Saturday, 22 October 2016

The Guilty Pleasures MixCD Series: Part 3 – Work/Labour

Work Your Body: Between the Factory and the Pay Check

Please click here for CD 1: Manchester and CD 2: Animals.

This is the third mixCD in the series and takes a look and work and labour within the third stage of capitalism or late capitalism (Frederic Jameson). It includes music from the 1970s up till today: for example, we have The Strawbs Part of the Union (1973) and also Jungle’s Busy Earning (2014).

Like the animal CD, previously, this one is of an ‘activist’ nature and it comes with an insert which says:
Work Your Body is inspired by an intervention by Ally Standing and Gavin Rogers that took place at the Fourth World Congress of Psychogeography in 2016. Their performance, on the street in Huddersfield (UK), was a response to Dr. Alex Bridger’s walk which questioned the Northern Powerhouse. Rogers and Standing suggested that in postmodernity ‘professionals’, who were no longer able to use up excess energy by working in jobs that required manual labour, worked their bodies in other ways, such as at the gym.
In his book Postmodernism or the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991) Jameson explains that in postmodernity people are abstracted from reality because of how capital operates. He believes we need a cognitive map to help us negotiate this new terrain and give us access to the reality that we cannot reach through the mediated representations that are directed to us. Standing and Rogers' intervention cleverly brings this to our attention. Louis Althusser describes our ideologically oriented subjectivity as being “the representation of the subject’s Imaginary relationship to his or her Real conditions of existence” and their intervention momentarily lifted this veil.

Co-incidentally, the day that I wrote this post, Nicolas Bourriaud’s new book Exform (2016) landed on my doormat. This book is inspired by the work of Althusser and on the matter at hand he says:
Free time belongs to the universe of what production has discarded – except when it can be channelled towards leisure that generates new profits…Today, the proletarian is defined as the consumer-of-the-world, pure and simple; his original patch of land – which Fordist-era factories provided so that he would employ free time in a useful manner – has assumed the immense dimensions of the ‘world of leisure’.
While this only represents part of the story of Standing and Rogers intervention – the defunct proletariat turned user of commodities, rather than the producer of them – it does not theoretically take care of the expending of energy which their intervention suggests replaces the physicality of factory work. However, this article in The Guardian looks at how we may be able to make even more profit out of gym users by actually turning them into simultaneous consumer-labourers through the kinetic energy produced from their bodies: The fat-burning and energy-producing gyms. This means the subject is no longer replacing their need to expend energy in the gym, post-industrialisation, but is instead being profited from twice: gym-user-cum-labourer. Hurrah for capitalism!

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Adam’s Adjunct: A Review of Spare Rib

Spare Rib Magazine - Today and Yesterday
by Anna Chism

I have just acquired my first copy of Spare Rib (1972-1993) - the January 1988 edition. There were quite a few available on the well-known online auction site, but I chose this one because 1987 was the year I moved to London and I thought the content would resonate with me since it was a significant life event and my memories of that time would hopefully be well-entrenched. This post, as well as taking an overall look at the magazine, will compare some of the events mentioned with what is taking place socio-politically today.

No surprise that the ‘Images of ‘87’ include Margaret Thatcher, but they also include Toni Morrison and Martina Navratilova. Black and lesbian women are really well-represented in this section which covers 3 double-page spreads. It also includes Dianne Abbot, with the caption "Britain’s first Black woman MP".

Some things never change. Despite David Cameron’s promise of more housing (after Thatcher’s decimation of the public housing system in the 1980s, which it has never recovered from), it has become apparent that the numbers do not add up. In terms of the real numbers of houses, the current promise for more affordable housing actually includes the quantity that had already previously been promised. Also, the dismantling of the council tenant housing system continues.

This edition of Spare Rib also includes an article on a new computer game called Jack the Ripper. The writer was concerned that the horrific graphics would attract the ‘video nasty’ clientele and the article includes a quote from an organisation known as Women Against Violence Against Women: “a lot of people are making money out of the murders of six, mutilated, working-class women”. Zoom ahead 27 years and you have the new Jack the Ripper Museum in London, doing the very same. I remember the controversy at the time of its proposal and I signed one of the online petitions. Apparently the architect was duped over its use when he was involved in its design. He says the plan was sold to him as a museum of women’s history and described it as “salacious, misogynist rubbish” (Andrew Waugh). So, I think we can safely say some things never change, but also that the founder of the museum, Mark Palmer-Edgecumbe, is a salacious misogynist despite previously being - unbelievably - a regional Head of Diversity at Google!

I’d like to include some of the quotes of the previous year. Below are a section of my favourite ones, plus my commentary:

“I have never squealed or complained, not once” Margaret Thatcher

Maybe not, but there were definitely tears as you left No. 10!

