Category Archives: politics


“They’re so wonderful: after all that’s happened, with all the war and poverty, they still have hope.” L hates it when people from rich countries talk about people in poor countries like that. What’s so great about hope? she says. It’s just like religion: put up with the crap now because it’ll be all right after you’re dead and you can go and sit on a fluffy cloud for the rest of time. Continue reading Hope

Heart of Darkness

I love Joseph Conrad’s writing. So I’ve always been disturbed to hear that people think Heart of Darkness is racist. I first read it years ago, and I remembered that black people don’t get a very flattering portrayal in the book, but I thought that if you gave Conrad the benefit of the doubt it wasn’t that unflattering either; and anyway, the book was about Europeans; and although anyone would of course at first assume that the heart of darkness was something to be found in Africa, it was really, as I remembered it, in those Europeans – in particular, the European city like a white sepulchre in which the narrative ends.

Then someone whose opinions on most things I trust read it for herself and said its racist reputation was horribly justified. Continue reading Heart of Darkness

Curating Architecture

Bringing together [how? Are buildings being transported girder by girder and paintings DHLed to some crossdisciplinary ground zero in New Cross?] artistic and architectural projects by distinguished [the guarantee of quality, the answer to the question “Why should we be interested?” They are Distinguished. But what distinguishes them? And from what? How far are they from being undistinguished?] international [so they practice in different countries? Or do they live in different countries? And is this a good thing?] practitioners, Curating Architecture focuses on the relationship between architecture as an increasingly influential [c’mon, when has architecture not been a very influential aesthetic practice?] (and dominantly transdisciplinary [wow. Architecture crosses disciplines in a dominant manner. What is a dominant manner of crossing disciplines? And which disciplines are you talking about? And is that where we’re at now, still talking about learning and authority as things that are needed for admission to the categories of aesthetic practice? And there are too many adverbs here]) aesthetic practice [now I’m thinking of someone playing tennis in a particularly graceful way, probably with blond hair backlit by sunshine. I blame over-use of “practice” and its derivatives] and the complex claims [what are these claims and why are they complex] on public and institutional [now, again, which institutions are we talking about? State-funded groups of people working together for particular ends? Or any organised labour unit? Or simply a function that transcends what is done by individuals? Or the kind of institution that people used to say other people they thought had psychological problems should be in?] space [I’m not so naive as to think you’re just thinking about the primary meaning of this, the stuff that has three dimensions and can be measured by a ruler, although that’s what “public space” normally refers to – parks, for instance. The fact that your space can also be “institutional” makes me think you’re talking of some immaterial, conceptual space, such as a field of study. But then institutional, let alone public space becomes a little too big to be a useful idea – everything to do with an institution, everything to do with the public, in other words, everything to do with everyone. I wonder if “people and institutions” might have done just as well here, although what you are trying to say would remain obscure] made by [things are so much more difficult in the passive] artists, curators and architects [do all artists, curators and architects make these complex, though unspecified, claims? Or just some? Who are they? Are they all distinguished?] as they seek to articulate [to articulate as in “express” or “explain”, or as in “articulated lorry”?] new, often political and certainly critical [intriguing – why are they more certain to be critical than they are political? There’s something in there. Everything is political, of course, and I suspect everything is critical too, though I’d like to be sure just which meaning of that word you have in mind here. Probably not the most common if not literally correct one of “making a negative judgement”, probably closer to the idea of objective assessment, but if it is to be a “production of space” that is critical, it must embody that criticism somehow. How would it do that, I wonder? By some kind of inbuilt reference to other productions of space, or to production-of-space theory, or what? Would I recognise understand such inherent criticism if I saw it, I wonder?], productions of space [“space” again. I somehow doubt this is the same space as before. But this is something that can be done by artists, curators and architects. Are they working together or in collaboration? Architects certainly produce space, in a sense, although to be pedantic I’d have to say they put walls and roofs and floors around space that already exists. But they do create “a sense of space” and a different sort of space to what was there before. So do curators, sort of: after they’ve put up a show, the gallery feels different, and works differently as a place for experiencing art, to what it did before (I’m aware this is probably a rather naive view of what curators think their job is these days). How artists produce space is a bit harder for me to understand. They might create a new conceptual space, but that’s a game anyone can play. But before space, we have “production”. I’ve tried to read Deleuze and Guattari, and I know they wrote a lot about “production” in their discussions of psychology and emotions, where you might not expect to find such a mechanistic, material-sounding notion. Maybe there’s a vogue for using language that suggests that art and cultural studies are not about vapid flim-flam but are endeavours as grounded as car manufacturing or plumbing, as if lecturers have a pot of Swarfega in their offices for the end of the day. But as it’s not clear what kind of space you’re talking about, the literalist in me objects that no one can produce space. OK, the Big Bang produced space, the expansion of the universe is producing space, and according to the Horizon I saw last night time maybe the constant production of new quantum granules of, err, something. But I don’t think you’re talking about cosmology here, and for us on the surface of this planet we’re still in a pretty classical Newtonian space in which space is, importantly, available in strictly limited quantities.]

Reading stuff like this is a bit like playing charades. The deal is that the person performing the charade is basing their performance on something you probably know about: only a very bad sport would choose a German TV miniseries. So they gesture towards something, you get it and everyone’s happy. That’s how all language works, true, but when you are wielding such specialised meanings of words there seems very little space (there, I can use it too) for anything to be actually said.

You might say that this was only meant for academics to read, and that they would understand what you were trying to say. But The Showroom, which sent me the email in which I read this, is, or was, a public gallery funded by state money. So this is a way of saying, everyone can come, but not everyone is welcome.