Sunday, 30 December 2018

Lisa Halliday: Asymmetry

Why are they killing each other? Why can't they sort it out? Why do so many people have to die? But maybe a better question is: Why do so many people not want to live.

Thursday, 27 December 2018

Sara Baume: A Line Made by Walking

I know with unqualified certainty that I want to die. But I also know with equivalent certainty that I won't do anything about it. That I will only remain here and wait for death to indulge me.

I believe: I am less fearful of being alone than I am of not being able to be alone.

But I know I will do neither; nothing. I have all the time in the world, and yet, I can't be bothered.

I decided that if I didn't allow myself to fall asleep, then I wouldn't have to wake up again and despair.

It’s time to accept that I am average, and to stop making this acceptance of my averageness into a bereavement.

How easy to be electrocuted. How fine the line between beauty and peril.

Mikael Bulgakov: Morphine

I, the unfortunate Doctor Polyakov, who became addicted to morphine in February of this year, warn anyone who may suffer the same fate not to attempt to replace morphine with cocaine. Cocaine is a most foul and insidious poison. Yesterday Anna barely managed to revive me with camphor injections and today I am half dead.

Sunday, 16 December 2018

Cesar Aira: The Literary Conference

The strangeness that made everything sparkle came from me. Worlds rose out of my bottomless perplexity.

…every mind is shaped by its own experiences and memories and knowledge, and what makes it unique is the grand total and extremely personal nature of the collection of all the data that have made it what it is. Each person possesses a mind with powers that are, whether great or small, always unique, powers that belong to them alone. This renders them capable of carrying out a feat, whether grandiose or banal, that only they could have carried out.

Impunity: it’s always impunity that gets you dancing. What did I care about being ridiculous? I was on my way to earning a superior kind of impunity, and nobody knew it.

To let myself be, naked under the sun. To create internal silence. I have pursued this goal through all of life’s twists and turns, almost like an idée fixe. This is the small and alarming idea that stands out in the midst of all other ideas and raises the volume of psychic noise, which is already quite considerable.

Despite all our plans to change, we never voluntarily do so at the core, in our essence, which is usually where we find the knot of our worst defects. I could change it — and I surely would have already — if it were a visible defect, like a limp or acne; but it isn’t.

Language has shaped our expectations so extensively that real reality has become the most detached and incomprehensible one of all.

Harry Matthews: The Solitary Twin

The Situationists were best known for their practice of deviation, which meant putting objects or activities to uses for which they hadn't been intended - my favourite example was an American porn film in which all the lines of dialogue had been replaced with maxims form the Little Red Book of chairman Mao. The main target of the movement wasn't late capitalism or neo-fascism, it was hierarchy of any kind. All previous revolutions had overthrown one hierarchy only to replace it with another just as bad and often worse. It wasn't enough to get rid of capitalist hierarchies, all social and political hierarchies had to be axed as well.... The only way to make sure this happened was for revolutionary action to become permanent.

Thursday, 6 December 2018

Tim Lawrence: Life and Death on the New York Dancefloor 1980-83

In keeping with the nebulous quality of its scenes and sounds, the 1980–1983 period doesn’t have a clear start and endpoint. The turn toward mutation can, for instance, be traced to Dinosaur’s “Kiss Me Again,” Cristina’s “Disco Clone,” and the opening of the Mudd Club, all of which unfolded during the autumn of 1978. At the other end of the time frame, venues such as Danceteria and the Paradise Garage entered 1984 in something akin to full fl ow while Strafe’s “Set It Off ” traveled between the city’s venues in a manner that suggested
that interscene records could make their mark just so long as the beat combination was right. Yet it remains the case that disco continued to hog the story of party culture during 1979, even if many of the headlines were turning negative, and it was only during 1980, aft er the majors shift ed into postbacklash retrenchment mode and the national media lost interest in disco, that the shift into a mongrel era became explicit. Similarly, 1983 amounted to a tipping point in the city’s history as aids reached epidemic proportions
while the influences of real estate inflation and Wall Street began to climb exponentially. The continuation of those trends, the onset of the crack epidemic, and the reelection of Ronald Reagan during 1984 marked the beginning of a much more conflictual and divisive era that turned records like “Set It Off ” into a rarity.

If a guiding concept runs through this book it lies in Henri Lefebvre’s description of the ideal city as “the perpetual oeuvre of the inhabitants, themselves mobile and mobilized for and by this oeuvre,” where a “superior form of rights” emerges: the “right to freedom, to individualization in socialization, to habitat and to inhabit.” Did New York’s inhabitants realize themselves in such a way during the early 1980s? Th e portents weren’t promising, given that their city is widely assumed to have collapsed during the 1970s, with the
fiscal crisis, deteriorating public ser vices, and rising crime rates pummeling its inhabitants. But although the ride was oft en bumpy, and although certain prob lems appeared endemic, New York entered the new de cade with its public services operational and its debt manageable. Rarely referenced, President Ford delivered a $2.3 billion loan soon aft er the New York Post reported him telling the city to drop dead, real estate values dipped yet never collapsed, heroin use was far less ubiquitous than is routinely implied, the murder rate barely rose between 1971 and 1979, and muggers were frequently greeted with the comment “Sorry, I haven’t got any money,” recalls downtown actor Patti Astor. With the cultural renaissance already gathering momentum, the city was set for an explosion of creative activity that came to be distinguished by its participatory nature as well as the ability of those involved to reinvent themselves and their surroundings.

