Culture

Gwent’s Non-Places

The toponyms of a region contain within them much more than a mere etymology: they also form a system of signs, a web of interconnected meanings through which we can chart societal processes.

Covid realism and the spectacle of death

I noted while walking the streets this Halloween that the collective totems of horror and fear no longer primarily invoke the supernatural, but adopt an altogether more corporeal form.

The reification of Welsh rugby

International rugby may soon disappear from free-to-air television. This has obviously created a degree of collective consternation about the implication for Welsh mass culture, and rugby’s apparently totemic place within it.

Chartists in the Newport Afterlife

To live and grow up in Newport is to be irrevocably intertwined with the historical forces that built this city. Symbols of the past are etched into the landscape: what we might call our ‘industrial heritage’ is all around us. But these totems are not fossilised relics, and they’re not engaged with passively: they’re the milieu of our everyday life.

From the Archive: Poetry Wales Winter 1968

It is as clear now as 50 years ago: Welsh literature of any mode will never attain any cultural capital within the wider UK. There is, however, an ironic power in this. While the fragility of a culture under perennial threat is obvious to anyone invested in it, that it holds no value for a wider hegemonic literary culture is the very element which makes it so vital.

Democratising the Welsh alternative media

Before we start, let us accept a basic truth: there is nothing inherently Welsh about the Welsh media, and there is no such thing as a Welsh public sphere. This is, evidently, a gravely unhealthy situation for the rump democracy that is the devolved Welsh state.

Netflix’s ‘Sex Education’ is an accidental elegy for post-industrial Wales

Watching Netflix’s new ‘British’ teen comedy-drama Sex Education, viewers in Wales – and especially Newport – may well be struck with a sense of melancholic uncanniness, of ‘a time that is out of joint’. For despite the shows liberatory and groundbreaking depiction of teenage sexuality, Sex Education is haunted by a Welsh culture and politics that has either died or never was, and whose presence is felt by its absence.

Y cyfryngau amgen: ceffyl pren Troea?

Waeth i ni gydnabod un gwirionedd sylfaenol ar y dechrau un: nid oes unrhyw beth cynhenid Gymreig am y cyfryngau cyfrwng Saesneg yng Nghymru ac ni cheir ychwaith y fath beth â chyhoeddfan neu fywyd cyhoeddus penodol Gymreig trwy gyfrwng y Saesneg. Mae hon yn sefyllfa ddifrifol ar gyfer y gweddillion democrataidd a adwaenwn fel y wladwriaeth Gymreig.

History as precarity

There’s a curious passage towards the end of the first episode of The Dragon Has Two Tongues, an oddly-structured 1985 documentary that tells the history of Wales through the bickering of historian Gwyn Alf Williams and liberal broadcaster Wynford Vaughan-Thomas. Having spent the entire episode hitherto articulating their own visions of a Welsh historiography, the two finally meet face-to-face to state their respective cases as to how the history of the people of Wales can be conceptualised.

The future is asemic

The most pressing issue of alternative politics today is how to establish even the possibility of conceptualising (and later actualising) a different way of organising society. When neoliberal capitalism has successfully assimilated into itself all means of cultural production, it becomes almost futile to articulate an alternative.

Politics and art in a post-factual age

This is, we are told, a ‘post-factual age’. The EU referendum has seen myth collide with fact, and myth has won to devastating effect. It has been said that the UK has ‘had enough of experts’, and such a situation has proven to be fertile ground for a politics based on untruth.

Abstraction and intertextuality in William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops

This link between the work and the events of September 11 has led to The Disintegration Loops being ‘canonised’ as a major artistic response to the disaster. However, the convoluted compositional process of the work, along with its inherent abstraction, raises questions regarding to what extent The Disintegration Loops can be said to be ‘about’ the events of September 11.

On Charlie Hebdo and the function of art

In the wake of Wednesday’s attack on the office of Paris-based satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, people appear to be clamouring, seemingly above all else, for an artistic response to the events. Beyond the rolling news, the newspaper front pages, the opinion pieces, it is art that people are turning to, talking about and sharing with one another.

The Avicii industry

The recent trend for EDM/’American roots music’ crossovers contains some of the most unreal, aesthetic-as-commodity, artistically (morally?) bankrupt music I’ve ever heard, and is proof, if nothing else, that the culture industry is alive and well in the twenty-first century.

