Sunday, 27 December 2009

A Letter to Stephen (aged 16)

A very merry Christmas to all my intrepid explorers!

What a lovely Christmas present to find this: a letter Stephen Fry wrote to his Sixteen year old self. Below is an extract, but you can find the whole letter here. I would urge you to read the whole thing: it's a truly heartfelt and powerful letter.

"I hope you are well. I know you are not. As it happens you wrote in 1973 a letter to your future self and it is high time that your future self had the decency to write back. You declared in that letter that "everything I feel now as an adolescent is true". You went on to affirm that if ever you dared in later life to repudiate, deny or mock your 16-year-old self it would be a lie, a traducing, treasonable lie, a crime against adolescence. "This is who I am," you wrote. "Each day that passes I grow away from my true self. Every inch I take towards adulthood is a betrayal."

Oh, lord love you, Stephen. How I admire your arrogance and rage and misery. How pure and righteous they are and how passionately storm-drenched was your adolescence. How filled with true feeling, fury, despair, joy, anxiety, shame, pride and above all, supremely above all, how overpowered it was by love. My eyes fill with tears just to think of you. Of me. Tears splash on to my keyboard now. I am perhaps happier now than I have ever been and yet I cannot but recognise that I would trade all that I am to be you, the eternally unhappy, nervous, wild, wondering and despairing 16-year-old Stephen: angry, angst-ridden and awkward but alive. Because you know how to feel, and knowing how to feel is more important than how you feel. Deadness of soul is the only unpardonable crime, and if there is one thing happiness can do it is mask deadness of soul."

Friday, 11 December 2009

A letter

Today i wrote a letter to a person I don't know and can't possibly imagine. Despite not knowing him, I felt that I had a large responsibility for him. In fact, I felt like a was creating that person, moulding him while I wrote.

Today I wrote to someone that I will eventually grow to know intimately. I tried to imagine him. I want him to remember me. I want him to remember. I made lists, long lists...hoping that something will jump out an grab him...bring him back.

Today I wrote a letter to someone I will never meet. I wrote to someone who'll judge me. I felt juged. I apologised to him for things i've done, things i'm doing, things i'm going to do. I'm scared I won't be forgiven.

Today I wrote to someone and addressed him as 'you'. I gave him advice, I told him things I liked about him.
"you have a lot of people who care about you"
I told him what he cares about, what he wants to be doing, where he should be.

Today I told him that 'this is significant'. Today I wrote a letter to a person. Today I wrote a letter that wasn't very good. It was too bitty, full of lists, full of impossible commands, too aggressive. It left bits out. It couldn't say what it wanted to say.
I'm not adept at letter writing, anyway. I don't expect a response.

Today I wrote a letter that I think will be ignored. He wont care about the things that I do. He has his own concerns, his own friends, his own memories.
Or he wont want to remember. He'll want to forget.
Silly little letter.

Today I wasn't the only person to write a letter. We all did. We all sat in a circle an wrote letters. We all faltered, we stumbled, we all wrote a letter. We sealed it and addressed it. We imagined the recipients sitting in the same circle in ten years. We imagine them laughing at us. They'll discuss us, try to picture us. They'll get us wrong. They can, because we wont be there.

Today I wrote a letter. I wrote a letter to myself.
write a letter to yourself in ten years time. Seal it, address it to the future.
Address it to 'ten years time'. sign it, say goodbye, seal it.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

Susan Sontag - Regarding the torture of Others.

An interesting article Susan sontag wrote for the New York Times about the Abu Gharib torture photographs.
Click here to see it.

Michael De Certeau - The Practice of everyday Life

Quotes from The Practice of Everyday life
Michael De Certeau, Luce Giard & Pierre Mayol

-Living: The Neighbourhood-

De Certeau identifies two strands of research into the neighbourhood:
1. The urban sociology of the neighbourhood. It essentially privileges data relative to space and architecture; it takes measurements (surface area, topography, the flux of movements, etc.) and analyses objective material and administrative constraints that enter into the definition of the neighbourhood.
2. The Socioethnographic analysis of everyday life, which proliferates the erudite research of folklore specialists and historians of “popular culture”, to the vast poetic, even mythic...

The neighbourhood is, almost by definition, a mastery of the social environment because, for the dweller, it is a known area of social space in which, to a greater or lesser degree, he or she knows himself or herself to be recognised.

A relationship exists between the apprehension of lodging (an ‘inside’) and the apprehension of the urban space to which it is connected (an ‘outside’). The neighbourhood is the middle tern in an existential dialectic between inside and outside. And it is the tension between these two terms, an inside and an outside, which little by little becomes the continuation of an inside, that the appropriation of space takes place.

