the new Nazi censors

Image result for red skull spiegelman

 

Art Spiegelman … who won a Pulitzer prize for Maus, his story of the Holocaust, has written for Saturday’s Guardian that he was approached by publisher the Folio Society to write an introduction to Marvel: The Golden Age 1939–1949, a collection ranging from Captain America to the Human Torch.

Tracing how “the young Jewish creators of the first superheroes conjured up mythic – almost godlike – secular saviours” to address political issues such as the Great Depression and the second world war, Spiegelman finishes his essay by saying: “In today’s all too real world, Captain America’s most nefarious villain, the Red Skull, is alive on screen and an Orange Skull haunts America.”  (Alison Flood, Guardian, 16 August 2019)

Spiegelman was asked to remove the sentence and when he refused to do so his essay was pulled.  The Marvel Entertainment chairman, the US billionaire Isaac ‘Ike’ Perlmutter, is a close friend of Donald Trump.

Here is Spiegelman’s essay, in full.


 

the anthropocene is a joke

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“On geological timescales, human civilization is an event, not an epoch … The idea of the Anthropocene inflates our own importance by promising eternal geological life to our creations. It is of a thread with our species’ peculiar, self-styled exceptionalism—from the animal kingdom, from nature, from the systems that govern it, and from time itself. This illusion may, in the long run, get us all killed …”

From Peter Brannen’s excellent essay on “the arrogance of the Anthropocene” (Atlantic, August 13, 2019).

Apropos:

The modern era has been dominated by the culminating belief, expressed in different forms, that the world … is a wholly knowable system governed by a finite number of universal laws that man can grasp and rationally direct for his own benefit … This, in turn, gave rise to the proud belief that man, as the pinnacle of everything that exists, was capable of objectively describing, explaining and controlling everything that exists, and of possessing the one and only truth about the world … It was an era of ideologies, doctrines, interpretations of reality, an era where the goal was to find a universal theory of the world, and thus a universal key to unlock its prosperity.

            Communism was the perverse extreme of this trend  … The fall of communism can be regarded as a sign that modern thought—based on the premise that the world is objectively knowable, and that the knowledge so obtained can be absolutely generalized—has come to a final crisis … I think the end of communism is a serious warning to all mankind.  It is a signal that the era of arrogant, absolutive reason is drawing to a close and that it is high time to draw conclusions from that fact.

Václav Havel, Address to World Economic Forum, Davos, Switzerland, 4 February 1992.


 

censorship of artworks in japan

Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung, Statue of Peace (2011). Courtesy fo the artists.Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung, Statue of a Girl of Peace (2011).

 

Another one for the memory hole.

When the Aichi Triennial’s 2019 edition opened to the public on August 1, it included a mini-show titled “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’ ” that dealt with the censorship of artworks in Japan. That section included a work by Korean artists Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung that dealt explicitly with Japan’s brutal history of ianfu, or comfort women, who were drawn from around Asia, particularly Korea, and forced into sexual slavery during World War II. (This history was not officially acknowledged by Japan until 2015.) Three days after the opening of the show, the triennial’s artistic director Daisuke Tsuda, working with the governor of Aichi Prefecture, closed the section.

In an August 6 open letter posted to Facebook, 72 of the over 90 participating artists decried the decision to close that show, deeming it censorship. A week later, nine of the artists have called for the removal of their artworks in the Triennale for as long as “After ‘Freedom of Expression?’” remains closed, “as a public gesture of solidarity with the censored artists.” (Maximilíano Durón Art News 08/13/19).

The artists’ statement reads, in part

Many concerns are shared around the world today, including anxieties related to the increase in terrorism, cutbacks in hiring domestic workers, crime, and making ends meet. Feelings of aversion towards refugees and immigrants have risen to unprecedented heights in the United States and Europe. The United Kingdom voted to leave the EU in 2016. Donald Trump was voted president of the United States under the platform of “America First.” Xenophobic voices have become emboldened here in Japan as well. At the source is anxiety—the anxiety of an uncertain future, and the anxiety of feeling unsafe and vulnerable to danger.

From the STATEMENT BY THE ARTISTS OF AICHI TRIENNALE 2019 ON THE CLOSURE OF AFTER “FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION?”


 

great british priorities

Image result for no sex please we§re british

The Welsh seaside town of Porthcawl is planning to install anti-sex public toilets that would spray occupants with water and sound an alarm.

Violent movement sensors would automatically open the doors and sound high-pitched alarms, with fine water jets soaking the interior. Weight-sensitive floors would ensure only one user could be in a cubicle at a time, to safeguard against “inappropriate sexual activity and vandalism”.

Porthcawl town council is spending £170,000 on the futuristic toilets in Griffin Park, according to WalesOnline. The planning documents detail a range of security features to deter rough sleeping, including an audible warning, combined with lights and heating being switched off.  (Guardian, 16 August 2019).

Priorities in Brexitland.  Keep it up, lads.


 

greater american priorities

Funding fascist environmentalism, US-style.

In the week where Ken Cuccinelli, the acting director of US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), rewrote Emma Lazarus’s poem on the Statue of Liberty to welcome only “European immigrants escaping class-based prejudice,” “who can stand on their own two feet,” a disturbing long read from the New York Times.

“She was an heiress without a cause — an indifferent student, an unhappy young bride, a miscast socialite. Her most enduring passion was for birds.

But Cordelia Scaife May eventually found her life’s purpose: curbing what she perceived as the lethal threat of overpopulation by trying to shut America’s doors to immigrants.

She believed that the United States was “being invaded on all fronts” by foreigners, who “breed like hamsters” and exhaust natural resources. She thought that the border with Mexico should be sealed and that abortions on demand would contain the swelling masses in developing countries.

