Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The parasite checks into the hostel and asks for two keys. (after Craig Dworkin)

Directly after a talk by Craig Dworkin, listening to a recording of that talk and offering a live, real-time, meta-commentary.

He starts by thanking the organizers which is, of course, a perfunctory thing to do, proper, polite. However, in this case, much deserved, as the organizers have been so instrumental in creating an experience for the participants that the participants are all very much appreciative of. He then counts off, much like a drummer might: 1, 2, 3, 4. It raises a question about this counting off that occurs in so many recordings: Why do we, the listener, have to hear that counting off; those stick clicks: click-click-click-click? What’s the purpose of including that in the recording itself? Is it meant to create a sense of verisimilitude? A sense of “you were there”? Is it meant to, perhaps, bring us into the mindset of the band, a kind of preparatory moment, where the band anticipates what is about to happen, where this thing is going and at what tempo, at what pace? Are we supposed to get into the same mind space, the same rhythmic space as the band? Is that the purpose of that count off, that stick click? Is it strictly organizational? Are we being put in a certain tradition of rhythmic division to which we can relate right off the bat, that we might then apply to what will come shortly after that count? And why is the count always four? Why not two? Wouldn’t that be enough to give us the sense of what’s about to come? Sure, rock and roll is generally in 4/4, maybe it’s as simple as that. But I wonder if there’s something else to it.

He goes on to talk about a certain kind of object; a certain kind of thing-in-the-world and that thing’s relationship to, not only to other things, but to some kind of ontological… substrate, I suppose. A kind of has-to-be before the actual being of that thing. He seems to want to indicate that there’s a thought, a thought maybe not his own. That would suggest that that substarate, that ontological substrate, that has-to-be, before the individual being in any given instance of being, would in some way, organize any kind of anticipation of the objects of experience. I think that’s what he’s getting at.

Writes in notebook.

So something about those objects would necessarily require a kind of objectivity, not in the sense of a subject-object divide, but an objectness, a kind of being-of-being, a has-to-be, or a might-have-been of being prior to the being itself. There seems to be a suggestion of that kind of beingness, beinghood… Perhaps we don’t have the right word for this, maybe we need to make it up.

He wants to also think about how that particular beingness or beinghood might be constructed, via something that sits, in a way, side-by-side, that sits in a kind of simultaneity, a kind of parallel track, along with those objects. And this thing might go by the name, of, we might want to call it material, but I don’t think that’s quite right.  We might want to call it… well, what would it be that we would be inside and couldn’t get outside? I don’t know. Well, Derr-ee-dah would say “text,” wouldn’t he? So maybe “text” is the word we need to use. There is no outside the text, right?

Writes in notebook.

So, maybe that’s where the beingness, the beinghood of being has to find itself; has to construct itself. But then again, is it constructing itself? Or is it being constructed? And if it’s being constructed, who is doing that constructing? Is it the text? Is it the beings in some kind of parallelism? Or is it more epistemological than that? Is it somehow us who is constructing those two tracks, those parallels? The being, the text.

He makes mention of a kind of self-referential aspect of this kind of construction of being, where the thing, the text, the understanding, can circle back on itself to reveal itself for what itself, is. I think of an example, maybe the first time I was aware of this kind of construction of construction, would have been the first Mission of Burma e.p. I don’t know the year. I guess I could look it up. Mission of Burma, the great Boston band, and their first e.p., a wonderful e.p. called “Signals, Calls, and Marches,” which had a lyric sheet, as albums tended to do in those days, and maybe still do. But the lyric sheet was not a typical lyric sheet. It, in fact, had every lyric on the e.p., but in alphabetical order. I wonder if we can find this?

Googles “Mission of Burma.”

It’s lovely how the internet will reorganize these organizations. This was a signal - pun intended - moment for me, with opening up the plastic shrink wrap on the vinyl e.p., and pulling out the record first, but then the insert and getting the information and wanting the information, the information was crucial to my understanding of what the object itself would be, and coming across this lyric sheet that was, in fact, in alphabetical order and didn’t give me the sequential and therefore constitutional, contextual, meaningful, aspect of the lyrics. And lovely how, if we go to find this stuff now in 2013, so many years after the fact, the internet reorganizes that information for us and offers us a ringtone, first and foremost, but then also, the lyrics would be organized in their order-as-sung, rather than the order as delivered on the lyric sheet. Somehow, subverting the artists’ intentions, I suppose.

So we’re not really entitled at this juncture to encounter this lyric sheet that I remember so well. But maybe we can treat ourselves to the sonic output instead. This the live album, not from the e.p., but it’ll do.

Plays Mission of Burma, “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver.”

The song, “That’s When I Reach For My Revolver,” which when originally delivered in the 1980s might have had a certain contextual meaning. I think now, given current events, maybe has a slightly different contextual meaning, as the bumper stickers here on my computer might indicate a certain different attitude towards the revolver and when one might justifiably reach for it.

