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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

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

 

OUR WORLD OF SPORT

In Uncategorized on May 20, 2014 at 11:05 am

Mark Perryman reviews the perfect reading companions to the sporting summer

Summer 2013. The British and Irish Lions win  their test series against the Aussies down under. Andy Murray wins Wimbledon. Chris Froome makes it a second Tour de France British Yellow Jersey in a row. Mo Farah does the double in the 5000m  and 10,000m at the World Athletics Championships. Sporting Brits are forced for once to come to terms with what it feels like to be winners.  

Of course the glorious appeal of sport is its unpredictability. A year ago Man Utd won the League by 11 points with Sir Alex in his retirement pomp. A year later Utd finish in 7th place. The best sportswriting engages with the causes and effects of unpredictability to capture not only the glories of victory but the far more common experience, the miseries of defeat. 2013’s summer of British victories only meant so much because most of us were better accustomed to the experience of British plucky losers.  Amongst the finest sportswriters to cover this emotional scope was Frank Keating. The Highlights is a posthumous  collection of his superb writing spanning more than fifty years of sport. But sport’s appeal is about more than just emotions. Sport’s potential to mobilise for social change across issues stretching from peace and environmentalism to women’s liberation and anti-racism is expertly chronicled in the collection Sport and Social Movements. It is a potential rarely acknowledged by the Left, in what should be regarded as a classic work on this subject, Marxism, Cultural Studies and Sport Editors  Ben Carrington and Ian McDonald definitively rebuffed this underestimation. Or by way of practical example., the extraordinary story retold in Nicholas Griffin’s Ping-Pong Diplomacy. Mao’s China, a long-standing British communist, the Cold War and table-tennis is an unlikely mix yet proves to be a true-life story of how sport can matter enough to change history, sometimes.

Sport is not only socially-constructed but is heavily circumscribed by a binary divide, competition vs recreation. One that is largely meaningless however to the vast majority of us who participate, because for most of our time watching, or doing, we are inevitably on the losing side. The pleasure rather is being there, or doing it.  As a doer and a writer Richard Askwith is the supreme champion of the appeal of the most basic sporting activity of all, running , and in his new book Running Free, sub-titled ‘ a runner’s journey back to nature’ he explores with some wonderful writing what running ‘free’ means as opposed to Olympian ambition on the track or big city marathons on the road.

For those still to be convinced of the potential connect between sport and politics James Montague’s When Friday Comes could prove the most enjoyable dose of re-education. A travelogue combining war, revolution and religion with football, all in the Middle East, a quite remarkable read. Or with the summer World Cup fast-approaching try Alan Tomlinson’s handy counter-history of Blatter and company, FIFA : The Men, The Myths and the Money . Written by the pre-eminent expert on what FIFA has done to football , a vital accompaniment to understanding the divorce in Brazil between the tournament and the passion of the people. Cult football in the shape of Danish Dynamite,  reveals what that passion can come to represent. in this case Denmark’s thrillingly talented 1986 World Cup Squad.  A similar approach, uncovering what teams at particular times represent to those they captivated with their skill and personality is covered by the collection Falling for Football  this is fan-oriented writing at its best. Refs of course are one of the main causes of any joylessnes following football. Paul Trevillion and Keith Hackett’s latest volume of their cartoon-strip seriesYou are the Ref enables us all to be the arbiter of the disallowed goal, offside controversy, did he dive or was he tripped? Ideal reading as England go out of the World Cup thanks to a goal that never was. Originally titled Why England Lose  authors Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski came up ahead of World Cup 2010 with an original set of arguments to explain away the nations four decades and more of hurt. A 4-1 thrashing at the hands of a young and hugely talented German team helped make the book a well-deserved best-seller. But four years on precious few now expect England to do anything but lose at World Cup 2014 so the book has been revised, updated and given the new title of Soccernomics.  A book rich in arguments and statistics, debunking the mythologies of football from penalty shoot outs can’t be trained for to big cities producing the best clubs.  More sense than you’ll ever get out of a Match of the Day Sofa.  

Elizabeth Wilson is a committed Marxist, a feminist, and a tennis fan…

Review continued at Perryman World of Sport

SPRINGING INTO ACTION

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.

