My other noise project right now is under the name Prayer Rope, as a sonic expression of my interest in the particularities and imbrications of mystical theology. I was also frankly stunned there was neither a noise, nor metal, outfit by the name already.
And the Maiden is a moniker I recently began using whilst creating material (such as the first two tracks below) solely out of manipulated youtube audio rips of tourist and local footage of the waterfalls and gorges in and around Ithaca and the Finger Lakes area. This original project, titled Obstructing Egress will be my final submission for my current Environmental Humanities module. I’m excited to see where it will go beyond that in 2020.
(given at the Punk Scholars’ Network “Punk and the Sacred” conference at Mansions of the Future, by Bishop Grosseteste University, Lincoln, UK, 28th November 2019)
Liquid Sky covers an about 24 hour period in early 80s Manhattan, largely from the perspective of abused New Waver, Margaret (played by Anne Carlisle), as she traverses the exploitative and cocaine and heroin-addled hipster scene, including the many clients of her drug dealer girlfriend Adrian, not least of all her sociopathic rival, Jimmy (also played by Carlisle). A small UFO (we are told, the size of a dinner plate) lands on Margaret and Adrian’s penthouse apartment – controlled by incorporeal aliens with an even more insatiable lust for opiates than human beings – drawn initially to Adrian’s cache of heroin, they begin instead killing and extracting the endorphins released at the point of orgasm by the brains of the men and women who rape and seduce her – something Margaret begins to turn to her advantage.
Punk as an identity, as an aesthetic, and as a position of precarious multivalent temporality are all central to an understanding of Liquid Sky. Precarious perhaps most of all for its walking-corpse status, having been declared “dead” by Crass four years prior to its release, “punk” as a term is in fact only invoked once in the film, when astrophysicist Professor Hoffman and drama professor Owen discuss the aliens’ penchant for opioids leading them to follow punks, whilst Owen retorts that “these punks don’t need any help from the outside to kill themselves.” Leaving to one side for the moment the moribund status of any individual alternative scenester’s propensity for violence and hard drugs, punk’s development as a rhetorical device is at least as crucial, here. As a suffix, indicating speculative conceptualisations of aesthetic, technological and affective syntheses of temporal folds – most notably cyberpunk and steampunk – “punk” has increasingly become a spectral signifier for hauntological navigation of non-present temporal planes. From a more traditional Derridean perspective, these would be the no longer-s and the not yet-s and, relating more to Mark Fisher’s development on the concept of hauntology, there exists a bleak collation of the two, resultant in the dark cloud of the lost future.
There are exceedingly few reissues that could justify an accompanying introduction / photo album, let alone a documentary DVD. Perhaps what makes Slint’s inimitable swansong album warrant such attempts at contextualisation – even explanation – is the abundantly clear self-evidence of their inevitable frustration. There is no satisfactory context for Spiderland‘s conception. No credible delineation for its genesis. Whilst it certainly instigated a genre, known as post-rock, which has spawned masterful, political, affective, affirmative pearls, amongst a great deal of self-serious glorified-jam-band dreck, the term “post-rock” when applied to Spiderland is not that of a genre. It is that of a spatio-temporal outsideness. A knowing, yet entirely genuine, form of disconnection that is held by the very smallest number of artists. Indeed, it is such a profoundly burdensome isolationism, the only comparisons that leap to mind are of solo artists such as Keiji Haino or Jandek (both, ironically, defined by a staggering prolificity – quite the opposite of Slint’s two albums and one two-track EP).
Spiderland truly is post-rock. Indeed, when scrabbling for effective subgeneric terms of classification, one cannot help but start landing on “new weird,” “southern gothic,” “dirty realism” – as much an audiobook that comfortably cohabits with various literary works of Thomas Ligotti, Flannery O’Connor and Raymond Carver, I dare suggest Spiderland may constitute post-music, itself. Whilst the natural immediate comparison to make, with regard the juxtaposition and at times transmogrification between spoken word / short story and experimental rock song is The Velvet Underground’s White Light / White Heat, the distinction in their respective production has a profound effect on one’s interpretation. Whilst tracks like “The Gift” and “Lady Godiva’s Operation” have verbal/vocal narrative and song structure in many ways competing for prominence (consider the left / right audio split in the former, and Lou Reed’s jolting intrusions on the latter), in a manner Slint themselves more or less emulate in their first album Tweez, particularly with songs like “Darlene,” which makes allowance for the pleasingly alternative cognitive dissonance of experimental chimp rock bands of the era, such as Polvo, Heatmiser, Kudgel and Swirlies, Spiderland is an album with virtually no fight left, and thus, no competition between juxtaposing elements.
