Friday, 28 January 2011

On the Concept of Hipsters

Expensive reproduction. - Society is integral even before it undergoes totalitarian rule. Its organization also embraces those at war with it by co-ordinating their consciousness to its own. Even those intellectuals who have all the political arguments against bourgeois ideology at their fingertips, undergo a process of standardization which - despite crassly contrasting content, through readiness on their part to accommodate themselves - approximates them to the prevalent mentality to the extent that the substance of their viewpoint becomes increasingly incidental, dependent merely on their preferences or the assessment of their own chances. What they subjectively fancy radical, belongs objectively so entirely to the compartment in the pattern reserved for their like, that radicalism is debased to abstract prestige, legitimation for those who know what an intellectual nowadays has to be for and what against. The good things they opt for have long since been just as accepted, in numbers just as restricted, in their hierarchy of values just as fixed, as those of student fraternities. While they inveigh against official kitsch, their views, like dutiful children, are allowed to partake only of pre-selected nutrition, clichés against clichés. The habitations of such young bohemians resemble their intellectual household. On the walls the deceptively faithful colour reproductions of famous Van Goghs like the 'Sunflowers' or the 'Café at Arles', on the bookshelf the boiled-down socialism and psycho-analysis and a little sexology for libertines with inhibitions. Added to this the Random House edition of Proust - Scott Moncrieff's translation deserved a better fate, cut-price exclusivity even in its appearance, the compactly economical 'omnibus' shape, a mockery of the author whose every sentence put out of action some received opinion, while now as a prize-winning homosexual he fills a similar need for youth as do the books about forest animals and the North Pole expedition in the German home. Also the gramophone with the Lincoln-cantata of some stalwart spirit deeply concerned with railway stations, together with some duly marvelled-at Oklahoma folklore and some noisy jazz records that make you feel at once collective, audacious and comfortable. Every opinion earns the approbation of friends, every argument is known by them beforehand. That all cultural products, even non-conformist ones, have been incorporated into the distribution-mechanisms of large-scale capital, that in the most developed country a product that does not bear the imprimatur of mass-production can scarcely reach a reader, viewer, listener at all, denies deviationary longings their subject matter in advance. Even Kafka is becoming a fixture in the sub-let studio. The intellectuals themselves are already so heavily committed to what is endorsed in their isolated sphere, that they no longer desire anything that does not carry the highbrow tag. Ambition aims solely at expertise in the accepted stock-in-trade, hitting on the correct slogan. The outsiderishness of the initiates is an illusion, they are merely biding their time. To see them as renegades is to assess them too high; they mask mediocre faces with horn-rimmed spectacles betokening 'brilliance', though with plain-glass lenses, solely in order to better themselves in their own eyes and in the general rat-race. They are already just like the rest. The subjective pre-condition of opposition, unco-ordinated judgement, is dying out, while its gesticulations continue to be performed as a group ritual. Stalin needs only clear his throat and they throw Kafka and Van Gogh on the rubbish-heap.

-Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia, pp.219-21

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

On the Ephemeral in Photography

Right now there is a rather excellent exhibition at the Hotshoe Gallery, which is on until the 5th of March. It's a mix of contemporary and historical photography, curated by Daniel Campbell Blight and Brad Feuerhelm. I also had something to do with it, so this post counts as a bit of a plug, but I'd be impressed with the show even if I wasn't marginally involved, so there! My contribution is a text in the show catalogue / newspaper, which I've posted below with kind permission from the gallery.


Sigmund Freud's short essay of 1915, 'On Transience', offers us what might be described as a formula for the ephemeral: "Transience value is scarcity value in time". By this he means to assert that decay and disappearance need not be a source of anguish, indeed, he suggests that the perishable nature of objects makes them all the more valuable and worthy of our contemplation. Freud states that even though we are able to comprehend and fear that there will come a time when there is no longer any human consciousness remaining to comprehend anything whatsoever, this should only increase our enjoyment of what we create and what we examine. If we are to contemplate the ephemeral qualities of photography, we could do worse than to begin with Freud's assertion that the veridical fact of disappearance makes objects of desire all the more valuable.

