

13) Of course it’s hardwired, but it’s also an impulse I clearly learned from my father. Such vivid memories from my childhood – the time at the baseball game when teenagers were carrying on behind us, using foul language and generally being loud, and my father…. turned around on them. A scene that I’ve been repeating my entire life, along with many others of the same, my entire life: in thought and dream and often enough action. When one is a child, a boy child enamored with his father, these scenes seemed like living allegories of bravery and abstract justice, arbitrary interventions on behalf of justice for its own sake.

Now, while some of the sheen of those moments has been retained, I increasingly want to ask – him, the him in myself – the very question that Melfi asks Tony:  Why was this sort of thing his job? Why is it our job?

14) Under-interrogated psycho-social issue: What is the effect of having a father who went to war when you yourself did not? A grandfather who did while your father did not? I suppose I could ask some of my friends whose fathers served in Vietnam…. Mine was Canadian so (fortunately) missed the show. I suppose I could ask some of these friends, but would risk wandering them into the high traumas of parental alcoholism and violence that I know understand were going on behind the scenes, at night when I generally wasn’t there.

15) The numbered, thetical form that these personal-cum-political blogessays that I write often take allows for a certain halting stream of consciousness, not unlike that which is supposed to obtain during psychoanalysis, to take place. Just write what comes next, from whichever frame of reference it comes.

Of course, this tactic (tactic?) inevitably results in a document useful only as a clearing house for further thought – it is not thought itself. It is a smooth, empty concrete floor where one spills out all of the contents in the hopes that once out one might put them back together again with coherent form.

16) The hidden non-sequitur incoherence of Benjamin’s “Work of Art” essay… The madness of the ending – as an ending to that piece – despite the brilliance of the observations arriving at cinematic pace throughout…

“Fiat ars – pereat mundus”, says Fascism, and, as Marinetti admits, expects war to supply the artistic gratification of a sense perception that has been changed by technology. This is evidently the consummation of “l’art pour l’art.” Mankind, which in Homer’s time was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, now is one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached such a degree that it can experience its own destruction as an aesthetic pleasure of the first order. This is the situation of politics which Fascism is rendering aesthetic. Communism responds by politicizing art.

17) Theory and what it excuses: if I were to put myself back in the frame of mind that I once briefly held – during the coursework time, I suppose, of my PhD – I could allow myself to wrap this up in a theoretical aporia, a full-empty question or request for further thought that allows me to step away without solving anything out. We must interrogate the complex entanglements of personal desire and public good, personal perversity and rational action, that informs each and every act of political violence, in this context potentially liberatory political violence. I could glibly ignore the performative contradictions inherent in my piece, expecting that mystified readers would leave off the contradiction inherent in everything that they exuberantly label performativity.

Identifying knots of over-determination but doing so in a tone that seems to indicate that you are announcing a political program is something like treading water while selling slickly-packaged books to the passing tourist boats.

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November 13, 2010 at 2:36 pm

slumming and the london literary line

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From Jeffrey Meyers’s Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation:

The Paris-born poet and translator Eduoard Roditi, who met Blair through the Adelphi in 1931, described how his gnawing social conscience prevented them from enjoying a decent meal or a walk through town. When Blair adopted his Jeremiah persona, he became a comically lugubrious companion. As they dined together, Roditi recalled, Blair described, “as if to discourage me from eating, the filthy conditions that he had observed in the kitchens and pantries of so many of the restaurants where he had worked.” After lunch they assiduously avoided the parks and wandered for several hours “in some of the most depressing areas of London.”

Obviously, Orwell didn’t invent this posture (pose?) but he does seem to me to be the trunk-line of its transmission from the slummy wanderings of Dickens and the like in the mid-19th century toward a whole genealogy of descendants, from Ballard through Sinclair and on to Petit, Keillor, Self, and the like. Flaneurerie cut with particularly English class pathology, psychogeography determined in its wandering but the subtle sense that the proles are having more and more gamey fun in the alleys behind their low pubs.

