Like everyone else I’m still trying to come to terms with the new social reality imposed on us as a consequence of the Covid 19 pandemic. Presumably we are in the very early stages of this crisis and there is no clarity or certainty about how this will all play out. I am myself only on the third day of this self isolation, or social distancing regime but I have decided that I will continue my normal routine of a 30 – 40 minute walk each morning. I live very close to the graveyard where the Shropshire writer Mary Webb is buried and I am intending to head over there each morning. I can’t visit the graveyard without pausing for a moment at Mary’s grave, and this seems to be the beginning of a new sacrament for me. Continue reading “Vis Medicatrix Naturae”
I’ve recently been reading Tony Fletcher’s very good biography of the English group, The Smiths, A Light that Never Goes Out. Fletcher writes interestingly about the way in which The Smiths’ music developed over time, pointing out that they went through a significant musical progression during the brief time they existed as a group. Of particular interest to me was the description of the demo of a track provisionally titled Swamp. The music was worked on by the bands’ instrumentalists as Morrissey tended not to be involved in the non-vocal arrangements: “his absence allowed the others free rein to indulge their growing experimental tendencies.” By all accounts, the recording session was heavily drug fuelled and there was a conscious effort to acheive a psychedelic sound. The resulting eight minute psychedelic jam would eventually end up once Morrissey had added his lyrics to it (and somewhat truncated), as one of The Smiths’ most enduring and powerful songs, How Soon is Now? Continue reading “How Soon is Now? The Consolation of Lost Futures”
Phil Smith’s Enchanted Things is a fascinating illustrated pamphlet that signposts a number of different ways in which we might engage with, or orient ourselves within, the landscape. And the landscape here is interpreted in the widest possible sense. This is neither a pastoral paeon nor an urban dérive, although it dips toes in both ends of the spectrum.
Smithereens, the second episode of Black Mirror’s fifth season, was made available on Netflix on June 5th. Is four days long enough to dispense with spoiler alerts? Is it now reasonable to suppose that anyone who might be interested in watching this episode will have already done so or will at least avoid reading reviews for fear of stumbling on spoilers? The question of spoilers is a perennial one: should we still issue spoiler alerts when discussing plot twists in The Crying Game or The Usual Suspects? What about Psycho or Citizen Kane? But the issue has, like everything else, accelerated to a point where we no longer feel we have a firm grip on it. Twenty four hours seems to be the maximum life expectancy for a Twitter trend. This runaway velocity of everyday life is one of the central concerns of Smithereens. Continue reading “Black Mirror: Smithereens”
To say that the BBC TV series Edge of Darkness (1985) has not dated in the 34 years since it was first broadcast would be to miss the point. Because, whilst it is true that it has aged remarkably well, it is also the case that the general background constellation of cultural expectation has shifted in significant ways that serve to reveal the intense ideological and artistic power of Edge of Darkness more clearly.
The recent BBC Radio 3 documentary programme, Into the Eerie, gave a good account of some of the ways that the eerie worms its way into the English landscape. As a point of departure, Mark Fisher’s notion of the eerie, which he laid out in his The Weird and the Eerie, was discussed. For Fisher, whereas the weird is characterised by a superfluity of presence (why is there something when there should be nothing?), the eerie is conversely characterised by an excessive absence (why is there nothing when there should be something?). A Lovecraftian entity with a tentacled face is weird; a piano playing in an empty room is eerie.
Although the focus was very much on the English landscape, it was notable that the programme was predominantly concerned with the way that the eerie seems to have arisen to prominence as a response to the so-called Anthropocene, that is, the ongoing geological age in which human activity is seen to be the main influence on the climate and the environment. This is of course a global phenomenon but the programme was quite right to focus on the more local ways that it has registered at a deep level.
In 1999 the photographer Martin Parr published the book Boring Postcards, one of the most delightful art books I have ever seen. Far from being boring it is a nostalgia-infused catalogue of post-war Britain studied in terms of architecture, interior décor, leisure and holiday activities, commerce and infrastructure. Each page is a reproduction of a postcard with no additional textual information beyond the name of the building or location. Implicitly, the book tells a story of the urban redevelopment that took place through the 50s and 60s and, in the absence of an organising narrative of aesthetic or political contextualisation, the pictures have a strange dual quality, simultaneously familiar and odd.
The pictures that Parr has chosen for the book are necessarily all mundane sites: motorways, shopping centres, caravan parks. But it’s the fact that these sites were selected for commemoration on a postcard that gives the pictures such an odd feel. At one level, this oddness comes from the layers of irony that culture has accrued since the postcards were originally produced, and that accrual of irony itself maps onto the movement from modernism to postmodernism. In fact, the book’s charm comes directly from the clash between the modernism of the images and the postmodern context of its presentation. There is a naïve sincerity to the original intent of these postcards that seems hopelessly outmoded now. It’s not simply a question of nostalgia for lost futures, that is, a feeling of longing for the futures promised by movements such as brutalism and futurism. Rather, Boring Postcards reveals a curious time in recent history when a very modern sense of urban living was being constructed. All those new shopping centres signalled a final end to the idea of rural self-sufficiency and heralded the final victory of commerce.