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Thread: those hairshirt -wearin' Dissensians

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    Default those hairshirt -wearin' Dissensians

    Tim Finney came up with an intriguing comment on an ILM thread, describing a certain contingent at Dissensus in the following terms (the comment coming out of a discussion of MIA aka Mud Hut Lady and the debates here about popism):

    "When one of them finally and openly says "I love this piece of music but objectively speaking I shouldn't and therefore won't love it any longer", we will know that they take their own nu-rockist anti-enjoyment crusade seriously."

    It sounds so puritanical and unpleasant doesn't it, the way he puts it!

    But on reflection, I thought of plenty of instances such pleasure-denying might actually be an appropriate thing to do.

    In real life there are myriad such either/or choices (coveting thy best friend's wife; priest struggling with the urge to fondle choir boy etc etc), and while you might say culture is a whole other domain from life, i'm not sure.

    for instance, you can imagine someone who loved dancehall but decided to deny themselves that pleasure on account of the batty-boy-bashing. (Actually, I can think of an example where I've done precisely that-- that big TOK tune about we bun the chi chi man, before i knew what chi chi man meant that was my favorite dancehall track of the year, i loved it, but when i found out, simultaneously with finding out the name of the artist, i just couldn't bring myself to buy the CD. But i haven't go so far as to say, stop enjoying 'big it up' by buju on account of his other records or statements). Or another example: i don't rate whitehouse's music at all, but i can easily imagine a scenario of loving it to death but refusing myself that delight on acocunt of finding the serial killer/nazi commandant eulogizin' element offensive (even more offensive, actually, if it's all a giant put-on).

    of course Tim is talking more about theories about music and what matters etc becoming so rigid that you close yourself down to avenues of pleasure

    what interests me about this line of thinking is that it's either based in, or ends up with, a kind of moralism of pleasure -- in other words, the essence of popism is that it brooks no laws or prohibitions EXCEPT
    thou shalt never deny yourself any pleasure. no principle , or set of ideas, could possibly be worth denying yourself a specific source of enjoyment -- open-ness as a value in itself

    pleasure is the first and the final arbiter

    but pleasure alone has never been enough as either spur or subject matter for critical discourse. There's always been an X(-tra)-factor. melded with pleasure. Kpunk, borrowing a lick from Zizek, has argued, “there is no emancipatory potential in pleasure”. It is these X(-tra)-factors that adds the element of emancipation. At various points in pop history, fun/pleasure/desire/jouissance/ecstasy has been allied with other forces (rebellion, expression, aesthetic shock, innovation, dissidence, quest, etc). This combination has time and time again “made of joy a crime against the state” (Barney Hoskyns). That statement should be understood figuratively most of the time--'state' as socio-cultural stasis--and over time as music has become more self-reflexive, it's degenerated into intra-aesthetic taste games (the transgression buzz of liking something kitsch, moving into forbidden zones of music). But "joy as a crime against the state" has been literal too, at various points--most recently, rave. (In Utah, a few months ago they sent armed troopers in to shut down a rave).

    There are also plenty of things i enjoy musically but would never be stirred to write about particularly, in the absence of these X(-tra)-factors.

    On another (final for now) tack, i would say that a lot of my own choices are based in a kind of aesthetic morality of finitude. In other words, life is short, so why waste it on lesser pleasures?

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    Reverse psychology.

    It is a ploy by the M.I.A. conditioning police to shame people into pretending they like her music.
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    Is pleasure not emancipation in itself? Somebody once told me not to mistake pleasure for contentment, the intimation being that pleasure was short-lived and headed for dust while contentment was more permanent. But I find that a whole series of pleasures can leave me with something that looks and smells a lot like contentment.

    Blissblogger's social issues of queer- bashing etc in music are all understandable. Presumably Tim Finney was talking more about those who argue themselves into a dogmatic corner, and then find themself humming along to something which that dogma cannot justifiably support, because the artist themself does not comply, rather than the lyrics/music, so the humming has to stop. Or, more likely, the humming doesn't actually stop, but reports of it do, for this is the internet, and we can't listen in through your kitchen window while you're doing the washing up....

    The problem with being a message board regular is that it's hard to be pragmatic. The internet gets falsely advertised as a place where you can be anybody you want to be, where a dirty old man can pretend to be a 13-year-old girl, where a wheelchair-bound brunette can pass herself off as a leggy blonde.

    But for music message-board users, the 'false' identity of the login handle can only give you so much liberation, because if you want to keep coming back to a board and being respected, you need a strong argument to stand behind. It's harder to rave about Girls Aloud being the best thing in pop music one week, if you come back the next saying you've just watched Pop Idol and been filled with a gut-wrenching despair about the future of humanity. You defend your stance on one thing and then feel compelled to extend that same line of argument to whatever topic comes up next, whichever artist or genre or mixtape or song.
    Last edited by Sophie Sticklebrick; 08-10-2005 at 11:12 PM.

