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."
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.
Laura Oldfield Ford's Savage Messiah, collecting issues of her acclaimed art zine that charted her psychogeographic drifts through a decaying city, has been reviewed by Bidisha for Notes on Culture, her new online magazine. Bidisha praised the book, describing it as "reportage turned into art of breathtaking precision, political sensitivity and power." In a rich and engaging review, Bidisha gave her thoughts on the nature of Ford's artistic project in Savage Messiah and why the zines are so effective.
Ford observes, sketches and photographs these areas, which are simultaneously forgotten and earmarked for exploitation, making notes and speaking to residents. The result is not straight reportage or urban landscape recording but reality with the zoom lens sniper eye tuned to the max. The cracks in walls, the scrubby greenery growing between slabs, the broad backs of massed riot police and the sad, scratchy graffiti cut into the page with intense monochrome menace. There is, appropriately, a savagery and sharpness underlying Ford's work, equal parts anger, despair, love and urgency. The images are beautiful and terrible: fantasy figures of fashion brand advertising on hoardings next to blocks of flats with smashed out windows.