Quentin Letts believes in hate and nothing else. It’s perhaps why he, and anyone else who writes for the Daily Mail, seem so bizarre to anyone who understands the concept of objectivity. They do point, however, to how the concept of “objectivity” itself is a very difficult and bold claim for any human being to make. It assumes the ability to act without the impetus of emotion from a place of pure reason that has somehow severed any traces of identity from itself. Such a transcendental aesthetic is questionable at the best of times, so saith Quentin…
But the most interesting thing about Daily Mail culture (and the newspaper is only one aspect of an immense collage of arbitrary hate) is how obviously it is entirely driven by sexual repression. Thrust that finger at the shamed ones and shoot your white-hot blame all over them! Paedophiles, Muslims, immigrants, the youth… just say the word in front of a Daily Mailer and watch the hysterical bloodbath ensue. These tags eventually become so detached from actual language that they start sounding like trigger-words for activating sleeper agents... and maybe they are!
It’s nothing new either, there’s a long tradition of cultural hysteria that runs beneath Western civilization. Patriotism and war are good examples of the madness in effect. Reading Homer, Virgil and especially Xenophon, one is shocked by their inhumanity; an inhumanity driven on by sexuality and violence. Then, under Christianity, the hysteria becomes localized and books like The Malleus Maleficarum project their terror of sex onto the defenseless of society, thus giving everyone a chance to slowly torture these vessels of sexuality to death… ‘cos hangins to gud 4 em!’
Indeed, the mindset of the Daily Mailer seems to emerge deep from the primal mud, shaking its hoary locks and foaming at the mouth. Why there are these strange processes by which libido channels through the unconscious and fills certain symbols with projected malignity is unknown, even after Freud has given us handy labels to attach to the symptoms. Perhaps it’s at the root of culture? It wouldn’t be too hard to imagine Aristotle’s Poetics as a development of this phenomenon under the title of “Katharsis”. Tracing its influence through fairy tales, the most psychically entrenched narratives, would be almost self-explanatory.
To come to some sort of logical conclusion, it’s also worth considering here the Marquis de Sade’s 120 Days at Sodom. It starts, on the first day, with the kind of sex Angela Carter describes as “available in any old brothel”, and finishes with the “Hell Game” on the 120th day where the libertine reaches an apotheosis into Satan himself. That the unbridled expression of sexuality eventually leads to a state of anti-humanity is an interesting satire on the role of sexuality in society and vice versa. The sex is with prostitutes, those who embody the link between sex and economics at its most blatant, and takes place within the structures of pornography, where sensuality and feeling is replaced by geometrical constructions giving infinite variation on the meetings of penis-vagina-anus-mouth. We are left with human architecture, without occupancy. Desire is lost within rationality and rationality is then driven mad by desire.
So when Quentin Letts attempts objectivity, yet writes only from internal intuition, he loses himself within a solipsistic cycle of self-perpetuation. His sexual fears and desires are irretrievably lost within mental mazes of immigration statistics and EU legislation. Eventually nothing is left in his mind but arbitrary associations connected entirely by the force of gut-feeling, repressed libido, and what Wilhelm Reich described as “the terror of reaction”. Essentially, Quentin Letts believes in hate and nothing else…
Just ten seconds ago, which is now no longer ten seconds ago, I was pointlessly trawling through a website of people’s “favourite lyrics”. Yes, the internet is a useful method of finding what people like without actually having to talk to them. The thing I tended to find though, was that all of these songs were either at slower tempos with powerful music, such as Pink Floyd or Radiohead, or they were the sort of “youth anthem” packed with power chords and shouting.
As anyone who’s ever read a teenaged girl’s MSN screenname will know, lyrics tend not to make sense without the music behind them. Have you ever read the lyrics to Dark Side of theMoon? They’re pretty awful… until you put the record on of course. That’s why anyone that says that something “is like poetry” really grates on my nerves. A poem evokes meaning out of nothing but words. Lyrics layer meaning atop an emotional core already created by the music. I’m not saying that poetry is better than lyrics, simply that they fulfil two completely different functions.
“Everything under the sun is in tune, But the sun is eclipsed by the moon.”
Now that’s awful poetry, but it ranks with Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” on my favourite musical climaxes. It’s probably also why I found it so exasperating to read through a list of lyrics of which I knew none of the accompanying music. Also, it’s why I truly appreciated the well-named “CaptinBeefheart” referencing,
“Mad Dan Superman and Henrietta Holocaust introduce to you what’s new on the humanoid scene”.
Just one of a million brilliant lines from the Bonzo Dog Doo-Da Band (track: Humanoid Boogie). The band plays nothing but dodgy ‘60s R&B and even dodgier music hall, but the late-great lyric writer Viv Stanshall somehow turns the ridiculous into the sublime. Thinking about it, all my favourite pop/rock bands (as opposed to jazz) have this same quirkiness: Captain Beefheart, Tom Waits, Jefferson Airplane, etc. There’s something da-da about them that makes them far more brilliant than anybody that takes themselves seriously could ever be.
