Keston Sutherland is a poet (who “used to play guitar […] in Pence Eleven,” per Wikipedia) and a Marxist (he wrote a book on Marx and poetry, Stupefaction); in a 2008 essay he discusses the importance of the style of Das Kapital and how it’s been betrayed in English translation, and one of the terms he focuses on is the word (unfamiliar to me) Gallerte ‘gelatinous mass’:

The most important way in which the meaning of Marx’s thinking is transformed, not only by his translators, but likewise and as though collaboratively by current literary theorists, is through their elimination of satire from Capital. […]

Capital does not include the idea, central to Das Kapital, that “abstrakt menschliche Arbeit” is a “bloße Gallerte unterschiedsloser menschlicher Arbeit.” It includes instead the substitute idea that “human labour in the abstract” is “a mere congelation of homogeneous human labour.” This substitute, imposed by Moore and Aveling and continued by Fowkes, has the considerable advantage that its conceptual content is much easier to specify than the conceptual content of Marx’s original phrase. Moore and Aveling’s extremely influential account of abstract human labor is as follows. Human labor described as having, in effect, a single origin (“homogeneous”), since we cannot see the multitude of its real origins in the commodities that are its products, is frozen in commodities: it is a “congelation,” from the Latin verb congelare, “to freeze together,” and the Latin noun gelum, “frost.” Human labor is abstract when it is frozen: lifeless, cold and immobilized. The important word used in Das Kapital to describe the opposite condition of labor, that is, unabstract, living human labor, must then be flüssig, “flowing,” as when Marx writes that “Menschliche Arbeitskraft im flüssigen Zustand oder menschliche Arbeit bildet Wert, aber ist nicht Wert:” “Human labour-power in motion, or human labour, creates value, but is not itself value,” or “Human labour-power in its fluid state, or human labour, creates value, but is not itself value.” […] But whereas “flüssig” is a direct antonym of “congealed” and of “frozen,” “flüssig” is not a direct antonym of the word that Moore and Aveling and Fowkes translate as “mere congelation” and as “congealed quantities.” The word they translate using the abstract noun “congelation” is “Gallerte.” Gallerte is not an abstract noun. Gallerte is now, and was when Marx used it, the name not of a process like freezing or coagulating, but of a specific commodity. Marx’s German readers will not only have bought Gallerte, they will have eaten it; and in using the name of this particular commodity to describe not “homogeneous” but, on the contrary, “unterschiedslose,” that is, “undifferentiated” human labor, Marx’s intention is not simply to educate his readers but also to disgust them.

The image of human labor reduced to Gallerte is disgusting. Gallerte is not ice, the natural and primordial, solid and cold mass that can be transformed back into its original condition by application of (e.g. human) warmth; it is a “halbfeste, zitternde,” that is, a “semisolid, tremulous” comestible mass, inconvertible back into the “meat, bone [and] connective tissue” of the various animals used indifferently to produce it. The sixth volume of the popular encyclopaedia Meyers Konversations-Lexicon, published in Leipzig in 1888, provides the following entry. […] The jargon in this entry overflows. Gallerte is the undifferentiated mess of glue-yielding “tierischen Substanzen,” animal substances industrially boiled down into condiments, that is, into “Beigaben,” “additions” to meals rather than the staple nutrition of the meal itself. Marx says that “abstract human labour,” that is, both the units of human labour reduced to “labour power” and wages in the calculations of the capitalist (calculations conducted in “the jargon of Political Economy”), and human labour in general as “value” expressed in commodities, is “a mere Gallerte of undifferentiated human labour.” This “mere Gallerte” is the product not of reversible freezing but of irreversible boiling followed by cooling. Abstract human labour is, in Marx’s words, undifferentiated and not homogeneous, because it has a multitude of material origins (many workers contribute to the manufacture of each commodity, as political economy had recognised since Adam Smith’s analysis of the division of labour in The Wealth of Nations), but these multiple origins cannot be separately distinguished in the commodity which is the product of the aggregate of their activity. All that is meat melts into bone, and vice versa; and no mere act of scrutiny, however analytic or moral, is capable of reversing the industrial process of that deliquescence.

It is important to recognise that this account of abstract human labour in Das Kapital is not just an isolated instance of merely graphic metonymy. Marx does not simply use the word Gallerte as literary flavouring to his theory, a delectable condiment to the staple nutrition of concepts. It is not a word that can be separated out from the sentence that accommodates it and enjoyed as style rather than specified as a concept. On the contrary, it changes the meaning of other passages in the text. It makes possible part of the thinking that happens later on in Das Kapital. […] The worker who starts out a real body and brain is reduced to Gallerte through submission to capitalist wage labor; and the capitalist who is in essence nothing but capital itself nonetheless assumes in his interactions with human beings the local habitation of a body and the name of an individual. This is what the worker and the capitalist are in Marx’s allegorical satire on consumption, but Marx also says that this is what they are in reality, that is, in their “real economic relation” of which all juridical relation “is but the reflex.”

