October 03, 2014

Diary of a Permaculturalist 24: Poetry's Carbon Footprint

Follow-up to Diary of a Permaculturalist 23: White Noise Syndrome from George Ttoouli, Warwick Writing Programme

(Thinking through Miriam Nichols' chapter on Susan Howe in Radical Affections: Essays on the Poetics of Outside.)

"Howe writes the figure (voice, persona) as a finite infinitude. Figure emerges from "love's infolding"; the phrase positions agency in the selections one makes and the affinities one cultivates." (234)

Explaining this in terms of Heraclitean time and a sense of Agamben's "irreparable", Nichols posits the idea that our lifespans are finite and our options (for action, for what we 'make' of living, for how we construct ourselves, our identities, our speaking voices in poems) within each moment of the present, are infinite:

"The path of the subject is utterly finite and unique. However, the component elements of the figure are common, infinitely combinable, and haunted by the pastness from which they come. Howe's visual poems illustrate this idea formally. On one hand, they are impossible to paraphrase. The complicated relations of sound and sense as well as the overwriting of one line by another are such that the poem cannot be gathered into a concept or reduced to a narrative ... At the same time, the potential of the words, phrases, sounds, and associations to combine into various meanings is virtually unlimited. And of course these materials are quite common, often drawn from publicly available sources." (234-5)

A problem in this: the seriality here seems to produce infinite potential out of finite resources, but only if the elements are deployed in ways that remain 'sustainable', in environmentalist terms. But place this against Jason W. Moore's suggestion that peak oil has been reached, and peak everything - the "end of the four cheaps" - has exposed the finitude of earth's material composition. What emerges is the suggestion that even thought - meaning - as a material exposition, has material limits. Infinity, in Nichols' terminology, must by definition be transcendental, immaterial, an ideological topography. And hence a fantasy in terms of ecopraxis.

Hence a problem generally in how capitalism's infinite accumulation positions against the finite material it bases its accumulation upon; and the potential for infinite recombinations of material into an infinite range of 'meanings' or commodities. It may seem dangerous to equate meaning with material remaking, or commodification, but this seems an essential investigation in an era of climate catastrophe. Even the process of material remaking of language requires the consumption of finite energy resources. And then: What are the ethical limits to recycling meaning?

This question raises a spectre of ridicule, as I write it. Can we genuinely talk in terms of calories burned to type out our responses to a poem? Or to cutting and pasting pieces of a found text into new configurations? Howe confesses to using a Xerox, and her books are material objects, the printing of which, as Lemenager has shown, potentially leads to toxic contamination of waterways. Yet the discussion of the material limits of meaning, or in the crudest terms, poetry's carbon footprint, is the end result of serial ecopoetics: this isan unspoken trajectory of a material ecocriticism. Books, particularly those created as beautiful objects, are designed to create 'permanent' artefacts, removing those materials, soil nutrients and all, out of permanent ecological circulation. The implications of digital book making are hardly worth comparing as an alternative: 7bn, let alone the projected 12bn people on the planet, cannot each own a digital reader without having an inconceivably damaging impact on the environment.

There may be standards for publishing, such as FSC accreditation for paper from sustainable forests, or ISO 9706 for "permanent paper" and similar. Yet these may not take into full account the interconnected problems of land use for paper production, and the processes of papermaking and book or page printing which go hand in hand with paper production processes. Ultimately, the few instances of paper making I've encountered which attempt to bypass these problems, particularly the question of toxicity, are unscaleable, or running out of feasible supply lines. Ecopoeticsjournal, for example, used recycled denim for one issue's cover pages, and similar handmade papers, but not for the inners. And Peter Larkin mentioned a few years ago that Prest Roots Press was struggling to find sufficient and affordable quantities of handmade paper for its pamphlet printing.

What permanent paper actually means, as a standard, has no bearing on this particular notion of permanent meaning, or the permanent circulation of ideas. Books are, by necessity recyclable, transient artefacts. If they were not, then the current rate of production would reach the levels Marx calculated for a money system based on actual material gold resources (can't find an accurate link for this, but David Harvey mentioned it in a talk at Warwick, based around his Seventeen Contradictions).

