A song I listened to recently put me in mind of Reverend Tim Haggard's situation.
The song is by the band 'Garbage.'
The title of the song is "Sex is not the enemy"
A song I listened to recently put me in mind of Reverend Tim Haggard's situation.
The song is by the band 'Garbage.'
The title of the song is "Sex is not the enemy"
[A guest post by blah-feme.]
What do you want of me, siren? Why do you turn me so, why do I stop and listen? How am I to remain after your song? What am I after you fall silent again? Where will I have moved to? The siting (and citing) of the voice in song with the feminine has a long and continuous history, and it marks a certain texture of the Western episteme, a certain materiality that is formidable. To turn to that voice is not to be hailed in the Althusserian moment of becoming-again, but to wonder. It is to raise a question, to pose the nature of agency, of self, of the ground of the resources of subjectivity as we think it has arrived to us.
If there is one thing that makes thinking about voices, especially the voice in song, infuriatingly complex, it is its parallax function: the singing voice shortcircuits the mythological composure of he-who-speaks and invokes the troublesome knave-who-feigns. This Narrenschiff, this ship of singing jesters, has long since set its course for the heart of Arcadia, and threatens to bring the most impudent thuggery to its heart. Sing and you shall lose who you are and, what is worse, listen to that song and you are forever lost. Proust was one who saw this with extraordinary clarity, in this much-quoted passage from The Fugitive:
My mind ...was entirely occupied with following the successive phrases of O sole mio, singing them to myself with the singer, anticipating each surge of melody, soaring aloft with it, sinking down with it once more... Each note that the singer's voice uttered with a force and ostentation that were almost muscular stabbed me to the heart ... This I remained motionless, my will dissolved.
This sirencic trope of song as seduction is very old and always remarkable for its fidelity to the structure of the parallax:
The following is a guest post by blahfeme, author of the weblog, blah-feme.
Voicing, finding one’s own voice, passive, active, middle voices, voice leading, voice-overs, voice training, to voice as if to say… around that word, vox, voz, Stimme, голос, φωνή, λαλιά, a number of highly territorialised and powerful tropes orbit: the voice marks an origin, a departure, a making sound out of silence, a movement, a breath of discourse–it’s life. A becoming and an authority. Voices do not sing–to sing is to transform the voice into the singing voice, a voice other than itself, something always already at odds with itself–to set that voice into song, to take the prosaic shortness of vowels and lengthen them, set them onto a more determinate pitch structure, order that production differently, structure stress differently, make voicing into singing, is to bring voice into an unsettling relationship with itself, and to disturb something we have tried to keep hidden for a long time: our voices, voicing, what we say… it is all, in the end, susceptible to the capricious terminality of material.
The terms on which the singing voice might be said to do cultural work are extremely difficult to catalogue, since post-reformation European and North American cultures at least have tended to deal more readily in imageries, tropes and topoi that are available to visual shorthanding. The voice might thus be said to pose something of a representational problem; its sonic materiality that never settles cannot be held still. This fidgety voice, a material capriciousness, seems always somehow just out of reach, beyond those things that we are able to say, and yet saying them nonetheless. This point is made by Chion:
The voice is elusive. Once you have eliminated everything that is not the voice itself–the body that houses it, the words it carries, the notes it sings, the traits by which it defines a speaking person, and the timbres that colour it, what’s left? (The Voice in Cinema, 1)
It might therefore be worth trying to grasp this problem as one that can be addressed not simply in terms of what we ‘do’ with the voice, but in terms also of what it does to us–in what ways does it intervene in the formation of our ego ideal, how does it articulate, thematise or otherwise engage gender, race, class and so on? Mladen Dolar has recently made a striking intervention in this problematic, and settles on a conception of voice as in some sense the sinthome of the Western episteme. In this passage, he addresses Georgio Agamben’s Homo sacer and gets to the core of that epistemic problem that haunts our speaking:
… the voice is not simply an element external to speech, but persists at its core, making it possible and constantly haunting it by the impossibility of symbolizing it. And even more: the voice is not some remnant of a previous precultural state, or some happy primordial fusion when we were not yet plagued by language and its calamities; rather, it is the production of logos itself, sustaining and troubling at the same time. (Mladen Dolar, A Voice and Nothing More, 106.)
What is a stake for Dolar here is the very ground on which the split, as recognised by Derrida, between logos or word and phone, is built. That rupture, a symptom for Dolar of the operation of culture (‘the production of logos’) on the voice, makes access to the voice extremely difficult, as if it were in some sense always spectral, always in some sense beyond the fixing operation of symbolization.
