roger ballen boarding house
July 24, 2009, 6:44 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: ,

carlo gianferro roma interiors
July 24, 2009, 5:55 pm
Filed under: departure lounge | Tags: ,

From lens culture: photography and shared territories.

Roma Interiors is a collection of portraits capturing the sedate and decorous intimacy of an outwardly loud and gregarious group.

Carlo Gianferro has discovered a profound – almost religious – ethnic performance enacted by proud and wealthy Roma people deep within their own private quarters; staged amidst ancient furniture, tapestries, paintings, sacred icons, porcelains, stairs, mirrors, and so much more. Their accumulated wealth is demonstrably on display as prestige items in their palatial homes and villas, distributed throughout expansive rooms and in corridors and foyers leading to and from them – and yet abruptly offset by empty spaces awaiting to be filled.

Pictures of women sitting on elegant sofas or painted in familiar moments, young men lying on beds in luxurious rooms, old women lost in memories, proud parents admiring their children. Portraits of people wanting to demonstrate they have found and built a place to live and the future in our society without losing gypsy values that their ancestors verbally and with all their heart handed down.

These are unprecedented portraits of a long underground and secretive society suddenly and mysteriously willing to surface and make an extravagant ritual announcement to the outside world of their material achievement and affluence.


the power and the dishonesty
July 21, 2009, 10:52 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , ,

Here is the definition of nationalism from George Orwell’s famous essay Notes on Nationalism written at the close of the second world war in 1945.  Sixty years on now and it’s still the defining quality of our times, so perhaps now we should just state that nationalism is viral or perennial or human.

There are a number of ideas in these paragraphs that are worth understanding.  The craziness of taking on the project of human classification; the madness of naming them good and evil.  The willful and total subsumation of the person into the work for more power.  The ability to finely balance hunger for power and delusion.

By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But secondly — and this is much more important — I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognising no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.


A nationalist is one who thinks solely, or mainly, in terms of competitive prestige. He may be a positive or a negative nationalist — that is, he may use his mental energy either in boosting or in denigrating — but at any rate his thoughts always turn on victories, defeats, triumphs and humiliations. He sees history, especially contemporary history, as the endless rise and decline of great power units, and every event that happens seems to him a demonstration that his own side is on the upgrade and some hated rival is on the downgrade. But finally, it is important not to confuse nationalism with mere worship of success. The nationalist does not go on the principle of simply ganging up with the strongest side. On the contrary, having picked his side, he persuades himself that it is the strongest, and is able to stick to his belief even when the facts are overwhelmingly against him. Nationalism is power-hunger tempered by self-deception. Every nationalist is capable of the most flagrant dishonesty, but he is also — since he is conscious of serving something bigger than himself — unshakeably certain of being in the right.

-From Notes on Nationalism by George Orwell, 1945

sam taylor-wood suspended
July 18, 2009, 7:18 pm
Filed under: unseen world | Tags: , ,

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From three series by Sam Taylor-Wood: Bram Stoker’s Chair, Self Portrait Suspended, and Escape Artist.
From White Cube Gallery London.

the bastard aims of desire

In this passage from the introduction to Built Upon Love by Alberto Perez-Gomez, we read that our pursuit of happiness, and our faith in technology and progress have removed us from living in our real place:  our flesh and blood bodies, with thoughts of reason and immortality and, ultimately love.  We deny love and, says Perez-Gomez, love is crucial to our humanity.

