Song of Anonymous
(a nomadic novel)
Tunnel at the end of the light
Pedro R. Rivadeneira
(a work in progress)
tunnel at the end of the light
“There is a little of everything, apparently, in nature,
and freaks are common.”
Samuel Beckett, Molloy.
It is late on a summer afternoon, early July, when i am, where i am, sitting in the Grote Markt Square in the Hague with Anders, an old friend and colleague from my student days at the Koninlijk Conservatorium: the sky, dark blue with scattered pink soon to become crimson, deep orange and isolated gray clouds sprinkling too; the sun late to set in the Northern European estival skies. It is here, in the square, full of the chatter of tens of dozens of people out for the evening, drinking, smoking and gossiping, the latter being a major form of entertainment and social control in these parts, not much else to do, the widespread boredom setting heavily like a wave on our heads and shoulders, on our backs, all tempered by massive amounts of beer, schnapps, hashish and loud techno music, while some take it upon themselves to police others, cutting them down to size, keeping each other in their place, making sure they don’t get too self-confident, the entire scene seemingly shaped by waves of gossip that come and go with the ebb and flow of the rising and falling intensity of voices, all of which suddenly strike me as shouts and calls on a boat in a stormy sea, spreading a nasty rumor or two around when needed, the nastiness knowing no limits, it’s as thick as pea soup, you could cut it with a knife as they say, i can see it out of the corner of my eye, like a shadow, a fog or staticky mist silently hovering, watching, listening, aimlessly adrift, floating above the unaware, unconscious crowd as they squirm in their seats with excitement, anticipating the opportunity to test their skills, to release their venom, connoisseurs of flattery, punishment, pain and humiliation always eager to dig their talons into someone’s tender, unsuspecting flesh. i can see it out of the corner of my eye, hanging low in the sky, just above the roof tops, like a headache, a migraine aura, pulsating, blurring my vision, my mind’s eye and ears, my ability to think and perceive clearly scrambled by the static, a black static, slowly shifting shape and place as it focuses on one part of the crowd more than another, resonating with their fears and cruelty, seemingly feeding on them and feeding back into the crowd such that a loop is generated between the crowd and it; the amorphous amoeba of black static. Here, awash in the incessant talk about music videos, clothes and newly acquired lovers, petty conquests both male and female, i sit quietly, nursing another Belgium beer, the high alcohol content of the previous two already setting on my brain with a gentle buzz, it is here, as i was saying, in the Grote Markt Square, on a late summer afternoon that i meet her, Elise, as i listen to friends of a friend talking about someone’s writing: taking it upon themselves to interpret it for me and each other, explaining it, explaining it away to each other, completely tearing it apart, degrading and debasing it, taking it away from her who wrote it and in their odious boredom, tearing it down, destroying it, taking turns reading bits and pieces of the text in mocking tones of voice, reducing it to smithereens, convincing themselves and each other it’s not worth their while, and it is this view, the only one worth listening to of course, and all along the victim laughs her head off spitting out a slew of insults the likes of which i've never heard before in this guttural Netherlandish tongue and which shoot past me in a frenzy as she tries to snatch back the pages from her maliciously snickering friends. Sandal, boot and tennis shoe clad feet stomp on brick inlaid ground accompanied by table slapping laughter and chairs screeching in a chorus of multiphonic clusters, a moment of putrefaction suddenly waxing within as last rays simultaneously touch a far flung cloud disappearing over the roof tops, straying away toward horizons unseen, and in another corner of the square a group of young parents, framed by the languorous late afternoon light as if by a spotlight, as if posing for a portrait a la Rembrandt, they're all sitting around with their little pets, their children, their babies, their human possessions, chattering and laughing, treating their helpless little babies like things, possessions, objects of pride, showing them off to each other like trophies, their prize possessions, flinging them into a self-destructive world about which they won't be allowed to do anything. Watching, listening to them makes my stomach turn - the idiots basking in the illusion of a fulfillment that never really gets actualized delusional suddenly opening our blind eyes in the midst of the black cosmic night that surrounds everything - i think to myself floating suspended, aimlessly, like a piece of flotsam gently rocked by mild waves, in an alcohol induced reverie -
Adrift in the sounds from the square, Anders and i continue drinking our beers, occasionally chuckling as we watch and listen to our friends Nadja, whom i once dated in my student days and who now teaches Comparative Literature at the University of Amsterdam, and Danica and her friends, drinking and smoking, snickering in spittle filled Haagse guttural accent smirking, when suddenly i catch a glimpse, a sideways glance, i mean peripherally, i catch a glimpse, two chairs away to my right, of two, flip flop clad dirty feet with chipped black enameled toe nails, my gaze slowly moves up thin long legs covered in tight black slacks past unusually long, spindly fingered hands, also with chipped black enameled nails, at the end of long arms onto a black ruffled blouse with pronounced cleavage, and finally, the profile of a silently smiling face topped by an unruly mass of raven black hair, all of this seeming to me to be a thinner, taller, vaguely female and sexier version of the Cure’s Robert Smith. Nadja, catching me gazing at the stranger, grins through the haze and noise, leans forward across the table and says - I want you to meet my sister - she then leans in the opposite direction and, putting her hands around her mouth, whispers something to the stranger who first looks at the ground as she listens, then looks up in my direction with large sea green, gray-blue eyes smiling, i smile back and wave briefly with my free hand and say hello under my breath - this is my sister Elise - Nadja says smiling playfully, Elise leans forward and says - Hola como estás? - Oh! Spanish what a pleasant surprise - i say smiling at her - I've heard a lot about you - she then says in English - all of it good i hope - i wink at her and then take another sip from my glass - but of course of course all of it good - she answers back playfully with a big grin on her face - your Spanish pronunciation is very good where did you learn to speak it - I ask Elise - I've travelled around a lot in Latin America as part of my studies - she says smiling at me - oh really? what are your studies? - i inquire - I have a doctorate in Latin American Studies - she answers - oh that's impressive! - i say shifting in my chair a little and then ask - do you teach anywhere? - yes - she answers - at the university in Utrecht - goodness! that's even more impressive ! that's where the old Institute for Sonology used to be! - i say genuinely intrigued - you should come to Utrecht for lunch some time - she says - we can practice our Spanish together - sure of course - I answer - I'd love to visit and practice with you - Spanish - she says, her face aglow with a mischievous smile - of course of course Spanish that's what I meant . . . I'm sure . . . - i mumble back beginning to giggle - anyway the role of the arts music's role in society is complex - i hear Anders say all of a sudden after a long pause, interrupting my flirtations with Elise - it can be subversive and it can be used to affirm the status quo this latter kind of music commodity music has a conditioning function it plays upon certain feelings certain emotions and kinds of thinking usually of an obsessive nature I mean so-called pop music serves this function it serves power by means of its utterly conventional musical forms - he says smirking - and through the incessant repetition of formulaic rhythmic melodic and harmonic patterns along with highly cliched voice centered lyrics it reinforces certain psycho-emotional limit cycles in people's minds keeping them stuck in habitual modes of thinking and feeling keeping them in a state of dependency keeping them addicted to an increasingly limited repertoire of fears and desires the latter of which never really get fulfilled keeping the listener in true consumerist fashion endlessly coming back for more - he says with increasing forcefulness and then takes another sip from his glass after which he continues with his invective - and I mean voice centered here in the sense it is meant in contemporary poetics - he articulates with precision in his basso profundo voice - this inadequate mistaken notion that a poem or in this case a song lyric is simply the outward manifestation of a spoken or singing self-presence all this evidently stemming from the belief that speech is primary and prior to writing originating in the individual as ego a subjectivity that is characterized as hard and fast rigid fixed and unchanging and whose insights are therefore true a consistent and controlling self where the poem the song lyric expresses some kind of insight some kind of wisdom about life a kind of confession of a lived personal experience that is supposed to be unique where the poet the artist or in this case these so-called pop stars are somehow special endowed with wisdom endowed with almost mystical abilities and their success their wealth their luxurious life styles are seen by society as proof of this as if the pop star were some kind of emissary who is in touch with the Devine so-called such a Romantic nineteenth century notion such utter bullshit! - he exclaims, a wide grimace contorting his face - but just how unique are those insights just how unique is all that so-called wisdom when all those so-called pop songs and the so-called stars who sing them are mass produced fabrications concocted by the entertainment industry songs whose messages whose oh so important insights most to not say all those self-centered narcissistic pop star twits regurgitate over and over again with each song that is touted as new? it's all a simulacrum theater a spectacle designed to give the consumer what he or she wants to hear and thus temporarily pacifying her or him until the next wave of prefabricated bullshit wisdom arrives - Anders spits out vehemently, clearly irritated - and they are often referred to as geniuses these pop stars or what's worse they refer to themselves as geniuses in the past a genius was someone with uncommon talent and inventiveness uncommon intelligence and abilities uncommon passion and energy an uncommon capacity for work today however a genius is one of these prefabricated stars who has risen to the top of the market put together by the entertainment industry with its teams of writers producers and marketers simply put today a genius is someone who has the capacity to sell hundreds of thousands if not millions of cds or sound files as the case may be - he says, the displeasure showing on his face with another grimace - at the same time you have all those postmodernist theorists and writers from the seventies and eighties who called into question the so-called genius position but who are themselves individuals of above average intelligence who wrote difficult and complex texts and whose writings back in the nineties were religiously regurgitated by ourselves and our grad student colleagues in academe and who disingenuously glossed over or outright tried to erase the fact that there are individuals with unique abilities in an attempt to breakdown the high vs. low distinction distinctions that make some people feel uncomfortable as if negating those distinctions was going to make class differences automatically go away the fact remains that we each have our own unique physical and mental characteristics though my height was an advantage to me in high school when I was in the basketball team i still wasn't much of a runner other shorter players were a lot faster than me i was never very good at track and field and forget about long distance running and though I seem to have a knack for music and languages and a certain kind of analytical thinking I was never very good at maths no matter how hard I worked at it while there were others in my class for whom maths were an effortless matter differences and distinctions are not necessarily bad things on the contrary they can be good things to my mind differences and diversity are not something to be suppressed - he says taking another swig from his glass - eventually all of those postmodern theories fell under suspicion given that common sense tells us not all works of art are of equal value to say that Karlheinz Stockhausen is one of the great composers of the twentieth century and that his works are revolutionary is not the same as saying that the music of some self-proclaimed genius pop star is great and revolutionary just what is so revolutionary about commodity music? on the contrary it is the music of conformity to the capitalist consumerist and class system - he emphasizes - and functions as a vehicle of advertisement and propaganda for that system as such it is counter revolutionary it is reactionary! - he says angrily looking around him catching Nadja and Danica making mocking faces at him to which he responds by giving them the finger and to which they respond by sticking their tongues out at him followed by giggles and more mocking faces to which Anders responds again with the finger - we fart in your general direction - Nadja says with a snooty expression on her face while affecting a French accent which makes Anders and I burst into laughter - well there you go! - Nadja exclaims - I haven't seen you two laugh in years and you - she says turning to me - i've never seen you so miserable! what is going on with you? is that what reading all that boring philosophy and critical theory does to you? - well it's kind of long to explain - i respond still shaking with laughter - well yes I've heard a little bit of what you were telling Anders but you can't be so serious all the time you need to get out more and enjoy yourself live a little and all that you know eat drink fuck and be merry - she says now putting on an upper class British accent and batting her eye lashes - yeah well hedonism can get rather boring pretty quickly too you know - i respond meekly - not if you're doing it with the right person mon cher - she counters with a big grin on her face, winking and throwing me a kiss - yeah you might be right about that - i admit feeling self-conscious of my gloomy mood and raising my nearly empty glass in her direction i say - prost! - this is echoed loudly by all in our circle who, raising their glasses, shout out the toast - well - i continue turning to Anders with a frown on my face - going back to what you were saying about voice centered song lyrics and poetry it may not be an either/or kind of situation it may be more complex than that i think - i say with a drawl - i mean the role of the subject in poetry or song lyrics or whatever i mean i think the relation between identity and agency is negotiable interactive fluid although less so if at all in what you call the prefabricated music and pop stars the entertainment industry as you say concocts or constructs with that i agree whole heartedly - i stammer, slightly slurring my words - but i mean i think we all bring our unique baggage to this composers writers poets some song writers . . . i mean we're all people with a psychology a history a biography as are the readers or the listeners as the case may be i mean whatever self there is may be the product of the relation between listener or reader and the writer or composer set off by the power of presence or contact as Jakobson would have it anyway - i stumble on - after a while most poetry i read now-a-days begins to sound like a Hallmark greeting card to me . . . we're