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    (I've x-posted this to ILM in an attempt to start an internet destroying feedback loop that resonates forever.

    Thread here:

    http://ilx.wh3rd.net/thread.php?msgid=6309150#unread )

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sophie Sticklebrick
    Is pleasure not emancipation in itself?
    No. Heroin addiction (to choose one extreme example) can be pleasuable, but it's certainly not emancipatory. Emancipation isn't even always pleasurable.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sophie Stickleback
    where a wheelchair-bound brunette can pass herself off as a leggy blonde
    why on earth would she want to? Does anyone really pass themselves off as someone else in this banal identity-swapping kind of way? I'd have thought if the internet was famous/useful for anything it would be for not really being any 'one' thing - transferring crap unified self stuff into a medium that operates almost completely purely by language-manipulation just seems like a practical lack of imagination.

    Quote Originally Posted by blissblogger
    On another (final for now) tack, i would say that a lot of my own choices are based in a kind of aesthetic morality of finitude. In other words, life is short, so why waste it on lesser pleasures?
    yeah, cos as long as everyone is listening to PC songs when the time comes, everything will be ok...surely the point is not 'denying yourself pleasure' (like chastising yourself for listening to Whitehouse, especially if 'they don't mean it' - wtf?), as if music/lyrical affiliation was simply a question of approving politically of the content of the thing - isn't this like refusing to read Houellebecq cos you heard the bloke was a misogynist dog, or not watching Triumph of the Will because it was used for terrible ends? Surely the problem is denying that 'politically dubious' cultural forms can be 'greater pleasures'...and the thing is, it's probably worth working out why.
    Last edited by infinite thought; 09-10-2005 at 01:03 AM. Reason: I don't want to be nice, but I don't have to swear so much

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    Quote Originally Posted by infinite thought
    yeah, cos as long as everyone is listening to PC songs when the time comes, everything will be ok...surely the point is not 'denying yourself pleasure' (like chastising yourself for listening to Whitehouse, especially if 'they don't mean it' - wtf?), as if music/lyrical affiliation was simply a question of approving politically of the content of the thing - isn't this like refusing to read Houellebecq cos you heard the bloke was a misogynist dog, or not watching Triumph of the Will because it was used for terrible ends? Surely the problem is denying that 'politically dubious' cultural forms can be 'greater pleasures'...and the thing is, it's probably worth working out why.

    mmmm.. I don't think most people make it "simply a question" of politics. But more like was said above - life's too short.

    It's mostly a false dichotomy, anyway.. it only works if you mean that the only choice is between politically correct shite and dodgy stuff made with skill. I don't have a problem with politics being part of the equation. If I miss out on a great work that happens to be racist, well, is it impossible that I've found a great work that isn't racist?

    The false dichotomy also shores up some other dichotomies.

    There's a subtext that is anti-empathy here.
    I think it is hard to take genuine pleasure in music that attacks you specifically or people you have empathy with. So I'm suspicious of this "relax and enjoy" thing a bit, because it shores up that idea that it's fake to have or attempt to have empathy - which, by the way, could only be fake if you assume that everyone you are telling to "relax" has no real reason to empathize, i.e. isn't female, gay, black, arab, whatever the targeted thing is in the music/art.. I think that is an assumption of the argument as well.. otherwise we're left with the patronizing suggestion that, if you ARE one of the people targeted by the music, you should just get over it and relax, which is too silly to bother with, really.

    (obv. not addressing the idea of guilty pop pleasure where pop is constructed as low art or whatever)

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    Quote Originally Posted by Melchior
    No. Heroin addiction (to choose one extreme example) can be pleasuable, but it's certainly not emancipatory. Emancipation isn't even always pleasurable.
    yes, but surely the heroin addict has a moment of transcendence while the heroin courses through his veins -- and he is seemingly willing to have that transcendence at the cost of the pain and monotony of addiction

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    Quote Originally Posted by blissblogger
    pleasure alone has never been enough as either spur or subject matter for critical discourse. There's always been an X(-tra)-factor. melded with pleasure. Kpunk, borrowing a lick from Zizek, has argued, “there is no emancipatory potential in pleasure”
    first, what exactly does the term emancipation mean in this context?

    second, if the X-tra factors are necessary for emancipation, is the Y-factor of pleasure also necessary?

    Quote Originally Posted by blissblogger
    On another (final for now) tack, i would say that a lot of my own choices are based in a kind of aesthetic morality of finitude. In other words, life is short, so why waste it on lesser pleasures?
    so there's the Y-factor of pleasure, which can be intensified or made greater by the addition of certain X-tra factors?

    and by the same token, the Y-factor of pleasure can be compromised and made a lesser pleasure by the presence of, say, idiotic or politically objectionable lyrics or too close an association with other cultural or political realities?

