Tuesday, 28 February 2017

Genii Loci: Discovering the Spirits of Place

By John Reppion

I was lucky enough to grow up on the borderland of the modern world; the South-West tip of Liverpool where a haunted Tudor mansion house and the grave of a giant were as easily reached as the abandoned synthetic resins factory and boarded up secondary school I spent so many of pre and early teenage days hanging round. All of these places already had their stories but all of us added our own layers of narrative and meaning just by being there. I became fascinated with the idea of being able to physically enter a story at a young age, although I never thought of it quite in that way. I just knew I wanted to be near the enormous grave of The Childe of Hale surrounded by crumbling skull-and-crossboned tombstones, to stand in awe before the mammoth, and to my young mind wholly terrifying, Liverpool Anglican Cathedral. These places were gateways to the trans-mundane; ‘thin places’ where the barrier between the natural and the supernatural, between the now and the past, seemed permeable. In these places I was able to walk on and in and through history, through stories, and to commune with the characters from those narratives.

Since I began my writing career in 2003 this idea of narrative embedded in locations has been a big part of my work whether it be my fiction, or my essay and article writing. To some extent all this culminated in April 2016 when I put on a one day event here in Liverpool entitled Spirits of Place. Myself and eight guest speakers met at Calderstones Mansion house, in the heart of Liverpool’s Calderstones Park, and gave a series of talks on topics ranging from archaeology, to literature, to history, to magick. Every talk took its cue from the location – many delving back as far as the neolithic tomb whose remains lend their name to the park itself. The event was a success and I was asked by Daily Grail Publishing if I’d be interested in turning Spirits of Place into a book. I was, of course, excited by the idea but soon realised that the book would need to be a completely different beast to the event.

I took the core concept and broadened the scope. Instead of pinning down one specific location, I decided it would be more interesting to open the book up completely, allowing contributors to write about anywhere in the world (indeed, in the case of futurist Mark Pesce, about the virtual world). I admit that I am a white, middle-aged Englishman, but even so I felt that it would also be nice to hear from people other than that group which is perhaps somewhat over represented in this particular field. Likewise, I felt that London was a city whose psychogeography has already been tackled amply elsewhere. With these few guidelines in place I drew up a list of writers who I thought could offer some interesting and unique perspectives on the intersection between landscape and narrative.

One of those writers was Kristine Ong Muslim: an author, poet and translator who still lives in the same rural town in Maguindanao, southern Philippines, where she grew up. Her piece in the book is entitled “Agonies and Enchantments” and deals with the spirits – metaphorical and otherwise –
of her childhood as much as anything. Recently I emailed to ask her about her choice of subject matter and the way she handled it. 

“In a remote small town such as the one I’ve been living in for most of my life, the family unit accurately represents the condensed version of an interlocking, often times dysfunctional, aggregated whole. It helps that when Western colonial influence infiltrated an area such as ours, the infiltration was minimal, thus some indigenous practices survived to this day. There was also relatively less bastardization and demonization of certain pagan beliefs. In this little town, almost everyone knows each other. Almost everyone knows whose husband is screwing another person’s wife, who you can turn to if you need ‘magic water’ to make someone stop falling in love, and so on and so forth. So when I wrote about my family and childhood, I am effectively writing about the entire small community in this part of the world.”

Spirits of Place also features essays from: Alan Moore, Maria J. Pérez Cuervo, Warren Ellis, Gazelle Amber Valentine, Iain Sinclair, Bryndís Björgvinsdóttir, Vajra Chandrasekera, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Dr. Joanne Parker, and Damien Williams. It is available to order now from spiritsofplace.com

John Reppion has written articles for the likes of Fortean Times, and dailygrail.com. His day job is scripting comics with his wife and writing partner Leah Moore. John’s prose fiction has been published by the likes of PS Publishing, Ghostwoods Books, and Swan River Press. His website is moorereppion.com and he can be found on Twitter @johnreppion

Friday, 24 February 2017

Terminalia 2017: A Geographer's Account

Terminus - The God of Boundary Markers
by Andy Turner

1. Introduction

1.1. Metadata

1.2. Contents

2. Background

3. 2017-02-23

3.1. Do all things have a beginning and an end? An exploration into linking things together

  • So another year passes and I pick up to some extent where I left off near South Gate by The Adelphi just South of the river.
  • Before that I had a happy dérive over water under train with an old map of the bounds and some chance meetings by waterhouse place not far from old haunts and new.