Modern Western civilization takes for granted a quest to pursue individual happiness and freedom.  It is driven by what it perceives as a ‘natural’ right to seek pleasure and avoid pain, a fundamental accomplishment of democracy brought about by the political revolutions at the end of the eighteenth century.  For a hedonistic culture, architecture’s vocation is to ensure the greatest pleasure and least pain for each individual.  Our technological building practices, even when mindful of ecological responsibility of claiming high artistic aspirations, still pursue a functionalist utopia in which all desires are fulfilled through material means, eliminating all irritants and always aiming at greater economy and comfort:  maximum efficiency, economy, commodity, and entertainment value.  Consumption and possession prevail as the bastard aims of desire.  Their overwhelming presence in contemporary life enhances our propensity to forget that we are our mortal bodies whose very flesh is also that of the world, a common element that grants the light of reason and immortal thoughts, while pulling us down into the darkness of the earth.  We forget that love and death, pleasure and pain are inextricably linked through our embodied consciousness.  We go even further and tend to deny the very existence of love (as technology may wish to deny the existence of death).  Fragmented into multiple emotions in our materialistic culture, the cynic and intellectual alike have trouble acknowledging love in view of our modern difficulty to grasp it as a gift, often contradictory since it is beyond the rules of economic transactions.  My wager, with Jose Ortega y Gasset and Jean-Luc Marion, is that love not only exists but is crucial to our humanity; that despite its contradictions it is of a piece, and can indeed be spoken about.

Alberto Perez-Gomez, Built Upon Love

if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you

Author Terry Eagleton takes to task Ditchkins – his name for the two headed beast:  Hitchens and Dawkins, who have been churning out books in support of atheism and reason and challenging the idea of God.  Eagleton illuminates Christian faith from a left perspective which serves to balance out all of the crapola about God that you get over here in this center right nation.  He talks about the blood and radicalism and necessary death of faith, and leaves out the riches and mansions:  Darwin is a child with a silly addicting dream, he says.  Without equivocation he tells us that to love is to live and if you really love, people will want to kill you.  Without equivocation, that this is the central truth.

The whole article is worth reading; here it is.

Here is the excerpt –

Jesus hung out with whores and social outcasts, was remarkably casual about sex, disapproved of the family (the suburban Dawkins is a trifle queasy about this), urged us to be laid-back about property and possessions, warned his followers that they too would die violently, and insisted that the truth kills and divides as well as liberates. He also cursed self-righteous prigs and deeply alarmed the ruling class.

The Christian faith holds that those who are able to look on the crucifixion and live, to accept that the traumatic truth of human history is a tortured body, might just have a chance of new life – but only by virtue of an unimaginable transformation in our currently dire condition. This is known as the resurrection. Those who don’t see this dreadful image of a mutilated innocent as the truth of history are likely to be devotees of that bright-eyed superstition known as infinite human progress, for which Dawkins is a full-blooded apologist. Or they might be well-intentioned reformers or social democrats, which from a Christian standpoint simply isn’t radical enough.

The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you. Here, then, is your pie in the sky and opium of the people. It was, of course, Marx who coined that last phrase; but Marx, who in the same passage describes religion as the ‘heart of a heartless world, the soul of soulless conditions’, was rather more judicious and dialectical in his judgment on it than the lunging, flailing, mispunching Dawkins.

Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching, Terry Eagleton, The London Review of Books


author:  Terry Eagleton

essay: Lunging, Flailing, Mispunching,

journal: The London Review of Books

tierney gearon explosure
July 12, 2009, 10:23 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: ,

Two images from Tierney Gearon’s show Explosure at the Phillips de Pury and Company gallery in London last year.

Frame 13 is Goldilocks, innocence and the bears in a verdant wood, by a lake in the mountains.  Frame 18 is looking through time and perhaps not understanding what you will become – from innocence, through a glass to adult preoccupation.

They are beautiful collages about memory and childhood accomplished by double exposure and transparency.

your food is smarter than you
July 12, 2009, 4:36 pm
Filed under: brave new world | Tags: , , , ,

These are excerpts from Michael Pollan’s No Bar Code essay in which he talks to Joel Salatin of Polyface farms.

You know you’re in trouble when your food is smarter than you.  Smashing metaphor:  a lack of knowledge of the world – the loving inward gaze – could very well be the source of bad diet!  We won’t travel to see the world – who needs to see the world? – but we’ll ship the goods from hell’s half acre over here so we can eat it.

