Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Monday, March 26, 2007
I have been pondering this question some more, for it is indeed an important one, and I had to conclude that in the end there is not that much revolutionary about art as such at all. Or, let me put it another way, revolution in the arts is appreciated at a much slower rate. When art in the past was truly revolutionary it was not labeled revolutionary at all. When Duchamp presented his famous urinoir as a work of art, it was at first thought of as completely ridiculous, a statement of anti-art. Little did the intended audience know that many years into the future this way of presenting art would become a fixture of contemporary art, even of culture in a broader sense (reality becoming entertainment). It is even doubtful that Duchamp himself thought that far ahead.
In art, as in most cultural and social matters, the revolutionary aspects of the event are most likely to be felt long afterwards, while a revolution in the sense that it is mostly thought (like the American independence, the French Revolution, Khomeiny taking over in Iran, that is, a political revolution) is almost instantaneous, a moment in time, an event.
So, in that sense art can never be truly revolutionary. It can only be revolutionary by subverting the common codes. Then after all, Lynch's movies could be called revolutionary. But it remains to be seen whether his way of making movies will have a lasting influence on cinema in general. Maybe Lost Highway or Eraserhead will be considered revolutionary in 50 years, but the point is that we can hardly judge that fact hodie et nunc. And even then it remains a question of knowledge and interpretation. But, and this is the imminent danger, a slower rate of influence can also result in the fact that by the time you start to influence you will be forgotten.
I remember that a former flatmate of mine had watched Citizen Kane, which is in all respects a truly revolutionary film compared to the movies of that era, and that she did not in the least appreciated those aspects that make it a forward-thinking and influential movie (and she was a film buff!). So many generations of habit have gone over those innovations that they are no longer recognized as such and the possiblity for subversion has gradually been erased. It is even more likely that is has been appropriated by the system and turned into a harmless everyday gimmick. As such David Lynch's now famous and idiosyncratic dreamy interludes (as in Twin Peaks and Mullholand Drive) may in the future become an integral part of pop video technique. A long shot maybe? Eisenstein made a revolutionary tool out of D.W. Griffith's editing techniques. Hitchcock grabbed them and made them a staple of shock horror. Now people may remember Hitchcock's Psycho, but who, apart from the most obsessed film students remembers Birth of a Nation or Battleship Potemkin?
Even worse is what happened to Brecht's famous Verfremdungseffekt. As Kinofist's Owen showed in his brilliant piece the powers that be quickly smothered it, because they saw its revolutionary potential. Godard, who was one of the few successful directors who tried to ressurrect it has been indeed very influential, but even then you will see that his inventions have been turned into commercial Hollywood fodder. And I honestly do not think that one episode of Buffy will remedy that situation.
Then there is another factor playing. As I have remarked a few posts below it is in this age and time extremely difficult to still be influential at all because these days almost every movement is condemned to be limited socially, culturally and even geographically. This coincides with society's extreme individualism where it is no longer needed to belong to a large group to construct yourself an identity. These days an identity does not even have to be group-related.
If in former days, let us say the fifties, you were a rocker, you belonged to a rather large group that probably shared a lot of social and cultural characteristics. These days being a rocker can imply you liking punk rock, indie rock, post-rock, hardrock, black metal, noiserock and what do I know. And it is very doubtful that people who like indie rock feel an affinty with people who like black metal. But - and this is the important fact - at the same time it could very well be that those two people, the one liking indie rock and the one liking black metal, do indeed feel an affinity on a cultural and social level. Nothing is sure anymore. That same fact, by the way, accounts for the endlessly shifting and changing ways perceived groups are targeted by advertising.
I mean, just look up a random Last FM page and check out the so-called 'neighbours', that is, the people who supposedly have 'the same taste as you'. Even within the group of neighbours the differences are extreme and even greater than the similarities. Even if I compare my own musical taste with the people consider to be musically like-minded, there can be a huge gap in listening habits.
So it is not at all unthinkable that even if a work of art were truly revolutionary, that the revolution will pass by the majority of the public. The niches are so small, the groups so fragmented, the stimuli so overpoweringly numerous that these days you are bound to make a choice. And maybe in making your choice you will miss that one true revolution happening.
And if you continue this reasoning to its conclusion it is, on the other hand, equally possible that in 50 years someone will discover a particular artist and decide that, in retrospect, (s)he was incredibly revolutionary. Need I add that this future revolutionary artist may just as well be an artist that is now considered by the cognoscenti to be marginally artistic, even rightout shite?
But is it not equally possible that by that time we will have succombed under the myriad of new stimuli and have long forgotten about what happened 50 years ago? Some may have proclaimed the end of history but that seems to carry the implication with it that people start forgetting about recent history much quicker. Today, what happened 10 years ago might, because of the incredible amount of information that is fired at us at a daily basis, just as well have happened 30 years ago. And influence, let alone subversion, is all very well, but you better hope that by that time you will not find yourself buried under the endlessly exponential growth of information that will have passed by since.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Simple answer to a big question (ok, three questions you can bring back to one big question, I mean): No.
