The Body and the Uniform

Throughout his chapter on racism and biopolitics in Habeas Viscus, Alexander Weheliye illustrates the notable absence of an overt and encompassing racial theory in the work of Foucault and Agamben, on various levels. One is the suspect nature of Agamben’s insistence on the figure of the Muselmann in the Nazi death camps as being one that is both conceptually and practically transcendent of a traditional understanding of race, inherently due to its own racialisation of psycho-physically oppressive body horror. Foucault, Weheliye allows, is at least willing to discuss overtly racism in Society Must Be Defended, but only racism as he conceives it as extant, after (or, at most, concurrent with) the constitution of the biopolitical form of power. Foucault indeed acknowledges racism’s pre-existence, but its presumably different operations, outside Europe, supposedly lack “the magical aura of conceptual value” (p57). From such a perspective, Foucault holds that there are two forms of racism: “ethnic” and “biological,” which may be described as “on the one hand, an ‘ordinary racism…that takes the traditional form of mutual contempt or hatred between races’ and, on the other, racism as an ‘ideological operation that allows States, or a class, to displace the hostility that is directed toward them…onto a mythical adversary.’” (p.58-9).

It is perhaps unsurprising, thus, that both Foucault and Agamben after him would choose as the sole illustrative model of the latter formation of racism the Nazi regime’s genocide of those perceived as untermenschen, inasmuch as such people might well be considered otherwise white (and certainly in some cases – political prisoners, anarchists, communists, homosexuals – Caucasian). However, Weheliye rightly bemoans, Foucault falls short of pursuing this to an analysis of the construction of racial categorisation through bio(-ideo)logical means, ultimately “leaving the door open for the naturalization of racial categories and the existence of a biological sphere that is not always already subject to ethnic racism…it appears as if Foucault can only authenticate the uniqueness and novelty of European biopolitical racism by conjuring the antithetical spirits of racisms always already situated in a primitive elsewhere” (59-60).

What is most damning here, certainly, is (as Weheliye invokes) the lacuna of this analysis in Foucault’s work, as it has been undeniably influenced by George Jackson and Angela Davis. It is notable in its absence, because the ghost of its presence remains: indeed, this is why his work is so easy to invoke in terms of studies of the marginalised body, because it already carries the traces of such marginalised bodies’ struggles.

Later in this essay, Weheliye’s discussion of the music video (or indeed short film) to M.I.A.’s Born Free engages overtly in some of the points of analysis missing both from Foucault and Agamben’s brief respective touching upon race. The representation of a SWAT team, renditioning and summarily executing a group of “gingers” has been attacked – even banned – in some areas, on account of a reading of this piece as a potentially “revanchist [or]…metaphoric substitution” (p67), though this is assuredly a misreading for various reasons, but it is a misreading worthy perhaps of analysis in and of itself. Indeed, within such a reaction is a deeply entrenched perspective on which bodies can be expected to be black-bagged and forced to run across minefields, to such an extent that the presentation of white bodies in that position is dissonant enough to be read solely as an attack or visual manifesto. Of course, enabling such a perspective, as Weheliye indicates, a denial of “the nimble mutability of racial taxonomies.” Such mutability is expressly indicated in the fact that the chromatic distinction between victims and perpetrators is only defined through the uniforms of the latter. Biology, as the word’s suffix indicates, is a manner of reading in and of itself. “Biological racism” is indeed the reading, interpreting, and translating of bodies. All that may be needed for such distinctions is a great enough emphasis on the uniform – whether worn by the oppressors, or forced on the oppressed. Nevertheless, these uniforms are themselves mimetic of a process of a weaponized logos that neither we, nor Foucault and Agamben, can afford to take for granted.

Album of the Day: Body Void – Ruins


Criminally underrated, it feels even by Body Void themselves, Ruins was my introduction to the then Bay Area, now Vermont based “drone punk” trio. Preceding the wrenching direct address of gender dysphoria in their 2018 follow-up I Live Inside a Burning House, or the overt politicism of this year’s You Will Know the Fear You Forced Upon Us, the subject matter may appear here somewhat more garden-variety sludge metal in its existential torment, mirroring the themes of Grief, Corrupted and Noothgrush, but the starry backdrop to the cover image should not be misinterpreted as mere aestheticism. The sonic and lyrical affect throughout Ruins is entirely aligned with Thacker’s post-Schopenhauerian cosmic pessimism: “dark metphysics of negation, nothingness, and the non-human.” This the the blackness in which Thacker locates black metal, and the blackness of Keiji Haino’s So, Black is Myself , and its single track, “Wisdom that bless I, who live in the spiral joy born at the utter end of a black prayer.”

Within these pieces is located the swirling triumvirate of apotheosis, aphaireisis and apophasis. I am replete with such emptiness. I am empty with such horrific fullness. I feel everything, and thus I feel nothing. I am body. I am void.