not only dealing with the death of the author but it seems to me the reader kicked the bucket quite some time ago too just who is this reader really? your so-called average person on the street? one thing I found shocking over the years when I was teaching at the college was that many to not say most of my students didn't like reading at all and were not even remotely familiar with major writers like Shakespeare Cervantes Borges Whitman Joyce Dickinson or Stein writers of complex literature let alone philosophy and critical theory . . . and you can forget about them being aware of any writers from other cultures like Li Po Tagore or Chinua Achebe who are fairly well known around the world - well - Nadja suddenly interjects - at the same time taking into consideration how alienated we all are and how alienating our society is i have difficulty seeing how such a relationship is possible just what is meant by the relation between writer and reader under such terribly atomizing conditions in which the individual is apparently completely erased subsumed into absolute anonymity? it seems to me that the reader the theorists and critics are referring to isn't your so-called average person on the street but other writers other poets critics and theorists like themselves especially in academe you're talking about a very insular a very specialized and privileged group of people most of whom are white males - yeah i agree with that specially what you say about how alienating our society is that is the cause of most if not all my woes the crisis I'm in . . . I think . . . - i say tentatively - then again my ideas on the subject of literature have always been horribly confused and my knowledge of literary theory scant I've changed my mind several times over the years about these issues a lot of that stuff was written in the late sixties and early seventies long before i was born - i mumble awkwardly and then continue - on the one hand you have people like Barthes Foucault and Derrida who if i understand them correctly when referring to the death of the author are basically talking about modes of reading how to read a text without normalizing the author's intentions adopting it would seem a more open ended approach to interpreting a text one where an act of reading is in effect one possible construction of the text not getting stuck in one hermeneutic methodology as it were - i mutter catching my breath - at the same time i wonder if there is a limit to how many different readings one can have? - Nadja interjects again, cigarette in upturned hand while rocking her crossed leg back and forth gently. The way she holds her cigarette reminds me somewhat of photos i've seen of Hannah Arendt which makes me wonder if Nadja is doing one of her parodic impersonations she used to do in our student days. The fleeting smirk i suddenly see slip across her otherwise serious face leads me to believe she is, which makes me smile facetiously as she continues speaking - are texts infinitely open ended? are texts that flexible? and is the intention of an author really that easy to dismiss? isn't the way a text is structured and the writing strategies a writer chooses an expression of the writer's intent? an expression of her or his point of view? of her aesthetics? i mean aesthetic decisions are made while writing who's making those decisions? and who is affected by them while reading the text? and these questions apply to the texts of the theorists and critics who talk about the death of the author as well are their texts that open ended? are their intentions that ambiguous? are they that open to multiple interpretations? don't they actually have a message or messages they are trying to convey? specific ideas that they are in fact trying to get across to the reader? aren't they indeed despite claims to the contrary trying to communicate with the reader? if nothing else the idea that communication is impossible or at best that the information conveyed is full of noise and ambiguities? - Nadja asks with impatience - when referring to the contemporary novel of his time for Barthes language writing seemed to have been a kind of neutral medium in which the subject dissolves as it were the subject disappears in the act of writing in the act of producing language an act in which supposedly all identity is lost and the text is therefore far from being a simple and direct expression of the writer's interiority but hasn't this always been the case? I mean were nineteenth century writers just simply and directly expressing their feelings their points of view their subjectivities through their novels? I think it is rather simplistic and reductive to see their works as a mere outward manifestation of their emotions I think there is some of that to be sure I don't think that this is an either/or kind of situation as you have already pointed out - she says looking at me - but this idea that a novel or poem as the case may be is a conduit devoid of any kind of noise for the novelist's emotions for the writer's so-called voice seems simplistic at best when I read Jane Austin or George Elliott or Flaubert I don't just hear a single distinct central voice I hear voices many given that the self back then as it is regarded by many today was not a fixed thing but an ongoing process in which the I the me changes often from moment to moment I think that writers back then were very much aware of the unstable nature of the self - Nadja says taking a sip of schnapps from a shot glass - in one of her poems Emily Dickinson says:
And something is odd - within -
That person that I was -
And this one - do not feel the same -
Could it be madness - this?
it seems to me Emily was very much aware that what we think of as the self is not a fixed immutable thing but something marked by change not a thing at all - she says emphatically - the perception that I am a fixed thing a fixed entity in time is an effect of memory memory and how we picture ourselves in our minds this representation of ourselves we create in our mind's eye as it were produces the illusion that the me is a stable structure in time but then again - Nadja says putting on her mock high class British accent again - is memory something apart from the self? couldn't the self be a process that is aware of its being an ongoing process and that self-reflection where the process as it were looks back on itself be what we are actually saying when we talk about a self? which would take us right back to the Cartesian cogito wouldn't it? what I'm really trying to say is that in a sense the self is fixed in as much as it is an aspect of the process of change which itself seems to be permanent a kind of permanent impermanence if you will - goodness Nadja! all of this is making me dizzy! i feel like we're going around in circles here - i exclaim beginning to giggle again - I chase my tail therefore I am darling - Nadja says grinning at me - you Cartesian dog! - Danica exclaims laughing which makes the rest of us convulse with laughter again - that's Cartesian bitch to you! - Nadja snaps back mockingly at Danica, the laughter irrupts again, and then, turning to me Nadja says - they're just swirls darling a bit of turbulence that's all nothing to get upset about - she winks at me and then continues in her normal voice - and yet despite all the talk about the death of the author Barthes authorized everything he wrote by putting his signature on it his name his mark and all his books are copyrighted just like Foucault and Derrida did and even Cage despite his claims of removing the ego from the creative process if he was so egoless and free why did he put his mark on his works? why copyright them at all? there's an element of hypocrisy there don't you think? and of course these were all privileged white men why not do what U.G. Krishnamurti and Abby Hoffman did with their publications which were not copyrighted allowing their readers to use their works freely? but as you said I don't think it's an either/or situation either there is an ambiguity in all this which perhaps can be best described as a kind of irregular or chaotic oscillation between both between a more centered voice and a dispersal a refraction through language of that voice into many voices as Rimbaud once said Je est un autre - Nadja states with a serious expression on her face - not to mention that when we read we not only hear the writer's voice or voices and the voices of the characters in a novel but we also hear our own voices - yeah I see what you mean I think I agree with that I've thought of all that before too - i stutter clumsily, saliva dribbling down my chin while Anders watches me with a smirk on his face, seemingly amused - but of course you have! - Nadja exclaims playfully - but I thought about it first and am therefore the sole and rightful owner of those thoughts! - she says pointing a finger at me admonishingly which makes Anders and i begin laughing again - on the other hand - Nadja continues - you have someone like Jameson who seems to have interpreted the death of the author or rather the subject in quite literal terms where this death is seen as symptomatic of the social changes brought on by neo liberalism and globalization and where the individual as an autonomous entity has been pretty much erased terminated - i tend to agree with this latter assessment - i say with some anxiety - mainly what you said about the effects of neo-liberalism on society and how the individual has been erased I believe I've experienced this collapse into anonymity in my own flesh that was my whole point to begin with that's why i've been in such a gloomy state - i mutter awkwardly again - at the same time I'm not entirely willing to dismiss Barthes and the others' take on the death of the author . . . but all along throughout the years what really seems to have died to me is the reader - i find myself repeating - not the specialized reader in academe which you've already mentioned but the reader as the so-called common man your so-called average person in the streets as you said - i mutter, again catching my breath and slurring my words - did you mean Roman Jakobson the Russian linguist? the formalist theorist? - Anders asks with marked interest - yeah if memory serves it's been ages since i read that stuff i'm feeling a tad blurry right about now - Anders chuckles and says - ja you could never handle your drink very well could you? - naw never been much of a drinker really though i enjoy getting a bit tipsy once in a while - i mutter back giggling softly - well you should smoke some hash it'll help you with that problem - he says chuckling again - oh yeah! sure that's just what i need! - i say laughing - if i smoke any of that shit i'll collapse on the ground and fall asleep in a pool of my own vomit sounds wonderful! - well maybe that wouldn't be such a bad thing! - Anders counters chuckling - it would for me! - i chortle back and we both begin shaking with laughter, after a while Anders says - anyway i've always found it very curious how so many of my so-called avant-garde friends my experimental writer friends my poet friends many of whom regard themselves as Marxists as revolutionaries are so prone to listening to commodity music to so-called pop music and have the tendency of shunning experimental music they're aware of its existence they're aware of avant-garde music and know some of the names but they really don't listen to it or bother to study it its history in any depth - yeah, I know - i respond blearily - I've encountered that sort of thing too it may be that many don't really know how to listen to music it's ok to write difficult complex poetry of an experimental nature that is challenging to read and requires considerable effort and reflection and knowledge of poetics and critical theory but it's not ok to write difficult complex and challenging experimental music that requires close listening and reflection in typical bourgeois fashion they make music into a kind of stimulant their morning cup of coffee they want music to be a kind of background noise or sound track to their lives whose function it is to be the consoler the way your typical male chauvinist thinks a woman's place is barefoot in the kitchen cooking surrounded by children barely seen but not heard a mere servant in the case of music heard but not really listened to they put music in a position of servitude a slave to the image like you have in film where the music is used to support the visual narrative and the actions or whose function is often no more than ornamental I've experienced this sort of thing also in collaborations I've had with a couple of visual artists music is always treated as a kind of supplement to the image - i say with increasing intensity - music is always in a servile position to the image it's never the other way round they privilege the image over music they privilege sight over sound they privilege seeing over listening where looking the gaze watching and therefore surveillance all of this takes precedence over the other senses keeping a distance from the world from reality and this distancing this not getting involved intimately is extended through the various technologies cameras video monitors television what seems to me a completely paranoid position - i utter with increasing agitation - whereas listening involves a kind of tactility listening is a kind of touching it involves physically feeling sound musicking is first and foremost an embodied a carnal activity the ear drum is an extension of our skin if we are really listening that is if we are really paying attention with full body and mind . . . listening touching smelling and tasting are incarnate bodily experiences and therefore constitute a more intimate connection with the world the emphasis on the visual and the privileging of sight over the other senses in our culture is akin to the privileging of the abstract of the conceptual over concrete materiality the concrete materiality of the body and the world reality - i mutter feeling wobbly, slurring my words again. i see Nadja, Elise and Danica staring at me wide eyed with big smiles on their faces and then looking at each other, they break out into facetious giggles. Shaking my head i say - can't you three take anything seriously? - of course not darling no one can be as serious and profound as you two - Nadja counters putting on her mock British accent again - you are the queens of seriousness and deep thinking - she says - ja the dark queens of the deep - shouts Danica, which makes both Anders and I shake with laughter again - fuck you - i say with a dismissive gesture - you should be so lucky - retorts Elise glaring at me and batting her eye lashes. After taking another sip of beer, i continue - for several years I've thought of making a work in which this hierarchy this authoritarian structure in which the visual is privileged over sound over listening is overturned inverted in which the visual elements are an outgrowth are in fact generated by the sounds themselves where the data from the parameters of sound you know frequency amplitude duration texture timbre and all that control the parameters of the video images such as light color tint the vertical and the horizontal the graininess of the images the pixel information generating them the juxtaposing and layering of images and so on molding and shaping them according to the music's structures and the visual data can then be fed back into the sound parameters creating a chaotic feedback loop producing a work in which sound and the visual material are coextensive and affect each other in unpredictable ways - so what happened with that it sounds interesting - Anders asks - well - i respond catching my breath - that was years ago i accumulated hours and hours of video all kinds of stuff from the natural environment as well as urban and industrial areas I also gathered a lot of sound recordings from those places I began writing an algorithm for computer generated sound synthesis and computer processing of sounds as well as processing of video images where the video was controlled by the data from the parameters of sound as i already described but one day I just stopped one day I just had to stop one day I just couldn't go on anymore something happened something caved in I felt a collapse - i say gasping for