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Local man isn't - click opera
February 2010
 
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Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 06:22 am
Local man isn't

Yesterday's complaint about cell phones was, to some extent, a complaint about the whole idea of being local. I confessed that I'd gotten my life somewhat out of kilter, skewed everything towards the global. This raises an interesting question: is it possible to be a "failed local"? If I were to appear in The Onion, would the article be headlined Local Man Isn't?



What is a "failed local"? Well, it might be someone who never talks to his neighbours, someone who doesn't really have local ties. A man who has no job in the area he lives in, no child to pick up from school. A man who prefers to live with other "failed locals" or poor cosmopolitans like himself -- Turks and Japanese, perhaps. A man with a laptop constantly connected to the internet, but no cell phone. A man who travels, but doesn't vote.

The archetype is familiar from literature. Our fellow is the man in the spooky children's poem:

As I was walking up the stair,
I met a man who wasn't there.
He wasn't there again today.
I wish, I wish, he'd go away.

Or he's a scholar from the Academy of Lagado in Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels". The professors of the flying island of Laputa walk around wrapped so deep in cloudy theories that attendants have to flap an inflated bladder into their faces periodically, rousing them to pay salutary, cursory attention to their surroundings.

Eating is the main thing that connects such a man to the city he lives in. Yesterday, ignoring the community centre next door, I made my way for lunch to Smart Deli, a Japanese cafe where I can read the latest issue of fashion magazine Fudge and watch tapes of Japanese TV while scoffing down salmon teriyaki. I like watching the TV there because it's "international TV". And yet if I'm in Japan exactly the same TV feels "domestic", and I avoid it. (What's more, you really only get teriyaki sauce on salmon outside of Japan. It's "export cuisine".)



Cycling home, our Laputan began to question how unusual his sense of removal really is. After all, he lives in a city with a peculiar history. West Berlin, once upon a time, was the "city that refused to be local". Located in East Germany, it nevertheless proclaimed an affinity with a different state far away to the West. Now the areas of the city our detached hero visits are as detached as he is; divided between a transient population of young creatives from all over the world, and "guest workers" from Turkey.

But it isn't just immigrants he feels affinity with. It's lodgers, people who rent rather than buying, people who stay foreign. But also, it's attractive women walking alone on the street. They too seem detached from the local, unwilling to meet a stranger's eye. It's not safe.

"Be here now", rockist hippies used to say. Reality was "the street". (There's some of this argument in my piece about cell phones: why aren't people on the bus actually talking to other people physically there on the bus with them?) "If you don't make eye contact walking on the street, you're one of them and you are safe, sleeping down the street," The Slits used to sing. But in another song Ari Up complained about the fellow on the underground train who "thinks if he asks you might". You don't necessarily want to be here, now with just anyone. Sometimes a lady needs some disconnect.

What's more, as Gertrude Stein famously observed of Oakland, sometimes "there's no there there". There are whole neighbourhoods (suburbs in particular) which are "utopian" in the sense that they are built to be "no places", to be "elsewheres". To live in them fully would be to let an emptiness rush into one's soul and define it. No offense to Oakland, but we wouldn't want that.

Instead of letting the banalities (or dangers, or eccentricities, or irrelevancies) of the street fill one's soul, perhaps the best relationship one can have with the local is to take it somewhere else, lift it away from itself by means of travellers' tales, real or invented. That's what I plan to do tonight at Schokoladen, Ackerstrasse 169, when I play a "rare hometown concert". Local Berlin listings magazine Zitty selects the gig as one of the most interesting things happening in the city tonight, commenting:

"This is the tale of an unsung folk hero. The Song of the Scot Momus, who plied his Electronic Folk Music for more than 20 albums on cult labels like 4AD, Creation and Cherry Red. These works not being to everyone's taste, the man was obliged to write pop hits for Japanese singers in order to pay for his life in Berlin. But that can also be completely merry."

It can indeed. If the local fails you, there's always the global. Come fly with me tonight!

42CommentReplyShare

violet_hemlock
violet mendonca
Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 05:35 am (UTC)

strange...I fit a lot of those 'failed local' catagories...by the way, I enjoy all your posts...Hi from San Francisco.


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trini_naenae
trini_naenae
trini_naenae
Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 06:26 am (UTC)

As a global nomad, I relate to this quite a bit. Oddly, I have actually been in one place no without furlows or anything for five years, which is the longest I've been anywhere. It's so odd when I think about it. My family is actually not renting, we've actually gotten quite used to the city and it's weird. Ah well, I'm sure to move sooner or later. The people who I relate to are always changing though. These days, it's my friends that are moving here or away, not me. Odd.

There are benefits to never completely belonging, yes. It really opens the eyes up to different perspectives and ideas, and the differences become less "wrong" and more just "not the way I do it" and sometimes it changes. But sometimes I wish for relationships with more permanance, for being able to really know someone quite well.

