Archive for June, 2014|Monthly archive page


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.



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

The State of Scripts

In Uncategorized on June 6, 2014 at 10:07 am

Manchester Left Writers review the state of scripts on the left. 

We want to provide a picture of what is wrong with ‘radical’ or ‘left wing’ academic writing, because we feel that it needs to be rescued from itself. What we have identified collectively are elements of ‘scripts’ that we fall back on when we are not utilising the full potential of our resources in the here and now. Scripts are all resources from the past. Scripts are always half bad style and bad meaning, ruts of lazy thinking which have congealed into dead literary-academic modes.
‘The left’ needs to reoccupy the present and future, actually, physically, and politically, but to do this we need to recalibrate writing so that it is symbolically fit for the scale of the task. This is the first utopian step. ‘Utopia’ is the unwritten no-place we have to move towards, but to do that we have to identify as many of the elements of the bad scripts as possible, the lazy, default modes of writing.
Otherwise, how can we write this no-place, how will we inscribe it with all the changes we desperately need? Scripts only allow us to produce something because the ego needs gratification. Scripts are not about exploring the representation and politics of life in 2014, in a new, risky or tentative way, because what is being produced has not yet been tried, and so is a little frightening. Scripts are about making ego-capital.
We wondered if we might get these reflections on scripts published in a ‘radical’ journal or philosophy magazine, but decided that most of them are probably far too enslaved by the lazy mental habits being described below. We are cynical about work being produced by a washed-up, London-centric, mediocre middle-class ‘autonomist’ scene. To get us started, here are some elements of bad academic scripts that we have identified, strung together as a loose narrative:

1. The Sanctimonious Style: a classic discourse of ‘traditional intellectuals’. An academic star system breeds noblesse oblige: ‘Here I am, fulfilling my “progressive” duties’, but in a self-indulgent windbag fashion, bound up with position and status. In fact, the tone of this script is produced by status, and a life essentially spent on a reservation. Ironically, this script is often replicated by admirers without that power. We can perhaps add to this the ‘Left Worthy’, where writers start to designate ‘the good socialist’. When this happens, be sure that all thinking has stopped. Some elements of this script reveal its emptiness, including…
2. The Tenuous Theoretical Inversion: ‘Aha! But is that the case? If we turn Habermas’s notion inside-out we get…’ not very much, usually. Inverting the ‘notions’ of others usually means that you have few of your own left.
3. The Abstract Expression: This has a long pre-history in leaden macro-Marxism, where everything is covered in ash, as thick curtains of theoretical fog obscure everything. We can include in this the excesses of Frankfurt School ‘totalizing’, and macro ‘up in the clouds’ views of vast swathes of countries and cultures. This leaves us with…
4. Opacity: The residual afterglow of texts that are meant to be complex, compressed, portentous, poetic or ‘deep’, but are actually just opaque. Some of us think that Calvino’sInvisible Cities falls into this category for much of the time, and is so celebrated that people shy away from describing it as such. We will add to this…
5. The Spurious Psychogeography: Accounts of vague wandering, accompanied by photographs of fetishised, aesthetic urban ruins, pierced by striking solipsistic outbursts, emptied of all politics.
6. The Foucauldian Cauldron and Deleuzian Eel Barrel: Power is everywhere and therefore nowhere, it is ‘between’. Everyone is oppressor and oppressed at the same time. This is correct in many ways, but nobody in this murky soup is ever prepared to identify ‘the enemy’, because nobody in it can actually see one. There is a related, but opposite risk here, in writing which posits all identities as ‘spectral’ on ‘our side’, yet ‘over there’ is a big slab of oppression called Capitalism, The Patriarchy, et cetera. These ‘slabs’ of oppression derive in part from Foucauldian and Althusserian anti-humanism. It was once said that Foucauldian theory is a giant ‘spider web without a spider’. If we’re just bearers of the structure, points of intersection, then the spectral spider becomes an abstract oppression, rather than something human beings do to each other (and some more than others). We need to identify the spider and pull its legs off. Then Deleuze arrived, and everything is unstitched, in a state of permanent exodus or ‘becoming’, nothing is one thing, everything is between states, or ‘problematic’ if it isn’t…

Post continued at MLW – The State of Scripts


Thought Worms from the Wreckage

In Uncategorized on June 1, 2014 at 10:10 am

Robert Galeta reviews ‘Derelicts: Thought Worms from the Wreckage’, by Esther Leslie (Unkant).

This is an exhilarating and disturbing book. Its contents, explorations and connections between key thinkers and artists in Weimar Germany, are inherently dark: shatterings and displacements, stupefying mass entertainments, then the nasty use of art for politics by the Nazis, mass ‘mendacity’, to borrow from a quote here by Kurt Schwitters. Its content is an instance of our terrible modernity, in the double sense of that adjective, used by Sophocles in one of the Choruses in Antigone, terrible in our capacities.

But this is also a very uplifting book, because of the inherently positive engagement of the thinkers and artists to really look at and try to articulate the lived reality they were in, with the help of philosophers, Marx, and also Freud and the anti-strategies in art concocted by the Dadaists.

But it is, for me, also uplifting because of Leslie’s deft use of language, combined with great scholarship, but not at all bound by it. Here are some extracts to illustrate these points:

From the section ‘Momentous Surfaces’ about IG Farben’s new colour film:

‘Kracauer’s view of film turned pessimistic; film worked on the masses, rendering them half-conscious and atomised in their numbers. This art of light and colour gave substance to the thin veneer of glamour, and entertainment’s distraction becomes intoxication.’

From ‘Comrades and Constellations: Construction Site’ about the relations between Benjamin and Brecht:

‘Effortless consumption is the mode of reception effected by naturalist theatrical mechanisms. Brecht’s aesthetic system, in contrast, is designed to convey the conditions that we are in, and as such runs parallel to our workaday world, but is peeled off from it, made strange, such that aspects of these conditions, these functions of the real, are “discovered”, made recognisable in the perplexing moment of their estrangement.’

I was impressed by Leslie’s language in her earlier 2007 Reaktion book ‘Walter Benjamin’, where she studied essays, articles and essays unavailable to an English reader. But then, having been taken through the death of Benjamin on the Spanish border, you turn the page and she does something truly wonderful, and perhaps, thinking of this new book too, filmic. I won’t say what – do read it.

The book’s structure is very much about connections, for example Samuel Reimarus’ 1760 ‘General Considerations on the Instincts of Animals’ is part of a reflection on our detachment from nature and the importance of the sensual for Marx. This is 74 pages after the following, from a section entitled ‘Immoral Economy: Time and Money’, but this cutting backwards and forwards upsets thinking about what is being re-read, here around Marx’s ‘Grundrisse’:

‘Labour is an energy. It comes from our mind and bodies. It is a natural power. It is part of workers’ vitality. This energy is directed towards making useful things, but it is also calibrated as abstract labour, as quantities of labour. The calculation runs: x amount of labour hours at x amount of cost is carried out by x.’

This structure or configuration, because it is figured, both for thought and emotion, generously brings the Academy out through its doors. This very much supports the last sections about now, about the need and responsibility for critical practices. But this isn’t so much an ending as another pulsing inviting us to read across, to put what has been connected or put alongside into our time of technological noise and mendacity, to be alert.

– Robert Galeta, May 2014, Manchester Left Writers

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