I don’t much care about Marxism, but I always enjoy this kind of detailed delving into language and style, and of course a poet is likely to do it stylishly — I particularly like “All that is meat melts into bone” (see this LH post). The word Gallerte is from Late Latin gelatria, geladia < Latin gelata ‘frozen’; it’s stressed on the second syllable, but there is an alternative form Gallert that is stressed on the first. I am of course curious to see what my German-speaking readers have to say about the word and Sutherland’s analysis.


  1. Stu Clayton says

    I can’t find your poet’s own translation of Gallerte anywhere above. Despite waffling usefully on, he doesn’t commit himself. By this omission he seems to suggest it’s one of those supposedly untranslatable notions like Gemütlichkeit.

    Well, I love to disappoint: it’s merely “bone broth”, or “jelly” of that provenance. Not Jello.

    On the other hand, I suspect not many English speakers who would now read Marx know much about reducing bones to broth. They’re probably vegetarians to boot. To get the metaphor across, you might have to say something like “ecological Jello” after all.

  2. He’s not my poet — I never heard of him until now! I too was surprised he doesn’t actually translate the word, but I think it’s a distinct reach to accuse him of suggesting “it’s one of those supposedly untranslatable notions” simply because he prefers to explain it rather than translate it.

  3. Stu Clayton says

    I wrote “by this omission seems to suggest”. That’s an extremely weak accusation. The passage comes across as a tease, no matter who wrote it. It should be an immediate let-down to learn that the word means nothing more than “bone jelly”.

    Apart from that, I find the analysis convincingly in line with the little I already knew, and thus far worth reading for its own sake.

  4. AJP Crown says

    Is it broth? I get the impression it’s solid or at least non-newtonian. Wackelpudding is apparently a similar foodstuff, as are marmalade, believe it or not, and so-called Wackelpeter.* Meaty chunks in aspic sounds right. Or how about dog food? Even if it’s satirical (I’ve always found Marx’s tone too aggressive to enjoy reading him, so I haven’t read much, let alone in tysk), I’m not yet convinced that the Gallerte is supposed to be an offputting analogy. The Victorians ate some peculiar things and pre-vegan people were far less squeamish. Did he write this in London?

    Sutherland is a professor of Poetics at Sussex. Is poetics different from poetry, more of an umbrella? I wonder if he really is a marxist, not a marxian. At any rate I find this piece jolly interesting and I may watch some of his lectures on Vimeo. There’s a film with jumping cats, but I can’t hear the narration he wrote.

    * Der Struwwelpeter is from 1845. What was this peter?

  5. Stu Clayton says

    I agree with you that it’s not clear Gallerte intended to be off-putting. (See what I did there with clear broth). I have always found Germans on the whole to be a match for their reputation of being unfazed by rude or disgusting things – as so categorized by Americans, that is.

    Little old ladies have given me great advice about how to deal with dog trots, for instance. I don’t even have a word to match Dünnschiss or Dünnpfiff.

  6. At any rate I find this piece jolly interesting and I may watch some of his lectures on Vimeo.

    I’m glad you like it! I watched him on video, and he’s a very lively fellow. I’m sure his students enjoy his classes, whether or not they know what the hell he’s on about.

  7. Stu Clayton says

    The -peter part is comparable to “joe”, as in “sloppy joe”. Peter sorta means “poor shmuck” in these compounds. Wackelpeter is “wobbly joe”. Also known in higher circles as Götterspeise, dish of the gods.

  8. AJP Crown says

    I’m glad you like it!

    And thank you for drawing our attention to it, Language. Like the BBC we take you too much for granted.

    Little old ladies have given me great advice about how to deal with dog trots
    Are they architects? Isn’t a dog trot a breezeway that runs down the middle of smallish Southern wooden houses to provide ventilation during the summer? Perhaps it has other meanings.

  9. Stu Clayton says

    Don’t Brits get the trots ?? Trotsky was run down in the middle of Mexico.

    Not the same as “hot to trot”.

  10. And then there are pig’s trotters (also known as pettitoes).

  11. I went for “gallantine”… & then the German Wikipedia under Gallert gave me agreat image of Schweinkopfsülze opposite “Gelee” after referring me there…Which at least looks like what may be being described by somebody here.
    Yes, UKasians get the trots. & there’s the comic “Trots & Bonnie”. Friends were about to name their dog “Trotsky” for both reasons; but instead they gave him to some people with a bigger garden.

  12. Trots and Bonnie! God, how I loved that strip back in the day; too bad there are hardly any examples available online, though I did find this. Also a couple of minutes of interview with Shary Flenniken, the creator.

  13. AJP Crown says

    I’ve wondered why Aunt Pettitoes had that name in Pigling Bland. It seemed a bit whimsical.