But this notion of constituting the object through its constitution, rather than through some kind of external contextualization that might be dependent on, say, “use value” or obviously through a more capitalist mode of evaluation that would  be based on “exchange value,” instead to try to construct the meaning and the value and the very ontology of the object itself through its constituent parts, this seems like a potentially subversive act of a kind of ontological-epistemology, if you will, or a way of folding epistemology into ontology, perhaps. Or maybe it’s the other way around. I’ll give that some thought.

Yeah. I mean, I think we could make a kind of diagram, where we have a kind of denominator and a numerator of ontology and epistemology and a line between them. Not so much the sous rature of crossing them out, but the line that comes between them and creates a certain kind of mathematical relation between one term and the other. There might be something there, something worth pursuing. I’m gonna make a note of that and actually keep it in the book.

Writes in notebook.

That one’s a keeper.

There’s an interesting problem that seems to come up as he speaks, which is that he’s simultaneously describing the contents and the constitution of a certain set of objects, a certain set of texts, and at the same time as he is justifying that constitution, justifying those objects and those texts, vis-à-vis their constituent materials, he at the same time is trying to escape from those materials, trying to say that  this  act of constitution has to either, reach some sort of culminating moment, a moment of fruition, would we call it? A moment of consummation? And in doing so, that act would free itself of itself, free itself from itself. And the question that seems to be hanging in the air, that‘s begging, would be who or what is it that’s looking to be freed? Does this act itself have a will? Does this act itself have a… a desire? Or, in fact, is it the, you know, sort of, man at the controls, that Wizard of Oz behind the curtains, who wishes, in a sense, to be found out, for the curtain to be pulled aside and for the activity itself to be revealed, and in its revelation, its dissipation? I wonder.

Writes in notebook.

He gets to this point, in a sense, through the thoughts of another - a thought that is never quite spelled out, never quite… the finger never lands on it, so much. But that thought looms, I think, it looms as he speaks, in looms in the very constitution of his text. A thought about, about that which can be said and that which cannot be said and what the agent of the saying or the receiver of the saying is to do with those two possibilities: the possibility of the said and the impossibility of the said or perhaps (maybe a shadow of a shadow) the possibility of the unsaid. That seems to loom over the entire relationship that is being constructed, in a sense, through this constitution of constitution vis-à-vis objects and texts. There’s a reference made at a certain juncture, maybe roughly halfway through - let’s see…

            Checks time on audio recorder.

…yeah, almost exactly halfway through - to another text a text that might have been transferred from one agent-slash-listener-slash-reader-slash-writer-slash-distributor to another who also occupies each of those slashed positions to yet another who also occupies all of those slashed positions. There’s a question of whether that transference is, in its essence, in its most important aspects, a material transfer or whether it is a transfer of (what can we use as an alternative, in this case, to material?) a textual transfer. Is it about the, metaphorically speaking, the ink on the paper? Or is it about a conveyance of ideas, emotions, expressions, structures, traditions, histories, that are manifest somehow in that material-ink-on-paper, but are not, in fact, simultaneous, parallel, identical, synonymous, with the ink on the paper. So what is that transference about? What is being transferred, I think, is ultimately the question. Right? Again a question of, I think, objects and texts. Or, I want to find other words for this. I wanna find synonyms. Let me see if he’s got something.

            Listens to audio recording.

He talks about … how a kind of material history necessarily infects and inflects…  the content of that material history, or the content that is conveyed within that material history. You know an example that comes to my mind is the sizes of vinyl recordings from the 45 to the 33 to the 78 and then the fact that those sizes are named not, in fact, by their… by the space that they occupy, but, in fact, by the speed at which they are played on a turntable. And then those speeds, I don’t know the history of this, but I wonder about why is it that the 45… well there was 16 r.p.m., as well. So why would 16 not be doubled and become 32? But instead we get 33 & a third? Why would it not be tripled and become 48, but instead becomes 45? And then 78? What’s the math there? The golden mean? I don’t know. But nevertheless, those physical restraints impacted the text, the conveyance of the material on those, within those physical forms. So the 45 r.p.m. record could only hold 3 and a half to 4 minutes of music. Anything more than that, and you would have great degradation of audio quality. So you’re restricted and the pop song emerges from that as a 3 and a half minute form, more or less, based on the material strictures of the form. When the 33 r.p.m. record, at 12 inches, becomes a more viable format, now we have… the rock album emerges as a kind of form and bands begin to think in album-sized chunks of work. The, again, so the object itself, the material, has a generative relationship to the text.

