In Memoriam Pleasures of Past Times

“…for more than thirty years my happiest dreams have been of second-hand bookshops…”

-Graham Greene, 1973, in Reflections, 1991

 

One of my favourite things of London is its second-hand shops. Over the years I’ve developed personal routes where, when I have the time (read: make the time for it) I walk from one to another in a sort of individual pilgrimage often including book shops, record shops, comics shops and other pop culture memorabilia, maps, stamps, all sorts of print and material culture shops.

These establishments (without them necessarily knowing it) become a type of friend, someone you get to know intimately who can offer just the right thing to satisfy a particular need at a given moment in time. This need is not only materialistic or consumerist. It’s not what people call “retail therapy”. It’s more like a type of emotional, spiritual counseling or mentorship- one pays a visit to these shops because they offer, like libraries, serendipitous journeys of discovery. One steps into them often without looking for something very specific in mind- it’s not the item that gets you there but the place itself, its reputation as the consequence of careful or accidental curatorial work. The drive to visit them can be described as a very particular type of physical and intellectual hunger for a special, unexpected artifact waiting for the right collector to appreciate its relative rarity or uniqueness, a star in a constellation with links waiting to be traced, a lost piece in the ever-growing jigsaw puzzle of who we have been and are in the process of becoming.

Over the years I have seen many of these establishments close down. The other day I added another one to my own personal graveyard of closed shops- Pleasures of Past Times (PoPT), on 11 Cecil Court, which had stood in that same location since 1967, as its store sign proudly announced.

How can one explain the feeling of loss when one arrives to a location and finds it empty and closed for good? This feeling can be easily dismissed as conservative, retrograde and dangerous nostalgia. This is not to deny it is a nostalgic feeling: it is, of course, since we are talking about second-hand shops of a particular type, a feeling always-already embedded in nostalgia understood as an ongoing attempt to recover, as collector, what one always wanted and never had, or what one feels deserves appreciation, for one reason or another, beyond its relative obsolescence or even practical meaninglessness in the contemporary world. I’d argue that it’s not necessarily toxic or dangerous to feel a sense of loss when we witness a transformation in the urban landscape, particularly when it is tied to changing paradigms in our relationships to otherwise symbolically meaningful objects that increasingly are thought of as obsolete.

Can such contradictory, complex emotion be entertained or described? Benjamin’s theses on the philosophy of history, his reading of Klee’s Angelus Novus? I feel like there can be a type of critical, self-aware nostalgia that, rather than idealising a mythical past, performs itself as a critique of “progress” disguised as higher rents, the rejection of the symbolic in favour of the strictly practical (estate agents, food and clothes, not print books, music in physical formats or non-digital art) as expressed by the ongoing demystification of material culture, accelerated by the belief that all experience can be digitized, that material objects are clutter, etc. A kind of “progress” defined by an ethos of individualism and isolation: why go anywhere if you can just get it delivered to your own home?

Storefront of Pleasures of Past Times,  11 Cecil Court, London WC2N 4EZ
Pleasures of Past Times, 11 Cecil Court, London WC2N 4EZ, now closed
11 Cecil Court blue plaque, "In a building on this site W.A. Mozart and his family lodged in April-August 1764
11 Cecil Court blue plaque

Checking PoPT’s website I realise it is now only an online shop- which is better than the worse alternative of its total disappearance, and a fate many other similar shops have had of late. The sense of loss for its brick-and-mortar address is not necessarily for the items it used to stock, buy and sell, but for the social, collective, cultural experience it contributed to as part of a bigger formal or informal network of similar shops. I could never afford to spend much money at PoPT, and I must say I used to find it a tad intimidating- my limited budget meant sometimes I just looked at its window and marveled at much stuff I would have loved to add to my collection.

In what could potentially be called today a “psychogeographic” essay titled “Second-hand Bookshops” (1973), Graham Greene describes evocatively his passion for these establishments. “I don’t know how Freud would have interpreted them”, writes Greene in the opening line, “but for more than thirty years my happiest dreams have been of second-hand bookshops” (I personally rarely dream of bookshops, but indeed for more than thirty years my happiest memories include them).

Greene also describes the always-changing landscape of second-hand bookshops in London:

“No, the West End is no longer my hunting ground any more than Charing Cross Road, but, thank God! Cecil Court remains Cecil Court…” (Reflections, 1991).

In a way, Cecil Court still remains Cecil Court. But it is rapidly changing. Without PoPT Cecil Court is, for those of us who have visited it over the years, significantly different- Pleasures of Past Times will be missed as a shop that once made Cecil Court remain Cecil Court.

New Publication: Editorial: Brilliant Corners: Approaches to Jazz and Comics

The Comics Grid logo

Sometimes academic publishing is like London buses. You wait for what it feels like an eternity and then suddenly three appear at the same time.

Yesterday the editorial my colleague Nicolas Pillai and I co-wrote was published on The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship:

Pillai, N. & Priego, E., (2016). Brilliant Corners: Approaches to Jazz and Comics. The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship. 6, p.12. DOI: http://doi.org/10.16995/cg.92

It’s been an absolute honour and pleasure to work on this project with Nic; stay tuned as there might be further collaborations! We were fortunate to get such exciting submissions for the collection.

Like all Comics Grid articles our editorial cited above is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (CC BY 4.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.  You can read it online, and/or download the PDF or XML, openly and without restrictions. You are also free to share it, use it or reuse it without prior permissions as long as you attribute properly. (For more info see http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/).

The Comics Grid: Journal of Comics Scholarship is a peer-reviewed open access journal published by the Open Library of Humanities [OLH].

Unlike many open-access publishers, the OLH does not charge any author fees. This does not mean that their journals do not have costs. Costs are paid by an international library consortium.

If your institution is not currently supporting the platform, you could ask your librarian to sign up. The OLH is extremely cost effective and is a not-for-profit charity. However, while the OLH cannot function without financial support and they encourage universities to sign up, institutional commitment is not required to publish in any of their journals.

 

 

The Good Old Days: Charity Shop Music

Near Obsolescence: Charity Shop Music

“Everything comes from somewhere…”

-Paul Morley, Words and Music, 2003

Getting old is hard. It’s hard not to feel that when the stuff you love is becoming obsolescent you yourself are rushing to obsolescence. Suddenly we find our past left behind in charity shops. The stuff you bought once with much effort is suddenly there for a quid.

Recently someone left a sizeable collection of recent-ish, mint CDs in one of my (several) local charity shop. I had bought all of those CDs once in the past (not the same CDs, but the same, in a work of art in the age of mechanical reproduction kind of way), but due to several migrations they got lost along the way. As a record collector and frequent scavenger of second-hand and charity shops, I often wonder about previous owners, and the pieces of biographies they leave behind when they get rid of a collection.

This time around I took the opportunity of recovering some of these objects, that, even as compact discs, still hold on to the aura of valuable, meaningful objects, embedded with collective and individual memories. The newest of those CDs is from a decade ago, and boy, does that still feel like yesterday to me.

Anyway, I have made a ‘mixtape’ (many times in my life I used this word non-metaphorically) with some songs from some of the albums I found in the charity shop. There is nothing rare or ‘underground’ here (particularly for the UK context, pretty much the opposite) but where I come from some of these CDs were precious possessions to be treasured.

I have called this “The Good Old Days (Charity Shop Rock Sr Priego Set)”, and you can listen to it if you click here.