Friday, February 23, 2007

Some thoughts on reading Maurice Blanchot

Now do not understand the following as me being an expert on Heidegger (although I have read most of his important works) and Hegel, but I have to say that I have never fully understood the assertion that they are difficult writers. If there are two philosophers that I do fully understand then it will be those two. I think it is because their definitions are so crystal-clear. So clear as a matter a fact that I have always considered them to be poets rather than philosophers. This might seem a light even sacriligious take on their meaning and significance, but I could not possibly phrase it otherwise. Compared to them most other philosophers are muddleheaded.

This may seem a strange approach to philosophy, given the fact that philosophy is explicitly trying to explain the world, but I have found that I truly begin to understand the philosophers I like/agree with/find useful, only when I do consider their writings as poetry (the same thing has happened recently when I started to read Derrida, instead of reading about him). Poetry for me implicitly means 'lightness', the ability to approach language at face value, as raw material, not as meaning. If you go from there, instead of, as most people do, immediately attributing immense significance to words, possible theories remain much clearer if things get complicated later on.

If, like Lacan [I know that Dejan will dislike my interpretation of Lacan as a philosopher, but I am doing it anyway because Lacan himself started that interpretation by talking nonsense about Hegel and Kant. [btw: even if it were only his followers who have mistakenly interpreted his teachings, then it is still his fault because he developed his thoughts in troubled water]], your definitions are mystified and deliberately obscure, the philosophical edifice you want to erect with those definitions (the 'erect' has, deviously, not been chosen completely undeliberately), will crumble at the ultimate and most important moment, that is, when you really have to say something, i.e. explain. Omar states in the comments of this post that he considers Freud's Interpretations of Dreams as an "avant-garde biography" rather than as the promise of its title and I think that is a saner approach.

= = = = =

Ultimately most problems in life that are related to words (i.e. people not understanding each other) become problematic because people employ different definitions, which means, from either view, that the other (not the Other) is employing the wrong definition.

I have this problem with talking about music too. For me all music is at the out-start raw sound material. The whitest noise (take Aaron Dilloway) and the most verbose lyricism (take Leonard Cohen) I try to approach with the same innocence. Therefor for me there is not such a thing as difficult music. Music can be only difficult if you approach it from one way/viewpoint only, that is, define it too succinctly. If you define music as 'music with lyrics', only then can white noise become difficult music. For years I misinterpreted some kinds of music because I defined them in relation to other music and thoughts external to music. This is no longer the case.

Two examples to somewhat explain my position:

1.

At the moment there is a lot to do in certain quadrants of the blogosphere about Xasthur. People analyse his music and find themes like genocide, racism, Nietzschean philosophy and go from there to racist interpretations of Lovecraft and Houellebecq. There is even a nutcase who has found a link between Varg Vikernes and Houellebecq. I dare declare that these investigations, how erudite and reeking of 'look at all the things I know' as they may be, totally miss the point. Why? Because they make problematic something that is, in its immediate attributes, only an aesthetic question. Do I care why Varg Vikernes or Xasthur make their music? Not in the least. If you approach music that way you are already making a moral statement. To explicate further: I am not a racist. Varg Vikernes is. Does this mean that I do not like Vikernes' music? No, it does not. I think Burzum is just good music. For me it does not conjure up future times when all Jews, black people or whoever will be extinct. What all these investigators do not realize is that at one time or other they inexorably must end up in contradictions. How can you ever justify your liking of Xasthur or Burzum again later on, when you have made problematic the philosophic themes behind it? To bluntly relate ideologic to aesthetic concepts is a bit like shitting on a white carpet: sure, that carpet was not going to stay white forever, but there are other and certainly more gradual ways of soiling it.

2.