Dolar’s extraordinary insights nonetheless leave something out (and he would no doubt, as a Lacanian, be the first to admit as such since that orientation is all about marking the abyss, the missing, the lack, the sinthome). To slightly over-characterise Dolar, there is in his book a certain disdain for the aesthetic pleasuring in the voice, a disdain which flows from the need to sustain a critical relationship with his field (this is a point also made by Pinocchio Theory in his recent review of Dolar’s book). I want to suggest here that, although that critical relationship is crucial to the appropriate operation of Dolar’s strategy, it can also, if left unattended to, operate as a kind of dead-end political Puritanism, at its worst a kind of disavowal of the pleasuring that forms a part of any coherent political theory of the voice, especially as we encounter it in song. In a sense, then, the question as to how the voice does cultural work is a question about the relationship between ideology and enjoyment.
When that voice takes flight in song, the volume of that encounter between ideology and pleasure is cranked right up. Voice in this way would thus, in this extended Dolarian sense, represent not merely an impasse or a place of traumatic breaking (as Žižek makes it clear in his Pervert’s Guide to Cinema, the mother in Hitchcok’s The Birds, on seeing her neighbour’s corpse with bloody eyes, runs from the room and cannot make any sound… the horror sticks in her throat); it would also allow for a place of joy, for ecstatic derangement, for being other than instrumental to the symbolic machine. To enjoy voice is to become a noise maker, to become, in the eyes of those that speak from their gilded place of symbolic composure, a thug. Before my ASBO is served, then, let’s wreak some havoc.
Imagine three voices in song (I am thinking here of voices in the singular, in solo, of course, although choruses, choirs, ensembles of voices, each bring their own set of dynamics that I will think about elsewhere).
The first, a voice that does not hover very far off the ground–a voice that seeks to stage a certain imagination of authenticity: I think here of the quiet rustle of José González or Devendra Banhart. These are voices that perform a certain easiness, a composure that is not, in the end, about intimacy but, on the contrary, about the spectacular. Logos gives way to the pleasure of that staging without ever finding its ground - voice here resonates with the double-bind of singing - on the obne hand it is the simple voice of unmediated song, of song as spontaneity and, on the other, it is voice that is disciplined, held in a small territory in order to project the fantasy of immediacy.
The second is a voice that refuses the dance of authenticity, refutes the organic voice and reaches fo the flattened, open-ended hydrid voice, a voice without origin, a voice without subject. It is the voice of the machine, the voice without inflection, without meat. I think here of Kraftwerk, of Bjork of 'pluto', of the end of the organic dream of voice as the speaking of labour.
The third is a voice in flight, a voice that startles with its ephemeral shimmer, its staged-ness, its artiface - here 'trained' voices predominate - opera, Lied, but also certain forms of country, rock and jazz - they are voices that embrace their constructedness, their taking flight in technics, in their agility, their lightness, their airy openness, their purity.
Here then are at least three of the voice-tropes that operate in Western song, in a song, that is, which has consistently sought since the Reformation to rehearse what Lacan has termed the 'social psychosis' of the Western episteme. Song, that supplement to speech, that double supplement of writing, a symptom of the hardness and fixity of media, of the late modern predicament, of alienation from labour; that song is also a staging, a showing, a narrating of the predicament, its dramaturgy.
Richard Middleton has recently gestured at this possibility in his new book Voicing the Popular (Routledge, 2006) in which he understands song as offering a privileged site for understanding a certain vernacular history of the family, of labour, gender and of 'subjectivity'. I would go further – what this voice in song does is disturb the fantastical ground on which family, gender, labour, authenticity, even, can be thought – it stages whilst drawing attention to that staging, it narrates whilst radically materialising narrative forms and conventions, it speaks whilst pointing at the breath hat makes speech possible: in this sense, voice is the hardest of all materials.
Just as motionless images can contain narratives, so stories also paint pictures. This is hardly news: the careful selection, accumulation and arrangement of details, interpolations, parenthetical remarks; all of which delineate a scene while dictating the point from which we see it.
Lacan’s well-known story of the sardine can, with its pointedly pointless ‘joke’ is both a story about pictures and a carefully drawn composition in itself. These two things are, I think related. What follows tries to explain this relation.
I was in my early twenties or thereabouts – and at that time, of course, being a young intellectual, I wanted desperately to get away, see something different, throw myself into something practical, something physical, in the country say, or at sea.
