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Sunday, November 21, 2010
Digging up the web's past
Posted By TelecomTV One , 15 November 2010
An industry-wide initiative to archive the web’s bygone era before it disappears forever has been launched in London with an exhibition. Leila Makki reports.
The exhibition, entitled Digital Archaeology, is kick starting Britain’s inaugural web archive to preserve some of the earliest websites for the last two decades.
Based out of Shoreditch, East London, the small gallery space has some of the Internet's earliest known websites on display in the same hardware it was developed on.
There's an interactive Kylie Minogue website from 1997 on a Power Macintosh 6500/250 and the same NeXTstation computer used by Tim Berners-Lee at CERN, circa 1992.
Since the majority of websites are being stored on soon-to-be obsolete technology, he felt compelled to make sure history was not lost forever.
“In five years time or so, I doubt websites will exist and I expect the vast majority of sites from the first twenty years of the web to be gone forever,” said Boulton.
“Today, when almost a quarter of the earth’s population is online, this artistic, commercial and social history is being wiped from the face of earth, within millions of hard drives lying festering in recycling yards or rusting in garages."
The Digital Archaeology exhibition is part of a larger industry appeal to help "dig" up other sites from hard drives and redundant servers of yesteryear and preserve them for future generations to see.
[Big thanks to my colleague Gordon Adgey for tipping me off]
Digital Archaeology: Rescuing Neglected and Damaged Data Resources www.ukoln.ac.uk/services/elib/papers/supporting/pdf/p2.pd
Introduction to Digital Archaeology http://baheyeldin.com/technology/digital-archeology.html
The Generalist maintains a healthy interest in all new media and has noted a discernible trend in our digital age, of creatives of all stripes and persuasions moving back to what you might call analog technologies and materials – paper, vinyl, valves, old-style photographic film and techniques – as a kind of reaction to the ubiquitous and intrusive nature of the digital realm. Thus it is with great delight I received the second issue of Monika.
This 110-page bi-annual art journal draws together a wide range of photography, illustration, graphics, reportage, stories and art projects from a broad spectrum of contributors and binds them together in a satisfying and non-pretentious perfect-bound package of great quality, flair and intelligence. Its mixture of matte paper interspersed with glossy photo spreads is unusual and inventive. It was printed in Lithuania.
Monika 2 includes a great photo essay on the banger boys of London and their Destruction Derby’s, a report from an A&E unit entitled The Aesthetics of Illness, another on the secret world of the greyhound industry, another on the tunnels under London, another concerning DIY design, community-led urbanism and guerilla architecture – and more.
Rather than try and synopsise the magazine’s message, here is their statement of where they’re coming from:
Who is Monika?
The space we're in
We are surrounded by brands, celebrities, products and patented packaging. We read our world fast. We know the names we like and the ones we don't. We don't have time. Creators strive to get known. Get the work rolling in. Be accepted. It's good sense: a need to survive. But what if we could slow it right down for a little while, find ourselves time to ponder, space for suspense? Isn't there something wonderful in the not immediately recognisable?
An unknown quantity
Monika is an arts journal that does away with bylines. As respite from the exhaustive branding of conventional media, contributors adopt a disguise that enables them to experiment with new material or style, to bypass expectation and to play. By placing the quality of her content over the marketability of her contributors, Monika invites readers to decode identities, unravel mysteries and embrace the unfamiliar.
Through visual arts and the written word, Monika shares engaging ideas and observations. Each themed issue is designed to entertain readers with originality, wit and sensitivity to the everyday. Combining imagination and experience, criticism and curios, Monika's content is handpicked for its ability to render the unknown unputdownable.
Find out more at www.monikamgazine.com
The Generalist has devoted several posts already to the memory, mind and missions of the late John Michell – a man who repays constant investigation.
Happily Richard Adams and Jason Goodwin have taken the time and trouble to produce a wonderful Michellany of numerous pieces that John wrote over the years, a wonderful clutch of reminiscences from friends and family, some stunning and iconic black and white photos and numerous illustrations.