    Re trots, I saw Sutherland has written a piece or a book called Whither Russia?

  14. Interesting etymology (OED):

    < Middle French petitoye goose giblets, offal of other animals (1530 in Palsgrave, 1546 in Rabelais; French petite oie, now archaic) < petit small (see petit adj.) + oie goose (see patte d’oie n.); later reinterpreted as < petty adj. + toe n.
    With the use of ‘small’ in this context compare German Gänseklein goose giblets.

  15. David Marjanović says

    Gallerte is also what spawn is encased in; that’s probably the only usage I’ve encountered.

  16. If a translator wants an English translation that indicates something that: a) is clearly a foodstuff; b) has definite associations with heavily boiled bones and flesh; and c) is considered fairly gross today—then the term they should probably use is aspic. Unfortunately, the OED entry for aspic does not appear to have been updated since the nineteenth century; it would be interesting to see how the meaning an connotations of the term have evolved since then.

    I am not convinced, however, that Keston Sutherland is actually interested in finding a fitting translation. His insistence on “undifferentiated and not homogeneous,” even though he attempts only a partial explanation of what he thinks that ought to mean, suggests he is not really looking at how the communicative value of any writing can be maximized, and he really just wants to riff on what he sees as an interesting divergence between the original text and the existing English translations—particularly that Marx seemed to be attempting a metaphorical version of what Sinclair made explicit, in the most famous passage from The Jungle:

    Worst of any, however, were the fertilizer men, and those who served in the cooking rooms. These people could not be shown to the visitor,—for the odor of a fertilizer man would scare any ordinary visitor at a hundred yards, and as for the other men, who worked in tank rooms full of steam, and in some of which there were open vats near the level of the floor, their peculiar trouble was that they fell into the vats; and when they were fished out, there was never enough of them left to be worth exhibiting,—sometimes they would be overlooked for days, till all but the bones of them had gone out to the world as Durham’s Pure Leaf Lard!

  17. he really just wants to riff on what he sees as an interesting divergence between the original text and the existing English translations

    Sure, and that’s what interested me.

  18. AJP Crown says

    All meat is considered by growing numbers of people to be ‘fairly gross today’. The point of aspic is visual – shrimps and herbs displayed attractively like ancient insects in amber – and as a metaphor ‘in aspic’ means isolated, usually protected from something pervasive and unpleasant and the very opposite of unterschiedslos, so it wouldn’t work. Incidentally there’s a discussion of Marx’s own catachresis in relation to this passage of Sutherland’s here.

  19. “it is a “congelation,” from the Latin verb congelare, “to freeze together,” and the Latin noun gelum, “frost.” Human labor is abstract when it is frozen: lifeless, cold and immobilized.”

    But the etymology is irrelevant – virtually no one speaking modern English uses “congealed” with reference to water freezing!

    Shakespeare did: Angelo in “Measure for Measure” is described like this “Some report a sea-maid spawn’d him; some that he was begot between two stock-fishes. But it is certain that when he makes water his urine is congealed ice…”

    But when we talk about water freezing, we say “freezing” or “frozen”. “Congealed”, possibly by bleedover from “jelly” and “coagulate”, is used for blood, or gravy (“Handel and Haydn and Rachmaninoff/ Enjoyed a nice drink with their meal / But nowadays no one will serve them/ And their gravy is left to congeal”) but not water – a million ghits for “congealed blood” and barely 1500 for “congealed water”, mostly explanatory.

    So, if we’re talking about a process of converting liquid organic matter into a jelly, “congeal” is exactly the right word to use.

    He is also simply wrong that “congelation” is an abstract noun. It can be – the process of congealing – but it can also be a concrete noun, a thing which has formed by congealing (cf distillation, preparation). In both senses it is rare.

  20. AJP Crown says

    I like that ‘Rachmaninoff’.

  21. Head cheese. ‘Aspic’ sounds too la-di-dah.

  22. John Cowan says

    All that is meat melts into bone

    I chuckled at that, but I also liked “the capitalist who is in essence nothing but capital itself nonetheless assumes in his interactions with human beings the local habitation of a body and the name of an individual.” I wonder if Marx would have got these jokes.

    It’s been said of several more mainstream economists that they loved capitalism but hated capitalists, but Marx seems from this to have hated (while reluctantly admiring) capitalism and felt sorry for capitalists.


    According to de.WP, this word is polysemous: it means not only Gallerte, but also ‘gel’ (the technical term in chemistry; jello, aspic, and the rest are all gels) and ‘rennet’.

    Is poetics different from poetry, more of an umbrella?

    I think it reflects a desire by the University of Sussex to express that it is a serious-minded place, not to be druv by fashion into appointing professors of poetry that are mere poets: they also have to know something about their subject. Per contra, it was a bit of a breakthrough for Oxford to elect as Professor of Poetry a practicing poet, Adam Fox, in 1938. He was one of the Inklings, and Tolkien and Lewis doubtless had a lot to do with his election. (Unlike all other chairs and professorships I know of, the Oxford P. of P. is chosen for a five-year term by a vote of present and former faculty members and Oxford graduates.)