This is a tip to wider discussion I'm not sure I can fully get my head around until I've made my way through the thesis. But I see this kind of thinking as a component to ecopraxis, which I am trying to investigate along the way.

December 19, 2012

Diary of a Permaculturalist 23: White Noise Syndrome

Follow-up to Diary of a Permaculturalist 22: Social Ecological Revolution from George Ttoouli, Warwick Writing Programme

Just caught my eye on a new documentary, called Chasing Ice which sadly, from the trailer, looks no better than iceberg porn. Yes, the icecaps are melting, yes you’re doing something interesting in trying to solve the problem of communicating scale and speed to people who are used to an instant culture, but what exactly have you ended up with? A load of decontextualised ice and water, looking inordinately dramatic and pretty as it moves. “Look ma, another’s going!” “Ooooooooh.”

This reminds me of the Greenpeace helicopter footage of the tar sands forests, a 45min documentary of evergreen pine forests, mists and clouds, and then evil – though still pretty and dramatic – mining projects and scarred landscapes. “We did this?” “Cool!” “Yeah, but think about the environment, dude!” “Uh, ok.” “Ok.” “Still looks pretty cool, huh?” “Maybe a bit.”

It smacks just a little too much of lowest common denominator targeting, of not having the means to tell the narrative we need to tell, because we’re so used to telling stories about pretty nature and the awesomeness of humanity because we know how to fall in love and have emotions and shit. We’re writing atrocity with the gentility of a romcom, we’re the barbarians Adorno was trying to correct us from remaining.

White Noise Syndrome(WNS): in DeLillo’s novel, the middle classes walk up the hill with sandwiches and drinks (no doubt stored in plastic bottles, and left behind on the hillside) to watch the beautiful sunsets created by the noxious cloud from the nearby factory. The problem of disconnect occurs: should we interrupt certain behavioural practices because the origins of the phenomena that trigger a certain response is known to be negative?

I’m more analogy than depth at the moment; another occurs: changing diet for political reasons. I never really changed my culinary response to the taste of meat – I find it politically abhorrent to be fuelling an industry that is destructive, unsustainable, cruel and driven by profit over envrionmental issues. But I still salivate in response to the smell of certain cooking meats. I have had to train myself to think against this response, slowly. (But then, owning a particularly murderous cat, I have to deal with the killing of small birds and animals on a regular basis. Some time earlier this year I had to terminate a badly wounded robin, which I still haven’t fully recovered from. I don’t consider myself squeamish about this, but neither would I consider cooking and eating roadkill, or any kind of meat now. I would find it hard to think my way around treating the cat as a meal, if I went back to meat-eating.)

You could say it is like fiddling while Rome burns, this WNS. But that might deny the specifics of the environmental problem. Fiddling is doing something impractical for the situation. The activity of going to a disaster site to document the event is more like smoking a cigarette and staring out at the burning city. There is the issue of bearing witness to catastrophic events, of not looking away from the disaster, but there’s also a very different question of agency.

If it is within one’s power to change the disaster, then fiddling is an aggressive action. If it is not within one’s power to prevent the ice caps from melting, then filming the calving ice is permissible, in my books: you may as well document the end of humanity, as just ignore it and get on with whatever you were doing, or do something you’ve not done before because, you know, it’ll be your last chance.

The problem really is whether we believe we have agency or not, in the face of climate change. There are a number of options in this regards:

1. We have no agency. No one does. Inshallah/God willing/by the great Earth Mother, we’ll get through this, else it’s the divine will that we be destroyed.
2. We have no agency. Agency lies with regulatory bodies, with the powerful – the Kyoto Protocols and subsequent meetings, with governments and their ability to influence corporations.
3. Agency lies beyond individuals and even democratically elected governments, in corporations.
4. We still have agency, despite the actions of the powerful – they are humans too, and can be convinced to agree with us.
5. We are solely responsible for enacting change, on an individual level; unless we act ourselves, then we cannot expect anyone else to act. Lead by example.

The point I’m trying to make here is, either we decide that there is nothing we can do (point 1), or we decide there is still hope (points 2-5). The latter options outweigh the former: in other words, there are many more opportunities to be hopefully, than to give up. Giving up is deciding to lose faith in humanity, to cease to act in relation to climate change.

