They war here!
Hi Arlene; Reconnaissance notes off HD040573; How's tricks? HD040573 is a blue jewel, splendid and cruel and a means to render all men thieves; The semi-major axis a little tight but good metallocity here; and nothing Heavy D couldn't adjust; The inhabitants: they're self-charmed but still young; Mites need a lot of confirmation; Every country imagines itself a harmonious contrast of the traditional and the modern; Every country likes its own distinctive sense of humour; Every country prides itself on knowing how to let its hair down, when it comes down to it; Every country feels a little misunderstood; And every citizen is the kind of person who is perfectly open-minded, just a little less so in practice.
Everybody's gone sublevel; I should too, A; SlumberShift till Coronae Borealis; oh Coronae; OH Coronae
"I'll love you and leave you, treacle."
I've just finished my Christmas shopping. Reaction could swing either way. (1) That's worryingly well organised of you. Or (2), what a blatant kowtow to the dominant norms of the Judeo Christian fiscal architecture. Either way, I've finished my Christmas shopping. I got up early and went to the West End before it even opened.
Erving Goffman ('Asylums: Essays on the Social Situation of Mental Patients and Other Inmates', 1961) studied the self when held by institutions. Which we are, you might say, twenty four eight - although Goffman focused on prisons, mental hospitals, army training camps, naval vessels, boarding schools, monasteries, and nursing homes. He proposed that a dual identity creates itself, the Official Self and the Performing Self. In order to survive in any kind of social order, he suggested, an individual has to engage in a continuous process of evaluating the demands and expectations made on them. This construction of the Official Self is stage-managed by the Performing Self, itself held by an existential need to survive, and in a perpetual state of defence lest it be caught out of character, denied privileges, excluded from a group. It mutters things like:
"It's a bitch avoiding cliché. The net has more angles on Fallujah than there are on fellatio, but I'm not advertised or linked anywhere and anyone invited sure wasn't by me. Expectations are of something someone else promised."
Specifying asylums, Goffman illustrated how, even here, processes strip inmates of their roles in order to shock their Performing Self into submission and acceptance of any new demand made upon them. A content individual is one whose Official Self and Performing Self are not at odds (in other words, it is fine to have a 'front', but there'll be trouble if you don't bring your 'back' along with it) and, by using the group, an individual finds themselves licked, happy under the stick. Thinking stuff like:
You're looking in a shop window, wondering if that brown and baby blue striped sweatshirt is 'ICA' or 'C&A' or if either is a part of your Official or Performing self these days. You're considering how to describe the colour of that t-shirt and decide it is 'dildo pink'. You're not cynical because you've seen opera-scarved teenagers in Vienna, in a line-up for the same old same old, and know what a culture can be like without street. But you wonder who is bonding with what and to appease the expectations of whom (and if fifty nine quid for a school scarf is Indie Bling) and is it all to get laid? Then you wonder if art is a thousand Gavin Turks dressed as Che Guevara and no-one can be bothered to paint Guernica.
You're inside a furniture store imagining what these exfoliated, fur-trimmed couples (so heeled they reach the ceiling) do for a living, and if an 'eat it up, that's what it's there for' approach to getting what you want causes problems in a relationship. You're wondering how they accomodate all the options open to them, and if choice causes more frustration than it's worth. You're wondering how they reached such status being glib idiots, and then recall that the bullish eighties and America were never won by the delicacies of intellect. And suspect that behind girlie soft furnishings, on the pink pages of each financial bootprint, every country is America. You're wondering what he hopes she would do in bed and what he feels 'comes as standard' these days. You imagine him a stroppy 'problem' boyfriend whom she has learned to accomodate to the point where her competing fantasies nullify each other and you begin to sing 'Is that all there is to a fire?' as you move on up the queue. You wonder if that's where you're supposed to be at your age as you reach to pay for a milkshake maker that moos while they seem upset by the delivery times available for a nuevo retro corner settee. Though it seems to take forever, you're on the streets again. Thinking:
It's too easy to go mad. Get into a lift and face the far wall. No less logical than facing the door, but you'll be watched from the corner of every eye. Private madness is no less subjective. If it hurts, take Selves and sort it. If you suspect that you have been a long time accommodating pain, denying it to the point you've been taken over, edited out of the film of your life and fading off the family photos, seek support in a trusted other.
