me hut journal may 2003  

I just realized in the last couple of days that I haven’t put anything into the H.U.T. at all this month .. been preoccupied I guess. Different types of writing require different kinds of mental spaces AND actual spaces... which is necessarily to say that the temporal components also differ
A few weeks ago AO and myself had an email exchange about sound. This is my response to Adam. Following this is the response of someone else, ML, to the original binary set of Adam and myself and who seemingly had taken umbrage to some of the points I had made (or obscured). Of course I include neither provocation by either person:

The advent of modernism and its evil hyper twin, postmodernism, is all about the evacuation of interiors, the stopping-up of the ears and the propping-open of the eyes with toothpicks like some scene from some cheap horror movie. For the modern (or rather modernism--in a way, everyone who is alive no matter when that is, is living in the modern, for them; the ancient Greeks when they were alive were modern compared to, say, dead Egyptians...’modernism’ though is specific to a time and place.) And modernity is all about surfaces and the eye .. even those technologies that give reports of interiors (x-rays e.g.) or ultra-’sound’ all rely on visuality, on the eye or on ways to turn everything into something accessible to the eye. That’s why ‘transparency’ in some important for modernism, no matter in what field in may be, whether architecture, politics, art, or personal relationships. Everything is supposed to be visible and open to everything/everyone else, no secrets, no whispering, nothing unintelligible. Everything that can be HEARD must be converted into something that can be SEEN (after all, we say accusingly, ‘I see you for what you are’ we don’t say ‘I hear you for what you are’). The prime experience of the interior, subjectivity, the Adam-ness, is not a matter of seeing for the subject called Adam but a hearing of voices inside that somehow confirm Adamness. Sound is a belwether of interiority, hence, in much earlier times of spirituality (and yes, contact with the dead). A secular, all-seeing, universe can’t stand an interiorized universe, a sonic universe, a ‘spiritual’ universe (some writers have claimed that those are all synonymous) a universe where interiors can hold secrets. The so-called ‘experts’ of secular modernist society must turn all potential sonic, hence subterranean, hence indicative of some sort of interior plenitude --which Adam does more than hint at--, hence subversive of the Realm of the Eye, into various forms of planar visualities, flowcharts, manuals of operation. The tender viscosities of sound must be macerated in the giant machine of modernism --’GOD’ LIES AT THE HEART OF SOUND (AND HENCE SLIPS TO SILENCE) but THE ‘MACHINE’ LIES AT THE HEART OF THE EYE (AND HENCE TO NOISE) ... and who knows if they are the same, merely different poles of the dialectic, antinomian qualities which are each invested in each other. NEVERTHELESS, the plenitude of the world of sound feels quite different from the cold clinical schizoid world of the eye (check our Martin Jay’s DOWNCAST EYES for the history of the parade of theory in front of the eye). There is an inevitable slippage into separate and, seemingly at least, opposite directions. Yes, even that final sonic perturbation looks to be colonized by the eye, i.e., the dead. Those processes of psychiatry want nothing more than to lay to rest the forces of the undead, to keep them from whispering tenderly all over the living protoplasm, to dampen the prolonged ringing of the bell long after the bell has been removed, to medicate the forces of ontological tinnitus (that bell-like ringing of the nervous system after a blow has been applied to it--after all, wasn’t it Freud who said that the main function of consciousness was to filter, as Adam so rightly pointed out, all those items that might send the whole system into shock, which would allow those who say they hear gods, demons, angels to be treated and brought back into the world of immediacy and the light and the visible and away from those minglings and tinglings?) The message of Islam for example was delivered verbally, sonically, it’s message is still delivered sonically from atop towers, an interiority of defiance to the world of the visible and the contingent. "God is the all-hearing" (from 32 passages in the Qur’an). The prophet, whether in the Qur’an or the Bible, is the one who hears also and the one who responds. Sound is that interior pulling to places that often have no name because they can’t be seen, can’t be parsed, can hardly even be heard sometimes, it seems to well up from the dense turgid mass of matter that we are, that surrounds us, but that somehow speaks to us, somehow, matter speaking to matter, even matter that no longer seems to be ‘mattering’, that seems to be dead and gone. (although it must be said that technology here does act as an increasingly gigantic shovel constantly digging into the strata of the eye, expertification, the very thing that helped it come into existence and which hones into the beacon of the undead or the dead, or, sometimes we don’t even know which is which these days. (eg, see here)

