notes_30 An Art of the Forest, Lockdown May 2020 #HeygateLegacy

Danh Vo, Photographs of Dr. Joseph M. Carrier 1962–1973, 2010
Installation view at the South London Gallery, 2019. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Nick Ash

London’s Urban Forest; an Art of the Ongoing

By Guy Mannes-Abbott 23 May 2020

It’s the third Urban Tree Festival in London and I’ve been asked to write about what it means to celebrate and make art from a tree or trees in the South London Gallery’s world [for* the SLG; thank you! LINK]. I take the latter territory to have been tagged by William Blake, long-term resident of Lambeth’s Hercules Road, between the dark satanic mills of endlessly churning capital at Blackfriars Bridge and trees on Peckham Rye which hosted the angels of his creative resilience.

What is a tree, though? It’s an ontological question I’d like to prune into handy shape so that we can attend to the intangible qualities which enliven and expand more recognisably concrete ones. The tree as a rooted object is a marvel, of course, but it is so much more than that on multiple ecological, political, and cultural registers; smells and ‘looks’, rhizomatic roots and crowns, as well as an embedded commons. London is now formally classified as a continuous urban forest, which adds another dimension to its ambient realms, remembrances of things past and unlikely future hopes.

My first association is with Danh Vo’s landmark survey exhibition at the SLG in September 2019, and the related show at Marian Goodman Gallery. Common to both was the timber from a plantation of Black Walnut trees gifted to Vo by Craig McNamara, son of Robert the gung-ho Defence Secretary during the Vietnam War. When Vo acquired some of the latter’s effects to work with, Craig made an approach which grew into one of Vo’s many miraculous friendships. Art critical responses to the work lingered on the woody odours in both galleries, and I remember a tangy encounter with a room dressed in walnut to display a collection of ambiguous photographs of Vietnamese men and boys.

Smell is a great evoker, not least of memories entangled in Vo’s highly collaborative assemblages. He stirs rather than constrains memories, which are personal, political, historical as well as ongoing in the case of the stench of coloniality. I’m stirred to recall a thirty-year-old encounter with a stump of basalt planted next to a tree on the approach to the DIA Foundation on 22nd Street, Manhattan, which extended Joseph Beuys’s 7000 Eichen/Oak Trees project into 1988 and 1996. The basalt ‘certified’ the tree as a work while the project began with 7000 exchangeable ‘tokens’ installed in Kassel for documenta7 (1982 ) where Beuys also planted the first of these trees.

Joseph Beuys, 7000 Eichen/Oak Trees, 1982. © DACS, 2018

7000 Eichen/Oak Trees is a modestly scaled forest but a significant work which captures many intangible qualities generated by trees in their collectivity. London has approximately one tree for each of its nine million inhabitants but doesn’t feel like a forest to many. However, that suggests that we know what a forest does feel like. How do we celebrate each individual tree and the more galvanising qualities of an urban forest? I think we do it by opening ourselves to a consciousness of qualities which we feel but struggle to name.

I approach the Gallery-world through a newly redistributed forest which is a legacy of the Heygate Estate at the Elephant and Castle. When some 500 trees were threatened by a grid of new roads with ‘retail-clad podia’ during a notorious ‘regeneration’, myself and others valued the trees for their ‘public welfare’ values, ‘tangible and intangible benefits’ identified using a Forestry Commission mechanism. An imperfect but in this case radical tool which captured the commons value of the canopy, forcing developers to redraw their plans around the core of the forest and replace each one destroyed with four or five others in a then-unprecedented concession. The thousand resulting trees link from the River Thames to Burgess Park and out west to Kennington Common, with outliers reaching Peckham Road.

The expanded Heygate forest reaches to nearby John Ruskin Road and the heart of the Brandon Estate. Its redistributed commons enliven barren corners, connect canopy and roots systems, add biodiverse resilience as well as visual pleasures. It’s peculiarly appropriate that Kennington Common is lined with a significant number of these hard-fought-for trees. The Heygate has little of the scale of battles for Epping and Hainault Forests but engaged the same cultural, political and ecological values.

