Sunday, May 31, 2009

1990. Progress. Plaid.

There's something unique about the 1990s. Pop culture in the west all of a sudden got moody. With the triumph of democracy, technically there should have been some sort of reaffirmation of the values that had been so carefully charted out in the mainstream since the 1950s. To be sure, there were many deviations (see Splendor in the Grass or Rebel Without A Cause, both films exploring the difficulties encountered during liminal periods in young people's adaption to the American Dream). But apart from some ridiculous exceptions (such as Clueless- exceptional film, I might add!) both film and music in post-Cold War America was defeatist if not borderline existentialist. Most of what was available to young people in the way of entertainment in the mid-1990s was dark, introspective and, (here's the kicker) relevant! Before P.Diddy, there was Public Enemy. Not all was so peachy in inner-city America- rappers made sure that was known. Before Chris Martin, there was Kurt Cobain. Not everyone looked on the bright side of the speed of sound. Now, this isn't some sort of great discovery on my behalf of course. But I've always appreciated and felt attached to these aspects of popular culture in the 90s.

One of my favourite films, REALITY BITES!

Saturday, May 30, 2009

She's the Chung


As noted below, I adore this personality. I don't watch much TV, but when I first moved to the UK, early mornings were accompanied by T4 Music's 'Freshly Squeezed' episodes. She's probably one of the most clever and annoying TV presenters out there. Alexa Chung's got 'fly' style and she makes me smile. An inspiration, really. But now she's moved to New York City to star in a new MTV daily show. Alas, I will have to resign myself to BBC Breakfast. I'm avoiding the headlines from now on since the expenses scandal has brought out 'the bitch' in one of the anchors: pretty much half-yelling at guests and MPs. Deserved, no doubt, (who charges taxpayers for moat-cleaning?) but it's not something that's particularly pleasant to listen to at 7 am. 

Anyways, here's Chung on Popworld, interviewing Gwen Stefani. This interview is so awkward and amazing. Chung's veiled sarcasm, and Stefani's idiotic answers are brilliant. The tension is vivid. It amplifies how ridiculous pop music really is. How it fuels excessive consumption, creates unrealistic ideals for women and men to adhere to, etc. etc. But engaging with it, and really taking the piss is in my mind the best way to live with it. Well done Alexa, never change. 

And finally, here she is, in her element, DJing with Nick 'Grimmy' Grimshaw. PS. I love the 90's post coming up soon! Exam stress induces shallow cultural observations.' 


Monday, May 25, 2009


I crave the frame of mind embodied by this song I used to love. My posts are going to be pretty short for the next little while, but there are plenty of things to come. 

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Russia I long to meet

photo from 

"Ivan Ozolin stared at this crowd. Perhaps he'd known they'd come, eventually, that the life of Leo Tolstoy was as precious to the people of his country as the earth itself and that, if he was going to die, they would want some part in his dying. He could see straight away that many of the arrivals were newsmen with cameras and as they milled around on the platform- looking in vain for some grand Station Hotel or the presence of a commodious Telegraph Office- he felt himself surrender to them, to the grand circus that was accumulating at Astapovo. He wanted to embrace them, to say, 'You were right to come! Life is uneventful, my friends! Don't I know it! But here's an event: the dying Tolstoy, trying to keep his wife at bay! So come and get your bit of it and remember for ever whatever you think it teaches you'." -The Jester of Astapovo, Rose Tremain, featured in The Guardian, Saturday 24 May. 

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The other Little Joy.

my favourite person: Alexa Chung. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

This is how I feel: Academic overload




images from


Monday, May 18, 2009

Contradiction or Embrace?

While reviewing the items I've posted here, I can't help but notice how much of a classic picture they paint of my sensibilities. The picture below, of the romantic couple: beautiful, yes, but on a day where my anti-establishment side takes over, I shake my head in disgust at how bourgeois and meaningless something like that can be. But truly, it's not them, it's me. I'm a contradiction in so many terms, and I can't escape it. Solution? Embrace? 

What I really wanted to write about today is the ongoing discourse concerning German disunity in the middle of the twentieth century. What strikes me as absurd is the endless array of useless apologetics and rhetoric that couch this subject in the academic literature. What prompted this? Well, in my communications with various scholars about my dissertation, I'll often ask about opinions on certain sources. What I find nine times out of ten is that the history of the German Democratic Republic is still a sore spot for West Germans. For example, I'm reading a collection of essays by former East German officials titled, 'Flucht von der Junta'. The book details the East German assistance given to Chileans after Pinochet's coup in 1973. As someone who has some understanding of how history is written, I'm quite clearly privy to the fact that the book is coloured by a certain self-congratulatory tone on behalf of the authors, and as such can't be taken at face value. No shit, right? But it seems to me that this charge, (ie. East German sources are usually biased), is so often and so vehemently laid against any piece of literature published by former supporters of the GDR that it loses its credibility. The phrase: 'Why would you read that? It's an apology for the disgusting Honecker era,' needs to be assessed. I have to consider the nature of the criticism itself. 

