Saturday, 17 December 2016

The Election of Donald J. Trump as a Two-Horse Steeplechase

Authors’ note:  The election of Donald J. Trump to the Presidency in November 2016 raised many questions, not all of which have been answered. It is suggested that a less conventional view of the events of that day provide a more satisfactory explanation. In particular, Alfred Jarry’s ‘The Crucifixion Considered as an Uphill Bicycle Race’ and Ballard’s ‘The Assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy as a Downhill Motor Race’ give us useful leads.

Sanders, slated to start, was scratched.

Obama was the starter. The former champion, retiring from racing, gave the send-off.

Clinton made a good start on the donkey. Some commentators have suggested that her choice of steed, and a propensity to ride facing backwards, were tactical misjudgements. Trump, on the elephant, was slow out of the gate.

The Capitol track is one of the most difficult on the circuit. We need hardly mention the deplorable events of 1865, 1881, 1897 and 1963, all of which concerned malpractice in the use of the starting pistol. For this steeplechase, modern electronic methods were used instead.

Clinton gained an early lead, but could never quite outdistance her rival, who loomed behind her. The partisan crowd appeared to strongly support the less experienced challenger, although later head-counts of the crowd in fact revealed a significant margin of support for Clinton.

Visiting teams. Although the Capitol track has traditionally been a two-horse steeplechase, several other teams were present. The Russian team provided technical support to the elephant rider, along with the Ecuadorian commentator. One of the stewards, Comey, was seen on the track but Clinton’s claims of interference were disregarded by the crowds and commentators. In the middle of the race, Clinton cleared the three hurdles with a significant lead.

The turns. Clinton’s race took a turn for the worse. In the final furlongs, the donkey went downhill rapidly.

The flag. Trump, on the elephant, won by a nose.

In view of the continuing interference in the race, which resulted in Clinton, clearly expected to be the winner on past form and experience, faltering in the final straight, it has been suggested that the hostile crowd, eager to see a win by the elephant driver, deliberately set out to see her lose the race. Another theory maintains that the stewards were in collusion with the visiting team, whose presence remains unresolved.

Several puzzling aspects of the race remain. One is the presence of the elephant driver’s daughter in the weighing room, an unusual practice among steeplechase riders. Another is the sharp decline in the presence of the favourite’s supporters on the route, with some suggestion of suppression.

The course. In the aftermath of the race, it is likely that the shape of the course will be remodelled, with more sharp turns to the right. Future races may be discontinued entirely. Of the losing rider, one can be sure that her race misfired. The question remains: who placed the bets on the winner?

Wednesday, 14 December 2016

Self-regard

In a book I dearly love, and which I have read many many times, Timequake, Kurt Vonnegut describes a scene from his youth, in which he suggests that he wouldn't play a particular school friend at table tennis because the ball had so much spin on it, it was as liable to go up one's own nostril as back over the net. When this fiendish spinner of the ping-pong ball met another classmate, Skip, he met his Waterloo: 'Skip cut me a new asshole', the friend reported to Vonnegut. While partaking of a little schadenfreude in relation to his friend's 'colostomy to his self-regard', Vonnegut spins this into a parable about the relation of oneself to the world: no matter how much you think you're hot stuff, if you go out into the world you're bound to meet Albert Einstein or Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, who will inevitably provide you with a supernumerary asshole.

Well, I've never felt I was hot stuff. It's probably my working class upbringing and all that, but I find it very difficult to take pleasure in, or even care much about, the intellectual work I've done in academia. Sure, I do the best possible job with anything I set my hand to in terms of books or articles or the professional apparatus of academia, but after it's done, it embarrasses me a bit. As an academic in literature, this is my wholly ironic 'fatal flaw': in terms of a career, I don't suppose I ever have, ever do or ever will do the 'right thing' with regard to making a career or getting promotions or anything else. I like meeting people and talking about their work, but not my own; I'm not a very effective networker as I like to ask questions and draw people out a bit, rather than telling them about what I do.

In some ways, of course, this suits me ideally to the role of teacher or mentor or supervisor, which is certainly the thing I'm best at, I would say. This last few months three of my doctoral students have passed their viva examinations and I'm proud to have been able to support their development (and of course will continue to do so) and today, in what occasions this (now very occasional) piece, another of my doctoral students had her first piece of work published in an academic journal. (It's here.)