    I always took it that “Slovenly Peter” (as Mark Twain’s translation called him) was actually named Peter.

    Isn’t a dog trot a breezeway

    Indeed it is. Dogs do like running through them, particularly dogs that aren’t allowed in the house otherwise. Topologically, of course, a breezeway is not inside the building, any more than the contents of the digestive tract are inside an animal.


    Surely Sutherland is not acting as a translator here, but rather as a glossator or a commentator, who are allowead to produce a text that is out of all proportion (in length, at least) to the original.

    Lagniappe: The Swiss computer scientist Niklaus Wirth, inventor of Pascal, was asked by an American how to pronounce his name. He replied with reference to two styles of programming language (Pascal belongs to the second, as do almost all languages): “You may call me by name, and call me Veert, or you may call me by value, and call me Worth.”

  23. Trond Engen says

    I don’t think Marx was using the metaphor to locate an exact point on the continuum between liquid and solid. He was making the point that human labour is an abstract (or aggregate) entity, its value (as added to society) being in sum rather than in its single contributions, and the value added from each contribution being undefineable. In German Gallerte is a good metaphor. In English maybe “thick stock”?

  24. Stu Clayton says

    Have another cup thick stock, dollink ?

  25. Solid working-class stock.

  26. Ha!

  27. AJP Crown says

    JC: Topologically, of course, a breezeway is not inside the building
    You mean because the building wraps around the breezeway. Although sometimes the breezeway is wide enough to be a public space, a living room with chairs and tables, like a porch or verandah can be: solid, void, solid.

    To me the dogtrot is fascinating because it’s all one building type made from one main material – wood – and with, mostly, one layout and just this one functional big idea about venting. Otherwise they’re fairly different, ranging from this Greek revival number to a lovely barnlike version (here’s another by the same arch., with for once an interesting article). More of them here. Here’s a pretty one with breezeways in between terraced units.

  28. AJP Crown says

    Unlike all other chairs and professorships I know of, the Oxford P. of P. is chosen for a five-year term by a vote

    I’m not sure how they’re chosen but the Slade professorships of Fine Art at both Oxford & Cambridge run for only a year (the UCL one runs for longer). It’s not a bad gig (looks good on dust-jackets but no need to move house), I know about half a dozen of them.

  29. here’s another by the same arch., with for once an interesting article

    Very interesting, thanks for that!

  30. David Marjanović says

    I always took it that “Slovenly Peter” (as Mark Twain’s translation called him) was actually named Peter.

    Uh, yeah. He is.

  31. Speaking of leftist radical ideas, here’s a good one — — described and analyzed succinctly and lucidly by John Lanchester in the LRB: “The Case for Universal Basic Income.”

  32. AJP Crown says

    Thanks for that, Jim. I’ll read it later. John Lanchester is one of the best things about the LRB, along with Adam Mars-Jones & Colin Burrow. JL writes very useful explanatory articles about money and I learned a lot from that How To Speak Money book he wrote a while back. Apparently his father was an accountant. I’m not at all as fond of the fiction. I didn’t like Capital although even the book was better than the BBC tv version (the house was TOTALLY wrong).

  33. John Cowan says

    Fund UBI with LVT!

  34. Stu Clayton says

    LVT can then be paid out of UBI ! It’s perfect.

  35. John Cowan says

    Well, no. The loop isn’t as closed as all that.

  36. AJP, I’m a Lanchester fan too–thought his book I.O.U.: Why Everyone Owes Everyone And No One Can Pay was the best book about the financial crises, at least that I read. I always look forward to his articles. That said, he’s a shit TV critic. He reviewed Game of Thrones an issue (or two) back, and his arguments were so jejune, his writing and thinking so lazy, that I didn’t even recognize it as his. Apparently he doesn’t take TV seriously, but then why the hell did he take on the piece? Here= (Fuckin’ forgot hot to embed . . . <h ref, the word, and equals sign, an extra sideways triangle thingy somewhere before you close it, but I just can't make it fucking work!) It's so bad it's far beyond a matter of opinion. The link says the piece first appeared online, which I'm sure it did, though it made it into the print edition; that's how I read it.

    John C.: I'd love hear you wax expansive about UBI!

  37. David Marjanović says

    Apparently he doesn’t take TV seriously, but then why the hell did he take on the piece?

    Why indeed. Over here, TV isn’t taken seriously (it’s a cultural oddity), so there are no TV critics (and no movie critics for that matter).

    h ref

    <a>. Specifically: <a href=””>The Pffft! of All Knowledge</a> becomes The Pffft! of All Knowledge.

  38. John Cowan says

    I’d love hear you wax expansive about UBI!

