Thursday, August 16, 2012


      It's really hot out right now, so hot that my computer is occasionally adding numbers when I use the letters u, i, e, and  t.  It's not something that inspires much in the way of sustained intellectual effort, particularly when there's no real effective way to either air condition your apartment or even create a sustained draft through the building.  In effect, I'm going to let my post on the industrialization of the household go for the moment, along with my examination of Gore Vidal's essays, and create something a bit more modest to tide the blog over until the weather gets a bit less miserable.  I feel like I've been fairly isolated this summer from the events that translate into writing.  Other than my brief sojourn to Minneapolis and rural Michigan, I've spent the majority of the summer in Irvine, without much ability to get out due to finances.  (I've caught a few shows, and a couple films, but nothing that has really translated into writing.  Similarly, I've been disconnected from the politics of the region, having missed the brief uprising in Anaheim, and the general lack of political action on the campus during the summer.)

     Beyond that, I'm thinking about returning to Gramsci's concept of hegemony in the near future.  The question of how structures of domination and exploitation are able to gain consent from those who do not benefit from them seems to be particularly relevant, as is the question of how to create counter-structures that challenge the forms of common sense that allow for that support.  One of the things that I am interested in trying to do for the next year is to create some pedagogical structures to begin to challenge that.  I think that the student movement has done a remarkable job of challenging the legitimacy of the attempts to privatize the university, but our educational efforts have remained minimal and, at times, conservative.  Often, the notion of public education is reduced to the question of cost, rather than thinking about access, quality of education, and other broader questions.  There has been some very good worker solidarity, at times, but not enough exploration of the laboring structures of the university.  The question of fighting racism in the university has been brought up in slogans and conversations, but not enough exploration of what it means to fight racism in what Christopher Newfield calls, 'pseudo-integration.'  I'd love to organize a combination of speakers, reading groups, and workshops around this.  If anyone is interested, feel free to leave a message here, or contact me. 

    There have also been a couple interesting essays on this, written by a number of groups around the Occupy phenomenon.  I'll try to explore those in the near future.  I'll leave it there.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Random Record Review I: Killing Joke--Fire Dances

      In my effort to come up with some approach to keep myself writing, I thought that I might take up a bit of record reviewing.  Rather than looking at new records, however, I'm going to write reviews of records randomly chosen from my collection.  I'm not sure that it's going to translate into a lot of folks reading, but it seems like a good way of working on my writing skills as well as listening to records that might have been left moldering on the record shelves.  Additionally, it will renew my commitment to writing about music, which has dropped off a bit, lately.  My tentative plan is to turn this into a weekly exercise.  The first choice is the 1983 Killing Joke album, Fire Dances, and album that I am fairly certain was purchased from Cheapo Records in Minneapolis, although I probably couldn't tell you which of the stores in the chain it was purchased from.  I'm reviewing the LP version of the record, rather than the reissue with bonus tracks.  In any case, here goes....

      Truth be told, my engagement with Killing Joke as a band has been fairly limited.  I own this lp, an earlier album, and the cd reissue of the 1985 lp, Night Time.  Like a lot of other folks, I first heard Killing Joke on MTV's 120 Minutes, through the video for "Eighties", which is on Night Time, and is, fairly predictably, my favorite lp from the band.  My general impression is that this aesthetic choice identifies me as a fairly casual fan of the group, rather than someone in the inner circle of their 'fandom.'  From the little research that I have done on the band.  Fire Dances was released after a brief hiatus of the band, caused by singer Jaz Coleman and bassist Youth's escape to Iceland in order to "survive the apocalypse." (The election of Thatcher and the Falklands War seem about as reasonable as it gets for signs of the apoapocalypse, I guess.  The album also features a minor line-up change, as Youth was replaced by Paul Raven on bass.  In any case, let's move on to the music.

     To begin, the record fits fairly comfortably within post-punk generic conventions, which are admittedly fairly broad.  With the exception of the dance oriented, "Dominator", the songs are built on a fairly conventional vocals, guitar, bass, drum set up.  With the guitar and bass taking the same sort of melodic and distorted sound of bands such as Joy Division and early Siouxsie and the Bansheees. (Early Echo and the Bunnymen might even be a better reference than Joy Division.) It moves away from some of the denser, more metallic sounds that linked the earlier records of the band with the efforts of Amoebix amongst other acts, to a lighter and more open sound.  The drums break out of that tradition, though.  They're up in the mix, and are the most obvious reference to the sort of proto-industrial sound of the band, pushing towards the mixture of percussion and repetition that would dominate that particular form of dance music.   It also contributes to the communal feeling contained in the lyrics, which becomes explicit in the song "Let's All Go (To The Fire Dances" and is expressed through the chanted lyrics, "Move in on them" contained in the synth driven track, "Dominator."  (A track that seems to stand between DAF and the later work in Nitzer Ebb)  It's a communalism that is remains subcultural in nature, calling for gatherings of song, dance, and sex, rather than any sort of explicit political change. (They also feel a little bland, and Jaz Coleman's normally powerful and distinct vocals lose a little of both those qualities with the communalist effort.)

