I made dinner for my boyfriend, A, last night. He came round late; he’d been preparing for a job interview, I made him something to eat, we talked about coffee overdoses and plans for the Bank Holiday weekend. We were going to watch a film but as he washed the dishes he asked if I fancied a walk. The sticky, close day had become a warm summery evening, and besides, he’d been inside all day, and felt like he hadn’t seen the world.
"If you hold up your hands and crop that stuff out, you could be in Nice", he said, holding his hands up towards the towers of Cannon St station picked out by a beetroot red sunset, as we walked west along the Thames past the aspic hull of HMS Belfast. Nice try, I thought; if you cut out all the shitty things you could see the good things. "We could almost be on holiday" seemed optimistic, but tourist couples stood having their photos taken in front of Tower Bridge, and we could pretend other people’s holidays were our own. We walked up to the Tate Modern, through warm spitting rain which seemed to be bothering no-one. We stopped there, leaning against the railings, looking over the river at high tide towards St Pauls. As couples on real holiday strolled past, we shared our mixed feelings on Christmas. I can’t get enough of festive good cheer; working for a central London department store until late Christmas Eve for the past 5 years, A begs to differ.
We’ve only been seeing each other a few months. Perhaps this is one of the joys of first meeting someone who makes you daydream in their absence; you collate opinions and tastes, comparing and contrasting. When we met outside the British Museum in the watery spring sunshine for our first date, he told me that, on our way to the Baselitz prints I wanted to see, he’d show me his favourite stairway in London. We stared up at the weird fake Egyptian palm fronds that framed vast eggshell walls, flooded in light from the overhead windows. Huh, I thought. He’s got a favourite stairwell. That’s interesting. “I’d live on it, if I could, in a sleeping bag”, he said, and I knew we’d have a nice afternoon. You collate each other’s weird little opinions because that’s how you get to know a lover, and because you don’t, as yet, have many shared experiences. Well now we do; of the staircases we know and love, and of the man who screamed at us in the street as we turned and walked home from outside the Tate last night.
"Come on, let’s go". I gave A a peck on the lips and held his hand. The rain was getting a little heavier and it was already almost 10. We walked underneath the Millenium Bridge, sadly lacking its mariachi band playing Spanish Flea. Midway through conversation I heard a group of girls behind us, in stage whispers- "ARE THEY HOLDING HANDS?". I let it drift over, but moments later a very loud and aggressive shout came from a man behind us.
"URRRRR", like a 5 year old. "THEY’RE HOLDING FUCKING HANDS!" in a broad London accent. He shouted after us, "fucking mincers!" and a slew of further slurs to add. I flushed red immediately at his vaguely 70s insult (I don’t mince. A minces, but only socially, he doesn’t make a habit of it). I didn’t turn round but I felt eyes burning holes in me. The crowd’s attention was drawn and people stared at us, two twenty something gayboys, holding hands in the street.
There’s a divide between how you think you’d react, how you imagine you’d react when someone says something like that (again), and how you actually do react. There’s a moment’s pause, a lag whilst you realise you’re the subject of the outrage and anger of a complete stranger. The first reaction is fear, fear that you’re in immediate danger; what flashed through my mind wasn’t indignation or defensiveness, but the memory of having my head slammed against coat pegs outside the science block aged 15, or seeing your friend fall between parked cars, his head hitting the curb before someone puts his boot in, or your friend S turning up on your doorstep, ears tattered after having all his earrings ripped out in the street. All those acts of violence are mashed into that moment. You immediately fear a rerun of past violence, and I’m ashamed now that the first thing I did was let go of A’s hand. I made a stupid fake gesture of letting go to scratch the back of my head, as if my spare hand was useless for the job, convincing neither of us. Our conversation had stopped. 15 yards later I asked him if he’d heard that; of course he’d heard that, everyone within 100ft had heard it, heard the disgust in the man’s voice, focused on us.
I can only say how it made me feel, if I’m honest. Perhaps some sharper fags with quicker wits and stronger stomachs know what to shout back to puncture the situation. Perhaps they walk on with some new strength, gripping their lover tighter. But immediately I felt if not shameful, then certainly shamed.
