Culture_Crit

A selection -of texts with an arbitrary word length cut-off of 1500 words, to contrast with Chapters_Essays– will build forwards as well as back to 1990. All the way back to a short piece I wrote for the New Statesman about Joel Rose‘s Kill The Poor, one of the books he and his (then) partner Catherine Texier gave me at their old East Village apartment, from where they were publishing Between C&D magazine. Indeed, we delivered a batch of tractor-fed A4 paper copies with a Barbara Kruger ‘cover’/insert in zip-locked bags to the late, special St Marks Bookshop that spring…

. Outrage: ‘Trafalgar Place exemplifies a dash to socially cleanse valuable land in London’. By Guy Mannes-Abbott, 5 October 2016

 

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In nominating dRMM’s Elephant and Castle housing scheme for this year’s Stirling Prize, the RIBA excuses the casual erasure of a community.

Typically, the RIBA’s Stirling Prize shortlist1 leavens starry spectacles with a socially minded gesture or two. In a thin year for the former, the list still obliged with the flawed spectacularity of Herzog & de Meuron’s Blavatnik School of Government at Oxford. In contrast, the ‘housing crisis’ generated a lot of noise but few homes again, so a ‘flagship’ housing scheme designed by dRMM for the Elephant and Castle’s ‘regeneration’ ticked a misleading box.2

Trafalgar Place is the first phase of Lendlease’s Elephant Park development which is replacing the demolished Heygate Estate’s 1,200 units of public housing with 2,500 private units, masses of shops, offices and car spaces. This doubling of housing density is reducing 1,200 council homes to about 80 equivalents in terms of social rent. As a model of ‘regeneration’ its notoriety was assured by a lamentable agreement in 2010, based on the wizardry of secret financial viability assessments. Thereafter it exemplified a broader dash to socially cleanse valuable land in central London, banishing tenants from their communities and leaseholders from their city.3

… (free reg)

 

This 1500 word piece is “an acute evisceration” (CS) of a flagship development for the notoriously regressive ‘regeneration’ at the Elephant and Castle. It displays a proper grasp of the political context of such schemes as well as granular architectural detail -all framed within an articulation of an urban ethics with which to fight forwards. “Rightly impassioned yet also stiletto-like in its critique! We need more writing like that.” (MC) wrote another generous ‘expert’ respondent.

Published on the eve of RIBA’s Stirling Prize ceremony (6 October 2016) by The Architectural Review. A scan or pdf will follow, as will work towards my London book…

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.The deadly style wars of Istanbul | Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s bestselling novelist, mixes the methods of Islam and the West. It’s an art to die for, he tells Guy Mannes-Abbott | The Independent 24 August 2001

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Three years after its appearance in Turkey, Pamuk’s novel My Name is Red (translated by Edrag Goknar, Faber, £10.99) is now published in an excellent English version. This pivotal book, which absorbed Pamuk through the 1990s, could conclusively establish him as one of the world’s finest living writers.

… He is currently editing the complete works of Dostoyevsky in Turkey, and writing introductions. “The great Dostoyevsky book that I like is The Possessed,” he says, drawing out the Ss in emphasis. The project involves returning to a key inspiration of his youth and a writer whose “demons” he shared… 

Crucially, Pamuk adds that he also identifies with the Russian’s “involvement and problematic love/hate relationship with the West.” Dostoyevsky came to see “the particular qualities of being Western [as] being rational and being proud: the characteristics he hates most”. Pamuk laughs happily and sweetly, as if slightly surprised at himself.Continued

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Northern light on a world at war | Sven Lindqvist travels far and wide to disinter Europe’s dark secrets. Guy Mannes-Abbott meets him in Stockholm. The Independent 14 May 2000

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Sven Lindqvist declared his credo 30 years ago: “If a book is to be a weapon, it must have a sharp edge.” He was introducing a book that confronted tyrannical landowners in Latin America with their excesses, much as General Pinochet is finally being made to face his. 

So far, so honourable; but it is the way that the edge gains its sharpness that makes Lindqvist’s voice distinctive. The key is that his own experiences form part of his meticulously observed work, “just as much as my own love would do if I were writing a love story”. 

In his new book, A History of Bombing (translated by Linda Haverty Rugg; Granta, £14.99), Lindqvist has used his childhood nightmares to write a largely 20th-century horror story. His presence also looms in the way that, throughout this idiosyncratic work, he conjures the blasted earth and wretched screams produced by repugnant fantasies and genocidal policies. 

