Thursday, April 3, 2008

Brutal Cuts and Digital Dust

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Boubacar Traore - 'Mariama'

Operating Theatre - 'Ah Love Ah Love'

I moved. Again. By my own count, that makes ten times in two years. Ever since I gave up that peaceful, sunny apartment where I lived with Ben the art critic and militant commie, a place where we organized a Lacan reading group, obsessed about 'Rasputin' by Boney M and 'Dragostea din tei' by O-Zone.

One of the great benefits of casting your entire material life into transition is the chance to explore the way things reveal themselves anew amidst the dusty upheaval of packing crates, masking tape and duffel bags. The volume of Walter Benjamin's essays Illuminations opens with his reflections on this phenomenon, entitled 'Unpacking My Library', where he writes that all obsessions are about chaos, but that the obsessions of a collector are full of the chaos of memories.

Walter in the library

You may find this helpful to remember when you stand surrounded by those oversized Kmart tupperware storage containers overflowing with heaps of those curious objects of all forms that will not allow themselves to be abandoned by you no matter how little they seem to have any immediate importance in your life whatsoever. "Ah..a chaos of memories..."

Making my way through the heap, old things become new again. A favorite worn shirt has surfaced, an old pair of shoes seems back in style, a book suddenly has something new to say. I have a particular problem with my old books in that they often seem to be in a state of indignant confrontation when I meet them, as if I'm returning after leaving a highly intimate conversation in mid-sentence.

Throwing things away is the best. Then one gets to feel like Andre Breton or Stalin, excommunicating and purging all that is interfering with the revolution. This kind of brutal cut, Alain Badiou writes, is paradigmatic for twentieth-century revolutionary movements:

"the real, conceived in its contingent absoluteness, is never real enough not to be suspected of semblance. The passion for the real is also, of necessity, suspicion. Nothing can attest that the real is the real, nothing but the system of fictions wherein it plays the role of the real. All the subjective categories of revolutionary, or absolute, politics - 'conviction', 'loyalty', 'virtue', 'class position', 'obeying the Party', 'revolutionary zeal' and so on - are tainted by the suspicion that the supposedly real point of the category is actually nothing but semblance. Therefore, the correlation between a category and its referent must always be publicly purged, purified.." (The Century, p.52-53)

Alain chillaxing

In other words, the 'passion for the real', which Badiou names as the driving revolutionary force of the last century, despite its drives, can never ultimately tell the real thing from the fake thing. It's the same obsessive, divisive force at play in more quotidian cultural engagements when trying to figure out who's punk, who's underground, who's a hipster, who's a faker. The only remaining strategy then seems to be keep cutting, keep amputating, keep sloughing off: because, and this is where a life of grift overlaps directly with critical philosophy, freedom in this game can only manifest itself negatively, by getting rid of something. That's its ultimate limit.

In honor of the upheaval of unpacking one's library, I offer the reader two tracks that recently emerged from the digital dust of my mp3 library. The first, 'Mariama' I literally have no recollection of acquiring, neither where it came from or where it thinks it's going. I have a steady habit of scouring the intanets for aural stimulus and most likely I downloaded this and forgot about it. Considering, however, the sheer beauty of this African blues song, its deep, mournful singing, it is equally likely that, in need of a chamber where its lament could ring out, it came looking for a pair of ears.

The second is a track by a group called Operating Theatre that I know nothing about. Recently, after a long night of hanging out with Craig, I came home and rifled through the digital-download section of a popular lower Manhattan record store. The late-night inebriated glee of wandering through sonic archives was followed by an aftermath of not knowing what I'd bought or where I'd stored the files. The glories of advanced capitalism. In any case, "Ah Love, Ah Love" is a very weird and singular track, sounding something like if Kurt Weill had collaborated on the Blade Runner soundtrack. Dirge-y kind of religious singing over spare, electronic strings. It is certain to satisfy all your urges for the minimal-synth-prog opera trend that is blowing up right now.

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