I felt shamed by the disgust in the man’s voice. I felt disciplined by him; the fact he felt empowered to voice that disgust immediately gave him an authority over me, a right to police my behaviour in public. He was right, goddamnit: we were holding hands. Two men, holding hands, right there, in public, for all to see. We’d thought we could get away with it, with being Queer In Public, but he’d spotted us; banged to rights, he’d called us out, and people stared. No-one said anything, and, shamed by who I am, what I’d been caught doing, I read that as tacit approval of our punishment. Of course I did; I’m well aware that society is ok with gays, but tired of having it shoved down their throat (a peculiar little idiom solely reserved for us and our behaviour). It was only a little humiliation but it was humiliating, having your unacceptable behaviour drawn attention to in public. He didn’t hit us, and we didn’t stop. We just walked in opposite directions, him still muttering in disgust, me and A in abrupt silence, everyone else just ignoring it. Maybe my anger is at some displaced privilege I feel; but that shows just how deep heterosexual policing is. Despite being a white, cis, able-bodied young male, the tip of the social pyramid, I’m still subject to attack for behaving in a way that’s inappropriate to my gender in public. Part of me wants to hold all heterosexuals responsible; despite the kind words and sympathies of friends, I can’t help but feel they’re complicit in the idea that heterosexuality is the norm, the default, the way the world looks. I feel like they’re responsible in the same way I’m responsible for violence against women every time I remain silent in a group of men when a sexist joke is told, because I don’t want to forfeit my benefits of being a man. This bitterness and anger at all heterosexuals is probably wildly unfair, but I still feel it keenly.
I know it wasn’t a big thing that happened. I’ve had worse, and much, much worse happens to queers and trans people every day right across the city. But I came out 14 years ago, half my lifetime ago, and in all honesty I’d have hoped the sense of anger, humiliation and shame at being screamed at for being gay would have worn off in that time. It makes me wonder whether I honestly could say to a teenage bullying victim “it gets better”. This is one incident in a spectrum of incidents that will not cease for me, but last night was the one which happened at a time in my life where I feel safe and secure enough in myself to say at last “That hurt me. I’m tired of this shit”.
I wanted to put down in words what happened because, whilst the guy who shouted has probably forgotten he even saw us last night, when A got up for work at 5am this morning I lay awake till 7 just thinking about it, running through what he said over and over. And I’ll think about his voice again the next time I’m out in public and A makes me laugh and I want to hold his hand, or when he meets me from my office and wants a kiss hello. That’s the point of policing and punishing; it’s meant to get inside your head, so that next time you’re tempted to commit an offence, you think twice. As a gay person, when I feel love in public, I think twice. I check my behaviour, I check my environment. When I see young straight couples in love, kissing by the river, I get a taint of bitterness. When I feel affection, I also feel danger. That’s why these stupid, minor incidents hurt so much: they poison love.
Reposting this from the 89+clubhouse blogpost I wrote during last year’s Serpentine Marathon following the re-emergence of this element of K-Hole’s trend forecast in the NY Mag. I’ve written about K-Hole before, for Rhizome.
As Kevin McGarry raised last night, perhaps the focus on birthdates is an insufficient designation of the limits of generation. In their latest trend-forecast, released today, K-Hole, alongside Box 1824, make a similar claim with the punchy board-room rhetoric that we’ve come to expect from the NYC-based group:
“Demography is dead, yet marketers will quietly invent another generation on demand. Clients are desperate to adapt. But to what? Generational linearity is gone. An ageless youth demands emancipation.”
K-Hole’s practice inhabits the form of the consumer trend forecast — the sort of semi-shamanic marketing reports that terrifyingly clueless executive boards commission in the hope of divining the mind of the holy and pure, the 18-24 demographic. In their latest document, YOUTH MODE, they examine how we can recontextualise our relationship with our peers in terms of style, in order to reach a position of every-expanding human freedom.
They lay out two positions of anxiety that the #89plus subjectivity have come to inhabit:
MASS INDIE: a chaotic mass-adoption of indie styles post-Cobain, aiming not to escape being a square but, in a positive mode, celebrating difference and eclecticism. These solutions to navigating identities give rise new problems, new anxieties: #isolation #maxingout, seeming like a clone. The result? Those who can, split, and begin
ACTING BASIC: Cargo shorts is how they define it. Dudes go back to the herd, reject difference, master sameness. Dudes make a decision that the prime outfit is the one they were wearing when they last got laid. Dudes act basic, and basic turns itself inside out, basic collapses in on itself. Where now?
NORMCORE: “The desire to escape the constraints of everyday life is universal,” they claim. All good brand consultants offer something going forward. For K-Hole, it’s Normcore. “Normcore is a path to a more peaceful life”, they called from the platform. Acting Basic and Mass Indie are flipsides of the same dialectic of individualism. Normcore steps outside individualism and instead turns to the idea of community, producing a cool subjectivity based around what is perhaps not striking but can produce relationships of depth based on commonality.
What’s going on with K-Hole? This stuff should be for jerks but it’s always got such a bite, it always hits straight to the core of the audience. #89plus have spent their entire lives knowing that applying high-theory to pop-culture is guaranteed to get coverage, but that joke isn’t funny anymore. Sometimes it works but usually it doesn’t enlighten anything. But K-Hole aren’t doing that; they’re applying tru-life, Mean Girl theory to some of the anxieties which structure our everyday lives. We like to think we’ve got bigger things on our minds but when we build our lives around constant networked social-relations, these things are real life trauma.
