Posts Tagged ‘The Cost of Non-Conformity’

Rise Like Lions After Slumber

Posted by , November 11th, 2011
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Smiling still a despot dies
For he knows, on his demise

New hands wield the tyrant’s power
It is not yet freedom’s hour
Heinrich Heine (King David, 1848)

Amidst all the fervor and misinterpretation surrounding the Occupy Wall Street movement, there is, largely, a presumption that the binary political system can atone for the inequities that have so angered the unruly, leaderless mass. The occupation process, however vague and “directionless,” is a spontaneous display of what Benjamin Tucker called “unterrified Jeffersonianism” — an exercise in non-hierarchical, transparent democracy that moves sideways through linear time, and, as such, remains largely “unseen” by traditional viewpoint. It’s not so much “directionless” as it is moving in all directions simultaneously. The occupation has gained popular support in no small part because of its honesty, behavior that is a novelty and stands in contrast to the immorality of political theater. As Heinrich Heine so poetically described, a tyrant can die smiling because he knows that after his death, power only changes hands, and tyranny has no end. The duopolistic structure of left and right party politics acts as its own counterbalance, its own safety net, trading power between tyrants. What this occupation does is short circuit that binary process of continual transfer of power, voiding the presupposition that the answer lies within politics as such, and asks instead, “if not this, then what?”

In 1976, Jean Baudrillard forecasted both Occupy Wall Street and the false sense of free choice within the structure of democratic capitalism:

The system of the ‘advanced democracies’ becomes stable through the formula of the two-party system. The de facto monopoly remains in the hands of a homogenous political class, from the left to the right, but must not be exercised in this way. This is because single party rule, totalitarianism, is an unstable form which drains the political stage and can no longer ensure the feedback of public opinion, the minimal current in the integrated circuit that constitutes the transistorized political machine. The two-party system, by contrast, is the end of the end of representation since solicitation reaches its highest degree, in the name of a simple formal constraint, when you approach the greatest perfect competitive equation between the two parties. This is only logical: Democracy attains the law of equivalence in the political order, and this law is fulfilled by the see-sawing of the two terms, which thus maintains their equivalence but by means of this miniscule divergence allows for public consensus and the closure of the cycle of representation: a theatre of operations where only the smoky reflections of political Reason continue to function. Democracy’s credo of the individual’s ‘free choice’ effectively turns into its exact opposite….
Jean Baudrillard (Symbolic Exchange and Death, 1976)

Isn’t it exactly the illusory nature of binary democracy — limited to a preordained duopoly, offering miniscule divergence, a simple format of constraint — that functions as “free choice” today? It’s this illusion of choice, a choice between the lesser of two evils, between an already narrowed field of left and right that is growing more homogenized each election cycle, that intensifies the occupational rage.

After the Cold War, the two-party structure of “good” and “evil” was effectively defunct, as democratic capitalism reigned supreme, a Heine-esque King. As Baudrillard explained, such an autocratic system is an inherently unstable form that drains the stage, leaving the political theater of choice anemic, an unconvincing performance. With the attack on the World Trade Center, and the wars that followed, there’s been resurgence in simulated opposition. Baudrillard offered eerie prescience about the financial collapse in his architectural survey of the World Trade Center:

Why has the World Trade Center in New York got two towers? All Manhattan’s great buildings are always content to confront each other in a competitive verticality, from which there results an architectural panorama that is the image of the capitalist system: a pyramidal jungle, every building on the offensive against every other… The buildings stand next to one another like the columns of a statistical graph. This new architecture no longer embodies a competitive system, but a countable one where competition has disappeared in favor of correlation. This architectural graphism belongs to the monopoly: the World Trade Center’s two towers are perfect parallelepipeds, four hundred meters high on a square base; they are perfectly balanced and blind communicating vessels. The fact that there are two identical towers signifies the end of all competition, the end of every original reference. Paradoxically, if there were only one, the WTC would not embody the monopoly, since we have seen that it becomes stable in a dual form. For the sign to remain pure it must become its own double: this doubling of the sign really put an end to what it designated.
Jean Baudrillard (Symbolic Exchange and Death, 1976)

With the collapse of the World Trade Center came the collapse of the tactical division of the monopoly, and, in hindsight, it seems inevitable that without such a symbolic division, the totalitarian single-party marketeers would steer us straight towards instability.

The obvious question remains: what the fuck does this have to do with music? It is both unbelievable and unmistakably clear; there is a curious correlation between Occupy Wall Street and the punk band Crass.

Do They Owe Us A Living?” (The Feeding of the 5000, 1978)

Do they owe us a living?
Of course they fucking do!

From 1977 to 1984 Crass took the anarchist impulse from the first wave of punk and followed it to its obvious fulfillment: a completely different way of living. As a band, they articulated their rage completely outside the rock ‘n’ roll arena, manufacturing their own records (to circumvent censorship), avoiding conventional concert halls and operating without any business apparatus (managers, lawyers, PR, etc.). Despite any popular fanfare Crass not only managed to sell tens of thousands of records, but more importantly, they forced the government and the public to deal with issues they raised (the Falklands War, nuclear disarmament, globalization, animal rights, environmentalism). As a social force, Crass was remarkable. The band lived all together at Dial House, a collective home with an open door policy that recognized no ideology: anyone was free to come and go and the house was used as a free space to realize creative endeavors.

Musically, Crass not only stood in stark contrast to other punk groups like the Sex Pistol and the Clash, who enjoyed commercial intercourse with the entertainment industry, but they sounded different than other punk bands. While the Sex Pistol were a slightly rough-around-the-edges variation on rock ‘n’ roll, Crass used sound as a function of their praxis. Under traditional criteria, e.g., melody, harmony, timbre, pitch and rhythm, Crass could be described as unbearable. Listen to any Crass song and it should be abundantly clear, the sound is ugly, and the sound has less to do with entertainment or sing-a-long-ability and more to do with acting as a conduit for their message of total rejection.

Theodor Adorno denounced protest music, explaining that by coupling the voice of dissent with entertainment, the music and the message is doomed. “The entire sphere of popular music is inseparable from consumption,” Adorno explained, and “taking the horrendous and making it somehow consumable makes the music unbearable.” The idea of the inseparability of entertainment and consumption, and how that is at odds with the subversive intent of punk, seemed to be clear in the Crass “sound.” Being “terrible” at music made Crass that much better as a punk outfit. In the Adornian sense, Crass did what it set out to do musically, to be perfectly horrendous. And the fact that the band operated as an informal non-profit, turning their earnings to investments towards other anarchistic endeavors, insured not only that they remained broke, but that their practice never involved intercourse with the culture industry.

Understanding Crass — ugly, loud, discordant — as an anarchist movement is quite easy, one only needs to hear them, or see an album cover to reconcile some vague idea of anarchy with the band. Beyond the noise, Crass promoted ideas of individual freedom and autonomy, which, when viewed through the skewed lens of Western understanding, is usually seen as “disorder.” What’s missing in this view of anarchy vis-à-vis disorder is precisely the thing that makes anarchy so compelling: love. And more than anything, Crass were compelled by love. It’s hard to reconcile the ugliness of Crass with the hippy image of them living together, tending their organic garden and promoting love, precisely because their existence rejects the presupposition of such binary regulations.

The same inability to amalgamate seemingly contradictory practices is at work in the perception of Occupy Wall Street. The term “anarchy” has been frequently thrown at the occupation as a way of slandering the intention, painting the anger as juvenile spectacle instead of warranted response. This tactic is a throwback to McCarthyism, in much the same way that the term “socialist” has been slung at Obama’s presidency. For anyone with an understanding of the Cold War, it’s not only clear that communism failed completely, but the only state to propagandize communism more than the Soviet Union was the United States. That is because to paint the Soviet Union as an example of “true communism” only strengthens America’s claim to being the leading exemplar of “true democracy.” The false choice of communism or democracy offers two options in a binary operation not unlike the preordained duopoly of the political theater of left versus right. What Occupy Wall Street does, is, first, reject the premise of such a binary presumption, and second, instead of being one among many to offer answers to today’s political problems, the occupation asks, “if not this, then what?” and by doing so, redefines the problems of today’s politics.

That same redefining of problems was apparent in Crass, who screamed their anarchic message of love through songs of cacophonous noise, which were contained on records that were covered in vile imagery. When detractors and reactionaries demand the occupation answer such charges as, “are you just an anarchist who hates America and capitalism?” the impulse should not be to answer within the binary regulation of yes or no, but instead, to reject the premise of such a notion. The refusal to submit to being a single-issue protest renders Occupy Wall Street “uncoverable” in conventional media terms. There’s no single sound bite, there’s an overabundance of sound bites. The egalitarian structure makes every interviewee just a participant and not a spokesperson. Rather than listing issues that can be addressed by the current system, the occupation cites the system itself as the single-issue problem. Here, again, the movement shares likeness with Crass, who practiced a form of anarcho-syndicalism:

Liberalism and Democracy were pre-eminently political concepts, and, since the great majority of the original adherents of both maintained the right of ownership in the old sense, these had to renounce them both when economic development took a course which could not be practically reconciled with the original principles of Democracy, and still less with those of Liberalism. Democracy with its motto of “equality of all citizens before the law,” and Liberalism with its “right of man over his own person,” both shipwrecked on the realities of the capitalist economic form. So long as millions of human beings in every country had to sell their labor-power to a small minority of owners, and to sink into more wretched misery if they could find no buyers, the so-called “equality before the law” remains merely a pious fraud, since the laws are made by those who find themselves in possession of the social wealth. But in the same way there can be also no talk of a “right over one’s own person,” for that right ends when one is compelled to submit to economic dictation of another if he does not want to starve.
Rudolf Rocker (Anarcho-Syndicalism: Theory and Practice, 1937)

It’s in this moment of spontaneous “unterrified Jeffersonianism” that the occupation, hearing Jefferson remark, “that government is best which governs least,” shouts back Thoreau’s anarchist retort, “that government is best which governs not at all!” And it is here that we find ourselves at the deadlock of capitalism. That is to say, crisis is inherent in capitalism. There is a sign that frequently appears at occupy rallies, “capitalism IS crisis,” which perhaps best summarizes the entire movement. And yet, in just three words, the apparently simple redefining of the problems confronting us has no equally simple answer.

Taking Sides (Yes Sir, I Will, 1983)

We must be prepared to oppose them on every level,
To fight back in the knowledge that if we don’t
We will have failed in our responsibility to life itself.

We must not be intimidated by the authority that they appear to have.

In an interview, Penny Rimbaud said of the Crass agenda, “We got out on the streets and we really tried it out — and we failed.” How did they fail? Crass deliberately presented their music not as a sound commodity but as a natural extension of their way of life. Through shared living at Dial House, and the community centers and actions they funded with proceeds from the band’s activity, Crass assumed other punks and anarchist equally invested would do the same. The idea of thousands of Dial Houses all over England was an early dream of Crass, and that is all it ever was, a dream. Rather than hearing “There is no authority but yourself” and taking those words as a call to autonomous action, the listeners, for the most part, acted like fans, and sang along, just as they would with the Sex Pistols. Rather than being inspired to create their own autonomous, anarchist squats, most punks adopted Crass as a badge, an ideology, and preached it. Crass was quite successful as a band, selling records, garnering followers, influencing other groups, but failed in that by becoming a force of the underground, they managed to create an alternative binary system rather than uproot the existing binary system.

There are occasions when it pays better to fight and be beaten than not to fight at all.
George Orwell (Homage to Catalonia)

Crass disbanded in part due to a division between members who believed in pacifism and those who believed in reactionary violence. Is this not also an antagonism in the occupation? As the balaclava-clad bloc came out during Oakland’s General Strike, though overwhelmingly in the minority, it can be seen as the logical conclusion to the “if not this, then what?” question. As Occupy Wall Street, echoing Rudolf Rocker, undermines democratic capitalism’s credo of rights and equality, revealing the perpetual state of shipwrecked-ness, the “then what” is the face-off between society at large and those in possession of social wealth. We only need to look back at the history of radicalism to see that going head-to-head with the controlling minority has rarely been able to, as the rallying cry pleads, “remain non-violent.” The history of reactionary violence — tens of thousands guillotined during the French Revolution, burning the Tuileries palace to the ground during the Paris Commune, systematically destroying the churches in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War, Molotov cocktails hurled in every direction during May ’68, the poison and bombing campaigns of “propaganda by the deed” individualists — finds itself in the same frustrated deadlock time and again, as the issues central to radical protests (liberty, equality, fraternity) have never been resolved within democratic politics. The realization that civil rights, gender equality or suitable living conditions for all are among the many issues that remain perpetually unsettled return again and again as a statement of war against what Rudolf Rocker called the “pious fraud” of the minority (i.e., the 1%) in control of social wealth.

Crass was instrumental in organizing a proto-Occupy Wall Street in the early ‘80s, called “Stop the City.” Without permit or notice to authorities, thousands of activists occupied the area of the London Stock Exchange, preventing brokers and bankers from getting to their offices. Protestors were, in turn, truncheoned and tossed into paddywagons, only to return in record numbers the following year to do it all again. Before the anti-globalization movement was identified as such, Crass was a part of it. Nearly three decades before people were willed to fill public squares en masse, Crass had the same idea.

