December 30, 2011 § Leave a comment

Forgot about this: the first issue of Constellations, a journal of undergraduate research in literature & cultural studies run by my old department at Warwick, went up a couple of weeks ago. I’ve got an essay in there, written during my last year, on hauntology, Hamlet & the birth-pangs of capitalism.


December 26, 2011 § Leave a comment

Notebook (capitalism arose & took off its pyjamas)

December 26, 2011 § 4 Comments

“The first thing I did was make a mistake. I thought I had understood capitalism, but what I had done was assume an attitude – melancholy sadness – toward it. This attitude is not correct. Fortunately your letter came, at that instant. ‘Dear Rupert, I love you every day. You are the world, which is life. I love you I adore you I am crazy about you. Love, Marta.’ Reading between the lines, I understood your critique of my attitude towards capitalism. Always mindful that the critic must ‘studiare da un punto di vista formalistico e semiologico il rapporto fra lingua di un testo e codificazione di un -‘ But here a big thumb smudges the text – the thumb of capitalism, which we are all under. Darkness falls. My neighbour continues to commit suicide, once a fortnight. I have his suicides geared into my schedule because my role is to save him; once I was late and he spent two days unconscious on the floor. But now that I have understood that I have not understood capitalism, perhaps a less equivocal position towards it can be ‘hammered out’. My daughter demands more Mr. Bubble for her bath. The shrimp boats lower their nets. A book called Humorists of the 18th Century is published.


[…] Smoke, rain abulia. What can the concerned citizen do to fight the rise of capitalism, in his own community? Study of the tides of conflict and power in a system in which there is structural inequality is an important task. A knowledge of European intellectual history since 1789 provides a useful background. Information theory offers interesting new possibilities. Passion is helpful, especially those types of passion which are nonlicit. Doubt is a necessary precondition to meaningful action. Fear is the great mover, in the end.”

December 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

“Habit is the cancer of time.” That was Beckett’s verdict on Proust’s verdict, writing in 1930. It could be taken as the slogan of a particularly pessimistic strain of modernism, a more intense inflection of the Eliot/Heidegger/Karl Jaspers fulmination against ‘industrial civilisation’ – or, alternatively, of the calls to action of Futurism & associated ‘isms’. It was easy enough to elide them when I was 16, & one wonders now whether that confusion of apparent polar opposites didn’t hit on a subterranean companionship between them: modernism as an hostility not just to traditional forms of life, but to forms of temporality that seek to entrench the present (whether in a politically conscious way – seeking to preserve the forms of bourgeois life & the inequality on which they’re predicated – or not). As with many of these things, it begins – or can at least be seen beginning – with Baudelaire: modernism proposes a form of temporality in which the present is always slipping away, being encroached on by the future, in which, at the level of everyday life, “all that is solid melts into air”; for Baudelaire’s key figures in The Painter of Modern Life – the dandy always being outrun by fashion, the flâneur at home only in the cafes & the flowing mass of the crowds – there is not sufficient stability in the present to establish an ‘everyday’ life. A number of the students I knew at Warwick, who styled themselves vaguely after the Beats (or the Beats’ 50-years-watered-down legacy) subscribed easily to that doctrine: there was to be, at the very least, not a dull moment. (Although a contradictory quote from Clive Bell equally obtains to them: “only rich intellectuals like roots; what poor people want is technology”.) It seems no coincidence that the rediscovery of everyday life occurred in tandem with the ‘postmodern turn’ of the late 1970s (cf. de Certeau’s Critique of Everyday Life, Bourdieu’s Distinction, both 1979), nor that the modernist writers whose cache has gone up in the last 20 years or so – Joyce & Woolf – are the ones whose work is most sympathetic to habit & everydayness.

Meanwhile my parents go to bed early, as they have for the past 20 years or so. (My mum used to work nights at her shelf-stacking job when I was very young.) So do I, most nights, at least by the standards of the last 3 years. Madness, covering much of my adolescence, makes it difficult. Even in the aftermath, regular exercise, vitamin D, . So, conservation. That was some of the strange comfort of Robinson in Ruins: time’s unfolding reduced to its simplest operation, registering in details almost too small to catch in the wide-angle shot (the ripple of grasses). (Or, elsewhere, the raw coast, the brutal eden of Terence Malick’s The New World.)

Things, he knows, are only going to get more hectic. Precarity, non-stop inertia; time winding down. Hidden in exhaustion, in the still pocket of dreams, utopia.

Notebook (south London diary)

December 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

None of this used to be here: the peninsula was all marshland, sumps & industrial wreckage; “the 19th-century colourists, busy with windmills, with miniature orchards on the Isle of Dogs, golden sandbanks at the mouth of the River Lea and deepwater docks of a celestial blue, baulked at Bugsby’s Marshes… They knew that any proper human settlement needed its back country, its unmapped deadlands. The peninsula was where the nightstuff was handled: foul-smelling industries, the manufacture of ordnance, brewing, confectionery, black smoke palls and sickly-sweet perfumes. The cloacal mud of low tide mingled deliriously with sulphurous residues trapped in savage greenery: the bindweed, thorns and dark berries of the riverside path.” The gasometer, whose rusted crown the architecture of the Dome recalls, reminds him of the poisoned brownfield land between Bournemouth and Poole, an interzone only he ever crossed on foot, its purpose simply to provide space for roads – now the Blackwall Tunnel Approach – to wind through. Ballard’s terminal beach: the Millennium Village, cobbled-together buildings alone in the wind-lashed brownfields like post-catastrophic debris; the material end of Blairism already held in their forms. Walking to North Greenwich tube it seems he might be at the end of the world.