To begin, this has to be approached from a broader view. Why have some West Germans not been able to accept their East German compatriots? And on the other hand, why do some, still, maintain that the division of the country was the most wretched and unnatural state of affairs? The fall of the Berlin Wall and the immediate grand welcome offered to Easterners has become a collective narrative in Germany that in some ways hides the dissatisfaction on both sides with the economic realities of the whole ordeal. That is not to diminish the immensity and importance of that moment for humanity, but it was a long time ago, and the attitude of Germans has changed quite a bit since then. 

What I want to get at is why there are so many conflicting stories told about West German acceptance of the partition in the late 40s? I asked a friend recently why she thought the Hallstein Doctrine (the Federal Republic's diplomatic policy which stipulated that they would not maintain relations with any state that recognized the GDR) remained in place for so long? After all, this lasted well into the period of Detente in the Cold War. She replied that to acknowledge the GDR as a separate state would be unthinkable for West Germany. "Germany must never be divided, and for any foreign country to acknowledge the GDR as separate would be to legitimate that division." Hmmm. Yes, of course, in hindsight West Germans can say, 'We never wanted this to happen, Stalin and his thugs tore you away from us'. But in light of the new documents, it's clear that Stalin repeatedly attempted to secure a democratic one-state solution for Germany, (not of course out of a sudden warm fuzzy feeling for parliamentary bourgeois democracy, but for purely strategic calculations. Out of plain fear of what a divided Germany would mean for the security of the other territories he had gobbled up). There are a number of reasons why the GDR was established, and I don't think anyone really wants/needs me to detail them here, but suffice it to say, the Americans and primarily the French were loth to continue bargaining with the Soviets about a post-war settlement in Germany. Trizonia was sufficient, and wrangling with Stalin's men over precisely how the zones of occupation would be merged was tiring and even unfavorable. Konrad Adenauer was eager to be the chief beneficiary of the Marshall Aid package. French economic recovery required an equivalent one in the industrial areas of West Germany, and that depended almost entirely on issuing a new currency. The Soviet Union could for strategic reasons never accept a separate currency in the allied zone because it would diminish their ability to exact reparations. Further, any suggestion that the German nation needs to be 'whole' again was most likely an unpopular one in both the East and West after the Second World War. That kind of nationalist sentiment didn't actually resurface until Willy Brandt's 'Ostpolitik', and then merely tenuously. So why the claims that Germans never wanted partition? I'm seriously interested, and want to do more investigation on the cultural side of this debate. 

To be sure, most Germans were saddened and oppressed by the division of their country. The crimes committed by the GDR against its own citizens are deplorable and bone-chilling. Families were separated, and travel through East Germany to reach West Berlin was never a pleasant journey. However, the constant categorization of the ordeal as a pitched battle between good and evil is never appropriate in my mind. What this tirade is all about is my ongoing frustration with the hostility among some historians concerning these issues. Not that this is avoidable, and not that I believe objectivity is possible (I for one, will never reach a neutral position on US foreign policy in Latin America). However, the little thing that irks me is that the actual position of West Germans in 1949 was much more nuanced than what they make it out to be today. Nor were all West Germans happy to foot the bill during re-unification. There's no solution for the historiography. At least not right now. But as a somewhat neutral third party, (too young to have witnessed what actually happened, enough of a humanist to abhor Ulbricht and Honecker's regimes, but also cynical regarding West German rhetoric during re-unification) I'll hopefully make a decent assessment of what former East Germans have to say. 

An important qualification: I do acknowledge, appreciate, and agree with the the emotional, passionate, and deep-seated criticisms leveled against the GDR's government. That's you, Mom and Dad.  

Friday, May 15, 2009

Slightly Ghostly

#97 Patrick Watson / Part 3 - A Take Away Show from La Blogotheque on Vimeo.

