Institutions and Ideologies

On holiday, and re-reading the beginning of Roberto Mangabeira Unger’s The Self Awakened, full of enormously potent and clarifying observations, and often quite intellectually thrilling to read, so much so that it gets my ‘feels too good’ suspicion heuristic going.

Anyway, out last night having a – is it possible to get bad food in Cádiz? – very good meal, on my x glass of wine and was unable to get past the sentence (my italics) in this paragraph on ‘shrunken pragmatism’:

A further consequence of this position is to exclude the possibility that we might be able to transform the character of our relation to the social and cultural worlds we inhabit rather than just to change, little by little, the content of the arrangements and beliefs that comprise them. It is a mistaken view. Institutions and ideologies are not like natural objects, forcing themselves onto our consciousness with insistent force and reminding us that we have been born into a world that is not our own. They are nothing but frozen will and interrupted conflict.

Roberto Mangabeira Unger, The Self Awakened

Once again forcibly reminded just how frozen 12 years of economic stagnation has made the ideology of the political and mainstream epistemic space in the UK.

Improving Spanish Tempos

…and the fish i was buying when i bumped into toby jones

tuna with pimenton, garlic and lemon. plus some roasted peppers.

it fell apart when i took it out because a) i cooked it for slightly too long and b) the fish slice has gone completely awol. kin great tho.

reminds me of this lunch i had near trafalgar after the second nicest birthday i’ve ever had:

tuna and chips at a spanish restaurant near trafalgar

after a difficult and stressful morning here (atlas mountains in the background)

an empty golden beach, empty because too cold for the spanish at this time of year lol

and here

a beautiful breakfast veranda in the middle of nowhere (well, you could see the beautiful Vejer de la Frontera on a hilltop across the way), while having orange juice, jamon, cheese and coffee

Berberian Sound Studio

Repost of an old tumblr entry, prompted by exchanging some mild pleasantries with Toby Jones this morning at the local market.

berberian sound studio was the best film i’ve seen in years (and I like it even more this morning), because of

  1. its spatial and physical representation of sound to create a tangible psychic landscape within which the events of the film take place.
  2. the remarkable way which the film allows its sonic & psychical content to constitute the reasoning and plot of the film. yes, the clue’s in the title, but it still seems an artistically daring thing to do (the film is rather runic) and requiring exceptionally brilliant execution to
    work, which it gets.
  3. its mapping of the whole frigid anglican male v
    catholic kitsch schlock v genuine evil. i did half wonder whether the whole virginal and pure anglican male thing was slightly played out or in danger of being trite (wicker man, yes, but also wolf solent by john cowper powys, arthur machen’s earnest young post-victorian men, disorientated in fin de siecle aestheticism). But
    for several reasons this isn’t the case. Toby Jones is great, for a start, with his mole in wind in the willows features, also, the film avoids triteness by playing the role subtly, its only an element of the film, not the point. there’s also a scene… no, that’s another point. but there is that always interesting exploration of the
    strength of purity against corruption, and how
    puritanism itself is intensely corruptible, more so than more pragmatic spiritual states, which in fact, by being less corruptible, are more secure. just with regard to that point about ‘genuine evil’ by upping the tangibility of sound in the film, something to the appreciation of evil, itself intangible or difficult to capture. it’s as if the viewer’s radar has been readjusted to appreciate the taste of things in a film that would not normally be portrayable. there is a subtle sense of how madness comes creeping in on the back of evil, how they work together. i’ve since seen reviews which say that gilderoy goes ‘mad’, i think that’s an exceptionally simplistic approach to take to this film – it’s also taking a non- literal film very literally – nevertheless, madness, or rather mental unhingeing, plays its part.
  1. the documentary of box and leith hill. a brief and wonderful scene that played straight to my heart and mind. my heart, because it’s some of the countryside i love most (was it cobbett who said that dorking was reputed to have the sweetest air in england – before
    the M25 of course). my head, because of the way it located the battles going on in the sound studio and in gilderoy’s head in english pastoral – it was both a moment of sweet respite, and a representation of the malign or sinister pastoral of john cowper powys, machen, also john ireland – the dismembered rural, the something nasty in the woodshed, the rustic earth as inimical to human civility. so yes, this was pure catnip to me. maybe i’m overplaying it as a consequence, but this is a very associational film (brief memories or
    moments of reality flash up in gilderoy’s head,
    stimulated by momentary verbal or imagistic
  2. it being, in my experience, a very accurate portrayal of how italians and english work together.

What’s up?

I had a surprisingly nice evening.

Cycled up to the British Museum in the face of a bit of headwind for The Age of Stonehenge exhibition.

West from Waterloo Bridge

The recent Age of Nero exhibition had been a bit crap but this was excellent. Strong recommend.

