Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A couple of things which will potentially lead on to other things.

This will all be very off the cuff and speculative so if I get anything horribly wrong feel free to tell me.

1) Offending people.

A couple of things have been praying on my mind so I’ll lay them out here. First of all a couple of exchanges with Dejan and Andy regarding “offensiveness”. I have certainly written things I wouldn’t be terribly keen on my mum reading for example and I wonder why I am attracted to writing such potentially “offensive” material/ expressing my ideas in such an aggressive or scatological way (or why they are such pressing themes for me).

Well first up, it’s pleasurable. This pleasure may depend (see Wyatting) as K-punk remarked on the notion that there is some Big Other out there who is appalled by my actions though I would actually be more inclined to think it’s a gesture that attempts, however futile it might be, to incarnate a Big Other, a desire to be told off by a tangible “them”* that we can affirm our “usness”, and if that’s too ambitious, at least for me my “ I-ness” against, in a world in which Authority has become diffuse and attenuated to the point of invisibility ( this attempt to scandalize represents largely a form of nostalgia for monolithic power structures/symbols of authority and the stubborn residue of the belief that they must be out there somewhere, come on, give me a palpable someone to hate!) and the pallid relativism that reigns in all spheres, sucking all the individual's moral force away with its endless caveats and cavils (best just to do nothing, really.)

So to some extent it’s the flailing of a man in free fall. While the “shocking” is absolutely an over-familiar post-modern trope in art I think my own use of it is an attempt to limn the boundaries, to trace the contours of public discourse for myself, to use it as a compass in effect to gauge where the lines are still drawn, where the taboo areas are, a way of orienting myself. This can’t be said, this is wrong, this will cause irritation, this constitutes an over-stepping the mark ( for whatever reason). Doing this helps to bring things into relief. Aha! This is where we are. These are the rules x and y operate by.

Also, it’s funny. Now I won’t embarrass PMPEP by going over, once again, the single most inappropriate series of observations ever made by a human being to a couple of lesbian separatists during lunch but suffice to say, I laughed my head off. It was joyful, as these moments are, possibly because it was abreactive, ( we felt threatened by these girls, probably) but mostly because it shattered the rules of discourse, in this case politically correct discourse, precisely the one in which we invested so much, yet felt so miserably smothered by. I assume that in most exchanges we’re constantly tending our discourse in more or less successful ways (and this is the release afforded in friendship, the slackening of that tension, the “I can be myself-ness” of it, that now the variously contending discourses I manage during the day can collapse back into each other and that I’m afforded the relief with the “friend” of a lowered self-consciousness.) So, those rules being broken produces dizziness, vertigo, a lightness, a sudden decoupling and a whirling out of the senses that’s intensely pleasurable even if on a moral level what’s happened is deplorable and that if it were directed at a friend the response would be anger. For a moment all discourse is suspended and there is, if you're sufficiently removed affectively from the “target,” that ecstatic moment of almost pure thoughtlessness. It’s the moment of not knowing what to say, not being able to find the next step in the discursive ladder that can be either hilarious or mortifying. Analogous I guess to the supposed divide between comedy and tragedy, that sympathy is everything, that it can be either traumatic or exultant, an experience either of the abject or the ecstatic, either a scream or an outburst of laughter. Presumably the offensive/scatological is situated at the fault-line, the boundary within jouissance itself where one shades over into the other, (isn’t there a certain kind of thin queasiness in there, some residual astringency in most pleasure? The slight depression, lowering of the spirits that follows the outburst, something that has curdled in the sudden overflow?) While there is pleasurable terror, (the way children shriek in delight and run away when you pretend to be a monster can sometimes turn into actual distress and fear if you get too good at being scary. You have to regulate your performance and maintain a certain amount of “yourself”, a certain degree to which it’s a role your playing, a performance,) maybe there is also something fearful in pleasure. I think that this controlled mingling of trauma and exultancy is what certain “offensive” texts offer you. I guess that’s why for example “The 120 Days of Sodom” is basically funny. Why Whitehouse are funny. Why Burroughs is funny, why Lautreamont is, but why Genet isn’t, why Coil aren’t, why Aurtaud isn’t, they are not “transgressing”, not playing with the boundary, they’re speaking to you from somewhere deeper inside the zone.

2) Hauntology! A call for clarification

There’s also been a lot of Hauntological talk abroad of late. Almost all of which has been making me think I don’t understand the term or its applications. My basic grasp of Hauntology (in really layman’s terms) is that its an attempt to pit the past against the present for the sake of the future, to examine the present “reality” in terms of what is absent/repressed (collectivity, Utopianism etc) and make that absence felt, an attempt to make the Po-mo “nostalgia mode” work against itself, to achieve a kind of politicised maybe even a polemical nostalgia. An attempt, in fact, to liberate the past from nostalgia and, rather than it’s being another country, marked off, clearly the environment in which things are done differently, and which becomes an arena for exotic consumption, it is infused into the present, (or rather its (the past's) presence is amplified) to add/force a historical/political depth to post-modern “flatness” and in that way undermine/overthrow it.
So…..treating old blues songs as easy signifiers of “soul” and attaching them to pedestrian house music a la Moby, would not be Hauntological whereas an attempt to do justice to the experience of slavery, for example, by foregrounding the continuation of racism/ exploitation etc in the present via a deliberate, provocative dyschronia, would be.

