Thursday, 31 July 2008

Post 100, 2008

It was going to be about the Booker longlist, but let's have something more celebratory:

Yorkshire free to fly own flag

When Jenny and I went travelling in Spain, which is now a shocking four years ago, we went to an all-night feria in Malaga. There were literally hundreds of different beer tents, most of which had their own theme as they were sponsored by different organisations. We wanted to hear some rock music, and the only place we could hear it playing from was the Malaga Young Communists beer tent. We went in there and got a drink and were invited to write the name of our local organisation on the wall as many other visitors to the tent had; there was lots of things like 'Hamburg Communists' and 'Palermo Communists'. Anyway, we used our space to make a claim for the 'Yorkshire Liberation Front'. I like to think that somewhere in Andalusia a socialist meeting-place has a set of 'Free Compo' stickers in solidarity with us.

And, just to celebrate our new-found autonomy once again:

Horizons of Assent

Finally pleased with myself...been sitting in the flat all afternoon with Ride's Nowhere on loop digging into the Party Going chapter to explain what I mean by 'disjunctive irony' and 'parabasis' and I think, I think, that I've managed it, meaning that all the stuff about Tzvetan Todorov that comes after it sounds less insane.

Weird to be writing about philosophy-based stuff - I tend to see myself as pretty crap at the theory business.

Tuesday, 29 July 2008

English Surrealism

Pictures I used in my paper on English surrealist painting and 30s allegory at Sheffield Hallam: ideas currently being recycled in desperate thesis finale.
Paul Nash, Dymchurch Wall

Paul Nash, Harbour and Room

Tristram Hillier, Surrealist Landscape- Man and Boat

Tristram Hillier, Surrealist Landscape

Monday, 28 July 2008

Of Batman

You'll notice I haven't reviewed The Dark Knight yet. This is because I don't yet know quite what to make of it. I have a feeling that many of the professional reviewers are misreading the allegory, whereas I think the film is probably about the insufficiency of allegory as a historically revealing mode in what I'll reluctantly call the post-9/11 world.

Topics the film immediately prompted me to think about...

- Mike Nelson installations: the flash facades of a globalisation riddled with, and founded upon, vast and undecorated secret rooms whose presence is unacknowledged. This is nothing new - see Slavoj Zizek's Pervert's Guide to Cinema - but I was surprised by how close some of the set design was to resembling Nelson's work. Deliberate?
- Commerical injunctions to levity: The Joker's 'Why so serious?' catchphrase seemed to me a hypertrophied recital of the anti-serious, hence anti-analytical, hence anti-critical, tendency in contemporary advertising.
- The almost parodic proliferation of themes of doubling and symbiosis in the narrative. No-one is without their uncanny counterpart. Bruce Wayne, of course, functions as the nexus of multiple personalities. I feel that Christopher Nolan intended this as a form of resistance against the exegetical reductio the idea of the double in, for example, Confessions of a Justified Sinner might offer. In their immediate interruptions and abruptions of an expected narrative spacing, Nolan's films to date have displayed an acute awareness of the ways in which 'uncanny' readings of texts can themselves become too seduced by the promise of ossified truth-content.

Obviously, then, the task of reviewing The Dark Knight will also be the task of not getting sent to Pseuds Corner...

Friday, 25 July 2008

Pseudo-literary metro-harpies: makes me feel a bit 'Plaid Cymru'

I'm feeling het-up today, as the feature below might explain. It's boiling hot, I've got lots of fiddly editing to do, and I would rather be anywhere but in a computer room with the atmosphere of a thermometer in Pompeii.

Anyway, what's sticking in my craw right now is this. Wife in the North. Yes, that's right. The address is for the blog but this entirely charmless project first came to my attention in Newcastle Waterstones a few weeks ago. I'd like to think that after I exited with a copy of Peter Gay's Modernism - The Lure of Heresy a mob of affronted Geordies descended on the place, removed all copies of this piece of vapid, Londoncentric shit and burned them under Charles Grey's austere gaze. Sorry Mum, sorry Dad, sorry friends: I'm swearing again, but...but how do I not? Right, as far as I can ascertain from Wife in the North's blog, her schtick is this:

1 - Being a 'Yummy Mummy'. Note to Haribo: could this be a new range aimed at Oedipal sweet-tooths?

2 - Being alone and afraid because the North is full of mass-murdering lorry drivers, mummies who aren't particularly yummy and compulsively smoke L&B, various clones of Michael from Alan Partidge and Peter Beardsley.

3 - Missing the bright cultural lights of London, a city whose entertainment claims to fame include avant-garde masterpieces such as Cats and The Mousetrap.

