Joyce Carol Oates:’ People believe I write quickly, but I actually don’t’11 days ago
The volumes interview: The prolific author on the unreality of romance, the fickle memory of Americans and how tweeting has got her into trouble
When Joyce Carol Oates, the 77 -year-old author of well over 100 volumes, told the New Yorker last year that she thought of herself as transparent, before adding Im not sure I genuinely have a personality, the admission felt scandalous. We live in a day when the concept of personhood has been enshrined, in the monetising parlance of late capitalism, as my own personal brand. To posit its non-existence is a kind of taboo. Especially if you happen to be someone often was regarded as Americas foremost woman of letters.
Oates, a five-time Pulitzer finalist, might be very intensely interested in a portrait of America, but clearly she has no truck with the ego-vaunting, personality driven paradigm of contemporary celebrity. She appears more to belong to some other, long-passed era, with a pronounced gothic streak colouring much of her fiction, which tends to be peopled by powerful men and introverted women who often experience sex shame. In the afterword to her 1994 collecting Haunted: Narratives of the Grotesque , she seems to find a human truth within horror: We should sense immediately, in the presence of the grotesque, that it is both real and unreal simultaneously, as states of mind are real enough feelings, moods, shifting obsessions, beliefs though immeasurable. The subjectivity that is the essence of the human is also the mystery that divides us irrevocably from one another.
At her home in rural New Jersey she serves mugs of herbal tea and when her bengal kitten, Cleopatra, settles against my leg, Oates tells: I see you have quite a conquest there. She presumes youre here to gratifies her.
I am here, of course, to talk to Oates about herself and her work, but Im not so interested in myself she tells. I remember someone saying that Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton loved to go bar-hopping in New York, and the last thing they wanted to talk about was themselves they were more interested in these characters in the bars. Thats the route I think many novelists are. I was of the view that way. And its often said about Shakespeare that he was transparent, and Keats that he had this negative capability to be interested in other things.
Specifically, Im here to speak to her about her new novel The Human Without a Shadow, her 44 th under her own name to go alongside her many collectings of tales, essays and plays, her memoirs and her novels written under pseudonym. It concerns the relationship between an amnesiac, Elihu Hoopes, and a neuroscientist, Margot Sharpe, for whom Hoopes is both enduring scientific topic and lifelong love object. She is a woman who cant bear herself except as a vessel of work. She is also a person who wonders, What if I have no person what will I do then?
Oates is straightforward about the personal parallels. I very much identify with Margot. And not just for her workaholic tendencies and personality doubt. I suppose, she ventures, were continually devising narrations and filling in blanks and misremembering in ways that bolster our interpretation of something. So I wanted to write about this relationship between two people engaged in different memories.
Since his memory widens no further than 70 seconds, Elihu experiences every meeting with Margot as a first. Accordingly, the novel is written wholly in the present tense, the state in which Elihu lives. In one sense then, their love is literally without foundation: how can you form any meaningful connection in a little over a minute? Yet theres also something pure about their relationship: each encounter has the wonder of the eternally new.
The relationship between them is always sort of unreal, she says, but Im wondering if many relationships that are based on love and romance are not fairly highly charged with unreality. When youre actually living with someone over a period of time you do get to know the person in a very complex and detailed way. But the romantic ideal is very much fraught with the possibility of conditioning people. Presenting your best ego. Telling things to the other that will elicits a certain response.
Oates was marriage for 47 years to Raymond J Smith, a professor and editor of the Ontario Review, which he and Oates founded together in 1974. After he died in 2008 from complications arising from pneumonia, Oates detailed her heartbreak in an acclaimed memoir, A Widows Story . Soon after, she met and married Charlie Gross, a neuroscientist. Gross has been a particularly enthusiastic reader of the latest fiction, which has come about, she tells, directly as a consequence of writing A Widows Story and having to deal so rigorously with her own memory. Oates usually works on several projects at once, but it was only after shed finished the memoir that she was able to return to writing novels and narratives. Writing fiction is hard to do when real life seems so much more important, she explains.
Nevertheless: I dont have any anxiety about writing. Not truly. Its such a pleasure, and our lives are so relatively easy compared to people who are really out there in the world working hard and suffering. The art goes much subsequently in civilisation, when youve dealt with other things like poverty and strife. People think that I write speedily, but I actually dont. I recollect guessing to myself, Am I still working on this novel? Its such a slow evolution. The phase of anxiety is lost in all that. You cant be anxious every minute of every day for eight months.
Oatess extraordinary work ethic she writes eight hours a day is such that we now have a virtual sub-genre of literature that we might call where to start with Joyce Carol Oates. Its a phenomenon she mocks wryly in The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates, 19731982 : The list of my books … is overwhelming. So many volumes! So many!
Her very first was By the North Gate , a short story collection published in 1963, but it was her fifth volume, them , a 1969 novel, that won her a National book award and confirmed Oates as a major writer. Blonde , her 2000 fictionalisation of Marilyn Monroes inner life, is often regarded as her best fiction( it was nominated for both a Pulitzer and a National book award) although many readers first encounter her through the repeatedly anthologised Where Are You Going Where Have You Been, a nuanced story of a young girls rape, in which every sentence is taut with something lethal.
And then theres her criticism: lengthy, dispassionate and thorough pieces for the New York Review of Books for which she reads each writer exhaustively. She recalls, for example, sitting in Dallas airport with all these volumes of Cormac McCarthy literal volumes, I wasnt reading on a Kindle and I guessed Im dragging all these books around, and theyre so depressing! But hes such a good writer … This is where I confess to her that, in this case, I failed to adhere to my usual rule of reading a writers entire backlist before an interview. Well, you cant perhaps she murmurs. Maybe that was asking too much of yourself, only in general.
The JCO completists in this world is necessary few. Theres a man named Greg Johnson whos written a biography of me, she tells. And then maybe a few other people.
I ask whether JM Coetzees job description of a novelist as a secretary of the invisible resonates with her.( Coincidentally, Johnsons 1999 biography is titled Invisible Writer .) Im plainly making, she counters. Coetzee is somewhat coy … A secretary is someone who takes notes, but a novelist has a strong will, and is generating narrative situations, bringing people together, telling a narrative. Its a very wilful thing, and Coetzee is a very wilful person as an artist. Theres a will; it should be invisible. No one should really know about it.
Then I broach the subject of another form of writing. Oates, who has nearly 140,000 Twitter followers, has become notorious for missives met with derision or collective huh? s. When she asked, All we hear of ISIS is puritanical& punitive; is there nothing celebratory& joyous? Or is query naive? it inspired the actor Molly Ringwald to react, Okay, who got Grandma stoned?
