Friday, May 30, 2008

Help Yourself: Turning a Carver-Up into a Barthelme

The internet's preponderance of self-help evangelists makes me feel rather queasy. Professionally urbane's Since You Asked, by Agony Uncle Cary Tennis is rather different, however.

He mines a somewhat unconventional self-help seam, specialising in readers' queries about grad school, how to write, environmental conscience and new urbanism alongside more traditional relationships-divorce-parenthood fare. Tennis' advice column is something like Choose Your Own Adventure penned by Donald Barthelme. For someone whose favourite bits of Barthelme, Pynchon, DeLillo and Updike et al are not the postmodern pyrotechnics, but the heady domestic sublime contained therein, he makes very good reading.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Robert's World of Magic

Actually, I don't have a television.

In this kind of flip-flopping lifestyle dilemma, I'll side with Viz's Modern Parents over 85th Worst Briton Julie Burchill, every time.

Oh, and just for old time's sake, here's Burchill and Camille Paglia going head to head by fax.

Writer for hire!

If you've landed here looking for business, not pleasure, you'll need me with my work hat on over here. I'm a freelance writer, editor and researcher and - natch! - always available for commission...

Monday, May 26, 2008

The English, Seen

I've been sneaking a peek at photographer Simon Roberts' work-in-progress We English. He and his family have hit the road in a campervan; he's documenting scenes from English life to produce a photographic journal of life in England in 2008. You can follow his progress on his blog here.

After a stint in Russia - which produced the startling monograph Motherland - Roberts is turning his lens homeward. In impulse and in method, his English journey reprises the Anglocentric turn of culture in the mid twentieth century moment, when the British Empire's sun finally set and ravaged by German bombers, English culture began the anxious work of reevaluating, reinterpretating and reconstructing in pursuit of a national identity it seemed to have mislaid.

What's interesting about Simon Roberts' work is that his English journey seems so anachronistic. Taking in Cromer Fair, Midhurst Carnival and lawn bowls at Weston-Super-Mare, Roberts' aesthetic is squarely rooted in the mid century moment. Roberts cites scenes from English life first seen in the work of Bill Brandt, Tony Ray-Jones and Martin Parr. And this is no criticism of Roberts' endeavour; what his shooting itinerary highlights is how these elements have become a visual grammar of Englishness. On the present, what these archaisms reveal is the pervasive nostalgic feedback loop at the heart of the English cultural imagination.

The same was true of the mid century period during which this photographic lexicon first emerged. As now, these depictions of English life were already old photographs of the present day. Ray-Jones's knowing archaism, his black and white pathos, was, in his words, the attempt 'to record the "English way of life" before it becomes more Americanised'. Again, there's this sense of shoring up a frail culture against its immiment demise.

Ray-Jones needn't have worried. In Roberts' (and others') representations of Englishness, we see that Americanisation is no match for good old English nostalgia, indeed, these archaisms are England - at least in our imagination.

Beachy Head and Beauty Contest, Southport by Tony Ray-Jones

Wot, no Momus?

Inclement weather has stopped play this Whitsun Bank Holiday Monday, so take a look at Caledonia Dreaming, BBC4's documentary about - ahem - the "hidden history of Scottish pop music". There's been moaning n' groaning elsewhere about this doc's obvious omissions and its rather strange chronology. If, like me, however, you get excited when stuff you like is on the telly - or you're dead fond of BBC stock footage of post-industrial malaise - you'll be keen.

Perhaps skip through its disproportionate focus on "Blue Eyed Soul", though, unless you're really into Marti Pellow.

Postscript: Actually, my party-pooping distain for telly is entirely unfounded this week. The Challenge of the Sixties edition of Panorama was really rather wonderful - spooky, unsettling n' that.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Some delicate, if hasty, dishes

Before Heston Blumenthal there was Eduardo de Pomaine, a French scientist and food writer, whose Cooking in 10 Minutes adapts French Edwardian cooking to the pace of modern life in postwar France. The slim volume, published in 1948, reads something like Delia Smith (in ...Cheat mode) via Raymond Queneau.

de Pomaine's food science is pragmatist - not nouvelle - cuisine (faggots and French onion, not foam and emulsion), but as a moonlighting bacteriologist, his recipes have an unsettling touch of the Frankensteins. His no-nonsense bark makes a pleasant change from Nigel Slater's ever-priapic food poetics.

It's his cantankerous interjections, however, together with gross-out, austerity-era recipes, delivered with a scientist's lack of squeamishness, that really make this funny food-novella. What's more, de Pomaine's convenience cookery is not the stuff of "cash rich/time poor" Sunday supplement quick suppers, in fact, he's quite the old romantic:

My book is meant for the student, for the midinette, for the clerk, for the artist, for lazy people, poets, men of action, dreamers and scientists, for everyone who has only an hour for lunch or dinner and yet wants half an hour of peace to watch the smoke of a cigarette whilst they sip a cup of coffee which has not even time to get cold.

Modern life spoils so much that is pleasant. Let us see that it does not make us spoil our steak or our omelette. Ten minutes are sufficient - one minute more and all would be lost.

His profile, from the Pasteur Institute where he worked as a physician, is here.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

There is a homosexual pancreas in the closet

Usually it began like this. Two spindly women clattering in their stack heels give chase. Julie's garb is the ammonia-smelling wardrobe of the junkshop. Celine is one of those dangly women, made of lolling lips, feathercut and bosoms.

I tried to write a thing about Jacque Rivette's lovely, extravagent Celine and Julie Go Boating. At the moment, it's still stuck in that not-yet-ready stage: gross generalisations and cod mysticism. For now, there's plenty of ponderous Deleuzing elsewhere on the 'net.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I wish I had Paul McCartney to help me

May Jacqueline Taieb's 7 Heures du Matin soundtrack your walk to work:

For me, French-Tunisian Taieb's jaunty lament about the tragedy of having to get out of bed in the morning is yé yé perfection. It's winking insolent chatter, interspersed with – talkin' 'bout my g-g-g-generation – fragments of the early pop meteorites of The Beatles, Chuck Berry and The Who. Yé yé was France's cultural call-and-response to the British invasion and American rock and roll, ventriloquised via a rotating assortment of ingenues. What's different about Taeib's Sept Heures du Matin, is here she's actually singing along to Swinging Radio England, miming yé yé's influences straight back into a hairbrush in front of the bathroom mirror.

A warning: the English version - as with so much - is a bit of a let down.

Of course, a post about yé yé couldn't possibly be complete without a quick Gainsbourg anecdote:
When France Gall, singer of the Gainsbourg-penned Les Sucettes, caught wind of a possible second meaning behind his ode to aniseed lollies their partnership (which also resulted in Eurovision winner Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son) immediately dissolved. Gainsbourg, the vaudeville iconoclast, riposted: "It's the most daring song of the century".

Well, see what you think; there's winking and hair twiddling aplenty here:

The English translation is here.

Hmm.. this feels like to lead-in for something much more involved about sex and 'baby pop'. Later, I think.

For now, there's Yé Yé Land and news of a new Jacqueline Taieb album here.