air - i just couldn't go on the more I worked on it the more video footage I gathered the more sounds I produced and recorded the more isolated I felt the more alienated I became from people including family and friends the more I felt I couldn't relate to them anymore in fact they all began to get on my nerves in a big way the acts of filming and the deep close listening required in recording sounds changed me it changed my perception somehow it changed how I experience the world as if I had crossed through a membrane between worlds . . . anyway I've found that this hierarchical structure the subservience of music to the image is taken for granted by visual artists I've never heard any of them question that authoritarian order that hierarchy which is telling - i say again feeling agitated - why do you think that is? - Anders asks - it's a glaring contradiction a double thingy you know - i say mumbling sluggishly - ooo la laaa! - i hear Nadja exclaim - we want to know about your double thingy! - ja - Elise chimes in leaning over and looking at me with a big smile on her face - tell us about your double thingy - i hear Danica and her friends laughing in the background and then stammer - well what i meant to sssay . . . wasss . . . a double . . . sssstandard - Nadja rolls her eyes and waving her hand dismissively exclaims with emphasis - boooriiinnng everyone has one of those! - more than one - adds Elise - ja the entire world is filled with those - i hear Danica say laughing - oh shut up - i snap back feigning annoyance smiling at them and then turning to Anders i continue - i don't know maybe something like a schizoid dissociative maneuver many of my friends and acquaintances writers poets people in the visual arts comparative literature theorists many of whom claim to be Marxists progressives and all that turn out to be counter revolutionary reactionary shits when it comes to their musical aesthetics and they seem to be completely unaware of their contradictions - i spit out with a demeaning tone of voice - go figure there seems to be a split there some kind of division a gap a . . . a . . . gaping crack or wound or something . . . over the years it's become apparent to me that in many cases people's musical aesthetics is revelatory I mean it reveals their true politics where they really stand ideologically and more often than not it has nothing to do with who they claim to be politically when they find themselves in social situations say among friends and colleagues - i mutter again sluggishly. The waitress has returned to our bunch of tables and stands next to Nadja talking with her. i raise my almost empty glass which she sees and acknowledges with a nod and a smile and after taking refill requests from nearly everybody in our group, she quickly pivots around and briskly walks away toward the bar - it seems to me - i start again leaning over in Anders' direction - that all of what music appeared to promise as asserted several decades ago by Attali in that book of his we all read so avidly you know the subversive and transformative power of music and all that has not really come to fruition I think that vision arose from what happened in the sixties where it appeared a change of consciousness was taking place and that society was undergoing a widespread transformation and that transformation seemed to be encoded in the popular music of that time you know the Beatles the Stones Dylan Hendrix but all of those hopes were dashed in the seventies when it became apparent that those changes were always already taking place on the stage set owned and manipulated by capital and all of that music was assimilated and commodified and turned into a mere simulacrum of rebellion i mean a kind of mystification of the sixties of what happened in the sixties a belief based on that mystification the dream of liberation which never really got actualized - i pause briefly gasping for air and then continue - and at the same time all of this was accompanied by the backlash against the various emancipatory political movements that arose in the sixties a backlash we've seen unfold over the decades up to our present time why even back then in the sixties just what did they mean by society? whose society? that transformation may have taken place somewhat in some Western European countries and the U.S. but at the same time terrible things were happening abroad the war in Vietnam the various U.S. backed right wing dictatorships in South America Asia Africa the Middle East all backed by Western powers none of those changes that were supposedly happening in some Western countries changed any of that nor did they stem the rise of totalitarian capitalism the rise of globalization in fact I would argue that much of that music has become an accomplice to the rise of globalization and neo-liberalism and the ensuing standardization of music has contributed to the erasure of local expressions of music in cultures around the world whose traditional musical practices have been displaced or outright replaced by western pop music or music modelled after western pop music - of course - Anders picks up again - it has gotten to the point where none of this may really matter anymore the conquest has been so thorough and so brutally leveling that fighting back criticizing arguing against the system any act of rebellion falls flat on its face gets spectacularized rebellion is commodified and sold back to the rebels as in music videos it comes across as parody you're allowed to say anything you want because it doesn't matter it doesn't change anything even the intelligentsia seems to have capitulated and retreated into their ivory towers even as they put out an occasional publication which is interesting only to their peers for the culture at large has little or no interest at all in any of that stuff and looks upon them or I should say us academics with increasing suspicion those towers I'm afraid may soon come crashing down to the ground the way things are going - he says with a sardonic smirk on his face - the bar has been lowered so much on all levels in our society our culture morally politically intellectually aesthetically and so on few if any at all care to know anything about all these issues you're talking about let alone what you mentioned earlier the role the function of art in our world today or even if art does have a function or for that matter if it has a legitimate reason to exist in this our consumer driven society our consumer driven lives where art has been replaced by the products of the entertainment industry we are living in a time where values have completely disintegrated where commodities products converse in place of people in an increasingly impoverished language all of which seems to me to be evidence of the end of aesthetic codes as Attali put it in that book of his we used to read back in our student days - Anders says with a sneer - still I'm not ready to dismiss academe and throw in the garbage all their works even if as you've said those works end up being mere academic exercises that don't have any readily apparent practical value and don't connect with the rest of society there still may be something to learn from them even if the general populace has nothing but disdain for them the masses have been wrong before in the past and have done terriblethings both on the right and the left and who says that the so-called average man in the streets is somehow endowed with some kind of special wisdom isn't that romanticizing mystifying him or her as the case may be? and who's to say that we academics are all that different from the so-called common man or woman? don't we all have the same basic needs? and as far as class is concerned none of us here come from privilege we were all born into working class families - Anders asserts now sitting up straight in his chair - no we can't just give up those of us who are involved in the arts we can't just throw our arms down and stop we have to continue with our work because though it may not be readily apparent that work may still have something of value to offer society and that includes the so-called common person on the street even if he or she can't see any benefit to it and because it gives those of us who make those works pleasure it keeps us interested in life because we learn things about ourselves and the world if nothing else we must continue our work for the sake of our psychic our emotional survival our wellbeing - he says with a brief, dry smile - and so here we are in the midst of Breughelland - he chuckles surveying the scene around us - Breughelland? - i ask suddenly intrigued - are you referring to Ligeti's opera Le Grand Macabre?- yes - Anders answers - that wonderful Ubuesque opera by Ligeti wouldn't you say it captures our times our predicament very well? - he asks, a wry smile breaking on his face - more like the times have captured and imprisoned us - i murmur glumly as i see a thick and heavy darkness descending on the Grote Markt square seeming to dim the lights, giving them a yellowish tint, blunting their rays, dampening all the sounds coming from the crowd which now looks distant to me; all the chattering, the merry making noise can't keep the unfathomable darkness at bay. A stifling fear, an overwhelming sadness and grief takes hold of me as i realize with a shudder, that it's only a matter of time before i and everyone else, will soon be engulfed by that frigid blackness, lost to ourselves and each other forever, never to be seen again. Anders looks at me with a frown on his face while leaning back in his chair and crossing his legs - anyway - he says - it's no secret that art has been alienated from society at large for a long time not only for the reasons we've already discussed but ever since it became autonomous ever since it gained independence from the church from religion from the so-called nobility - he grimaces again - in fact this alienation has become even more pronounced ever since more recently due to the growth of technological reason and modern science it has lost its truth-function and consequently has been relegated to a separate and autonomous corner of the aesthetic - he continues while reaching for one of the beers the waitress has just delivered to our table - what's more some would argue this condition of alienation this rift between art and truth is one of the more salient features of the fragmentation of our modern world an alienation and fragmentation that also affects us artists as well its inevitable if the role of art has come into question in this world so too has the role of the artist since you can't have one without the other this is obvious in the reaction you get from many people today when you say you're an artists or a composer a writer or whatever they think you're being pretentious even we have difficulty saying it right? we feel self-conscious I'm an artist I'm a poet I'm a composer a lot of people think all of that is a thing of the past like Mozart or Beethoven not entertainers though like your pop stars it's ok to call them artists that's ok - he says annoyed taking another hit from his nearly spent cigarette - still I'm not entirely convinced that the split between art and truth is as wide and definitive as some theorists say it is if i remember correctly your favorite philosopher used to talk about the truth content of the art work and that art embodies a kind of knowledge but it is a non-discursive knowledge in a manner similar to the way dreams are implying perhaps that there is more than one way of getting at the truth or that truth is not a fixed thing but an ongoing process of discovery an idea i find very exciting don't you? - i look at Anders with a frown on my face and ask - what favorite philosopher? you mean Adorno? - yes - he says leaning back in his chair - isn't he your favorite philosopher? - i take another sip from my glass and say - not sure i have a favorite philosopher anymore they all seem dead to me now the entire philosophical project seems utterly pointless to me now it all seems to have fallen flat on its face especially in light of everything you just said about consumerism and the total commodification of life of course he saw it coming even back then in his day Adorno saw it coming the complete domination of life by monopoly capitalism as he called it - ja - Nadja cuts in - and what I find really annoying is the putting on pedestals the heroizing of all those big philosophers and critical theorists the fawning over them the wanting to bask in their auras as if they were deities I remember while a grad student in New York every year some of them would come to our university to present a paper or give lectures . . . I mean I like their work it often is insightful interesting to read and challenging and it makes me think in different ways it's even beautiful but I could never stand many of my colleagues' especially some of my female friends who called themselves feminists and my male friends who thought of themselves as revolutionaries - she says emphatically, glaring at me and Anders - fawning over these famous powerful academic men these big theorists and philosophers unquestioningly latching on to and ventriloquizing every word they said as if their words their thinking were law or the word of God! all those wise men with their oh so deep thoughts and insights - she scoffs - and I must say despite all the talk about the need for the critique of power those big philosophers didn't do much to discourage the fawning especially when it came from women to say nothing of the sexual harassment that goes on and the professors both male and female who engage in that sort of thing and have affairs with their students and of course - she continues getting angrier - they reserved the right to judge and criticize but nobody could judge and criticize them especially if you were a student some of them got incredibly defensive if you doubted questioned or criticized anything they said if you weren't readily willing to accept everything they said as the truth with capital t you were liable to be subjected to some kind of punishment which could jeopardize your academic career and some of them showed their true reactionary colors in the way they reacted to the 9/11 catastrophe where they ignored or outright dismissed the historical context in which that tragedy occurred namely the history of western imperialism and interventionism in the middle east which has been the cause of so much resentment so much hatred a certain literary critic comes to mind in that regard whose work I admired she showed herself to be a total reactionary shit an apologist for imperialism and of course some of her poet friends some of whom claim to be Marxists and whose works she discusses in her books never took her to task about the things she said had any of their students uttered those same words in their classes they would have been punished ridiculed berated humiliated as I've seen happen on several occasions while I was a graduate student there complete hypocritical shits the lot of them - Nadja says grimacing with disgust - it wasn't only irritating it was disappointing depressing to see all those people who were always prattling on about the need for the critique of power and always preaching emancipatory politics reproducing the same old hierarchical authoritarian structures which people have been reproducing for thousands of years a glaring contradiction which most in that environment refused to look at it was bullshit! and I'm afraid that sort of thing is still going on I see that tendency in some of my students even today - Nadja says visibly annoyed taking another drag from her cigarette - and speaking in more general terms speaking of tendencies in society at large despite the feminist critique of the patriarchy we still continue to engage in competition the patriarchy's game par excellence - she says scoffing again - it's all one big contest it's perpetual war playing the game on the patriarchy's terms where you have women wanting to be part of the military and participate in wars and fight for corporate interests and imperialism or wanting to be part of the capitalist corporate world be part of the capitalist system which is a system that has roots in slavery and colonialism and which from its inception oppressed everybody women