An heiress to the Mellon banking and industrial fortune with a half-billion dollars at her disposal, Mrs. May helped create what would become the modern anti-immigration movement.”

Nicholas Kulish and Aug. 14, 2019.  


 

travel warning

Image may contain: text


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.”  

These fragments are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.

RIP Toni Morrison

Toni Morrison in an undated photo. Her prose, often luminous and incantatory, rings with the cadences of black oral tradition.

Toni Morrison has died at the age of 88, and the language she did is the measure of her life.

What better time to read the wise words of her 1993 Nobel Prize lecture than now?

“The old woman is keenly aware that no intellectual mercenary, nor insatiable dictator, no paid-for politician or demagogue; no counterfeit journalist would be persuaded by her thoughts. There is and will be rousing language to keep citizens armed and arming; slaughtered and slaughtering in the malls, courthouses, post offices, playgrounds, bedrooms and boulevards; stirring, memorializing language to mask the pity and waste of needless death. There will be more diplomatic language to countenance rape, torture, assassination. There is and will be more seductive, mutant language designed to throttle women, to pack their throats like paté-producing geese with their own unsayable, transgressive words; there will be more of the language of surveillance disguised as research; of politics and history calculated to render the suffering of millions mute; language glamorized to thrill the dissatisfied and bereft into assaulting their neighbors; arrogant pseudo-empirical language crafted to lock creative people into cages of inferiority and hopelessness.  Underneath the eloquence, the glamor, the scholarly associations, however stirring or seductive, the heart of such language is languishing, or perhaps not beating at all – if the bird is already dead.”

Read the speech in full here.


 

while on the subject of language

Image result for barack obama mass shootings

A statement from President Barack Obama, posted on twitter on 5 August 2019, in aftermath of deadly mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio.

Image


 

hannah arendt we refugees

“A refugee used to be a person driven to seek refuge because of some act committed or some political opinion held. Well, it is true we have had to seek refuge; but we committed no acts and most of us never dreamt of having any radical opinion. With us the meaning of the term “refugee” has changed. Now “refugees” are those of us who have been so unfortunate as to arrive in a new country without means and have to be helped by Refugee Committees …”

I belatedly came across this beautiful essay by Arendt, titled simply “We Refugees,” which was first published in January 1943 and unfortunately remains as relevant as ever.  Full text here.

While we are at it, here are a number of other attempts to characterize a refugee, from a conversation among people fleeing France on a boat from Bayonne to Casablanca at the end of June 1941.  The conversation is related in Adolf Hoffmeister’s book Unwilling Tourist, a lightly fictionalized account of his own experience during WW2, which was originally published in New York in 1941 the title The Animals Are in Cages:

“The refugee is a homeless man who searches everywhere he goes for that which he has lost in some far-distant place.  And the officers keep saying: ‘Now you’re warm.  Warmer.  Still warmer. Hot!  No … colder … still colder …'”

            “The refugee is the one honest man whose papers can never be in order, and, therefore, the police constantly demand that he show them.”

            “A refugee is a man who embarrasses only those who have not yet been refugees.”

            “A refugee is an unwilling tourist.”

            “Being a refugee is the occupation of the patriot, for the time being.”

            “A refugee is one who runs from country to country with but one desire—to sit quietly at home.”

            “A refugee is one who runs away because he has done something good.  So each port he enters suspects, a priori, that he will do something bad.”

            “A refugee is the poor relative who likes to tell over and over how rich he was.”

            “The refugee is the man forever on his way home.”

            “The refugee is the too-faithful lover, who, fleeing through the world, loses each new love when he calls her by the name of his beloved wife.”

            “The refugee is a man with a center of gravity outside his body.”

            “The refugee is a being without money or fatherland, but with, alas, a body.”

            “A refugee is a lover who abandons his love, wanting her only the way she used to be.”

            “The refugee is the man who cannot stay at home because he belongs sometimes to yesterday, sometimes to tomorrow, but never to today.”


 

translators saving the world

Image result for Olga Tokarczuk

“There is no worse affliction than the loss of a person’s private language, its replacement with the communal one. Politicians, officials, academics, and priests may all suffer from this. And the only possible form of therapy for this affliction is literature: coming into contact with the private languages of artists permits the reader to strengthen her resistance to an instrumentalizing vision of the world. This is a powerful argument for reading literature (the classics, too), for literature demonstrates that collective languages once functioned differently, and in conjunction with this, other visions of the world arose. It is precisely because of this that it is worth reading—in order to behold those other visions and to be reassured that our world is only one of many possible worlds and that we are surely not confined to it forever.

The responsibility of the translator is equal to that of the writer. Both stand guard over one of the most important phenomena of human civilization—the possibility of transmitting the most intimate individual experience to others, and of making communal that experience in the astonishing act of cultural creation.”

From Olga Tokarczuk’s essay How Translators Are Saving the World


 

eastern blocks

“Eastern Blocks is a photographic journey through the cityscapes of the former Eastern Bloc, inviting readers to explore the districts and peripheries that became a playground for mass housing development after WW2, including objects like houses ‘on chicken legs’, soviet ‘flying saucers’ or hammer-shaped tower blocks.

Showcasing modernist and brutalist architecture scattered around the cities of Moscow, (East) Berlin, Warsaw, Budapest, Kyiv and Saint Petersburg, the book contains over 100 photographs taken by Zupagrafika throughout the last decade as a reference archive for their illustrated books and kits, with special contributions by local photographers. Divided into 6 chapters, Eastern Blocks includes a foreword by writer and journalist Christopher Beanland, orientative maps, index of architects and informative texts on the featured cities and constructions.”