As for this book’s title, the reference to life is intended to evoke the way that New York party culture didn’t merely survive the hyped death of disco but positively flourished in its wake. If the backlash held sway in the suburbs of the United States as well as the music corporations that gauged success according to national sales, the sense of possibility, opportunity, and exploration remained palpable for those who experienced the culture via the city’s private parties and public discotheques. As for the evocation of death, the primary
reference is to aids, which devastated the queer population that contributed so powerfully to the city’s party scene, with heroin users and others also embroiled. Death also refers to the reorganization of the city around a neoliberal ethos that has ultimately resulted in the radical curtailment (if not total eradication) of its party culture.

New York Magazine captured the zeitgeist in its 31 December issue. “The media have already been at work defining it all,” ran the introductory piece. “The key words seem to be ‘Me,’ ‘Self,’ ‘Disco,’ ‘Woody Allen,’ ‘Th ird World,’ ‘Liberation (usually women’s possibly anybody’s),’ ‘Cocaine,’ ‘Style,’ and, above all, ‘Energy.’ ” The publication noted that the words could be joined together, so a “shortage of energy” could be “relieved by cocaine,” which could provide “the strength to dance the night away,” with disco movie star John Travolta
“dancing with a degree of self- absorption that would glaze over the eyes of Narcissus” in Saturday Night Fever. The magazine positioned the 1970s as “the decade of the last free ride” and forecast that the 1980s would “find us paying our dues for the debts and obligations we took on during the 1970s.” It also suggested that the anonymous Studio 54 dancer who said “this is as near to heaven as I’ll ever get” might have been right, because the 1980s didn’t look as though they were “ going to be that much fun.”

It didn’t seem to matter that New York Magazine had published the semifictional article that inspired the making of Saturday Night Fever in the first place. Th e time had come to rein in consumption, cut down on the partying, and lie on a bed of nails. None of the talk would have discouraged hardened revelers from heading out to a subterranean party scene that bore only a passing resemblance to the flashier side of disco. At the Loft , musical host David Mancuso selected a panoramic range of danceable sounds for a crowd that had frequented his spot since the beginning of 1970. At Better Days, dj Toraino “Tee” Scott delivered a blend of soul, funk, r&b, and disco that lured his black gay followers into the timeless fl ow of the rhythm section. At Flamingo and 12 West, djs Howard Merritt, Richie Rivera, and Robbie Leslie played to a white gay crowd that had helped set disco in motion before side- stepping its commercial conclusion. At the Paradise Garage, dj Larry Levan created a tapestry that lay somewhere between the range of Mancuso and the steady drive of Scott. At Club 57
and the Mudd Club, Dany Johnson, David Azarch, Johnny Dynell, and Anita Sarko selected funk, new wave, no wave, punk, r&b, and sometimes even disco in between off erings that included live bands, art, immersive happenings, participatory theater, and experimental fi lm. Meanwhile Disco Fever, located up in the Bronx, presented dj and mc combinations that worked the floor by mixing disco, funk, and the nascent sound of rap. Giving up the ritual wasn’t even a consideration. The culture continued to thrive because the conditions that had led dj-ing to take root in New York in the fi rst place remained largely unchanged. The city housed the highest concentration of gay men, people of color, and women in the United States, if not the world, and just as these groups had joined forces with miscellaneous others to conquer, recalibrate, and properly ignite the withering discotheque scene during the early 1970s, so they continued at the beginning of the new de cade, because going out to party had become a way of life. Th e music industry’s historic presence in the city had also helped it become the national capital for disco and new wave, with musicians encouraged to migrate to the city in the knowledge that they would enjoy a betterthan- average chance of making a go of it if they played and recorded there. Usually broke, musicians were able to pursue this kind of dream because real estate remained cheap, thanks to the impact of deindustrialization, the fl ight of the white middle class to the suburbs, and the city’s mid- decade nosedive into bankruptcy.New York remained raw and ardent. Rolled out during the second half
of the 1970s, bud get cuts placed the city’s ser vices under such severe strain they were still deteriorating as the new de cade got under way. More murders, robberies, and burglaries were recorded in 1980 than in any year since records began forty- nine years earlier; subway breakdowns rose from 30,000 in 1977 to 71,700; and the city’s public schools lagged far behind their private counter parts.