It’s a book about a kind of global lottery in which all of us are players, sponsors and losers. Lindqvist calls all the big numbers: the thousands of degrees centigrade reached on the streets of Dresden and Hiroshima, the million Hiroshimas in the world’s nuclear store. He details everything from the first bomb made in 12th-century China, filled with porcelain shards, to the number of times we can blow ourselves up today. It sounds numbingly familiar, but this book will make you burn anew…” Continued

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. Nasreen Mohamedi: Notes. Reflections on Indian Modernism Bidoun Winter 2009/10

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 “… One vitrine in the exhibition revealed an unused sheet of Arabic Letraset, as if to signpost the influence of calligraphy specifically and Islamic arts in general. Most intriguing was her absorption of the traditional schooling in Persian miniatures, in which iterative pencil lines were perfected before students graduated to equally honed ink washes.
Mohamedi’s writings describe volcanoes of restlessness and despair, which she converted with supreme concentration into lines and spaces. A diary entry from March 1971 contained her credo: “To grasp one’s entire heritage with intuition, vision and wisdom-with a total understanding of the present.” Her heritage included innovatorsin Mumbai like Tyeb Mehta and V S. Gaitonde, and in Lahore, Zahoor ul Akhlaq, whose influence extends to contemporary artists like Shahzia Sikander and Aisha Khalid. Buddhism and Indian Sufism, notions of self-removal and flaming dissolution, were part of Mohamedi’s vision. Her drawings represented acts of de-creation, while at the same time, they materialized the bodily touch…”

PDF: gm-a-nasreen-mohamedi-retrospective-ocamkg-bidoun-winter-09-10
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. Walter Benjamin: A Biography Momme Brodersen New Statesman November 1996

“… (Benjamin’s) criticism remains exemplary, for its confrontation with difficulty and its

search for a position “on the brink”.

Benjamin is no longer a revolutionary wizard, but he is a huge subject. Commentaries proliferate, but his work is only partially translated.Brodersen has produced an honourable portrait but Benjamin requires a multi-layered gallery in which his Jewishness and cultural politics can be seen in better perspective.”


PDF:
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. The Black Book Orhan Pamuk New Statesman July 1995 

The Black Book expands these concerns and works through the gamut of postmodernity;

from ontological games and paradox through the city, the panopticon and on to the faces of ethical otherness. It is all of these things, and yet significantly more. It is full of stories, as well as stories about stories and stories about the form of the story, but Pamuk is much too clever a writer to settle for mere cleverness.

His intention is to embody the texture and complexity of life in contemporary Istanbul. The novel charts a week in the life of a lawyer called Galip whose wife Ruya has left him. He guesses that she is with her older half-brother Jelal, a famous columnist who has also vanished. Like a metaphysical detective, Galip reads his way through Istanbul’s labyrinth of late 20th-century signs and ancient stories. The novel alternates this narrative with Jelal’s meditative columns, which at their best are ‘nazires -versions of other stories, or of Galip’s narration. 

Pamuk’s novel ends with the 1980 military coup and is fraught with its own time. As such, it also plays with chronology. For example, in seeking “writing degree zero”, Pamuk writes of Hurufism, a mystical sect which sought the Divine signature in human faces, where they read hidden letters. This becomes a device to write about movie stars and about Jelal’s melancholic prophecies. This is typical of Pamuk’s charge through centuries ofnarrative forms.”


PDF: gm-a-orhan-pamuk-the-black-book-nss-7-july-1995

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. Christina Stead: A Biography Hazel Rowley New Statesman February 1995

“In a letter written in 1942 , Christina Stead, then aged 40, voiced her commitment to

“the passion, energy and struggle (of) the creative act”. Completing her sixth book, For Love Alone, and against consensual opinion, she was ready to gamble on “intelligent ferocity” for “more success in the end”. In that spirit, I would argue that Stead led an exemplary life for a writer of fiction -exemplary, that is, despite the notorious neglect of her novels, the tragedy of her mid-life poverty and cruelly belated recognition. The inconsistencies, restlessness, melodrama, repression, recklessness and political engagements that formed her experience and writing embody a recurrent struggle that is the proof of life and improver of work.”


