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The Last Conceptualist.

Terry dogImage 1
Context
by John Timberlake

Terry Atkinson: an Eight Piece Retrospective
is at Norwich Gallery until 29.4.96 and will be touring

Chris Marker's brilliant film "The Last Bolshevik" is available on Connoisseur Video

Depleted uranium is available from most fast breeder reactors

Image 1:
Terry Atkinson
Swimming Bath Green "Terry Dog" Enola Gay Signiture Mute
Acrylic an vinyl on board
1993
Courtesy the artist.

Happy Snap: "when I started the Trotsky postcards I knew Derrida had done a book called La Carte Postale... but it was in French. I can read French but it's a highly laborious task... but some of the coincidences between La cart Postale and the Trotsky postcards would constitute a complete rereading of the work..."
When the tape stopped, you talked on about Ireland, then ran me back to the station.
"Take care John - keep organising" you said, and slammed the car door. You said you'd ring Mike and fix up an incident for my own index, and I walked onto the platform with a mouth as dry as a hostage. That was summer 1989, just before the reports of the death of socialism. were greatly exaggerated.

History snap: Marx and Engels, out on the piss one night in London, got into an argument with a pub landlord about the superiority of German culture. This is true. Marx got so angry that after Engels had dragged him outside he grabbed a brick and threw it at the window.

(History, snapping: It's about four years later, and there's a large white room with a massive pile of dead dogs in it. Underneath the heap, someone is mumbling, as another with a rather bouffant Hair-do-paces around it...
"Is that you, Carlyle ?"
"No. Is that Cromwell ?"
"No. Who's that ?"
"Derrida."
"Der Reader ?"
"No, Derrida. "
"That's what I said."
"You're Marx aren't you?"
"Yes. How do you know ?"
"I kept missing you."
"In what sense ?"
"Never mind...... I've got to drag you out from under all this..."
"You'll have to be determined. "
"At some level yes, but I do have a relative autonomy."
Cautiously he takes hold of the putrefying paw. It moves. Blinking, a thousand red eyes glow, spectrally. He gulps, then grits his teeth and tightens his grip, remembering that spectrality signals immateriality.)

Mute: In a silent moment he wondered where the Marxist aesthetic of fragments began. Not with any simplistic notion of an inverted Hegelian dialectic, but a profound dissatisfaction with it, and the careful remembering that every theory is a "less than"... perhaps with Capital itself, that bit of the Grundrisse given material form, ha ha. Or perhaps with that beautiful last unfinished chapter of State and Revolution, the one where Lenin breaks off because he had to get on with October ("...Such an interruption can only be welcomed" he smugly opines). And then of course, he can always conjure up a silent, flickering sequence of Benjamin's spilled suitcase, its papers blowing in the breeze across the Franco Spanish border; he'd seen "One Way Street". He bit his lip. A predilection for fragments connotes a fascination with sharp edges, with splinters that cut. Well, Bolsheviks knew all about that. If Stalin was a Bonaparte, then they were proletarian Jacobins. Sharp-edged indeed, to edit Trotsky's film of history. He remembered a night in Somogy country, south-west Hungary, three of four years before the film had wound back completely, watching thunderless summer lightening, and thinking how like a film it was, played out over the fields and factories of Europe. And both of them, he and the girl he fancied, could spot occasional landmarks. At the time, of course, that darkening plain only reminded him of Matthew Arnold and his own school, not the Frankfurt one. She, of course, he now has learned, was a pre-eminent condition against the realisation of his desire to see her as in love with him. And that cut too. Like the shards of a window, smashed, or perhaps blown out by de-pressurisation.
After Parsons had armed it and the bomb bay doors were open, it's said that one of the other crew members pulled his goggles on and tightened his oxygen mask, fearing the blast might blow out the windows. Ferebee, Tibbets and the others were more confident, apparently. Forty five thousand feet and a sharp turning dive to get away from it must make your perspective slightly different from the Renaissance porthole. Presumably the tail gunner's seat had the best view, looking back, there in the distance. The best (or rather the worst) photo is the one taken by the Japanese school boy with his box camera, showing a funny shaped cloud rising away in the distance, from his back garden beyond the trees. What an amateur. And there the plane is, tidy and distant, botching up the pristine (cockpit window shaped) surface that flags up Major Moments as well as General Groves. Ham sandwiches and a flask of coffee really was the food of the gods, that is, at least when it's Shiva, and he's dancing. You should have served them at the private view: we could have chomped and sipped and chatted, like they did on the flight from Tinian.
But uranium isn't what it used to be, and there's the rub. Forget Alamorgordo; now it's depleted and lies in the deserts of Iraq and Kuwait: 300,000 kilograms of it, apparently, spent allied anti tank shells from a war fought by a generation too young to remember Vietnam.
If you want the hot history T J Clark talked about, mothball the B 29 and show us a Stealth jet dropping a smart bomb. And the school children were Arabic.

History snapped: Don't cut us off, or fail to link your narrative with ours. The 60's probably were interesting. I don't know, I wasn't there. But again, remember carefully, selectively. There are socially grounded analyses that are now just as shiny surfaced as any formalist account. Nostalgia is the beer and sandwiches of the cultural social contract, and there's no point yet another distinguished gent covering his nakedness with the extollation of a decade long gone before going into the conference chamber. Better to strip bare the fractures and seek out the points of division. You've done it before. Krupskaya said Lenin got bored of conversations where everyone agreed. There still is an angry politics, albeit with a sometimes displaced lexicon; on demonstrations now they shout "Fertiliser" at the riot cops - this is the eco-friendly '90s after all. But it isn't just for veal crates that people get arrested.
Grease, and a taste for the margins of social life:
He remembered a steward remonstrating in the side streets near Brick Lane; "Don't waste time running scraps with the police: the object's to get through their lines and get at the fascists.." At Welling that May there had been builders, UCAAT members, wearing hard hats and carrying staves. Likewise in Brussels before that, marching against the Vlaamsblok. Chafing plastic Quick-Cuffs, hours in the cells, sections (3) and (4) of the Public Order Act. "Something to be proud of" said a friend in the pub, quaffing Becks. Even one of the coppers said that, when he was taking the prints.

Happiness, snapped: Dave Beech said at the private view that when he thought of you and Art & Language he felt like a kid going through a divorce. My family stayed together, but I imagine he's right. We're all from a broken home. "Intelligent lads like you getting into this", says the curatorial old Bill, shaking his head, "I blame the avowed intellectual parents".

© John Timberlake 1996elogo

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