Most egregious was a tweet that seemed to conflate violence against women with Islam. Where 99.3% of women report having been sexually harassed& rape is epidemic Egypt natural to inquire: whats the predominant religion? I venture that this was Islamophobic. Well, some of the reactions are sympathetic … Its all sort of political. But my fundamental focus is the rights of women and girls and patriarchal religion , no matter what it is, Im not sympathetic to. I have confessed that often on Twitter, that I dont believes in patriarchal religion to me its delusional, so if thats Islamophobic, I suppose that could be true. Its more like religion-phobic, or patriarchal religion-phobic. What I had to say was actually much, much longer than could be said in a tweet. But nobody makes anybody write tweets, so the negative answer that one get is basically, in a way you deserve it. Ive tweeted other things that Ive entailed sincerely, but sometimes people misinterpret it.
She adds, wearily: I dont really care that much. I write something nice about Homeland , but a bunch of people write back to say Oh, we dislike Homeland , its Islamophobic. I literally dont care. I dont even read them. Theyre sort of attacking a tweet, then its gone. The fickle memory of Americans is something you can rely on. The literary world is very different, and Im much more serious about the literary world. I write these reviews which are quite long and nuanced for the New York Review of Books thats really like my real life.
When Ive thanked her and weve both stood up theres a moment of mutual uncertainty. Oates surely wants to get back to work, but the car Ive yet to summon will probably take 20 minutes to arrive. I gesture at a small floral lounge by the front door and indicate Ill just wait there. Upstairs, I can hear the voice of Oatess contented humming receding as she moves towards her desk.
Read more: www.theguardian.com
‘ All my friends had some nightmare experience trying to get pregnant. My story took the cake’11 days ago
At five months pregnant, Ariel Levy lost her newborn. After four more years of IVF, had she left motherhood too late?
I first fulfilled Ariel Levy in 2009, soon after moving from London to New York, but I had been a fan for more than a decade. Her frank articles about pop culture and sex, which she wrote in her first task at New York magazine from the late 1990 s, the template of what I wanted to write one day. Her 2005 book, Female Chauvinist Pigs, a blister look at how young woman were being sold the lie that emulating pole dancers and Paris Hilton was empowering, became one of the defining feminist statements of that decade. At the New Yorker, where she has been a personnel writer since 2008, she breaks up the publications occasional aridity with vivid articles about sexuality and gender.( She got her job when she told editor David Remnick that, If foreigners had only the New Yorker to go by, they would conclude that human beings didnt care that much about sexuality, which they actually do .)
Heroes rarely live up to your fictions, but Levy outstripped them. Usually marriage used to go for drinkings cocktails that knocked me sideways, but scarcely seemed to touch her sides and from the start she struck me as being just like her penning: laid-back, wise, curious, kind. Sometimes Levys wife, Lucy, would join us. Isnt she hilarious? Levy would say after Lucy had said something that wasnt, actually, all that funny, but I jealousy them their mutual love after almost a decade together. I, by contrast, was lonely and, like generations of single women in their mid-3 0s before me, starting to panic. But like a lot of women of my particular generation, I felt ashamed of this. Panicking about not having a newborn? How retrograde. So I never admitted any of it to Levy, who seemed more likely to eat her own hair than indulge in such uncool, unfeminist thoughts.
I left New York in 2012 and, despite my doomy fears, had twins when I was 37. Levy and I stayed in touch by email, and although her messages became shorter and more distant, I presumed everything was fine, because she was Ari. But in 2013, I opened the New Yorker and learned that it was not.
When we meet for brunch on a cold Saturday in February, it has been five years since we last comprehend each other. Its a typical New York scene: weary and winter-pale mothers eating scrambled eggs in a trendy restaurant while their sugar-rushed toddlers play on iPads. Levy, by contrast, looks calm, happy and healthy, and not only because she has a tan from a recent five-week stay in South Africa.
If we had this conversation five months ago, I would have been in a bad way, she says, in a lilting voice that are typically sets an unspoken Oh my God! and Can you believe it? behind her terms. But Im so much less miserable Im not even miserable at all. So what the frack are we going to eat?
We are just around the corner from Levys flat, where she has expended the past year writing a memoir. This in itself is something of a surprise, because she is not usually a first-person novelist. But Levy, after negotiating her order with the waiter( Ooh, the cheddar scramble is that good? But do we have to have the creme fraiche with it? I mean, lets not ), shrugs off any concerns about self-exposure: Im pretty open book-y, you know? I never understood what the big deal is about privacy. The hardest part was realising that Id better entail what I say. The whole schtick of the book is acceptance and surrender. So after I finished writing it, I believed, Wow, I guess Id better follow my own advice now.
In 2012, Levy conceived a newborn with sperm from a friend, having overcome the reservations shed long had about parenthood. She was about to turn 38: It felt like attaining it on to a plane the moment before the gate shuts you cant help but thrill, she wrote in her 2013 New Yorker article, Thanksgiving In Mongolia.
When she was five months pregnant, she flew to Ulaanbaatar for run. Her friends were concerned but, she wrote, I liked the idea of being the kind of woman whod go to the Gobi desert pregnant. After two days of abdominal discomfort, she ran into the hotel bathroom, squatted on the floor and blacked out from the ache. When she came to, her newborn was on the floor next to her. I heard myself say out loud, This cant is all very well. But it looked good. My newborn was as fairly as a seashell, she wrote. She gazed in awe at his mouth, opening and closing, opening and closing, swallowing the new world.
She had suffered a severe placental abruption, a rare complication in which the placenta detaches from the uterus. In shock, Levy held the 19 -week foetus while blood spread across the tiles. She eventually called for help, taking a photograph of her son before the ambulance turned up. She was taken to a clinic where a kind South African doctor tended to her while she hemorrhaged and sobbed. And I knew, as surely as I now knew that I wanted small children, that this change in fortune was my fault. I had boarded a plane out of vanity and selfishness, and the dark Mongolian sky had punished me, she wrote.
Levy flew back to New York and, within two weeks, her relationship with Lucy came to an objective. For months afterwards, Levy continued to bleed and lactate: It seemed to me sorrow was leaking out of me through every orifice. She appeared obsessively at the photograph of her newborn, and tried to make others appear, too, so they could see what “shes seen” and they did not: that she was a mother who had lost her child.
Her article, which won a National Magazine Award in 2014, aims at that point, and I assumed that the end of Lucy and Levys marriage was tied to the loss of their child. In fact, that was a whole other shitshow, Levy tells now. When she returned from Mongolia, she realised through her cloud of grief that Lucy, who had struggled with alcoholism before, needed to go to rehab, poorly. The girls, still in love but too broken to support one another, separated. Today, they are in touch, but, Levy tells, There are times when one of us says, I gotta stop talking to you for a while because this is too painful. Because we are get divorced, you dont magically stop caring about each other.