 

social housing in Norwich, UK

norwich

“Rows of glossy black tiles glisten in the afternoon sun, dripping down the facades like a neatly controlled oil slick. They cap a long row of milky brick houses, whose walls curve gently around the corners at the end of the street, dissolving into perforated brick balustrades, marking the presence of hidden rooftop patios. A planted alley runs between the backs of the terraced houses, dotted with communal tables and benches, where neighbours are sitting down to an outdoor meal.

This is Goldsmith Street, a new development of around 100 homes, built by Norwich city council, without a profit-hungry developer in sight. They are not homes that fit into the murky class of “affordable”, or the multitude of “intermediate” tenures. This is proper social housing, rented from the council with secure tenancies at fixed rents. Not only that, it is some of the most energy-efficient housing ever built in the UK.”

Guardian


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.”  

These fragments are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.

Clint, Texas

Image result for migrant detention center clint tx

“CLINT, Tex. — Since the Border Patrol opened its station in Clint, Tex., in 2013, it was a fixture in this West Texas farm town. Separated from the surrounding cotton fields and cattle pastures by a razor-wire fence, the station stood on the town’s main road, near a feed store, the Good News Apostolic Church and La Indita Tortillería. Most people around Clint had little idea of what went on inside. Agents came and went in pickup trucks; buses pulled into the gates with the occasional load of children apprehended at the border, four miles south.

But inside the secretive site that is now on the front lines of the southwest border crisis, the men and women who work there were grappling with the stuff of nightmares …”

Long and detailed report on conditions in America’s concentration camps for kids by , , , DANIEL BORUNDA, AARON MONTES and  at the New York Times.


 

It Can Happen Here

Migrants in a detention center.

Migrants in a detention center (Office of Inspector General)

A federally funded museum is telling Americans not to think. On June 24, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum instructed the public not to consider the relationship between its subject, other historical events, and the present, implicitly reprimanding Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for calling American detention centers ‘concentration camps.’ In doing so, it has made nonsense of the slogan ‘never again’ and provided moral cover for ongoing and oppressive American policies.

The Holocaust matters to Americans as the source of moral lessons. The choice we face is whether the lesson is that we are always right or whether the lesson is that we should judge ourselves critically in light of the past. At first glance, the museum’s rejection of ‘analogies between the Holocaust and other events’ might seem like a laudable attempt to affirm the unprecedented character of the mass murder of the Jews of Europe. In fact, it makes conveying the weight of that atrocity impossible, and it releases us from any obligation, as a nation, to self-criticism.

From a brilliant, timely, and courageous essay in Slate by Tim Snyder.


 

on analogies

Image result for pence at border

Vice-President Mike Pence showing folks at the U.S. border that Christian charity begins at home

Scholars in the humanities and social sciences rely on careful and responsible analysis, contextualization, comparison, and argumentation to answer questions about the past and the present. By “unequivocally rejecting efforts to create analogies between the Holocaust and other events, whether historical or contemporary,” the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is taking a radical position that is far removed from mainstream scholarship on the Holocaust and genocide. And it makes learning from the past almost impossible.

The Museum’s decision to completely reject drawing any possible analogies to the Holocaust, or to the events leading up to it, is fundamentally ahistorical. It has the potential to inflict severe damage on the Museum’s ability to continue its role as a credible, leading global institution dedicated to Holocaust memory, Holocaust education, and research in the field of Holocaust and genocide studies. The very core of Holocaust education is to alert the public to dangerous developments that facilitate human rights violations and pain and suffering; pointing to similarities across time and space is essential for this task.

from “An Open Letter to the Director of the US Holocaust Memorial Museum,” in New York Review of Books


 

christian morality in black and white

Percentage of respondents to a recent Pew Research poll who say the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees:

Religiously unaffiliated 65%

Black Protestant 63%

Catholic 50%

White mainline Protestant 43%

White evangelicals 25%

For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?  When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

 The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’  (Matthew 25:35-40 New International Version)

Just a reminder, y’all.  From the Good Book.


 

meantime in China

Missing in China; some of the family portraits handed to us in Turkey by Uighur parents looking for information about their children back home in Xinjiang

“China is deliberately separating Muslim children from their families, faith and language in its far western region of Xinjiang, according to new research.

At the same time as hundreds of thousands of adults are being detained in giant camps, a rapid, large-scale campaign to build boarding schools is under way …”

Detailed and disturbing report from the BBC.


 

No photo description available.

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.”  

These fragments are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.


Down the memory hole in San Francisco

mural
photo: Jim Wilson/The New York Times

The San Francisco School Board unanimously decided not just to cover up or remove and archive Viktor Arnautoff’s murals “Life of Washington” but to destroy them because (in the words of the school’s vice-principal Mark Sanchez) mere concealment would “allow for the possibility of them being uncovered in the future.”

The 13-panel, 1,600-square-foot series of murals, which was painted in 1836 for the George Washington High School, “does not show the clichéd image of our first president kneeling in prayer at Valley Forge” but “Instead … depicts his slaves picking cotton in the fields of Mount Vernon and a group of colonizers walking past the corpse of a Native American,” writes Bari Weiss in the New York Times.  Arnautoff, a Russian émigré and a communist, believed that “The artist is a critic of society.”  He wanted to upset.

Weiss continues: “The notion of erasing art has an American pedigree. Arnautoff was intimately familiar with it, having been interrogated in 1956 by the House Un-American Activities Committee for drawing a caricature of Vice President Richard Nixon. But I suspect he would have been surprised to learn that more than 60 years later, progressives in charge of educating San Francisco’s children are merrily following this un-American playbook.”

It’s a very American playbook.  History as seen from Disneyland.  Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.


