Saturday, April 25, 2009

Henry Flynt "The Meaning of My Avant-Garde Hillbilly Music

"For me, the Beatles’ consummate song was “Revolution,” which begins “If you wanna make a revolution, count me out.” It served as the anthem for all the mediocrities who responsed to the stresses of the late twentieth century by embracing institutional co-optation."

In America and Europe, mass culture has overrun the autonomy of rural and intellectual audiences alike."

At that time (Cuba, Vietnam, the Civil Rights movement), I affiliated with the official Left as an ongoing and expanding tendency, and sought to produce songs “in the spirit of the movement.” But, referring to that aspiration, no type of song is less convincing esthetically than the slogan lyric, especially if it is set (as it usually is) to child’s music. I never wrote slogan-songs. The most convincing way to express a political thought in a song is to capture the listener’s attention with a specific, or personal, action or experience which has intense symbolic value. Indeed, when a political thought is being voiced spontaneously by people who have lived it, they express it by way of symbolic experiences. The listener is engaged by being invited to supply the generality that is being suggested."

By century’s end, however, it was time to connect what I had long known as an economist with the verdict of history. “Actually existing socialism” had been a monumental, vicious bluff. Its leaders pretended to possess theory and know-how which they not only did not have, but could not have comprehended if it had been handed them on a sliver platter. They did not have even a definition of socialism which could pass muster intellectually. The sort of utopian leap made by the French Revolution was not in the cards in the twentieth century. Thus, there are no millennarian answers today for those in lower classes or castes. Politics today remains entirely in the era of bourgeois-democratic reforms (such as land reform where that has meaning). I don’t want to repudiate my “revolution” lyrics, but I take them today as fantasy."

Commercial-mechanistic-impersonal civilization is progressively crushing people’s spirit. What emerged [in the late Sixties] is a culture devoted to fads and synthetic identities, a culture of smirking self-disgust and degradation. Mass culture is a facet of the horrible symbiosis which exists between the manipulators and the underlings."

There are no successful musicians today whose example inspires me to play and to play better. And there is no existing, coherent audience which already encourages the beauty to which I aspire. The situation is unfortunate for me, because the entertainmental, kinesthetic, and political dimensions of my music demand interactions with a supportive audience to be fulfilled."

"But I have to believe that the audiences which support the deluge of crass, gross music experience a far greater misfortune than I. Again, if ethnic music is being drowned out, it is because people’s spirit is being crushed by contemporary civilization."

"Under the circumstances, the horrible symbiosis represented by mass culture cannot be upstaged by one iconoclast. People do not want to be disturbed by the call of ennoblement when they lack the inner resources or the life-circumstances to respond to it. The Cobains, Hoons, Staleys, and Osbournes will pander, will earn, and will earn more if they overdose."


Bibliography for Modernism:

The Black Mask in the 70s and Stewart Home in the 90s disrupted literary events by handing out bogus flyers to homeless people advertising free alcohol

I've decided to write a novel/dissertation. It's called I. I feel it's a bold title, the most efficient signifier ever invented by a written language, even the MR can write an I; and it will be an exploration of the autobiography genre, the dominant form of American letters (Cf. the exploration narratives of our good friend Alexander van Humboldt, through Benjamin Franklin, Henry Adams, and the thinly veiled autobiographies of the modernist era, Hemingway under the spell of Joyce while TS Eliot's blabbing on about some bullspit impersonality, to today's best seller list--we love the memoir). Also French letters, but they trace their popular reading tastes back to similar sources, namely Humboldt, Rousseau. Culturally America has a healthy dose of the French. And this is why people in English departments love all things French.

But NOT Britain. I mean they do the writing about the self, if they have to, in their lyric poetry, but their great novels are typically written in the third-person. Joyce's Stephen Deadalus is clearly drawn from the author's own life, but Portrait is not written from the first person. What about Canterbury Tales? True, but except for the prologue the first person kind of sinks into the background. There's that moment in the Secret Agent where it drops into first person. So the I is always there, lurking like an internet pervert. Like Thoreau said, there's always an implied I telling every story--third person is still, in some sense the first person account of the "narrator" who sometimes remains an unseen mover (as in Flaubert and Joyce's conceptions) and sometimes takes a co-starring role (The Great Gatsby).

