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Notebook on Cities and Culture S4E31: Is This London? with Iain Sinclair

iainsinclairColin Marshall sits down in Hackney, London with Iain Sinclair, author of numerous books, all rooted in London and all operating across the spectrum of fiction to nonfiction, including DownriverLights Out for the TerritoryLondon Orbital, and most recently American Smoke: Journeys to the End of the Light. They discuss the momentarily impossible-to-define issue of Hackney’s identity; the need to walk the neighborhood to know it — but to then do it your whole life; the re-making of the landscape in Hackney as elsewhere in London; the surprisingly functional London Overground’s only partial integration into the city’s transport consciousness; the way commemorative plaques “fix history,” which forces you to find the reality for yourself; the operation of London hierarchies as he witnessed it in his book-dealing days, and how he then came to see uniformity set in; why students today never seem to get all the way through his books, drawing instead “a series of cultural cartoons” from excerpts and immediately applying them to their own project; why he’s never had the sense of writing about London, per se, a subject to which he’d never expected the public to connect; the way the city’s irrationality tends to drive those who write about into the realms of fiction; the criticism he takes for including “too may references” in his books, and his readers’ freedom to pursue those references or not; the involved pub conversation that ensued when a Frenchman walked up to him and asked, “Is this London?”; what might have counted as the center of London in the seventies, and what might now; what results from asking, “What is this the center of?”; Geoff Dyer’s years on Effra Road, and the associations its very name brings to mind; how he knows when one of his books  (or the latest continuation of his “one big book” of a career) has come to an end; taking on another country in American Smoke, and discovering the disappointing London in the mind of the Beats; and his notion the he has only ever “articulated aspects of place,” still the most robust nexus of interests and influences available.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

Notebook on Cities and Culture S4E30: Masters of the City with PD Smith

Colin Marshall sits down in Winchester, England with PD Smith, author of books on science, literature, superweapons, and, most recently, City: A Guidebook for the Urban Age. They discuss whether London has all the elements of the archetypally ideal city; the essential quality of “a place where you meet strangers”; the need to avoid writing only about buildings; the recent moment when half the world’s population found itself living in cities; the factors that have made city life more possible today than ever before; what on Earth Prince Charles talks about when he talks about architecture and urbanism; the enduring impulse to knock cities down and start them over; the un-knocked-down city as a palimpsest-like store of knowledge, perhaps with its own “latent consciousness”; Tokyo and the metaphor of city as body; whether, in experiencing cities or writing about them, to focus on one element at a time or to try to take them whole; what Germans get right about city-building; when and where Starbucks starts to seem like the most foreign place you could go; the globe-spanning “cities” of the airport, the high street, or any other non-place; what it takes to make London strange again; the detective as a quintessentially urban figure exhibiting a mastery of his sensationalistically grim, dark, troubled environment; and the challenge any interesting city issues its resident: “Figure out how to live in me.”

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

(Photo: Susan Ng)

Los Angeles Review of Books Podcast: Sandra Tsing Loh

On the latest Los Angeles Review of Books podcast, I talk with Sandra Tsing Loh, author of books of Southern California satire like Depth Takes a Holiday, If You Lived Here, You’d Be Home By Now, and A Year in Van Nuys, and now the memoir The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones. You can listen to the conversation on the LARB’s site, or download it on iTunes.

The Korea Tour Kickstarts now — 한국에 갑시다!

지금은 Kickstarter Drive가 시작됐어요!

The Kickstarter drive for Notebook on Cities and Culture‘s Korea Tour, that is, a whole season of in-depth interviews with cultural creators, internationalists, and observers of the urban scene all across South Korea, the most fascinating country in Asia today. We need only raise its $5,000 budget in a week, and it will begin immediately after season four ends (at its sixtieth-ish episode).

If you back the Korea Tour on Kickstarter, not only do you improve the chances of its happening, but you can get postcards from Korea, your project or message mentioned on the show, or even your very own copy of my textual and photographic Korea Diary, to appear in only the most limited of print runs.