The whole package illuminates the astonishing range of interests that JM pursued with vigour, humour and passion in his 76 years on this earthly plane. Plato and Fort were the twin peaks of his universe.
This beautifully produced book is only available on subscription for £38 + p&p. Cheques made payable to Michellany Editions.
Send to: 2 Blenheim Crescent, London W11 1NN Tel: +44 (0) 207 221 7680 firstname.lastname@example.org
UPDATE; You can now order direct from their new website: http://www.johnmichell.com/michellany/
These two novels, the only known works of a remarkable writer Roland Camberton (real name Henry Cohen) have recently been republished by Five Leaves Publishing.
I have the artist Don Ramos to thank. He alerted me to them. Both his father and mother knew Henry Cohen. His mother’s portrait of Cohen sits in ‘Scamp’s frontispiece.
‘Scamp’ has an introductory essay by Ian Sinclair in which he seeks to track down the story of Henry Cohen, who disappeared from view, adopted a nom de plume and also changed his name in real life. He died at the age of 44 and no-one knows where he is buried.
He finds one of Cohen’s best friends, Douglas Lyne, and meets Henry’s daughter. There’s talk of a lost tape recording made with William Burroughs and a lost manuscript of a third book - ‘Tango – the journal of a hitch-hiking odyssey around Britain, an English ‘On The Road’.
Sinclair writes: ‘Camberton laid out his plans in a letter to The Jewish Chronicle. ‘My intention is to make two journeys: one partly on foot, through Europe…and the second to North America.’ Tango was rejected by his publisher and has not resurfaced.’
It seems Cohen craved anonymity. ‘Scamp’ won the Somerset Maugham Award in 1951, beating out Kingsley Amis’ ‘Lucky Jim’. He writes his second ‘Rain on the Pavement’. ‘Then’ , says Sinclair, ‘he vanishes, nothing is heard of him again.’
Both book covers were done for the original editions by the artist John Minton. Sinclair believes the figure in the front of ‘Scamp’ is Henry Cohen: ‘A balding man, left hand in pocket, right hand gripping a furtive typescript, slouches down the cobbles, past the pub, our of the frame, into the wilderness.’
‘Scamp’ is one of the great books on Soho life. The main protagonist Ivan Ginsberg, a writer living in a rat-infested flat, lays plans to produce the literary magazine of the title. He wanders through Soho and Fitzrovia, meeting a strange range of eccentric characters in bars and clubs, cafes and dives, in his search for funding and contributions.
Cohen has a remarkable gift for characters. They jump off the page into three-dimensions – vivid, lifelike. Many or most of them are based on real-life people – Julian Maclaren-Ross has been formally identified as the ‘former commercial traveller Angus Sternforth Simms’.
There are two marvellous chapters in which Ginsberg takes a night walk with an extraordinary Greek miser, Kagaranias, visiting a series of late-night and all-night eateries. The whole atmosphere of post war London in the late 40s is here.
‘Rain on the Pavement’ is the coming-of-age story of David, who lives and grows up in the Jewish community of Hackney and surrounds. Again it is chock full of vivid people and incidents, mad relatives, eccentric teachers. There are some classic accounts of David’s explorations into the underworld of communist, anarchist and Labour group meetings, against the backdrop of the Mosley fascist marches. David and friends roam across the city, hitch-hike around the country, search out beatnik clubs in Soho, discover girls. Its delightful.
Five Leaves Left have done Henry Cole/Roland Camberton proud in bringing these classic lost novels back into circulation in such fine editions. A whole new generation can now discover his forgotten world and words
Five Leaves ‘is a small publisher based in Nottingham, publishing 15 or so books a year. 'Our roots are radical and literary. These days our main areas of interest are fiction and poetry, social history, Jewish secular culture, with side orders of Romani, young adult, Catalan and crime fiction titles.’ Order your copies directly from them.