David Maisel, 'Library of Dust',

But we must admit that things are perhaps not quite as simple as this - the ephemeral haunts our being more profoundly than just through our admiration for the preciousness of fleeting beauty. At a fundamental level, self-consciousness is the simplest quality of human life, the perception of a totality of thought, the singular there-ness of being. But we are constantly alienated, not only by our bodies, subject to the dragging weight of matter in time, but also by knowledge, or more particularly the awareness of the inevitability of things that are also impossible to imagine. Think of Samuel Beckett's famous statement at the end of 'The Unnameable' - "I can't go on, I'll go on." - our undead drive mocks us, whispering to us that we are everlasting. As humans, we find transience both inevitable yet simultaneously unthinkable.

Mikael Gregorsky, 'Untitled',

Things are complicated even further by the fact that we make marks, we create. We mark because we are subjects to the will, it is our very vitality exceeding us, but as soon as a mark has been made it is filled with death - it belongs to its maker but it is independent of them, it makes them both more than they were and less than they were. It creates a ghostly body of knowledge, an archive which depends upon consciousness for its ability to mean but is capable of existing beyond it, without us. Derrida once argued that "the structure of the archive is spectral", meaning that the marks we make are inextricably bound up with a logic of ghosts, that representation is in itself haunted, as in the ghostly trace of human presence, but also that our own haunted finitude is made clear in the making of the mark. In short, our history is the history of our own haunting. Derrida - as a thinker of the archive or of the 'body of knowledge' - argued that the ghost was a more appropriate figure for our being than any fully present human subject: instead of ontology, he proposed a hauntology.

Rut Blees Luxemburg, 'Black Sunrise', 2010

But this was not an entirely abstract or poetic observation; it describes a concrete condition. We can expand upon Derrida's statement thus: all media, in some way, are spectral. All marks made create a fragmented image of the human who inscribes them. All forms of media, or representation in general, proliferate spectral images and resonances that create fragments out of single identities. All media evolve as methods of recording, of externalising our memory. The archive begins when a mark or an image is stored in some way that it becomes repeatable. We write because our memory degrades at a faster rate than an imprint in inert material, for example. But all forms of media are still subject to that fragmentary condition that defines memory - as mentioned before, all material is still transient, prone to disappearance, even the archive itself is made up of ephemera.

So against an naïve romantic notion of transience, whereby a decayed object is a simple memento mori, aestheticised and thus somewhat neutralised (we could say sublimated), and beyond Freud's notion that the knowledge of its disappearance multiplies the pleasure one can take in an object, even in its perfect condition, 'spectrality' is the dual and simultaneous process whereby the marks humans make both extend their memory and rob them of their very presence.

Julian Stallabrass, 'Untitled'

Each medium or technique necessarily has its own particular spectral characteristics. Writing might be thought of as the petrified voice, the setting of speech into stone and symbol. A psychoanalyst might tell you that speech itself is evidence of a phantom, both irreducibly personal and somehow alien. The introduction of the phonograph and recorded sound is perhaps one of the more perfect examples of spectral media - the disembodied and projected voice is inherently uncanny, in the sense that its repetitions occupy space and time in almost perfect fidelity to their original occurrence.

But what of photography?

To return to Derrida, he notes -

"It is the modern possibility of photography (whether art or technique matters little here) that combines death and referent in the same system […] the immediate proof given by the photographic apparatus or by the structure of the remains it leaves behind are irreducible events, ineffaceably original." - Derrida, 'The Deaths of Roland Barthes'.