For more details, just have a look at the Korea Tour’s Kickstarter page. 읽어주셔서 감사합니다. 한국에 갑시다!

Notebook on Cities and Culture S4E29: This Used to Be the Future with Owen Hatherley

Colin Marshall sits down for bangers and mash in Woolwich, London, England, with writer on political aesthetics Owen Hatherley, author of the books Militant Modernism, A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain, A New Kind of Bleak, and Uncommon, on the pop group Pulp. They discuss the relevance of the combined sentiments of the Pet Shop Boys and the Human League to his critical mission; his sickness of “where’s my jetpack”-type complaint; the new limits of the possible; whether one more easily sees politics expressed in architecture in England that elsewhere; the coincidental rises of the welfare state and modern architecture; the nature of England’s north-south divide, one starker than that between the former East and West Germany, the unexpected tasteless drama of northern building, and the “ruin porn” richness of towns like Bradford and Liverpool; housing as the chief political issue of modern Britain; the shamefacedness of new English building, and the tendency of it to bear little relation to its own location; his view of buildings like the now-demolished Tricorn Centre in childhood, before he’d internalized “what architecture should look like”; how the still-standing Preston Bus Station demonstrated that a provincial city wasn’t parochial; the long-gone heyday of the City Architect; his upcoming book on architecture and communism, and what he’s discovered in his exploration of eastern Europe; why he might feel the need for a disclaimer stating that he already knows about the gulag; and how he found that the Soviet regime generated much more nostalgia, in its buildings and otherwise, than people think.

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

The Korea Tour’s Kickstarter Drive Begins Monday, April 7


Notebook on Cities and Culture‘s Korea Tour, which will bring you at least 30-40 interviews from around the most fascinating country in Asia today, begins its Kickstarter fund drive this Monday, April 7. We need only raise its $5,000 budget — quite a bit less than season four’s! — within a week after that so  you can begin hearing the interviews from Seoul, Busan, Incheon, Daegu, and beyond immediately after season four ends. As a backer, you’ll also have a chance to receive postcards from Korea, your project or message mentioned on the show, or even your very own copy of the (surely highly) limited print run of my sure-to-entertain Korea Diary. Hey, I’ll even inscribe it in Korean if you want.

To stay involved, just keep your eye on this space, or on the Notebook on Cities and Culture mailing list, on Twitter, or on Facebook. I’ll let you know where you can go to back the Korea Tour as soon as its Kickstarter page goes live. And as always, if you have any suggestions of guests you’d like to hear interviewed on it, please don’t hesitate to let me know. Koreans, foreigners, creators, observers, people in Seoul, people (especially) outside Seoul: I’ll look into everyone you want to hear. Thanks!

Notebook on Cities and Culture S4E28: Partially Inside, Partially Outside with Jack Hues

Colin Marshall sits down in Canterbury, England with Jack Hues, founding member of the rock band Wang Chung and jazz band The Quartet. Wang Chung’s latest album Tazer Up came out in 2012, and The Quartet’s next album Collaborations Volumes 1 & 2 comes out this fall. They discuss what makes the “Canterbury sound”; the differences between Wang Chung’s “English” and “American” albums; what recording in another city or country, and drawing in its “vibe,” gives a project; music as a language, and how different styles of music feed into each other as do different languages; the “librarian mentality” that has many of his students talking initially about musical genres rather than about musicians; what growing up with the Beatles made possible; his Haruki Murakami reference in Wang Chung’s “City of Light”, and how he works into songs other things simply happened upon in life; his formation of The Quartet after 9/11; how he gets to balance teaching, The Quartet, and Wang Chung now that the latter doesn’t demand an all-consuming lifestyle; how only his American students ask about Wang Chung, and how nearly all of them have internalized the form of the “pop song” unconsciously; critics’ misguided fixation on lyrics; Wang Chung’s use of unusual chords, and what makes some music generally more interesting than other music; whether the world of 1980s pop music could accommodate the darker side; art’s emergence from constraints, and how he goes about imposing them on The Quartet; the experience of revisiting “Dance Hall Days” for a remix; whether Wang Chung would play “Rising in the East” if someone shouted it out; the musical place where Wang Chung and The Quartet meet; how to enjoy feeling like an outsider yet use roots as an artist; and the reaction drawn at a recent Wang Chung show: “Wow, you guys are real musicians!”