 

coincidentally

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“This just in: History’s a fun ride. Where hip city and romantic history collide. Flights to San Francisco, California.”

Ad on my Facebook timeline for cheap flights to San Francisco from Westjet.


 

censorship, Canadian-style

D-APaqAXYAAAnVy

“A publishing company in New Brunswick, Canada, has terminated its contract with cartoonist Michael de Adder after a drawing he did of President Donald Trump standing over the bodies of two drowned migrants went viral on social media,” reports NBC News.

“Brunswick News Inc. said in a statement on Sunday it is ‘entirely incorrect’ to suggest the company cancelled its freelance contract with de Adder over the cartoon.”

Sure.

Brunswick News is owned by the Irving family, one of the largest landowners in both Canada and the United States.  The Irvings own nearly every newspaper in New Brunswick.


 

studies in courage (1) 

29italy1-superJumbo
Guglielmo Mangiapane/Reuters

“A protracted standoff between a ship carrying rescued migrants and the Italian government ended early Saturday [June 29], when the vessel docked at the southern island of Lampedusa and the captain was arrested,” reports the New York Times.

“Mr. Salvini said on Saturday that Italy’s objective was to avoid ‘drama and death’ by stopping migrants from leaving their homeland. He said he had heard that two more rescue ships were en route to Libya, and added that the arrest of Captain Rackete should serve as a warning of the risks of coming to Italy.

‘Now you know how things work,’ he said. ‘Finally, there is a government that ensures that its borders are respected.'”


 

studies in courage (2)

190629115353-01-megan-rapinoe-france-celebration-0628-exlarge-169

“It is wonderful as well as inspirational to see that our country, once again, has someone of such great talent, grit, & integrity representing our country on the world stage. Congratulations & thank you…..Megan Rapinoe!!!!! You make America proud!”

John O. Brennan, CIA Director 2013-17, on Twitter, June 29, 2019 in response to Donald Trump’s tweet “After some very important meetings, including my meeting with President Xi of China, I will be leaving Japan for South Korea (with President Moon). While there, if Chairman Kim of North Korea sees this, I would meet him at the Border/DMZ just to shake his hand and say Hello(?)!”

Same Megan Rapinoe as announced to the world she would “not be going to the fucking White House” if the US Women’s soccer team won the World Cup.


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.”  

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.


 

This set of texts and images was part of an exhibition titled EX SITU: (Un)making Space out of Place that led to a photobook of the same title.  The exhibition was convened and the photobook edited by Craig Campbell and Yoke-Sum Wong.  

EX SITU was part of a series of international workshops/events held over the last five years in the US, UK, Germany, and Greece involving art and media practitioners, academics, and research students from different disciplinary backgrounds. These meetings have led to an anthology of essays, Feelings of Structure: Explorations in Affect (McGill-Queens University Press) co-edited by Karen Engle and Yoke-Sum Wong.

All participants in the EX SITU exhibition/photobook were asked to couple up to six images with the same number of texts, each of no more than 100 words, on any topic of their choice.  I shot the photographs in Athens, Greece in 2016.  The original photobook layout with text and image side by side can be downloaded here.

I found the form an interesting one to work with.  My intention was to set up layers of open-ended resonance and signification within a limited group of texts and images, rather than have the images simply illustrate the texts or the texts caption the images.  I wanted to convey something of what Milan Kundera calls “the density of unexpected encounters.”

I am posting this work now in eager anticipation of the latest in this series of events, the  STRUCTURES OF ANTICIPATION research creation symposium at the University of Windsor, Ontario.


 

1  athens_bank

athens1 bank

Greece’s government has said the country is “turning a page” after Eurozone member states reached an agreement on the final elements of a plan to make its massive debt pile more manageable.

The government spokesman, Dimitris Tzanakopoulos, hailed “a historic decision” that meant “the Greek people can smile again.”

The government in Athens will have to stick to austerity measures and reforms, including high budget surpluses, for more than 40 years. Adherence will be monitored quarterly.

Guardian, June 22, 2018


 

2  athens_bey

athens2 beyonce

The latest video by the Carters, a.k.a. Beyoncé and Jay-Z, is a treat. Filmed in the Louvre, “Apesh-t” begins with close-ups of various old master paintings. A bell tolls atmospherically.

And then, out of nowhere, comes a moment of pure swagger.

Beyoncé and Jay-Z, sumptuously dressed, stare out diffidently, like a royal couple posing for a baroque marriage portrait. Behind them, out of focus, is the Mona Lisa. The gallery (which was once, of course, a royal palace) is otherwise empty.

Washington Post, June 19, 2018


 

3  athens_aesthetics

athens3 aesthetics

Note: the word in Greek letters in the top left of the photo reads: “AESTHETICS.”

Origin Late 18th century (in the sense ‘relating to perception by the senses’): from Greek aisthētikos, from aisthēta ‘perceptible things’, from aisthesthai ‘perceive.’ The sense ‘concerned with beauty’ was coined in German in the mid-18th century and adopted into English in the early 19th century, but its use was controversial until much later in the century.

Oxford Dictionaries


 

4  athens_caryatids

athens4 caryatids

45, Asomaton Str.

The residence with the caryatids in Kerameikos has been cherished like no other not only by the Athenians, but also by the city’s visitors … When the French photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson visited Athens in the 50s, he “captured” two spry old ladies dressed in black, walking under the shadow of the lissome and proud silhouettes of the caryatids. The contrast of the black and white figures, of motion and stillness, of decay and eternal beauty, created a powerful picture, one of Bresson’s most representative.