Destructive Plasticity and the Living Dead: Malabou Reading Freud

In Uncategorized on May 10, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Review article by Richard Iveson (forthcoming in Reviews in Cultural Theory as “Figuring Those Who Have Already Been Dead: Destructive Plasticity and the Form of Absence”)

Introduction: thinking plasticity

 For nearly twenty years, French philosopher Catherine Malabou has been exploring the unpredictable terrain of metamorphosis, through which she has evolved the important concept of plasticity (plasticité) understood as the hermeneutic motor scheme of our “new age.” By this, she means that plasticity is a singular scheme or motive that opens the door to the current epoch by enabling the interpretation of phenomena and major events as they arise. In this way, argues Malabou, plasticity has displaced the previous motor scheme of writing (écriture).

In contrast to elasticity as the capacity to return to an original form, plasticity denotes the production of form in its positive and negative aspects. Plasticity, in other words, refers positively to both the donation and the reception of form and, negatively, to the formative destruction of form. It is this latter aspect, an aspect consistently shied away from by both scientific and philosophical discourse, which forms the subject of her latest book, The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage.

A formidable close reader, Malabou is thus in one sense continuing along a clearly delineated philosophical trajectory with what is an important new reading of Freud. At the same time, however, The New Wounded, originally published in 2007, demands to be considered as utterly discontinuous with her earlier works. As she acknowledges in her “Preamble,” her work bears a distinct break marked by her “incursion into the domain of neuroscience” (xii). This rupture can be located precisely between the “before” of The Heidegger Change, and the “after” of What Should We Do with Our Brain?, both of which originally appeared in 2004.

As regards the “post-neuronal” texts, Malabou’s aim is twofold: first, to free neuroscientific discourse from its unwitting production of conservative criteria that ultimately serve to regulate social functioning; and second, to produce a consciousness of the brain that emphasizes the mutual speculative relation of brain and world, and in so doing place “scientific discovery at the service of an emancipatory political understanding” (Brain, 53). Such an understanding, she argues, is urgently required if we are to respond adequately to what she maintains is a “new age of political violence” (New Wounded, 156).

Here, Malabou attempts to further this understanding by placing the “profiles” of psychoanalysis and neuroscience side by side, a long-overdue articulation that reveals a surprising specularity between the two, seemingly incommensurable discourses.1 According to Malabou, moreover, if psychoanalysis is to move forward, it must be forced to come to terms with what she calls the new wounded (in contrast no doubt to its “old,” hysterically wounded). Exemplified by the victims of catastrophic brain lesions, the new wounded are those subjects who, transformed completely by trauma and oblivious to affect, find themselves utterly indifferent to everything around them. In short, contemporary psychoanalysis must risk a – potentially destructive – encounter with a new wound and thus a new form: that of the embodiment of the death drive itself.

Coming together: cerebrality and sexuality

 At the root of the conflict between psychoanalysis and neurology, Malabou locates a struggle for etiological dominance. As is well known, Freudian psychoanalysis is characterized by the etiological regime of sexuality, referring not to the narrow set of genital practices, but rather to a law that functions to regulate the form of causality specific to psychoanalysis. To elucidate how this apparatus works, and hence establish “the causal value of sexuality within the domain of mental illness,” thus becomes fundamental to the constitution of psychoanalysis as a scientific discipline (New Wounded, 2). Sexuality, in short, determines “the sense of the event within psychic life” (2).

By contrast, Malabou identifies a radically different causality at work in contemporary neurology, for which she coins the neologism cerebrality. Mirroring the psychoanalytic relation between sex and sexuality, here the brain refers to the narrow set of cerebral functions, whereas cerebrality designates “the causal value of the damage inflicted upon these functions – that is, upon their capacity to determine the course of psychic life” (2). As such, cerebrality “implies the elucidation of the specific historicity whereby the cerebral event coincides with the psychic event” (2). In this way, a cerebral etiology of psychic disturbances becomes possible, one which, according to Malabou, will inevitably supplant sexual eventality in the psychopathology to come.

As we shall see in more detail in the next section, developments in neurology have demonstrated that cerebral activity goes well beyond the merely cognitive, encompassing “the affective, sensory, and erotic fabric without which neither cognition nor consciousness would exist” (4)…

Review continued at Iveson – Destructive Plasticity and the Living Dead

On trying to give up The Independent

In Uncategorized on March 11, 2013 at 11:48 pm

Review by John Bedwell

Maybe it’s because they never publish my letters. Perhaps it’s the obsession with the Liberal Democrats. It could be the red sans-serif masthead, or the front-page shock therapy, or the compulsive editorial rejigs. It could be the i, or the nauseating ‘Trending’ (whatever that is). Most likely it’s the never-ending debates around the Blairite/Thatcherite dynasties, and or that thick inky coating of pro-market goo. But whatever it is – I’m hacked off with The Independent (pun intended).