children and men animals and plants the very earth itself! - Nadja exclaims annoyed - and this is celebrated as a big achievement for women! all of this is presented as desirable as something women should aspire to being part of and at the service of the patriarchal power structure! being part of the capitalist hierarchy! this is seen as a big achievement for women! it's infuriating! such utter bullshit! I just can't stand it! - Nadja says angrily raising her voice further - I mean what difference does it make what the color or gender of a person is if that person is going to serve the interests of power if that person is going to serve the interests of the white patriarchal socio-economic order if she or he is serving the interests of capitalism or any other such totalitarian oppressive system for that matter - she exclaims angrily again - yeah - i mutter with trepidation - i could never understand why anyone male or female would want to be part of the military or the corporate world why anybody would have those kinds of aspirations I know the usual rationalizations that it's patriotism the desire to serve one's country but of course there are many different ways of serving one's country ways that don't involve violence and destroying people and countries abroad there are by far more positive constructive ways of serving one's country I think some people use the patriotism argument as a cover for their desire to kill people who don't look like them it's racially motivated . . . they enjoy killing and being part of the military legitimizes their homicidal impulses I honestly think some people are attracted to the violence and the danger and exercising power over others through violence . . . of course the military and corporations have a lot in common they're both hierarchical authoritarian structures where orders are given from top to bottom a lot of people like that sort of thing they feel secure in those kinds of structures a lot of people really don't want to be free they want to be told what to do what to think . . . there's something kind of sadomasochistic about the whole thing . . . - yes yes everybody knows about all that - Nadja says impatiently interrupting me looking around with an angry expression on her face, nervously swinging her crossed leg - going back to academe I mean I find I'm barely able to control myself my irritation when some of today's theorists who were part of the circles of those big philosophers and critics and basked in their auras come to Amsterdam to lecture and later on during dinner take it upon themselves to tell me their cute little stories about Derrida what food he liked the little tunes he would hum or whistle the jokes he liked to tell how he played with his dog or his little cat or whatever oh! oh! Jacques! oh! Jacques! oh! oh! oh! oh! oh! ah! ah! ah! ah! ah! uuuuuuuuuuuuuu! ah! ah! ah! ah! AH! - Nadja chants loudly with a mock orgasmic staccato making everyone burst into laughter - or about Jameson's backyard barbeques and baseball stories and de Man mijn God! de Man a fucking Nazi! I had relatives during the war who were in the resistance who were tortured by the Nazis and taken away to labor camps from which they never returned - Nadja exclaims angrily - how could someone like de Man . . . and Heidegger! mijn God! an avowed Nazi! a member of the party! and he never apologized for his Nazism either of course what could he say? no apology would ever be good enough after all the barbarism that took place during the war . . . how can they be given such respect in the academic and literary worlds! even if their ideas are interesting! even if their insights were spot on! I could never accept this! I find it infuriating that they get so much attention and respect in the academic and literary worlds I never include their works in my classes as far as I'm concerned they should be banished to oblivion! - she exclaims angrily again - every time the intellectual progeny of those big philosophers and theorists I mentioned earlier come to Amsterdam or I encounter them in a conference somewhere they just have to tell me their same little insipid stories and I ever so politely tell them yes you told me about that last time I saw you to which they respond feigning surprise oh? really? I don't remember that oooooh! sorry! - Nadja says again mockingly, pursing her lips - yeah it's too bad when things like that happen disappointing - i say glumly - though I've always been partial to the Frankfurt School I really enjoyed reading Derrida Foucault Deleuze Baudrillard and others I think their work is important especially the critique of power and violence and the deconstruction of the entire tradition of thought on which power and violence are often based or I used to think it was important anyway it's been years since I've read any of that stuff I'm well acquainted with the sexual harassment bit too and the idolatry it tends to banalize the entire project of philosophy and critical theory in academia turning it all into somewhat of a circus but the fact remains that academia is a power structure itself and it's one that doesn't get examined closely enough and openly so the hierarchical nature of it and those who hold positions of power in that hierarchy don't allow for such an examination for obvious reasons which tells me that some of the individuals who talk about the critique of power and so on do not examine themselves critically enough or even at all and put all the responsibility entirely on the political economic and social institutions which are run by people who themselves don't examine themselves don't examine their actions and motivations closely enough I think it's rather naive to think that by just acquiring a position of power in a hierarchical system of some kind whether political economic educational social etc. - i stop briefly to catch my breath - that one is going to be able to use that power to do good more so if the individual in question has not studied himself thoroughly and doesn't have a deep understanding of her mind and how it works and what motivates his actions if he is at the mercy of his impulses and fears if one's actions are motivated by egocentricity . . . but even if one does study oneself and is aware of one's motivations more often than not one is surrounded by people in those hierarchical structures who aren't self-aware and whose motivations are based on selfishness and fear and whose actions are therefore defensive and short sighted a lot of energy gets put into maintaining one's position in the hierarchy which is highly inefficient and counterproductive - but there are some examples of positive changes that have been brought about by political action - Nadja interrupts - like the Civil Rights Movement in the sixties the Voting Rights Act desegregation the war on poverty the women's movement don't you think? - well yes you're right - i say feeling my energy levels beginning to wane - but don't forget that all of that was going on while the war in Vietnam raged and in which terrible things were done to that country by our government they basically pulverized that country what our government did to Vietnam was a crime against humanity plus our government continued with its long standing policy of interventionism in Latin America and elsewhere in which horrible dictatorships which did terrible things to their people were propped up and the war on nature has continued unabated since that time and before then our government has allowed corporations the fossil fuel industry the chemical industry to continue polluting and poisoning the environment which has led to the crisis we are currently in not much has been done over the years in the way of prevention because the corporations hold so much power in our political system not to mention that in recent years a lot of those gains you talk about which took place in the sixties and seventies have been greatly eroded - a heavy, palpable silence has fallen on our group of tables and seems to filter out the noise in the square around us. In an attempt to break the silence, i raise my voice and say - add to that the rise of right-wing extremism and nationalism which is very frightening in the U.S. there is a large sector of the white population that agrees with white nationalism white supremacy and they are armed to the teeth it's a very scary situation - i stutter awkwardly - over the past two decades political conditions have deteriorated in a way which can only be described as alarming frightening in a few years the gains of decades made in the areas of voting rights civil rights women's rights environmentalism is being rolled back and hypocrisy greed and dim-wittedness are suddenly at the helm just as we saw in the previous century here in Europe with the rise of fascism and totalitarianism all of this is accompanied by a hostility to the intellect and everything intellectual a philistinism that is characteristically hostile to the arts the sciences culture - i utter feeling increasingly nervous and self-conscious - and the masses the so-called popular masses have been encouraged in this mind murder this mind hunting by the autocratic rulers we have seen rise to power in the last few years everything has once more overnight become dictatorial as in times of old as in the nine-teen-thirties and I for a long time indeed for years while teaching at the college experienced firsthand in my own person in my own flesh how they are after the heads of those who think this hostility includes the students members of the faculty and administrators as well this smug philistinism is prepared to sweep out of its way anything it does not like and that means mainly anyone who thinks who is artistically and spiritually inclined anyone who is not materialistically inclined that is anyone who is not capitalistically inclined this philistinism having the upper hand is suddenly again being used by governments everywhere the masses the so-called popular masses emboldened by their autocratic leaders are on the move clutching at their possessions their bellies their guns and their identities their ethnic their national their so-called religious identities they're on the march against anyone who thinks anyone who questions and dares to disagree with them it is a truly frightening situation anyone who thinks and questions anyone who is critical is to be mistrusted and even persecuted as we saw happen during the rise of fascism and totalitarianism in the early part of the twentieth century something similar is happening now - i say with exasperation and anxiety trying to catch my breath. i look at my friends who are glumly staring at me with deep frowns on their faces which makes me feel more nervous and panicky, prompting me to start speaking again in a louder tone of voice and at a faster pace - it seems to me that the entire project of philosophy and critical theory has failed miserably in dealing with the crisis we're in and have been in for a long time for centuries even thousands of years our alienation from nature our ongoing war with nature which has been raging for thousands of years the fragmentation of the human psyche the division along ideological lines the threat of all-out war between the superpowers . . . I was brought up to believe that by means of reason we could understand ourselves and the world we live in and that we could solve the various problems we are facing . . . and that by means of reason a fundamental change of consciousness could be achieved . . . but philosophy thought reason have failed miserably in bringing about the change of consciousness they once promised this is a glaring fact especially in light of or I should say in the long shadow of the catastrophe that now looms over us and which it seems will reach its critical point in the not too distant future - i gasp for air again and continue - all that knowledge all that very nuanced and virtuosic thinking we have seen from philosophers and critical thinkers and others has not been able to avert the widespread nihilism we have seen rising everywhere over the past several decades it turned out to be a form of entertainment distraction escapism intellectual escapism to be sure but escapism nonetheless I regret not having used that time and energy for activism especially environmental activism something I should have done long ago and may now be too late we all should have been a lot more involved but we were all swamped in our academic careers . . . - oh come on now man! - Anders exclaims straightening out his long, boney, lanky frame in his chair while reaching for his tobacco pouch and rolling paper - you can't just throw everything in the garbage like that - why not? - i respond - well wouldn't that be nihilistic too? - Anders says visibly irritated - not necessarily - Nadja asserts - it could be putting aside what no longer works acknowledging its limitations seeing it is ineffective in dealing with the current situation maybe J. Krishnamurti was right after all when he said thought cannot solve the problems thought itself has created it just complicates things further especially when thought is based on egocentricity he said a different kind of intelligence is needed - Anders and I sit quietly looking at her and listening, occasionally taking a drink from our glasses - he stressed the importance of understanding ourselves not just intellectually and according to what others say not what some authority figure says we are for example in psychoanalysis but to find out for ourselves and in this regard he stressed the importance of meditation not as some kind of method taught by some guru but by just sitting quietly by oneself in solitude and choicelessly without judgement or any kind of condemnation observe oneself I like his idea of choiceless observation choiceless awareness - really? - i hear Anders say with marked skepticism - just try and get billions of people rabidly addicted to consumerism all of whom want to live with the same living standards we have in the west to stop and do this choiceless awareness you're talking about most people are not willing to do this kind of work on themselves here or anywhere else given that it's often unpleasant even painful - or - i add - try and get the millions of rabid consumers here in the west who are completely conditioned by capitalist ideology to read Nietzsche Heidegger and Derrida and who tried to deconstruct the entire Greek based logocentric western metaphysical tradition and make people aware of the underlying assumptions on which their views their beliefs their perceptions of reality are based and which they take for granted try and get them to read and reflect upon Karl Marx's and other Marxist writers' critique of capitalism try and get those millions many of whom are overworked and underpaid to read those very complex and nuanced texts which take a lot of time and energy to wade through and reflect upon most people are too exhausted and don't give a shit to care and what's more they're very suspicious of academics philosophers intellectuals and as of late as you've mentioned already this suspicion of intellectuals has been getting worse . . . - of course Krishnamurti was Indian - Nadja suddenly interrupts - he was not part of the tradition of western thought and as I've seen often during my academic career despite the various criticisms of ethnocentricity there is a marked tendency among western thinkers to not take thinkers from other cultures seriously there is a kind of prejudice and condescension what strikes me as a hangover from the western Eurocentric colonialist mindset which saw other cultures and non-white races as inferior but this prejudice is hidden it's been swept under the rug as they say and I don't recall during my entire academic career ever having heard anyone address this issue - yeah well - i speak up again - I read somewhere that toward the end of his life Krishnamurti expressed misgivings about his life's work he apparently felt no one had really got what he was talking about and he said he feared for humanity's future he said he saw terrible things happening he felt that he had failed to bring about the psychological revolution the revolution of consciousness he spent most of his life talking about I'm afraid I agree with that he died about thirty five years ago and it seems a lot of what