Tina Kontogiannopoulo, Streets of Athens blog


 

5  athens_magritte

athens5 magritte

The first version, that of 1926 I believe: a carefully drawn pipe, and underneath it (handwritten in a steady, painstaking, artificial script, a script from the convent, like that found heading the notebooks of schoolboys, or on a blackboard after an object lesson!), this note: “This is not a pipe.”

The other version—the last, I assume—can be found in Aube à l’Antipodes. The same pipe, same statement, same handwriting. But instead of being juxtaposed in a neutral, limitless, unspecified space, the text and the figure are set within a frame.

Michel Foucault, This Is Not a Pipe


 

6  athens_museum

athens6 museum

The definition of a museum has evolved, in line with developments in society. Since its creation in 1946, ICOM updates this definition in accordance with the realities of the global museum community.

According to the ICOM Statutes, adopted by the 22nd General Assembly in Vienna, Austria on August 24th, 2007:

“A museum is a non-profit, permanent institution in the service of society and its development, open to the public, which acquires, conserves, researches, communicates and exhibits the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment for the purposes of education, study and enjoyment.”

ICOM website


 

 

 

yomiuri shimbun

I am really pleased that my book Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century: A Surrealist History was published in Japanese translation in September 2018 by the Tokyo publisher Hakusuisha.

The book has received what I am told are excellent reviews in several leading Japanese newspapers and magazines, including Yomiuri Shimbun (28 December 2018), Asahi-Shimbun  (“The City of Kafka and Čapek,” 6 November 2018 book page: “a great book”), Mainichi Shimbun (by Shigeru Kashima, 27 January 2019, reproduced in All-Reviews, 6 March 2019: “It is a must-read document for understanding the Czech avant-garde”), and Repre (no. 35, 2019, by Haraka Hawakame: “With a focus on Prague, the Czech capital, this book crosses literature, art, music, cinema, theatre, architecture and all cultural areas starting from the surrealism movement and draws nearly 600 pages of European cultural history in the first half of the 20th century.  It is a great book”).

I have also been told that Tosho Shimbun (the reviewer’s weekly) “recommended the book as one of the most impressive books for 2018.”

I am extremely fortunate, not to say honored, to have a leading Japanese expert on the Czech avant-garde, Kenichi Abe, as my translator, assisted by Kawakami Haruka and Atsushi Miyazaki.  An Associate Professor at the Graduate School of Humanities and Sociology at the University of Tokyo, Dr Abe has translated (among many other Czech works) Bohumil Hrabal’s I Served the King of England into Japanese. Translating Hrabal must be the pinnacle of the translator’s art!  Kenichi Abe’s most recent translation, appearing this month, is of Bianca Bellová’s Jezero (The Lake). His own book Karel Teige: Poezii no tankyusha (Karel Teige: the surrealist who pursued the poiesis, 2018) is a first attempt to map the Prague interwar avant-garde in Japanese.

The publishers have done a superb job of producing this Japanese edition, with outstanding book design, many illustrations (some not in the original English edition) and a stunning cover by Junpei Niki that montages some of the book’s key motifs.

Many thanks to all!

 

japanese ed cover

japanese brochureabe teige.jpg

Ivan Margolius, author of “Reflections of Prague: Journeys through the 20th Century” and “Prague: A Guide to 20th Century Architecture”
“There is no visitor to Prague who is not enchanted by this city.  Prague has everything: the ancient and the modern, the history and the culture, the music and the tranquility, the contradictions and the harmony.  Derek Sayer’s excellent book captures all of these facets of Prague to make any visit even more worthwhile.”
Jindrich Toman, University of Michigan
“Meticulous, imaginative, unconventional—all the way from old palaces to Little Hanoi.”

 


prague-22

I have long wanted to write a non-academic book on Prague that would both provide a readable short history of the city and act as a guide to visitors who might be interested in more than just the standard tourist trail.  When I was approached by Reaktion Books to write on Prague for their excellent Cityscopes series, I jumped at the opportunity.   This is the result.  Out this month.  It was fun to write, and I hope it serves its purpose.


Publisher’s description

Thirty years ago, Prague was a closed book to most travelers.  Today, it is Europe’s fifth-most-visited city, surpassed only by London, Paris, Istanbul, and Rome.  With a stunning natural setting on the Vltava river and featuring a spectacular architectural potpourri of everything from Romanesque rotundas to gothic towers, Renaissance palaces, Baroque churches, art nouveau cafés, and cubist apartment buildings, Prague may well be Europe’s most beautiful capital city.

But behind this beauty lies a turbulent and often violent history, and in this book, Derek Sayer explores both.  Located at the uneasy center of the continent, Prague has been a crossroads of cultures for more than a millennium.  From the religious wars of the middle ages and the nationalist struggles of the nineteenth century to the modern conflicts of fascism, communism, and democracy, Prague’s history is the history of the forces that have shaped Europe.

Sayer also goes beyond the complexities of Prague’s colorful past: his expert, very readable, and exquisitely illustrated guide helps us to see what Prague is today.  He not only provides listings of what to see, hear, and do and where to eat, drink, and shop, but also offers deep personal reflection on the sides of Prague tourists seldom see, from a model interwar modernist villa colony to Europe’s biggest Vietnamese market.

Hardback, 280 pages, 105 illustrations, 71 in color.


Availability
Published by Reaktion Books (UK) and Chicago University Press (in North America).
Available from amazon.co.uk (£12.45) and amazon.com ($22.00).
Preview (including Table of Contents and Prologue) here.


