June 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

I wrote about Geoff Dyer’s Zona for Review 31.

Disappointed I didn’t add my quip about Film Studies as “the owl of Minerva’s tardier cousin”.


‘an objective illusion’

June 30, 2012 § Leave a comment

Their susceptibility generates an delusion but this delusion is based on a real experience; it is an objective illusion. The false appearance is woven into reality itself, and the muck is real. The misapprehension of the world is a real misapprehension; it’s make-believe and it is socially produced. It is also socially dismantled. Ideologies are not arbitrary, but emanations of socially necessary illusion, the coagulation in commonsensical form of the contradictory nature of social reality, generated by social reality and challenged by it at one and the same time. It should not be assumed that ideology is a falsehood that never comes to light, for it always comes into the light and then has to be recomposed. Ideological explanations are strenuously applied and reapplied: think big, think small, ideas for life.

June 26, 2012 § Leave a comment

June 24, 2012 § Leave a comment

Peter Guralnick’s Last Train to Memphis “refuses to dwell on the myth of Elvis”, sticking instead to a free indirect style that lends a forceful, vivid drama to the scenes he paints – of a skinny, often nervous boy in funny socks & turn-ups playing in the Memphis social housing complex he spent his teens in, of his easy mixing with Hollywood & entertainment-industry people, of how his shows turned to riots at a hip-flick. But in doing so he seems to cut out a vital element of the vast image – not so much a story as an amassed likeness distributed across 50,000,000 record sleeves, 30 feet high in the theatres showing his increasingly tawdry movies throughout the 60s, an amorphous cloud of impressions & details, fascinations, lusts, screams, as if refracted across the inside of Benjamin’s arcades – he is trying to give an outline to. Already, by 1957, discontinuities open up & facts appear like bizarre daydreams. Presley had a working soda fountain installed in the basement of Graceland; he didn’t drink or smoke, brought girls, more often than not, back to hang out with his parents (he talked to his mother in baby talk), but was caught by one girlfriend, June Juanico, watching porn films with the guys & told a friend in later years “I fucked everything in sight”; Dewey Phillips, one of his Memphis mentors, shows up at 3  in the morning, scrambles over the fence & “roused the household”, “ranting that Elvis had forgotten his old friends” (Mrs Presley was worried “‘since Liberace’s mother got hurt'”; Elvis was already subsumed into the image, the archetype, of fame itself.) This isn’t simply morbid fascination, but the dialectical obverse to the Edenic pre-history of Elvis that Guralnick evokes in his opening pages: the abiding, mesmerising, spooked brilliance of the American vernacular music Presley dearly loved – the most surprising characters: The Ink Spots, Hank Snow, Ernest Tubbs, Perry Como, Joshua White, Arthur ‘Big Boy’ Crudup, black spirituals & ‘quartet’ singing – the innocence with which he played out, & approached the task of fame, took the world as it rushed to meet him. (When Elvis received a gold leaf-coated suit in early 1957, modelled on Liberace’s, in the first show he played in it, he “dropped to his knees like Al Jolson … he left 50 dollars of gold spangles on stage”.) There’s another book to be written from these early pages – possibly the very one Guralnick wanted to write, an exorcism of the memories of the future that burst like shotgun shells in its closing pages – something like an A la recherche du temps perdu of the blues, a work of sonic/social archaeology that would, in the grain of his voice, his body language, cause entire recovered centuries to rise up, the entire bruise-black history of the American continent, its strange freedoms, madnesses, sufferings, pleas for redemption (back, perhaps, to Blake’s own America). If to understand modernity – what, if we have lost it, we really have lost – requires us to grasp the terrors it inflicts – its disappearance back into myth – alongside the freedoms it opens up, the hegemonic sonic presence of Elvis will be the elusive image of its primeval history.

June 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

June 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Difficult not to think that one of the most telling features of pop now is the play-counter on iTunes & Last FM. One of the reasons I buy mostly vinyl now, apart from the correct plea of poverty, is the experience of listening w/out a continual awareness of time, crawling or dashing on, & the number of times you listen to a song. (Like most iTunes users I peek at my Top 25 Most Played list from time to time & usually find it’s full of stuff I just find peculiar, embarrassing & jumbled.) The only way of telling how often a vinyl record has been played is how worn-down the grooves are, how scratched the record is (wh/ may just be a testimony of bad treatment rather than frequent play), how bad the sound’s become (& it’s difficult to tell how bad it was to begin w/ – a bad pressing? too many tracks shoved on a side? (cf. my unlistenable copy of The Beach Boys’ 20 Golden Hits)). The only other court of measurement was the charts, w/ wh/ one’s experience of listening to a record would concur or diverge. (The industry’s award of metal records to mark vast sales seems a comic attempt to solidify this objective measure, to give ‘the popular’ a local habitation & a name.) Reading the first volume of Peter Guralnick’s biography of Elvis Presley, The Last Train to Memphis, the strangeness of the screaming crowds that, by 1956, greeted the band everywhere they played – or even wherever Elvis happened to visit – so loud as to drown out any attempt at a gig, so numerous & violent as to leave Elvis himself struggling to escape their clutches, isn’t simply the seemingly impossible libidinal expenditure (now that pop has become a lifestyle accessory, Hunter wellies for Glasto hung up alongside the Laura Ashley sofa throws; or, at the other end, music for smartphone bus-blasting): the possibility of recognising oneself in the massed objectivity of the crowd, the flashed face of the World Spirit. The slowly ascending number of Last FM plays testifies to the inviolability of one’s island of taste, the justification for solipsism posing as music writing*.

* This can, rather nicely, be seen as a correlate of Rob Horning’s claim that, “To extend the life span of neoliberalism, it needs ideological justification. Facebook explicitly wants to be that. It sustains a subject that is not inauthentic and opportunistic in its perpetual networking but liberated to be and do more. Quantify yourself, increase that quantity.”

June 19, 2012 § Leave a comment

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