The imperial centre: the bus three times a week over Waterloo bridge up through Holborn, past building after building quarried out of the peninsula he knew so well (passing Somerset House & Bush House he rarely looks up, their monumentality a function only of a glance). He lives now among the inflow from the periphery: the Sierra Leonean groceries & Nigerian churches in Deptford & Lewisham;  the icon of Toussaint L’Ouverture in the Maritime Museum. Taking the bus south to Forest Hill & the Horniman Museum: these objects “torn from their lifeworlds” by capital become in turn estrangements of a world of fragments, run-down or blooming elements (some already being recuperating up in the northeast). An image from Handsworth Songs, screened just after the riots: an arrival with the Windrush, standing guard over the machinery of British industry; “England is so rich with the culture of the past that nothing the living can do destroy the vast wealth of accumulated tradition over the years. Anybody can come in & take no notice of the living.” A voice from the street: “these are for those to whom history has not been friendly… those who know the sorrows of defiance, those who live among the abandoned aspirations that are the metropolis… ” (He is oddly delighted to learn Eleanor Marx lived just over in Sydenham.)

“In time, let them bear witness to the process by which the living transform the dead into partners in struggle.”


He reads Levi-Strauss. “It is a time, above all, of self-interrogation. Why did he  come to such a place? With what hopes? And to what end? … Is it the exercise of a profession like any other, differentiated only by the fact that home and office-laboratory are several thousand miles apart? Or does it follow upon some more radical decision – one that calls in question the system within which one was born and has come to manhood?” (A haunting fragment to follow: “Or did my decision bespeak a profound incapacity to live on good terms with my own social group? Was I destined, in fact, to live in ever greater isolation from my fellows?”)


He still calls it the NFT, although it was never the NFT during all the time he’s been visiting London.


His editor recommends to him Thom Andersen’s Los Angeles Plays Itself. It interests him: the city as the material of movies’ dreamwork working with & against the lived geography of social antagonism, locality, disappearing manufacture (the drive, in Bless Their Little Hearts, past the ruined Goodyear factory on South Central Avenue “that had once provided jobs for the black working class of Los Angeles”), how the different districts (Westwood, South Central, Echo Park, Silverlake) gets subsumed into the single image of Hollywood. Britain’s excuse for a film industry doesn’t bother London in the same way (save for the one time he spotted the preserved ruins of Brick Lane in Children of Men). He wonders what part the city played in his imaginative life. He talked to R. about it once in a pub in Spitalfields: the potentialities of the city, its pressed streets & factories the ground of gestation for the labour movement, centre of communist & anarchist organisation; the place “where everything happens”, locus of sex where even (he imagined) the bodies are different (he finds later he wasn’t absolutely wrong), where the space & spark existed in lives for these things to occur. (It’s there already in Shakespeare & Thomas Middleton: the liberties of the metropolis, the edgelands south of the river where the unwanted grew: vice, inns, bear-baiting, cut-throat entrepeneurialism.)

That’s all gone now, save for an image in the midst of a city betrayed by “a suburban government” (they aren’t the Chipping Norton set for nothing). The slow ebb of bonfire night in Kennington park, rivulets of sparks.


A letter to L., about Pissarro’s Fox Hill, Upper Norwood, Benjamin’s “messianic cessation of happening”, the drift of woodsmoke in the midst of snow. He’s yet to see south London like this, as it has been in his dreams, but he already knows something of its sad, warm, snow-blind anonymity, in an early-morning view over the Woolwich Road, south up the hill towards Blackheath.

“The next morning I woke at 5.30.”


December 25, 2011 § Leave a comment

A list of things that made my year, after my print highlights were handed to The Wire (where they’re visible in the current issue).

  • Colour Out of Space festival (esp. Brittle Hammer Trio, Dylan Nyoukis/Raionbashi duo, Vinyl Terror & Horror, Vom Grill)
  • The Graham Sutherland exhibition at Modern Art Oxford
  • Keith and Julie Tippett at The Vortex, Dalston
  • Kanye West – ‘Through The Wire’, ‘Slow Jamz’, ‘We Don’t Care’, ‘The New Workout Plan’ from The College Dropout (Roc-A-Fella), from Watney Market charity shop
  • Various artists – Motown Chartbusters Vol. 3 (Motown)
  • Laurie Anderson – Mister Heartbreak (Island)
  • The Go-Betweens – ‘Bye Bye Pride’ from Tallulah (Beggars Banquet)
  • Drake -‘Club Paradise’ (“big bitches, they talk me out of 4 grand”), ‘Marvin’s Room’, ‘Free Spirit’, ‘Trust Issues’ from Take Care (Def Jam/Universal)
  • Pete Swanson – Man With Potential (Type)
  • The Caretaker – An Empty Bliss Beyond This World (History Always Favours The Winners)
  • Julia Holter – Tragedy (Leaving Records)
  • Mark Fell – ‘Pattern Compulsions #9’ mix (Soundcloud)
  • Mark Fell – Periodic Orbits Of A Dynamic System Related To A Knot (Editions Mego)
  • Evan Calder Williams – Combined and Uneven Apocalypse (Zero Books, 2010)
  • The Mysteries of Lisbon (dir. Raul Ruiz, 2010)
  • Snowtown (dir. Justin Kurzel, 2011)
  • Pauline Kael – I Lost It At The Movies (Atlantic Press Monthly, 1965)
  • the opening of The Crooked Book cafe/vintage/bookshop in Boscombe (actually happened in October, but was out of town)
  • Letter From Siberia (dir. Chris Marker, 1958)
  • The Courtauld Gallery off the route of the #N30 march (Cezanne’s Card Players, Man With A Pipe, Pissarro’s Lordship Lane Station, Dulwich, through the window the banners & shouts)

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