Notebook on Cities and Culture
(Formerly The Marketplace of Ideas.) Colin Marshall sits down for in-depth conversations with cultural creators, internationalists, and observers of the urban scene all around Los Angeles and beyond.
S3E12: Freaks and Outcasts with Kevin Smokler

Colin Marshall sits down in Westwood, Los Angeles with Kevin Smokler, author of Practical Classics: 50 Reasons to Reread 50 Books You Haven't Touched Since High School. They discuss what makes him think of Holden Caulfield as a Bing user; why we study novels in high school at all, and what it might have to do with Renaissance classics scholarship; how we got turned off to these books the first time around, and the radical notion that we now have time to properly absorb them; his hymn to his obnoxious teenage self, when he felt he possessed many abilities, yet none worked in concert with one another, and all lacked context; how these curricular books interact with the teenage impulse to rail at unfairness; whether Jane Austen represents the triumph of content over form or form over content; what, exactly, is the matter with The Scarlet Letter; David Foster Wallace's notion of challenging the reader in the act of seduction; books now fashionably disliked, such as A Separate Peace; our onetime love of Dead White Males, our swing too far away from them in the early nineties, and the ambiguous DWM-relative position in which we now find ourselves; how he earned a lasting reputation at his high school for deeming Shakespeare "trite"; those moments where the necessary context for a work floods in all at once; The Day of the Locust, and how he read it only after coming to Los Angeles at 19 to supplicate before the altar of cinema; high school readers' tendency to gravitate to the freaks and the outcasts, and whether his home city of San Francisco still welcomes such people; Rebecca Solnit's lament over Google, and how the city's future belongs to them rather than to the Grateful Dead; the life of a coffee-shop based San Francisco writer; and his next book, on music, which will go looking for a universal cultural experience in the particulars of his own adolescence.

Direct download: NCC_S3E12_Kevin_Smokler.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 11:07pm UTC

S3E11: Sad Characters with Clive Piercy

Colin Marshall sits down in Santa Monica with Clive Piercy, founder and principal of design studio air-conditioned and author of the photo book Pretty Vacant, an appreciation of Los Angeles "dingbat" apartments. They discuss Reyner Banham's enduring definition of the dingbat; his time growing up in England enamored with American culture, and his surprise to find Los Angeles existed in color; the glory of freeways and the guilt of driving them, and the sense of failed utopia they share with dingbat buildings; how dingbats crept into his Los Angeles photography jaunts, shaped by his love of Ed Ruscha's paintings, and what happened when his fellow immigrants living in them came out to confront him; how his countryman Martin Parr perfectly captures the blandness of modern architectural wonders; his countrywoman Frances Anderton and their separate flights from the crushing burden of history; the cars parked under dingbats, and their saddening cheapness that resonates with the saddening cheapness of the home itself; inherent British negativity versus inherent American positivity; his participation in the aesthetics of eighties Los Angeles, the redesign of the Shangri-La hotel, and the newspaper coverage of the 1984 Olympics; how the mini-mall co-opted postmodernism, getting the proportions all wrong in the process; Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles, which brought Banham and Ruscha together; Clive James and Ian Nairn's writing on cities, which honor the high and the low together; how neither graphic design nor Los Angeles needs you, and how that's the appeal; the current availability of all aesthetics, and his students' tendency not to discriminate between them and focus on brands instead; and whether he's been able to get any of these internet-savvy kids, usually from Asia and indifferent to Los Angeles, excited about dingbats.

Direct download: NCC_S3E11_Clive_Piercy.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 11:38pm UTC