At some point -- and who knows how close we are to that point? -- all sounds and light must converge into One Thing, must not because says ‘god’ wills it so but because Technology says it must be so (but what is technology?). The Thickness and the density of the world, the globalness of the world ear/eye will then be apparent (see, even now I stick to visuals: ‘apparent’) ...we don’t know what it will be, we will have become diffused, suffused, through and through by our machines (really, aren’t we already? and really, what IS a machine? for that matter what is a human? Doesn’t it have to be true that at the heart of the human is the inhuman? vast systems of materiality circulating in unknown ways through yet more masses of matter?) --or who knows, maybe they, the machines, will have taught us to surpass them, all times of dead/undead/living, seeing/heard will have collapsed into each other, the Sound of Light and the Light of Sound, everything interpenetrating everything else, a vast monoblock of sentience penetrating outward from the earth at light speed, or perhaps at some speed even faster, where points are immediately present, where everything is present all time, (where we have always been without knowing it), sounding forth over a vast, infinite but perhaps sad (because voiceless) void, waiting to be given Voice to cry either its infinite sadness or inexplicable joy, hiding from Itself, playing with itself, chanting angelic hosannas circling endlessly infinite thrones of light, 3k background radiation everywhere all the time.


(from another email)
further consequences:
starting at no particular place.
1. albert einstein once made a comment to the effect that, strangely enough, theoretical discourse can only 'see' what it is predisposed to see and that it's conceit of searching our entirely new avenues of thought tends to be jsut that: a conceit. It is perhaps true of 'hearing' also (can pose that as a question if you like). John cage was always trying to really 'hear' what was going on around him (as long as it was appropriately filtered of course: he hated Glenn Branca for example and called his music authoritarian -- like most artists he was unwilling to see his OWN work as ideologically informed [and by that I mean simply something akin to what einstein was proposing, that there is no 'natural' or neutral corner to emerge from and make 'clean' pronouncements; this is the take of most modern philosophical positions -- not merely decon -- and for the most part i tend to agree with it. There may be problems with such a position of suspicion but that's for another day. It is well known that Einstein himself was unable to fully make the move into quantum mechanics -- 'god doesn't play dice with the universe' -- and made his stand on some idea of 'enfolded complicity' like that of David Bohm --which of course others have likened to a theological hypothesis.

2. The types of music that any culture has seem to be tied in with all the general forms of that culture, or the epistemic table as Foucault put it in the Order Of Things. The Classical configuration, still embodied by the newton/einstein mode, had need of a certain way of maintaining order, hierarchical if you will, and the classical mode represents that all the way down or over to orchestras, ensemble/author (or composer) situations and to the way the tonal musical resources were organized. This seems to me an obvious point. To think otherwise is to think that there is a God-given (literally) right for the West to organize it’s materials (ALL of its materials, sonic, beaurocratic, visual, cultural) in this certain way and that other materials may have SOME merit, it doesn’t constitute enough merit to be considered as serious art, music, societal patterns, family structures, religious ideas.

3. Modernism generally (and by that I include the culture of the last 150 years...some would take it back to 300 years and others would say that it’s merely the contemporary point of an ensemble of relations that began around 2000 years ago with the instauration of the Greek/Jew Parnassus.) At any rate, the point I would make here is that in some ways Schubert (or Beethoven or pick any other Western composer) is just as modern as Stockhausen, but that there is the POSSIBILITY that we are seeing an ‘exit strategy’ for modernism (as an ideological ensemble that is) we look at what we think of as the Avant Guard Modernists. An end game in this way: that the aforementioned organization of materials reaches a stage of hyper inflation with Schoenberg. Boulez, Webern and their theory pimp Adorno. Even so the attempt to complete organize (or in a way, de-organize) the tone row, to make it a completely amorphous mass still doesn’t do away with an even larger overriding principle, that of ‘style’, since Webern and Schoenberg are readily distinguishable. My point being that there is not an undifferentiated chaos (as you well know) ... the difference between a completely organized mass of information and a completely noisy one at times becomes a moot point.