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    I can definitely see where Simon (and K-Punk) is coming from on this one - esp. if one considers music a reflection of a person's spirit (for the sake of argument) - be it the creator's or the listener's. So in this sense the Xtra factor could be a bigness of spirit, say.

    I used to have a Burzum CD. I thought it was great: 2 long tinny minimal metal tracks and one cheap synth ambient thing. It was amateurish but atmospheric and slightly experimental: cool. But then one day bored I decided to read up on the guy and found some stories and interviews on the web - he's a dickhead, basically. The next time I listened to the CD it made perfect sense (eg. passive aggressive brat) and I sold the CD soon afterwards.

    On the other hand you had people like John Coltrane or Miles Davis who were probably absolute arseholes at some time or another (no-one's a saint) but had enough of a vision to achieve what they did and inspire their colleagues and heaps of other musicians.

    Which is perhaps why people (like myself) have issues with MIA. The music might be good and she makes all the right moves but she doesn't seem to push the project further than a given demographic analysis, if that makes any sense. She hasn't done enough music yet for me to totally dismiss her though.

    On the other hand, I think in some cases pleasure can be emancipatory (eg. from psychological distress) but in a limited sense: pleasure is not enough. There must also be a conscious critical engagement with what has "captured" you, be it politics or merely the conventions of a given artistic form.

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    First of all, a clarification.... it's probably worth distinguishing pleasure from enjoyment: remember that Tim originally wrote about enjoyment, not pleasure. According to Freud, pleasure is innately conservative since it is the 'repeating of a previous satisfaction'. Unpleasure is tension, pleasure is the relaxion of that tension. Pleasure is goal directed.

    Enjoyment, via Lacan, would be more excessive. It is not goal directed; rather it is what we feel while ostensibly or officially pursuing something else (that's why Zizek links it with Derridean differance). The goal is the pretext for enjoyment, not its aim. Enjoyment is thus the working through of drive. Drive is insatiable, literally interminable....

    I'm not sure how important this distinction is for this discussion, but....

    It's not that 'anti-popists' never stick to their ideology - as Simon points out above, people are always denying themselves pleasure, for all sorts of reasons - on the contrary, it is the Popist superego - open yourselves to all kinds of enjoyment, at all times - that it is impossible to obey. I supose the obvious reversal of Tim's remark would be 'when popists are prepared to say, I love this piece of music, and I accept that objectively I shouldn't (i.e. because it is homophobic, pro-nazi etc) but I still love it any way then we would be able to take their pro-enjoyment crusade seriously'. But I am sure that Tim could cite examples of, say, homophobic dancehall records that he does in fact continue to enjoy. How far could this go, though? To accede to the austere demands of the Popist superego, would we really 'have to admit that', for instance, that we enjoyed child pornography? If not, why not?

    One point to consider is that, at another level, renunciation is a form of enjoyment. This isn't necessarily a moralizing or political renunciation: think of subcultural identification, which is as much about saying, 'I am not going to allow myself this kind of pleasure'. Much of the enjoyment of belonging to a subculture consists in just that kind of denial.

    Part of my problem with 'popism' is that it seems to maintain that pleasure is a kind of pre-reflective 'natural' category. That is why I have in the past described this as consumerist rockism, since the concept of a pure authentic moment has been shifted from the artist onto the listener. The consumer must be True to this experience. But as I have argued before, this experience doesn't exist, and I would want to say that my denial of it is consistent with the original critique of rockism. It's worth considering that BOTH the postpunk Gang of Four-style Brechtian critique of hedonism AND the New Pop return to 'the pleasures of the text' were BOTH situated as anti-rockist. A synthesis of those two positions would take it for granted that enjoyment is not to be located in the 'experience of music alone', but also in the images, text, sonic fictions that surround the music, as well as in the position one adopts to the music; that political positions are also about enjoyment, but that enjoyment, by itself, is not the final arbiter of anything.

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    Also, I'm not sure what to make of Tim's comment on October 7th on that thread (it is here btw ...read the opening resentment-simmering post by a 'philosophy teacher' Reynolds hayta and weep)....

    I think there's a will-toward-consensus in all of our best discussions on ILM, a desire not to simply stick to our preformed (ha ha I accidentally wrote "performed") reactions and brook no argument

    But isn't that precisely implying that 'reactions' are not sacrosanct?

