Wednesday, 27 February 2013

The Inappropriate 2

I note that 50% of our alcohol is missing. This is a splendid statistic, thank god for that. The alternative is that the state have the measure of everything.
Today I noticed a fly poster concerning our latest round of student elections. The candidate put, at the top of the page, that all lectures should be made available on line. This may seem a helpful scenario if you are laid up in bed one Friday morning at nine am, but it is daft. If my lectures were recorded by the authorities, they soon wouldn't exist. What goes in Vegas stays in Vegas, and that's what he's paying for. Eventually I suppose an accountant will suggest we doing everything on line by subscription, but that would be very dull.
I have behaved inappropriately far too often, but when I really think about it there are plenty of occasions when, in hindsight, if I'd behaved more inappropriately my (might have been) girlfriends (for instance) would have been much happier. At the same time I have also been deemed 'inappropriate' when I thought I was being thoroughly reasonable, even righteous. You can't win with a word like 'inappropriate'.
So actually, what should I make of Snakecharmer? I very much enjoy the comments below.

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

The Inappropriate

I really enjoy Zizek's discourse on shit; that the French are revolutionary with it (straight down the hole) that the English are empirical with it (let it float about and see what happens) and the Germans idealist in their scrutiny of it. I'm surprised I haven't found him (yet) dissecting national pornography in the same way; French porn seems to feature an unprecedented number of aristocrats and chauffeurs, English porn an unusually high percentage of housewives, German porn a seemingly unavoidable interest in grunting sodomy, and the Italians a way too peculiar fascination with nuns and Nazis. The Americans of course are just professional about it, that is until they get too wasted and commit suicide. This of course is the meat and potatoes of your critics existence, we must always compare the intrinsically unalike for clues. I found myself doing it yesterday after tracing a nagging quote of Chuck Klosterman's; that Van Halen's 'Cradle will Rock' is absolutely the most average of all metal tracks; that all others either slip below it or above it in the most dedicated of critical appraisals. Of course this is daft, but it kept me preoccupied, since recognising the absurdity of the effort somehow seemed to make it more rewarding.
Like comparing metal to architecture: Le Corbusier is of course Led Zeppelin, Mies is Metallica, David Chiperfield is a probably a Whitesnake. Robert Venturi is possibly the architectural equivalent of Kiss ('It's not about good taste, it's about what tastes good!'). Aalto would be Fleetwood Mac.
Of course all of this doesn't take too many long words but does take up a whole lot of energy in those muscles which make you smile.
Some will think it not serious enough to compare anything as high minded as architecture with shit, pornography or metal, to muse as to Gaudi's equivalence to Yes or even the total lack of redeeming features in Muse. It might be deemed 'inappropriate' like so many behaviours are suddenly being deemed. So much is made of this nebulous term 'inappropriate' as to rouse deep suspicion. I certainly don't know what it means, it is a newly employed and shifty term, and something, I think, that has it's genesis in e-mail and social networking, but a significance way beyond.
I might tentatively suggest our obsession with the appropriate is rather like your mothers instance you wear your Sunday best to church, whether or not there is any possibility of you believing in God. The nasty tag of behaving inappropriately seems to represent a  domestic equivalence of our vastly expanded border agency, it has to do with the fear that we are not in general behaving appropriately at all, or shall we say as Zizek might, rationally at all.

Friday, 22 February 2013

Arty Architecture

It's been a bit of a stressful week, a funeral took out a whole day Wednesday, I took my favourite chair to be reupholstered (small things stress me out) I did some 'crits' (hate that word) had Le Corbusier to do for my 9 o'clock this morning and I've got a nagging book proposal in my head. Of all of these things, LC was the most enjoyable, I don't think we teach him enough at all, even though that makes me about ninety two. So I made a special effort to reline back to 1969 on the daybed this afternoon with the new headphones, which are spectacular. My only problem is that when I close my eyes I think that somebody has broken in to the house and is about to kill me. This was an unforeseen problem with the new headphones.
If Mies reduced architecture to one thing and Gropius incorporated it (or vice versa) it is LC who demonstrated a synthesis of ideas that appeals to your inner dancing hare. OK the buildings may be ugly but that never did anybody any harm. There is something about LC that is the complete package, our Achilles with tap heels. They have virtues. I think his advantage lies in the fact that you have this slightly barmy totally Faustian urbanism, and then the approximations of it, compromised one way or the other, that is actually the beautiful work. I love to show the plans of his Nungesser et Coli apartment building (above). No amount of looking at Mies will ever give you a clue about planning under pressure, and Gropius couldn't draw in the first place, so what you get with LC, vestigially of course, is the architecture you've always wanted, the arty kind, the kind that divides two bedrooms with 's' form single lines, under pressure.