4. But of course there is the question of satisfaction, as in, can’t get none from modern stuff some folks say. And there is where many folks would start making a connection (as someone did to me once) that western tonal organization was a ‘god given’ one and that all others must fall by the way side, and in support of this would give psycho-acousto-physiological studies in support of such a position. I would say that ‘hearing’ (like seeing) is a complex phenomena and is not just ONE thing called ‘hearing’ but involves a WHOLE lot of other cultural components that allow hearing to make sense.

5. Modernism’s big thrust is to have everyone be in the same way.... all the methodologies that it has developed, all its theories, its technologies, point in the same direction, toward a monoculture. (the current ‘war on terrorism’ gains much impetus from being a part of this immunological complex). Since modernism has such an allergic reaction to all others not of its own making, the only way it can move ‘forward’ is by continually toying with its own organizational structures, by continually shuffling the deck, which, as we know, has become a literal artistic practice. The only way for modernism to move forward is then to -- paradoxically enough -- move backward, with the strategies of so-called ‘post-modernism’ (really, just the attenuated leading ledge of modernism) involving historical reference, collaging/pastiche of elements, quotation, (which falls out as the whole sample/re-mix culture of hip hop, dj shadow, etc.) and the movement of formerly ‘elitist’ artistic/musical strategies into the masses.

6. In a way, modernism seems to have covered all the bases. That is, it is arranging and rearranging everything with everything else. The whole globalism thing is what that’s about; modernism has found all these neat new resources which it plans to put into the meat grinder and, under the auspices of ‘respecting the differences’, is in fact molding the whole world now (or attempting to and doing a pretty good job) into this monoculture. And even the RESISTANCES help it in this tact, since any resistance (or critique) brings out the loopholes in the ‘system’, aids in eliminating such problems and enables it to work more efficiently after increasingly brief, but chaotic, states of recalibration and turmoil.

7. Artists can get caught in these various stages of modernism: ‘I only listen to Beethoven’ or ‘I only listen to jazz’ or ‘I can’t stand modern art’ or whatever ---these are all very helpful positions, structurally, for modernism because they help to further delineate the facets of the same diamond, and the more facets, the more round and smooth everything becomes, the more containable oddly enough (it becomes increasingly apparent that modernism loves these reversing contraries or chiasmatic relations. Hegel and Hegelians, Marx included, have made much of these dialectical positions and their exhaustion as an end-of-the-line maneuver).

8. The reasonable question of ‘well, I’m tired of all this and I would like to opt out please’ seems to be simultaneously a moot one and one that modernism (in the form of marketeers and capitalists) love to hear because it means the opening up of another market (i.e., another recombinant strategy, as is, e.g., ‘authenticity’, ‘I just wanna be me’, ‘I just wanna do my own music’) -- there’s always someone around to sell you to yourself or explain who you are or why you did what you did or why, if you live here, you will be comfortable with more of your kind...
9. The very strongest ‘metaphysics of the subject’ (which from modernism’s perspective also makes it the weakest) has traditionally been guaranteed by the divine, by God. Anything LESS than that and the subject becomes a mutable thing, up for grabs, much like the body now with genomic research, phil k. dick’s ‘We Can Build You’ short novel.

10. For that matter the ‘subject’ has always been subject (heh) to underminings of various sorts. Certainly from a theological point of view, the ‘self’ is a curious entity, one that has definite INHUMAN elements to it, those elements underwritten by the divine, nevertheless INHUMAN. And from modernism’s p.o.v. -- Well, the self seems to be stroked and assuaged as never before, the whole culture of modernism seems to be dedicated to extolling the virtues of subjectivity and refoliation of the much so that I am reminded of certain archaic sacrificial practices (Aztecs for example) wherein the one to be sacrificed is taken into the king’s household and wined and dined and sexed beyond belief, a year long party, before the ax falls. And at any rate, the ax that falls for modernism is NIHILISM, which some would say is the extrapolation of the self to the furthest reaches, such that everything else falls away (there is a great book on that very subject by Gillespie called NIHILISM AFTER NIETZSCHE).

11. But of course for modernism the MACHINE is the great inculcation of the INHUMAN and the possibilities that it brings, a Great Reshuffling that organic life and subjectivity on their own seem to find it difficult to obtain, to the extent that folks now say ‘evolution has stopped’ --so, that Opening, that Something Other, formerly inhabited by God, now takes on the guise of machines and the possibilities they will bring to us, all the way from life everlasting to a True Friend, (and of course I mean by ‘machines’ something very broad indeed, as that which has now come to occupy the space of the inhuman and a certain fidelity to it and hope for it.)