Dejan does not in the least like Burial and Kode9, he even feels compelled to write a whole post on it. I am wondering whether this is not, again, a dire(ct) consequence of his so-called 'hauntological' interpretation of these musics. He has read so much about those artists before listening to them that it can only lead to disappointment. To me these two records are masterpieces because they remind me of sounds that I have appreciated in the past (e.g. dub, Massive Attack, Tricky, early drum'n'bass, isolationism, Detroit electro) and do something fresh with it. I could not possibly care less if their intended or suspected themes are hauntological [I will for the time being leave unanswered the question if there in fact is something like hauntological music, because I am not convinced that there is a relation between the crackles of Robert Johnson, the pops of Chain Reaction or the intended bad sound quality of black metal] or not. They may, as I have written in the past, remind me of certain Ballardian landscapes, but I will never go as far as to call Kode9 or Burial Ballardian artists. Nor will I call Will Self a Ballardian writer because he writes about a submerged island.

= = = = =

Maybe it does sound impossible/improbable but every day again I try to be a blank sheet, a tabula rasa. To quote The Spaceape, I try to let music "stimulate the audio nerve directly".

This is not to say that this approach will always work out as I intend it, but I have to try or most of the true meaning will escape me.

= = = = =

I have to agree with Blanchot, who strongly opposes Sartre's dichotomy between prose and poetry, with prose then being the so-called 'committed' pole of writing. Words commit out of themselves, as things or images, but never as signifiers: they do not need to be committed or need meaning instilled in them. They may, but it is by no means necessary. And it is just the same with music and sound. Ultimately the more you say/write about music, the more you distance yourself from the act of listening itself, thereby putting an invisible barrier of thought between yourself and the music.

As much as I have an immense respect for him and his mates writing those cunning rhizomatic tales of endlessly interwoven meaning, I am wondering whether K-punk is in any way still capable of truly enjoying music. Does he have the time for it, before he goes on another logorrhoetic spree? I am always baffled by that powerful language at first, but - and this can take a mighty long time - eventually I always start doubting those meticulously constructed theories, because I suspect the words were there almost at the same time as the aesthetic experience itself. It is probably the reason why the Cultural Parody Center is my all too necessary antidote to K-punk's idea-logical hypercornucopia.

How many times have I not thrown incredibly dirty invectives at my computer screen when reading Droommachine Sporenburg, wondering how such a beautiful mind could state such inanities? What a difference it makes now when I am reading the charming and inspiring OMC-par-OMC, a blog where ideas and memories finally seem to have been allowed some breathing/breeding space. On Droommachine Sporenburg thoughts were suffocated. Now, on OMC-par-OMC, they flourish, and, more importantly, have acquired true meaning.

24 comments:

Dejan said...

Ultimately most problems in life that are related to words (i.e. people not understanding each other) become problematic because people employ different definitions, which means, from either view, that the other (not the Other) is employing the wrong definition.

Well, but this could have just as well been quoted from Lacan, Fire! Language speaks us, you know the drill...

but I have found that I truly begin to understand the philosophers I like/agree with/find useful, only when I do consider their writings as poetry (the same thing has happened recently when I started to read Derrida, instead of reading about him). Poetry for me implicitly means 'lightness', the ability to approach language at face value, as raw material, not as meaning.

are you proposing a vulgar-materialist reading of language (''face value''), psychotic discourse (words without meaning) or are you here embracing Lacan's point that our dear philosophers are in their very unbearable lightness of being primarily, and decisively, determined by language? so that the lightness may be illusory?

I have this problem with talking about music too. For me all music is at the out-start raw sound material.

Again you mention that rawness of concretely-existing material socialism. Please define how exactly you approach music - by Deleuzian Affect? I would agree that music being a sonic medium, it shouldn't be ''interpreted'' by language solely. Mention should be made of immediate visceral reactions as well.As well as the visualisations that music conjures up. But it's hard to distill such purity out of the multimedia mix that music has become in its fusion with video and text. You have to define your terms better.

will crumble at the ultimate and most important moment, that is, when you really have to say something, i.e. explain

oh please, lacan's cock didn't crumble, it's been fucking me for 15-odd years and still every night he comes to my study...

He has read so much about those artists before listening to them that it can only lead to disappointment. To me these two records are masterpieces because they remind me of sounds that I have appreciated in the past (e.g. dub, Massive Attack, Tricky, early drum'n'bass, isolationism, Detroit electro) and do something fresh with it.

