Very pleased to see that I am getting some excellent reviews in the Czech press for the Czech edition of Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century, which was published earlier this year in Prague by Volvox Globator. Extracts below.


Update

Czech readers are at last getting a translation of the best known book by the internationally acclaimed and award-winning Bohemist, which is an adventurous tour through twentieth-century Prague in all its surreal corners, that lurk at literally every step.

Prague – “a city located at a crossroads of imagined futures that seemed boundless and imagined pasts that eternally threatened to return.” Just because of this it became an inspirational metropolis for a movement so sensitively reactive to the social changes of its time. Now, surrealist Prague is presented in a spectacular monograph, which in more than 500 pages shows the important role of this uncanny city in its interwoven connections, without which surrealism would not have achieved its celebrated forms. And what is still more remarkable – it is not a Czech but a Canadian-British Bohemist who narrates this adventure …

In his spellbinding account of the turbulent art of Prague and the lives of its creators, Sayer does not forget the finest details … (Elizaveta Getta, “Město surrealistických snů,” iLiterature.cz, 1 August 2021)


I dare not estimate the total number of pragensia, i.e. books dedicated to Prague, that have so far been published. Two of them, however, are absolutely fundamental works and rightly recognised throughout the world. These are Magic Prague by the Italian bohemist Angelo Ripellino and Prague in Black and Gold by the now ninety-eight-year-old Prague native and Yale University professor emeritus Peter Demetz. These two admirers of Prague were joined eight years ago by a generation and a half younger Canadian-British bohemist Derek Sayer, with his extraordinary cultural-historical monograph Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century, subtitled A Surrealist History

I consider Derek Sayer’s book Prague, Capital of the Twentieth Century, with the significant subtitle A Surrealist History, to be an excellent guide to the history that we assume we know. This Canadian has managed to make it special precisely by looking from elsewhere and putting into context what, seen from up close, appears like some impressionist paintings – illegible spots of colour. (Zdenko Pavelka, Meziřádky Zdenko Pavelky, Magazín OKO, 25 May 2021.)


According to the author, the modern history of Prague is “an illustrative lesson in black humor.” Where else can one get a better sense of irony and absurdity, a lasting mistrust of the sense of grand theories and of totalitarian ideologies, and a Rabelaisian delight in how all social and intellectual claims to rationality are indiscriminately subverted by the erotic? But above all, Sayer repeatedly emphasizes that we should understand “modernism” as Vítězslav Nezval prefigured it in his collection Woman in the Plural, namely as something diverse and plural. According to Sayer, it is time to acknowledge that abstract art and the gas chamber are equally authentic expressions of the modern spirit …

The author’s picture of Prague and those times … is dominated by left avantgarde artists … about whose occasional inclination toward the Stalinist Soviet Union the author writes overly generously … Despite this slight bias and minor errors, we can agree with Lenka Bydžovská, who wrote enthusiastically about the original book that Sayer amazes the reader with his “encyclopedic knowledge, his reliable orientation in specialist literature, memoirs and correspondence, in literature and art, but above all with his inventiveness, his ability to illuminate seemingly familiar events, stories and works from a different angle.” (Jan Lukavec, “Surrealistická setkávání v modernistické metropoli” [Surrealist encounters in a modernist metropolis], Deník N, 3 June 2021.)  


A substantial book on art has been published – and yet it doesn’t weigh 5 kg! It is, however, weighty in its genuine passion, content and reach. The main theme is the interwar cultural scene in Prague, with an emphasis on the local surrealist circle, which has gained an international reputation. The book is about this phenomenon, but it is is also full of enjambments, digressions and wider contexts. It is a great read – and yet it is based on a truthful, factual and clearly accurate text. Here we have writing that is extremely learned, informed as well as naturally flowing. It is strange that no one has written a book like this before. Only now has a foreigner taken it up. And that is very good …

Sayer’s book is a great achievement. It is a source of information, education and entertainment. A volume that brings Czech history to life, a text that penetrates its numerous hidden corners, a collection of (un)known stories of which we can generally be proud, for they prove the valuable place of our cultural activities and art in the first half of the 20th century. We belonged to the avant-garde, and Derek Sayer knows how to write about it. (Radan Wagner, “Vynikající kniha nejen o Praze a českém surrealismu” [An exceptional book not only on Prague and Czech Surrealism], ArtReview, 12 June 2001.)