The breakup is one of merely several shitshows recounted in Levys memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, which looks, in self-lacerating detail, at events in her life before she went to Mongolia, and hints at some that came as. It is not the book that many expected would follow Female Chauvinist Pigs , not least because it could be spun as a warning to women about the perils of waiting too long to have a newborn. Placental abruption, Levy writes, usually befalls women who are heavy cocaine users or who have high blood pressure. But sometimes it only happens because youre old. She doesnt go into this in the book, but Levy, who is now 42, has not been able to conceive again, despite having undergone a ridiculous amount of IVF over the past four years.
The alternative way of looking at Levys memoir is that she is dealing with a subject that feminism has never been able to resolve: the immovable boulder of fertility, butting up against female progress. Levy says she had always wanted to be a writer, so I construct my life with that as my priority; by the time she realised she also wanted to be a mom, she was in her late 30 s. She writes that she and her generation were given the lavish gift of agency by feminism, coupled with a middle-class, western sense of entitlement that resulted them to believe that anything seemed possible if you had ingenuity, money and persistence. But the body doesnt play by those rules.
Of course, this is partly about class, she says now. I dont hear women who are less privileged supposing theyre entitled to everything, whenever they want it. Thats a privilege phenomenon, but it is a phenomenon. It constructs me laugh when people say, Why dont you simply do surrogacy, or merely adopt? Believe me, there is no just about them. Surrogacy expenses $100,000 – $150,000 in the US, while adoption expenses are on average between $ 20,000 and $45,000( costs in the UK are much lower ). After the money Levy spent on IVF( A plenty. A plenty, a lot, a lot ), those options are less possible than ever.
Doomy warnings that women need to stop shillyshallying and sprog up are published in the Daily Mail every day. They are far less common from prominent feminist novelists, and Levy concurs there is no point in lecturing young lady, because it doesnt do anything, and they know it already. Theyre like, Eff you: Im busy trying to earn money and figure myself out. Its just a design flaw that, at the exact moment so many of us ultimately feel mature enough to take care of someone beside ourselves, the bodys like: Im out.
Read more: www.theguardian.com
Our daughter succumbed. Now she lives in the pages of a romantic fiction1 month, 18 days ago
In 2003, Alice Martineau was on the brink of a successful pops career when she died, aged 30, of cystic fibrosis. Now their own families have given permission for her inspiring life story to be fictionalised
In November 2014, an email pinged into Luke Martineaus inbox from Alice Peterson, person he had never heard of. Peterson explained that she was a novelist and had been inspired by the life of Lukes sister, also called Alice, who had died in 2003. She wanted to construct Alice the subject of her next novel, to recreate her in fictional kind although, obviously, she couldnt touch this without the bles of Alices family. Would they be prepared to meet?
Naturally, the Martineaus were a little wary. I wasnt sure. I couldnt imagine it, admits Liz, Luke and Alices mother. My first thought was: Would I like it?
Luke says: I did need to know who this Alice Peterson was and what her volumes were like, but chiefly I guessed: Wouldnt that be wonderful?
Alice Martineau was bear in 1972 with cystic fibrosis her parents, Liz and David, were told that her life expectancy was about 10 years.
Cystic fibrosis causes a build up of thick, sticky mucus in the lungs, digestive system and other organs, and have contributed to lung infections and reduced lung function as well as a long list of other debilitating conditions. Its inherited if both parents carry the gene, as Liz and David did, their children have a 25% opportunity of having the condition.( Luke, born two years earlier, does not have it .) Although Alice enjoyed a happy and relatively normal childhood in west London albeit with vast quantities of drug, a special diet and daily physiotherapy by her late teens and early 20 s, her illness was escalating, encroaching, fighting for space.
Despite her regime of nebulisers, intravenous antibiotics and physio, as well as regular remains at the Brompton hospital, Alice powered on, refusing to give her condition a minute more than she had to. She was unable to live independently, but her parents converted the cellar into a separate flat. She examined English literature at Kings College London, graduated with a first, then pursued a singer-songwriter career, finally landing a record deal with Sony in 2002. By then, she was on the waiting list for a triple transplant heart, lungs and liver. Alice succumbed the following year, aged 30, shortly after the release of her album Daydreams.
Back then, Peterson, only two years younger than Alice Martineau, had followed her narrative, bought her album and been saddened by her death. Fast-forward 11 years, and she was an established novelist searching for a topic when the name Alice Martineau had abruptly re-entered her head.
Read more: www.theguardian.com
Scrumdiddlyumptious! My Roald Dahl top 101 month, 25 days ago
Whose glass eye ended up in a brew mug? And how did Mrs Twit get the shrinks? Find out as our writer picks her favourite stories
Is sugar the world’s most popular narcotic? | Gary Taubes1 month, 26 days ago
The Long Read: It eases ache, seems to be addictive and demonstrates every sign of causing long-term health problems. Is it time to quit sugar for good?
Imagine a drug that can intoxicate us, can infuse us with energy and can be taken by mouth. It doesnt have to be injected, smoked, or snorted for us to experience its sublime and soothing effects. Imagine that it mixes well with virtually every food and particularly liquids, and that when given to newborns it elicits a feeling of pleasure so profound and intense that its pursuit becomes a driving force throughout their lives.
Could the savour of sugar on the tongue be a kind of poisoning? What about the possibility that sugar itself is an intoxicant, a drug? Overconsumption of this drug may have long-term side-effects, but there are none in the short term no staggering or dizziness , no slurring of speech , no passing out or drifting away , no heart palpitations or respiratory distress. When it is given to children, its effects may be only most extreme fluctuations on the apparently natural emotional rollercoaster of childhood, from the initial intoxication to the tantrums and whining of what may or may not be withdrawal a few hours later. More than anything, it constructs infants happy, at least for the period during which theyre eating it. It soothed their distress, eases their pain, focuses their attention and leaves them excited and full of elation until the dose wears off. The only downside is that children will come to expect another dosage, perhaps to demand it, on a regular basis.
How long would it be before parents took to using our imaginary drug to pacify their children when necessary, to alleviate inconvenience, to prevent outbursts of unhappiness or to distract attention? And once the narcotic became identified with pleasure, how long before it was used to celebrate birthdays, a football game, good grades at school? How long before no collect of family and friends was complete without it, before major vacations and celebrations were defined in part by the use of this medication to assure pleasure? How long would it be before the underprivileged of the world would happily spend what little money they had on this drug rather than on nutritious dinners for their families?
There is something about the experience of consuming sugar and sweets, particularly during childhood, that readily invokes the comparison to a drug. I have infants, still relatively young, and I believe creating them would be a far easier chore if sugar and sweets were not an option, if managing their sugar intake did not seem to be a constant topic in our parental responsibilities. Even those who vigorously defend the place of sugar and sweets in modern diets an innocent moment of pleasure, a salve amid the stress of life, as the journalist Tim Richardson has written acknowledge that this does not include permitting children to eat as many sweets as they want, at any time, and that most mothers will want to ration their childrens sweets.
