Sunday, 23 September 2007

I can't speak with all these words in my mouth

“The next real literary ‘rebels’ in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels. Real rebels, as far as I can see, risk disapproval. The old postmodern insurgents risked the gasp and squeal:shock disgust, outrage, censorship, accusations of socialism, anarchism, nihilism. Today’s risks are different. The new rebels might be artists willing to risk the yawn, rolled eyes, the cool smile, the nudged ribs, the parody of gifted ironists, the ‘Oh how banal.’ To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness. Of willingness to be suckered by a world of lurkers and starers who fear gaze and ridicule above imprisonment without law.”

– David Foster Wallace, “E Unibus Pluram” (1993)

I like this quote. I like Cold War Kids for reproducing it in a full-page ad in NME. And yet I'm hesitant to champion its sentiments for a number of reasons.

At first Wallace's essay comes across as completely, almost mind-blowingly, refreshing. Don't you cringe at ironic t-shirts? Isn't sarcasm the dullest form of humour? (I'm reminded of the time that, about an hour after the gig, it finally sunk in for my friend that I really did think Kate Nash's performance at the Dot to Dot Festival was brilliant. A bit like the episode of The Simpsons, 'Homerpalooza': "Oh, here comes that cannonball guy. He's cool." "Are you being sarcastic, dude?" "I don't even know any more.") Aren't you a little worried that you tend to work out life events through examples from TV shows?

Actually these aren't new questions at all, are they? What Wallace taps into is something that a lot of people have been feeling for a long time, probably since transtextual postmodern irony became the native tongue of a new so-called 'Generation X' society some time in the 1980s. And I say transtextual, because Wallace's use of the phrase 'double-entendre' merely implies one extra meaning, when a lot of the time many layers of textual reference are at work. This picture would merely be a Wallacean (Wallacist? whatever) double-entendre if it weren't for the fact that it was also parodying the Roy Liechtenstein cartoons employed in Douglas Coupland's Generation X, which in turn parodied pop art, which in turn parodied comic strips...

Is your head spinning? It should be. But even if what I've written above sounds like garbled nonsense, that is the process you go through every day, reading irony. You recognise and applaud when TV shows are ripping on other TV shows, or even their own show. It's automatic. When we speak, our generation speaks in a thousand voices.

And yet, isn't that pretty much the way it's always been? Is a 'single-entendre' really a purer, less adulterated way of communicating? I don't think so. I'm not as sure anymore, as I once was, that people hide behind irony and postmodern discourse, or that pop culture references are used as a substitute for humour. Not always. Sometimes we yearn, like Wallace (and Cold War Kids), for clarity of expression. But here's the clincher: Cold War Kids quoted Wallace to get their point across. Sometimes the language we speak is garbled crap - I apologise if mine is in my clumsy attempt to get a point across - but sometimes it's just richer.

Otherwise there'd be no poetry.

Sunday, 2 September 2007

Daniel Kitson

"We must reclaim the night from the cunts and the slags because the night is when the adventures happen. Moonlight, starlight, candle light and torch light: those are the four adventure lighting options."

Friday, 31 August 2007

'The liberals can be just as bad...'

Another quote plucked from the (electronic) lips of Ms. E.A. Black, and just something that's struck me as true lately. Or, in some cases, it might be more apt to say that the conservatives can be just as bad. It all depends upon what quadrant of the political compass the status quo lies really.

First case in point.

Wheen makes a lot of good points about political beaurocracy, purposefully opaque intellectual posturing and pseudo-scientific mysticism. Unfortunately chapter after chapter is crammed with abominable non-sequiturs, offering his Mail-reading fanbase a chance to dismiss anything that is difficult to understand by tarring it with the same bullshit brush waved at much easier targets, such as astrology.

Let's just say there is a lot of intellectual foul-play on Wheen's (and his peers') part at hand. One of the most dishonest critical, intellectual, even scientific practices is to take the exception and hold it up as the rule - or to take the extreme and present it as the commonplace. So critical theory takes a bashing by way of some daft excesses in the field of feminist theory (Luce Irigaray's notorious criticism of E=mc2 as a 'sexed equation' because it values the speed of light over other equally necessary forces is just one example of her barminess) and linguistics (the otherwise groundbreaking Saussure, who equates the 'erectile organ' to the square root of minus one). Writers such as Wheen and Dawkins, and no doubt many more, have followed this with some kind of withering reference to 'trendy French philosophers', usually namechecking Foucault or Deleuze/Guattari. And just like that, in a breath, the whole French tradition has been swept under the rug. Barthes' accessible, emotionally frank and at times moving works, gone. Foucault's extensive histories of sexuality, dismissed.

