As a writer, Christmas is a time to look at what you’ve done over the last twelve months and despair. Look at how little you’ve written and, yet, how much content there is out there! Maybe you should quit and start making memes instead? This year for me was no different, but a couple of things I wrote were actually published over Christmas, adding another layer of anxiety to the festive period. Would post-referendum BTL truth-seekers detect the hidden messages in my work and gleefully tell me to ‘go home’ to wherever I’m from? The answer, for my Guardian Cities piece on Sunderland photographer Andy Martin is: probably, as I don’t think I’ll ever wade through the 2,600-odd comment storm it generated.
The walls of Martin’s studio are lined with ghostly monochrome portraits of Sunderland’s present-day inhabitants – members of bands, artists, his friends: a collection of photos he calls his “census” of the city. These portraits contrast with his urban photos which are usually unpeopled, but share a similarly haunting atmosphere, as if he knows he is capturing something that will soon be gone. (continue reading)
A day later, my review of Mark Greif’s Against Everything was published, also in the Guardian:
The unflinching intelligence of his writing can be exhilarating, but intimidating. Yet there are many moments of levity: a doctor is described as “a mechanic who wears the white robe of an angel and is as arrogant as a boss”. Of the hipster movement he writes: “It did not yield a great literature, but made good use of fonts”.
As the book progresses, the style becomes looser and more expansive. The cool, stern tone of the earlier essays gives way to a more playful approach, typified by the essay “Learning to Rap”, in which, yes, Greif decides to teach himself how to rap along to hip-hop records. His rationale is that, as a music fan in the early 90s, he chose to devote himself to American post-punk, such as Sonic Youth and Fugazi, rather than hip-hop. This was a mistake, he now thinks, as hip-hop was the birth of a “new world-historical form” while rock “had been basically exhausted by 1972”. (continue reading)
Happy new year!