he feared is now coming to pass the destruction of the natural environment the growing climate catastrophe pandemics the rise of authoritarianism the big powers of the world vying for position taking us ever closer to war - i realize that all along, i've been sliding down in my chair and slouching, as if my body was slowly melting or under a heavy weight pressing down on it from above. With considerable effort, i push myself up using the chair's arm rests and sitting up straight i continue - my parents used to tell me that back in the sixties scientists were warning about the dangers of pollution and over population this was in the mid-sixties Rachel Carson had just published her book "Silent Spring" a few years earlier in which she documented the detrimental effects of DDT on the environment in particular the bird population eventually in the early nineteen seventies DDT was banned in the U.S. and some other countries around the world but for decades its use in agriculture around the world had been widespread and scientists found traces of it in the fatty tissues of animals in the arctic and other remote places evidently the stuff had been spread throughout the world by air and water currents since that time all kinds of other pesticides and herbicides have been used all over the world further adding to the levels of toxicity in the environment not to mention the dumping of toxic waste from factories into our waterways soil and air like the factories along the Saint Lawrence causeway who for decades have been throwing PCBs into the river which has led to birth defects and deformities in the Beluga whale population who live near the river's mouth - i pick up a newly filled glass of beer from the table in front of me, take a swig and then continue - my parents also told me that they heard about the greenhouse effect for the first time in the mid-seventies how scientists back then were warning about increasing amounts of co2 in the atmosphere and how we needed to transition away from fossil fuels and find other cleaner sources of energy that was forty five years ago or more I wasn't even born at that time and since then little or nothing was done by the governments of the world to prevent the situation we now find ourselves in and as you all know for decades the fossil fuel industry has engaged in a campaign of denialism and misinformation with the purpose of creating doubt and discrediting the scientists and they still have enormous influence over our politicians and our political system - i hear cackling laughter and jeers coming from the crowd in the square. i turn my eyes in their direction and see the crowd has changed from real, living people to a mass of skeletons and rotting corpses. Throngs of them, marching into the square from the side streets, are stumbling and falling over each other forming heaps of cadavers that slide off one another onto the ground. Others are sitting around at the tables talking, drinking and smoking, farting or vomiting profusely. Still others are up and about leaping, hopping and twisting, contorting themselves in a grotesque dance to the eerie sounds of distant drums and high-pitched pipes, all of which reminds me of "The Triumph of Death" by Breughel. Some in the crowd have noticed me looking at them and wave at me playfully. Alarmed, i quickly turn my gaze away from the square and look at my friends who are staring at me with big frowns on their faces - is something wrong? - Anders asks looking concerned - I . . . I just saw your Breughelland crowd turn into a horde of skeletons and rotting corpses - i mutter with difficulty, feeling agitated - oh come on now man you're drunk you're just stressed out you just need a break that's all - Anders says looking worried - just forget about all this for a few months or however long you need it'll come back you'll see go to Spain lie on a beach in the sun get laid you need to enjoy yourself more you'll feel a lot better in a few months' time you'll see you'll come back to your music your writing with a fresh mind fresh eyes and ears - i shrug and say - i don't know Anders these feelings this state i've been in has been going on for several years now it may very well be we are in the time of the death of art Nietzsche or Hegel predicted it has lost its place its function we do it for purely selfish reasons - we always have - Anders says - artists have always done it for themselves first and foremost it's a need we do it because we must - that may be the case - i interrupt - but the context has changed drastically and whether we are artists or not regardless of what profession one may have we are still responsible for our actions and inactions we are responsible to each other and our world to continue working this way just for oneself is analogous to hiding one's head in the sand not wanting to see things as they are it's escapism art as leisure activity as I believe Hegel put it a different kind of action is needed I'm afraid the arts too have failed miserably at bringing about the revolution of consciousness we were brought up to believe in a revolution which is greatly needed if we are to deal with any degree of success with the immense problems that are now staring us in the face it may be that the expectations we had from art were very unrealistic to begin with we were deceived by our own love and fascination for it and the things people told us about it I'm afraid that fascination distracted us from doing what needed to be done all along a different kind of action was needed and we failed to heed its call we just didn't give a shit we were too wrapped up in ourselves as usual if I sound pessimistic it's because this situation has been going on for decades without much significant change those who have the power do whatever they want and the rest of us just put up with it for fear of retaliation of some kind we consoled ourselves by hoping that someone the scientists our elected officials would do something about all these problems we are facing of course scientists have been trying to do something about it for years they have been sounding the alarm for a very long time but by and large governments around the world haven't had the will to do anything about it - oh come on now man! - Anders exclaims - you're being far too negative you need to have more hope - really? - i answer back - I'm the negative one? and all along I thought the negative ones were those who are causing so much destruction in our world you know the big corporations who continue to poison our world to poison us who create wars for profit and exploit us with impunity the big imperialist autocratic governments of the world who want all the power for themselves and are willing to go to war for it and to think that all along I thought they were the negative ones silly me what was I thinking! - i say smiling sarcastically at Anders - and as far as hope is concerned it's beside the point we've wasted our time hoping it's past the time for hope long past a different kind of action is needed has always been needed from the very start - ja hope is part of the problem - Elise suddenly cuts in - we've been hoping for decades and decades and very little has changed in any substantial manner we are still stuck in the same rut heading for disaster hope is just another form of postponement it's escapist I agree with you when you say that a different kind of action is needed - and what kind of action do you think that would be? - i ask her with a friendly smile - to be sure it would involve a massive rebellion where we show up with torches and pitch forks at the residences of the powerful and hold them accountable - Elise says grinning facetiously - and how do you propose to mobilize the masses to do that? - i say - I don't know I think it would happen spontaneously when the pressure gets too unbearable of course that may lead to total chaos it seems a lot of people aren't really clear about who the enemy really is - she says waving her hand dismissively - yeah that's a good point well by then it might be too late as far as the ecological problems are concerned - i mutter blearily - to your point about knowing who you're fighting we recently had an insurrection in our country but it turned out the insurrectionists didn't really know what they were fighting they didn't really know who their enemy really is they were in fact defending the enemy the big corporate powers the rich who own and control the country and the political system they thought the enemy is the politicians and to be sure many of them are corrupt but they are not the ones with the real power and they were also blaming people of color and other minorities all of whom don't have much power at all certainly not much when compared to the white majority - come on man - Anders says - you need to take a break you need to go on a good vacation forget about all this go to the south of France lie in the sun go to Italy have some good Italian food and wine that Mediterranean diet will do you good - oh Anders! please! - i hear Nadja exclaim - you sound like one of those silly stereotypical characters in one of those corny self-discovery Hollywood films - really now? - Anders asks beginning to chuckle - yes! - Nadja answers - you know the ones with the disaffected privileged white businessman or housewife in midlife crisis . . . go to Napoli! eat some-uh pizza! watch a football-uh match-uh learn to enjoy the simple things in life-uh eh? - Nadja says putting on an Italian accent and gesticulating with her hands after which she switches back to her normal voice and says - go to Bali live the "simple" life with the "simple" people in a small "simple" village - she smirks making quotation signs in the air with her fingers - have the village wise man instruct you on how to live blah dih blah dih blah have an affair with the artsy eccentric expat and all will be fine! most of my Italian friends can't stand Italy the corruption the inefficiency why they all want to move to Sweden how boring! - she exclaims again - well at least the trains run on time - i hear Anders counter beginning to laugh, the rest of us can't help ourselves and are shaking uncontrollably with laughter at Nadja's playful mockery. At the same time, i hear laughter rising from the crowd in the square, they seem to be laughing with us. i look in their direction and see the horde of the dead all looking at us, laughing wildly. The revolting stench of putrefaction wafts across the square in our direction but i seem to be the only one in our group who notices it. i nudge Anders and point to the square - what is it? - he asks - look they're back again the dead they're laughing with us . . . or at us . . . - i say trembling with fear - what are you talking about? have you been smoking my stuff? are you having delirium tremens? - he says jokingly, i shake my head still terrified and look away from the crowd. Anders takes another drink from his glass and in an attempt to change the subject, leans closer and says - well in any case you're not the only one who is experiencing the kinds of feelings you were describing the feeling that it's all been done in music the arts is really quite widespread many are feeling this crisis you describe and it can have some profound and unsettling psychological effects disturbing effects I should say in some cases a profound ontological crisis caused by losing what once gave one a sense of identity a sense of meaning and purpose in life one's sense of being is called into question which in some cases can lead to a psychotic break or what some refer to as a dissociative disorder not the least of which are the phenomena of depersonalization and derealization - he takes a last toke from his cigarette and snuffs it out in the ashtray on the small table we're sitting at - what do you mean? - i ask feeling apprehension - well based on what I've read depersonalization and derealization are temporary psychological effects produced by trauma some kind of traumatic event in one's life and are characterized by the feeling of being cut off from reality as if one were behind a barrier like a pane of glass between oneself and the world or as if one were living in a dream as if one were high and can't come down - he says beginning to roll another black tobacco and hashish cigarette - one can also have feelings of not being real which some call derealization and is characterized by the impression that one's physical actions and one's body are not one's own these symptoms are often accompanied by visual phenomena such as tunnel vision static distorted and blurry vision and interestingly a kind of flat two dimensional vision or that things look the way they do in a dream other symptoms may include a distorted sense of time the fear of going insane so-called existential thoughts emotional numbness a blank or foggy mind memory loss and strange fears of an obsessive nature - what do you mean by existential thoughts? - i suddenly blurt out - thoughts about the nature of existence what it means if anything to be alive to be here in this world questioning the very nature of existence of reality - Anders says while carefully rolling his cigarette - but isn't that normal? aren't those things people ponder throughout the course of their lives? - i ask as a deep feeling of unease wells up inside me - well yes once in a while or maybe just at certain points in their lives but they soon become involved in the hurly burly of everyday life finding meaning or purpose in it and soon forget about the existential stuff but people who are experiencing depersonalization and derealization tend to obsess about it and are often besieged by feelings of pointlessness and emptiness an emptiness they describe as having the effect of producing a deep feeling of meaninglessness in life in existence in some cases some people have been driven to suicide by such feelings but anyway all of these symptoms are supposed to be temporary they're supposed to wear off after a certain amount of time - he says with satisfaction as he stares at his new and deftly rolled cigarette which he quickly puts between his lips - and what if the trauma is an ongoing process? - i say shifting uneasily in my chair beginning to feel irritated by Anders' detached, nonchalant manner - well - he answers smiling - then maybe we're screwed and if we are going to feel depersonalized and feel as if we were high all the time and can't come down if we are going to feel as if we are living in a dream we might as well get high and enjoy it - he says chuckling lighting up his cigarette - how do they say? if you can't beat ‘em join ‘em? - he utters between puffs, the smoke dimly veiling his pale blue eyes and angular face as it rises and dissipates above his sandy colored hair. Thinking back, i can't remember a time when Anders wasn't high on something. In our student days it was the very popular ecstasy along with the ubiquitous hashish laced cigarette - and what about the grief? - i utter hoarsely under my breath - how do we deal with that? - the grief? - Anders answers back tentatively - yeah you know the grief of seeing year after decade after decade the destruction the brutality the callousness what grieves me most is seeing decade after decade since I was a child the destruction of nature and how little has been done to stop it - i utter with increasing irritation - are we supposed to just adopt a flippant attitude about everything intoxicate ourselves and have fun? - i say sarcastically - well - Anders begins - that's what our creative work is for it helps us work through the grief our pain - oh please! how is it you've become so sentimental about art! - i exclaim exasperated - so disgustingly sentimental about the arts and heroizing them to boot! art as savior blah dih blah dih blah you really don't believe that shit do you? - Nadja interjects snidely -