But why is this rationing necessary? Children crave many things Pokmon cards, Star Wars paraphernalia, Dora the Explorer knapsacks and many foods savor good to them. What is it about sweets that makes them so uniquely in need of rationing?
This is of more than academic interest, because the response of entire populations to sugar has been effectively identical to that of children: once people are exposed, they eat as much sugar as they can easily procure. The primary roadblock to more consumption up to the phase where populations become obese and diabetic has tended to be availability and cost. As the price of a pound of sugar has fallen over the centuries, the amount of sugar consumed has steadily, inexorably climbed.
In 1934, while sales of sweets continued to increase during the course of its Great Depression, the New York Times commented: The Depression[ has] proved that people wanted candy, and that as long as they had any fund at all, they would buy it. During those brief periods of day during which sugar production outdid our ability to devour it, the sugar industry and purveyors of sugar-rich products have worked diligently to increase demand and, at least until recently, have succeeded.
The critical question, as the journalist and historian Charles C Mann has elegantly put it, is whether[ sugar] is actually an addictive substance, or if people simply act like it is. This topic is not easy to answer. Surely, people and populations have acted as though sugar is addictive, but science offer no definitive evidence. Until lately, nutritionists analyse sugar did so from the natural perspective of viewing it as a nutrient a carbohydrate and nothing more. They occasionally argued about whether or not it might play a role in diabetes or heart disease, but not about whether it triggered a reaction in the brain or body that induced us wishes to consume it in excess. That was not their area of interest.
The few neurologists and psychologists interested in probing the sweet-tooth phenomenon, or why we might need to ration our sugar consumption so as not to eat too much of it, did so typically from the perspective of how these sugars compared with other medications of abuse, in which existing mechanisms of craving is now relatively well understood. Lately, this comparing has received more attention as the public-health community has looked to ration our sugar intake as its own population, and has thus considered the issue that one style to regulate these sugars as with cigarettes is to establish that they are, indeed, addictive. These sugars are very probably unique in that they are both a nutrient and a psychoactive substance with some addictive characteristics.
Historians have often considers the sugar-as-a-drug metaphor to be an apt one. That sugars, particularly highly refined sucrose, render peculiar physiological impacts is well known, wrote Sidney Mintz, whose 1985 book Sweetness and Power is one of two seminal English-language histories of sugar. But these effects are neither as visible nor as long-lasting as those of alcohol or caffeinated beverages, the first use of who are capable of trigger rapid changes in respiration, heartbeat, skin colour and so on.
Mintz has argued that a primary reason sugar has escaped social disapproval is that, whatever conspicuous behavioural changes may occur when infants eat sugar, it did not cause the kind of flushing, staggering, dizziness, euphoria, changes in the pitch of the voice, slurring of speech, visibly intensified physical activity or any of the other cues associated with the ingestion of other medications. Sugar appears to cause pleasure with a price that is difficult to discern immediately and paid in full only years or decades later. With no visible, immediately noticeable consequences, as Mintz says, questions of long-term nutritive or medical consequences went unasked and unanswered. Most of us today will never know if we suffer even subtle withdrawal symptoms from sugar, because well never run long enough without it to find out.
Sugar historians consider the narcotic comparing to be fitting in part because sugar is one of a handful of medication foods, to use Mintzs term, that came out of the tropics, and on which European empires were built from the 16 th century onward the others being tea, coffee, chocolate, rum and tobacco.
Its history is intimately linked to that of these other narcotics. Rum is distilled, of course, from sugar cane. In the 17 th century, once sugar was added as a sweetener to tea, coffee and chocolate, and costs allowed it, the intake of these substances in Europe explosion. Sugar was used to sweeten spirits and wine in Europe as early as the 14 th century; even cannabis preparations in India and opium-based wines and syrups contained sugar.
As for tobacco, sugar was, and still is, a critical ingredient in the American blended-tobacco cigarette, the first of which was Camel. Its this marriage of tobacco and sugar, as a sugar-industry report described it in 1950, that builds for the mild experience of smoking cigarettes as compared with cigars and, perhaps more important, makes it possible for most of us to inhale cigarette smoke and draw it deep into our lungs.
Unlike alcohol, which was the only commonly available psychoactive substance in the old world until they arrived, sugar, nicotine and caffeine had at least some stimulating properties, and so offered a very different experience, one that was more conducive to the labour of everyday life. These were the 18 th-century equivalent of uppers, writes the Scottish historian Niall Ferguson. The empire, it might be said, building on a huge sugar, caffeine and nicotine hurry a rush nearly everyone could experience.
Sugar, more than anything, seems to have attained life worth living( as it still does) for so many, particularly those whose lives lacked the kind of pleasures that relative wealth and daily hours of leisure might otherwise offer. Sugar was an ideal substance, says Mintz. It served to make a busy life seem less so; it eased, or seemed to ease, the changes back and forth from work to rest; it provided swifter sensations of fullness or satisfaction than complex carbohydrates did; it combined with many other foods No wonder the rich and powerful liked it so much, and no wonder the poor learned to love it.
What Oscar Wilde wrote about a cigarette in 1891 might also be said about sugar: It is the perfect pleasure. It is exquisite, and it leaves one unsatisfied. What more can one want?
Children surely respond to sugar instantaneously. Give newborns a option of sugar water or plain, wrote the British physician Frederick Slare 300 years ago, and they will greedily suck down the one, and make Faces at the other: Nor will they be pleasd with Cows Milk, unless that be blessd with a little Sugar, to bring it up to the Sweetness of Breast-Milk.
‘There is no such thing as past or future’: physicist Carlo Rovelli on changing how we think about day2 months, 2 days ago
Carlo Rovelli tells Charlotte Higgins about his days as a student revolutionary and how his quantum leap began with an acid trip
What do we are all familiar with hour? Language tells us that it ” passes”, it moves like a great river, inexorably dragging us with it, and, in the end, cleans us up on its shore while it continues, unstoppable. Day flows. It moves ever forwards. Or does it? Poets also tell us that time stumbles or sneaks or slackens or even, at times, seems to stop. They tell us that the past might be inescapable, immanent in objects or people or sceneries. When Juliet is waiting for Romeo, day passes sluggishly: she longs for Phaethon to take the reins of the Sun’s chariot, since he would whip up the horses and” bring in cloudy night immediately “. When we wake from a vivid dreaming we are dimly recognizing also that the feeling of day we have just experienced is illusory.
Carlo Rovelli is an Italian theoretical physicist who wants to make the uninitiated grasp the excitement of his field. His volume Seven Brief Lessons on Physics, with its concise, sparkling essays on topics such as black holes and quantum, has sold 1.3 m copies worldwide. Now arrives The Order of Time, a dizzying, poetic work in which I received myself abandoning everything I believed I knew about time- surely the idea that it “flows”, and even that it exists at all, in any profound sense.
