Monday, November 30, 2009

lunch # 1

In what's going to be a very busy week, I'm setting myself a routine: unless something spectacular happens to disrupt things, the daily photograph will be of my lunch. I only decided upon this most of the way through an apple, which looked especially fetching on my shiny desk top - and had absent-mindedly eaten the rest down to the core before I realized that I might want to try for a more focused image.

But there is a further point here - in preparation both for my MLA paper (which also has involved virtual rustling around in the beautiful on-line archive of the New Yorker, for 1945-6) and for a chapter I need to write, I want to think about the everyday (somewhat belatedly, to be sure - sometimes it seems as though thinking about this has become a very everyday occurence in and of itself), and I've been grounding myself in Ben Highmore's Everyday Life and Cultural Theory, which opens with various alternatives - whether the everyday is calmingly ordinary, a source of pleasure, or a form of boring incarceration in the routine and mundane. These are, of course, issues which have been very germane to the writing of this blog during the year, and now that I turn the corner into December, and start to reflect a bit more about what it's meant to put it together over the year, as an every-day practice, the daily recording of something both quotidien yet changing, mundane yet a (potential) source of pleasure, seems a suitable thing to do.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

In the shadow of...

I am beginning to suspect that the plans to move the household lock stock and barrel to Ocean Grove may have received a set back in the form of the Grand Auditorium, and the related mores of the surrounding town. Whereas the idea of no drunken weekend summer revelers is a pretty pleasant one ... a dry town? With a huge summer encampment of Methodists, living in a hundred plus little beach huts with tents in front of them, each one looking rather as though it ought to be on an English allotment, sitting at the back of a plot of potatoes and brussel sprouts? 6,000 plus worshippers at a time? outings of massed choirs? in this extraordinary 1894 building that looks like the Globe Theatre on steroids - though with such delights inside (must come back in summer to see them) as a 1916 star spangled banner with undulating electric lights.

Somehow - cute though all the Victorian houses are - this mightn't work. They ban access to the beach on Sunday mornings. They used, indeed, to ban cars on Sundays, which must have been quite a nightmare, especially since very few houses (another problematic aspect of the place) have off-street parking. So I think the dream home within walking distance of the beach will have to be a little further south...

Saturday, November 28, 2009


This peculiarly kitsch lighting fixture used to hang in the dining room here in Graham Street. Looking at it close up, it's hard to fathom quite how I managed to put up with it for even a week - I think I'd convinced myself that it was some kind of period kitsch. Which it is - just not the kind that one wants. But what to do with it? It's currently in the half-way house of our front porch. It hasn't quite made it onto the street with the sad and useless objects that no one would ever want at a yard sale (and given our experience with yard sales, no one wants what we have to offer at them, in any case). The trash seems a cruel fate. But it would also be embarrassing carrying it into a junk store, I fear, and being offered what? $2? Or for all I know, it would be a sort-after object by a period renovator...

I'm currently facing a lot of miscellaneous objects in the attic. Some of them have, scarily, been in the same plastic bags or similarly decrepit container since I moved to the US in 2001. Let me be honest - I think they've been in those bags longer than that. What to do, for example, with books that are in a box labeled "unwanted books - non-academic"? Clothes are easy - I'm finally relinquishing garments and shoes that I thought, presumably, that I might shrink to fit into about 15 years ago. They can go in clothes-bank containers - or if truly sad and wilting, can become cleaning rags. Academic books would be easy - if I had more shelves, somewhere. Personal papers and drawings and photographs - they'll find a home in a container somewhere, although I can't quite fathom why I still apparently feel that I need my high school physics notes. But all the stray pieces of metal or card that I don't really want, or need, but feel that maybe I should hang onto in case of a creative frenzy; or the four New Orleans carnival masks; or the model sheep; or the dishes that I made chicken liver pate in for a dinner party in 1981 - what does one do with them? I wish I could summon up enough courage just to take a photograph of each of them, an archive of uselessness, and then - but that "and then" is the problem, when it comes to stuff too good to trash, but that has even outlived any sentimental associations that it might once briefly have carried.

Friday, November 27, 2009


clearly, I'm still playing around with the mock polaroid app on my iPhone, and with objects to hand - there is no real reason to put a black and red cowboy boot on the tiled table that used to sit out in the back of 962 N Hoover, of course, other than that I was sitting in the so-called media room reading a clutch of recent books about the Arizona-Mexico border lands, and the combination of bits of the southwest seemed somehow appropriate.