Monday, 18 February 2013

Buying Headphones

I must be almost the last person in the world to buy a pair of headphones. I've always refused to can the music at home, but suddenly I feel I have elderly neighbours, I feel responsible, so I do it. Also, I have the day bed, the headphones and a day bed may be a boon. However it is not easy to buy headphones. I asked my students and some of my old students for recommendations. My own researches led me to think I might enjoy a tank proof pair of German Maestro 835D's, but my reliable younger friends point me in the way of Sennheiser HD598's. They know me well, I like a bit of wood trimming.
What impressed me about the Sennheissers was that one reviewer, and I read many, said they looked good when you took them off, like after a satisfying stint with them on. I thought that was a pretty profound way to be thinking about headphones, assuming they sound brilliant of course. Other reviewers said the styling reminded them of seventies cars like the the Austin Princess, but I thought that was a bit mean. I like the seventies styling, like I like Wheeler Dealers and old cars in general. Cream leather could be just the thing. Meanwhile, these are certainly headphones designed never to annoy anyone on the bus, with a chunky 6.3mm traditional jack and 3m cable, they say you're staying at home. Others said they were the most comfortable phones you could buy, with no other faults, so that finally did it for me.
I wait eagerly for the postman.

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Adolf Loos

This extraordinary and idiosyncratic figure is wonderfully captured in his last wife's memoir, 'A Portrait' by Claire Beck Moos, which I read this afternoon. This small book is a bit expensive but beautifully made (the binding, so subtle, is bi-coloured) and has such a light touch in the text as to make you love Loos almost as much as she did. It is a gem. The times are distant, but the concerns oddly real, and more to the point, almost completely the opposite of those espoused by the famous architects of the time. I hear there is still an architect who works solely from a bar stool in Vienna, and Loo's story reminds me of my old friend Gordon MacLean, who did much the same in Soho.
Loos maxim, that it was the primary job of the architect to provide the carpets, then continue them up the walls, and maybe over the ceilings, and then as a secondary task to work out how to keep them there flies in the face of the canonical history of European modernism. There is total intuition as to planning, but there is no truth to materials, there is just a liking for particular materials, understanding the cost of them, persuading the client they might love them too, and getting on with the builder who is installing them. There is the weathering, even enjoyment, of the trials of the building site by imagining the eventual result, such as a calming fish tank. There is extreme good taste. By the time this book was penned, Loos was nearly dead and poor but living in the best hotels as well as the cheapest, he was deaf from syphilis and despairing that his trunks of hand made clothes were infested by moths, and loving dogs and other creatures, and his wife shows wonderfully his irrascable nature and a particular humour in the face of almost terminal defeat. A lovely book.

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Was Mies a Nazi?

I'm often asked this question, so I'll answer it as directly as I can. No.
Mies did not believe that architecture had anything to do with politics at all. But his was a very high church form of ambivalence, it's not the ambivalence of Philip Johnson, or Albert Speer for instance. He would have worked for the Nazi's if they'd commissioned him, but he had very lean years before his departure for the USA in 1936. He famously told Alfred Rosenberg, the thoroughly nasty Nazi ideologue, the big brutish Balt, that he should throw his desk out of the window because of it's awful design. That was his problem with the Nazis, no taste in desks, no taste in anything. Technically the designer of the desk is hardly responsible for what's written on it I suppose. When he had the chance the build a villa and the local Nazi planning committee said fine as long as he hid it behind a mound, he told them to stuff it and walked away.
Meanwhile when he got to America his Farnsworth House, once in court, was labelled 'unamerican' (communist) in the American press, so it seems he couldn't win, while at the same time it seems to prove his point. Meanwhile his office buildings were just perfectly suited, in their elegance and anonymity, to capitalist corporations.
In a final twist he was invited back to Berlin to build the New National Gallery as part of the Kulturforum, an intriguing attempt to de-Nazify a culture that was still riddled with Nazi's. So eventually, by death, he was deemed an anti-Nazi.