In my continuing efforts to understand London, this is one of those small differences from New York in literary-cultural stance that seems to me softly definitive. While of course I’m sure we can all come up with exceptions, it does seem to me to be the case that this pathologically-tinged practice of literary types has no real analogue in New York. New York writers gentrify, yes, in their real estate decisions and affectual preferences. But despite the fact that I was hanging out in New York with types, who if they were over here, would be likely candidates to drag you out for a walk amidst riverfront wastelands and crumbling council estates, it simply never happened in New York.

There are some practical negative reasons for this, first and foremost perhaps the fact that hipsters hanging out in the open spaces of the Red Hook projects with their digital cameras could well risk coming to an unseemly end. (An unfilmed episode of The Wire – a show which allows us to do our slumming in the safety of our living rooms, and which of course was more intensely loved in the UK than the US….) But it’s probably more than just that. Risking a sloppy generalization here, the difference between the two places does seem to reflect the fundamental psycho-ideological divide between the cultural classes of the two places. On the one hand: the persistent invisibility of class, even for those Americans whose vocation it is to render the invisible visible. On the other hand: the absolutely determinative suffusion of class, which goes well beyond a healthy acknowledgement of its efficacy as a social fiction, and on toward something like an unshakeable belief in its terminal and ineluctable reality…. An unshakeable belief and the distortions and misdirections and parapraxes engendered by such a belief….

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October 26, 2010 at 9:35 am

Posted in london, orwell

the transactions

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Confronted last night by a guy on the street, the usual proffered hand with a few coppers, the usual “I need some more to get a taxi.” But then, extraordinarily, he lifts his other sleeve to produce an arm absolutely soaked in blood, nearly gushing. “I need a taxi to get to a hospital.”

NYC trained, he generally walks right past with a shake of the head, but transfixed by a combination of amazement, disgust, and fear, he produces a tenner for the guy from his pocket. “Holy fucking shit, jesus man. Here.”

Both quickly walk away, the transaction completed. Once a safe distance has elapsed, he turns to see – nearly per expectation, definitely per the usual – the guy working someone else over, the same act exactly.

Lucrative desperation. Pragmatism. Cost/benefit analysis.

This morning, he considers the scene. The alleyway, the razor blade, the pain and the tension of potentially cutting it a bit too deep this time. Arterial.

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August 17, 2010 at 10:07 am

Posted in london

summer swap?

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Decided to take a chance on this: we’re trying to work out a summer holiday, basically from late July till the end of August or some portion thereof. And what we’d like to do is work out a swap with someone – or at least rent our place out and then rent a comparable place somewhere else. We’re not having a lot of luck finding something we want, so I thought I’d try on here, just to see if one of my readers isn’t in the same sort of situation or would like to be.

So… If you live in an interesting place anywhere in the world, preferably an urban one, and you have the sort of place that would suit 2 adults + 2 young kids, and you’d like either to rent it out for the period listed above or part of that period or you’re interested in swapping it for a place in North London for the same period, please do get in touch. Oh, and we’ve got two low maintenance, non-aggressive cats that would stay here – just need to be fed and not let outdoors.

Our place has 4 bedrooms (one of them crib sized, not bed sized), a garden, is about 30 minutes from central London (1 bus to Finsbury Park Underground), all the usual amenities, and we live in a nice neighborhood for kids with lots of parks and the like, reasonably close to Hampstead Heath, etc etc etc.

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June 19, 2010 at 9:45 pm

Posted in london

‘a naughty house’

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It’s not available on-line unless you have a subscription, but Charles Nicholl’s piece in the LRB on Christopher Mountjoy (and by implication Shakespeare) and his ‘naughty house’ is quite something to read. Almost makes me believe in ‘research’ again (again?) and suchlike!

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June 19, 2010 at 5:32 am

Posted in london