4 - Missing the sophisticated humour of the London middle classes, which - as I'm coming to understand it - generally involves making snotty jokes about writers who have never dined at Nigella Lawson's house.

5 - Missing the fabulous social opportunities afforded by good ol' London town, a city in which the only remotely useful transportation system shuts down at midnight and is replaced by a bus network apparently planned by Pingu and a fleet of hyperpriced mini cabs.

6 - Treating the locals as picturesque imbeciles to be exploited for their tasty artesan produce.

7 - Acting as if everyone in the north is a racist scumbag, despite her yearning to live in one of those effectively gated north London communities where the only people from ethnic minority backgrounds one ever meets are kept busy selling Oyster cards.

8 - Being unable to accept that rural places evolve at a different pace, and are therefore unlikely to be inundated with vintage clothes and jewellery emporiums any time soon.

9 - Being a complete and utter doyle, all of the time, and having no idea that you are doing so.

You have to question this woman's motives. If she feels so uncomfortable and cast adrift in beautiful, beautiful Northumberland why doesn't she move back to London? Is there any chance for a spiritual redemption, perhaps...maybe she could start drinking at the Free Trade Inn in Newcastle and read the collected poems of Basil Bunting and The Far Corner and go and watch the mellifluously-named Blyth Spartans play football and go to see bands at the Cluny and photo exhibitions at Side and of course the bloody Baltic and concerts at the Sage and comedy at the Live Theatre and walk in Kielder Forest and the Coquet Valley and on the sands at Bamburgh and Lindisfarne and enjoy Geordie humour and marvel at one of the most beautiful pieces of public art in the United Kingdom and even fishing in the Tyne Valley like in that episode of The Likely Lads where Terry interrupts Bob and Thelma's romantic weekend AND EVERY OTHER BLOODY THING YOU COULD DO IN THE NORTH-EAST WHICH IS MORE WONDERFUL AND LESS SOUL-DESTROYING THAN SPENDING ALL NIGHT IN GASTROPUBS ON WANDSWORTH COMMON BITCHING AND SCRATCHING WITH THE REST OF THE CYNICAL HACKS YOU FIND DOWN THERE.

I'm convinced that the London media attitude towards the north is motivated by a complete inability to understand what is, to all intents and purposes, a completely different country. It's all well and good when we're being Ross Noble-like, getting up on stage and being self-deprecating and savantish, but figures like Mark E. Smith are clearly much harder to deal with.

Another thing that has pissed me off recently, by the way, is the manner in which certain middlebrow metropolitan novels (I won't name names, I could get in trouble) have started to incorporate this very, very, very, very, very watered-down version of psychogeography as a quasi-intellectual justification for liking living in Crouch End. Look, twats: from Poe to Baudelaire to Benjamin to Debord to Sinclair, the procurement of jamon iberico and sunblushed tomatoes has never been a central component of urbanist thought. Sod off. The fact that you enjoy walking around cities does not necessarily make you into an expert into the poetics of the metropolis.

Anyway. Phew. Ow.

Reader's Block, AKA a Justification for Reading Grazia

I've always thought Guardian journalist Stuart Jefferies was a bit of a self-obsessed, moaning dilettante. Now I know he is.

Because I should be completing my thesis, I'm going to disagree with this article in bullet point form.

1 - This article is predominantly composed of references to books that its author clearly hasn't read. As I've no doubt rambled on about elsewhere, mentioning Heidegger's Being and Time in a broadsheet article does nothing but create a shared sense of superiority among people who have heard of Being and Time. This is how broadhseet newspapers work. They flatter the intelligence of their readers with clever references to texts, creating the impression that everyone concerned has studied the minutiae of Husserl or Merleau-Ponty. If you track the references to Freud in broadsheet literature articles that aren't written by dedicated practitioners and historians of psychoanalysis (Adam Phillips* et al) you'll notice that the version of Freudianism presented is, to all extents and purposes, the one you'd get in Friends.

2 - He seems to be suggesting that White Teeth is as important as Finnegans Wake. It isn't.

3 - I read modernist novels and poetry on the train. Am I trying to impress anyone? No, strangely. I just like reading modernist novels and poetry.

4 - For the last time: IF YOU KEEP ON TELLING PEOPLE THAT JOYCE IS INACCESSIBLE, THEY WILL BE PRECONDITIONED TO FIND JOYCE INACCESSIBLE. What the hell is it with the broadsheets vested interests in literary realism?

