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FLYING TO EARTH

In Uncategorized on December 9, 2015 at 10:49 pm

Steve Hanson reviews Plane Truth by Rose Bridger (Pluto).

This book provides a critique of an aviation industry which is enmeshed with ‘the globalisation of manufacturing’ and ‘extreme oil projects’. Bridger’s book is a great resource for both activists and concerned citizens.

Air travel is of course ‘international’ by its very nature, but its hubs are locally-specific. This means different conditions for passengers, for instance, ‘citizens of Africa fly the least’, but ‘the accident rate is appalling’. It also means that the ground-level opposition to massive air infrastructure projects have different levels of resistance, from both sides, in different nation states.

This book is a crucial addition to my growing collection of resources about the ‘other side’ of ubiquitous, taken-for-granted modernisms. Wolfgang Schivelbusch on shop window lighting, or Kittler on media fusing into ‘secular’ form, out of discarded military ordnance. Bridger’s book isn’t historically or theoretically grounded in the same way, but it is at least as useful in our age of permanent crisis.

Plane Truth now sits on my shelf next to After the Car by Dennis and Urry (Polity). Because they traced the development of the motor car back, via some incredible quotes, in order to understand how what we ended up with was not neutral or inevitable. Bridger does similar things for the aeroplane. A popular nineteenth century journal existed called ‘Horseless Age’, and in 1896 an article described how:

‘…there is absolutely no odour connected with the electric vehicle, while all the gasoline motors we have seen belch forth from their exhaust pipe a continuous stream of partially unconsumed hydrocarbon in the form of a thin smoke with a highly noxious odour.’

The electric car was ditched, as the power of the internal combustion engine was essential for modern warfare. This turning point partly led to our current crisis. Dennis and Urry understand, as anyone well-versed in Marx does, that twentieth century capitalism isn’t the strong reassuring force its surfaces seem to suggest, but sharkish, chaos in organised groups, with little regard for the long-term availability of raw materials, or even the long-term viability of its own game.

Bridger points this out very clearly in regard to aviation protests. There have been voices of dissent, but they have been drowned until very recently, by the sheer machine noise of material wealth-gathering, ‘progress’. Her work is always grounded in careful research.

The car sits alongside these issues in terms of the consumption of raw materials and pollution, but more immediately in traffic accidents and how they crowd city life, eating up pavement space, even when stationary. Bridger’s book covers these issues for aviation, but sticks closely to resource economics. She adds to the picture of the airport what the techne of the aeroplane does to the ecology.

Imagining what the future might look like is a risky business, and again, reading Marx tells us why. Buckminster Fuller once wrote that ‘you never change things by fighting the existing reality’, to actually change it, ‘build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.’

I only half believe this, but Bridger’s urgent plea for disorganised capitalism to change is very worthwhile. The imaginary space of futurology is crucial to stimulating real action, however different from the speculation this may eventually be.

Elsewhere, John Urry has described how solipsistic we are to imagine ourselves ‘special’, aloof or superior from the forces of nature or physics. Our culture is the ultimate outcome of the separation of everything, the product of a kind of Kantian humanism gone feral. We thought we’d started the engine and flown away, but we were attached to the earth all along. Bruno Latour describes this well, as does Peter Sloterdijk.

Blake’s portrait of Newton seems even more important now, although many aspects of the romanticisms which followed it show how we were drugging ourselves with dangerous delusions. We can only hope that the post-car era isn’t only possible in a post-pedestrian one, which is a very literal and final reading of the term ‘post-human’. I also hope that we are not finally ‘grounded’, on a kind of neo-Medieval floodplain. Speaking at the very broadest level, international travel is at least culturally desirable.

Dennis and Urry’s text is almost ridiculously upbeat in tone, as they explore the possibilities still open to us, local sustainability, radically altered technologies and modes of transport, but these suggestions always arrive next to ominous passages about a return to a kind of feudalism.

Bridger’s voice is similar, and I pay tribute to all of their willful optimisms and pessemistic intellects.