If the makers of Chasing Ice are acting in what they feel is a direction against climate catastrophe, then they must believe in one of the options 2-5, or else another that at least believes in agency lying somewhere in reach of human grasp. Sure, there’s a chance they are nihilists documenting the end of the species, but the rhetoric on the website seems to deny this.

Particularly the Make a Difference part of the site, which I take serious issue against. Any serious climate activist would see the points being made are a complete waste of time.

I could go through it point by point, but it basically says, “Live the same life you are living, just turn down the heating and aircon a little bit.” Like, “Mow your lawn with an electric instead of gas mower.” Really?

I’m so angry now I’m going to start swearing. Switching from gas to electricity, in any of the contexts listed, will not help. Also, how can you point out in the first section that “Plastics are made from petroleum” so cut them out, when you then recommend you buy a new mower, new power strips with energy saving modes, and so on? What the fuck are those made from? Carbon-reducing vegetable matter?

The section on transportation really does my head in; there is only one reasonable response: get rid of your car and change your lifestyle so you don’t need one. That’s it. That’s the only solution. There is no other significant way to reduce the carbon emissions of your transportation needs. Bicycles. No, really. “What about…?” Fucking hybrid cars? Really? Fuck off.

Ok, deep breath.

I think the point I am trying to make is, WNS is indicated by a number of symptoms, including a hypocritical approach to delivering a message on the issue of climate change and the kind of responses we should take to reduce the scale of change. The act of capturing the beauty of events relating to global warming, or ecological devastation, isn’t, in itself, a symptom; it does, however, require a holistic examination of the politics of the documentary, in order to determine whether the intention is to be effective, or simply to cash in.

I don’t intend to offer any financial help to Chasing Ice until I’m convinced that they know what message they’re putting across. I appreciate they may be targeting a soft message at a skeptical (note my US spelling – it’s an exclusively US-targeted film, from what I can see) audience, but aiming for a lowest common denominator is a definite syndrome of WNS; climate activists need to stop patronising audiences with condescending rubbish. It is happening; if you deny it is happening then a soft message isn’t going to do anything to you. And all those pretty images – they might even entertaining you, which is far more than you deserve.


On a side note, some of this thinking came up when talking yesterday with fellow eco-researcher, Chris Maughan. We’re running a conference in March, called Planetary Cancer focusing on food security, Marxist ecology and ecocriticism. Chris commented, in relation to a paper by Imre Szeman, published earlier this year, called Crude Aesthetics: The Politics of Oil Documentaries “Why didn’t we get any submissions looking at the politics of food documentaries?” Or more generally: why isn’t anyone critically examining the politics of representation around climate change, in the way that we want?

I guess they are, but we haven’t found them yet. Until we do, we’ll have to do the work ourselves. (I guess that puts me somewhere between 4 and 5 on my earlier scale.)

March 08, 2012

Etgar Keret Short Story with Foyles

Writing about web page http://www.foyles.co.uk/etgar-keret

Etgar Keret has a new short story out, Suddenly, a Knock at the Door. Foyles have included a mini-feature on their website about it, with a sample story, 'Shut', available to read.

I read The Nimrod Flip Out a few years ago and loved it. Something of Dave Eggers' energy to his writing, but with the added political edge of living in the Middle East, dealing with issues of conscription, trauma and so on.

Read on!

February 22, 2012

Diary of a Permaculturalist 22: Social Ecological Revolution

Follow-up to Diary of a Permaculturalist 21: Socially Necessary Labour Time (tm) from George Ttoouli, Warwick Writing Programme

Reading this John Bellamy Foster stuff is both highly depressing and highly inspirational. In creative terms, there's a drive that stems from desperation. Not just in the Dostoevskyan sense of, 'Oh shit, deadline', but also in the craving arising from having to read repetitive, depressed ecomarxist theorists, for something imaginative, creative, lucid, original.

At the same time, here's what Foster takes 260 pages to finally come to, about the social ecological overhaul:

the new system... must put the provision of basic human needs--clean air, unpolluted water, safe food, adequate sanitation, social transport, and universal healthcare and education, all of which require a sustainable relation to the earth--ahead of all other needs and wants.