4. References

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Down the Postmodern Rabbit Hole or Reflections on Post-Truth Reality (Part 1)

Part 1: Are We Really in a Post-Truth World?

By Fenella Brandenburg

I was discussing the possibility of the idea of post-situationism last week when visiting a colleague at Huddersfield University and later reiterated the conversation to Tina Richardson. She asked me how this might fit into to the current concept of post-truth and invited me to write a guest post for her blog. This post is in two parts that I have set up in question form:

Part 1: Are we really in a post-truth world?
Part 2: How can we challenge ‘truth’ today?

It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that post-truth was the word of the year in 2016, not least because of its new dictionary inclusion. But, these kinds of phrases are always problematic when taken up into media discourses, because eventually they begin to self-deconstruct, although one could say that is a positive side-effect. In the West at least, we can all recognise the major socio-political shift that took place in 2016, nevertheless post-truth is not really new and doesn’t herald a new cultural epoch, despite the seismic shift we all feel has befallen us. Post-truth sits perfectly well into the concepts that, as theorists, we situate within postmodernity. One only needs to pick up a text by Jean Baudrillard to understand that the grounds for post-truth have been being built on for many decades. We don’t even need to look at his 21st Century texts to find the seeds of post-truth, because he set it out neatly for us in his formulation for the simulacra (levels two, three and four) in 1981:

Level 1: “it is the reflection of a profound reality”
Level 2: “it masks and denatures a profound reality”
Level 3: “it masks the absence of a profound reality”
Level 4: “it has no relation to any reality whatsoever; it is its own pure simulacrum” (2006: 6)

Feel free to choose any of the above to apply to a specific situation you are attempting to analyse under the rubric of post-truth!

We can also look at the significant work that Michel Foucault has carried out in regards to truth, power, knowledge and discourse to understand that truth has no bearing on something that can be considered absolute, or real, in any sense at all. In regards to the semantics of a specific instance, ‘truth’ is not a function of the words and sentences themselves, but the whole network of factors which form that specific utterance in the propagation of a specific statement (for example a media announcement - as it would have been for Donald Trump on Thursday 16 February 2017). These statements exists through a form of appropriation and are legitimised through the utilisation of the forces that exist in an event-like state around them. For Foucault “a true discourse engenders or ‘manufactures’ something that does not yet exist, that is, ‘fictions’ it” (1980: 193). There we have it! We are not in a post-truth period at all, it is simply that the very concepts that underpin postmodernity have just reached critical mass and have finally been recognised on a quotidian level.

But…..whether you believe that post-truth is a new or even ‘real’ thing doesn’t change the fact that we sense that something has shifted to a very significant degree. So, what does this also say about how we can question the current climate of alt-facts? I will be covering this in the next part of the post in regards to deconstruction and post-structural theory

Baudrillard, Jean. Simulacra and Simulation. Translated by Sheila Faria Glaser. The University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor, 2006.
Foucault, Michel. Power/Knowledge: Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972-1977, ed. by Colin Gordon. Translated by Colin Gordon, Leo Marshall, John Mepham and Kate Soper. Hemel Hempstead: Harvester Press, 1980.

Friday, 17 February 2017

Four Journeys in the Black Mountains: Part 4

Summer by Tim Cooke

Yesterday, at the Llanthony Show, a middle-aged man in off-white overalls told us of the kill: a large woodpigeon torn to shreds in broad daylight, stripped of flesh and left bleeding, steaming on the hot road. I could smell its guts in the boiling air. Today, we are walking from the crooked church in Cwmyoy to the Cliffs of Darren, in search of the savage culprit. I’ve never seen a peregrine.

In the sixties, JA Baker wrote remarkably of these birds, navigating his Essex landscape – tedious to describe, but coloured with love – tracking a familiar falcon and tiercel pair by the feathery havoc left in the wake of their almost-cannibalistic hunting. It’s a psychotropic, metamorphic celebration of a brutal nature, and his words now seethe before me: “As soon as the hawk-hunter steps from his door he knows the way of the wind, he feels the weight of the air. Far within himself he seems to see the hawk’s day growing steadily towards the light of their first encounter.”