5 - If Mariella Frostrup, queen among all the metro-class, pseudo-liberated harpies, told me to read something, I'd avoid it on principle. Even if it was Kafka, or Henry Green. Why do people like her judge literary prizes? Oh, I get it. It's because people like her - mini-Mariellas - form the biggest purchasing constituencies for Borders and Waterstones. I'm surprised the Orange Prize hasn't been given to the Boden catalogue yet. Can you imagine Frostrup meeting Gertrude Stein? It's okay though, she knows everything about sex.

6 - If you can't finish Brideshead Revisited and Wuthering Heights, you should not be allowed to make analyses of a nation's literacy standards in a broadsheet newspaper.

7 - If you think Brideshead Revisited 'drops off halfway through', it's probably because you want the book to have the same emotional emphases as the (admittedly excellent) television series which you no doubt saw first. I really don't think you can accuse the 'Orphans of the Storm' sequence of lowering the pitch of the novel.

8 - This is all a dressed-up sneering exercise at those who have the temerity to enjoy 'difficult' books wholeheartedly, isn't it? A jealous assassination of people who would genuinely get more excited about reading Robbe-Grillet or Thomas Mann than Paulo Coelho?

In short: if you don't want to read books, don't read books. If you feel that you have to read books to assuage your anxiety and bulk up your oh-so-artsy image, then you'd be doing it for the wrong reasons. Having a Kandinsky print on your kitchen wall and being familiar with the works of Jim Jarmusch does not make you into Baudelaire. There are people in the world who would kill for the opportunity to read or, god forbid, study literature: I can't imagine that they'd be putting Brideshead Revisited down on the cistern 12 pages in and justifying doing so with reference to last year's most misunderstood chattering-class manual. I really don't care one iota what Pierre Bayard has to say any more, and whether his supposedly 'Lacanian' bent provides a rigorous intellectual basis for his argument. The fact is, we all discuss books we haven't read in their entirety, or at all. This is kind of inevitable. But isn't there two different ways of doing this, and one is markedly less cynical than the other? I talk about things I haven't completed to glue ideas together when I simply don't have time to comb through every last paragraph of Proust (if only!) I don't do it because I'm having a dinner party next week and I'm worried my image will suffer if I can't manifest some kind of familiarity with Anne Enright or Paul Auster.

What I'm trying to say - I think I'm starting to sound like B.S. Johnson here - is stop spoiling it for the rest of us: colonising the things we care about and tainting them with your cynical, metropolitan, insecure bullshit. You could always try listening when the people who actually care offer some kind of informed opinion instead of falling back on the same old anti-academic crap: 'Joyce is difficult'; 'Prynne is difficult'; 'Zadie Smith should win the Booker for restoring realism.' Once more: don't read if you don't want to. The future does not rest on whether an incestuous set of food photographers and deli owners have read Rilke.

Sorry, another rant. Now I must write my PhD.

* And yet the 'Phillips Paradox', the trademark of the 'shrinking woman's crumpet' (for fuck's sake), is the ultimate form of Guardianista flattery: take a simple and minor contradiction, and dress it up in the language of mournful impossibility. It makes them feel like Derrida, over their organic cereal.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

I've just remembered: today is...

...Batman day!

When I pull my finger out and go and see it, I'll write a review. The last film I went to see at the cinema is probably too embarassing to discuss in public.
Sorry about the picture. I'm excited.

Wednesday, 23 July 2008

Summer Holiday: Lucky For Some

So, Boris Johnson won't be holidaying in Britain this year, then.

Asides from the fact that this can quite safely be added to his list of gaffes - I think I get the point he's trying to make, but the British Tourist Board won't see it like that - I'd be intrigued to know just how many people think that holidaying in Britain isn't worthwhile. I love going abroad when I can get organised to do so, but the idea that there's nothing worth seeing or doing here is utterly absurd. Yeah, the weather is usually pretty shoddy, but the Outer Hebrides look like they should do when it rains and that post-walking cup of tea/ slice of cake just doesn't look as welcoming in 30 degrees. Of course, when the weather does change you can round off your walk with a pint, but that unpredictability - coupled with the fact that we're adapted to provide for various meterological outcomes - is the whole beauty of British holidaymaking. I remember that the South West Coastal Path adventure of Easter 2000 was interspersed variously with lager stops and tea stops, because the weather switched between 25 degrees and sunshine to a minus and snow within 48 hours.

Not that I want to sound all Orwellian or anything.