Crushed beneath the tide
Of emotions
Chest open wide

I am the planet
Surface scorched
Surrounded by ruins

My body filled with darkness
Eternal storm
Lost inside Jupiter’s eye

Lives inside me
Watch me born from a star
Shoved dripping from a cosmic nursery

Collapses inside me
Never never again
Look beneath our patterned existence



Album of the Day: Yellow Swans – Going Places

Loath as I would be to invoke the meme of a couple years ago, to suggest that drone is nought but “boneless noise,” with Going Places, I might have to make a particular exception. Going Places is a drone album, made by a noise outfit. It is, if you will pardon the expression, a “swansong.” Though Yellow Swans were certainly never wall noise in the manner of many of the most commonly represented artists on this blog, their previous efforts are absolutely no strangers to walls of sound, psychedelic in their ferocity. The construction of this farewell record is still replete with walls of sounds, but the plaster of ferocity is long-since chipped, the mortar is disintegrating, and the structure is crumbling. In so doing, we are now more aware than ever of the individual bricks: the effect remains psychedelic, certainly, but the fractals are no longer of a violent non-euclidean majesty. Instead, the Hausdorffian invocation is definitively chaotic, inasmuch as it attains a tragic status of unmaking. Though we may be more adept than ever before at discerning individual analogues producing sounds, the predominant instrument is the effect of tape echo, and what could be more apposite? This is a record – in both senses of the term – of the echo. It builds, at times cacophonously – I do not mean to suggest this is “ambient” in the Music For Airports sense, though Going Places‘ cover might well indicate it as a direct inversion – but it fades, and it dies. Though not necessarily in that order. This is a document of the immediacy of ghosts, and the spectrality of the immediate. There is eternity, but it is the eternity of Tithonus:  we cannot control what remains.


“Tears and not sight are the essence of the eye.”

(Jacques Derrida, Memoirs of the Blind)


Lillian Gish – “O! A Double Majesty; Mine Shall Stand, and Play the Star to Stop Posterity”

AKA Put Your Fist in My Mouth

One of my favourite records James and I released as Lillian Gish – unlike so much else which forever placed us in the status of “studio-as-instrument” producer figures, this was a generative jam session: 20 minutes of me on drums and James on guitar, followed by 20 minutes of me on vocals and James on bass, followed by 20 minutes of me on ocarina, harmonium and electronics. This was released in the Summer of 2014, I believe in the same week as the Herculean-in-process And Sing Do the Ghosts of New Amsterdam, and the Ingénue / Alligator double-A side single.

“O! A Double Majesty” marks the climactic point of my lyrical experimentalism at this time, combining stream-of-consciousness writing on my part, with auto-generation care of, all of which was then cut-up, reorganised, at points reversed, printed on multiple sheets of paper, sung and riffed upon randomly at the time of recording – the tension between “pre-written song” and “free-form jam” I think quite accurately reflects the schizophrenic position of Lillian Gish at the time, having spent so much time working on quite stridently arranged recorded material, whilst performing live shows in increasingly abstract formats, in true Throbbing Gristle fashion, guaranteeing disappointment, either way.


Film Review: INLAND EMPIRE (David Lynch, 2006)

(Originally published November 5th, 2017)

Lynch’s cinematic masterpiece, and I won’t countenance any opposition, INLAND EMPIRE is a challenging development on the möbius strip structure of Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive and into what appears to be a meditation on a murdered Polish sex worker, quite possibly from the 1930s, trapped simultaneously in a Sartrean (albeit this time seemingly purgatorial) hotel room and in a state of Deleuzian eternal recurrence, experienced both by her and we the spectators (she watches all the filmic events through a television screen, herself) as a rhizomatic system of assemblages that serve to investigate genealogies of gendered violence, ultimately in search of a line of flight.

Or, at least, that’s how best I make “sense” of INLAND EMPIRE. The keenest interpretation is one that doesn’t necessarily accept any (I say “any,” rather than “either”) of Laura Dern’s characters as the true protagonist. Characters merge, they fracture, they exchange roles, become each other’s mirrors, avatars, spiritual doppelgangers. In so doing, INLAND EMPIRE reflects on the ways in which we can become our own victims and perpetrators and, accordingly, how much self-liberation may feel like self-murder.

Constant motifs of holes speak to the permeable membranes of ontology and identity that come to define the constellation of bodies that make up the assemblage of characters and situations of INLAND EMPIRE, the folded silk reflecting the foldings at levels both spatial and temporal which Sue/Nikki/? as the Lost Girl’s avatar/s must strategically navigate to a point of self-realisation and radical self-realignment to achieve meaningful deterritorialisation and liberation. When that moment finally arrives, it is perhaps Lynch’s most sublime, moving and beautiful moment in his whole career. Indeed, it expresses a similar sense of pathos as the ending to The Tempest in which Prospero’s letting go is clearly Shakespeare’s as well. It comes as no surprise that INLAND EMPIRE was announced as Lynch’s final film for entirely the same reason: it’s a film, made of endings. It may not be an ending everyone likes, nor one everyone understands, but it is nonetheless perfect in its philosophy and its execution.

Album of the Day: Lingua Ignota – All Bitches Die