The Vale of Ewyas, I wrote when we first visited, might be derived from the large quantity of yew planted here to arm the bowmen of turbulent years past. Nine months on, I’m not so sure – the valley’s birds are its lifeblood, wild and prehistoric, beyond language. I like that “Ewyas” so closely resembles “eyas”: The Valley of the Eyasses. The Bloody Valley of the Beautiful Eyasses.

We set off from the church around five, leaving behind the bleating of a sheep we’ve just disturbed, like a clap beneath a bridge, and stride along what feels like a holloway, stamped and rolled into the earthy terrain by generations of ancient locals. It’s a haunting hundred-and-fifty-yard trek, and we do it in silence. The air is thick with manure and ghosts traversing their trade routes, their backs and shoulders cracked beneath the weight of living.

We turn left onto a narrow track that runs beside a wooden house, calling to mind the neat longboats that line London’s canals; it’s a cabin of sorts, and there are people there. Three women with dogs chew the fat, midges dancing like starlings in the slowly fading light. “Have you seen any peregrines?” we ask. They smile suspiciously and pause for thought. One, with an affirming bush of short grey hair, takes our fate into her hands: “That way.”

We push on into an uneven field, craggy and mole-ridden, and I veer off course, drawn by the allure of an uprooted trunk at the top of the slope. From this vantage, I have a clear sight of the Gaer and the stretch where the Stone of Revenge leans – our regular haunts. It dawns on me that I am treading a territory I have only ever seen from a distance. How strange and surreal it feels to be walking amidst the view; it’s as if we’ve been absorbed into a painter’s composition – perhaps a Turner. I am seized by colour and suspended in oil.

We descend a steep bank and cross an arid stream. I catch the scent, learned in childhood, of an animal carcass – of carrion. We arrive at the foot of the cliffs and wait: ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty and forty. We pull grass from the ground and watch planes cut white lines into the sky, the clouds folding around us, the day drawing to its close. Then, without warning, the first call, like a child, penetrates our trance and we’re up, binoculars at the ready.

Here they come: one, two and three, emerging – all soot and cream – from a distance beyond the tops of trees. They stoop, one after another, and rise again, swooping from left to right and darting with a grace and precision I would not have believed. It’s over in less than a minute; in turn, they drop onto a dung-stained ledge and disappear, their shrieks abating – softer and softer, until the only noise is that of our baby’s mewl as she pulls away from her mother’s breast.

Part 1: Autumn
Part 2: Winter
Part 3: Spring
Part 4: Summer

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

From the Scaffolded Shoulder to the Cold-Shoulder: A Semiology of Acromion Fashion (1)

Part 1: Power Dressing

When I read in a fashion magazine that the accessory makes springtime, that this women’s suit (of which I have a photograph in front of me) has a young and slinky look, or that blue is in fashion this year, I cannot but see a semantic structure in these suggestions: in every case, and whatever the metaphorical detours taken by the wording, I see imposed upon me a link of equivalence between a concept (spring, youth, fashion this year) and a form (the accessory, this suit, the colour blue), between a signified and a signifier. Roland Barthes The Language of Fashion
In 2016 the ‘cold-shoulder’ presented itself as a popular fashion that turned the original meaning of the idiom into something else entirely. If the phrase implies ‘to ignore someone, to turn your back on them’, what does the cold-shoulder style mean? In this blog I will be working through some ideas around the semiology of the ‘cold-shoulder’ by comparing it to the ‘scaffolded shoulder’ (my term) of previous fashion moments-in-time. This post will function as a basis to a future article that I will be submitting to a fashion journal.

In Roland Barthes’ quote above, he suggests the relationship between the semantics in fashion articles and that of the sign inasmuch as it is made up of the signifier and the signified. He explains the relative ease in which one can analyse the language making up the words of an article, but how much more difficult it becomes when one is trying to analyse the images themselves when it comes to the generalised descriptions supplied by the writers. Barthes says that the description often does not point to any singular sign in the images displayed therein: what he calls “demonstrative links” (2013: 40). He describes himself as a kind of detective in this regard, someone who has to decode words like ‘smart’, ‘casual’ or ‘elegant’ by trying to analyse what it is in the actual image itself that may denote these terms (ibid.). In this post I shall be playing detective in regard to analysing shoulder embellishments, or the lack thereof, by situating the respective looks culturally and historically and using Barthes’ semiological system (in particular his second-order of semiology, the connotative) as a way to shed some light on the shoulder phenomenon in fashion.

