In ‘The Pale King’ (posthumously published in 2011), David Foster Wallace wrote: ‘This terror of silence with nothing diverting to do. I can’t think anyone really believes that today’s so-called “information society” is just about information. Everyone knows it’s about something else, way down.’ Today, this silence more often than not is frequently interrupted by hortatory slogans and demands for participation: ‘Do you participate? If not, why not? You should get involved, make a contribution, let them know what you think. Be part of something! It’ll be collaborative and democratic. And fun, too!’ Taking the recent publication of Claire Bishop’s ‘Artificial Hells: Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship’ (Verso 2012) as his starting point, reviewer Richard Martin discusses the historical shifts in the participatory dimension of modern art. Whereas in the early decades of the 20th century participation was inextricably linked with political commitment — not always for the better — contemporary participatory art often involves little risk and few dangers.
Both a guide to, and a literary ‘amplification’ of, Andrei Tarkovsky’s 1979 ‘Stalker’, Geoff Dyer’s ‘Zona’ is quite literally — as the subtitle puts it — ‘A Book About a Film About a Journey to a Room’. Just as in the movie a man named Stalker guides a writer and a scientist through ‘the Zone’ — an apocalyptic wilderness supposedly endowed with supernatural qualities — so Dyer leads the reader to questions at the limits of meaning. In doing so, writes reviewer Thorsten Botz-Bornstein, Dyer is not so much practising philosophy, but is pursuing a line of questioning that might be called ‘literary anthropology’. Dyer’s ruminations on Tarkovsky’s sense of place, his retelling of the film with all its décor, colors, flickering lights, noises and smells, all bring the reader closer to the metaphysical meaning of the film — its distinctly post-secularist intermingling of despair and hope.
In the spring of 2007, Michael Schindhelm, the luckless former director of the Berlin Opera Foundation, left the German capital for better shores. As the newly appointed Cultural Director of Dubai’s Culture and Arts Authority, he had high hopes — as well as seemingly unlimited resources. His goal was to construct an exquisite cultural landscape, complete with an opera house and a Museum of World Cultures. Then came the financial crash, and arts and culture were no longer a priority. In his book ‘Dubai Speed’, Schindhelm chronicles his experiences in a city that embodies “not merely a race against time, but an objection to time itself”. While there is much narcissistic navel-gazing in Schindhelm’s book, reviewer Christiane Peitz still finds that, through Schindhelm’s gaze, the scintillating bubble that is Dubai becomes a bizarre reflection of modernity itself.
German filmmaker Werner Herzog — this year’s President of the International Jury at the Berlin International Film Festival 2010 — has long been as famous for his statements about film and culture as he has been for his actual movies. In his book ‘Conquest of the Useless: Reflections from the Making of Fitzcarraldo’, Herzog chronicles his experiences between 1979 to 1981 while shooting (or, more often, waiting to shoot) his acclaimed film about a bombastic anti-hero in the Brazilian jungle. The journal form, writes reviewer Laura Kolbe, may well be the genre to which his writing is best suited: it provides an inherent structure, in which seasons change, personalities clash and reconcile and clash again, and budgets dwindle.
After a much publicised boom in the 1990s, Berlin’s club culture has received comparatively little attention in recent years. However, as reviewer Norbert Niclauss writes, a new book by Tobias Rapp (“Lost and Sound”, Suhrkamp, Frankfurt 2009) shows that, despite its reduced ‘surface visibility’, the culture of techno music in Berlin is alive and well. Indeed, Niclauss argues, Rapp’s book should not only be of interest to aficionados of techno music, but also to cultural policy-makers, since the current flourishing of medium-sized clubs and venues can only be understood against the backdrop of the wholesale failure of earlier urban redevelopment efforts.