“Come on, any woman would be thrilled to be a sex symbol and me at forty” Edwina Currie


“In my experience men have had their clothes off a lot quicker than I did. In films it’s usually the reverse” Cybil Shepherd

You tell ‘em Cyb!

“I got the impression that she doesn’t do a lot of ironing” Dr Barnardo’s worker after chatting to the Princess of Wales

Well, ironing is not the preserve of women, but we get your point Dr Barnardo’s worker!

Monday, 17 October 2016

Vanishing Streets: Journeys in London

J M Tyree’s Vanishing Streets: Journeys in London (Stanford University Press 2016) is a view of London’s streets through the double lens of a film theorist and an American who first came to Britain to study at Cambridge in the 1990s. Referencing films such as Lindsay Anderson’s The White Bus (1967), Patrick Keiller’s London (1994) and Neil Jordan’s The End of the Affair (1999), the book also includes references to the work of writers that many psychogeographers are familiar with, such as Iain Sinclair’s Downriver (1991) and W G Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn (1995).

The book also includes images of the not-so-obvious that tend to interest the urban walker. So rather than the touristic images of a lovely London set out for the visitor, we have photos of retail parks and graffitied underpasses (if at any point we are in doubt that Tyree may not be ‘keeping it real’ for the reader).

Tyree takes us from Crystal Palace to Clissold Park, Wood Green to Waterloo on his explorations of London, which as well as the mode of walking, include the use of train and bus. In addition to his references to film and literature, we also get a good sense of the person behind the text through his autobiographical allusions and those that orient him culturally, such as through nods to music or football.

While Tyree does not proclaim himself to be a psychogeographer, the chapter entitled ‘Suggested Itinerary’, a letter from someone asking for advice on a visitor’s walk in London, says otherwise. It begins:
Your questions about what to see in London as a first-time American tourist are difficult for me to answer. I’m certain most visitors don’t want to browse one-pound paperbacks and odd dishware in charity shops, or walk along the industrial remnants of the docks at night leading to the Thames Flood Barrier, or visit the Victorian sewage works that saved Tottenham from cholera…

Friday, 14 October 2016

Elsewhere Journal: Mapping Desire

Elsewhere: A Journal of Place is now on its fourth edition. The journal is beautifully designed. I have a hard copy - a hard copy version of a journal is a rare thing in academia, where we mostly access journals online. Many academic journal are not particularly aesthetically pleasing, often having an uninspiring cover, a ‘traditional’ layout and little in terms of images. Not only does Elsewhere have a lovely cover, but there are beautiful images throughout (see below) and the journal is richly illustrated in both black and white, and full colour.

This particular edition concentrates on mapping and includes geographical places such as Wales, Australia and Madeira. Subjects comprise: post-industrial inner London, community mapping, walking in the post Eastern-bloc city and an interview with a cartographer. The introduction to this edition states:
Maps can be political tools, drawing boundaries to be debated across contested territory. In mapping the land they can offer the promise of riches in the natural resources that are waiting to be exploited, as well helping us understand better a landscape and the communities that call it home. At the same time, this knowledge can threaten the social and economic systems that already exist, threatening communities and creating conflict. Maps are not neutral, and their distortions or omissions can have profound consequences. (Paul Scraton and Julie Stone)
This final sentence draws to mind Mark Monmonier’s famous book on cartography: How to Lie With Maps (1991). It opens, thus: “Not only is it easy to lie with maps, it is essential".While I’m not a cartographer, maps and map-making are a fundamental part of psychogeography, so they have been of interest to me for as long as I have been in academia. I have made my own maps (and had them published), ran emotional mapping workshops and given lectures on maps. While not a cartographer, I am a schizocartographer. Schizocartography is underpinned by the concept of desire that is a key theme of the work of the psychoanalyst turned philosopher Félix Guattari. So, I am especially interested in forms of subjective mapping (cognitive, vernacular, emotional), such as the article in this edition of Elsewhere entitled ‘Community mapping and nation building: Papua, Indonesia’. This is what the author says:
The act of mapping is tacit acknowledgement of the reality of modern systems, and the relenting need to define, categorise, administer and manage…The necessity for mapping is borne from a world that tells entire communities that what they know of themselves and their surroundings is not enough, is not real, not in any way that counts. (Ho Ming So Denduangrudee)
This is a salient reminder of the modernist cartographic project, its history and its effects. But, the various forms of vernacular mapping that are employed as a counter movement are both enabling and offer hope.

Saturday, 8 October 2016

The Guilty Pleasures MixCD Series: Part 2 - Animals

Get Me Out: Between the Zoo and the Research Project

For part 1 of this series of blog posts, please click here: Part 1 - Manchester.