Second case in point. (Be sure to read the liner notes at the bottom of the page.)

Critical and cultural theory is a much maligned field of academic study, and the embarassing truth is that a lot of it is dismissed simply because it is goddamned hard. Derrida is infamously capricious in his thinking, and certainly not one I would put forward as an ambassador for the the utility of cultural studies, but even this trickster offers a wonderful glimpse into the way we order the world, if persevered with.

A lot of it is also dismissed, however, as part of a trend (sometimes) mistakenly labelled as 'postmodernism', misconstrued as a kind of 'anything goes' philosophy where everything is relative and there is no truth. There are thinkers like this, but again, they are not representative. This is what I meant in the opening paragraph. The liberals can be terrible for all sorts of reasons - I'm applying it to something of specific interest to me here - but mainly because they can be too easily lost in theory. The conservatives are too wary of theory, often describing what is essentially their own worldview, with its peaks and troughs of knowledge about that world, as 'common sense' or 'the real world' (the latter will grate particularly on graduate students!).

Why does cultural theory come in for such a hard time? So much political writing is dross, and yet we count it as an essential part of human intellectual endeavour. English Literature is an outdated institution (especially the way it is currently taught) and yet we cling to it and defend it, even if a degree in English Literature is as relevant - or, I would suggest, less relevant - than a degree in Cultural Studies. There is one reason I would dare to suggest, and it is this: Cultural Studies is new, which means that (a) it is treated with hostility and derision, because it does not carry the historical distinction of better aquainted academic studies, (b) it is simply less understood. There is a lot of crap written under the banner of Cultural Studies, like there is for any of the Humanities. And yet, as I have only very briefly pointed towards, it already carries a rich history of its own, in danger of being ignorantly washed away under the tidal wave of 'anti-postmodernist' rhetoric.

Never has the baby been thrown out for the sake of so little bathwater.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Sound & Vision

Mark Ronson plays Phil Spector for the day. No wait! It's good. There's no trumpets or anything... I think. Candie Payne has a wonderful voice, it's a shame she wasn't in the Pipettes, and that the Pipettes didn't have more good songs.

This is a song that was included on that actually-quite-good NME cover CD, Canadian Blast. Reminds me of Radiohead's 'How To Disappear Completely' a little bit, especially the bassline that sort of starts to meander its way into it, as if it were drifting itself do you see.

This band are amazing and I'm just gutted it took me so long to find them.

Ditto. This even has guitars in it. Distorted ones. Rar.

This is quite similar to the Weakerthans, but equally brilliant. Ellen probably now regrets texting me about three months ago saying, 'I've found this band I think you'll like,' because every time I went round to her place I put this song on. For a good long while. N.B. Los Campesinos! supported them in Newport too, back in May I think. Probably the most fun gig I've ever been to. I think me and Ellen possibly barn-danced during this.

Sunday, 22 July 2007

Part III.

'I thought it classic...'

Idealizing, Part II.

From Always Merry and Bright: The Life of Henry Miller:

'Typically, during the years that Henry was catching the clap and learning about women from burlesque, he also built up an intense idealism about love and was always looking for a woman to worship. His mother always told him how much he had adored her, and he seemed to be seeking another woman to serve. Cora Seward, a schoolmate at Eastern District High, seemed to meet his need fully. He was thoroughly intimidated at first glance by the physical Cora - with her firm upstanding breasts, full mouth, and apple blossom cheeks - but he was completely annihilated by the image of her which his yearnings created. She seemed too perfect ever to be possessed. Everything about her appeared radiant, romantic and distant; her porcelain blue eyes shimmered like icebergs, mirrors of her Arctic soul; her hair was perfectly blonde, like Guinevere's in The Idylls of the King. He was as helpless as Galahad. . . All he wanted to do was adore her from afar.

'Though the other boys thought it easy to jump in front of her and give her a squeeze in the dark before she could resist, Henry could never treat Cora in that common way. He made no progress in his love affair: he really didn't want to make any. After all, for sex there were plenty of beery old sluts slinking around Herald Square - Henry needed a woman to worship.

'In the summer of that year, Cora went to Asbury park with her family while Henry began his drudgery at Atlas Cement. With Cora physically removed, he liked her all the better, and he wrote long, serious letters to her. She answered him only a few times during this bitter season, but whether or not a letter waited on the mantelpiece for him, he experienced a lot of romantic anguish.

