successor to Shock and Awe whose feed no longer seems to be working properly - original blog + archive remains here: http://shockandawesimonreynolds.blogspot.com/ ^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ the blog of the Simon Reynolds book about glam and artpop of the 1970s and its aftershocks and reflections to this day
Thursday, May 11, 2023
photophilia (Grace / Amanda)
I am a glossy photograph
I am in color and softly lit
Overexposed and well blown up
Carefully printed and neatly cut
You can look at me for hours
I won't mind, I'll let you dream
From the page of a magazine
I am a glossy photograph
Of course I am a bit retouched
And my color has been processed
But cameras always erase
Fear lurking behind a face
I am a lie and I am gold
But I shall never grow old
My lips are parted
But they're not for kissing
My eyes are open
But I'm not listening
My breasts are round
But my heart is missing
I'm a photograph, I'm a photograph
I'm better than the real thing
I am a glossy photograph
I am appearing by the magic
Of a Nikon Automatic
Maybe I'm just a piece of paper
But some think that I am better
Cause photographs do not complain
Or cry, or love, or suffer
Or cry, or love, or suffer
Or cry, or love, or suffer
"I am a Photograph" is the title of a song by Amanda Lear (1977), which Sabranski is performing with 35 % accelerated speed playback and synchron. He is sitting in a close up in front of a wood structured wall paper and is wearing different eye masks, made of different photographs. In the beginning the masks change in time with the music and are accompanied by studio lightning. When the voice comes in till the end of the video Sabranski is wearing the same mask. The lyrics of the songs are telling from the perspective of the photograph, the different working steps in the developing process of a photograph and their different aspects.
Okay, this isn't about Grace Jones, but the article on Wiki-fear on your main blog: there's nowhere to comment on that site.ReplyDelete
DEATH OF THE AUTHOR! Nefarious deeds done by significant artists need have no bearing on how you interpret their creations. Indeed, it's rather irrational to assess them in relation to their sins. "Oh, Michael Jackson has been credibly accused of child abuse, so therefore the chord progressions in his songs are bad." And as for the stain of which you talk, I contend it's remarkably easy to get rid of. All you have to do is apply a quick squirt of reason and realise that you are not obliged to concern yourself with the artist's biographical details when examining their work.
Yes it is irritating, I can't seem to activate the comments function on Blissblog.ReplyDelete
Ah yes, "a quick squirt of reason" that ought to do it.
That's not how the human mind works, especially when it comes to music, which is fundamentally irrational, bypasses the reasoning faculties. Once an association is made, it's hard to dislodge. It's nothing to do with chord progressions or the actual musical content, or some kind of conscious act of "interpretation". It's do with the person who made the songs, out of which the voice emanates. It's a visceral response to two conflicting sets of feelings aroused.
As for 'death of the author' - as if you could, in pop music, evacuate the personality of the performer! The whole thing works on personalities, bodies, presence....
Weren't you a champion of dance music's lack of a personality-driven culture? And aren't you always banging on about role of the theatrical (i.e., the artificial) in music?ReplyDelete
You appear to be alluding to cognitive dissonance, to which I'd say that you can reason your way out of it. There's no a priori reason why, say, a racist can't write exquisite poetry. But the reason a reader would find the poem exquisite is due to the poem itself and the reader's interpretation, not the status of the author. If reasoning about two conflicting sets of feelings placates them, then what's the problem? Call this harsh, but you seem to be saying it remains a problem as long as you don't think about it reasonably.
Anyway, the whole role of the personality in pop music is artifice. The garb, the exaggerations, the myths (Macca still denies that he died 50-odd years ago): all can be part of the artwork the audience interprets. Also, the projected personality (Michael Jackson the healer of the world) may be viciously at odds with the actual personality (Michael Jackson the possible child molester). Didn't Lorraine Kelly win a tax row by asserting that the personality she portrayed on breakfast TV was not equatable to her real-life personality?
It's true with electronic dance music that personality of the creator is not front and center in the actual musical work like with pop and rock and rap. But a/ nowadays the creators are public figures much more so in the '90 (it's not a 'faceless techno bollocks' scene to anything like the same sense). you see the photos, you read the interviews, you have some sense of who they are. And b/ even when it's pretty depersonalized, say with a functional club track - if you heard that the person behind it had something monstrous, it would be something that entered your consciousness as you listened. That's just how the mind works. You'd have to be very tidy-minded and internally compartmentalized to not experience some bleed-through.Delete
Your indignant tone suggests you feel there's almost an ethical obligation to keep the domains separate!