Thursday, 14 February 2013

Le Rosbif

It is the peril of anybody who thinks to find conspiracy. Sometimes it can be overwhelming. Last night I dreamt the whole staff of our department were assessing a farm, a real farm. The farm looked lovely, but we soon found it was just an efficient factory for producing animals to kill. The owner was phlegmatic about it. We made anguished attempts to evaluate the situation, but were wholly unsuccessful. That's cultural studies for you.
It must have been the meat thing. The lack of understanding of Britain's artificially cheap food industry is bewildering. Why anybody should be surprised that horsemeat is put in ready meals is beyond me. I'm even wondering if it is put in for the benefit of taste. Those hard working horses will certainly be tastier than most of supermarket beef, which is not really beef, but cows, cows who hardly go out at all, in fact cows who prefer to stay inside, industrialized, lazy cows. We don't like the idea of horsemeat because the French eat it, I can't see beyond that. We are les rostbifs after all. But the map which showed the series of transeuropean transports that changes the branding of that meat was very interesting indeed. That even the brands themselves don't make the product they are selling was very interesting indeed, and especially the idea that there is a top of the range that is only so because it says it is. This is the triumph of marketing, and it's floating signifiers all round.
We are in a period where simply knowing what something is is problematic! Truth has become tricky, and I don't care whether we are talking about meat pies or Heavy Metal. But in cultural studies, we do labour for truth, even if it's lies.
I pulled a post yesterday on Snakecharmer, partly because it needs some work, partly because I don't want my head kicked in. The gist was that in the same way Saxon might be considered authentic to a place, even as ghastly a place as Barnsley (see Errr Saxon below) any of the snakes are not, that they are constructions on and away from, especially when appearing closer too, if you see what I mean. But I know David Coverdale is lovely, so I'll work on it.
Photo Julie Cook

Tuesday, 12 February 2013

Zizek's Tee Shirt

You learn a lot from Slavoj Zizek, but more to the point you learn it in an interesting way, I'm sure most of what we learn from him is not through reading his books, but by watching him on YouTube. I noticed a comment yesterday "I could watch him all day!' indeed but it's hard to read him all day. Perhaps Slavoj is theory for the generation who, as predicted long ago by first Nietzsche then McLuhan, wouldn't read. But they get him because of his twitching and scratching and the sweat slowly seeping in to his motley grey tee shirt, with his jokes about being miserable, with his anal fixation, with cunning use of the Kinder Surprise. I've been told he beguiles us with an act, but if he does, so what, what isn't acting? I'm watching. His take on 'sustainability' as well as the slowly degrading state of his tee shirt, is captivating below:

YouTube Slajov Zizek on Architecture and Aesthetics.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

The Perfect Dissertation Outline

Here follows the perfect outline for a dissertation:


Core Problem: An architect blows up a perfectly functional housing estate because he doesn't like it.

Preface: Why this might be interesting...

Intro: The film of the book by Ayn Rand was made in....

Chapter Headings:

1. The Individual vs The Collective.
2. Man vs Woman.
3. Man vs Man.
4. Other Men

Conclusion: The second most popular book in American fiction is deeply flawed....

NB: With apologies to DN who's already doing this.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

City Boys

On our wedding anniversary we always go out, and since we were married in Las Vegas with four schools of architecture as witnesses, it's the cue for lots of memories, even though it was a while ago. You can feel pretty melancholic about it, I've felt melancholic about it all day. We chose a steakhouse, Vegas evenings are built on steakhouses, the age of the beef is cherished; two months aging and a rib eye virtually qualifies as heritage. Sometimes they make interior design out of the stuff, exhibiting it in huge glass cases, sometimes the steakhouse is on top of a building, sometimes revolving on top of a building. Even the idea of a Las Vegas steakhouse makes me melancholic, but in London, steakhouses suffered a bit of a bad reputation, simply because the English don't really do steak like either the Americans (fat) or the French (thin), we just do it badly, we put it in pies.
So we went to Hawksmoor, a sort of new breed, and only just down the road in Spitalfields. Hawksmoor feels like a Las Vegas steakhouse, looks like a Las Vegas steakhouse and serves what turned out to be totally Las Vegas steak or, if you are a vegetarian, lobster.
Being melancholic and thinking about your ear lobes getting bigger and hairs growing in your nose, what wasn't good was that we were in the city of London, so as we sat down we realized we were surrounded by city boys. It doesn't matter the actual age, city boys are stranded in perpetual adolescence.
The city institution is a simple marriage of the british public school system, a sort of moral trampoline, with the pick pocket; without the public school system they'd all be in jail. And don't you notice THAT when they're within a hairs breath. You only need one example, in comes one troop bearing an absurd magnum of showy wine. They brought-in their own wine! They brought it in for £5 corkage! How crap is that! How cheap do you want to look? I suppose it was a school prize.
And there was a sense that all these people were simply impersonating each other, and they would go on impersonating each other forever, and I am supposed (thank you Ms Thatcher) to accept that this is how the world works; it's absurd!! It's embarrassing!!
You feel hugely original, even youthful, in a room full of British bankers.
The image advertises some no doubt extremely nice people called Wine Folly. 