It is likely that in postmodernity we associate exaggerated shoulder styling with the 1980s, but if we go back as far as the Tudors we can see that padded shoulders and ‘leg-of-mutton’ sleeves served to broaden the top of the body. This functioned as a way of creating a sense of presence because important people, especially aristocracy and royalty, literally took up more space in the room. On this subject of status, Barthes remarks on the historical inventories taken during the Renaissance:
these inventories are veritable lexicons, linking vestimentary systems very tightly either to anthropological states (sex, age, marital status) or to social ones (bourgeoisie, nobility, peasantry, etc.), but it is clear that this sort of lexicon of clothing was possible only in a society which was starkly hierarchical, in which fashion was part of a real social ritual (2013: 21).
We might not live in such a “starkly hierarchical” cultural epoch today, but clothes still denote many things in relation to power and social status, as was the intention of the power suit, for both men and women, in the 1980s.

The above image is of a 1980s Thierry Mugler suit for women. Not only are the shoulders padded but the blouson effect of the upper part of the suit (wide upper arms, bust and narrow waist) give the effect of width, echoing the culturally idealised male body that forms a V-shape. This masculine-looking women’s suit reflects the 1980s ‘power-dressing’ in regards to the socio-political work culture of the day, a style that we can also see in the popular culture of the time, such as in the film Working Girl (Mike Nichols 1988).

So what would Barthes say about this power-dressing phenomenon? A very significant observation he makes is the mistake of attempting to unpick the separate elements of an outfit in order to decode it. He says:
The major difficulty in the analytical deciphering of ‘everyday’ clothing is its syntactic nature: the signified is only ever expressed in this regard via signifiers ‘in operation’, meaning is an indissoluble whole that tends to evaporate as soon as one divides it up. (2013: 28).
Nevertheless, he says that once a fashion item is presented as an image in a magazine, then this initial difficulty is overcome because “signifieds are separated a priori from the signifiers” (ibid.). By this he means that the signified is given to you in an open and straightforward way through the description supplied to you in the text that supports the image, for instance: ‘a cocktail dress’ or ‘a summer blouse’. So, if we are to take Barthes’ advice, we should not just look at the shoulder embellishment but the overall impression of the power suit and what it is telling us.

Let’s take the women’s suit as our example. I have already alluded to the social hierarchy expressed in dress in regards to Tudor attire. But, today we live in a time when clothes are cheap and we can all recreate a look that, to a degree, can conceal or enhance our social status. We no longer live in feudal times and, while there is still much inequality, more people than ever are able to afford fashionable clothes. The 1980s women’s suit made a statement about equality in the workplace through the process of mimesis, imitation. Women believed that if they ‘looked like men’, they would be treated as their equals. And, the padded shoulder was key to this look which gave women a physicality of presence: they took up more space in the room, and this time the room was not the royal court but the boardroom!

In Part 2 I will be looking at shoulder embellishment in regards to technology.

Barthes, Roland. 2013. The Language of Fashion. (Bloomsbury Revelations: Sydney).

Friday, 10 February 2017

Four Journeys in the Black Mountains: Part 3

Spring by Tim Cooke

The Gospel Pass, or Bwlch yr Efengyl, runs from Abergavenny to Hay-on-Wye, or the Town of Books. It’s a narrow vein of a road that winds between two mountains, the Twmpa and Hay Bluff, and climbs almost 2000 feet into the air. This morning, from the car window, it looks like a scene from a horror movie – perhaps because we’ve just learned that An American Werewolf in London was part filmed here. Columns of mist like cirrus clouds, or wisps of geyser residue, slide in channels down the emerald mountainside, slipping between rocky outcrops and sheep.

We’re sat in the back and Chloe, my girlfriend, is resting her head against the glass, beads of luminescent rain pulling together and then apart like something scientific beneath a microscope. Her cheeks are flushed, her eyes heavy and her belly full of life.

This is a landscape rich in art and literature: not far away, Watkins mapped and marched his ley lines; Machen dreamt his gothic visions; Iain Sinclair tore himself from Hackney for Landor’s Tower; and, of course, Eric Gill took residence in the former monastery at Cappel-y-FFin. I’ve mentioned Ginsberg, and I recall reading Bruce Chatwin’s beautiful On the Black Hill at the nearby Green Man Festival, immersed in its desolation and gentle triumphs. A year later, caught in a torrent of dark valley rain, we watched Super Furry Animals sing of an oppressed mountain people. Turner painted here, and it’s easy to see why.