It is less an urban surface, transparent for everyone or statistically measurable, than the possibility offered everyone to inscribe in the city the multitude of trajectories...

The limit between the public and private, which appears to be the founding structure of the neighbourhood for the practice of the dweller, is not only a separation, but constitutes a separation that unites: the public and the private are not both disregarded as two exogenous, though coexisting, elements; they are much more, constantly interdependent because, in the neighbourhood, one has no meaning without the other.

A signature attesting to origin, the neighbourhood is inscribed in the history of the subject like the mark of an indelible belonging inasmuch as it is the primary configuration, the archetype of every process of appropriation of space as a place for everyday life.

A stroller’s walk in the neighbourhood always caries several meanings: a dream of travelling in front of a particular display window, a brief sensual agitation, the arousal of the sense of smell under the trees in the park, memories of itinerates buried since childhood, joyous, serene, or bitter reflections on one’s own destiny, as many “segments of meaning” as can be substituted for each other as the walk goes on, without order or constraint, aroused by chance meetings, incited by the floating attention to “events” that constantly take place in the street.

The city, in the strongest sense, is “poeticised” by the subject: the subject has refabricated it for his or her own use by undoing the constraints of the urban apparatus and, as a consumer of space, imposes her own law on the external order of the city

-Living: Propriety-

The neighbourhood is thus defined as a collective organisation of individual trajectories

The interpersonal contact that takes place in these meetings is itself random, not calculated in advance; it is defined by chance comings and goings involving the necessity of everyday life: in the elevator, at the grocery store, at the supermarket...
The neighbourhood imposes a saviour faire of simultaneity undecidable and inevitable coexistence: the neighbours are there, on my floor, on my street, and it is impossible to avoid them forever; “one has to make do”, to find an equilibrium between the proximity imposed by the public configuration of places and the distance necessary to safeguard one’s private life.

The neighbourhood is a social universe that does not take transgression very well; this is incompatible with the supposed transparency of everyday life, with its immediate legibility; it must take place elsewhere, hide itself in the darkness of the bad side of town, or flee into the private folds of the household.

-Intermezzo – Ghosts in the City-

In Paris, this reversal was not sudden. Already, within the grid pattern of functional planners, obstacles sprang up, “resistances” from a stubborn past. But the technicians were supposed to make a tabula rasa of the opacities that disrupted the plans for the city of glass. [...]this Urban planning destroyed even more than the war had. Yet, some old buildings survived, even if they were caught in nets. These seemingly sleepy, old-fashioned things, defaced houses, closed-down factories, the debris of shipwrecked histories still today raise up the ruins of an unknown, strange city. They burst forward within the modernist, massive, homogenous city like slips of the tongue from an unknown, perhaps unconscious, language. They surprise. [...] Hetrogeneous references, ancient stars, they create bumps on the smooth utopias of the new Paris. Ancient things become remarkable. An uncanniness lurks there, in the everyday life of the city. It is a ghost that henceforth haunts the urban planning.

Something insinuates itself here that no longer obeys the “conservative” ideology of national heritage. The past is generally looked on as imaginary. A stranger is already there, in residence. This gothic novel scenario agrees with the research of architectural schools, such as Site in the United States, that aims at giving city dwellers the possibility of imagining the city, dreaming it, and thus living it. More than its utilitarian and technocratic transparency, it is the opaque ambivalence of its oddities that make the city livable.
...The remains of waning pasts open up, in the streets, vistas on another world. At the quai des Celestins, on the Saint Paul block, and in so many other places, facades, courtyards, cobblestones, relics from ravaged universes and enshrined in the modern like oriental precious stones.

In this urban imaginary world, there first of all things that spell it out. They impose themselves. They are there, closed in on themselves, silent forces. They have character. Or even better, they are “characters” on the urban stage, secret personas. [...] By eluding the law of the present, these inanimate objects aquire a certain autonomy. They are actors, legendary heroes. They organise around them the city saga. [...] They are witnesses to a history that, unlike that of museums or books, no longer has a language.

A pantheon where the “spirits” in so many heterogeneous places cross paths and compose the interlacing of our memories. [...] The population of ghosts that teem within the city and that make up the strange and immense silent vitality of an urban symbolics.

The renovated “old stones” become places for transit between the ghosts of the past and the imperatives of the present. They are passageways on the multiple frontiers that separate periods, groups, and practices. In the same way as public squares which lead many different streets, renovated buildings constitute, in a historical and no longer geographic model, interchanges between foreign memories. These shifters ensure a geographic circulation of collective or individual experiences. They play an important role in the urban polyphony.

