Monday, 25 May 2009

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

September 1, 1939

September 1, 1939
I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.
Accurate scholarship can
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.
Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism's face
And the international wrong.
Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.
The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.
From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
"I will be true to the wife,
I'll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?
All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.
Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.
Auden wrote this poem in the first days of WWII, hence the title. For me, this poem is a clear descendant of Eliot's Waste Land - the tonal links are strong, even if Auden is the more penetrable poet. The first two-thirds of the poem focus on the everyday frustration, felt by individuals and the collective alike, at the horrors and hypocrisies of interfering war. But unlike the total desolation of Eliot, Auden offers his reader a hope for the future - a truth for us all: 'we must love one another or die.'

I heard this read last night at the Josephine Hart poetry night, which I've mentioned before in a post. I didn't think the Auden evening was as good as the Larkin evening, but that's in part because I don't respond much to Auden as an aural poet. Auden's need to convey truths means that he sometimes sacrifices aurality for sentiment. September 1, 1939 was one of the few poems which really made an impression, in tone, truths, and sound. Listening to the early lines I thought how contemporary the resonances of this poem were even today, with the general pessimism of society about the state of politics and economics: 'Waves of anger and fear / Circulate over the bright / And darkened lands of the earth, / Obsessing our private lives.' Auden could be poetically paraphrasing our moral judgement of City Boys with: 'Mismanagement and grief: / We must suffer them all again. / Into this neutral air / Where blind skyscrapers use / Their full height to proclaim / The strength of Collective Man'

But then you come to lines, like: 'The unmentionable odour of death / Offends the September night' or 'Faces along the bar / Cling to their average day: / The lights must never go out, / The music must always play.' This was where I stopped thinking that you could make these kind of modern comparisons. How could I possibly compare what must have been the electrically uncertain and fearful atmosphere of 1939 to the comparative innocence of what we're faced with now. Yes, people are losing their jobs and the economy isn't doing as well as it was five years ago, but we aren't sending an entire generation of men to war. Personally I'd rather have to comfort my friends who have lost their jobs than comfort my friends sending their boyfriends and husbands off to war. I know it sounds trite to break it down in such a way, but I wonder why we can't take all of the nostalgia for simpler, purer times and channel this desire into something productive and positive.

And while the following lines could easily be applicable to today's London-bound commuters, trudging to work contemplating tedious self-improvements, the context of WWII raises these meaningless resolutions into a kind of mass cultural affirmation that life must go on : 'The dense commuters come, / Repeating their morning vow; / "I will be true to the wife,/ I'll concentrate more on my work,"'

But even more impressive in light of the fear and darkness that must have been pervasive toward the end of '39, is the sense of hope, uplift and affirmation - but without the patronising tone of Britain's 'keep calm and carry on' - present in the last, beautiful, stanza:

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Monday, 18 May 2009

and now a word from our sponsors

With year two PhD deadline rapidly approaching (two weeks!), postings here are bound to be quite sporadic over the next few weeks. There's just too much to do to overstretch writing energies.

Though having just returned from the fascinating 1st of the series of this year's
Reith Lectures, I can't help but want to make a brief mention. This year's lectures are given by Harvard professor, Michael Sandel, and are entitled 'A New Citizenship'. The audience is primarily invite only (and included David Miliband and Ken Livingstone, among others) so tickets are rather hard to come by. And while I initially inwardly groaned when our host, Sue Lawley, mentioned that there would be plenty of time for questions, the distinguished audience meant that what actually took place was one of the most intelligent and stimulating debates on morality in democratic, capitalist society I've ever witnessed in a public forum. There are four lectures in the series and all are being broadcast on Radio 4 so definitely take the time to listen to a timely and fascinating discussion on what it means to be a citizen in today's society.

I wish I had more time to write about Sandel's lecture and my thoughts on what he had to say, but I fear it shall have to wait for another time. At present, I have a more important man in my life and he's very demanding...

Friday, 15 May 2009

thought of the day

Chewing gum is strange.

I noticed people this morning on the tube chewing gum and they just looked so odd. As if they were being forced to endure some sort of Tantalus-inspired torture: a mouthful of food endlessly chewed into mushy oblivion.