We meet outside the church of San Petronio in Bologna, where Rovelli studied. (” I like to say that, just like Copernicus, I was an undergraduate at Bologna and a graduate at Padua ,” he jokes .) A cheery, compact fellow in his early 60 s, Rovelli is in nostalgic mood. He lives in Marseille, where, since 2010, he has run the quantum gravitation group at the Centre de physique theorique. Before that, he was in the US, at the University of Pittsburgh, for a decade.
Jonathan Safran Foer: technology is decreasing us2 months, 20 days ago
Have you procured yourself checking email at dinner, or skipping from book to screen, unable to focus? The closer the world gets to our fingertips, the more we stand to lose
The first time my father looked at me was on a screen, utilizing technology developed to detect flaws in the hulls of ships. His father, my grandfather, could only remainder his hand on my grandmothers belly and imagine his infant in his intellect. But by the time I was conceived, my fathers imagination was provide guidance to technology that dedicated shape to sound waves rippling off my body.
The Glasgow-based Anglican obstetrician Ian Donald, who in the 1950 s helped bring ultrasound technology from shipyard to doctors office, had devoted himself to the task out of a belief that the images would increase empathy for the unborn, and attain girls less likely to choose abortions. The technology has furthermore been used, though, to make the decision to terminate a pregnancy because of deformity, because the mother wants a child of a certain sexuality. Whatever the intended and actual effects, it is clear that the now iconic black and white images of our bodies before we are born mediate life and death. But what prepares us to stimulate life-and-death decisions?
My wife and I debated learning the sex of our first infant before birth. I created the questions with my uncle, a gynaecologist “whos been” delivered more than 5,000 babies. He was prone neither to giving advice nor anything whiffing of spirituality, but he urged me, strongly , not to find out. He said, If a doctor looks at a screen and tells you, you will have information. If you find out in the moment of birth, you will have a miracle.
I dont believe in miracles, but I followed his advice, and he was right. One neednt believes in miracles to experience them. But one must be present for them.
Read more: www.theguardian.com
Isis is as much an offshoot of our global civilisation as Google3 months, 2 days ago
In the wake of terror attacks, and as Europe unravels, it feels as if we live in divided periods. But civilisation is more united than ever. The challenges facing the future climate change, AI, biotechnology will only bring us closer
Recent events in the Middle East and Europe seem to breathe fresh life into the conflict of civilisations thesis. Western incursions into the Middle East have triggered an Islamic backlash that has driven millions of Muslim refugees westwards and inspired terrorist attacks from Orlando to Nice; now the EU is unravelling as European voters abandon multicultural dreams in favour of xenophobic local identities. Allegedly, this has happened because the west has chosen to ignore the deep logic of history. According to the clash of civilisations thesis, humankind has always been is split into diverse civilisations whose members view the world in different and often irreconcilable styles. These incompatible world view stimulate conflicts between civilisations inevitable, and these conflicts in turn fuel long-term historical processes. Just as in nature different species fight for survival, so throughout history civilisations are systematically clashed, and merely the fittest have survived. Those who overlook this grim fact do so at their peril.
The clash of civilisations thesis has far-reaching political implications. Its supporters contend that any endeavor at reconciliation among the west and the Muslim world is doomed to failure. They further maintain that the EU can work only if it renounces the multicultural fallacy in favour of an unabashed western identity. In the long run, only one culture can survive the unforgiving tests of natural selection, and if the EU refuses to save western civilization from Islamic State and its ilk, Britain had better go it alone.
Though widely held, this thesis is mislead. Isis may indeed pose a radical challenge, but the civilisation it challenges is a global civilisation rather than a uniquely western phenomenon. Not for nothing has Isis managed to unite Iran with the United States, and to make rare common ground between Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu and Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. And even Isis, for all its medieval rhetoric, is grounded in contemporary global culture far more than in seventh-century Arabia; it caters to the fears and hopes of alienated, postmodern youth rather than to those of medieval shepherds and merchants. In pure organisational words, Isis has more in common with a large corporation like Google than with the Umayyad caliphate. The surest sign of a real clash of civilisations is reciprocal incomprehension. Isis, in contrast, sees its enemies only too well otherwise, its propaganda would not have been so effective. It is better, hence, to see Isis as an errant outgrowth of the global culture we all share, rather than as a branch of some mysterious alien tree.
Crucially, the analogy between history and biology that underpins the conflict of civilisations thesis is false. Human groups including human civilisations are basically different from animal species, and historic conflicts differ greatly from natural selection processes. Animal species have objective identities that suffer for thousands of generations. Whether you are a chimpanzee or a gorilla depends on your genes rather than your notions, and different genes dictate diverse social behaviour. Chimpanzees live in mixed groups of males and females. They compete for power by building coalitions of supporters among both sexualities. Among gorillas, in contrast, a single dominant male establishes a harem of females, and usually expels any adult male that might challenge his position. As far as we know, the same social systems have characterised chimps and gorillas not only in recent decades, but for hundreds of thousands of years.
You find nothing like that among humans. Yes, human groups may have distinct social systems, but these are not genetically ascertained, and they seldom endure for more than a few centuries. Think of 20th-century Germans, for example. In fewer than 100 years, the Germans organised themselves into six most varied systems: the Hohenzollern empire, the Weimar republic, the Third Reich, Communist East Germany, the federal republic of West Germany, and finally democratic reunited Germany. Of course they kept their language and love of beer. But is there some unique German essence that recognise their country from all other nations, and that has remained unchanged from Wilhelm II to Angela Merkel? And if you do come up with something, was it also there back in the working day of Goethe, of Martin Luther and of Frederick Barbarossa?
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‘He took sex to the point of oblivion’: Tracey Emin on her hero Egon Schiele3 months, 9 days ago
His work was once rejected as porn. But the ache, anger and sex frustration in Egon Schieles writhing nudes electrified Tracey Emins adolescence and devoted her special purposes that has never waned. She talks our novelist through his stormiest work
Thats quite rude, says Tracey Emin as we look through the drawings of Egon Schiele. Shes laying on her elbows with her mouth on her arm, almost like shes got to bite her limb to keep her mouth shut, and shes got her arse in the air and her legs are open. Shes got her dress falling down over her breast, her hairs tousled … Having sexuality to the point of oblivion, so theres no return. Thats what that looks like. And thats what makes it really good.
This is a tale of two artists. One is an Austrian expressionist in Sigmund Freuds Vienna at the start of the 20 th century, who have succeeded in shock even its refined erotic sensibilities with the stark sensuality of his images. The other is a adolescent in 1970 s Margate, whose first encounter with said artist, Schiele, was one of the most inspiring events of her life.
