In Uncategorized on April 23, 2014 at 4:25 pm

A Hot Summer beckons but perhaps not on the political front? Mark Perryman from finds some books sure to cheer up our inner pessimist.

UKiP riding high in the opinion polls, what could be a more dismal sign of the state of opposition outside the Westminster bubble? Whether or not Farage’s party of English poujadists manage to top the Euro Election poll in May and make a further dent in the 3-party domination of the local government elections on the same day too the dragging of political debate rightwards remains UKiP’s biggest achievement. There remain few signs of any similar success from the outside Left.

John Harris has recently argued that the Left is trapped in the past. Perhaps, but part of the reason for that is that the Left’s past is a tad more interesting than its present. Backward-looking? Yes, sometimes. But a modernisation founded on an ahistorical politics fails to account for the pluses and minuses of history and has proved itself willfully incapable of grappling with today’s fast-changing world. As an alternative take a look at the approach adopted by the hugely impressive Oxford Handbook of The History of Communism, which is as comprehensive as it is challenging. Rich in scope while sharply analytical in its understanding of one of the twentieth century’s grand narratives. So grand in fact that it sparked a counter all of its own making ‘anti-communism’ which is carefully dissected by the latest, now twice-yearly, volume of one of the most startlingly original political history initiatives of recent years, the journal Twentieth Century Communism. French revolutionary of the ‘68 vintage, Daniel Bensaid’s excellent memoir An Impatient Life provides more than enough passion for even the most hardened cynic. Of course history never stands still, to treat it as such absolutely locks the Left into past, not present. Paul Kelemen’s account The British Left and Zionism carefully chronicles a changing position on Israel and Palestine that he describes as a ‘history of a divorce’. The altered circumstances, loyalties and issues given the kind of weight of understanding they deserve yet are all too rarely afforded. On the other hand history needs endless and unchanging principle sometimes too, a point well-made by the welcome appearance of contemporary writings against the First World War, Not Our War.

The new and updated edition of Seumas Milne’s unrivalled account of the 1984-85 Miners Strike, The Enemy Within provides an example of how the past continues to haunt the present. Three decades on the legacy of the defeat of the miners continues to shape contemporary trade union militancy. Richard Seymour is a writer unafraid to confront the contours of such a defeat while at the same time providing the kind of deep-rooted analysis to map out an alternative. His latest book Against Austerity is no counsel of despair, rather a hardheaded call to action of a new type. Benjamin Kunkel’s Utopia or Bust is a handy, and exceptionally well-written, survey of Left wing analysis of the financial crisis including David Harvey, Frederic Jameson and Slavoj Zizek. Kunkel though doesn’t provide a commentary simply to inform though, but to enlighten too, a brilliant read. A similar dose of well reasoned yet strikingly original thinking is provided by the regular installments of the After Neoliberalism Manifesto available free online. The latest contribution States of Imagination takes rethinking public sector provision in a radically modernising direction entirely different to the Blair/Brown and Cameron/Clegg model of conservative modernisation Read it to appreciate the art of the possible and the sheer misery of the 1997-2010 moment of lost opportunity. An unashamedly theoretical account of neoliberal culture is provided by a special edition of the journal New Formations much of which is available free to download. For now though the political terrain in England at least remains dominated by the challenge from the Right, namely UKiP. The best single effort to understand this ghastly yet incredibly important phenomenon has been provided by Robert Ford and Matthew Goodwin in their sublime book Revolt on the Right Mixing empirical analysis of long-term voting trends with a well-argued case for the need to both understand and confront the roots of right-wing populism this is an absolutely essential read for summer 2014.

At the core of UKiP’s message, and the same is broadly true of right-wing populism across Europe, is a discourse of race and nation. The former is a subject the Left likes to think it has a decent set of ideas to construct an analysis of rooted in anti-racist values. However just how far the British Left needs to travel in order to reshape its politics via the Black British experience is revealed by the superb Darcus Howe: A Political Biography, which via personal testimony revisits a history of migration, self-organisaton and resistance which exists largely outside of traditional Left politics. Arun Kundnani’s The Muslims are Coming! links together the experience of Islamophobia, the framing of extremism/fundamentalism and the ongoing Global impact of the West’s so-called ‘War on Terror’…


Reviews Continued at Perryman – Sprining into Action

The Aura of the Rolling Stones in the Age of Total Mediation.

