Friday, November 25, 2011


Well, I'd hoped to do a post a day during this break, but I didn't quite manage that. Oh well, nothing to do but press onward.

It's pretty rare now because of the way I listen to and consume music, but the first moment of listening to something new used to be quite the experience. I've been thinking about this a lot lately, as I start to consider what might be on an end of year list for me music-wise. I've heard so much this year (I can see arguments against both of them, but for me, 2010 and 2011 have been great years for music), but I can't specifically remember hearing it all for the first time. When I was in high school we'd just got the internet, and I spent hours on Allmusic, Pitchfork, and other websites reading, researching, and imagining what things sounded like (I even spent some time in music chat rooms on Yahoo!--speaking of which, I'm very intrigued about what relationship could be drawn between chat rooms and social networking as it exists in 2011). Pre-YouTube and high speed internet, it was still really difficult to hear any of the music that I was finding out about (krautrock, post-rock, IDM, basically all the references someone with "good" taste should get), and I had to make guesses as to what something could sound like when based on reviews and descriptions. After all the reading and guessing, then, to hear the actual music was an enlightening moment. Was I ever disappointed? Oh yes, all the time. Most of the time, though, I was able to come to love what I heard, even if it was only years later. Sometimes, I'll come across a song or band now that sounds like what I expected some of those genres to sound like before I'd ever heard them. For example, Mouse on Mars' "Tamagnocchi" sounds like what I expected Neu! to sound like, and what I've always kind of resented Neu! for not sounding like.

Anyway, there are a couple first listens that I can remember with particular intensity. I first heard Loveless, for example, late in the afternoon on a weekend (I have a feeling it was a Sunday, but that could be a projection based on other things). I remember the colour of the light and the way that even though it was right about the time on a weekend afternoon when I tend to get the kind of ennui that Douglas Adams' called the long, dark tea-time of the soul, Loveless was strange enough, different enough, new enough to cut through all of that. It's hard not to pay attention after the first five seconds of "Only Shallow."

The first listen that I remember above all others, though, is my first encounter with Verve's (pre-The) A Storm in Heaven. I'd read about it for weeks (months?): "the group's 1993 full-length debut, A Storm in Heaven, was based on buoyant, extended psychedelic passages. Looking back today, it was an interesting and original musical direction, since at the time, angst-ridden Seattle bands (and their many copycats) were all the rage." That was the sum total of my knowledge prior to hearing the music. I knew "Bittersweet Symphony" and "Lucky Man" obviously, but those were, I was told by the review, a different animal altogether from A Storm in Heaven and the early singles. And those singles! Oh, the mythology that was built up in my mind around them based on their reviews was immense:
"One Way to Go" and "Man Called Sun," however, show off their tendency to groove, building moody songs out of repetitive phrases that are the perfect backdrop for Richard Ashcroft's acid-tinged lyrics. With its minimalistic, echo-laden guitar, droning bass and heavy backbeat, "Man Called Sun" is the first Verve classic."
The band truly comes into its own -- Richard Aschcroft sings like a man possessed and Nick McCabe's guitar is positively oceanic, producing tidal waves of drone which crash and break over the hypnotically liquid rhythms of SImon Jones and Peter Salisbury. . . . [A] dreamlike beauty, tapping into an energy just outisde the realm of consciousness -- it's music which transcends space and time, with a purity unmatched by anything else in the Verve catalog.
"Gravity Grave" finds Verve augmenting their echo-drenched, fuzzed-out guitars with harmonica and flute. Underpinned by a pulsing bassline and heavy backbeat, the end result is euphoric, mind-blowing psychedelia.
It didn't hurt that the covers of their singles and albums--designed by Brian Cannon and Microdot--were amazing pieces of work. They had just the right mixture of surreality and menace to appeal to a teenage me. There's an NME feature with cannon talking about many of these images alongside his other work with Oasis, Suede, et al. Reading through his descriptions of the Oasis sleeves, you really get a sense of how they were the nostalgia mode. Everything is based on rehashing a rock and roll myth that had already become cliche. That one of their members was named "Bonehead" and suggested many of the ideas seems only too fitting.