I approach one of the projects in the Gallery’s world; Heather and Ivan Morison’s Shadow Curriculum, which transformed a felled Douglas Fir with carved scales before promenading it from Highshore’s old school site to its new one abutting the Brandon Estate off Camberwell New Road, where it stands starkly sentinel. Its hand-worked scales are visible from Farmers Road and surely dwell in the children’s memory. However, the living trees in the forested interior of the Brandon Estate offer it fierce competition while enlivening a walk to weigh its memorial powers.

Heather and Ivan Morison, Shadow Curriculum in situ on Farmers Road. Photo: Guy Mannes-Abbott, 21 May 2020

I return towards Peckham Road and residues of Danh Vo’s Black Walnut timber in the SLG’s children’s Art Block on the Sceaux Gardens Estate ‘behind’ the gallery, all part of the Sceaux Gardens Conservation Area. I’m conscious, as I approach, of Southwark’s 35 existing Black Walnut trees, including one on Camberwell Green, but especially a handful in these gardens among the grand pollarded trees which shaped the estate’s development in the 1950s. The Black Walnut is a North American species, a plantation of which was grown to supply gun barrels when Craig McNamara bought his farm. Its husks are also ground down to clean jet engines, or used in dynamite.

Left: Danh Vo, untitled, 2019. Installation view at the South London Gallery, 2019. Photo: Nick Ash

Right: Danh Vo, Aconitum souliei, Inflorescence portion / Lilium souliei, outer and inner tepel … 2009 (detail) and Danh Vo, 2.2.1861, 2009. Installation view at the South London Gallery, 2019. Courtesy the artist. Photo: Nick Ash

Vo’s work has been described as Orientalist but I think it’s more entangled and entangling than that. I think of Heidegger’s description of the River Ister as a homely site and a journeying out, which reminds me in turn of Harry Thorne’s description of the way that works in Vo’s untitled exhibition ‘accrue meaning that will one day transfer to another. Collaboration, unnoticed, endlessly.’ This is exactly how London’s urban forest works.

Cameron Rowland concretises another intangible in his ICA show: 3 & 4 Will. IV c. 73. He discovered that the mahogany handrail and grand gallery doors were ‘felled and milled by slaves in Jamaica, Barbados, and Honduras’. This mahogany is ‘one of the few commodities of the triangular trade that continues to generate value for those who currently own it.’ Rowland persuaded the ICA to sign an encumbrance mortgage which diminishes the Crown Estate’s asset-value while the mahogany remains in place. It’s a work of the utmost precision, a reminder that slavery is ongoing, the world it made unrepaired.

Black Walnut residual timber, Art Block. Photo: Guy Mannes-Abbott, 22 May 2020

Arriving at the SLG, I’ve reached Art Block where the store of Black Walnut has been left for further projects with the children of the estate. The smell hits me, conjuring frames and furniture from untitled; an artful ongoingness continuous with the urban forest and concentrated in individual Black Walnut trees in the immediate neighbourhood. A reminder that there are millions of occasions to celebrate London’s urban forest, but millions more needed for human life to continue on this precarious flood plain we call home.

Guy Mannes-Abbott is a London-based author whose work often performs in visual art contexts, including his highly acclaimed In Ramallah, Running (London, 2012), contributions to e-flux journal’s Supercommunity for Venice Biennale 2015 (Supercommunity, London/NYC, 2017) and Witte de With’s End Note(s) (Rotterdam/Hong Kong, 2015). He has collaborated with Bombay artists CAMP on The Country of the Blind, and Other Stories, a film for Folkestone Triennial 2011 and taught theory at the AA School of Architecture in London. Recent talks include Any Place for a Non-Violent Image, (Graz, Austria, 2018), Labouring To Port, Royal College of Art, (London, 2018), and Gertrude and Alice (Work & Play), Architectural Association, (London, 2016). Recent essays include ‘Utopian Dust Versus Perfumed Amplification in Future Imperfect’ (Berlin 2017), ‘Mud as Clear’ in WdW Review Vol.1 (Rotterdam, 2017), ‘The Art of Emily Jacir’ in Archival Dissonance (London, 2015), a short story in Drone Fiction (Dubai, 2013) and an Introduction to Mourid Barghouti’s Midnight and Other Poems (London, 2008). His critical journalism has appeared in The Independent, Guardian, New Statesman, Architectural Review, Bidoun and Third Text. He is a core member of the Gulf Labour Coalition.

notes_29 MRD مريد (‘Return, repeat. Return.’)