Our food is well traveled; it’s also sold to us as a quantity, with no mention of value.  Like the movies.  We don’t care how good the movie is, just how much it makes at the box office.  Likewise, we’re sold the piece of fruit’s price and weight, never nutrition or production or farm information.  As long as it looks like an apple and I can eat loads of them in and out of season, who cares what it tastes like?  Or how many chemicals are keeping it from turning to mush in my hand?

Here are Michael Pollan’s comments on how in food, quantity always trumps quality and how we have come to this state by general public ignorance:

The typical fruit or vegetable on an American’s plate travels some 1,500 miles to get there, and is frequently better traveled and more worldly than its eater.


When you think about it, it is odd that something as important to our health and general well-being as food is so often sold strictly on the basis of price. Look at any supermarket ad in the newspaper and all you will find in it are quantities–pounds and dollars; qualities of any kind are nowhere to be found. The value of relationship marketing is that it allows many kinds of information besides price to travel up and down the food chain: stories as well as numbers, qualities as well as quantities, values rather than “value.” And as soon as that happens, people begin to make different kinds of buying decisions, motivated by criteria other than price. But instead of stories about how it was produced accompanying our food, we get bar codes–as illegible as the industrial food chain itself, and a fair symbol of its almost total opacity.

Much of our food system depends on our not knowing much about it, beyond the price disclosed by the checkout scanner; cheapness and ignorance are mutually reinforcing. And it’s a short way from not knowing who’s at the other end of your food chain to not caring–to the carelessness of both producers and consumers that characterizes our economy today. Of course, the global economy couldn’t very well function without this wall of ignorance and the indifference it breeds. This is why the American food industry and its international counterparts fight to keep their products from telling even the simplest stories–“dolphin safe,” “humanely slaughtered,” etc.–about how they were produced. The more knowledge people have about the way their food is produced, the more likely it is that their values–and not just “value”–will inform their purchasing decisions.

Michael Pollan, No Bar Code, Mother Jones

continental abyss

This is from Simon Critchley’s Continental Philosophy: A Very Short Introduction which describes the differences and similarities between continental and British – also called analytic – systems of thought.

I’m just back from a trip to London and Paris and found the two cities to be radically different; I am convinced the forms of the cities derive directly from their philosophies.

Critchley seems to be saying – you know I don’t really know! – that there is a gap – a gaping one – between merely finding solutions – as Thatcher seems prone to do in the excerpt below – and finding a way toward a well lived life.  The British tradition tends to separate these ideas – with ultimately reductive results, whereas the Continental joins them in a kind of enriching critique of life.

Here is Simon Critchley –

On 5 October 1999, when pressed for her current views on the prospect of a European union, Margaret Thatcher remarked, ‘All the problems in my lifetime have come from Continental Europe, all the solutions have come from the English-speaking world.’  Despite its evident falsehood, this statement expresses a deep truth:  namely, that for many inhabitants of the English-speaking world, and indeed for some living outside it, there is a real divide between their world and the societies, languages, political systems, traditions, and geography of Continental Europe.  British politics, especially but by no means exclusively on the right, is defined in terms of the distinction between ‘Europhobes’ and ‘Europhiles,’ known to their opponents as ‘Eurosceptics’ and ‘Eurofanatics’ respectively.  That is, there is a cultural distinction, some would say a divide – perhaps even an abyss – between the ‘Continental’ and whatever opposes it, what Baroness Thatcher, in tones deliberately reminiscent of Winston Churchill, calls ‘the English-speaking world.’


There is a gap in much philosophy between theoretical questions of how one knows what one knows, and more practical or existential questions of what it might mean to lead a good or fulfilled life.


the cultural life in the English-speaking world is marked by a divide between science, on the one hand, and literature and humane understanding on the other.