Five Leaves independent publishing blog also online at:
Left: Policemen on duty in Soho. Cover of Life magazine (1946)
I have a lot of books on the history of Soho and this is my favourite- ‘An Indiscreet Guide to Soho’ by Stanley Jackson, published by Muse Arts Ltd in 1946 – consisting of a series of essays, personal reflections to counter what Stanley considers the ‘nonsense’ written by novelists, journalists and film screenwriters about his beloved Soho. He brings it to life in inimitable fashion. Here is an extract from the first essay: ‘Soho Ghosts’. Enjoy.
Forget for a moment the Soho of to-day with its thumbed menu cards, delicatessen shops and sallow little men on street corners. The phantoms live in a world without ration books, cover charges, football pools and atomic bombs. De Quincey slouches into that house on the corner of Greek Street and Soho Square. His lodgings are cold and dismal after the inns and coffee-houses; a bundle of old law papers serves him for pillow. The landlord comes in rarely and always in a hurried search for money or a clean shirt. He looks over his shoulder while he talks to his lodger; the police are on his heels. De Quincey moves to Greek Street and one day discovers a chemist in Oxford Street who supplies him with opium ...
A twist of the kaleidoscope and the little restaurants, waiters' agencies and vendors of permanent wave apparatus disappear from Greek Street. You see Becky Sharp; young Thomas Lawrence nervously handling a brush; Casanova pursuing a subtle intrigue; Gainsborough finding a model for his " Blue Boy," an ironmonger's son; Karl Marx hiding 'at the back of a barber's shop and writing until daybreak; Greeks, miserable and poor, dreaming of Hellas as they sink to their knees in Hog Lane, now Charing Cross Road.
In Wardour Street Charles Lamb potters about, fascinated by the old violins, the books, the strange plaster casts. The famous cellists, etchers and makers of rare cameos form a colony in Old Compton Street. A hosier's son, named William Blake, is born at 28, Broad Street. " Songs of Innocence" is written round the corner in Poland Street lodgings. Mrs. Siddons sweeps majestically into her new house at 54, Great Marlborough Street.
The church of St. Anne's in.Dean Street is now blitzed, a battered shell with a moth-eaten garden where waiters sit and scratch their raging corns. Once it was so beautiful that Whistler could not rest until he had made an etching. Its musical services were a magnet for Court and Society. John Evelyn . . . the Countess of Dorchester . . . even George, Prince of Wales. Two tablets, sooty and crooked, commemorate two very different men in the courtyard. Hazlitt, killed by cholera; and Theodore, a hard-up German nobleman and adventurer, who reigned over Corsica for a short time and died in a Dean Street garret, befriended to the last by the exquisite Horace Walpole.
Frith Street (then Thrift Street) where young Mozart gave concerts in his rooms, and the pompous Macaulay took lodgings on his first visit to London after Cambridge. Gerrard Street, long before it was discovered by Mrs. Meyrick. Dryden, writing immortal verse ; Edmund Burke preparing his indictment of Warren Hastings ; Joshua Reynolds at the Turk's Head tavern presiding over orators, wags, painters, politicians, critics, the rooms fragrant with hot punch and tobacco. In Brewer Street walks the ghost of an undertaker who made a coffin from the wreck of a French ship sunk in the Battle of the Nile. Lord Nelson stares musingly at the coffin and orders it before setting sail for Trafalgar.*
Even in Golden Square, with its seedy parking-place attendants, woollen merchants and victims of adenoids it is possible to dream of Angelica Kaufmann who painted exquisitely and received Royalty in her studio. One thinks of Lord Bolingbroke and Mrs. Cibber, and the fashionable demi-mondaines who sinned in style. Even more vivid than reality is the Golden Square of the Victorian novelists. The Yorkshire woollen merchants and their London agents cannot quite embalm the ghosts of Ralph Nickleby and Henry Esmond in serge or worsted.