If Thanksgiving is still something of a foreign mystery to me - not in terms of what one does, but in terms of what one feels, the day after Thanksgiving is even more so. I picked up the idea last year that Black Friday is so-called because supposedly this is the day that stores' sales ledgers go back into the black from the red (I certainly hope that's true today in NJ, before the state loses even more money), rather than because the traffic is so horrible. But according to Wikipedia, it seems that I was right all along - that from at least 1965-6 the day has been called that because of the shopping, the crowds, and probably the bad-tempered hangovers. Only retailers turned sulky at the negative connotations of the phrase, and so in more recent years, a Pollyanna spin has been put on it.

We didn't venture very far: the day after Thanksgiving is for eating cold turkey (thank you, Barry, for bringing round some slices of last night's splendid bird and its accompaniments) and starting to catch up on Stuff. Recharging, if not actual rebooting. In other words, more or less like Boxing Day - which doesn't exist here, so one might as well have its semblance now, in November.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

thanksgiving this case, I am giving thanks to the NYT, which this morning had a great piece on camera apps that one can download to one's iPhone. As faithful readers will know, I'm something of an afficionado of these, and love the element of unpredictability that they introduce, and I already had most of these on my little machine already. But this one was new to me. Called ShakeItUp Photo, it mimics the taking of a Polaroid - right down to the click and whirr. And then one shakes it... and it gradually swims into life, just like the real thing... Or one can apply it to a photo that's already on one's iPhone. This, however, was taken directly using the app.

And so ... autumnal pods, or, to be honest, artificial ones, from Robert's Florals, in Highland Park, who do quite wonderful arrangements as well as from-the-jar flowers (we have one on our mantelpiece) ... and these can join the stems and vases series ... What I like best of all here, however, are the colors, the subdued peacock coloring that somehow has been created out of an ancient B&Q bookcase of shaky construction and a beige wall.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

the world is full of broken things

The phrase that's in today's title was worrying me, a lot, because I was sure that I'd plagiarized it, and I couldn't remember where from. But there's always Google Books... and what was at the back of my mind was, of course, a line from a Charlotte Mew poem, "Madeleine in Church" - "his arms are full of broken things." This in turn was the title of a quite terrible and implausible novel about Mew having an affair with Thomas Hardy, that I reviewed with considerable and humorless scepticism for The Guardian ten years or so ago.

But this is a different broken thing, a blue glass vase, containing some dessicated and past their sell-by date dried flowers, that I swept crashingly to the ground, or at least to my desk top, whilst trying to manoeuvre myself earlier today to pet the unpettable ginger fluffy cat. I was sorry, very sorry, to see the vase's demise - it had been in my office in Oxford for a long time, and then hanging around New Jersey in various locations since then, since I have a fondness for blue glass. But where could it have come from? It's another case of evaporated memory. I think, most likely, a store in the Cowley Road - but it does raise the question of what's bound up in a memory of a smashed ornament: its origins, or the subsequent places it has inhabited? In this case, definitely the latter ... I am trying to rationalize its untimely departure as an example of uncluttering, however un-sought for.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

flamingoes, again

I am deeply grateful to Vic's Italian Restaurant, in Bradley Beach, for keeping my debit card safe and warm for me - there was a bad moment, half way through yesterday, when I realized that this little bit of plastic was nowhere to be found - not a good thing, at this season. I'd last seen it when paying for a pizza on Sunday lunchtime... but Vic's didn't reopen till today, and don't answer their phone on Mondays. Phew. These flamingoes are in their back parking lot, and seem far more acclimatized than those Eldorado ones.

And I was almost more grateful to them for allowing me to find out that they are precisely 47 minutes drive from the back of Murray Hall - which gave me space, due to a canceled meeting, to go up to Ocean Grove, and check it out...and go for a brief walk along the empty and foam flecked beach, and find that I instantly want to move there, and have to be careful not to spend too much time procrastinating on 48 minutes back to Murray. I am sure that it's different in peak traffic time, that it's quite different in summer, and that there would be the occasional inconvenient hurricane. But still...

Monday, November 23, 2009


...and after the seaside trip, the souvenirs: the cat is an obvious enough addition to our household, but the crab? Definitely seaside, even if sitting on the boardwalk eating cupcakes was hardly equivalent to a G. H. Lewes style examination of rock pools. But will these two critters serve to remind me of Asbury Park? The trouble is, they already remind me of Bali, rather than the Jersey shore - back in 1992, I think - and walking in Ubud from craftstore to craftstore, all with this style of idiosyncratic carved animals (that was after some monkeys had tried unsuccessfully to steal my camera bag, and the wooden variety seemed much safer); stopping at a cafe with masses of water lilies; walking through the rice paddies with large flocks of white egrets swooping past. It's an un-examined phenomenon (for all my reading about memory, and I'll be teaching an undergrad seminar on the topic in Fall '10, so I'll be reading some more) - how far something bought to commemorate a visit to one place actually sets off memories of another. It wasn't just the carved animals, and the mirrors with doors, and the buddhas in the store that I hold responsible, but the bag that they came in from the oddly London-in-the-60s named Posh Den, announcing, with insouciant globalism, "Asbury Park - New York - Bali."

