THE SCHOOL OF AMERICAN WHIMSY, A MANIFESTO: DISCUSS

The deepest purpose of reading and writing fiction is to sustain a sense of connectedness; to resist existential loneliness; and so a novel deserves a reader’s attention only as long as the author sustains the reader’s trust.

 – Jonathan Franzen, “William Gaddis: Mr Difficult”

A PASSION THAT GOES BEYOND SENSE OR REASON

Since this PhD o’ mine is rapidly becoming an exercise in skirting around the question What Makes Good Stuff Good, today I bring you a BBC film by architecture critic Reyner Banham (second only in my heart to Osbert Lancaster), from a time when the future still looked appealing.

http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docid=1524953392810656786&hl=en&fs=true

Most of the ‘art’ we hear about today is fashion driven by commerce. Money is just a means of exchange, a means of keeping a roof over your head and all that, but to pursue wealth for its own sake is decadent. I agree with Samuel Beckett that one has to teach oneself not to want things. One wants many things for no better reason than that advertisers train us to want them.

– John Calder being sane and heartening, from Textualities.

DIANE SAWYER ASKS "WHO KILLED LAURA PALMER?"

ABC passive-aggressively ambush their own show, in no way confirming those persistent rumours that network pressures forced David Lynch and Mark Frost to prematurely spoil Twin Peaks. Viewers just couldn’t bear the seven episodes’ (seven episodes!) worth of delayed gratification, apparently. Hardly Who Shot J.R.?, was it?

P.S. Actually, I’m not one to talk. I’m binge-watching Cracker (like Twin Peaks, one of those series that aired just on the frontier of before my time) at the moment and it feels a little retrograde to artifically recreate the traditional one-weeks’ repose between episodes.

INSIDE THE LEMON



Notes for landscape tones… Long sequences of tempera. Light filtered through the essence of lemons. An air full of brick dust – sweet-smelling brick-dust and the odour of hot pavements slaked with water. Light damp clouds, earth-bound yet seldom bring rain. Upon this squirt dust-red, dust-green, chalk-mauve and watered crimson-lake.

– Justine, Lawrence Durrell


Yeah, it’s Alexandria, not Budapest, but Durrell’s palette seems to apply to these close, sweaty days. I rather like it. During Budapest’s long work day, the quiet streets are suspended in treacle, one-foot-in-front of the other slowed by some immense drag, the heat waves rising off the concrete emit a faint hum. Every evening, a truck comes road to water the roads (against cracked tarmac?) and and by dusk the brick dust from the VIIth’s ever-present roadworks hangs pink and low.

THE PSYCHOGEOGRAPHER’S DILEMMA

In the 1920s, Edward Bernays revolutionised public relations by teaching ad men to get ahead by appealing to the libidinal desires of the inherently-irrational masses.

In 2009 writer Iain Sinclair and film maker Chris Petit (“two people who have made journeys an essential part of their professions“) made their first forey into advertising, starring in a short film (infomercial? public service broadcast?) for Audi. What follows is some vague psychogeographic freestyling from Sinclair and mumbled affirmatives from Petit, soundtracked by a piano set to meaningful and some “urban” trip hop musak. Oh, and they seem to be on some sort of journey (of course!) between Crosby Sands, Merseyside and, er, a place known only as “oblique” and “peculiar”:

Once you get across there you’re into something different. You’re into something different instead of the thing he inhabits, which he keeps calling a darkness, as if there’s a darkness inside the human body. I don’t know what that darkness is, but it’s what he wants to get away from.

But what does this destination “Oblique” matter anyway? It’s the journey that counts. Indeed, despite this film’s obscure marketing message, Sinclair’s soulful metaphorisations of “journey” – the adman’s all-time favourite trope – are really battered home.

And it’s the car that facilitates this spiritual journey, much more conveniently than the crap cup of tea and ontological transformations offered by National Rail:

You go into this pod-like structure the car and everything switches down, especially when its as comfortable as this. You’re into a sort of meditative overdrive instantly.

Well, I’ve watched the film a couple of times and what I’m getting is this: Audi offers a swaddled safe haven from the contingencies of the psychogeographic landscape.

