peter cook

Yep, the Archigram guy. (Insert your own “Dudley Moore notable by his absence” gag here.) From his just-now-ending retrospective exhibition at Louisiana, Denmark.

A fifty-plus-year career of drawing the wildest way-out shit and still managing to package it as architecture*; an inspiration for eccentrics of all sorts. Beating that sort of path for yourself anywhere outside of Start-Up World is surely a harder game now than it was then… or maybe that’s just what those of us who can’t pull it off end up saying by way of self-comfort.

[ * I knew he was still working and teaching, but didn’t know he was still occasionally getting actual buildings put up… still less that I’d been in one just a few years ago, namely the Kunsthaus Graz. Obvious in hindsight, but then what isn’t? ]

infused also with insistence, perdurance, determination

To some, the very notion of a virtue of pessimism may seem absurd. For instance, we may subscribe to Hume’s notion that the mark of any virtue is that it is useful and agreeable, either to the person who possesses it or to others. But surely pessimism is neither useful nor agreeable. It is not useful, the argument goes, because it renders us passive, depresses not only ourselves but ‘our sense of the possible’, as Marilynne Robinson has said of cultural pessimism in particular. And it is not agreeable, since it intensifies our suffering, making us focus on the bad side of life rather than the good (or so arch-optimists such as Leibniz and Rousseau would have it). It is not surprising, then, that certain studies of supposed ‘moral exemplars’ identified positivity, hopefulness and optimism among the characteristics that such exemplars had in common.

But then, think of Greta Thunberg. If there is such a thing as a ‘climate virtue’, she would seem to exemplify it – considering the hard personal choices that she has made, the steadfastness of her vision, and the courage with which she holds world leaders to account and takes them to task for their half-heartedness, their unwillingness to commit fully to the cause. If this is not an exercise of virtues, then I don’t know what is – and yet there is nothing positive or optimistic about Thunberg. If there is hope, it’s a dark, bleak hope, full of rage and grief and pain for what is being lost – but infused also with insistence, perdurance, determination. It is clear that this activist, at least, will continue to strive even if her efforts are doomed to fail. This is not optimism: if anything, it is a hopeful pessimism, and I believe it has every right to be called a virtue in our age.

Food for thought, or confirmation for my pre-existing biases? Probably depends where you’re sat.

drink up, bar’s closed

Well, that happened quickly, didn’t it? Twitter’s board demonstrating that (to use a lovely British turn of phrase) they have the breaking strain of a KitKat

Now seeing lots of second-hand reports of exodus from the birdsite, and I ain’t gonna judge, because I went and stopped using it (again) back at the turn of the year—albeit not because of Teflon Mask, but rather for what I decided (for the second time) were a combination of media affordances which made the whole set-up toxic to me. But hell knows anything Mask considers to be an improvement is unlikely to endear it to me further.

On reflection, though, I’m not going to delete my account, because if you give up your account you run the possibility of some other clown setting up a new account with your old username—a situation which, combined with the sort of absolutist take on free speech that you might expect to encounter in a public-school junior debate team training session, could be both professionally damaging and impossible to do much about. I may turn off autoposting from this site to there, but I’m of two minds about that, too. Mostly it seems pointless, in both respects: a well-trafficked post here on VCTB these days means one that got maybe three or four referrals from the birdsite, but if I’m going to keep the account, I might as well keep it alive. I dunno.

My money’s on storm in a teacup, TBH; nowhere else permits quite the same sort of public discourse, the quality of which—for all the complaining about it—is so rooted in complaint that the people angriest about it all have little choice but to return to the scene of the crime for their dopamine fix. I expect most folk will stay, and many of those now leaving will find a reason to go back. And again, I ain’t judgin’; when I quit the first time, it was a horrendous blow to my social life that has in many respects never been recovered from. It’s hard to leave a network with sunk social costs; it hurts, even when the network itself is a source of pain. Ask any reformed junkie or alcoholic, they’ll tell you the same: it’s not just the substance you have to quit, it’s the life within which that substance is entirely entangled. That’s a lot to ask of anyone, and no one will ever do it until they really want to—which, to be clear, is a very different thing to thinking they should.