Sunday, November 22, 2009

under the casino

in Asbury Park - a scene that looks curiously Indian - I think it's the peeling yellow walls, the people sweeping - though in India there would with luck be someone with a bright pink or yellow sari walking across, and here it was whatever people wear in NJ on a sunny November day to walk their dogs, or - if gay guys - walk hand in hand down the board walk - or, as here, do wheelies on their bicycles.

This was a day's outing to the Jersey Shore - and it was hard to stop taking tourist cliche photos - here, the Stone Pony

and, since today has clearly become travelogue, rather than a well-considered Picture of the Day (I shall cut myself some slack - it's Sunday) - here is one further image, of a German Icing cupcake, made by one Jack Petronella, who now owns the Baker Boys cake shop inside the Convention Center. All I can say was that it was very hard choosing what to buy (Alice went for a peculiarly delectable macaroon, and there's a dark chocolate mousse in the freezer), and I want to go back when he has his caramel sushi...

Down the shore, as has been well sung, everything's all right...

Saturday, November 21, 2009

old style

street signage - the corner of Graham and S. First. The latter, admittedly, isn't quite visible, but I wanted to include the apartment block at the corner, which is possibly of the same era - that is, I guess, sometime in the 1930s? Our house, just down the street, was apparently built in 1930, and the same builder was clearly responsible for the whole little area: he seemingly had a good supply of preternaturally gloomy very dark red bricks, which found their way into the constructions of all our front porches.

This apartment block is the one that has figure in various of my Rear Window shots, featuring a succession of rescue cats at windows...another kitty contingent is usually to be found staring out of these front windows.

This is, I was thinking, the kind of quiet, nondescript, very local sign that one day just quietly disappears to be replaced by something municipal and homogenous (let's hope that Highland Park has something better to spend its non inconsiderable property taxes upon), without anyone ever commemorating it: so here it is, recorded.

Friday, November 20, 2009

electical trouble

Alas, it's another picture of Rutgers's non-maintenance, here neatly documented: "called in 11.04.05 to be fix." I guess nothing happened, and the note is still here, part of the decor in Alice's office in the Ruth Adams Building, on Douglass. In its glory days, the RAB was known as Recitation Hall, a central part of the campus of the New Jersey College for Women, and it still very much has the feel of a women's college (think St Hugh's, think Newnham, think Girton): the same corridors, woodwork, and interior arches; the same sense, too, of the kind of lack of privilege - despite all of its respectable solidity - that Woolf wrote about in A Room of One's Own whilst comparing women's and men's Oxbridge colleges. Ruth Adams herself (b. 1914) had a solid career as an English professor (with a PhD from Radcliffe College) and was indeed a Victorian specialist - teaching at Douglass, and become Dean, from 1960-66, at which point she moved to Wellesley, as its president, where among other things she reaffirmed its commitment to remain a women's college. She moved to Dartmouth in 1972, where she was Vice President and Professor of English until 1988. One has to admire someone who celebrated her 88th birthday with a flight in a hot air balloon.

The Ruth Adams Building, however, badly needs rescuing from gloomy dingeyness. After British educational establishments, it felt suspiciously familiar - something brought hom not just by seeing my own handwriting on unpacked cartons in A's study, but by the presence, in the outer hall of the suite in which her office is situated, of a poster of the Tiffany window, c. 1908, View of Oyster Bay. For I know this so very well - I bought the poster on my first ever trip to New York, in 1979, and it hung - in increasing degrees of tattiness - on my study walls first in Bristol, and then in Oxford: it was like seeing an old friend again today.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

the good girl syndrome

is something that I still suspect that I am afflicted with, after all these years: it's there even, and of course, in my determination, even at the end of a long day, to take a photograph and write a post - though what I am trying to prove to whom is a more murky puzzle. I've been reading Rachel Simmons's The Curse of the Good Girl - by the woman who wrote the excellent Odd Girl Out - in part because I admired this earlier book, in part because, I guess, at some level, I'm still trying to break the spell. Even though it's a book primarily aimed at the mothers of such girls, I guess I can borrow from it... more, when I have got further...