Anybody care to tell me if that’s roughly it before I plunge on?

First I should tell you how great that Eglantine Gouzy album is though!
*And at whom I impotently fling my filth like a coprophagic Ape** in a cage attempting to bespatter the faces of its captors.
**Originally I wrote "gorilla", but "ape," I think you'll agree is somehow funnier


Tom said...

Thanks for another timely posting... It often seems that calculated offensiveness tries more to summon up authority than act against what exists... I guess they're called health and safety fascists because their acts of interference disguise their longing for a Fuhrer to come and to sweep all their nonsense away in a single breath. They try to provoke his arrival, as though trying to engineer the coming of the Messiah, but merely subsist on a diet of public irritation and passing anger. More to the point, this is why they are reported and obeyed... I find people often hesitate for a fraction of a second before they can say he's black or she's Afro Caribbean or whatever, because they're frightened of offensively mangling their language, and would really rather say nothing. One can wait a long time listening to a description before the speaker can work out how to designate a skin colour. Eventually people won't be able to say Muslim without shrinking... And some torrent of language eventually has to fill up the gap. Bring back Lord Reith.
Alas the fascists half consciously yearned for are heritage fascists and the provocations are directed at something falsely extrapolated from a misunderstood past. There's no hope of anything as comforting as a Fuhrer.

Having said that, the offensiveness I do respect I see as an incidental byproduct of the search for truth, art as scientific investigation, as I like to see it, and obviously one has to lift up some stones... Burroughs the classic example. It seems to me the trick is to do it without disgust, as I feel Catherine Breillat manages, while taking disgust as a subject. Doesn't that sound hygienic!

I like gorilla. It rhymes witn vanilla of course, and ape is a frightening word... "Rings of light coiling downwards, descending to the horror of the ape" as TS Eliot wrote in pulp mode, absurdly but effectively. Night of the Bloody Apes, a film. Edge of the Ape Oven, a scary song.

Tom said...

But I don't find Burroughs funny, except the very occasional deliberate joke set ups. I mean, are the Sisters of Mercy funny? Maybe one just has to take off one's shoes.

I mean, this is part of a serious scientific investigation, and while one can laugh, in the end it's just a results table. A madman howling in an asylum, on the other hand, is funny, as any psychiatric nurse will tell you.

carl said...

timely? well that's good then! edge of the ape oven? Twin infinitives!?

actually wouldn't it be great if you gave the same script to Breillat and the Farrely brothers and saw the two different takes. i guess the point with comedy v drama is that we know that if we were positioned differently with regard to the events themselves we would have an entirely different/opposite experience of them (i thought Melinda and Melinda was going to attempt something radical with this, but didn't and was resultantly pretty abysmal) so that some level of unease is maybe always filtering through

Dejan said...

I agree with you wholeheartedly on the point of incarnating an angry Big Other. I am beckoning all the daddies who fucked me to come out of the closet and incarnate so they may apologize for what they've done to my sorry young butt all throughout the 70s, 80s and the 90s.

The one who will have to apologize the most is Slavoj Zizek. He's the daddy who invented all these popular translations of Lacan for the Western academia to drool over in their infinite Calvinist narcissism, but personally, he doesn't subscribe to any fucking one of them. But,this will be the subject of another posting.

I think it's very interesting what you write about authority dissolving into little insistent hysterical digital units that attacks us in the manner of a peer-to-peer network. I am reminded of what Shaviro said about internet ads, swarming around your head like virtual fliesin ''Connected''.

Perhaps the only defence against them is an anal sort of obsessiveness - where you simply refuse to concede to their soft fascist demands and you KEEP SAYING IT LIKE IT IS - without any hope that you will be heard, just keep throwing it in their faces so that they can never ignore you.

Anycase I do find that this sort of writing brings on a certain relief.

I do feel Burroughs to be funny in the same way David Cronenberg is funny. Like in that last movie of his A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE, the exaggerated deadpan of everything often made it feel like a very subtle black comedy. In fact there's something about the whole thing NOT looking funny and being dead-existential serious, that is automatically funny.

Many people consider the existential director Michael Hanneke to be unfunny, but I laughed my ass off at THE PIANO TEACHER - for example, the scene in which the bizarre Erika reacts to the primal scene in the car by pissing on the pavement. And then the anguished face of a young, pimply Austrian student who was just rejected in Erika's sadomasochistic play.

I also have a million questions about hauntology, so if you continue this thread, it will be very useful for me. This spectral presence that has emerged from the suturing point of the Moebius strip, from the post-modernist superimposition of two images on top of each other (as in ''collage''), does BUG ME a lot these days!

steve57 said...

The simplest definition of Hauntology yet! And you know what, I almost had it there...

Maybe I'm lacking the academic background to fully understand it. Either way, I'm tempted to start dropping the term in conversation so I can be even more offensive to people who think I'm an arrogant elitist twat as it is...

carl said...

yeah.. i think most of us lack the academic background to get it fully steve..but think it should be explicable without having to bone up on the complete works of Derrida first, or at least needs to be if its going to catch on.. mark K-punk is obviously briliantly lucid on the subject and i was only trying to condense what i see as the germ of his ideas for my own benefit... it does however rasie a whole series of questions for me about what is currently supposed to be a Hauntological canon.. but still i'll try another post on that