A slightly incorrect and provocative guide to the cultural history of Prague, not only of the last century. It reminds Western readers how significant a role Prague played in the world’s modern culture. For those here, it can help them to perceive in a new, unhackneyed and lively way many of Prague’s realities that we too often take to be self-evident. (PLAV, iLiteratura.cz, 19 June 2021.)


Eight years after the original, a Czech translation of a monumental guide to Czech modern culture has come out, whose author is Derek Sayer … The author’s aim is not only to rehabilitate Czech surrealism before the global public, but to present Prague as the city of “another” modernity: “This is not ‘modern society’ as generations of western social theorists have habituated us to think of it, but a Kafkan world in which the exhibition may turn into a show trial, the interior mutate into a prison cell, the arcade become a shooting gallery, and the idling flaneur reveal himself to be a secret policeman …”

For him Prague is also the capital city of the twentieth century because “this is a place in which modernist dreams have again and again unraveled; a location in which the masks have sooner or later always come off to reveal the grand narratives of progress for the childish fairy tales they are.” And also a place where “the past is not easy to escape … even when, and perhaps especially when, you are making new worlds.” (Petr Zídek,”Kniha o českém surrealismu aneb monografie světové Prahy” [A book on Czech surrealism or a monograph of global Prague], Právo, 1 July 2021.)


None of these reviewers are without their criticisms, and I am grateful where they have pointed out occasional factual mistakes in the text. There are of course errors, mostly minor, in the book (and as Petr Zídek noted in his review, some more were added in the Czech edition that were not picked up by the Volvox Globator editors). Zdenko Pavelka also (justly) alerts readers that:

“Sayer’s knowledge of realities and his ability to connect them in time and space are exceptional. I have to warn, however, that sometimes maybe also with a certain exaggeration or, let us say, poetic license. Perhaps you know that the Kinský Palace on the Old Town Square was the seat of the State German Gymnasium at the end of the 19th century, which Franz Kafka attended as a student. Sayer mentions that just outside the windows of his classroom is the balcony from which Gottwald spoke on 21 February 1948. I’m not sure whether in this case Sayer is not slightly embellishing reality in the Hrabalian manner, because the rooms at the disposal of the gymnasium were supposed to be in the rear of the palace. But even if Kafka did not sit in that balcony room, the well-known story of how in a later retouched photograph of the balcony scene, only the cap of Gottwald’s faithful comrade Vladimir Clementis remains, of course on Gottwald’s head, is certainly close to Kafka, but also to the surrealists.”

Precisely. In this case the error was inadvertent, but call it hasard objectif. The Kinský Palace remains an excellent example of Prague’s surrealities. As to the comparison with Bohumil Hrabal, I take it as a compliment.

For us as for many others 2020 was an extraordinarily difficult and sad year. I didn’t get around to posting my usual Top 10+ Albums of the Year. For the record, here they are.

album of the year

charles lloyd 8: kindred spirits (live from the lobero)


rest of the top ten

in no particular order

bob dylan rough and rowdy ways

asher gemedze dialectic soul

ambrose akinmusire on the tender spot of every calloused moment

sault untitled (pt 1 black is)

sault untitled (pt 2 rise)

taylor swift folklore

nubya garcia source

jerry joseph the beautiful madness

waxahatchee saint cloud


honorable mention

lucinda williams good souls and better angels

makaya mccraven universal beings E + F sides

blue note re-imagined (compilation)

keith jarrett the budapest concert

drive-by truckers the unraveling

The Number One

 

I had three top albums this year.  I couldn’t make up my mind between them.  It depends a lot on my mood.  They are very different from one another.   But all have superlative songwriting with great lyrics, highly imaginative scoring, and kickass vocal delivery.  It’s great to hear popular singers using the full range and colors of the female voice just like opera singers do.