Here is a depressingly and unmistakable good girl, sitting at the back of the classroom of IX, at the top of Wimbledon High School Preparatory Department, in about 1962. Goodness knows what I am writing: Miss Clayton - a peculiarly fussy and crabby woman - is peering over my shoulder to try and see, so I expect that I am forming my neat italic letters very carefully for her. Even though it's not obligatory, I see I'm wearing school uniform (to be honest, I always found the idea of uniform easier than tussling with free expression when it came to clothing). In front of me is Lucy Garrard, who really was a good girl and startlingly conformist; then Deborah Howard, who was good at math; Joanna Latimer, whom I always thought of as French, for some reason, and who is now Professor of Sociology at Cardiff (two future professors in one row seems a bit excessive); then Susan Coad - *no* idea what happened to her, and then Fenella Howard, with whom I sometimes used to ride (though she patronized the rival stables). All of us are wearing our Startright sandals, tucked neatly under our desks; and there are very Educational Posters on the walls - springtime, and British port life, and something that looks like elementary geology. We did spend a lot of time learning about The World Around Us. We were also, I am sure, being taught to be Good, by the standards of bringing up young girls, at the time "between the end of the Chatterley ban and the Beatles' first LP."

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

cats' eyes and cabbages

One of the big mysteries to me when I moved to the US was the phenomenon of the Ornamental Cabbage. This is not to say that no one in England grows cabbages as if they were exotic flowers, but I much more readily associate the brassica olaracea with straggly growths in allotments, seen from trains. However, here they are, as seasonal as the flowers that Americans weirdly call "mums" - a word in England reserved for a plural of mothers ("moms" being an unheard-of Americanism). I crept up on this one with, for once, a flashlight, because I could see that there on the table behind it was...

... DandeLion! aka Bitzi, aka Fluffy - our strange, feral, unapproachable, adorably beautiful feral cat - still feral after nearly eighteen months of indoor living, and prone to think that every corner of the house is one great woodpile in which to conceal herself. Those eyes are curiously human (or devil) like - not at all feline. Most cats have eyes that shine white, or bluey-greeny-white, when subjected to the photographic flash - this is because of their tapetum lucidum, the layer of tissue at the back of their retina that reflects visible light back again, increasing the light available to the photoreceptors. This increases their ability to see in the dark - though maybe, in this case, not Bitzi's. Maybe this is the reason why she will let us pet her only at the dead of night, when she'll deign to be on the bed: she can't actually see us very well.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


I am baffled, stymied, stumped when it comes to explaining why I like this as much as I do. I think because it defies normal conventions of fall photography, despite the presence of a few lingering yellow leaves: rather than hitting tones of rust and umber and red and gold - of which there is plenty around, especially in this spookily warm November weather (as I left Murray this evening, there was even a girl sitting in the dark under a tree). This corner of Scott Hall is, however, determinedly non-autmnal in its cold artificial lighting: indeed, this is almost an underwater scene, clammy and grey green. But there's also something fragile about it - the tenacious last bits of foliage, the crumbling wall that makes it appropriate enough for a scene shuffling toward's the year's end - or at least towards Thanksgiving. I find it very hard to get my head around not Thanksgiving per se, but a country in which the academic semester screeches to a halt for three weekdays, and then grinds itself into motion again for two fraught weeks.

Monday, November 16, 2009

keyed up

The size of my bunch of keys would rival that of a gaoler. Why so many of them? There's a house key to Highland Park, somewhere in that tangle, and one to the Santa Fe house (the pink, semi-Western one in the foreground, cut at Mailboxes in Eldorado, and the only one of the lot that I can be guaranteed to identify in a hurry. This isn't much use in New Jersey, admittedly). There's a car key, or, to be exact, a sophisticated and microchipped piece of plastic. There are two keys to Union Street - one to the house itself, one to my office - a blessed retreat that I don't get to nearly enough. There may or may not be keys to my parents' house in London - I always think that, like my passport, I should have them close to me in case of emergency, but in point of fact I'm not sure where they are, and they are probably in Santa Fe. The grubby yellow plastic surround provides crucial ID to another key - that to the women's faculty/staff bathroom in Murray. Its green companion isn't attached to anything. Then there are a whole collection of keys that go along with chairing - one that lets me into my office, that was shiny and identifiable at the start of the semester, and now is dull and sulky. I wonder why? And there's a master key, and a supplementary master key, and another extra supplementary master key. I cannot imagine the circumstances under which I'm likely to use any of these, unless (o sigh) I want to get into the building on a Sunday or at Thanksgiving. I suppose they are rather like a mayorial chain, or a mace, or a velvet floppy hat - signs of office, but actually, they weigh me down clankingly.

