Posts tagged ‘culture’

An Oasis of Horror in a Desert of Boredom


But cities today are well known for popping up in the middle of nowhere, history-less and incomprehensible. […] Today’s cities are made up, viral, fungal, unexpected. Like well-lit film sets in the distance, staged amidst mudflats, reflecting themselves in the still waters of inland reservoirs, today’s cities simply arrive, without reservations; they are not so much invited as they are impossible to turn away. Cities now erupt and linger; they are both too early and far too late. Cities move in, take root and expand, whole neighborhoods throwing themselves together in convulsions of glass and steel.

– Geoff Manaugh @ BLDGBLG (pic from Cedric Delsaux’s “Dark Lens” series)

Years ago, on a road trip across America that maybe I’ll write about at some point, my friend Eli and I pulled into San Francisco in our oversized 1985 Ford van (complete with a bedframe built into the back – it was the classic, Kerouac-inspired trip). It was my first time visiting the city, and the first few hours were spent viewing it from the passenger side window as we drove around and around in ever-widening circles, looking for a place to park.

In the end we found a streetside space in the dilapidated slums south of Market. (For those with some knowledge of the city, I believe it was on 6th Street, and well below Mission.) It did not look like the best of neighborhoods, and my unease was only increased when, stepping out of the van, a man idling against a nearby building suggested we give him five (or was it ten?) dollars to “watch our car.”

Walking north in (what we hoped was) the direction of Union Square, we passed through what I can only describe as a gauntlet of street people. Time paints our memory in exaggerated strokes (and perhaps what I think of as truth is only a nightmare of history) but what I remember is rows and rows of entreating faces and endless hands – hands thrusting, demanding, pleading; hands shaking in anger or like they were strung out on drugs or in remission; hands grasping at shirts and coat pockets. This sounds unbelievable, and it was: a scene more surreal (precisely because it was real) than any Dali painting. (more…)


January 27, 2010 at 2:33 pm Leave a comment

Stuff I like

Thomas DoyleA quick break from my paper writing (about corporate personhood and vampires!!) to give a shout-out to things I like. I figure I spend enough time on here being negative… might as well point out some things that spark my interest/enjoyment. Today I chose two: one old, one new. The new: this wonderful little capsular world from artist Thomas Doyle. He constructs miniature, emotionally-weighted worlds inside glass jars! He says he was obsessed by dioramas as a kid! I was too: I used to cull grass and moss and flowers from the yard and create miniature “gardens” inside shoe boxes, only to be tragically distraught when they inevitably died. And, seeing as how I  have such problems with much of modern art, and how a trip to the MoMa for me is generally like Dante’s trip through purgatory (fascinating, but not exactly enjoyable), it was thrilling to find myself so captivated by Doyle’s work. (more…)

January 7, 2010 at 7:29 am 2 comments

Obama and the Age of Iconicity

For those of us who came out of school and into the “real” world this past year it has been a disheartening time, to say the least: with the economy in shambles, and entry-level jobs disappearing more rapidly than free beer at a college kegger, we’ve watched the seemingly sudden evisceration of the American workplace as we (or rather, our parents) knew it. Freshly endowed with our flashy diplomas and a skill-set supposedly primed to find us a place in the “new” knowledge economy, we instead found ourselves signing on for yearlong unpaid internships, taking jobs we’d turned down at seventeen (Starbucks, anyone?) or, like me, beating a hasty retreat towards the preserving walls of academia. (more…)

January 7, 2010 at 2:30 am 3 comments

My New Year’s Resolution “Anti-List”

So, I got this idea (in an effort to ignore those looming paper deadlines) to post a list of the top ten trends which I hope will not continue into 2010 – trends like those “my year in the life of” things in which some previously unknown blogger (someone just like us!) rises to pop culture fame through their willingness to cook all of Julia Child’s recipes, follow all of Oprah’s dicta, or try every position in the karma sutra. I figured I could get in a couple pithy zingers about how, in this stage of late capitalism, the only remaining form of stardom resides in a parasitic appropriation of past images and icons, recycled remnants of a culture which we revive at the very moment of its final evisceration. A.k.a. your usual quasi-Marxist cultural commentary with a  splash of snark, a few sly asides, and enough pop references to show that I’m still (despite it all!) culturally au courant.

And then I realized: that to engage in such snarky commentary would be, in fact, to embody the very trend(s) I set out to criticize. (more…)

January 4, 2010 at 8:41 am Leave a comment

In the bathroom, Oct. 16

The international office of Leiden University resides in the old house of the Counts of Holland, a sort of miniature fairy-tale castle (complete with turrets, battlements and dungeons) which subsequently served as the town prison. The inevitable jokes aside (about administration as a form of torture, etc.) I find something uplifting about this fact: the old inner partitions have been hollowed out; only the façade remains; iron bars replaced by enormous panes of glass. As if the very site of history could be transformed, with time, into something useful, hollow, innocent (transparent).

I have this thought from across the street, sitting in a bruin café whose mounted photographs attest to its continued existence in 1960, 1920, 1910. In this last picture the burghers of the houses surrounding the square have come out to pose in the street; some of the boys wear knee-length britches; one has wooden shoes. It is easy to imagine them pushing open the door of the coffeeshop with its warped, antique panes, or standing around the bar counter with its peeling (green) paint and countless knots, reading the Volkskrant with greater ease than I am today as I try to decipher the sense of an article on “the modern relevance of the holocaust.”

In the bathroom I am overcome by a sudden sense of peace and security – a baffling sensation until I realize that the curved walls of the narrow room, its sliding door, and the distant hum of conversation perfectly recall the feel of lavatories in certain (old) trains. “Nothing so soothing as the transitory,” I think. But what am I here in Holland if not transient? Then I realized: security comes from either total rooted– or total rootlessness, from the château or the high-speed train. Whereas I am somewhere between these two: here, but not for long. (But aren’t we all?)

I’ve erased all my previous blog entries, which I wrote –after all– before “coming here.” But tomorrow this current writing will be before the “there” à venir: every writing is passed. Alongside the desire for some sort of total, historical journal –pages upon pages documenting what I was and what I’ve become– lies another: not mounting pages but one page, continually erased and rewritten: the illusion of a fresh start. Illusory because we cannot, of course, erase history; we can’t even redeem it; but perhaps (like these classrooms in old dungeons) we can learn to live with/in it.



October 18, 2009 at 12:19 am Leave a comment


Bennett Carpenter
Leiden, Netherlands

Random musings about literature, art, politics and (occasionally) my life as a graduate student in sunny Holland. Click on the pic for more about me.


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