There are days when passing through London feels like an immense, patient, intricate unwinding of the thread through the labyrinth laid down — without much forethought — years before. I’ve lived here 31 years: there’s a bus strike, I’m going to be walking down roads and clocking buildings I haven’t thought about for decades. More to say one day about this feeling as it applies to my mum, my dad and the town of my birth, but one way and another yesterday was a good day to be casting my mind back.
For a while now I’ve been wondering about the feasibility and the need for a project: which for want of a better term I’ve been calling the “co-operative archive”. When my friend Martin Skidmore died last year, his wish was that those who knew and loved him gathered at his flat and divided up whatever of his collections — of comics, records, books, art catalogues and more — that we variously wanted. It struck most of us that day, I think, that there was something more than just sad about splitting up what he’d put together so carefully, over many years: he was a highly intelligent man, a scholar, in fact, especially when it came to comics. Was there a way this archive could be maintained? Continue reading
When the first film came out and I spotted you could collect little Lord of the Rings figurines at Burger King, I grinned: I imagined Tolkien’s vast rage at same, and the complex irony of his world-spanning success, in relation to his actual beliefs.
Then I started imagining the factories and warehouses full of these pale green and poorly fashioned figurines, and started feeling a bit ill myself: it’s not such a bad habit, when something mass cultural entertains you momentarily, to imagine how it would strike you en masse.
In my day-job I have to read — and deal with — the terms “appropriation” and “subversion”, maybe not exactly en masse, but far too bloody often. The people using these words (not just these words) mostly imagine they are observing stuff from a higher intellectual plane: on the whole they’re really really not.
As much as anything as an act of expiation, grief and guilt from safe exile — as if to say ‘Wish you were here’ — Adorno begins his Philosophy of Modern Music (1948) with a long crabbed mouthful of a quote from his dead friend Walter Benjamin, on the history of philosophy “viewed as the science of origins”, as being “that process which, from opposing extremes, and from the apparent excesses of development, permits the emergence of the configuration of an idea as a totality… ” The book that follows unfortunately merely juxtaposes Schoenberg and Stravinsky, only the extremes of development of “modern music” if your view is really quite intellectually parochial — certainly it’s hard to envisage Adorno writing well about (say) Jelly Roll Morton or Bessie Smith, but there you go. Still, the idea of attempting to juxtapose extremes — at least as a technique or habit — is pretty good critical practice, I think. Continue reading