There’s a tendency, likely born from a combination of suspicious wonderment and jealous misdirection, that’s common among the view from outside the occupation, which extends beyond the name-calling and jokes of hygiene and hair color, to reveal a hesitation that should be considered a vote of confidence. Because it’s within this impulse to apply a title to the character of revolt, to look upon protestors and call them madmen, where true identity is revealed, where what is unbearable is being uncategorized. So by designating oneself “sane” in the act of calling the other “mad,” we can see the locus of illusion: by insisting the other is under the illusion of madness, the sane one falls victim to the ironic illusion of his own madness. Or, to use a Lacanian aphorism: “If a man who believes himself to be king is mad, a king who believes himself to be king is no less mad.” The impulse to denigrate, which is in abundance with critics of Crass and the Occupy movement, should be seen clearly as an impulse towards solidarity masked by contemptuous envy. It’s this sign of discomfort that signals the slow overturning of public conscience, when the tenuous link to the belief that there is an answer to the problems slowly turns to the realization that the problems themselves should be redefined, as the previously specious set of beliefs is put to torch.

Le roi est mort, vive le roi. “The king is dead. Long live the king.” When one king dies, another king is crowned, and the kingdom continues…  until it doesn’t.

Banned from the Roxy” (The Feeding of the 5000, 1978)

The government protecting their profits from the poor,
The rich and the fortunate chaining up the door.

Afraid that the people may ask for a little more

Than the shit they get. The shit they get.
The shit they get. The shit they get.

While there are plenty of parallels to draw between Crass and Occupy Wall Street, the two are fundamentally different in their intent. Crass operated as an underground movement while the occupation specifically aims at the majority, the ninety-nine percent. This principal distinction, paradoxically, makes the two more similar than separate. While Crass subscribed to a punk ethos, operating as a subversive counterweight to popular culture, the occupation aims at the subversive counterweight that maintains cultural social order, that is, the plutocratic minority that bang the drum of democratic capitalism against the better judgment of the majority. Crass was critical of the Sex Pistols singing, “I believe in anarchy” alongside “there’s no future in dreaming,” because, for Crass, the only future was in realizing the anarchist dream. In much the same way, the occupation endeavors a monumental overturning of everything; instead of banging the drum of cynical partisanship, which sees no future, the movement, instead, asks for a waking up from this nightmare, allowing another impossible dream to be dreamt.

However unconscious, it seems the occupation has learned from the mistakes of Crass. Rather than operating as a traditional organization, with a figurehead easily toppled, the occupation’s egalitarian approach offers an answer to Crass’s failure to become one among many collective anarchist groups operating around England. And it’s no coincidence that the brave souls who camped out at the very beginning of this occupation, those very same people that current supporters of the occupation are quick to relegate as not indicative of the whole, who critics continually point to as typical examples of the occupation, are the very stripe familiar to Crass fans: the dreadlocked ‘n’ mohawked, Mad Max looking gutter punks. Among those first to feel the swing of a police baton, the first to familiarize themselves with the taste of pepper spray, the first to be hauled off in cuffs, the first to become dispossessed of their reasonable expectation of privacy, the first to volunteer to sleep in a park, the first to march fearlessly into a confrontation with police knowing it ends with a ride in the paddywagon, are those who look like extras cast in a Hollywood-produced “tell-all” Crass biopic. No coincidence. Like Crass, let’s not disregard them just because they are unbearable.

Those who are willing neither to suffer nor to possess the means of oppression, who want freedom both for themselves and for others — they, in an age that poverty or terror condemns to the excesses of oppression, are the seeds beneath the snow of which one of the greatest among us spoke.  Once the storm is over, the world will live off them.
Albert Camus (Resistance, Rebellion and Death, 1960)

Crass has largely been left out of the history of punk rock, because much of that history has been produced to satisfy the evidence of the very forces Crass sought to overthrow. In the Adornian sense, history, commissioned through industrial institutions (government, entertainment, academic) that further the obligation to consume, makes Crass not only unbearable, but also irrelevant. However, as Camus points out, Crass act as “seeds beneath the snow,” and the occupation we see sprouting “out of nowhere” today can be easier comprehended as the later part of a gestation period that found genesis with Crass and their ilk.

With respect to the Great Recession we find ourselves in today, we can use an instrument of “financial innovation” as an analogy for how we view the historic authenticity of Crass and Occupy Wall Street. A financial derivative has no independent value; its value is derived from the value of an underlying asset. In the case of Crass and the occupation, the underlying assets are peace, resistance, autonomy. This impulse towards human welfare is both monumental and desired, but you can’t sell something that is free, ergo, such an impulse is out of place in our society. The West has slowly created a historical practice that describes itself to itself while erasing all that does not satisfy its rules of evidence. And while there are many noble elements found within Crass and Occupy Wall Street, both derive their value from outside the laws of democratic capitalism, not only positioning themselves to be constantly misconceived, but to become historically inauthentic within Western historicity.

The Five Knuckle Shuffle” (Yes Sir, I Will, 1983)

If there was no government, wouldn’t there be chaos
Everybody running round, setting petrol bombs off?
And if there was no police force, tell me what you’d do
If thirty thousand rioters came running after you?
And who would clean the sewers? Who’d mend my television?
Wouldn’t people lay about without some supervision?
Who’d drive the fire engines? Who’d fix my video?
If there were no prisons, well, where would robbers go?

And what if I told you to fuck off?

Aren’t we seeing, as a natural side effect of the occupation, a slow dismantling of those rules of evidence that shape Western historicity? Throughout the first month of the movement, the restrictions, corruptions and outside interests, mediated through Western historic authenticity, promised to be the death knell of the occupation. They can’t sleep outside indefinitely? They can’t survive being co-opted by outside interests? They can’t resist the violence and crime inherent to such groups? The snow came, and the occupiers found a way to sleep. The unions, teachers and marginalized infested the occupation, and found a welcoming ear for their concerns. The gas-powered generators were confiscated, and the occupiers found a bicycle-powered alternative. Violent elements inserted themselves into Oakland’s General Strike, and the occupiers, echoing the declaration adopted by the Amsterdam anarchist international convention in 1907, acknowledged that, “such acts, with their causes and motives, should be understood rather than praised or condemned,” and not only worked to repair the damage, but debated the acts at their assembly. As each new challenge presents itself — police agent provocateurs, right wing saboteurs, a rise in homeless, crime and sexual violence visited upon encampments — the occupation defies those rules of evidence that satisfy ideas of Western newsworthiness. The problem the mainstream media faces is that the occupation resides in a blind spot, outside the view of Western historicity, and so, situations such as sexual violence or homeless visiting the encampments are reported as outside problems thrust onto the occupation. Instead, we should view the occupation as a microcosm of a different history being made, one that operates through egalitarian consensus, and such issues (sexual violence, crime, homelessness) are elements within the culture that are addressed, debated and hopefully, further prevented. A human approach, instead of the Western binary us versus them.

The mainstream media — by reporting issues discussed at general assemblies as “dilemmas” or “arguments,” by “building narratives” of the occupation through interviewing individuals rather than observing assemblies — reveals its blind spot to methods foreign to Western historical practices that don’t satisfy its rules of evidence. When such questions came framed with a blind spot (“If there were no prisons, well, where would robbers go?”), Crass answered in kind (“And what if I told you to fuck off?”). The occupation’s open-ended, anamorphic culture of love is a similar “fuck off” to traditional Western historic authenticity.

The Austrian art historian, Alois Riegl, sought to change the manner in which history was authenticated, and, in some measure, shared the Crass worldview. Riegl’s theory of Kunstwollen, or the artistic will-to-form, worked to unite activities in high and low art with the culture of its time, which was contrary to the anthropological impulse of history to excavate and separate, dividing material culture from mental culture. Rather than separating ideas from things, Riegl chose to see history as a sequence of ideas and materials that were formed by the same interconnected culture. The history we know is a history already mediated through cleaving of that cultural continuum, restructured through the tools of historic efficiency, derived from its value to the body commissioning such a history. What Riegl sought was a view of man’s will to see the world as he imagines, and everything — art, law, science, philosophy, craftsmanship — is an obligation to meet such a desire.

Beg Your Pardon” (Christ – The Album, 1982)

I don’t believe the things you say
You make bullshit of the truth
The game you play’s offensive
And your life’s the living proof

Taking a Kunstwollen view of Occupy Wall Street, it is much easier to see how seemingly contradictory ideas of peace and anarchy, anger and love, autonomy and organization, form the character of the will contained in the occupation. The genesis of the movement is found as much in the financial collapse as it is in the resurgence of interest in anarchist movements, underground music and hacktivism. Wikileaks, Anonymous and the Arab Spring can be seen as societal forms that are mirrored artistically in, as an example, the rash of recent reissues of subversive music from the past (e.g., Crass, Faith, Void, Death, East of Underground, The Ex). Similarly, in film and literature we find an abundance of new material about the Red Army Faction/Baader Meinhof, May ‘68, the Black Panthers, Up Against the Wall Motherfucker, the Situationists, as if we’re experiencing a spontaneous will-to-form of reconsideration for those radical movements, looking forward to our future through a re-informed hindsight, trying to determine if similar actions can derive their value from something other than the violence that brought an end to past radicalism.

Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon. The science wasn’t even there yet. NASA didn’t exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.

This is our generation’s Sputnik moment. Two years ago, I said that we needed to reach a level of research and development we haven’t seen since the height of the Space Race. And in a few weeks, I will be sending a budget to Congress that helps us meet that goal. We’ll invest in biomedical research, information technology, and especially clean energy technology -– (applause) — an investment that will strengthen our security, protect our planet, and create countless new jobs for our people.
President Obama, 2011 State of the Union Address

Obama’s call for “our generation’s Sputnik moment” was a retooling of the binary regulation that sustained the ideology of the Cold War. There is a Baudrillardian “theater of operations” in phrases such as, “research and development,” “information technology” and “biomedical research,” which seem harmless in their hopefulness – or hopeful in their harmlessness, but such phrases usually signify other, more harmful, more hopeless, phrases: “defense contracts,” “NSA eavesdropping,” “pharmaceutical lobby.”

Obama’s acknowledgement of our slump in innovation is tied to our slump in human development, equality, literacy and quality of life. What if there is another way to view such statistics? What if our slump is, in itself, a sign of a nascent resistance, a will-to-form, however latent, against turning our Sputnik moments into tools for the de facto homogenous ruling class to use against us, or people elsewhere who are like us? Perhaps it is too optimistic a view, but can’t our dire statistics also be seen as a sign of change, as an unconscious un-tethering from Western hegemony?

Democratic capitalism functions in much the same way as religious fundamentalism. The people act as pious adherents, sacrificing themselves in support of divine principles, which are suspended by faith. In the case of capitalism, the faith resides in the belief that heavenly judgment will reward devotees with a bounty of riches. The inconvenient truth, paradoxically, is that while the majority of devotees work, a small minority is richly venerated, and while this cycle continually repeats, the faith of the poor, devoted majority remains unshaken. Heaven is reserved for the minority, and on the ground, the reality is faith functions as a belief in a freedom that’s never free. Or, as Baudriallard said, a democracy whose credo of free choice effectively turns into its exact opposite, an obligation to consume. Perhaps we can view the rise in self-described atheists as a nascent resistance to democratic capitalism?

Demoncrats” (Stations of the Crass, 1979)

They believed in democracy, freedom of speech
Yet dead on the flesh piles I hear no breath

I hear no hope, no whisper of faith
From those who have died for some others’ privilege
Out from your palaces, princes and queens
Out from your churches, you clergy, you christs
I’ll neither live nor die for your dreams
I’ll make no subscription to your paradise

This obligation to consume was made clear in the death of Steve Jobs. Westerners far and wide revered Jobs like a deity, and praised his innovation and brilliance in bringing the world to our fingertips. Much noise was made of him being a genius, dropping out of college, having a propensity to indulge in crazy ideas, tripping on LSD and his Christ-like ability to convert followers with his “reality distortion field.”

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently. They’re not fond of rules. And they have no respect for the status quo. You can quote them, disagree with them, glorify or vilify them. About the only thing you can’t do is ignore them. Because they change things. They push the human race forward. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do.
Apple, “Think Different” advertising campaign, 1997

It’s this anti-establishment idolatry that Steve Jobs originally intoned upon twentieth century personalities that was, in turn, intoned upon him, creating a horrendous Adornian coupling of consumption and innovation. Just as Exodus reminds us, “You shall have no other gods before me,” the unlimited freedom that Jobs brought to us, mediated through consumption, as a derivative of Apple’s profits, has an unsightly, dare I say ungodly, obverse. The idolatrous legacy of Steve Jobs that we celebrate, that “pushed the human race forward” and was “crazy enough to change the world,” is sustained by Chinese workers committing suicide in the factories that produce Apple products, mass graves in Kashmir where multinational mining and infrastructure corporations vie for land rights, the rape of Congolese women and children by militias who control the export of minerals needed to produce our “smart” devices.

Perhaps it’s too optimistic, but maybe what’s forming now, amidst the occupation, is a will to think differently about our “Sputnik moment.” We’re “suffering” a spontaneous disentanglement from our involvement in the inhumane practices that sustain our “freedom.” Perhaps part of the question, “if not this, then what?” involves questioning the worth of insurmountable debt in pursuit of an education that leads to a profession where the best ideas are commandeered by the government for purposes of “defense,” “finance” or “intelligence.” Perhaps we’ve grown tired of seeing our ideas turned into killing machines, financial instruments of greed and tools to invade privacy. Perhaps the political theater is finally being rendered irrelevant. Perhaps we’re beginning to see the blind spots in our history. Perhaps our “Sputnik moment” is not developing something new, but rejecting old presuppositions: that we can’t stay safe and still make awesome affordable things, that it’s impossible to have health care, education, social security and a stable economy, that we must always be at war, that we need kings or leaders or cops at all.

Here’s to the crazy ones. The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers…

Where Next Columbus?” (Penis Envy, 1981)

Do you watch at a distance from the side you have chosen?
Whose answers serve you best? Who’ll save you from confusion?

Who’s your leader? Which is your flock?
Who do you watch? Who do you watch?