I wikied chewing gum, which told me that it's traditionally made of natural latex. Most gum isn't made of chicle anymore, except for in Mexico and Japan, so you only have to chew natural condom gum in those countries. Most of the rest of the world chews flavoured, artificially sweetened synthetic rubber. Delicious! Apparently it's the same sort of rubber used for inner tubes or the lining of tubeless tires. Yummy!

Maybe you'll think of that next time you pop a stick of gum in your mouth. Creepy.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

now panic and freak out

Cleaning off my desk just now I found an FT article I ripped out of the paper from a few weeks ago. I cut it out and set it aside because it annoyed me so much. In big red letters underneath the article I scrawled, "The last thing we need is backwards looking/thinking - GO FORWARD!" Yup. That pretty much sums up my thoughts on the current situation. And by "situation" I mean the social side of the recession, not the economic realities. If you've lost your job recently, I get that looking forward is much easier said than done, but seriously - what is up with the whole nostalgia kick? I've seen those KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON posters everywhere lately.

That's what the FT article is about. The headline: "Britons discover taste for nostalgia as credit crunch bites" and goes on to say that British people are buying loads of disgusting shite that supermarkets stopped selling in the 50s because it was disgusting and because in the last 10 years, the quality of food and cooking in this country has increased exponentially, and therefore people do not need to by disgusting old crap.

Again, speaking personally, I think Cadbury's chocolate is vile, but some 40,000 nostalgic online petitioners revived the Wispa chocolate bar. According to the FT article, sales are also up on:

- Bistro gravy (creepy looking crumbs that you mix with water to make gravy - no meat harmed in the making)
- Birds eye custard (creepy looking powder that you mix with water to make custard - do you sense a pattern emerging)
- Birds eye frozen fish fingers (creepy looking powdered crumbs that you gently warm in the oven before feeding to your already obese and lazy, Wii playing brats)
- Birds eye arctic roll desserts (I have no idea what these are and I'm not looking them up either, though by now I'm a bit suspicious that Samantha Perason, who wrote the article for the FT, is a covert marketing spokesman for Birds Eye)
- Marks and Sparks' jam sandwich (how lazy do you have to be to BUY a jam sandwich? the M&S line on jam sammies is that "for those who haven't eaten one for years, one bite takes you straight back to your childhood.")

But dear old Sam saved the best for last with Bob Cotton's (CEO of the British Hospitality Association) stunningly insightful comment that "when people feel uncertain or insecure they revert to secure childhood memories." So hey everyone, don't worry, according to this very same news media who brought us Financial Catastrophe version 2.0, eat a jam sandwich or some fish fingers, and everything will be peachy keen.

Now before you get me wrong and jump down my throat for being a cynical nag, let me just say that I am completely for being positive and optimistic in the face of all this economic doom and gloom. In fact,
especially in the midst of all this doom and gloom, so kindly sponsored and supported by our national media. But to sit there and say that the best way to be positive and optimistic and keep calm and carry on is to eat crap you ate when you were a kid or to play with toys you played with when you were a kid (also suggested by good old Sam) is completely and utterly ridiculous. Just reading that last sentence makes absolutely clear how ridiculous it is. Wouldn't it be so much nicer, for one example, to save up for a really nice meal (i.e. food that grown-ups can enjoy) and splurge on that instead of blowing the weekly shop on nasty "comfort" foods. I don't see how that anaemic-looking jam sandwich can really be called comforting.

I just don't understand this whole looking back thing, with media and brands trying to persuade us that we're living in the immediate aftermath of WWII and that we should all "garden for victory" and "spend our way out of recession." Certainly I don't have all the answers and am happy to admit as such, but if anything, even I can see that the best place to look is forward to the future and not behind us, succumbing to the quicksand of nostalgia.

And finally may I offer you one possible alternative to the barrage of keep calm and carry on merchandise plastering shops and walls, the most hilariously witty T-shirt I own: NOW PANIC AND FREAK OUT. Everybody dance!