The Jamaican security forces are stealing lyrics from my head. In a previous job, I used to deal with copyright and royalty-related enquiries from songwriters and up-and-coming bands. Most callers were pleasant enough, occasionally they had a manner of someone more used to getting nowhere with a dole office attendant, but I don't think I'm breaching any confidentiality rules if I tell you that we regularly had to field off calls from up-and-coming cuckoos.
I'm Cindy Crawford and George Harrison is my father. These calls would be handled politely, referring the enquirer to a publisher or copyright holder, or advising them of entertainment law solicitors who might take on the case, if it appeared valid enough. My mother wrote the lyrics for 'Candle In The Wind'. Elton John took the notebook from her hospital bedside. He stole it, while she SLEPT.
Here I formed an offbeat acquaintance, friendship in a slow way, with an obscure Latino brass and Hammond anti-wizard called Chico. Versions of 'Whole Lotta Love', gone Cuban. If Chico even had a day, it faded long ago.
Chico called me regularly and possibly drunk or ill from, by the sound of the dogs forever fighting outside, a trailer park in the nowheres of Florida. Slow, deeply slurred voice and life story. The reasons for his calls were at times 'some guys' he owed money to. Chico had cash problems, Chico had police problems, and Chico had women problems. But it was always refreshing, on a wintry afternoon in the West End, to be drawn away from the spreadsheets and into the parallel world of his stories, a heady mix of truth and possible fiction. He knew Joe Meek, and in the 1950s he worked Vegas with Dinah Washington and Sarah Vaughan. But, for a reasons untold or circumnavigated (reasons which could even be a map the rest of us could work with), Chico never saw his name on the a, b or c selection. Music being all he knew, he soldiered on, playing restaurants, until Hurricane Andrew walked off with everything he owned. The bongos flew away. That was 1992.
How were the UK royalties, anyway? He would light another cigarette and apologise for the dogs (with a kind of exaggerated politeness - he was, after all, phoning London). Was that court case sorted?
There was no court case. No-one buying or playing his records was the only reason for non-payments, and the fact that his most noted pieces were covers meant he wouldn't see a songwriter's cut for those anyway. Oddly, although money was the reason for his call, he didn't really seem to be listening to anything I said when we talked money. He'd cough or get distracted at the mere mention of it. I soon learned to be vague and never to dash his hopes, for that was what he was calling me for, staring out of his trailer window with his failing health, talking to London; and I even learned to play along with the phantom 'court case'.
"Chico, this thing must be dragging out."
"You're telling me."
I didn't hear from him until a look-up of Chico's entry on the international membership system revealed a recently completed 'Date Of Death' field.
The Food Hall, Selfridges
As I walked to the Whitechapel Gallery for the 'Faces In The Crowd' exhibition, I passed the flat I stayed in when I first arrived in London, its doorway in the alley where the body of Mary Ann Nichols was discovered. (Jack the Ripper had his own withdrawn celebrity issues. 'Thanks for keeping last letter back till I got to work again', he wrote a little pointedly, obviously watchful and irked that his cursive was not being shared by the press. Authorship of his crimes was important to his Official Self, or became so, seen in both an increasingly vicious imagination and the smell-her red of his ink.)
Aspects of a struggle for authorship rise and fall around the exhibition too. I wasn't sure where its overall theme would lead me - the roles we slip around as placed with or facing a crowd, the masks we try on, fear and jestery. Crowd action, crime scenes, mobs, outsiders fighting for us, insiders fighting against. Loneliness in consumerism, cohesion for sale. Stalkers, widows, jazzers, punks and armies. Official and Performing Selves, knocking each other's wall, wishing the world was all vice-a versa. But I thought about authorship.