In Uncategorized on September 25, 2013 at 5:11 pm

By Macon Holt

Standing in Hyde Park, during Barclaycard’s presentation of British Summer time, I was, quite accidentally, immersed in the sonic aura of the Rolling Stones. For reasons of muddled principle and a wilful reframing of poverty, I feel my ticketless experience of the band was a far more vivid or valid or authentic or some such experience than the gilded cage of the pay-for crowd. In the park I was bathed in the sonic aura, the thickened air of the Rolling Stones’ works of art.

So this aura idea is one of the most interesting put forth by Walter Benjamin in his essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’. In the essay, Benjamin argues that the unique here-and-now existence of a work of art gives it a certain hard to define aura, which is lost (the aura) through even the most perfect reproduction. The original, with its unbroken connection to some sort of originator, is vitally import to Benjamin, despite his enthusiasm for the emancipatory potential he sees in works of art that require mechanical reproduction such as film. This idea seems pretty clear and demonstrable in relation to paintings (Benjamin’s example) with its chemical composition changing over time.

In this piece of writing, I’m going to operate on the conceit that the band who – for legal and financial purposes – are allowed to be identified and trade under the name The Rolling Stones create original Rolling Stones’ works of art when they play together, even if some of the song writers are deceased. I am, for the sake of argument and illustration, agreeing with a conservative notion that live music is more authentic than recordings (I totally disagree with this but to save time getting to what I want to talk about, so please forgive this).

So the Stones were on stage in Hyde Park on two weekends in July in 2013. This, the Stones playing songs on a stage, has happened hundreds, perhaps thousands of times since their formation in 1962. This means that they have, keeping the above conceit in mind, produced tens of thousands of ‘authentic’ Rolling Stones art works. These are you-had-to-be-there moments; a phrase to stand in for transcendence in the anxiety of a perhaps wilful paucity of descriptive ability. Or perhaps, such a defensive phrase is used in face of the terrifying prospect that this transcendence is an experience that can maybe be reduced. During the over half century of Rolling Stones artworks production, they, or at least their industrial framework, have sought to profit from the ephemeral and hard to access nature of this transcendent experience with the quick and easy potential of pop music. The production of numerous concert videos, willing and unwilling photographs and appearances in all forms of commercial media have been attempts to capture some of the ephemeral transcendence and transform it into discreet commodity forms through reproduction. In short, they are some of earliest and most enduring examples of the rock and roll mythology as a staple of the popular music industry. Manipulated and situated images and sounds and 50 years of ecstatic anecdotes, are now far more pristine referents to the Rolling Stones than the admittedly impressive swagger of the elderly Mick Jagger.

When you attend a Rolling Stones concert, the crowd is enormous and so the fight for position is fierce. For many attendees, some the same age or only a little younger than their idols, this fight is unwinnable and they are pushed far to the back. Here failing eyes, even if expertly bespectacled, can’t make out the difference between a blur and a swagger. The solution to this has been decided as big screens. A whole industry has come up around this problem-of-own-success-victimhood. Strange time distance sound-speed signal transfer delay types of things aside, the thought seems to be the screen is less an obvious form of mediation but a magnifying glass. The tiny blur on stage that becomes a close up on Keith Richards rictus as he strikes a chord on his low hung telecaster claims to get you closer to the band whist maintaining the high status of these modern deities. The ideology of this large scale communal experience means that to consider such inflated images as anything other than documentary evidence that the authentically ‘Rolling Stones’ Rolling Stones are, in fact, a here and now concern, would be tantamount to a micro-biology denialist going in for a tetanus booster – hypocrisy would seem to abound from the attendees account of events.