A Confederacy of Brunches

Posted by , March 5th, 2011
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While revolution spreads in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and around the Middle East, most of us in America watch via live feed from Al Jazeera, receive up to the minute feeds on Twitter, and join groups on Facebook. All of our interactive participation with the revolt acts as a way to stay informed. But isn’t this access — our very ability to stream a revolution live — part of the problem?

Much credit was given to social media in allowing hundreds of thousands of citizens in Egypt to collectivize, rally and demand change. Not to put too fine a point on it, but instead of tweets and status updates, I would credit decades of autocratic oppression, marshal law, poverty, violence and unemployment as what “allowed” the people to revolt. Egypt ranks amongst the most corrupt countries, and while Facebook and Twitter surely made communication and coordination easier, it was three decades of brutality that made it possible. The “We Are All Khaled Said” Facebook campaign is both inspiring and monumental, but how many thousands of other anonymous “El-Shaheed” (the Facebook account holder’s name, which is Arabic for martyr) were disgraced and brutalized before Said’s experience resonated, not as a random tragedy, but as a ubiquitous experience among the people?

For most of us, the life of Mohamed Bouazizi is beyond the horizon of our understanding. Dropping out of school to sell produce from a pushcart on the streets of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia, in order to provide for his family, Bouzazi was subject to regular police harassment and extortion, having his cart confiscated or damaged time and again. The final straw came when a female officer slapped him, spat on him and overturned his cart while other officers watched. When he tried to file a complaint, the local government refused him; humiliated and defiled, Bouzazi set himself on fire.

… the perspective one gains from dislocation is, of course, not only retrospective but prospective. Exile places one at an oblique angle to one’s new world and makes every emigrant, willy-nilly, into an anthropologist and relativist; for to have a deep experience of two cultures is to know that no culture is absolute — it is to discover that even the most interstitial and seemingly natural aspects of our identities and social reality are constructed rather than given and that they could be arranged, shaped, articulated in quite another way.
Eva Hoffman

Freedom Has Come and Gone” — Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra

Imagine the view
From a helicopter gunship
A man comes into view
And you hit that switch, and when you hit that switch
All of heaven shits on you

Since 1950, the US has provided money and military aid to Egypt ($1.3 billion annually, second only to Israel), and in exchange the US relies on Egypt as an ally in achieving its goals in the Middle East. The unfortunate consequence of this exchange is exacted on the citizens of Egypt; three decades of marshal law and repression. It’s a dangerous pattern that we repeat often: Pinochet, Sadaam Hussein, Ferdinand Marcos, Jean-Claude Duvalier, Chun Doo-hwan, Suharto, Zia ul-Haq. Brutal dictators find US support, and in the event of a popular uprising, Washington is quick to “counsel” the wayward dictator toward democracy. This two-faced world leadership isn’t news to anyone. For Washington, as long as it accords with strategic and economic objectives, brutality is an acceptable consequence of “foreign policy.” For citizens, this hypocrisy, while hard to swallow, is made possible by our passivity. Naturally, as concerned, thoughtful people, we empathize with oppressed people and engage them through altruism: charities, humanitarian efforts, medical aid, and so on. But don’t our admirable remedies for curing the evils of the world prolong the disease of evil? The remedy is part of the disease.


A simple example of prescribing the poison as the cure is America’s “green revolution.” We re-design our lifestyle to be part of the solution to the world’s ecological problems: We donate our used, un-green items to charity, thereby helping people in need; We eat organic food, free of pesticides and genetically modified organisms, in an effort to tread gently on this earth; We buy Ethos water and Tom’s shoes and Newman’s Own products that allow us to speak our ethics through our dollars; We buy reusable cloth shopping bags to avoid adding plastic to landfills; We practice yoga, sharing in the holistic benefits of eastern wisdom; We demand that our iPhones, iPods, iPads, laptops and desktop computers have “conflict free” minerals so women in Africa aren’t raped in order for us to browse the Internet.

We go on living within this system that is fueled by the suffering of others. In the case of Egypt, this disproportionate access to “freedom” sustained thirty years of marshal law. Of course it breeds hatred! How could it not? It’s immoral to use the system of exploitation as an alleviant to the horrible evils that directly result from that very system of exploitation. Our remedies, however thoughtful or altruistic, do not cure the evils of the world, they prolong them.

Where There’s A Will” — The Pop Group

Each and every one of us
Shall pay on demand
Our part of sacrifice
Knowing we’re all together

It’s interesting that there’s no taxpayer backlash at thirty years and billions of dollars in weaponry to support autocratic brutality in Egypt. Why was this not one of the first things in the debates on wasteful spending between McCain and Obama? And, amidst all this talk of “re-tooling” our society, why are these costly military “aid” packages not re-tooled into billions of lunches? Wouldn’t a well-fed, suitably housed, work-ready populace be less likely to revolt? Why is pumping guns and tanks to autocracy not seen as using the poison as the cure to “the war on terrorism?”

It’s no surprise that the bullets fired on Egyptian citizens, the tanks patrolling the streets, the tear gas canisters fired into the crowds, were part of America’s “military aid” package to Egypt, and bore the insignia, “Made in U.S.A.” It’s a painful irony that while all of our manufacturing jobs disappear and our unemployment rises, one of the few remaining exports we offer acts as an expedient for the import of other’s hatred against us.

Washington greeted the uprising of democracy in Cairo’s Tahrir Square with duplicity. Just days before Washington conceded the Egyptian people’s destiny; it counseled them to allow Mubarak to transition “orderly.” One need only think back to another democratic implementation, that of Firdos Square in Baghdad, when Saddam Hussein’s statue was toppled, and within minutes Washington declared democracy. Donald Rumsfeld told reporters, “The scenes of free Iraqis celebrating in the streets, riding American tanks, tearing down the statues of Saddam Hussein in the center of Baghdad are breathtaking. Watching them, one cannot help but think of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Iron Curtain.”

Cenotaph” — This Heat

A war to end all wars
And the war that came after that

There were roughly two hundred Iraqis who participated in unseating Sadaam’s statue. As we later learned, those Iraqis were hired by American forces to participate in the charade to symbolize the end of an oppressive regime. The scene in Tahrir Square, Cairo, with roughly a million participants — five thousand times as many people than Firdos Square! — was, at the very least, an order of magnitude more convincing a display of spontaneous democracy. Yet Washington was damn near the last to acknowledge what it was first to claim for the people of Iraq. Why?


While confirming our suspicions that Washington carries out villainous misdeeds under the guise of making the world a safer place, isn’t watching the situation in Egypt unfold more a case of realizing our position within democracy as equivalent to being among the envious exclusivity of hierarchy? In his speech after the overthrow of Mubarak, Obama quoted Martin Luther King, saying, “There is something in the soul that cries out for freedom.” In this sense, democracy is circumscribed by the red velvet rope; access to the VIP section isn’t available to just anybody. From inside, aren’t we aware, as participants in democracy’s exclusivity, however explicitly, that if everyone is allowed into the party it will totally kill the vibe, and, almost as a natural reflex, we understand the need for circumscription and, almost automatically, separate “us” from “them”?

Was this covetous distantiation not apparent in the WikiLeaks controversy? The leaked diplomatic cables contained revelations (US contractor DynaCorp used taxpayer dollars to host a party for Afghan policemen where young boys were auctioned for rape!), but more than verifying our suspicions and igniting public outrage, the media and concerned citizens (us, collectively) impetuously admonished Assange in a rap colloquialism: “Don’t hate the player, hate the game.” We didn’t demand DynaCorp be shut down, we didn’t march on Washington in disgust at the misuse of tax dollars, we debated whether Assange was a rapist. Another relevant rap colloquialism: Stop snitching!

There’s a veil of symbolic function that operates in a democracy, usually couched in presidential platitudes (“It is an unfortunate fact that we can secure peace only by preparing for war”), that acts as a “first rule of fight club”-type warning of the consequences of pulling back the curtain to exhibit how the sausage is made, as it were. Assange, as freedom’s player hater, lifted the curtain, revealing the unprincipled aspects of democratic principles, and was treated the way we treat any partygoer who lets his dimwitted, bucktooth cousin from Cheyenne beyond the velvet rope: We laugh and point and call him a fag. Or in this case, “rapist!”

Gotta Go, Got Bricks To Throw: Egyptian protester reifying a May '68 poster.

Run comrade, the old world is behind you! — Egyptian riot police reify a May '68 poster.

Who wants to hear about 1,000 peasants lying dead?

As a country obsessed with recycling, isn’t WikiLeaks a modern recycling of the Pentagon Papers? As a war strategist turned peace activist, Daniel Ellsberg “suffered” a change of heart as the result of witnessing atrocities in the name of democracy: lies that stretched across four presidencies, hundreds of thousands dead, bombing countries we weren’t at war with. For Ellsberg, seeing top secret plans for systematically destroying Southeast Asia unveiled the symbolic function that allowed him, as a war strategist, to believe he was making the world a safer place. Whatever ideological presuppositions were at work before he read the documents, failed afterward, leaving him enmeshed in an aporia that saw the illusion of power as the power of illusion. Unable to rationally reconcile his beliefs with his reality, he “snapped,” and acted “irrationally.”

America” — The Au Pairs

Why don’t you get a bayonet?
Mince up a peasant or two
Remember… America’s right behind you!

Ellsberg’s break was a Derridian deconstruction that shouldn’t be underemphasized. How many people have the “opportunity,” either by choice or by force, to radically de-construct their entire worldview? And it was precisely this opportunity that caused Ellsberg’s defense attorney (Ellsberg was sued under the Espionage Act) to try and exclude middle-aged men from the jury. Specifically because it’s the middle-aged man who, partly out of envy and partly out of contempt, looks at another man who’s radically re-shaped his life, and sides against him. Deconstruction taught us that we feel free because we lack the very language to articulate our un-freedom. Ellsberg, having his life up to that point ruined by finding the language to articulate his un-freedom, immediately became an “enemy of the people” (as Nixon called him) once he found the language to articulate freedom. The illusion of power is only the power of illusion, in that the fundamental level of ideology is not of an illusion masking the real state of things, but an unconscious fantasy structuring our view of reality itself.

Similarly, isn’t the very thing we fear in a terrorist this same notion of a radically re-shaped worldview? That is, as a “normal” follower of Islam, we sense no threat, yet when the same Islamist is “radicalized,” he becomes an “enemy of the people.”

The case against Ellsberg was declared a mistrial when the covert operations of the White House Plumbers were uncovered: His home was bugged; There was a plot to dose him with LSD before a public speech to make him seem crazy; His psychiatrist’s office was burglarized in search of damning evidence to use against him; Later through the release of the Watergate tapes, we learned Nixon not only wanted Ellsberg assassinated, but he thought carpet bombs and napalm weren’t radical enough to subdue the Viet Cong, he wanted to use the nuclear bomb.

The press was to serve the governed, not the governors. The Government’s power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government. The press was protected so that it could bare the secrets of government and inform the people. Only a free and unrestrained press can effectively expose deception in government. And paramount among the responsibilities of a free press is the duty to prevent any part of the government from deceiving the people and sending them off to distant lands to die of foreign fevers and foreign shot and shell.
Justice Black (New York Times v. United States)

The Pentagon Papers caused a huge scandal, damning evidence was revealed about the war and the leadership of the country. Towards the end of Nixon’s first term as president, as more secrets and more scandals were revealed, the country became disillusioned and enraged. Nixon was caught red-handed. The 1972 presidential election, amid the scandal and lies of the Pentagon Papers, shamed Nixon into a whopping 49 state victory! Proving what Ellsberg’s defense attorney knew: Deconstructing the veil of symbolic function comes at the expense of unraveling daily life, and most people aren’t willing to risk salto mortale — the leap of faith into the unknown for the hope of something different.

Burn Baby, Burn” — Jimmy Collier

I really wanted to be somebody
I really wanted some scratch

I really wanted to have a decent job
But all I had was a match


In keeping with the recycling theme, aren’t we, as survivors of the Great Recession, living in a re-enactment of the Great Depression? I’m tempted to call this period, The New Deal II, The Sequel. Or, The Great Depression 2.0. It was after the ’29 crash — when unemployment skyrocketed, farmers lost their land to dust, and the demand for US industries plummeted — that measures were taken to safeguard the country from ever having to suffer such a catastrophe again. The Federal Home Loan Bank Act made it easier for people to own homes. The Securities Act of 1933 created the Securities and Exchange Commission in order to regulate the stock market and prevent corporate abuse. The New Deal put people back to work reinvigorating the infrastructure of the country.

Starting in the ‘30s, with the rise in home ownership, and as the idea of living on credit came into existence, the baby boomers were emblematic of what Marx called commodity fetishism. Job security, a living wage, owning a home, and so on, all framed the new dominant ideology. This worldview, this sense of ownership, was the very thing that Daniel Ellsberg’s attorney was up against in the Pentagon Papers case. While the world was upside down during the Vietnam War, and people took to the streets in protest, the ideological underpinnings of the populace remained hard to shake. They were substantially invested, and the very thing that caused the economic collapse operated as its own counter-agent.

All your private property
Is a target for your enemy
And your enemy is … We!

Jefferson Airplane (“We Should Be Together” — lyrics cribbed from an Up Against The Wall Motherfucker leaflet written by John Sundstrom)

By replacing the “problem” industries of the Great Depression (farming, mining, logging, factory work) with industries of capitalist accumulation, we replaced the one-to-one value ratio with an intangible commodity value that is self-engendering. In other words, today we don’t make money from labor; we make money from money.

Marxist joke: What did one self-engendered dollar say to the other?

