Wednesday, April 18, 2007


When I was eighteen months old, my parents divorced. My dad got custody of the record collection, and my mum got me. In a spirit of generosity, my dad left behind one LP : Rumours by Fleetwood Mac. At the age of three, I knew all the words to Rumours ; and when I went to visit my dad every third Saturday, I would play it there too. It´s the one infantile obsession I have carried with me into adulthood (though the Freudians among you may beg to differ).

Why is Rumours so different from the slew of West Coast AOR records released in the mid-70s? How has it gone platinum 19 times in the US and 9 times in the UK ? And this is not a question of statistics : how exactly has it found its way into the CD racks of punks and hippies, drop-outs and yuppies, Carpenters fans, hardcore-nuts, functional families, fucked-up loners, cokeheads, Christians, and my parents – both of them?

Mick Fleetwood and John McVie had been there since the late 60s, when Peter Green was genius-in-residence. They had given the band its name ; it was their band. Along with John´s wife Christine, they had looked on in the early 70s as the band lost Peter Green, and gained a succession of ill-fitting guitarists (one of whom decided to go it alone after being caught fucking Mick´s wife). In 1975, Mick was introduced to two Californian singer-songwriters : Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks. They had released a pleasant, unremarkable album called Buckingham-Nicks which had been roundly ignored but Mick liked the sound of Lindsey´s guitar playing and thought Stevie was cute. They were duly recruited, and their first album achieved a chart-placing 33 positions higher than its predecessor. The stage had been set.

Rumours beings with "Second Hand News," and it treads the path which the band have been following in the 30 years since : turning their human incompetencies into something amazing, to us and to themselves. The errors of their relationships, of their ways, are prized, condensed into songs of paranoia, neurosis, hysteria, distance, absence. "Been down so long, I´ve been tossed around enough, couldn´t you just let me go down and do my stuff?" sings Lindsey, and in the very next verse he tinkers a little : "When times get bad, and you can´t get enough." From claiming that oh-I-can´´ve-been-hurt-too-many-times, he changes his tune to I-can´t-be-with-you-I´ll-be-too-much-for-you! "Go Your Own Way," a 4/4 song with what sounds like a 5/4 drum progression, is similarly discrepant : there´s the famous "packing up, shacking up´s all you wanna do", but what about "If I could, honey I´d give you my world ... how can I when you won´t take it from me?" for a Lacanian line?

All of which sets up his (by this time ex-) lover to launch her riposte (the great fascination of Rumours is that you never quite know who is addressing whom ; Lindsey and Stevie had split, as had John and Chris, yet they all remained in the band, all writing songs about each other). Watch this : it´s a live version of "Dreams".

Stevie looks other-wordly, stunningly beautiful in a way that leaves me illiterate. Even without Lindsey´s shimmering slide-guitar, even without John and Mick´s embalming drum´n´bass (listen as they wrap themselves around her lyric "wrap around your dreams"), you have this :

It´s only right that you should play it the way that you feel it,
But listen carefully to the sound of your loneliness
Like a heartbeat ... drives you mad
In the stillness of remembering what you had.

Nice try, Lindsey, but you goddit wrong : it´s me who´s too much for you. And to prove it, 2´54" into the performance, after that very lyric, Stevie lets slip the most sexy sound you will ever hear, a heavenly "ooh," just to remind Lindsey of what he had ... and what he lost ... It´s the perfect impasse : the Lady has become, to quote Zizek, "not as she is, but as she fills his dream."

"The Chain" is Fleetwood Mac´s "A Day in the Life" : a composite of unrealised verses and riffs. As a child, it was the song I was immediately drawn to, simultaneously freaked out and delighted by it. That acoustic guitar, bone-dry and rattling, sounds like a makeshift packing-case with barbed wire stretched over it. Mick Fleetwood´s 1-2-3-4 drum beat thumps away like he´s whacking the floor. It´s interminable : four notes followed by a hanging pause, then a kind of resolution. Over and over. The lyrics don´t sound like much at first - exhortations to "listen to the wind blow," "break the silence," "damn your love, damn your lies" that seem more like threats - but I wonder who wrote them?