Emily Segal of K-Hole talks about Youth Mode as “a way for society to figure out about its anxieties”, and that seems right; a way to talk about the everyday crises of individualism, communality and differentiation through the threads that make up the social fabric, our sense-of-self.
I wonder if it’s possible to think about the latest K-hole trend forecast as a navigation of cognitive economic/social stresses as they manifest within a very specific (young, precarious and privileged) NYC (read: #firstworldproblems/#FML/me) subjectivity? Sometimes it feels like a very intuitive response, an attempt to come to terms with something the group explored in their last forecast – anxiety.
“What emotional, psychic, existential price does the constant cognitive stress of permanent cognitive electrocution exact? The acceleration of network technologies, the general condition of precariousness, and the dependence on cognitive labor all induce pathological effects in the social mind, saturating attention time, compressing the sphere of emotion and sensitivity, as is shown by psychiatrists who have observed a steep increase in manic depression and suicide in the last generation of workers.” - Bifo
Last week, months of careful organization and mobilization came to a head as students at ten universities occupied their campuses in support of the HE strike. The last of these occupations, at Senate House in Bloomsbury, was met with violent repression: UoL management called in the police, and…
Comparison of quartos and First Folio editions of Hamlet’s soliloquy
Digital Bad Quarto
It’s a truism to say we live in an exciting era for publishing. A myriad of new models are emerging as we develop new technologies, and, as in the past, our existing protocols and codes are incapable or not flexible enough to cope with them. A practical example: what constitutes an ‘edition’ when the data can be changed instantaneously, and that change can be enacted immediately across the globe, and even onto pre-existing editions? It seems our conception of publishing has to be reformed taking into account the post-print publishing environment. Carlin’s continued practice around the nature of the relationship between what is printed and what is published address these fluctuations, and explores print’s developing history and archaeology whilst new protocols are being written, but before the ink is yet dry.
Every book tells the story of every book. Perhaps it can seem today that the book is such a perfectly produced platform for the mass-distribution of knowledge, information and passions that it could only have been the product of a single, and singular, vision. It can be packed into a case, smuggled across a border, flung from a train, drenched in a monsoon, and passed from hand to hand to hand, and still retain all its practical functionality, its remarkably user-friendly interface still operating in low-light conditions, miles from any power source, transmitting its information with as much clarity as the moment it left the printers. It seems supremely designed, but each part of it, from its binding to its contents, its page numbers to its colophon, is the result of a multitude of tiny innovations and developments spread across the entire history of the printing trade. The book is an evolving form, and each new edition holds that history in each component. The form of the book might seem to be a singular vision, but in reality it’s a collection of protocols established between a community of producers and consumers. It’s a landscape of information technology waiting to be excavated.
Most commercially produced titles, for instance, hold a blurb, usually on the back dust-jacket. The back-cover copy today serves as an inducement for the customer to buy the book; it’s usually a brief preçis, with a pull quote from the text, or a review or endorsement. Dig through history however and its roots are quite different. The prebinding of books with hardcovers as an industry standard is a reasonably recent development; before the 1820s books were often sold as loose leaves of paper (sometimes stitched), with binding arrangements left up to the bookseller and buyer to agree upon privately. The trades of printer and binder were quite separate, and both printer and binder had a high degree of personal and political discretion as to whether or not they took on a job. Whilst today the publisher co-ordinates both roles, and hence holds the power and responsibility of what is published, the protocol was once divided between those who physically produced and bound the text. The printer would read the text thoroughly prior to printing; but so too would the binder, to ensure he was happy to put his name to the finished book. As part of this process the binder would often write a short preçis of the book for future information. From this root, via the production of the dust-jacket after the invention of the steam-powered printing press, through to the first promotional quote, and finally to the invention of the term ‘blurb’, is a single example of the developing protocols whose origins are hidden under layers of their own history.
Text itself can be seen to follow this pattern. Information is always corrupted in its reproduction; the history of printing is the story of the constant quest to reproduce a text with increased accuracy. Before printing this was notoriously difficult; each new hand compounds earlier errors when manually copying manuscripts. Today archaeologists of information dig through hand-written manuscripts, comparing and contrasting version, weighing up provenance in an attempt to find the most accurate version of the original. This work is called palaeography — the exploration of ancient writing, the search for uncorrupted authenticity.