In the process of using our money to beget money, we got blinded by greed and engaged in deregulation, sub-prime lending, fraudulent underwriting and over-leveraging. As the market crashed again, and unemployment skyrocketed and people lost their homes to foreclosure, the SEC (the very agency created to prevent such circumstances, which relaxed the regulations that could prevent such a collapse) announced the program that allowed investment banks to supervise themselves was, “fundamentally flawed.” No shit?


While the architects of the collapse are forced into retirement with billion dollar severance packages, and the post-bailout mid-term election promises of wiser spending fade away, what are we left with now? The senate is threatening a government shutdown until crucial cutbacks are made. Crucial cutbacks! Cutbacks such as art, public television and Planned Parenthood. No shit?

America’s Got the Cutback Blues” — Muntu Meloncon

Cutbacks on social security
Cutback on childcare
America, why don’t you cut back on all of your warfare?
And while you’re cutting back, why don’t you
Cut back on bullets and guns and more
That you send to El Salvador

Can’t we use what Marx called the “symbolic existence” (paper money operating as a representation for the worth of gold) as a lens through which to view the way we reconcile capitalism within democracy? Symbolically, we understand that it is a government of the people for the people by the people, and as “the people,” our government works for us. The overwhelming evidence that contradicts this symbolic existence operates parallel to our reality. While we doubt the actual representation of our elected officials (fraud, campaign promises unfulfilled, scandal, disproportionate wealth, etc.), it doesn’t stop us from parallelisticly participating in what we doubt. So, much like we use money to make money, we use the idea of democracy in place of democracy. Thus, democracy mimics the market — self-engendering. As such, democracy functions on an ideological level, without the need for anyone to actually believe that it works in order for it to work. Much like the presidential platitudes, democracy’s message resides in its very abstention from delivering a message. The uroboric recycling of a petitio principii.

Isn’t Julian Assange the perfect example of what happens when the irreconcilable differences between capitalism and democracy are elevated out of the symbolic exchange into reality? While we may believe in the First Amendment protection of whistleblowers and the public’s right to know what our representatives are doing in our name, what WikiLeaks does is reveal a parallactic blind spot that is irreconcilably lodged between or symbolic order and our reality. Just as the Pentagon Papers lead the country to outrage and re-election of Nixon, so WikiLeaks confronts us with outrageous material that we can’t wholly alchemize within our horizon of understanding. No one will argue in support of DynaCorp using taxpayer money to throw parties where boys are auctioned as rape toys, and the shock and outrage we feel about such behavior is real, but shouldn’t the rational reaction to such revelation be irrational? Shouldn’t we “snap” at learning of such terrors? Instead, we say that we “can’t believe” what happened, and insofar as deconstruction serves as the ultimate form of disbelief, it’s true — without a radical redefinition of our way of understanding, we are stuck with a kind of disbelief. Isn’t this why normal citizens taking to the street is seen as the ultimate form of “crazy” behavior? Renouncing everything, walking in front of a tank, throwing stones at an armed militia, running towards the fire — this behavior symbolizes looking beyond the horizon of understanding. Radicalizing one’s worldview.

Short of such a break, we uncomfortably see ourselves, consciously or not, as conspirators in an irreconcilable symbolic exchange, trading our disbelief of democracy in for reality’s comfort from capital. The alternative — radical reinvention of our belief system — is beyond our horizon of finitude, and, as something not possible, creates a blind spot, separating “us” from “them.”

He Keeps You” — Boscoe

Seem the good white folks done blessed us with a curse
Things ain’t gettin’ better, things gettin’ worse

As Americans, we are the inheritors of a recycling historic phenomenon: Dreams for a better society erupt into revolutionary upheaval, relapsing into a new version of order that reproduces itself through its inherent transgression. Doesn’t living with this sequel establish the defeated notion that a revolution succeeds not in toppling a regime, but dismantling one to put another in it’s place? And don’t we as participants in this simulacrum, seeing those on the outside clamoring to get in, view them with equal parts sadistic circumspection at their inability to get past the velvet rope, and sad certainty in knowing what awaits them is the hollow ideal of a self-replicating dream?

“They” struggle to achieve democracy, and we, like a crowd watching someone get beat up, assume that someone else will step in and stop it. As Obama quoted Martin Luther King to the people of Egypt, “There is something in the soul that cries out for freedom,” we found poisoned pleasure in the squinting eyes of those on the outside looking in at the blinding light of our freedom.


The Egyptian détournement of Obama’s “yes we can” campaign slogan to read, “yes we can too” reveals an envious willingness of the Egyptian people to assimilate into the Symbolic Order of democracy. That their struggle is beyond the horizon of our understanding is plainly illustrated as the revolution unfolds next to a competing headline in the New York Times, using the same language of the revolution: “Fashion Week Attendees are Facing the Bitter Cold with Extreme Bravery, and Style!”

It’s cynical, but a cynicism informed by a post-“Change We Can Believe In” mindset, which voted for a nebulous something that symbolically embodied difference. We are now reconciling what we got with what we expected. While Obama has made numerous changes, some monumental, what hasn’t changed is the paradigm within which he operates. It’s this lack of radical re-imagination of our reality, I believe, that finds most people disillusioned in his presidency. And, in this sense, wouldn’t it be more accurate, if, while toggling between the live stream of millions of protestors in Cairo and the Mercedes-Benz-sponsored Fashion Week coverage, the Egyptian sign read: YES WE CAN, ACTUALLY!

With Obama as the first black president, we voted for revolutionary change before we had a chance to revolutionarily change the system in which we elected him to operate. The racist backlash (“SHOW ME THE BIRTH CERTIFICATE, HUSSEIN!”) reveals the sticky subject which we’ve yet to be able to discuss openly as a people; we remain a melting pot, sort of institutionally indivisible but separately equal. In this sense, as inheritor of a leadership born from a system of exploitation, Obama is in the unfortunate position of being a black man administrating a white supremacy.

Oh” — Fugazi

Lapse of luxury
Lapping waste
Cruising towards a bruising crash
Thread held, anvil’s gonna break
When the letter returns to the sender
I can hardly wait

Tracing the series of tragedies in the last decade: the September eleventh attacks, the war(s) on terror, Hurricane Katrina, the sub-prime mortgage crisis, the financial collapse, the BP oil spill, the Georgia prison strikes (the biggest in US history), etc., it’s easy to think of these as end times. Instead, we should see this as capitalism functioning efficiently.

Marx published Capital in 1867, and every generation since has made predictions about the death of capitalism. Instead of dying, what happens is capitalism grows more robust, more resistant, more adaptable. In digital vernacular, capitalism has gone viral. Much like the “Doomsday Machine” in Stanley Kubrick’s Dr. Strangelove, capitalism functions as a similarly self-engendering mechanism — either within our Symbolic Order (Wall Street! Trickle Down!) or running roughshod over our reality (Main Street! “Dude, Where’s My Job?”) — past the point of the fail-safe. Much like our democracy functions only through our ideological faith in a practice of envious exclusivity and institutional exploitation, capitalism function through our belief that everyone has a shot at the brass ring, and the waste produced from such aspirations paradoxically create security.


Capitalism’s biggest byproduct is waste, the excreta of exploited resources. In order for a capitalist economy to function, there needs to be need, and luxury goods function as the apex of symbolic need. In other words, luxury goods, by definition, are unnecessary yet symbolically they represent the ultimate capitalist achievement (luxury=success), and as such, become necessary if one intends to succeed in society. Kropotkian wisdom taught us if everyone were well fed and comfortably situated there would be little discontent, little to envy, and without envious discontent, capitalism is nonessential. Thus, the more shit produced, the more capital thrives.

Capital waste is an acceptable byproduct. Just as our daily lives are sustained by the management of waste (sewers, garbage trucks, landfills, etc.), the market is sustained by the management of capital’s excrement. Our culture of consumption, with rewards reserved for those who copiously consume, is a culture that produces endless waste. The irony of the current “green revolution” is that in re-tooling our lives to be more eco-friendly (hybrid cars, energy efficient appliances, disposal silverware made of biodegradable corn, and so on) we are redoubling our consumption in the process of re-buying a “green” replacement for everything we already own. This process is somehow not seen as ridiculous, but acceptable. It’s only when the definition of waste creeps into our daily lives — when one’s home or job become a “byproduct” and are deemed worthless — that the general acceptability of waste smells a lot different.

Isn’t this why things like celebrity fascination and reality television are so popular? Our captivation with celebrity is not merely indulgence in spectacle, but more importantly, it assuages our complicity in the meaninglessness of capital waste. However much waste our lives generate, Kim Kardashian’s wasteful engagement in luxury makes our shit seem trivial. The paradox, of course, is the more shit you produce the higher your societal ranking, and while the Kardashian life is condemnably trite, her position in the hierarchy of capital exclusivity is enviable. Similarly, we don’t believe that reality television is really real, though we allow it to symbolically function as a simulation of fame, or “everyday celebrity.” Fame Lite! Isn’t reality stardom, then, Joe Normal enjoying the fruits of celebrity without all the waste? Genuine fame without the waste fame produces. Fame and its antithesis all in one. Green Celebrity? Eco-Friendly Fame? Hybrid Luxury? Isn’t our participation in such spectacle the same as buying local, organic milk at Wal-Mart? We are supporting the antithesis of exploitative big business (local milk) while actually supporting exploitative big business (Wal-Mart). Reality television allows us the simulacrum of fame while finding contempt in all that fame represents.

Isn’t the loop created by short-circuiting fame and its antithesis what makes American Idol is so popular? As viewers/voters in the process of exalting an everyday, “normal” person into the limelight, we are re-enacting the symbolic function of democracy within the sphere of celebrity. Isn’t that what happens in news coverage as well? Headlines of Gaddafi’s troops killing his own citizens next to up-to-the-minute Oscar coverage; similarly, headlines of Mubarack’s ousting running next to Fashion Week coverage. In order to watch a video of protests in Libya, I must first sit through a Gucci commercial. By having our news sponsored by luxury goods, as both the symbol of eminence and waste, the real conditions of the world get deicticly imbued with the conditions of commercial consumption. Luxury is symbolically re-enacted in the sphere of tragedy, and we get a prurient, Pavlovian experience of news.


In the same way that our luxury goods quickly become obsolete, so do our “reality” idols. American Idol is not just the most popular show; it airs constantly. The same repetitive function (consume, excrete, repeat) that frames the hierarchical caste of celebrity also structures growth in the capital markets. In order to be a “good” capitalist, one must produce the most waste to guarantee a position atop the market. The same pyramidical conditions exist in celebrity. There’s only so much room at the top, and the most attention is spent on the smallest section of the population. The majority (us) who are not atop the pyramid become then, in every functioning way, the minority (even though, by head count, we’re the majority). We are, then, The Silent Majority. Or, something that counts as nothing.

Worst Case Scenario” — Babyland

You’ve got to live with what you know
What you don’t know

An interesting mix of celebrity, charity and revealing the inhumanity of capitalism came in the form of a Super Bowl commercial. Groupon, one of the fastest growing businesses in the world, set to include China among the markets in which it operates, released a self-depreciating, humorlessly funny commercial for a charity drive called, “Save The Money,” in which Groupon matched all donations to four targeted charities. The commercial could easily be mistaken for a snarky Saturday Night Live sketch, and since it was without tits and monster trucks, it seemed rather out of place in the Super Bowl roster. I don’t think this misplaced placement was lost on Groupon. With billions to burn, Groupon chose to advertise their philanthropy during the most expensive time slot. Instead of the usual celebrity spokesperson sincerely pleading with those less fortunate (“us”) to think of those who are even less fortunate (“them,” aka, Tibetans), Groupon poked fun at themselves for getting rich through facilitating people’s daily indulgence of deals. In the first half of one of the commercials, Timothy Hutton talks about the problems of the people of Tibet, and as the camera pulls back we see he’s sitting in a Himalayan restaurant, and he says through Groupon he was able to get his meal for half price. In a meta- way, the commercial pokes its finger in the eye of commerciality. And since there were no tits or monster trucks, Super Bowl fans were kinda tazed by the meta-ness of it all, or meta-tazed if there is such a thing?

The commercial was, almost immediately, derided for it’s bad taste and insensitivity to the people of Tibet. Groupon eventually pulled the commercial as the result of the backlash. When Andrew Mason (founder of Groupon, heralded on the cover of Fortune Magazine as one of the smartest businessmen of today), in his wisdom, questioned the consumption that made him rich, consumers were insulted. Isn’t the meta-question he asked — “is over-indulgence good?” — the kind of thing we normally reward companies for asking? Don’t we favor those companies who create products that minimize waste, have ethical work practices, and engage in charitable work? Isn’t this commercial a meta-illustration of the very principles we look for in a “good” company?

When a billionaire such as Andrew Mason (the pinnacle of capital wealth/waste) voices criticism of the very process of capital, he effectively short circuits the symbolic exchange that runs in the background of functioning ideology. We, as outsiders/consumers, are not only denied the opportunity of jealous indignation, but with the loop of symbolic function shorted out, we can’t take “credit” for the waste (Andrew beat us to it), and our consumption, operating in one dimension instead of two, is invalidated. Instead of a two-dimensional uselessness signifying luxuriousness, we get a one-dimensional useless as useless.

If this were a Saturday Night Live sketch, and Timothy Hutton performed the same bit at the expense of Groupon instead of in the employ of Groupon, I think it would be regarded as comic genius. Doesn’t it have everything that we require in ridiculing and/or condemning capitalists/celebrities? (Scorn, cynicism, snark, actual celebrity, taunting convention, bad taste, etc.)

As a commercial, it successfully short-circuited the parallax blinding symbolism from reality, which is exactly why it failed as a commercial.