Vincent Moon's films are quite epic. His empire is expanding, truly. My recent hunger for Patrick Watson tunes was entirely satiated by this video. It's equally as amazing as Moon's Yeasayer piece.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My Life

LOVE-ly photography

check this out at:

London-based photographer, Chris Craymer, has received the support of a pretty intense handbag company, Mulberry, to make something exquisite: a photo-essay of love! He's compiled his pieces in a new book, appropriately titled: 'Romance'. I really like this image. The couple has a total sense of liminality about them. It appears as though they are no longer simply 'dating', but at the same time probably not ready to admit that they are head-over heels in love with each other, either. It's that transition period between 'I'm in like with you' and 'I'm in love with you' that is just as sweet as anything else. Some would argue, the sweetest. 

Considering the fact that I've been dealing with the rather taxing 'History of Sexuality' all day, I'd like to leave Foucault behind before I go to bed, and restore my faith in human agency when it comes to 'falling in love'. Thanks Chris. I don't think I'll spend the 35 quid on it, though. When I can find it at a vintage shop 30 years from now... ya.... maybe then. 

Tuesday, May 12, 2009


Erin Wasson's Bike from Brilliant.



a sentimental longing or wistful affection for the past, typically for a period or place with happy personal associations. 

Recently I've been experiencing extreme bouts of the above sensation. Memories are prompted by the most odd and random things. They'll linger for a mere second, and leave you so fast you can't even manage to capture consciously what the memory was. But I've been winning! Keeping record of them here, that is.

The jingling of the keys hooked to my bag- reminds me of the first hipster I ever truly loved: the tall gangly dark haired tattooed bartender at Sneaky Dee's that may very well be gay. 

Cigar I smelled on my way home from the tube- balmy summer dinners with my parents and friends in our screened in porch- sheltered from the buzz of the mosquitos in the woods. The evenings wind down after too many glasses of wine and long political discussions with my Dad. The conversations almost always end on 'the Ronald Reagan factor'.

Skinny Love by Bon Iver- summer on Borden Street accompanied by late night excursions to corner stores with friends that are boys. Talking about anarchism on sidewalks at 5 am avec une popsicle.

My multi-coloured beaded necklace sitting on my desk- the summer that I worked in the sun. 

More political and historical thoughts to come. I'm developing something interesting  right now, with respect to the left and what I reckon will continue to be a problem- namely: class war.  

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dissertation Inspiration.

I've become somewhat obsessed with vintage political party logos. My dissertation topic has pointed me in the direction of the Chilean left's designs. The MIR's (militant ultra-leftist revolutionary group in Chile from the late 1960s) logo is really interesting. 
Unidad Popular Logo, Chile, 1970. 

Luis Corvolan- long time Chilean Communist Party member, significant subject of my dissertation. 

The Visit

Alright. So I'm a terrible blogger. But this year will be better, I swear. 

Recently, my two former roommates came to visit me in London. What it has indeed confirmed is that I'm an atrocious tour guide. Instead of pointing them to the V&A Baroque exhibit or the White Cube gallery, I insisted we go to Rough Trade (for the non-Londoners: Empire Records-esque hipster haven). I love Rough Trade. What attracts me about it most is the atmosphere, and I know that makes me a terrible person- shallow, even. But the music counts too. I fell in love with El Guincho there. Also, a few months ago they facilitated my re-acquaintance with older folk music after my electro-hiatus this summer (Friendly Fires put a definitive end to that). I have to admit I was too flustered on Sunday to concentrate on finding the Belle & Sebastian record I wanted to get for my sister, so I almost left empty-handed. What I did have patience for was coaxing my lady friends into the giant photo-booth in the store. 

There's something romantic about capturing an image like this one. I can just imagine that years from now I'll look at it and I'll remember that rare sunny day on Brick Lane. How have they changed? I'm tempted to say, not at all. Of course that's not possible- if the science is right, our cells regenerate completely every seven years- making us entirely new people. I can't really speak to that. But it does owe something to my fascination with liminality. It wouldn't be possible without not only a physical but also mental renewal of sorts. As they embark on their travels through Europe, their detachment from who they once were will be profound, and indeed lead them to an entirely "new" set of world views.  I also wonder how young people negotiate between deeply conflicting questions- the kind prompted by Dawkins- and the strings that tie us to our past convictions. Perhaps it's a realization that 'the plan' will have to be let go, once and for all. "I don't want to get married. I don't want to have children". Or perhaps it's something even more significant than that: "I'm not really in charge here- what now?" This unstructured rambling will be consolidated at a later date. For now, I just have to ask, what brought this on? I think it's the hope that my friends find a little bit more of the 'selves' they will one day become on their trip. And when they look at this picture years from now, they will think.... we were so different then, but yet the same. 

And yes, people do find themselves. To believe you have the ability to create yourself is romantic, at best. Choice is, after all, limited.