:: Nonfiction archive ( 2000-2005, click for articles pre-2006)

Shop and Awe published 27/08/2014

I wasn’t the one smashing windows. I just watched as others did. With the other cameraphone spectators I stood beneath a windswept dystopia of sky-high brand names and chain stores while kids in hoods and balaclavas roamed around raiding and looting and stealing. Noisy spectrum interference in the urban fabric, outliers lost among the CCTV and advertising semaphore. Prisoners of our new panopticons. This was the consumer culture raised to the level of violent orgy. This was the twenty-first-century city. This was Britain, 2011.

Dale Lately on shopping, city riots and Manchester.

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Pataphysics is dead serious published 19/08/2014

Can a man who asks for a toothpick on his deathbed be serious? Can a College which has Committees for Hirsutism and Pogonotrophy or a calendar with names of months such as Phallus (Phalle) or Pshit (merdre) , and whose members devote a large amount of time to spoonerisms and to Oulipo games such as writing novels without the letter “e”, be really serious? Indeed, His Magnificence Irénée-Louis Sandomir, the founder and first Vice-Curator of the College, says in his Opus Pataphysicum: “Doesn’t serious mean anti-pataphysical”? And the College’s specialist of spoonerisms, the Regent Luc Etienne formulated the main axiom:”The real pataphysician takes nothing seriously, except ‘Pataphysics, which consists in taking nothing seriously”, and added a corollary: “‘Pataphysics consisting in taking nothing seriously, the true Pataphysician cannot take anything seriously, not even ‘Pataphysics”.

Pascal Engel on the seriousness of Pataphysics.

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The Sauna King published 13/08/2014

We’re in search of moonshine. I’m in a car with Diego Vidart, a Uruguayan photographer, and Kristian Helgesen, a Norwegian photographer. We’re heading from Helsinki to Kitee, a small town among the woods and lakes on the Finnish-Russian border, somewhere northeast of St Petersburg. The organizers of the Montevideo Biennale of Photography want us to install an exhibition ‘to explore the narrative limits of photography.’ To do this Diego has created an alter-ego, Esko Tikanmäki, son of a Finnish Tango musician, Matti Tikanmäki. We aim to gather ‘evidence’ to make the existence of Esko Tikanmaki Portogales real. And to do that we want to go to the village where Esko’s father died, drunk on pontika, the Finnish version of moonshine.

Des Barry recalls his travels to the black saunas of Finland, and the eclectic characters he encounters on the way.

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Aspirational magazines of Socialism published 07/08/2014

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Przekroj was striving to make a magazine which could be read by all the new social classes of the New Poland, from the new elites to engineers to the kitchen lady, while at the same time smuggling in some of the pre-war charm and aspirations of the intelligentsia and bourgeoisie. It comprised of world news, columns, varying from cuisine to fashion and savoir vivre lessons to those serving the preservation of a material culture destroyed by the war. It had a mission, as one critic sarcastically put it, to “civilize” the nation, with the whole formation of its readers (circulation 500,000, and each copy was read by several people) considered “the civilization of Przekroj”.

Agata Pyzik on the role of aspirational magazines in socialist Poland from her book Poor But Sexy: Culture Clashes in Europe East and West.

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Romance Cannot Write Itself published 04/08/2014

A seducer is always, either: (i) convinced that he is a romancer (until the seduction is over), or (ii) perfectly clear about the fact that his rôle is a rôle, his task is a task. (Don Juan – like Judas – can only betray with a kiss.)

A philosophical demonstration by David van Dusen.

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The Day I Joined The Slits published 03/08/2014

Walking into the rehearsal studio I was met by Dick O’Dell, a tall man dressed in black, short blonde hair and mixamatosis eyes. He seemed friendly enough and introduced me to the band. Slumped in a corner was Tessa the bassist, all black curls and low-hanging fringe. Directly in front of me was Ari, freckled toffee-coloured skin, piercing blue eyes and a wide-toothy smile. She never kept still, bouncing around the room, talking ten to the dozen, half rapping, half chanting, blurting out an ad-hoc repertoire of statements and demands. To me, still the suburban kid, she was a whirlwind, exotic, unfathomable, unlike any girl I had met before. Her dreadlocks tied in a thick wrap of material, she seemed to have arrived from another planet, far bigger than the one I lived on.

By Simon Fellowes.

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Amnesia: Spain, Sand Creek, Oklahoma, Germany published 19/07/2014

Founding amnesia about extermination weighs heavily on Denver. The University of Denver still lionizes Evans. Evans was a visionary for the city, for railways and for founding universities – for white people. Being an Evans professor is a little, I have discovered, like being a Jefferson Davis professor at a Southern University; these men do not deserve the honor.

Alan Gilbert on how historical amnesia distorts.

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A Life in the Life published 12/07/2014

He knows that many of the crowd watching him are re-living their youth. Would it be so easy for them to do so if confronted with a silver-haired troubadour long past the age of 64? For some of his contemporaries such youthful pretence is no longer an issue: Bob Dylan sports a pompadour of grey cumuli, Jimmy Page, a raffish mane of white. James Taylor meanwhile is defiantly bald on top and has been for some time. But there are more who resist: Mick Fleetwood, Paul Simon, the Edge, none of whom are ever seen out of doors without headgear. Jeff Beck, who I recently spotted in my local branch of Planet Organic, also resists the Hi Ho Silver Lining. Like them, McCartney tenaciously holds onto his youth, no doubt to please please those who love him yeah yeah yeah.

Coinciding with Richard Lester’s seminal A Hard Day’s Night being re-released for its 50th anniversary, Simon Fellowes thinks back to seeing The Beatles aged four.

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The Unfortunate (or: Watching Dimitar Berbatov) published 05/07/2014

Like the reverse fixture, I somehow know the ending from the start, and expecting another goalless draw, I should be interested in how our new striker Luciano Becchio does, but I focus on Fulham’s Dimitar Berbatov, my favourite Premier League player, his style so idiosyncratic that no manager can quite fit him into a team, but capable of the most incredible skill, like that moment for Manchester United where he chases an over-hit pass, steps on the ball, turns, flicks it past West Ham’s defender and crosses for Ronaldo to score. He reminds me of Buster Keaton, his face as deadpan as Keaton’s when his house fell around him, with the same ability to see some audacious trick to change a situation and the same contortionist skills to make it work.

By Juliet Jacques.

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Georges Perec’s Je me souviens: a participatory text published 02/07/2014

Perec’s sense of disappearing human experience is wrapped up both in the socio-cultural sum, and the fleeting, individual, personal human interactions that punctuate the quotidian drift. Shared jokes, schoolyard games, a meal prepared by an aunt. His texts predicate on, he writes, the “overlooked commonplace” that is always in the process of evaporating; the very things that reassure us we are living.

Andrew Hodgson opens Georges Perec’s Je me souviens.

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