Now this fills me with delight. I didn't know that article was being published today, it appeared on my twitter feed; and I feel an uplift, as I did last Friday when two of the vivas took place, that these thoughtful, hardworking, brilliant people had achieved what they had wanted to, and not through my work but through their own. It's a pleasure and a privilege to accompany them on their journey.

This isn't a kind of humblebrag, as I hope my friends and colleagues would testify. But as I feel increasingly adrift in an academic world so consumed by REF and TEF that it can't (or won't) see the crumbling fabric of the world and the communities beyond the campus, where these brilliant students come from, of course, being there to help and to witness their successes provides a bit of light in the thickening gloom.

Friday, 28 October 2016

Inside the Pod

A couple of years ago now, myself and (now former) PhD student Chris organised a small symposium at our university which focused on 1964. Our paper was on 'The Future of the University', in which we referred to a famous speech by Mario Savio at the time of the Berkeley Free Speech Movement in that year of 1964 (I also blogged about it). In that speech Savio's wonderful rhetoric runs:


"There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part; you can't even passively take part, and you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!"


Savio is able to make a distinction between the machine and the human, the gears and levers and the workers whose bodies can make the machine stop. In a sense, this is the rhetoric of dystopia, which maintains that difference (although we are subservient to the machine, we are different from it). But I suspect we are now in a cultural and political space very different to that occupied and envisaged by Savio or dystopian writers of the immediate post-WW2 world. In a sense, we are the machine's levers. 

In our paper, I introduced our thinking by referring to the work of Simon Reynolds and Mark Fisher, on the 'nostalgia for the future' I mentioned in a previous post. I quoted Fisher from a K-Punk post from 2006, where he suggests:


the period since 1979 in Britain has seen the gradual but remorseless destruction of the very concept of the public. Public space has been consumed and replaced b[y] something like the 'third place' exemplified by franchise coffee bars. Here, you are transported into the queasily inviting quasi-domesticated interior of one of SF Capital's space-ships: deterritorialization (you could be anywhere) and reterritorialization (you are in surroundings whose every nuance is shinily familar). These spaces are uncanny only in their power to replicate sameness (their voracious dominance of the high street is as visually striking a sign as you could wish for of the lie that capitalism engenders competition and diversity), and the monotony of the Starbucks environment is both reassuring and oddly disorientating; inside the pod, it's possible to literally forget what city you are in. What I have called nomadalgia is the sense of unease that these anonymous environments […] provoke; the travel sickness produced by moving through spaces that could be anywhere.  […] In Ghost Box and Mordant Music, the lost concept of the public has a very palpable presence-in-absence, via samples of public service announcements. (K-Punk, ‘Nostalgic Modernism’, 26 October 2006)

I continued: 'As we walked, identifying not only the (disappearing) fabric of the old university and the ways in which people are managed, in terms of pedestrian flows and the organization of buildings along the ‘Spine’ (in relation to the exterior ring of green spaces), Chris and I discussed the relation of the university of 2013/14 with that founded in 1964. The privatization that Fisher identifies, in terms of both public space and the discourse of ‘the public’, we found writ very large across the ‘renewed’ surfaces of the Lancaster campus.'

Last year, my friend and colleague Bruce Bennett and I made a short film about the contemporary form of the institution in which we work, using the work of JG Ballard as a launching pad for a re-imagiantion and investigation of corporate space and subjectivity. For me, the film was very much in a continuum with my work with Chris in that 1964 symposium. It was called 'University: A New Way of Life', and was hosted by the journal The Sociological Review. You can also watch it below.

In my previous post I wrote about 'machine music', and the score for the film (that I wrote and recorded) was meant to allude to the kind of electronic music that Simon Reynolds investigated under the rubric of 'nostalgia for the future', in particular the Ghost Box label (and my favourite of those artists, Pye Corner Audio). Our current project is a film shot on Super 8 film, rather than digital, as was 'University: A New Way of Life'; the new film will feature machines, transmissions and so on, but its form and connections will be quite different. The Super 8 cameras we use, especially the Braun Nizo, is itself a very seductive machine, from its brushed-steel case to the click and whir of its operation. As a piece of retro-technology, the Super 8 camera feels like a different kind of modernity, like analogue synthesisers, like tape recorders. Its recordings, like other analogue equipment, somehow has 'warmth', to do with the grain of the film, light on emulsion, and the contingencies of shooting. (You don't know what you've got until it comes back from the developers.) The very properties of Super 8 encode that 'nostalgia for the future'.