China, besides being a prospective market for Groupon, should be viewed in context as the next logical phase in capitalism’s development. America’s trouble with markets is that democratic ethics are a sticking point in unrestrained exploitation. Finding acceptable standards of exploitation and waste in the pursuit of growth proves problematic. In the case of China, as an authoritarian capitalist system, the unrestrained market proves much more productive. When the dead weight of morality is shed, growth is exponential. Sadly, looking at the shit produced is proof.

While the effect on the people is severe (government corruption, human rights violations, state censorship, poverty, drought, industrial pollution, poor health and food safety, etc.), China is the world’s fastest growing economy. The unfortunate condition of the citizens contrasted with its thriving economy, China is an illustration of the inherent inhumanity of capitalism.

The Comfort You’ve Demanded is Now Mandatory!

Voicing discontent was the domain of the left during the ‘60s and ‘70s (civil rights, women’s liberation, nuclear disarmament, the peace movement, gay rights, socialism), and today that radical opposition has been radically sublimated into an idea of “change we can believe in” without disrupting the luxuries of life. The real change has turned symbolic. Or, in the Robespierrian sense, we want a “revolution without revolution.” Rather than radicals taking to the street in demand of a “new world,” today’s left operates closer to the center, rallying everyone to fear the catastrophe present in this world. The voice of discontent, abandoned by the left, now belongs to the radical right, and so comes the opposite extreme: distrust of government, deregulation, hatred of foreigners and gays, return of the red scare (“Socialist!”), and so on.

Message From Our Sponsors” — Jello Biafra

Stay in your homes!
Do not attempt to contact loved ones…
All sports broadcasts will proceed as normal

The post-Watergate ‘70s and ‘80s were informed, on the left, by the public’s right to know, conspiracy theories, exposés, shocking truths, and the tireless work of “waking people up.” The demand for transparency ushered us into the digital age, and strangely, continues today. Is truth being held from us today, or is it, instead, that we are deluged in truth? Literally, we are leaking truth. It’s a pornographic discharge of truth from every orifice in the country: whistleblowers, documentaries, blogs, newspapers, social media outlets, photo and video sites, books, and so on. We are more informed than we’ve ever been. The overabundance of truth paradoxically paralyses us, making it hard to quantify truth. On any given day the left (CNN), right (Fox) and cynical center (Comedy Central) jockey for ratings on truth. Consequently, the populace is largely desensitized.

The days of an Orwellian 1984 are behind us, literally. They are also, in a cyclical (recycling) sense, behind us, in that we’ve consumed them already. But doesn’t the loop of the “reduce-reuse-recycle” waste hierarchy leave us with an Orwellian absorption? Post-Consumer Newspeak! In that sense, haven’t we integrated the Orwellian foreshadowing into our forecasting? Like the short-circuited loop, we eat our tails.

Jello Biafra’s jokingly serious “message from our sponsors,” about marshal law that turns your boss into your doctor into your god is, in the short-circuited sense, at the same time irrelevant and prescient. The pre-digital era of science fiction (where computers ruled the world and robot killing machines ran free) is today, both comically untruthful and mundanely true. Our most significant moments in life are digitally controlled (banking, taxes, baby cam, cyber sex, transportation, etc.), and death is modulated by machine (drone bombers, life support systems, etc.). And through it all, we’re nonplussed. Is this not confirmation that we’ve fully recycled Orwellian paranoia, post-consumingly integrated it into our worldview ideologically? A perfect example of how obscene authority operates in the background of our life was comically typified in the story from 2009 when Amazon remotely deleted copies of Orwell’s novel, 1984, from Kindle devices without the permission or knowledge of the Kindle owners. The irony wasn’t lost on anyone, though the underlying ideological implications remained, ironically, in the background. That it could even happen both concedes, in hindsight, Orwell’s paranoia, and foreshadows absorption of that same paranoia. The short-circuiting of Orwellian authority loops Jello Biafra’s idea of marshal law, turning it from something inflicted on us, to something innate within us.

We could apply a Situationist détournement to Biafra’s punchline, “the comfort you’ve demanded is now mandatory” to be more appropriately fitting in this loop theory: The comfort you’ve demanded is now a side effect of your comfort.

The answer of the conservatives amidst this liberal circle jerk of freedom and democracy is to invoke Reagan and become even more fundamentally conservative. We see this in the attacks on Planned Parenthood, PBS and NPR. Speaking of Jello Biafra, it’s a recycling of the Moral Majority. Looking at pictures of Libyan anti-government rebels, I can’t help but recall the rightwing propaganda Brat Pack-cum-Dirty Dancing war porno that was Red Dawn. If tempted to imagine the script used when this Middle Eastern push for democracy gets sublimated into primetime entertainment, I envision a tasty, “braised militancy”-type divertissement:

SCENE: Padma (as an ambiguously ethnic cultural tie-in) greets a “troop” of tattooed and daring-haired chefs at an “undisclosed” “bunker” far off in the “desert” and after “ordering” the challengers to “battle”, unveils the special guest judges… recently liberated Libyan freedom fighters! I can just smell the dishes now: “Head of Gaddafi” (Bazeen bearing resemblance to the former colonel, surrounded by a blood-red broth of Sharba Libiya, with dried dates for eyes — “His view of justice has run dry!”), and for dessert, “Drunk on Revolution!” (alcohol, which was formerly banned,-infused Asida with dyed-green ghee to match the Libyan flag).

It’s ridiculous, but it’s imaginable, right?

Freeze Up” — Operation Ivy

Static and division is increasing like a storm
We are sheltered, we are forewarned
Nothing can be changed except ourselves

«« mieux vaut un désatre qu’un désêtre »»

I don’t contend that these are new ideas. Quite on the contrary, they seem to have been, in the Heideggerian sense, “always-already” present in society. In 1548, Etienne de la Boétie wrote, “so many men, so many villages, so many cities, so many nations, sometimes suffer under a single tyrant who has no other power than the power they give him…” As an updated recycling of Boétie’s thesis, Buadrillard wrote, in From Domination to Hegemony, “In the face of this hegemony, the work of the negative, the work of critical thought, of the relationship of forces against oppression, or of radical subjectivity against alienation, all this has (virtually) become obsolete.”

Isn’t Baudrillard’s work of critical thought, of radical subjectivity against alienation, apparent in religion today? Hasn’t religion become a self-engendering process as well? In people’s cynicism about the existence of God, or in a lax attendance to faith, don’t we find the same unattended authority running in the background? Thus, we should reexamine Jesus through this same Baudrillardian “face of hegemony.” Jesus can be used as the ultimate blueprint in becoming “radicalized,” and as such, shouldn’t we see his death as a radical renunciation of his role, as him condemning us to the responsibility of freedom?

If we think of the torture photos from the Abu Ghraib, or the impulse of television shows like “To Catch A Predator,” or this decade long search for Osama bin Laden, or the defeat and spontaneous re-proliferation of al-Qaeda forces, or the way in which we overindulge in celebrities, doesn’t all of this have the structure of misdirected persecution, misdirected resurrection, misdirected servitude? Doesn’t being overwhelmed with luxury and opulence on one hand, while being overwhelmed with the crushing market forces that make luxury impossible on the other leave us, not only unable to reverse the loop, but jaded as we attempt to? In our jadedness, being inured to the forces against us, don’t we detach, grow apathetic, and enact a misguided revenge on easier targets? In believing pedophiles are “animals,” Middle Easterners are “terrorists,” Mexicans are “aliens,” aren’t we driving the wedge further between “us” and “them?” Doesn’t this humanitarianism born of disengaged cynicism act inhumanely?

The short-circuit that allowed us to take teachings of compassion and turn them against ourselves works in the background of what we convince ourselves that we believe. The contradiction is evidenced in how we react to things like oppressive autocracy, Groupon, WikiLeaks, celebrities, and even Jesus. This ideological torsion disguises our malevolence as the work of benevolence. In the process of leading the world into democracy, we’re driving a deep wedge between different classes and faiths, between “the people” who democracy is supposed to represent. In an effort to rid the world of crime we find more and more ways to see ourselves as criminal.

In the deconstructionist sense, feeling free because we lack the very language to articulate our un-freedom, shouldn’t we start then by deconstructing our idea of freedom? Isn’t it the cynical cycle of reflexive aporia that has us ignorantly reenacting the crucifixion upon our enemies in misguided devotion to He who we crucified? The title of the Facebook group memorializing the Egyptian man who died as the result of police brutality, “We Are All Khaled Said,” and the page being attributed to “El-Shaheed” (“martyr”), invites us all, in joining the group, to become him; identifying with the martyr in protest of he who brutalized him. Isn’t the blind spot, then, in our inability to see ourselves, not as the martyr, but as the perpetrator of brutality? Isn’t the way to end the need for martyrdom in seeing our ability to brutalize?

Instead of a “change we can believe in,” shouldn’t we first believe that we can change? We need to see ourselves “radicalized,” and, until then, aren’t we just going to keep simulating the cynical short-circuit, continuing to reenact the obscene disbelief that made the crucifixion possible?

The Burden of Hope” — Grails

To discover and reveal something a little closer to truth…

But that battered word, truth, having made its appearance here, confronts one immediately with a series of riddles and has, moreover, since so many gospels are preached, the unfortunate tendency to make one belligerent. Let us say, then, that truth, as used here, is meant to imply a devotion to the human being, his freedom and fulfillment; freedom which cannot be legislated, fulfillment which cannot be charted. This is the prime concern, the frame of reference; it is not to be confused with a devotion to Humanity which is too easily equated with a Cause; and Causes, as we know, are notoriously bloodthirsty.
James Baldwin

The Rich Will Never Be On Our Side

Posted by , September 9th, 2010
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For Chilean folk singer Victor Jara the cost of non-conformity was his life. On September 16, 1973, he was killed. Despite 4 days of torture and having army officers mockingly ask him to play guitar after breaking his arms, Jara, forever on the side of the people, instead sang “Venceremos” (We Shall Triumph), the campaign song of the Popular Unity coalition. He was shot and killed, his body was dumped in the outskirts of Santiago.

Jara was a poet and songwriter, an activist and outspoken supporter of the Marxist president Salvador Allende. The Popular Unity coalition (Unidad Popular), the party backing Allende, sought equality for the people of Chile in an effort to bring her out of third world conditions. Thanks to documents produced from a Freedom of Information Act request, longstanding suspicions are confirmed that the United States government was complicit in the damage done to Chile in resistance to president Allende’s aim for cultural equality.

Much effort has gone into convincing Americans of the evils inherent in Marxism, socialism, communism and any leader who espouses such philosophies. Interestingly, if we actually look at Allende’s economic, social and political initiations, Marxism reveals itself much more humane than capitalism, which is exactly why there’s so much propaganda against Marxism in America.

Allende was a doctor, and as evidenced from his earliest work in politics as the Minister of Health, he was concerned most for the health and well-being of everyone in Chile. Allende spearheaded many reforms, including the creation of maternity care programs, increased pensions for widows, free lunch programs for poor children, safety laws to protect factory workers, and legislation that brought medical attention to three million Chileans. This was the face of Allende’s Marxist socialism platform, or as he often referred to it, “social democracy.” The Popular Unity program benefited all Chileans. The only people to whom it was detrimental were the handful of elite, super wealthy businessmen of Chile and the United States corporations who had interests in Chile’s main resource, copper.

Chile leads every other country in the world in its production of copper, and there were two main transnational corporations exploiting that production, International Telephone & Telegraph (ITT) and Kennecott Copper Corporation.

An American army lieutenant founded ITT, and as corporations do, ITT acquired other corporations around the world. These included not only communication companies but also electronics and aircraft manufacturers. ITT built and sold fighter planes, radios and radars for the Nazis. In fact, ITT won a $27 million settlement for damage from Allied forces to one of its aircraft manufacturing plants in Germany.

As soon as Allende showed strength in Chile, ITT began a campaign to overthrow the Popular Unity coalition. Through newspapers and telephone companies owned by the corporation, ITT began a smear campaign against Allende. There was also money funneled through the U.S. government, specifically the CIA, to prepare a military overthrow of Allende.  A year before Allende was killed an American reporter disclosed a memo from Dita Beard, an ITT lobbyist, showing collusion between ITT, the Justice Department and the White House. ITT funded the Republican National Convention in return for a favorable settlement in an antitrust suit against ITT. Even before Allende was killed, ITT proved itself to be terribly inhumane: supporting the Nazis, involvement in Watergate, and the assassination of Chilean people. While ITT was terrible in its humanity, they were very successful as a corporation. The tenets of corporate business put profit over everything else. Stockholders demand action that serves the corporation regardless of “outside interests.” If the life and welfare of people fall within the scope of outside interests, that’s not the concern of the corporation. As proven in recent history, a corporation, now recognized as a legal person, is afforded more rights than a natural person, especially in areas of bankruptcy and mass tort litigation.

«« It follows a pattern if you dig what I mean »»

[As an aside — and in an effort to keep some tenuous link to all things record-related, I should mention that ITT has the distinguished honor of being detested in song by more than one artist. Gil Scott-Heron brilliantly tied all the politics of time together in his, “H2O-Gate Blues.” Fela Kuti, Nigeria’s king of afrobeat took on ITT directly, criticizing them for devastating Africa in exploitation of her natural resources.]

