The Wisdom of Malcolm MacLaren

Malcolm MacLaren, foppish punk architect provocateur probably has more to do with the British interest in Situationism and psychogeography than anybody else. His co-opting of the posture and imagery of detournement gave Punk its intellectual edge – after all wasn’t punk just detourned Rock and Roll? The first time I encountered the word ‘situationism’ was in the pages of the NME and Melody Maker in the mid-80s in the articles of journalists raised on punk. So it was nice to see that MacLaren still has something to say in this vein in his dotage living out a bourgeois dream, elegantly slumming in Paris:

“We are at an end of the culture of desires; we may be going back to a culture of necessity
Real magic is found in flamboyant, provocative failure rather than benign success
Turn left, if you’re supposed to turn right; go through any door that you’re not supposed to enter – it’s the only way to fight your way through to any kind of authentic feeling in a world beset by fakery”
– Malcolm Maclaren, extrapolated from The Observer magazine 16.11.08


Came across this brilliant summary/ definition of psychogeography by Stewart Home in the introduction to ‘Mind Invaders – A reader in psychic warfare , cultural sabotage and semiotic terrorism’ (pub. 1997)
“Rebels and bohemians traverse cities scattering signs, staging enigmas, leaving coded messages usurping the territorial claims of priests and kings by transforming the social perception of specific urban sites. Both the London Psychogeographical Association and the Manchester Area Psychogeographic use their newsletters to publicise regular gatherings that interested parties may attend. On these trips, anything or nothing at all may happen. These are possible appointments and sometimes only one intrepid psychogeographer attends. Other events are huge gatherings of urban tribes bent on emotionally remapping the cities in which they dwell. Psychogeographers pass each other like ships in the night, show up late or not at all.”


London Orbital on podcast and other Iain Sinclair vids

Whilst I’m blogging about podcasts I’m going to plug the Free University of the Airwaves poddies put out by the brilliant Resonance FM. When doing my physio yesterday I listened to noted Walter Benjamin scholar Esther Leslie’s lecture called ‘Spam, Rubbish, Left-over Culture’. She’s got a wonderfully soothing voice to listen to in any situation – perfect though for a battle with an unco-operative post-operative knee – if only I could have piped her velvety tones directly into the traumatised meniscus.
The second item in the lecture, ‘Rubbish’ (4 mins in), is a meditation on Iain Sinclair and Chris Petit’s video response to Sinclair’s epic M25 yomp-verse ‘London Orbital’. Leslie isn’t saying that the film is ‘rubbish’ – this appears to be a reference to the film’s use of found footage and low quality CCTV images – rubbish in the surrealist use of the word – the discarded offcuts and throwaways of the digital age.
She relates to the theme of the M25 being resistant to recognition – it is a repetitive looped image – it is about “erasure like videotape”. One of the themes of the film as I remember it is a discourse on the nature of video, it’s flatness – unsympathetic response to light and texture. This is clearly the reaction of a film-maker(s) schooled in the art and craft of film – Petit’s debut feature ‘Radio On’ is lustrously shot on 16mm Black and White stock by Wim Wender’s cameraman Martin Schaffer. In the voice-over to London Orbital Petit almost sounds disgusted by the images he is looking at in the edit – by the whole idea of video – its disposability.
In the days when everything was shot on film – the ratio of amount of film shot to amount used in the final cut was used as a criteria to judge the effectiveness of the film-maker. It is now an irrelevance with a MiniDV tape costing about a pound and the new generation of Sony High Def cams using no stock at all – just solid state memory cards that are transfered and wiped at the end of the day’s filming. No more physical legacy – no bins of 16mm, no drawers and shelves of tapes – just hard-drives with digital folders of images.
We were teased with similar grabbed on-the-hoof handheld handicam images of Sinclair on a Newsnight item in 2005 where the great ‘perambulator of the margins’ is talking about The Edge of the Orison and the changing landscape of middle England that he witnessed on that Clare walk. Somewhere else I read an article by Iain Sinclair where he mentioned that Petit had joined him on parts of the walk and had brought along a camera. Where is this footage? I was lucky enough recently to watch Paul Tickell’s brilliant film about Sinclair whilst he was writing ‘Vessels Of Wrath’ – the book that would be published as ‘Downriver’. It’s a lost gem – Sinclair reading early drafts of the book in Rodinsky’s dusty Princelet Street Synagogue, the real-life Driffield rummaging in second-hand book shops talking about the art of book collecting and how Sinclair has rendered his life in literary form.
There is also a trilogy of early Sinclair – Petit collaborations: The Cardinal and The Corpse, The Falconer, and Asylum. None of which I’ve seen but written about by Stewart Home.

Writing this post has helped clarify something I was thinking about before I started at the keyboard – how to approach an Iain Sinclair programme of films for the Leytonstone Film Club – I think the programme has written itself almost.

Grab the Esther Leslie podcast from here


In Praise of the Penguin Podcasts

Stumbled upon the brilliant Penguin podcasts via Will Self’s website. They are getting me through the recovery from a knee arthroscopy I had done last week that has caused the title of Iain Sinclair’s Millennium Dome essay, ‘Sorry Meniscus’ to loop continuously through my head.

The pick of the bunch has to be the series of podcasts from Will Self’s reading of ‘The Book of Dave’ at the Bloomsbury Theatre. Nick Papadimitriou, a good friend of this blog and regular contributor of comments under various pseudonyms, is credited in the book for the topographical research he provided. It is after all a book that both draws on and adds to the mythology of the city that Nick knows more about than virtually anyone else I know.

There’s also an interesting podcast by Steven Johnson, author of The Ghost Map, who talks about Placeblogging – of which I suppose this very blog is at times an example. The blogs that Johnson is really talking about are those more intimately linked with the daily minutiae of a community – and the value of the pooling of the kind of amateurised specialist knowledge that they represent.

Whilst mentioning Podcasts I hope to start a regular podcast under the National Psychogeographic banner with Nick Papadimitriou when I can tie him down. Watch this space for details.


Common Land in Leyton

I ventured down to Marsh Lane Fields, to the Lammas Lands – open, free, unfenced common land from the time of the earliest 6th Century Saxon settlement of the ‘Tun by the Lea’ – Leyton.
“Outside the tun lay the land of the settlement, some of it plough land or arable, some grass land or pasture. This land was not broken up into fields by hedges but formed a great open expanse. Moreover, none of it belonged to any one person in particular. The pasture land in the same way was the property not of one but all. A part of it was fenced off until the hay harvest was over to prevent stray cattle from damaging the growing grass. But when the hay had been gathered the fences were removed and the land was left open to the flocks and herds of the villagers.”
– The Story of Leyton and Leytonstone, W.H. Weston

This of course means nought to the London Development Agency (or is it the Orwellian sounding ODA) who have now fenced off one end of the ancient Lammas Land and driven a road across it – colonising it more effectively than the marauding Danes who harried this area in the 9th Century. It’s a depressing sight, this green metal enclosure where allotment holders grow their veg in what appears as a horticultural penitentiary. We will claim it back eventually I imagine – when the running and jumping and flag-waving has finished, we just have to bide our time and remember that it belongs to us and always will. If people need help with the best properties, they can can check eXp Realty here.

Have a look at this vid I shot a while back about the protest to save Marsh Lane Fields