Jean Straker (UK, 1913 – 1984) founded the Visual Arts Club in Soho in 1951 ‘for artistes and photographers, amateur and professional, studying the female nude’. He was a prolific photographer, and his photographs are now part of the collection of the National Media Museum in Bradford. See: www.photonet.org.uk/index.php?pxid=944
Many a pint of bitter have I tucked away in Greek Street's " Pillars of Hercules," and more than once thought of the unfortunate man who wrote " The Hound of Heaven." Into this pub would stride Francis Thompson, full of verse and laudanum, to drink gin and write poetry, reviews, devotional tracts. A lean figure with straggling beard, battered hat, billowing brown cape, his face seared by drugs, and over his narrow shoulders the famous basket in which he carried books for review. I don't know what he would have made of the flip talk of Dean Street's film-cutting rooms or of the barrow boys who swagger in, their pockets bulging with currency made on the kerb from vending expensive peaches and bunches of grapes. Perhaps he would have smiled gently at the vision that appeared in the bar the other evening. She wore slacks and an Ethel Mannin coiffure with dandruff on the velvet collar, and she had apparently come from an excitable Communist meeting. Overwhelmed by beer and a half-digested Comintern, she was violently sick in an ash-tray.
The barrow-boys went on discussing the peculiar ways of greyhounds ; the newsreel men continued to slander Arthur Rank; the Monegasque waiter from Josef's Yugoslav restaurant swallowed his mild and bitter and rushed back to work; the landlord cleared up the mess with a frown; a Chinese chef slid across to the bar and ordered a drink in a ripe Cockney accent.
Soho to-day . . .
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
It had to happen. Student riot at the Conservative Party’s HQ at London’s Milbank is now being followed by university occupations.
Just received news of the occupation at Sussex University by the Stop The Cuts campaign, who are currently doing a ‘sit-in’ at the Fulton Lecture Theatre on campus. Here’s the programme for tonight:
5-6pm: “Activist security” talk hosted by the Anarchist Society
6-7: “Revolution and state: can we change the world without taking power?” talk hosted by Socialist Worker Student Society
7.15- 8.30: Dinner: Bring what you can, eat what you like
9: Open mic: Music, poetry, spoken word, performance and whatever else comes along.
Follow developments at: http://defendsussex.wordpress.com/
Link to Sussex University’s Special Collections site on student protest May 1968
For a broader picture of what is going on around the UK see: http://occupations.org.uk/
Thursday, November 11, 2010
Pleased to announce that The Generalist now has established a mainline connection to screeners and DVDs of upcoming cult and indie features and documentaries so we are going to be able to appraise you of some excellent cinematic delights. In honour of this, have named these posts Screen Dreams after a regular column I used to write for the NME in the 1970s.
Christening this post, watch out for this brilliant Polish film which, as I understand will be entered into the Oscars for Best Foreign Film Award. It certainly deserves it. Part of the reason I am hooked into it is due having seen the remarkable documentary ‘Beats of Freedom’ on the history of Polish rock – a vital part of young people’s rebellion during the years of military rule. [See Previous Post THE GENERALIST: NEWS DIGEST 1]
‘All That I Love’ concerns a punk band playing their rebellious music at a time when General Jaruzelski has declared martial law [13th Dec 1981]. The young 18-year-old lead singer goes through a real coming-of-age - discovering love and sex, negotiating his relationship with his father and finding a political awakening - in a story that celebrates love and the joy of rebellion. This a tender and genuinely moving film. Its feels real and fresh and it is shot with a lyricism that recalls ‘Knife in the Water’. Beautiful. Hats off to director Jacek Borcuch.
Switch channels and time frames and let me introduce you to a major cult movie: ‘Able Danger’. This cross between a film noir and a conspiracy movie is a gem. Its the movie that the Coen Brother’s tried to make with ‘Burn After Reading’.
[According to Wikipedia: Able Danger was a classified military planning effort led by the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM). It was created as a result of a directive from the Joint Chiefs of Staff in early October 1999 by Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Hugh Shelton, to develop an information operations campaign plan against transnational terrorism.’]
