Thursday, 27 November 2014

Fifty-Three Today

Fifty three today, so it's Little Feat bootleg on the turntable (like being in a room with them and, it appears, recorded at a wedding) Shepherd and Jellicoe's 'Italian Gardens of the Renaissance' on my knee and John Lydon's 'Anger is the Enemy' under my nose. Soon I'll need a little lie down on the day bed. So, to the pleasures of ageing...

Monday, 24 November 2014

Strategy Against ISIS

It's somewhat paradoxical to get worried about a handful of people (in the UK) making decisions to go off and fight and die on whatever side in today's distant parts; when 57,000 British soldiers died on the first day of the Somme with little idea why they were there at all. A little history goes a long way; shame on the government and the media in this ongoing propaganda of fear. Why not ask, on this media and in this government, WHY are these people moved to do this? What caused this conflict? Huh? Please come up with some decent answers.
I healthy start would be the free distribution to all of this cracking little volume (above) which begins in sanguine tone;

'How do wars begin? this is perhaps the most constant theme of the historian.Wars make up most of European history.In every civilisation there have been wars, at any rate until, we think, our own time. Wars are caused in all sorts of ways- wars of conquest, wars of imperial rivalries, wars of family disputes, religious wars.
In the eighteenth century they had settled down in to almost legalistic wars....'

Great man, AJP Taylor.

Sunday, 23 November 2014

Exit Through the Gift Shop

We have become accustomed to Tate Modern's merchandise; their publicity seems as much orientated towards Christmas gifts at this time of year as art. And I can understand how the V&A might just become one huge great shop in twenty years time, sponsored by eBay. That seems the logic of things.
I suppose meetings in such places revolve around selections for Turner shawls and Rothko tea towels, and it's all terribly exciting for those involved, but I was a bit non-plussed to visit the newly renovated Imperial War Museum and find they'd done the same thing there, even down to the fur lined leather flying jacket for £650. What next? A Holocaust ashtray; the camouflage onesie?
The displays in the IWM have changed too. Gone is my favourite; the rickety (when you studied it close-up)  Fock Wolf 190 (above) and the armour pierced Jagdpanzer, and instead there is a rather nice BMW sidecar outfit and lots of moving image which didn't move me a great deal at all. There was greatly 'improved' lighting of all the exhibits too, like you were in Bond Street.
So instead of being moved, I became interested in the BMW sidecar outfit because I would like one of the later derivatives, say from 1975, myself, possibly in sunburst orange, and that isn't really the point.
They have also let the artists in. It a moment in the time of man where art and artists have made themselves conspicuously irrelevant, they suddenly get to condition my experience of wartime. There is a conspicuously blown up up vehicle now sitting on the main floor, but we were told it was not displayed as blown up, but as conditioned by some artist. There was also an exhibition of shirts on hangers, like we were in GAP. I left most concerned over our fatal strategy.

Friday, 21 November 2014

East London Stripper Collective

One of the criminal things that has happened to strippers in the UK has been the fact that the 'left' has criminalised them while the 'right' has corporatized them.
Outside of sheer prejudice, one of their problems is legal language (this should be of interest to any Critical Thinking student) as to how you might define their work. Defining strippers as 'sex workers' is highly contentious with many strippers; and I've just come from their latest meeting where it was suggested 'sexy work' might be much better, and I agree, but I don't think that's going to happen. Legally, girls and boys who take they clothes off in performance are now ranked under an act that deals with sex trafficking and paedophilia thanks, amongst others, to Harriet Harman (Policing and Crime Act 2009) and this is clearly incorrect, but the mass of middling conformists can't see it any other way (and never ask the dancers themselves because that might be just a little bit challenging).
While it looks like this society is more open (read soft, insipid, whining, silly, juvenile) to me (and all the pub strippers I know) it's becoming more closed. The East London Stripper Collective articulated this with absolute force yesterday evening, and I wish my own students could have made such presentations of such intellectual power.
So I am faced with the fact that empirically speaking strippers as a group are now the most intelligent critical thinkers I know.
Photo: Julie Cook

Thursday, 13 November 2014

Tago Mago

This is one of the most compelling records I've heard in a long time. I slapped it on the cans (sic) to speed through the complete works of Richard Neutra, two inches of top end Tachen loveliness. But I'm really not sure if I was listening to them or they were listening to me. Weird, but in a great way, those crazy Krautrockers.