'Several times he had the same dream. He and Cora, a perfect Cora, were at a party together. As usual, Henry played hard to get, ignored her and even treated her disdainfully, until George Wright announced that Cora, disgusted with his behaviour, had fled the house. Wild with grief, Henry rushed out to bring her back. But it was too late! Repeated, the dream became wearisome. Worse, the dream was true - Henry was driving her away. He said that he wanted Cora, but he wanted a divine ideal; he could not accept the fleshly Cora and rejected her by his reverence.'

Idealizing, Part I.

I was browsing through films to rent the other day, with my mother, and we got onto the conversation of horror films. She can't stand them and can't watch them. Not the gory ones anyway.

The gory ones, of course, aren't the scary ones. You see one as a kid maybe, and you're terrified. But you become desensitised. I've seen Hostel, all of the Saw series, etc. I find the Saw franchise particularly interesting, and, unless I'm being terribly naive, to me those films realise (or at least attempt) the zenith of the genre. They all more or less rest on the same basic premise, which is this: What if you woke up in a situation of unparalleled horror? A horror beyond words, too terrible to imagine? And what if it wasn't a dream, but a reality? Your chest/jaw is going to be ripped open by a reverse-bear trap, unless you can fish out a key from corrosive acid/a dead person's stomach? What if the series of events could lead to revenge on the people who you consider to be variously accountable for your young child's death? And so on. It's the height of visual and psychological torment. And yet I, and many of my friends of various dispositions towards the genre, can watch these films and not be haunted by them. Why?

Because horror is, of course, not about what is shown, what is said or done; it is precisely about what is hidden, unspoken, undisclosed - and yet teetering on the parameters of your consciousness. Hitchcock has been spoken about as the 'master of suspense'. He may not have had the special effects budget (or capabilities back then) to create the graphic spectacles we are presented with today, but this worked to his advantage. 'Suspense': meaning, literally, to suspend; not to remove, or obliterate, but to captivate the audience by evoking feelings in them that the worst is always just around the corner, a monstrous apparation that is omnipotent in the mind because it can only ever be cauterised by realisation. Scary, in other words, is that which you know exists, but which you refuse to confront. If you confront it, if you throw off the sheet and say, 'This is your monster,' it is no longer as terrible.

It can never be as terrible as it was in your mind.

Saturday, 21 July 2007

Snakes on a Barge

Edit 15/03/09: In the absence of the photographs taken that day, which I used to weave this crazy tale together, the story itself makes little sense. They seem to no longer be online. For sentimental reasons, though, I'm keeping it up.

It was a gloomy day in Bristol, and a group of friends were attending the 2007 Dot to Dot festival. Drinks were quaffed, cigarettes legally smoked, and a good time had by all.

Waiting for the next band to start, the crew couldn't help but notice a mysterious man sitting next to them. He was toying with something in his hands, and kept looking into middle-distance, as if towards a camera. Thankfully I'd brought my special hooded top, designed to camouflage against the Bristol skyline. I donned my hood and watched with interest, trying to work out the nature of his endeavours.

I couldn't see what was going on. It looked innocent enough, but on closer inspection I could see that some process was already underway before our very eyes.

He's building something! But what, and to what nefarious ends? It appeared to me like some kind of grotesque butchery carried out in the name of medical science. I saw limbs, heads, eyes, all the subtle hues of the rainbow. Yet the weather was darkening; no rainbow in sight, only a diabolical bungle of twisted body parts and ideology. As the fingers worked frantically at the bloody mess before me, I could only imagine what manner of evils were finding new shape and life in the ovarian promise that his hands were delivering.

Then it all became horrifyingly clear.

A reptilian army. And he was breeding them. Yet still I could not fathom in what name this abhorration of nature had been so bastardly wrought. My mind was racing at the speed of danger, trying to piece together the parts of this terrible jigsaw puzzle - but nothing would fit. Just then, as the barge jolted my senses and sea-nausea took hold, I saw in an instant a terrifying vision flash before my eyes...

I saw their innocent heads, full to the brim with hopes, dreams, desires, thoughts of love lost and love anew, all dashed. This villain, this progenitor of abomination, was planning to release his army unto the unsuspecting heads of the gig-goers!

I knew I had to think fast. The next gig was in less than ten minutes, and if I didn't act quickly, that reptilian army would have seized a strangehold over the ship, and its inhabitant's necks, that would surely prove impossible to break.

I watched closely. There was undeniably a communication of sorts passing between this man and his evil army. I maintained surveillance under my hooded disguise. It wasn't spoken communication, nor any sign language i recognised. I looked closer. Surely not...

Of course!

I took a moment to compose my thoughts. It made sense, and yet I was loathed to believe it. The reptilian army was being controlled by his posing!