The main character Thomas Flynnis a prize geek, who runs a corner coffee shop in Brooklyn, from the basement of which he operates his real passion – a website that probes deep into the black heart of Amerikan government conspiracy. Needless to say, a gorgeous dark-haired femme fatale arrives with the promise of secret information that triggers the whole plot – which straddles the sinister and the hilarious, punctured as it is with characters to match the German kidnappers in ‘The Big Lebowski’ and dream sequences in which the geek is standing on top of one of the Twin Towers at the World Trade Centre. Meantime, while all this action is going on, the movie switches to the surveillance team and their technology, who are monitoring every move. Hilarious and scary. Must be seen: Intelligent, interesting, clever, real, funny.
More to come. This is fun.
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
One of the many delights of doing The Generalist is being contacted out of the blue by readers all over the world. Particularly when it is a writer of the calibre of Yahia Lababidi, who wrote:
‘It is heartening to discover your thoughtful Generalist, so full as it is with curiosity and compassion. Please allow me to take this opportunity to briefly introduce myself and my work.’
He was kind enough to send me a copy of his book of essays ‘Trial by Ink’ [Common Ground Publishing] which I have been devouring over the last week. What a stimulating pleasure that has been.
Yahia is of Lebanese/Egyptian extraction, born in 1973, currently living in Washington DC. He is a man of deep thoughts who, unusually, is best known for his aphorisms, which have been widely reprinted.
These stem from his background. He writes; ‘In the culture I come from, a saying is a magical thing. It was something people were always happy to hear or recite…I grew up with grandmothers, both maternal and paternal, who spoke almost exclusively, at times, in sayings. A string of proverbs. Singy-songy, witty-wise remarks. When I found myself writing such things, it made sense for me to share them.’
‘Trial by Ink’ is his first collection of essays. He informs us in the intro that the form was minted by de Montaigne and the word derives from the French essai, which means ‘trial’. He views his essays as ‘ a sort of mental autobiography and a collection of judgements…a catalogue of interests, concerns, possessions, exorcisms and even passing enthusiasms’ written over a seven-year period.
There is great deal here to digest, material that will pay rereading. I will try and summarise to give you a flavour of his work and range of interests.
The collection begins with a number of essays - Literary Profiles and Reviews - about the ‘fiery intense spirits’ who have inspired him – Rimbaud, Kierkegaard, Rilke, Kafka and, most significantly, Oscar Wilde and Nietzsche. He writes one of his longest essays comparing the latter duo and a further one on Wilde himself. There is also an excellent piece on Susan Sontag, from which I learnt a lot.
[These collectively took me right back to when I read Colin Wilson’s The Outsider’ when I was in my teens, my first discovery of a whole range of creative spirits)
The section ends with ‘Reptiles of the Mind’, which examines Herman Melville’s first short story, ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’, written in 1853, and ‘Souvenirs of Death’ a profile of Brian Turner, an American soldier ‘who served as a conscientious objector in Iraq.’
Part 2 is entitled Studies in Pop Culture. It begins with ‘Meditation on Murder’ about the pop fascination with serial killers. Then two essays on Michael Jackson (his teenage fascination) and a short piece ‘Monks of Los Angeles’, linking Morrissey and Leonard Cohen. ‘Feast of Fantasies’ discusses celebrity. FInally, ‘Notes on Silence’ and ‘Crises and Their Uses’ – interesting meditations.
Finally, in a section called Middle Eastern Musings, comprising seven essays,Yahia writes about Egyptian and Lebanese culture, giving a very different picture of these sensuous and vibrant cultures to the one we receive from the western media.
Yahia has a rich, elegant style and is a great phrase-maker. His text is peppered with striking allusions and choicely selected quotes that make up a stimulating brew. His work touched me deeply and is highly recommended for all seekers after truth – and for generalists with open minds.
Examples of his aphorisms: www.bu.edu/agni/essays/online/2009/lababidi.html
‘The Prayer of Attention’ www.bu.edu/agni/interviews/online/2010/stein.html
An Interview with Yahia by Caroline Leavittville http://carolineleavittville.blogspot.com/2010/10/yahia-lababidi-talks-about-trial-by-ink.html
Yahia on YouTube: www.youtube.com/user/jadkfja
A wonderful collections of videos inspired by Yahia’s poems http://btxmusic.com/index.php?key=Yahia+Lababidi
Thursday, November 04, 2010
PALIMPSEST: A manuscript (usually written on papyrus or parchment) on which more than one text has been written with the early writing incompletely erased.
