Sunday, May 24, 2009

D and G music factory

So I'm lying awake at night, thinking about what sort of questions I'll have to field at my defense... like 98 years from now.

"Why don't you talk more about A Thousand Plateaus? Especially the question of the refrain, with relation to the high degree of repetition in minimalist music."

Thank you for asking that question, Jon. This is something I considered doing, but ultimately decided against.

A talk was given a couple of years ago at a conference dedicated to minimalist music, that quite articulately warned against the facile conjunction of minimalism and Deleuze. The first stimulus for this reflex is Deleuze's old book, Difference and Repetition, but several other moments in D.'s output suggest the same connection. One of these, is the Refrain, which is featured in its very own plateau.

What needs to be born in mind about Deleuze's work--and this goes for many of his contemporaries as well--is that they're almost never talking about what they look like they're talking about. Falling out of the philosophic tradition, Deleuze (as well as Derrida, Irigaray, and quite a few others) finds the language of the tradition itself to be part of the problem. The result of their critique of phallogocentrism (the privileging of the engendered subject and the primacy of meaning) is that language itself--particularly philosophical language--is radically problematic. An attempt at the beginning of a solution leads us to what is sometimes called ecriture, critical theory, or postmodern criticism. In Deleuze, as elsewhere, this often takes the form of a displacement.

Or metaphor, in the colloquial sense of the word. The refrain is such a displacement. What D+G are really talking about here is identity, but Heidegger has already shown us that deconstructing identity leads into an abyss. Deleuze and Guattari can't look closely at how identity is constructed through disciplined philosophical language, because identity forms prediscursively--we're always already subjects. The displacement, from identity to the child singing in the dark, opens a space for play; D+G can talk about identity in creative and useful ways, all the while seeming to be discussing music.

That's more or less why I don't use D+G to talk about minimalism. Though I suppose it might be interesting... I am going to be talking a bit about subjectivity... Maybe I can use them to refute Jameson?

Monday, May 18, 2009

I'm not a pheasant plucker, I'm a pheasant plucker's son
I'm only plucking pheasants 'till the pheasant plucker comes.

Me husband is a keeper, he's a very busy man
I try to understand him and I help him all I can,
But sometimes in an evening I feel a trifle dim
All alone, I'm plucking pheasants, when I'd rather pluck with him.

I'm not a pheasant plucker, I'm a pheasant plucker's mate
I'm only plucking pheasants 'cos the pheasant plucker's late !

I'm not good at plucking pheasants, at pheasant plucking I get stuck
Though some pheasants find it pleasant I'd rather pluck a duck.
Oh plucking geese is gorgeous, I can pluck a goose with ease
But pheasant plucking's torture because they haven't any grease.

I'm not a pheasant plucker, he has gone out on the tiles
He only plucked one pheasant and I'm sitting here with piles !

You have to pluck them fresh, if it’s fresh they’re not unpleasant,
I knew a man in Dunstable who could pluck a frozen pheasant.
They say the village constable had pheasant plucking sessions
With the vicar on a Sunday ‘tween the first and second lessons.

I'm not a pheasant plucker, I'm a pheasant plucker's mum
I'm only plucking pheasants 'till the pheasant plucker's come.

My good friend Godfrey is most adept, he's really got the knack
He likes to have a pheasant plucked before he hits the sack.
I like to give a helping hand, I gather up the feathers,
It's really all our pheasant plucking keeps us pair together.

I'm not a pheasant plucker, I'm a pheasant plucker's friend
I'm only plucking pheasants as a means unto an end !

My husband's in the forest always banging with his gun
If he could hear me half the time I'm sure that he would run,
For there's fluff in all my crannies, there's feathers up my nose
And I'm itching in the kitchen from my head down to my toes.

I'm not a pheasant plucker, I'm a pheasant plucker's wife
And when we pluck together it's a pheasant plucking life !

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Ah me.

I've been reading Kurt Vonnegut's Bluebeard, looking for bits that have to do with my dissertation project, and I think I've found the best quote:

'It [abstract expressionism] was the last conceivable thing a painter could do to a canvas, so you did it,' she said. 'Leave it to Americans to write, "The End."'

'I hope that's not what we're doing,' I said.

'I hope very much that it is what you're doing,' she said. 'After all that men have done to the women and children and every other defenseless thing on this planet, it is time that not just every painting, but every piece of music, every statue, every play, every poem and book a man creates, should say only this: "We are much too horrible for this nice place. We give up. We quit. The end!"'

254, emphasis in original.

This is directly on the heals of the protagonist, Rabo Karabekian, telling a few of his war stories to his former lover, Marilee. Just prior to that, she had dressed him down smartly for the part he's played in all the crimes of men--most recently, of course, the second World War.

I'm not sure this will be useful from a substantive point of view, but Vonnegut's book as a whole seems quite preoccupied with the problem with humanism after WWII, which is also, of course, part of the problem abstract expressionism, and later, minimalism, was sorting through. And also of course, this last was also faced with reconciling "the end" with what was clearly now becoming a beginning of something quite different: long-term, stable, violent, global capitalism--the confluence of Vietnam and leisure society.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


People occasionally remark on the ideological sympathies between Adorno and Derrida. For a while I thought this was because people are stupid (I hadn't read any Adorno and very little Derrida--I was stupid). The reason I thought this was because of the importance of "authenticity" to Adorno's writings on music. When authenticity is read more carefully, as Jameson reads it, Adorno becomes both more palatable and more consistent with certain strains of post-structuralism.

A work is authentic for Adorno not because it adheres to the strictures of a cultural tradition, or because it remains uncorrupted by capitalism, but because it pursues its own contradictions. Jameson talks about Adorno's "implacable identification of authenticity...with contradiction as such, in its most acute and unresolvable forms." (Late Marxism, 201) Art succeeds--is authentic--precisely when it acknowledges the impossibility of success; this is why modern art--of all genres--has some element of the ugly. It is with this in mind that Jameson suggests that Adorno's aesthetic is "an aesthetic of scars."

Scars--gashes, cuts, gaping chasms--are very important to Derrida. Moments when coherence dissolves, when the margins show through. Spivak makes much of these moments too, and (negatively) characterizes the rationalist opposition to disruption, to scars, as "crisis management": the smoothing over of crises, the elision of the subaltern.

I suspect that Marx is whats at the root here, and that Adorno, Derrida, and Spivak are showing commonalities in this moment because they are concerned with the grasping, covering apparatus of capitalism.