The curation was superb. Yes a wall of axe heads can be moving and beautiful. The range of artefacts showed the extraordinary saltatory leaps in technical and cultural innovation in Europe, threaded round the development, domination and eventual desuetude of Stonehenge.

The whole was mysterious and beautiful. Exemplified by the extraordinary Nebra Sky Disk. No I didn’t take a picture. Go see it.

Figures with quartz eyes and detachable penises on a serpentine boat

Detachable penises! Dead beaker folk!

Beaker woman with child in swaddling protected with dog-tooth pattern of bones

Also lol aurochs were massive and scary. Stood another head or so above humans.

hi dere

Then went to the Museum Tavern. I always forget that it’s surprisingly beautiful inside, with a wonderful bar.

So home, on the back of a now glorious tailwind, to a very basic but a very nice chick pea soup that had been cooking in the oven for eight or so hours.

chick peas, bay, garlic and onions

Now off to continue reading Anna Lowenhaupt Tsing’s really excellent The Mushroom at the End of the World.

Lowenhaupt Tsing’s use of the concepts of assemblages, time creation and contamination between humans, fauna and the environment contributed significantly to my enjoyment of the exhibition, which after all depicted people carving tools and history and gods and art out of the cosmos. The overlapping assemblages of stone, time, stars, bone and swirling mystic design, transforming to sun worship, bronze and gold should in ALT’s depiction not be seen as progression but a change in the assemblage of elements, and cadences, a new set of lithic, cosmic, and anthropological contaminations and influences.

So, yes, sorry for the bland post. Pepys this is not. But I had a surprisingly nice evening. And that is a thing to be celebrated.

Two Great Songs for the Price of One Bike Ride

Took my toaster to be recycled at the Lambeth electrical recycling yesterday. On my bike. Up (v much *up*) into the rather weird Norwood/Dulwich suburban hinterland.

Sang Hexen Definitive/Strife Knot on the way back because i cycled past a red church on a hill:

All Saints, West Dulwich

Sang Political Confusion by Big Youth on the way there, because I was… recycling a toaster maybe?

Yes, I’m just going to be using this as a scrapbook blog of stuff why do you ask.

Crossing the Streams

A very good interview on the business model and economics of streaming here:

Episode 5: Jozefien Vanherpe on the Economics of Music Streaming | Machines & Masterpieces (

Worth reading this Steve Albini thread as a complement to it:

I wonder whether the success major labels have ultimately had in negotiating the shift to streaming will also play through into video/broadcasting. Netflix unquestionable turned the tables up by making incredibly innovative, far-sighted use of CDN technology (Content Distribution or Delivery Network), Edge connectivity and variable bitrate management, but they face/faced two challenges:

  1. It’s a content first world – which means paying up front for subscribers by creating content, and as Jozefien Vanherpe points out, it’s difficult to predict the return on cultural goods.
  2. Once you reach saturation point with subscribers in the US, the job of expanding becomes a lot harder for localisation reasons (cultural, language and indeed compliance and technical). China is closed off to Netflix as a major revenue generator outside sharing some content via a partner, see my bit on Peppa Pig. Network technology coverage in India and the African content is a challenge. Europe is highly fragmented in terms of language and legislation per viewer.

Broadcasters have existing distribution channels and play the rights/D2C risk balance much more easily. Are we going to see the equivalent of the major label dominance in video streaming?

Publishing is of course the other area where incumbent businesses were extraordinarily slow and defensive in their approach to new technologies, but it’s not clear to me that e-books have disrupted to the same extent – certainly we’ve seen v little innovation in the publishing space as far as I know. Academic publishing is still in a heavily fortified mode. But this is no longer an area of strength for me, so this is just guesswork based on what little I see.

# January Artefacts

I took a run up at Anniversaries by Uwe Johnson at Christmas but ended up with some small frittering on kindle fragments, bookmarked articles from 2021 and The Death of Francis Bacon by Max Porter. And some golf game on my phone.

I drank too much at the weekend and ended up scraped and ashamed and becalmed. And now at the tail end of that feeling – less bruised, less shamed – find myself in the perfectly receptive mood to read Anniversaries.

Before reading Anniversaries I had bought:

  • Patrick White’s book on Johnson – The Sea View Has Me Again
  • Twenty twenty by Luke Ellis

The latter constantly quotes Anniversaries and I realised how attractive the quoted sentences are.

I was unconvinced immediately by the Ellis but it sent me back to Anniversaries and now I find myself v happy in its company.

A January mood.


Catching up on unread bookmarks from this year. This observation on Tacitus’ Germania reminds me that I’d like to read something on the origination of the decadence of civilisation trope – here ‘the corrupting influences of modern urban existence.’ – and its mutation and persistence through history:

In perhaps one of the more detailed early instantiations of the myth of the noble savage, the historian tacitly opposes his decadent fellow Romans to the rural, chaste, and freedom-loving Germanians, who — sheltered within their deep, primeval forests — have yet to succumb to the corrupting influences of modern urban existence.