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Tokion Magazine

I recently picked up a magazine called Tokion. It's based in NYC and covers art, fashion, music, and film - a sexed up Time Out. It was started by two expats living in Japan a litle over ten years ago. Initially the mag was based in Japan, then in Japan and the USA and the Japanese version was sold off in 2005 with the US edition sold off the following year. Since January of this year Nylon Holdings bought out Tokion - I can't say for sure if the Nylon feel of Tokion is a recent thing since I'd never seen it before the March 09 issue, but the mag has a bit of a dirty street Nylon stylisation about it.

Aspects of Tokion's design are very contrived - the section headings are very annoying on the eye and drove me crazy after a while. While the content of the artist interviews were interesting and well-written, again the design looked like something approaching a high-school paper and not a major design magazine. Having said that, the first fashion spread took me totally by surprise. I think it takes a lot of balls to go with such a simplistic editorial - it looks gorgeous on the page - so clean. Though again, that heading text drives me crazy.

Even better is that you can access the magazine for free on their website - in that cool reader thing where it lays out the magazine as if you're reading it on a table. Very groovy, and I expect most magazines will head in this direction eventually...

i hope your empowerment kills you

I love the internet. Especially blogs. Sure, there are an awful lot of crap blogs out there - sometimes I like to go through the blog navigation on blogger's homepage looking for just one that I find interesting - but every once in a while you find a gem. I always find good blogs on the blogroll of blogs I already like - its how I recently discovered David Barrie's blog, which I like an awful lot. His recent post on empowerment is especially amusing. I like how it's a bit all over the place, a bit stream of consciousness, a bit random, and yet it still manages to pack a big ideological punch.

You can check it out here or read below:

This is a picture of acting teacher Robert Galinsky.

Galinsky runs what's called The World's First Reality TV School.

In his classes in New York, Galinsky trains people to win auditions and get on to reality TV shows.

In a recent edition of the London Financial Times, Galinsky gives some amazingly useful tips on how to get on in life, not just telly:

if you are constantly interacting with other people, making conversation and doing something interesting, then the camera will keep coming back to you

He says wisely of his students:

What I'm doing is preparing them for the butcher's shop they are about to walk into.

And he's got a very specific clientele:

We get people having a mid-life crisis, people in abusive relationships or newly divorced, people just out of prison looking to make a new start, aspiring models, actors, housewives, even people who are caring for sick parents, looking for a release.

What does Galinsky do?

Here's the clincher: I'm empowering people.

This is an advertisement for the drinks company Innocent.

Two weeks ago, the (supposedly) anti-corporate company announced that Coca-Cola are buying a £30m ($43m) stake.

The investment will help Innocent find distribution networks overseas and overcome a dive in financial earnings.

Last week, a report in the London Sunday Times quoted a senior executive from Coca-Cola responding to worries of an imbalance of power between the two companies:

Quincey said that be believes in "empowerment" and that he is betting on Innocent's founders to drive the future.

Here's an image of Robert Venturi from a book that reproduces a seminal trip the architect made to Las Vegas with Denise Scott Brown in 1968.

Yes, it's a sexy image of super-60s American styling.

Yes, it ticks every box of the romantic creative searching for truth.

But I've another question: is this an emblematic image of the last "empowered" person alive?

For in an age when everyone and everything seems to "empower" everyone and everything else, I assume that at the end of a rainbow - or at the end of a track in the Nevada Desert - there's an all-powerful super-God, an ultimate winner empowered to wonder at and take on the world.

There's a dull as ditch water BBC Radio 4 or NPR show to be had on this subject.

But maybe there's a simpler solution.

Can I exploit all of your latent power to make a decision?

Your innate ability to move on?

And can I empower you, me and the planet through this blog to do one thing....

...and drop the word "empowerment"?

Because if the word applies to people finding ways and means to maximizing their celebrity or is a way to rationalize a commercial partnership or business strategy, it may just have lost its meaning, something more righteous and real than a number 27 bus.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

the science of concentration

Just read this interesting Tierney article on the science of concentration over at the New York Times. Super short summary is that multi-tasking is a lie, our brains cannot fully process two things at once; attention is not really about attention, it is about selection.