Dylan Thomas and the search for ‘lost Welshness’

To mark the 100-year anniversary of Dylan Thomas’ birth, Wales has been gripped with an attempt to align the poet’s life and work with the country of his birth. Yet the tying of Thomas to Wales and its national and cultural identity doesn’t quite work here, and belies a quiet desperation to inject a dose of nationalism into a subject that doesn’t quite warrant it.

Assemblage in contemporary British poetry

The act of assemblage, of composition through unifying disparate elements of pre-existing texts, takes many forms in contemporary British poetry, and is utilised to various ends. However, despite the multifarious ways in which this aesthetic manifests itself, there are two overriding functions that assemblage performs: firstly it challenges pre-conceived notions of poetic form and extends the ways in which a text can generate meaning, and secondly it uses this formal and linguistic experimentation to exhibit a certain postmodern malaise in contemporary culture.

Rethinking retromania: temporality and creativity in contemporary popular music

The overriding thesis of ‘retromania’ critique is that recent technological and cultural circumstances have led to something of a regression in the creative impulses of musicians, leading to a lack of innovative styles and an overreliance on pre-existing forms as the inspiration for ‘new works’.

Commodification and popular culture

In order to fully understand the extent to which popular culture today is commodified in comparison to previous eras it is essential to recognise the various developments of capital not as distinct phenomena, but as part of a continual process of accumulation, expansion and consequent abstraction.

John Lewis, art and advertising

With the recent hype surrounding the latest batch of Christmas-themed TV adverts, it is notable how their reception appears to have displaced ‘proper’ art. I have witnessed, on social media and elsewhere, more excitement, anticipation and discussion regarding these adverts (particularly the ubiquitous offering from John Lewis) than I have any film, TV show or song in recent memory.

Spectatorship, accelerationism and art’s critical potential

To gain an understanding of the way in which art can itself be an agent of cultural critique it is vital to explore the true nature of spectatorship, how this relates to the production and reception of meaning in art and, ultimately, how a lucid understanding of these two issues contribute to a recognition of art’s actual critical capacity.

In defence of ‘pastiche’ and ‘retromania’ (or, creativity in the time of YOLO)

I’ve been intending to write about vaporwave for some time, but I’m glad I have refrained from doing so until now, as two pieces I’ve recently read have led me to completely reassess my thoughts on the genre, and by extension what I believe to be the misunderstood role of what is commonly identified as pastiche and retromanic tendencies in modern music.

The hyperreality of tourism

Tourism, in its essence, is the process of attempting to reconcile fantasy with ‘reality’. One becomes a tourist through presupposing what a certain location might be like to see or experience, and then visiting there in the hope that this fantasy is accurate. As with all fantasy, however, a place in actuality will never compare to a place as imagined through convoluted, mythologised sources – be they films set in that location, poetry proclaiming its beauty, even (or especially, perhaps) the brochures designed purely to get you to go there in the first place.

Form in postmodern English literature

There seems in the literature of the post-War period a certain preoccupation with the limitations that literary forms have to a pertinent expression of the issues that artists concern themselves with, particularly in the wake of the turbulence and fragmentation of ideals that have arisen in the period from the Second World War to the Present Day.

Hope and despair in modern European literature

We can see in the work of Franz Kafka and Albert Camus a certain preoccupation with issues surrounding death, mortality and the apparent meaninglessness of life.

The sublime and Giacomo Balla’s Abstract Speed – The Car Has Passed (1913)

Giacomo Balla (1871-1978) was an Italian artist and a key figure in the development of Futurism, an early 20th century art movement which centred around a rejection of the past and an embracement of what the Futurists saw as issues representative of the age in which they live, namely advances in technology, industry and science, and also the recognition of the importance of progress breaking free from the anchor of tradition.

Four instances of the sublime in music

Possibly more than any other form of art, it is music that lends itself most often and most effectively to feelings of the sublime. This is perhaps because music, unlike visual art, and certainly unlike literature, is abstract in its very essence.

Authorship and creativity

Though Ferdinand de Saussure’s semiotic theories primarily constitute an analysis of language, its overriding principles can also be applied to the analysis of literature. Saussure’s desire to quantify linguistic study into something empirical, systematic and scientific highlights the ultimately methodical nature of speech and the construction of language.