Thrones Wreathed in Shadow: Tacitus and the Psychology of Authoritarianism – Iskander Rehman, War on the Rocks

In his book on historiography, History of Histories, Colin Burrow identifies a version of this nexus in Herodotus:

Another aspect of the East–West contrast, with a long future as a historiographical cliché, is attributed to Cyrus the Great, and quoted by Herodotus as almost the last words of the whole work: ‘Soft countries breed soft men,’ and have to suffer the rule of aliens. Warned by Cyrus, the Persians choose for preference to live in a rugged land, but the association in European thought and historiography conveyed by the phrase ‘Asiatic softness’ was to endure down to the nineteenth century. The East-West antithesis was to be highly significant for the Greeks and Romans. Through them it reached a particular pitch of intensity in the European Enlightenment, and it still echoes resonantly in nineteenth-century historiography and the literature of imperialism, and in this long tradition Herodotus is by no means the most biased and unqualified manipulator of it.

Burrow, John. A History of Histories (pp. 19-20). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

To emphasise the point:

Athens became for Herodotus the great protagonist of Greek freedom in opposition to eastern despotism. This contrast – which Herodotus increasingly makes apparent, and in which the other Greek states, and particularly Sparta of course, participate in varying degrees – was to be an immensely enduring one in Western historiography and political thought, setting liberty against servitude, law against the tyrants’ will, frugality, hardihood and valour against luxury and timidity.

Burrow, John. A History of Histories (p. 19). Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.

To be absolutely clear, this is three different but I think related concepts:

  • The corrupting influence of the city (something to which it’s hard to imagine the early Greeks with their concept of the polis subscribing, but was surely a live argument in Athenian democracy?) and the converse virtue of the country and hard labour
  • The corrupting influence of decadence and luxury (being found in the city)
  • The source of that decadence in the East, specifically the Levant and beyond, being imported to the ‘West’.

As I say, I think this mutatis mutandis persists. To what extent is it deeply psychological and if so why? Most of us live in cities and comparatively speaking in the highest level of historical luxury. To what extent is it determined by a very persistent set of constructs? Pastoral innocence, moral value of hard work and physical labour? What is its persistent environment niche as a framework? Who typically perpetuates and expresses it? And who has no truck with it? It was of course deeply embedded in Romanticism, but after all corrupt city and virtuous country parallels played a significant part in aesthetics, plots and morals well before Romanticism in its full flowering.

It’s probably fair to say that the ‘Eastern’ or ‘Oriental’ element has decreased with globalisation. Who are seen as the sources of that ‘corruption’ now?

Why do they do this

It is no exaggeration to say that Warburg created a kind of ‘internet’ in his small institution in Hamburg, which was exiled to London when the Nazis came to power in 1933 and became part of the University of London in 1944. And it has long been clear to the scholars, curators and artists who have studied him over the last few decades that there are many aspects of the way he worked that could be called digital.

Atlas of Anomalous AI ed. Ben Vickers and K Allado-McDowell

Code for ‘it is an exaggeration that Warburg created a kind of internet’ and ‘there are no aspects of the way he worked that could be called digital.’

*answer to the title is ‘it makes their argument easier’

Meals: May and June 2020

Realised I hadn’t posted any of the things I’ve cooked/baked since MAY 5TH LAST YEAR wtf. Time to rectify. In stages.

Rowley’s Vinaigrette of Red Peppers and Anchovy

As recorded in Simon Hopkinson’s Roast Chicken and Other Stories. One of my very favourite summer dishes. Key is to add the juices of the roasted peppers to the vinaigrette.

Grilled Chicken alla Diavola, Roman Style

Served this as the main course, from Marcella Hazan. Marinaded with a fuckton of black pepper, and, critically, put on a barbecue well after the highest heat, so that it cooks over something like the embers. Produces an extraordinarily tender, succulent and well-flavoured meat.

Pink Prawn Sauce with Cream

I’d forgotten about this – it was f’ing great. Marcella Hazan again (I’ll be typing that a lot). Parpadelle from Lina Food Stores in Soho, obv.

About the time I really started nailing it with my sourdough too.

Not everything went as well.

Poached chicken with sauce and latke

I can’t remember where i picked this up from? Might have been Simon Hopkinson, might have been me trying to improvise from a Richard Olney paragraph, or possibly Claudia Roden? Despite the grey slick on anemic looking chicken, the sauce was extremely reduced stock, wine and herbs and tasted good. The latke weren’t terrible but were a bit greasy and under appetising.

Sicilian Sardine Sauce

The breadcrumbs are fairly essential to provide texture. I forgot to add the breadcrumbs. Still nice. Just a little lacking in substance.