Rather, both the short fiction format and the proto-math progressions address an abundance of power, but one would be hard-pressed to say the power is that of Slint’s themselves. The music often drowns out the vocals, and thus we try and listen through the music, to hear them. Thus, despite the dark exhilaration of some of Spiderland‘s doomy distortion, every aspect of the record still ultimately takes a seat in the back, allowing the crackle of the needle and the reverberations of your own thoughts to fill and become the zone of precarious, interstitial liminality between the real world and the titular Spiderland. Everywhere and everything is reticent pulsations of agitated depression, sporadically giving way to explosive cries of desperation. Every question asked of a void, every proclamation a suicide note. Spiderland is an assemblage of mortalities. It is eternal in its fatality, it is perfect in its entropy. Albums like it are few and far between and, for that, we can be grateful.
I’m trying to find my way home
And I miss you
I miss you
I’ve grown taller now
I want the police to be notified
I’ll make it up to you
I swear, I’ll make it up to you
I MISS YOU
I MISS YOU
I MISS YOU
Feel free to come up and say hi!
A predominantly subdued collection of tracks from various Richard Ramirez outfits (almost entirely duo / solo efforts), The Machines Will React is, despite the multicephalous variance of the album, the closest I have thus far heard Ramirez reach drone. Favouring reverb in a lot of these tracks, listening to Machines, I am transported back to London, and the various churches, temporarily converted into noise/drone venues in Hackney and Bethnal Green. Perhaps due to this live-performance association, there is a greater sense of the deliberate, even the human, in Machines than so much of Ramirez’ work. Though never as forlorn as Yellow Swans’ Going Places, there is a pensive presence that feels particularly reminiscent of Dominick Fernow’s work as Prurient and even some of the crunchier sides of Rainforest Spiritual Enslavement. There are of course, exceptions to be found – most notably in the tracks performed as Werewolf Jerusalem (regular readers of my blog will be less than surprised to hear this is my favourite) and 12 Yr Old Proud Parent, both of which blast violently through the profound and thunderous fog.
(Reading Mark Maguire’s “Questioned by Machines: A Cultural Perspective on Counter-Terrorism and Lie Detection in Security Zones” in Resisting Biopolotics)
From one angle, Paul Ekman’s virulent emphasis on the “communicative value of a signal[‘s dependency on] if it is intended or unintended,” (167) a discursive hierarchisation of emotional expression, through a qualitative – if not quantitative – measurement of what for Ekman constitutes the genuine is humorously reminiscent of various “woo” talking points and appeals to sincerity between lovers, family and friends. That such affective relations, expressed at various junctures through gratingly liberal hippie proclamations would so effectively translate into modes of surveillance and control should not, necessarily, be considered particularly surprising. MacGuire takes great pains to emphasize the largely neutral application of the term “apparatus” (of surveillance, of power, etc) as used by Foucault, and as it should be used by later thinkers: “we must cease to equate ‘apparatus’ with control and view it in purely negative terms – ‘a poison without a remedy’…the term ‘apparatus’ allows us to pick out new, dynamic, and contingent assemblages that ‘fall between problematizations and apparatuses.’” (168-169). Such fluidity of allegiance can be more effectively acknowledged by invoking the original French – dispositif, particularly when contrasted with appareil, as used by Foucault’s tutor Althusser, more concerned with a repressive hypothesis than his student. In their original technical contexts, appareil would represent an apparatus such as a complete technological object – for instance, a kettle – whilst a dispositif would be the smaller technology, that permitted (or at least eased) this object’s function – the kettle’s switch. The individual dispositif, whilst certainly imbricated in the organisation of power, may retain the potential for decoupling and reapplication: e.g. race, gender and class as points of resistant unification and solidarity.
However, the reverse is of course also true: Mark Fisher often verbalised the tragedy that the one and only thing from the 60s revolutionary spirit to survive the decade was neoliberalism. Accordingly, it is perhaps to be expected that, alongside experimentation with the effect of psychedelic drugs, weaponised application of rock music, etc, that processes of radical empathy would be considered a prime dispositif for surveillant practice. When one considers 60s radicalism and questions of power and surveillance, the logical recourse is to consider various examples of dystopian science fiction. Here we may also consider Lemke’s invocation of Sunder Rajan’s discussion of biocapital’s necessary intertwining with the speculative dimension (60-61). Of course, in borrowing from the philosophies of that radicalism in some ways, the application of dispositifs as discussed in Resisting Biopolitics is almost an inversion of some of the most recognisable tropes: namely, where many forms of fictionalised control have been dependent on emotional suppression, here it is the cataloguing and categorisation of emotional expression on which technologies of surveillance are dependent to function. Ironically, therefore, a Body Snatchers-esque plane of consistent apathetic placidity might well be proffered as the most reasonable line of defence.