Is there some law that says the worse it gets in the world out there, the better it gets in the arts?  It was an outstanding year for music.  Highlights for me were discovering the incredible jazz+++ scene in diasporic London, as eloquent a fuck you to the white Anglo mean-mindedness of Brexit as I can imagine, and slowly excavating the assembled talents of the West Coast Get Down—which turns out to be much more than just (the phenomenal) Kamasi Washington.  It has also been a spectacular year for that peculiar category comprising stuff recorded way back when but only released for the first time this year, meaning it is not a reissue.  Most years I combine both in my top 10, but this year was so rich overall that I’ve made separate lists.


 

#1 Record of the Year

Janelle Monáe  Dirty Computer

janelle monae

The range of her imagination on this record is astonishing.  Not a weak track over 4 sides.  My favorite LP side of the year (A 2) has three very different varieties of joy: “Screwed” (featuring Zoë Kravitz), “Django Jane” (just Janelle, laying down the most kickass rap I’ve heard in 2018), “Pink” (featuring Grimes).  Warning: the download that comes with the LP beeps out all the fuck words.


 

The rest of the Top Ten (in alphabetical order)

Ambrose Akinmusire     Origami Harvest

akinmusire.jpg

The record company blurb sums it up nicely: “a surprisingly fluid study in contrasts that pits contemporary classical wilding against deconstructed hip-hop, with bursts of left-field jazz, funk, spoken word, and soul with help from the Mivos Quartet and art-rap expatriate Kool A.D. (Das Racist), along with pianist Sam Harris, drummer Marcus Gilmore, and saxophonist Walter Smith III.”  No, really, it’s a stunner.  Reminds me of the best of Uri Caine (like his Mahler recordings), which is high praise indeed.


 

Moses Boyd Exodus  Displaced Diaspora

boyd exodus

Recorded in 2015, i.e., just before the contemporary London jazz scene exploded internationally, featuring Theon Cross (tuba), Nubya Garcia (bass clarinet), Nathaniel Cross (trombone), and Zara McFarlane (vocals) in addition to Moses Boyd on drums.  The Bandcamp website tags it under experimental hip hop beats jazz space music London, which seems about right.


 

Brandi Carlile  The Joke 

brandi carlile

The songwriting is uniformly strong (try “The Mother”) but it’s that huge, soaring, effortless voice.  You can get lost in it.  Usually only operatic sopranos thrill me like that.


 

Alejandro Escovedo  The Crossing

escovedo crossing

I don’t usually go for concept albums, because usually the concept overwhelms the album.  This one is an exception.  The concept is the immigrant experience.  Escovedo seems hardly known outside Texas, where he is somewhere between a legend and a god.  A pity.  This album has huge musical variety and great emotional depth.


 

Nubya Garcia  When We Are (EP)

nubya when we are

We first heard Nubya on We Out Here (see below) where she plays on five tracks, and were lucky enough to see her with her own band (Nubya on tenor sax, Joe Armon-Jones on keyboards, Daniel Casimir on double bass, Femi Coleoso on drums) at Ronnie Scott’s in London (where we also saw Ambrose Akinmusire).  She can honk squeak with the best of them, but its the unfailing warmth and luminosity of her tone that always gets to me.


 

Pistol Annies   Interstate Gospel

pistol annies

A top ten albums from me without a country offering is unthinkable but it was getting to look that way (see disappointments of the year, below) until this arrived through the mail this week.  Thank you Miranda Lambert, Ashley Monroe, and Angeleena Presley.


 

Ryan Porter  The Optimist

optimist

Recorded in Kamasi Washington’s parents’ basement in 2008-9, this triple album brings together West Coast Get Down veterans Ryan Porter (trombone), Kamasi Washington (tenor saxophone), Miles Mosley (upright bass), Cameron Graves (piano, fender rhodes), Tony Austin (drums), Jumaane Smith (trumpet), and more.  What Kamasi was before he Busby Berkeleyed it with cinematic strings and those god-awful choirs.  Great jazz.


 

Sons of Kemet  Your Queen Is a Reptile

Sons_of_Kemet

Best of British for an era when the geriatric white majority is settling for blue passports to nowhere.  An angry album, and rightly so (read the sleeve notes).  Shabaka Hutchins (tenor sax), Theon Cross (tuba), and Tom Skinner + Seb Rochfort or Eddie Hicks + Moses Boyd on drums depending on the track.  Nubya Garcia on tenor sax and Congo Natty and Joshua Idehen (rap) guest.  Heady, polyrhythmic, driving stuff.  Saw them at Vancouver Jazz Festival, a riveting performance.  Luci hates it.


 

Various artists  We Out Here

weouthere

The Brownswood compilation double-album that introduced me to the London jazz+++ scene.   If it wasn’t for Janelle Monáe this would be my undisputed #1.  These are the tracks:

A1. Maisha – Inside The Acorn
A2. Ezra Collective – Pure Shade
B1. Moses Boyd – The Balance
B2. Theon Cross – Brockley
C1. Nubya Garcia – Once
C2. Shabaka Hutchings – Black Skin, Black Masks
C3. Triforce – Walls
D1. Joe Armon-Jones – Go See
D2. Kokoroko – Abusey Junction

Nuff said.  Here is the Brownswood documentary that went with it.


 

Best five older recordings first issued in 2018 

#1  Miles Davis and John Coltrane  The Final Tour (The Bootleg Series, vol. 6)

Miles Davis & John Coltrane- The Final Tour- The Bootleg Series, Vol. 6

Trane is incandescent, especially on CD 4.  Luci would like everyone to know that this is her favorite album of 2018 and that most of that London jazz+++ stuff is *very difficult* to doze off to.

and the rest—

Bob Dylan  More Blood, More Tracks

Charles Mingus  Jazz in Detroit / Strata Concert Gallery / 46 Selden

Thelonius Monk  Mønk

John Coltrane  Both Directions at Once: The Lost Album


 

2018 Honorable Mentions

boygenius_st

 

In most other years any of these would make it into my top ten list, but it’s 2018 so they didn’t.