Sunday, 3 February 2013


It all started when I was thinking, by way of advice to students, that I'd personally rather write a dissertation on Saxon than Schubert.
Even thinking about Saxon, the British heavy metal combo from Barnsley, is peculiar. For one, they seem to have a unique affiliation to place. This is not true of most heavy metal outfits, who, at the first sniff of success, you imagine to be hanging out on Sunset rather than in the Sunset Arms, or dwellers in middle earth, which of course is your average metalist's fantasy home. No, Saxon sound grounded. They are Barnsley personified, a real piece of genius loci, or at least a real piece of Barnsley as I imagine it, or Barnsley over Drokken. And they are headed up by the undoubtedly charismatic and deeply northern 'Biff' Byford. Biff from Barnsley, and they recorded songs called, memorably enough, 'Wheels of Steel' and '747' which are, respectively, triumphant anthems to industry and not being at home, the dangers of not being grounded, but both featuring glorious riffs, riff's like machine tools, Biff's riffs we might call them, and not a great deal else which might embody say, the finer points. That is unless you could say, and you could and I will, that in it's employment of the most basic of tools, Wheels of Steel knocks the shit out of virtually anything else, it says there are no finer points, not where we come from.
Saxon also, by choice of name, come particularly British, it's all lionhearts and so on, and yet they employ, presumably out of humour, the Luftwaffe logo and call themselves eagles who, of course, have landed, just like Saxons I suppose, to rape and pillage any town near you, but at the same time, seem fabulous, caring, nice, fellas! They called their 1981 album, follow up to 'Wheels of Steel', 'Denim and Leather', in doing so personifying exactly and pointedly who their fans were just as successfully as Roxy Music or Duran Duran ever did. Saxon fans no doubt wear denim and leather and they no doubt wear it all the time, possibly in triplicate or quadruplicate. Saxon took the glam out of rock! They absolutely did not go to art school where you learn to be a wanker. That is unless they did (I don't know) and were super intelligent about it. This, is interesting.
And in all this Saxon represent a great tradition, that of Heavy Metal related to heavy metal industry, or in this case, actually mining coal, a truly British triumph (forgive the pun) and the inheritance from Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath, rightly displaced further north, and they are still going (rather - in metalspeak- they never surrendered) as one of Barnsley's greatest exports.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

The Onesie

Went to the pub, delighted I'd done some carpentry and fixed those almost Bauhaus handles to our sliding bathroom door. There was a 'onesie' party about to kick off in the Star, and those who weren't in onesies were far too friendly, the kind of friendly when they love your jacket, and then doze off or they just love your beard, awesome, and then slump to one side, that sort of friendly. My favourite observation was Onesied Girls (various) leaving on an errand, pressing on each other the notion that they might 'keep it together'. I wonder is the onesie something we should consider alongside the sixties mini skirt of the eighties pirate outfit, a genuine illustration of period? Is the onesie the fashion equivalent of texting; quick, lazy, invisible, abbreviated fun, does it, in its assumption of the warm and the dry fit perfectly with a generation whose recreation of choice appears to be lying on the sofa with an iphone? Is it the sartorial equivalent of 'whatever'?
In the George I found Scot with a couple of his younger intellectual pals. The intellectual pals are intense. Under interrogation, they suggest I yearn for a onesie. I assure you I do not want a onesie.