I didn’t plan on a series of Guilty Pleasures CDs when creating the first one, but when I got to thinking about the subject for this CD – animals – I decided to keep the brand style of the Manchester one. This meant the layout would need stay the same and also the text. So, Get Me Out needed a subtitle that sounded something like ‘Between the Rollerama and the Junk Yard” and I chose “Between the Zoo and the Research Project”. This then meant that the CD was going to be animal activist in origin and the tagline at the bottom of the cover needed to incorporate ‘guilty pleasure’ somehow. Hence began the radical bent (and the ironic tone) of my Guilty Pleasures Series.

I alluded to the kitsch nature of Sean Rowley’s Guilty Pleasures series in part 1 of the blog and said I would talk more about it here. Theodor Adorno describes kitsch as being ideological. This ideology appears as a momentary revisiting of the past in the form of what Adorno calls “musical small change” (2002: 503). They are fetishised elements that get circulated (in the case of Guilty Pleasures these elements are the old songs themselves). The tracks from the past become uprooted, re-contextualised and re-circulated. They are dished up to the music fan of the day without their historical roots being made apparent. This is what Richard Leppert says about kitsch music:
Kitsch invokes a past which is nostalgically remembered; as such kitsch is a means by which to forget – but less to forget the past than the present. Kitsch offers consolation, not so as to change everything but to make the anything of the here and now slightly more tolerable. (2002: 361)
Leppert describes this past/present that is forgotten as “selectively (mis)remembered”, and he explains that kitsch, for Adorno, is problematic because its relationship to history is not direct and therefore the truth of history is not spoken (2002: 363).

My being a fan of Rowley’s Guilty Pleasures series has been complicated by my own critique of it. The research I have carried out on kitsch has been illuminated by Adorno’s critique of popular music in general - also Sigmund Freud’s theories on guilt, pleasure, and so on (more about Freud in the next blog). However, I believe my own series of CDs, in the context they are presented, probably get around many of these problems. Urban Gerbil’s Guilty Pleasures is a) re-presenting of the music in a radical format b) using the ‘guilty pleasures’ label in an sardonic and reflexive way and c) is designed to make the listener think about the subject-matter presented to them via the packaging and the specially selected tracks.

The next blog will be about work and labour.

Leppert, Richard. 2002. ‘Commentary’, Essays on Music, trans. by Susan H. Gillespie (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press) pp. 327-372.
Adorno, Theodor W. 2002. 'Kitsch', Essays on Music, trans. by Susan H. Gillespie (Berkeley, Los Angeles and London: University of California Press) pp. 501-505.

Thursday, 6 October 2016

The Guilty Pleasures MixCD Series: Part 1 - Manchester

STEPZ II: Between the Rollerama and the Junkyard

This is the new Urban Gerbil Publications mixCD series. The previous series – psy(co)motion – was a collection that was inspired by psychogeography. After five CDs I felt that psy(co)motion had reached its limit (in regards to my own music collection, but also for other reasons) and I needed to await the emergence of the next theme which would come about through something that inspired me. I’m afraid you will not be able to find out about psy(co)motion at this time, as it will be featured in an academic book on creative geographies which I will be writing a chapter for. However, I can tell you more about Guilty Pleasures.

Guilty Pleasures began with a CD that was inspired by the work Ally Standing and myself did for the 'Loitering With Intent Exhibition' at the People’s History Museum in Manchester (summer 2016). We created a zine and artwork based on the city of Manchester, psychogeography and the work of John Cooper Clarke. Entitled STEPZ II: Between the Rollerama and the Junk Yard our exhibition submission inspired a CD of the same name. As well as music by Mancunian artists, the CD also included poems read out by the authors who contributed to the zine (see tracks 03, 07 and 11 below by Steve Kettle, G N Deans and Sophie Sparham).

I became interested in the music genre Guilty Pleasures (now a global brand) a few years ago and have written a number of essays and blogs on the subject from both a Freudian and Adornian perspective. Created by the DJ Sean Rowley, the brand inspired compilation CDs and club nights in the UK and abroad (I have attended the Leeds club nights in the past and I also own some of the CDs). As a music style it is interested in music that the listener likes but that is considered to have low cultural value: music that might be considered ‘uncool’ ('bad taste' would be a kitsch description - more on kitsch in the next post). In its initial incarnation Rowley’s Guilty Pleasures reflected the singer-songwriter music of the 1970s and early 1980s. It then evolved into practically any type of music from that period up to today, very often music that would be described as ‘cheese’. According to the Guilty Pleasures website:
Sean Rowley began the night in the 150 capacity Hammersmith Working Men’s Club in 2004 and, discovering he was not alone in his love for ELO and Hall & Oates, moved the night to the Islington Academy where it resided for 2005 culminating in a Christmas party which saw Charlotte Church and Terry Hall take to the stage to sing.
The sleeve covers of Rowley’s CDs usually show females in ‘seductive’ poses. So, it was really choosing the image for the STEPZ II CD that made me think of the Guilty Pleasures CDs produced by Rowley. The image on my CD cover above is actually a photo I took while doing research in Manchester with Ally Standing prior to submitting our work to the exhibition. I decided to use it because it was roughly twice the proportion of one side of a CD, which meant I could then fold it back and it would become the whole image for both sides of the CD sleeve. It was actually a large poster that fitted inside a filled-in window in Manchester city centre (see below).