For Derrida, after Barthes, the photograph haunts us with its effortless likeness. This perception of photography as brute, unadulterated representation is what allows it to work as an archival process - the strength of photography qua document or evidence testifies to this quality. But at the same time, photography and its mute realism freeze at an irreducible, irretrievable point. Compared to cinema (once described by Derrida as "the art of ghosts"), which unfolds as both sound and image in time, the stasis of photography has a different phantasmic quality. Photography's arrested likenesses provokes in thinkers such as Derrida and Barthes a pierced experience of death in its very impossibility, but simultaneously the infinite weight of the present in all its reality. Or, to put it another way, the spectrality of photography is not only that of seeing a ghost, but of seeing the ghost in oneself.

Jefferson Hayman, 'More Unfortunate than Criminal', 2009

But of course, photography is not half as 'truthful' a process as it might appear. If anything, however, its artefacts only make it more spectral. For example, it is worth recalling that among the very first to make intentional use of the flaws of the photographic process were mediums and ghost hunters, who were able to play games with exposure to create the illusion of semi-present spectres on film (in fact; ghosts are perhaps the most enthusiastic pioneers of each new communication technology!).

Roger Schall, 'Soho', 1935

The material substrate of archival material also creates its own distortions. Fading, scratching, these distortions upon the surface of historic material alienate us from the image depicted, they veil it - they become figures in their own right. This is where 'spectrality' becomes an aesthetic quality in itself, when the degradations of material become figures for work.
An example, a vulgar one at that: consider that the attraction of the degraded image may be found in the applications that mimic Polaroid photography for digital cameras. This process does indeed use spectral qualities as an aesthetic condition, but it is born of dull nostalgia, the attraction of the 'vintage'. It is a reactionary manoeuvre, the equivalent of having an old-fashioned telephone sound emanating from one's state of the art mobile telephone.

Roger Schall, Nuremburg Cathedral of Light, 1936

But this fuzzy, cuddly, aesthically lukewarm effect is indeed a symptom of a genuinely critical aspect of digital culture. As I have mentioned, each medium is spectral, and almost none is so in a more troubling way than digital media. In fact, we might say that digital media tends towards a limit condition of spectrality. Digital media and storage are fast approaching a point where the archive is effectively absolute. Of course, this absolute condition is impossible, insofar as all material is guaranteed to disappear eventually, but when compared to the cognitive capabilities and comprehensible timescales of the human observer, the minimal decay of digital material, its functionally infinite reproducibility and its functionally infinite capacity for storage spell the practical end point for our own capacity to experience the decay of the archive, which is what connects it to our own experience of memory - a perfect and unchanging body of past knowledge is by no means the same thing as history. But at the very same time, the immateriality of digital media is the very experience of this ephemerality taken towards its limit. Digital media is the both the end and the triumph of spectrality, in that the digital is both the most immaterial yet faithful reproductive apparatus.

Rut Blees Luxemburg, 'Faith in Infrastructure', 2010

This full spectrality of digital culture - the end of the ephemeral - is a deferred promise of modernity. Recall Marx & Engels’ description of capitalist abstraction: “All that is solid melts into air.” The digital archive is the latest, perhaps one of the last stages of this process of spectralisation, and its effects are complex. One can trace this spectral abstraction in the forms of media themselves, but also in how artistic works relate to these processes. The last decade has seen great critical focus on 'haunted' practices in experimental and art music, with the sounds of decayed media being brought into the foreground of the work, or with references being drawn from half-remembered utopian histories, phantasmagorias of other futures. To trace this out within photography: moving on from the digitally simulated fake ‘vintage’ aesthetic, we might consider the attraction of the obsolete, which can be witnessed in the fascination with superseded equipment, which are minor monuments to a different regime of materiality. We might see it in the attraction of ephemera (in the historical sense), lost postcards and trivia, fragments in the Benjaminian sense, like withered corpses, testaments to disappearance, while simultaneously totems to ward it off. Jefferson Hayman's images are testament to this mood, slyly inhabiting the historical garb of the 19th century. But if we can take this dialectic further, it is possible for work to further abstract these qualities; one approach might be to introduce decay into photography. This could be abstracted in a narrative sense - the lurid colours of David Maisel's 'Library of Dust' take on an unbearable weight when one learns of their provenance. But decay here might be a controlled and abstracted figure – take Mikael Gregorsky’s photography, with its dusty phantasms. Gregorsky's portraits, although entirely contemporary in terms of setting, dress, character, technique, cannot but help to bring to mind Victorian ghost photography, as the dust introduced into the development process becomes akin to the ectoplasmic expulsions of a channelling medium. And we might find also think of ghosts of history, whether that be images of long lost objects, buildings, places, or the mute horror of scenes of historical tragedy - this spectral sublimity can be witnessed in the image of the 'Cathedral of Light', Albert Speer's horribly stunning climax to the Nuremburg rallies of 1933, the ultimate point of modern architecture as a dematerialized space of communion. But spectrality also deals with the ghosts of the future, which we can understand through the fixation on resonant utopias that we see in Rut Blees Luxemburg, whether that be in the post-war architecture of the welfare state, transfigured by long exposure to the night, or in the encounters with the skeletons of World Expositions, temporary monuments to the future, now dilapidated; left behind. They represent material promises of a different, better modernity, haunting in their very refusal to vanish.