Two years on from our 1964 event, the fabric of the university keeps changing. The old stock is being slowly removed, and shiny new glass buildings and atria and walkways will emerge (slowly, from the building site) in their wake. In a sense, the university is erasing its own history in this process, the very physical properties of the campus exhibiting the shift from one political vision of the future - democratic, civic, education for all - to something much more corporate. The university is now what Fisher described in 2006: as our film suggests, we are inside the pod.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

I want to be a machine

from miramax.com
Six years ago now, I wrote a post called 'Android Rock', which was about synthesisers and Gary Numan and the future. In the interim my musical tastes have shifted much more to this kind of music:  not only post-punk and synth-pop from 1978 to 1982, but crucial antecedents like Krautrock or kosmische 1970s German bands (from Tangerine Dream to Kraftwerk to Manuel Göttsching, but mainly Michael Rother in Neu! or Harmonia or solo), space rock, electronic experimentation, psychedelia. And of course Bowie, always Bowie.

In 2010 Bowie was retired, 6 years hence; but in 2014 we got The Next Day, and then in January 2016 we had Blackstar, and then... I couldn't listen to Blackstar for months after Bowie died. And I put on 'I Can't Give Everything Away' as I write this, and it's a goodbye, with that harmonica, and a return to the sound of his wedding album Black Tie White Noise, and then some Fripp-guitar at the end, and I think - I miss having DB around. The title of that last track, set against a career of personas and performances, Ziggy and Aladdin and the Thin White Duke and the Man Who Fell to Earth and Nathan Adler and so on, even 'David Bowie'; and set against rock's insistent authenticity, of feeling and connection and emotion; and his ten years away from the spotlight from 2004-2014; and I realise how much I'm drawn to music (these days) which plays along that edge of giving everything and nothing away, of distance and intimacy.

The centre of my musical sensibilities has moved from the Sixties to the end of the 1970s, from a time I don't remember to one I remember very well. When I read Simon Reynolds' excellent Rip It Up, it was a kind of return, to bands and songs and albums. Even though I was a teenage Mod, I always liked (in a slightly guilty way) electro-pop too, which is why I've still got the Blue Monday 12", OMD's Architecture and Morality lp, Shriekback's Care and Jam Science. And throughout the 1980s (and ever since), I've loved the combination of drum machines and guitars, from The Jesus and Mary Chain to Big Black to The The to Sisters of Mercy.

Andy Warhol once said, famously, 'The reason I'm painting this way is that I want to be a machine, and I feel that whatever I do and do machine-like is what I want to do'. Warhol was referring to silk-screen printing, and the suppression of human 'making' in the artistic process. Of course, these were often of film stars like Liz Taylor and Marilyn Monroe, and whatever erasures of authorship or Benjaminian 'aura' are delivered by a machinic process are re-instated in the art market which sells the prints as 'Warhols'.

But perhaps this is another dance along the edge of giving nothing and everything away. (Bowie of course wrote a song called 'Andy Warhol' on Hunky Dory and played Warhol in the film Basquiat.)


In one of my favourite films, from 1979, the same year as Numan's The Pleasure Principle and Bowie's Lodger, is Chris Petit's Radio On. A black-and-white road film from London to Bristol and thence the sea, Radio On is soundtracked by the kind of music I'm now drawn to recurrently. It begins with a wonderful use of Bowie's 'Heroes' with a long hand-held track through a Bristol flat, and uses Kraftwerk's Radioactivity album over images of the protagonist driving down what now seem like eerily empty motorways. In the opening tracking shot, the camera comes to rest on a handwritten note pinned to a board. It says: 'We are the children of Fritz Lang and Werner von Braun. We are the link between the '20s and '80s. All change in society passes through a sympathetic collaboration via tape recorders, synthesisers and telephones. Our reality is an electronic reality'. In that flat, the brother of the protagonist has committed suicide. A Roberts Radio plays 'Heroes' (and the German language version, 'Helden'). Death in an electronic reality: distance and intimacy.

I'm hoping to pursue that connection, that collaboration, between synthesisers and recording devices and communications technologies over the next months. In 'Android Rock' I suggested that late '70s/ early 80s' synth-pop still sounded like the future


because the sounds of analogue synthesizers bear little relation to the tonal qualities of 'real world' sounds ... these sounds are still machine sounds, and I think we hear them differently (even now) than we do organic, 'natural' waveforms. 

In pursuit of machine music, I'm fully prepared to admit to what Simon Reynolds diagnosed as 'nostalgia for the future', that the music I'm drawn to represents a kind of modernity and future that will never come into being. But in that nostalgia, a longing for a different world, at least there's hope in the sentiment 'je est une machine'.



