Bite Size Chandler

img_1098“I think today there are much better film writers than I could ever be, because I never quite saw things in the terms of the camera, but always as dramatic scenes between people. I suppose you know the story of the writer who his racked brains how to show, very shortly, that a middle-aged man and his wife were no longer in love with each other. Finally he licked it. The man and his wife got into a lift and he kept his hat on. At the next stop a lady got into the lift and he immediately removed his hat. That is proper film writing. Me, I’d have done a four page scene about it. What his chap did took a few seconds.”


Raymond Chandler, 1957 (The Raymond Chandler Papers). 


Towards a Geography of Injustice

IMG_0166Just in time for anyone still wondering what they should pack to read by the beach this summer, here is a short paper by me entitled  Towards a Geography of Injustice, available open access at the Finnish journal Alue & Ympäristö (Region and Environment – my paper is not in Finnish, just to be clear), which I’m told is “unofficially” the “critical geography journal of Finland”.  This is pretty much the tidied up script of the Keynote Lecture I presented at the Annual Meeting of Finnish Geographers in Tampere back in October last year. I learnt lots and met nice people at the meeting, and thanks to Kirsi Pauliina Kallio for asking me to write the talk up properly.

This is a short and quite discursive version of only one part of a longer, and I hope deeper, argument about ‘the priority of injustice’ that I have been working out in my head while writing a book, which I think I have just completed this very week – it’s called, well,  The Priority of Injustice.  Somewhere between presenting a talk on ‘geography and the priority of injustice’ at Kentucky in April 2015, writing a first draft and then second draft in Vancouver last summer while on ‘research retreat’, and giving the Lecture in Tampere, I worked out what the book I have been writing was actually about – it’s about theories of democracy, substantively, I’ve always known that, but more specifically it’s about how to think about the vocation of thinking critically about democracy democratically, if you see what I mean. But it’s become a book about ‘the priority of injustice’- and this doesn’t mean favouring practice over theory, or even the empirical over the conceptual; it might mean not ever writing “(in)justice”, and not thinking of justice as an ideal; and not saying ‘post-political’; it might also mean thinking more about the meaning of domination, and freedom. Above all, it might mean thinking that politics is ordinary (but, obviously, in a not immediately obvious sense of ‘ordinary’….). 

This particular paper is an attempt to summarise all of that, and connect it to some thoughts about how these matters are and are not addressed in GeographyLand.

Music to Write Books To

UntitledI participated in an ESRC-sponsored seminar last week on the theme of the politics and economies of attention, which was interesting and fruitful in all sorts of ways. Lots of the work on this topic turns around a distinction between ‘good’ forms of attention, which is focussed and contemplative and “deep”, and ‘bad’ forms of attention, which is fleeting, distracted. A certain sort of reading of a certain sort of text is the model against which other forms of attention are often judged in a great deal of high theorizing on this topic.

Trying to find something interesting to say about this topic made me aware of how the ways in which I work, both in relation to reading and writing, do not quite conform to the expected model of scholarly attention. I read with the TV on, and write while listening to music or the radio, and not serious Radio 3-type music either (it’s generally a matter of choosing between Taylor’s 1989 and Ryan’s 1989). This way of working may or may not be reflected in the depth of understanding of ideas and thinkers displayed in the things that I write. I actually find it rather odd to write, in particular, in silence. I am still in recovery from having finished a book manuscript, and found myself today, while sitting in a hairdressers, not having my hair done, constructing a list of songs that, more or less tangentially, capture something of the experience of writing the sort of book I have been trying to write for the last year and a half:

  1. I Just Don’t Understand – Spoon
  2. Jacques Derrida – Scritti Politti
  3. Acid Tongue – Jenny Lewis
  4. Distractions – Bobby Darin
  5. Why Theory – Gang of Four
  6. Unputdownable – Róisín Murphy
  7. Waking Up – Elastica
  8. We Love You – Psychedelic Furs
  9. Drink in My Hand – Eric Church
  10. Gone Daddy Gone – Violent Femmes

Raewyn Connell on Writing for Research

IMG_0223A bit too late for me, I have too many ingrained bad writing habits, with which I am still trying to finish a book… but this looks useful and engaging: Raewyn Connell has an open access ‘how to’ book on Writing for Research. More matter-of-fact and vocational, one might say, than the How We Write collection which was published a couple of months ago, and which includes pieces by Derek Gregory and Stuart Elden amongst others, but a nice complement perhaps.

Going public

cbcoraI am, finally, ever so close to finishing my book, and sending the final manuscript away to the publisher. A couple more weeks of ‘research retreat’ would enable me to complete it, but I am well and truly back in the real world now, so it’s a matter of squeezing book-work in between all sorts of other things. This coming week I have a nice distraction from worrying about not working on the book, as I am attending the Annual Meeting of Finnish Geographers, in Tampere. I am giving a couple of talks, one on ‘Geography and the Priority of Injustice’. Last time I talked to this title, back in April, I only had a very long note-like draft of a book. This time, I have a written-out-in-prose final draft, going through final edits. It’s a real thing, not a pretend thing.

