*DISCLAIMER* This blog is my diary, so when I write about something specific I’m also writing about everything else. I think that what is needed (in relation to Adam Curtis’ call for a journalism/general way of communicating that actually gets through to us / isn’t boring, in relation to all sorts of debates and complaints about everything existing on a flat info plane) is a weaving together of critique and debate with a more subjective, intimate viewpoint. There’s so much writing and criticism that seems to just adopt existing forms because it’s probably written by people who are aspiring to some sort of career or success or level of professionalism, so they write about things in this boring-ass safe way because they just need to go through the hoops to get ahead and play by the RULEZ.
THIS IS WHY THE YOUTH HAVE NO FUCKING VOICE! Well, in theory anyway. It’s because to have a voice you have to be published in big-ass publications and to be published in big-ass publications you have to be on the scene as a successful academic amazing writer person who gives really long talks with lots of long words in them. You have to be a professional obfuscater. One of the times this struck me most was at this Gregory Bateson film screening a couple of years back. Bateson was a big advocate of not narrowing down and ‘trivialising’ things (his word) into little areas like philosophy or critical theory or psychology or sociology or ecology etc etc etc, because in doing so, you end up not seeing the forest for the trees. Maybe it’s just academia? In academia you have to trivialise in order to get funding, you have to find something that hasn’t been studied or researched before, no matter how minute and microscopic and totally irrelevant it is. Well anyway, so this great film was shown and the man’s daughter was there, then it was all ‘over to the panel’ who started trivialising to the nth degree, and then a relatively ‘normal’ person in the audience pointed this out and asked a question in plain English and they got all defensive like ‘I’m not a professor, by the way’ but they were talking about it in relation to their discipline or field of expertise. I mean, how can you just do that? How can you not maintain sight of the bigger fucking picture, how can you be so lost and immersed in jargon that you lose the ability to distinguish bullshit from those shiny coins of clarity and meaning? (How can you be ‘interested’ in anything?) Things are trivialised into critiques and trajectories and deconstructions and it’s just a big language trap. FOREST. F.O.R.-FUCKIN-FOREST.
People get TOO CLEVER. Too clever. Too clever actually just creates this condition where you can only be understood by people who are versed in the same theory and jargon you are. This is why I hate how clever I am, I’m too fucking clever to explain what it is that I do at art school to my own family! I’m too educated in Art history and theory and turns and the expanded field to be able to speak about it on a level where someone who hasn’t been studying it for 3 and a half years can understand it. This is the folly of cleverness, you end up not clever at all because you can only articulate yourself within a narrow and elitist vocabulary.
FUCKING FOREST!!! LOOKING AT THINGS THROUGH A KEYHOLE. NO. NO. NO. Imagine what good academics and philosophers and theorists could do if they applied their intelligence and ability to synthesise to the FOREST rather than a few little pines on one of the trees? I know, it’s not everyone. I know trivialising is necessary in order to get anywhere, to avoid becoming like me maybe (overwhelmed general mad preachin’ freak)
Right bored of that, if you’re not an idiot you’ll know what I mean. If you don’t know what I mean you’re one of them. OBFUSCATER. BULLSHITTER.
Like, the way that when you’re a student (like me) and you go to some high-brow jargon riddled very very very dense theory talk, you feel like a piece of shit thicky worm. You feel like the only way you’re going to ‘get’ anywhere or survive in life or progress into this mysterious world is by educating yourself to that degree. You feel like you’ll come back when you’ve got your Phd and be able to engage with it then.
BUT YOU KNOW WHAT? I HAVE A VOICE. I’m sick of the goddam elitisim. Right, ok, so when the Plastique Fantastique guy (let me just say, looking at their website and considering their actual video, their work is pretty ace, and the website is good at summarising it / showing you what it’s about on the first page) started talking, for the first half an hour, I just got this horrible nauseous feeling. Rather than outlining the work like the brief summary on the website - WHICH IS AWESOME - he full-on launched into this crazy name-dropping philosophical theoretical jargon and I got a headache, and I wanted to shrink away and die.
It was all ‘Deleuze and Guattari blocs of affect’ (which, btw, I am familiar with, although by no means an expert in) … ‘Lacan … register theory …’ then he started drawing these diagrams of the intersection between the real and symbolic and whatever … and he was gushing with enthusiasm and excitement about philosophy and its possibilities etc. And mythemes? mystemes neuropatheme and I can’t even remember the other word. I didn’t understand and I felt alienated and stupid and nauseous and short-of-breath. (ok maybe that’s just me maybe other people don’t take that slight feeling of alienation or discomfort at not fully following something and amplify to the point where you feel ill but I said this was a subjective account so)
Basically, by the end of it (after simply WATCHING a few minutes of video footage of one of their performances) I got it. It was great! I loved the video, I loved this whole crazy freaky pagan ritual collective freaky glitter ribbon sound mask shit as a way of getting beyond the fictions of the self. BUT THIS WAS THE FIRST TIME IN THE TALK THAT I ACTUALLY UNDERSTOOD ANYTHING HE HAD SAID, AT THE END! Better late than never you say?
