Wednesday, October 21, 2009

listen with prejudice

Returning to the idea of "the cop in your head": I'd forgotten, until Carl mentioned it, that this was a Sixties concept --killing the policemen in your head,

Many at that time, in a fatal slippage, went one step further on from simply deposing the Super Ego… and proposed eliminating the ego too (wasn't that one of Charlie Manson's little mantras, "kill the ego"?). To be a "head" in those days was paradoxically to be one whose head had abdicated and let the body take over… not so much "free your mind and your ass will follow" but free yourself of your mind...

I think you see a kind of parody version of this would-be utopian trajectory in the progression we've seen in a certain critical milieu from overthrowing the aesthetic superego (no more guilty pleasures!) to the goal of self-erasure. Here identity itself is an obstacle to limitless enjoyment. Hence the oblatory tic you sometimes observe of people apologizing for their deaf spots, their limitations as listeners. Yet amidst this quasi-utopian tabula rasa, the Big Other somehow reconstitutes itself; it's Bourdieu in reverse; somehow one's uncontrollable revulsion, or simple indifference, to--let's pick an example out of thin air--the recordings of Celine Dion, is an insult to entire populations one was barely aware of (Quebecois proletarians).

But even back in the Sixties there was already a critique of the "kill the cop/topple the super-ego" party line, in the form of Herbert Marcuse's concept of "repressive desublimation"… Even though he was lumped in with the "sex radicals" of that era (the post-Reichian equation of libido as an intrinsically anti-fascist force), Marcuse twigged that removing the shackles on desire was not only compatible with capitalism but something that could be harnessed.

To see the truth of what Marcuse was talking about with "repressive desublimation", you only have to turn on the TV.

MTV is particularly interesting because at a certain point it's almost as though pop music wasn't vulgar and debasing enough for it anymore, it had to make the move into around-the-clock reality-porn and its ever more grotesque contest shows, gladiatorial spectacles of exposed emotion … the same ingredients that pop works up into art or entertainment--aggression, vanity, conflict, jealousy, lust, domination--but presented in raw form.

But then the same could be said of anything that's ever been called "the new rock'n'roll" -- comedy (just look at the Brand/Ross debacle), video games… they are all forms of id-unleashing. All pornographies.

Really, Herbert's term should have been "regressive desublimation" not "repressive desublimation".

Without going quite as far as Carmody, it does seem clear that the idea that rock/pop's traditional province (desire/hedonism/unrestraint/informality/Robert Pattinson's notion of rock as the triumph of vulgarity) is somehow intrinsically allied to the Left is no longer tenable… You don't have to reel off a list of right-wing rockers to prove that. You just have to look at whether mass hedonism has changed the fundamental organization of society in terms of production, the class system, the distribution of power and opportunity. Quite the opposite. It's not even made anyone happier.

In a way the old Left's puritanical streak -- it suspicion of America as font of consumer capitalism, its confusion about whether pop culture, desire, etc, was on the side of the angels--this was rooted in good sense, in sound instincts about the home economics of libido.

These notions and polarities seem oddly familiar and I realized that's because Stubbs and I played around with them in a Melody Maker thinkpiece called Indecency in 1986, in which "rock" was deemed dull and worthy, studious/stadium-ous and historically/politically conscientious ("decent") and pop was thrill-powered and heedless and barbarian.

From that we further posited pop as intrinsically wanton and socially destructive, wasteful, profoundly anti-ecological… "Pop or a better world" is how we posed the dilemma, but the difference then was that it still felt possible, intellectually, to side with the anarcho spirit of pop as disruptive of all things controlling.

(Perhaps I'm older now, have nonselfish reasons --two of them, sleeping twenty feet from me-- to want a better world, whereas at 23 it's easy to play-act the nihilist)

Some of the slogans of the Sixties now take on a different light… "take your desires for reality"… that's what the neo-cons did, famously scorning "the reality-based community" i.e. the responsible media, concerned liberals etc. They wanted a war in Iraq, that was their desire and it over-rode all obstacles (truth, good sense, realpolitik)

Or how about "Be here now, tomorrow never knows". The credit boom was the financial equivalent of "overthrow the super-ego". Bat (a Marxist who once worked as a financial journalist) explained it to me in terms of Capital needing wages to stay down but consumption to keep expanding. Solution: leash the unions and their capacity for collective bargaining over wages, but make credit really cheap. Encourage people to live beyond their means. Stoke the furnace of consumer desire and don't worry about the day of reckoning.

What I wonder is, if there is such a thing as "repressive" or as I'd rather put it "regressive desublimation"… does it logically follow there can be such a thing as progressive resublimation?

Strictly speaking, I'd say not -- sublimation can't be undertaken as a conscious decision or procedure. It's something instilled.

Nonethless, I think we are entering a phase of history where the idea of the symbolic restoration of the Super Ego seems relevant. That's what Obama represents*. Rectitude. Regulation. Words that mean something, are firmly affixed to referents. The idea that somebody is in charge. (Really with the last lot you felt simultaneously like the lunatics had taken over the asylum and that nobody actually had their hand on the steering wheel). Sanity, steadiness, caution, stability, stolidity. The Wise Father.

If this current of -- genuinely conservative and conservationist--sentiment continues to develop, maybe in our lifetime we'll see a World Government.


* Whereas Sarah Palin, his true opponent, was pure id. Much, much more rock'n'roll
(image, raw animal magnetism, grotesque sexual charisma (Paglia the pagan loves her), all about gesture and vanity and bling; inarticulate and non-cerebral like rock'n'roll should be, driven by aggression and will to power, American through and through, the perfect fusion of politics and reality-TV).

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