My working title for the book has become The Priority of Injustice, although the ‘geography’ bit is not actually central to the book. The talk is developing into the occasion where I try to say out loud why the grand theme of the priority of injustice might capture some of the difficulties covered over in much of the work in the burgeoning field of geographies of justice. So I’m thinking of the coming week as a final impetus to finishing the monster in the box, so that I might move on to other things.

I’ve got a lot of songs but they’re all in my head

IMG_1983I have come to the end of my ‘research retreat‘ in Vancouver, and have succeeded in reducing the first sprawling draft of +200k words to a more manageable size, ready for a final edit and submission in a month or so. In the process, some themes have been reduced or sidelined, some theorists have disappeared (no Poulantzas after all), and some issues crystallised for me.

Vancouver is a good place to immerse oneself in one task, away from other cares and concerns. It’s sunny (well, they have a drought on). And it has plenty of the ‘architecture’ of Thought, those spaces that make up the distributed office: public spaces of various sorts, coffee shops and public libraries in which to write and think (and plenty of free wi-fi), loads of bookshops (my favourite is Lucky’s), as if it was the 1990s (a lot of Vancouver seems to be like the 1990s), and a decent bus service to ferry you from one place to the other as you punctuate the day’s work. In no particular order, these are the places upon which my routine settled: Cuppa Joy Coffee (great for 6.30am starts); Professor and Pigeon (the only place that wasn’t a Starbucks to do Flat Whites); Melriches Coffee House (good for the evenings); MBA House in Wesbrook Village (good to be surrounded by other studious people); Koerner Library at UBC (a proper university library, it has the books you think it won’t have but turns out that it does); and the bar at Cardero’s on Coal Harbour (good for talking about the history and philosophy of geography, amongst other things).

I should say that I am surprised by just how much Neil Young is played in Vancouver’s coffee shops, bars and restaurants. You know you are in Canada when….

So back to the real world now, to a rainy bank holiday weekend in Swindon, kids back to school next week, start of term on the horizon, and a book to finish – back to Baila.

It’s not the city, it’s the weather we love

2015-07-29 18.34.29I once saw Spalding Gray live, in Atlanta, performing the monologue Monster in a Box, about the tribulations of writing his first novel. It was at a time when I was wondering whether to even start doing a PhD on, never mind finishing it, which took a while. I’ve been reminded of this, and the image of the lumbering physical presence of the tome itself, because I have been hauling an unfinished manuscript of my own around for a few months now. Actually, I have been carrying it around on a USB stick. I am in Vancouver now, for a month’s ‘research retreat’, as I like to think of it. So the first thing I have managed to do is print the whole thing off – all 209,000 words of a first draft, more than twice as long as it’s meant to be. I’ve also been re-thinking the title. That’s progress, right?

I’m now sitting in libraries or coffee shops (not the beach), trying to cut it down and make it cohere and ensure it has lots of narrative continuity (all those things you tell PhD students to do as they approach the finishing line). The young man sitting next to me this morning reading  Poulantzas’s Fascism and Dictatorship provoked one of those “Oh no, I should probably say something about that”-moments that tend to beset you when you are trying to finish something like this (another way in which I feel like I’m trying to complete a PhD all over again, again). Last time I wrote a book all on my own the bits that I cut out of the final version, quite rightly, lived on as subsequently re-worked journal papers, and actually have ended up animating parts of the argument of this new book. So this time I think I might just blog the bits I cut out, so that I can slough off those spare thoughts and move on properly once it’s all done and dusted.

But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. I’m off to sharpen the pencils.

Geography and the Priority of Injustice

Geo & Injustice_REVNext week I’m attending the Annual Meeting of the Association of American Geographers, in Chicago – organising a couple of sessions on Cases, Spaces and Situations, as well as giving a paper on problematization and urban theory. I’m then going on to visit the Geography Department at the University of Kentucky, in Lexington. I’m giving a talk there on the theme of ‘the priority of injustice‘, and the relevance of recent work on this theme to how the central normative concept of radical and critical human geography is approached. This is the first time I will have talked to the central argument of my book, still in progress, and tentatively entitled Democracy and the Geographies of Justice. I’m looking forward to the challenge of having to say out loud and in public what it’s meant to be about.

What do cities have to do with democracy?

Scan 130330022-6Following up on the earlier post about the IJURR symposium on the theme Where is Urban Politics? I thought I should plug my own paper in this collection. My piece is titled ‘What do cities have to do with democracy?’ (the answer is that ‘it depends’; you’ll have to read the paper to find out what exactly it depends on). I have been giving a version of this paper as my default seminar presentation for about 4 years now, so I’m not quite sure what I will talk about if and when I’m next invited anywhere, but I do hope that this extensive pre-release touring of the paper will boost sales.