Let's break that down into a concrete list for social revolution. In order for the Great Transition to happen, people will need to:

(In short term transition phase)

1. Seize control of the means of food production.

2. Seize control of the means of energy production.

3. Seize control of the means of food, energy and water distribution.

4. Revolutionise methods of production in these areas along ecologically sustainable lines.

(And in longer term transitions)

5. Seize control of sewage management and redirect city waste into natural fertiliser production.

6. Develop ecologically-balanced systems of education and health.

7. Develop a system of maintenance for all systems, a monitoring loop, which is in itself ecologically neutral, or positive, in balance and process.

Methods/systems for ecological sustainability exist already in all these areas, but are anti-capitalist by nature, so overlooked for their lack of profitability. They would merely need to be championed and implemented by people - in fact, some areas of Britain are already working along these lines, divorcing their internal systems from the capitalist production flow.

One or two algorithms/data sets would need to back up the transition. In particular, a ratio of land needed - according to permacultural methods by regional specificity - per person, for a basic balanced diet. Secondarily, a social accounting that would provide vital services of health, education, sanitation and so on, by unit of society, which doesn't fall into obvious traps of over-abstraction (i.e. an alternative metabolic rift to that of capitalism) or communalist issues of redistribution and misapplication of personal skills. If a given unit - a village, say - requires one doctor, one biodigestor, one x, one y, etc. per z population, all well and good, but what if there's a major shortfall in, say, doctors? Do you demand the village idiot retrain as a surgeon? Or the spare surgeon retrain as a sanitation supervisor? Certain problems in social accounting in communal systems have not been solved for me, from my reading. Utopianism is rife.

Interesting comparative example of rice versus wheat growing in Foster, suggests Europe will need to move to a rice-based diet in order to maximise calories per hectare, along the Fukuoka Method of growing. However, there is a risk of monoculture in this that may not be effective.

This all said, the transition will probably require an unacceptable degree of 'Barbarization'. I've not yet read the Global Scenario Group's document, 'Great Transition', which outlines the main pitfalls of social upheaval. Foster isn't particularly helpful on this document, given his militant ideological stance.

Alternatives, then, would involve democratic transitioning - like transition towning, but taken beyond just food: transition of food and energy resources by area which see villages and region literally cutting off from capitalist providers of electricity, gas and food. The reduction of overheads and the need to only pay for council services could see a form of privatisation into communal management, particularly of waste systems, so that soil nutrients are valuably regenerated, even positively. Food and energy supplies by region could therefore be freely distributed to residents, with growth carefully managed to maintain a positive soil-nutrient return ratio, either through fallowing/rotation or similar.

Water management is something I can't fully encompass in my head yet - suggestions welcome if anyone's reading. Clean water supplies are limited and water tables are essential to biodiversity, so rainwater and river harvesting would have to be very carefully managed. Resevoir systems, grey water recycling, etc. Every house would have to become a resevoir of sorts, in balance with groundwater reserves. I've been to houses in Herefordshire villages which are disconnected from a mains supply, and their personal wells have run dry, forcing a switch to bottled water.

Anyway, early thoughts about unsustainability and untenable revolutions, but the possibility of outcomes. Cities look doomed from any which way I look at them.

February 15, 2012

Diary of a Permaculturalist 21: Socially Necessary Labour Time (tm)

Follow-up to Diary of a Permaculturalist 20: Statement of a Problem from George Ttoouli, Warwick Writing Programme

John Bellamy Foster, in a recent book called 'The Ecological Revolution', makes a lovely, (self-)redemptive statement about innovation's relation to capitalism:

To associate the drive to innovation exclusively with capitalism is wrongly to attribute to a specific economic formation the creative drive of human beings and human culture and civilization in general.

Yes, yes, and thrice yes. I think that was the line I was teetering on in my last entry. To say that capitalism is a model that invades all instances of characteristics that signifies its presence, is to suggest capitalism has become a substitute for species which invented it, which holds those characteristics. In other words, it is to argue that humanity = capitalism. Which is dumb. But that's what you get for reading a blog about someone's thoughts being written out loud.