The wordless histories of walking, dress, housing, or cooking shape neighbourhoods on behalf of absences; they trace out memories that no longer have place – childhoods, genealogical traditions, timeless events, such is the “work” of urban narratives as well.

Through stories about places, they become inhabitable. Living is narativising. Stirring up or restoring this narativising is thus also among the tasks of any renovation. One must awaken the stories that sleep in the streets and that sometimes lie within a simple name, folded up inside this thimble like the silk dress of a fairy.

Festivals, contests, the development of “speaking places” in neighbourhoods or buildings would return narratives to the soil from which they grow. If “an event is what one recounts”, the city only has a story, only lives by preserving its memories.

Renovation does not, ultimately, know what it is “bringing back” – or what it is destroying – when it restores the references and fragments of elusive memories. For those ghosts that haunt urban works, renovation can only provide a laying out of already marked stones, like words for it.

Susan Sontag - On Photography

Quotes from Susan Sontag – On Photography

-Humankind lingers unregenerately in Plato’s cave, still lingering in mere images of the truth.

-The inventory started in about 1839 and since then just about everything has been photographed, or so it seems. This very insatiability of the photographing eye changes the terms of confinement in our cave, our world. In teaching us a new visual code, photographs alter and enlarge our notions of what is worth looking at, and what we have the right to observe.

-They are a grammar and, even more importantly, an ethics of seeing. Finally, the most grandiose result of the photographic enterprise is to give us the sense that we can hold the world in our heads: an anthology of images. To collect photographs is to collect the world.

-To photograph is to appropriate the thing photographed. It means putting oneself into a certain relation to the world that feels like knowledge - and, therefore, like power.

-Photographed images do not seem to be statements about the world, so much as pieces of it, miniatures of reality that anyone can acquire

-There is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera. From its start photography implied the capture of the largest possible number of subjects. Painting never had so imperial a scope. The subsequent industrialisation of camera technology only carried out a promise inherent in photography from its very beginning to democratise all experiences by translating them into images.

-Taking photographs has set up a chronic voyeuristic relationship to the world which levels the meaning of all events.

-There is something predatory in the act of taking a picture. To photograph people is to violate them, by seeing them as they can never see themselves, by having knowledge of them as they can never have: it turns people into objects that can be symbolically possessed.

-All photographs are momento mori: to take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or things) mortality, Vulnerability, mutability, precisely by slicing out the moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.

-Through photographs the world becomes a series of unrelated, freestanding particles; and history, past and present, a set of anecdotes and faits divers. The camera makes reality atomic, manageable, and opaque. It is a view of the world that denies interconectiveness, continuity, but which confers each moment the character of a mystery.

-Industrial societies turn their citizens into image junkies

-Photography implies that we know about the world if we accept that the camera records it. But this is the opposite to understanding, which starts from not accepting the world as it looks. All possibility of understanding is rooted in the ability to say no. Strictly speaking, one never understands anything from a photograph.

Roland Barthes - Camera Lucida

Ok, so I'l post a comprehensive reading list soon, but in the mean time I'l put up some nice quotes:

From Roland Barthes – Camera Lucida – Chapter 5

Very often (too often, for my taste) I have been photographed and knew about it. Now once I feel myself observed by the lens, everything changes: I constitute myself in the process of “posing”, I instantaneously make another body for myself, I transform myself into an image. This transformation is an active one: I feel that the photographer creates my body or mortifies it, according to its caprice .

No doubt it is metaphorically that I derive my existence from the photographer. But though this dependence is an imaginary one (and from the purest image-repertoire), I experience it with the anguish of uncertain filiation: an image – my image – will be generated: will I be born from an antipathetic individual or from a “good sort”? If only I could come out of the paper as on a classical canvas, endowed with a noble expression – thoughtful, intelligent, etc.!

What I want, in short, is that my (mobile) image, buffeted among thousands of shifting photographs, altering with situation and age, should always coincide with my (profound) “self”; but it is the contrary that must be said: “myself” never coincides with my image; for it is the image which is heavy, motionless, stubborn...If only photography could give me a neutral, anatomic body, a body which signifies nothing! Alas, I am doomed by (well-meaning) photography to always have an expression: my body never finds its zero degree, no one can give it to me.

In front of the lens, I am at the same time:

· The one I think I am

· The one I want others to think I am

· The one the photographer thinks I am

· The one he makes use of to exhibit his art.

In other words, a strange action: I do not stop imitating myself, and because of this, each time I am (or let myself be) photographed I invariably suffer from a sensation of inauthenticity, sometimes of imposture (comparable to certain nightmares).