but art I mean especially politicized art seems to be condemned to a certain harmlessness in part due to excessive explanation it's been explained away people become inured to it by all those boring explanations and being lectured at being talked down to by people like me - she says giggling self-consciously and taking another sip of schnapps - and in part due to it having always remained in the margins which it can't leave if it is to maintain a critical distance from mainstream culture where it would become formalized and ritualized packaged into a museum piece and then discarded ignored and thus neutralized tamed - Anders smiles and shrugs and begins blowing smoke rings into the air. Danica sticks her tongue out at him and then makes a loud farting sound at him all of which elicits a guffaw from Anders who then shrugs again and continues blowing smoke rings - and creativity! just what does that mean in this day and age where everything is derivative repetitive! a copy of a copy of a copy of a copy! the idea of creativity is itself derivative a nineteenth century notion as is the idea of the new! - i exclaim again annoyed - we've been through all that already as I've already said the arts have failed us miserably art was supposed to change our minds it was supposed to bring about a radical change of consciousness it was supposed to teach us how to think and perceive in different ways for a long time we searched for the new sound and soon arrived at a point where it seemed new sounds new timbres had been exhausted but this is always from the point of view of a doer who acts upon an objective world that is seen as separate from him or herself the doer the observer who is in reality an integral part of that world an aspect of that world - i say tiredly catching my breath - back in the eighties Nono Berio and Lachenmann were already saying this that the new sound the unfamiliar sound was no longer possible and that all that was left us was to work on the grammar of music work on finding different and new ways of structuring the materials of music but maybe it's time not so much for a new sound but a new listening it is time for the listener to do the changing from within without expecting something or someone to force that change upon her or him from the outside as it were we have to do the work ourselves in ourselves instead of waiting for someone or something to do that work for us it is the listening and the listener who are old for we have hardened crystalized into hardened personalities into things hardened egos whose senses have become blunted as if covered over by dead skin scar tissue we've become completely covered over by scar tissue - i say with exasperation while slowly sinking in my chair - our entire minds our entire bodies covered over by scar tissue we live in a cocoon of scar tissue - i say breathing heavily - I mean for a long time we thought that by changing the sounds this would change our listening change our minds our so-called insides our consciousness but this requires that we the observers change deeply wha' I mean is we want the world around us the world outside as we like to say to change according to our desires our wants but never do we think of changing ourselves we've become calcified assimilated into the walls of a maze like coral growth we've become assimilated into the walls of a labyrinth that extends in all directions radiating outward from our cities and towns like a cancer growth consuming nature and replacing it with our calcareous growths wha' I meant to say is we've become stiff settled in our views and habits it is our senses our listening that are old not necessarily the sounds we hear - i say feeling wobbly, slurring my words - the sound of a violin or a piano those very familiar sounds may sound utterly new if our senses were changed if our senses were somehow renewed if we could listen to them as if for the first time wha' I'm really trying to say is that for a long time we thought that by making new sounds finding new sounds new and different timbres this would change our listening and this would lead to a radical change of consciousness but those new sounds soon became old once they were internalized by our hardened egos with their repetitive habits once those sounds became part of our memory's repertoire of things to hear - i mutter with increasing exasperation and unease - we want the world outside as we are wont to say to change for us while we remain unchanged crystalized into a collection of habits we want the world outside as we are in the habit of saying to change but we don't want to look at the entire structure of our minds which have calcified we don't want to do any changing ourselves we are utterly selfish - i say nervously feeling a panic attack rising which begins to restrict my breathing - the whole world is a mass of fortifications and embattlements and each individual if they can truly be called that is a mass of fortifications and defense mechanisms - i say fidgeting nervously with my hands - none of us are truly willing to change ourselves from the inside out to really look at the entire structure of our minds our habits our motivations and change all that we always want the world outside to change for us who are unwilling to change ourselves from within we are unwilling to adapt ourselves to the so-called world outside but we want the so-called world outside to adapt itself to our so-called insides to our so-called world inside we always want the so-called world outside to adapt itself to us and our desires our whims and if it doesn't if it resists we force it we bulldoze it we pave it over we turn it into a projection of ourselves of our insides we try to force the world to adjust to our ideals to our beliefs to the images we create in our minds and so live in constant conflict with the world and ourselves but more often than not the world life the universe is indifferent to our desires - i say meekly struggling to breath - I mean back in the eighties when I was a child Berio Nono and Lachenmann were saying this they were already saying new sounds are impossible and that we need to focus our attention on the grammar of music how compositions are organized it's been decades since then and here we are in the midst of an unfolding catastrophe made by ourselves - i say weakly feeling wobbly again - this catastrophe in the making is our real true composition or decomposition if you prefer we are in the middle of a catastrophe in the making and all you can think about is art? there won't be any art if we don't have a livable planet! - i somehow manage to exclaim - putting ourselves into our work our so-called artistic work at this point in the current context is tantamount to burying our heads in the sand it's utter selfishness yet another distraction more escapism a different kind of action is needed! - and what action would that be? - Anders retorts - well that is the question isn't it I just don't know maybe one that requires we put our lives on the line how many of us do you think are willing to do that? - i ask snidely - we may have to fight to save our world - i stutter angrily - but that would lead to more destruction - Anders answers back -All of a sudden i'm feeling dizzy and nauseated, i lean forward in my chair as a jet of vomit forcefully ejects from my mouth. i slide off my chair and fall to the ground still vomiting - mijn God! - i hear Nadja exclaim, Danica and her friends begin laughing raucously - Anders! do something! - Nadja shouts. Anders quickly gets up and leaning over me takes hold of my arm and starts to pull me up. i sit up supporting myself with one hand on the ground, then Anders, putting his hands in my underarms, lifts me up onto the chair - man! - he exclaims - you've had too much to drink to soon! - you think? - i answer back babbling helplessly - yes! - he says - come on we have to get you home and in bed - wait! - i exclaim pointing at Elise - that's her line! - Elise and Nadja look at each other wide eyed and start giggling - I think it's time for you to go home! - Anders says helping me stand up i turn toward Elise and say - it was nice meeting you i hope to see you again soon - of course - she says smiling - it was fun i'll call you you can visit with me in Utrecht - sounds good sorry for the mess - i utter with embarrassment as i notice my vomit covered shirt - no problem no worries - Elise says beginning to giggle again - Taking me by the shoulders, Anders turns me around in the direction of Prinsegracht, the main avenue we are to follow back to Anders' apartment. Nadja gets up quickly and walks around the tables toward me, she then embraces me giving me a kiss on the cheek and says - it is so nice to see you again - yes it's nice seeing you again too - i murmur mechanically - I'll call you next week I want you to come and stay with me in Amsterdam for a few days ok? - yes - i mutter back - i would really like that - and pointing at Anders i say - this guy is really starting to get on my nerves with all his drinking and smoking - Anders shakes his head and chuckles - Anders please take care of him - Nadja says sternly - of course what else can I do? he's completely helpless! - Anders says loudly - yes I'm a completely helpless and useless human being - i say in a monotone emulating what I think of as a robot's voice and start goose stepping as Anders begins pushing me from behind, all of which elicits more laughter from Danica and her friends - glad to've been of service to y'all toodle doooo - i chant waving at them. As we move toward Prinsegracht avenue i suddenly catch a glimpse out of the corner of my eye, the corner of my right eye, to be precise. Trembling and with mouth agape, i turn my head toward my right and see a tall figure clad in a long, black overcoat standing on the far-left corner at the rear of the square. His hands are clasped at either side of his large, deathly pale, balloon-like head. His eyes are two dark holes and his mouth another, larger black hole from which issues a screeching sound that cuts through the crowd's noise. i turn to Anders and with urgency shout - we better get the hell out of here! - why? what's wrong? - he says - never mind lets get out of here - i stammer - don't tell me - he says sarcastically - it's the dead again oooo oooooo - he chants mockingly trying to make a spooky sound as in a horror movie - Walking becomes difficult as it happens every time i get drunk, my right leg grows stiff as if i've suddenly developed a peg leg and now i find myself hobbling along awkwardly trying to keep up with Anders whose long gait seems undiminished by all his drinking and smoking. Not a word transpires between us as we walk toward his apartment where i've been staying for the past few weeks. Halfway down Prinsegracht avenue i'm feeling nauseous again and ask Anders if we can rest for a moment. We stop by the entrance of a women's clothing store with big glass doors with brightly polished brass handles. Though the store is closed, the lights are on in the display windows which show mannequins in different poses wearing different kinds of garments of varying styles and colors. I lean against the wall by the entrance breathing heavily. i see a middle-aged woman with dark curly hair wearing a long grey coat and holding a large black purse approaching us on the sidewalk. She stops in front of Anders and addressing him in Dutch asks while pointing at the store entrance - excuse me do you work here? - no! - Anders booms in his basso profundo voice as he looks down upon her - we don't work at all! - oh! - cries the woman stepping back a few paces. i can't help myself and burst out in loud laughter and begin vomiting again - mijn God! - the woman exclaims alarmed - you drunken idiots! - she yells angrily and briskly walks away from us furiously clutching her purse with both hands against her body while swearing. i'm leaning against the wall with one hand alternating between laughter and vomiting, barely able to keep myself standing. Chuckling, Anders takes me by the arm and begins walking me down Prinsegracht again toward Hofje Zoutkeetsingle, the small, dead end alley where his apartment is, on the other side of the canal after the avenue makes a sharp turn north - what the hell was that all about? i mean what was she doing out at this time of the night? why would she think you work at that place? - i ask panting - who knows - Anders responds - I've seen her around before she's one of the neighborhood's eccentric characters - you mean like us? - i ask snickering - yes like us - Anders says chuckling again - takes one to know one I guess - i say giggling in my drunken glee, Anders chuckles in response and continues pushing me along. Soon we are at the elbow where Prinsegracht makes a sharp northward turn. We amble across the avenue toward the blue steel bridge that straddles the canal and walk across. Then we turn right onto Zoutkeetsingle the street that runs parallel to the canal. We walk for half a block along the canal and then cross the street to the small alley and Anders' apartment. Once inside, i hobble as quickly as i can to the bathroom and take a long, drawn out piss. After i'm done, i stumble out into the main hallway and see Anders sitting at the kitchen table with a large glass of water and a vial of painkillers - take a couple of these it will help you with the hangover tomorrow make sure you drink all the water i'm going to sleep see you tomorrow - he says tiredly and walks away down the hall to his room. i wash down a couple of pills and after finishing off the water stagger over to the guest room and close the door. Sitting on the edge of the bed, i slowly take off my soiled clothes and throw them on the floor in a corner and then lie down on my back in the darkness face up toward the ceiling. In the midst of the dark silence, i hear the light, intermittent sounds of scraping and tapping on the windowpane caused by the branches of a bush outside moved by the breeze. As i slowly begin to drift away, the scraping and tapping gradually becomes the gentle sound of a raspy voice, at first distant, then growing closer - like yourself I'm a prisoner - it says softly - like everyone else a prisoner in this labyrinth the vast machine that engulfs us protects and terminates us while making us feel cozy in its embrace the entire city the entire world an abattoir - the voice whispers hoarsely - i give myself these words these thoughts because i have nothing left to give nor am i able to receive anything i am satiated the thoughts the words of others no longer penetrate my mind my cup is overflowing the sights i see the sounds i hear no longer reach me they seem distant all i hear now is the mumbling the ongoing mumbling this mumbling i perform to comfort myself in the midst of so much nothingness to keep it at bay lest it seep into my body if I still have one into my mind like a fog or mist taking over everything smothering me my voice blinding me with its darkness turning me gray from the inside erasing me there is a host of us now trying to keep the fog at bay mumbling chanting like a chorus a crowd in different rhythms and tempos creating a vast contrapuntal texture a weave of gentle sounds that extends in all directions rustling into the boundless night or perhaps into less gloomy quarters seeking out the warmth the luminosity of stars wrong again there is no content to lean against no concept to lean on by the sounds listening to this kind of tactility where mutations first arise and permutations form with each new motion of the waves rocking me gently like flotsam all that's left us now are words our cries and words that stop our mouths with silence death is the only change permitted us now we head to the sea to the dunes where the bunkers are we adopt each other's mannerisms the wind tosses us about in the tall grasses and weeds speaking in tongues our pain is unutterable no one can speak it it is only cries and sobs now as we lie in furrows carved out by the North Sea wind near the bunkers looking up at the gray rolling sky the grasses and weeds leaning over us - the voice whispers raspingly - at last i begin to listen as they come and go lapping at my ears my mind my dry arid bones belonging to no one the cold earth perhaps yet still longing though shedding all hope to recover what is lost as these are ancient cares and the mind cannot always brood on the same cares without however vanishing completely for i feel myself drifting toward other cares found linking the other which receding finds the wind drifting among the tall grasses in the etiolated fields they glide off been not the they like in the mad writhing scribbles of a trembling hand
in the dust
of so much
the rest can't
alone on a roof top
the least of which
begins to laugh
que lo parió,
la sputum mother!