Note the roundedness
the purse of birthing lips
warmth, assurance, sanctuary
-including the maternal-
the promise of a kiss

And the radical softness of
what follows, condensing a
common english error, but
there is no murgh. Just the
controlled bite of ‘read’

becoming a fixed grin; a cele-
bration of ‘going back’ and
‘repetition’. Finally, a softly
doubled ‘dead’; punctuated by
tongue. Return, repeat. Return

It’s in your familiar voice
definitively, an outlawed vessel
of soft depth, resounding truths
and human warmth in all the
details; pre-zeiss you said

Song-sung voice of the earth
winded palms embracing rain
the worn rumbling of witness
ignored, over-flown, bombed
with dumb assertions of self

Soil remains as subliminal under-
tow, the non-marching of time
Somehow life is conducted and
embodied; too little, too much
Words of pumping incredulity


note_28 MRD 1944-2021

Mourid Barghouti (مريد البرغوثي) died in Amman on Sunday 14th February, and is survived by his and Radwa Ashour’s son Tamim, to whom I offer my love and heartfelt condolences.

Mourid made this series of humble recordings between June and September 2020, reading a range of his poems in their own language. I was struck by each of them as they appeared, appreciating them for what they are, recognising many but more than that recognising the remarkable man, poet and memoirist in the voice and many gestures that were so very Mourid.

I am not offering any analysis! I am as numb in the wake of this as a dumb black heart emoji. But these are comforting me, and they may comfort you too. It did occur to me that making these gifts in this way might express or signal a consciousness of mortality. Perhaps COVID (in general) was* enough for such an appreciation to develop, as I concluded. In any case, Mourid’s ‘gifts’; the calm, generous, dignity that was so characteristic of someone who became a dear friend and elder over the last fifteen or sixteen years, ‘fooled’ me (somewhere between waving and drowning myself in those months). They came to an end just before he received a terminal diagnosis of lung cancer in November 2020.

Revisit and appreciate that dignity, the precision and warmth of these indelible words and images in the inimitable voice of their maker. Enjoy their ongoingness…

For now.

I am sorry that I don’t know how to extract or export these to make for a more friendly encounter, but then again they are not mine!

notes_26 McKenzie Wark, conversational leavings on green poetics (more of The New Vulgarian, TANK, 2019)

Late summer 2019 -a plague and a bit ago- I conducted a written exchange with McKenzie Wark around Capital is Dead which was published in TANK magazine’s Autumn Issue. It was a privilege to do and peculiarly intimate as well as inherently exploratory if not aleatory. Wark’s work has a promiscuousness which I wanted to engage across its liberating range, and more clearly establish what that is. I had not been the interviewer rather than interviewee for a decade and it happened to take place during Wark’s transitioning; she later remarked upon the strangeness and no doubt unwelcome intrusiveness of this first interview…

TANK is a wonder for having the capacity for a piece like this and the process produced some interesting digressions, which distracted from the main conversatonal thrusts and so we nipped them out. I was seeking dissolution -if not end- points of certain intellectual trails (some of which Wark set out on in her General Intellects series, which emerged from her teaching practice), towards the muddying world of rivers and related planetary concerns and work of my own through this period. I’m always interested in where lines of thought and allegiance spill over or expire…

Amongst other qualities, Wark is rigorous in her concretising of situation. She has affecting loyalties to what she calls ‘my people’, and is naturally suspicious of non-Marxist thinkers like Michel Serres. You’ll see some other cusps regarding Haraway and Latour, which you can probably guess. Timothy Morton had published Humankind not long before, with its updated insistence that solidarity is literally meaningless without understanding it to include all living and companion species. It’s not solidarity, not even a substantive politics, without that urgent scope anymore. I agree (because, or anyway, it is productively complex in actuality).

MW impressed me by how comradely and/or clear certain distinctions were in their thinking. It’s not a matter of my having any juice here; she is razor sharp of course! But, I enjoyed (again) her respect for the work of others, and this is the character of the kinds of repair we need to engage with, versus the old world of correction and delineation and various forms of declamatory possession of territory. Textbook trifles. Boring af. Which is exactly what I understand by the formulaic panto produced by what Wark calls ‘genteel Marxists’.

