Volume 3 - Issue 9 - Editorial

By Gareth Evans and Holly Aylett

All Power to the Imagination! 1968 and its Legacies

“A society in crisis forges a new vocabulary for itself, and gradually, a new language emerges whose words… no longer describe reality, but attempt, instead, to conceal it.” – David Grossman, from The Yellow Wind

"I believe that the poet – as a poet – has no obligation to be committed but the man – as a man – has an obligation to be committed. What I am saying is that I think everybody ought to be committed." – Dennis Brutus, a South African poet, as quoted by Adrienne Rich in Poetry and Commitment (WW Norton).

One of the most significant years in twentieth century history, politics and culture, 1968 saw an unprecedented response to militarism, autocratic hierarchies of power and significant corporate expansion across the world. Popularly imagined as a generational conflict, between students and an older order unable to comprehend the changes in values, ideals and lifestyles brought on by post-war economic, social and colonial shifts and the polarising US military presence in Vietnam, the events of 1968 offered an extended moment of global dissent to systems increasingly built around the fragmentation of social structures, the dismantling of economic securities, the seeding of a profoundly oppressive consumerism and an explosion of state violence, whether domestically or internationally.

The creative and intellectual centre of 1968, the primary seam and most extended manifestation of the issues in question, was Paris, with the evénements of May and June, where students, workers, intellectuals, artists and writers looked likely to topple not just the existing administration, but the very basis of governmental structures.  

Similarly, across Europe, dramatic protests in Britain, Germany and Italy cemented the idea of a continent at odds with itself and its vision of what society should be and how it should operate. This widening resistance was of course echoed in the United States, with mass opposition to the war in Vietnam (including the march on the Pentagon, the growing politicisation of the counterculture, the protests at the Republican and Democratic conventions, as well as the occupation of Colombia University).

If dissent, the expression of a radical creative imagination in all media as a response to the new realities being tested in the streets and squares of the public space, and the subsequent excessive reaction by the authorities became familiar there, as also in Mexico, Japan and South Asia, perhaps nowhere was it felt more poignantly than in Prague, as the blossoming of possibility found in the Prague ‘Spring’ was terminated by the Soviet invasion.

“I play not marches for accepted victors only, I play marches for conquer'd and slain persons.” – Walt Whitman, from Song of Myself

Forty years on from these global manifestations of popular resistance, their legacy is still being felt, whether in support of the models they presented, or in stark opposition to the imaginative possibilities, the alternatives ways of being and social organisation they suggested. At a time when there is again vast international opposition to ongoing conflicts, environmental degradation, economic and religious fundamentalisms, the curtailment of civil liberties and the militarisation of civil society, this issue of Vertigo and the two month, London-wide, multi-disciplinary and multi-media season it accompanies and complements, All Power to the Imagination! seek to explore and mark the radical possibilities of a tumultuous year, while placing its lessons in the context of our own turbulent times, tracing a thread of creative resistance over the last forty years and beyond into the future.

Why then does this season take place in London, and why does it seem important that Vertigo is based here? In terms of the Sixties, the city is remembered primarily as a hothouse of fashion, music, celebrity and nascent consumption. Its political incarnation in the popular protests of 1968 is actively overlooked, and indeed Britain itself has never taken the lessons of 1968 fully to heart, readily denying the importance of ideas and seeking instead to define political engagement in purely parliamentary terms. It feels vital, especially at a time of increasing timidity, uniformity and threatening co-option in both cultural and political expression at the centre, to profile here, in the broadest way possible, the importance of 1968, the example it offers and the significance of civil action.

“The lesson of the hegemony of the mass media – television, MTV, the internet – is that there is only one culture, that what lies beyond borders everywhere is – or one day will be – just more of the same, with everyone on the planet feeding at the same trough of standardised entertainments and fantasies of eros and violence manufactured in the United States, Japan, wherever; with everyone enlightened by the same open-ended flow of bits of unfiltered (if, in fact, often censored) information and opinion.” – Susan Sontag, from At the Same Time

Vertigo too marks an anniversary this year, celebrating its 15th birthday as a publication. Founded by a group of film-makers and writers, its leading member, the late essay filmmaker Marc Karlin, himself a participant in the events of May 1968, was convinced that ‘film culture’ depended for its vitality as much on criticism, debate and activism around the moving image – and in the wider society – as it did on quantity of production (a screening of his films will take place at London’s Birkbeck cinema on the 26th April).