I think that yes, definitely, cultural theory is often oblivious to what extent its interpretation takes on a life of its own (creates a Gothic double as k-punk would say) and therefore has limited use as an interpreter of music. Thus let me give you a RAW account of how Kode 9 sounded to me:

I heard sounds and voices that were deliberately ''hollowed out'' by this or that synthetizing process to instill a ghostliness into them. I thought that was sort of cheap.

(Have you ever seen Sokurov's RUSSIAN ARK? Pay attention to how its minimalist score renders ghostliness THERE.)

I heard a lot of dissonance, interruption, repetition, and that really led to some kind of affective alienation; this immediately reminded me of BAUHAUS, which I forgot as soon as I turned 20 and stopped reading The Steppenwolf

(continued in next koment)

Dejan said...

there was a lot of sampling, or so it seemed. In one particular song about a scientist who detects low frequencies or something to that end,I heard voices from the Goblin's soundtrack to DAWN OF THE DEAD...
again, sounding spooky in a commercial way

i heard a clear influence of MASSIVE ATTACK, which I like a lot, but while MASSIVE had some weird dark sort of eroticism to it, this music is profoundly disinterested in sex...and FIre, when there's no SEX, I quickly lose patience.

In conclusion the Cultural Parody Center prides itself on being k-punk's Gothic parodic double; don't forget that we were partially spawned by a correspondence with k-punk. But in the meantime we have rhisomatically ''involved'' into a full-on PETIT OBJET A for the philosopher's dirty imagination!

The next thing we have to discuss is that Dutch Calvinist behaviorist who attacks psychoanalysis, but not today.

Fire in the Mind said...

you mean the guy that's in my reading column?

Fire in the Mind said...

Language speaks us

but no, that is not what i mean. with such an assertion we are back at an a priori vs a posteriori discussion. that is not what i am trying to say here. if you accept that you would be saying that you cannot choose which your definition is. i think you can. for example: if i do not agree with k-punk on what hauntology is (if there would be such a thing), then I just have a different opinion. the opinion definitely does not have me. sorry, i will never agree on that. lacan puts things on their head.

Fire in the Mind said...

are you proposing a vulgar-materialist reading of language (''face value''), psychotic discourse (words without meaning) or are you here embracing Lacan's point that our dear philosophers are in their very unbearable lightness of being primarily, and decisively, determined by language? so that the lightness may be illusory?

on points two and three: definitely no. i am inclined to agree with one, though i am not really sure yet at the moment. will come back on this one.

Fire in the Mind said...

You have to define your terms better.

I will go along with onto a certain point. do not forget that most of my blogwritings are intuitive. i do on purpose not express myself in academic language, because indeed then you are letting yourself be controlled by a predefined language.

Fire in the Mind said...

But it's hard to distill such purity out of the multimedia mix that music has become in its fusion with video and text.

this is true, but that is exactly why i always just listen to music. i try to avoid combining it with discours and image.


You have to define your terms better.

one more thing i would like to add. for years i have only been occupied by music and i have kept philosophy and literature on the side. so i am not in the least ashamed to admit that i am still searching for my own aesthetic and the terms that define it. again you may notice that my aesthetic comes before the words/language. whether this intuitive approach is deleuzian affect i would not know. i haven't read deleuze yet. i'm starting next week :-)

Fire in the Mind said...

therefore has limited use as an interpreter of music

this i have already concluded. but then, if you state that music is a more direct way to tap emotions than other forms of art (literature, film, plastic arts), do you not implicitly admit that it does not let itself be spoken by language?

Fire in the Mind said...

i like these dialectics. please continue to "haunt" me with objections. it sharpens the mind. and that is ultimately what leads to a personal aesthetic, not?

Dejan said...

the last one crosses over into a discussion I'm permanently having with steven shaviro (who feels that lacanians have dissed the body, the affect and all those other terms beyond language). It seems the discussion boils down to the relationship between language and other systems *such as for example visceral affect, or gesticulation.

I personally don't feel that Lacan dissed them as much as he stated the priority or dominance of language as a symbolic system into which everything else is plugged.

