Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Villa Giulia

Circumstances bring me to a refreshed consideration of the Villa Giulia in Rome. For one I have a lecture appointment with the Renaissance at 9am on Friday, and this rather under-represented masterpiece sits in the middle of the presentation, meanwhile my father now looks a little like one of Francis Bacon's popes, they each bring significance to the other if you like, further I'm moved to disturb that enthusiasm deep within that my old tutor James Madge showed for the damn thing, but never really satisfactorily explained. Meanwhile I have in mind my brother's all consuming fear of not getting it up anymore after surgery, and I have a general impression (see posts below) that late capitalism devoids the ageing process of dignity, since the exploitation of youth is it's game. Instead I'm in search of the pleasures of age. Quite a lot to deal with in one building.
To the renaissance, the significance of Vignola's essay in the delicate evocation of city and country and piety and party is amplified by the building's present status as a museum of Etruscan art. Strangely enough Julie has just bought a Vivienne Westwood impressive black cock as a piece of jewelry which is remarkably Etruscan in spirit, and certainly grabbed my poor brother's eye. Notwithstanding the delights of the villa itself, including it's wall paintings and the splendid nymphaeum, cherished within it (for garden and interior are the same thing here) is an ancient Etruscan temple. No matter it's a reconstruction, since the renaissance reconstituted the ancient world itself, even slipping it inside the Vatican Palace as Raphael's magnificent 'School of Athens' (Madge declared this was one of the most significant of pictures- remarkable in it's conjugation of the ancient and modern and the secular and religious) so this seems it's entire point. Hence the building as it is now is an even more a delicate evocation of a spirit than it might have been when it was built.
The villa sat on the edge of the city, on a rat run, a fast exit, from the Vatican, and as far as I know was used for parties in a papacy marked by sexual scandal. It seems not big enough for a residence, and more the perfect leisurely picnic site; but a picnic site equipped with nymphs and their companion, Pan. The rooms are decorated with lusty murals and it's easy to imagine such all day picnics amongst the miniature vineyards. Furthermore as an older man now I can imagine them more than I could as James's student; the old goat, with his pipe, glass of wine and twinkle in his eye.
Formally and architecturally, the villa is little more than a beautifully inhabited wall enclosing various courtyards, a 'parti' James would have seen as eminently civilised. Externally it seems unremarkable. Within the wall and nymphaeum however, there is plenty of scope for scampering about on adventures, as well as the peaceful contemplation of both nature and myth and I suspect it was as much this spirit that captured his imagination as much as anything else.
Julius III started building the villa when he was 64, and only saw a a couple of years use of it after it was completed in 1553. My brother is 63.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Two Books on the Table

Two books on my desk, they seem to demand a comparison, they are both from the same publisher and say completely opposite things. That's handy. Nothing like a good old fashioned binary choice of opposites. Also they are also both helpfully thin, concise if you like, like they might be 'made easy' volumes. I feel like weighing them up (this is a sort of Paul Shepheard line) and I feel like telling Paul just how confusing he is (just as Nina Power might). 
Nina Power's take on consumer feminism, with a line on fashion such as 'if you were to follow all the trends equally, you'd be a corporate-goth-bohemian-neon-native-American-Indian-casual-office girl. Which would probably look quite interesting, but I doubt that's what they mean...'- taking on the kind of feminism that comes down to the ability to buy wine and vibrators- is pithy. Her take on the two prevailing feminist views on pornography; 'either degrading therefore bad or it is enjoyable therefore morally good' (despite being terrible hard work either way) is both gritty, funny and not entirely disapproving. Most of all she is a fun Marxist suffering none of the pious intricacies that dulled that subject for so many of us for so long. That's quite an achievement. 
Shepheard is not a Marxist, I don't think he even mentions the word. No way. If anything he's deep down in the hole of post structuralism. His perspective is so long it's hard to reason with, but his books (and I recommend all of them) will always involve both lovers and hospitals, jet aeroplanes and possibly Metallica (so they are not that post structural) and are written also with the ease of somebody who knows and encourages, even when there is no better world to look forward to. If you want to know what post-structuralism feels like (but not necessarily what it is) read this book.
In the end (because effective blog ends are needed) I'll side with the need for utopia (even if it isn't quite utopia either way) to get through the day, and to get through Power's book in an hour or so. I'll get jesuitical about it too (so Paul might approve) but getting his side of the bargain may take another seven years.