Steffi Klenz, 'Untitled', 2010

To think of media in this spectral fashion is to attempt a synthesis of approaches to history, psychology, memory and technique that is undeniably post-modern, but offers the chance to escape the trap of irony that this might normally suggest. The figure of the ghost identifies an aspect of human existence that can be traced variously through space, the individual, the collective, and time. It is compelling way of theorising mediation and our relationships to the labyrinthine archive of human work that we are always lost within.

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Soixante Huit Cumbernauld

I previously mentioned 'Between Channels' putting up a series of photographs that they got hold of, but they've really upped the ante this time, with a series of photographs of the Cumbernauld Shopping Centre, award winning megastructure and Britain's most hated building.

I'm less concerned with the quality of the architecture as we all know that it's not a great building, for various reasons, but the photos are textbook 'h---------' (which god knows seems to have descended into endless bad-nostalgia for shitty witch-related tv programmes...), the grain, the bleached colours, the emptiness, the sense of futures past... They remind me of this set of photographs of then contemporary architecture, all pristine and yet faded.

Two things stick in my mind, however: one is this image of what looks like a stunning bookshop, with that now deeply unfashionable use of timber panelling:

And the other is this image from Iqbal Alam's collection of photos:

This shows the construction of the Cumbernauld Shopping Centre, and is perhaps as close to a genuine early Archigram structure you'll ever get.

Monday, 17 January 2011

Up n Coming

Here are a few things that are happening now/soon, or are just worth looking at:

-Mark Fisher and Nina Power will be talking at the ICA on Saturday the 22nd, and it's free. The press release describes the event as "A public discussion on how the dissemination of artwork and information on blogs’ and websites has altered the way that artists distribute and discuss their practice."

-Between Channels is posting a wonderful series of photographs of UK towns in 1968 that they found. They're gorgeous in their own way, and in the words of Mr/Ms Channels: "This is just everyday life as it once was, and never will be again."

-A really rather terrifying post from City of Sound regarding the Australian floods.

Trailer – The Pruitt-Igoe Myth: an Urban History from the Pruitt-Igoe Myth on Vimeo.

-There is a film that has just been made about the reality behind the architectural myth of the Pruitt Igoe flats. Hopefully there will be showings in the UK at some point in the future.

-A post on 'We Make Money Not Art' highlighting some fine art photography of 'La Vela' in Napoli, one of the most notorious housing estates in the world.

-If you're into philosophers who have spies telling them when you've sarcastically mentioned them on twitter, or even if you're just into some of the most interesting young thinkers currently active, then there is a new collection of essays, 'The Speculative Turn' which can generously be downloaded from here.

-There is a little exhibition down at the Nunnery in Bow, where artist Simon Terrill has created a massive photograph of Balfron Tower and its residents. There is a symposium on Thursday the 20th of January with Edward Colless, Nigel Warburton and Owen Hatherley.

