In ye Land of ye Olde Folks: Downtown Remix
By Nikolina Nedeljkov.
“Abstract Literature implodes in a subdued fashion, like a slow motion reversal of an explosion or some other catastrophe.”
– Stewart Home, Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie (2010)
The first NYC retrospective of Book Work‘s ongoing project Again, A Time Machine, the exhibition was, in fact, more than just an overview of the writer’s polymorphous, layered creation. It provided an insight into the labyrinth of contemporary cultural realities – vision of the present as a remixed history, redeemed to resurrect the future DJing decades. The October 22 event not only presented to the viewers samples from Home’s latest book Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie (2010), but also reasserted the author’s punk-yoga performative approach to reading-writing as the territory of contestation within the contemporary cultural arena: the complicity that is always already a form of resistance against utilitarian nihilo-cannibalism. Almost as an embodiment of the subtext of the virtual, compulsory anti-narrative, Stewart Home’s act was a reworking of the static-kinetic dialectic through postfuturist literary remixing.
Along with Kenneth Goldsmith‘s reading as a reenactment of unoriginal genius, the Home happening inspired my revisiting the content of his novel, whose form, i.e. its physical manifestation, was a prop and a character of the writer’s performance titled The Great Downtown Shredding Machine Massacre, part of the Shredded Book series. Besides, it reanimated the reforgotten recollections of his other works. The following are ruminations resulting from my random retake on them.
Imagine a world of wicked pimps and zombie johns. Imagine a ghost town of tormented, ravaged souls. Imagine a community on the social margins being purged from the face of the city in the name of new, troublesome aesthetics. Imagine persecution of the dispossessed in the name of Mammon. Think of a pilgrimage to the shrines where saturnalian deities are worshipped through a babylonian randomness of semantics. Envision a society in which junkies are not addicted to drugs, but to dehumanizing hollowness. Imagine carnality robbed of the bodily – an individual devoid of substantiality. Visualize the communicational channel contaminated by humiliating noise. Hear the afflicted silence crippling human dignity. Imagine a city as an abyss, wide-open, devouring the detritus of what used to be the definition of a human being. Picture enslavement by a belief that the wonder of meaning is not that it is. Welcome Home brewed postfuturist storytelling: “You know very little about the philosophical sources from which aesthetic theory was constructed. Instead you approach most topics from the perspective of Freud diagnosis.” (Stewart Home, Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie, page 5)
If the noise occurs in the communicational channel, the information flow acts accordingly in order to remix it. As a form of communicational content, all texts are, by definition, in the service of the sovereign – language. The fact that the same substance constitutes both the oppressor and the rebel demands a specific form of speaking. Reading-writing against noise pollution is a creative practice, a form of resistance against oppression. It faces its own predicament resulting from the relational character of language. But there is a noise filter that literature devises to silently clean the communicational channel. The tone is the tacit layer that voices out the affect of the text, thereby enabling a fruitful exchange.
The reanimating remix of the noise is a response to the pluralist consensus censoring the thematic scope of literary wilderness, extinguishing the vitality of a discursive exchange, and imposing on one certain models of living as the only ones. Relying on the communicable unsayable, the intervention of this kind is the source of reawakening of the sedated spirit of peaceful/peaceable resistance.
The sound in 69 Things to Do with a Dead Princess (2002) is the beehive buzz of a discursive multitude portrayed through the proliferation of the crossbreeds between sexual and discursive games, “the orgy of history” (page 22). Masturbation symbolizes communication in a discursive-minded culture – self-absorption in the circularity of transformations “from semen to semantics” (p. 8). The concept of rape is used to criticize dispossession and aggression. From the perspective of power relations, language games do not appear to always be a free play of the signifier and signified: “Alan had been raped by those who’d forced him to constitute himself as a bourgeois subject but his tormentors had been similarly abused” (p. 57). Unlike masturbation and/or rape, the sixty-nine pose is suggestive of communicational reciprocity.