Without paying between £50 (difficult ones to get) and £400 on tickets, you can’t see the Rolling Stones engaged in the creation of Rolling Stones art works…

Review continued at Holt – The Aura of the Rolling Stones in the Age of Total Mediation. 


My Winnipeg (2007) Guy Maddin (dir).

In Uncategorized on July 5, 2013 at 8:45 pm

Review by Mark Rainey

You can’t escape Winnipeg. That’s the opening gambit of this film. And the film begins with director Guy Maddin, played by Darcy Fehr, on a train heading out of town. Yet, the train can’t resist the pull of the city and instead endlessly circulates Winnipeg, with the sleepy passengers on board viewing unfolding scenes of civic history, urban myth and Maddin’s own childhood memories from the train windows.

The obscure 1967 track by the Swinging Strings, ‘Wonderful Winnipeg’, plays during the film. It includes the lines, ‘Hail my town, hail my home, the world keeps moving round and round’. I don’t know how many times the song appears, it may be only once, but just like the lyrics suggest, the song circulates the film and is ineluctably engrained on the brain of the viewer. Just like Winnipeg is imprinted on the brain of Guy Maddin, then.

My uncle, a one-time Winnipeg resident, once told me that ‘You can leave Winnipeg, but Winnipeg never leaves you’. It may sound cliché, as this could be said of any city, but it does hold truth. Winnipeg (or whatever city) never leaves you, just as you can leave your family, but your childhood never leaves you. They’re both inescapable – and Guy Maddin weaves these two together throughout the film. As Maddin says, he is trying to film his way out of the ‘heinous power of family and city’.

If there’s a theme I’d like to highlight here it is the theme of the ‘double’. It permeates the whole film. From the outset, there is continual reference to the ‘forks beneath the forks’. The ‘forks’ are the confluence of the mighty Assiniboine and Red Rivers which meet in the centre of the city. Maddin suggests that Aboriginal legend speaks of a ‘forks beneath the forks’ a supposed subterranean confluence beneath the rivers which hold a sort of magical, magnetic power. The confluence is then crudely and repetitively superimposed on the nude lap of his mother – reinforcing the power of city and family. Other ‘doubles’ include the back alleys used to illicitly navigate the city, the night-time sleep-walking rituals that supplement daytime life, the slightly macabre return of Manitoba’s legendary ice-hockey heroes who skate the Winnipeg Arena one last time before its demolition and the ‘doubling’ of Maddin’s own family, as actors are hired to reconstruct mundane scenes from his life. Ann Savage, the ‘Perfect Vixen’ or 1940s film noir, takes on the role of his ever-watchful and domineering mother.

It could be said that My Winnipeg is a psychogeographic film. ‘Psychogeography’ was a concept introduced by the Situationist International in the early 1950s and in his 1955 tract ‘Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography’ Guy Debord defines it as the ‘study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographic environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviours of individuals’. My Winnipeg is psychogeographic in precisely this sense and Guy Maddin deploys myth, legend, memory, politics and civic and personal history (everything in his toolbox) to reconfigure his emotional take on the city. Debord continues by writing, ‘We need to work toward flooding the market – even if for the moment merely the intellectual market – with a mass of desires whose realization is not beyond the capacity of man’s present means of action on the material world, but only beyond the capacity of old social organization’. In a sense, My Winnipeg is this ‘mass of desires’, with Maddin projecting various means of accounting for and even repairing his Winnipeg. Despite the weird, multiple trajectories that psychogeography has taken on, especially in the UK, the Situationists were essentially Marxists and there is a hint of this in the film, in nostalgia form, with reference to the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. It all concludes with reference to The Winnipeg Citizen, the newspaper of striking workers, through which Maddin imagines a reconstituted ‘double’ Winnipeg that repairs the mistakes of its past. But it is idealised. And just as Guy Debord wrote that the word ‘psychogeography’ was introduced by an illiterate member, thereby undermining the whole idea at its very inception, there’s a sense that My Winnipeg can’t resolve anything. Covering over the mistakes of the past, with the same from that past, just brings more of the same. Perhaps this is the point of the film, ultimately. We’re still on that circular train ride.


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