But speaking for myself now, no of course I wouldn't deny or even underprivilege the fact that indeed music doesn't let itself be spoken by language. But what is language? Surely the syncopae and the harmonies and the sampling can be construed as language? I think I was speaking more about the visceral reaction to music, which films can provoke too but nowhere nearly as powerfully as musik.

Dejan said...

but no, that is not what i mean. with such an assertion we are back at an a priori vs a posteriori discussion. that is not what i am trying to say here. if you accept that you would be saying that you cannot choose which your definition is. i think you can. for example: if i do not agree with k-punk on what hauntology is (if there would be such a thing), then I just have a different opinion. the opinion definitely does not have me. sorry, i will never agree on that. lacan puts things on their head.

But Fire don't you see, the a priori vs a posteriori term is only possible because of LANGUAGE. You couldn't even conceptualize it outside of language.

Besides you don't really need to defend yourself against language, because I do not deny the existence of PARALLEL realms.

I do think hauntology is a valid construct, although I can;t for the laugh of me understand what exactly it's for. It seems to lead to hopeless conclusions like ''we are already ghosts''.

Dejanino said...

But maybe k-punk will have mercy upon us and provide that explanation at some point.

Esco said...

Aaahh, where´s the time that you thought of Burial as being ´way too sad´;).

Fire in the Mind said...

in fact, it's still way too sad :-)

no, seriously. i have studied up on my d'n'b and since then i've come to appreciate it way more.

Dominic said...

Priceless. So when Malefic, Varg Vikernes, Shane Rout & co. talk in interviews about Nietzsche, neo-paganism, genocide, racial supremacism and misanthropy, they're over-interpreting their own work?

I think the word for this is fetishism: you abstract "the music" from any possible aesthetic/ideological context, reify it as a discrete consumer item intended solely for your consumption and enjoyment, then respond with ingenuous bafflement to any attempt to hook it up to anything else. "What do you mean, Xasthur and Nietzsche? They're not even on the same shelf in the supermarket...!"

Fire in the Mind said...

priceless indeed, to draw a comparison between a man who is in jail for arsony and murder and a writer who merily presents racist characters in his novels.

i am always completely "baffled" by this take on houellebecq. come on! he is no more than a writer and far from a céline. i still have to read his first 'bagatelles pour un massacre' and i suspect that i will never read it, because he will never write it. he is too much of a nihilist for that. and not even a nietzschean nihilist.

the same goes for that strange obsession with lovecraftian racism. I will not deny that Lovecraft was a racist. nonetheless i have read lots of lovecraft's stories and, however much racism the good man has tried to inject in them, I have never even so much as noticed it. he kept it well hidden.

and what exactly is wrong with sonic fetishism anyway, i wonder?

and far from being "ingeniously baffled by" this hooking up of aesthetics and ideology, it is more a constatation of what is surely no more than a cliché take on both nietzsche and black metal.

again this is a juggling up of ideology as a tool and ideology as an end in itself.

and about that over-interpreting:

we obviously are not racists and still we listen to xasthur and burzum. does this not at least minimally suggest that their interpretation/intention of their own works leaves us stone-cold? and thus that they should not bother in the first place. sonic fetishism it is then.

xasthur can bleat all he want about supremacism and nietzschean nihilism, I for one have never conceived of his drum programming, of his cries, of his use of noise as nietzschean or supremacist.

Dominic said...

Malefic may or may not be a kind of fictional character, a probe exploring a particular region of affect. I doubt - to borrow a line of Alice Cooper's, for whom "corpse paint" was always only ever vaudeville - that he wears the full barrow-wight get-up when he goes to see his mum.

Having read a heap of interviews, and watched some of the clips on YouTube of him performing with Sun O))), I have to say I think Malefic's a great act (and would remain so even if it turned out that Scott Conner absolutely meant every word). The music is part of the act, and available for interpretation as such, for all that it casts eerie projections far from the malign aura of the Malefic persona.