As we roll over the pass, I imagine the artist – not quite as large or gruff as Timothy Spall – in a horse-drawn carriage, clattering through history. Two kites dive for prey, baring their bloody breasts, the windscreen a movie theatre. Early-bird cyclists in yellow and green Lycra are catching worms, trading the road for a loosely contained arable wilderness. We smile as the light shifts and the mist gleams with an ecstatic lustre. This is a place of deep time and memory, of Deep Magic.

In Hay, we walk for hours. We buy meat and drink coffee on a raised platform in the centre, enjoying the crowds. We browse antique shops and pick up an encyclopaedia of British birds. I buy first editions of Lydia Davis, Michael Chabon and Ginsberg from a shop I’ve come to know quite well. I’ve also bought collectible books here by Seamus Heaney and WG Sebald; I’ve toyed with Kilvert’s diaries – only really because of the pub round the corner named after him, where I’ve sunk delicious pints of fruity amber ale.

Back at the farm, I take in the view of the Skirrid and think of Owen Sheers – this is his territory. I see mole traps and recall, for some reason, Cynan Jones’s sparse and ferocious novel The Dig. In the evening, I place my new books on the carpet by the roaring fire and watch as the flames ripple and dance on the front covers. An owl calls from the barn. We sleep.

Part 1: Autumn
Part 2: Winter
Part 3: Spring
Part 4: Summer

Saturday, 4 February 2017

Four Journeys in the Black Mountains: Part 2

Winter by Tim Cooke

It’s a cold, bright morning at the foot of the Black Mountains. My girlfriend, her parents and I walk along a stony track beneath an arc of brown and purple larch. Our steps splash in the flow of a shallow stream, which for this stretch alone is at one with the trail. A slight man, grey and elegant in a wild sort of way, approaches from behind and initiates gentle conversation. He comments on the crisp weather and tells us about his roots in North Wales, before delving into the years he spent in East London; he talks about his family in Hackney and a clothes factory relocated to Abergavenny.

As we speak, shafts of golden light peter through the sparse foliage and catch on our precautionary waterproofs. The old man is wearing a black Leninist cap and he leans on a stick that he’s smoothed, dried, oiled and tipped with metal. I ask him the way to the slanted church in Cwmyoy; he beams and takes the lead.

We emerge from the cover of trees into a farmer’s field peppered with evil-eyed sheep. A murder of crows erupts from the crown of an ash in the distance, while our chatter rumbles on. The ground is sopping with last night’s deluge and we struggle, at times, to stay afoot. Across a road and river, we join a lane leading up to our destination: St Martin’s Church, a medieval structure that tilts askew due to debris caused by the glaciation of the Llanthony Valley. A bird with a crimson tale, perhaps a rogue black redstart, sweeps from one side of the pathway into thick hedgerow on the other, just metres ahead.

In full view, the church looks like an image from an illustrated work of gothic literature. Its fluid shape dips and shifts and sinks like a river current, its grounds crooked with ancient gravestones; buttresses built in the 1960s prop up the leaning tower. Looming behind is a mountain split in half by a landslide that was caused, rumour has it, by a violent earthquake that cracked through the valley during the crucifixion of Christ.

We remove our jackets and rest our poles against the porch wall. Our guide slips quietly through the church door before us. As we enter the main room, the owl-like song of an accomplished flautist rises from the pews and swallows us whole – the old man, like CS Lewis’s Tumnus, controls the mood, adding anaesthetic to an already-reverential atmosphere. Monuments carved by the famous Brute family adorn the walls. One reads: “Death, like an overflowing Stream/ Sweeps us away, our lifes a Dream/ An emty Tale; a morning Flow’r/ Cut down & wither’d in [an] hour.”

Part 1: Autumn
Part 2: Winter
Part 3: Spring
Part 4: Summer

Wednesday, 1 February 2017

Terminalia Festival of Psychogeography Thurs 23 Feb 2017

Thursday 23 Feb is Terminalia, the feast day of Terminus, Roman god of boundaries and landmarks. If ever there was a feast day for Psychogeography, this would be it! Tim Waters, and members from the Leeds Psychogeography Group, have been doing a walk around the centre of Leeds visiting the medieval boundary stones since 2011 and this year there are a few extra events during the day. Please click here for full details.