As for the theatricality of pop - the idea that pop people are playing characters or that what's in a record or performance is a persona - that's very complicated, the two tendencies (performativity and a kind of confessional authenticity) seem to be going on simultaneously in the culture, even though they are at odds. So on the one hand, people seem comfortable with the idea that pop stars are playing games with personae.... on the other hand, people want to know what they are really like, there's memoirs, tell-all interviews, social media glimpses of casual-type scenarios. And then the nasty end of it - celebs without make-up etc.
But let's say that pop is just purely acting. Okay, but if an actor in Hollywood or TV does something appalling, people don't think, "oh, that's okay, what I'm looking is just a character and I can enjoy the character and forget about the beastly real person'. There's a cross-contamination - which makes sense emotionally since the figure on the screen, no matter what costume or character, is in a very sense the same person who's done these shitty things. Same body, same face, same eyes, same voice. (Although they play characters, actors and in particular film stars are enjoyed largely for their consistency, for what cuts through all the roles - they use their natural resources of attractiveness, or weird-lookingness in some cases, their laugh, smile, voice, gestures).
So to give you an example - when I watch James Wood in a movie that I've loved all my life, where he's doing the evil creepy dude thing as he's uniquely capable of doing (Casino, or Once Upon in America)... does it flit into my mind now and then he's a Trumpist shithead? Of course it does. Now I think, well, perhaps he didn't have to reach that far to effectively impersonate this shitty creepy character. It's not much of a leap.
Do you know that (possibly apocryphal) anecdote of Laurence Olivier and Dustin Hoffman on Marathon Man? Dustin Hoffman had apparently stayed up for three days straight as his character had stayed up for three days straight (that's one version of Hoffman's preparation I've heard, there are numerous others). When Hoffman told Olivier of this, Olivier replied, "My dear boy, why don't you just try acting?"Delete
I think there's a risk of stumbling down a blind alley here. The core issue is how the audience interprets the "text" of the performer, and the performer simply can't determine at all how the audience interprets the "text". The realization of that is a great liberation for both the performer and the audience. Not least, you CAN compartmentalise the art and the artist. It's really not tricky. Some fascists (Ezra Pound, Gabriele D'Annunzio, Knut Hamsun) have been acclaimed writers. I'll quote a whole Ezra Pound poem here:
In a Station of the Metro
The apparition of these faces in the crowd:
Petals on a wet, black bough.
Is the poem fascist because the poet would later adopt fascism? Nonsense! Likewise, boogieing to Blame It on the Boogie doesn't make one an apologist for paedophilia.
To be honest, my indignation was sparked because I thought you'd be more acceptive of Death of the Author.
I have heard that story about Dustin and Sir Larry - and love it. It's a great illustration of the difference between Method and the English stage tradition of "just memorise your lines and say them clearly and loudly".ReplyDelete
I don't see how you can push out of your mind the fact that Ezra Pound was an enthusiastic and unrepentant fascist. It's bound to colour your reception to some extent. Never really given Pound any time but I am a big fan of Celine (or at least the one book of his I read) and again it's impossible to read him in unawareness of his fascism - not least because the fascism, or the proto-fascism (disgust, sense of abjection etc) seethes in the prose, and there's a direct link between those feelings and political desires for ordered and cleaned-up world. Same with Wyndham Lewis, another writer who impressed me albeit on the basis of just the one book.
I'm not sure I've believed in 'death of the author' for a long time, if I ever really did. It's particularly inapt in literature and other forms of writing because - when it's any good - the personality of the writer is imprinted in every sentence. Even when the first person is avoided and it's all studiously objective and made impersonal seeming, there's always the shadow of a biography and very particular perspective discernible behind it. Writing entails a viewpoint, a stance towards the world, shaped by contingent experiences and a particular matrix of desires, fears, longings, anxieties etc.