Vamps Update

Okay, here is the current list of literary vamps, sorted by character then work:

Sherlock Homes - 'The Adventure of the Empty House'
Dean Moriarty - On the Road (thanks, Sinj)
Kurtz - Heart of Darkness
Dracula - Dracula (obviously.*)
The Wizard - The Wizard of Oz (clutching at straws now)

Any other suggestions, please? I'm inclined to think that Heatchcliff gets a bit of a vamp in Wuthering Heights, and what about the beginning of Hardy's Return of the Native? There's always Godot - but maybe the unfulfilled vamp is a different category.

* The vamp would be much longer had Stoker incorporated 'Dracula's Guest' at the beginning of the novel. However, 'Dracula's Guest' would also spoil the work for a number of reasons that you'll figure out if you read it.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Checking In

Tentatively, I suspect that this blog might have more than three readers these days, so it doesn't seem overly self-indulgent to leave personal updates. Even though I've actually done that all the time, thus failing in my mission statement (see this post).

Right, so I want to complete the thesis, or a very good draft of it, by the 31st August. Is this possible? I believe so, although my dreams/ nightmares about August seem to feature bleak Pennine wastelands covered with rooks and dead sheep. This is almost not a joke: last night, I dreamt that we had to go up to Saddleworth for the wedding again and I ended up playing football in some deracinated Audenesque landscape. That said, I also dreamt that William S. Burroughs was trying to murder Jenny and I so I had to punch him in the face. I blame the cans of Karpackie Pils I drank before going to bed, along with the fact that I was reading Gerald Kersh's Night and the City which is about vaguely malevolent bohemian types.* So my thesis has got to the stage where it has had me dreaming about ghostly moors and committing acts of violence against important figures of world literature. Probably not good.

I'd like to say that there's other news but there isn't, really. I've become addicted to Peep Show, which I resolved some time ago never to like (friends of a certain vintage will remember that I made the same vows about Father Ted, although I'm not saying Mitchell & Webb stand up to the antics on Craggy Island.) I've been reading novels, as usual, and trying to come up with possible topics of future research. I haven't been writing much poetry. I haven't been playing music, either, but I've been listening to a lot because I've got a radio that you can plug an MP3 player or computer into which makes tunes sound really good. Sorry, I sound as if I'm about to start eulogising some Kenwood in-car speakers. It is mint, though.

Fortunately, I've managed to more or less twist the thesis into saying what I want it to say. It evinces a certain intellectual position now, which I was previously afraid that it failed to do. I feel like I can say with pride that I really agree with my argument now, whereas I had, at other times, felt like there were ideological elements in there that I didn't really subscribe to. I've managed to give Larkin both barrels in a 500-word section which I really hope makes it through the Viva.

So, it's Tuesday night. Got to be time to go and play some footie, even though it looks like it's going to slash it down (pardon my French).

Hope you're all well and Bill Burroughs isn't menacing your slumberings,


* I'm not saying I agree with everything Burroughs did, but I do agree with many of his attitudes towards writing. Next time I have to dream about lamping someone who is trying to kill my partner and I, could it be someone I have less time for? I would have no qualms about whacking, say, Michael Moore or most Observer writers. In a dream, obviously.

writing up writing up writing up writing up writing up writing up writing up writing up writing up writing up writing up writing up writing up writing

And as an element of my procrastination, I'm thinking of starting one of those wanky, 'I'm so stressed about my PhD, no-one understands, I spend witerally twenty-four hours a day working' Facebook groups. It's going to be called 'PhD students against the INS key': i've calculated that PhD students spend approximately 15 minutes per academic year fixing damage wrought by inadvertent pressing of the little blighter. It's the intellectual equivalent of hitting 'autopilot off' in a landing stack and not having noticed you've done it. That bloody INS-ing bastard, we'll give him what for.

Wednesday, 16 July 2008

Undoubtedly the best picture of a £20m-rated athlete I have ever seen...

No al calcio moderno indeed. Here's Dimi Berbatov doing his smokiest in the tradition of Len Shackleton/ Jackie Milburn/ George Camsell, tough-guy mid-century forwards who left a pack of Woodbines behind the goalpost for breaks in play. Berbatov seems to be auditioning for the role of the new Eric Cantona; chances are he's going to get it.
On the subject of calcio vecchio, I strapped up my ankle and played last night. Honestly, I wouldn't have done it if I wasn't going work-mental. I'd written 1200 words, had nothing more to say and (for reasons the council haven't ascertained yet, and which could be to do with Megatron or Lex Luther) the whole city stank of gas. I needed to let off steam and I don't have enough plates to break, so I thought I'd gamble on the ankle instead. I'd be dancing at a wedding at the weekend anyway*. Anyway, I got a hat-trick. Perhaps I should knack my ankle every week.
* There may well be some embarassing Youtube footage of me dancing to none other than Donna Summer's Hot Stuff by now. I'd like it made clear that I knew I was being filmed and doing the 'embarassing uncle' dance for a joke. Not that I'm any good at dancing usually (I manage to make to interpret the sweetest sould song or the most hedonistically sexual disco number in an Ian Curtis-meets-Lee Evans way.)

