Friday, November 19, 2010

Simon Reynolds: War in the Jungle

The following excerpts are taken from Simon Reynolds' article which is reprinted in The Popular Music Studies Reader. They are an inspiration for my paper, "Despotism and Music."

The year of jungle's mainstream breakthrough in Britain and critical recognition in America, 1995 saw jungle torn every which way in a conflict between two rival models of blackness: elegant urbanity (the opulence and finesse of fusion/garage/jazz-funk/quiet storm) and ruffneck tribalism (the raw, percussive minimalism of dub/ragga/hip-hop/electro). Lurking beneath this smooth/ruff dialectic was a covert class struggle: upwardly mobile gentrification versus ghettocentricity, crossover versus undergroundism.

...Techstep is a sadomasochistic sound. Edrush declared bluntly, 'I want to hurt people with my beats,' and one No U Turn release had the phrase 'hurter's mission' scratched into the vinyl. This terrorist stance is in marked contrast to the rhetoric of intelligent drum and bass artists, with their talk of 'educating' the audience, 'opening minds,' and 'easing the pressure' of urban life. Sonically, techstep's dry, clenched sound could not have been further from the massaging, muscle-relaxing stream of genteel sound oozed by DJs such as Bukem and Fabio, with its soothing synth washes and sax loops alarmingly reminiscent of Kenny G.

While the intelligent and jazz-step producers prided themselves on their 'musicality,' the techstep producers veered to the opposite extreme: a bracing 'antimusicality.' Incorporating atonal, unpitched timbres, nonmusical sounds, and horror movie soundtrack dissonance, the new artcore noir was simply far more avant-garde than the likes of Bukem. In an abiding confusion about what constitutes 'progression' in electronic music, the intelligent drum and bass producers were too deferential to traditional ideas about melody, arrangement, 'nice' textures, the importance of proper songs, and hands-on, real-time instrumentation.

...Where did the apocalyptic glee, the morbid and perverse jouissance in tech-step stem from? Nico described the music-making process-- all-night, red-eye sessions conducted in a ganja fog as a horrible experience that poisoned his nervous system with tension. Ed Rush talked of deliberately smoking weed to get 'dark, evil thoughts,' the kind of skunkanoia without which he could not achieve the right vibe for his tracks. Like Wu-Tang-style horror-core rap, techstep seemed based on the active pursuit of phobia and psychosis as entertainment, which begged the question: what exactly were the social conditions that had created such a big audience for this kind of music?

If rave culture was a displaced form of working-class collectivity, with its 'love, peace, and unity' running counter to Thatcherite social atomization, then jungle is rave music after the death of the rave ethos. Since 1993 and hard-core's slide into the twilight zone, debates about 'where did our love go?' convulsed the UK breakbeat community, with grim tales of muggings outside clubs, of fights and 'crack' vibes inside. Disenchanted ravers sloped off to form the happy hard-core scene. Others defended the demise of the euphoric vibe, arguing that jungle's atmosphere was not moody, it was 'serious.'

In the absence of Ecstasy, jungle began to embrace an ideology of realness that paralleled the worldview of American hard-core rap. In hiphop, 'real' has a double meaning. First, it means authentic, uncompromised music that refuses to sell out to the music industry. 'Real' also signifies that the music reflects a 'reality' constituted by late-capitalist economic instability, institutionalized racism, and increased surveillance and harassment of youth by police. Hence, tracks such as T. Power's 'Police State' and Photek's neurotic 'The Hidden Camera', lyric-free critiques of a country that conducts the most intense surveillance of its own citizenry in the world (most UK city centers now have spy cameras). 'Real' means the death of the social; it means corporations that respond to increased profits not by raising pay or improving benefits but by downsizing.

Gangsta hardstep shares Wu-Tang Clan's neomedieval vision of late capitalism, as influenced by martial arts and Mafia movies whose universe revolves around concepts of righteous violence and blood honor. Techstep is more influenced by dystopian sci-fi movies such as Blade Runner, Robocop, Terminator, et al. which contain a subliminally anticapitalist message, imagining the future as a return to the Dark Ages, complete with fortress cities and bandit clans. Hence, No U Turn tracks such as 'The Droid' and 'Replicants' and Adam F's 'Metropolis.' 'Here is a group trying to accomplish one get into the future' goes the sample in Trace/Nico's 'Amtrak.' Given the scary millenial soundscape techstep paints, why the hurry to get there? The answer: in the new Dark Age, it is the 'dark' that will come into their own. 'Darkness' is where primordial energies meet digital technique, where it gets scientific. Identify with this marauding music, and you define yourself as predator, not prey.

