February Blog :There goes the neighbourhood

FEBRUARY BLOG :THERE GOES THE NEIGHBOURHOOD – AN URBAN TRIPTYCH ‘The neighbourhood is that part of town you have no need to go to because you are already there’ -George Perec 1)  Chic by Growl I recently moved into a new neighbourhood in Islington. My flat is  in  a large Peabody Estate, off the Essex Road, quite close to the area which Ruth Glass  made the object of her famous study on ‘gentrification’. I am living in one of the earliest ‘ model dwellings’  built in the 1860’s for the ‘industrious working classes’ by  the great Canadian philanthropist and which  became  an inspiration for the  development of social housing in Britain. Today the estate’s inhabitants are a cross section of all those  who cannot  afford to buy or rent in the private housing market, and increasingly this is including middle class professional people  like myself. A recent study of local [Read More…]

JANUARY BLOG

In praise of  clutching at straws or reasons to be cheerful in 2014 New Year is traditionally the time to take stock, and to look forward to the future. It is a time to search for new principles   of hope,  or renew old ones, and to strengthen our commitment to make the world, or at least that little bit of it we have some influence over, a better place. In a period of rapidly falling expectations, when young people  expect to be less well off in almost every respect (except longevity) than their parents, this  can be a daunting prospect.   Time then to put on the famous Ian  Dury track and listen to his reasons to be cheerful: Summer, Buddy Holly, the working folly Good golly Miss Molly and boats Hammersmith Palais, the Bolshoi Ballet Jump back in the alley and nanny goats A bit of grin and bear it, [Read More…]

DECEMBER BLOG

Santa with Claws , or Socialism is not just for Christmas  : some seasonal reflections on the im/moral economy The dominant image of Christmas, the one that mesmerises and haunts so many people, is of a family reunited  around the tree  joyfully exchanging  presents. One, perhaps unintended, result is that   those   for whom the family has become a locus of loss or lack,   find the knife  being  twisted in the wound ; we are  offered   a major walk-on part in the Christmas story as the object of  public compassion by the very narrative  that is compounding  our misery. Selling Christmas, whether as consumerfest  or   religious mega-event   depends on the  complicated web of associations   which  this image evokes.  It pulls powerfully upon  childhood memories of Christmas and a more or less sentimentalised version of   family life in which doting parents are rewarded by the respect and admiration of their offspring. [Read More…]

Bad Journeys ? On Bloomsbury and Bohemia

Bad Journeys ? Some notes on Bloomsbury, Bohemia  and reading subcultures Talk given to the Bloomsbury Festival October 16th  in conversation with Iain Sinclair Bad journeys are made possible  when and wherever  we recognise that the map is not the territory. They are  about exploring  the gap or tension between  our  mental  constructs of the world and the embodied space we inhabit as we find our way through it. And in that  gap  all kinds of possible worlds  can take shape. For most people a  so called good journey  happens  when there is   a perfect  fit between map and territory, we  traverse the city on autopilot,  the sat nav  works and  nothing  untoward happens. On a good journey, there is nothing to report.  We  follow what planners  call, without irony, a line of desire, which means going purposefully and often compulsively, from A to B in the quickest most efficient  [Read More…]

October Blog

PASSAGES OF TIME : SOME REFLECTIONS ON THE PERSONAL POLITICS OF LIFE STORY TELLING How do we tell the story of a life that  began and ended badly? Is there more to autobiography than a do-it-yourself obituary? What are the limits and  conditions of public commemoration as a regime of truth?  How does the space/time compression of everyday life in the digital age  impact on our capacity to sustain coherent life histories and other  narratives of long duration? I have been wrestling  with  these  issues of  memory politics,  life story telling and imagined communities of belonging  for a long time. They   were give focus  by the experience of writing a memoir, which includes an extended essay on contemporary book cultures and the library as a memoryscape . But they  were  raised with  particular and painful urgency  by  recently losing my adopted son and having to construct a tribute for  his  [Read More…]