At least not directly. But art can change people and they hopefully will change society. Seems like a very long shot nonetheless at the moment and in the current moral and cultural climate.
But to continue, I do not know why Dejan focuses on Lynch as a particularly subversive film maker. Would that be because, purportedly, you cannot make much sense of his movies? Or because he refuses categorically to explain anything about them? Is not the mere fact that Lynch leaves so much to the imagination and to be interpretated a proof that he is not subversive at all? Because to be subversive or revolutionary you have to work out one idea or a set of ideas and make the most of those. A strange plot or a weird atmosphere do not therefor make subversion.
I think it is mostly because not for one moment have I during the screening of a movie of his felt uncomfortable, having had the feeling that someone was actually challenging my world view. Challenging my view on film, ever so maybe. But on the world or on my own ideas? Hardly.
If I would be seduced to call someone a subversive film maker then it would be the Godard of the sixties and seventies or, today, Michael Haneke. I can remember feeling particularly uncomfortable watching Funny Games and Caché, because these movies really made me think about a particular element of today's society, be it, I will readily admit, a very limited element (voyeurism in Funny Games and the consequences of a very little event/deed in our own life for another person's life in Caché), for weeks after I watched those films. And then even Haneke's movies do not go far enough, because in the end they remain confined to the bourgeois environment he is critiquing or commenting upon.
But even with Haneke you know the mainstream (be it merely the Palme d'Or mainstream) will be all too quick to recuperate such a figure. They will award him a prize for the strong emotional content or the bold ideas and when that is over and done with the possible subversive, let alone revolutionary, content has already been neutralized. You see, critics may describe him as controversial, but they will never go as far as to label him subversive or revolutionary.
[And this is of course related to the fact that almost no-one anymore uses the words 'subversive' or 'revolutionary' anymore. They have become empty words, that used to mean something in a far away past. They have become devoid of meaning, mere possible meanings, no longer actual meanings. And this - but I digress - because these words have been used in the past, and still continue to be today, merely in an overly metaphorical or figurative sense, thus having lost all of its original force.]
And of course Le Colonel Chabert is right about one thing: even if Lynch were subversive, how many people actually have seen his movies? Lynch latest movie came out about a month and a half ago in Belgium and it has already been removed from the theaters. Why? Because even if he were subversive, he would have to make money in order to get his subversive message through. And he does not, so...
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
Monday, March 19, 2007
I do not know whether the John Cale of Music for a New Society was at the time a very happy human being. But listening to this record again, I guess he was not. I bought this record at roughly the same time as I bought Joy Division's Closer, probably the most depressed record of all time, and still to this day I find Music for a New Society a much, much bleaker collection of songs.
I think that during the 18 years that I have it in my possession, I have played it maybe four or five times. It is a record I just dare not often listen to. I played it a few times in its entirety after my father died and I think today is probably the first time I played it since.
The instrumentation is austere and minimal, so there is hardly any escape from the lyrics. And those are not very joyful to say the least (Who am I kidding? They are actually devoid of that particular feeling). Listening to 'Broken Bird' is like coming back from the funeral of someone you loved very much and that is a feeling that I do not like to evoke that often, as I suppose nobody will.
The version of 'Close Watch' ("Nothing Lost / And Nothing Gain / Some Things Aren't Quite The Same / Between You And Me") on this record is so many times superior to the Helen of Troy original that it freezes your blood temporarily. Chilling, to say the least.
To leave you with a taste of what to expect, I'm pasting the lyrics of the truly heartbreaking 'Damn Life' below. Enjoy, but be careful.
What's it worth?
Getting on without
It's just self-pity
You're just not worth it
You're just not worth the pain
They'll eat you alive
They'll drink the sweat from your brow
Eating the salt of the earth you'll never know
Oh no, respect
Cause and effect
She was the one got left behind
She was the one got lost
Never took from anybody
Self-sufficient at any cost
No, nothing can break this heart of mine
It stands invincible all the time
You always get what you left behind
Seek and you shall find
Seek and you shall find
So she's still wandering her heart away
Doesn't even know if it's night or day
And even if someone helped her up
She'd stand little hope
Of recognizing those friends she had
And in many, many ways
Those friends were glad
Strangely Closer and Music for a New Society proudly stand next to each other in my record archive, kind of a depressed duo.
I have already written here that he uses very simple words, but his writings, that are mostly about language, writing and words themselves, are very difficult indeed. They approach Heidegger at his most obscure (Sein und Zeit was the book that had the greatest influence on his thinking). My knowledge of French is excellent, but reading Blanchot is like having to learn that language all over again. As it is, I wonder how much of the content can ever survive a translation. I have read a part of it in Dutch and then it becomes even more difficult, because he often translates terminology of Hegel and Heidegger in French, that, in turn, then gets translated in Dutch. So you have already two levels of shifts in signification.
