I wanted to start our first Fish Friday post by talking about a return to the office. Then I realised there was no return for me: I haven’t worked in an office before. From the back of a kitchen to a shop, somewhere there was also an archive, a backstage and an atelier, until I ended up in the library or wherever my laptop was. Now we’re working from an office. Open plan, but still.
Friday night, and we’re at the top floor of the new Foyles — the MegaFoyles, the temple, the museum-and-shop-in-one — for the launch of The White Review’s tenth issue. The books for sale on entering might be a miniature magasins de nouveauté custom curated by a shopkeeper tipped off to our taste in contemporary art: Deborah Levy, Benedict Andrews, and the matt-covered, substantial issues of the Review itself.
It is an oft-repeated maxim that one should never meet one’s heroes; but there is little danger, and much delight, we think, in hearing them read. Here, Aleksi Koponen and Stephanie Boland report on new work from old loves.
I’m in London again, and after finding to my pleasure that I can wolf down a book a day on the bus journey to Bloomsbury and back — ignoring sour-smelling men and other people’s open back headphones — I’ve been ducking into bookshops frequently. Among the Knausgaard displays and the summer travel guides, I’ve come across a fortuitous heat sink for my literary avarice: small pamphlets, often kept by the till like sweets in a supermarket (but far more nourishing).
Before leaving on the four-week walk of Liberia that would form the spine of his 1926 travel memoir Journey Without Maps, Graham Greene consulted a guide book. The volume in question was issued by the British government, and its version of Greene’s destination is seemingly all-encompassing:
There was something satisfyingly complete about [the picture the book presented]. It really seemed as though you couldn’t go deeper than that; the agony was piled on in the British Government Blur Book with a real effect of grandeur; the little injustices of Kenya became shoddy and suburban beside it.
As the title of his account suggests, ‘no maps were to be brought’ on Greene’s journey. The guide-book is his primary insight into the place he will explore, and ‘it really seemed as though you couldn’t go deeper than that’ – its depth and state-sanctioned authority turning it from a tool to a vision. The ‘grandeur’ of the book lends it the necessary ideological clout to make even the widespread violences of colonial Kenya appear ‘little injustices’, relegated to being ‘suburban’ (a word that here means, perhaps unfairly, insignificant) when compared to what awaits the author in Liberia. Greene’s guide book doesn’t just invoke a sense of place, but re-writes it; it acts as a colonial grimoire, casting an invocation which alters its reader’s spatial landscape. All books necessarily concede to certain material and ideological boundaries, but most guidebooks – even early twentieth-century ones – gesture somewhere to their own limits. To reshape Africa wholesale into the rectangular pages of the aptly-named Blur Book is myth at its most petty; and its most violent.
I’m thinking of Greene because it’s first thing in the morning and I’m lost in Cambridge, MA, somewhere around Harvard. Continue reading
‘…it seemed to be in the air, that kind of patronising social voyeurism … I felt that of Parklife, for example, or Natural Born Killers – there is that noble savage notion. But if you walk round a council estate, there’s plenty of savagery and not much nobility going on.’
Jarvis Cocker in BBC Three’s ‘The Story of Common People’
Even in the 90s, Pulp didn’t play; and as a result no-one knows what to do with them. Their odd present-absence in the Britpop retrospectives has made that clear. There was The Guardian issue that put Jarvis on the front of its supplement, two fingers up to the camera next to ‘Do you remember the first time?’ in an appropriately blocky serif, but dedicated the article he advertised to James and Salad. Taylor Parkes’ searing anniversary piece over at The Quietus, ‘A British Disaster’, barely mentioned them either — except for to note that ‘even Pulp, who would have been superb in any era, have been folded in with their peers’.
There’s an implicit suggestion that the band exist on the edge of the Britpop category: close enough to mention, but not close enough to discuss with the others. The confusion is understandable. The recognisable Britpop notes are there: the clothing, the amp settings, the delicious ‘fuck you’ drawl playing devil’s advocate to vivid, of-the-moment lyrics. But few of the accusations Parkes levelled at Britpop – that it’s sneering, preening, complacent, full of ‘apathetic infantilism’—apply here. Pulp are different.
On the banks of the Seine, two men look out from twin banners adorning the front of the Musee D’Orsay. One is classical in appearance; so classical as to be unremarkable. The other is Pierre et Gilles’ Mercury. His taut muscles are lit by an ethereal light, glittering around the one item he is wearing: a winged helmet, which, along with his snake-headed staff, marks him out as the god he is. His back is facing the river; peering at the ground, we see his face only in profile. Seemingly unconcerned with the viewer, he draws our attention. He glimmers. Continue reading
Joanna Biggs’ Observer article got a lot of good press on Twitter over the weekend. Headlined ‘Feminism is on a high – but it needs a strong intellectual voice’, Biggs’ article takes as its starting point the two epigraphs of Simone De Beauvoir’s The Second Sex. The first is a quotation from Kirkegaard: ‘What a misfortune to be a woman! And yet the worst misfortune of all for a woman is not to understand she is one’. According to Biggs, this ‘weary sentiment is not one [she’s] heard very often in 2013′. Perhaps a related gobbet from Jane Austen, whose imminent appearance on currency is one of Biggs’ feminist highlights of the year, would be more of-the-moment: ‘A woman, especially if she have the misfortune of knowing anything, should conceal it as well as she can’.