[Command-Shift-4] McLuhan

 

Screen Shot 2016-07-22 at 18.07.38
How to Take a Screenshot of Part of Your Screen on a Mac

I began researching Marshall McLuhan on the internet to explore Marshall McLuhan’s ideas about how the internet effects research. The symmetry was pleasing.

1. medium is message google

One thing the internet tells you pretty quickly is that McLuhan did not say or think anything about the internet because he died in 1980. But Amazon customer Mark B. Cohen assured me we could still learn something.

6. Amazon comment

You can be a scholar on the internet, but why be a scholar when customers get better treatment? Sometimes it’s easier to treat the object of your research as a commodity. Continue reading

Fieldwork a la limeña

rock light
El Espejo de Piedra by Lika Mutal

On my knees, in an art gallery in a bohemian district of Lima, with my head inside a large rock, I thought: “How did I get here?”

I was being shown around an exhibition by an artist whom I wanted to interview. I had the impression at the time, and still do, that this preliminary meeting was a sort of test. I was being judged on how open I was to the artist’s ideas, how I would talk about their work and what the benefits to them would be.

Placing my head in the rock was an extension of this test; it was about my willingness to embrace certain elements of spirituality and of the artist’s vision (which I had quite possibly shown some scepticism towards). However, it was also a demonstration to me that the methods for introducing myself, gaining a person’s trust and setting up an interview in the UK, simply did not apply in Lima. Continue reading

In Paris, 1913

Micro film

I’m sitting at my desk, time-travelling.

Outside, 21st century Paris is heavy with the first infestation of springtime tourists, snapping up the Opéra on selfie-sticks as they emerge, blinking, from the Métro.

Inside, in a stuffy room in the Bibliothèque national de France, unbeknown to those around me, I’m not there. I’m in 1913. Continue reading

Poetry of Place: an interview with ourselves

Poetry of Place took place on 17th May at Enitharmon Press in Bloomsbury. The event brought three poets into conversation about how place and poetry intersects in their work. Fran and I had met for the first time in March, after answering a call put out by the London Arts and Humanities Partnership for two PhD students to run a poetry event. We had a couple of months to get to know each other, plan, meet the poets, and figure out how to bring our own research interests into dialogue, and with the poetry. A real challenge, not least because we’re from very different disciplines  – or so we thought!

Right! I’m studying for a PhD based in the English department at KCL, situated between Old English and Performance studies. My research looks at Sutton Hoo, a seventh century medieval burial ground, and Old English poetry. I’m interested in how poetry and place come together at this site to (re)create history. I’m very much picking up on medievalists Gillian Overing and Marijane Osborn’s ‘conviction – or fiction – of the past as being located through or as place’ (Overing and Osborn, 1989).

Whilst I’m at UCL working across the fields of Architectural History & Theory, and Music, looking at the work of  the architect and composer Iannis Xenakis.    Continue reading

Three Hundred Years of Birdsong: Sound and Nature

Jess hamstead heath

Last Monday it rained, and on Hampstead Heath a record of birdsong included greenfinch, goldfinch, coot, long tailed tit, song thrush, chaffinch, stock-dove, jay, green woodpecker, crows and rose-winged parakeets (not to forget a pond-life of tufted duck, shoveler, cormorant, gadwall, mute swans and a great crested grebe).

In 1728, after a spring shower, the poet James Thomson listed the sounds of the cuckoo, blackbird, wood-lark, song thrush, nightingale, linnet, bullfinch, stock-dove, rook, crow and jackdaw. He then used this to map human intrusion into a non-human world, to explain the intangibility of the spaces we inhabit, even in our desire to quantify them.

Thomson’s poem is peppered with an incompatibility of natural world and human understanding; a boy disturbing a trout and shattering the water surface, a plough breaking the earth and the toil of the ox pulling it, the corrupt lovers tainting the woods. Faced with this, Thomson tends to look back, desiring an inaccessible arcadia.

Our time is characterised by understanding the natural world through a language of loss and crisis, and, even three hundred years later, it is tempting to view nature through painful nostalgia. A golden age now closed to us.

Searching for nature in his own time, Thomson transposes the non-human into currents of sound, wind and water. His is a poem of noise and light, of elements, breezes, clouds and vapours, filled with mingling winds, ‘rustling deer’ and birdsong. He uses observation of noise to create verse, and places ideas over this, a transparency secondary to the world they exist within.