Sadly, Salvador Allende’s overthrow was not the first, nor the bloodiest, in the American effort to “democratize” the world. There is a certain doublespeak engaged by politicians, businessmen and news outlets. It’s a well-established, thinly-veiled technique that most people are cynically immune to. Using trillions of “defense” dollars to help “liberate” countries and allow them to “participate” in world democracy, while our transnational corporations gain access to business opportunities within their borders. This economic imperialism — whether it be copper in Chile, oil in the Niger delta, lithium in Afghanistan, minerals for electronics from the Congo, United Fruit’s banana republic in Honduras and Guatemala, blood diamonds in Liberia — covers the world and intensifies the imbalance between the rich and poor, those with access to technology and those left in the dark, and the healthy and the hungry. The doublespeak of democracy conceals itself in the idea of the American dream. The inalienable rights — that is, those entitlements in our absolute possession, unable to be taken from us — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and that all men are created equal, are purported to be available to everyone while a system of exploitation works against those rights. Those who can claw their way out of the system of exploitation are often championed, in a “rags to riches” style, as examples of the American dream coming true. In reality, though, those who overcome the exploitation are a rare few. For as long as a system that allows one class to exploit another exists, there will be a majority who toil to serve a select few. It was the idea of an actual democracy — of the people, for the people, by the people — that Allende worked toward.

On the first anniversary of his presidency, Allende said, “Democracy and freedom are incompatible with unemployment and lack of housing, the lack of culture, illiteracy and sickness. How is democracy strengthened? By creating more jobs, giving better wages, building more homes, providing the people with more culture, education and better health.” These words could be from any democratic president, as the rhetoric sounds the same. The only difference is that Allende acted on his statements. Worker wages were raised, rents were frozen, free milk was provided for children, hospitals were ordered to treat all who sought medical attention, and small businesses were given tax breaks. Allende began a massive agrarian reform and asked workers to participate in an economy that they now had a stake in. As a result, unemployment plummeted to less than 4 percent, production rose, and more citizens than ever before (especially the youth) engaged in the political process.

Through all the reform Allende was plagued with imperialist insolence at the hands of the White House. Funneling millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars into preparing covert operatives out of the embassy in Santiago for a coup, creating an “invisible” economic blockade against Chile’s industrial plants and natural resources, cutting all humanitarian aid, as well as funding extreme fascist groups. White House-appointed CIA gunmen assassinated the army chief of staff, René Schneider and naval Captain Arturo Araya. Allende supporters within the Chilean military were tortured, resulting in many resignations, including the commander-in-chief of the army, General Carlos Prats. These crimes, coupled with legislation limiting Allende from making military appointments, allowed the White House-chosen General Augusto Pinochet to become commander-in-chief of the Army.

Despite all of this, Allende went before the United Nations General Assembly and spoke truth to power, advocating humanity over murder, democracy over the exploitation of transnational corporations, peace over war profiteering, and health and education for all:

We are aware of the fact that, when we denounce the financial and economic blockade applied against us, it is somewhat difficult for world opinion, and even for some of our fellow citizens, to understand what we mean. This aggression is not overt and has not been openly declared to the world; on the contrary, it is an oblique, underhand, indirect form of aggression, although this does not make it any less damaging to Chile. We are having to face forces that operate in the half-light, that fight with powerful weapons, but fly no identifying flags and are entrenched in the most varied centers of influence…

What I have just described to the assembly amounts to a perversion of the fundamental nature of international agencies, the utilization of which as tools of the policies of individual member states is legally and morally unacceptable no matter how powerful such states may be. Such misuse represents the exertion of pressure on an economically weak country, the infliction of punishment on a whole nation for its decision to recover its own basic resources, and a premeditated form of intervention in the internal affairs of a sovereign state. In a word, it is what we call imperialist insolence…

Unable to stop him any other way, the White House orchestrated a coup d’état through General Pinochet. On September 11, 1973, Allende was murdered in the presidential palace. Pinochet was declared president by military junta and immediately totalitarian tactics reigned supreme in Chile.

The press was censored. Students, priests, political activists and women who wore slacks were arrested. Fascists groups burned books in the street that they deemed “subversive.” Under martial law, congress was suspended; all labor organizations, independent judiciary and free press were outlawed. When jails overflowed in Santiago, suspected criminals were herded into sports stadiums and tortured, if not shot on sight. The water of the Mapocho River was reported to turn reddish-brown as bodies, legs and arms floated in the water. Over 200,000 Chileans fled the country seeking exile. Thousands who chose to stay were “disappeared,” most being tortured and killed, buried in mass graves or dumped from helicopter into the Pacific Ocean.

Most of the governments around the world refused to recognize Pinochet’s military dictatorship or broke off diplomatic relations in protest. The U.S., however, immediately recognized Pinochet as Chile’s president and rushed in economic aid. Even the 2006 New York Times obituary of Pinochet mentions that he “led the country into an era of robust economic growth.” It fails to mention the decade of extreme poverty, fear and unemployment under Pinochet prior to the era of growth. And, the “robust economic growth” was based on Milton Friedman’s “free market” philosophy that privatized all state enterprises, including social security, cut worker wages, restricted labor unions, sharply increased unemployment and, according to a 1994 World Bank report, left 40 percent of Chileans living on three-fourths of daily calories required to subsist. Through re-strengthening of NAFTA, the WTO and other trade organizations, Chile’s copper resources are back in the hands of transnational corporations. Pinochet inherited his economic plan for Chile from a group of economists, studying under Milton Friedman, who opposed Allende and secretly prepared a stratagem for Chile that would be advantageous to American interests. This new economic policy, El Ladrillo (“the brick”), set forth “reforms” by way of deregulation and privatization. The copper industry remained nationalized under Pinochet, but through legislation and consolidation all outside corporate interests were allowed, once again, controlling interest.

In February of 1971, Allende presciently said:

Ever since my youth I have fought to bury prejudice and obsolete political frameworks for all time. Destiny has willed that I should head this democratic revolution in Chile, this struggle in which the word democracy has a much broader significance than when it is indiscriminately used to conceal essentially anti-democratic and reactionary political attitudes… our government’s action against the monopolies which have plundered the Chilean economy and our attempts to recover the basic natural resources of the country for the Chilean people will affect certain North American private interests. However, we are sure that these interests cannot be identified with the greatest historical purposes of the North American people… whose progressive traditions I respect.

President Allende’s five guiding principles for democracy (from his 1971 message to congress), legality, development of institutions, political freedom, nonviolence, and areas of social ownership, in comparison to General Pinochet’s 1974 declaration, “all government opponents will be crushed and made to disappear” — and which form of government the United States chose to support, tells a terribly sad story of the state of our collective American dream. At the end of Pinochet’s reign, investigators found he had stolen $28 million from Chile. A long legal battle to charge him with genocide ended unsuccessfully when doctors deemed him unfit, though media outlets claim he was “embarrassed” by constant reports of his crimes before he died. The trend of absolving ourselves of guilt by sacrificing villains after they have become harmless continues, and it leaves the criminals of capital largely at liberty to perpetuate the systems the villains helped create.

The propaganda of misinformation in the U.S. survives, as the transnational corporations that own the media outlets and lobby influence over the government see that their agenda sets the tone for how events of the world are discussed — agendas that place profit and expansion and markets above human consideration. It’s no surprise then, that when the San José mine collapsed on August 5, 2010, the “story” in all the newspapers focused on spectacle and sensation; where the family members of the trapped miners were camping, keeping vigil; how to break the bad news to the trapped miners that it would take several months to get them out; the psychological effect of being trapped underground; how NASA had been called in to help, and what kind of state-of-the-art equipment they were using. The part of the story that saw very little coverage was the unsafe history of the mine; how other miners had previously died as the result of similar collapses; the mine has been shut down after the family of a miner who died in 2007 sued the owners; the mine had been fined over 40 times for breach of safety regulations. Empresa Minera San Esteban, the company who owns the mine, taking a page from the Enron book of business, plans to declare bankruptcy to protect its investments from legal actions taken by the trapped miners or their families.

Copper contributes to most of our daily activities because of its use in printed circuit boards, integrated circuits, wiring as well as hundreds of other applications, such as refrigeration, air conditioning and musical instruments. For those of us that use computers, the Internet, listen to- and play music, copper makes these activities possible. This digital age allows us to enrich our lives and have access to cultures that were the stuff of adventurers just a generation ago. Travel has been made easier; cell phone technology allows us to talk to just about anyone, anywhere; we carry small battery-powered devices for communication, entertainment and business; we can eat as if at a world’s fair every day of the week. All of that is possible because of copper in Chile, oil in the Niger delta, lithium in Afghanistan, minerals for electronics from the Congo, United Fruit’s banana republic in Honduras and Guatemala. The transnational corporations who exploit these natural resources, as well as the corporations who turn the resources into consumer goods, will advertise about the happy possibilities their products provide, but we as consumers know on whose backs those products were brought into existence?

As people around the world are trapped in mines, raped for minerals, poisoned by their employers and suffer at the hands of corporations we have to acknowledge what being the human element that runs capitalism and democracy means to the world. The promise of the American dream is that anyone can strike it rich; while the reality is that one percent of the population control the purse strings while the rest of us work in service of that one percent.

Allende knew this when he addressed the United Nations Third Conference on Trade and Development in Santiago, April 13, 1972:

The basic mission of this third session is the replacement of an outdated and unjust economic and trade order by an equitable one based on a new concept of man and human dignity, and to promote the reformulation of an international division of labor which the less advanced countries can no longer tolerate, inasmuch as it obstructs their progress while it favors only the affluent nations… The human being should be the object and the goal of all development policies and of all desirable forms of international cooperation. This is a concept which must be borne in mind in every discussion, in every decision, in every policy measure which aims at fostering progress whether at the national or multinational level… We want to lay the foundations for a new society which will offer its members social equality, welfare, freedom and dignity.

The New Chilean Song Movement (“La Nueva Canción Chilena”) was the embodiment, in sound, of all that Allende hoped for Chile. It’s no wonder that after the coup, one of the first orders of business for Pinochet’s military forces was to destroy Discoteca del Cantar Popular (the radical record company that released many of the new song artists), destroying not only the office and studio, but also the master recordings themselves. Today, the new songs survive from old LPs that made it out of Chile.

Stu Cohen, in cooperation with Rounder Records, released Chile Vencera! An Anthology of Chilean New Song, 1962 — 1973, and the royalties were donated to the Chile Defense Committee. The album is a compilation of new song artists culled from records that weren’t destroyed by the military junta. All the musicians on the album were directly affected by the junta. Victor Jara, as mentioned at the beginning, was murdered by the military, Angel Parra was sent to prison, Isabel Parra and Patricio Castillo managed to escape Chile and seek exile, Quilapayun and Inti Illimani happened to be on tour in Europe during the coup and remained in exile.

Bob Dylan has often been championed as the “voice of a generation,” a title even he takes issue with. Dylan’s ability to write that which seem so real in the mind of the listener is remarkable, and he deserves the praise he so often gets for his songwriting. But as a revolutionary or leader of the counter-culture, can we expect revolutionary innovation from someone whose profession it is to monopolize under established social conditions? It should be obvious that such revolutionary innovations come only from people who have received universal hostility and persecution from the status quo. For the people of Chile — the miners, agrarians, peasants, the proletariat — Victor Jara and the other artists of the Nueva Canción were exactly such, revolutionaries! Here is a small selection from the Chile Vencera! album:

“Al Centro De Injusticia” — Isabel Parra

This song is a particularly fine example of pre-Allende social commentary. It attacks what is in terms of what should be. It is directed against the Eduardo Frei government, the upper classes, and the profiteering foreign business.

(Link to the lyrics in Spanish)

Chile is limited in the north by Peru
And by Cape Horn in the south
In the east there rises the cordillera
While in the west the coast
In the middle, the verdant valleys
Where people multiply
Each family has many kids
Who live poorly
Of course, some live comfortably
But covered with the blood of the slaughtered
In front of the most arrogant
Agriculture poses its questions
We buy potatoes from many nations
Though they originated in the south of Chile
In front of the tricolored flag
Mining is very difficult
The miner produces good money
But it goes into foreigners’ pockets
Booming industries where several ladies
Work for a few pennies
And they have to do it, because
Their husbands’ pay is not enough for a month
To escape the anguish of this pain
In the starry night I shut my voice
The homeland is beautiful Mr. Tourist
But they don’t show you the slums
While they spent millions in a moment
People die in astonishing numbers
Too much money in the the public parks
While there is great misery in the hospitals
In the middle the of Alameda de las Delicias

Chile stands at the center of injustice

“Vamos Mujer” — Quilapayún

“Let’s go Woman” is drawn from another cantata (Cantata Santa Maria de Iquique, 1969), possibly the single most famous record released in Chile by the New Song Movement. Written by Luis Advis, one of Chile’s foremost classical composers, the cantata attests to the degree to which the movement was having an effect on areas beyond folk music.

The cantata tells the story of a massacre of miners and their families that occurred in the north of Chile in 1907. The miners and the families had gone to Iquique, a large northern port to protest the conditions in the nitrate mines. Their peaceful protest was met with bullets and several thousand were killed. The massacre was the single most important event in the development in the militant workers’ movement in Chile. The rhythms and melodies come from the traditional folklore of the north. The narrator is Hector Duvachelle.

(Link to the lyrics in Spanish)

The workers had accumulated many wrongs
Much poverty and many injustices
Finally, they could no longer stand it, and the words
Had to demand that which they were owed

At the end of 1907
The strike in San Lorenzo was stirring
And the cry which exploded in the desert
Was heard at once by all

From one mine to the other, like blasts
They heard protests of the workers
From one mine to the other, the owners
With their scornful, indifferent faces

What could the owners care of the rebellion
Of the dispossessed, of the outcasts
Soon they will return, repent
Brought by hunger, their heads lowered

What happens then, if no one listens
Each brothers asked the other
What we ask for is just and it’s so little
Must we lose hope?