-And finally; I will be giving a talk and taking part in a panel with Rut Blees Luxemburg at the London Art Fair. The theme of the talk and the accompanying show is 'the Ephemeral', so I'll be cracking open a can of 'spectrality' and discussing representative media, ghostliness and probably a bit of politics as well.

What goes around...

... I might have guessed that this would happen, but Graham Harman has apparently heard that I might unsubscribe from his blog! I've actually seen him lecture before, at Goldsmiths a number of years ago, where he spoke about Latour and De Landa, which I remember partially for being a fascinating, if somewhat mechanically delivered paper, and partially for the fact that he was the first (and only) person I ever heard say the word 'catalysis'. I was even at dinner afterwards, but never spoke with Graham, and now probably never will...

Of course, this being the internet, nothing is actually private. So if you're reading this Graham, I'm sorry I was rude. I find your philosophy compelling, and I have frequently encouraged others to read it because I think it's some of the most important work that's going on in philosophy right now.

That said, I don't care much for the pretentions towards iconoclasm that you and others of your milieu often indulge in, and I often find your writing style to be a little exasperating, my 'favourite' example being;

"Having been deeply perturbed by a personal visit to Hiroshima and Nagasaki, I mean no disrespect to the victims and ruined objects of Japan if I say that the same list of objects is destroyed in a different way by the various philosophies of human access. Human-centered philosophy is a Hiroshima of metaphysics"

-Prince of Networks, p.103

But I do agree that with you that style is important even in philosophical writing.

But anyway, you're right of course, you should be able to write whatever you want about whatever you want, as often as you want, and for whatever reason you want, even if an 'icy cynical, black jacketed poseur' (he's right, you know!) like me might often find it banal. So again, I'm sorry for being a 'wraith spreading grey banality everywhere' (have you been stalking me?). So perhaps it's best that you go on being an important philosopher, and I can go on marinating in my own miserable and resentful black bile. Although, maybe one day we can chat about '26-2', Coltrane's reharmonisation of Parker's 'Confirmation' from 'Coltrane's Sound' (and my particular favourite from that album). I'd like that.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Oval at Café OTO

Well I must say that I enjoyed that little concert. Turning up early in order to secure a table, we had to endure two rather amateur and apologetic support acts before Markus Popp took to the stage. He's actually a rather entertaining figure behind his laptop, pulling faces and pouting along to underlying rhythms that often seem to be his alone, and making rather camp swan-neck shapes with his arms as he fiddles around with his computer and mixer.

My companion was totally correct when he said that the performance reeked of ten years ago (I was certainly left thinking of some of Icarus' work from around 2005), and of course Oval is somewhat of a dinosaur, but if you weren't looking for the new wheel then you would be left properly satisfied by the balance between the soft and the raucous, the rhythmic and the chaotic, the harmonic and the noisy. It was the well composed and considered music of a developed artist, and it was a good concert to begin 2011 with.

Coming soon - two seperate performances of Mahler 9, just a week apart. I am trembling with anticipation.

Friday, 14 January 2011

Monday, 10 January 2011

When philosophers, who are well known to have difficulty in keeping silent, engage in conversation, they should always try to lose the argument, but in such a way as to convict their opponent of untruth.

-Adorno, Minima Moralia, p.76

Tuesday, 4 January 2011


Don't worry, come back! It's not another list! But it is the end of one year, and the start of a new. It's a time to reflect, to take stock, to blah blah blablah. What I will say is that on a number of levels (although not that many) 2010 was a far better year than 2009. I was employed in what amounts to 2.5 jobs for the whole year, got to write for various people, got to travel across Europe to write, got to give talks to various people, got to travel across Europe to talk to people, even got to do a bit of teaching. During this time I met a lot of wonderful people, many for the first time, and for all this I'm very grateful. As well as this, my carousing became less desperate & less fatalistic, I took better care of myself, and also some loose ends were tied up, writing a less tragic ending to one of the most horrible stories of my last three years. All in all, it was a damn sight better than the year before, although at the end of the day I'm still the same old miserable bastard.