Why Blood Meridian is Good:
People who take pride in the shit that they do, this is the McCarthyian hero--at least of the later literature (Cf No Country for Old Men). But where are these craftsmen found in Blood Meridian? In a group of gifted killers who efficiently cleared the way for white American civilization. And for a good idea of what I mean by clear the way, refer to pretty much any page of the book. It's blood drenched to the point that it actually punctures the deflector mechanism we mistakenly call desensitization--but that's another argument. Now the Mexicans are reconquesting with a drug business lucrative enough to afford heavy artillery (Cf. the Mexican Drug dealer in Weeds), taking back Atzlan by any means necessary--shootouts in the streets, the suburbs are burning, return of the repressed. Blood Meridian sets the stage for this drama. A long and forgotten time ago (but really only a hundred and fifty years in a planet that's how many billion years old?) the government paid people to ride off into the wilderness and bring back scalps, the darker and longer the better. This is a book that makes you confront the logistics behind that factoid in uncomfortably vivid detail. But its no weepy, oh-those-poor-Indians take on the situation. The natives here are often murderous people too (the tribe of theatrically garbed sodomizers they encounter in the desert scene somewhere around page 50), so there is no easy moral you can draw from the story like, America is evil. It's a complicated, ambivalent, and unapologetic take on the development of a great and powerful nation whose origins, like all great enterprises according to Nietzche, were drenched in blood, thoroughly and for a long time.

The judge--the most perfect villain in American literature (If you count film, the Dark Knight's Joker would win). The judge is malicious, perennially chipper, and a genius: he makes gunpowder from bat-shit, rocks and urine so his gang can shoot the Indians that have been chasing them across the desert for days. That's the magic of enlightenment science. To some, science may seem lame and boring, but, by god it gets results (I don't think science is lame or boring). The free will of people or objects is abhorrent to this man, at the same time, so is truth. He lies about the preacher fucking a goat the first time we see him. He reports things faithfully into his ledger, but then destroys the artifact--the representation of the thing is far more valuable than the thing itself since representation implies mastery, ownership.

The bear is the wild animal tamed for the show at the end, and what happens? Some drunk cowboy shoots the bear. Faulkner is rolling over in his grave. This is what's become of Old Ben. At least he had the privilege of dying in the jaws of Lion, a domesticated animal every bit as fierce, as wild, as itself (Boon did cut its throat, what does that say?)

And plus, how can you not love the prose style. The words this motherfucker comes up with. It's awe inspiring. Who calls a dick a pizzle? Cormac McCarthy that's who.

The first academic success for ecocriticism will come when people must consciously debate with themselves for every animal over the it/he conundrum we run into talking about Old Ben or the Buck Ike sees with Sam Fathers, their pets or farm animals. Farmers dont refer to a cow as an it, do they? Surely not. But that's the MLA rule. Animals are its. nobody thinks that's weird. This will be much like the she coup from the femnist camp, animals are refered to with personal pronouns.

If you write something and you type it on an open e-mail addressed to everyone on your list, or maybe just someone you have a crush on or whatever--it doesn't even have to be an e-mail it could be a text or a letter made of ink and paper, but e-mail works best--then the writing process immediately becomes more difficult, because you're not just doodling, you're potentially about to send it to someone or everyone you know, people whose good opinions you depend on. Makes you choose your words more carefully, self-censor, make sure your are expressing yourself as precisely as possible. What this shows you is that our emotions, our selves are wrapped up in the words that come up on the screen and you can feel that while you are writing. It also means that you can potentially decode that emotion, that experience of consciousness. That's why people love fiction so much, why the book is always better than the film. It's like trying on a new identity for awhile. With fiction, it's usually somebody not at all like you, with autoiography, just the opposite. What we love in autobiography is the self we see in them. Here's so-and-so famous name. He has strong opinions about the philosophical significance of facial hair too, just like me! That's why Aspidistra is fiction, and why it's not good, ends terribly. Autobiography is fiction, too, of course, I take that as axiomatic, but a fiction with different conventions and different audience expectations. Eric Blair's best fiction was George Orwell, this cantankerous, no nonesense, middlebrow renegade-leftist intellectual. So when Eric Blair is giving Orwell's history in Wigan, how is that any different than Orwell giving Comstock's? They're equally artificial, put on, but the narrative pov is different. Comstock's story, true or not, needed to be received as autobiography for anyone to pay attention to it. Because people go to autobiography to identify with someone they already in some way identify with. Is George Orwell giving Eric Blair's history in Wigan? Why this need for an alias? Because he was good at writing autobiography, but it was indecent to attach his own name to the things he was doing, the company he kept, the dives he frrequented.