Varg Vikernes shows up in my narrative mainly as an example of incomplete misanthropy, misanthropy in a state of arrested development. What "unites the racism of Celine, Lovecraft and Houellebecq with that of Varg Vikernes" is that in each case it's a stopping-point on the way to a more general rejection of humanity as biologically accursed. If Burzum were simply an expression of Vikernes's stupid racism, nobody but stupid racists would bother with it. But like Celine's writing, Burzum's music (perhaps rather independently of Vikernes's own wishes) uses racism as the royal road to the abject.

Why would one prefer not to know about this, or to think about it? Because it would interfere with one's enjoyment?

Fire in the Mind said...

i think it is mostly that i do blame the post-modernist take on interpretation (and as bloggers we are all post-modernists, whether we view ourselves as such or not)that we do not allow music/art/film etc any longer to have any history.

the time between the actual edition of the work of art and the historical critique (because putting a link between lovecraft, céline, vikernes, houellebecq and xasthur is trying to write a history) is really much to short to really say something meaningful about it.

maybe xasthur and vikernes will in the future appear to be no more than footnotes in this discussion, while someone like céline is already so much more. as you state, xasthur is, with or without him meaning that which he acts out, no more than an act.

céline, as opposed to the facile shock-and-awe literary tactics of a houellebecq, was living that abject interpretation, a fact made even more poignant by the fact that he was far from alone in his own country (cfr. maurras and drieu la rochelle).

"racism as the royal road to the abject", ok. but is it not overdrawn to put all these different tactics (an act with xasthur, literary sensationalism with houellebecq, true crime in the case of vikernes, a few letters in the case of lovecraft (who wrote in a time when racism, certainly in the usa, was about the most normal thing in the world), truly living the abject in céline's case)
into one moral-aesthetic link?

this does not in the least interfere with my enjoyment, i just think it is forcibly fitting some very diverse takes on racism in one story.

Dominic said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dominic said...

There is rather more to Lovecraft's racism than "a few letters". See Houellebecq's essay, translated here by Robin MacKay:

Houellebecq's essay on Lovecraft

It seems to me that above all you object to the inclusion of Celine in this sequence. Because Celine is better and more important than all the rest! But this is not about status; it's about a certain logic of racism which threads its way through the most diverse instances. I'm not cramming them all together into a narrow box, but tracing a rhizome...

Fire in the Mind said...

thank you, i have the houellebecq already in my library. :-)

no, not at all, all these artists, whether they are writers or musicians, are with me on the same line. i just do not agree with the rhizome you are positing here.

there seems to be some consensus in the blogosphere that you can bring together whatever you like into one reasoning and then defend that thread by reasoning again. for me a link between vikernes and xasthur, between céline and lovecraft just does not feel right.

i don't know: maybe i am wrong about this. i of course have to admit that i do have lovecraft's works and céline's works and all of houellebecq in my personal library. and yes, i have burzum and xasthur in my cd library. so yes, there has to be a link for me too.

but i just read your piece and thought: this does not feel right.

if there would be such a rhizome then i would be inclined to admit a thread between céline and vikernes because there was in their case a passage à l'acte, but that is where the thread should stop.

maybe what i have been trying to say is that a thread of common stupidity isn't really worth the trouble, because in all cases of stupidity there is a distinct lack of reasoning and by reasoning it in that rhizomatic way you give common ground that was not there in the first place. why would intelligent people take the trouble of finding a fitting rhizome for a bunch of assholes? it is not because their music/literature is aesthetically pleasing that they are worth a rhizomatic thread.

do you then not at the same time make them meaningful while all the while the point was that they were devoid of any real humanity and thus meaning?

Dominic said...

in all cases of stupidity there is a distinct lack of reasoning

Not lack. Failure. Symptom.

Fire in the Mind said...

symptom of what?

Dominic said...

People generally fail to think things through when the consequences of their doing so would be painful to them, or would produce insupportable contradictions in their view of themselves and/in the world. This is why I suggest that Varg Vikernes might be disappointed with the results of a DNA test on himself...

I think it would be better for me now to return to Kristeva's Powers of Horror and try to relate what she says about Celine to what I have to say about Lovecraft and black metal more explicitly; a problem with my original post was that it cited very little, and left a lot of things implicit. This is fine if one can presuppose a sympathetic audience, but no use at all if one wants to convince a skeptical one.