A Storm In Heaven, front, back, and interior

"Gravity Grave"

Incidentally, it took many years--until YouTube appeared--for me to actually hear the full version of "Gravity Grave," despite the fact that for a number of years, if pushed, I would've said it was my favourite song (Now? Who knows? My stock answer for was Bark Psychosis' "Eyes and Smiles," but I don't know if I'd still say that). Knowing there was more to it that I hadn't heard actually helped its cause, really. The fadeout made me want more, made me need to know what was missing, and preserved the mystery of something that I already found inscrutable--what does "To me you're like a setting sun / You rise and you're gone" mean? I listened to "Gravity Grave" for the first time in a few years the other day and was taken away again. It was glorious. If there's one thing that I really long for from music it's transcendence, and early Verve delivers that in spades for me.

Anyway, this is supposed to be about my first encounter with A Storm in Heaven, so I guess I should talk about that. Sitting on the floor, staring at my stereo and flipping through the booklet (Ashcroft looking not quite of this world in his photo--you can really see how he sort of got away with his faux-messianic thing to start with; shame it all went to shit), as "Star Sail" begins. That first chord, like "Only Shallow," is immediately captivating.* But rather than the violence that follows "Only Shallow," a fade back out, an opening of immense spaces, and finally "Hello, it's me..." That guitar solo (it's like some god's vacuum cleaner in the best possible sense). The feeling that you really are hearing a transmission from somewhere out in space. I was changed. I've been looking for anything that sounds feels like "Star Sail" since that moment, and never really found it ("Gravity Grave," in my opinion, is even more captivating, but not in the way that "Star Sail" is). There are other high points: "Already There" and its alarm clock feedback in the chorus, "The Sun The Sea" and its wonderful horns (courtesy of the Kick Horns, whose contributions to Radiohead's "The National Anthem" had already blown my mind), "Butterfly" and its barely-keeping-it-together vibe. The real gem of the album, though, after "Star Sail" is "Virtual World." Again, that sense of unending space, of Ashcroft coming to you from somewhere else, and a return to the flutes that helped out "Gravity Grave."

It's no so much that I'm nostalgic for that kind of experience (or rather, I am, but it's not only that), but I do think something is lost in sitting in front of my computer, browsing online while an album plays. Much of this is on me, obviously, and I recognize that fact. Nevertheless, how can I remember the first time? How can I change my listening habits and adapt to this new mode of listening? How can the current listen have meaning without a memory of the first listen, even if that memory is a myth? Perhaps it needs to be a myth,  a personalized fiction of listening, in order to develop personal significance, personal resonance? This seems, somehow, related to music and atemporality. I need to think about this some more.

*This is something of an anachronistic reflection. When I heard "Star Sail," hearing "Only Shallow" was still a year, if not two years, away. They're two of the most striking album-opening chords I'm aware of though, so I tend to group them together.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011


EDIT: An equally applicable title might be "Derrida, the Hauntological Hauntologist."

As I was doing some reading earlier this evening I came across what Jon Stewart might call my moment of Zen for the day--from the contributors section of Deconstruction is/in America:
Jacques Derrida is Jacques Derrida.
Perhaps I simply was suffering from an attack of the giggles, but I could not stop laughing about that biography. It's so casually arrogant, but, at the same time, it's hard to argue that he hadn't earned being able to say that in a collection of conference papers dedicated to the idea of Deconstruction. Nevertheless, in its tautological form, I couldn't help but think of that sentence as something like Derrida's Ron Burgundy moment--and given everything I've heard/read about the latter part of his career, he certainly seems to have taken on something of the qualities of that character, retreating into the arms of his cult at the slightest hint of question or criticism--a statement that deserves to be followed by "He is kind of a big deal. His apartment smells of rich mahogany. He has many leather-bound books."

