April 6, 2015 § Leave a comment

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Another angry note or two about Jarman, a year after the servile nonsense of “Jarman 2014”. The picture of him in my last entry came from an Independent article written last year by Philip Hoare – who, since England’s Lost Eden, has gone seriously off the boil – headlined “Why Derek Jarman’s life was even more influential then [sic] his films”. Wh/ sums up everything wrong w/ Jarman’s reception history in one neat sentence. It isn’t simply the biographical fallacy that I resent; nor the repeated move of turning the films into ‘merely’ one part of a circuit of activities (“painter, gardener, diarist, activist, sage” etc) centred on the biographical individual “Derek Jarman” (as Brian Dillon noted in a review of Thames & Hudson edition of the sketchbooks last year, if any creative achievement of Jarman’s deserves immortality “surely it’s the films?”); nor the sickening piety that turns the courage of a dying man – a courage that, according to Tony Peake (himself a minor villain in this story), remained a mystery to Jarman himself – in the face of all-too-material political oppression into a saint’s aura, & a sometimes reckless, desperate beligerence into ‘principle’. It’s partly the motivation behind these idiocies: an attempt to short-circuit the separation between life & art without challenging any of the objective structures that constitute that separation, leading to what JGV has called “only more fruitless bull about how ‘hey, anything can be art!'” There’s an obvious point that such pseudo-integrations of everyday life & the aesthetic are precisely what the culture industry – wh/ has turned the entire content & subject of Beethoven’s work into his ‘great man’ biography – peddles now*. The interpretive excuse usually offered is that Jarman himself made the films – from the unrepeatable position of a bohemian class fraction that no longer exists – as extensions of his life, as documents of whatever group of friends he was hanging around w/ at that time (certainly at least w/ the Super-8 works). The necessary rejoinder to that is that it’s precisely the heavily-flagged (auto)biography in the films that doesn’t survive, where the heavy-handed symbolism, Jungianism, mystical anarchism, queer rebellion & class psychodrama does.

* There’s a subsidiary problem here, that Jarman was a skilled player of the colour-supplement game: his eloquence, brazenness & winning manner were gold to arts section editors, broadcasters, arts institutions etc. He was more than capable of stirring the pot when, for reasons of publicity or funding, or just b/c he felt like it, it needed stirring. Thus now almost every monograph or article written about him takes his word about the films or paintings as gospel, as if no-one got the memo about “the death of the author” (sorry). But everything that’s genuine in the films rebels against everything quotable in his talk.

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