The poetics of planetary-thinking is at the front of my mind as I complete my book on a river, its riverworld and the world (of) rivers and eye where the next three years or so take me; plunging deeper into related areas to run myself and thinking into the concreteness of forested urban futures to construct that vision from ‘here/now’. How we think, talk, write about the symbiotic actualities of our being here and extrapolate to other kinds of future human formations is critical to write the central object of the forthcoming work but also coin ways of thinking and speaking what I will just refer to as a kind of cyborg commons… Again, this is not Wark’s specific interest, and I was deeply impressed by her clarity about her worlds and their leafier outer reaches…

So here follow the scraps marked, I have just noticed in the piece, by green graphic elements! I’ve pasted some of the published text to hold with the sense of things and asterisks mark the extras!

The New Vulgarian, MW/GMA, TANK

London, 10.1, Autumn 2019, pp 212-216

Excerpt plus *excised scraps*

GMA This reminds me of Molecular Red and its conclusion about building “the new living world within the ruins of the old one. We all know this civilisation can’t last. Let’s make another.” This is fabulously optimistic, would you still write that now? Also, I wonder what you make of Anna Tsing’s “new values” in the ruins of the old ‘civilisation’, symbolised by her magical Matsutake mushroom?

MW I’m an urban creature, one who will live and die by the city. I really value Anna Tsing’s work though, because it’s about building a new world in the ruins of the old in a very different way. She would probably not say we’re building another ‘civilization’ as she thinks they’ve all been terrible. But we have to build something in the ruins. Although I’m a lot less optimistic about that than even a few years ago.

GMA In your last book Molecular Red you detail Andrey Platonov’s tales of urban futurism which include irrigation schemes and much grubbing in the ground. At one point he refers to the “subsoil of the body” in terms of art-making, because art is organically linked to the body like sweat…

MW Platonov is important as he is a Marxist writer who witnessed the collapse of a whole society. His communism is one of bare necessity. But these days I’m more interested in myself as belonging to that class of humans who remake themselves out of matter extraneous to us. I came out as transgender while writing Capital is Dead and these days I’m interested in trans people as a kind of avant-garde whose media is the body. Whether our kind can outlive a collapse I don’t know. Although I hear it may not be that hard to make hormones. I’m not someone who could live without the city: being crip, queer, trans, whatever. I’m not interested in identities. But I am interested in situations, and for me, self-making communities within the city is my habitat.

GMA Marx, you write, tasked himself “to understand the situation of his times from the labor point of view.” I enjoy the ways you hold to this and note that ‘the labour perspective’ is linked explicitly in Molecular Red to ‘city situations’. Isn’t this the key to your own approach here?

MW This is what I got from Bogdanov. He was very insistent that the dogma of “dialectical materialism” would be harmful and would function as a law to be policed. Marxism to Bogdanov has no necessary content other than the labor point of view. All I added to that is that in the past the labor movement had to ask about other subordinate classes and this was a big innovation. Thinking the peasant, the slave, the indentured laborer, women’s domestic work, and so on. Marxism can be the points of view in the plural of subordinate classes. And then my additional question: what if there’s a new subordinate class? One that produces information? A subordinate class within forces of production that produce information as a thing, and within relations of production that make that thing a special kind of commodity.

*GMA On a sort of different tangent in Molecular Red you write that “nature is the enemy of our species world”, when species world usually means human population in your writing, no? ‘We’ are builders of worlds by definition, you write. It reminded me of Michel Serres’s warning in The Natural Contract (1990) of the inevitable consequences of the ‘war’ that humans have launched upon the planet (never called) Earth. With General Intellects in mind, is there a reason why you have not engaged his thought?

MW There’s a lot of people I could write about and haven’t. The thing about the General Intellects book and the forthcoming sequel to it is that I just wanted to model a kind of conceptual reduction of an author. How do you take someone’s work and reduce it to about 4000 words that can be used in an instrumental way as a conceptual armature? It’s the opposite of that sort of scholastic completism where you can only be an expert on a single Great Writer. But its more intensive than journalism. I was trying to write something completely different to those Terry Eagleton reviews I grew up on that have a lot of wit but don’t really make an author available as a use value.