It was so clear what he was trying to say, recalls Emin as we sit in her studio in Spitalfields, east London, surrounded by her visceral paints. “Its about” sex frustration, this is about anger, “its about” being fucked up, “its about” being confused. So, in a manner that is, it was probably quite adolescent, you know? Its a little bit like Sylvia Plath, or anything that a moody 14 -year-old would grab hold of. I was looking for something to identify with, because I knew that I was different from other people.
The previous year, as she records in her memoir Strangeland , she had stopped going to school, instead floating between cafes and bars, drinking cider and lying on the beach. In this wayward adolescence in a rundown English seaside town, Schiele gave her direction, the objectives and a sense of who she might become. He was my idea of an artist, she says.
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Keep Calm and Carry On- the sinister message behind the slogan that seduced the nation3 months, 15 days ago
It is on posters, mugs, tea towels and in headlines. Harking back to a blitz spirit and an age of public service, Keep Calm and Carry On has become ubiquitous. How did a cosy, middle-class joke assume darker connotations?
To get some sense of just what a ogre it has become, try counting the number of days in a week you see some permutation of the Keep Calm and Carry On poster. In the last few days Ive watched it twice as a poster advertising a pub New Years Eve party, several times in souvenir shops, in a photograph accompanying a Guardian article on the imminent doctors ten-strike( Keep Calm and Save the NHS ) and as the subject of too many internet memes to count. Some were related to the floods a flagrantly opportunistic Liberal Democrat poster, with Keep Calm and Survive Floods, and the somewhat more mordant Keep Calm and Make a Photo of Floods. Then there were those related to Islamic State: Keep Calm and Fight Isis on the standard red background with the crown above; and Keep Calm and Support Isis on a black background, with the crown replaced by the Isis logo. Around eight years after it started to appear, it has become quite possibly the most successful meme in history. And, unlike most memes, it has been astonishingly enduring, a canvas on to which practically anything can be projected while retaining a sense of ironic reassurance. It is the ruling insignium of an era that is increasingly defined by austerity nostalgia.
I can pinpoint the precise moment at which I realised that what had seemed a typically, somewhat insufferably, English phenomenon had gone completely and inescapably global. I was going into the flagship Warsaw branch of the Polish department store Empik and there, just past the revolving doors, was a collecting of notebooks, mouse pads, diaries and the like, featuring a familiar English sans serif font, white on red, topped with the crown, in English 😛 TAGEND
It felt like confirmation that the image had entered the pantheon of truly global design icons. As an image, it was now up there alongside Rosie the Riveter, the muscular female munitions employee in the US second world war propaganda image; as easily identifiable as the headscarved Lily Brik bellowing BOOKS! on Rodchenkos famous poster. As a logo, it was nearly as recognisable as Coca-Cola or Apple. How had this happened? What was it that attained the image so popular? How did it manage to grow from a minor English middle-class cult object into an international brand, and what exactly was meant by carry on? My hypothesi had been that the combination of message and design were inextricably tied up with a plethora of English obsessions, from the blitz spirit, through to the cults of the BBC, the NHS and the 1945 postwar consensus. Also contained in this bundle of signifiers was the enduring pretension of an extremely rich( if shoddy and dilapidated) country, the sadomasochistic Toryism imposed by the coalition government of 201015, and its presentation of austerity in a manner so brutal and moralistic that it almost seemed to luxuriate in its own parsimony. Some or none of these believes may have been in the heads of the customers at Empik buying their published tea towels, or they may have just thought it was funny. However, few images of the last decade are quite so riddled with ideology, and few historical documents are quite so spectacularly false.
The Keep Calm and Carry On poster was not mass-produced until 2008. It is a historical object of a very peculiar sort. By 2009, when it had first become tremendously popular, it seemed to respond to a particularly English malaise connected immediately with the way Britain reacted to the credit crunch and the banking accident. From this moment of crisis, it tapped into an already established narrative about Britains finest hour the aerial Battle of Britain in 1940 -4 1 when it was the only country left fighting the Third Reich. This was a moment of entirely indisputable and apparently uncomplicated national valour, one that Britain has clung to through thick and thin. Even during the high levels of the boom, as the critical theorist Paul Gilroy flags up in his 2004 volume, After Empire , the blitz and the victory were frequently invoked, constructed necessary by the need to get back to the place or moment before the country lost its moral and cultural bearings. The years 1940 and 1945 were obsessive repeatings, anxious and melancholic, morbid fetishes, clung to as a means of not thinking about other aspects of recent British history most obviously, its empire. This has only intensified since the financial crisis began.
The blitz spirit has been exploited by politicians largely since 1979. When Thatcherites and Blairites spoke of hard selections and muddling through, they often elicited the memories of 1941. It served to legitimate regimes that constantly was contended that, despite appearances to the contrary, resources were scarce and there wasnt enough money to go around; the most persuasive way of explaining why someone( else) was inevitably going to suffer. Ironically, however, this rhetoric of sacrifice was oftens combined with a demand that consumers enrich themselves buy their house, get a new automobile, stimulate something of themselves, aspire. Thus, by 200708, when the no return to boom and bust promised by Gordon Brown appeared to be abortive( despite the success of his very 1940 s alternative of nationalising the banks and thus saving capitalism ), the image started to become popular. It is worth noting that soon after this point, a brief series of protests were being policed in increasingly ferocious ways. The authorities were allowed to make use of the apparatus of security and surveillance, and the proliferation of prevention of terrorism statutes set up under the New Labour governments of 19972010, to combat any sign of disagreement. In this context the poster became ever more ubiquitous, and, peculiarly, after 2011, it began to be used in what few protests remained, in an only mildly subverted form.
The Keep Calm and Carry On poster seemed to represent all the contradictions produced by a intake economy attempting to adapt itself to thrift, and to normalise surveillance and security through an ironic, depoliticised aesthetic. Out of apparently nowhere, this image blending bare, faintly modernist typography with the consoling logo of the crown and a similarly reassuring message spread everywhere. I first noticed its ubiquity in the winter of 2009, when the poster appeared in dozens of windows in affluent London districts such as Blackheath during the prolonged snowy period and the attendant breakdown of National Rail; the implied message about hardiness in the face of adversity and the blitz spirit looked rather absurd in the context of a dusting of snow crippling the railway system. The poster seemed to exemplify a design phenomenon that had slowly crept up on us to the point where it became unavoidable. It is best described as austerity nostalgia. This aesthetic took the form of a yearning for the various kinds of public modernism that, rightly or incorrectly, was ensure to have characterised the period from the 1930 s to the early 1970 s; it could just as easily exemplify a more straightforwardly conservative longing for security and stability in hard times.