The unusual cover mirrors the title. The book itself has the 1964 photo of Vidal on front and back. This is wrapped with a thin transparent plastic cover on which all the text has been printed. Maybe only used on the Abacus UK paperback edition 
Always been rather fascinated by Gore Vidal. First encountered when I read his strange book ‘Messiah’ back in the 1970s. He was often seen on tv chat shows and debates where it was impressive the way he cut people off at the knees.
This book records the first 39 years of his life, recalled from 29 years later. He jokingly suggests that the most ‘persuasively apt’ title for a memoir should be Tissue of Lies.
‘A memoir is how one remembers one’s own life, while an autobiography is history, requiring research, dates, facts double-checked. I’ve taken the memoir route on the ground that even an idling memory is apt to get right what matters most. ‘
Vidal wrote novels of many kinds – including a landmark series documenting, in a fictional form, the the birth and growth of the American Republic, alongside plays and screenplays for the theatre, tv and film. He was intensely involved in politics and ran for office twice (without success). His patrician background gave him an entre into the highest levels of power within America – he was related to Jackie Kennedy – and he travelled through the worlds of entertainment meeting Jack Kerouac, Marlon and a thousand others.
His posse, if you like, were Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, Norman Mailer – they fought and bickered with each other and Gore captures it all brilliantly.
Gore famously wrote the first major US novel with a homosexual theme (‘The City and the Pillar’)and throughout this book he is frank and open about his own proclivities and activities – and of course those of others.
The book is a grandstand piece of writing: incisive, full of electrifying phrases and needlepoint descriptions, telling phrases and marvellous anecdotes, masterfully told. There is high drama and low jinks, catty prods and belly laughs.
Vidal is a naked singularity who remains constant to his principles and continues to this day to fulminate against the widespread corruption of America’s political traditions and body politic, and the pomposities of power.
The second volume stands waiting to be read.
This ‘found’ object is a battered copy of a remarkable book (a snip at £1), first published in the US in1962, this edition being the 1968 Penguin paperback version.
Written by Calvin Tomkins, best known as a writer for The New Yorker, the book consists simply of four profiles of major avant-garde artists – four figures whose work and influence endures, as it turns out. The prescient title says it all: Ahead of the Game.
Marcel Duchamp, the enigmatic Master, the original Cool Dude, a man who never joined a movement, remained his own singular presence. invented the ‘ready-made’ (the urinal being he most famous), was a remarkable chess player.
John Cage, an extraordinary innovator in music and sound production, who challenged our perceptions and introduced us to the value of music and silence, inventing new instruments, exploring new technologies, restless and inventive to the end.
Jean Tingueley, a force of nature, obsessed by building remarkable machines that have an unexpected life of their own, often destroying themselves in paroxysms of exuberance, built entirely of scrap and waste objects, transformed into anarchic constructions that are one of fhe ultimate expressions of movement in art.
Robert Rauschenberg, a singular charmer with German and Cherokee blood in his veins, a restless constructor of works in many styles, forms and materials, that mark his remarkable trajectory through his fecund imagination, symbolised by his ‘combines’, most famously the angora goat with a tyre round its middle
Tomkins is a remarkable and meticulous writer who had the great privilege of meeting and talking with all four men while they were alive, capturing the sound of their voice and their characters, allowing us to get up close and intimate through his detailed observations and careful documentation of their working lives, their surroundings and techniques.
Duchamp died in 1968, Cage in 1992, Tingueley in 1991, Rauschenberg in 2008.
Read this absorbing book and realise how much of our modern culture stems from their innovative thoughts, dreams, projects and products. So much great food for thought.
I love the introductory quote:
‘It is curious to note to what an extent memory is unfaithful, even for the most important periods of one’s life. It is this, indeed, that explains the delightful fantasy of history.’ – Marcel Duchamp