Serres is for someone else. I don’t think there are compulsory thinkers. Even Marx has to be taken as optional. You could say it’s partly just a matter of taste that I prefer to think through the Marxists. They are my people. I was educated in the party and the movement. I’m also committed to them because I think that they’ve been subject to far too much erasure and selective reading. The cold war massively damaged creative and intellectual work and play in both east and west, except that in the west this has never really been acknowledged, let alone has there been any atonement. So I do my best to put the comrades back into conversation with the present.

GMA In Capital is Dead you quote a poem by Drew Milne about preserving future symbiosis which turned my mind back to Donna Haraway, in particular, whom you embrace warmly as a ‘vulgar Marxist’ in the new book. Your Haraway is generally Cyborg-Haraway, and yet to me she is first Symbiotic-Haraway -focusing “ongoingness” on the 90% of the human body that is not human- a continuation not conflict, of course. Is there a reason why you have not addressed this latter Haraway more?

MW I do prefer an earlier moment in Haraway, where I think she was articulating a writing practice that was interested in a revised version of the labor point of view. She crucially showed how to pluralize and ironize that point of view. I’m less interested in what I see in the later Haraway as an attempt at a general metaphysics. I’m not interested in claims to produce a kind of sovereign language that trumps the others, whether of a philosophical or poetic cast. I think she edges a little too close to that.*

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is img_9476.jpeg

GMA Another frontier might be the work of Tim Morton, whom you engage brilliantly in General Intellects. You describe his work as poetry or a poetics, but it reminded me of the occasional poetics of your writing, if not thought; its quite frequent resort to poetic punctums, conclusive reference to poetry and poets; Rimbaud, Lautréamont, Ponge. EM Cioran had a notion about the “sincere confessions” we make when we talk about other people, implicitly fellow-writers. Can you identify any of yours?

MW I’m a writer. I’m interested in what can be done with language. I think of my own writing as a kind of art form, minor though it might be. For marketing purposes, the books are sold as if they conformed to certain academic or trade book genres, but to me that’s just a way to make them visible and accessible. I’m more interested in how one can play within the constraints of those generic forms. I’m a prose writer only, and not of fiction. But that still leaves a lot of room to experiment with what form can be. So naturally, I respond to the poetics of Morton which I think very fine. I just have a rather different concept of the praxis of the poetics of writing. I think of our differences as comradely, however.

GMA I take your critique but want to reconcile it with Morton’s overt, perhaps flamboyant, declaration that solidarity implies solidarity with nonhumans. “Solidarity requires nonhumans. Solidarity just is solidarity with nonhumans”, at the very end of his Humankind (2017). This echoes Bogdanov’s Tektology, Platonov’s “molecular account of everyday proletarian life, among rocks, animals, and plants, as comrades”, and you also in Molecular Red; “Living things are each other’s comrades”. Is this where poetry might trump prose in a disintegrating spectacle of metabolic rifts?! Or, would you like to expand on that comradeship of living things?

MW Yes, Platonov is a truly extraordinary writer, and not least because his vision is of universal comradeship. One of his sources of that may have been Bogdanov. (There surely were others, that’s just the connection I made in Molecular Red). Comradeship is the other side of the labor point of view. The labor movement aims at wage labor’s abolition – but to achieve what? The possibility of collective life as comrades. Marxism is the conceptual and creative practice of the subordinate classes, which have to imagine and try to create an entire world outside of exploitation. Collective activity outside of exploitation is comradeship. It has to be practiced not only with all other subordinated people but with all subordinated agents, living and nonliving. Otherwise the world ends.

*GMA Can we take one step further to conjoin with those like Stenger and Serres in their pleas to think like the earth (Gaia! Biogea!), or like a river? You know, Serres -who worked the river barges with his father as a boy- asks; “What philosopher thinks like a river?” What does that mean if anything to you, given your adherence to a praxis that requires the human body working the matter of the world?

MW There’s still too much investment in creating a sovereign discourse for me in Latour, Stengers and more occasionally in Haraway. As if this language, this poetics, this way to parlay had to be agreed on first. I’m not interested in theory that tries to be the judge, or the legislator, or in Latour, the diplomat. Theory is just a kind of knowledge-praxis alongside any other. Maybe its specific work and play is to make selective connections between different kinds of praxis. That’s all. Theory is interstitial. It does not fly, like Icarus, above it all. The theory I’m less drawn to tends to have bourgeois figures, or even religious ones, in back of its model of its own praxis.

