Friday, March 04, 2011

Just as an extension of the post below and the comments thusfar, and without having formulated any really coherent response let me at least say that I’m kind of deeply suspicious of the agenda around and the attachment to “outsider” art esp where this relates to/ impinges on mental health issues. I well recall listening to Daniel Johnson’s 1990 way back when and hearing him apparently weeping during a song and yelling SATAN, SATAN,SATAN in a harrowed and harrowing fashion and feeling that it was basically prurient, exploitative, not much of a step up from the days of Bedlam. Interestingly one of the people I knew who really like d the album was a real indie-kid, a lover of twee pop and shambling bands, among other things. Actually that’s a side issue, which I’ll return to…

What bugs me is the sense that somehow the mentally ill are a reserve of “authenticity”: he really is a tortured soul, look he self harms, he hears voices, he’s had ECT, he’s liberated from our bourgeoisie capitalist subjectivity, he represents the figure of the true artist. True “artists” are (in Artaud’s phrase) people on their way to being ”suicided by society”, souls and psyches too bountiful and fragile to tolerate the barbarism all around them, it’s precisely their inability to come to terms with life and the breakdown of their life world that authenticates them. They are 4 Real, whatever they say or do must be a humbling and amazing expression of some true innocence/primal and primary insight lost to those whose souls have been calloused and calcified in the process of accommodating life. You get this authenticating boosterism around a lot of “rediscovered” pretty minor artists , Jackson C Frank or whoever…

Even better if this person can be seen to have had a marginal life filled with abuse. Surely I can’t be the only person appalled by the 90s and 00’s trend for cynical and hyperbolic confessional literature (everything f rom J.T.LeRoy to Dave Pelzer) in which very often tales of dreadful abuse , poverty and neglect are mixed in with a kind of Forever Friends sentimentality or (in the case of invented stuff like Leroy and Frey) a kind of hollow, fucked up one up-manship. Even better if this person has had some personal tragedy:, dead kids, dead spouse, cancer which they have bravely battled with. This kind of pain is something no-one can sneer at or deny to you and the horror of grief and loss often get exploited for social reasons, I have truly suffered now sympathize with me and admire my depth. If you think I’m being ungenerous then scout around the web, disingenuous, self-aggrandizing references to personal loss are everywhere: check out online “shrines” to victims of stabbings or accidents, filled with messages which seem intended to do nothing but narcissistically express the message writers quality of soul. Any criticism can be immediately suppressed by the ultimate authenticating authority of death. How can you start being critical of the way another person grieves? How dare you! What right do you as someone cosseted by your normativity have to criticize the art of someone who has really suffered? Hence a part of its appeal: it puts you beyond critical reach. The two moves that are designed to negate criticism and leave you free to say whatever shit you want are A) Opinionism Let’s relativise it away B) Suffering: rendering your expression sacrosanct.

The quest for authenticity, or for some titillating authenticating element, guarantees that you, the angsty and guilty, coddled consumer are in touch with the really dynamic, productive, libidinal and artistically charged “outside”: not just the place where people really live but the place where people really feel. The mad really feel, because they are tormented, the abused really feel, the poor really live. A few years ago I saw a website that promised Baillie Funk not just from Rio’s worst Favella, but from the very heart of the worst slum, this is the real shit, these people are the poorest of the poor, the elect! And yet of course all this hankering after the outside in all its truth and reality is just one more attempt to position yourself as he/she who knows in the great game of consumer cool. Nothing faintly sick-making in all that?

There is also a tendency to what I like to call “sadistic naturalism” which is this angry attack on artifice in the name of the real and the natural. Sadistic naturalist are usually of an avowedly liberal-humanist political persuasion but are also deeply antipathetic to artifice insisting on a kind of unperfumed, unadorned engagement with the real to which it is morally incumbent on us to succumb and will be remorselessly, soul-crushing insistent on this. Sadistic naturalists will try and force you to be “what you really are” and will forever be lecturing you on how you need “to be yourself”, there’s an
irony in that their perception of your childish attachment to artifice and performance must be destroyed in the name of another kind of childishness: that of the real, emotionally true and natural “child within”. They are trying to save you from your bad (capitalist, bourgeoisie, patriarchal etc) attachments in order to bring you into the true alignment with the real that they, for all their rage and zealous tub-thumping, are presumably enjoying.