I am also someone who really likes the internet, but not cell phones. I finally do have a cell phone, but it doesn't really get any use. My computer on the other hand...


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http://getopenid.com/thompson
http://getopenid.com/thompson
Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 06:59 am (UTC)
Berlin is special that way

You picked a very unique place in Germany when you chose to live in Berlin. It has little of the micro-nationalism that prevails in most smaller German towns, and no other nation would be more local. More than any other people I know, Germans seem extremely connected to their environment, their soil, very reluctant to move. In smaller villages, a person who lives a mile away is considered an outsider and a family who came to a town during a war 200 years ago from another German town may still be refered to as "refugees".
Berlin has none of that and its refreshing disconnectedness deserves a hometown concert, I'd say. See you tonight..... if I can get in, now that you're Tagestipp.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 08:18 am (UTC)
morr pop music

Hmm, Masha Qrella is playing the same night? She's good!


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kineticfactory
kineticfactory
this is not your sawtooth wave
Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 08:31 am (UTC)
A few related phenomena

The phenomenon of "supergentrification" (a rather Momus-esque name) was mentioned in the UK papers a while ago; it is said to be a new form of gentrification in which the affluent move into a neighbourhood isolating themselves from anything going on in it, rather than taking it over; a sort of virtual gated community. It has been observed in two places: a part of New York, and the Caledonian Road area of Islington.

And further down on the socioeconomic ladder, there were warnings that in this day of global communications, immigrants aren't assimilating but instead are remaining in cultural bubbles linked to back home; rather than having to forge new social structures and adopt some of the local ways, they can rely on long-distance social networks, living parallel lives oblivious to any local culture other than the bare necessities (such as how to work or pay for a Tube ticket). They weren't talking about scary enclaves of radicalised Muslims this time but about the numerous Poles and such.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 08:37 am (UTC)
Re: A few related phenomena

Well, I do very much support people's right to do that. I like cultural fusion, but even that does require some irreducibles. For me to make a Thai-Mexican dish, there has to be some constant idea of what both Thai and Mexican cooking are about. Abroad, people both concentrate and dilute their original national identity.


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martylog
martylog
Martin White's Stupid Accordion-Playing Face
Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 09:43 am (UTC)
ganz

It's a very glass-half-full way of translating that last phrase as 'completely merry'. The German word 'ganz' actually means 'quite', and behaves in the same way as the English word 'quite' in that its meaning relies entirely on the way it's spoken out loud.

So if you say, in a forthright, gung-ho way, with your head held high and chest puffed out, "It can be Quite Merry!" you mean it's the merriest thing ever. You could even go as far as saying "It can be quite, QUITE merry!" which is merrier still. Quite here means completely, undeniably.

On the other hand, if you say, rather hesitantly, with a bit of a dubious look on your face, "Well, it can be quite merry," the word quite suddenly loses its impact and sounds very half-hearted, meaning almost the complete opposite.

'Ganz' also means complete, but if a German says 'ganz lustig' with one of those peculiarly German pursed-lip-faces whilst shrugging their shoulders non-commitally, then 'ganz' just means 'sort of'.

You have done well to render the last sentence of that listing with such joie-de-vivre!


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 09:43 am (UTC)

There seems to be two rather contradictory strands to your thinking, Momus. On the one hand, you clearly admire and often write about what you call the 'super-legitimacy' of Japanese society and its paradigm of consensus and social cohesiveness. On the other hand, you live a life that is quite isolated from the country you find yourself in. You don't speak the language, despite living in Germany for several years now, easily enough time to pick up German if you were so minded (so I guess you're not so minded). You don't seem to show much interest in your host country: you write about it fairly rarely, in any case far less often than you write about Japan, the U.S. or the U.K., despite the fact that there's lots interesting to say about Germany now, politically, socially. You're the bohemian equivalent of those English retirees on the Spanish coast, reading their Daily Mails and watching UK Gold, cut off from the Spanish locals and socialising only with other expats. I'm an expat myself, and of course I know plenty of other expats, and yet at the same time I at least speak fluently the language of my host country and mix with the locals. I do feel that it's at the very least polite to make an effort to speak the language. But I guess you not having a job in Berlin means you can avoid all that.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 10:01 am (UTC)

I actually speak more German than I let on here (I did, after all, just translate that Zitty piece!) and I have a sideline in showing people round the city. I also give interviews about it to foreign publications (the Financial Times piece will run "within the next two months", for instance). In the last month I've puffed local artist John Bock's new piece at the Staatsoper, the Brecht festival at the Berliner Ensemble, the Tanz im August festival, Christian Kracht's new book, the Ampelmann sign, and so on. I've also raved in Wired about Neukolln ("Neubeca") as the hot new area, proclaimed my desire to live here with Japanese people rather than live in Japan, and so on.