Now, what could have encouraged this most enthusiastic pedestrian to get behind the steering wheel? Is this some new dérive? A rather complicated political manoeuver intending to protest against the privileged Left’s demonisation of the car? Or, more likely, an instance of the oft-cited creative trade-off of cash v. art. At least in the film industry this kind of compromise generally results in “entertainments” (in some Graham Greene sense), not the reduction of your oeuvre into limp, baffling – and downright-contradictory – soundbites.

Weird.

EDITED TO ADD:
Being a ponderous bugger, I watched it again. I think I’d rather he shilled the car with a simple endorsement: “Hey, pedestrian! Psychoanalysing the psychosis of place is quicker with an Audi!”

NEW, OLD TOWN

Some weeks ago, I took the train to Dunaújvaros (that’s Danube New Town, formerly Sztálinváros) the purpose-built industrial town some way down the Danube in central Hungary. Under Soviet rule, Dunaújvaros was used to showcase the socialist perfectibility of Hungary, even after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution eminences were taken on hospitality tours of Hungary’s largest iron and steel works and the wide, dappled avenues lined with Socialist Realist apartment buildings.

Left to rust after The Change of System, or System Change (note the linguistic implications of these terms for denoting the end of Communist rule here in Hungary) it has latterly undergone reinvention as a city of culture (though not as a City of Culture – that honour will be bestowed upon Pécs in 2010). Dunaújvaros now has its own Institute of Contemporary Art, artists’ studio complex and the International Steel Sculptors Colony. There’s something pleasantly apposite and self-sustaining about this particular process of regeneration. The iron and steel works supports the artists with materials, and in turn the works are bought by the local council and installed in public spaces, like the sculpture garden on the banks of the Danube.


No Gehry or Foster destination architecture here, nor the kind of apparently well-intentioned, yet fundamentally-insensitive attempts at Critical Regionalism you might find in British post industrial city centres under a process of regeneration. This low-key town’s prime tourist pull seems to be the beautiful view across the Hungarian plains.


The Hungarian Government, like that of Britain, clearly recognises the regenerative power of that thing, culture, though, and the ease with which cultural regeneration segues so easily with commercial development. The National Theatre* and the Palace of Arts on the Pest bank of Lágymányosi Bridge are the cultural luncheon meat in a commercial sandwich that is regenerating the Ferencváros district, just north of the island of Csepel.


Here, as in other spots around the city, Budapest seems hell-bent on transforming its cityscape into the kind of glass-boxed, stone-fasciaed heterogeneity that better befits a modern European capital. Vodaphone and Morgan Stanley have already moved in. There’s a riverside redevelopment apartment complex, replete with the kind of architectural clangers (lack of provision of pedestrian access or most basic services and amenities) generally associated with British redevelopment projects. There’s also a good smattering of public art installed with the express intention of evoking, in ersatz style, the heritage of the area, and the deeply-emotive significance of the National Theatre in Budapest (it was demolished on a shaky pretext by the Communists in 1965). Despite these attempts at producing locality, this place, this strange shiny, landscaped enclave on the banks of the Danube could be anywhere. All they need now is a Big Screen like in Hull or Manchester – the cherry on top of all post industrial regeneration projects, I reckon – and the successful transformation will be complete.


* The National Theatre has long been a pawn in the game of tit-for-tat that is pluriform multi-party democracy here in Hungary. I’m going to resist recounting its chequered history here; those with a taste for the political absurd can go here to read the tale in full.

APPROACH

  • BE MORE AGGRESSIVE
  • GET MORE INVOLVED (TALK TO PEOPLE)
  • STAY WITH THE SUBJECT MATTER (BE PATIENT)
  • TAKE SIMPLER PICTURES
  • SEE IF EVERYTHING IN BACKGROUND RELATES TO SUBJECT MATTER
  • VARY COMPOSITIONS AND ANGLES MORE
  • BE MORE AWARE OF COMPOSITION
  • DON’T TAKE BORING PICTURES
  • GET IN CLOSER (USE 50mm LENS)
  • WATCH CAMERA SHAKE (shoot 250sec or above)
  • DON’T SHOOT TOO MUCH
  • NOT ALL AT EYE LEVEL

– Tony Ray Jones