Sunday, 23 October 2016

On the road to Barrow: cultural criticism and creative writing

Image from: http://allthingsd.com/
I've just changed the subtitle of this blog to 'science fiction in the cultural field', to reflect my methods and also the rather wandering nature of this blog over the last few years. A broader sense of cultural production has always been where I've come from critical, rather than a 'literature' enthusiast, student,  scholar, critic. My first degree, at the University of Warwick, was on English and American literature but contained courses on Culture and Society, Film Studies and US society and culture 1955-65. (I followed up the latter by moving to take an MA in American Studies at UEA a couple of years later.) My PhD, on American dystopias of the 50s and 60s, was resolutely culturalist. My first full-time teaching job was as a lecturer in film and media; then I moved to teach literature and film; and in my current job I teach and lecture on a wide range of courses.

One of the lovely things about teaching at my current university is that we're a department of literature and creative writing. Though there are sometimes tensions between the two disciplines, I have great working relationships and friendships with my colleagues and this developed, a couple of years ago, into a collaboration with the novelist Jenn Ashworth, whose novel Fell has recently been published to great acclaim. Jenn has taught a course on Writing and New Media and, because of my interests in this area, we discussed this, and I've subsequently developed a new course along those lines (with more of a bent towards experimental writing) at Master's level.

A few years ago now I developed a particular interest in twitter fiction, and wrote about it. I also wrote my own sf twitter narrative called 'Shiva', which can be found archived here and which I also wrote a post about. 'Shiva' is narrated from the point of view of an AI, which is something I'll pick up in another post in the next couple of days. Because of some of these things (and some critical/creative writing on Ballard that Jenn liked) she asked me to participate in an online narrative project called 'The Barrow Rapture', about a character returning to that town to find it abandoned after a rapture event. I was really privileged to work with Jenn, Tom Fletcher and Beth Ward on this project, an interactive narrative written by Jenn, Tom and myself with Beth's lovely artwork. You can find it, and choose your paths through it, here.

One of the really illuminating things about The Barrow Rapture was finding out about the processes of writing and collaboration, particularly to do with creative practice. It was also terrific to be accepted as a peer and collaborator by very talented people. Following on from this, I've begun a different collaborative project, making films with another colleague (in Film Studies), Bruce Bennett, whose name has been taken, not in vain, in these posts occasionally. I'll write something about this very soon.

Literature academics aren't always easy collaborators, no matter that their metier is (or should be) sharing and communicating their research materials in a variety of forms - lectures, teaching, articles, books, blogs etc. It was always a gap in my own practice, but I was very pleased recently when another colleague called me a 'natural collaborator' (in the positive sense - I think). Like many things to do with my relation to academia, it's learned rather than natural, but pushing myself to do these things has been stimulating and rewarding in dark cultural and political times.

And so we circle back to cultural criticism, to cultural politics and practice. My interest and engagement in creative work is an extension of my inquisitiveness, my desire to find out about things and how they work, to try different approaches, but also my interest in the processes and politics of cultural production and of communication. I'm interested in 'zine and cassette culture, in Super 8 film-making, in punk and post-punk, in artists and makers doing it themselves, seizing the means of production. This blog is a minor form of that, but over time it became more work, and I stopped doing it.

Looking back over the blog posts, certain ideas or threads connect up and recur, and this has always been part of how I go about things (retrospection is no good for planning ahead, of course): I move intuitively and later I see how seemingly disparate things were really connected. The next couple of posts will explore those connections a bit further.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

What happens next

Let's be honest, I've let this blog slip a bit over the last year or so. In previous years I've posted about once every three or 4 weeks, but I didn't post much in 2015 and nothing until September this year. Partly it's because of time, and partly it's because, as a writing project, the blog has been very successful, though not in the ways I anticipated. I started it up to support my science fiction classes I teach at university, and to help in trying out some thoughts on a book I was writing (the Reader's Guide to Essential Criticism in Science Fiction, which came out in 2014, but took me an age to complete for a variety of reasons.) It only marginally helped with both, but became a kind of try-out zone, with several of the posts eventually being written up in longer, more academic pieces for journal and book publication and for talks and conference papers. So, a post on Interstellar became a talk I age at the University of Edinburgh and a conference paper; one on Malick's The Tree of Life became a book chapter which will be out by the end of this year; one on Modernist Morecambe became a conference paper and then a chapter on Quadrophenia; and a series of posts on Alien and Prometheus informed a chapter in my latest book on masculinities.

