Wednesday, July 22, 2009


In lieu of proper (non-cricket) posts, some links:

1. This is lovely: DV posts a picture of, and a poem about, Nunhead Cemetery, one of the seven great Victorian Cemeteries in London, where dignatories and commoners were united by (if nothing else) being covered in the same soil dug by the same gravedigger.

The picture is splendidly hauntological – a ghostly apparition, hovering somewhere above Croydon, breaks through the trees and shakes the headstones. And the poem is well-chosen, evoking the dislocation which the graveyard (and the experience of bereavement) causes. The visitor to Nunhead Cemetery cannot be sure which century he is living in, never alone which city or suburb he is in.

2. We have become so disconnected from the past, that history is now only a commodity of the present. We visit museums, castles and historic sites; we take cheap flights to cities whose pasts are preserved in aspic (but which always feel upsettingly caught up in the present); but we can no longer consider the passage of time between the past and present as a continuum (albeit one that sometimes proceeds with abrupt qualitative shifts).

These photos on Leningrad / St Petersburg (found via Kosmograd, who sees in them “the past bleeding into the present”) are uncanny for this very reason. They are assembled with scrupulous precision, so that the past fits perfectly with the present (spatially if not temporally) – but they still don’t make sense.

At first I thought I could do the same with King’s Cross – interleave photos of the new development with those of the streets and the railway lands which held out until the turn of this century (and which I never saw). But such an exercise would be both impossible and undesirable – impossible because the streets have simply been erased (many of them ran along what is now Paperchase or WHSmiths or the taxi rank outside), and undesirable because my obsession with re-creating a (fictional) past in the area is slightly unsavoury. I am drawn back to it always (I often stand listlessly outside Marks and Spencers imagining where the impassive old facade of the German Gymnasium used to stand), but it is a fraught and pointless obsession. I should really move on.

3. More here [NS link] on a set of buildings which “represent an ambiguous future or a reviled past,” but “cannot make sense in the present.” The Leeds University campus was built by the trio responsible for the Barbican Centre and the Golden Lane Estate. It is a sumptuous complex, Brutalist and sci-fi, which refutes the claim that rational, modern, monumental buildings are necessarily cold – or rather, the claim that coldness necessarily equates to violence or social destruction.

Owen claims that Leeds University has compromised the original vision of the architects by smattering it with “street furniture.” This may be true (I have only visited Leeds once since I left in 2001), but I think it is more likely that, as Fredric Jameson has said of postmodernist architecture (though for different reasons), human beings never metamorphosed into properly Modernist subjects who were capable of inhabiting such structures. This is regrettable, but the economic shift from Fordism (where, for all the pressures placed upon them to spend their improved salaries on mass-produced commodities, people were still bound by a degree of class-consciousness) to neoliberalism, where the limits of human subjectivity are bound only by their aptitude for shopping, has left us stranded in a postmodern world.

I won’t make it to what looks like an affecting exhibition. But I shall buy the book – there is no cap to the number of black and white photos of the campus one can devour. From what I remember, it was always black and white anyway.


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