Tuesday, 28 April 2009

The Sexual Politics of Meat? Identificatory community, becoming animal, electronic music

I just happened to be looking back through this blog's archives the other day, and was surprised to see Roger Griffin had left 2 comments in response to my posting on palingenesis, electronic music, fascism. I contacted him, and was happy to receive in response 4 articles that helped flesh out some of the concerns I'd raised in my post. Time permitting, which is a big IF in my case (as I am hopefully about to go through a transitional phase in my life involving a major shake up of how I am living/working as an editor of academic journal articles), I might be able to post a more detailed response in the near future.

For the moment then, I'll note that Griffin and I seemed to be in some agreement about the explanatory significance of Durkheim's theory of collective effervescence. I can't see that Roger could object to me reproducing part of our private correspondence, as my hope in so doing is that it will encourage others to investigate his work. That said, Griffin goes on to explain:

"certainly Durkheim's concept of collective effervescence as a way of transcending anomie relates to both fascism and rave communities, but I think in a way illuminated by the distinction between integrative (rave) and identificatory (fascist rally) communities. You can see the full scale conceptual framework I have erected to explain the compulsive need for the creation of a new transcendent nomos under the conditions of modernity in my Modernism and Fascism (just Google). Meanwhile here is the article on apolietic music as well, as well as my article on fascism's temporal revolution which ends with an allusion to Okenfold." 

Basically, I think Griffin's terms are apiece with my own distinction between contingency and seriality respectively. I think the recent discussions of representations of the "alien" in rave culture over at the dancecult website (listed on Acheron's blogroll) also fits nicely into the ideal of a "unity in dissensus" presumed by the "integrative" pole. So what else can be said about the "identificatory" in relation to electronic music more generally? (i.e. electronic music outside of rave culture) What I'm starting to wonder, by way of a response, is whether "the animal" necessarily functions as a substitute for the "alien"? In Nazi Germany, for example, this would typically take 2 forms: certain humans are relegated to the level of vermin or beasts of burden, while simultaneously other animals were elevated at the expense of the "subhuman".  The subhuman was recognisably an "alien" by virtue of the fact that their physiognomy was a reflection of their country of origin (so their very presence in the Fatherland was a violation of "natural" borders). Further details on these biopolitical [identificatory] dimensions of fascism can be found by revisiting an earlier post on this blog, "After the Downfall: A German reading of The Lord of the Rings".

If this strategy is discernible in the form of identificatory effervescence created in other electronic music cultures, then I feel it is probably of a different order than my previous musings on the trope of "becoming animal" (which incidentally cited some musical precedents, such as Jim Morrision's alter ego, The Lizard King). To be sure, I was initially intrigued by news of Iggy Pop's recent collaboration with a nihilistic kindred spirit, Michel Houellebecq, an album called Preliminaires
Afterall, nihilism is indissociable from anomie, sometimes in turn fostering "active" effervescent solutions [sic]. In the promotional clip Iggy heaps praise upon Houellebecq's novel, The Possibility of an Island, and seems to imply that the existence of a dog is superior to not only that of the kind of artificial human made dystopia in the book specifically, but to humanity in general. Iggy's career is  littered with comparable intimations, featuring, as it does, song titles such as I Wanna Be Your Dog and Dog Food. He also hints at the appeal of a kind of atavistic primordialism on his album Instinct, which the listener senses is in part a response to an urban landscape forged in Cold Metal (a song on Instinct). 

Be this as it may, my feeling is that Iggy never really consciously plotted a strategy of sonic attack throughout the course of his career that is somehow tainted by "fascist" aesthetics (remember, Preliminaires pays tribute to Jelly Roll Morton!!), notwithstanding Greil Marcus's description of Iggy urging the audiences in his concerts to vote for Reagan during the 1980s, or the excesses of earlier performances with The Stooges, such as this for example:  

It's also obviously the case that his music is not electronic. There is, however, one shared attribute worth considering in relation to the genre of electronic music known as "power electronics", namely, the emphasis on volume (at least with respect to what Iggy had earlier called Raw Power). Now I haven't read Jacque Attali's Noise: The Political Economy of Music, but I'm intrigued by the following quotation, which hints at the ritualistic aspect intended to generate effervescence, and how violence functions in such a context:

"Noise is violence, i.e., murder. Music is a channelization of noise and a simulacrum of sacrifice, a sublimation to create order and political integration. Therefore music is ritual murder". 

Attali also makes me think here of those passages in Bataille wherein the shattering of selfhood instigated by the infliction of violence is paradoxically represented as "liberating" for its victim, as it opens them up to an "outside". Bataille even strains credibility, to put it mildly, by referring to the sexual assault of a woman in such terms. Attali must be closer to the truth of the matter insofar as he intimates that such receptiveness in effect can mean reduction to the status of a sacrificial animal intended to buttress identificatory solidarity. Hence the victim is emptied of their autonomy so they can then be made subject to someone else's domination.This is the sense I get whenever I listen to a power electronics album, such as Whitehouse's Great White Death. William Bennett & co. continually draw on transgressive, misogynistic tropes, all wrapped in a shattering wall of noise. I've read enough interviews with him to know that nihilism is a primary concern in Whitehouse's aesthetic. Rhythm is not permissible because it is not "pure" enough; unlike nihilism, it simply dates too quickly, thus explaining Bennett's complaint that the "serious" music press, such as The Wire: Adventures in Modern Music, ignore Whitehouse because they refuse to make the dance music that so entrances cultural journalists (in his words, The Wire is strictly "revisionist", when it comes to electronic  music). 

But the real clincher, the thing that spurred my reflections following the exchange with Griffin, was reading Bennett's comments on his blog regarding the status of animals. I was struck by how his strident defence of their dignity has never been matched by anything I've ever heard him sing, say, or write, about homosap. Please keep in mind that I'm only thinking aloud here, so these are tentative conclusions at best. I have to guiltily admit though that I actually enjoy Bennett's blog, even as some of its more sinister ramifications are crystallizing in my mind while reading him. Irrespective of whether you agree with him or not, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that William Bennett is a very clever contrarian (and perhaps more of a reflexive ironist than he is usually given credit for), who has succeeded in producing some of the most intense and scary music of all time. Don't believe me? Try listening to Great White Death along with Big Black's thematically similar Songs About Fucking, then wait and see which album burns a bigger hole in your brain....I'll wager that Whitehouse will be conferred with this dubious honour each and every time.

I also do not want to be misconstrued as arguing that it is wrong in principle to defend the dignity of animals: I simply wish to avoid its occurrence at the expense of our collective humanity. A necessary correlate of this view is that animals must be protected from simply becoming "animal capital" (see my previous post of the same title). Some shocking juxtapositions of the kind of sacrificial economy "animal capital" requires can be seen in Georges Franju's little seen documentaryLe Sang des betes (aka Blood of the Beasts). I was about to say that all the film is missing is an updated Whitehouse score, but then the horrible thought occurred to me that it is probably closer to the mark to nominate the films of Walerian Borowczyk. I've posted on his Marceline before, so I admit his works are more open to interpretation than suggested by my association of him with William Bennett. But I can't help thinking of the nightmarish visions of "identificatory community" such a collaboration might (perhaps unwittingly) entail, especially when watching the trailer for this Borowczyk film:

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