What you affiliate yourself to with techstep is the will-to-power of technology itself, the motor behind late capitalism as it rampages over human priorities and tears communities apart. The name No U Turn captures this sense that there's no turning back. The pervasive sense of slipping into a new Dark Age, of an insidious breakdown of the social contract, generates anxieties that are repressed but resurface in unlikely ways and places. Resistance does not necessarily take the 'logical' form of collective activism (unions, left-wing politics); it can be so distorted and imaginatively impoverished by the conditions of capitalism itself that it expresses itself as, say, the anticorporate nostalgia of America's right-wing militias or as a sort of hyperindividualistic survivalism.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Grada Kilomba - Oct 2010

- Racism as a procedure of amputation which is included in the 'infernal circle' of otherness
- No agreement is possible within reason - racism requires dealing with forms of unreason
- In Lisbon, Kilomba's street was renamed, by locals, the 'street of the monkeys.' This reveals the fantasy that the Afro-Portuguese were not only not Portuguese, but not human
- There is a wish to be invisible to avoid being hounded in a racist context - racism becomes an obsession which interrupts normality
- Blacks are kept busy with racism - it presents itself as a political possession, or a ghost which continually reappears
- People would obsessively ask, 'where are you from?' in order to hear an exotic story - racism is thus a kind of voyeurism
- This voyeurism can overlap with a modern primitivism, in which the black subject possesses something anterior which whites have lost
- Excitement is what has been lost (postcolonial melancholia)
- This primitivism has been called 'positive' racism because it idealizes the black, but there is nothing positive about it because those constructed as others become embodiments of both sexuality and 'primal' aggression, both of which have been massively repressed for the purpose of civilizational projects
- the 'game of racism' requires both sweet and bitter words, and the entanglement of love and hate
- Dissociation and displacement occurs in white voyeurism, with the depoliticization of texts marked as racial
- Shame and guilt must be differentiated - the moment of shame in whites is a very important moment of recognition of the possibility of plural perspectives
- It is not about morality, but psychic processes. Shame, unlike guilt, can be positive

- Psychoanalysis deals with the human body as an iceberg, with the water level at the eyes, and the subterranean unreason below the brain and the line of sight
- Therefore Kilomba tells politics through subjectivity, in the tradition of Fanon
- The concept of Plantation Memories described memory as embodied in institutions
- Racism is the moment of being abstracted from the present and installed in the past. A mise-en-scene which places the subject in the plantation once again

- A good psychoanalyst asks no questions. Just record the text, and let the analysand associate, layer by layer, into rich details
- Little Red Riding Hood can be used as a narrative of sexual abuse and a way to approach past trauma in children. This is because it contains unconscious codes to symbolize conflicts

Otolith Group Lecture, - Oct 2010

- The otolith controls balance and orientation in the inner ear
- What happens when you leave this behind, and leave behind gravity?
- Chris Marker provides a methodology to bridge the poetic and the historical, by using a future anterior narrator
- Taking up a mode of exile within the future, because the present proved itself to be impotent and uninhabitable. One way in which it was uninhabitable was that it ignored critique and protest against unjust political policies such as the war
- Making films influenced by Marker was a way of creating shareable emotions - the depression, impotence and anger became shared
- Marker's methodology was non-illustrative
- The films became the meeting place of the postcolonial and the post-communist
- A question of how to make conceptual personae which are both theoretical and artistic at once, with affect, commonality, and the invitation of a shared melancholia

- Through the affective register, any viewer becomes part of a secret communism
- Otolith is strongly influenced by J.G. Ballard's science fiction of the present
- Dwelling within the 'bad new present' rather than the 'good old days'
- Futurity and futurism become a political question in the present. Evidence of this is Bush's politics of pre-emptive war, caught in its own dystopian futural projections

- The work of Karen Mirza and Brad Butler was also important

- The form of the essay-film cancels the distinction between creation and critique, theory and practice. Using image and sound, it registers a common affect of discontent
- The voiceover is the film thinking to itself - telling us nothing, representing nothing, failing productively, making audible the silent voice of reading and thinking
- This is one affect which a video can mobilize in a world with too much video