We’re not talking about The Daily Mail (like spending twenty minutes in a mental institution). This isn’t that royalist Telegraph rag I begged my grandfather to ditch after 60 years. My god, it’s not even The Guardian. Dear Indy has been the centre-left mouthpiece of good old-fashioned journalism since 1986. This is the newspaper that publishes opposing views ON THE SAME PAGE. The daily that opposed the invasion of Iraq, has called for the legalisation of soft drugs (whatever those are), went ‘compact’ first! The newspaper that continuously reports on stories even after they’ve gone out of fashion: social inequality, AIDS, Iraq, post-revolutionary fallout, that thing about all the ice melting. An honest voice in the mainstream wilderness, which until recently carried on its front page the banner, “free from party political bias, free from proprietorial influence”.

Yet things have changed on Fleet Street, sorry, I mean in Canary Wharf. Read all about it: Economic Survival at Stake; Internet Gobbling up Sales; Trust in Press at All-Time Low. With all this happening everywhere to everyone all of the time, The Indy is feeling spooked, threatened, defensive, schizophrenic. The word ‘independent’ used to mean something – or was at least a badge of respectability on the train. On Saturday March 9th 2013, it means whatever you want it to mean so long as you’re not planning on thinking too much.

‘Proprietorial Influence and political bias’, let’s meditate on these expressions. Or, let’s meditate on the purchase of the newspaper by Russian billionaire, Alexander Lebedev, in 2010 (Oligarch Buys Newspaper Scandal!). Or, we could just flick through today’s edition and pick out some juicy tidbits. On page five here’s an article shaming The Sun, really. On page nine we’re told the world’s best restaurant has been poisoning cliental, scary. Moving on, here’s the J.K. Rowling page, the i-pad advert, and the announcement that tomorrow’s edition will feature an interview with ‘What-she-did-next-X-factor-judge-in-spiritual-journey’. Luckily, no Britons died yesterday, but a brutal human rights violating dictator did die of cancer during the week. Thank Amnesty he’s not free to brainwash his people or violate the sacred codes of unlimited consumption anymore. Hugo Chavez’s funeral was attended by, and I quote, ‘a strange cast’ (page 18). Maybe it’s the clichés that really drive me wild.

But this is news. Hot off the press, Kanian style, giving us what we want, how we want it: fear, aspiration, titillation, assurance.  Visit Switzerland, Sri Lanka, The Serpentine. Those pesky Argentines should leave our islanders alone. When will the Kenyans learn how to vote properly? The PM’s had his knuckles rapped! Osborne’s got a headache! China’s shitting itself because its troublesome neighbor wants to blow the world to kingdom come! Oh no hang on, everything’s OK. Charlotte Church and Will Smith matter. There is no invisible hand at work here. No one’s being influenced one iota, especially not the independent minds writing and reading this self-declared ‘proudly liberal newspaper’.

How can a publication be free from political bias if it is of one political persuasion? Is ‘neo’ liberalism (you draw the line) not a political position? Has the sky fallen out of the sky? Doesn’t this newspaper have an editorial proudly publishing proudly liberal views, everyday? The freedom The Independent proclaims and revels in is the freedom to portray itself as above and outside the very system it supports. The freedom it professes is that of a business producing, distributing and selling itself as commodity. The independence of The Independent is that of any self-validating media to say what it wants within the bounds of law and political economy. Within the bounds.   

You may find these boundaries roughly in-between Gorgeous George Galloway’s sermon on our bankrupted political class and the two-page spread profile on Home Secretary Theresa May, ‘The Iron Lady in Waiting’. Witness a symmetrical narrative; the remains of half-crazed socialism as the natural counterweight to staunch conservatism. The Independent nestles safely in the middle, on the wasteland, a crow on the shoulder, where the taxes are tweaked and the backs are scratched. In expending much space on Politics, Arts, Science and The World (wherever that is), cloaked in objective veneer, The Indy but reinforces the norms which justify our condition; a self-referential discourse that has no intention of breaking with dogma.

On close inspection dear old Indy is locked into the prevailing plotlines of our times. Perhaps it always has been but we just weren’t paying attention. That nasty residue is the taste of conformity. Maybe I’ll stop writing letters. Maybe I’ll stop buying it. If only I could resist the red sans-serif. 