And then there are the appendages - a rubbed spacy dome like object, that I bought at the Harold Edgerton museum in Nebraska, and that goes red and swirls around if one puts one's hot little fingers (or, I guess, other body parts) behind it, and then there's a long string of blue perspex cubes. You'd think, with all of this, that I would be able to find my keys when I need them. No. I was even driven, earlier this year, to buying (at inordinate cost) an electronic key-finder, that emitted a loud beep (rather like a fire alarm needing a new battery, c.f. the ceiling behind me) when one pressed the Finder button on a base unit. This was a great idea, in theory - until the alarm beep went off, unbidden, when I was driving through West Virginia. There seemed to be no way of silencing it, no way of tearing out its little battery - so in the end, I prised it off my key ring, hurled it (still beeping urgently) into a trash can, and accelerated away.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


This image is a deliberate homage to Giacomo Balla's Fallimento (or Failed, or Bankrupt or Insolvency), his wonderful 1902 semi-Divisionist painting of a closed bank, or closed business, the door firmly barred shut, the panels scrawled with chalk graffiti. Here there's the same sense of a futile solidity in the presence of the door - no longer any real need to keep out, or in, customers or money. This was taken somewhere down by City Hall in NYC - and falls into the category of Signs of the Recession, always a favorite (if decidedly voyeuristic and gloom laden) sport when walking or driving around neighborhoods. Hard to locate many other obvious signs in NY itself, today (though there were a large number of empty businesses visible as New Jersey Transit trundled through Rahway). There was, however, an only-in-New-York man trying to make a quick buck by appealing to the tourist dollar, strolling up Broadway with an apparently quite happy, very sleek, black and white cat sitting on his head.

Or, given the reflections, and the way in which the door panels refract light rather like a carefully inlaid, trompe d'oeil Renaissance door, and the verdigris, and the mottled textures, this could be seen as completely lacking in topical thematics, and as being simply another example of my fascination with the

(thank you, bridge at New Brunswick station).

Saturday, November 14, 2009


So today's question is... when does repetition of a theme, a motif, become recognizable as a deliberate aesthetic pattern, or boring lack of inspiration, or obsession, or thoughtful variation, or or or or or...? For this is far from being the first vase with stems in water that I've included on this blog this year, or the first vase.jug with a handle. Clearly, I could answer by saying - look, it comes to the end of a day; I have a photo to take...what's around me...? But this is not the only picture I've taken today - and even suppose it were: why choose this theme rather than another one? This forces me back into my own grounds for aesthetic pleasure, at least as exemplified here: ambiguity (of depth, solidity, refraction); intensity without brightness in the color; near (but not exact) symmetry; a certain academic preoccupation, perhaps, with issues of surface and depth. In other words, one of the things that a repeated subject makes one consider is, evidently, one's personal, non-thematic specifics of visual preferences.

Friday, November 13, 2009


This mirror is the only thing that I've ever bought at a real auction, at the closing-down sale of a yard specializing in architectural antiques in Oxford (I really wanted a Victorian font, and still wish that I'd bid on it, but I didn't have the money - and I don't know what I'd have done with a font, when I think about it). This - set on Library Red, in our dining room, reflects a whole lot of my past back at me: some goat prints, bought in Lyon; plates that used to belong to each of my grandmothers - including a kind of serving dish with a pale purple morning glory plant in the middle; coffee cups with stars on them, which were a present from an old family friend; two rough-cast plates decorated with bunches of grapes - and this is where things start to get scary, because I can't remember their origins. Italy, probably. But where? Did I buy these to eat my dinner from when I was a grad student? It is very frightening indeed to have possessions that one really loves and to be unable to remember their origins - this rather gives the lie to objects being things to remember by. A Staffordshire figure of a boy with a goat - I think from the antique market that used to be in the old jam factory by Oxford station - but again, maybe not. A plaster mould of a woman milking a sheep - that, I know, came from a little junk store in Notting Hill. And a teapot of Alice's. Should one be making an inventory, with provenance, of all of one's possessions? But the only person (apart from a very detail-oriented social historian) to whom this is likely to matter is me - not being able to remember their origins, though, is a form of being forced to life in the present, without really intending to.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