Unlike many forms of nostalgia, the memory invoked by the Keep Calm and Carry On poster is not based on lived experience. Most of those who have bought this poster, or worn the various pouches, T-shirts and other memorabilia based on it, were probably born in the 1970 s or 1980 s. They have no memory whatsoever of the various kinds of benevolent statism the slogan purports to exemplify. In that sense, the poster is an example of the phenomenon given a capsule definition by Douglas Coupland in 1991: legislated nostalgia, that is, to force a body of people to have memories they do not actually possess. However, there is more to it than that. No one who was around at the time, unless they had worked at government departments of the Ministry of Information, for which the poster was designed, would have watched it. In fact, before 2008, few had ever seen the words Keep Calm and Carry On displayed in a public place.
The poster was designed in 1939, but its official website, which sells a variety of Keep Calm and Carry On merchandise, states that it never became an official propaganda poster; instead, a handful were printed on a test basis. The specific purpose of the poster was to stiffen resolve in the event of a Nazi intrusion, and it was one in a set of three. The two others, which followed the same design principles, were 😛 TAGEND
and 😛 TAGEND
Both of these were published up, and YOUR COURAGE was widely displayed during the course of its blitz, given that the feared intrusion did not take place after the German defeat in the Battle of Britain. You can see one on a billboard in the background of the last scene of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburgers 1943 film, The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp , when the ageing, reactionary but charming soldier detects his home in Belgravia bombed. Of the three proposals, KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON was discarded after the test print. Perhaps, this was because it was considered less appropriate to the conditions of the blitz than to the mass panic expected in the event of a German ground invasion. The other posters were heavily criticised. The social research project Mass Observation recorded many furious reactions to the patronising tone of YOUR COURAGE and its implied distinction between YOU, the common person, and US, the state to be defended. Anthony Burgess later claimed it was rage at posters like this that helped Labour win such an enormous landslide in the 1945 election. We can be fairly sure that if KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON had been mass-produced, it would have infuriated those who were being implored to be pacify. Wrenched out of this context and exhumed in the 21 st century, however, the poster appears to flatter, rather than hector, the public it is aimed at.
One of the few test printings of the poster was found in a consignment of secondhand books bought at auction by Barter Books in Alnwick, Northumberland, which then generated the first reproductions. First sold in London by the shop at the Victoria and Albert Museum, it became a middlebrow staple when the recession, initially merely the somewhat euphemistic credit crunch, hit. Through this poster, the way to display ones commitment to the new austerity regime was to buy more consumer goods, albeit with a less garish aesthetic than was customary during the course of its boom. This was similar to the Keep calm and carry on shopping commanded by George W Bush both after September 11 and when the sub-prime crisis hit America. The wartime utilize of this rhetoric escalated during the economic commotion in the UK; witness the motto of the 2010 -1 5 coalition government, Were all in this together. The power of Keep Calm and Carry On comes from a yearning for an actual or imaginary English patrician attitude of stiff upper lips and muddling through. This is, however, something that largely survives merely in the popular imagination, in a country devoted to services and intake, where elections are decided on the basis of house-price value, and given to sudden, mawkish outpourings of sentiment. The poster isnt just a occurrence of the return of the repressed, it is rather the return of repression itself. It is a nostalgia for the state of being repressed solid, stoic, public spirited, as opposed to the depoliticised, hysterical and privatised reality of Britain over the last 30 years.
At the same time as it evokes a sense of loss over the decline of an idea of Britain and the British, it is both reassuring and flattering, connoting a virtuous( if highly self-aware) customer stoicism. Of course, in the end, it is a bit of a gag: you dont genuinely think your pay cut or your childrens inability to buy a home, or the fact that someone somewhere else has been stimulated homeless because of the bedroom taxation, or lost their benefit, or worked on a zero-hours contract, is truly comparable to life during the blitz but its all a little bit of fun, isnt it?
The Keep Calm and Carry On poster is merely the tip of an iceberg of austerity nostalgia. Although early examples of the mood can be seen as a reaction to the threat of terrorism and the allegedly attendant blitz spirit, it has become an increasingly prevalent response to the uncertainties of economic collapse. Interestingly, one of the first areas in which this happened was the consumption of food, an activity closely connected with the immediate gratification of longings. Along with the blitz came rationing, which was not fully abolished until the mid-1 950 s. Accounts of this vary; its egalitarianism meant that while the middle classes experienced a drastic decline in the quality and sum of their diet, for many of the poor it was a minor improvement. Either way, it was a grim regime, aided by the emergence of various types of byproducts and replaces Spam, corned beef which stuck around in the already famously dismal British diet for some time, before mass immigration gradually attained feeing in Britain a less awful experience. In the process, entire aspects of British cuisine the sort of thing listed by George Orwell in his essay In Defence of English Cooking such as suet dumplings, Lancashire hotpot, Yorkshire pudding, roast dinners, faggots, spotted dick and toad in the hole began to disappear, at the least from the metropoles.
The figure of importance here is the Essex-born multimillionaire chef and Winston Churchill fan, Jamie Oliver. Clearly as decent and sincere a person as youll discover on the Sunday Times Rich List, his various crusades for good food, and the manner in which he marketplaces them, are inadvertently telling. After his initial reputation as a New Labourera star, a relatively young and Beckham-coiffed celebrity chef, his main concern( aside from a massive chain-restaurant empire that stretches from Greenwich Market in London to the Hotel Moskva in Belgrade) has been to take good food locally sourced, cooked from scratch from being a preserve of the middle classes and bring it to the disadvantaged and socially omitted of inner-city London, ex-industrial towns, mining villages and other places slashed and burned by 30 -plus years of Thatcherism. The first version of this was the TV series Jamies School Dinners , in which a camera crew documented him trying to influence the school meals choices of a comprehensive in Kidbrooke, a poor, and lately almost totally demolished, district in south-east London. Notoriously, this campaign was virtually thwarted by moms bringing their kids fizzy drinkings and burgers that they pushed through the fencings so that they wouldnt “re going to have to” suffer that healthy eating muck.
The second phase was the book, TV series and chain of shops branded as the Ministry of Food. The name is taken immediately from the wartime ministry charged with managing the rationed food economy of war-torn Britain. Use the assistance of a few public bodies, setting up a charity, pouring in some coalfield regeneration fund and some money of his own, Oliver planned to teach the proletariat to make itself real food with real ingredients. One could argue that he was the latest in a long line of people lecturing the lower orders on their choice of nutrition, part of an immense building of grotesque neo-Victorian arrogance that has included former Channel 4 displays How Clean Is Your House ?, Benefits Street and Immigration Street , exercises in Lets laugh at picturesque prole scum. But Oliver get in there, and got his hands dirty.
