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Rustom Bharucha reports that the Progressive Writers Association has its origins, according to ‘its most distinguished founder- member Mulk Ray Anand’ in ‘the expatriate community of India students in London, who had charted their first manifesto as “progressive” writers in 1935 in a Chinese restaurant’ (Bharucha 1998:29)
Bharucha, Rustom 1998 In the Name of the Secular: Contemporary Cultural Activision in Inidia Delhi: Oxford UP
From the good folk at Minor Compositions, a project for hipsters, creatives and others with too much to lose (please share widely):
Surviving as a cultural or artistic worker in the city has never been easy. Creative workers find themselves celebrated as engines of economic growth, economic recovery and urban revitalization even as the conditions for our continued survival becomes more precarious. How can you make a living today in such a situation? That is, how to hold together the demands of paying the rent and bills while managing all the tasks necessary to support one’s practice? How to manage the tensions between creating spaces for creativity and imagination while working through the constraints posed by economic conditions?
In a more traditional workplace it is generally easy to distinguish between those who planned and managed the labor process and those who were involved in its executions: between the managers and the managed. For creative workers these distinctions become increasingly hard to make. Today the passionate and self-motivated labor of the artisan increasingly becomes the model for a self-disciplining, self-managed labor force that works harder, longer, and often for less pay precisely because of its attachment to some degree of personal fulfillment in forms of engaging work. And that ain’t no way to make a living, having to struggle three times as hard for just to have a sense of engagement in meaningful work.
This project sets out to investigate how cultural workers in the metropolis manage these competing tensions and demands. The goal is to bring together the dispersed knowledges and experiences of creative workers finding ways to make a living in the modern metropolis. And by doing that to create a space to learn from this common experiences that often are not experienced as such while we work away in different parts of the city.
And a few things circulated from the UFSO:
Why thanks Neil:
Transpontine: South East London blogzine – things that are happening, things that happened, things that should never have happened. New Cross, Brockley, Deptford and other beauty spots. EMAIL US: firstname.lastname@example.org Transpontine: ‘on the other (i.e. the south) side of the bridges over the Thames; pertaining to or like the lurid melodrama played in theatres there in the 19th century’.
Thursday, September 22, 2011
Convoys Wharf Latest
The future of Convoys Wharf, site of the former Royal Dockyard on the Deptford riverfront, has been discussed here before. A revised planning application for the site has recently been submitted by News International (former owners of the site) and Chinese property developer Cheung Kong (current owners).There is a lot of local concern about the plans – not just about the impact of what is proposed, but in relation to the loss of the potential once in a hundred years opportunity to do something special here that makes a positive difference to people in Deptford. Challenging these plans, put forward by two of the world’s most powerful conglomerates in the world, is a daunting prospect.Enter Deptford is…, ‘a group of local residents who want to ensure that the redeveloped Convoy’s Wharf offers the best for Deptford and its future. We are NOT affiliated to any political party, commercial interest or quango’. This Saturday 24th September, 10 am to 12 noon, they are organising a ‘planning objections workshop’ in the Blue room at the Albany, Douglas Way.They say ‘Many local residents are worried about the impact of the redevelopment, and are keen to ensure that their concerns are heard by the council. But the planning documents are numerous and complex, and many people who want to respond to the application simply don’t have the time to read them fully. Even those who do have time to read the documents may not know enough about the planning system to be able to write an effective response. So we are holding an URGENT planning objections workshop THIS SATURDAY MORNING at the Albany theatre in Deptford, to provide help and advice to people wanting to comment on this planning application’.
Is that all there is?
A couple of weeks ago I took a group of visitors to Goldsmiths on a guided walk around New Cross and Deptford, focusing on the history of the area and some of its buildings. It was an interesting group, mainly from USA and India, including among others critical architects, a photographer, a film maker and a singer/theatre writer.
The theme of their meeting was globalisation and preservation and this seemed very apposite to Deptford. After all it is arguably one of the birthplaces of a kind of globalisation, the East India Company having been based here, and various colonial and slaver expeditions starting out from the Deptford shipyards. And ‘preservation’ is part of what the argument about Convoys Wharf is all about – how can or should any development reflect the site’s history and preserve the memory of shipbuilding and migration (as for instance Shipwright’s Palace argue)? And what about the site of the historic Sayes Court garden?