And if
You dont love me now
You will never love me again
I can still hear you saying
You would never break the chain.

If they´re about love, Lindsey is undoubtedly the author. But they could also be about the band itself, in which case Stevie is the surer bet. Anyway, after those lines are sung for the last time, there´s the bit you all know : John McVie´s intimidating bass line, Mick Fleetwood´s ticktickticktickticktickticktick hi-hats, and then a howling solo from Lindsey Buckingham, one note torn apart 68 times. That song still freaks me out, and still delights me, as much as it did when I was four.

And Christine - oh, Christine - what to say about FM´s third songwriter (inevitably, she´s always relegated to third)? She has always cut a schoolmarmish figure, awkward and diffident at being the band´s chief melodist. But her songs are hardly conservative : "Oh Daddy" is the best of her ultra-masochistic songs (and there are plenty to choose from) ; "Songbird" is nakedly beautiful, a forlornly emphatic vision of harmony ("And I wish you all the love in the world, but most of all, I wish it from myself") ; and "Don´t Stop," supposedly a note of positivity on Rumours, sounds to me utterly poisonous : "If your life was bad to you, just think what tomorrow will do." (I bet the American working-class loved the irony of that line when Clinton used the song at his inauguration). And Christine´s "You Make Loving Fun" is the hidden treasure of the record. Check out the frazzled hair and the empty wine bottle in this video. And you still think Chris is schoolmarmish?

And you still think Fleetwood Mac aren´t funky?

And I´ll pass the baton onto mark k-punk to describe the album´s closing track :

The track I’m continually drawn back, though, to is the closer, Nicks’ "Gold Dust Woman". It’s an ending to an album as suspended, as poised, as the dying shimmer of Roxy Music’s For Your Pleasure. An eerily, ironically prophetic future autobiography of Nicks’ addictions (first, to cocaine and later to prescription tranquillizers: ‘rock on gold dust woman/ take your silver spoon/ and dig your grave’), the track wouldn’t be out of place on Tago Mago. The Gold Dust Woman, a ‘dragon’, a ‘spider’, is the female anti-type to Rhiannon: imprisoned and imprisoning, quite literally a femme fatale, a life-denier rather than a fleeing free spirit.

Fast forward 20 years to 1997. The Rumours line-up had not made music together since Tango in the Night a decade earlier. Things had got so horrible between the band, that on one occasion Lindsey Buckingham reportedly chased Stevie Nicks around the room threatening to kill her. John McVie, always the quiet diplomat, suggested to Lindsey that he should just leave. John meant that Lindsey should just leave the room, but Lindsey Buckingham thought he meant the band, so off he went. But in 1997, the band re-formed for a series of concerts, which were released as the CD-DVD set The Dance.

"Silver Springs" was left off Rumours because it was too long. It was replaced by "I don´t want to know," certainly the weakest song on the album (though it´s not bad). The 2004 re-release returned "Silver Springs" to its rightful place (in between "Songbird" and "The Chain"), but the The Dance version is definitive. It´s a song about a woman scorned, kinda, but Stevie doesn´t sound scorned. Like in "Dreams," Stevie surrounds herself with a poise, she asks, almost conversationally, "And did you say she was pretty? ... And can you tell me was it worth it? Really, I don´t want to know."

For most of the disc, while Mick, John and Chris do their thing in what Mark calls "the engine-room," your eyes are fixed on Stevie and Lindsey, these two people who were in love for so long, who betrayed each other so badly, who are still sharing a stage, acting out their lives. But, apart from an oh-shit-I-think-she´s-gonna-turn-on-me look from Buckingham to Nicks at 2´24", they keep firmly to their parts of the stage for the first half of the song. And then ...