So, with love and with suffering
Their wills were united
In only one place would they understand
They had to go down to the big port

Let’s go woman, we are leaving
For the city
All will be different
There can be no doubt
There can be no doubt, have faith
Soon you will see
That in Iquique
They’ll understand

Take my poncho woman
It will cover you
Take the little one in your arms
He will not cry
He will not cry, have faith
Soon he will smile
You will sing him a song
And then he will sleep

What is it that’s happening? Tell me
Don’t be silent any longer

It’s just a long road
You must travel
Over the hills
Let’s go woman
Let’s go woman, have faith
We must arrive
In the city we will be able
To see the whole ocean

They say that Iquique is big
Like a Salar [a huge nitrate mining area]
With many beautiful houses
That you will like
That you will like, have faith
As there is a God
There in the port
All will be better

What is it that’s happening? Tell me
Don’t be silent any longer

Let’s go woman, we are leaving
For the city
All will be different
There can be no doubt
There can be no doubt, have faith
Soon you will see
That in Iquique
They’ll understand

“La Democracia” — Angel Parra

Many of Angel’s songs are written with biting satire. “La Democracia” is no exception. The tone is set in the first few lines and it never lets up. The expression, “let the dogs bark” in the last verse is from a 16th century Spanish play.

(Link to the lyrics in Spanish)

How beautiful is democracy in this lovely country
How pretty are the slums that they build
This permits poor and rich alike
To have the same right when called to the polls
I am a democrat, a technocrat, a plutocrat and a hypocrite

I like democracy because it lets you observe
The fantastic progress of those who have the freedom
To exploit a few and increase their capital
Besides, our rights, and I say it happily
Permit that blacks and whites admire the monuments
I am a democrat, a technocrat, a plutocrat and a hypocrite

And without problems of class or religious creed
We can see how the “cute ones” land on the moon
And in the reserved or common seats
See how Colo-Colo [a soccer team] wins
I like democracy winter and summer
The cops practice shooting at young libertarians
I am a democrat, a technocrat, a plutocrat and a hypocrite

Of course, some starving, wretched ones
Would like to change because they are envious
Let me say to the people, let the dogs bark [so not worry]
I like democracy, I say it with dignity
If you hear sabre rattlings, it is mere chance
I am a democrat, a technocrat, a plutocrat and a hypocrite

“Las Casitas Barrio Alto” — Victor Jara

This song is an example of the international borrowing that went on during the period of folk revivals in many countries. In the U.S., Pete Seeger frequently performed “Guantanamera.” In Chile, Seeger’s recording of Malvina Reynold’s song, “Little Boxes,” became popular, and “Las Casitas Barrio Alto” is Victor Jara’s version changed to fit the Chilean reality.
[Dopesmokers take note, this is the Weeds theme song.]

(Link to the lyrics in Spanish)

The little houses of the rich suburb
With fences and gardens
A beautiful car entrance
Waiting for a Peugeot
They are pink, green, white and light blue
The little houses of the rich suburb
Made with Elmer’s Glue

And the people of the little houses
They smile and visit each other
They go together to the supermarket
And they all have TVs

There are dentists, merchants, landowners and pushers
Lawyers and pensioners and they all wear polyester

They play bridge, have martinis
And the children are all blond
And with other blonds
They go together to the fancy school

And then the spoiled daddy’s boy
Goes off to college
Where he becomes concerned
With social problems
He smokes in his Austin Mini
He plays with bombs and politics
He kills generals
[referring to the assassination of René Schneider]
And is a seditious gangster

“El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido” — Quilapayún

“El Pueblo Unido” is one of the great, optimistic peoples’ fighting songs produced by the New Song movement. It is sung here in concert by Quilapayún, appearing at the First International Festival of Popular Peoples’ Song in Santiago. The recording was made in 1973, the year of the coup.

(Link to the lyrics in Spanish)

The people united shall never be defeated
The people united shall never be defeated
The people united shall never be defeated

Stand up to sing, we know we’re going to win
Flags of unity are moving forward
And you will march at my side
And you will see your song and your banner grow
The red light of dawn
Announces the life to come

Stand up to fight, the people shall win
There is a better life coming
To conquer our happiness
In a clamor a thousand fighting voices
Will rise and sing a song of freedom

With determination the homeland will win

And now, the people that rise to fight
With a giant’s voice crying, “Forward!”
The people united shall never be defeated
The people united shall never be defeated

The homeland is forging its unity
From north to south they will mobilize
From the burning mineral salt mines
To the southern forests, they will go united in battle and work

They will cover the homeland
Their march announces the future

Stand up to sing, the people shall win
Imposing truth from millions within

The fiery steel battalions
Their hands bring justice and reason
Woman, with fire and courage
You are already here, together with the workers

And now the people stand to fight
With a giant’s voice, they shout, “Forward!”
The people united shall never be defeated
The people united shall never be defeated
The people united shall never be defeated
The people united shall never be defeated

If you’re interested in a distinctly Chilean view of Allende, Pinochet and the coup, Patricio Guzmán has made a number of documentaries on the subject. First, The Battle of Chile, a three-part, four-and-a-half hour documentary that spends most of its time in the streets. From 1972 through 1979, five people made the film using one camera with film supplied by French artist Chris Marker. Of course, the military junta banned the film. Before it was banned, it was secretly stored in the Swedish Embassy in Santiago and the raw footage had to be smuggled out of Chile to be edited in Cuba and released in France through Marker. The cinematographer, Jorge Müller Silva, was “disappeared” by the Pinochet. In 2004 Guzmán released Salvador Allende, a documentary about the personal impact Allende and the Popular Unity had on Guzmán’s life. The film spends time with Chileans in a post-Pinochet reflection on a dream that was cut short. It’s particularly hard to watch folks reflect, often for the first time publicly, on what it meant to be part of Allende’s democratic revolution; a worker who states one of his biggest regrets was not positioning himself with others in front of the presidential palace when the military was bombing Allende, who was locked inside; a family, who had buried a photo album of Popular Unity-related events during the Pinochet dictatorship, unearth the memories and express their regret.

Two correlative points worth mentioning at the close. First, Salvador Allende’s life, as well as his dream for a social democracy, were cut short by White House-financed forces on September 11, 1973. Most people outside America refer to this day as “the forgotten 9/11.” The captains of industry, the principals of American capitalism, want us to associate Marxism or Socialism with terrorism. It’s shameful that the first 9/11 the White House was involved in, one that sought to eradicate Marxism, birthed a dictatorship that lasted for decades, killed thousands, and became the embodiment of terror for those living under its conditions.

Second, decades past, with Allende, Pinochet and many of the people who lived through the coup long since passed, the historic artifacts of the time — the Nueva Canción movement and Guzmán’s documentaries — survive through technologies that all rely on Chile’s greatest export, copper. Victor Jara’s music, Patricio Guzmán’s films, and all the ideas contained therein survived through technology, their work slowly countering the efforts of transnational corporations who pay to make history malleable. If you’re reading this, it owes in no small part to copper.

Other men will overcome this dark and bitter moment when treason seeks to prevail.
Salvador Allende, September 11, 1973

Void as Value

Posted by , August 23rd, 2010
Category: Reasoning Tags:   RSS | Comments | Trackback from your site
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As modern art shat all over the values of the romantics, the modern artist was not only a trailblazer looking for new, unknown territories, he also acted in defense of his fresh ideas. In destroying the literal, beautiful, sublime styles of the old guard, the modernist redefined art. Certainly, contemporary art has far less baggage and as a result, has pushed further into the unknown.

It’s easy to live in this contemporary digital age ignorant to the burdens of modern art. It’s long past new, and all the ideals the modern artists fought for are now concrete principles. Abstractionism, conceptualism, minimalism, post-modernism have all become standard to the children of the digital age. So standard, in fact, that people today are desensitized to radical creativity. Our culture seems less interested in investigating and disputing old truths and more interested in simply cacheing and simulating them. The functions of our age (bookmark, forward, re-tweet, blog) confirm this.

Are audiences now more likely to be bored by a Rothko than engaged by one?

Ubi nunc…?

In 1947, Rothko offered this statement on art as a transcendent experience in reaction to the ordinariness of everyday life:

The most important tool the artist fashions through constant practice is faith in his ability to produce miracles when they are needed. Pictures must be miraculous: the instant one is completed, the intimacy between the creation and its creator is ended. He is an outsider. The picture must be for him, as for experiencing it later, a revelation, an unexpected and unprecedented resolution of an eternally familiar need.

The familiar identity of things has to be pulverized in order to destroy the finite associations with which our society increasingly enshrouds every aspect of our environment.

Without monsters and gods, art cannot enact our drama: art’s most profound moments express this frustration. When they were abandoned as untenable superstitions, art sank into melancholy. It became fond of the dark, and enveloped its objects in the nostalgic intimations of a half-lit world.

If Rothko’s assertion of the Romantic’s elegiac reflection on a pre-lit time stands, then our age is occupied in pure, shadow-less light. What have we to look for when the searchlight has been shone on everything? The digital age is a post-experiential time. We’ve worn paths through all the familial needs. We’re warmly familiar with all ghosts and gods. We’ve possibly entirely exhausted the new! We’re living in the catalogue raisonné of all-things.

Our digital age of accessibility teaches everyone to be a master archivist (however truncated and ill-informed our Wikipedian wisdom is as a result). Taking inventory of the last hundred years of revolutionary creative expression we find a million examples of “already been done” when looking for an original idea. For the sake of brevity I’ll list just a handful:

  • John Cage’s 4’33”, a three-movement, multi-instrumental musical piece in which the performers do not play anything.
  • Guy Debord’s 1952 anti-film masterpiece, Hurlements en faveur de Sade, which critiqued the way culture commercialized images (the film had no images; the screen was either dark or filled with light).
  • Marcel Duchamp’s 1917 readymade Fountain; a urinal offered as art.
  • Henry Jacob’s 1957 Vortex, proto-surround sound experiment at the San Francisco planetarium, where tape loops were fed into 30+ speakers that surrounded the audience.
  • Piero Manzoni, who dedicated his life to absurdist subversions of art: Fiato d’Artista (“Artist’s Breath” — a balloon as art object, which cost more should the buyer want it inflated); Merda d’Artista (“Artist’s Shit” — canned turds, sold by weight, cost equivalent to the current value of gold); Socle du Monde (“Base of the World” — an overturned iron base holding the entire world).
  • Emmett Grogan, leader of the San Francisco Diggers, rallied a boisterous crowd at the 1967 Congress of the Dialectics of Liberation in London. The crowd went apeshit over his revolutionary rhetoric… it wasn’t until he finished his speech that he told the enthused crowd it was a speech originally delivered by Adolf Hitler.
  • Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. A double album of feedback. Layers and layers of feedback. No “music,” no singing, just an hour of constant noise. This was 1975.
  • Zeitkratzer, an 11-piece Berlin ensemble, transcribed Loud Reed’s Metal Machine Music and performed it at the Berlin Opera House. This was 2003.
  • Han Van Meegeren, spurned by Dutch art critics who claimed his style overly imitative of the Dutch masters, painstakingly painted a series of forgeries attributed to the old masters, fooled the same critics who disgraced him, amassed a fortune, had his work hung in museums and galleries all over the world, and just before his death a Dutch poll placed his popularity second in the nation next to the Prime Minister.
  • In 1913, the Italian Futurist Luigi Russolo invented the intonarumori, or “noise intoner” to elevate noise, replacing tired orchestral instruments with the simulated sounds of machines, whistles, groaning, scraping, etc.
  • San Francisco experimental band Negativland have made a career of exploring the fair use of copyrighted material (read: getting sued). In an effort to confuse consumers, Negativland released a single titled “U2” at the same time the band U2 released Achtung Baby. The Negativland single contained a song titled, “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” which features a recording of a profanity-riddled rant by Casey Kasem where he speaks of U2, “These guys are from England and who gives a shit.” Island Records, U2’s label, promptly sued. Negativland later published the book, Fair Use: The Story of the Letter U and the Numeral 2, which details the U2 lawsuit (including copies of legal documents and correspondence). The book caused Negativland’s own label, SST, to sue them for making public financial information and the treatment of the band under SST. Negativland was consequently dropped from the label.
  • Tired of the predictability of paints, Otto Muehl began creating and filming “actions” with fellow artists (who came to be known as the Vienna Actionists). In 1969 Meuhl made “Oh Sensibility,” an film in which the actionists kill and copulate with a goose.

Epic in their emptiness, violently void of sublimity, succès de scandale, ironically hip, vitriolic and vulgar, neoteric, these advances into new territories, however novel, were bound in defense of the movement’s gestalt.

In 1960, Piero Manzoni, writing of his Line drawings (long lines drawn on paper, rolled and stored in canisters, displayed as such in the gallery — non-visible art that requires thinking above the act of seeing), said:

The line develops in length uniquely, to the infinite. Its only dimension is time. It goes without saying that a line is neither a horizon nor a symbol and its value is not linked to the fact that it is more or less beautiful, but rather to the fact that it is a line, that it exists, like a work which counts for what it is and not for its beauty or for what it evokes. But in this case the surface only retains its value as a vehicle.

For the generation that was the first audience to this new conceptualism there was undoubtedly shock. For the viewer, there was the novelty of being shocked, but there was tangible value in the entire process of experiencing conceptual art. Confronting the unfamiliarity of the idea, the reaction to that confrontation, and reconciling the experiencing of the idea with one’s everyday life. Perhaps that value has diminished relative to the new experiences of the day? Certainly, the novelty of conceptualism has worn off.

Those of us living in the post-conceptual age seem to carry a kind-of built in preemptive defense against a (mostly imaginary) “jokes-on-you” malevolence that is suspected to be part of art. Almost as if in taking a minute to consider a piece of conceptual art one runs the risk of, in a Kutcherian sense, being Punk’d. As a defense, then, we — as descendants of the conceptualists — usually race to be first in dismissing abstraction. The immediate nexting sensation, a manifestation of our chatroulette mores, often overrides our attention span.