Because I've done all this academic writing, I haven't the time or the energy to blog. But it has struck me that there are several pieces of work that I haven't referred to here that are worth rounding up, which I will do over the next week or so. I'm hoping this will kick-start me into a new round of activity.

I noted that I'd had 10,000 page views back in 2013, and now this blog has over 50,000. Small beer, maybe, but I thank everyone who has checked out my posts and thoughts over the years. Due to my inactivity I must have lost a fair few readers, so I'm hoping to make up a bit of time.

Here, then, is an article on Michael Bay's The Island, based on a blog post from August 2013, and used to draw up an academic article which was published in Senses of Cinema last year. It's a bit long, and much denser than the kind of thing I post here, but I quite like it (more than some). It's called 'The Cinema Within'. And it looks lovely.

Friday, 21 October 2016

Speaking Out and Up: me, the university and the community

Ok, this is hard to put into words. Ever since Brexit, xenophobia and racism have become mainstream discourses. This we know. Theresa May’s government is set on a ‘hard’ exit from the EU which will be economically damaging and culturally toxic, turning England into an inward-looking, nostalgic, isolated backwater. Friends and colleagues have been horrified by these events, especially those who are resident here but not UK nationals. I don't feel at home in the UK myself, so I can only guess at their feelings. Last night, a Polish woman was apparently booed on BBC Question Time for expressing these feelings, an audience who don't want to know about the pain their xenophobia is causing. I live in Wales and would dearly love for Wales to become independent (even though I was born, raised and educated in England and still work there) from an England and Englishness whose public sphere has been systematically undermined and poisoned over decades, so now The Sun – proven liars over Hillsborough and many other things – has liberty to attack Gary Lineker for ‘spreading lies’ about (i.e. showing compassion towards) refugees. It feels as though we’re one step from the Children of Men film.

I’ve seen on Twitter many calls for the 48%, or for those even who voted Leave, to stand up against this increasingly visible racism and xenophobia. Academia should be one of the biggest voices: universities are international institutions, wanting and needing to attract staff and students from across the globe, whose communities must be inclusive and progressive. This week’s news stories about international students being counted as ‘migrants’ is an urgent symptom of the universities’ failure to do so. But this isn't just to do with the economic viability, or even the social or economic life of the university (as a community rather than an institution). It’s do with what the university thinks it is for.

I work in a department of English (literature) and Creative Writing in a 1960s university that appears in the top 10 or so in all the league tables. You might think we would be strong enough, robust enough, to be able to add our voice to the resistance to racism, to xenophobia. Our department has fantastic international contacts and some of my colleagues do great work in Africa and the Middle East and elsewhere and I admire and respect that enormously. But what about here, in the UK? What’s our role? Shouldn’t we be vigorously defending the ideas and ideals on which the very concept of the university is founded?

This past week we had a departmental meeting. We discussed the Stern report, the changes in what will be the next Research Excellence Framework (the audit of our published work which bears upon how much funding we receive). We talked about student recruitment (which bears upon how much funding we receive). We talked about how we might change or improve our programme to make it more attractive. But when a colleague raised the point about the ethical implications of changes to research funding in the UK, and the folding of International Development monies into the university research budget, the question wasn’t really understood.

And thinking about it afterwards, I wish I’d been sharp enough to say something then. It was at the end of a long, 3-hour meeting in a stuffy room and my mind wasn’t as focused as it should have been. Because the ethics of what we are doing is precisely what we should be talking about. Not just ‘how to attract students’ but ‘how does the department work in relation to its community/ locality/ region’. Not ‘how can we internationalize our work’ but ‘what is the role of the department and the university, in international contexts, in an increasingly xenophobic and racist political discourse in the UK’.

And it’s easy to see why we don’t discuss this. We’re really busy, and the pressures of REF and the coming Teaching Excellence Framework are felt by us, as individuals, and as a department every day. But this instrumentalisation (in an increasingly corporate environment, the university’s own response to the shifting political and economic environment) is corrosive. We don't think of the bigger picture, because we’re too focused on the day-to-day, in implementing new university initiatives which are largely to do with maintaining its position in those league tables I mentioned, let alone the things that are great about the job: teaching and supervising students, and sometimes doing your own research and writing. We don't talk about it because in departmental meetings we are discussing all this instrumental and administrative stuff, and we don't have time to meet as a group outside of those times.