    Hard to do while standing on one foot, but I’ll try. Human freedom is self-ownership, and therefore the ownership of what we make. But we can’t make anything without the use of natural resources, and those belong to humankind generally. We are entitled only to our fair share: any title to more than that rests ultimately on nothing but force and injustice.

    Economically, though, it’s inefficient to hand everybody slightly less than seven hectares (17 acres) of dry land. What would I do with mine? And what about the fact that some people would get the best cropland on the planet, and others would get waterless desert? The same is true of other natural resources: wild animals; plants growing by themselves; water, oil, and minerals in the ground; unpolluted air; topsoil; electromagnetic spectrum.

    No, better to have a system whereby people can take firm control of such resources as they can use, provided they are able to compensate the rest of us for what we are giving up. As they mix their labor with those resources, they produce products for consumption and tools for increased productivity, and they can justly get for these whatever others are willing to give in free exchange. This produces a three-factor economy: land, capital, labor. (On this view, capitalists make the mistake of thinking land is capital, whereas communists make the mistake of thinking capital is land.) Consequently, there are two “from each … to each” maxims in such an economy: “From each according to their resource consumption, to each equally; from each as they choose, to each as they are chosen.”

    And that’s UBI: the just compensation for the appropriation of our natural resources by others who can make better use of it than we can. There are alternatives in detail, like Thomas Paine’s idea of giving everyone a chunk of capital at adulthood and at retirement age, which is just the net present value of the partitioned income stream that direct UBI would provide. Because the stream of income that can be produced this way is huge, we don’t have to distribute it all as UBI: some can be spent on public goods. In addition, it pays to leave some of the stream in the hands of the owners, to make it less likely that they will damage it in the long term.

    The biggest single source of UBI is actual land currently in private hands, but this is such a sacred cow that most of the people who talk about UBI now don’t even mention it, going only for the other and lesser resource revenue streams. And make no mistake, a change to a just basis for distribution would be a revolution. There are far too many people now who live comfortably on resource income at the expense of others, and the offense is a continuing offense: it is no defense to say that all the robbery and enclosure was in the past, for the income stream the rest of us are deprived of continues to come due throughout all of time.

    “‘Always remember […] that you are a Nately. You are not a Vanderbilt, whose fortune was made by a vulgar tugboat captain, or a Rockefeller, whose wealth was amassed through unscrupulous speculations in crude petroleum; or a Reynolds or Duke, whose income was derived from the sale to the unsuspecting public of products containing cancer-causing resins and tars; and you are certainly not an Astor, whose family, I elieve, still lets rooms. You are a Nately, and the Natelys have never done anything for their money.”

    Lastly, here’s some doggerel on the subject I wrote for the XML mailing list back in 2002.

    There was a man named Henry George
    Of land monop’ly quite the scourge.
    Wealth, said he, is what we make
    For profit or consumption’s sake:
    Stone axe, print book, or Jedi saber,
    We make them with Capital, Land, and Labor.
    The natural world, you understand,
    Is what economists mean by “Land”;
    Including sea and sky and soil,
    And iron, forests, coal, and oil.
    “Capital”‘s wealth used for production;
    On “Labor” we need no instruction.
    The return on Labor we call “Wages”
    (All this is written on many pages,
    Paper and Web; I can barely tap it all);
    “Interest” is what’s paid to Capital.
    And those who by some accident
    Own Land, we pay them what’s called “Rent”.

    This maxim Henry carved in stone:
    The products of our mind and hand
    Are at no other man’s command.
    But what is not of our own making
    Is anyone’s at all for taking,
    Provided (this point is due to Locke)
    They leave enough so as not to block
    Others from taking Land as good
    That still is free, it’s understood.

    If this is so, then why endure
    So many who are so very poor?
    Simple: we’ve decided to pay
    All Rent to those who (as we say)
    By hook or crook have gotten hold
    By being there first and being bold.
    Then they, or their heirs, get to collect
    (Waking or sleeping) what they expect
    The traffic will bear. The rest of us
    Must pay what they ask, without any fuss,
    Or else go scratch — for without Land
    There is no scope for mind or hand.
    The amount of Land is fixed, you know,
    Higher prices won’t make it grow.
    (The self-same law we can construe
    Of those who own ideas too.)

    Why should the rest of us pay Rents
    To their current recipients?
    Their title’s not one we should endorse,
    It is commonly based on force.
    Instead, community Rent collection
    (The so-called “Single Tax”) based on inspection
    And assessment, would be just
    And pay for services that we must
    Have, like national defense,
    Safe water, protection of innocence.

    What’s this to do with XML?
    Quite a bit. You see, Ideas as well
    As Land belong to all mankind.
    If we technologists allow the blind
    And greedy to enclose this space,
    A commons of the human race,
    We and our children will be paying
    Forevermore (it goes without saying)
    To Concept-owners, past all praying.