But yes, I don't have a job here. And I've lived in Berlin three years. I like it a lot here, but I choose to live a "diasporan" life here, and I support the right of all immigrants to do that. That includes not learning the language if they don't want to, not eating the local cuisine, and so on. Cities are enriched by difference. Berlin, above all, should know this. Nobody wants to go back to 1933.


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cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
cap_scaleman
Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 09:47 am (UTC)

Momus, when do you fly here?


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svenskasfinx
NOT Greta Garbo
Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 10:06 am (UTC)
I would have assumed..

I would have assumed that being "international" automaticly catigorized a person into "failed local" but it seemingly doesn't for me, I'm passionate about preserving not only my local environment, but local history.. I naturally have a vested interest in local government, schools, hospitals, services and I do VOTE. However the flip side is I am all sidedly accepting of immigrants from all areas trying to become the "swedish dream", get the job and perserve their own culture. We all work within the wholeness that sometimes embraces the differences of culture and sometimes is denounced by a majority as "trouble makes" for wanting more than perhaps the "standard".

A choice of schools, better education for everyone and the joy of working for a community which we could actually purchase homes in, if we want to, and a not so overpriced rate of rent for those who don't want to buy their homes.. these are possibly the things that I as a non-failed local will hope to work towards, even if it go against the grain and annoy people being the squeeky wheel, the reminder there is much to be done for everyone to enjoy life. We in Sweden have a wonderful standerd of living, it should be able to be shared by everyone.. not just Swedes born here or "white people".. Everyone.


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(Anonymous)
Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 01:01 pm (UTC)

I have it on good authority you're a Morningside Jambo!

Robbo


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 01:08 pm (UTC)

Nah, West End Hibbee.


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scottbateman
scottbateman
Scott Bateman
Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 01:07 pm (UTC)

Honestly, I would have a reeeeeeally difficult time choosing between seeing you and seeing Masha Qrella.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 01:09 pm (UTC)

Bah, shoulda chopped her off the photo!


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sunfell
sunfell
Sunfell
Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 01:26 pm (UTC)

I fit some of the criteria of 'failed local' in that I do not have a family, and probably won't, but in other ways, I am more an aspiring local. My job puts me smack dab in the middle of the political/governmental machinery in my state, and the longer I work there, the better established I am. I volunteer, I participate in local events, and I strive to get to know more people.

Still, it is rare that I pass a week there without someone asking me where I am from, since I do not have an Arkansas accent. Nor did I got to school with them- being a military brat (and veteran) means that I had to be a 'failed local' in many places, and it's possible that I will never be fully rooted no matter how hard I try.

Always the stranger, never the native- that is my lot.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 01:45 pm (UTC)
More German press

Yesterday's anti-cell phone rant carries over into German as the delightfully sulphuric-sounding Mobiltelefone sind Teufelswerk. (I must say I love "Teufelswerk", it sounds better than "the devil's work".)

Meanwhile, for The Berlin Paper, "Scottish Nipponophile sings".

People love the exotic. Bringing the devil into a rant against a phone gives it so much more drama, just as a concert in Berlin sounds more interesting when Japan and Scotland loom mysteriously through the cigarette smoke.


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fascicle
fascicle
Doubting Pilate
Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 05:47 pm (UTC)
phonephobia


Another case where Ted Hughes was ahead of the game:

before the soft words with their spores, the cosmetic
breath...

it drags its worshippers into actual graves
with a variety of devices
through a variety of disguised voices

... sit godless when you hear the religious wail of the telephone


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desant012
||||||||||
Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 01:45 pm (UTC)

I don't get this fetishization of other cultures ... they're just extremely slight variations on the human experience. As interesting as they are, will it matter when our planet will be swallowed whole by the sun????

My family's made up of ex-pats, etc. ... one, an American family in Hong Kong. The other ex-pat communities were mostly English and Irish ... they each had their own little communities which were hard to mingle with. if anything, it seems like the ex-pat experience is say, having a micro-reproduced England in Asia, rather than anything you know ... on a ----higher level----.

If you're an alienated weirdo who drifts around anyway, I think that's a special case worth something more than the whole miserable "ex-pat" thing.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 01:48 pm (UTC)

As interesting as they are, will it matter when our planet will be swallowed whole by the sun????

I don't think much of anything passes that test. Will my scream of "We'rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre all dooooooooooooooooooomed!" matter when our planet is swalled whole by the sun? Not one jot or tittle.


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cityramica
cityramica
cityramica
Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 03:56 pm (UTC)

how you describe yourself...is very similar to the concept of mukokuseki, no? Mukokuseki Momasu?


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Wed, Sep. 27th, 2006 04:31 pm (UTC)

Hai, Mischa-Chan!

(Off to sound check.)


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