Mostly (not) on McSweeney's!

A blog for my academic ideas, more or less.

Reading List; Design; Slow

Books I have in the British Library today (as logged on bkkeepr) and some brief thoughts on design and the concept of Slow:

Postmodern After-Images: A Reader in Film, Television and Video, edited by Peter Brooker and Will Brooker.

The Postmodern Arts: An introductory reader, edited by Nigel Wheale.

The Postmodernism Reader: Foundational Texts, edited by Michael Drolet.

The Art of the Motor, by Paul Virilio.

The Book on the Bookshelf, by Henry Petroski.

Theories and Manifestoes of Contemporary Architecture, edited by Charles Jencks and Karl Kropf.

What is Post-Modernism?, by Charles Jencks.

Architecture 2000 and Beyond: Success in the art of prediction, by Charles Jencks.

I’m developing a theoretical framework for a postmodern approach to McSweeney’s, obviously. This is so that I can start writing properly soon, and that what I start writing is (hopefully) as theoretically sophisticated as it will be when I finish. I need to incorporate some kind of semiotics too, but my basic idea is that McSweeney’s (the journal in its entirety) represents a postmodern form of textuality, one that literary studies is not particularly suited to accommodate. So I need to look elsewhere to find theoretical models, and I’m trying architecture just now, inspired by Jameson’s discussion of cannibalization/historicity.

And, as I just tumbld, Stephen Bayley just wrote something nice in the Observer, when discussing the architect Simon Henley’s work on St Benedict’s School in Ealing:

“It is a very clear demonstration of how design is, most of all, a matter of thinking.”

The textuality McSweeney’s is a manifestation of this perspective on design – the McSweeney’s texts make manifest a way of thinking, a way of thinking about tradition and textual relationships.

And it also connects to the just-announced Slow Down London Festival, and this idea from Liz Poirier:

“I’ve just started a PhD that I hope will look at these questions, specifically in relation to the Slow principles of taking time to do a job well, and learning to appreciate the wider consequences of one’s actions through understanding the chain of consumption in whatever field is in question, whether it’s information science, self-identity & self-purpose, or the basic of all human endeavours: the quest for happiness.”

McSweeney’s to me is a nice enactment of the principles of Slow (particularly in my experience of it, as a UK subscribe I have to see everyone else on Twitter rave about the new issue, and I get it a few weeks later, as it crawls across the Atlantic) – they make things, and they make things well. Their project is no rush job (though sometimes their marketing takes shortcuts), and their material often incorporates Slow into its reading process, that you have to take your time to carefully unpack everything. And yet their website embraces new technology. Though to what extent is its design a way of thinking about Slow? Ever tried to find a list you’ve seen once but can’t remember exactly where on the McSweeney’s site? Trawling through endless archives, scrolling and thinking every page looks identical.

Slow seems a useful concept to be thinking about, just now. My friend Caspar has briefly talked about The Wire and slow. And I’ve got an interest in process, in production and technique, in craft, that resonates with this too. There should be more reading. There should be more doing things that aren’t quick and easy, doing things because they’re worth doing. Time invested because the output is more than can be achieved by just clicking a few buttons. Delayed gratification. More post. More handwriting!

But what interests me most is the fact Slow Down London wouldn’t be possible (or as widespread, at least) without the internet. Technology facilitating anti-technology. Extremes are for the unimaginative, and there is a happy medium.

UPDATE: watching Wholphin 7 in the BL as lunch-break, happily stumbled across The Discipline of D.E., a Gus van Sant short, based on a William Burroughs story. About doing things right, and doing them well. The kid walking on the street is exactly how I walk. And the little things like putting down a piece of cutlery firmly and noiselessly. Small changes in our habits lead to bigger changes in our ability to negotiate the world.


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