The audience Orwell had in mind was the same he had in mind for Wigan--Socialists, both those like himself and those who pissed him off: "moneyed young beasts," intellectuals, phony upper-middle class Socialists, and perhaps too a group of genuine utopian idealists that Hanif Kureishi brilliantly metonymizes as "vegetarians." His utter contempt for people who look like John Lennon and claim to be working class heroes is palpable. As fiction, readers want to identify with Comstock and they do--he is from roughly the same class as the upper-middle brow audience would be. But the Socialists not like himself were far more numerous in that audience. People who actually talked to working class folks are scarce among the book-buying, leisure-reading public. So the readers who see the sense of his screeds against the money-god, who identify with Comstock's ambivalent attitudes toward the money system (keep in mind it's the wanting money and not being able to get it that Orwell truly objects to), become alienated by the story's conclusion--sincere middle class people who don't want to give up the fight against the money-god are the folks who are going to enjoy Comstock's vitriolic perspective, but when Comstock gives up the struggle, that's a truth about themselves that middle-class Socialist-leaning readers are not going to want to face. This novel throws down the gauntlet to its readership: So you think you're a Socialist do you? Here's where that's going to lead you--right back into the shade of the Aspidistra. Orwell's rhetorical strategy is reverse psychology: Look at all these attitudes you identify with--nothing will come of them. The reader's task is to prove Orwell wrong. The disappointment we feel in the ending is thereby rendered productive.

In the interests of full disclosure the author of this paper thinks George Orwell is a joke. I mean deep-down, gut-level reaction, I've never had much respect for him as a writer. It's a feeling that endures in spite of the academic interest in him I've spent countless hours now cultivating. Call it a taste. He's always dwelt on the fringes of the canon and I am, if anything, a reader who respects the dictates of the canon.

He's too popular for one thing. He falls under that category of "stuff everybody read in high school and should immediately have grown out of." As far as I know, Orwell's never gotten anyone cred with the bohemian tastemakers of the world's more fashionable cities.

But in spite of how I've always privately thought of him as a second-tier writer, how could I deny that his work has also been a touchstone of my own intellectual development? Animal Farm was a dull sort of political allegory that didn't really outlive the concerns of its historical era, yet I still read it at a formative stage of my intellectual life and recall vaguely that it was employed by my middle school teachers to make sure that I understood Communism was bad, a proleptic piece of cold war propaganda; 1984 on the other hand is one of those books that explains existence. Orwell was writing about the culture of surveillance long before Foucault made it chic.

So I find it peculiar and at the same time not so surprising at all how immediately I was drawn in by an oddly-titled volume of fiction I'd never heard of from an author I didn't think I respected. George Orwell is a writer whose work inspires ambivalence, but never apathy and rarely boredom. He's a workhorse of a writer, dependably readable. Almost a... proletarian? Well, let's not get carried away.

I believe that my reaction to Orwell is sufficiently typical, that he inspires in most readers feelings of supercilious familiarity and latent admiration, and it is also my belief that the reaction he inspires is an effect of a canonical status that parallels the obsession of his autobiographical writing in the 1930s: "middle class decency."

In our day as in Orwell's, autobiography and middlebrow trash fiction (fantasy stories, historical fictions) are the only books that sell. Orwell struggles with this--he wants to "write" novels like a good modernist, like Lawrence and Joyce. There's something unseemly about autobiography, particularly for a guy with middle class tastes. All that disclosure. So Aspidistra is his attempt not to write autobiography. It draws on his own life, which is okay since his role models do as much, and changes key elements to keep it "fictional." The only intentional invention is the final turn--the embrace of middle class decency. But this is quite possibly because he's writing what he thinks he's supposed to. The writer as the mirror of society and this is the story he sees all around. And it fails because the first-person life he makes up for himself as journalist-adventurer is far more interesting than any third person life he could imagine and describe.

In the 1920s, literary culture was an identifiable thing, a unity--a tradition however democratically alterable by individual talent. Today, this isn't true. A book getting published was still something of an event in Eliot's heyday. Not now. This is a process that started in the thirties, a direct result of the success of highmodernists in seducing a middleclass audience with disposable income and a wish to scale the social ladder through performance of taste they weren't born to. Who is writing serious fiction these days? A lot of people, but there are so many audiences that consensus on a list is no longer as easy as in Eliot's day. This is why Keith Williams sees the 1930s as a intermediary phase between the modernist and postmodernist phases of literary history.