However, the tale ended in a predictable manner: attempts to build this charitable action into something permanent and institutional foundered on the disinclination of any plausible British government to antagonise the supermarkets and sundry manufacturers who funnel fund to the two main political parties. The appeal to a time when things such as food and information were apparently dispensed by a benign paternalist bureaucracy, before customer choice carried all before it, can only be translated into the infrastructure of charity and PR, which is something we learn what happens over a few weeks during a Tv indicate and then keep forgetting it. A permanent network of Ministry of Food stores pop-ups that taught cooking skills and had a mostly voluntary staff were set up in the north of England in Bradford, Leeds, Newcastle and Rotherham, though the latter was forced to temporarily close following health and safety concerns in June 2013, reopening in September 2014.
Much more influential than this up by your bootstraps attempt to do a TV/ charity version of the welfare nation was the ministrys aesthetics. On the cover-up of the tie-in cookbook, Oliver sits at a table lay with a 1940 s utility tablecloth in front of some bleakly cute postwar wallpaper, and MINISTRY OF FOOD is declared in that same derivative of Gill Sans typeface used on the Keep Calm and Carry On poster. This is familiar territory. There is a whole micro-industry of austerity nostalgia aimed straight-out at the stomach. There is Olivers own chain of Jamies restaurants, which allows you order pork scratchings for PS4( they come with a side of English mustard) and enjoy neo-Victorian lavatories. Beyond Olivers empire, middle-class operations such as the caterers Peyton and Byrne blend the sort of retro food common across the western world( lots of cupcakes) with elaborated versions of simple English grub including sausage and mash. Some of the interiors of their cafe( such as the one in Mends on Tottenham Court Road in central London) were designed by architects FAT in a pop spin on the faintly lavatorial institutional design common to the surviving fragments of genuine 1940 s Britain that can still be found scattered around the UK pie and mash shops in Deptford in south-east London, ice-cream parlors in Worthing in Sussex, Glasgows dingier tavern, all featuring lots of wipe-clean tiles.
Other versions of this are more luxurious, such as Dinner, where Heston Blumenthal provides typically quirky English food as part of the attractions of One Hyde Park, the most expensive housing development on Earth. Something similar is offered at Canteen, which has branches in Londons Royal Festival Hall, Canary Wharf and after its scorched-earth gentrification courtesy of the Corporation of London and Norman Foster Spitalfields Market. Canteen serves Great British Food, brews, ciders and perrys[ that] represent our countrys brewing history and cocktails the hell is British-led. The interior design is clearly part of the appeal, offering a strange, luxurious version of a work canteen, with benches, trays and sans serif signs that aim to be both modernist and nostalgic. It presents the incongruous sight of the very comfortable eating and imagining themselves in the dining hall of a branch of Tyrrell& Green circa 1960. Still more bizarre is Albion, a greengrocer for oligarchs, selling traditional English make to the denizens of Neo Bankside, the Richard Rogers-designed towers alongside Tate Modern. Built into the ground floor of one of the towers, it sells its unpretentious fruit and veg next to posters advertising flats that start at the knock-down price of PS2m.
Closer to reality as lived by most people is a mobile app called the Ration Book. On its website, it gives you a crash course on rationing, when the government made assured that in the face of deficit and blockade the population could still get lifes essentials in the form of the famous volume, with its postages to get X amount of dried egg, flour, pollock and Spam. It is an app that aggregates discounts on various brands via voucher codes for those facing the crunch the people the unfortunate Ed Miliband tried to reach out to as the squeezed middle. The website countries: Our squad of Ministers broker the best deals with the biggest brands, to give you the best value. Is there any better way of describing the UK in the second decade of the 21 st century than as the sort of country that produces apps to simulate state rationing of basic goods, simply to shave a little bit off the price of high street brands?
This food-based austerity nostalgia is one way in which peoples peculiar longing for the 1940 s is conveyed; much more can be found in music and design. Stroll into the shops at the Royal Festival Hall or the Imperial War Museum in London, and you will find an avalanche of it. Posters from the 1940 s, playthings and bangles , none of them later than around 1965, have been resurrected from the dustbin of history and to be laid down for you to buy, along with austerity cookbooks, the Design series of volumes on pre-1 960 s iconic graphic artists such as Abram Game, David Gentleman and Eric Ravilious, plus a whole cornucopia of Keep Calm-related accoutrements. A particularly established example is the use of the 1930 s Penguin book encompasses as a logo for all manner of goods, purposely calling to intellect Penguins mid-century role as a substantially educative publisher. Then there are all those prints of modernist buildings, “re ready for” Londoners to frame and place in their ex-council flats in zone 2 or 3: reduced, stark blow-ups of the outlines of modernist architecture, whether demolished( the Trinity Square car park in Gateshead seen in Get Carter ) or protected( Londons National Theatre ). The plate-making company, People Will Always Need Plates, has made a name for itself with its towels, mugs, plates and badges emblazoned with different British modernist houses from the 1930 s to the 1960 s, elegantly redrawn in a bold, schematic sort that sidesteps the often rather shabby reality of the buildings. By recreating the image of the historically untainted build, it manages to precisely reverse the original modernist ethos. If for Adolf Loos and generations of modernist designers adornment was crime, here modernist builds are built into ornaments. Still, the choice of buildings is politically interesting. Blocks of 1930 s collective housing, 1960 s council flats, interwar London Underground stations precisely the sort of architectural projects now considered obsolete in favour of retail and property speculation.
Many of the buildings immortalised in these plates have been the subject of direct transfers of assets from the public sector into the private. The reclamation of postwar modernist architecture by the intelligentsia has been a contributory factor in the privatisation of social housing. An early instance of this was the sell-off of Keeling House, Denys Lasduns east London Cluster Block, to a private developer, who promptly marketed the flats to creatives. A series of gentrifications of modernist social housing followed, from the Brunswick Centre in Bloomsbury( turned from a rotting brutalist megastructure into the home of one of the largest branches of Waitrose in London ), to Park Hill, an architecturally extraordinary council estate in Sheffield, given away free to the Mancunian developer Urban Splash, whose own favouring of compact flats has long been an example of austerity sold as luxury although after the boom, its privatisation scheme had to be bailed out by millions of pounds in public fund. Another favourite on mugs and tea towels is Balfron Tower, a council tower block about to be sold to wealthy investors for its iconic quality. It is here, where the rage for 21 st-century austerity chic meets the results of austerity as practised in the 1940 s and 1950 s, that a mildly creepy fad spills over into much darker territory. In aiding the sell-off of one of the greatest achievements of that era the housing built by a universal welfare state the revival of austerity chic is the literal extermination of the thing it claims to love.
The Ministry of Nostalgia by Owen Hatherley is published by Verso( PS14. 99 ). To order a copy for PS11. 99, going to see bookshop.theguardian.com or call 0330 333 6846. Free UK p& p over PS10, online orders only. Telephone orders min. p& p of PS1. 99.
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