The first element of the composition is this image of the young intellectual striving towards, thirsting for, the world of action and conflict. This is what young intellectuals do - an utterly recognisable, commonplace trope. Isn't this is part of the comfort of stories – they move forward under a kind of spell, a spell cast by elementary recognisable scenes that promise to unfold in more or less predictable ways. Not that the exact content is predictable, of course, but the structure is predictable, the ‘parameters’ secure, and precisely so we can surrender to the content. So once more, the young intellectual longing for the ‘remedy’ of action. We know that the ‘action’ dreamed by his sedentary life is nowhere to be found, that reality will outrun and educate him.
But the look will be given just as well on occasion where there is a rustling of branches, or the sound of a footstep followed by silence, or the slight opening of a shutter, or a light movement of a curtain.These are all potential points from which one might be seen, ie become an object. It is this ‘gaze’, the one seemingly embedded in and punctuating the world, which is so uncanny. To see why, we can contrast it with another type of gaze that has a more specific profile. Zizek:
“Imaginary identification is always identification on behalf of a certain gaze in the Other. So, apropos of every imitation of a model-image, apropos of every ‘playing a role’, the question to ask is: for whom is the subject enacting his role? Which gaze is considered when the subject identifies with a certain image?This ‘gaze in the Other’ might be that of, for example, a harsh Paternal figure: …
he is humiliating himself, preventing his success, organizing his failure, and so on; but the crucial question is again how to locate the vicious, superego gaze for which he is humiliating himself, for which this obsessional organizing of failure procures pleasure…….In any case, this gaze has content – it is, if you like, a definite question. But the uncanny gaze is different.
A gaze is an interruption. What is ‘interrupted’ can either be a continuous activity (eg looking through a keyhole) or a continuous space – a landscape, for example. The interruption ‘embarrasses’ the subject in a peculiar way.
In the example from Sartre that so impresses Lacan, this is what happens: the keyhole spy, voyeur, is cut short, ‘pulled up’ in his activity by a noise*. This noise is enough to re-orientate him, re-compose his space. He is returned to his body and to his self. The noise can be anything, a creaking door, a rustle of branches outside. Suddenly the voyeur is in the visible field, not its clandestine final vanishing point. There is, thus, a kind of ‘exposure’. It is as if the voyeur had been ‘snapped’, captured.
A familiar cinematic sequence: someone scans a landscape with a pair of binoculars or telescope; this scanning follows the pre-given contours, but suddenly this someone spots another pair of binoculars looking straight back, and stops abruptly. Perhaps at first it is only a glint of reflected sunlight – the binoculars see it and immediately track back, fixated. This second pair of binoculars is only the most literal materialisation of the gaze. It represents another ‘centre pin’ from which the visual might be arranged, a rival centre of optical gravity.
But it is not just you that has been seen, exposed; it is your lewd will-to-look. Here it is before you, nude and blushing.
* “far from speaking of the emergence of this gaze as something that concerns the organ of sight, he refers to the sound of rustling leaves, suddenly heard while out hunting, to a footstep heard in a corridor.”
While I was trying to write a post on the idea of ‘being looked at,’ I came across Nabokov’s lecture on Kafka’s metamorphosis. The relevant point here was the use of the ‘picture’ metaphor. N. is talking about Stevenson’s Jekyll and Hyde:
The fantastic side of the setting—Utterson, Enfield, Poole, Lanyon, and their London—is not of the same quality as the fantastic side of Jekyll's hydization. There is a crack in the picture, a lack of unity.
So ‘picture’ here, as we might expect, stands for compositional unity, coherence, unitary perspective. It denotes a world that slots together according to certain rules. In literary terms, then, it means genre. Jekyll, says N., is a ‘A Gothic character in a Dickensian setting’. Two different genre-rules co-exist in the same story. What this does, presumably, is to prevent us inhabiting either of these genres, for each rubs up against the other and in so doing ‘shows’ itself. Each genre is thrown into relief against the other and therefore ‘denaturalised’. As a reader, we ‘don’t know where we are’. The element of willed deception (‘yes, I agree to inhabit this generic world’), of imaginary security, is foreclosed.
Ignore, for the time being, whether this is a satisfactory comment on Dr.J&Mr.H. The reason it attracted my attention, in composing my Lacan related post (which may nor may not see the light of day), was this notion of the ‘crack in the picture’ as a place where different compositional or ‘generic’ fields rub up against one another and cancel one another out. Each is put ‘out of joint’, and so, simultaneously, is the spectator.
And this little example, it seemed to me, might be a useful analogy in talking about the ‘gaze' in Lacan. For when N. talks about the ‘crack in the picture’, it is in that such cracks or folds that Lacan locates what he calls the gaze, at least as I understand it. This is where the gaze nestles. And the gaze is what puts the spectator’s world ‘out of joint’.