It's why I'm now going to turn off my internet, put in some ear plugs (sexy!) - so that I can get some work done in this noisy Edinburgh coffee shop.

the language of architecture

What month is it? May. Right. So I've been working at the AJ since September, and for both the AR and the AJ since January.

I like architecture, I like urban design and urban planning, I'm a little bit interested in psychogeography, I think about how people function in space and buildings and how both of these interact with design. But I've got no formal training, and apart from the little I learned working in a big engineering firm, I don't really know about how buildings are actually designed and constructed. I sort of hoped that working at the AJ would be like living in foreign country and that I could 'learn architecture' like one learns French living in Paris: by osmosis. Alas, this seems not to be the case. I've learned about publishing and journalism, but not enough about architecture. Maybe there's not as much to learn as I thought, but I'm still judging buildings on aesthetic principles honed on years of thinking about and looking at fine art.

The thing I can't understand is how the aesthetic principles seem to be so different between buildings and art. Okay, obviously they serve different functions, but why shouldn't a building be judged on aesthetics as well as on usability, situation, and interaction? I don't know if I'm missing something or if it is my own subjective aesthetic agenda, but you could place a pretty safe bet on our editor not liking buildings I like and vice versa. Having said this, he's not an architect either per say, but he's been working in architectural criticism and journalism for an awful lot longer than I have.

Foligno church by MDFA

Maybe it has to do with my lack of technical knowledge. I suppose it's like what I was saying about the technical appreciation of film and painting. When a "random" looks at a Jasper Johns, he thinks its a bit of fun that might look nice on the sitting room wall. But when I look at Jasper Johns, I'm thinking about how amazing it is that this artist pioneered and perfected the encaustic technique when most of his contemporaries were messing about with oils. I'm thinking about his theory of painting, and the importance for him of form and technique at the expense of narrative pictoralism. And the same thing with film. Like I was saying about Russian Ark. If anyone watched that film without knowing the technical process underlying everything, they'd probably think it's a rather strange and slightly boring look at Russian history. But when you know that it's a single take, shot over 90 minutes, you gain a new level of appreciation for the piece of work. So maybe that's my problem with architecture: I know what I like and what I don't like, but I don't know why everyone else hates Richard Meier's Ara Pacis Museum in Rome and I adore it. Or why everyone goes all fawning over something like the new church in Foligno by Massimilian and Dorina Fuksas Architects, but I think it's just a bit boring. Okay, so maybe I don't understand the complexities involved in working with concrete and that this is possibly some kind of post-post-modern renunciation of the parametrically obsessed (Cf Zaha Hadid), but I still don't get it.

Richard Meier's Ara Pacis Museum in Rome: exterior and interior
So when I realised last week that I had basically been living in AJ land for eight months and still hadn't really learned any architecture-speak, I had a mini freak out. It's exactly the same as someone who moves to Berlin, lives there for eight months and doesn't' learn to speak any German - behaviour I find completely abominable. So I think I need to pop my bubble and figure out what this world is all about. I need to learn the language.

Saturday, 2 May 2009

if Tom Ford and Raf Simons had a lovechild..

it would be Tô Lang-Nam. I saw these images from the AW 09 ad campaign on Susie's blog, and fell in want instantly. To say that I'm a massive fan of menswear inspired womenswear is a serious understatement. These pieces have the sharpness and sexiness of a Ford suit and the clean lines and elegance of a Jil Sander collection (designed by Raf Simons), two of my favourite designers. But they also have a bit of cheekiness in their inspired by Grey's Anatomy - the curved seams and black-on-black shaped muscular inlay are whimsical, defining, sexy, and different. Definitely a designer to look out for.

Friday, 1 May 2009


A silly little poem for a lovely Friday afternoon...


Predetermined plasticity hard-wired
into the genetic code of my merry-
making, mistake-ridden, calcium-covered bones.

Complex carbohydrates erupt into the
bubbles of my free-diving glass,
too much molecularity winding
its way into my blue-blooded veins.

His benzene ring orbs of prussian blue
do not belong to the complex
complexity of my organic chemistry.

Viral, virulent, virility massaging my
chromosomal ego. And we all go:
cineres sont cineres sans cineres again.