GMA Capital is Dead *performs a self-détourning by assembling and rearticulating recent pieces from e-flux’s Supercommunity project and a ‘theory opera’ with Raqs Media Collective.* Does it feel like a final, complete iteration of the Vectoralist and Hacker or can you conceive other applications?

I might be done with that cycle of work, at least for now. It’s been twenty years. In Capital is Dead I got it into a writing style I rather like. I have a few things I could elaborate but I might leave it for others. I’d like to write in other ways and as someone else for a while.

This long section was edited cleaner, but there are a couple of other parts that were excised from the reordered conversation, too.

First, this discrete question:

*GMA “The production of counter hegemonic knowledge can really only be comradely and collaborative.” This seems a key note throughout your work, and important here, as we will see. If this were once possible, how is it now in a world (currently/suddenly/rapidly) gripped by competing barbarisms? Or is this a ‘hope, but not for us’?

MW It’s a mistake to try to get your optimism from your analysis. Get that somewhere else. Analysis has to begin with the defeat of all of the factions of the labor movement. There’s things to learn from all of those defeats. But I think the production of Marxism as a kind of knowledge is best when it is itself comradely. Which means giving up the fantasy of a kind of knowledge which is sovereign. For example, treating philosophy or social science, or political economy as a trump discipline that makes the rules for all the others. Finding comradely relations between heterogeneous kinds of knowledge production outside of the subordination of all information to an elaborated and modified commodity form is one of the main fronts of struggle and innovation.

Then, finally, this run of questions that ran on after the published end:

*GMA Let’s compare the anecdote about Henri Lefebvre all at sea, which is an important reference in a number of your books. Lefebvre swam out and was caught up in the terrifying depths; “a shifting totality, roaring, buffeting, overwhelming: the sea”, but saved himself by noting the pattern of waves and using that to get back to shore. He found “space-time”, you quote in The Beach Beneath the Street (2011). Order (equilibrium) too, we might say. Serres famously worked the river barges on the Garonne with his father as a boy and has written of the storms and muddy eddies they worked through -where”the planet, inhuman, reveals itself”- and which came to describe the world we now inhabit, with its metabolic rifts. Is there no merit in Serres’ muddling/eddying when conceptualising/engaging everyday life now?

MW The Serres I know is The Parasite. The concept of abuse value I think I might work with sometime. There’s a good model there of serial parasitism, and of good and bad parasites that’s a really good analytic for the Anthropocene and for the vectoralist mode of production.

GMA Relatedly, you refer to Haraway insisting “on including nonhuman actors in what would be an otherwise relentlessly human category of that-which-labours” (p.135 MR) I can see the appeal in her modest witness “in situated knowledges”, being in the action; “one must be finite and dirty, not transcendent and clean.” The task you say in conclusion is one of “making new kinds of labour for a new kind of nature.” This links through your superb analyses of Situationist thought, your own detourning of elements of it, and through your writing about the difference brought by the hacker. Are we still talking here about the hacking class, the hacker?

MW Well I think it would be helpful to have a name for that class that produces information but finds the fruits of that effort appropriated and commodified by another class, a ruling class that lives off what Randy Martin might have called a ‘derivative’ from it. Naming is an art. But we’re stuck with these generic labels: neoliberal, postfordist, and so on. It’s just not very good poetry.

And that’s it, but these tightly conceived scraps got me thinking. I found them as stimulating as anything else published, though they belonged elsewhere. Here! There is a problem with the poetics of ecologically-driven thinking (thinking is* ecological, as such, as Morton once put it) and writing, but it is an emerging ground which will generate new thought and language. Strictly systemic approaches may be precisely what no longer works, indeed that must be the case.