12. The end.

(from a reply to that above)

A. "What would have been different about some piece of music if Mozart had eaten strudel instead of drank a beer?"
Somewhat hard to say but I CAN say with some confidence that he would not have written Pierre Lunaire, or Pli Selon Pli, or Threnody For the Victims of Hiroshima, or even Music for Eighteen Musicians, or... or ... or pick one out. What he would have written under the influence of strudel might have been different but it wouldn’t have been COMPLETELY different I dare say. Anything Sui Generis is mostly discounted from the get go it seems to me...for one thing it’s simply not recognizable (I’m thinking immediately, and somewhat banally, of the scene in the movie Back to the Future where Michael J. Fox goes back to the fifties, attends his fathers prom, manages to wind up on stage with a guitar, starts out playing a fifties type song, he gets carried away and it escalates into a Jimi Hendrix type rave-up, feedback etc and the whole auditorium stops and just stares at him, as if he had gone stark raving bonkers. sui generis. From the pov of that culture, it WAS mad and at the time many folks said that about the blues when it was making its way into white culture.
B. I would say that the ACCIDENTAL is not the same as the SINGULAR .... It can be or can lead to such but most often it seems like the case of biology when mutation leads most often to non-viability and NOT to monstrosity (or at any rate, it’s a dead monster. Any society that has the power to suppress or destroy the monstrous which DOES survive will tend to do so for the simple reason that it is in it’s best interest to do so. If the monstrous survives (and mates, culturally speaking, and reproduces) it will spell the end of the culture into which it is born -- or at least marks the start of great conflict, until some hybrid form comes along. It’s not often that those deep internal dynamics of culture become visible though. And to me it’s still an open question as to whether a culture as technologically and communicationally as intense as ours exacerbates that tendency of culture or combats it. Some would say that the net encourages that sort of monstrous, singular diversity and rapid assimilation/creation of hybrids. I would say that the jury is still way out on that matter. I’m always reminded of the story (think it came from Foucault originally in fact) of the Victorians and their mania for plant collecting, especially orchids. They would send out ships to far corners of the world and brought back tons upon tons of orchids of every conceivable kind. The plant collectors back in England built these elaborate nurseries, or hothouses they called them, for the simple reason that they stoked them into tropical temperatures, thinking that all orchids needed that sort of heated environment. In point of fact, orchids need at least 3 separate temperature ranges. Well, of course the orchids started blooming like crazy with the heat -- not because they were ‘happy’ with the environment but because they were trying to reproduce; they were in fact in their death throes and would only last a season or so. If one wishes to be poetic and humanizing about it, they were ‘testifying’ to the ‘interrogation’ of their existence by trying to make more of themselves. (Much has been made by the way about the co-evolutionary strategy of orchids and humans in regard to the ‘beauty’ [i.e., sexuality] of orchids; after a bit of a false start, it has certainly served them well since whole industries now exist simply to propagate orchids -- or at least the prettiest ones.) I sometimes think of technology or the net anyway, in such terms.

C. Definitions. That's a bigger gulp than I'm willing to take at the moment. But very briefly: the most salient features of ‘modernism’ feature changing spatial/temporal relations (to some degree, the temporal -- ‘history’-- begins to be folded into the spatial; ‘postmodernism’ really makes that process visible, for example in architectural reference, which makes sense if you believe that postmodernism is simply the end zone of modernism); the falling away form externality/objectivity into greater reliance and belief in subjectivity as the be all and end all (Darwin being an example there) of existence, although science presents this solipsism as objectivity, which in turn is part of the self-reflexivity characteristic of modernism (irony etc) and which often times seems the sole content of postmodernism. I think one really has to include the forces of so-called post modernism in with the mod. Because then you begin to see what appears to be contrary movements (the problem with definitions is that they make everything seem tied into neat packages -- in reality it seems to me that there is a great porousness to everything --but maybe that’s just because I’m a denizen of modernism!). That is to say that modernism seems to be about a pulling away from the ‘natural’ world into the increasingly artificial and then virtual (I saw contradictory, because that very pulling away from traditional concepts often leads to their re-emergence later on -- for example the wholesale re-emergence of allegory as a viable form in special effects intensive movies); a great reliance on experimentalism as a governing protocol for almost everything.