Indeed, while such directness might (would?) jeopardize the very Derridean/deconstructive project, a contributor bio seems like the perfect place for Derrida to make good on his claims that he is (was) not deconstruction (a statement that seems as ridiculous as Robert Fripp's claims that he is not King Crimson) by presenting a clearly delineated definition of what Derrida is if he is (was) not deconstruction (and, conversely, what deconstruction is if it is not Derrida). There's probably quite an interesting reading to be developed from this about the proper name and its significance to Derrida--signified, of course, by that most inescapable of names. Jacques Derrida was (is) Jacques Derrida, yes, but was (is) he more than "Jacques Derrida?" Is he doomed to be only French and obfuscatory? To be an eternal author-function? I'm not a Derridean, so I don't think I can even venture an answer here, but I would gladly listen to/read some thoughts on this.

What's equally interesting to me, though, is how difficult it is to write about that sentence now, and how it resonates with the translation of his talk that appears in the book, "The Time is Out of Joint." Derrida is "out of joint;" at once the eternal present tense of the object of literary analysis and the past tense of the deceased person. Derrida still very much "is" something--in the sense of a meaning that continues to shape, change, and develop--even as he can never "be" anything again. In another, equally valid, sense, he "was" something, and can only ever "have been" that thing. He has become the spectre, the ghost, that he discusses in Spectres of Marx. Derrida, the hauntologist, becomes the hauntological object. Fittingly, he claimed to be a ghost before he ever became one in the common understanding of the term, and that biographical sentence conceals many ghosts.

Of course the impenetrability of the biographical statement works to create those ghosts: "there is no presence except mythologically, no myth without a recording surface which both refers to a (lost) presence and blocks us from attaining it."  What else is the "is" in that biographical statement than the creation, the perpetuation of a myth? To return to Derrida's language in the talk: Jacques Derrida is/in/as/and "Jacques Derrida." The relationship drawn up here is always going to be one that is lost, for if the "is" must be interrogated, as Derrida makes clear it must, how can the relationship his biographical sentence proffers survive? How can it be accessed when, ultimately, it's unclear what would be accessed, but even by what method, through what authority, access is granted to us?

Both this biographical sentence and his talk hinge on "is." As Derrida frames his central questions:
Has deconstruction happened? Has it arrived? Of course it has, if you like, but then, if it has, so many questions arise: How? Where? When? On what date exactly? Was it so long ago, already? Or perhaps not yet? . . . Now, when and if one does not know when an event took place, one has to wonder if it indeed took place, or in any case if it took place in "material reality" as Freud might have said, and not only in the fabric of some "psychic reality," in phantasm or delirium. A date, which is to say, the objectivity of a presumed reference, stands precisely at the joining of the "material" and the "psychic." . . . And perhaps deconstruction would consist, if at least it did consist, in precisely that: deconstructing, dislocating, displacing, disarticulating, disjoining, putting "out of joint" the authority of the "is." Or yet again, rather than doing that, sooner, even before doing that, and doing it methodically, it would be a matter for deconstruction of measuring itself against the historical experience--and this is history itself--against the experience of that which in the "is," in time or in the present time of "is," remains precisely "out of joint." (17, 21, 25)
So the obvious question to pose to that biography are those same questions that Derrida raises: Has Jacques Derrida happened? When? On what date exactly? Was it so long ago, already? Or perhaps not yet? Given its not disjointed nature, thanks to the very passage of time, what is the "is" in "Jacques Derrida is Jacques Derrida?" From where does it derive its authority? Does it possess any authority at all? Did that "is" ever take place, or is it simply that "psychic reality" of phantasm? What does "is" mean for a ghost? For an already ghost, an always-already ghost? Again, I've got no answers here (although, I'd be tempted to joke "Yes, Jacques Derrida happened in 1966 at Johns Hopkins University"), but it's kind of fascinating to think about.