The central conundurm is that we creatures will have to learn very fast how to live and work with but, at least from here, any such horizon will involve more human intervention and management. Thinking this elemental paradox through is the urgent difficulty of the early to mid-twentieth century, involving epistemic revaluation as well as the coining of new language, which may include refreshing old ones…

Meanwhile there is time, and certainly occasion to read or re-read everything that McKenzie Wark has published…

note_22 With McKenzie Wark for TANK; radical vulgarity vs “genteel Marxist… cops” ;)

COVER_Sticker-arrangements4_forweb__98681.1568301456.1280.1280   CapitalisDead_MW_Verso_2019

McKenzie Wark’s Capital is Dead (Verso) launches in New York on October 9th and later in the month in London (21st TATE Modern, 24th Foyles). This note is just a small celebration of that fact, linking to the conversation published in the current excellent issue of TANK magazine and here:

Capital is Dead is an urgently rewarding read, as well as a summation of sorts for the author and much of her work in this century. This clip from the published text should alert you to the unorthodoxies it engages and the energy applied too!

Vulgarism_GMA_MW_TANKmagazine2019 copy

The New Vulgarian came out at about 4000 words in the end, Continue reading “note_22 With McKenzie Wark for TANK; radical vulgarity vs “genteel Marxist… cops” ;)”

note_21 Gillian Darley’s Essex; meanderings (in lieu)…

IMG_4146cropEXCELLENT ESSEX In praise of England’s most misunderstood county by Gillian Darley Old Street Publishing, London. 17 Sept 2019

Gillian Darley caught my attention some years ago with her positivity towards that “most overlooked and undersold of counties”; Essex, which she presented without the usual preface of undermining caveats. “Surprisingly, Essex is rather self-effacing”, Darley wrote, its “delight based on anomaly and paradox.” The part of Essex I have come to know intimately; the River Roding, its valley and catchment, which runs through the north west flanks of an exceptionally rich cultural landscape into London’s most vital parts, exemplifies these qualities. Darley’s refreshing words appeared in her review of an updated Pevsner guide in the London Review of Books (2007) which was, it turns out, also the trigger for Excellent Essex itself.

Titles and terms; I’m as troubled by the ‘excellent’ here as I know you are. If it’s a reference to a phrase or shorthand then I don’t get it. In any case, how does Superb Sussex, Brilliant Berkshire or ‘You’re Beautiful’ Yorkshire sound? Then there is the more elemental problem of a book, any book, about a county. Do we still do that? It’s not that a comparative counties schtick would be better or any less old-fashioned; both belong to cultural realms last evidenced half a century ago. Indeed, Darley refers admiringly to the photography of Edwin Smith which appeared in Gerald Scarfe’s Shell Guide to Essex (1968), in the series edited by Johns Betjeman and Piper. All of which feels fustily antique.

In somewhat belaboured contrast, Darley draws her book to an end with A House for Essex, the architectural curio commissioned by Alan de Botton, produced by architectural new-wavers FAT and artist-mascot Grayson Perry, and located in Wrabness. Darley writes; “The more I think about Julie Cope (Perry’s ‘Essex-girl’ name for it) the more she emerges as a figurative Essex.” By this she means the knowing vulgarities and devil-may-careness of it as well as something more profound. Darley’s figured Essex “took a journey out of one Essex into another, towards a wider more generous world.” This is an Essex I recognise; “belonging yet not-belonging, absurd yet admirable … open to ideas and experiment, making it fertile ground for alternative ways of living and favouring the independent-minded”. Qualities of a place worthy of a book, in fact. Continue reading “note_21 Gillian Darley’s Essex; meanderings (in lieu)…”

note_20 On Lynne Tillman’s No Lease on Life, rearchive fever …

No Lease on Life/ Lynne Tillman by Guy Mannes-Abbott The Independent 30 April 1998

No Lease on Life/ Lynne Tillman/ Guy Mannes-Abbott The Independent 30 April 1998

While my fellow fruitiers were scattered between Ecuador and Sweden, I was able to visit archival regions unexplored for years. Principally I was in pursuit of a clean manuscript from a similar period as this which I want to restore to its original 78 subtle, molecular, daring fragments and, well, see. It got overrun by the immediate receptivity and success of my e.things to be straightforward about it, and though those grew out of much earlier actual experiments with all short forms, nevertheless I now see they were also directly enabled by the work on this novel manuscript for its tautness and the danger, to misquote a later e.thing, that it lived…

“Tillman is a writer of rare intelligence who knows that in writing a story, “the form of its telling will be part of its meaning”. She wants to challenge complacency, to “unconventionalise”, in the ultimate hope that we can “think beyond our limits”.