Meanwhile a significant element of the housing stock went up in smoke as landlords ran down decrepit buildings before resorting to arson, aware they could oft en make more money from insurance than by renting to low- earning tenants. During 1979 alone, close to ten thousand premeditated blazes raged through the city, with almost half of them occurring in occupied buildings. “Arson is the cremation ritual of a diseased housing system,” lamented the Village Voice in June 1980. “In housing, the fi nal stage of capitalism is arson.”
With heroin dealing taking root in the Lower East Side, it was no wonder that some believed the city amounted to a study in nihilism, as was the case with punk vocalist Lydia Lunch, who described it as a “fi lthy specter” constructed out of “blood- soaked bones.” There were times, however, when the doomsday headlines failed to capture the city’s openness, communality, and durability. Even though friends had warned her that the Lower East Side was so dangerous nobody would visit, for instance, the Cincinnati- raised downtown movie actor Patti Astor discovered the area to be “actually quite pastoral, with firmly established Russian, Italian and Hispanic communities” when she moved into a dirt- cheap three bedroom walk-up on East 10th Street and Second Avenue. Th e ceiling fell in at her next apartment, on 3rd Street between Second Ave nue and the Bowery, but that, she says, was nothing, and it also gave her a reason to not pay the rent. “We just ran wild in the streets, wearing our little outfits,” reminisces Astor. “We all lived in these horrible little apartments so we really
didn’t want to stay inside, and we kind of made that whole neighborhood one big playground. Th e parents were gone.” Even the threat of vio lence usually ended in a slapstick standoff . “Being stuck up by somebody with a knife wasn’t that big of a deal,” she adds. “ Th ey’d go, ‘Give me your money!’ And we’d reply, ‘We don’t have any money! Why do you think we’re out on the same street?!’ Th en the guy would go, ‘Oh, okay. Here, have a cigarette.’ For real.” Only the Alphabets, as the alphabetized avenues at the eastern end of
the Lower East Side were known, were deemed to be out of bounds (thanks to the local heroin trade). Creativity flourished under these conditions. “It was a time when people could literally pay $100 a month in rent and there was a tremendous freedom to that,” argues Chi Chi Valenti, a native New Yorker and party animal who shared a $400- per- month loft on 14th Street with three roommates. “They didn’t have to have a career. Th ere was a great fluidity.” Getting by with very little money, Valenti and her peers flocked to the Odessa, a cheap diner located on Ave nue A and St. Mark’s Place, as well as the ubiquitous ethnic cafés and restaurants of the East Village, where the enormous plates of food could suffi ce for a day. Th ose who got to know the door staff of downtown’s clubs gained free entry and oft en free drinks. Transport couldn’t have been cheaper because every one walked everywhere. “It’s amazing how little we needed,” adds Valenti, whose uniformed outfi ts, severe aura, and dominant personality made her a recognizable presence. “Th at was terribly im por tant.” Taking shape aft er creative workers fl ooded into Lower Manhattan during the 1960s and 1970s, the downtown art scene coexisted with the clandestine end of the city’s party network. Th e experimental Kitchen Center for Video and Music operated out of the Mercer Street Arts Center, which was situated around the corner from Mancuso’s fi rst Loft on Broadway and Bleecker Street. Paula Cooper’s gallery on 96 Prince Street, the fi rst of its kind when it opened in SoHo in 1968, became neighbors with the second incarnation
of the Loft when Mancuso moved to number 99. Leo Castelli, the most influential dealer in American con temporary art, opened a gallery at 420 West Broadway in SoHo in 1971, little more than a hop, skip, and jump away from Nicky Siano’s second Gallery, a Loft - style venue located on Mercer Street and Houston. La MaMa Experimental Th eatre Club had already been running on East 4th Street for twelve years when future punk hangout cbgb set up shop at nearby 315 Bowery. Students from the School of Visual Arts on East 23rd Street were happy to make the short hike to Club 57 on St. Mark’s Place. And the Performing Garage, home of the experimental theater group the Wooster Group, turned out to be a twelve- minute saunter from the Paradise Garage, located at 84 King Street. With so much at their doorsteps, downtowners rarely felt the need to leave.

Negotiating streets that were still unlit at night, artists, actors, choreographers, composers, dancers, djs, musicians, per for mance artists, theater directors, video fi lmmakers, and writers tended to collaborate and socialize within discrete groups at fi rst, drawn to those who shared their vocabulary. Yet whether they ended up living in an expansive loft in SoHo or a run- down tenement in the East Village, the density of their living arrangements, the sheer level of their activity, and the shared desire to make a stand led the
divergent strands of this defi nitively postindustrial generation to come into increasing contact, and from the mid-1970s onward a constellation’s worth of meetings and collaborations began to unfold. “Artists worked in multiple media, and collaborated, criticized, supported, and valued each other’s works in a way that was unpre ce dented,” argues archivist and critic Marvin J. Taylor in Th e Downtown Book. “Rarely has there been such a condensed and diverse group of artists in one place at one time, all sharing many of the same assumptions about how to make new art.”