And you think about how that would have filtered down through all aspects of the culture that we’re talking about. Starting with Mission of Burma, moving on through the size of vinyl records, to ‘zine culture and the ‘zines that would have accompanied the indie rock scenes of a town like Boston in the eighties. And the fact that ‘zines really only became possible when copying machines became kind of readily available to teenagers, right? When they’d sneak into their parents’ offices after hours and run off a hundred copies of their ‘zine. So, again, the availability and the accessibility and the opportunities and restrictions of a particular material history, feeding into the… the… possibilities of the text that are generated within those material histories. (I don’t want to write over that one, that’s a keeper.)

            Writes in notebook.

He’s interested, also, in how these… this relationship is not strictly an issue of ontology, epistemology, etcetera, but, obviously an issue of economics, an issue of certain modes of production and how those modes of production might… might generate both the object and the text, might … might generate and constrain the very material, the very material possibilities that first generate one and then the other. And I am not going to play chicken and egg here with what we’re talking about in terms of object and text. But that those…economic… the economic conditions under which these things emerge becomes crucial in a sense too, to any question of material, of object, of text, of epistemology, of ontology. I think about the town I grew up in, Ossining, New York. And the fact that along the bus route from my home to my high school, we would pass by a large house, up a hill, a house that …fairly dissimilar to the other houses in town, very set off on a wooded hill. And the rumor, which I still to this day don’t know… I don’t know if it was true or not, was that Peter Frampton lived in that house on that hill. It never seemed to make sense to me. This was Ossining, New York, a town far removed from the Britain where Frampton became a star. And the fact that the Frampton of Frampton Comes Alive - you all familiar with Frampton Comes Alive? such a seminal record for a teenager in the 1970s - that that Peter Frampton could, in fact, live in my town, along my bus route.

            Googles “Peter Frampton.”

I love that it’s the first Google entry. Yeah, this fella. I mean… That along my bus route, I might pass by this gentleman who came alive in 1976, apparently. As far as I was concerned, he did. I mean there was no Frampton until Frampton Comes Alive, for me and for lots of other teenagers at that time. But that this album would have brought to life much more than just Frampton himself, of course. That in the materiality of the double album, 12 inch, gatefold sleeve that opened up so you could clean your weed, that in that, those those materials there could be a sense of a text that wasn’t at all about the text of the songs themselves, but was a text about… as far as I was concerned at the time, I suppose, it was about a kind of aspiration, a kind of… something bigger than the bus route that took me from my home to the high school. I mean, look at the twin lights on either side of his head, illuminating him like some kind of deity. It’s… I mean… The album is fantastic! Every photograph bathed in this kind of pinkish light. But, but you know, of course, that’s the impression of a twelve year old coming across this album. As one gets older and starts to contextualize one’s own experience of media, of texts, of objects, you start to realize the kind of - “product placement” is the word I want to use - that this album constitutes. It is a placement of itself within itself. There’s a mythology that’s created through the act of recording and creating a particular piece of merchandise for sale to twelve year old boys living in the suburbs in the United States of America. And in doing so, this kind of product placement of the product itself within the product creates a kind of magical conflation of these very things we’re talking about: of the material object, along with its text; a very extended text, a text for which there is, in fact, no outside. It seems to all be part and parcel of the same history, as far as I can parse it at this moment.

Listens to audio recording.

He… he wanders fairly far from where he starts. And he ends up finding a way to talk, despite the fact that he’s wandered, to talk about media in a way that does relate, in some sense, to this conflicted and conflated relationship of material and text; a way of bringing the Mission of Burma lyric sheet and the Frampton product placement together in the context of a kind of larger observation about media, its material substrate, its ontological substrate. And also, through the act of reading, a kind of epistemology of reading, I think: a way of reading oneself reading. But maybe that’s even too short a chain. I think we’d actually have to say that that chain extends beyond reading oneself reading to reading oneself being read and to reading oneself being read as a kind of text read by some earlier - and I don’t know whether to call it ontological or epistemological - link in the same chain of which this reading is itself a part. So, I mean, there might be some diagram that would look both like a chain and like a series of Venn diagrams (my pen is fading, but, something like that) which would maybe represent this experience. But I think the thing would have to not only come back upon itself in a kind of circle, a kind of tiger chasing its own tail, but would also have to exist in multiple dimensions, where it circled back on itself, not only on a plane, but in a third dimension and potentially other dimensions as well.

He’s… it’s difficult to say if he’s troubled by his reading of this reading, by his being read. There seems to be a certain palpable joy in the perversity of it all, while at the same time, a kind of discomfort… a discomfort with a certain level of violence that he detects in this chain. A certain kind of cannibalism, maybe? And maybe that’s the reading of the reading, the eating of the eating.

I think that’s where we’d have to stop.

Delivered as part of Postscript: Writing After Conceptual Art, Denver Museum of Contemporary Art, January 2013

My sincere thanks to Craig Dworkin for the piggyback ride.

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