At the same time, some joy in allowing creativity permission to try and bypass inherent flaws in capitalism, to come to a way of human society that is permaculturally defined. Something my co-conspirator/considerer in PhD land recently discussed with me (ta Chris Maughan), was whether there's a way of tackling the Jevons Paradox (or Jevons Effect) in a different way.

Something I noticed in reading Foster/Wikipedia on the Jevons Paradox, is that there's an implication of given wealth available for purchasing energy. If consumption of energy increases as energy costs are reduced by technology to meet 100% of the altered price, then it sounds to me like people are spending the same amount of money on energy as they had already planned for, taking up as much as is available at the new, lower price, and perhaps being less frugal, or not being monitored in how they use those new amounts.

Hard to say, but here's a concrete example. Your factory (house, barn, etc.) needs 1 lump of coal a day to heat. You see from current markets that you'll need to spend £1 per lump of coal, so you budget for £365 for the year ahead. In March someone invents a new spade that shovels coal at a lower labour cost. You can now buy two lumps of coal for your £1. Instead of spending £182.50 (half your annual budget) on coal for the year and blowing the rest on a pub crawl, you spend the budget you had (this is a common issue with forecasting and accounting, especially in not-for-profit or charitable organisations, though private households, especially lower income ones, would have more freedom to regulate and more need for redirecting savings elsewhere): the money's there anyway, so use it on what it's for. You end up with a two year supply of energy. Hooray!

Do you budget for two years or, with the sudden influx of fuel, double your own output, or stay open later, or, given the big pile of coal you've now got, be more wasteful in your fuel consumption?

A portion of society does have a use-it-or-lose-it budget allocation, given at the start of the year. There are incentives, therefore, to make sure you spend all the money in a particular pool (overheads, etc.) within a financial year, else that budget may be reduced in future. This can go wrong, as there are fluctuations in energy uses, prices, needs, according to climatic averages, unexpected spikes in weather, etc. In other words, you would always hope for more in a budget pool than you're going to need, although financially speaking a surplus in a budget implies money not being put to good use. Margins, etc.

This whole system, the idea of the Jevons Paradox/effect, is unrealistically detached from the reality of socially necessary labour time. It takes a particular amount of time and labour to dig up a lump of coal, currently. A technological innovation might reduce the cost of time/labour in some way, but won't resolve how much energy you can get from a lump of coal (assuming 'lump' has a corresponding value on a metrical scale or something). Take this across to essential resources - water and food - and you can see a problem.

It takes a fixed amount of time and water and sunlight to grow a potato. These factors can't change without major scientific advances in GM cropping, or perhaps the sun just getting a little bit bigger for no apparent reason, which isn't going to happen because we want it to, so don't plan for it. So the only reasonable target left for savings in potato production is on labour.* This is of course where exploitation and the metabolic rift emerges.

But what if - talking creatively with Chris, now - we invented a new measure for this bottom line of value? How many 'ecos' does it take to grow a potato? Measure that in terms of human resources and put a tag on it. Protect the most basic needs of a human being: by nutrients, not by something that looks juicy but is full of water; by shelter; by health needs; how many ecos does it take to treat a cold, or a broken leg? A government-regulated system separate to free market systems will ease the transition to a sustainable market economy, from where we can go to a sustainable society.

One point to JB Foster I will make here, having not read enough yet, but hey-ho: no fully-signed-up ecologist would reject a solution to the current metabolic rift/antagonism between capitalism as world economy and world ecology, if capitalism were to come up with it. Capitalism's drive for new markets, for innovation, is a defining characteristic and has the potential to come up with a solution - even a solution that will destroy itself in the process. While Foster very rightly identifies reasons why capitalism is positioned against finding an ecological solution and is highly unlikely to do so, there's no reason to say that it won't do so by accident. Fingers crossed, eh?


* Human labour is also has a fixed cost, humans are a part of nature, and labour is a resource. The number of people available to work, the amount of money needed locally from a task to buy potatoes to survive to the next day... If you reduce labour costs below a certain point, your labour force might well drop dead. This has happened, still happens and is the side to capitalism that no morally aware human can ignore without being evil and sick.