As a question, I asked ‘So, like … you’ve outlined all this theory but how do you get from all these long words and diagrams to actually deciding what the performances consist of and look like, where do the glitter and ribbons and stuff come in?’ (etc) and he said there was no hierarchy and his (their, should I say, they are a collective it was just that only one half spoke today) theoretical musings and aesthetic decisions were all part of this expanded definition of art practice and nothing was better or more important than anything else.
Which is great, I agree there.
BUT THEN AGAIN, WHY DID HE SPEND AN HOUR TALKING ABOUT DELEUZE and mystemes and shit (granted the video of the performances were being projected in the background, muted) before just showing us a bit of video with the sound on, where it actually showed what their performances were. Why was he talking about affect and mystemes and register theory and getting beyond the self rather than letting the video exude its affect?!
A short video excerpt says 1000 words, perhaps.
It’s just that if there’s no hierarchy, why outline the theory first? Why not show a bit of video? Why not say what the work is rather than launching into some academic paper or something? I guess he wasn’t expecting a ‘cold’ audience at an art school/university. Maybe he assumed everyone was familiar with all the theorists he name dropped. Like I said, I am familiar but it was still all too fast, and the video of the performance where the man’s head is being covered with glitter and wrapped in ribbon and there’s a weird voice saying ‘YOU ARE NOTHING’ communicated so much more than all this talking! It was obvious that it was about transcending the Self and entering this weird communal ‘communique’ environment just for a little while.
Ok so maybe the guy thought we knew their work already, maybe a lot of people did. Maybe that’s why Fusco asked a question about humour in their work etc. But I didn’t.
Maybe I am at fault here. NO, I’m not at fault here, I’m not at fault for not knowing everything ever.
The truth is, Plastique Fantastique make really good mental crazy cool performances and art, and they have a great aesthetic and website and lots of accompanying material that is amazing and great.
So maybe none of this matters now, because now I ‘get it’. But what is wrong, what is startling and alienating and unacceptable, is for someone to talk about their work (which isn’t the same as presenting an academic paper) in a manner that totally obfuscates the actual work.
And the sense of injustice and anger with which this text is imbued is actually an accumulation of all these times over the years where I’ve felt alienated by academic jargon. Critics all the time criticise everything in it, in this language with reference to theorists and theories, and this literally prevents anyone who is not versed in those theories or that language from being able to articulate any kind of rebuttal, from being able to participate in any such debate. Zizek (contemporary philosopher person) says ‘Every violent acting out is a sign that there is something you are not able to put into words. Even the most brutal violence is the enacting of a certain symbolic deadlock.’
This is why I swear a lot.
This is why I lost it in Mark Fisher’s talk in Edinburgh around a year ago, because he stood there and said that nothing in the last 20 years music-wise has sounded new and culture is stagnant and there is no meaning in anything, but in a theory-backed way, and I couldn’t provide any sort of rebuttal because I am not educated enough. I’m still not. ALL I KNOWS IS (god sorry I don’t want to start on this again) »> you can’t locate all meaning/value of Art in novelty/newness the time. That’s for another post.
I DON’T HAVE THE WORDS! So this isn’t really about Plastique Fantastique at all (who are really great) but just about the conventional modes of academic debate and thought and dissemination and these alienating elitist structures.
I think we need to be more ambitious, in creating big picture FOREST formats that cut through the dominant media that exist to distract and sublimate and unify people against the insanity THE FUCKING INSANITY! of the world around us. Just think, all this anger and I haven’t even got onto the pillaging of rainforests for palm oil and capitalist interests and consumerism and work and ah ahh ahh!!! It’s really all too much! It’s all just too much. So things do need narrowing down and trivialising in some way but maybe it’s through love and directness and immediacy and anger and honesty, rather than distanced theory and deconstructions and elitist language and …
This is why this is so great http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvxY5qxVUt0 (MARK MCGOWAN ARTIST TAXI DRIVER ON RUSSELL BRAND)
But then again I don’t know, a couple of days ago I was writing about futility and walking hand-in-hand into extinction. SWINGS AND ROUNDABOUTS .., the peaks and troughs of moods. All in a day’s work. OH oh oh no.
And I know that things can’t be dumbed down all the time and there’s not some utopian ideal level of communicating with everyone.
In other news my wonderful friend Daisy Lafarge has written a fantastic article titled ‘Selfie-Sufficiency OR Regaining Agency Through Boredom and Self-Enjoyment OR My Conversion to Critical Narcissism as a Strategy for Being’ which appears in SALT issue 5 which launches today and hopefully will be available to buy online soon so on that note here’s a selfie because although ultimately we will get beyond the fictions of the Self and stop gratifying our individual needs and transcend the shackles of individualism and the consumerism and evil that accompanies it, for now it’s nice to be able to insert our own images into media that shouldn’t be so top-down because it’s the internet and that’s what it was supposed to be for etc REGAINING AGENCY or something, without guilt about being narcicisstic etc