11 comments:

W. Kasper said...

Can't agree more with this. Certain bookshops are FULL of agony memoirs. Worryingly popular genre with tween/teen readers too. Something that ballooned in the 90s and is embedded now. There is some connection with religion here (people I've met who read this shit tend to have quite heavy Christian upbringing).

There's a difference between giving the seriously marginalised a 'voice' and the cynical exploitation of a fetish - 90s indie/alt etc. scenes had a lot of easily exploited fetishes going on. Although DJ has done some great tracks, and I did go go to an 'outsider art' exhibition recently that had some pretty awesome stuff on display.

Greyhoos said...

Funny, you've hit a number of things very squarely in all of this.

Yes, the cult of the "outsider" artist is one that I always had problems with, from back when it was of the G.G. Allin and Daniel Johnson variety, up then again a few years later when I was living in Chicago and a lot of scenesters were catapulting Wesley Willis into the same rank. My misgivings have, however, always been at the level of base intuition, so it's always interesting to hear someone else articulate such stuff concretely.

Of course, the argument for this sort of thing usually runs de-stigmatizes and de-marginalizes mental illness, etc. Which might carry some weight, if only the promotion/attraction of such artists didn't hinge on a certain sordid strain of voyeurism, and what too often (as you point out) reeks of exploitation.

As far as the shantytown chic aughties meme you mention, yes -- that's another one that that always nagged at me. For similar reasons, but it also begs a different set of considerations -- socio-economic factors that make it much more problematic than the above.

carl said...

yeah i was gonna mention G.G....i was sort of appalled by albini and sonic youth and maximum rock and roll or whoever bigging him up...but being young i was underconfident and din't wantto risk not being hardcore and cool enough..

yeah slash yourself some more G.G....eat some more of your own shit! Dude this is so awesomely punk!!!



we must be about the same age greyhoos, i also saw the buttholes tween abortion and hairway...saw big black the same week...i was 16 i think...that clearly ruined me for life....

W. Kasper said...

G.G. was Henry Rollins after a lobotomy. I find it worrying that I know men (always men) in their 30s who still think he was 'cool'.

As for Wesley Willis - it was American students who really bigged him up, I recall (he's still pretty obscure here). Have to confess I did just listen to it for laffs.

Then there was the whole Feral House/Re:Search schtick which was far more dodgy than I realised when naively consuming it ('Apocalypse Culture II' focussed on paedophiles like it was the last 'rad' routine left to flog. G.G. and Darger were getting 'old').

W. Kasper said...

"I saw the buttholes between abortion and hairway".

err... maybe I should keep the punchline to myself...

Greyhoos said...

@ Wayne - Oh god, you would have to bring Re:Search into this. But whyyyyyyy?

@ Carl - Roughly the same age, I suppose. But I believe I was morelike 22-23 at the time.

W. Kasper said...

I only brought up Re:Search for it's 'Incredibly Strange Music' and the indie niche it led to.

What's wrong with bringing up Re:Search, but not Feral House: publisher of nazi books and child murderer autobiographies?

Greyhoos said...

Worth also bringing up, I suppose. I tried to tune out Re:Search because I found it too aggravatingly idiotic for the most part. But I never paid any attention to Feral House, so I wasn't aware of their history.

W. Kasper said...

Their JG Ballard volume was pretty good - but let's face it Throbbing Gristle were always pretty stupid, and G.P. Orridge is a 60-something toddler still eating his own snot to aggravate his mum (Coil are a different matter entirely, though).

Greyhoos said...

Hey, I'll admit I owned a few of the early volumes once upon a time. The Industrial Culture volume and the J.G. Ballard were good default intros into things that were under-documented back in the day. Still, I remember reading them at the time and thinking, "If only someone a little sharper had tackled this project. Perhaps someone who could ask some better/less fawning and more incisive questions (and who might maybe called a few of the participants on their self-aggrandizing bullshit in the process). But Juno & Vale made a good pairing I suppose, if only for their compatible stature in the mental midgetry dept.

(And sorry if I'm getting a bit harsh/toxic about this...but, really.)

ASHDAV said...

Does that mean you repent for playing "1990" repeatedly at excruciating volume back at St. Mark's? Don't think I'll ever forgive you, you cunt.

On the other hand I still think "I'm a Gypsy motherfucker" is a corking tune.