we are who we say
a diver searches for,
soplando la huella
de la my troka,
hashtag fans my,
discos readily apparent
where hope is
beside the point,
at the same time
escuchando la rola
what you are talking about
hablando de la nada
by the sounds failing
suppose that what not;
knots of discontent were
as if by dreams an intent,
staring in horror and
then again, some more
every day, you're
all the same, with a firm
grip, sonrisa metafora
what i means to tell you
is not necessarily the same
immersed in becoming
by the sounds falling la huella se disipa dyspeptic speaking of which it sounds very a lot of fun is often a whole lot of no more than rationalizations swerving by far more skeletons in the shade embracing too late for contact tracing the closet door now slamming shut flings us back to normal moving us forth into amnesia did the poet laureate mentioned the war criminals who sat behind her squinting in the sun ensconced in a comforting sea of expensive suits and fancy dresses washing their hands minds and faces are there no hinges on which to hinge on synecdoche cascading in the me again the thingliness of solid darkness where the we here with no more as soon as we call it in us deep furrowed frowns i keep going on like this around in circles repeating myself for fear of having the act of into a moment are not the as a kind where other complex connect possible includes an into laterally exchanged disrupts us in the each sedimented seemingly primarily the babbling the brain text pulsating with its own extraneous turbubabulence tangentially bleeding into
i hear an opens again gently folds the entire it the sand scribbling to burst the that is of itself over upon it no longer a gleaming even linking and in able to a stranger reading shards saying of it through meanings consuming myself nothing wants for broken light and that art mumbling to listening the darkness wanting waving translucent then curtained the edge the door long piss back to an array can say that again you my apricot from over back from about that the and walk to i take a walk with the door ok i i mumble back lands am an infinite smashing shrubs it's a long unfathomable in the cold each telling every word talking about a wobbly picture splits into a sense of highway days are aspects with a border plus this from over back from about that world shifting gently describe a bout from over back from about that every word crossing out a world suppose knots of as if staring then every all the same what i is not immersed in by the is often embracing moving us in squinting hands again i can to see of these and of the by the sound of an everyone while whispers am i able all in the into my darkness a vast into the stars listening to of the that to the in the it is only looking at last the last not about but a bout an about face without orders that disorders into off course an ebullient turbubabulence
the void folds itself over from outside according to spacing itself from a there is which is now snow the entire it upon it plus this with a light made anticipation stranger beneath forgotten it is that in the sand no longer eyes stars further patterns on and into swarming enfolded laterally exchanged text scribbling a gleaming world passing like that the tide after choked me up me up from ready to burst reading shards shifting etched in a skin that i only myself into by the thought constructed ears saying of it knowing gently and describe abouts of disorders that splatter sense of a site even through meanings of the while which i try articulation scratching for the intro the never linking consuming primarily discourse non-sense fixed in and in moment seemingly bleeding not even and in myself not myself orders that scatter what's it where? can't really beneath my being able to bridge a gap where there is not what but just passing over which passes an about face a stranger begotten reality speaking are aspects of that unknown and breath alternating a bout the that is its non-fixed surface hook up areas with a border splits into two which makes it so much forested of which and between which also stretches across a sense of sight cascading on deeply furrowed lands my final destination where words form me on rainy highway days a dam constructed dot dot dot am i words? am i worlds? a loving luminosity that pervades everything even the darkness in an infinite sea forming sentences writhing what to write what wobbly picture is i about? the wind smashing my agony nothing wants for i escapes into obscurity bemoaning a moon for the sake of shrubs twist me into broken light beneath awnings and trellises talking about the and of course it's inevitable and that art embodies a frown on my face every word crossing a world for a long time it has lost its stop briefly to catch my dreaming i'm a corpse buried six feet under snug in my coffin mumbling to myself so as not to see my surroundings the solid darkness that engulfs me mumbling and listening listening and mumbling by turns listening to the mumblings of others like me ensconced in the darkness their voices perdendosi . . . perdendosi . . . into the cold unfathomable blackness the voices of young and old women children and men muttering each telling themselves their stories each listening to my stories and the stories of others in the unending darkness the the the that the this that the is the it upon which the is upon which the succumbing to the this the that can't remember which and and in what order that which this signifies disappearing behind an endless fence made of its disappearing behind an infinite fence made of ises can't remember which an ongoing horizon alternating shifting horizons the sand the text scribbling me
i hear a knock at the door. The sound of distant traffic reaches my ears. The knock comes again, the door opens and i hear Anders say - hey man it's almost noon do you want some coffee? - yeah ok - i mumble barely audible with closed eyes - how are you feeling? - Anders asks - i don't know - i mumble back again. i hear Anders chuckle - i've got breakfast ready in the kitchen if you want some - i hear the door close gently. After a few minutes i stretch my body, open my eyes tentatively and lying on my side stare at the curtained windows across from me. The translucent curtains gently filter the incoming light. i slowly sit up on the edge of the bed rubbing my eyes and then notice i have a splitting headache. i get up slowly and walk to the door, open it and step into the hallway. i then amble down the hallway to the bathroom where i take a long piss and then standing at the sink, begin splashing cold water on my face. After drying my face i walk back to my room and put some clean clothes on and head for the kitchen. Anders is sitting at the table with an array of food stuffs laid out before him. i see a coffee pot, mugs, plates with slices of aged Gouda cheese, and roggebrood, a butter dish and a jar each of apricot marmalade and strawberry preserves. i also see the bottle of pain killers he gave me last night before i went to sleep. i immediately reach for the painkillers and sitting down, open the bottle and take out a couple pills which i then wash down with a few mouthfuls of strong black coffee - I thought you might need those - Anders says chuckling - you really tied one on last night - you can say that again - i mutter back softly, wincing from the pain in my head. i take a slice of roggebrood, my favorite Netherlands bread, my favorite bread ever, and begin applying butter to it after which i dab apricot marmalade on it with a spoon and immediately stuff it into my mouth. Still chewing, i take another drink from my coffee mug - I was thinking about what you said yesterday about the supremacy of the visual over sound over listening in our culture - Anders says - yes? what about it? did I say that? - i answer back while still munching on the slice of roggebrood with marmalade - well - Anders says after taking a sip from his coffee - I seem to recall in Attali's book Noise in the chapter called Composition that he talks about the technology of recording images as one of the soon to be main technologies of composition he felt that this new technology the recording of images would become an essential tool for composition - yeah well - i mumble back - he wrote that book back in the late seventies he had no idea what direction technology was really going to take no one that I know of back then anticipated the development of the internet laptops and cell phones . . . why? do you believe what he said about music being able to anticipate developments in society? that music has a premonitory function in society? - he said that music was once again functioning in a premonitory way - Anders continues - that it foreshadowed a mutation in technology as evidenced in the expanding proliferation of new musical instruments like your various electric instruments of that time which he compared to the development of new instruments in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries predating the industrial revolution your synthesizers tape machines electronic studios and the growing use of computers to generate music and so on and that the herald of this mutation was the recording of images which he saw as eventually becoming one of the essential technologies for composition despite the fact that the recording of images was still a tool for stockpiling and repetition - Anders pauses to take another drink from his coffee - it still is - i mutter back with skepticism after taking another bite from my roggebrood slice and then continue with a bulging cheek - the technology of recording images your ever ubiquitous digital cameras phone cameras and so on has multiplied the stockpiling and repetition to a degree such that it's suffocating we are buried in a flurry of images bombarded from all directions through the various media especially so-called social media I think what's really going on is that we are burying ourselves alive in useless information we have been doing this for a very long time actually - my attention returns to my marmalade covered slice of roggebrood as Anders says - he thought that the new technology would allow people to transition from being mere passive consumers to becoming more active producers of what they listen to and would derive just as much satisfaction from the process of manufacturing itself as from the object produced he felt that the new emerging technology would find it's true usage in the production by the consumer herself of the final object - Anders pauses and lights one of his hand rolled cigarettes and then continues - in his conception of composition Attali envisioned a different political economy he said that production blends with consumption and that the stockpiling of labor which simulates sacrifice is replaced by the investment of violence in the act of doing as opposed to channeling it into an object in this manner violence is no longer channeled into sacrifice it is no longer a threat as it was in repetition it no longer mirrors itself in representation each person then assumes the imaginary and violence individually through the pleasure of making creating constructing and in this situation each person can dream up his or her own criteria in this manner time is liberated by composition it is lived time not stockpiled it is measured by the magnitude of the time lived by people which takes the place of time stockpiled in the commodity - all that sounds great on paper as they say but has that really happened? it may have happened with a very small group of individuals like ourselves but which remain utterly marginalized - i say with skepticism, abruptly interrupting Anders' monologue after which he continues unabated, mechanically - he saw most of commodity production changing to the making of tools which would allow people to create the conditions for taking pleasure in the act of composing he felt that the essential usage of the image recorder was in the private use of the manufacture of the consumer's own gaze upon the world and more importantly upon his or her self-directed gaze and the self-pleasure this brings as I seem to recall Attali himself saying Narcissus after Echo eroticism as an appropriation of the body - to a degree he was right - i answer back with a shrug - I mean isn't this what has happened with cell phones and the profusion of selfies? and people posting their selfies online everywhere in social media and so on? I'm not so sure that's such a good thing though that it has had such a liberatory function as Attali seemed to think it would have I mean what's so great about all that? the consumer has become an active participant in the spectacle the society of the spectacle as Debord would have it where he or she the consumer is completely subsumed absorbed into the society of the spectacle that doesn't strike me as liberating at all more so considering that a lot of what is being produced is imitation of the stuff your pop stars are already doing which itself is derivative in other words they are reproducing what is always already in the system the entertainment industry which is a limit cycle and are thus participating in the economy of repetition and stockpiling that the technology of recording images according to Attali was supposed to liberate us from all I'm seeing really is that the technology permits the average person on the street to play at being a pop star their fifteen minutes of fame as Warhol put it while keeping him or her stuck in place in the class system in the production consumption machine while leading them to believe they're exercising some kind of freedom it creates the illusion of empowerment an illusion that perpetually postpones the real thing - i say snidely turning my attention to the aged gouda and then continue - it seems to me that the body and the mind for that matter have been caged imprisoned in the grid of the production/consumption machinery and mutilated by that grid as has the subject the subject and his body sacrificed to the production/consumption machinery the consumer is the ultimate object of consumption snagged and mangled by the machine's gear wheels devoured by the system the body and whatever interiority it may have has been neutralized and de-realized in the virtual realm . . . by the virtual