Thomas Keymer on Autobiography

Thomas De Quincey invited comparison with Rousseau in Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, but relinquished Rousseau’s sense of personal control. The opium becomes a rival protagonist of his story, almost at times a rival author. It strips away the ‘veil between our present consciousness and the secret inscriptions on the mind’ and opens the narrative, in proto-psychoanalytic ways, to dream and unreason. De Quincey sees how strange it is to use an inherited literary model to express one’s own uniqueness, and at one point wonders if he might not in fact be ‘counterfeiting my own self’… Influential accounts of the genre like Laura Marcus’s Auto/biographical Discourses (1994) have emphasised the way identity seemed to fracture in literary modernism. Katherine Mansfield’s scepticism about ‘our persistent yet mysterious belief in a self which is continuous and permanent’; Louis MacNeice’s wry sense that ‘as far as I can make out, I not only have many different selves, but I am often, as they say, not myself at all.’ In Virginia Woolf’s remarkable ‘A Sketch of the Past’, drafted as she wrote her biography of Roger Fry, the gap between narrating and narrated selves – ‘the two people, I now, I then’ – proves recalcitrant and persistent, refusing to close. In any case, the self Woolf sought to document was not so much subject as object: not a self-determining agent but ‘the person to whom things happen’, acted on by immense, inscrutable social forces. To consider these forces, their power and their invisibility, is to realise ‘how futile life-writing becomes’, Woolf writes: ‘I see myself as a fish in a stream; deflected; held in place; but cannot describe the stream.’

Paul Goldberger quotes Peter Eisenman in a discussion of House VI, published in The New York Times Magazine, March 20, 1977.

…the house is not an object in the traditional sense–that is, the end result of a process–but more accurately the record of a process. The house, like the set of diagrammed transformations on which its design is based, is a series of film stills compressed in time and space. Thus, the process itself becomes an object; but not an object as an aesthetic experience or as a series of iconic meanings. Rather, it becomes an exploration of the range of potential manipulations latent in the nature of architecture, unavailable to our consciousness because they are obscured by cultural preconceptions.

An interview with Jay Osgerby

Fabrication of the prototype for the London 2012 Olympic torch, designed by Barber & Osgerby.

… I was tickled by a story – the narrative that emerged out your design for the London 2012 Olympic torch’s patterning. It had these perforations that served functional purposes for weather proofing but also happened to echo the Olympic rings – it was a back-story, or rather a back-etymology for the project.

Yes, exactly.

And everyone, it seems, is talking about “storytelling,” but oftentimes it’s a “just-so” story.

An afterthought. Or a post-rationalization.

But there’s value in that as well?

Of course. Because if you’re talking to non-designers, it can be helpful. Maybe as a designer you don’t need a story, or that kind of story. You know what the story is: we chose these materials and then had to do this. But the other kind of story is so much more relevant to non-designers.

So if you present the Olympic torch and say, Look: there you are. That’s it. They might go, Well… it’s gold, it looks like a fucking cheese-grater. What is it? But if you say, It’s gold because gold is the color of attainment, and this is everyone’s moment to shine. And it’s a tensile thing because we want it to be a baton and not a trophy, and it has these holes in it because every perforation represents a runner, and a mile. Then it’s great. It’s all high-fives all around.


And if you can find those narratives, it’s important. Stories are great, because you get a lot from them, too. But storytelling is not fundamental to the design process. I think maybe drawing is.

Gucci Man

Later, “these trousers”

Newman’s immensely enjoyable book ranges from the 19th century to the present and rearranges the literary canon with abandon to illuminating and sometimes comic effect. Organised like an extended magazine feature it has sections on ‘Signature Looks’, which include ‘Glasses’, ‘Hats’ and ‘Suits’, the latter bringing Gay Talese and T.S. Eliot into unlikely proximity. There are also pull quotes with such fun facts as that Jacqueline Susann’s ambition as a schoolgirl ‘was to own a mink coat’, and in the early 1970s Samuel Beckett used a ‘now classic leather Gucci hobo holdall as his day-to-day man bag’. Beckett, Newman suggests, would have been an ideal model for Comme des Garçons and with that thought in mind a photograph of him gazing out in moody monochrome looks for a moment like a page from a Toast catalogue.