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    Quote Originally Posted by infinite thought
    yeah, cos as long as everyone is listening to PC songs when the time comes, everything will be ok...
    that wasn't Simon's point, though... the point was simply, why, given that I have only a limited lifespan, should I open myself to every possible pleasure, however meagre it may turn out to be?

    surely the point is not 'denying yourself pleasure' (like chastising yourself for listening to Whitehouse, especially if 'they don't mean it' - wtf?), as if music/lyrical affiliation was simply a question of approving politically of the content of the thing - isn't this like refusing to read Houellebecq cos you heard the bloke was a misogynist dog, or not watching Triumph of the Will because it was used for terrible ends? Surely the problem is denying that 'politically dubious' cultural forms can be 'greater pleasures'...and the thing is, it's probably worth working out why.
    Surely these are different cases:

    the Houllbecq one - well, it could be that the judgement about him is simply wrong - so the argument for not reading him would be invalid because it was based on inaccurate hearsay... there would be a difference if his books actually were misognynistic

    Triumph of the Will - it's not that it was 'used for terrible ends', it's that it was MADE for terrible ends - surely only a crazed aesthete would argue that you can entirely separate the pleasure of watching it from what it is made for

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    Simon's example of dancehall is a good one, if only from the self-centered perspective of allowing me to clarify my position. Of course there are dancehall tracks I love but also feel uncomfortable about, and even dancehall tracks that I love and don't have a problem with but wonder if maybe I should feel uncomfortable about. There are dancehall tracks where the problem of discomfort never even occurs to me and that might reflect badly upon me in the eyes of other people.

    In each of these instances, the mixture of love and discomfort is itself a reaction, a combination of enjoyment, barriers to enjoyment and perhaps even occasionally a measure of heightened enjoyment arising from that conflict. But in no sense is there some obvious split between enjoyment and "something else", some quality that exists outside of enjoyment whose presence or absence can provide me with an objective determinant of a song's worth. If I identify some x-factor which I can separate out from "simple pleasure" in my head (dissidence, rebellion, whatever), this is still something which I must perceive and enjoy in order to consider to be a worthwhile component of the music. Anyone who claims to listen to music they don't enjoy has a very simplistic or myopic idea of what constitutes enjoyment: there's no reason why we can't enjoy subjecting ourselves to unpleasant sounds for some perceived emancipatory purpose (to choose what is, of course, an entirely random example).

    When Simon writes about music containing an "x-factor", the writing remains at the level of perception and enjoyment. Of course Simon might draw upon interviews, video clips, promotional material etc. but he is still writing from the position of his reactions to all of these things; he does not rely on some third party objective account of history to explain to him what was really going on. The alternative approach is one like Ben Watson's in his ridiculous piece on Simon's book: here all the music Ben doesn't like is subjected to stringent "objective" (but, of course, arbitrarily chosen) tests of their emancipatory capacity - so hardcore punk only derives a purpose when it soundtracks anti-WTO protests in Seattle. Of course, even Ben remains in "bad faith", secretly allowing his enjoyment to run things: the entire point of his tests is to give his musical loves, e.g. free jazz, a free ride.

    Mark quotes me saying: "I think there's a will-toward-consensus in all of our best discussions on ILM, a desire not to simply stick to our preformed (ha ha I accidentally wrote "performed") reactions and brook no argument."

    To which Mark responds: "But isn't that precisely implying that 'reactions' are not sacrosanct?"

    That is precisely what I'm implying, Mark. But then I've never claimed reactions are sacrosanct, and I'm surprised that (even after Matt's Pop thread and the shortlived Relativism thread - which you may not have read?) you still think this is my position.

    An analogy that might help: a person who claims that class determines social relations isn't necessarily claiming that class is itself an unchanging and unproblematic structure which cannot be deconstructed. In fact an insistence on class's determining role and a desire to deconstruct it can go hand in hand.

    All I've claimed is that our discussions about music aren't going to move beyond the level of our own reactions and we should stop pretending that they do. Once we do acknowledge this, we can start honestly examining our own reactions and maybe change them if we don't like them.

    A pretense at objectivity (whether provided by Adorno as per Watson, or by some other theoretical apparatus) is the most convenient way to entrench one's own subjective position, whereas I'm more interested in a fully admitted, partial subjectivity where we compare and debate the rightness of our reactions, and allow ourselves to be open to the prospect of seeing things differently and thus reacting to things differently.

    So I've no issue with people changing their minds about music and hence their reactions. The difference between myself and my caricature of a hairshirt-wearin' Dissensian which Simon quotes is that I simply don't believe in an objective historical guarantee that will finally be able to tell us that our musical tastes are right or wrong. There will never be a day of emancipation when some comrade, speaking with the voice of historical necessity, arrives to announce, "Yes, you were right, Bob Dylan always was shite."

    All we have is our convictions, and what we're arguing for is all there is.

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    You lot think too much about your tunes.
    Nuff said.

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