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.

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.

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


 

 

 

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.


homeland insecurity

wrest park (1 of 1)

‘Heimat, the evocative German word that loosely translates as ‘homeland,’ is a conflicting term for those to whose language it belongs. Since its earlier, predominantly romantic use, conjuring associations with a love for the rolling hills of Bavaria and the lost utopia of childhood, the term’s cultural associations have shifted often. Not least with it’s adoption and distortion by the Third Reich, prior to its subsequent reclamation in the 1950s.

For Thomas Dworzak this “rejection and search for Heimat” has been a pervading influence in his life. While growing up in a small Bavarian town near the Iron Curtain, the photographer felt suffocated by the overbearing “Catholicism, provincialism, order and calm”, eventually leaving as a young man. Today, Dworzak identifies as having three homelands, one in his native Bavaria, the others in Tbilisi and Tehran.”‘

A beautiful as well as thought-provoking photoessay on homelands from a renowned Magnum photographer, whose father at age six was one of three million people expelled from Czechoslovakia in the 1945-6 odsun (“transfer”), one of the worst ethnic cleansings of the last century.

Both images and text are well worth pondering as the clever hopes of a low, dishonest decade expire with Brexit and Trump.

The photo above is mine, taken last month in the UK, about which I have similarly mixed feelings to Dworzak on Bavaria.  His images are copyrighted, but there are many on his Magnum site.


 

intimate and inconvenient truths

Montgomery-Roth-03-23

“For Roth, literature was not a tool of any description. It was the venerated thing in itself. He loved fiction and (unlike so many half or three-quarter writers) was never ashamed of it. He loved it in its irresponsibility, in its comedy, in its vulgarity, and its divine independence. He never confused it with other things made of words, like statements of social justice or personal rectitude, journalism or political speeches, all of which are vital and necessary for lives we live outside of fiction, but none of which are fiction, which is a medium that must always allow itself, as those other forms often can’t, the possibility of expressing intimate and inconvenient truths.”

Zadie Smith in the New Yorker, by far the best thing I’ve read amid the welter of over-politicized and under-nuanced commentary unleashed by the great man’s death.


 

a mythic, cool America

modernism-sheeler
Charles Sheeler: Bucks County Barn, 1940

‘Instantly recognizable images dominate “America’s Cool Modernism: O’Keeffe to Hopper,” the surprisingly arresting new show at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford: Charles Demuth’s magnetic I Saw the Figure Five in Gold (1928), inspired by his friend William Carlos Williams’s poem The Great Figure, in which a fire truck speeds through the streets of New York one rainy night; Georgia O’Keeffe’s breathtakingly chilly East River from the Shelton Hotel (1928), the cool, icy blue of the water slicing through the middle of the canvas, separating the snow-topped roofs in the foreground from the smoke-clouded factory chimneys in the distance; three large Edward Hopper oils, From Williamsburg Bridge (1928), Manhattan Bridge Loop (1928), and Dawn in Pennsylvania (1942), not his most famous work, but nevertheless immediately identifiable …’

Lucy Scholes reviews a new exhibition of ‘the mythologies of an “America” that has long inhabited the popular global imagination, from the towering structures of the archetypal modern metropolis to the rustic barns, uniform fields of corn, and white picket fences of prairie farmland,’ whose images ‘speak to a desire for a sanitized version of reality that tries to master the anxieties and ambivalences associated with modern life.’


 

eyeless in Gaza

gazamisery4.jpg

Promise was that I/Should Israel from Philistian yoke deliver;/Ask for this great deliverer now, and find him/Eyeless in Gaza at the Mill with slaves … (John Milton, Samson Agonistes)

Borders are conventionally represented as tidy lines on maps.  On the ground things get messier.  Especially in the case of Palestine–Israel–Gaza.

‘Israel has turned Gaza into an area that is simultaneously separated from and annexed under Israel’s control,’ writes Amjad Iraqi.  ‘It is a purgatory designed to provide whatever answer is most convenient for shirking responsibility and justifying violence at any given time. This has obscured a controversial but perhaps inexorable fact: after 51 years, Gaza can hardly be described as “occupied territory” anymore. It is now a segregated, debilitated, and subjugated part of Israel; a replica of the districts, townships, and reservations that imprisoned native populations and communities of color in apartheid South Africa, the United States, and other colonial regimes. In other words, Palestinians are no longer being oppressed outside the Israeli state; they are being caged and brutalized inside it.’

Alongside the anatomy of compliance, perhaps we need to reconsider the spatialities of oppression.


 

preserves for life

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The Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk has won the Man Booker International prize for her novel Flights.

‘“It isn’t a traditional narrative,” said chair of judges Lisa Appignanesi, pointing to Tokarczuk’s own description of her writing as “constellation novels” to describe an author who throws her stories into orbit, allowing her readers to form meaningful shapes from them. “We loved the voice of the narrative – it’s one that moves from wit and gleeful mischief to real emotional texture and has the ability to create character very quickly, with interesting digression and speculation.”

