Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Perils of (Non) Identification

< Presumably in line with his reception as unidentifiable and otherworldly, many biographical accounts of Nomi aestheticize his death as his "departure." Page Wood and George Elliott, the "living authors" of Za Bakdaz, a Nomi-themed opera, talk of August 6, 1983, as the day when "Klaus Nomi left the Earth." (36) The British periodical Attitude summarizes his career as a heavenly event: "Like a shooting star, he exploded into the world then fell from the heavens after a glittering, all-too-brief career." (37) The Nomi Song, Andrew Horn's documentary, presents a more elaborate version of the same narrative. The film, whose subtitle reads "He Came from Outer Space to Save the Human Race," opens with a clip from Jack Arnold's 1953 science-fiction picture It Came from Outer Space, which features the landing of aliens on Earth. The clip is then reinterpreted as Nomi's "arrival" on Earth and followed by his contemporaries' descriptions of him as "alien," "artificial," and the like. Jack Arnold's film does not return until the very end of the documentary, when another clip, this time showing the aliens' departure from Earth, serves to allegorize Nomi's death.

In this way Horn's film achieves a neat formal closure and an overall elegant arc structure, but only at the price of aestheticizing Nomi's death and presenting it as logical, even inevitable, while the voice-over in Arnold's film informs us that the aliens are leaving because humanity was not yet ready for them. But, of course, Nomi's death was neither logical nor inevitable, nor was there anything in it worth rescuing through aestheticization. Because he was suffering from an unfamiliar disease, most of Nomi's friends were, perhaps understandably, too afraid to visit him in the hospital. One of the few who were not was his friend and collaborator Joey Arias, whose written account of Nomi in his last days focuses on the visible manifestations of AIDS on Nomi's body rather than on the man himself:

He developed kaposis [Kaposi's sarcoma] and
started taking interferon. That messed him real 
 bad. He had dots all over his body and his eyes 
 became purple slits. It was like someone was 
 destroying him.... Then he got real weak and 
 was rushed back to the hospital. He couldn't 
 eat for days because he had cancer in his stomach. 
 Herpes popped out all over his body. He 
 turned into a monster. (38)
Unfortunately, such dehumanizing accounts of people suffering and dying of AIDS were by no means rare at the time.  In a visualization of that dehumanization, Horn's film ends with footage of a visibly emaciated, dying Nomi's performance of "The Cold Song," an air from Purcell's King Arthur, in Munich shortly before his death. As though to confirm my critique of the film's treatment of Nomi's death, the footage is combined with an interview with Tony Frere, another Nomi collaborator, who comes dangerously close to rationalizing and justifying Nomi's death:

It was definitely a very dramatic ending, and 
 you don't wanna say it was appropriate, but--at 
 the time it was extremely surprising--but 
 now, thinking about it, it was perfect, you 
 know, sort of like a perfect coda to everything. 
 You know, just like "Wow," it was like an ending 
 to this crazy, lavish opera in a way. 

The alien, the unrecognizable, the unidentifiable
 then simply had to go, the film seems to tell us;
as such, he was never sustainable anyway.
Frere's words, heard over the last chords of
Purcell's somber air and Nomi's leaving the stage
 bedecked in a seventeenth-century aristocratic
 costume, provide for a suitably poignant operatic
exit. The most useful conclusion that I have been
 able to draw from studying the reception
 ofKlaus Nomi is that such a radical refusal to identify
 with any normative identities cannot ultimately rescue
 us from the exigencies of identification.
Having to identify with already existing
 identity norms in order to achieve both
 a recognized identity of our own and the
 cultural recognition of others can and often
 does feel stifling.

 Yet the radical alternative that Nomi
embodied is not a viable answer, because cultural recognition
 will be withheld from those refusing
 to sufficiently adhere to a recognizable
 identity. What is needed for a
 more livable life is probably a third way,
 winding between a slavish
 identification with normative identities and a radical
 nonidentification that results in the loss of recognizability.

(This passage is taken from "Do You Nomi?" Klaus Nomi 
and the Politics of (Non)identification.
 Contributors: Zarko Cvejic - author. Journal Title: 
Women & Music. Volume: 13. Publication Year: 2009).

My (brief) comment on the conclusion I've just quoted. Very
 interesting indeed. Still, it begs the question of whether
the symbolic interactionist paradigm in sociology will ever
receive the acknowledgement it deserves from Cvejic
and other like minded readers/theorists. For if one stops
to recall Mead's description of the interweaving of the "me"
and "I" respectively, it quickly becomes apparent that we
 already have a "third way" that can enable us to navigate
 between the positions Cvejic describes. Of course, a
 Deleuzian would merely snort in derision because such
 people have no vested interest 
in a "me"; the "I" is all that matters to them. One can make
an educated guess then as to how a Deleuzian would
 respond to Cvejic, who at least manages to peel back the
"radical" sci fi garb to see the kinds of problems that may
be associated with a "politics of nonidentity".

I hasten to add that Nancy Fraser's advocacy of a dual
emphasis on a politics of recognition and a politics of
redistribution is also highly significant. Please note that
redistribution is conspicuous by its absence in Cvejic's essay.

This song is from Klaus Nomi's unfinished space-western
 opera ZABAKDAZ.
ZABAKDAZ is a collection of songs Klaus Nomi was working on 
up until his death in 1983, released posthumously in 2007. 
The large majority of the tracks have never before seen a studio
 release. Some of those involved with the project hint that the
 album was nowhere near completed at the time of Klaus' passing.


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