This is perhaps why, once the initial shock of its arrogance wears off, Derrida's biographical sentence becomes quite profound in a certain sense, an opening into how hauntology functions and how it develops out of ontology: "It is this sense of temporal disjuncture that is crucial to hauntology. Hauntology isn't about the return of the past, but about the fact that the origin was already spectral. We live in a time when the past is present, and the present is saturated with the past." In one sentence, Derrida has dinjunctured himself--he both is and was, will always be and has never been. This has been accomplished through the technology of language, of writing, and it is through that same technology that we must attempt to come to terms with this dinjuncture, to set Derrida right, to place him accurately within time, to find the presence that "Jacques Derrida is Jacques Derrida" implies, even as we know it to be a futile task. As he puts it, quoting himself (of course, necessarily, the ghost of himself making this point possible):
And so as to clarify this question of time, of the being of time, of what then is, in its impossible present, time itself, I continued: "Intended to avoid contretemps, to be in harmony with our rhythms by bending them to objective measurement, they produce misunderstandings, they accumulate the opportunities for false steps or wrong moves, revealing and simultaneously increasing this anachrony of desires: in the same time. What is this time?" 
A delirium of the date thus confers on the incredible sentence "The time is out of joint" more than one supplementary meaning, to be sure, but at the same time, just as many more madnesses. At the same time. At once. As if there were a dead time in the hour itself. (19)
In the hour that Jacques Derrida "is" Jacques Derrida there is a dead time, the time he "was" Jacques Derrida, and the future state in which the "is" will be both "is" and "was." At the same time, at once, Derrida as person, presence, spectre, ghost, absence. Our own desire to make that "is" an objective measurement, to establish an objective originary moment in which that "is" is true, is wholly present, creates these contretemps, these same times--the past present and the present (suffocating in) past. What does it mean that Jacques Derrida is Jacques Derrida when Jacques Derrida was Jacques Derrida, was always dead, was always a ghost?

Sunday, November 20, 2011


No, I'm not dead. And no, I haven't given up on this blog. Unfortunately, there hasn't been much time over the past month for me to write things here. I'll try and get back into the regular swing of things over the next week as I'm on a break for Thanksgiving. This post will be kind of piecemeal, something of a scattered collection of fragments that I hope to have time to revisit and turn into something more coherent over the next week or so.

Let's start with this: Drake's take on Tumblr and online life for "his generation" (which I guess would include me. I'm assuming we're roughly the same age--and after looking it up, I'm a little over a month older than him). From his October's Very Own blog:
I’m really scared for my generation, you know. The thing that scares me most is Tumblr. I hate what Tumblr has become. Because it like, it reminds me of those clique-y girls in high school that used to make fun of everyone else and define what was cool, but in five years, when you all graduate, that shit doesn’t matter. No one gives a fuck about that shit. Instead of kids going out and making their own moments, they’re just taking these images and living vicariously through other people’s moments. It just kills me. Then you’ll meet them and they’re just the biggest turkey in the world. They don’t actually embody any of those things. They just emulate. It’s scary man, simulation life that we’re living. It scares me.
When I first read that, particularly the second half, my initial reaction was "someone mail Drake some Baudrillard." His statement is shot through with postmodern anxiety of the kind that Baudrillard was so good at articulating--the obsession with the image, the screen, the simulation, all of it suggests that for Drake the hyperreal is the real (or at least the reality of his experience), and this realization, coupled with the ongoing attempt to live within the hyperreal, is not just disturbing, but frightening. And really, who better to live out these anxieties than someone for whom the internet has played a key factor in his successes? The fact that he originally gained fame for his acting, and so references to him for the unfamiliar are prefaced by "the guy who played Jimmy on the new Degrassi..." makes it doubly interesting: has Drake himself ever been anything other than a simulation, the simulacrum of Aubrey Drake Graham? Is this the specific anxiety of the hyperreal subject whose persona is constructed on a foundation of "being real?" His guest verse on the Weeknd's "The Zone" features his advice to a female (whom one could charitably call a groupie) to "Be you." Ambiguous at the best of times, the source of the advice--a musician who has generated heated online debate about his authenticity even as the very complexity of that questions has generated praise for him--renders it all but impossible to parse.