This paper is actually the last in a cluster that I have written on themes such as political agency, urban problemsideas of contestation, and the idea of ‘all affected interests’. When I finished this one (a while ago now), I realised that I really needed to write a book linking these together, since an 8000 word (or so) article is not enough space to elaborate the full sweep of the argument that I have in my head which connects these all together. So that’s what I am doing now, this summer, writing a book about democratic theory, notions of injustice, and the geographical imagination needed to develop open-minded inquiry into these themes – it’s preliminary title is Locating Democracy, contracted with the University of Georgia Press, in their Geographies of Justice and Social Transformation series. I’m saying this out loud and in public as a way of imposing some external discipline on myself, to help me along in the task of actually writing the book.

Anyway, anyway, in the meantime, here is the abstract from the IJURR paper:

“The relationship between urbanization and democratization remains under-theorized and under-researched. Radical urban theory has undergone a veritable normative turn, registered in debates about the right to the city, spatial justice and the just city, while critical conceptualizations of neoliberalism present ‘democracy’ as the preferred remedy for injustice. However, these lines of thought remain reluctant to venture too far down the path of political philosophy. The relationship between urban politics and the dynamics of democratization remains under-theorized as a result. It is argued that this relationship can be usefully understood by drawing on lessons from avowedly normative styles of political theorizing, specifically post-Habermasian strands of critical theory. Taking this tradition seriously helps one to notice that discussions of urbanization, democracy, injustice and rights in geography, urban studies and related fields invoke an implicit but unthematized democratic norm, that of all-affected interests. In contemporary critical theory, this norm is conceptualized as a worldly register of political demands. It is argued that the conceptual disaggregation of component values of democracy undertaken through the ‘spatial turn’ in recent critical theory reorients the analysis of the democratic potentials of urban politics around the investigation of the multiple forms of agency which urbanized processes perform in generating, recognizing and acting upon issues of shared concern.”

My Loss Library

RPostI mentioned way back now, before Christmas, a book that I picked up when I was in Bloemfontein, The Loss Library and other unfinished stories, a collection by Ivan Vladislavic about “stories I imagined but could not write or started to write but not finish” – stories from which characters wandered off into other stories, or from which episodes escaped to turn up in other novels. Of course, by writing a book about these ‘failures’ and false starts, Vladislavic has managed at least in part to cash-out the original intuitions behind these characters, episodes, and plot-lines, if only at a tangent to his original intentions.

I have been confronted with my own loss library, of sorts, in the last couple of weeks, as I have been going through piles of paper in boxes and draws as I prepare for an office move. I have been doing quite a good job of throwing lots of paper out – unread photocopied journal articles on topics I once imagined I might need to know about for imagined projects which now, at this juncture in life, I am confidently able to say that I will never get around to even starting. And then there are the remnants of projects started but never finished, of half-written papers, of book proposals not picked-up by publishers, of unsuccessful research grant bids.

– There are my first, unsuccessful bids for ESRC funding (on publishing and global culture, on food and media), and failed bids for research in South Africa (on media and understandings of crime and violence, for example).

– There are uncompleted grant proposals (on notions of European identity in city of culture programmes, the trace of a year-long conversation with Denise Meredyth about governmentality and cultural policy.

Scan 130690012-15– There are unwritten papers, on the ‘sexing’ of communications technologies in First Amendment jurisprudence, an idea developed during a summer spent in the Law School library at Ohio State in 1998; notes and drafts of a paper on the ‘normalization’ of apartheid in academic debates about South African democratization in the mid-1990s, fragments of lunch-time conversations with Kevin Cox that same summer; drafts of a jointly authored paper with Peris Jones on the strange career of BopTV, the television station of the ‘independent’ homeland of Bophuthatswana, which survived until the late 1990s, and which we thought could serve as an interesting entry-point to think about the politics of regionalism after the end of apartheid.

– There are notes of some initial research at the BBC archives at Caversham, in Reading (I didn’t like the idea of travelling too far to an archive), on the role of Lord Reith in the early history of South African broadcasting (Reith travelled to South Africa in 1934, to advise on the setting-up of a broadcasting service which would enhance the development of ‘the Union’ (Reith’s diaries from this trip consist mainly of griping about the quality of the service he experienced on his travels).

None of these projects are completely off the wall, in retrospect: they seem to be examples of me working out ideas about media, South Africa, democracy, cultural policy, Foucault, textual publics, that sort of thing, the sorts of things I did (and sometimes still do) worry about and have worked on through other projects. There does seem to be a strain of my former self trying to find ways of writing in a more sustained way about popular culture, which perhaps I have never quite found the courage to do. Maybe that’s what one should do on a blog?

If piles of paper and files of unfulfilled projects are part of my ‘extended mind’, or the ‘prosthesis’ of my own ‘individuation’ (depending on what theory you favour), then what will happen to me if I throw out these traces of ambition and failure?