Boygenius (Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus)  Boygenius (EP)

Lucy Dacus  Historian

Charles Lloyd and the Marvels + Lucinda Williams  Vanished Gardens

Maisha  There Is a Place

Mitski  Be the Cowboy


 

Most Played Album This Year

nubya's 5ive

Recorded in 2017, second vinyl pressing 2018.  Her first album as leader, backed by Joe Armon-Jones / Piano, Moses Boyd / Drums, Daniel Casimir / Bass, Femi Koloeso / Drums, Sheila Maurice-Grey / Trumpet, Theon Cross / Tuba


Disappointment of the Year

A close-run thing between Kacey Musgraves Golden Hour (very clever but left me cold), Joe Armon-Jones Starting Today (love his work but somehow this offering never gelled as an album), and Kamasi Washington Heaven and Earth (too much concept, way too much choir—though as ever with him some great blowing).


 

plucking a chicken feather by feather

madeleine-albright-photo-credit-timothy-greenfield-sanders-7c5448653749c4890c3f6338a1388a5552cd37a6-s900-c85

Another bloody immigrant.

Madeleine Albright was a small girl when her family fled Czechoslovakia after the Nazis occupied the country in 1939.  After 10 days in hiding, her parents escaped Prague for Britain.

Albright’s new book Fascism: A Warning “is a cry of anguish about the global resurgence of authoritarianism and a lament over the decay of the liberal internationalist politics to which Albright has devoted her career …

I [Andrew Rawnsley] suggest to her that the book struggles to offer a satisfactory definition of fascism. ‘Defining fascism is difficult,’ she responds. ‘First of all, I don’t think fascism is an ideology. I think it is a method, it’s a system.’

It is in his methods that Trump can be compared with, if not precisely likened to, the dictators of the 1930s. Fascists are typically masters of political theatre. They feed on and inflame grievances by setting ‘the people’ against their ‘enemies’. Fascists tell their supporters that there are simple fixes for complex problems. They present as national saviours and conflate themselves with the state. They seek to subvert, discredit and eliminate liberal institutions. She reminds us that they have often ascended to power through the ballot box and then undermined democracy from within. She is especially fond of a Mussolini quote about ‘plucking a chicken feather by feather’ so that people will not notice the loss of their freedoms until it is too late.”

A chilling interview by Andrew Rawnsley with the former US Secretary of State in the Guardian.


 

uncomfortable demographics

trump-golf3

The leader of the Free World keeping ‘Murica safe for old white men (Skynews image)

“As controversy continued to rage … about the Trump Administration’s policy of separating migrant families at the southern border, the Census Bureau published new data that show why the United States will need more immigrants, not fewer, in the coming decades.

Demographers and economists have been warning that the aging baby-boomer population presents a serious challenge to the nation’s finances, as the ratio of seniors to working-age adults—the age-dependency ratio—rises … If the dependency ratio rises, the financial burden on the working-age population also increases …

In 1980, there were nineteen Americans age sixty-five or older for every hundred Americans between the ages of eighteen and sixty-four. The dependency ratio was nineteen per cent … In 2011, the first members of the baby-boom generation (people born between 1946 and 1964) turned sixty-five. By 2017, the age-dependency ratio had risen to twenty-five per cent—an increase of four percentage points in just seven years. In the coming decades, it is expected to rise even more sharply. By 2030, the ratio would climb to 35 retiree-age Americans for every 100 of working age . . . and 42 by 2060 …”

The demographics of white supremacy, as covered in the New Yorker.  Or, why old white America is on the skids and but still holds future generations hostage.

Après nous, le déluge.


 

best of the booker

ondatje

Sri Lankan-born Canadian author Michael Ondaatjee wins the “Best of the Man Booker Prize” for his 1992 novel The English Patient. Celebrating the 50th anniversary of the prestigious prize for the best novels written in English and published in Britain and Ireland, the award was voted by the public from a short-list of five previous Booker prize winners.

Or, why the west needs immigrants.


 

the failing country club

mara lago

Image by trumpenstein

“Millennials who are burdened with loan debt often can’t buy homes,” writes Kelsey Lawrence in CityLab, “much less drop thousands of dollars on club initiation fees and dues. (Annual country-club dues run several thousand dollars on average, plus an initiation fee that’s usually no less than $5,000.)

And if cost isn’t a deterrent, many young people are put off by the image of the country club—stuffy and formal, with old-fashioned dress codes and rules about cell-phone use. Not to mention the rich history of racial and religious discrimination that accompanies many such organizations.

The traditional country club and the activity that is its mainstay—golf—are both having a hard time attracting a younger demographic. In the 1990s, there were more than 5,000 full-service golf and country clubs in the 1990s. In 2010, there were about 4,100, and now that number has dipped below 4,000 … In the ‘90s, around 9 million adults aged 18 to 34 played golf, according to the National Golf Foundation. Today, that number is closer to 6.2 million.”

Trouble in Trumpland.   You’re dying, dudes.


 

more young London jazz

 

weouthere.jpg

I’ve posted previously on the young London jazz scene (here and here).  Red Bull UK has now compiled a useful list of 21 records, selected by Tenderlonius, Emma-Jean Thackray, Adam Moses and others involved in the scene.  

“We’re living during an amazing era for UK jazz. Here’s a list of the records which have captured the energy of the new movement and pushed the genre forward. It’s undeniable that British jazz is having a breakthrough moment – but if you’ve had your ear to the ground, you’ll know the scene has been buzzing for years. Musicians are studying the greats while experimenting with new styles, incorporating elements of dub, hip-hop, Afrobeat, UKG and grime, bringing together diverse heritages and creating new cultural contexts …”

Or, why the west needs immigrants.