Download the interview here as an MP3 or on iTunes.

Outsider: Donald Richie in Japan, 1947-2013

PITY THE WESTERN JAPANOPHILE who longs to become Japanese. He either takes on every trapping he can manage of what he imagines as the Japanese existence, going as native as possible and in the process turning into a grotesque, or, having collided with one too many of the invisible barriers honeycombing his adopted homeland, throws up his hands and returns, filled with obscure frustration, to his actual one. Donald Richie, though known as a critic, novelist, curator, and filmmaker, had one real life’s work: to solve that problem, in a life lived almost entirely in Japan since service with the American occupation brought him there on New Year’s Eve, 1946, until his death one year ago. In his observations of, explorations in, and engagements with Japan, he exemplified how to place oneself advantageously in a land and culture not one’s own, a process begun by accepting, then embracing, how adamantly it will remain precisely that: not one’s own.

“The white man who goes native in Samoa or Marrakech,” Richie writes in his best-known work, 1971’s The Inland Sea, “the Japanese who goes native in New York or Paris — this is possible, but it is, I think, impossible for anyone but a Japanese to go Japanese.” Nominally an Ohioan, he stayed in Japan for about 60 years, except for two stretches in New York — first for an English degree at Columbia University, then to curate the Museum of Modern Art’s film program. In this time, he wrote some 40 books on his second, ever-strange country of residence: histories of Japanese film; Japanese travelogues like The Inland Sea; coffee-table books introducing Japan, its cuisine, its cities, its traditions, and its tattoos; novels set in ancient and modern Japan; and the 510-page Japan Journals, a collection, first intended for posthumous publication, of diary entries chronicling 57 years of his daily movement through Japanese society at all levels. What fascinated him throughout is its otherness. “If I were Japanese,” he liked to say of Japan, “I wouldn’t stay here ten minutes.”

Read the whole thing at the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Announcing the Korea Tour on Notebook on Cities and Culture, Kickstarting in April

This summer, we have the chance to take Notebook on Cities and Culture to South Korea, for my money easily the most fascinating country going in Asia right now. You may already have encountered and enjoyed its rich cultural output in the form of its food, its music (yes, the roots go deeper than “Gangnam Style”; I personally prefer the stuff from the sixties and seventies), its television, or its cinema. I had my own interest in Korea kindled by the films of Hong Sangsoo — to such an extent, in fact, that I’ve thrown myself into the study of the language and plan to move there within a couple years.

Having come to surprising economic prominence only since the fifties, Korea has more recently made serious efforts to share its considerable interestingness with the world. In that mission, I feel Notebook on Cities and Culture has something of a role to play. Hence the show’s Korea Tour: an entire season of in-depth conversations — the very same kind you’ve come to expect — with creators and observers living and working in Korea. And not just in the vast, obviously exciting capital of Seoul, either: I’ll make my way to many other intriguing cities as well, recording all sorts of interviews with Koreans and Korea-based non-Koreans alike for you to enjoy and from which you’ll (and I’ll) learn a great deal.

As with any season of Notebook on Cities and Culture, we’ll use Kickstarter to raise the Korea Tour’s budget. As a die-hard cheap traveler, I should be able to get you guys at the very least 30 to 40 long-form conversations (and, of course, neato vintage Korean postcards) for about $5,000 total. The Kickstarter drive will begin in April, and if it succeeds, the interviews will air immediately after season four ends. I’ll keep you posted, and if you have any ideas or guest recommendations, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Los Angeles Review of Books Podcast: Winter 2014 Quarterly Journal special

The latest Los Angeles Review of Books podcast, a special on the second issue of their quarterly print journal, features a conversation between me and The Lost Art of Walking author Geoff Nicholson about his piece on travel writing without traveling and a reading by Colin Dickey from his piece on the arctic. You can listen to the conversation on the LARB’s site, or download it on iTunes.