Once I had chosen the cover for the CD, I then added the cheeky text at the bottom of the CD: “MANCHESTER: Your guilty pleasure!” and that was the beginning of the series. The next CD I produced was about animals, and you can read about that in the next blog along with some theory on kitsch.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The Atlas of Improbable Places: A Fantastic Voyage into the Body-Politic

While the dictionary states that ‘improbable’ means “Not likely to be true or happen. Unexpected and apparently inauthentic”, the Improbability Principle states that “extremely improbable events are commonplace” (David Hand – statistician). So what does Travis Elborough and Alan Horsfield’s Atlas of Improbable Places: A Journey to the World’s Most Unusual Corners tell us about “the obscure and bizarre, the beautiful and estranged” places contained therein? Well, perhaps there are more improbable places than we knew existed. Elborough (writer) and Horsfield (cartographer) educate us in improbable places through their atlas, categorising these unusual, surprising and secretive phenomenon under headings such as architectural oddities, floating worlds and deserted destinations.

Covering a multitude of types of places, from off-grid or hidden spaces to underground or abandoned settlements, the book takes us on a fantastic voyage through its beautiful pages of stylishly formatted text, maps and photos. Every place discussed has a map, grid reference, description and image. We have photos ranging from the words of God to spooky doll heads, showing all sorts of places like underground railways and lost kingdoms.

While it’s difficult to pick my favourite one out of the fifty-one described, I’m going to discuss Concrete City because I have an interest in towns that are especially built for workers, such as Fordlândia (Henry Ford’s prefabricated town from the early part of the 20th century).

‘Concrete City: Garden City of the Anthracite Region’ is in Pennsylvania, US (see above image). Elborough explains that Concrete City was built in 1911 by the Delaware, Lackawanna and Western rail/mining project. It is both a new town and also part of the garden city movement created by Ebenezer Howard. The workers’ town was set for demolition in 1924, following a litany of issues relating to damp, poor sanitation and so on. However, it proved hard to destroy despite much dynamite and still remains today, now recognised as having cultural value. You can see some more images of Concrete City here.

What in particular interests me about places like Concrete City and Fordlândia is that they arise as a response to the understanding that taking care of your workers is beneficial in terms of profit. Both these new towns arose in the period of post-Victorian industrialisation. We are still in the second stage of capitalism at this time, what some theorists describe as “the family wage economy”, where the husband’s income supports the whole family. We haven’t yet reached the post-World War II consumer economy where women are more widely employed, start to leave the confines of the home and are considered consumers in their own right.

In terms of a cultural theoretical critique of these townships, one can’t help but see the downside of this being one of control of the body-politic. Power structures are materially embedded and the housing provided by 'the company' exerts more control over the worker than would be the case if the properties were not owned by the same organisation that the labourers work for. I wonder if there was also perhaps some of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon at work here, too. In Concrete City the oblong layout of the houses means they are all looking in towards a centre, and hence at each other (self surveillance). Actually, this takes us to another of the improbable places in the book, Presidio Modelo a former prison in Cuba. Its circular buildings epitomise the panopticon (see the model of the panopticon below).

For Michel Foucault, the body-politic is: “a set of material elements and techniques that serve as weapons, relays, communications routes and supports for the power and knowledge relations that invest human bodies and subjugate them by turning them into objects of knowledge” (1991: 28). Foucault explains that thinking of power and knowledge as separate from each other and that they exist in detached domains is a mistake. In fact “power produces knowledge” (1991: 27). He explains: “there is no power relation without the correlative constitution of a field of knowledge, nor any knowledge that does no presuppose and constitute at the same time power relations.” (ibid.). This reciprocal power/knowledge process involves the knowing subject, the known object and also the modes used in the procurement of that knowledge. This works in regards to knowledge of the individual, in particular the body.

You can see how this applies to the prison system, but I believe it applies to these types of new towns, too. This is what Foucault describes as “political anatomy” (1991: 28). However, he makes it clear that this is a procedure that does not decontextualise the subject, or the body: it is the analysis of a process - the body-politic - which means the individual cannot be removed from this activity and examined on their own in terms of power. They are only known in regards to this power dynamic and not in their own right. Although, we can never be known ‘in our own right’ as we always exist in apparatuses that exert power through ideology (Louis Althusser): for instance, even within the private place of the family.

Foucault, Michel. 1991. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. by Alan Sheridan (London: Penguin Books).