Back to the main topic and your apologia for Blame It on the Boogie idea - again,it's not about complicity through consumption. It's about the associative properties of thought and how information is sticky. When I watch Midnight Cowboy, the thought crosses my mind about what an awful person Jon Voight turned into. Similarly with Woody Allen. And of course sometimes that'll get shoved right in the viewer's face (watched Love and Death recently and there's that bit where the Orthodox priest says something along the lines of Heaven is two 12 year old girls. Not to mention Manhattan... )
I'm not forgetting that Pound et al. were fascists, but rather acknowledging that it doesn't make sense to view every letter they wrote through a fascist prism. Take the Pound poem I quoted earlier. Can you interpret it in a fascist light without appearing a pseud? (By the by, do you know John Carey's The Intellectuals and the Masses? He argues that one of the main springs of literary modernism was contempt for the masses, to the extent that they purposefully wrote difficult literature so that the man on the Clapham omnibus wouldn't be able to understand it. He also links this to fascist leanings on the intellectuals' part, which is curious in that fascism sought to be populist and burnt the books of intellectuals.) The Merchant of Venice is deeply anti-Semitic. Does that make the entirety of Shakespeare's writings anti-Semitic? Of course not.ReplyDelete
And there's also the risk (from your point of view) that by analysing the text through the author's biography, you calumniate the author by diminishing the role of imagination and happy accidents. A writer need not get divorced or fight a dragon in order to write about such. And surely someone's pointed out an interpretation of your writing that you didn't intend but couldn't deny its validity? And what of authors of whose lives we know scant detail? Are we doomed to lack comprehension of the Odyssey because Homer didn't actually exist? Then there's the hypothetical monkey who randomly bashes out Hamlet. Does it make sense to speak of his biography?
All this leads to my main point: it is the reader who does the interpreting, not the author. If the author gives their interpretation, they do so as a reader of the text. And such an interpretation has no ingrained greater or lesser validity than any other interpretation, so long as they are consistent with the text. But interpreting a text through the author's biography strikes me as not only misguided, but limiting. It reduces literature to trivia about the author's life.
The implications for the staining of artists' reputations is that such information is sticky only if you let it be. If you conclude that an artist's biography has no necessary clamp on how you interpret their work, then you might be free of the stain. To wit, Jon Voight might have become an awful person, but so what? Why do you LET that bother you?
We are going around in circles here. I haven't talked about judging a work of art by factoring in the actions of the artist. I'm talking about knowledge and the difficulty of unknowing things once they are known. You must have a very disciplined mind if you can push such things out of your consciousness.Delete
Learning that e.g. Nico shoved a glass in the eye of a black woman and then had to flee the USA because the woman had Black Panther connections - it's something that is hard to forget!. As indeed are her other racist remarks. It doesn't diminish Marble Index and Desertshore as stunning aesthetic achievements but the knowledge has this adhesive property, like a piece of chewing gum on a sculpture. (And then you might also start to wonder just a little about the Teutonic-ness of this soundworld she created with Cale - Niebelungen etc).
This word "let" is amusing to me, as if we can control information and prevent it from penetrating our consciousness by an act of will. Suddenly it's the consumer who's more at fault than the actual perpetrator for allowing the knowledge to enter their mind and stick there!
I do know the Carey book, it's an interesting angle, the stuff about fantasies of a depopulated world was striking, and the sneery obsession with tinned foods! Although I read someone point out that he takes the D.H. Lawrence comments out of context. I suspect he's a little unfair to some of the other figures, like E.M. Forster. The elitism of the avant-garde is almost baked-in to what they do and how they necessarily see things. It's a bit of a philistine idea that all literature should be something everyone can relate to - art for the common man.
I keep banging on about death of the author because I honestly think it's the solution to your issue of contaminating knowledge. With death of the author, you don't forget the misdeeds, you judge them as irrelevant to the artwork and you move on. I'd say it's not discipline, but perspective. If you find chewing gum on a sculpture, wouldn't you try to remove it?Delete
From that outlook, the verb "let" seems appropriate. The issue is not the presence of the knowledge, but how you react to it. Anger is a natural and occasionally justifiable part of life, but learning to control your temper is a normal part of maturing. Everyone suffers failures, but not everyone cripples themselves with self-pity. And with the disappointment felt because of favoured artists' sins, there has to be a time where you just move on, right? Death of the author serves as a trusty travelator in that circumstance.
Tangentially, there are artists who appeal is based partially on their dodginess. How many bands have sold themselves under the banner of the World's Most Dangerous Group? People, teenagers especially, aren't immune to morbid curiosity and the thrill of the illicit. Doesn't that suggest people's reactions to artists' transgressions are inconsistent?