But if I had to choose just one album, the 2019 award would go to:

FKA Twigs  Magdalene

fka twigs magdalene

It’s all for the lovers tryna fuck away the pain.  The future of music in the UK (unlike everything else) seems to be in very capable hands.

 


The Number Twos

 

Lana Del Rey  Norman Fucking Rockwell

lana del rey nfr

I’ve been tearing around in my fucking nightgown/ 24-7 Sylvia Plath

Taylor Swift  Lover

taylor swift lover

‘Cause if I was a man/ Then I’d be the man.  (No apologies.  I loved Abba too.)

 


 

The rest of the top ten

in alphabetical order

 

The Comet Is Coming  Trust in the Lifeforce of the Deep Mystery

CometIsComing_TrustInTheLifeforce

Another incarnation of the great Shabaka Hutchings, on Coltrane’s old Impulse label.

Theon Cross  Fyah

theon cross fyah

Yes, that’s a fucking tuba.  With Moses Boyd on drums and Nubya Garcia on tenor sax.  Inimitable 21st-century jazz, courtesy of the London diaspora.

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram  Kingfish

Christone_Ingram_-_Kingfish

Straight outta Clarksdale, Mississippi, channeling the ghost of Robert Johnson.  Wow.

Joshua Redman Quartet  Come What May

come-what-may

Shouldn’t like this (I generally prefer full-on honk-squeak sax) but I do.  Saw this quartet in Calgary this year, masters of their craft.  Cerebral, yes, not a note out of place but there are times it’s just so pleasurable to put this on the turntable and relax.  Great cover too.

Caroline Shaw/Attaca Quartet  Orange

CarolineShawAttacaQuartet_Orange

Sublime.  We have “Mozart in the Jungle” to thank for introducing us to Caroline Shaw.

Kate Tempest  The Book of Traps and Lessons

kate tempest

A voice poor benighted Britain badly needs today.  And not just Britain.  Maybe y’all should listen.

North Mississippi All Stars  Up and Rolling

n miss allstars

Jim Dickinson’s boys Luther and Cody have been great in various iterations of this band for 20 years.  In this version they are joined by Sharisse Norman and Shardé Thomas on vocals for some down and dirty Mississippi country blues.  If there was an award for quality of sleevenotes, the beautiful booklet in here would win hands down too.


Best previously recorded albums first released in 2019

(the OK boomer section)

 

Leonard Cohen  Thanks for the Dance

cohen dance

Spare, sexy, graceful.  What a way to bow out.  Thank you too, Mr Cohen.

John Coltrane  Blue World

John-Coltrane-Blue-World-album-cover-820

The great quartet, a little before they recorded A Love Supreme.

Bob Dylan  The Rolling Thunder Revue: The Bootleg Series Vol. 14 Live 1975

BobDylan_TheRollingThunderRevue

And a very good time was had by all.  Performances for the ages.

Bob Dylan (feat. Johnny Cash)  Travelin’ Thru: The Bootleg Series Vol. 15, 1967-1969

dylan cash

I suspect of greater historical than musical value, but some fun rockabilly and boom-chicka-boom from Bobby and Johnny back in the day.

Townes Van Zandt  Sky Blue

townes sky blue

Townes Van Zandt is the best songwriter in the whole world, and I’ll stand on Bob Dylan’s coffee table in my cowboy boots and say that (Steve Earle).


 

honorable mentions

 a handful of excellent albums

that in other years would likely have made it into my top ten but didn’t because this year’s top ten were so damn good

Ezra Collective  You Can’t Steal My Joy

ezra

Michael Kiwanuka  Kiwanuka

kiwanuka

Kokoroko  Kokoroko (EP)

kokoroko.jpg

Sturgill Simpson  Sound and Fury

sturgill_soundandfury

Sharon Van Etten  Remind Me Tomorrow

sharon van etten

“Seventeen” is my song of the year.


 

And no, I’m afraid I haven’t yet listened to the 2019 albums by Nick Cave, Solange, or Brittany Howard.  I should.  Maybe next year.

 

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

Image result for anthropocene

“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)

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“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