Tuesday, November 4, 2014

beauty lies in the eye

Sonic Youth Music Video for "Beauty Lies in the Eye" off the album Sister. Directed by Kevin Kerslake

Never knew this existed!

Came to it through a description of the video and the song in an old Steven Shaviro essay titled "Beauty Lies In the Eye": 

52 Postmodern beauty would be the event in which the free play of the 
faculties turns inside out to affirm singularity and multiplicity. The faculties 
are not harmonized, but each is pushed to its limits. In the beautiful this inter- 
rogation of the limit, turned into an affirmation, takes place entirely immanently, 
without the negativity and the hints of transcendence that are still present 
even in Lyotard's postmodern sublime. Beauty will be singular and immanent, 
or not at all. 

53 All this points to an aestheticism somewhat similar to that of the late 
Barthes and the late Foucault. Such aestheticism is often criticized as being 
apolitical. But it stands as a reproach to the endeavours of William Bennett 
and others on the Right to reduce culture and beauty to matters of virtue and 

54 'Beauty Lies in the Eye' is a song from Sonic Youth's 1987 album Sister. 
The sound is dissonant and thickly layered. There is no melody to speak of. 
The tempo is moderately slow. Steve Shelley's drums keep up a steady beat. 
Thurston Moore's and Lee Ranaldo's guitars twang in unison. The guitars 
have been treated to produce a muddy, reverberating sound. They drone 
through a series of unresolved minor chords. Everything seems fuzzy, slightly 
out of focus. 

55 This music doesn't go anywhere. It doesn't build to a climax. It ends as 
uncertainly as it began. It just drifts, for two minutes and fifteen seconds. Yet it 
is not laid back. It is too nervous and edgy. It exudes an air of restlessness, with 
a hint of violence. Something could explode at any moment. Something has 
just happened, or is about to happen. The music is heavy with premonitions. 
Overtones ring out. The drums speed up to double time. A single note insis- 
tently repeats. An extra guitar line snakes through the wall of sound. These 
variations unfold at the very edge of hearing. They appear briefly. Then they 
fade back into the mix. They seem to portend a greater change in the offing. 
But the future they look forward to does not arrive. The song remains distant 
and impassive. It inhabits an empty time, a time that never passes. This music 
lies suspended between memory and anticipation. 

56 The video for 'Beauty Lies in the Eye' confounds things even further. It 
is a dazzling blur of strobe effects, overlaid images, and vivid colours. Dropped 
frames make for ripples of jerky motion. The camera tilts to extreme angles. It 
zooms in on the smallest details. Thurston Moore's fingers pick out chords on 
the guitar. Kim Gordon's lips caress the microphone. Waves churn in the 
ocean. Two, three, or more images appear at once on the screen. They pass 
through each other, like ghosts. They bleed into each other, leaving tracks of 
light in their wakes. They melt into smears of highly saturated colour. 
Everything wavers and flows. Everything dissolves into a synesthetic haze. 

57 Kim Gordon's voice alone emerges intact. Her words come through 
clearly, with an almost palpable presence. She speaks the lyrics, more than she 
sings them. She recites them slowly, nearly without expression. Her intonation 
is flat and matter-of-fact. The blankness of her voice seems at odds with what 
she is saying. For the lyrics themselves are laden with emotion. They are all 
about loss, regret, and yearning. Kim is taken by surprise. An old, forgotten 
love comes back to haunt her. 'Something in the air there . . . brings you back 
to me. It's been so long'. The past returns, unbidden and unwanted. 'It's 
coming coming down over me'. It sweeps through her, in an overwhelming 
rush. It seizes her, beyond all hope of forgetting. She is troubled by feelings 
long dead and gone. She is seduced by a lover who is no longer there. She 
searches out the eyes of someone who cannot return her gaze. 

58 That is why Kim Gordon's voice is blank. The passion is real enough. 
But she cannot claim it as her own. This love does not unfold in the time and 
space of the present. It happens in an empty time, a time that is not now. It 
takes place in a space removed, a space that is not here. It draws Kim outside 
of herself. It lures her into its own alien depths. She cannot contain the 
'explosions in [her] eye'. She cannot possess the vision that drives her mad. 
She can neither recover the past, nor free herself from its spell. The memories 
that haunt her belong to somebody else. 'Beauty lies in the eyes of another's 
dreams. Beauty lies lost in another's dream'. 

59 No song has the power to recover such a dream. No song can compen- 
sate for loss. No song can bridge the gap between one person and another. 
'Beauty Lies in the Eye' does not even try. Its words, like its sounds, are forever 
incomplete. Beauty is not a recompense for anything that has been lost. 
Beauty is rather the pang of loss itself, its truest expression. It cannot be 
shared, and it cannot be preserved. It vanishes in the very act by which I 
apprehend it. I can only cry out, a witness to its passing. At the end of the 
song, there's a subtle shift in tone. Kim Gordon's voice is no longer entirely 
blank. It becomes imploring, almost wistful. She calls to someone who is not 
there and who will never answer: 'Hey baby . . . Hey sweetheart . . . Hey fox 
come here ... Hey beautiful ... Come here, sugar'. 

61 Any theory of beauty is always inadequate to its examples. 

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