READING LE TOUR

In Uncategorized on June 30, 2014 at 7:17 pm

Mark Perryman reviews books that can help frame our enjoyment of the Tour de France

There seems to be something about cycling that helps inspire fine sportswriting. Perhaps it is the landscapes and countries traversed, the solitude on a bike, the risk factor of a fall or worse, the extraordinary feats of human endurance, and human-powered speed too. Add a healthy dose of British elite level cycling success plus a dose of greenery and its no surprise that publishers are backing bicycling authors to deliver sales, for the most part with very good books too.

Of course it is  Le Tour  that galvanises this interest, every year, right across Europe, free to watch from the road or mountain side, on terrestrial TV live too. And this year the first two days are in Yorkshire, from Leeds to Harrogate, York to Sheffield, then down south to London before crossing  La Manche  for the remaining three and a bit weeks of this most magnificent of races.  Tim Moore’s French Revolutions is one of the best introductions to the scale and ambition of Le Tour  from a cyclist’s point of view as he retells the experience of riding all 3,630km of one year’s route.  Even for the keenest, and fittest cyclist such a venture  would prove to be too far, and too much. Ned Boulting’s brilliantly idiosyncratic How I Won the Yellow Jumper  is his own inside story on how most of us follow the race, via the ITV coverage. This is the professional journalist as self-confessed fan, which in Boulting’s case, but not for many others, works to produce a wonderful style of writing. Part of what makes Le Tour so iconic, as with all the major global sporting events, is its backhistory, now stretching back more than a century. The Tour de France to the Bitter End  is a superlative collection of race reports from the Guardian  beginning in 1903 to almost right up to the present with the Bradley Wiggins victory in 2012. Before Wiggins in terms of British riders the essential reference point was the story of the brilliant, yet tragic, Tommy Simpson. A career detailed in William Fotheringham’s Put Me Back on My Bike. Road racing at this superlative level  is sometimes described as a sport for individuals played by teams. Simpson’s final demise can in part be explained by his becoming a victim of this contradiction. Richard Moore’s Slaying the Badger  is the classic account of a bitter rivalry between two cyclists riding the race supposedly for the same team, Hinault vs LeMond, in what Moore dubs the greatest-ever Tour de France, the 1986 edition.  Whatever the year, on the roads of France and beyond the riders will be stretched out over many kms as they follow the designated route for the best part of four weeks, a compelling sports drama.  It is the sheer range of the riders that Max Leonard captures so well in his book Lanterne Rouge  choosing to write not about the winners, but those at the back, the very back of the race, and what keeps them going.  Ellis Bacon’s Mapping Le Tour  provides the definitive insight into the scale of the endeavour of the race, beautifully illustrated, every edition of Le Tour catalogued, each stage recorded. Not only does cycling inspire and attract great writing, but it has a vivid visual culture too. A combination showcased in  The Rouleur Centenary Tour de France with the very finest photography of the 2013 race alongside high quality  reportage on each of the 21 stages, which ended of course with the second successive British Yellow Jersey winner, Chris Froome..

The Climb is Chris Froome’s newly published autobiography and details his extraordinary road to the Yellow Jersey via growing up in Kenya, school in South Africa, joining the European pro-cycling circuit, debilitating illness and last year’s eventual triumph. Of course this was a victory whether he likes it or not will for ever and a day be measured against Bradley Wiggins’ triumph the year previously. Read the Wiggins biography My Time  to get some kind of inkling of the nature and the depth of the rivalry between the pair of them. Before these two was Mark Cavendish and expected to be very much a part of this year’s Tour too. The ferocious speed, not to mention the split second and millimetre perfect decision making required, of a stage finish  seems to be almost the ideal environment for Cavendish’s  very particular  cycling proves how he has developed and excelled detailed in his book  At Speed . For many though whatever the scale of Wiggo, Cav and Froome’s achievements as British cyclists the long shadow of the sport’s drug problems remans so impenetrable as to cast such successes in doubt…

Review continued at  Perryman – Reading the tour.