On Hampstead Heath today, the birdsong is joined by shouting, by flight-paths, sirens, traffic, music, dogs barking [1]. A post-pastoral understanding of the natural world creates space to understand the necessary journey away from Thomson’s golden age. The task now is to understand a natural world free from nostalgia, to accept the mixture of sounds, of nature and of intrusion, and to look at what is left, and what can be done.


Jessica Frith is a PhD candidate in the English Department at King’s College London. She is interested in taking the study of literature closer to the physicality of nature, in reconstructing the eighteenth century poet-naturalist in a modern age, and in the importance of words within the environment. Follow Jessica @lutra__

[1] Audio from the London Sound Survey, Highgate Cemetery, recorded by Chris/dashanna and available at ‘Hampstead Health, Highgate, Archway’ on the sound map.  Listen to and contribute sounds from all around the city via their website.

A Critique in Cake #BakeMyThesis

“This is your PhD,” my friends said, proudly presenting a cake decorated with plastic animals. “It’s a farm! And you do farming, yeah?”

farm phd cake

Sort of. I research agricultural labour in eighteenth-century England (with an emphasis on the “labour” bit). But there was no labour in this cake-world: no farmers, no dairymaids or ploughboys, no gangs of harvest labourers, no carters or threshers. Human labour was entirely absent. I thought this was quite funny and ate the percy pigs happily.

farm cake 2

And yet, the unearthly green icing hinted at something deeper and darker than its inner chocolate layer. Staring into the glowing blue eyes of the monstrous cat-like creature in the centre I realised my birthday cake was not the simple-yet-adorable attempt at representation it first seemed, but in fact a sophisticated and devastating critique of the ideology of the eighteenth-century landed gentry. My friends had (inadvertently) produced a brilliant pastiche of the idealised pastoral scenes found in some landscape paintings, depicting a mythic countryside of ease and abundance populated by fluffy sheep and golden wheat. Continue reading

On Lists & List-Making

a list is a numbered thing, a conversion of thought to action, but in the future, always in the future

I shall read this and this and this and this and this

a list is a projected image of a future, all-knowing self, smiling in the knowledge of all that is behind her (does she have a list?)

listless (adj.) mid-15c., from Middle English liste “pleasure, joy, delight”

reading list, to-do list, packing list, christmas list, shortlist, new year’s resolutions, blacklist, hit list, 50 ways to leave your lover, 19 Cats in Exactly The Wrong Place

the Ten Commandments

list of words about lists: distil, mundane, meaningful, ordered, timetable, uncertainty, final, purpose, idealism, consolidation, stability, confusion, resolution, ownership, compulsive

Susan: List of things I like, List of things I dislike, list of where I’ve been, list of books to read, list of words, music heard, records to buy, Hindu gods, list of best films 1-228 (trails off)

Susan announces she does not believe in god or life after death in point a) of a list

lists are a form of therapy, of self-awareness, of self-definition

writing something just so you can cross it out makes you feel good about yourself

in Susan’s journals, littered with lists, she says that she “creates herself”

we want things we cannot have

control, immortality, knowledge, neatness, tidiness [classification]

finity

the list goes on

we seek to control the wild and writhing monster of all of the world, try to wrench its irrepressible body into a box, by writing bits down in numbered bullet points

I want to know all of it, I want to understand all of it

“the vertigo of lists” “the giddiness of lists” “poetics of catalogues” (Eco)

the list is hand wringing, anxious, desperate but it is also intellectual ambition, it is drive, it is purpose, it is hopeful. Resolutions, plans, the mundane mixed with the magnificent, with the seedlings of a thought or idea, a twinkle in the eye of a life. Blinking and dropping and formulating and classifying and ordering. Step by step by step a small thing becomes something larger. Step one step two step three

mind-wandering magic, a trigger to the unconscious, fruitful associations

concrete poetry

“dredged out of the lopside of your brain”                         “a fabulous mulch”

the list as delusion

we seek to capture our thoughts, to preserve a flash of juicy and crackling inspiration; we fear the loss of the mind should we neglect to write it down next to numbers or black spots

is not a great thinker merely one more…

  • able
    • practiced
      • inclined to organise a particular aspect of the world into numbered bullet points? This means this leads to this means this leads to this therefore this?