murray, again

This was my dismal discovery of the day: the janitors' room, just outside the chair's office on the first floor of Murray. I went in there to empty a styrofoam cup of cold coffee down the sink, and was greeted by this appalling sight: the ceiling is peeling and bulging from god knows what water damage and other forms of wear and tear. It looked as though the whole thing could come down on the janitors' heads - maybe bringing half a dozen students and tables and chairs with it. So - just in case Facilities don't come trotting over fast, very fast, to put it to rights, this is a documentary image, propaganda for due care and attention to be given to another crumbling corner of the campus (next campaign, after the push to get the sweet little observatory repainted, is for the cupola of Murray itself to get a new coat of paint). Indeed, this isn't, perhaps, as urgent as preventing our janitors from being concussed, deluged, and smothered, but it would help to cheer up the environment. Mind you, I'm still in a state of shock from being told that apparently some students have formed a Save the River Dorms group (though I can as yet find no concrete evidence of this, despite having googled, and even searched for a Facebook community supporting this improbable desire). I want to be the person who lights the touchpaper when we get round to dynamiting them.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

brightening up the bedroom

So how far does one try to recreate other rooms when one moves? In our bedroom here in Graham Street, we have the same vase for flowers, the same orange-ish light, on the same low dresser, as we had in the bedroom in Los Angeles - only here the walls are a chill slaty grey, not the Tuscan reds and ochres of Hoover Street. There's a certain comfort in this - as there is downstairs, in the bull's blood red dining room. This isn't an LA echo, however, but an Oxford one: the walls are the same color there, more or less, as the National Trust "Library Red" color that adorned the living room at 16 James Street, and the curtains are the very same ones - which is probably why the kitties are so fascinated by them: the late lamented Charlie Mew (Charlotte Mew at birth, but soon deemed inappropriate, when one saw his little tabby balls) used occasionally to spray on them, in an apparently absent-minded way. So even if the house has nothing in common, really, with a 1925 mock Italian villa, or a late C18th farmhouse knocked around by the Victorians (including William Morris's parents - he of the Morris Motor Works, not Kelmscott and Utopian craftsmanship), there's still a form of decorative continuity, which of course is upheld by the display of portable property in the form of lamps and vases and furniture.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009


I've got a lot of admiration for photographers who take very expressive pictures involving folds of material, emotionally provocative shadows, uneasily described shapes. Needing to fabricate a quick image, I folded my scarf (Santa Fe, the same store that had the glowing dachshund and the luminous owl, for the record) in various suggestive postures, and all that I can report is that it's a more difficult exercise than I thought. All that's happened is a re-figuring of the scarf, which doesn't have this shimmering phosphorescence at all, and really, is neither turquoise nor purple...

Monday, November 9, 2009


Meet Leo. Leo came from Oxford - I bought him from a little store on St Michael's Street that had a sudden, brief influx of papier mache animals - he's around sheep size, and hostile. I used to keep him in my study, where at least one student claimed that she found him completely scary (what I never told her is that at first, there were times when I would look round and get a shock that he was there, staring fiercely).

Over the years, I've become more accustomed to his snarl - but he's not always easy to place in an appropriate location (yes, I know, he should be in the chair's office, but I haven't reached that point quite yet). He's currently on the gallery, a kind of strange limbo of bits of furniture that haven't got real homes, and the kitty litter tray, and a potential location for any troop of madrigalists or serenading singers that might improbably drop round. He's not all that visible from downstairs, though - which may be a waste of his attitude...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

chairing, continued

It has been a spectacularly beautiful fall day, and even New Jersey - even this part of New Jersey - has been looking like somewhere in a tourist ad (see below - the bridge over Route 1, resembling John Cotman's 1804 Aqueduct over the Chirk.) But oh, New Jersey... I offer up today's stray, abandoned chairs to the altar of all those who have appreciated the part that industrial, commercialized, mass-produced junk plays in conjunction with rivers to create the special aesthetic of this state. There's William Carlos Williams, of course (of whom Marianne Moore made the endearing comment that he wrote the kind of "plain American that cats and dogs can read") not just with the amazing Paterson, but with his short story "Life Along the Passaic River," in which the opening pans up from a Thomas Eakins like scene of a boy canoeing along the Passaic to the Manhattan Rubber Co's red brick and concrete power plant on its banks. This image, of course, does the same kind of thing in reverse (the boy in a canoe, dammit, was a hundred yards up stream).

And then there's Robert Smithson, he of the Spiral Jetty, with his essay "The Monuments of Passaic," and something I like possibly even more, in this connection, "The Crystal Land," with its emphasis on refraction and reflections and mirrorings and facets. In all his writings, published and unpublished, on NJ (see Ann Reynolds's excellent and comprehensive book, Robert Smithson: Learning from New Jersey and Elsewhere), Smithson explores the potential in the urban unfinished (imagine an incomplete New Jersey Turnpike!); in the anti-monumental sites of memory that are found within suburbia, old and new (the landscape that Peter Blake called in 1964 "God's Own Junkyard"); and the potential in all of this for disruptions to our sense of time and place - something very close to the conditions of science fiction. And yes, not for nothing, one might recollect, did that Martian invasion in the infamous 1938 radio broadcast of The War of the Worlds occur in New Jersey - which would allow us to revisit the bridge arches, not seeing them, this time, in terms of romanticism's appropriation of new technology to a quiet beauty, but in terms of vortices with a quite illegible origin and force.

