In his stunning, controversial recent article for the New York Times, author China Mieville describes the London Docklands, the definitive Thatcherite regenerated playground of the rich as "a thuggish and hideous middle-finger-flipped glass-and-steel at the poor of the East End, every night a Moloch's urinal dripping sallow light on the Isle of Dogs". London is a city being overbuilt for the advantage of someone, but that someone doesn't appear to be the people who make London breathe. As Mieville writes, "Everyone knows there's a catastrophe unfolding, that few can afford to live in their own city."
Reading Savage Messiah, Roz Kaveney finds moments of “inchoate skinhead anarchism,” sitting alongside moments of mixed-media art that, “approach the condition of poetry.”
Kaveney admires Savage Messiah for its ability to, “see in the scruffy and semi-derelict a sort of beauty, a prophetic apocalyptic sublime,” but worries that Laura Oldfield Ford’s London is
a city of white working-class resistance; it is an able-bodied, exclusively heterosexual world in which the only ideology is a sort of inchoate skinhead anarchism devoid of theory.
Kaveney, writing in the Times Literary Supplement, describes the content of Savage Messiah as a series of, “collages, fragments of text, dingy-looking photographs, sketches of buildings, deliberately stylized portraits. She interprets Oldfield Ford’s low-tech approach as, “in part a deliberate rejection of the sort of psychogeography she associates with Iain Sinclair and Stewart Home, and sees as a deliberate packaging of the bizarre for middle-class consumers.” She highlights the ways in which the apparently derelict and run-down areas of London that are depicted in Savage Messiah become symbols of struggle against urban and political hegemony, writing that
[Oldfield Ford] sees temporarily occupied drinking dens, factories where alienated workers sabotage the machines that fill cheap chocolates with nasty fondant, high streets full of kebab and pound shops, as sites of resistance to the squeaky clean consumerism of contemporary Britain.
Iain Sinclair has been out walking in the footsteps of Laura Oldfield Ford. Sinclair opens his review of Savage Messiah, Ford's cut-n-paste zine of psychogeographic drifts through London, with a description of his own walks through the city's changing landscape.
Writing for the Guardian, Sinclair documents his own experiences of journeying through an East London altered irrevocably by Olympic construction and the "fork-tongued instruments of global capitalism, hellbent on improving the image of destruction." Such dramatic change has, he claims, spawned a counter-reaction of 'Sentimentalists of every stripe' seeking to capture a landscape on the verge of disappearance: "raiding parties bearing cameras and notebooks, the tattered footsoldiers of anarchy: retro-geographers, punk Vorticists." Walking alongside these lone chroniclers of a lost London, Sinclair ponders the violent collision of new money and old city:
Old Stratford, transport hub, retail cathedral, birthplace of the Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, drew me back with its intimations of a new England, a city state outside time and beyond culture. Compulsory diversions have been arranged, systems of barricades and cones, to funnel random pedestrians through chasms of glass and steel towards the shimmering illusion of the Westfield oasis. It took something special to make me reach for my camera, all the evidence had already been logged and relogged. Just as my futile presence, in its turn, was captured on hours of security tape, scans from overhead drones.
Laura Oldfield Ford's Savage Messiah is reviewed for domus by Owen Hatherley. Hatherley describes it as a "self-published montage of fragmentary memoir, revolutionary fantasy and startlingly raw architectural draughtsmanship." In Hatherley's eyes, Ford's artworks are
pervaded alternately with ghostly, overgrown renderings of the harsh, sublime social architecture of the 1960s, especially well represented in Oldfield Ford's native West Yorkshire and adoptive East London.
As the year draws to a close, newspapers have been asking the great and the good which books have most impressed them in 2011. Here we have collected the Verso books that were featured.
In the New Statesman, Guardian and Observer Books of the Year round ups, Hari Kunzru selected two Verso books as standing out from other books published this year. He explained the appeal of the titles to the New Statesman:
With the Occupy movement gaining ground throughout the world, McKenzie Wark's smart overview of the situationist movement, The Beach Beneath the Street: the Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International, feels particularly timely. For years, Laura Oldfield Ford, who is very influenced by situationism, has produced a fanzine, based on her derives around London, with words and beautiful, confrontational line drawings of the city's forgotten people and neglected places. Now, Savage Messiah has been collected in book form. It is a wake-up call to anyone who can only see modern cities through the lens of gentrification.
In the Guardian feature on the Best Books of 2011, a number of Verso titles were selected by those asked.
Among the 2011 books that came my way I particularly welcomed Owen Jones's Chavs, a passionate and well-documented denunciation of the upper-class contempt for the proles that has recently become so visible in the British class system.
I loved two very different books of criticism...[one was] Owen Hatherley's furiously pro-Modernist A Guide to the New Ruins of Britain
Liberalism: A Counter-History by Domenico Losurdo stimulatingly uncovers the contradictions of an ideology that is much too self-righteously invoked.
I'm reading Chris Harman's A People's History of the World. It's really helpful to zoom out from time to time when you're living massive events at very close quarters.