This bizarre travelogue takes the reader around Aberdeenshire stone circles to follow the alleged story about Lady D’s death. This necrofeast shows the dead body of the princess being dismembered and decomposed by the spectacle vultures. Following the scenario of the princess’ gruesome end, the protagonists set out on a journey only to realize that, just like the corpse, they cannot be reanimated either. Despite visiting the places of worship and sacrifice, their quest ends in no (dis)closure. Such an anticlimax happens in the word and the world desensitized to revelation. Thus, the sacred stones turn out to be everything but holy. Rather, they are corners in a military-entertainment wasteland – the society of dispirited physicality and discursively determined selves.
Real Aberdeen of today is not desensitized to researcher’s inquiries. Neither is it averse to the appeal of profit-driven politics. The city is being gentrified and transformed into a kingdom of consumerism. The prevalent atmosphere of mammonesque idolatry is evident in the Granite City’s peculiar stylistic eclecticism. Fortunately, the fiscal fog, brooding over casino iconography, cannot conquer the gleam in the sand, the breadth of the caressing waves, and the overarching blue dome that on the odd day happens to be bright, too.
Shortage and Abundance on the Streets
Down and out in Shoreditch and Hoxton (2004) demonstrates the notion of the remixed noise – the unuttered literary tissue, cracks in the discursive, lateral paths of cultural remixing. Affective sparseness is that what enables such reshifting. Precarious emotionality is a sketch of an a disaffected, zombified individual. Brutal, compulsive physicality symbolizes living in a soulless, commoditized world. The verbalized, coupled with the content infused in the subtext, provides not only a reading, but an experience of the contemporary affective predicament. Characterization, along with the setting, appears to be a potent storytelling device suggestive of the potentials for cultural practice. The novel reveals the cityscape as the face and signs of times. In this absorbingly esoteric, broken up narrative, history meets silence as cohesive literary tissue and a friendly interlocutor.
The portrayal of the character of London charters the changes in the area between Bethnal Green and The City. Accentuated is the grotesque impact of the phenomenon that we in reality know to be a transformative force, turning the city into a jigsaw-puzzle with glossy facades and slums. The creation of such a manic-depressive world has massively been fueled by the new money thriving on the peculiar valences of economics, a projected image of power, hunger for glamour, and the affinity for sensationalism and sentimentality. In other words, the dialectic of pricy cheapness.
There is a sense of tacit collaboration and a mutually conditioned relationship between the authorities and the ghetto via the sustenance of tribulations within the neglected communities and/or neighborhoods. The underprivileged cannot respond to new economic demands of the rejuvenated areas, so they not only remain culturally excluded, but are also relocated to the parts where the housing is seemingly affordable and the class divide apparently invisible. In order to endure the hardships, preserve day-today living, or, simply, support certain lifestyles, the choices available to the disposed frequently imply committing criminal acts. This double-blessing on one hand deepens their degradation, while, on the other, it keeps the authorities at bay, thereby replicating the vicious circle.
Literature itself is no stranger to the double-edged sword in question. It is affected by the limitations of language. Normally, this implies that it is not possible to verbally express what is outside of language. This is how discourse exercises its power. However, all is not in what is said. Not only the verbalized is what makes literature literature. There are literary elements, such as the tone, characterization, and setting conveying the message unutterable by and impenetrable through language. It is where silence disrupts discourse. It is where pockets of freedom await. Despite the evil pimps.
The ways in which affect is emanated through the tacit layers of the narrative, discursive limitations are rendered negotiable, if not surpassed. This indicates a great transformative potential of ambiguity. The aforementioned oscillating character of literature is where its redemptive powers can be found. As a cultural construct, it is both an impediment and the path to freedom. In other words, its constructiveness is what makes it reworkable. And so are other cultural constructs. Thus, it is reasonable to believe that he remix can transcend the sea of fragmented, dispassionate entities and bring on the unity and union of refaced human beings, radiating life reemerged from the living dead. The vital light.
Subversive silent ruptures in the discursive are constituent ingredients of the remix. A DJ – the voice sometimes manifest, at times subtonicly present, a depersonalized vessel for the free flow, an embodiment of the belief that human existence implies and requires acknowledging the limits of one’s own control/power. Realizing one’s own limitations is indicative of the impossibility of total control on other planes. In other words, just as language finds itself trapped in discourse, so is political power, for example, imprisoned in discourse. Therefore, texts can serve the sovereign as a subversive machine dethroning the oppressor. Through silence the message is delivered. The tacit layer, the music/voice of the text, is where the remix occurs. The tension between the imprisonment in language and the elusiveness of the unuttered reflects the oscillations between melancholy and hope. The former results from the deprivation of freedom. For the latter to follow, the tactic reanimating subversive narratives is needed. The remix puts in conversation antagonistic, albeit not antithetical, sides that alternate, reflect, condition, and challenge each other, all the while easing the friction: Who I am. Re-enactment of Finnish immigrants in Ohio, Minnesota. Shadow of sibrothers dream, laughter from famotherslands.
Noises ‘n’ Silences: A Second Bite of the Countercultural Burn Out
Today, what it takes for the human face to reemerge equals the effort necessary for freeing oneself from delusional thinking that being a defaced, unspecifiable particle in the amalgam called contemporary culture is all a human being is about. To err is part of the human predicament. To be humiliated by the deafening noise is integral to corrosive cultural mechanisms. To be denied the right to be an individual may mistakenly become a segment of human life. But to say NO to such enslavement is, too, what makes a human being human. To see one’s refaced individuality as constitutive of the life of fellowship means to preserve the right to remix.
Refacement is awaiting in the noises of confusion and collision of the swinging sixties, punk-rocking 70s/80s, and raving 80s/90s, on the one hand, and the new chimney sweeper-DJ’s voice on the other. Again, seeking such a voice has nothing to do with an uncritical restoration of the past and has everything to do with nostalgia for postfuture. It is a NO to the nihilo-cannibalistic culture. It is also a YES to the call to remix the dormant spirit of resistance against the noise crippling human dignity. Periods of pollution in the communicational channel alternate with those of greened communication. But for the shift to happen, the remix is needed in order to reanimate hibernated words. In the spirit of radical incompletion: “There is no beginning, there is no end; this story goes on forever.” (Tainted Love, p 248)
The book depicts the afflicted impetus of the 1960s countercultures partly resulting from the impact of the drug culture amplified by the authorities’ complicity in their criminalization. Emphasized is the consumerist spirit of the era drawing from the affinities for sensationalism and susceptibility to simulated enchantments. Such an aesthetic happens to be integral to the cultural mythology that is being dismantled in Home’s works including this one. The chapter, ‘The Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Oedipus Complex,’ along with Home’s film of the same title and somewhat modified details (2004), remixes the psychoanalytic appropriation of the Oedipus myth turned into the incestuous patricidal mania that has been a seed from which therapeutic culture flourished and imposed on human beings a belief in irredeemable culpability.
Our time sees other avenues for the reemergence of human dignity. We now have a silver screen: “At the very moment Freud theorised the unconscious, his fantastic notions were rendered obsolete. Men and women were already assembling in the black womb of cinemas and their collectively realised and suppressed desires were being projected onto silver screens.” (p. 126) One feels it’s about that time that cinema, too, be destroyed (p. 117). Ours seems to be the moment calling for the posfuturist remix of the displacement in question: “Cinema becomes theatre and there is a much needed shift of emphasis away from cultural commodities and on to human relationships from which such products emerge.” (pp. 127-8)
Moments of confusion are reenacted in a kaleidoscopic image of endless atomizing doubling. Mushrooming of the fragmented facts and values makes a world a place overpopulated by islands. Surrounded by a desert. And yet, the dry spell of a fabricated belief is the temporary austerity that suppresses contrapuntal abundance of the imaginations. Awaiting for the harmonization to the syncopated beat.