- Kodwo Eshun grew up in the 'Zone 5' suburbs of London, listening to psychedelic bands like Yes and Gong. He saw the suburbs as a place to plot aesthetic terrorism which is to be unleashed upon the city.
- Otolith is interested in the opacity of the filmic process - creation as a black box and 'essay' as the etymological root in the idea of the 'attempt'
Deadly danger to any global civilization is no longer likely to come from without. The danger is that a global, universally interrelated civilization may produce barbarians from its own midst by forcing millions of people into conditions which, despite all appearances, are the conditions of savages. - Hannah Arendt, quoted by Homi K. Bhabha

Otolith Group

Film: Otolith III

Based on the screenplay 'the Alien' by Satyajit Ray

Four figures: the Engineer, the Director, the Journalist, and the Industrialist

The journalist: 'saying why he couldn't, that's what matters'

The Industrialist:
'build, build build'
'make a film for yourself'

Casting passers-by as the figures/characters:
- 'The sense of self-containment is there. He would make a really good director.'

- 'For me, the alien was not a body at all. It was more of a climate, a strange weather.'
- Through the myth of the martian we get a history of exteriority
- 'I need to ask what the nonhuman thinks of us. What do we look like from the alien's perspective?'
-'There is a co-belonging born from the intimate distance of shared solitudes.' We cannot be alone being alone
-'The re-imposition of ancient virtues consists in the re-imposition of terror and fear.' - The Boy who befriends the alien
-'We live in a space of friends' - The Boy
- Cinema takes the side of the image against the honor of the event
-'An idea is only good when it has no power' - Michel Serres
-'Democracy is like happiness-- it is a thing which does not exist, and yet, one day, is no more.'
We believe today that power is not exerted through the people, but that power is a monster which lurks somewhere in a grotto. Every once in a while it eats some children and wreaks havoc. All we can do is write a constitution to try to keep it at bay.
- Cornelius Castoriadis, interviewed by Chris Marker

Catherine Malabou - What is a Psychic Event? Oct 2010

- Malabou is concerned with the erasure of the frontier between the brain, as physical object, and the psyche
- In order to confront this question we must ask 'what is a psychic event?'
- To answer this question Malabou proposes a new term: cerebrality, in distinction to the brain
- Freud distinguishes between the concept of sex, as used in everyday speech, and sexuality, which refers to a specific form of causality
- Kant describes causality as character (Critique of Pure Reason)
- Sexuality, therefore, is a character which intervenes to regulate a certain series of events
- A psychic event marks a connection between an external event and an internal reaction. Sexuality is the regulating force of this connection. It incorporates the contingency or the accident into the psyche
- Sexuality as a concept which determines the border between inside and outside, the proper and the externality
- Cerebrality is the word for causal value. it encompasses not just conscious life, but also the affective and erotic fabric
- The brain is a site of affects

- Oliver Sacks and other neurologists demonstrate the places of overlap between cerebral and psychic life
- Cerebrality is both cause and character (regime) of events
- Cerebrality has usurped the place of sexuality in neurology. This conflict represents the central disagreement of psychoanalysis and neurology
- Freud wrote that a psychic event has two simultaneous levels. It is both
exogenous AND endogenous
unexpected AND a feature of elaboration and integration by the psyche
in German, Ereignis AND Erlebnis

Sexuality is the encounter between these two levels. They can also be called the level of the incident (nonsensical) and the articulation (sensical)
- Cerebrality functions completely differently
- This is because no interpretation of the cerebral accident, such as brain damage, is possible. There is no Erlebnis event. The accident remains wholly exterior, unassimilable
- Cerebral wounds cut the thread of history in that they reveal the ability of the subject to survive the senselessness of the accident

- They are never accepted by Freud as real: he neutralizes cerebrality
- For Freud, the brain is an 'opague organ'
- In his analysis of the war wounded, it appeared to him that the soldier's real conflict was necessarily a repetition of a previous trauma
- The word trauma comes from the Greek 'to pierce'
- In Freud, the organic lesion never becomes a neurosis. The determining cause can never coincide with the precipitating cause. PTSD is not the same as a neurosis or a psychic disturbance
- In order to constitute psychic events, organic lesions must reactivate previous lived trauma. Neurosis is a 'peacetime conflict' between the ego and the sex drives
- In the end, sexuality will always win over trauma without hermeneutics. There is nothing beyond the causality of the pleasure principle