everything changes; thoughts are not immutable, they are unfixable like the world

a list is memory, trying (pointlessly?) to hold on to something fleeting

bullet point – snap(shot), the shutter clicks down and we try to freeze a fleeting instant, all around the frame disappears, it is not fixed, it looks different each time we look; unattainable, naïve, illogical, brilliant, pathetic, surreal, nonsensical, pointless, fascinating

I look wistfully at my lists


Clare Robson completed her Masters in the History of Art and Visual Culture at the University of Oxford last year. She now works and writes lists in London. She writes about art at clare-robson.co.uk and tweets @clargrob

By the Way: Research on the Roadside

Elsa Court image

It was not always clear why I, a non-driver in my late twenties, had chosen to research the road and its architectural landscape. My PhD studied representations of the American roadside and its commercial structures – the motel, the gas station, the highway service area in its various denominations, the roadside café, the toilet cubicle, and, occasionally, the roadside sign – as global icons of modern America. This liminal spot between land and road, capitalised upon to ease the fluidity of motorised motion, seemed especially meaningful in the American landscape, where the land is vast and roads cut through desert and empty prairies.

The roadside as space spoke to my sense of the road as a passive traveller and reader of literature. As a representational space, I thought, the roadside is often paradoxically a dead-end: an embodiment of indirection and loss. Continue reading

Notes to self: draft one

what is beowulf

THIS IS WHAT I\M DOING RIGHT NOW

This feels too big. I think because really I
can’t decide what it is exactly that I am trying to say// what it is I’m
trying to do here.
What ARe we dealing with here? Thinking alot about latour. The SOCIAL. SOCIAL SOCIAL STORIES
COMMUNITY YES.

What about words… ?

UNDERSTANDNG OF WHERE THE MIND IS. existing vs occurring.
this is why I’m
struggling.

‘storied knowledge, then is
neither classificatory nor networked. It is

meshworked’[1],, so how to describe or explore it linearly without
it coming out like utter fluff? aRGH THIS

THIS THIS. The ethnographic FRAGMENT, ‘that which can
be lifted and
taken away’.[2] SEE PAGE 19!!!
He includes a map. Map! Illustration!

THIS IS GOOD: WHAT DISCURSIVE STRATEGIES?
something to be said about the perceived
continuity that exists across time?
sHE’S
SAID IT ALREADY!!!!!!!!!!!!! WHATARE YOU DOING TO ME

Find a nice storytelling quote please, and
do what he does here. Or some sort of performance
quote. Talk here about martin carver, GIllian overing
and tim… importantimportant this is

THE SITE, THE STORY,,,

NOTE HERE WHAT THE description says,. LOLOLOLol
there is no more work for me to do. She’s
now looking at everything
since 1939… p. 55-6.
don’t even think about _writing this yet ok.

[1] tim ingold, being Alive: Essays on Movement, Knowledge and description (London: Routledge, 2001)

[2] Barbara Kirshenblatt-Gimblett, Destination Culture: Tourism, Museums, and Heritage (fiND PLACE?: University of California Press, 1998)


Fran researches Anglo-Saxon texts and objects, and contemporary cultural and creative practices. She has conversations with her notes, but is usually careful to make sure these are confined to DRaft_sutton_Hoo_1.doc or some other appropriately named and carefully filed away document. This is a collection of notes-to-self from a very early essay draft, in the order they appear, edited only for layout.

A brief conversation with medieval domestic objects

A pair of thirteenth-century shoes. Access granted by Museum of London.
A pair of thirteenth-century shoes. Access granted by the Museum of London.

I don’t quite remember the first time I thought about my ‘career’; neither do I remember a pivotal moment when I realised what I wanted to ‘be’. The only thing I remember is that I always had a huge desire to talk. Yet I do recall one peculiar moment at school, when we built our own ‘medieval feud maquette’. I loved building that feud. I loved building the cardboard castle and the incredible water mill, flowing with blue jelly. I also remember the first time I ventured into my mom’s wardrobe, in the late 1990s, where I captured a golden rope watch and a blue silk Indian scarf she’d owned since the late 1980s. I loved finding those objects. I loved wearing them (still do!) and loved the idea that they were my heirlooms.

There it is: I’ve always felt fascinated by objects. Actually, I’ve always liked talking to/about objects. I appreciate things that can tell stories, things that have a past. Somehow I inexplicably managed to design my career around stories from the past, mingling narratives from my past and from this curious geography that is medieval England – what a strange combination. Continue reading