Although maybe I don’t get it. Studying literature everyday I find myself stuck on one side of the signified-signifier divide, capable only of viewing words as words. Music directly influences the soul, that’s why people who sing about love can pretend to be politicians; both singers and politicians have no faith in the meaning of words but simply what feelings they can evoke.
These sort of people are moved by a song like that “light up” one by Snow Patrol. To me it just sounds like one note bashed over and over as if a metronome’s got abit full of itself, then some meaningless words over it. To some it’s “life affirming”… I assume they must have something called a “heart”. Not me though. Give me complex rhythm, crescendos of dissonant, rambling notes, and elaborate quasi-metaphors every time. Music you have to work out, that’s what I like,
“Inside a broken clock, Splashing the wine with all the rain dogs!”
PS/ A “rain dog” is a dog that has gone too far from home, it’s started raining, and has therefore gotten lost as it can’t smell its way back. See – learning is fun!
‘Tis the season to be spending… spending time with family, spending money on presents, and now apparently spending to make a stand against commerce. Thanks to Facebook, “killing in the name of” by Rage Against the Machine is now set to make Christmas number 1 over the record by whoever won X Factor. According to the blog-o-sphere it’s “about music choice”. That it’s a choice between two Sony moneyspinners is apparently beside the point.
Indeed, Facebook itself is a useful metaphor for this embodiment of cultural hegemony. You can express exactly who “you” are inside the rigid boundaries of convention; “I” am a date of birth, a few schools and set of fleeting images, just like everybody else. But that isn’t the intention of course. You’d probably say I’m not “in the spirit” of it. Facebook, Christmas, both places where the individual “spirit” is expressed through communal norms.
Even the narrative structures of Christmas films and rock music videos are similar. They both follow the model of totemic fantasy: rock stars, pop stars, gangster rappers, cowboys, space men, elves, Jedis, those with “Christmas spirit”, and many more, all embody the juvenile fantasy of the individual’s omnipotence of thought over society. Call them an archetype if you will. They all emerge from hostile surroundings (the desert, the hood, a reality show, a world without Christmas spirit) and triumph over it, exerting their will over others and becoming the new leader of the tribe.
I’m tempted here to add Hitler and the Nazis to this list as they too embody this archetype of triumphant will, and people do love them, even if they must kill them. Although each of these characters must die, the joy of the totem-leader partly lies in the knowledge that you will eventually kill and eat them. Who are our heroes? Kurt Cobain, 2-Pac, Jessie James, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Gandalf, whatever…
But why not the X-Factor winners? Why not the boy that believed in Santa when no-one else did? Here we see the difference of social complicity. The person still celebrating Christmas in August – mad. The person still idolising Gareth Gates – mad. Indeed, the period of carnival after their election of tribal chiefs is the same in duration as the “rise” of the others; it represents the time of coming to power, dominance, and thus the attainment of immortality… and even if that “spirit” of immortality quickly moves into another vessel, it remains the same immortality.
So, after all, it’s fitting that “Killing in the name of” is Christmas number one. We celebrate the spirit of the individual and its apotheosis into immortality. Gather around Yggdrasil, the life tree, and sing of the father’s murder that we may see ourselves in God anew through our totem-priests. Rage, we shed our life’s blood, cash, upon your online altar that our collective spirits may deliver us from evil and death. You suffered for your place amongst the stars, and we too may join you there if we offer you our sacrifices and let our Christmas spirit become part of the one great unity, the Christmas Number One.
Whenever I get annoyed by how ignorant people are of things, (how no-one on X-Factor can ever actually sing, for example) I find it helps to think of Bishop George Berkeley, founder of the Immaterialist school of British Empiricism. If you get annoyed by people having a false belief in the talents of a quasi-celebrity then imagine how annoying it must be if everyone went around believing in “matter” when you knew it was pure common sense that it didn’t exist!
For those who aren’t so dull as to have read Berkeley, he basically takes Locke’s idea that nothing can be known except via the senses and then adds the “therefore nothing exists except sense perceptions” that we all know and love. Although commonly dismissed, it’s hard to get through his Three Dialogues without seeing the logic of it, even if you don’t end up believing in it. He puts it so rationally that you end up thinking that you’re the mad one for believing in a bizarre thing called “matter” in the first place.
Of course, the effects of this sort of navel-gazing wear off pretty sharpish as you go about your day as normal regardless of whether matter exists or not. The impressive thing about Berkeley is that for him it didn’t, he just kept on disbelieving. Getting out of his idea of a bed in the morning and eating his idea breakfast, pausing to read about ideas of news in the idea of the newspaper and groaning over the newspaper’s constant references to “matter” the way I do whenever the tabloids mention “immigrants” or “terrorists”.