The book’s themes – “the nomadic life that we now lead in the world, with our constant movement, our constant desire to pick up and go, whether it’s from relationships or whether it’s to other countries”, and “the limitedness, the finiteness, the mortality of the human body, which is always pulled towards the ground” – collide in Tokarczuk’s “extraordinary” stories, said Appignanesi.’

For those who fancy a sample, Granta magazine has published Tokarczuk’s masterpiece of black humor “Preserves for Life.”


 

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.

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I was recently invited by the excellent Prague-based magazine Alienist (motto: ALL SUBJECTIVITY IS APPROPRIATION) to participate in this questionnaire.  The entire issue of the magazine can be downloaded here.  I have also posted my own brief contribution, which interrogates the notion of alienation, separately on academia.edu.

ALIENIST MANIFESTO

We live, we die. In a world beset by alienation, it seems we exist in a recurring dream of disillusionment. The history of reason – history as reason – poses itself at the beginning of the 21st century as a congenital madness. And if reason is the symptom of an irrational problem, what part does the mind play in this? Bloodless revolutions have stained the pages of psychiatry, literature, art history, philosophy – if emancipation is an idea that first belongs to those who forge chains, it is not a facetious question we pose: IS SCHIZOPHRENIA A SOLUTION?

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art history

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In the 1940s, a 16-year-old girl captured the minds of the art world’s elite. The self-taught Algerian artist, Baya Mahieddine (1931-1988) — known as Baya — is finally being celebrated in the first North American exhibition of her work, at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery, through March 31. Baya used gouache as her primary medium, depicting a world without men but full of bright images of women, nature, and animals …

In 1947, when Baya was just 16, she was discovered by Aimé Maeght, an established French art dealer, and André Breton, who included Baya’s works in the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme at Galerie Maeght in Paris. Almost overnight she caught the attention of Picasso and Matisse, among other prominent artists, for her colorful, spontaneous and “childlike” compositions. “Her work allows us to question so many different histories,” said curator Natasha Boas.  (from Jane Drinkard in The Cut)


 

build that wall

EUROPE-GREECE-MIGRANTS

A German newspaper has published the names of 33,293 refugees and migrants who died trying to reach Europe.  Der Tagesspiegel listed victims’ names, ages and countries of origin, as well as causes and dates of death, over 46 pages.

The newspaper said it wanted to document “the asylum-seekers, refugees and migrants who died since 1993 as a consequence of the restrictive policies of Europe on the continent’s outer borders or inside Europe”.

The majority of the people on the newspaper’s list drowned in the Mediterranean Sea.

Last year was the deadliest for migrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean, with at least 5,079 dying or going missing during their journey, according to the UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM).  (from The Independent)


 

miracles in sicily

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Migration into Sutera has brought a new influx of children to a school that had been earmarked to shut Photograph: Francesco Bellina/Cesura/Francesco Bellina / Cesura

When the phone call came asking the Sicilian townspeople if they had any room in their graveyards, the answer was a reluctant no.

A boat full of migrants had sunk in the Mediterranean. Almost 400 people were dead and they had to be buried somewhere. But the Sicilian town of Sutera, almost entirely populated by older people, had long since filled up its cemeteries.

Yet although there was no room for the dead, there was plenty of room for the living. All but a few hundred people had moved out of the town to find work in bigger cities, leaving behind empty houses. Now there was a chance to repopulate.

And so, since 2014, Sutera has augmented its fast-dwindling population with dozens of asylum seekers. The school has been reborn; the butcher and grocer are happy with the growth in turnover; the birthrate has rocketed.  (From the Guardian)


 

the times they are a-changin’ (maybe)

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Some fascinating data from Pew Research on the rapidly changing demographic makeup of America.

“The past five decades – spanning from the time when the Silent Generation (today, in their 70s and 80s) was entering adulthood to the adulthood of today’s Millennials – have seen large shifts in U.S. society and culture … Americans, especially Millennials, have become more detached from major institutions such as political parties, religion, the military and marriage. At the same time, the racial and ethnic make-up of the country has changed, college attainment has spiked and women have greatly increased their participation in the nation’s workforce.”

So how come the United States is still governed by uneducated, conservative, old white men, as epitomized by “President” Donald Trump?


 

the future

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Naomi Wadler, an 11-year-old girl from Alexandria, Virginia, thrilled hundreds of thousands when she spoke out for “the African-American girls who don’t make the front page of every national newspaper” at the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, DC, on Saturday.

“I am here today to represent Courtlin Arrington,” Wadler said. “I am here today to represent Hadiya Pendleton. I am here today to represent Taiyania Thompson, who at just 16 was shot dead in her home here in Washington, DC. I am here today to acknowledge the African-American girls who don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news. I represent the African-American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant beautiful girls full of potential.”  (from MotherJones)

The future.  Unless the old white men of the baby boom generation kill us all, one way or another, first.


 

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.