Eduardo Paolozzi at New Worlds


I was working on this book throughout the autumn, and it could hardly be more different to some of the visual extravagance that came before and after. Eduardo Paolozzi at New Worlds is published by Savoy Books this month. Predominantly an examination by David Brittain (no relation to David Britton) of the connections between artists such as Paolozzi and Richard Hamilton with New Worlds magazine in the 1960s, the book is also a rare study of the science fiction magazine when it was making its greatest impact in the late 60s and early 70s.

Brittain highlights many examples of Paolozzi’s sf-influenced art of the period, and examines the development of the magazine under Michael Moorcock’s editorship during which time New Worlds evolved from being a slightly moribund sf title in the early 60s to what JG Ballard later called “one of the most exciting magazines of any kind in this country”. An appendix features interviews with some of the key creators and contributors: editor Moorcock, designer Charles Platt, art editor Christopher Finch, contributor Michael Butterworth, and critic John Clute. Writer and illustrator Pamela Zoline created some original artwork for the endpapers. The introduction is by Rick Poynor.


Despite being pressured for time I was very pleased to be designing this book. I’d liked Paolozzi’s work since I first encountered it in the Tate Gallery in the 1970s; a couple of years later I was buying up anthologies featuring New Worlds stories (I was too young for the 60s magazine), so discovering that Moorcock had made Paolozzi the magazine’s “Aeronautics Advisor” made perfect sense. In the past I’ve said that New Worlds ruined my taste for hard sf but that’s not really true since I never really liked the stuff beyond a few Arthur C. Clarke books. Too much bad writing, too many cardboard characters shuffling around between chunks of explanation about made-up technology. The discovery of New Worlds merely demonstrated that there were other ways of approaching sf, and you didn’t have to put up with the rubbish.

I also enjoyed the magazine’s bolshy attitude, a quality shared by Harlan Ellison in his Dangerous Visions anthologies. Moorcock says in Brittain’s interview that NW sympathised with the Underground of the late 60s but also tried to be more disciplined in its approach, especially where the design was concerned. You couldn’t have treated fiction to the semi-legible printing that Oz and Frendz often deployed. But the radical attitudes of the Underground can be discerned in the stance NW adopted. Some of the reviews and polemical articles by Moorcock (often under his “James Colvin” pseudonym), M. John Harrison and John Clute are bracingly vitriolic to a degree which if delivered today would probably see them ostracised for life.


With the design the main intention was to present the information clearly and let the visuals speak for themselves. The book is heavily illustrated throughout, with many examples of Paolozzi’s marvellous prints. The layout nods obliquely to the period; before getting started I spent some time looking at the work of Erik Nitsche. I like the way Nitsche laid out the books he designed in the 1960s, and there’s also a connection in his work as a designer for the General Dynamics corporation: one of Paolozzi’s print series of the period is entitled General Dynamics F.U.N.

Being full-colour throughout, the print run for this book is smaller than usual so anyone interested is advised to move swiftly. Official publication is December 16th but it’s on sale now at Savoy and at Amazon.


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A Journey to Avebury by Derek Jarman


Among the Doublevision video releases I was writing about earlier this month there’s a notable omission from those which have been reissued on DVD: Derek Jarman’s In the Shadow of the Sun was the seventh release on the label, the 1980 version of a film which was compiled in 1974 using footage from his earlier Super-8 shorts, one of which was A Journey to Avebury (1971). Several of the short films have appeared as extras on recent DVDs but the gorgeously oneiric In the Shadow of the Sun remains stubbornly unavailable.


A Journey to Avebury lasts for ten minutes, and in its original state was nothing more than silent, static shots of fields, pathways (putative ley lines, perhaps), silhouetted trees, and finally the Avebury stones. I still find it one of the most fascinating of his short films. The yellow filter gives all the shots an oppressive, sulphurous cast which turns the otherwise bucolic landscape into a place of imminent (or even post-) apocalypse. I’m reminded of the yellow skies in Charles Platt’s erotic nightmare The Gas (1970), or some of the outdoor shots in Penda’s Fen (1974) which are equally suffused with menace.


The copy of A Journey to Avebury that’s currently on YouTube is a recent version with an uncredited electronic score. I still don’t know who did the music; it doesn’t sound like Coil. Cyclobe? (It’s Coil.) The YouTube version can be found in far better quality on the Second Sight DVD of Jarman’s The Last of England.


