Literature: Here comes everybody
Saturday 18 October 1997
The programme for this weekend's Anarchist Book Fair quotes from Mikhail Bakunin, the 19th-century Russian revolutionist: "Three things are necessary for people to become moral, complete people in the fullest sense. Birth under hygienic conditions; a rational and integral education with an upbringing based on respect for work, reason and equality and liberty, and a social environment where the individual will be equal in fact and in right to all others. Does such an environment exist? It does not."
While you would expect arguments about the conditions for human fulfilment to ring loud and clear through the corridors of Conway Hall, is it possible that a similar kind of debate will be taking place over the river at the South Bank? Today sees the launch of a series of lectures under the title Acacia Avenue: Journeys in Suburbia, which peers over the fence at what is often dismissed as the landscape of creative dearth, the sprawling graveyard of human potential. The 14 speakers involved in this two-month ideas-fete will be offering competing claims about this semi-detached hinterland. Though mocked by critics such as Pope, the faux-rustic dream which started to spread out along the railways during the Victorian era, was greeted by many with the kind of rapture that Bakunin reserved for the arrival of his collectivist society. Here was a clean-air environment, its time clock adjusted according to the rhythm of the city that provided an ideal of equality in the ever-widening replication of its domestic bliss.
Of course, the dream turned sour - a Fall charted by that Milton of the suburbs, John Betjeman. Metro-land, his 1973 televised passage to the encroached-upon likes of Harrow and Chorleywood, is part-celebration, part-lament. But at century's end, voices still rise up in its defence. Among them JG Ballard, who describes suburbia as being at the "cutting edge of all social change". Acacia Avenue won't be able to offer the Book Fair's front-line dialogue (re Reclaim the Streets and Ex-Class War) but it might provide even the most devout anarchist with something to chew on: think before you smash that gnome.
Anarchist Book Fair: 10am-7pm today; comedy benefit featuring Mark Thomas 9-11pm, Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, WC1
Acacia Avenue: Peter Hall on "The Arcadian Suburb" 12noon today, Jenny Uglow on "Citizens Boxes" 3pm, Richard Sennet on "Forster, Eliot and the City" 5pm, Frank Delaney on "A Place in the Suburbs" 7.30pm, Philip Hensher on "Life is Elsewhere" 7.30pm Wed. All at the Voice Box, QEH, London SE1 (0171 960 4242) pounds 4/pounds 2.50.
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