Raymond Williams with a word on climate aesthetics


industry_power-generation_1Two short excerpts from Raymond Williams’ essay ‘Culture is Ordinary’ (which is nice for lots of reasons) – but these two are important things to keep in mind for climate activists and action. The first is about the working class’ relationship to (industrial/mechanical/electrical) power and the real benefit to life that it brought, which is worth keeping in mind when we talk about energy, etc.:

For one thing I knew this: at home we were glad of the Industrial Revolution, and of its consequent social and political changes. True, we lived in a very beautiful farming valley, and the valleys beyond the limestone we could all see were ugly. But there was one gift that was overriding, one gift which at any price we would take, the gift of power that is everything to men who have worked with their hands. It was slow in coming to us, in all its effects, but steam power, the petrol engine, electricity, these and their host of products in commodities and services, we took as quickly as we could get them, and were glad. I have seen all these things being used, and I have seen the things they replaced. I will not listen with patience to any acid listing of them – you know the sneer you can get into plumbing, baby Austins, aspirin, contraceptives, canned food. But I say to these Pharisees: dirty water, an earth bucket, a four- mile walk each way to work, headaches, broken women, hunger and monotony of diet. The working people, in town and country alike, will not listen (and I support them) to any account of our society which supposes that these things are not progress: not just mechanical, external progress either, but a real service of life. Moreover, in the new conditions, there was more real freedom to dispose of our lives, more real personal grasp where it mattered, more real say. Any account of our culture which explicitly or implicitly denies the value of an industrial society is really irrelevant; not in a million years would you make us give up this power. (Williams, ‘Culture is Ordinary’, 1958, p.9)

Williams description puts paid to the idea (widely held among some back-to-nature types) that power is somehow an inessential and a luxury (think of the way that boomers talk about the number of unnecessary “devices” that young people use today, Cf: this tweet by old mate Donnie).

The second excerpt is about the relation between power–technology and aesthetics, and the idea that power technology = ugly:

[This] false proposition is easily disposed of. It is a fact that the new power brought ugliness: the coal brought dirt, the factory brought overcrowding, communications brought a mess of wires. But the proposition that ugliness is a price we pay, or refuse to pay, for economic power need no longer be true. New sources of power, new methods of production, improved systems of transport and communication can, quite practically, make England clean and pleasant again, and with much more power, not less. Any new ugliness is the product of stupidity, indifference, or simply incoordination; these things will be easier to deal with than when power was necessarily noisy, dirty, and disfiguring. (p.10)

I highlight this point precisely for how, well, obvious and banal it seems even at the same time as so much power generation still does produce incredible ugliness. Tesla seems to get that aesthetics are important. Of course, others disagree but that’s the nature of taste. One of my favourite photographs (one i’ve linked here on the blog before) illustrates the sharp contrast between modes of power generation and their effect on the landscape. I also think one of the reason Joe Hockey’s “wind farms are ugly” type comments gained so much traction is that people, instinctively or intuitively, understand the importance of regimes of taste in the making-or-breaking of technology. My work on the aesthetics of renewable power generation has tried to contribute to that sense, and I think it will only become more and more important.

Of course, the other thing that the photo of the open-cut coal mines next to the wind farms makes clear is the way that fossil fuel production gets to neatly shift or obscure its impacts away from the public eye, while new technologies like solar and wind come under immediate and intense scrutiny just for their ‘newness’. By contrast, legacy industries and their impacts are just facts of life.

A note on the NSW election (2015)

Look okay, so the thing with the NSW state election is that it was never going to go Labor, as I said a couple days before the election:

My reasoning here is that the memory of being burned by the farcical parade of labor premiers for the past decade is still too fresh (we had three premiers in the space of 5 years, which is enough to disrupt any legislative agenda), and NSW Labor still hasn’t done anything to significantly separate itself from that era. There has been no break, no repudiation of what went wrong, no communication of having ‘learned their lesson’ (whether that really is the case or not, I’m talking purely about the realm of perception).