Throughout these 15 years, and whether in its consideration of features, shorts, documentaries, artists’ film and video or the hybrid productions of new media, Vertigo has remained unique in publishing explicitly as a magazine of advocacy and defence, untied to commercial dictates of what constitutes so-called ‘cinema.’ Partisan, provocative, politically engaged in its examination of both form, content, industry infrastructure and international developments, its belief has always been in the moving image as an artform, as a vessel for social and political enquiry and towards change and as a medium of visionary reach.

Committed to the innovative, the independent and the international, and produced to the highest values, with an award-winning design, Vertigo has published essays, interviews, features, profiles, reflections, reviews, speculations, polemics, manifestos, original fiction and artists’ pages in quarterly editions, with contributions by international film-makers, writers, critics, academics, students, commentators and artists. In addition, through its website, screenings, events and wider advocacy, it has sought to promote the values of a progressive, internationalist and always imaginative community.

Ironically, Vertigo’s detractors have often focused their discomfort by accusing the magazine of being a ‘post ’68’ product. What is being implied? An unreal sense of idealism? A nostalgia inappropriate to contemporary times? After all 1993, when Vertigo began, was post ’89 let alone post ’68. Does a black and white aesthetic, with a stark red, inverted ‘i’ invoke the revisionism of Soviet convention? Do our writers, using industrial, cultural and aesthetic argument ignore the clamour of celebrity? Do we offend in making visible the invisible, in addressing our audience as citizens and not consumers, in exploring connections and ambition at the experimental edge? Perhaps we are too serious, or, even worse, too intellectual?

Should they not challenge their own sense of vertigo – an errant imbalance which distorts the reading of what is observed, which renders the viewer susceptible to false interpretation, which makes one resistant, afraid of one’s own imagination. Should they, like Vertigo’s Scottie, not fear their own possession? When  Hitchcock's film appeared in 1958, it was a commercial failure, but its bold experimentalism outlived the assessment of its hostile critics and seven years later it was reviewed as “one of the four or five most profound and beautiful films the cinema has given us to date” (Robin Wood, Hitchcock's Films, 1965). Now, by the sixth season of The Sopranos, even Christopher and Julianna get high at a showing of the film.

A genuine cultural impact speaks to the longer term and, just as 1968 outlives and reaches beyond its moment so, one hopes, will Vertigo magazine endure, a small manifestation in response to its own vertiginous times. As we go to press, Vertigo is planning bold, new strategies for survival. We will keep readers informed through our monthly newsletter (email the office to join the mailing list).

Ultimately, Vertigo has been motivated, as have all our contributors, whom we thank unreservedly for their generous and remarkable contributions over the years, by, as Kafka observed, “…a longing for something that is greater than all that is fearful.” With that longing in heart and in mind, we go on, by any means necessary.

Gareth Evans and Holly Aylett, 31st March 2008


This issue of Vertigo will be launched on 8th May at London’s Curzon Soho cinema with a sampling of work from the enclosed dvd, Time Unfolding, a selection of film and video works commissioned and produced by Bristol-based Artists’ Moving Image Agency Picture This between 2000 and 2007. The anthology has been selected by the writer, artist and film programmer Lucy Reynolds and includes projects that translate as a single screen programme. The screening will include works by Emily Wardill, Michael Curran and Dryden Goodwin. A huge thank you to Jo Lanyon and Alexandra Roche for all their work in making this unique dvd for distribution with Vertigo.

“When technology reaches a certain level, people begin to feel like criminals,” he said. “Someone is after you, the computers maybe, the machine-police. You can’t escape investigation. The facts about you and your whole existence have been collected or are being collected. Banks, insurance companies, credit organisations, tax examiners, passport offices, reporting services, police agencies, intelligence gatherers. It’s a little like what I was saying before. Devices make us pliant. If they issue a print-out saying we’re guilty, then we’re guilty. But it goes even deeper, doesn’t it? It’s the presence alone, the very fact, the superabundance of technology, that makes us feel we’re committing crimes. Just the fact that these things exist at this widespread level. The processing machines, the scanners, the sorters. That’s enough to make us feel like criminals. What enourmous weight. What complex programs? And there’s no one to explain it to us.” – Don DeLillo, from Running Dog (1978)

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