There is nothing much that I do not like about Blanchot. Before WWII he was extreme-right and moved in the circles around the Action Française of Charles Maurras (A thing that people who have been born after WWII often tend to forget is that the French extreme-right actually had lots of political leverage and was not considered 'wrong', like it is in our time). He even wrote pieces against the Jews. Nonetheless he helped to escape those same Jews from persecution during the war. After the war, politically, he moved to the left, eventually ending up on the extreme-left. As he got older he became more and more reclusive and by the end of his life Derrida was the only person he still met regularly.
And you understand that desire to become a literary hermit when you read his books. I write 'books', but most of his writings, even his novels, are deep and difficult and often philosophical meditations on what language is and what it means to write. He constantly writes in seemingly paradoxical sentences and I can imagine that his writings are for most people, just like Heidegger's, unreadable and hermetic.
Still, I can not imagine a writer that has left, in such a short time, such an impression on my own thinking. After reading De l'Angoise au Langage, Comment la Littérature est-elle Possible and La Littérature et le Droit à la Mort (It took me three weeks to really read those texts and we are talking about a mere hundred pages here) I just could not write a sentence for days. Blanchot forces you to rethink every concept you were used to. Even if you do not agree with him, you will be changed. And that, after all, is what literature should do.
Can a place be condemned by the words spoken in them?
Science is truth, the rest interpretation. Alas.
Beware of the seekers of the light of truth. They may burn your face along with theirs.
No energy is ever truly wasted. But time is.
Can language bend time? Can words?
Your final word can be the beginning of a whole new world for the other.
Is a word dead when spoken? Or does it begin to live then?
Is a word dead when written? Or does it begin to live then?
Can something ever be truly committed to written language? Or does it forever live on in the mind?
Is writing a duty? Is it a curse?
Can a face express an idea? Or only an emotion?
Is there such a thing as the grammar of being?
Can understanding stand between us? Does it seperate us?
Can too much signification kill a word?
If the pen is mightier than the sword, how mighty is the word?
Eros and Thanatos? Or Eros, Thanatos and Logos?
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Once again I was led back to my current obsession. As much as there have been theories about film over the last fifty years (they all get treated quite succinctly in Flicker), still not one satisfying theory about popular music has been proposed (I was reading Adorno's take on the subject recently and I almost laughed). Always theories about music are drawn inexorably into the sphere of cultural theory. Granted music is culture but if there is such a thing as film theory, then why, I ask you, is there not such a thing as music theory?
Sometimes I think that it may even be too late to come up with such a theory. The extreme process of democratization that has been ushered by the internet, where every single taste is covered by a niche, that, in turn, will defragment into smaller niches if necessary, will never again allow a unifying theory.
If the antithesis and cross-feeding between overground and underground once could have been a starting point for a sort of dynamic, then that time is surely over. The overground is no longer declared enemy of the underground. They just live seperately, with the overground sometimes absorbing the more effete characteristics of the underground (see Banhart or Coco Rosie as so-called "free folk"), the ones that are deemed not too overpowering for the general public.
Innovation thus seems a trifle point, it remains ever underground, amazing the few, but never reaching the masses, except in an extremely honed, and thus devoid of all critical, form.
The problem is of course that people these days confound knowledge with information. They think that when they have been informed about something (and, let us be honest: who is not informed in this age of information overload?) that they have knowledge about it. But that would imply that the information delivered is also correct (in a scientific way, if you will) and complete.
It seems to me that I am going to be around long enough to attend the actual death of language. Not too much to worry about then, since we have already attended the death of all meaning.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Friday, March 09, 2007
Thursday, March 08, 2007
"Au coeur de l'orgie, un homme murmure à l'oreille d'une femme: What are you doing after the orgy?"
"Ballard: quand l'imaginaire se confond avec le réel, la tâche de la fiction est d'inverser le réel."
"La mort elle aussi brille par son absence."
Monday, March 05, 2007
Thursday, March 01, 2007
So, to put it quite profanely, I was walking in the sunshine today and noticed how my dubstep really was not working. Under normal circumstances I use dubstep as an aural backdrop for my forays into the Antwerp slums and other nightly travels. So guess what: h**nt*l*g*™ is really music that thrives best at night. Amazing, innit?
Come on! Be honest! Make the list: Ghost Box, Mordant Music, Chain Reaction, Sunn 0))), dubstep and what other musics that are now infamously referred to as h**nt*l*g*™ is plainly and simply the kind of music that you put on and that works best when the lights have gone low. And it is just that.
See, it can be really simple. And the bottle with Po-Mo photofluid can stay on the shelf.
[a further remark: I have been wondering ever since this whole ghost-ology thread started, why the current rise of noise was not included. And then I found the, again, simple answer. It is because these guys do not use the word 'ghost'. I mean: listen to Aaron Dilloway's Rotting Nepal. That is truly scary shit!]