That’s why I like Berkeley, and his Three Dialogues in particular. He’s the original observational comic; he observes daily life, stripping away all pretence and showing us how it is… and how it is, is immaterial. Hylas, the straight man of the routine, sets up Philonous for punchline after punchline, resolution after resolution. Like all great comics, Berkeley laughs us into a re-evaluation of our beliefs. He’s an Eighteenth Century Bill Hicks.
Yet Berkeley, for all his zany immaterialism, is merely echoing a form that’s as old as philosophy itself – The Socratic Dialogue. Plato was a comic, Confucius was a comic, even Jesus has touches of Andy Kaufman setting up Judas and Peter like he did (maybe).
I guess what I’m getting at is that great art, and great philosophy, is always funny. The pursuit of knowledge is simply an attempt to work out the universe’s punchline. That’s why I like Bishop Berkeley. I can imagine him sat around grumbling like he’s in a Jack Dee sitcom, the only one finding him funny being the viewers at home (which according to the Three Dialogues would in fact be God), his only solace being the comic misunderstandings of the rest of the world with their ridiculous “matter”.
I’ve recently been re-reading Thomson’s The Seasons, a book-length poem from the Eighteenth Century that does pretty much what it says on the tin. You begin in “Spring” and work your way through to “Winter” via a rambling, digressive style that replicates a pleasant meander across the countryside. As a huge fan of Wordsworth’s The Prelude, I was surprised to find that this poem was far more lyrical, even perhaps more philosophical in it’s adaption of nature and science to art.
Far stranger though, was the fact that this poem existed long before the first “Romantic” poets came and, from Lyrical Ballads onwards, claimed to “invent” the mode of the Egotistical Sublime. There’s even a story of Wordsworth and Coleridge on a pub crawl, picking up a copy of The Seasons that was almost completely worn-out from constant fireside reading and saying to each other, “Now there’s real fame!”
The first thing that this really demonstrated to me was the arbitrariness of literary “periods” or “schools of thought”. The cliché of viewing the Romantics as a rebellion of passion against the rationalised Enlightenment ceases to operate past anything but the surface level and does little justice to either side. It also warps our view of history; a view formed by modern assumptions that demands things be put into neat boxes so we can make some sense out of the chaos. Although of course all this labelling is inescapable… in the words of another Romantic, William Blake, “Without contraries there is no progression”.
The real issue I wanted to write about isn’t so much the labelling of periods but what that implies. As I think Voltaire pointed out more eloquently than I, when one classifies something, one inherently opposes it to everything else… “If it isn’t X, then it must be Y”. For this reason, The Seasons can’t be a “Romantic” poem, because it’s too early chronologically, but it isn’t as rigidly “Augustan” as an Alexander Pope poem, so it becomes erroneous. As the last published copy was from 1975, and it cost me £25 to buy one online, it’s evident how being left out of the periodised canon of literature has relegated this brilliant poem to something only now read by “specialists”.
I’m not recommending here that everybody who reads this should rush out and buy a copy of The Seasons, I’m just highlighting one of the sad facts about literary canons in general. In its day The Seasons had literally hundreds of editions published, carrying on well into the Victorian era... The Prelude struggled to sell 500 copies on first publication, but which is now available in Penguin Classics? Its not just Thomson’s poem either, there’s hundred of these works, hugely popular in their era and near-forgotten today, and mostly it’s down to the very academics studying and preserving literature that this happens!
I’m afraid this may have sounded like a rant but I assure you it’s not. If anything it’s rather funny. I don’t presume to condemn the entirety of literature studies off the back of a few books. It is all rather interesting though…
…oh, and speaking of Thomson, who do you think inspired Vivaldi’s Four Seasons?
I have to start of this blog by thanking Gabrielle Clarke. She’s the one who made it for me and its better than I could have ever imagined anything with my name attached to it could be. So many thanks there.
The one thing that worries me is the size of my name on the top of the screen. It’s a touch ego-maniacal in scale isn’t it? I think it says a lot about me that instead of just changing it I comment on it in the blog. This way of course I can’t change it else the blog won’t make sense, so I get to keep my giant screen-filling name and at the same time seem humble about it…
Apart from that everything seems in order. At some point I’d like to get selections from my novel and novella up on here and maybe a couple of readings or film clips. Problem is that I’m laden with deadlines at this time of year and have to spend my time writing a psychoanalysis of fascism and investigating ‘cause and effect’ during the Enlightenment. The things we do for love and marks…
Anyway, once I get into the swing of things I hope to write on here about once a week. I can’t guarantee consistency, but as this is the internet I’m sure you aren’t expecting anything life changing anyway.
Feel free to get in touch with me about anything. As a fully qualified Bachelor of Art I’m not trained to deal with medical emergencies but I am quite handy when it comes to small spillages and correcting grammar.