  39. Our late friend thegrowlingwolf was also a fervent devotee of Henry George.

  40. jamessal says

    So sorry to hear about thegrowlingwolf. His appearances were always a delight. I’ll have to go back and read his always enjoyable riffs.

    David M: Not true. Jenny Diski, who sadly died of lung cancer, was a fantastic TV critic for the LRB, and she wrote pieces about American shows, e.g., “Orange is the New Black,” which she rightly spent a couple thousand words to have it knocked off its pedestal; it’s fucking title is racist for Christ’s sake, an indicator indeed of that it was the most racist show made in the new millennium, all of which and far more Diski points out in her witty takedown. She spent more words still making clear that “Downton Abbey” is the poor man’s “Gosford Park” and even in that she found far less value than I do. It was masterful, and she took TV as seriously as she did novels, as she should have, and as Julia Raeside, who’s not the same caliber writer but assesses shows as well as anyone, does in The Guardian. She’s the first critic to recognize that Ripper Street is the best show ever on television by miles. And though I forget the critic’s name at the moment, and though it was on our side of pond, the NYRB published a world-class review of the first season of the new Twin Peaks. That could have been published in the LRB or even TLS had something different gone on behind the scenes.

    John C: Thanks so much for that! I love Lanchester but I daresay I enjoyed your supplement, if you will, even more—especially because of the doggerrel, since it reminded me of my uncle who died of kidney failure a few years ago. Every Xmas he’d send out some doggerrel to friends and family, recounting the past year, personal and political. You’re much better at it than he ever was, but having the memory evoked was treat. That aside, thanks again for so wholeheartedly fulfilling my wish. That comment is quite the enjoyable well written popularizing bit of edification.

  41. David Marjanović says

    Jenny Diski, who sadly died of lung cancer, was a fantastic TV critic for the LRB

    The London Review of Books? Brexit has already happened, then.

  42. jamessal says

    I’m sorry, David, I don’t quite follow. Would you mind expanding? I’m a TV as high art advocate.

  43. AJP Crown says

    I didn’t know either that she was a TV critic. I knew she wrote for them, obviously. I tried Ripper Street but I wasn’t as impressed as you are. One thing that irritated me a lot was that it quite obviously wasn’t filmed in London (I thought probably Dublin, the architecture was all wrong for London. These things are important.)

  44. jamessal says

    I’d love to be proved wrong, AJP—I always love a good back and forth with you–but I do believe you’re ascribing far too much artistic value to your profession. Nobody I know could tell, or let it bother them, and that includes people who know London well. Also, we’re talking about the East End from 1888-1900, not the East End now. Only someone with the keen eye of an excellent seasoned architect would both be able to tell that parts of it were actually recreated in Dublin and also care enough for it put them off. Finally, it’s very rare for anything to be filmed where it putatively takes place (except Boston, which is actually kind of annoying, that city loves itself so much, though I certainly wouldn’t let that affect my judgment of a film or show, either way). As to why I find it so impressive, I have about 4,000 words of a 15,000-20,000-word essay about it polished and ready to go; I’ll send you the essay once the other 10,000-plus words are in the same condition, i.e., once it’s finished. Needless to say, however, I can’t even begin to explain the even the gist here.

  45. David Marjanović says

    I’m sorry, David, I don’t quite follow. Would you mind expanding? I’m a TV as high art advocate.

    By “here”, I was referring to Germany and surroundings, where basically everything after WWI is viewed as a kind of guilty pleasure that serious adults are not supposed to talk about: TV, cinema, comics…

    This doesn’t extend to Italy, where (reportedly) businessmen aren’t ashamed to be seen reading Topolino ( = Mickey Mouse) on the bus. Maybe they have TV critics there, I don’t know.

    Personally, I think Dr Who and Star Trek are no less important than the Odyssey.

  46. AJP Crown says

    Well I certainly can’t wait to read why it’s a masterpiece and then I’ll watch the rest. I think I saw the first two series, I’m a bit hazy. But the correct feeling for the place is critical. Where’s the River? Don’t you remember Our Mutual Friend and how the River Thames is the most important character in the story? I’ve been satisfied in the past with some place in Canada (Toronto, maybe) doubling for SoHo in NY because the buildings were 6 story 19C brick lofts, I’m not against filming elsewhere in principle but the set designer (or whatever they’re called) has to do research. The east end of London is denser and higher than their muddy red-brick corner of Dublin. London has landmarks, believe it or not: Wren churches, graveyards, tenements, the docks – the slums in Ripper St were depicted as provincial northern two-story terraced housing with widely-spaced streets. Nothing was dirty enough, the brothel and the police station had totally fake atmospheres. What did a Victorian East London police station look like? The Victorians spent tons of money on public works. Take Crossness (sewage) Pumping Station, it’s like a cathedral. Nobody does that now. It’s specific to the time and place. The Underground. The first in the world, the stations had glazed maroon tile exteriors and all we get to see is a green tarpaulin. I could go on.