realm and therefore rendered socially and politically impotent while at the same time the subject is hypnotized by his own products he or she sees posted in the media the subject is hypnotized by its own gaze in fact the ultimate self-surveillance whose ultimate effect is paralysis we may be seeing that depersonalization and derealization you talked about last night but on a massive scale it seems to me that the body is lost rather than appropriated by the consumer turned producer abstracted in the realm of virtual reality the flesh replaced by a digital representation we've all been replaced by avatars . . . maybe that's not such a bad thing though maybe that's one way to recover some of our privacy by going completely anonymous masked by our digital representations - i mutter as i bite into a slice of roggebrood and cheese - but as Debord said somewhere the spectacle's domination has succeeded in raising entire generations molded to its laws ourselves included I mean this idea of Attali's composition turns out to have been overly optimistic it seems to me naive even this notion in which people will begin to compose for themselves and shift from being mere consumers to being producers which to some extent has occurred given that digital technologies have made the production of music easily possible for those who don't know how to play an instrument and it has made it possible for people to record their own music and affordable and able to distribute it online but the fact still remains that overwhelmingly most people in our society today are consumers of music rather than producers rather than composers - well - Anders cuts in - but as you know there is an international group of musicians performers and composers who gather informally to create music a kind of nomadic crowd producing nonidiomatic music largely improvised using computers and analogue synthesizers in combination with traditional instruments as well as new instruments some of the composers and performers build themselves they operate locally in local venues as well as globally using video conferencing and have created an international network this has been going on for quite some time now for several decades in fact you and I have participated in this sort of thing ourselves - well yes that's true - i utter back now chewing on a slice of roggebrood with butter and strawberry preserves - but not only are they a small minority in the world they are also largely if not totally marginalized what they do has not been accepted in society at large it has not had the great transformational and liberatory effect Attali predicted it may have a liberatory effect on those few musicians who practice this informal kind of music you are referring to but it seems to me that society at large is mostly indifferent to it if it is aware of it at all most of these musicians who practice this sort of musicking have receded into anonymity they hide in anonymity and share their work which remains largely in the fringes mostly with other composers and musicians like themselves most people most consumers are completely overpowered by commodity music by consumerism by the products the entertainment industry forces on them through the various media you said this yourself last night at the Grote Markt in fact their entire lives their sense of identity is completely dependent on consumerism their sense of self and their self-esteem is completely dependent on what they buy and own and this serves an existential an ontological function it provides meaning and purpose the way religion used to in centuries past - i say dabbing more strawberry preserves on what's left of my slice of roggebrood - that's just scratching the surface - Anders says - well isn't that what we're always doing? - i mutter back, as i chew on a new slice of roggebrood, this time with aged Gouda on top - I mean just when we think we've got something figured out there's another surface below or behind that one it's like a fucking onion man - i say, my cheek bulging with a mouth full of bread and cheese - the surfaces the layers never end man - i hear Anders groan as he rolls his eyes while i take another drink of coffee - are you saying there is no objective reality no cold hard facts? - he asks visibly irritated - that is a cold hard fact - i retort amused - reality is layer upon layer of surfaces man just when you think you understood it something else shows up or . . . uh . . . surfaces as it were - i say giggling lightly as i stare intently at what's left of my slice of roggebrood - something that eluded our perception our imaginations maybe your scratch is deeper than mine but it's still just a scratch - i say distractedly while dabbing some butter on another slice of roggebrood - man this roggebrood is sooo good I can't get enough of it - i say with enthusiasm licking my fingers while anticipating putting a layer of strawberry preserves on it - well no - Anders answers - what I'm trying to say is not as hopeless as the things you were saying last night - I didn't say that the situation is hopeless although that may very well be the case - i answer back - what I said is that hoping is hopeless the act of hoping is obsolete to continue hoping is a waste of time and energy a different kind of action is needed - i utter while licking my lips and dabbing strawberry preserves on my piece of roggebrood after which i continue with vehemence - it seems to me that now I mean today in this day and age this age of totalitarian capitalism and its attendant absolute nihilism and the fanatic consumerism with which people try to compensate for the emptiness brought on by that nihilism which is an existential an ontological problem an embodiment problem where the body has been sacrificed to the system it seems to me that if there is to be music I mean if one is to write music a kind of music that takes a critical position vis a vis absolutist capitalism and its entertainment machinery and a music that is authentic meaning one that truly arises from us the people as opposed to being merely the product of conditioning and imposed from above by the entertainment industry if there is to be any such music at all silence must be the most important aspect of it a music that is made up primarily of silence and incompleteness consisting also of unfulfilled gestures gestures which are discontinuous out of context a music made up largely of absence this silence this absence is the most important aspect of it the most expressive aspect of it its refusal to say anything in a sea of meaninglessness and utterly boring expressions like those produced by the entertainment industry - i now bite into my piece of roggebrood relishing the combined taste of bread, butter and preserves and then continue speaking obsessively while still chewing - it must be arid stripped of its usual expressivity I mean expression in the traditional sense as in the so-called classical tradition and it's modernist reaction the avant-garde etc. as well as the kinds of expressions or expressive clichés one hears on a daily basis in the products of the pop music machinery the utterly boring and mind-numbing ocean of inanities one is exposed to through the various media on a daily basis arid aridity is the word I'm thinking of music must be desert-like barren with very little to offer at least in terms of the old habits of listening and thinking are concerned the constant repetition that keeps us from learning anything new keeping the listener stuck in a psycho-emotional limit cycle - but to a great extent that's already been done - Anders says in a matter-of-fact tone of voice looking me in the face - you could say Feldman Cage and Lachenmann have already made silence and absence part of their musical aesthetic - yes well I was getting to that - i answer back still munching on my slice of roggebrood with strawberry preserves - the problem with all that music is that it is still about art with capital "A" it's artsy it's still about status and saving face about competition about winning and being right and this is especially true in academe it's still about mastery it’s romantic in the sense that it is heroic and all the nastiness and violence that comes with heroism we need a music that is not afraid of falling flat on its face a music that is not afraid of making a fool of itself a music that is not about mastery and saving appearances - i mutter under my breath eyeing the apricot marmalade - this reminds me of the relation between resistance and creation Agamben or possibly Deleuze can't remember which spoke about somewhere - Anders says - I like what he or possibly they said about potential and impotential - yes? what did they say what did they mean by that? - i ask taking another drink of coffee - according to Deleuze or possibly Agamben can't remember which there is something in each act of creation that opposes and resists expression - Anders says between puffs from his cigarette which he then sets down in an ashtray - either Agamben or Deleuze or possibly both said that to resist etymologically means to hold down to stop to stop oneself this power that stops or withholds potential in its movement toward the act is impotential - he says emphatically as he serves himself another cup of extra strong coffee - the potential not-to possibly Deleuze or Agamben said that impotential the potential not-to is the power that stops or withholds potential in its movement toward the act Agamben or Deleuze can't remember which or possibly both said the act of creation is a field of forces that stretches between impotential and potential acting and resisting being-able-to and being able-not-to - Anders says now taking a slice of roggebrood and dabbing it with butter and marmalade - either Deleuze or Agamben said we human beings are capable of having mastery of our potential but only through our impotential can we have access to it though because of this in the end there is no mastery over potential and being an artist means being at the mercy of one's own impotential - oh cut the crap man! creation! creativity! blah dih blah dih blah! - i spit out annoyed - as I said before the whole idea of creation and creativity is highly problematic it seems to me all we can do anymore is take the materials we already have at our disposal in our society our so-called culture and rearrange them perhaps in collage-like fashion recontextualize them and thus change their significance their meaning did they really use that worn out and loaded over romanticized word when they talked about art? I can't believe they were so naive - i say again annoyed and then pick up Anders' hashish laced cigarette and take a long drag from it after which i place it back in the ashtray - be careful with that! - Anders exclaims - you're going to make yourself sick again! - i shrug and then continue - I can't believe you still believe all those myths about art and creativity we were raised on what people care about today is buying stuff and being part of the machine that tells them to buy stuff it serves an ontological function it has replaced the ontological function religions and other spiritual practices once had it's really a kind of secondary satisfaction - i say biting into another piece of roggebrood and apricot marmalade - it's an attempt to find substitutes for a primary satisfaction of wholeness which we somehow lost and which left a large hole in its place it's an attempt to recreate a state of undivided consciousness an attempt to recuperate the primary satisfaction of unity with our environment with the earth with the cosmos itself - i utter with difficulty while chewing my roggebrood with marmalade - all of our culture is a form of substitute satisfaction an attempt to console ourselves for the loss of kinesthetic wholeness the loss of primary unity we once had with the world - or that's some sentimental false nostalgia for a time and a state of being that never really was - retorts Anders taking another drag from his cigarette - yeah well maybe you're right - i answer back feeling lightheaded - in any case going back to music it must be reticent a stuttering music in a very real sense the unmusical the malformed the fragmented the broken that which doesn't work that which functions poorly is most relevant here because it doesn't readily lend itself to being assimilated and used by the system - but for how long can one sustain this? - Anders asks - well I don't know - i answer back already feeling high and beginning to giggle - I mean no one can live in a perpetual state of resistance a perpetual state of combativeness - i say between giggles - I mean I can't you burn out - yeah - Anders cuts in beginning to laugh - that's why I've been telling you to take a break - what are you talking about - i exclaim laughing out loud - I've been on break for a long time now! for years! I stopped composing I stopped writing I hardly ever listen to music I haven't read much of anything for years I try watching films but I fall asleep in the middle I find it hard to suspend disbelief it all seems so obvious to me so transparent none of all that helps me deal with the grief I've been feeling seeing year after year decade after decade the barbarism of egocentricity and the I's the me's compulsion to impose itself on the world the brutality of power and all the senseless wars the slow death of our world about which most of us don't do anything I'm seeing death everywhere there won't be any art any music if we don't have a livable planet what I find highly problematic truly disturbing is this existence in which we can't change anything we're not allowed to there no longer are any transformational poetic experiences the arts have lost their critical confrontational power nor are there any truly satisfactory political experiences either people have become inured to what imprisons them they find it easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism they can't imagine the end of what oppresses them they dare not all of which leads to a generalized state of existential boredom a kind of calm before the storm - i say giggling nervously, licking marmalade from my fingers -
Some sections of Song
of Anonymous are composites made of bits and pieces taken
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