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.”  

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.

T for Texas

trump mural

For more than a year, the old Walmart along the Mexican border here has been a mystery to those driving by on the highway. In place of the supercenter’s trademark logo hangs a curious sign: “Casa Padre.”

But behind the sliding doors is a bustling city unto itself, equipped with classrooms, recreation centers and medical examination rooms. Casa Padre now houses more than 1,400 immigrant boys in federal custody. While most are teenagers who entered the United States alone, dozens of others — often younger — were forcibly separated from their parents at the border by a new Trump administration “zero tolerance” policy.

On Wednesday evening, for the first time since that policy was announced — and amid increased national interest after a U.S. senator, Oregon Democrat Jeff Merkley, was turned away — federal authorities allowed a small group of reporters to tour the secretive shelter, the largest of its kind in the nation … ” (From the Washington Post)


 

T for Tennessee

merlin_136918641_afbdcf1c-ebbc-4424-941d-335c582f9de6-superJumbo
Nataly Luna, 12, whose father, Reniel, was detained in the raid, at a march through downtown Morristown on April 12. Charles Mostoller for The New York Times

“The day Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided the Southeastern Provision plant outside the city and sent dozens of workers to out-of-state detention centers was the day people in Morristown began to ask questions many hadn’t thought through before — to the federal government, to the police, to their church leaders, to each other.

Donations of food, clothing and toys for families of the workers streamed in at such volume there was a traffic jam to get into the parking lot of a church. Professors at the college extended a speaking invitation to a young man whose brother and uncle were detained in the raid. Schoolteachers cried as they tried to comfort students whose parents were suddenly gone. There was standing room only at a prayer vigil that drew about 1,000 people to a school gym.

Here, based on interviews with dozens of workers and townspeople, and in their own words (some edited for length and clarity), is how it happened.”  (From the New York Times.)


 

food I

10-processed-foods.w710.h473.jpg

“In 1988, aged 15, I made my first expedition to a magical, otherworldly kingdom. It was cold, frosty and pale in places, like Narnia, while other parts were a Willy-Wonka-esque explosion of colour and exquisite tastes. A land of limitless opportunity, it was just off junction 44 on the M6 near Gretna. The big Asda had come to Carlisle.

For the Dent family, this was akin to a religious awakening. My mother went first, while we were at school, after hearing about it on the local news. She arrived home breathless, the car loaded with dozens of fresh white rolls, boxes of Findus crispy pancakes and family-size microwave lasagnes. She had spotted her emancipation from the kitchen and she was grabbing it with both hands. Or at least she would once she had unloaded a family-sized Sara Lee gateau and three bags of McCain oven chips from the boot of her Austin Princess …”

Grace Dent on the joy of processed food.  A hilarious (and very sharp) take on the Great British Class War.


 

food II

bourdain obama
President Barack Obama shares a beer in a Hanoi noodle parlor with Anthony Bourdain in a 2016 episode of “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.” (CNN)

“What really interested him about food was the sensual pleasure of eating it and the hard reality of the labor that went into it, and he never lost sight of either. His mission was to affirm the value of life, even as he saw it devalued all around him. When he traveled to war zones, from Libya to Iraqi Kurdistan, he sought to relate to the people caught in them as familiarly as anyone he met in London or Tokyo or New York. He reported on Brexit and Israeli settlements; he traveled to Gaza (probably no mainstream American TV journalist has ever produced a more humanizing segment on Palestinians); he showcased thriving immigrant communities in Houston at the height of Donald Trump’s presidential campaign … Depression can sometimes be the price paid for seeing the world too clearly, in all its contradiction and cruelty, and for being unable to endure the full weight of it. No one saw more of the world more clearly than Anthony Bourdain, and the awful tragedy is that the one thing he may not have seen clearly was his own irreplaceable contribution.”  David Klion in The Nation.


 

culture on the rocks

hanif kureishi

“The furore over Penguin’s wise and brave decision to “reflect the diversity of British society” in its publishing and hiring output seems to have awoken the usual knuckle-dragging, semi-blind suspects with their endlessly repeated terrors and fears. They appear to believe that what is called “diversity” or “positive action” will lead to a dilution of their culture. Their stupidity and the sound of their pathetic whining would be funny if it weren’t so tragic for Britain. You might even want to call it a form of self-loathing; it is certainly unpatriotic and lacking in generosity.

The industries I’ve worked in for most of my life – film, TV, theatre, publishing – have all been more or less entirely dominated by white Oxbridge men, and they still mostly are. These men and their lackeys have been the beneficiaries of positive discrimination, to say the least, for centuries. The world has always been theirs, and they now believe they own it …

It is good news that the master race is becoming anxious about whom they might have to hear from. At this terrible Brexit moment, with its retreat into panic and nationalism, and with the same thing happening across Europe, it is time for all artists to speak up, particularly those whose voices have been neglected.”

Hanif Kureishi in excellent form.


 

The English surrealist and documentary filmmaker Humphrey Jennings explained the intellectual project of his book Pandaemonium as to “present, not describe or analyse” the “imaginative history of the Industrial Revolution … by means of what I call Images.  These are quotations from writings of the period in question … which either in the writing or in the nature of the matter itself or both have revolutionary and symbolic and illuminatory quality.  I mean that they contain in little a whole world—they are the knots in a great net of tangled time and space—the moments at which the situation of humanity is clear—even if only for the flash time of the photographer or the lighting.”  

These “snippets” are intended to function in the same way.  Click on the headings to go to the original articles, which are mostly from the mainstream aka fake news media.