Saturday, November 7, 2009


Here it is! The perfect illustration for Kathleen Stewart's couple of paragraphs on "Traces:"
People are collecting found objects snatched off the literal or metaphorical side of the road. Things that have dropped out of the loop or have been left sagging somewhere are dragged home as if they are the literal residues of past dreaming practices.
The snatching practice mixes a longing for a real world (or something) with the consumer's little dream of spying a gem or tripping over a bargain. And in the mix, all kinds of other things are happening too. (Ordinary Affects, p.21)
I haven't any desire to snatch this armchair off S. First - quite apart from being even more dilapidated than some of our own that haunt various corner of the house, it looks very happy sitting on its tree trunk throne, await some unguessable occupancy. What it does exemplify to the full is the hunter/gatherer aspect of taking photographs: never quite knowing what dreaming practices are going to be set in train by the image, rather than the object itself.

I say in the sidebar to this blog that it began life when I was thinking about writing a book - a very general book - about writing and photography: a project that morphed into my current work on flash photography and startling interruptions of light more generally. I'm very glad of this shift - I've been reading a new book by Francois Brunet called Photography and Literature (in Reaktion's excellent "Exposures" series) - wide-ranging, if somewhat disjointed in its argument, so far - and it covers almost exactly the ground that I was planning on tackling myself. If I hadn't shifted my ideas, and become interested in a side alley of the original project, I'd be rolling on the floor and howling. As it is, I'm very impressed by how much ground he's covering in a very economical way - I was coming to the conclusion that it was an unmanageably sprawling topic. His chapter on staged photographs, "The Literature of Photography," takes one back to today's image: though far from staged, there's surely a narrative waiting to emerge from it - or at least a Ionesco play.

Friday, November 6, 2009

ordinary leaves

One of the many things that I admire about Kathleen Stewart's Ordinary Affects is the way in which she suggests that in part, we register the ordinary through our knowledge of interruptions - things that break into everyday life. These needn't be the potentially traumatic (the knock on the door, the late night phone call), though of course she registers the ominous power of such things to break apart what she calls the cocoon of home. Rather, they can be interruptions caused by things that in themselves are ordinary: the "rogue intensities [that] roam the streets of the ordinary" (44). "At odd moments in the course of the day," she writes, you may raise your head in surprise or alarm at the uncanny sensation of a half-known influence" (60). Her example, at this point, is completely different from my own - she goes on to write about the sudden blast of personal tragic histories that comes across when one sees a "homeless and hungry" sign, say. But overall, in discussing the affect of the everyday - how it can seem redolent of something important that we can't quite name; that isn't symbolic, but that exceeds simple description - when, in other words, she's talking about the mysterious power of things - she hits (as I suggested yesterday) at something that's very close to what I think I'm attempting in my own recording of the everyday.

For here - not in a human-made object, but in a suddenly seen branch on campus - is a view that's very ordinary (fall leaves); that could certainly be forced into literary alliances (Shakespeare's "bare ruined choirs", or Coleridge's "one red leaf," etc.); but that basically has an aesthetic pull that, through its symmetry, makes an appeal on one. That last phrase is a limp one, because the whole point of such an affect is that one isn't talking about something that's easily read in symbolic terms, or that can be reduced to a neat, recognizable emotion. Maybe I should try writing differently to tackle the problem of isolating one's feelings, and adopt Stewart's strategy of using the third person: "she walked under the tree, and then suddenly stopped. fumbling in her bag for her camera, convinced that there was something here that she wanted to write about, even if she couldn't quite put a name to it...".

Thursday, November 5, 2009

jug handle

No, not one of the strange driving features on NJ roads, but a big jug of white carnations on our dining room table - the jug came from a store by Sunset Junction, in Silver Lake, that has a wonderful selection of eco friendly and eco/nature themed household treats.