And just to show how everything here is connected to everything else, that brooding megalith above (known locally as “The Devil’s Seat”) can be seen in at least one shot in Children of the Stones. No surprise there but the shot also reveals the place where Jarman and co. would have been standing five years earlier.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Children of the Stones
Avebury panoramas
Derek Jarman’s music videos
Derek Jarman’s Neutron
Mister Jarman, Mister Moore and Doctor Dee
The Tempest illustrated
Penda’s Fen by David Rudkin
In the Shadow of the Sun by Derek Jarman
Derek Jarman at the Serpentine
The Angelic Conversation
The life and work of Derek Jarman

Thomas M Disch, 1940–2008

“What sort of criticism is it to say that a writer is pessimistic? One can name any number of admirable writers who indeed were pessimistic and whose writing one cherishes. It’s mindless to offer that as a criticism. Usually all it means is that I am stating a moral position that is uncongenial to the person reading the story. It means that I have a view of existence which raises serious questions that they’re not prepared to discuss; such as the fact that man is mortal, or that love dies. I think the very fact that my imagination goes a greater distance than they’re prepared to travel suggests that the limited view of life is on their part rather than on mine.”

disch4.jpgThomas Disch castigating a science fiction readership which often regarded his work with a disdain born of narrow expectations. Disch (left), who took his own life a few days ago, was one of the New Worlds group of writers who frequently caused consternation among the kind of readers who only ever want to read about future technology. He was also much more than that, of course, and he wrote a lot more widely than most genre writers but it’s for his sf novels that he’ll be remembered. Rather than attempt another encomium I thought it far better to post a Charles Platt interview from 1979 which gives an insight into Disch’s character as a man as well as a writer. This was one of a number of interviews Platt conducted with leading sf writers during the late Seventies, published as Who Writes Science Fiction? in the UK (by Savoy Books) and Dream Makers: The Uncommon People who Write Science Fiction in the US.

Thomas M Disch by Charles Platt

New York, April 1979

disch2.jpgNEW YORK, city of contrasts! Here we are on Fourteenth Street, walking past The New School Graduate Faculty, a clean modern building. Inside it today there is a fine museum exhibit of surreal landscape photography, but the drapes are permanently closed across the windows because, out here on the stained sidewalk, just the other side of the plate-glass, it’s Filth City, peopled by the usual cast of winos, monte dealers. shopping-bag ladies festooned in rags and mumbling obscenities, addicts nodding out and falling off fire hydrants. Fourteenth Street, clientele from Puerto Rico, merchandise from Taiwan. And what merchandise! In stores as garish and impermanent as sideshows at a cheap carnival, here are plastic dinner-plates and vases, plastic toys, plastic flowers and fruit, plastic statues of Jesus, plastic furniture, plastic pants and jackets-all in Day-Glo colors, naturally. And outside the stores are dark dudes in pimp-hats and shades, peddling leather belts, pink and orange wigs, and afro-combs… itinerant vendors of kebabs cooked over flaming charcoal in aluminium handcarts… crazy old men selling giant balloons.., hustlers of every description. And further on, through the perpetual fanfare of disco music and car horns, past the Banco Populare, here is Union Square, under the shadow of the Klein Sign. Klein’s, a semi-respectable old department store, was driven out of business by the local traders and has lain empty for years. But its falling apart facade still looms over the square, confirming the bankrupt status of the area. While in the square itself—over here, brother, here, my man, I got ’em, loose joints, angel dust, hash, coke. THC, smack, acid, speed, Valium, ludes. Seconal. Elavil!

Union Square wasn’t always like this. Michael Moorcock once told me that it acquired its name by being the last major battlefield of the American Civil War. Foolishly, I believed him. In truth there are ties here with the American labor movement; many trades unions are still headquartered in the old, dignified buildings, outside of which stand old, dignified union men, in defensive lunch-hour cliques, glaring at the panhandlers and hustlers toting pint bottles of wine in paper bags and giant, 20-watt ten-band Panasonic stereo portables blaring more disco! disco! disco!

Oddly enough we are looking for an address, here, of a writer who is known in the science fiction field for his almost elitist, civilized sensibilities. He has moved into an ex-office building that has been converted from commercial to residential status. Union Square is on the edge of “Chelsea”, which is supposed to be the new Soho, a zone where, theoretically, artists and writers are moving in and fixing up old buildings until, when renovations are complete, advertising execs and gallery owners will “discover” the area and turn it into a rich, fashionable part of town.

Theoretically, but not yet. In the meantime this turn-of-the-century, 16-storey, ex-office building is one of the brave pioneer outposts. We are admitted by a uniformed guard at the street entrance, and take the elevator to the 11th floor. Here we emerge into a corridor recently fabricated from unpainted sheets of plaster-board, now defaced with graffiti, but high-class graffiti, messages from the socially-enlightened tenants criticising the owner of the building for his alleged failure to provide services (“Mr. Ellis Sucks!” “Rent Strike Now!”) and here, we have reached a steel door provisionally painted in grubby Latex White, the kind of paint that picks up every fingermark and can’t be washed easily. There’s no bell, so one has to thump the door panels, but this is the place, all right, this is where Thomas M. Disch lives.

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