This is the kind of writing Comstock does. Half-hearted effusions of despair and a vague solidarity. He thinks writing will free him, but he finds out its a commodity like everything else. Comstock gets hung up baiting the gliterati, particularly the Oxford types. If he can't beat that kind of writer in the open-market of serious literature (and he can't), he'll just give up poetry and accept his well paid ad position. A new model for the artist. The artist as unhappy drone. The artist as corporate sophist.

Not so with Orwell. He finds out that autobiography pays. He chooses 'indecency'--a louse ridden existence. But not really. For all his window-pane theory of language, his journalistic stories allow him to get out of the war, out of the coal district. He's cultural slumming and getting paid for it because he spins a good yarn from sordid raw material. Like Greenwood.

Why doesn't it occur to Comstock to write middlebrow fictions? Why is that beneath his dignity? Because he can't write romance or autobiography and maintain his sense of decency--those things are filled with sex and inappropriate language. Have you read this Lawrence? The middlebrow associates serious literature with something vaguely pornographic. The great authors of modernism (or rather their publishers) spent an inordinate amount of time in court, defending the decency of their work. Lady Chatterley. Ulysses. Henry Miller. That isn't a problem in our day. Plagiarism is the big legal infarction for writers these days, not indecent language. Nicholson proves that.

Myth: Orwell believes language is transparent.
Truth: In what way is myth the oppostie of fact?

The part of Aspidistra that gets me is the place where he talks about "the one true thing" and doesn't bother to explain what that thing is. It should be self-evident to the audience he's speaking to. Art was always representational... Picasso's notion of representation was crazy, but there were pictures of identifiable things in there. Not so much with the postmoderns. The abstract expressionists. Same with literature. It loses all touch with the referent. Fiction refers to everything. History, science. Representation never comes back in art. It comes back as simulation. Pop art. (Baudrillard)

I Wish I Was Meepers: A Better Version of the Middle-Class Hero (I respond to my essay on Orwell in the self-righteous tenor of previous posts)

Trumpeter's apparently got a problem with this Eagleton fellow. His argument, if you can call it that, is basically reactionary, bouncing off of something Terry Eaglton said in one of his more obscure titles almost forty years ago (way to stay relevant, Kevbo!). After a long-winded and self-indulgent opening, he finally gets around to something resembling a point. Citing an aside from an (if it's even possible) even more uninfluential article (this guy clearly likes his second-tier university's electronic catalog) Trumpeter proceeds to argue that Orwell sort of is and at the same time (just to hedge his bets) sort of isn't a literary representation of a middle-class revolutionary figure. He tears the straw Eagleton he's at pains to prop up a proper new one and then spends the latter half of the article dissecting the ending of the book for reasons that even upon a third reading still remain unclear to me. Best I can understand it, he establishes some spurious cred for Orwell among a vaguely identified body of revolutionaries who, as a professional academic, Trumpeter likely identifies with.

Orwell didn't start this novel with a plan. And it shows.

Is the poem any good?

Who is this poetic 'we' that comes out of left field? The poet is a spokesman for the emotional life of a certain group of people.

Who picks our words and cuts our clothes
They think of rent, rates, season tickets

Upon the two twin beds from Drage's
And buys our lives and pays with toys

In groves of Ashtaroth we whored
Who claims as tribute broken faith
accepted insults, muted joys

Who binds with chains the poet's wit

The great irony of the poem, a metered screed against Comstock's favorite target, is that it is immediately turned into money. Writing doesn't get you out of the money system. It does potentially get you off the hamster wheel of decency, of keeping up appearances. The binge drinking that follows Comstock's modest success. He can't afford to quit his day job. He's not a full time libertine yet, but he would be.

"Why has critique run out of steam" Latour
"Genre" Derrida

arcadian imaginary

i live on a street with a plubmer and a tow-truck driver. I busted a pipe one time--he charged me 60$
low profile
just saying
on saturn you live to be 205. Tieresias said that.
txt is about the condensation of information--a new poetry.
there are rules to the facebook page, like a sonnet.
none of that free verse bullshit, real authentic discourse
white pages that seems racist
according to white pages i'm not white
think like a map
London doesn't mean anything anymore--its all riceomes nowadays
war against the center

Words are the thin sheath of membrane separating me from you
if de Certeau
aw fuck it

as a reader, all I can do is walk through a book, noticing what I notice, forgetting whole passages as I edit out chunks of my own mobile life

I had a black dog
she died in the fire

Orwell's upper-middlebrow readership

razor steppin I'm dangerous I'm dangerous

statistics gives us back the top-down view of the city by compiling all the individual perspectives (i.e. literary accounts, writings of the city)... or so Moretti claims.