Monday, 10 November 2014

The School of Athens (Raphael)

Half an hour before my 9am lecture slot this morning I projected this image of Raphael's 'School of Athens'(1510), sat myself a few metres back, and tried to figure it out. It's a painting (fresco) my old tutor James Madge used to talk about fondly and he probably got his enthusiasm from Colin Rowe when at Cambridge, who had an ongoing upset with the bottom left corner. I remember going to the Vatican to see it in the flesh as it sits in what was Julius II's library, and getting carried away with it's compositional abstractions; which of course (at that stage) I confused with the actual meaning of the painting (look it up). 
Today I noticed fresh things about it; the naked statue with the lyre, for harmony, on the left, equal to the statue with shield, for war, on the right above this seeming cacophony of the worlds great thinkers. I thought I saw a Greek god in the melee (far left) and then I noticed something else: I couldn't work out the meaning of the box Michelangelo (in brown, left centre front) was leaning against. This box became more and more obvious the longer I looked.
Fancifully, I rather thought the box to be Pandora's, prefiguring what romanticism would unleash on this calm classical stage, then I suppose it could be a bit of stone, but it is regularly shaped, and the church around the gaggle of philosophers looks finished to me. So what's inside? I decided modernity lurked within, with all the chaos it brought with it, and perhaps full blown capitalism lurked in there, ready to jump out like a jack in the box and shock everybody. Or could it be his tools, reminding us of physical work and toil? 
It was as pleasant a half hour as you could wish for.

Thursday, 6 November 2014


It was always a good idea to propose on November 5th, I've never regretted it, and you can never forget it, and all the fireworks have an extra special meaning each and every year. This year was hardly different; we go out to dinner; bang bang, whizz whizz; this time chewing over fifteen years of married life.
However as we strolled back we found crowds around our rather disheveled masterpiece of a housing block enjoying a spectacularly professional firework display. We could only imagine it was our local drug dealers giving something back to the community. It was certainly quite something, they also (sort of) cleared up afterwards. Whether this was like Keith Richards putting on a special show in Toronto I doubt, or whether it was like the nobles of Venice investing in Titian even less, but it was certainly heartwarming.
Keef is the only thing I know about Toronto; the arrest of my teenage outlaw hero by cops in fancy dress came just at that moment in my life when rock n' roll was immensely significant; where it embodied a whole attitude. One of the reasons I've enjoyed Dave Hickey's critical writing so much is that he promises he sits down at least one a year to listen to 'Exile' all the way through, even if, by now, he probably doesn't.
All this is, of course, a mythology. It was good, if disappointing, to read that the legendary Keef was kept going by a bunch of crumbling aristos; and that his street crimes, unlike those surrounding us, were minimal. A drugged life is hopeless either way; just sadder in the latter. I can always spot our local addicts because they are always in a hurry, and almost always in tears. Life is running out, literally.
So they gave them fireworks, how poignant is that.

Saturday, 1 November 2014


Two space exploration accidents in two days, coupled by 23 degree temperatures at the close of October, should make us realise the need to see to things back home here on Earth. Technological advance for it's own sake seems a mistake in a western world already overflowing with the gratuitous. When your iPhone tells you when to buy flowers, and where, you have clearly forgotten the reason for buying the flowers in the first place.
There is a limit to the consumer economy. Modernism, for the first time in human history, introduced the idea that the humble human dwelling was the subject of architecture, and what did we do? Well we junked it; we made it all about presentation again. In the face of such general need, this seems a hell of a shame.