Monday, 28 October 2013


We've just come back from a weekend with my parents. Therefore I am ill. This happened last time, and I worry it will happen every time from now on. My knee seizes up.
Nobody, just nobody prepares you for this final confrontation with aging, with death; it is taboo, rather like nobody tells girls about the menopause, or whole generations about economics. You are in the dark until the worst happens, and then you have to get on with it best you can. Whole rafts of possibly helpful information must be being held from us in favour of Sharon Osbourne's bad song choices- It's a conspiracy. And our bodies do not, unfortunately, secrete enzymes, such as the mothers of new born enjoy, to make them immune to the pain. You cannot be numbed to it, it is incredibly painful, and not just in the knee. You'd think there's some cruel malevolence at work; dad's blind, mum's going daft and my brother's got prostate cancer, terrific, but there isn't, this is what has always been and what will always be. That's human tragedy for you.
But then 'twas said there would be a great storm, and that the people should stay indoors, and that there was to be much commotion on the transportation system, and low, I could verily cancel my 9 o'clock on Lefebvre with good conscience. And then I began to see why Ancient Greek cosmology was so important to Le Corbusier, since I had time to indulge in my 44th book on him; 'Le Corbusier and Britain' and then Julie treated me to a donut, and all was very well indeed.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

About Last Night

I enjoyed presenting my own stuff last night at the Design Museum. On the left WW2 bomber 'Flack Alley' on the right Las Vegas hooker (Hadley) Paige, pierced Paige, an uncanny resemblance.  

Monday, 21 October 2013

Sizzlin' Stacey and Friends (Design Museum Tomorrow 22nd Oct)

Looks like Sizzlin Stacey and the rest of my Madonna Series will be making an outing at the Design Museum tomorrow night from 8pm. OK it's that weird presentation technique that just gives me five minutes or so and twenty slides, but I do start with the Doric Order. Just Google Design Museum Events for information. 

Sunday, 20 October 2013

Endangered Species

Having just read a long and arduous feature on the future of universities in the LRB, I realise I am an endangered species. I'm going to be systematically hunted down, my habitat steadily eroded, because  I represent 100% teaching and learning (often my own). I really couldn't give a fuck about anything else. New 'private universities' whether profit making or charity based, will spend up to 40% of their income on advertising and promotion, and when you whittle away the rest, it might end at just 10% of expenditure in actually teaching people. We shall have to set up charities for academics who can't cope with the bureaucracies that have grown up around them, and that will eventually destroy them. Students will be consumers automatically subject to fire sales and refunds  (depending on financial clout) and no body will have the patience required to actually learn anything, or crucially gain perspective on events.
A world insanity hence comes home to roost, and even the finest of critics don't seem to be able to stop the waves, the waves that say everything has to turn in to money, that everything has to turn a profit, even when they are dealing with something as inherently tricky to qualify in monetary value as education. When you have to dream up terms like 'positional profit' for somebody who might turn out to be a bigger spinning cog in the money machine to justify education you know you are on the wrong side of something bad.
If I were to take this essay seriously (and I do) I would have to note that this ideological position is entirely the reverse of that offered by J K Galbraith in his Affluent Society of 1956, when advertising was seen as a threat and that some sectors, notably universities, would be strengthened at vast public cost against it's worst influence.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Terrific Picture

By Luis Falero: Faustian vision of course. Walpurgis Night. Bit Frank Frazetta but..well it is nearly Halloween, and I'm doing the Gothic next week, and I have been listening to too much Black Sabbath. 

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Sign of The Times

Like some ancient omen, an eagle flying over one's head clutching a snake or something like that, on the day Royal Mail shares begin open trading on the stock market, when people cash in for their windfall £350 for doing nothing except having £500 to spare, we get no mail.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

Shumon Basar

I'm re-blogging Shumon Basar's excellent diptic above which he's posted on Facebook. He simply added that the picture on the left was taken in Zurich and the one on the right in Dubai. Those who have read my Maoist critique of striptease (previous post) will immediately understand what I was trying to get at. Meanwhile this looks a lovely piece; the sort of art stuff I really like.