THE WORLD CUP OF OUR DREAMS

In Uncategorized on June 10, 2014 at 7:35 pm

To drag ourselves away from the banalities of the Brazil 2014 TV studio punditariat Mark Perryman provides a World Cup reading list.

The professionally cautious Roy Hodgson just couldn’t resist it could he? ‘England can win this World Cup’  he declares on the eve of the tournament. Not if Roy consults the match histories elegantly provided by Brain Glanville’s classic The Story of the World Cup they won’t. No European side has won a World Cup hosted in South America, Central America or North America. No England side has made it past the quarter-finals in a World Cup for 24 years. No England side has ever made it past the quarter finals at a World Cup in South or Central America. Why should things be any different this time Roy?  That’s not to say the next three and a bit weeks can’t be hugely enjoyable for football fans, England loyal or otherwise. Chris England’s witty and accessible  pocket guide How To Enjoy the World Cup  provides ample enough ways to drag ourselves away from what the TV studio punditariat serves up and consume the tournament on our own terms. Or delve into Thirty One Nil . A footballing travelogue which explores the global reach of the World Cup via the qualifying games we would otherwise never have heard of because the losers haven’t a hope in the proverbial of ever making it to Brazil for the finals. Yet without this international back-history the World Cup loses much of its sense of meaning, a case superbly made by author James Montague.  
As tournament hosts Brazil will unsurprisingly be the focus for much of the TV and other media coverage. Yet the richness of Brazilian football culture cannot be disconnected from the broader place of football right across Latin American society. Alongside Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and possibly Colombia will be serious contender. The collection The Football Crónicas  provides a football-writing insight into the state of, and culture of, the game across the region.  A prison team in Argentina, a team of Colombian transvestites, Peruvian women’s football, Chilean football hooligans. Romario’s campaign for a just World Cup. This collection really has got the lot. Golazo! by Andreas Campnar  is a splendid history of Latin American football on both the continent and the international stage, including of course most importantly success at World Cups. This is football writing at its very best, epic on the pitch, socially aware off it.
The best writing on society and culture repays this kind of literary compliment by accounting for sport’s role in making the social.  Justin McGuirk’s Radical Cities is critical travel-writing with an expert eye for urban design. The author tells his story via a tour across Latin America, on the the way accounting for how urbanism shapes the politics of Brazil. This is a powerfully original way to begin an understanding  how the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Rio Olympics both seek to represent modern Brazil.  Published by the Latin America Bureau their brand new guide Brazil Inside Out  is easily easily the best guidebook to have handy beside the TV as we wade through a month of banalities and lazy stereotypes. Perfect for a half-time alternative catch up to keep yourself better informed on Brazilian politics and culture.
One of the by-products of hosting a World Cup is the unprecedented focus on the host nation. Brazil remains best known for its football, there is no obvious way of avoiding that salient fact . Jogo Bonito  helps us to understand the central importance of global footballing success, dating back to the 1950s and pretty much ever-present since then, both to Brazil’s self image and external profile. Futebol by Alex Bellos is the definitive social history of Brazilian football and an absolutely joy to read. David Goldblatt’s  Futebol Nation  is also an historical account of Brazilian football, with a sharp political edge to connect this story both to the formation of Brazil as a nation and the current state of this nation as 2014’s host, and favourites to win the tournament.
And my book of the World Cup? Written by the finest critical sportswriter in the world today, Dave Zirin  his new book Brazil’s Dance with the Devil  mixes incisive sporting commentary with an angry polemical style that drags readers along to marvel both at the sport we love and the outrage FIFA with corrupt politicians in tow quite rightly spark. Read it to be informed in your anger. Not to spoil your  watching of the World Cup, but to enrich the experience.

Note: A signed copy of  Futebol Nation with Futebol, Brazil Inside Out  and  Football Crónicas, all half-price  is available for just £24.99 from Philosophy Football

Mark Perryman  is the co-founder of the self-styled ‘sporting outfitters of intellectual distinction’, aka Philosophy Football

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