The juxtapositions are playful but not trivial. The relationship between the work and the clothes is discussed but not laboured. Unsurprisingly, perhaps, the women and the gay men make the most interesting studies. Simone de Beauvoir, whose silk dresses, turbans and perfect manicures bore witness to her willingness to undertake what she called ‘the work’ of fashion, says in The Second Sex: ‘dressing up is … a uniform and an adornment; by means of it the woman who is deprived of doing anything feels that she expresses what she is.’ Sartre, wearing a suit on the beach at Copacabana, looks dreary beside her. John Updike in his dull dad jumper feels like a token inclusion, Hunter S. Thompson naturally stands out. His Hawaiian shirts and safari suits became so recognisable that Gary Trudeau turned him into the demonic Uncle Duke of Doonsbury, much to Thompson’s chagrin. As he said, ‘nobody wants to grow up to be a cartoon character.’ On the whole, though, it is those writers who saw the potential of clothes to create an identity and visibility that society would conventionally deny them that are the most revealing. This was the impulse that propelled Quentin Crisp, ‘blind with mascara and dumb with lipstick’, through the ‘dim streets of Pimlico’. ‘Sometimes I wore a fringe so deep that it completely obscured the way ahead,’ he recalls. ‘This hardly mattered. There were always others to look where I was going.’ Edith Sitwell’s huge jewellery and flowing robes, which gave her the appearance of ‘a high altar on the move’, were also the result of a desire to turn the tables on the world. Made to feel self-conscious about her appearance as a child, as an adult she ensured that everyone else should be conscious of it too.

Michael Penn, “No Myth” (1989)

Walking in Memphis

Fiorucci, 1984. Via It’s Nice That.

This essay was originally published in the inaugural issue of August Journal as “Learning from Milan.”

In the eleventh grade, at a small Quaker school in Durham, North Carolina, I wrote a history paper about Memphis. Not the city some ten hours away, but the seven-year-old Italian design movement known for its subversive combination of plastic laminate, abstract pattern, and totemic shapes. The cover of my report was blue, and on it I attempted my own hand-lettered version of a jazzed Memphis typeface. Its contents have since been lost to history, as has my teacher’s reaction to the celebration of plastic, color and artificiality at a school where the wind whistled between the vertical siding and, when the wood stove proved inadequate, we just wore our coats inside. Style was not one of the virtues taught here—critical thinking was—and yet a previous generation of upper schoolers had included a boy who thought he was David Bowie, and one of my lunch companions dressed as if she were about to appear in a Guns N’ Roses video.

I repost all FOOD-related content but this may have been my scan originally

An advertisement for FOOD, the artist-run restaurant in SoHo, featuring Carol Goodden’s dog, Glaza, in Avalanche, issue no. 5, summer 1972.

Gina Telaroli on Twin Peaks, 2017

In the 1970s, the experimental filmmaker Gregory Markopoulos wrote a piece called “Complete Order of the Temenos.” In the years that followed, he began to take all of his previously made films and tear them apart frame by frame, taking the pieces and parts — along with newly shot footage and black and white leader — to create what would be his final project, ENIAIOS. The career-spanning contents of the film were combined and alternated to form an epic flicker film encompassing a lifetime of materials and ideas. The project, an eighty-hour cycle of films, was completed but not printed for screening when Markopoulos died in 1992. The terms of his magnum opus did not end there, though. ENIAIOS was specifically designed to be screened only in the Temenos, a field near the village of Lyssaraia where his father was born in Greece. Since Markopoulos’s death, his partner Robert Beavers has somewhat miraculously screened a few cycles at the sacred space every 4 years. It has become a pilgrimage of sorts for interested viewers. In between viewings, he raises money and elicits help from interested people to splice and print the necessary cycles.

Duration is key to the singular experience as the length of the cycle (usually in the neighborhood of 3 hours) and the amount of time you can look at one image or scene (mere seconds), create a transfixing reality that feels unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. The rhythm of your body seems to change as time loses its usually too well known meaning. There is no soundtrack save the sound of the projector and the nearby cicadas.

Storage boxes arranged and labeled by Girard. Photo: Andreas Sutterlin/Alexander Girard Estate, Vitra Design Museum.