But it’s wrong.

So what do I/ we do about it? The first thing is, of course to talk about it. Something we signally failed to do this week. To make it visible, to speak up. To make sure we do discuss it, that it informs what we do, so we aren’t always speaking instrumentally, simply reflecting the discursive frameworks of the government or the institution. 

If I wonder what kind of country the UK has become – the answer to that is increasingly unpleasant – I also wonder what kind of place the university has become. It mustn’t just blow in the wind of government policy or hide from political discourses we find uncomfortable or plain horrifying. Even when I teach science fiction - as we did this week with The War of the Worlds - we talk about these issues. So I’m starting to speak out and up. 

Friday, 5 August 2016

Al-Andalus

Well, I haven’t done this for a while.


Anyway, me and the family have just got back from the Altiplano de Granada in southern Spain – in Andalucia, in fact. It’s a fascinating place, of course, the region of Spain that stretches from Cadiz over on the Atlantic west coast to Almeria in the east. The Altiplano de Granada is an arid, high plain in the north-east of the region of Granada, and about 150km from that city. These high, dry uplands very much reminded me of the landscapes of the Spaghetti Westerns, of course, a lot of which were shot a bit further south of where we stayed.

We rented a cave-house built in the hillside above a dusty Andalucian village called Galera. Walking up to where the unmade and precipitous roads ended, to get a view over the town and, beyond, the plain, the area revealed itself almost as a Mars-scape, a place of dust and flattened hills and mountains erupting from the flat terrain. Up above the cave-houses sat a round, whitewashed building, part Moorish and part observatory (or secret state installation): an Andalusian Baikonur?


When we visited the Alhambra in Granada, that extraordinary example of Moorish architecture and culture, its articulations of space struck me as vital to its conception. The supporting columns are thin, attenuated, and some appear to dissolve into the air; ceilings draw the eye upwards, a heaven enclosed in a room; and the fabric of the building itself
wavers in the green surfaces of the courtyard pools. In his BBC series on the art of Spain, Andrew Graham-Dixon suggested that the garden, and thereby the idea of paradise, was deeply encoded in the architecture of al-Andalus, but I also think that the building points outwards and upwards, towers and palms pointing to the sky, a sky reflected in those shimmering pools. It’s a kind of cosmic architecture. While Islamic art prohibits direct representation, its formal gestures are to the divine and the infinite.

While there, I read Tariq Ali’s The Shadow of the Pomegranate Tree, the first in his ‘Islamic Quintet’ of novels. This novel is set a few years after the culmination of the Reconquista, the fall al-Andalus when Granada was surrendered to the Christian besiegers in (irony of ironies, that Ali points out) 1492. It’s a novel of defeat, of the violent elimination of a way of life, the Muslim civilization of al-Andalus, and the expropriation of its property and wealth. As such, it ends in terror and death. But I began to wonder, a what if?: what if al-Andalus hadn’t fallen? What if the intellectual, scientific and philosophical culture (which had actively embraced tolerance of religious belief and practice, with Jews, Christians and Muslims sharing the same communities and social structures) had endured?
Would there be an Andalusian space program in the deserts of the Altiplano, looking upwards towards the divine and the infinite?

Clearly I need to do some more historical reading about the culture and communities of al-Andalus in its ‘golden age’ of the 11th and 12th centuries, but it intrigues to me think that there might have been another Enlightenment, another Industrial Revolution, another European history. Would technological development have avoided the exploitation of fossil fuels, and concentrated on water, wind, chemistry? Would Europe have avoided its deeply damaging and corrosive imperatives towards Empire and the domination of non-white, non-Christian others? Could tolerance have prevailed? In the town of Galera, we saw memorials to the persecution and violent deaths of the Moriscos (Muslim coverts to Christianity) as they resisted further repression in the 16th century, and the land was literally ploughed with salt afterwards: the very ground of Andalucia tells a different story.

At the recent Fantastika conference, Mark Bould gave an excellent and thought-provoking keynote on Afrofuturism, which (in its North African inflection) has clear affinities to what has been going through my own mind on holiday. If the Moorish architecture of the Alhambra is a dream, of capturing the divine in the formal structure of the building and its pools and courtyards, then al-Andalus makes me dream of possibilities of a different time, a different now. I’m just about to start the second of Ali’s quintet, based on the story of Salah al-Din (Saladin) and the Crusades, the political dimension of which is all too apparent. Amid the narratives of disaster and defeat, I’m looking for ways to hope and dream.

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