- Freud believed that brain damaged patients should not be psychoanalyzed lest they become 'common neurotics'
- Could it be that Freud failed to think the accident in addition to the event?
- Cerebrality deals with contingency differently than does sexuality. It allows for the possibility of unprecedented contingent disaster
- We must think the traumatic event that is neutral to fantasy and reason
- Examples of these events include Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, epilepsy, and ADD
- Every wound, as causal, has the power to change personality, but the sense of this change is fundamentally different between psychoanalytic and neurological methods. Where psychoanalysis sees a change in the ego, neurology sees an unprecedented metamorphosis, giving rise to an entirely new person
- The catastrophe defines the event as it defines itself on a psychic level
- The catastrophe radically divides between before and after, in a manner never allowed by Freud

Plasticity consists of three meanings:
1. The possibility of a thing to receive form
2. The possibility to give form to a thing
3. The possibility of the explosion of every form

- Plasticity is situatuted at both extremes of creation and destruction
- The psychic event is plastic on identity, and identity is itself plastic, but not in the first, positive, or 'sculptural' sense of the term, as is often shown in Sacks, with, for example, the patient who is struck by lightning and becomes an accomplished concert pianist
- In fact, the psychic event is only understandable in the third sense, as the destruction of forms
- Destruction might constitute a form of psychic life against Freud

- Freud's view on plasticity is described in his work Thoughts for the Times on War and Death
- He wrote that in psychic life, succession = coexistence
- Therefore that which is plastic is indestructible. Any earlier development can return again
- Can we be so certain that mental illness is always a return?

- The 'new wounded' are not merely those with brain lesions. The 'new wounded' refers to all of those in shock who have experienced neural reorganization due to trauma which is war-related, sexual, or due to another kind of violence
- Perhaps all damage by extreme relational violence such as this is 'socio-political'

- Every event occurs because of an 'indivisible intimacy between the inside and the outside'

- Traumatic events present themselves today as non-intentional: this is an ideological effect. Intention is disguised as natural and contingent causality
- Political oppression today assumes the guise of a traumatic blow which cancels out its political aspect
- This disguising coincides with the global uniformization of neurology and the collapse of the brain and the psyche

Q&A Fragments:

- One consequence of traumatic shock is indifference, odd unconcern, and coldness
- This total suspension of affect, which can be seen in war-torn countries or displaced populations, is similar to PTSD
- In its extreme degree, it is similar to the psychic state of serial killers and extreme psychotics
- The reactions to natural and political traumas are the same
- In cerebral trauma, two different psychic forms emerge
- There is, therefore, always the virtual reality of becoming other to oneself. Whenever I behave indifferently to the other it is a manifestation of who I might become
- Brain damage reveals something that might happen at any time to anyone (Marguerite Duras refers to the contingency of her face...)
- Therefore it is unfair to look at the brain itself as a locus of causality
- Sacks sees plasticity as the making of a beautiful form with a happy ending
- Antonio Damasio: There can be no reasoning without decision, which requires affective evaluation. There is no decision 'in cold blood'
- the traumatic event is both a shock and a promise
- Malabou's event would have no promise - it would be a positive answer to the question 'is there anything beyond the pleasure principle?'

Alexander Garcia Duttmann on Derrida, Adorno, and budget cuts

I ran to death and death meets up
and all my pleasures are like yesterday
- John Donne

- Current budget crisis: we are facing, in the UK, the cutting of the majority of funds to non-STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) subjects.
- This means that the university has given into a societal notion of measurability and accountability
- Individual academics give in to the cuts because they think that they may avoid being fired
- This would mean not the abolition but the privatization of the humanities and the arts, their relegation to a sphere that is economically unreachable for everyday people

On thinking in Derrida
- How do I relate to a gap? The gap which constitutes thinking...
- thinking is to forgo intelligibility, or to recognize the Geflecht (Adorno), entanglement, abandonment, spacing and logical irreconcilability which is proper to the affirmation of thought
- Being caught between two opposing moments creates a lacuna which can do justice to neither
- Adorno and Derrida share this overall gesture
- Deconstruction relies on a gesture of generalization