The ‘picture’ conceived as a compositional unity, presumably reaffirms the pov for which the picture is composed. The crack or fold, in disturbing that unity, at once renders that pov incomplete and implies, albeit negatively, another place of seeing, however empty or hypothetical. That’s all I have to say for the moment. In fact, I am saying practically nothing, merely soliciting comments. Consider this post a prelude to some other thing.
Link: Revenge of Global Finance, by Slavoj Zizek.
I like this article from Zizek. Watching the stupid film I turned after Yoda's 'let go of everything' speech to someone or rather, and said to a friend: "fucking Buddhist". I like the "fucking" here, for it in itself announces a passionate dislike - itself an attachment, and one I refuse to let go of despite seeing my amigos one by one succumbing to the true Dark side. In this very attachment I announce my desire for the Other, my desire to refuse this capitalist supplement of meditating after a hard day's work. Instead I have a Guinness and blog (pardon the self-referentiality at this exact moment).
But I'm a copycat here: Bjork said it first, no doubt because many confused her as such.
"I’m no fucking buddhist, but this is enlightenment" (from "Alarm Call").
Zizek's `most interesting' point, I think, is that the reason the Revenge of the Sith seemed so bland, so narratively inferior, is because Anakin's transformation into Darth Vader was not, as it should have been, because he became Evil precisely because of his zealousness to battle Evil, but simply because he was weak-willed. Boring, especially if Lucas really wanted to make a political point... (though I'd say Bush's handlers are Evil from the get-go, not that they are perverted in their very quest for `rooting out' Evil - or if so, they were perverted a long, long time ago...). Anyway, this explains why it lacked "the proper tragic grandeur... Anakin should have become a monster out of his very excessive attachment with seeing Evil everywhere and fighting it".
ADDENDUM (for those not familiar with Zizek's understanding of Christianity, i.e., for those who aren't aware that he is, in fact, an atheist):
Part of the logic in the background of this article is that to be an atheist (as Zizek is), one must pass through the Christian experience.
Christianity is the only religion where God dies. When Christ dies on the Cross, God dies too. God only remains, then, through the faith of Christians (in the Holy Spirit, the community of believers). Obviously, then, Christians are likely to waver in their faith. This can lead to extreme violence towards others in the desperate attempt to `shore up' one's wavering faith.
It can also lead to atheism. We can only be atheist because of Christianity. If we just reject the Christian legacy tout court, we are only presupposing a dumb pagan or Buddhist God from which we cannot find a path to atheism.
There is, then, nothing more regressive than denying `our' Christian legacy.
(Of course, if you get this confused with the neocon agenda, I shall have to bonk you over the head.)
What is a public? Jodi Dean lucidly suggests that since calls for the 'public' are voiced, well, in a pre-existing public, such calls are mostly political interventions for a certain kind of public, i.e., one more amenable to one's own orientation. We might say, then, that these calls for a public are disengenuous, not actually concerned with achieving a true public. (One can obviously place in this context Republican calls for a less `liberal biased' PBS.)
What, then, is a true public? Is it the pre-existing public that allows for various factions to fight within it for their particular definition of a public? The set that exists before the battle to hegemonize its definition and practice? Does a true public only pre-exist the hegemonizing of the set through the rise of the master-signifier?
Or can we say that, only with the right master-signifier, the right political order, the true public actually comes into being?
A true public is one without pigeon-holing, where one doesn't automatically place oneself in five seconds of speech. It's one where you don't know what I am going to say next. It's where I am not merely offering pre-digested soundbites. Most of the blogosphere then has nothing to do with this true public; partisan hackery is but more TV (which is precisely why the TV networks can so easily report on this sector of the blogosphere), as are the endless ruminations on what one fed one's cat today.
The true public goes beyond your surprise at my words, my positioning. I must be surprised myself. As in the decisive act that overwhelms you, that preempts one's understanding of one's own actions, here I must myself be surprised by what comes from my `pen'. Only after the fact, upon the establishment of a new order, can I come to understand what I have done.
But then the question is: does the new order in fact get created here, in this part of the blogosphere? What could that mean? No, yes, maybe new orders are constantly being tested. We're playing at being vanishing mediators. But playing with an enormous sense of responsibility, for the Other. So maybe, then, Long Sunday is both the `true public' before the hegemonization of the very term 'public', and the Just `public' after the right hegemonization.
Having it both ways? Ah, the life of a vanishing mediator...
Zizek writes, in a sort of parallel:
The "political" dimension is... doubly inscribed: it is a moment of the social Whole, one among its sub-systems, and the very terrain in which the fate of the Whole is decided - in which the new Pact is designed and concluded. (For they know not what they do, 193)