I simply couldn't stand another day hunting down an image in Murray, although I did look, hard, on my way up to Au Bon Pain and back for something serviceable. I'd started to read Kathleen Stewart's Ordinary Affects, which has been haunting my desk for some time (since I have to give an MLA paper to do with affect, and I'm supposed to be writing a chapter for an edited volume on the novel and the ordinary/everyday, this seems like killing two birds with one stone). It's a book composed of some 120 or so vignettes of ordinary life and speculations not just upon them, but on the very nature of the ordinary, and hence feels like a close relative of this blog. Of course, I left the book on my desk... but the passage that caught my eye in relation to trying to find a subject for an image of the day had to do with the particular power of the found object, the unexpected revelation of something special in the apparently ordinary bit of discarded junk or trash or roadside detritus - and then (this is the noteworthy bit) the way in which we seize on such things not just because of a love of surprise, but because of our love of a bargain, of something for nothing. I'll go back into this tomorrow (unless something else visually compelling forces itself on me): I think that there's a good deal of material I want to think through here in terms of my own practice.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

the other aspect of changing clocks

is how good it is to have early sunlight. This is Voorhees Mall at 8 a.m. this morning, between Murray Hall and the meeting that I was attending in Winants Hall (one darkened by last night's election result), and the light is, clearly, not needed. It looks remarkably tranquil (though in fact a woman was standing on the front steps of the Art Library, just to the left, yelling angrily into her cellphone to someone who had evidently broken every promise that he had ever made to her, and was going to Suffer For It, if she didn't take him to court first).

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

clock change

It is, of course, wonderful not to be getting up - even heading off to work - in the dark. But then, it's now invariably dark, and going to be dark for a long time, at homegoing. This is the window on the way out of Murray Hall, heading into the carpark. Iconographically, one thinks of windows as being full of possibility, looking onto views, liminal, suggestive of expanses, and so on. This, however, has something much more akin to the prison about it.

There's a further interpretation to be drawn - one of distance between Rutgers and The Building Across the Street. This belongs to Johnson and Johnson (today announcing a cut back in management, etc - one hopes that doesn't impact too badly on New Brunswick). Theirs is the magnificent building one sees from the train, and as one walks up George Street from the station. I'm sure I'm not the only person who thought, when she was appointed, that it was a part of Rutgers - maybe that mysterious place, Old Queens? Surely the president must have his office there, on the banks of the old rar-i-tan? I kept waiting to get invited to a function there - then thought that, at least, graduation would be held on its sloping lawns. Eventually, the reality dawned upon me ...

Monday, November 2, 2009

the dorm bus

It's a Rutgers bus. But not any old Rutgers bus, making its fast and determined progress between College Ave and Douglass or Busch or Livingston, clipping the odd car (or, on a bad day, another bus) on its way. It's the hotel shuttle bus, sitting waiting for passengers outside the student center, with (on closer inspection) a few depressed black spiders, left over from Halloween, adhering to its windows.

As this article in yesterday's New York Times makes clear, five hundred of our first year students don't have a dorm room, but are being put up in the Crowne Plaza hotel somewhere about five miles away. I can't imagine a more depressing start to one's Rutgers career (a Crowne Plaza hotel ten miles away?). The whole article is about the tendency of state universities to try and make more money out of recruiting out of state students, who will then pay higher fees - something that Rutgers plans to put some energy into doing. And there's certainly financial logic to this - although each out of state student means one place less for a New Jersey student. But how does one go about drumming up enthusiasm? Many of our dorms are not spectacularly seductive at the best of times (I once proposed, fervently, that we shouldn't ever ask new faculty to teach in the basement of the River Dorms in their first year, or they will run screaming away from New Brunswick - in my own first year teaching, I was once stopped in full flow by the sight of a rat scuttling along the pipes outside the window at the back of the dank room). Yet to imagine that we can entice students from New York or Pennsylvania or Connecticut to come here when we offer them a bus ride to and from corporate hotel land, rather than any simulation of vibrant campus life, is a true pipe dream.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

like a rainbow

Loyal readers will doubtless remember, right at the beginning of the year, a couple of pink plastic flamingoes gamely poking their thin necks through the snow. Now their owner has done it again: consummate queen of rainbow kitsch. Her back gate has been painted in rainbow stripes a long, long time - but now a whole load of stones have been dumped and spread at the side of the house and painted - yes - all the colors of the rainbow. So, too, has the Kokopelli figure playing the flute in front of the house, but that will have to wait another couple of months before it's captured.

I'm not sure why this passion for the spectrum: I don't get the sense from her that this is a flamboyant gesture of LGBT pride - though who can tell, especially in Santa Fe, where there's a whole retirement complex called Rainbow Vision (complete with the Billie Jean King Fitness Complex and Spa). What I do know is that it's a violent assault on the eyeballs - and oddly, probably not quite covered by the myriad of local Eldorado environmental ordinances, which mandate one to paint one's house a certain color, and to cover up one's camper van, and so on.