So. A short review like this needs to be read and disseminated otherwise it’s pointless. The Independent, may they bathe in saffron waters, were always a bit patchy with their online upping. I  didn’t notice for too long, and literally prompted by over generous correspondents for copies, started to pursue now and again. It was tricky for their tech-team to prioritise upping something months or years later, and this attempt failed while one or two others succeeded. Archivists, or writers who write through archives and keep an eye on what the archive is to a writer, keep them too! (I can’t tell you how flattered I’ve been by enquiries about my own archives, for this reason.) I only ever had a photocopy until I found this fondly nibbled single hard copy during the absence of my colleagues.

“Her new book asks the question of how we should articulate the experience of living in one of the world’s major cities at the end of the 20th century.”

Continue reading “note_20 On Lynne Tillman’s No Lease on Life, rearchive fever …”

note_19 D is for danger; live your danger, live dangerous. Victoria Vol. 3


Trying to locate the original manuscript of my novel of 78 fragments, I came across a lot of things. One of them was this; a nicely calibrated collaboration with my dear friend Simon English for Grant Watson’s Victoria which must have been hand-produced in 1998? Unbound, A3, in editions of 200 it seems, a warm and civil experience all around, and in happy company.


D is Guy Mannes-Abbott, Double and Twist is Simon English (Ph GMA)

D or ‘d’ actually, was a very early e.things text from autumn 1997. The circle of what were the first hundred Continue reading “note_19 D is for danger; live your danger, live dangerous. Victoria Vol. 3”

note_18 On the work Abu Dhabi banned from Sharjah (Biennial) 2019? #DXB

Gold-tips in Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace Marina (GM-A, 2013)

Gold-tips in Abu Dhabi’s Emirates Palace Marina (GM-A, 2013).



Everything we know about ourselves and our various shared and not well-shared histories affirms that systems of hermetic control never work for long, that consolidation hastens collapse. The more autocratic the regime, the messier the collapse. I will leave all of that to time, which will operate unerringly.

Meanwhile, to demonstrate a simple truth, we are going to plant a forest in DXB’s Terminal 3. It’s easy. Those of us who know the place will return from various ports in carefully staged flights that betray no joint venture. We will all be either prevented from getting on a flight, stopped at and detained at DXB, or held in the Deportees Room for some hours. Two of us at least will get in—to the airport, not the country!—and overlap in the Room on ROLEX time. We will take our allotted hour to find food in the Terminal and head up to our Costa rendezvous. We will have seeds of trees with us. We will be carrying gorgeous presentation boxes of fertilised roals or figs, like the kind from Aliya Dates Farm that I recall from a leather-lined yacht in Abu Dhabi’s Palace Marina.

Gifts, you see. Gifts of the Rolla tree, the put-upon-banyans, these potent embodiments of hopes, wishes and dreams for change. Continue reading “note_18 On the work Abu Dhabi banned from Sharjah (Biennial) 2019? #DXB”

note_17 On Khaled Khalifa’s Death is Hard Work; ‘Undead, what and who will you defend and nurture as your world drowns?’

KK Death is

Death is Hard Work, Khaled Khalifa

(Trans; Leri Price. Pub/UK; Faber)

By Guy Mannes-Abbott

“Death had become hard work. Just as hard as living, in Bolbol’s view.” Abdel Latif al-Salim’s youngest son has promised, “in a rare moment of courage”, to honour his father’s dying wish to be buried with his sister Layla. The retired teacher and belated rebel died of natural causes in a hospital in Damascus when nothing else is natural in the middle of Syria’s uprising. Bolbol triggers the 400 kilometre drive north into Aleppo’s hinterlands, which takes 3 torturous days and ends with maggots climbing the windows of the family minibus.

Death is Hard Work is a huge novel of just 180 pages and the third of Khaled Khalifa’s to appear in English, courtesy of their translator Leri Price. In Praise of Hatred (2008) and No Knives in the Kitchens of this City (2013) were each short-listed for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, with the latter winning a prestigious Mahfouz Medal, and arrived in English in 2014 and 2016 respectively. They were preceded by two further novels, while their author has also written for television in Damascus, where he lives to this day.

Khalifa captured a freighted immobility in all this which his new novel disperses with ferocious intent.

Continue reading “note_17 On Khaled Khalifa’s Death is Hard Work; ‘Undead, what and who will you defend and nurture as your world drowns?’”