  47. John Cowan says

    Finally, it’s very rare for anything to be filmed where it putatively takes place

    What’s set in Manhattan is often filmed in Manhattan, and locals (including me) who make no claim to architectural knowledge know when we’re seeing The City and when we aren’t. See the NYC Zompist culture test.

  48. There is plenty of stuff set in Boston that is not filmed there. I am sure that I have mentioned this before, but I consider The Handmaid’s Tale (apart from its other issues) to be unwatchable because the book is so intimately tied to the Harvard Square setting in my mind. I can see with perfect clarity in my mind’s eye the obstetricians gibbeted across Mass. Ave. from where the Bow and Arrow pub used to be.

    My wife and I lived in Charlestown when Mystic River was being filmed. The filming was split between Boston’s two traditional crappy Irish neighborhoods, Charlestown and South Boston—although the story takes place overwhelmingly in Southie (apart from the climactic murder, which does take place along the titular river in Charlestown, north of Bunker Hill). Although we were not as familiar with the South Boston geography, all the Charlestown locations were quite recognizable. It was amusing the watch scenes repurposed from one part of the city to another. A characters could turn a corner in Southie and come out right next to the Navy Yard. Or they would keep running down a single street, which would require passing through a high school. That an important part of the plot involved a nonexistent abandoned zoo did not help things at all. (I have no idea where they filmed the “abandoned bear cage” scenes.) The whole experience was not helped by the fact that we ended up watching the early parts of the movie twice, since the projectionist broke the film the first time we went to see it, and we had to come back later to see the rest of the story.

  49. jim salant (AKA jamessal) says

    John C, thanks for the link. I look forward to enjoying it. I do have to take issue with your statement about films and shows set in Manhattan. Often? It is extremely expensive to film in New York at all, let alone Manhattan. It was a huge deal when NYPD Blue when was doing it. I’m sure there have been other huge shows and movies–I’m sure there have been a good deal of them, just because I generally trust you as a source of knowledge–but I’d still bet more often than not, even far more often, shows and movies ostensibly in New York are filmed in Toronto.

    AJP: Don’t you remember Our Mutual Friend and how the River Thames is the most important character in the story?

    In answer to this and the rest of your story, you simply haven’t watched enough. I’ve read two books cover to cover on Jack the Ripper, one by Donald Rumbelow, another by Paul Begg, both top-tier Ripperologists; both books described the East End in vivid detail at the time of the killings; I’m both a good reader and good watcher; and though I noticed the odd discrepancy, IMHO you’re blowing it way out proportion: the geography was all dead-on, and nothing off in the filmography came close to taking me out of the multi-layered story. The East India Dock is explored in the fourth season, when H-Division gets an accurate drastic makeover. Their are tenements tall as can be toward the end of season two, and ones of decent size in the fourth episode of the first season. The landmarks you mention are all referred to, if not shown, e.g., in a hansom passing I forget the name of the church on the way to the hospital, exactly where it would given the bell tolling and the time they arrive in Frederick Treeves’s surgery, right before you meet Joseph Merrick. A maze of narrow alleys dominates many chases, the upper-class tours Whitechapel’s wider laneways (as it had, Whitechapel alone having a population of a quarter million, and as they did, slumming it with stunning callousness), references are made to “London clay” (a substance prominent in the underground earthworks), and the “doss houses” our heroes enter gave me the chills. This isn’t a documentary of the East End from 1888-1900; it’s multi-layered, fast-paced, subtle as hell, linguistically brilliant Shakespearean-style tragedy. Ask yourself, could a good play be made today set in Jack the Ripper’s London? Because within that question resides the heart of my critical opinion of Ripper Street. None of what you call important could be represented in a play, not an actual Shakespearean one nor a fantastical Ripper one. But people still plop down $500 for a ticket to see the Royal Shakespeare Company when it tours, even though you’ll soon be able to see those very same plays in the comfort of your home for about five bucks. David Tennent is a masterful Hamlet. The genius of Ripper Street lies above all in the language, about half of which is blank verse, maybe a little less. It’s the first show to recognize that verisimilitude in speech will never have the power of a poet’s pen. You say you think you’ve seen the second season. That’s like walking out after the first two scenes, maybe, of King Lear and saying meh, I didn’t find it compelling. Or reading the first quarter of A Portrait of the Artist and declaring it lacking. Joyce, Shakespeare, and now Richard Warlow (creator or Ripper Street: they’re works need to be read or watched through and then at least once more to truly grasp what they’ve created. Julia Raeside, writing for The Guardian, after finishing Ripper Street wrote such a rave review of the final season that it finished with this (paraphrasing) answer to her column’s formatted question, “What should you watch next?”: “Ripper Street. Seriously. It’s the only game in town.”