Who are the people left at the end of Capital? The city lovers. The Meeperses. The dead. The non-self loathers? Everybody else has fled, lives in their solar-paneled self-sustaining exurban unit. There's a comment on the amount of fossil fuel it takes to keep that many people alive.

Comp people have that mad scientist quality going for them.

Postmodern literature is anything with a TV in it.
...Stories told out of order (but we see that in Conrad's the Secret Agent) Fuck it.

Its never really clear what 'form' Moretti is talking about in his map example. Literary form? Are idylls always circular? 'Ideology reflects the material substratum' sounds like a pretty familiar line. Vulgar marxism, no?

Moretti is after the consciousness of space that is buried within books. For a distant reading, his attention to specifics, though pretty random by my standards, was fairly detailed. The idyll goes in circles. Certain duh factor to that.

Why is the map not the city? Why is it simulacra? Because there are alleys and streets they have not mapped? What about Google Earth?

The hand of the shaper gives human meaning
the creator is much bigger than the shaper
they are both

Doesn't situation have bad connotations?
What we've got here is a situation.
But neutral too.
Here's the situation.
Connotations of quasi-fixity

Hweres my pound dog?

How is situationist literature different than pomo?

-anti-programatic, but very dictatorial... let's give the crazy people power and see what happens. It's like Woody Allen's Bananas--'From now on the official language of San Marcos is Swiss. [a silence ensues, briefer than it would warrant to mention] Silence!'

How do you write when you have a full page to fill up as opposed to so many characters? It's different, undoubtedly. I can type as far as the screen goes. It's variable.

Don't always look for symmetry in the thought--it's a sign you're falsifying when everything seems to reflect neat divisions.

Detournement--art for the lazy
...when authenticity is no longer an issue is propaganda
Is T.S. Eliot doing detournement?

1. Not caring about something is the surest way to get it.
2. Wanting money and not getting it is the most terrible thing, so he chose not to want money.

Don't these two propositions form a circle?

London is a place all about the sex. But not so in Stuart London's London, if you follow. He's essentially a prude. Old school London. The repressed Victorian London (I know Foucault's disproved the authenticity of this, but the repressed Victorian exsts as a literary type now whether it existed before then or not). The new London is half-asian and addicted to sexahol. And also folks from the... Japan bought your identity... they took so many pictures home with them that it materialized in a more convenient form. It's the Situationists' Utopia. {Cite line about tourist city from SI}

What about Mick though? Does Mick go to London or what? Of course he does. To have a bunch of kinky sex with the japanese-looking girl who talks like somebody from a higher social status than him, somebody 'posh.' That's a confusing choice for someone like Mick. We know from the opening scene that he uses racial slurs but takes umbrage at being called a racist. Complicated relationship, poor whites and blacks. Feelings of solidarity, mutual suspicion and wary indifference. Mick's very jaded about sex. He feels uncomfortable watching other people do it. I think Mick is the authorial stand-in. Far more than Stuart London. Mick's cool. He's a Meepers.

What is a Socialist? Someone who believes we should spread the wealth. Communists are a phony version of Socialists--they don't believe in democracy, right? Wait, what the fuck is a communist?

Footnotes are what let you know it's not fiction. House of leaves.

Trumpeter Holding Company (THC)

Ludic is like: look how terrible the future's gonna be? Terrible, huh? Irony. What can you do but laugh at it all. Is anyone fighting this fight anymore? Doubtful.

But that model of radicalism (SI) is abhorent by today's ecological standards... or I guess it doesn't have to be. They could be like Duffy's helicopter pilot--solar panels, recycled water, an organic local farming community no doubt.

What makes London London is that fucking river. Duffy proved this. That's London bleeding. The rivers of Blood speech by Enoch.

London bleeding also feminizes the image in sort of crude terms--or are they crude. I'm sorry, are there not-awkward ways to bring up menstruation? Men's room station. Stan Mruation. Aunt Flow. Monthly Euphamism. But isn't everything a euphamism? An adequation of a non-identitical thing?

Cast of Characters:
Stan Mruation--postmodern time-traveling Lothario, name is Dutch in origin.
One-who-stands-a-lot--Dominant caveman, steals One-who-mostly-squats' girl, also responsible for naming One-who-mostly-squats in subsequent tellings of nightly campfire history that eventually evolved into annals.
One-who-mostly-squats--dumped upon by the great evolutionary crapshoot (a.k.a. "GE-hK," accompanied by upward gesture with the ring finger), but also, inventor of parkour.