So anyway, what follows are some collected thoughts on the year just passed, apropos of nothing, and not really in aid of anything either. Perhaps this will help me figure out what next year is going to be all about, or maybe I'm just writing this to pass the time, which will pass in any case. But no matter! Onward! Things can only get better!


By far the most embarrassing object to come to my attention this year was the ArcelorMittalOrbit, the ugliest, most aggressively stupid piece of public art I have ever seen, and it's not even built yet. Everything about it, from the anecdote about BoJo the Clown meeting Lakshmi Mittal in the pissers at Davos, to the clichéd sub-Derridean patter that accompanied the planning application, to the banality of the napkin sketch to the already tired digital resolution of the silly shape, nothing signified the moral and aesthetic vacuum at the heart of this pathetic little island better than this 110m tall trinket to be built within stumbling distance from my flat. ARGH!

Well this one has to be a toss-up between one of two buildings, one of which I think is better than the other, one of which I actually visited.

The former is the Spanish Pavilion from the Shanghai Expo. I wrote about the Expo a couple of times this year, both in print and on the blog, as well as interviewing Benedetta Tagliabue for ICON magazine around the middle of the year. What I thought was good about the Spanish Pavilion was that it showed a mature attitude both to the implementation of digital technology / fabrication in a building, as well as to its symbolic language.
Regarding technology, rather than any quasi-avant garde-ist babble about CAD plug-ins being the generators of an unprecedented spatial complexity that enacts its very own detournément, this building was digital in that it used computers to resolve the structural gymnastics, without making any hi-falutin claims that don't stand up to expert scrutiny.
The building also understood the architectural value of formalism for the façade, functionalism for the insides.
And as for the formal language, in an Expo notable for its vacuous pop-formalism, its doily facades, its sand-dune buildings, its frankly stupid conceptualism, this building took the dumb gesture, that of the wicker basket, and made something abstracted and complex from it, referring at once to Chinese tradition, Spanish tradition and previous works by EMBT, as well as all of the other architectural clevernesses they're good at. It was good to see them get some credit, after such a long time as being 'the firm that completed Miralles designs'.

The second building was the 8 House by BIG in Copenhagen, which I reviewed for ICON. I'm suspicious of BIG, to be honest. I find the post-Koolhaas overblown functionalism to be a conceptual one trick pony (HEY guys! What's the zoning envelope? Let's just build right up to it! etc…), and of course I find Ingels' hyperactive optimism to be precisely the opposite of my own ideas about architecture, but it was excellent to see people having a go at the megastructural housing block. Basically a yuppiedrome, the 8 House put all the speculative housing completed in the UK over the last year to absolute shame. In fact, even the developer seems like Nye Bevan compared to the scum we've got over here in the UK. Depressing.


This shower of bastards sneaked in, and already they're wrecking the place like it was an unfortunate Oxford restaurant. The simplest way I can understand the situation is that these gentlemen have come to the conclusion that the only way to improve the economic climate in the UK (meaning stimulate opportunities for 'wealth creation', i.e. profit extraction for their friends) is to roll back the rights that our parents and their parents and their parents fought so very hard for so very long for. These hooligans have looked jealously at levels of exploitation in the third world and have thought "Bingo! That's what we need!" It beggars belief.

Not only have they managed to sell the country the mind-bogglingly stupid analogy of the economy being a cupboard that has been left empty by the profligate previous government, thus we're all (i.e. just the poor) going to have to starve, but they're also in the process of destroying the state higher-education system, squeezing the poor out of the inner cities, and crippling the NHS yet further.

As an intellectual, an aesthete, and a person with a strong attachment to the notion of the universality of humanity and its suffering (phew!), I've never felt more adrift from the zeitgeist. I want them stopped. They are bastards, and they're trying to ruin it for everyone apart from them and their clique. STOP THEM!

