Books : Alan Lipman's "On The Outside Looking In" now available!
I first met Alan some three decades ago when he was a Reader at the University of Wales and I was his new research assistant. He was a pipe smoker in those days with a penchant for Turkish delight. Despite not sharing similar confectionary tastes, we became firm friends, colleagues and comrades. While writing about contemporary architecture, we would occasionally lock horns over a particularly intractable problem - which might have been conceptual, but could just as readily have been syntactic - and the intense atmosphere would be perforated by a crack as Alan sheared through the stem of his pipe. Then the laughter would come.
The pipes have long since been put to one side, but the desire critically to understand and change the world remains undiminished, as does the laughter and the writing about contemporary architecture.
No one who meets Alan can fail to notice the extraordinary passion which he invests in the business of living. His life is animated by outrage at the violation of human dignity, whether this is in apartheid South Africa, in the macho militarism of the nascent Israeli state, or embodied in shoddy architecture. To all he brings to bear a critique rooted in a profound engagement and familiarity with a remarkably broad range of cultural work, as well as in a lifelong commitment as a political activist in and of the Left. Reading him is to accept - wittingly or otherwise - an invitation to recuperate much that has been hidden of our cultural history, especially that which inconveniences those who hold social power, as well as to repeatedly ask oneself what is to be done, what must I do?
Alan has an unshakeable belief in the capacity of ordinary people to transform their lives; as his William Morris would have put it, we all have it in us to be creative. This has underpinned Alan's political journey from communism, through socialism to anarchism (he would undoubtedly reject such a simplification) and it has similarly informed his remorseless critique of those who use positions of relative and absolute privilege exclusively for their own benefit - the corruptions of power disgust him, now as then.
This has not been an unaccompanied journey: at the core of Alan are his partner Beate, his children and grandchildren and while friends are, of course, important to him, family has been and is of cardinal significance.
In a world in which bad faith has apparently become a modus vivendi for those who exercise social power, in a society in which holding to an ethical, principled position is seen as a weakness to be exploited, it is important to be reminded that there is another way in which to live, that it need not be like this. Read on …