S3E10: Trouble Sparks Creativity with Christopher Stephens

 Colin Marshall sits down in Nishinomiya, Japan with translator, writer, and former Kansai Time Out editor Christopher Stephens. They discuss whether higher Japanese skills get a foreigner more suspicion; the nearby presence and touristic effects of novelist Haruki Murakami's elementary school; the older writers, like Yasunari Kawabata, Junichiro Tanizaki, and Yukio Mishima, who stoked his interest in Japan; the experimental music to be found in Japan, such as the work of Keiji Haino and the Boredoms, and specifically in the Kansai noise scene; the Osaka duality between money-making hard workers and underground weirdness; the local pride taken in relative roughness and unrefinement, and the stereotype of the bad Osakan; what actually distinguishes the Osaka dialect, and how entirely different words might see use in one city but not its neighbor; Japan's visual culture, and the problematic emphasis on beauty that can ensue; his youth in Fresno, California, whose finest quality was the way it pushed him out; the time he took Wilco to an Osaka psychedelic sixties rock bar; how, when the Japanese open a psychedelic sixties rock bar, they really open a psychedelic sixties rock bar; his early struggles with regional backwardness in the eighties, and what happens when Japanese friends still ask him to hold their babies; Osaka's high crime rate for Japan and Fresno's high crime rate for California; whether Paris syndrome actually afflicts the Japanese; the West's eagerness to believe everything they hear about Japan; photographer Kyoichi Tsuzuki's purchase of the entire collection of Toba's science-fiction erotic museum; the cannaboid substance known as "herb" that recently made the rounds in Japan; the persistence of visual art in Japan which goes well beyond Takashi Murakami, and his own specialty, the Gutai group of painters; why no Japanese person has yet appeared on this show, and what linguistic reasons might explain it; the corrections Japanese people make to his English; his work editing Kansai Time Out during the heyday of its breed of publication; Japan's relatively robust print culture, at least by contrast to America's; how little time translation leaves to learn new words or savor the language; and, despite the world's having lost confidence in Japan, his theory that darkness always brings light, and that trouble sparks creativity.

Direct download: NCC_S3E10_Christopher_Stephens.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 10:54pm UTC

S3E9: The Poet's Peak with Stephen Gill

Colin Marshall sits down overlooking greater Kyoto on Mt. Ogura with Stephen Gill, poet, BBC radio scriptwriter, and executive director of People Together for Mt. Ogura. They discuss the mountain's place in a traditional Japanese poetry card game; how, after scores of Japanese noticed in it an opportunity for free trash disposal, the mountain generated the headline "Ogurayama, gomi no yama" (Mt. Ogura, Mountain of Trash); the compilation of a collection about Mt. Ogura featuring verse by one hundred different poets; the onset of sightseeing season, which mostly brings visitors to the neighboring Mt. Arashiyama; the rich literary heritage of this now-suburban area, which even offers real locations from The Tale of Genji; the modern development of Kyoto, whose tower blocks at least cast into relief its more historical elements in the "glorious chaos" mixture well known to Asia; his three stretches in Japan, and the constant visits to the doctor his early acclimatization required; how he makes radio programs about Japan, always beginning with an image and then crafting a broadcast around it; how he only learned about his native Britain by living abroad, and what a foreign poet can offer Japan by way of a helpful thorn in the side; his view of Kyoto as a vast intermeshing of systems, which once there tend to last a hundred, or even five hundred years; what could possibly "shake up" Kyoto short of actual destruction; and what it means for him to "tune in" to a place like this. He also reads haiku poems, both his own and those by other People Together for Mt. Ogura participants.

Direct download: NCC_S3E9_Stephen_Gill_revised.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 2:27am UTC

S3E8: Pyongyang Style with Rob Montz

Colin Marshall sits down in Los Angeles' Koreatown with filmmaker Rob Montz, director of Juche Strong, a short documentary about North Korea and its propaganda. They discuss reaching the same age as Kim Jong-un without a hermit kingdom to rule; the question of why North Koreans continue to believe in their state, despite having good reason not to; his early fascination with North Korea's World Cup showing, and how pursuing that fascination led him from standard opinions on the country to newer, more interesting ones; his realization that North Korean ideology comes built upon the same basic structures of psychological truth that any of us have; his interviewing of experts on North Korea, and their disagreements about the nature of the Juche idea; his trip to Pyongyang, and how it didn't require him to hide underwater from North Korean commandos, breathing through a reed; the state's aspirations to totalitarian watchfulness, and how incompetence shatters that image right at the airport; the boredom a visitor to North Korea endures, and how that boredom differs from the boredom we experience in the developed world, where we've mostly cured it; the nihilism that sets upon a mind deprived of the ability to autonomously create meaning and provide purpose; how life in the constant American stimulation stream may render you more vulnerable to boredom when you momentarily step out of it; how many pleasures a people will willingly forego if they're given a larger sense of purpose and community, and how we know the North Korean government knows this; what North and South Korea still have ideologically in common, though the South chose the means of ideological expression that let its people get fed; Confucian values on both sides of the DMZ, and how they even manifest in the strange filial piety of East Asian friends; his extension of the examination of North Korean-style propaganda to United States politics, and especially the ceaseless repetition of the phrase "God bless America" therein; of Washington, D.C., where homosexual atheist political operatives instruct Republican politicians to insist  upon the divine ordainment of American exceptionalism an inveigh against the "gay menace"; and how you can help fund the completion of Juche Strong on Indie Go Go (not to mention the clam-roasting footage you can get for doing so).

Direct download: NCC_S3E8_Rob_Montz.mp3
Category:podcasts -- posted at: 8:58pm UTC