... Stevie turns to Lindsey suddenly, looks at him directly, advances towards him :

Time casts a spell on you, but you wont forget me
I know I could have loved you, but you would not let me
I´ll follow you down til the sound of my voice will haunt you
You´ll never get away from the sound of the woman that loves you

These would be great lyrics of retribution from anyone, but from Stevie, from Stevie to Lindsey, from Stevie to Lindsey when they´re together on the same stage, they are devastating. He shoots her a look of terror, but she carries on ... "You´ll never get away, NEVER get away, NEVER GET AWAY..."

Fleetwood Mac would follow up Rumours with Tusk, an act of commercial suicide. I wasn´t subjected to this as a child unfortunately - I had to discover it myself at Ipswich Library when I was 14. It´s no better than Rumours, but it is more extraordinary - a genre of one, so to speak. I may write something on it in the future, but really, you´d be better off scouring some second-hand book or record shops to find a booklet the Melody Maker (ah, nostalgia!) produced in 1996 called "Lost Treasures." In it, Simon Reynolds makes the case for Tusk - it is, as Reynolds´s studies usually are, as beautiful as its subject.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007


A politically-minded Canadian posed a question a while back : if Canada and Argentina have similar natural resources, and are both former European colonies, why is one now a G8-powerhouse, and the other struggling to keep its head above water?

I´ve returned to Felipe Pigna´s excellent The Myths of Argentinian History this week. Pigna is keen, as a popular historian, to return people and politics in his country´s history, and to rid Argentina of what he calls an "historical anaesthesia. As in the UK (and, as I found out while chatting to three Californian girls recently, it is far worse in the US), Argentinians are taught a very watered-down version of their history. Anything cutesy is left in, anything that might challenge the existing order, or make people think that the demands of 18th century rebels are still prescient today, is swept under the carpet. So perhaps the chapter of early 19th history in which the British became involved in Argentina is one we should be aware of, especially since there are frightening parallels with geopolitics today.

But first, back to my Canadian friend´s question. The answer that Pigna offers is this :

The key to the development of the U.S., Canada and Australia does not lie in English colonization – which in all three countries was brutal, cruel and bent on genocide – but in the development in each of these countries of a bourgeoisie, selfish and abusive as they are wont to be, but which nonetheless had the sense to link the fate of their fortunes to the economic growth of their respective countries, something that never happened in Argentina.

Instinctively, this makes sense. After all, British involvement in Argentina was a product of the two great revolutions of the bourgeoisie : the French Revolution, and the Industrial Revolution.

The Industrial Revolution in Britain had seen off the feudal order through economic necessity. The development of industry created markets, rather than simply responding to existing ones. Combined with an expansionist foreign policy, rapid economic growth via a capitalist model was inevitable. The nobility had no choice but to make way.

In France, the bourgeois socio-economic Revolution happened the other way around. The old system of Absolute Monarchy and nobility, which tried to assert itself with zeal in the face of the new meritocratic capitalists, had to be destroyed if France was to have any chance of competing with Britain. Between 1689 and 1812, France and Britain fought five wars, four of which Britain won. The need to establish capitalism in France, along with an alliance with the USA, made revolution inevitable.

The values of “liberty, equality, fraternity” (which, of course, were something of a front for bourgeois capitalist values) had not yet reached Spain, where Absolute Monarchy prevailed. The administration of Latin American colonies was bungled and chaotic, and popular movements (such as that of Tupac Amaru, descendant of the last Inca King, in 1781) were springing up, calling for an end to Spanish rule. The British saw that, by supporting independence, they might open the door to new markets on the continent. For, as we well know, absolute rule in resource-rich states is objectionable only when we are barred from trading in them.

As early as 1741, a plan was circulated in British circles regarding the liberation of Latin America :

It is convenient for a free people such as the English to place other countries under the same condition, for English trade would benefit from the existence of free nations in South America, and thus England would gain positive friends and allies.

The way that Britain acted in trying to expand and protect its markets reflects the policies of the US today, as Pigna notes :

Like every hegemonic power in history, from (the Industrial Revolution) on the English state would set a double standard, manifested in the duplicity of its commercial policy : at the national level, the State would implement tight protectionist policies in order to protect industrial development, but at the foreign level, it would promote and impose free trade for its products to compete freely and to purchase raw materials in peripheral countries at a menial price : “Do as I say, not as I do.”