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Dr Feelgood (or maybe not)

Very pleased to add this record to my collection today. Motley Crue may never have produced the greatest rock record of all time (whilst they inadvertently managed to provide us with the all time best book: The Dirt and came close with the single Girls Girls Girls) but this is fairly hilarious anyway. By the time they made this our cherished muppet gods of rock had cleaned up and were under the scrupulous direction of Bob Rock: pretty much the Moses of heavy metal. Dr Feelgood itself is reason to buy this, another would be the fabulous ACDC cover they conjure into Kickstart My Heart. However it is still the idea that the Crue, no longer taking real drugs, were 'depressed' and driven to quaffing Prozac as they sipped Evian in Vancouver (Vancouver!!) that drives me to smile all the way through. It drives me to remember that rock 'n' roll is such an everyday effort despite the illusions and pretences of celebrity, because decent rock bands can disprove the myth almost as soon as they make it (The Darkness did this too). Nobody has done this more than Motely Crue. Nikki Sixx and Tommy Lee will always be a lovable idiots, no matter how hard they try. Meanwhile, last I heard, Vince Neil was running a rock and roll airline out of Las Vegas. Micky Mars? Well it's just a great name. You couldn't dream it up. It's odd to think of Motely Crue as 'honest' but they seem never to have been anything else, even when they were tossers. The ridiculous 'Time for Change' ends this record, and it could have been penned by the Beatles on a bad day and made for Eurovision. 
Humour! I'm laughing.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

Contribution to a Maoist Critique of Striptease

Pondering the post below, I realise 'insouciant worldliness' is an insufficient term that demands development. Is it possible that Jessica (above and below) and her ilk represent nothing less that pure revolutionary practise? There is an idea here, an almost unthinkable idea- that the only unmistakable and unqualified victory of feminism is the Strip Club. This form of permanent revolution (sic) of course places all men (but not exclusively men) in the role, for once, of slightly sheepish spectators, while Jessica acts, and in her conflation of the means of production in to the commodity itself- a commodity she herself owns, she pretty much  defines revolution - she escapes that devious bit of economic capitalist circuitry which Marx so well described, and of course acquires derision from all the bourgeois classes (Guardian as well as Mail readers) as a consequence. All derision of her activity is after all a consequence of others enslavement. Meanwhile, all she needs to do this is a stick, a pole, and THAT is positively Maoist in orientation. OK she needs music and beer too, which ruins the purity of her provision, but essentially, she is herself, her own constructed self. Hats off.
In a context where it is possible to see capitalist development only in terms of making people dumber and dumber, it's populace in to mindless and uncritical morons, and where that is the only future presupposed, Jessica's talent is a real Up Yours!
Photo: Thanks and Copyright Nick Stanbra

Thursday, 3 October 2013

'They're Wearing Us'

There are two quotes I particularly enjoy on the subject of striptease artistes, the first (above title) from digital knowledge prophet Marshall McLuhan, and the second, recently discovered in Dave Hickey's newly published book 'Pirates and Farmers' where his friend Heidi (who works, or worked, in Crazy Horse Too Las Vegas) insists that 'there is no problem in the world that cannot be solved by a room full of naked women'. 
I am thinking of presenting Jessica (above- and who works at The White Horse, Shoreditch) following a stream of Joel Sternfeld pics of Dubai to my undergrads with the remark 'This is what you get, eventually, when you decide you can represent God'. For Jessica exudes a kind of insouciant worldliness (far from uncommon in her profession) Dubai will never have. Commodification; the very point! As McLuhan suggests, that perfect act of display, far from divesting Jessica or Bambi or Samantha of identity, actually substantiates it, and he was right, and somehow these days Jessica and her clan can represent more of it. To co-opt one of those cliched, crappy, but revealing phrases, just look how carefully she is put together! Of course the audience are possessed, poor souls us, but only for the length of (in Jessica's case) one edgy piece of heavy metal, and it is a fatal misapprehension to think the reverse, that WE possess HER. Of course I could, like Hickey, rank her with Titian's Venus, in which case, there should be a copy stashed in the basement of the Vatican for periodic inquisition- but I'm content that she is actually here to remind me, periodically, as I drop through the grey doors of the White Horse every now and then of an afternoon, of the truth of our world masked somehow by the petty mores of our hum drum. 
Photo: thanks and copyright Nick Stanbra.