February 08, 2012

Diary of a Permaculturalist 20: Statement of a Problem

Follow-up to Diary of a Permaculturalist 19: Master Gardening on your doorstep from George Ttoouli, Warwick Writing Programme

Solutions or responses welcome.

Current developments in Marxist ecology point to how the capitalist project, with its issue of the metabolic rift, is arriving at a dead end. Naomi Klein's identification of disaster capitalism, in The Shock Doctrine, is one example of how capitalism is reaching its limit in geographical exploitation of resources and now has to manufacture crises in the supply chain of resources to generate market instability and open up new markets.

New markets is a buzzphrase at the high end of free market capitalist systems. New resources, new ecologies; these are overlooked in favour of the global hunt for the most profitable area of exploitation, which can only grow the rift between the human/nature dynamic. Yet ecology's response, as a perspective, is now one that increasingly not only accepts, but asserts, the fact that humanity = nature, is a subset of. So we are only destroying ourselves as part of the planet we are destroying.

Recently, though (OK, about ten minutes ago) I've begun to have doubts about the methodology of Marxist ecologists. The method of capitalist critique is one that I've seen elsewhere, such as in union battles with employers. Searching through law, through social structures, for a valid critical approach to defend workers' rights, union legal teams often have to fall back on an approach that they hope will create valid change, or, more than likely, deter continued detrimental change. So, for example, in recent UK battles, on a local level, unions are attempting to exploit Health & Safety laws as a way to find leverage in increasingly hostile-to-employees Employment Law. Prior to that, in my limited union experience, the struggle centred on cases of unfair dismissal, harrassment and so on, but these laws, as I understand it, have been tightened to protect employers.

So, a model arises in which unions select a cause, one that is effectively within the scope of a 'new market' in terms of being a battleground that hasn't been fought over before. The problem as I see it lies in how the environmental movement, by developing into social ecology, has merely found a new market to exploit in its anti-capitalist battleground.

In other words, from this perspective, the anti-capitalist movement in the form of the ecological movement, is adopting a capitalist model by which to launch its attack on capitalism. This feels as much a psychological conditioning in myself, however: that I am trained to read through capitalist structures, and training further to identify capitalist structures. Yet I can't help feeling, underlying all this, that the futility of the alternative PR project is futile because it isn't drawing on an alternative to capitalism: ancient religious fundaments, or perhaps something so antiquated - barter systems, foraging, similar social structures that are improbable in light of current population scales - that the new approach will defy capitalist structures utterly.

It's easy to think yourself into a bind when you haven't read enough, or the right books. But all this unloading of chest-weights is helpful while you're on the road to change.

January 21, 2012

Moffat on Sherlock

Writing about web page http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/2012/jan/20/steven-moffat-sherlock-doctor-who?newsfeed=true

There's very little TV I like, generally, because the medium is so curtailed by budgets and ambition and producers with their heads in the clouds of assumptions about what audiences really want, but I have followed some of Moffat's Sherlock, if only because they are close enough to film length and self-contained as to basically be films. The hype has left me repeatedly talking about it in terms of what isn't quite satisfying, or something I don't trust about the over-produced moments, the under-explored character depths, etc. etc. and I still can't shake off the feeling that it's one of those shows that only looks good because it's surrounded by dreck.

But this is still a worthwhile interview with Steven Moffat. Perhaps a little bit for the wrong reasons, once again, though the article also shows current limitations to mainstream journalism. Jeffries has to use the hook of the Sherlock show's cliffhanger to draw you in and then tries as hard as possible to get a serious conversation about writing out of it.

The most interesting point Moffat makes is that Doctor Who and Sherlock Holmes are supposedly both written for children. Really? Moffat makes some very entertaining comments that suggest the whole idea of writing for children or adults is rubbish. In fact, when he says: "I get irritated when people say on Twitter: 'It's too complicated. I'm not following it.' Well, you could try putting your phone down and watching it" you can imagine him thinking some adults lack the concentration levels of children, hence writing for children is the more satisfying challenge.

Or in other words, the reader should elevate themselves to the level of the show? Or stop making snap judgments based on partial or even no effort readings. (Which has been annoying me lately in other walks of life.)