I’ve also seen a few follow notifications from a mastodon account which I totally forgot I had, and which I think I spent all of two days on before I abandoned it. I could log back in there, fire it up, see what’s happening and who’s about… but I could also just not bother. Perhaps because I’ve already done the hard yards of quitting the birdsite, I find I’m not looking for a replacement. What it was in the early days is simply not retrievable, and probably never could have lasted anyway: the phenomenon of early Twitter was less about it’s being Twitter than it’s accidentally being there at the right moment, and getting those tasty, tasty network effects as a result… and that’s exactly what has doomed it, too.

Selah. I’m too old and anxious for this shit. This blog existed before the birdsite was a thing, and it’ll be here after it’s gone, too.

“So pour one out for the old days, sure /
but we don’t live in that world no more.”

In other news, I have too many deadlines and too much travel coming up and too many suspended uncertainties and it’s starting to look a lot like burnout, but I can’t stop now because the post-postdoctoral bottleneck in academia is very real, but you only get the one serious shot at shoving yourself through it.

(Which is, naturally, why I’ve just spent the best part of an hour writing this post as a displacement activity from the work I actually need to be doing.)

tooled up

Went out-of-country on Saturday, for the first time in about a year—day-trip to Copenhagen, on the occasion of TOOL playing the Royal Arena over there, and me having bought tickets way back in October last year or thenabouts.

I swore off arena shows after a disastrous and deeply disagreeable trip to see Deftones play what was then still called the Docklands Arena (now the O2, because branding eats everything in the end) in, I think, 2002? The trip was doomed at the outset, for reasons unrelated to the venue which I shall not discuss here, but the experience of the gig itself was memorably terrible, tantamount to having paid a three-figure sum to stand around in an echoing aircraft hangar with however many thousand other massive-trouser’d angst-nurturers, while at the far end a TV screen, so far distant it looked smaller than your phone screen would seem to you now if held at arms length, showed footage of what might possibly have been the band whose name graced the posters, but could equally have been anyone, given the tinny racket you could hear over the audience noise bore little resemblance to music, let alone their music specifically.

Yeah, didn’t enjoy it much.

But I’ve always wanted to see TOOL, and they’re never gonna play venues smaller than arenas, and this was the first time that I’ve lived in easy and affordable public-transport reach of a stadium at which a band I like that much were playing… so I figured fuck it, why not.

And y’know, it wasn’t bad at all?

I mean, I’ll always be a small-venue music fan, perhaps because I worked (and occasionally played) in such places for years: for me, a gig means being in a room where you and around four or five hundred other people can see the band with your own eyes from pretty much any point of vantage, hear at least some of the sound from the stage itself as well as through the PA…you know, the sort of place where you can smell the sweat of the performers (sometimes literally). And this was not that, not at all.

But it was a magnificent spectacle, sonically and visually. And the Royal Arena—perhaps because [insert cliches about Scandinavian design and architecture], but perhaps also or alternatively because [Roskilde]—is well laid-out, spacious, clean, modern, not at all a disagreeable or oppressive building to be in. It also helps hugely that the sense of being policed at every moment of the event, so familiar from even the smallest of UK venues in recent years, was almost completely absent: security searches on the way in were friendly to the point of being almost perfunctory, which helped get the queues through fast, and once you were through the turnstiles, that was pretty much it: you just wander off to your assigned section, see yourself to your seat, etc etc. Security did periodically ask people not to stand in the little entranceways to the seating tiers (and yeah, I was that guy, because after a day on foot in Copenhagen, it was actually better for my still bad-tempered foot for me to stand rather than to sit—counterintuitive, I know), but otherwise it was perhaps the most hands-off treatment I’ve had as the punter at a rock gig since, well, I don’t even know when. Possibly ever.

So, yeah—a good day out. Wouldn’t say I’m now a convert on arena shows, mind you: the prices are eyewatering, it’s not really “a gig” as I think of the term, and I wonder how much of the agreeableness is specific to that venue (and perhaps even to that particular date). But I would say that I’d be more likely to consider arena shows than I was before.

I would also say that TOOL are a fucking great band, but if you like them you already know that, and if you don’t, experience dictates that there’s no point in trying to convince you.

No photos from the show, because I didn’t want to be That That Guy—and I was quite pleased to note that hardly anyone in the crowd had their phones out at all. Instead, you have a picture from my wanderings in Christiania earlier in the day: a place which deserves to be written about in greater detail, while also a place that has been written about—brilliantly, badly, and every way in between—by (too) many writers before me, academic or otherwise. So I’ll save it for some other time, some other visit.

science fiction / social theory / infrastructural change / utopian narratology