A Tribute in Words and Pictures to Ste Thomson

We would like to thank  everyone  who attended the funeral and who sent messages of condolence and tribute   for their  support during this difficult time. It was especially moving to learn that Stephen had so many good friends, many of whom  turned up ,  and who also organised a face book network of over sixty people to share their memories of him.   We are giving the tribute book  to Stephen’s sons,  Ricky and Casey,  to keep  as part of a memory box  which  we are putting together  for them . We have raised nearly £1000  for Alcohol Concern and would like to thank  everyone who  has given so generously. It is still not too late  to make a donation by logging on to : www.justgiving.com/phil-cohen1. Thanks to the generosity of Liz  Haggard we are  setting up a bursary  at Birkbeck College , where Stephen was a student ,  for  first [Read More…]

May/June Blog – Living the Dream : a Letter from Paris

Forty five years after the May ‘evenements’ in Paris I took my grandchildren to Euro-Disney for their half term holiday break. To bracket  the most determined assault on the ‘Society of the Spectacle’ with the most extravagant expression of its triumph might seem wilfully perverse, at best a rueful acknowledgement that capitalism has succeeded, beyond our wildest nightmares, in appropriating and merchandising the spirit of carnival, rendering it into an entirely alien, kitsch idiom; at worst  an exercise in political masochism, rubbing  one’s nose in the fact that the revolutionary Left has  failed to produce a culture of popular pleasure  other than rioting. But in the event a more complicated set of  considerations imposed themselves. The Cabinet of Curiosities When we got to Paris, our first port of call was the Quai Branly, the  new home of the  ethnographic collection of the  Musee de’L’Homme,  which  also houses artefacts from the [Read More…]

April Blog On Translating politics

ON TRANSLATING POLITICS For DNS  What sounded fresh once may sound hackneyed later; what was once current may someday sound quaint. To seek the essence of such changes, as well as the equally constant changes in meaning, in the subjectivity of posterity rather than in the very life of language and its works, would mean – even allowing for the crudest psychologism – to confuse the root cause of a thing with its essence. Walter Benjamin, ‘The Task of the Translator’ In the opening sequence of Patrick Keiller’s film Robinson in London, the narrator is sitting in a railway carriage recording the start of his journey across the fractured landscape of a great city in the grip of a fever – what the late Mrs Thatcher called ‘the enterprise culture’ – which has decimated large areas of what had once been a thriving economy based on industry and international trade. [Read More…]

March Blog

Strange Intimacies : socialising the  media  or mediatising sociality? For the  last six months I have been in almost daily contact with my editors  at Lawrence Wishart and Five Leaves about matters  arising from  books of mine they are publishing. The relationship  that has developed  between us has  been an intense, occasionally  stressful, but ultimately very rewarding  affair; it reminded me a bit of Helene  Hanff’s  transatlantic correspondence with Frank Doel, her bookseller at 84 Charing Cross Road. Helene and Frank  never get to meet, but over the years their mutual passion for  books sustains their relationship.  In my case,of course, the correspondence was about the mechanics of book   production not  their acquisition  and it was conducted not by monthly letters but through the instant address of email. I have not yet met with  my editors in the flesh, although  I am looking forward to doing so at the launch  [Read More…]

February Blog

Making bread out of circuses : Some Lenten reflections on  Carnival capitalism and Socialist sacrifice in the Age of Austerity I recently got an invitation to a party organised by Common Knowledge, a co-operative of left wing artists and designers who are involved in various kinds of community activity in East London. It was  billed as a Mardi Gras Masquerade and in case guests  weren’t up to coming in costume,  masks were available at the door.  Any excuse for a party, of course, especially in the depths of Winter, but the event was unusual because in Britain carnival normally  takes place in the Summer. The Notting Hill carnival – the largest afro-Caribbean festival outside Rio,   and the London Mela, the big annual celebration of the South Asian community  –   both take place in August; meanwhile in towns and villages up and down the country, a domesticated version of Carnival, with [Read More…]