Add to that situation the fact that the ICAC affairs and resignations were only last year and you can understand why, actually no, maybe NSW voters aren’t being completely fucking stupid and maybe it’s fairly sensible to think that Labor maybe shouldn’t be in government again just yet. People don’t seem to love Baird – there’s no widespread sense of identification with the son of a former politician and career banker, try as he might to SMS his way into the minds of everyone in the state – but they sure as hell still dislike NSW state Labor. And that dislike seems mostly entirely reasonable to me. In my electorate even a ten percent (!!) swing away from Stuart Ayres to the Labor candidate Emma Hussar wasn’t enough, because of the cataclysmic landslide Ayers benefited from after Karyn Paluzzano resigned in disgrace back in 2010 (Paluzzano presented me with awards at my High School graduation in 2004 – mum & dad have the photo on the fridge), with Ayers at the time picking up a twenty-seven percent swing (!!!!) signalling the beginning of the end for Kristina Keneally’s government – the point at which the cat was finally out of the bag that Labor was about to get fucking whacked later that year.

Heck, even Jackie Kelly picked up 10% of the vote in Penrith which goes to show the hunger there is in the electorate for third parties and alternative (and lol no the greens don’t really count out here). Also the west has almost completely lost it’s distaste for the idea of a second airport in Sydney, which is why Kelly couldn’t really muster up a solid protest vote.

Anyway, Baird looks set to begin preparing to sell off the NSW power grid which is exactly the wrong lesson to take away from his electoral victory and for which I am absolutely sure he will be massively punished at the next election. Electorates as disengaged as the state of NSW (particularly out here in the west) electorates aren’t willing to vote anyone out to pre-empt bad shit like the power sell-off, they’re only ever going to do it reactively, not proactively. Especially when doing so means going back to what seems like a political abuser who hasn’t really convinced you they’ve learned their lesson yet.


More than a feeling

Adam Curtis just cuts his ideas, rough hewn from the seam deep under ground.


Aesthetic Seriousness

“Over the centuries, empirical, clear thinking has become branded with the image of Default Men. They were the ones granted the opportunity, the education, the leisure, the power to put their thoughts out into the world. In people’s minds, what do professors look like? What do judges look like? What do leaders look like? The very aesthetic of seriousness has been monopolised by Default Man. Practically every person on the globe who wants to be taken seriously in politics, business and the media dresses up in some way like a Default Man, in a grey, western, two-piece business suit. Not for nothing is it referred to as “power dressing”. We’ve all seen those photo ops of world leaders: colour and pattern shriek out as anachronistic.” – Grayson Perry’s editorial intro ‘Rise and Fall of The Default Man

Not my favorite photo

mines and wind farmSource.


Perhaps the first and foremost important characteristic to acknowledge about internet comments is that they are opportunistic. All their other features emerge from and are explained by this.

I really love this Roggenvid

This is one of my new favourites. I have some old favourites but this is my one of my new ones.


One Hundred Years of Solitude

“Actually, in spite of the fact that everyone considered him mad, José Arcadio Sugundo was at that time the most lucid inhabitant of the house. He taught little Aureliano how to read and write, initiated him in the study of the parchments, and he inculcated him with such a personal interpretation of what the banana company had meant to Macondo that many years later, when Aurelian became part of the world, one would have thought that he was telling a hallucinated version, because it was radically opposed to the false one that the historians had created and consecrated in the schoolbooks. In the small isolated room where the arid air never penetrated, nor the dust, nor the heat, both had the atavistic vision of an old man, his back to the window, wearing a hat with a brim like the wings of a crow who spoke about the world many years before they had been born. Both described at the same time how it was always March there and always Monday, and then they understood that José Arcadio Buendia was not as crazy as the family said, but that he was the only one who had enough lucidity to sense the truth of the fact that time also stumbled and had accidents and could therefore splinter and leave an eternalized fragment in a room.” Garbriel Garcia Marquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude, p.355.

This is my second favourite passage from the whole book (the first one involves a two page long description of some rather animated and purposive blood trails and their passage throughout a town, across roads, under tables, skirting objects, etc. Blood is fairly magical in this book. Heck everything is magical, its fair to say.)