There was no time to think up a plan; already we were being ushered into the venue, the place where it seemed we would all meet our makers unless something could be done - and fast.

We took our places amidst the throng of music-lovers, and I broke the news to my accompanying friends. After much hushed deliberation, no response was forthcoming. The band came on stage, and I silently prayed. The situation was utterly hopeless. Just then, the diminutive Emily grabbed at my waist:

"The reptilian army is controlled by his posing, right?"

Sure. Where was she going with this? The band continued to tune their instruments, a sound of unparalleled menace to my ears.

"Well, he seems to master them by way of his indomitable ability to pose all the time and with greater breadth of expression than any man I've seen. If all of us pose as hard as possible, maybe we could sway the army into our powers!"

It seemed crazy, but things were about to get a lot crazier. Without hesitation, I began to rally the others. After explaining the situation as quickly as possible, they all agreed. It was now or never.

Ellen and Emily posed with all their might, biting their cheeks til blood spilled, pushing their lips out til their upper jaw strained.

"It's not working!," Emily cried out in despair. The wicked genius' posing ability was too great, and the army remained poised on the ceiling, waiting to strike. The girls' efforts were producing a visible effect though, as the army writhed and twitched in confusion. Ellen stepped forward.

"We need your help Matt. Our posing is distracting the reptile army, but they remain under his sway. You have to join us."

"No problem" I replied, and stepped in to join them. But as I moved, I felt Ellen's hand on my shoulder.

"Wait. If we're going to break his power over the reptiles, we need to summon all our posing power. Matt," she sighed, "we need you to pull the gayest face ever. This isn't about MySpace or Facebook. This is about saving mankind."

I turned around and looked her in the eyes, then smiled. "Don't worry about that." But I was worried. Deeply worried. Even still, I knew that what Ellen was saying made sense. I looked around to see Emyli and Keiran had already begun.

As soon as I saw Keiran's face wracked with effort, I knew that I would have to emulate that level. We all would. I joined Emily and Ellen and we turned around. Ellen began to count.

"One... Two..."

"Quickly, there's no time!" I shouted across at her, as the first frogs and snakes began to drop from the ceiling.


A flash of light.

I looked up in disbelief. We had not succeeded in swaying the reptilian army into our powers. No, the sight that stood before me was far more remarkable.

Covering the ceiling was a thick layer of green, yellow, orange and black goo. The army, to our astonishment, had exploded.

"Damn you!" cursed the evil genius. "Now I have to sit through this sub-Klaxons shite for the next forty minutes!"

"You're insane" I called out across the room. "For while that is now true for all of us, did you stop to think about the consequences of releasing a reptilian army into this room? Did you really think that your posing was controlling the creatures, or just driving them to destruction?"

The man stood in shock, the raw substance that he used to craft the army now dripping, lifeless, into his hands. Dust to dust.

Then we saw Kate Nash, who played an awesome set and then had sex with me for twelve hours afterwards.

Back on the deck of the barge after my romp, spirits were high. The clan had defeated the evil spawn and saved Bristol, and perhaps humanity. The evil genius, who turned out to be some guy called Michael, was released from the mania that had previously saturated his thoughts, and joined in with the ensuing mirth.

"Just one question, Mike. How did you get all those reptiles to breed with each other so easily?"

"Ah," he responded, "that's simple. I gave them some frog's-porn!"

Friday, 13 July 2007

Monstrum In Fronte, Monstrum In Anime

The new effort from You Say Party! We Say Die! who will, delightfully, be making up numbers (and indeed, exclamation marks) on the forthcoming Los Campesinos! UK tour.

It's only the ruddy single of the year, innit.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

Pure Morning

And it's all the mornings we missed for sleep
As the sun glides over our apartment

Contrary to habit, I am a morning person. The quality of my mood throughout the day is proportionate to the time at which I get up. One of my fondest memories of recent times is getting up at 6am to drive to a car boot sale with my mum, where we'd offload bric-a-brac (or rather, she'd offload our unwanted household crap while I wandered around picking up cheap albums and books). But my memory is of standing in the kitchen before leaving, bathed in the iridescent red of that day's sunrise.

They honestly seem like two different worlds to me, the dissonant noise and chatter of day-time (along with the dissonant noise and chatter of night-time) and the sheer tranquility of early morning, a few hours where, blissfully, nothing at all seems to be going on.

Maybe it's a corny sentiment (though a sentiment shared, as it turns out, by the man who took the excellent photo above), but it's a wonderful experience. I feel sharper in every sense, intellectually and emotionally, and it's surprisingly liberating.