“Performance Publishing” by Maurice Carlin is an archaeology of printed layers. Like each book it is a work that documents its own history through stratum of data transcribed and transmitted, and notes each error and each change in protocol. Carlin spent the summer of 2013 in a vast warehouse in Salford, England producing a series of prints as part of a public performance. Each print was produced as a relief print of the floor of the warehouse, made by dragging CMYK inks across thick paper laid upon the floor. The process was experimental; early prints started with a few simple layers, whilst later ones took on vivid hues and more complex patterns as Carlin dragged more and more colour over each print.
The result was a process of incremental analogue recording of the warehouse space, with more data produced daily as Carlin started and finished another sheet. When I visited the work, prints fanned out in situ across the warehouse. From the ground, walking over the blanket of prints, each seemed almost random and totally disconnected from its neighbour, as though the experimental technique had disconnected each from the other. From the viewing gallery raised a storey higher, however, the fidelity of the recording was obvious. The patterns and textures of the floor were clearly picked out, not least the lines which crossed the warehouse where one section of the poured concrete floor met another and produced a ridge imperceptible to the eye but clearly highlighted by Carlin’s printing technique. It was a patchwork of data, and whilst the basic analogue printing technique produced a vast amount of errors and visual noise, it was clearly recognisable as a physical recording of the space.
There are some basic truths to palaeography. The more version, the more corruptions. The further you go chronologically from the source, the less accurately data is transmitted. Errors compound. As academics work through texts written and copied before the invention of movable type, they always bear these basic tendencies in mind. The invention of the printing press complicates this, however; errors on earlier editions can be revisited, improved upon. Factual mistakes are corrected; libels erased. The stratum of information and the errors they contain are disturbed. The layers, previously easy to neatly delineate by time, are shaken and intermingled. For future archaeologists of data sifting through these layers in order to make sense of them becomes harder. It was to simplify this job that the protocol of editions became formalised and made concrete in the row of neat numbers that appear on modern colophon.
An example of this can be found in the first copies of Shakespeare’s plays. Cheap bootleg copies of popular works such as Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet were printed and circulated whilst Shakespeare was alive. These were printed as “quartos”: large sheets of paper printed with 8 pages of text, four to a side, then folded, so that they appeared for sale as a four-paged, eight-sided booklet, approximately the size as a modern A4 sheet.
Shakespeare never actually published any of his own work. Elizabethan playwrights were notoriously worried about being published; they made their living from selling their plays to their own company of players. Without copyright protection there was nothing they could do to prevent another company performing their work if they got their hands on a script. They were therefore wary of providing even their own actors with complete copies, instead providing each player only with their part, with the addition of cues.
Shakespeare’s quartos, then, were pirated copies, produced without consent. It is still a matter of dispute just how they were produced; some scholars think they were written from memory by actors looking to boost their paltry wages, whilst others think they were produced by pirates in the audience taking notes in shorthand and reproducing them in long-form for printers at a later date. The arguments for the two positions revolve around the nature and quality of the errors, and whether they indicate flaws in memorial transcription or shorthand transcription.
The definitive version of Shakespeare’s plays weren’t published until the “First Folio”, a collection of 36 plays, seven years after his death, in 1623. There is no extant version of any of Shakespeare’s work in his own hand; not a single line. All we have are layers of printed texts, and even chronology offers little guarantee of accuracy or provenance. The layers sit confused, and littered with the transcription errors of the quartos.
To me Carlin’s prints represent a shorthand version of Hamlet, where the act of transcription is recorded just as strongly as what is being transcribed. Each layer of ink is a layer of data and it would take an archaeologist, or a very particular palaeographer, to pull each compounded flaw from each truthful representation. Only when viewed as a whole do the larger patterns emerge.
This transcript of the space was published online, in the form of a webcam broadcasting the space constantly whilst Carlin worked on the prints. The work became published when it became available en masse, on demand in our web browser. Perhaps this can be seen as an attempt to elide the boundaries between a printed work and a performance on my part, but I felt clearly that it was in the act of publishing that the work became vital. The hazy, fuzzy webcam video was not a broadcast of a performance but a published print in itself, and a new edition of the work was released, with slight improvements and amendments, each time the image refreshed itself.
Available online was a digital bad quarto. The quality of the digitisation of the printed work, like a lot of digitisation of pre-existing publications, was poor; colour reproduced inaccurately and the nuance of the analogue transcription was all but invisible. Layers or error compounded themselves, producing a confused image of the original, but also in the process an exciting attempt to conceptualise the new relationships between digital technology and the act of printing – a series of rich aesthetic misprints and misunderstandings.
This essay was originally produced for Hard Copy, a catalogue to accompany Performance Publishing: Regents Trading Estate, a 3 month performance work by Maurice Carlin, alongside essays by Karen Archey, Joanne McMeil and Danielle Rago.