When we consider in particular the increasing role of affective / empathic surveillance in advertising and consumer capital, Lemke’s advocacy of an analysis of bioeconomy feels entirely rational, as does its imbrication with biopolitical notions of new materialism, and the discursive enabling of rhetorical vitality. Certainly, in my brief and hapless period as a paid taker of marketing surveys, one of the most regular questions I would have put to me was the request to rank companies, products and brands within entirely organic, emotive, indeed human, categories of “trustworthiness,” “honesty,” “youthfulness,” etc. The argument for these entities’ vitality was not presented as falsifiable or disputable; rather, my emotions were under surveillance, within a bioeconomy of presumed new materiality. In the face of such surrealism, the only recourse was an increasing regularity of deceit. As Twitter absurdist @dril put it best, “in a world where big data threatens to commodify our lives, telling online surveys that I ‘don’t know’ what pringles are constitutes heroism.”
(Originally written November, 2016)
Watching examples of Jack Smith’s drag performance in American underground cinema between the late 1950s and early 1960s, both in his own films and others’, one immediately notices recurrent themes of childhood, violence, female superiority and dark reflections on what one might label “alternative sexuality.” Whilst psychoanalytical interpretations of gender and sexuality in cinema are common within the Freudian and Lacanian schools, Kleinian perspectives on queer cinema are largely notable by their highly remiss absence, considering the uniqueness of Klein’s work for its interest in children and, often, children’s sexuality and aggression. It is the purpose of this essay to correct this, certainly by analysing Little Stabs at Happiness (Ken Jacobs, 1960), Blonde Cobra (Ken Jacobs, 1963) and Flaming Creatures (Jack Smith, 1963) from a Kleinian perspective, but also by analysing these films as criticisms of that same perspective, or at the very least, of the “normality” whose achievement marks, for Klein, a successful treatment of the analysand. It is my intention to reveal that it is not merely through queer performances and narratives that this is achieved, but also through the cinematic form, itself.
Smith’s method and indeed philosophy of drag seems to presuppose queer theorist Kate Bornstein’s own: namely, the assertion that drag is not merely the potential mindful performance of multiple genders, but also “race, age, class, religions, sexuality, looks, disability, mental health, family and reproductive status, language, habitat, citizenship, political ideology and humanity.”[i] In Little Stabs at Happiness (Ken Jacobs, 1960), Blonde Cobra (Ken Jacobs, 1963) and Flaming Creatures (Jack Smith, 1963) we can observe evidence – however fleeting – of almost all these statuses and notions being mined for parodic, performative potential. Crucial for the sake of this investigation, however, is age. In Little Stabs at Happiness, Smith is seen, dressed as a baby, whilst in Blonde Cobra, he is credited via the juvenile diminutive “Jacky Smith,” and relates the tale of “a little tweensy, microscopic little boy.”
In Klein’s documentation, Oedipal anxieties relating to castration seem to appear not only in seemingly heterosexual boys, but also in girls and boys displaying homosexual tendencies:
In uncovering bit by bit the primal scene I was able to gain access to Peter’s very strong passive homosexual attitude. After having depicted his parents’ coitus he had phantasies of coitus between three people. They aroused severe anxiety in him and were followed by other phantasies in which he was being copulated with by his father. These were portrayed in a game in which the toy dog or motor-car or engine – all signifying his father – climbed on to a cart or a man, which stood for himself in this process the cart would be injured or the man would have something bitten off; and then Peter would show much fear of, or great aggressiveness towards, the toy which represented his father.[ii]
However, the analysands are seen constantly to be fluctuating in their chosen roles during playtime and, it seems, more often than not portraying the abusive adult figure, “not only expressing his wish to reverse the roles, but also demonstrating how he feels that his parents or other people in authority behave towards him – or should behave.”[iii] The acts of violent play phantasy throughout The Psychoanalysis of Children therefore routinely exist in quantum states, in which both injured party and injurer may simultaneously and paradoxically hold both positions (“…the child was also the mother, turned into a child”[iv]). Thus, in Blonde Cobra, Smith’s recounting of one little boy burning the penis of another’s with a lit match, we can quite easily understand this not merely as a tale of psychotic sadism between two children, but as a very clear reflection of transferred persecution complex, centered around castration anxiety, not least of all because of the manner of Smith’s narration: