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Archive for the ‘london’ Category

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

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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

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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

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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