We’ve been provoked, shocked, mocked, disregarded and, all things considered, seem less interested in, well… all of it. It’s painting with a wide brush, but I think a fair generalization to say that people are less interested today than they’ve ever been; ours is the age of overstimulation. We are disengaged, contemptuous and, in reaction, buttoning down. We are exposed to more shocking images than ever before, and at the same time becoming more conventional in our tastes. Popular culture finds entertainment in the prurient interest in sex and violence, as well as the overwhelming foolishness of reality television. There’s little that we aren’t exposed to in our daily lives, we have it all, constantly refreshed. We’re witness to the most violent, most sexual, most hedonistic, most criminal behavior. At the same time, our prurience is tempered with a puritan judgment and moral conservatism.

There is a mechanism built into our media, information and entertainment industries that persist we qualify our sympathy and reserve it for “respectful” people. As a result, the class of people we don’t respect (“cheats,” “junkies,” “criminals,” “illegals,” “terrorists”) end up on the underside of opportunity and power, and we end up treating them less like humans as we see them in a class different than ourselves. Naturally, the repetitiveness of these experiences allow us to become calloused to these people whom we’ve begun to think less of, making us unsympathetic, vengeful, and less humane.

As an experiment, pay attention to how much you, and those around you, revel in the activities of other. And then pay attention to how you criticize those same people for the activities you reveled in. It’s a disheartening cycle, and once you’re aware of it, you find it everywhere.

Ubi sunt qui ante nos fuerunt?

Marx pragmatically said, “Being defines consciousness,” and while we are a culture of limitless access, we are also a culture defined by our activities. What one does for a living shapes one’s life, and pragmatically, a quarter of our daily life is spent working, another quarter sleeping, and the other half is devoted to eating, shopping, television, texting, facebooking, etc.

There is little or no art that challenges us in our daily lives. For evidence of this we only need to look at what’s around us: what we get fed on twitter, re-tweet, link, email, see on facebook, read in newspapers, magazines, blogs and books. Through our cultural conditioning as conceptualism’s brood, and our disheartening lifestyle of intolerant humanity, we rarely exercise our ability to think critically. As a consumer-based system, the entertainment industry rewards that which endorses the system, and so the most popular art is that which is void of content. As consumers we are more likely to consumer more if that which we consume has a short shelf life.

Currently, the Internet is viral with Die Antwoord, Lady Gaga, Katy Perry, American Idol-related stuff, and how Justin Bieber sounds better 800% slower. All of these acts share a certain novelty. There’s something wacky about each of them, but nothing that we won’t be bored of soon enough. And historically, we’ve been living with the resurrections of these artists for decades. Die Antwood is like a South African Rappin’ Duke, or a grown-up Kriss Kross, or a worse dressed MC Hammer. Lady Gaga is Boy George, Grace Jones, Marilyn Manson or RuPaul reincarnate. Katy Perry = Cyndi Lauper, lol <3. American Idol is interactive Star Search. And Justin Bieber is like any one of a thousand boy sensations to come along since the spectacle of the Beatles.

There’s a certain cycle that we’ve become accustomed to in popular culture. Anne Rice and her vampires were inescapable when I was younger. Today, True Blood and Twilight act as stand-ins for Interview with a Vampire. I suppose this pattern existed when the Beatles were big and old folks saw them as a reincarnation of Buddy Holly. What’s different is the degree to which we’re isolated from our humanity — the degree to which we reward that which is void of content. My parent’s generation protested Vietnam, rallied for civil rights, and empowered the women’s movement. It’s slightly depressing to see the site of the most recent large-scale collective action is Groupon, where 400,000 people united to get half off at The Gap.

Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless!
Ecclesiastes 1:2

To be clear, I’m not advocating that we only listen to Metal Machine Music and tweet only about the outmoded insight of the Damien Hirst oeuvre. Those have the same potential of encompassing the same repetitive novelty. What I think is important, and as well a real challenge, is to be thoughtful, engaged and reasoning in our approach to daily life. If, as Marx said, “being defines consciousness,” than the most shocking thing we can do is to be genuine.

For musicians, it’s a challenge to be engaged and focused in their music. There is a great personal reward in creating something. Not being familiar with one’s reasons for wanting to play music, not knowing what one is getting out of the music, and not being focused in that process, are all symptoms of a consciousness defined by a void of being. Not being engaged lends to the pitfalls of detachment, imitation and novelty. Riddling music with this kind of bullshit is easily avoidable, though it proves difficult for most to avoid.

For the audience, the challenge lies not only in sifting through all the bullshit, but being conscious of one’s participation in the cycle that makes him less humane. Our participation in that which is void of content makes us simple consumers. Simply consuming presents few challenges. To be critical, thoughtful, and engage in what defines your consciousness is not only rewarding, but it’s unique.

Resistance against all the forces of domestication of the spirit.

Évanouissement Reveillé

Posted by , August 13th, 2010
Category: Recognition Tags:   RSS | Comments | Trackback from your site
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Thank god for queers!

The world has been made interminably more interesting thanks to those of the queer persuasion. Thus, the inaugural post of Rotate Stock for Freshness will be a catch-all for queer geniuses, chief among them: Brion Gysin.

Lately, and quite unannounced, Gysin has effervesced into my awareness from all directions. To set the “All Things, Record-Related” tone of this omniblog, I’ll disregard chronology and mention first a record I recently obtained, Poems of Poems, which Gysin recorded in 1958. The poems were recorded at the Beat Hotel on a reel-to-reel tape machine and represent an aural realization of Gysin’s cut-up style (that is, the record is the result of poems recorded, cut up, and spliced back together — resulting in a rearranged recitation interrupted by the sound of the splice). While it was William Burroughs who made the cut-up famous (with his novel Naked Lunch as well as The Nova Trilogy), the method was developed by Gysin.

The cut-up challenges the conventional understanding of authorship, and, like the automatism of the Dadaists, it allows for elasticity in narrative, or the disregard of narrative all together. In spite of any indications to the contrary, story line and language — along with everything honored in the pantheon of bourgeois ideology — is an outdated pipe dream of the Romantics. Gysin knew this:

Language is an abominable misunderstanding which makes up a part of matter. The painters and the physicists have treaded matter pretty well. The poets have hardly touched it.

In March 1958, when I was living at the Beat Hotel, I proposed to Burroughs to at least make available to literature the means that painters have been using for fifty years.

Cut words into pieces and scramble them. You’ll hear someone draw a bow-string. Who runs may read. To read better, practice your running.

Speed is entirely up to us, since machines have delivered us from the horse. Henceforth the question is to deliver us from that other so-called superior animal, man. It’s not worth it to chase out the merchants: their temple is dedicated to the unsustainable lie of the value of the Unique. The crime of separation gave birth to the idea of the Unique which would not be separate.

There’s nothing sacred about words.

There’s a certain aleatoric wisdom in Gysin’s cut-ups. Just as the Surrealists before him (Gysin was, however briefly, part of the Paris Surrealist group but was untimely expelled by André Breton in 1935) held in high regard the presentiment of mystics and the exploration of the unconscious mind through Freudian psychoanalytics, Gysin’s method was a pursuit of terra incognita; a kind of cartographical Choose Your Own Adventure in language. The result of the cut-up’s creative gesture is unforeseeable at the outset; the writer’s creation is superfluous — the author is the method (i.e., the cut-up) and the resulting “story” is left to chance. Gysin did not shy away from trying something new, having fun, or allowing chance to have a part in his process. His notion, “poets are supposed to liberate the words – not chain them in phrases,” therefore, is a reverse claim staking that defies our common understanding of a writer and writing…  HIC SUNT DRACONES!

Gysin’s anarchic approach to writing makes him legendary (read, not so famous. See also, “the poet’s poet”), but it also creates a distance between he and the common reader. A distance that is easily conquered by, well… reading, but it’s a distance that, once established, the commoner rarely conquers. We see it time and again, artists at the vanguard are held in high regard among their peers but exist within a cultural blind spot among the general public. As is often the case with such pioneers, it takes us decades to contextualize their work. Right on schedule, then, some twenty-four years after his death, the New Museum is currently exhibiting a Brion Gysin retrospective, the first ever in these United States.

In 1968, John Giorno (Gysin boyfriend and a queer genius in his own right!) developed “Dial-A-Poem,” a proto-900 phone system where a caller could hear a recorded poem. So great! Call a number, hear a poem, get instant insight! Dial-A-Poem began with 10 phone lines, most containing erotic poetry. Uptight citizens disturbed that their children might hear something queer raised a stink and petitioned the Board of Education, who put pressure on the telephone company. The service was suspended until the New York State Council of the Arts, championing Dial-A-Poem, threatened a lawsuit and the telephone company reinstated the line… until funding was cut and the lines went dead again. The Museum of Modern Art picked up the service, and much of the content was by then politically radical (concerning the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights struggles of the time). The Dial-A-Poem service got national attention, media coverage, millions of callers, and eventually an FBI investigation. The Rockerfeller family — finding themselves in the center of a shitstorm that involved their museum giving voice to the Weather Underground, the Black Panthers, and other radicals — and cut the lines. It cropped up in other places but was eventually silenced for good. At its height, the service ran 12 lines, each with an automatic answering machine with a pre-recorded message, all changed daily; 700 poems from 50 different poets.

Part of the Dial-A-Poem fundraising included public readings, some of which were recorded and pressed as LPs. I first heard Gysin on such a record. His, “I AM THAT I AM,” is a permutational poem that any indolent listener could easily file under nonsense. At first blush I was more enchanted with some of the more easily accessible poets on the record such as William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg. (Ha! I just called Burroughs and Ginsberg “accessible!”)

Gysin’s poem, “Come to Free the Words” really does it for me. This deceptively simple exercise demonstrates just how rigorous Gysin searched for autonomous expression. In the recording, Gysin recites an 8 sentence poem as he simultaneously writes the text on a chalkboard:

I am this painter Brion Gysin. This is the poet Brion Gysin. You don’t owe poets a thing. This poet is in my image. This image has no words. He has no words of his very own. Painters mean to change the world: the shape of an apple, the color of a tree. Poets come to free the words, not to chain them in phrases.

It takes Gysin over three minutes to recite the 65 words as he writes them. Deliberately slowing the poem casts a pedantic depiction on the words, words which contradict the pedagogic tone. The level of calculated detail, the sound of chalkboard and its inherent classroom implications, the contrast between the instructional tone of his voice and the egalitarian nature of the text that advocates the emancipation of language, all of these subtle contradictions working against each other are prime examples of Gysin subversive humor.

Speaking of humor, last weekend I found a copy of the Alice B. Toklas Cookbook (from which the above photo was taken). Toklas, if you didn’t know, was the lesbian lover of Gertrude Stein (two more queers to cheer!). During their time as American expatriates in France, Toklas and Stein were known to host quite the art salon/smorgasbord (Gert handled the art, Alice the food). In 1954, after Stein’s death, Toklas published her famous recipes. There is a “dishes for artists” chapter in the book, including “Bass for Picasso,” “Oeufs Francis Picabia,” “Gigot de la Clinique,” etc. The book included supplemental recipes from Toklas’ famous friends, among them Brian Gysen (sic). In his recipe-submitting wisdom, Gysin did what any student of Surrealism would have done and made himself a subversive counterweight to social order and proposed a recipe for hash fudge!

Haschish Fudge
(which anyone could whip up on a rainy day)

This is the food of Paradise—of Baudelaire’s Artificial Paradises: It might provide entertaining refreshment for a Ladies Bridge Club or a chapter meeting of the DAR (Daughters of the American Revolution). In Morocco it is thought to be good for warding off the common cold in damp winter weather and is, indeed, more effective if taken with large quantities of hot mint tea. Euphoria and brilliant storms of laughter; ecstatic reveries and extensions of one’s personality on several simultaneous planes are to be complacently expected. Almost anything Saint Theresa did, you can do better if you can bear to be ravished by an ‘un évanouissment reveillé’.

Take 1 teaspoon black peppercorns, 1 whole nutmeg, 4 average sticks of cinnamon, 1 teaspoon coriander. These should all be pulverized in a mortar. About a handful each of de-stoned dates, dried figs, shelled almonds and peanuts: chop these and mix them together. A bunch of cannabis sativa can be pulverized. This along with the spices should be dusted over the mixed fruit and nuts, kneaded together. About a cup of sugar dissolved in a big pat of butter. Rolled into a cake and cut into pieces or made into balls about the size of a walnut, it should be eaten with care. Two pieces are quite sufficient.

Obtaining the cannabis may present certain difficulties, but the variety known as cannabis sativa grows as a common weed, often unrecognized, everywhere in Europe, Asia and parts of Africa; besides being cultivated as a crop for the manufacture of rope. In the Americas, while often discouraged, its cousin, called cannabis indica, has been observed even in city window boxes. It should be picked and dried as soon as it has gone to seed and while the plant is still green.

Subversive Surrealist. Underground funnyman. Anti-Author Wordsmith. Queer gentleman. Genuine inventor.  Gysin was many things in his life, and he associated with artists of all stripes: André Breton, Picasso, Dalí, Duchamp, Man Ray, Burroughs, Ginsberg,  Zappa, Blondie, Haring, Basquiat, Amiri Baraka, Patti Smith, John Cage, Timothy Leary, Genesis Breyer P-Orridge… Brion Gysin somehow seemed to know every artist while being an artist known by virtually no one.

Poets have no words “of their very own.”

Writers don’t own their words.

Since when do words belong to anybody.

“Your very own words,” indeed!

And who are you?