An introduction to the introduction to Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space.

In Space on January 15, 2013 at 11:29 am

Introduction by Mark Rainey

The ‘Plan of the Present Work’ or introduction to Henri Lefebvre’s The Production of Space  is a dense drift across a series of themes, disciplines, topics and targets: from mathematics to linguistics, from Plato to Chomsky, from Surrealism to urban planning.  It reflects the manner in which Lefebvre himself, we can imagine, drifted around his office dictating the work to his secretary.  This is not just meant to be a flippant comment, but gives some insight into how the text itself was produced.  It was spoken in immediacy, filtered only by the typist, rather than the perhaps more reflected act of Lefebvre writing the work out himself.  The working out of his theory of space occurred alongside the material work carried out by his staff.  This wandering style, dense but loose, gives some account for Lefebvre’s sweeping build up to his own theory of space.

“To speak of ‘producing space’ sounds bizarre”, Lefebvre states, “so great is the sway still held by the idea that empty space is prior to whatever ends up filling it”.  There is a ring of the enlightenment era debate between Newton and Leibniz in the priority given to empty space.  The former had advocated a mathematically independent absolute space, while the latter argued for a relational space dependent on the connection between objects – and Lefebvre certainly mines the history and “long development of the concept of space” in the opening sections of the text.  Crucially, for Lefebvre, this critical history is an opportunity to identify fundamental problems with how ‘space’ has been approached and allows him to pose his notion of ‘social space’ in response.  The common perception of space as an empty area or container is a symptom of the fragmentation of space in western thought and culture.  This fragmentation, expressed in binary oppositions such as the mental (the intelligible, the mathematical, the space of the philosophers) and the lived (the sensory, the material, the practical), is traced through Descartes, mathematical theory and into contemporary philosophy.  We are “confronted by an indefinite multitude of spaces”: literary, ideological, geographical, economic, commercial, national, psychoanalytic etc.  These separate, distinct, disciplinary spheres serve to reflect the specialist and functional distinctions in material and urban space: spaces of leisure, work, play, transportation, public facilities, etc.  In all of this, space becomes a vague and neutered concept. This is space viewed as a neutral container: “Space that is innocent, as free of traps and secret places”.  Lefebvre is attempting to tear this veil of vagueness and neutrality, to reveal that space is fundamentally political and that this political character of space is hidden by ideology.  Space reflects the social relations of production and the social relations of production reflect space.  They are mutually constitutive, in dialectical relation with one another.  This is the essence of Lefebvre’s maxim: (Social) space is a (social) product.

Production is a key term for Lefebvre, which can be understood in reference to both Hegel and Marx.  While the text is weighted towards Marx, it’s nonetheless worth exploring his use of Hegel – not only in recognition of Lefebvre’s role, along with Alexandre Kojève, in introducing Hegel into French theory, but also because Hegel underpins his understanding of ‘social space’.  In Lefebvre’s words, Hegel is the Place de l’Etoile of the text, at once austere and monumental, but also an important nexus for the convergence and circulation of ideas.  Lefebvre’s incorporation of Hegel is not uncritical and we need to bear this in mind.  In Hegelian fashion, certain aspects are discarded while others are deployed.  Hegel’s notion of space is dismissed as ‘statist’ by Lefebvre, yet Hegelian production is maintained.  In defining Hegelian production Lefebvre writes:

“In Hegelianism, ‘production’ has a cardinal role: first, the (absolute) Idea produces the world; next, nature produces the human being; and the human being in turn, by dint of struggle and labour, produces at one, history, knowledge and self-consciousness – and hence that Mind which reproduces the initial and ultimate Idea”.

‘Production’, as described here, is not given a spatial understanding.  This is rather a broad account of Hegel’s philosophy and ‘production’ is located in the action or type of movement undertaken by the absolute idea in its full, self-conscious realisatiion.  There are hints of a notion of circulation as the idea is then re-produced.  For Lefebvre, the productive movement within Hegel hinges on the term “concrete universal” – a notion that seemingly belongs to philosophy while also extending beyond it.  The “concrete universal” is constituted as a relation between the general, the particular and the singular – or the logical-epistemological, the descriptive and the sensory, respectively.  What is significant is that the interrelation between these three notions, under the “concrete universal”, provides a means to escape the “straightjacket” of dualisms that

Continue reading this introduction: NXRB An Introduction to Lefebvre’s The Production of Space.

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