Wednesday, February 22, 2012

let your poison be your cure

Seb and Tendenzroman respond to my response to their response (excellent new post on The KLF over there too!).

In general these are extremely reasonable and reasoned replies, really. Hard to object to....but I'll have a go, from two probably slightly contradictory angles. This will be a bit ramble-y as I am about to go out, and anyway sometimes just spewing stuff out is more rewarding than crafting a finely-honed response.

The first angle is Seb's paraphrasing of my question as: why art? or why listen to music? It's not quite that so much as why listen to music to this degree (what degree? you will immediately counter, so perhaps I should say, why make music such an obsessive central life-concern?) I remember a now defunct Spanish-language blog called Drogandose con musica (drug yourself with music) and this is something that ATTT's has touched on recently, the compensatory, narcotic qualities of listening and consumption. Am I addicted? Do I use music as a way of escaping or not engaging with life/myself/others in certain ways rather than being with them. It's a benign enough addiction I suppose, but I can't help but feel that there's something in listening to and writing/theorizing about music that feels virtuous when in fact it may be fairly trivial, or that its main purpose may be therepeutic. I don't suggest therefore that we should all stop, in fact when I have more time I'll consider the role of the Internet and writing as therapy more fully.

But then again, yeah, why art? I have always felt that writing and engaging with art was essentially a "symptom" or at least an attempt at a self-cure and I think that this is why in terms of "outsider art" blogging tails off after a while, the therapy works, you write yourself better, in a way. Continued output is either a professional obligation or an inability to get to the other side of your problems. Or both. I always imagined that the aim of writing was to emerge into a life in which writing was no longer necessary, and that the objects that we used to galvanize that process would be partly if not entirely rinsed of significance. I have found this, in my own life, to largely be true. Music has seemed less vital to me (and less vital perhaps within itself) as some of my deeper blocked desires and anxieties have been worked through and expressed. Music no longer stands in for all the things in life I feel I'll never have.

I'm generalizing unfairly of course, so let me simply say,I have used writing to escape from a life I was unhappy with but felt powerless to change; five novels in ten years is an output most professionals would envy, I have no real interest in them, they served a particular purpose.

Which leads me to another question, that of passionate attachmnent. In certain senses in the rock and pop tradition music/musical figures are your lack, this is why formalist criticism is kind of unrewarding when applied to these areas, it can't get at your psychological investment in the music/musician as expressive of possible selves. Presumably no one stands in front of their bedroom mirror at fourteen pretending to be Stockhausen ( cue..."actually!"). Additionally in eclecticism what is one attached to? Isn’t it narcissistic? To the self as curator/marshaller/ wise shepherd of all these variously interesting minor or major artists that have fallen within your purview, in some sense it might bespeak a more fully rounded character than my own of ontological envy, or it might not. Though I'll grant you, as one more and more becomes oneself the intensity of identification tends to fade; perhaps eclecticism is the mature response, but if so I don't know if  this general eclecticism has been arrived at or is now simply a default position, a cultural preset.

So the question for me becomes a little more, I suppose, music, do I really need you anymore? I can imagine a post-cultural self and for that in many respects I am profoundly grateful, maybe, to finally get that big monkey off my back. It hasn't all been fun y'know. Culture can be a pain, the desire to create less a munificent gift then a kind of seeping out of poisons or the lancing of a boil.

The Sickness was how a bloke I used to know would refer to his own obsessive music making and collecting and how it got in the way of everything. Yet it was  precisley the fact that it got in the way that gave it its value.


Tendenzroman said...

I'll reply here with a couple of quick notes lest our blogs become dedicated to this rally.

I definitely subscribe to the 'lancing the boil' analogy for the image of writing and have used it myself before, particularly as regards the way in which writing - collecting your thoughts and gathering them into an order - is painful, but eases the pain of all that psychic clutter in being arranged and externalised. I daresay you can let it go BECAUSE you know it's out there, on your blog or wherever, and you can come back to retrieve it later on if need be.

I can't speak for how far down the rabbit hole of depression you've been but I can recall, through a haze, sustained periods where I was stewing in my own psychic filth basically: I saw good writing and dismissed it as ego-driven self-congratulation, I looked at everything and found a reason not to do it.

Recalling it is like trying to recall the thought patterns of a drug trip: disjointed, with kernels of the odd wisdom maybe, but at the time they all appeared to form a coherent whole, a worldview I find unrecognisable now.

I think, though, that writing has a value, can speak in a language beyond the aggregation of individuals. In a broad sense we both belong to a Centuries-old Left tradition, snottily dismissed as a 'secular religion' (I see no problem with that with some qualifications).

The political aspect of writing has a power that I think is returning: It's one of those 'pinch me' moments for me that Paul Mason, obviously influenced in some way theoretically by reading Capitalist Realism, is Economics Editor of Newsnight, that political reality is in such disarray that the BBC had to concede such an influential position to a Leftist. Seems unimaginable five years ago, and here we are.