November 08, 2011

University Pension Disputes / Soft Science, Hard Facts, Power Narratives

Writing about web page http://www2.warwick.ac.uk/insite/news/intnews2/latest_uss_valuation

Just saw this link to the latest on the USS pensions valuation. The title there is acutely misleading; the word "reveals" and "valuation" leading me, as intended, to believe that there is an actual gap of £2.9bn in the scheme, rather than a predicted gap.

I had an interesting chat in July with a lecturer from the Accountancy Dept. here at Warwick. I was surprised to hear that they had a module called, 'Accounting in Context', which teaches critical perspectives in the field. I thought only the Arts used that kind of woolly thinking, but it turned out, to my naive surprise, Accounting is an equally interpretive discipline. They even have a journal called Critical Perspectives on Accounting.

So when a particular team of actuaries drum up a set of "assumptions", a reader can't automatically assume that they're operating with the employees' best interests at heart. In fact, the current dispute over pensions is entirely a battle of narratives over the state of play of the USS pension fund.

And, given the stacking of power, and the USS board, in favour of the employers, the only thing in the employees' favour is their right to withold labour. And then it comes down to a battle for dominance of one narrative over another. This article, then, relies on people's assumption of accountancy and financing as being a kind of 'hard subject', with concrete numeric outcomes, and so on.

Yet, as we all know, the concept of forecasting is an inexact science. The modern soothsayer is fond of using graphs in place of animal bones, spreadsheets in place of the crystal ball. The science underlying these approaches are the same - reading clouds, reading markets, reading habits. Behind it all, is an attempt to understand and predict human nature: the brief, whimsical burst of years we spread across the planet and leave behind in a sear of smoking footprints.

October 26, 2011

Diary of a Permaculturalist 19: Master Gardening on your doorstep

Follow-up to Diary of a Permaculturalist 18: Avaaz vs. the Amazon (Jungle) from George Ttoouli, Warwick Writing Programme

An exciting discovery on campus this week! Warwick's dark satanic halls have buried within them a green and pleasant bit of wild field, upon which hath been demarcated a patch for growing food. Somewhere southeast of Tocil and Jack Martin Residences, or east from the lakes below the Health Centre, you'll find a fenced off patch of land for students and staff to use as an allotment.

Nick Hillard, UoW's Environmental Manager, has given that land over to student societies to manage. He has even offered, should the project begin to thrive, to double the space available. While I was down there last Sunday, pretending to be young enough to dig a trench, a few students showed up with white buckets of kitchen scraps, to add to the compost heap.

One of the people managing the space, Carla Sarrouy, is also a Master Gardener and is all set to help train up students and staff to make use of the space, and their own gardens, for growing vegetables in a sustainable way. There'll be a meeting soon - probably on Sunday this weekend, to talk through new plans for the space.

At the moment there's a need for postgraduate and staff volunteers, as the academic year doesn't match up with growing timetables, particularly if you're fallowing in winter. At the same time, perhaps some winter growing could happen, if every kitchen on campus got rigorous about bringing kitchen waste over.

Also, I've been thinking about the kind of teaching that could take place in a garden like that. Imagine, for example, a class on the 'Dig for Victory' campaign, combined with actual gardening? Somewhat gimmicky, maybe. What about reading Edward Thomas, Robert Frost and Seamus Heaney (both these links are a bit ad-heavy, be warned) while holding a spade in your hand? A bit more illuminating, perhaps! And a chance to expand upon their metaphors, to come up with new meanings for the act of digging.

Or a session with Prof. Liz Dowler on food sustainability, ethics and social issues? Or perhaps a talk by Nick Hillard himself on the campus environment, biodiversity, and water management (the Canley Brook runs across campus, with parts running along the edge of the allotment). Or even someone from Warwick's Food Security research group? Or outside speakers - how about setting up Permaculture training?

December 17, 2010

PN Review Launches Archive

Writing about web page http://www.pnreview.co.uk/

Received an email from Carcanet recently, announcing the launch of their digital archive. Forty years of magazines right there, for the eye.