In 1796, Spain joined the Alliance with Napoleon against Britain, a tactic on Napoleon´s part to take control of the seas as well as the European mainland. As the junior member of the Alliance, the Spanish King Charles IV financed Napoleon with silver and gold from Peru (at this time, two thirds of the wealth extracted from South America went direct to France). In 1804, Britain decided to intercept a two million pound shipment of treasure outside Cadiz. It was a successful expedition, no doubt, but it was evident to Britain that Napoleon would eventually set his sights on conquering the New World, in order to profit from the remaining third of the riches that Spain was keeping for itself.


To prevent such an invasion, the policy favoured by the British was the liberation of the continent, and the consequent exploitation of its markets, its raw materials and its slave-labour. The impasse between the Spanish and the French on one side, and Pitt´s Britain on the other, made a war inevitable. In October 1805, after very heavy losses on both sides, the Battle of Trafalgar was concluded in Britain´s favour.

The British had gained control of the sea, a victory which at once exposed the mutual dependence of war and capital. The Battle of Trafalgar should not be celebrated as a victory for democracy over absolutism (as Hobsbawm has noted, by 1815 most Englishmen were probably poorer than they had been at the turn of the century, while most Frenchmen were richer), but merely as the defeat of one imperialist power by another. For the people of Latin America or the West Indies, the result was immaterial. Slavery and exploitation were guaranteed for many years to come.

The interests of British industry made the commercial potential of the Spanish colonies in America irresistable and in April 1806, a 1500-strong fleet entered Buenos Aires and occupied it. The response of the Spanish summed up their dwindling position : Viceroy Sobremonte sent instructions to "Retreat to the fort to obtain an honourable capitulation." His thoroughly dishonourable surrender, supported by porteño property-owners, included the handover of over a million silver pesos to the British, which were swiftly deposited into the Bank of England. Manuel Belgrano, who would become Argentina´s first General after independence, summed up the submission as succinctly as anyone : "Merchants don´t know of any homeland, king or religion other than their own interest."

The old guard in Buenos Aires welcomed the British occupiers with open arms - they too saw the potential gains of the world´s leading capitalist power being based in their city. Some black slaves also initially welcomed the British, believing that they had come to free them. Such a notion was, naturally, swiftly and violently quashed by the British General, the Viscount of Beresford. The rest of the city´s middle-class was rather more muted in its support, believing that the British would leave as soon as the situation became disadvantageous to their European interests.

And as for the majority of the city, they proposed a pox on the houses of both the invading British and the incompetent and corrupt Spanish. Plans were signed by motley groups of guerrillas to blow up British positions. But the British were eventually kicked out in August 1806, after the French Commander Santiago de Liniers led a fleet from Montevideo to Buenos Aires and ordered the British commander to surrender. Men, women and children joined the fight, killing English soldiers with whatever came to hand, and Beresford surrendered.


So the British were no longer in charge ; but really, nor were the French or the Spanish. The insecurity engendered by this power vacuum was a factor in paving the way for independence. Urban militias were created to protect the city, and members of the militias began to get political, discussing the future of their home, and democratically electing leaders and officers. The conservative elite - who, after all, had armed the people to resist British invasion in the first place - became concerned at the people´s new found, and increasingly vocal, confidence. They were worried that those very same arms could be used against themselves - a fear which, just four years later, would be entirely justified.

Monday, April 16, 2007


The IMF is, in effect, a bank. And as we as customers know, every bank is desperate to sell you credit, especially if it knows you will have trouble repaying it.

So perhaps it is no surprise to read, via Barry at The Cash Nexus, that during the late 1990s the IMF apparently pumped Argentina full of loans it knew the country would be unable to pay :

The report states:

The Fund had literally played a game of confidence, apparently believing that optimism on the part of the IMF would lead to optimism in financial markets for Argentina’s debt.