Perhaps even more interesting is the specific target of Drake's fear: Tumblr. The internet itself does not scare him, nor do Facebook or Twitter, but Tumblr does. Of course, five minutes browsing through Tumblr is enough to suggest some possible reasons. For one, it is the consummate form of online culture as curating: Tumblrs, by an large, seem to be about the careful development of an aesthetic (and possibly a persona in the case of more personal Tumblrs) that is reflected through content shared with the public. Crucially, the content is rarely annotated or captioned. The context for the content is generated by the content itself, through the interactions of the various elements selected for display and especially through the juxtaposition of high culture-low culture objects. When commentary is present, it's usually either ironic or bathetic. Memes, and riffs on those memes, feature heavily. This is not the rough and tumble, anything goes world of 4Chan, but the pristine and immaculately manicured lawns of the digital suburbs. It certainly seems like a short jump from Tumblr to "The Mold of Yancy." Of course, Drake's own carefully manicured persona, the self-consciousness, the realness of him, is very obviously reflected back by Tumblr. I'll leave you to draw the pretty obvious and reductive Freudian conclusion this seems to be heading toward and instead suggest that the anxiety stems from the as yet imperfect simulacrum revealed by its reflection in Tumblr. A reminder of the hyperreal's failure to totally triumph over the real. I haven't given Take Care enough of a listen to see how this all plays out in the music yet, but I'll try and get to that before the end of break.

For now, though, I'll do my own curating. Some Baudrillard that seems appropriate in light of Drake's comment on Tumblr. From The Ecstasy of Communication:
Today the scene and the mirror have given way to a screen and a network. There is no longer any transcendence or depth, but only the immanent surface of operations unfolding, the smooth and functional surface of communication. In the image of television, the most beautiful prototypical object of this new era, the surrounding universe and our very bodies are becoming monitoring screens. (12)
The private space undergoes the same fate. Its disappearance parallels the diminishing of the public space. Both have ceased to be either spectacle or secret. The distinction between an interior and an exterior, which has just what characterized the domestic stage of objects and that of a symbolic space of the object has been blurred in a double obscenity. The most intimate operation of your life becomes the potential grazing ground of the media. . . . The entire universe also unfolds unnecessarily on your home screen. This is a microscopic pornography, pornographic because it is forced, exaggerated, just like the close-ups of sexual acts in a porno film. All this destroys the stage, once preserved through a minimal distance and which was based on a secret ritual known only to its actors. (20-21)
We no longer partake of the drama of alienation, but are in the ecstasy of communication. And this ecstasy is obscene. . . . It is no longer the obscenity of the hidden, the repressed, the obscure, but that of the visible, the all-too-visible, the more-visible-than-visible; it is the obscenity of that which no longer contains a secret and is entirely soluble in information and communication. (22)
The uncertainty of existing, and consequently the obsessions of proving our existence, prevail over desire that is strictly sexual. . . . What matters above everything else is proving our existence, even if that is its only meaning. . . . The need to speak, even if one has nothing to say, becomes more pressing when one has nothing to say, just as the will to live becomes more urgent when life has lost its meaning. As a result, sexuality is relegated to a position of secondary importance, to an already luxurious form of transcendence, of a waste of existence, while the absolute urgency is simple to verify existence. (29-30) [This makes particular sense if the simulacrum is thought of as reproducing via the image, the point of its existence]
The solicitation of and voraciousness for images is increasing at an excessive rate. Images have become our true sex object, the object of our desire. The obscenity of our culture resides in the confusion of desire and its equivalent materialized in the image [Zizek's commentary on Occupy Wall Street, its purpose and the dangerous temptations to which it could succumb (i.e. settling for being the image rather than the manifestation of the desire of the 99%) seems interesting in this context]; not only for sexual desire, but in the desire for knowledge and its equivalent materialized in "information," the desire for fantasy and its equivalent materialized in the Disneylands of the world, the desire for space and its equivalent programmed into vacation itineraries, the desire for play and its equivalent programmed into private telematics. (35)
This withdrawal, which we know well, is that of the subject for whom the sexual and social horizons of others has disappeared, and whose mental horizon has been reduced to the manipulation of his images and screens. He has everything he needs. WHy should he worry about sex and desire? It is through the networks that this loss of affection for oneself and for others has come about, and it is contemporary with the desert-like form of space engendered by speed, the desert-like form of the social engendered by communication and information. (42-43)
That's it for now. I'll come back to this, though, and hopefully tie this (to a certain extent) to some of my thoughts on Facebook.