There’s a nice book by Fredrick Karl called MODERN AND MODERNISM, which I just went over to the bookshelf and picked up. The first chapter is called ‘Getting To Be Modern: An Overview’ and is pretty good but it doesn’t have any pithy two line generalizations about modernity. Here is a quote though:

‘Not unexpectedly, Modernism expresses both hope and threat to the same people: in its technological phases spreading cheer, but in its political and social consequences --not to speak of its artistic potentialities--creating anxiety. This intense fear of Modern enters into every aspect of life, becomes itself a form of belief. Many, perhaps most, cults from Nazism to Jim Jones’ Jonestown, are associated with revulsion toward Modern, even while modern advances are integral to their development. Whether as art or politics, Modern has became a revolutionary word, a rallying cry for or against, an association of conflicting, competing ideas. People will kill for modern, or kill to oppose it.

"Long before technology and progress, Plato feared the modern spirit and associated it with are, which undermines authority. His Socrates speaks of poetry’s power to seduce or feminize the soul, to magnify the irrational. Poetry or art, therefor, encourages the lower element in man that which is adversary to reason and authority. Plato was, of course, correct, and every society that seeks authority as its connecting force will also see art and, by extension, modern art, as a dangerous foe. For Plato, art was so threatening because it was so attractive.

"Art, the artist, poetry, by association Modernism, are concerned not with essences but with the changing physical world of senses and sensations. [What others have called in different ways ‘nihilistic’. rc.] Art rearranges our perception of things rather than stressing inherent qualities. The danger of art and, by implication, "modern art’, is that it seduces, enervates, subverts. To broaden its appeal, Modernism is often connected to progress, and in this sphere it is given a label. In our own era, when Modernism and progress are yoked for political purposes, we have a New Deal, a new Frontier, a New Left. The ‘new’ is a positive response to modernism, but it also suggests that ‘old Modernism’ is bereft of ideas, impotent, a shallow stream ready to run dry."
"Although we routinely associate Modern with the advent of modern life about one hundred years ago, the word was in the process of developing for centuries. Attitudes toward ‘Modern ideas’ long preceded our era of Modernism...What this signifies is that the word was bandied about in several societies --in the eighteenth century, for example, as part of the battle between ‘ancient books’ and ‘modern ideas’ --without becoming connected to any sense of a connected movement. ‘Modernism’ is not what older societies meant when they discussed or rejected modern thought; they did not perceive an entire culture in which Modern would be apotheosized. Whatever was modern in their terms was isolated, connected to something in the arts, dependably assimilable into larger units of traditional thought. How modern were Da Vinci’s ideas and drawings, and yet they could be and were absorbed."
(from the first chapter)

and bla bla bla...getting tired must lay down must become unmodern.

May 23
From an online pdf by Costa Deuzinas called The Legality of the Image, found it when I was doing research on The King’s Two Bodies by Kantorowitz:

"These obscure and paradoxical formulations are the most complete defense of the claim that visuality is anchored on the desire to perceive the invisible and ineffable, insight on blindness and light on darkness. If only we lacked sight, Dionysius sighs, the knowledge of unknowing would be so much easier. But our fallen nature is endowed or damned with the senses of which vision is the foremost. In the Judaic tradition the desire to see leads to the pleasures of the flesh; in the Christian imagery becomes productive. By adopting a principle of aggressive visuality, the iconophiles promoted the imperial aspirations of Christianity. Christian iconology 23 Pseudo-Dionysius, 'The Celestial Hierarchy' in Complete Works, 2, 3; col.141A-C, p. 149. puts the icon, this most powerful mediating entity, at the service of political and administrative tasks. Nicephoros presented this idea starkly: 'not only Christ, but the whole Universe will disappear if there is no circumscription or icon.' 25 The Byzantium was the first empire to use aesthetics to create and propagate an all-inclusive conception of the world. There are two aspects to this early society of the spectacle. At the collective level, the elaborate iconography created a sense of identity by providing a set of symbols for the community to aspire, an ideal with its iconic representation. But its greater innovation lies at the level of the individual psyche."

The holy and imperial images offer a complete speculum mundi, a total visual organization of the world which furnishes the faithful with models of what he should see, think and dream."



robert cheatham