    Separately, I also read a book called Naming Jack The Ripper by Russell Edwards, who was just this past year able to acquire a scarf belonging to the Ripper’s fourth victim, Catherine Eddowes, and have it tested with today’s technology. We now know from his DNA that Jack the Ripper was actually looked a somewhat like me! Eastern European ancestry (I’m Russian and Lithuanian), above average height for the time (I’m 5’10”), brown eyes (mine, somewhat thankfully, are hazel instead). These traits best fit a suspect written off by all the top historians on the subject, Aaron Kosminski. Interesting times for Ripper historians.

    David M.: Thanks so much for clarifying, and I’m thrilled to have you in my camp!

  50. Although I liked The Americans very much it had the same problem: apart from the scenes featuring Washington landmarks, it was filmed in NYC and nearby suburbs. The city scenes don’t have the look of Washington at all, despite the addition of DC-style street signs, and even the suburbs don’t look right, although I’d be hard-pressed to explain why. Something about the houses and the layout and width of the streets.

  51. John Cowan says


    Here’s a list of what is filming in July 2019 in NYC, per the Mayor’s Office for Media and Entertainment, a total of 59 films and TV programs. This excludes journalism and filming for which no permit is required (no equipment except hand-held and tripod-supported, no claim to exclusive use of city property, no prop weapons or cars, no stunts, no actors in police uniform, no parking privileges).

    I would estimate that my block (East 3rd St. between 2nd Ave and the Bowery) has “we are filming here on Thursday” notices posted about 3-4 times a year. Since there are 2,782 blocks in Manhattan, that’s a lot of filming.

  52. AJP Crown says

    Jim, thank you for going to such trouble in response to my complaints. I’ll give Ripper St. another go.

    I agree that my argument gives what you call the geography a lot of emphasis. So I’ll reply to that. You say it’s not a documentary, and yet the Merrick & Treves stuff is just that (in the 1960s there was an old BBC radio actor also called Frederick Treves, the surgeon’s great-something and an unusual name, so I’d googled both the doctor & the elephant man when I watched Ripper Street).
    Ask yourself, could a good play be made today set in Jack the Ripper’s London? Because within that question resides the heart of my critical opinion of Ripper Street. None of what you call important could be represented in a play, not an actual Shakespearean one nor a fantastical Ripper one. But people still plop down $500 for a ticket to see the Royal Shakespeare Company
    [An aside: Really, $500? Incredible! And only yesterday my daughter was wearing my old black RSC/USA t-shirt that I was given by a cast member who did Krapp’s Last Tape at BAM in 1998 – still as good as new, the t-shirt.]
    Yes, exactly. A play is quite different. An authentic-seeming set is either unnecessary or it’s way less important than it is in film & TV. The mere sight of a couple of landmarks would have helped me a lot – an establishing shot that included say Hawksmoor’s Christ Church, Spitalfields or a scene in Bermondsey which wasn’t quite as damaged by bombing as other parts of the East end. I always thought it was quite a fun distraction to see the filming in New York at odd hours like 2am, but apparently rich & powerful Londoners didn’t want it and I know that it’s much harder nowadays to film there than it is in North American cities, you can’t just offer the authorities bundles of cash. That may have had some impact on Ripper Street (also to a very much lesser extent, on the 2017 Howards End).

  53. John C. I stand corrected. I must have been thinking of either old information or always wrong information. I think the latter, given the giants Amazon and Netflix have become and how many shows they make. But as has been made pointedly clear just now, I could be wrong 😉

  54. John Cowan says

    From another page on the same site:

    In the 1960’s, producers often required upwards of 50 permits to shoot their project, and gaining access to some of New York’s most popular locations was tricky, at best. Producers were required to obtain a permit for every single day of production. The Department of Commerce and Industrial Development issued permits for filming, but producers were also required to receive approval from the Police Department, Highways Department and Traffic Department. If wires and cables were used, the permission of the Department of Water Supply, Gas and Electricity was needed, and if parks property were being used, additional permits were required. All of this red tape caused many filmmakers to take their production out of New York City.

    In 1966, Mayor John Lindsay changed this process and gave the Department of Commerce the authority to issue a single permit for filming in City-owned locations and abolished the power of City officials to censor the content of films shot on public property, as long as they didn’t pose a risk to the public or break the law. He appointed an aide to help the film industry negotiate for shooting at privately owned sites and established a police unit to control crowds during filming. […] The results were immediate and enormous. In 1966 alone, production in New York increased by 100 percent over the previous year, bringing an estimated additional $20 million to the City.

  55. Although I liked The Americans very much it had the same problem:

    A far worse problem when a lot of the action moves to 1980s Moscow in Season 5. Even the interior scenes are not very convincing. Basic details like style of office furniture, wallpaper and light fixtures are wrong. The exterior scenes look like an outer borough New York City neighborhood with Russian signs planted here and there. I guess the show ran out of budget.

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