Almost: it comes for a price, of course. While resources like the Poetry Library's Poetry Magazines website (incidentally, you can read PN Review's predecessor there, Poetry Nation) have relied on generosity and the basic assumption that poetry makes no money most of the time, PN Review and Carcanet are essentially commercial, though both the archive's creation and the publishing house are propped up substantially by the Arts Council and other funding. (Corona beer features on the back of every issue: "The drink of poets everywhere!") Let's not begrudge them, or anyone else, trying to survive and thrive off poetry; they've maintained a strong editorial line and excellent standards over the decades, under Michael Schmidt.

Yet the part of me that has got used to getting my poetry fix for free online still begrudges coming up against the firewall. I'm working on crossing these wires with the part of my brain that likes to fling money at charities via online payment systems.

They offer generous rates for students, you'll be relieved to hear: £18 for online access and 1 year/6 issues of the print journal. That's 50% off adult rates! As a resource for learning about contemporary poetry, especially of the high-modernist descent, it's excellent. The prose I've found to be rigorous in thought and intelligence, leaning towards academic style (I don't want to typecast the whole, as it's impossible to generalise with any magazine, but sometimes I've found parts a little dull-edged, while at others very vigorous), generous and quotable material for researchers. I think our university library still subscribes, and we've a handful of sample copies in the Writers' Room if you want to take a look.

You'll also find, if you visit the website and click the relevant subject headings, that there's a wealth of free sample material - hundreds of poems, and, at a quick glance, a good fifty each or so of interviews, articles and reviews, plus a selection of reports. For example, this wonderful discussion about the New York School and New York in general, between John Ashbery and John Ash:

I like some of the Language Poets though I've no idea what their movement is all about.

-- John Ashbery, 1985

Carcanet's Full press release follows:


16 December 2010

Last night in the centre of Manchester an unusual celebration took place: the magazine PN Review launched www.pnreview.co.uk, its complete digital archive, including more than 200 issues and four decades of literary writing.

The website, designed and implemented by WebGuild Media Ltd, the Cheshire-based web solutions company, makes more than seven thousand items – interviews, poems, essays, features and reviews – by 1625 contributors immediately available to subscribers, with much material open access, in an unprecedentedly easy-to-navigate and user-friendly form.

At the launch, surrounded by writers, subscribers and academic colleagues, Michael Schmidt OBE FRSL, editor of the magazine since its inception as Poetry Nation in 1973, said: ‘Considering what we have here, it feels as though we’ve achieved as much as a dozen magazines. The conversations with Isherwood, Genet, Beckett, Lennox Berkeley, four Ashbery and three Murray interviews, for example, the many now-famous poems first published here, a host of writers making their first appearances in our pages… modern literature has much to be thankful for, and it’s suddenly all here at our fingertips!’

Four years in the making and realised with assistance from Arts Council England, this major online resource reinforces the critics’ claims that PN Review is:

…the most engaged, challenging and serious-minded of all the UK's poetry magazinesSimon Armitage

…the premier British poetry journal... Marjorie Perloff

...probably the most informative and entertaining poetry journal in the English-speaking world. John Ashbery

…quite remarkably good – it must have a claim to be the best anglophone literary magazine there is. Sir Frank Kermode

…the most incisive voice of a vision of poetry and the arts as central to national life. George Steiner

PNR is a journal in the tradition of Criterion and Scrutiny. It combines discovery and appraisal of new writing with reappraisals, celebrations and advocacies. It is committed to modernism and its aftermaths and sets vital, alternative agendas for modern poetry. PNR champions the work of the New York School; the Antipodeans (Les Murray, Judith Wright and Bill Manhire); it stands up for experiment and keeps a weather eye on the poetries of Europe, Africa, the Americas and Asia. It is also a magazine of new writing: Andrew Motion, Blake Morrison, Sophie Hannah, Sujata Bhatt, Sinéad Morrissey and Jane Yeh are among those who published early in PNR. And it is a journal of re-discovery, in which W.S. Graham, Sylvia Townsend Warner and Laura Riding among many others have featured.

For further information about PN Review please contact:

Eleanor Crawforth at Carcanet on 0161 834 8730 extension 21

For further information about WebGuild Media Ltd please contact:

Angela Bent at WebGuild Media Ltd on 0161 428 1102

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