     Overall, it's a pretty decent record, and the songs do a pretty good job of holding your attention.  The lyrics aren't spectacular, but there's nothing particularly embarrassing in them.  Bass and Guitar provide fairly good texture and melody throughout the tracks, but I'm not a big fan of the drums at times, which fall into the kind of stiff rhythmic qualities that often define the electronic industrial dance music that was later influenced by this sort of sound.  It's unfortunate that the band didn't draw more explicitly on some of the dub influences that you could find in their earlier music.  The tracks that worked the best were the ones that stayed in the more conventional post-punk/rock that would define the band's next album, Night Time.  The one exception is the track, "Dominator", which managed to do the best job of linking the band's sound to the dance aesthetic than the others, which felt a bit forced at times.  (I'm particularly thinking about "Rejuvenation", but the first half of the album feels a little rhythmically forced.)  Additionally, there's a bit of a tendency for the songs to blend together.  Nothing stands out in the way that they do in some of the other albums.  To tell the truth, the album strikes me as a transition between the earlier albums, and the direction the band would take with Night Time and the albums of the late 1980's (which I haven't heard, but are evidently slightly boring in their attempt to repeat the success of Night Time with reduced results.)  So, I liked the record, and I don't see myself getting rid of it, but I also don't see it getting a lot of repeat play, either.

      I think I'll leave it there.  Hopefully, I will get to another random record choice some time next week.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A Short Note on Jean Genet's Captive of Love (a bit old)

            Obviously there is a lot going on in the book, but one of the things that interested me about the book dealt with the matter of friendship.  There is a moment in the first section of the book where Genet gets into a conversation with the fedayeen.  He is asked is if he is a Marxist/  “I was rather surprised, but didn’t attach much importance either to the question or to the answer.  “Yes”, I said.  “Why?”  I was still not really interested.  Ferraj’s young face looked open and guileless.  He was smiling, but anxious to hear what I’d say.  After awhile I told him nonchalantly:  “Perhaps because I don’t believe in God.”  (113)  At this moment a colonel tries to end the conversation, but the fedayeen refuse this, and the two (Genet and the colonel have a debate upon the existence of God.)  This debate links to a conception of freedom that both are trying to express, one that links to a notion of sovereignty. 
            “When you start by putting the discussion under the aegis of God you cut the ground from under my feet—I don’t claim the patronage of anyone so grand.  And your God is all the grander because you can increase His dimensions as much as you like.  But the reason you also insisted on beginning with the seal of friendship is that even though you’re a Muslim you’ve got more faith in friendship than you have in God.  For here we all are, armed, an unbeliever among believers, and yet I’m your friend.”

            “And where does friendship came from but God?… To you, to me, to all of us this morning.  Would you be our friend if God hadn’t inspired you with friendship for us, and us with friendship for you?” (117)

             Obviously, I don’t want to get into the theological implications of such a discussion, which are not that interesting, but the notions of social structure that come up.  For Genet, the matter of importance is the friendship among men.  It is what attracts him to these various modes of rebellion.  When he makes the statement, “I am a Marxist”, he hollows it out of all its traditional meaning and links it with a form of contingency of relationships.  Whereas the colonel links the modes of friendship with the figure of God.  I would push this farther to see a discussion of whether the revolutionary community is based on a telos or end, or whether it is based on the interactions and the love that its members hold for each other.

            We can see this in the way that Genet relates a certain Marxist-Leninist belief system with a religious belief.  “The worst were the ones whose heads were full of neat but crude slogans that they unloaded on you like a ton of bricks.  The one I dreaded most was Thalami, who I believe meant to turn me into a perfect Marxist-Leninist.  The Koran had a surat for every occasion: David Thalami had a quotation from Lenin.  And he wasn’t the only one.  In the early days I told myself the revolutionaries were only young after all.” (281)  Both these modes of telos are put into relationship with each other, and are expressed within the most deadening language possible.  Genet later links them up with certain notions of the European state.  These things in effect, kill the possibility of the revolution.

            Certainly, it is difficult to argue against that fact.  Postcolonial and postrevolutionary states have really not managed escape out of this bind.  But on the other hand, it seems that Genet’s model (if we can use such a word) points to any mode of organization creating the preconditions for this.  The question becomes is there a way of thinking this question that escapes this?