PDF: gm-a-christina-stead-biography-hazel-rowley-nss-10-feb-1995

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. This Year in Jerusalem Mordecai Richler The Guardian 1994

“Richler unearths similarity in the place of difference… After visiting a Palestinian refugee camp, he writes of his hope that if he and his Habonim comrades had grown up there “we would have had the courage to be among the stone throwers.” Then, “homesick” for Canada, he returns. His book is wider than it is deep, but it is a soberly argued essay at thinking and being Jewish in the Diaspora “now”, and a profoundly human testimony that allows for some celebration.”
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. On the Heights of Despair and Anathemas and Admirations E.M. Cioran New Statesman August 1992

“Writing of his friend Samuel Beckett, Cioran recognises that his invention of a language at its aporetic limits “enriches by undermining it”. The small intimacy of their attempt to coin a French word to match Beckett’s own “Lessness” is one of many paradoxical pleasures in Anathemas and Admirations. It contains incisively majestic writing with a lightness that recasts Cioran’s customary God-shaped hole.”
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. A Gambling Box Ed Kate Pullinger The Independent August 1992

“The great Mayan civilisations of Central America had “deep play” ball games. Ball-courts were decorated with scenes of ritual sacrifice to their gods, and that prized cultural honour went to the winners as often as losers. The betting was appropriately heavy. Such deep, “deep play” reminded me that in my copy of the Mayan’s sacred text, the Popol Vuh, the classical word for ball-court is the same as the modern word for a graveyard.
The final question for the compulsive gambler is; “have you ever considered self-destruction as a result of your gambling?” Discovering “deep play” and La Loteria amongst the delights of A Gambling Box, refreshed a Nietzschean desire to gamble “careless of life”, which beats the compulsion of living to gamble every time.”

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. Mao II DonDeLillo. New Statesman September 1991

The novelist is the tenth stop on Don DeLillo’s journey through contemporary American icons. In his ninth and definitive book, Libra, the “electrifying event” of JFK’s assassination was dissected, and its multiple narratives displayed. In work so symptomatically postmodern, a return to the moment of writing -that most problematic event- was inevitable.

DeLillo has claimed the Rushdie fatwa and the image of a hunted JD Salinger as both beginnings and back-drops for Mao II. Other more apocalyptic images structure the book: Tiananmen Square, Hillsborough Stadium, and the funeral of Ayatollah Khomeini. News is the “last addiction” here, its significance vitiated in the repetition of image-upon-image. DeLillo’s territory is precisely this overlapping margin of “the life and the consumer event.”

… DeLillo excels at interrogating these epistemological spaces in his fiction. He refuses to lead the way out of this postmodern theme park,addressing himself instead to a vigorous examination of its functioning.

… On American soil and in the company of the writer it is both adroit and intimate, but this authority dissipates as it moves towards an encounter with terrorism. The novel is, finally, more a collection of unresolved thoughts, a sketch-book of obsessions. Nevertheless, DeLillo remakes language as he brings contemporary language to book…

 

PDF: gm-a-don-delillo-mao-ii-nss-sept-1991

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. Lilac and Flag John Berger. New Statesman January 1991

Lilac and Flag is the final part of the trilogy worked on intermittently for fifteen years titled Into Their Labours … Testament is central to all these stories: Berger re-presents peasant culture in the face of it’s elimination. Lilac and Flag is the story of migration by those villagers to the metropolis.

Berger is well aware of his ambivalent place in the Alpine village he has lived in since 1974. In Pig Earth he offered his voice as an “independent witness” to the “lived experience” of the villagers. Early stories re-work the “so-called gossip” of everyday life whilst Berger focuses on historical forces destroying their culture. Those stories are told in the very leanest of prose, whose self-conscious realism threatens to collapse into parable. Through the trilogy the stories get longer as they approach the challenge of the modern, fracturing into the complexity of this novel.

… The movement in the trilogy is from speech to writing. If early stories tended to conform to their realist project and confirm their expectations, Lilac and Flag surprises when it confounds and exceeds them.”

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. Kill The Poor Joel Rose and Absence Makes the Heart Lynne Tillman. New Statesman March 1990

Rose and Tillman are two seemingly disparate voices from a group emerging in the late-eighties from downtown Manhattan and East Village. Writing from the metropolitan margins,typically urban,gritty,unsentimental and provocative, their shared cultural experiences focus on language land form…

PDF: gm-a-joel-rose-lynne-tillman-nss-1990