Well, it's not clear that the same kind of people are involved in these two cases - people who like "dangerous" bands and people who disapprove of abusive conduct. There may not be much of an overlap there. But also it's different kinds of bad behaviour. Bad behaviour like taking heroin, drinking huge amounts of Jack Daniels etc is self-harm - a risk to the miscreant. I can imagine fans thinking aspirationally about Motley Crue in terms of drugs, drinks, groupies etc - but it's hard to imagine them thinking it was cool that the singer crashed his car while DUI and in the process his friend Razzle got killed. And likewise while some people like the idea of rock stars having orgiastic sex and an endless succession of sexual conquests, I imagine almost all of them would distinguish between that and rape, stalking, mental cruelty in a relationship etc. Not all transgressions are equally smiled upon.Delete
"The death of the author" is a theory about the interpretation of texts. It's saying you should put out of your mind the author's intent, completely discount what they thought they were saying, also sideline any biographical considerations, and just treat it as a free-floating textual emanation. The author-ity of the author is dethroned and the text becomes something the reader constructs.ReplyDelete
Or de-constructs - a critic can unpick the threads of the text, reveal that it's saying things the author didn't intend... perhaps even the opposite of what they mean to mean. Texts are riddled with contradictions... woven out of borrowed voices, unconscious 'samples' of earlier texts. Etc.
Now I don't know if I even subscribe to this theory, persuasive and provocative as it is. In practical terms, as a critic I don't - I generally take into consideration the intent of artists. Usually I find it illuminating and enriching. But equally I'll happily read into songs etc things that may not be there and I am interested in the reception side of things, what fans make out of the music.
But the main thing is that it's not relevant to what I'm talking about here, which is known facts about public figures. So for instance, the textual interpretation of "Rock With You" (a song of dizzy eroticism that hovers between being about dancing and being about sex) sex) doesn't come into it. The meaning of the song, the feeling of the song, is not changed by new information about Michael Jackson. What is altered, for some people at any rate, is the ability to be as swayed by the song as they were before - to be fully pulled into the feeling-space of the record. "Death of the author" doesn't mean that the historical person of Michael Jackson ceases to exist or that knowledge about things he did outside "Rock With You" and the rest can be easily screened out. I think it's quite hard to do with the written word, but with pop music - where the body of the artist is right there, as vocal breath on record or as a moving figure in a video - it's much harder. The author is right there in front of you.
"What is altered, for some people at any rate, is the ability to be as swayed by the song as they were before - to be fully pulled into the feeling-space of the record." - how on earth is that not interpretation? I a person feels that Michael Jackson's scandals taint their enjoyment of his songs, that's a form of interpretation. You may say it's a visceral, unthinking, kneejerk response, but that does not exclude it as a form of interpretation. So yes, I still think and assert that "death of the author" applies to the situation you're talking about.ReplyDelete
Indeed, that we're disagreeing on how easily one can screen out such a sordid history implies that we're interpreting things differently!
There are, quite aptly, several interpretations of "death of the author". One version I favour is to say that authorial interpretation is not privileged. Of course the author can give their interpretation of their work, but all that enables them to do so is that they've read it. their interpretation is that of a reader, and as such not necessarily better or worse than that of any other reader. By all means, look at what the author says. If you find the author's biography gives you hunches that reveal treasure troves in the text, then that's gravy. But don't treat either as decisive.
In terms of artists whose reputation has, at various times, been enhanced by their crimes, the Marquis de Sade is the one who first jumps to mind. Do you know Orwell's essay on Dali, Benefit of Clergy? He accuses Dali of pursuing wickedness to impersonate genius, when he actually was just a supreme draughtsman whose talent ended at the elbow.
Well, we are pretty entrenched here, so not much point in arguing further. I will say thoughthat I don't think the word "interpretation" is really adequate to describe what happens when someone listens to a pop record. It's a much more visceral response that takes in a lot of elements that aren't textual - voice, asignifying musical elements like rhythm and melody, the presence of the star visually and as a charismatic personality, fame and the sum of what is known about an artist (what you could call the para-text maybe) etc. It's a response to an embodied performance. And to a person.ReplyDelete
Yeah, we've reached a complete impasse. Fun while it lasted.ReplyDelete