One thing that is very striking about the area, looking at it through the eyes of visitors, is just how much it is a zone in transition. I kept finding myself saying on the one hand, ‘until recently this was here’ and on the other ‘soon there will be a new tower block here’. Another feature for an area so tied up with its riverine history is how cut off much of Deptford is from the river itself, not least by the walls around Convoys Wharf. The current planning application promises to restore public access to the river, and that is essential. But does that mean we should just accept any scheme that offers a view of the water?
Another theme that emerged from chatting to the visitors was how similar the experiences of urban development, and specifically riverside development, are across the world. Unimaginative identikit schemes, often by the same architects and developers in different countries, with ‘luxury flat’ tower blocks and sterile semi-public spaces. Is that all there is?
Seeing these images, and the way that this is still identifiably New York despite the dust, and the death that we know lies as under a shroud below (and the years of death to follow in the new imperialism) – this vertical perspective evokes that city like no other. I am forcibly struck by how this is not at all like looking down on London. It seems somehow important. Sure, most of us do look down on London in some way nearly every day (but not always from high buildings, or from a helicopter [though right now I am typing this from the eight floor of the New Cross estate tower block – with superb views]). Our usual view of London from ‘above’ is more or less glossy, and typically stylized: the tube view of London is that of the visitor who does not yet ‘get’ that the tube map is more art, not a guide to space – the stations are closer or much further apart than the design indicates (the tube map is a simplified, relative view of the network, where lines run only vertically, horizontally, or on 45 degree diagonals. It was designed by Harry Beck in 1931). The contrast with the horizontal evokes the visitors’ view of New York which must necessarily involve looking up from the street (or down from a plane as a prelude to control, Dick Tracy, Spiderman, Google™). In New York the skyscrapers fascinate the visitors from out of town, while the locals seem more concerned with moving across the grid. Recall the fabled comment of the film auteur Antonioni that he would only make a film in New York if the rectangle of the cinema screen were built on a vertical axis. This was reinforced in the televised scenes of downtown Manhattan on September 11, 2001 – the view as if in cinemascope from uptown or from Brooklyn just made the event look like a motion picture spectacle. But on the street, passers-by looked up aghast and saw their city anew. That I think was the strange thing of the day, well one of the strange things.
I recall TV images of people on the street that day staring up at the towers shocked and awed as the planes crashed into the buildings and they fell. Tourists aside, this looking up is usually unusual. Quotidian street protocol does not often include such moments – people look up at advertising hoardings, or the increasingly prevalent public screens of the city, tourists gawp at skyscrapers, but generally city folk mind their own business and carry on. Head down, sidewalk traffic, hustle and bustle, going somewhere. It was much more besides, but September 11 in New York was a neck strain, televised to all.
The people of the street are quintessentially the crowd, the masses of festivals, street party (lights out in New York), café’s (Ash Amin conducting a seminar), conviviality, the rows of shops, the enticements to buy, the seductions of commodification that grab us and make as part of the all consuming apparatus. The street market, with its connections and flows – commerce to the illicit trades, drugs, street people, organized crime, sex work (Berman 2006), restaurants, fashion, fantasy, spectacle (also Berman 2006). All the time careful to note as we pass: the infrastructure of the street; power supplies, underground cables, roadworks, traffic disruptions; a massive network of material labour which still produces the street; lighting: the streets as avenues of neon. CCTV, security guards, doormen, Jane Jacobs, out for a stroll. Taxis – in Cairo I am hailed by a taxi driver who says, without taking a breath: “in my taxi I will take you anywhere you want to go to my brother’s emporium” (see also Mathew 2005, and Kalra 2000b). Marshall escorts his students to his favourite bar. Cars and trucks: delivery vehicles, lorries, buses. The street also as the site of accidents, car crashes, stalled or too fast, traffic; bars, cafes, street food; cinemas, amusement arcades. Pollution – sewerage, drains, the gutter – rubbish, garbage disposal – Boy George working off his community service; rag-pickers – detritus held up to the gloaming by Siegfried Kracauer, who was not the least of these, whatever Benjamin says. Who makes and maintains the street? Monsieur Hulot has been mechanized, the steamroller more rapidly paves what took aeons before, a team of pavers pave the footpaths and painters paint the signage in rapid time.