Friday, 11 July 2008

D'oh Week

Hi...haven't posted yet this week due to the fact that I'm looking to have finished writing the body of this thing inside the next six weeks and I've been mobilising my resources for the last big push. This has been hampered by a number of factors.

1- Still more railway delays on Monday morning as I returned from home.

2- A mild ankle sprain acquired on Tuesday evening. I was warming up for football on the (concrete) path between the astroturf pitches when I realised it was switchover time and we could go on. I went to trap one of the balls we'd been kicking around - yes, I had already done my stretches - but my foot went over it and landed side-on on the ground. I actually heard a shredding noise and thought 'goodbye ligaments and walking for the next three months' but it wasn't quite that bad. Don't think I'll be playing football until late August though. Balls.

3 - Triple balls! My friend James is getting married this weekend in Saddleworth, near Oldham. For some reason I thought that it was meant to happen the weekend after, and planned accordingly. Now I'm going to have to get up at 4.15 tomorrow morning!

4 - I've just realised that The Damned United film is going to be the greatest piece of adaptatory treachery since Robert Donat donned his Richard Hannay moustache. The word 'quirky' in that BBC article fills me with dread. On the one hand you have, arguably, the best study of identity, masculinity, class and dread published in Britain since James Kelman's How Late it Was, How Late. On the other, you have the producer responsible for Cold fucking Feet. Chances of nightmarish Yorkshire psychoscape? ZERO. Likelihood of picturesque scamps in parkas and Life on Mars-esque retro-kitchery? Stopped taking bets. Honestly, it's going to be like the first half of Fever Pitch crossed with Python's 'Yorkshiremen' sketch. I think I might just ignore it and watch the semi-legendary (okay, not legendary at all) 'murdering cowboy-builder football player' episode of Frost instead, which at least has some sense of Yorkshire Gothic.*


* If WM is reading this, I still have my script, thanks.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Verve, 'Gravity Grave'

More post-Glastonbury handwringing... why did 'The' Verve see fit to turn into a strummy, pub-rock band?

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

Hello, July

Home of American Independence, Gallic Boisterousness, and (of course) my birthday.

It is bloody hot in Norwich today. I walked around town before heading up to campus and it felt, dereal-isingly, like being in a foreign city. Down by Cow Tower (pictured) all the crims and fishermen had their tops off: that's when you know it's properly hot in England.
Quick Thoughts:
1 - Slagging off Noel Gallagher is the new hip (but not hop) thing to do, because - to paraphrase Kennedy (not me, or my Dad, or my brother) - 'we are all rappers now'. I can't help but feel the point has been slightly missed here: Jay Z did precisely what Gallagher predicted he would, namely gooning around on stage like a hyperactive six year old while boasting about how tough/ rich/ virile he was. NG is being made out to be some Tebbity throwback who 'doesn't even know what hip-hop is': my feeling is that his sentiment about 'hip-hop not being right for Glastonbury' was shorthand for 'bling-based twat-hop' not being right for Glastonbury. I've read interviews with NG where he espouses the virtues of Public Enemy et al, and anyone who keeps an eye on the music press knows Gallagher is a hell of lot smarter than he's given credit for in the London media. I get the impression that the people who are hailing Jay Z as a genius striking a blow against the hegemony of rock music in this country (like, er, Westwood) are ignoring two crucial facts, namely that a) bad hip-hop and r&b is more or less ubiquitous, and is purchased by many of the same people who buy the worst kind of anodyne guitar rock (Coldplay) and b) Jay Z is a knobhead. If Gallagher had made the same statement about someone who isn't willing to collaborate with any pasty white rock musician who fancies a bit of easily-accessible 'credibility' (ie, Chris Martin) I'd have been a lot more surprised.
2) The media/ blogging response to the Jay Z/ Gallagher spat smacks of gross white-boy/ girl paternalism, not racial equality.
3) Why is it that musicians from the north-west of England (Ian McCulloch, Ian Brown, Noel Gallagher, Richard Ashcroft) are constantly represented as arrogant plebs stepping above their station by music writers? Why is it more critically acceptable to like Ride than it is to like the early Verve records (pre-'A Northern Soul', I mean)?
4) Is this debate (secretly) less about rock v hip-hop than about south v north?