Argentina´s failure (inevitable, so it seems now) to repay these loans led to devaluation of currency : overnight, a peso went from being worth 1 dollar to being worth one third of a dollar. 50% of the country´s population descended, again overnight, into poverty. Still, anything for an IMF loan-repayment!

Sunday, April 15, 2007


Vegetarians and squirmish eaters - look away now.

The two culinary specialities in Peru are ceviche - raw fish cured in lime juice, red onion and chilli - and fried cuy - or guinea-pig to you and me.

Ceviche is a stunning dish, especially if you´re anywhere near the coast. The impact of the acidity of the lime gives the fish (shark or bass usually, but it works just as well with any white fish, or shellfish) an al dente texture (by altering its molecular structure). My dad introduced me to ceviche. Since he retired he has been experimenting with different ways of smoking and curing fish (and cheese and meats) and selling it at farmers´ markets in Suffolk. If you are ever in Woodbridge or Aldeburgh on a Saturday morning, chances are you will find him in the village or church hall selling his latest concoction. I may be biased, but his food is superb. Here he is, proudly standing by his smokehouse (a filing-cabinet connected to a barbecue) :

I have been trying to persuade him to wear a bowler-hat and pinstripes at his markets, but so far he hasn´t been convinced.

Anyway, back to ceviche. My dad´s attempts at selling it to the good people of Suffolk haven´t been entirely successful. Most people are resistant to the idea of raw fish (while the lime juice cures the fish, it doesn´t actually cook it). But I figure if it tastes lip-smackingly refreshing on the Pacific coast, it surely should do the same on the North Sea coast on a hot summer´s day. They serve it with a hot sauce, salad and dried maize here, but brown bread and butter works just as well.

Cuy became a popular dish in Peru around 7000 years ago. Guinea-pigs were domesticated by Andean people, and before very long those same people started serving them up for dinner. Again, most people will turn their noses up at eating a cute, fluffy little guinea-pig. This seems to me to be a curious (though quite understandable) moral stance : why not eat a guinea-pig when you´ll happily chow down a bacon-butty? Aren´t pigs cute too?

When I had cuy, in the Cordillera Blanca region of Peru, it had been fried in an inch or so of hot oil. The texture was somewhere between rabbit and pork loin, the flavour was porky too, and the crispy bits on the outside near the skin were like the best crispy bacon you´ve never tasted. It was served with a nutty, curryish sauce, but other than that there is no effort made to disguise that what you are eating is a guinea-pig.

And frankly, I figure that animals - mosquitoes, bed-bugs, ants, fleas from hostel-cats, hostel cats themselves - have devoured my flesh pretty eagerly in the last five months. So you´ll understand, if I ever come round for a dinner-party, the drool that will pour down my chin as I eye up your young daughter´s guinea-pig...

Monday, April 02, 2007


At the heart of Situationism is the notion that, under the surface of everyday life, is a numbed human energy which, however dormant, is ready to be awoken. It is dormant because the forces at the heart of capitalist society - the relentless circulation and fetishism of the commodity, the violent catatonia of the spectacle, the need for alienating labour (alienating because one works solely for the profit of another) - have smothered it. All that is required is a stimulus, an alarm-clock, to rouse people from their slumber : in other words, a revolutionary act. The Situationists describe various techniques which might be employed to create such a situation (detournement and dérive being the best known), but this is slightly aside from the point. The point is to provoke a revolutionary consciousness ; the rest will inevitably follow. Hence the Situationists´ reluctance to define Situationism (at an `exhibition´ in London once, Guy Debord was asked for such a definition and replied "We are not here to answer cuntish questions", before making tracks to the bar. Nevertheless, Attila Kotanyi and Raoul Vaneigem conclude in their ninth thesis on "Unitary Urbanism" that "the situationist destruction of contemporary conditioning is simultaneously the constructions of situations."

