Andrew Mueller, I Wouldn’t Start from Here: The 21st Century and Where It All Went Wrong (Soft Skull, 2009)
Andrew Mueller’s hopscotch travelogue, I Wouldn’t Start From Here: The 21st Century and Where It All Went Wrong, is driven by an attempt to discover why the world’s most discordant nations won’t stop being such hotheads. A London-based, Australian-born rock critic and travel writer, he moves from serious to witty to occasionally hilarious. Each of the book’s 33 chapters recounts a trip taken (quite often on assignment for the now-defunct British magazine The Face, many times with a sidekick photographer, and almost always as part of some sort of convoy) to a location with political events that either almost unilaterally defy rationality (Jerusalem, Israel; Baghdad, Iraq; Belfast, Northern Ireland) or demonstrate unanticipated strategies of sensibility (Djerba, Tunisia; Tirana, Albania; Sukhum, Abkhazia).
Mueller’s smart word choices, quaint English diction, and absorbing storytelling make his fluency in places international seem not only cool but also responsible. I would have been happy to read about 33 more places I will most likely never visit and certainly could know more, or at least something, about.
Mueller has a knack for transforming dumbfounding situations into engrossing tales. Expeditions through Africa, Eastern Europe, and the Middle East repeatedly find Cold War relics such as Kalashnikovs, Yugos, and a terrifying Russian-built Mi-8 helicopter still in circulation. A May 2003 visit to Baghdad elicits the following observation from a young antiques dealer: “Next time you come”, said Odai, “maybe things will be working again. I don’t understand how it is that America can bring hundreds of tanks all the way to Iraq, but no generators.” Such anecdotes show the very different ways that circulation, production, and distribution take place around the globe. They also inadvertently suggest a different explanation for the frustrating inequity he documents than the “reason vs. passion” model to which he consistently returns.
His chapter on the July 7, 2005 bombings in London is swiftly concluded with the following analysis: “They all did what they did for the same reason—that they are, or were, ignorant, malevolent, irredeemable scum, the ‘root causes’ of whose anger should no more concern anyone than the reasons for the yappings of a rabid dog.” Resting on the assumption that his moral argument makes more sense than theirs, and is therefore better, Mueller plays the same game he supposedly reviles. Tellingly, when he is dumped midway through the book, his girlfriend’s solidarity with the foolish half of the world lands him “in hospital.” The opportunity is here for Mueller to use his war-torn private life to reconsider the black and white juxtapositions he’s been applying to his writing, but she disappears, simply becoming one more bad guy.
Despite the title’s implication of resolute disaster, Mueller is ultimately sort of hopeful about the rest of this century. Most chapters are not only lively but also pleasantly surprised by the complexity of their subject’s inhabitants. The concluding chapters position Al Gore and, umm, Bono, as exemplary beacons, and Mueller’s final endorsement supports a value system he sees happily functioning in London: “indifference.”
Melinda Cardozo is a writer and blogger.
28. 1970, the London UndergroundBy Raphael Rubinstein
NOV 2022 | The Miraculous
Soon after graduating from art school, a 21-year-old separates from his wife and moves from the city of Winchester near Englands south coast to London where he becomes involved with the avant-garde music scene. One day on the London Tube he runs into a former art-school classmate with whom he has lost touch.
Julian Opie: [email protected]/LondonBy Charles Moore
MARCH 2023 | ArtSeen
According to artist Julian Opie (b. 1958), theres a complete shift in the way people understand imagery today. Often, Opie notices viewers reaching for their pockets in search of their phones, in hopes of documenting the art they observe. Yet, with work that incorporates virtual reality (VR), photographs cant be taken because the work isnt truly there. Those who are curious about the implications of this are invited to fasten their portable headsets and immerse themselves in Opies unique take on VR. In a show titled [email protected]/London currently open at Lisson Gallery in London, the renowned artist is showcasing both virtual reality and non-VR works in a groundbreaking multiroom experience, blending the body, architecture, and space in a manner that forces the viewer to focus on the story unfolding before them.
Penny Goring: Penny WorldBy Maximiliane Leuschner
SEPT 2022 | ArtSeen
Penny World at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London spans three galleries over two floors, sharing glimpses of the thirty-year-long career of Penny Goring, an artist and poet who has long worked on the fringes of the London art world, from her early days at Kingston School of Art in the early nineties until today.
from A Cat at the End of the WorldBy Robert Periić and Vesna Maric
NOV 2022 | Fiction
Its hard to find historical fiction that accurately captures the worldview and mindset of the people depictedand exceedingly rare to encounter characters whose lives and thoughts feel expansive, rather than subtractive, in the remote past. Croatian writer Robert Periićs latest novel, A Cat at the End of the World, transports the reader to ancient Syracuse, and then to a colonial outpost in the Adriatic. The protagonist Kalia, servant to a wealthy family and object of torment by the scion Pigras, is accompanied by a cat named Miu and shown the first glimmer of care by a woman named Menda. In this excerpt, Periić shows how a cat's ungovernability can undo a hierarchy.