It seems to me that to some extent the decadent view, or self-view, of the writer stems from a world where it seems impossible to break ideology through it. I have an idea for a sustained piece of writing, studying ideology in Hollywood films. As its starting point I ref. a Guardian article which ref.s a couple of American Fox News analyses: The new Muppets film is Communist because it has an oil baron villain wanting to buy them out of their theatre, and Happy Feet 2 is multiculturalist propaganda because Robin Williams is doing one of his pathetic foreign accents and the characters with American accents team up with him to work toward a common goal. I argue that, say, the overtly Communist A Bug's Life, was made in the period of the End Of History, ideological decadence, and as such passed by unnoticed as far as I can see. So the crisis of Capitalism has galvanised the right once more to tirelessly route out subversive thoughts, and it's a battle we should engage in. Ideology builds its own gravedigger, basically.

I suppose what I'm trying to say is that I think the political of where I'm writing from saves me from my self, belongs to a project outside of my self, and this is where the 'secular religion' thing holds more water. Whether or not I or others will change the world with theoretical writing is up for debate, but people have lived and died to write politically.

carl said...

I should add another couple of things here, firstly I've never been depressed, I have just been plain old unhappy, I wan't even miserable and to be frank i was a lot funnier and more sociable than I have been since I was happier,so there is no dramatic tortured mental state or inability to function going on or anything spectular, i was just unhappy in the deep and daily way that many perfectly agreeable people are who ahve talked themselves into believing that a stoical, uncomplaining unhapiness is the hallmark of a truly adult life have. There may be a certain northern british tang to all that too.....

secondly, well, yes. I`m pretty much in total agreement with everything you say and have said. To be frank, since the financial crisis of few years ago I have been amazed by the shift in discourse and the increasing militancy of people a generation younger than
me, I'm optimistic about the political situation in the UK though I think it will take a number of years to change course.

Re politicl writing, I think we have to ask ourselves still what it is or should be at this point and how it exists. my suspicion here is that it should be rather autobiographical, personal and subjective, indeed i think a part of the success of the first wave of Zero books ( Mark, Owen Nina and Dominic) is that they are all fairly autobiographical.

Tendenzroman said...

It's hard to say where the line is between depression and unhappiness. I was never on medication because I thought it better to deal with it on my own, and it's only with hindsight and probably reading K-Punk on the subject that I came to realise how intense and... ambient it was. And certainly on the other side many people who are legitimately unhappy rather than depressed have gotten the 'chemical kosh'.

'The personal is political' eh? It certainly has great uses and I loved all the Zero books, but i wouldn't discount, say, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz in the papers all the time denouncing austerity's appeals to what he calls 'the confidence fairy.' It's about using all the weapons at your disposal really innit?

I must say all you've said has been haunting me a bit all day... what do people actually DO all day once they've got over consuming culture all the time. which makes me think 'Oof, I must be deep into all this if I can't comprehend a life without it.'

Seb said...

Afraid I can't contribute much to the talk of political writing, other than to say it strikes me as precisely the kind of writing through which you make yourself a better person - after all, isn't to point to arrive at a practical position, a place from which you can live better?

As far as music goes, I will gladly cop to being sick. It's a perfect analogy, because like any good junkie, I'm in a place where I prefer the company of my habit to that of real humans. There are occasional moments of withdrawal, but the true terror comes when the drug stops working, prompting a desperate search for a stronger hit.

But then, of course I care about music to an extent that is well beyond reasonable to most people. It took my own family years to realize that I'm not just a "music Nazi" (as my sisters called me), because it's my fucking job. It's just kind of a bonus that my vocation leads to more bollocky pseudo-philosophical fistfights than, say, being a patent attorney. (Then again, that may be giving patent attorneys short shrift.)

brod said...

Great post, lots to digest.

I'll be the "actually" guy re: Stockhausen. I did fancy myself as a bit of a bedroom avant-guard musician in my mid-teens, producing all kinds of weird, unlisentable noise with broken toy keyboards, cheapo guitar effects and a second-hand four track. Tieing in with the rest of your post, I found it very theraputic and self-affirming indeed. It didn't matter that the "music" was nothing special and of no interest to anyone else, the process was the point for me.

"Paul Mason, obviously influenced in some way theoretically by reading Capitalist Realism, is Economics Editor of Newsnight"

Wow. That is a turn up for the books.

Tendenzroman said...

Many thanks for the conversation Carl, definitely gone away with a lot to think about. A therapy session about therapy really...

carl said...

Pleasures all mine Dan, more power to you!

David W. Kasper said...

Why is this blog now called 'Jason Phereus' BTW?

carl said...

i fancied a change, basically.

anyway its still got an impostume url

plus when i started blogging i was working on a novel called at that point the impostume and the quote above about Jason Phereus was the .. what's the word for a quote that prefaces a work? I suppose i understood that it was only by not isolating myself and in some way doing battle with my enemies (including myself) that my particular set of problems would be resolved, and lo by indirect means it came to pass....