The point of this post is to examine the work of the Situationist artist and architect Constant Nieuwenhuis. To better appreciate Constant`s vision, it will be useful to look at the theory of unitary urbanism in a little more detail, but for the purposes of a lead-in, here is a picture of Constant (with fellow artists Pinot-Gallizio and Asger Jorn) ...

... and here is one of his sketches for his dream city ...

Unitary urbanism

Other Situationists had theorised about how to construct an environment fit for human habitation and discovery, where the relentless circulation of commodities would be abandoned in favour of the pursuit of life. "We will not work to prolong the mechanical civilisations that ultimately lead to boring leisure," wrote Ivan Chtcheglov in the Internationale Situationniste. "We prepare to invent new changeable decors." The graffiti artists of Paris in 1968 summed it up better and more memorably : "Down with a world in which the guarantee that we will not die of starvation has been purchased with the guarantee that we will die of boredom."

Seven years earlier, in the pages of the I.S., Kotanyi and Vaneigem had set out their manifesto for Unitary Urbanism, a compendium of ten theses on town planning. They began by exposing contemporary town planning as a vacuous conditioning process, designed to persuade us that we are participating in the design of our own living space.

Modern capitalism, organising the reduction of all social life to a spectacle, cannot offer any other spectacle than that of our own alienation. Its vision of the city is its masterpiece.

Capitalist town planning depends on us accepting that there is no alternative to the functional and the banal. Our architecture meets our own functional needs, only our functional needs are really the needs of capital. Because of this, our towns and cities are in reality designed to facilitate traffic flow. Both symbolically and practically, movement is the indicator of status in a capitalist society. To disrupt the consolidation of the spectacle, people must be able to break away from their daily routines. Areas must be created where people can discover themselves. "Only when the masses awake can the question of consciously recreating entire cities be raised."

The vision of unitary urbanism, therefore, is to wrest control of our environment back from the enemy, to socialise the ground, to detourn the accepted norms : "Unitary urbanism will transcribe the whole theoretical lie of town planning, subvert it as a means of disalienation."

The New Babylon

Constant had begun his work on the New Babylon (the name he gave to his own, COBRA-SI-inspired vision of the city) a decade or so earlier with very much the same thing in mind. He had resigned from the SI in 1960 due to ideological disagreements with Guy Debord, but his work continued to echo their project, rather more eloquently and less torridly than the SI themselves during the 60s. When realised, Constant said, the New Babylon would be the place where man becomes a homo ludens. Production will have been automated, the streets will have been reclaimed, and man will have the opportunity to enter a voyage of auto-invention, in a self-perpetuating, carnivalesque cavalcade.

Since Situationism regarded art as a playful means of social organisation, unitary urbanism would naturally envisage "the urban environment as the terrain of a game in which one participates." The city would become a giant playground, its quarters acting as stations for a perpetual Revolutionary Festival. On this fundamental point situationists were agreed : the creation of the situationist city would pass from its avant-garde city fathers to its citizens. But as in all great revolutions, the nature of that transition was disputed. At what point should the situationist avant-garde disengage? When would situationist agitation give way to anarchic free play? What really would be the relationship between the architecture of the old city and that of the situationist city?

- Simon Sadler, "The Situationist City"

It is not immediately easy from Constant`s designs to see how his ludic city might have worked.

There were to be interconnected sectors, varying in ambience. Some areas of the city would have zones hovering above the ground, with the ground being used for traffic or agriculture. Participants in these zones could admire the traffic, watch it cruise by unhindered by humanity`s age-old infatuation with it. Different sectors would vary in temperature, or space (one in particular was designed to be as difficult as possible to navigate one`s way around ; another was impossible to walk or crawl through without hurting oneself). There was to be a yellow sector ...

... and a hanging sector ...

... and an Orient sector ...