But then, inamongst this genuine anger, and despite the fact that as K-Punk so perfectly put it: 'history is starting again', there is always the looming fact that this is a systematic crisis in capitalist society, one that is of course intrinsically linked to the looming (unfolding?) environmental catastrophe. Perhaps capitalism might not collapse in the next 100 years, but it's going to get a lot more ugly, as if the world weren't already ugly enough. My wild prediction for what to expect from the next decade? Pogroms. Lots of 'em. All over the place, happening to all sorts of people. Maybe not, but something spectacular needs to be pulled out of the hat if we're going to avoid WWII levels of horror in the next generation or so (but of course, we saw WWII levels of horror in the last ten years in the Congo, didn't we? It just goes on and on…)
Trümmer auf Trümmer…

Oh, it's difficult for me to talk about music much these days. I mean, it's still very very important to me, ridiculously so, but it feels strange to be a music lover nowadays. I hardly ever buy music any more, the occasional album by a contemporary artist, mostly experimental electronic-y stuff, but there's just such a hell of a lot of youtube watching, spotify listening and so on that I can discuss at length various aspects of 'the latest shit', without actually feeling any kind of enthusiasm for it. I suspect this is a very common feeling as the crisis of music consumption brought about by the internet becomes yet deeper, as the sense of discovery that once went hand in hand with finding new music vanishes yet further. I did go to see Hype Williams playing in Hoxton, for example, although I decided that I couldn't be arsed with the Salem gig at Shoreditch church.

I continued trying to practice, although business meant that certain projects I had going during the idleness of 2009 are now on the back-burner, perhaps indefinitely. This year I'd like to make recordings of some of the myriad arrangements that I have almost completed, if only to get them out of the way, to give oneself the feeling of having done something, anything!

2010 also saw me give proper time and consideration to Wagner, which led to some (what I thought were) fascinating insights into the High Romantic imagination and its relationship to technology. Verso reissued Adorno's book on Wagner, which is excellent, although I don't know if I can really be arsed reading what Badiou has to say about him in his newly published collection.


Well, it's going to have to be Keiller's 'Robinson in Ruins', which I reviewed for ICON. One of the most striking things about this film was the way that the exquisite melancholy of his earlier Robinson films had given way to a sense of pessimistic dread, as Vanessa Redgrave read quotes of climate scientists earnestly discussing the imminent 'End of Life on Earth'.

Overall it certainly wasn't as good as the previous films - one got the sense that Keiller had turned his RCA research fellowship into a Robinson film only under duress, but I still cannot get over the breadth, intelligence and wit of his work, and I'm totally in thrall to its ability to draw out the embedded history and struggles that are latent in the landscapes we inhabit, while also making comprehensive artistic statements.

Accusations of clique-ness are probably well founded here, but Owen's book 'A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain' is a really stunning piece of work, a real demonstration that rather than the current standard of reactionary complacency posing as radical theorising all sheathed in unbearably turgid prose, it is eminently possible to combine architecture and politics in a work of genuine literary quality. Good for him!

Other literature that really stuck with me this year included Jonathan Littel's 'The Kindly Ones', Alisdair Gray's 'Lanark', & reading Geoffrey Hill's poetry.


In other literature news; I'm expecting that the first half of this year will see the publication of THE ARCHITECTURE OF FAILURE, the short book that I wrote about architecture, technology and weakness last year. Part history, part polemic, it takes a new look at the founding structures of modern architecture, the giant Iron & Glass palaces of the late 19th century. Instead of the triumphant expressions of technical prowess that they are generally understood to be, these buildings were expressions of a far more doubtful culture, which saw fragility, ghostliness and melancholy in their lofty transepts. This historical analysis begins to form a theory of architectural failure, a theory that starts to coalesce in the second half of the book where I apply it to three significant periods of architectural modernism, all of which have established conceptual links to these founding monuments - the 'Zoom' wave of Archigram et al, the Decon lot of the 1980s-90s, and the new generation of digiwibblists.

It will be neither conclusive neither definitive, but I would like to think that you'll enjoy it. I'll keep you posted.