(M)others off (Re)invention
Once upon a time young minds started to rebel against the inverted face of the dream their mafothers inscribed in the songs of the bloodline. They saw the world being populated by houses with pools in the backyards. They realized that in order not to be stigmatized, it was expected from one not just to inhabit a residential object, but to, actually, own it. It became clear to them that such objects were not the only type of property that was required to be constituent of who one was. Among such objects, one decided, were cars, TVs, telephones, land, information, sex, art, knowledge, holiday homes, acquaintances, businesses, ideas, looks…you name it. Assuming such an identity required a lot of time, energies, imaginations, and skills to ensuring financial means to the abovesaid ends. That left little room for anything that was not merely mimicking of the photographs in glossy magazines, interpersonal relationships not based on utility, and creation not castrated in the name of the dominant taste.
There has been little communication. Because business talks require few words. Beautification is considered redundant. There has been a lot of unscrupulous treatment of the fellow travelers. People learnt how to feel bad about such conduct without necessarily having profound emotional justification for remorse. There have been other manifestations of degraded sentiment. So, people are again taking advantage of science, technology, and medicine. They find out that in some instances they feel similar to the fellow travelers whose intoxication has been a conscious, countercultural choice against hypocrisy. Both camps suspect that something must have gone askew on the way to the future. In the world, living its own self-proclaimed prophecy of madness, they decide that it must have been just about everything.
Some of these thoughts, some of these emotions could be imagined to have been the color of the Ladbroke Grove and Notting Hill of the 1960s. Perhaps our contemporaries dwelling in the areas would relate to the portrayal. They can be imagined to be reading a book saying: “Literature is dead. Time and space died yesterday. You eat dead food, you fuck dead men, even your words die in your mouth. Your sentences are rolled into the ebbing waters of modernism and then wash back like a bulimic’s forced vomiting.” (Blood Rites of the Bourgeoisie, p. 10)
They realize that they were born in the countries of the folks whom they see as kinship and aliens, comrades and an indifferent crowd, benevolent and hostile, neighbors and passers by, guardians of the cradle and scatter-brained wanderers, benign jokers and miserable parasites feeding on the other’s weakness, generous givers and narrow-minded cripples, unconditioning providers and envious backbiters, protectingly warm advisers and unscrupulous upward-social-climbers, kings of laughter and emperors of solemnity, masters of the healing embrace and spiteful tormentors, torchbearers for the soul-saving wisdom and the experts in heart massacring, a fascinating source of uniqueness and blank back-stabbers, endlessly amusing and lame to the core, elated worshippers of life joy and embittered cynics of the lowest order, prototypically passionate and confusingly reserved.
They understand that there are countries that treat themselves as if the rest of the world were the horizon of disappearance. And the rest of the world in exactly the same way. There is the rest of the world that treats itself as the opposition to everything else. And everything else in exactly the same way. There are countries that treat themselves as if they were an afflicted development of a prematurely born child. The rest is the world. Who sometimes judges one for misjudging the wrong turns. Those who observe these phenomena might think that the cultural consensus about rhetorical polyphony is way too aggressive for their genuine cacophonic taste: “The universe buckled, bent and sent into reverse.” (p. 6)
If it is antiutopian to believe that a dream of human dignity and fellowship is an unachievable future goal, then one must be humble enough to call oneself the genuine postfuturist remix culture – the offspring of the bloody, phunkie postfuturist DJ mafothers. Critically reimagining the past, simultaneously reawaking the future, and resurrecting the present, they follow the radical guiding light of the shadow talk in the spirit of refacement: rebirth through silence and solidarity of reindvividualized deselfed fellow-humans, engaged in enduring creation of a free culture based on trust and love. If this way of reimagining literature, practice, and life sounds too utopian for the pluralist critical taste, too bad for the consensus – subversive remixes find the challenge even more pleasurable. Because such remixing simply is in alignment with life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Nikolina Nedeljkov, is a New York based reader/writer/scholar whose interest is centered around the creation-remix nexus in postfuturist storytelling as a form of peaceful/peaceable resistance against multiple oppression. Contributions on LIES/ISLE, kill author, in Cultural Studies, Education, and Youth: Beyond Schools (Benjamin Frymer, Matthew Carlin, and John Broughton, eds.), and the upcoming issue of GENERO. Note: Pictures by N.N.
First published in 3:AM Magazine: Wednesday, November 30th, 2011.