But their ambiguity makes his work all the more immediate, for it forces us to look around, examine one`s own streets and buildings, invent one`s own situations and outline, however dimly, our own worlds of tomorrow. Occasionally, such examinsation bears fruit, and sometimes in the unlikeliest of places (the area which came alive most powerfully for me a couple of years, following several solo dérives, was leafy Alexandra Park, somewhat suburban but bursting with trapped life ... which probably condemns me as a hopeless and deluded bourgeois, but frankly, where would you suggest in increasingly homogenized London? People put forward convincing arguments in favour of Hackney Road, but I´m afraid I´m not buying it). However, courtesy of Owen Hatherley´s blog (the most beautiful I think I have seen), I think I realise that I lived and studied in a New Babylon of my own for three years as a student.

The couple in that last photograph - could they have met anywhere else? I think they are standing just outside the Edward Boyle at Leeds University, or maybe they are standing on a space-station. It certainly doesn`t look like Britain - none of these pictures do, not the Britain that we are supposed to know and love. It is nearer to France, but there are aspects of the Stalinist Eastern bloc too. And parallels to some of the Smithsons´ work too.



I haven`t been back to Leeds for several years now, and its not always the most technicolour of places anyway, but seeing these pictures, I can`t remember the campus being anything other than black and white. It looks like it´s meant to be.

But, oh, we hear the detractors cry - it´s so alienating and cold and barren! AND SO IMPRACTICAL! Why would anybody want to live or work or study in a place like that? All that concrete! So brutal!

Actually, there is something Brutalist about it. Like Constant and the Situationists, the Brutalists saw "streets in the sky" in their architecture - a neat reversal of conventional town planning wisdom which states that people would rather congregate in large, and preferably green open spaces, not in high buildings. I love Central Park, for instance, but I´d just as soon been in the Dakota Building, looking down on the park. Is that antisocial of me? I don´t think so. Central Park is a very antisocial place. It´s pretty, it´s an oasis away from Times Square and Downtown and, the hideous Onassis Reservoir aside, it has plenty of nooks and bifurcations to make a day´s exploration work one´s while. But the things people do there - grunting games of football, jogging, business deals, dog-walking - seem designed to avoid any social sontact. What it needs is a huge concrete and glass superstructure hovering 100 metres over it, with maybe a traffic flyover midway between the two. And a new JFK Terminal, so that all the planes could make a beeline for Trump Towers.

I digress...

These streets in the sky only mirror the environment at Leeds University, of course. When I went there, at the end of the 90s / beginning of the 00s, it still had the air of a University whose purpose was to educate(hopefully it has survived New Labour´s mass-marketisation of further education and retains its air of studiousness and intellect). The end-product of a course there - well, hell, there is no intended end-product except to enhance your knowledge or understanding or imagination, or whatever it is you want to enhance. I remember my Ulysses tutor leaning back in his chair, casting a sympathetic eye over his 3rd year group, and saying "Ah well, I suppose you´re all having to think about careers advice" - he snarled the words like they were a disease - "now aren´t you? Not something I ever had to worry about, of course. And, to be honest, I wouldn´t take any notice of it either." We spent the remainder of the class discussing why Finnegans Wake didn´t have an apostrophe in the title. So yes, the architecture and the society of the University mirror each other. You couldn´t build a situationist city without changing your society first - but then could you change your society in an environment where that human energy necessary for revolt is still trapped?

More pictures of Leeds Uni, colour this time.

Thanks to this Flickr contributor for such evocative photos.

Sunday, April 01, 2007



As (the founders of theological doctrine) did not understand the nature and the material causes of their own thinking, and did not even grasp the conditions or natural laws underlying such thinking, these early men and early societies had not the slightest suspicion that their absolute notions were simply the result of their own capacity for formulating abstract ideas. Hence they viewed these ideas, drawn from nature, as real objects, next to which nature herself ceased to amount to anything. They began to worship their fictions, their improbable notions of the absolute, and to honour them. But since they felt the need of giving some concrete form to the abstract idea of nothingness or of God, they created the concept of divinity and, furthermore, endowed it with all the qualities and powers, good or evil, which they found only in nature and in society. Such was the origin and historical development of all religion, from fetishism on down to Christianity.

- Mikhail Bakunin, God and the State