The rackets, the numbers, dealers, look-outs, scams, pyramid schemes; passport and visa forgers, job search entrepreneurs, denizens of the doorstep, visitors to the soup kitchens, survival strategies of the many; looking out for the street-peddlers, the organ-grinders, and if we are lucky, the lazzaroni; if we are hungry, the Iskon krisna consciousness devotees offering free vegetarian recipe booklets; muggers, petty thugs, street-smarts, wise-guys, the cleaner, the fixer, marabout (Simone 2004:41); criminal slumlords, drunks, musicians; money-changers; carum players and pan-handlers, Reclaim the night, dykes on bikes, the strip, at sunset, and after hours, arcade workers, meter maids, hawkers, buskers, vendors of sweets and treats. Exchange at this level involves all sorts of informal economic connections. I walk with a roll of money seeking trinkets, transgressions and the routines of my 24 hours. The city is alive, has a pulse, skips a beat. Marshall Berman stops and shows me a sign in Times Square. There are all sorts of mixings, the transgressive has become the rule. For sale as well – everything on offer. Multiplicity with corporate sponsorship, and always escaping the ratchet that would bolt everything down and stop it from moving, pluralizing, hybridizing.
The street is horizontal plane – if we go up the lifts of the towers, even those in the Eiffel tower, we see the city as plan, as flattened space. But this view from the gods erases diversity and community in favour of a privileged and sanitized position. On the horizontal plane, the issues are about sanitary drainage and the cacophony of the crowd. This evokes the class and racial hierarchies of the Megacity which are visible at street level just as much, if not more, than in the high-rise and boardroom. An equally important but less uniform global heterotopia assembles at street level – in what has been called a culture of congestion – the ‘urban jungle’ is worryingly described as a ‘potent yet troubling term’ (Cairns 2000:125). There are reasons to both valourize and worry over this scene, since jungle bunnies is an unhelpful designation. Even as the ethnicity of the street-scape is apparent, it cannot be adequately discussed without reference to shifting articulations of racial hierarchy, national chauvinism, communal politics and geo-imperial consequences such as the war on terror or economic restructuring. Los Angeles as city of migration is differently diasporic than the migrations that have swollen Mumbai or Shanghai. The Megacity is always one of movement and babel.
Street politics also deserves mention, the tunes are buzzing round my brain, the page is organized to the tunings of ‘Street Fightin Man’, by the Rolling Stones; in cinema everywhere there would be moves from ;The Commune; or ‘Favela Rising’, Watts to the blak bloc; marchin’ chargin’ feet, offering rehearsals for police crowd control; the over policing of Eid in Manchester has a different soundtrack, sirens and bhangra; in Brick Lane street bombs made of nails, racists attack; on May day there are anti capitalist and anti-war rallies, and these affirmations of the spirit (Rosie) also serve as exercises in crowd control – hasn’t this always been necessary in the Capital? There is a history of house to house street fighting that stretches the horror from Berlin to Nablus to Falluja; the future urban wars will be still more brutal – and on to the future – ‘Terminator’ chronicles devastation, or ‘Bladerunner’ with its polyglot urban chiasmus that has been recreated so often in subsequent films like ‘The Fifth Element’… Slum clearance in honour of Indira’s lost son Sanjay Gandhi, who died in a plane stunt … The reserve army of labour is currently living in dormitory metropolises, 85% ‘occupy property illegally’ – if one accepts a notion of legal property at all in such a context, as Mike Davis suggests: ‘Street vendors and informal sector entrepreneurs’, as well as regularized low level service sector workers, often squat in subsistence accommodation within (long commuting) reach of the inner urban centres of commerce and wealth. In what Mike Davis calls ‘Haussman in the tropics’, the ongoing ‘conflict with the poor’ characterizes the situation of ‘most Third World city governments’ (Davis 2006a:99). Although his capitalization of the relational-hierarchical term ‘third world’ indicates some level of adherence to what Aijaz Ahmad had denounced as the three worlds theory (1992), it is clear that the street is uneven here. High housing costs, long commutes…
Of course the streets of the ‘gated community’ have gates and access security systems, which significantly changes the formation of ‘community’ in such places, as does the fabled presence of ‘armed response’ signs on the lawns of residents of Los Angeles, and the burly doormen outside the clubs and bars. Access is denied, the arcades are privatized. The electronic swipe-card ingress to urban compounds, the video surveillance of new build estates in London. The difficulty of walking the streets now because the way is blocked with fear. ‘If I had a shotgun what would you do?’ asks a guy near Madison. ‘Anything you like’ I reply. We laugh and can talk. But not everyone has it so easy. The necessarily scripted visit is a research requirement, and provokes a humbled awareness of the need for the researcher to begin to learn new rules, protocols and the order of any street – fifth avenue or a sewer ridden slum lane come close together for once. The word on the street is not free.
More pictures of NYC here.