Betrayal, Revenge and Metal Furniture, Owen Hatherley on Ungentle

28 October 2022

Writer Owen Hatherley leads a talk as part of the public programmes for Ungentle, a new film by Huw Lemmey in collaboration with Onyeka Igwe.

The young members of the British ruling class who turned to the far left or to espionage during the 1930s often shared a particular experience of moving from a Britain seen as hopelessly conservative, repressed and retrograde, to a Central Europe marked by social reform, sexual libertarianism, utopian architecture and modern design.

Many then saw that idealistic Europe crushed by fascism, and were forced to try to realise its ideas at home. From Christopher Isherwood and Stephen Spender, to Anthony Blunt and Kim Philby, the discovery of the lands between France and Russia were crucial to the decision to betray or to attempt to destroy their class.

In dialogue with Ungentle’s themes of espionage, sexuality, Englishness and modern design, Hatherley discusses how that generation brought back what they’d seen in Berlin and Vienna, and how, in conjunction with a generation of exiles from those countries, they tried to reinvigorate or subvert the place they’d come from.

  1. Mark Fisher, ‘Smiley’s Game: Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy’, in Ghosts of My Life: writings on depression, hauntology and lost futures (Winchester: Zero Books, 2014), 64-73.

    ‘Functional’, an illustration by Osbert Lancaster to Homes Sweet Homes, by Osbert Lancaster.

    Christopher Isherwood, Christopher and His Kind. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1976.

    Stephen Spender, The Temple. London: Faber & Faber, 1988. 

    Kim Philly, My Silent War: The Autobiography of a Spy. London: Macgibbon & Kee, 1968.

    Anthony Blunt, Artistic theory in Italy, 1450-1600. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963.

    Rudolf Wittkower, Architectural Principles in the Age of Humanism. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1971.

    Geoffrey Scott, The Architecture of Humanism: A Study in the History of Taste. London: Elsevier Science & Technology, 1980.

    Miranda Carter, Anthony Blunt: His Lives. New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2001.

    John Cornford, Communism was my Waking Time. Moscow: Foreign Languages Publishing House, 1958.

    Wilhelm Reich, The Sexual Struggle of Youth. London: Socialist Reproductions, 1972.

    Wilhelm Reich, The Invasion of Compulsory Sex-Morality. London: Souvenir Press, 1972.

    Jürgen Kuczynski, The Condition of The Workers In Great Britain, Germany and The Soviet Union, 1932-38. London: Left Book Club, 1939.

    Edith Tudor-Hart: In the Shadow of Tyranny, edited by Duncan Forbes. Hatje Cantz/National Galleries Scotland/Wien Museum, 2013.

    Margery Spring Rice, Working-Class Wives: Their Health and Conditions. London: Penguin Books, 1939.

  2. Owen Hatherley writes about politics and aesthetics for the Guardian, the London Review of Books and others. He received a PhD in 2011 from Birkbeck College, University of London, for a thesis published in 2016 as The Chaplin Machine (Pluto Press, 2016). He is the author of many books, including Militant Modernism (Zer0, 2009), A Guide to the New Ruins of Great Britain (Verso, 2010) and Landscapes of Communism (Penguin, 2015). His most recent books are Modern Buildings in Britain: A Gazetteer (Penguin, 2022) and Artificial Islands (Repeater, 2022). He is the editor of The Alternative Guide to the London Boroughs (Open City, 2020), a commissioning editor at Jacobin, and the culture editor of Tribune.

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