You could say that the struggle for authorship suggests a distance between the artist and their subject, and, if it is too evident, we somehow sense something fraudulent is taking place. Manet, a decade before the murders in Whitechapel, rolled black around like nobody was home. The top hats in his 'Masked Ball At The Opera' gleam deep as a well beside his trademark pales. Look at Grosz's pen and inks of mädchen-fondling Nazis-in-waiting and you know that both Grosz and his motivations were a part of the scene, and all sorts of acts of formulation were happening in that 'Café' - with its skeleton, a Jew and a brandy glass of popcorn. Grosz is not complicit; he merely lets his formulation fill with the formulations around him. Another Jack, Yeats, cajoles the crowds at his boxing match with a hazy energy they almost shouldn't have. Fashionable, impressionist flourishes seem to jar with his subject matter, and it's strange to have a sense of being enraptured here (think what you like about bare-knuckle navvies hammering one another clueless, they're not cornfields at dawn).
The exhibition leads from observation to reflections of the crowd (Christian Schad's chocolate-eyed 'Maika' looks at us like we're an ex lover whose apology never came) and out through office politics and oblique urban stress. If authorship is the ownership of an act, the nasty video orgies of C Schneeman tease us with all the arguments against artistic representation - that no one is allowed detachment but the artist themselves. 'Meat Joy', 1964, looks where the collective ends up a collective hysteria and suggests that, to avoid feeling the outsider, we give sway to impulses that our not really ours at all. Without an author (insider or outsider?) to act as a moral barometer and give us our sense of place, we degrade into a slaughtering, fucking mass; the bloody madness of utter equality, where the upper hand is gained by someone lowering the tone, and no-one able to talk. To the refrain of 'My Boy Lollipop'.
Authorship is the ownership of an act, and fame is the desire to witness your own paranoia. So they say. But even if the Jamaican security forces are scanning your cranium for couplets, why would it bother you? Paranoia makes me think of the film 'Repulsion' and I noticed not so much madness but a self-freezing and a playing dead happen to (ironically enough) Belle Du Jour, the London call girl who kept an online diary. As soon as she hit the lights, or a version of them, her writing began to deviate all over the shop. The threshold that she imagined speaking to moved from 'interested parties' to 'the crowd', as such her site began to read - what do people want? I may live a beguiling daily life but not that beguiling. How do I draw people in when they're already here, without publicly clambering up my own ass? What did the crowd (where we fuse) want? Her barroom banter now under a microscope, self-questioning stole her fun, she gradually wound down and drew the shutters.
Faced with the crowd is to be faced with a consideration of our role. Class, inert confidence and/or training were possibly an issue for BDJ, for these may have provided an ability to talk to 'everyone' beyond an imaginary microcosm. Interested parties are blind, but the crowd has the moral judgement of an eye. Belle Du Jour, a girl more comfortable being told what would be expected of her clear and ahead, was faced with the joylessness of the everyman expectation. Her Official Self passed on her Performing Self and a girl who felt like writing became a call girl with a weblog.
Pained paranoia such as Belle's might suggest layers of guilt, though anarchists demanded that you and I accept ourselves as sentient, lovely beings at core. Occasionally and sometimes irrepairably, they yarned, we are bent out of shape, by ourselves or by the crowd, in a need to live up to a role. Roles we embrace - child, mom, wife, boyfriend, employee, taxpayer - and roles applied to us - criminal, pervert. The middleground between you and me, where we wrestle with roles, is the problem. Roles, the whole dull, cemented shebang, are the problem, and Performing Selves probably need trusted others to break them.
In Pierre Huyghe's pixelations at the Whitechapel, an animated girl talks to and about herself in the third person. A grating idiosyncracy, but we know she is not real, so we let her off with it. What is she? She's Annlee, and nothing but a representation. She's just a character, wondering when an author will write her into a story, and wondering what she'd say to the real girl she is based on. 'She's probably dead by now' she postulates. Annlee doubts she ever existed at all. It's a sad animation.
Pressies. I hope people like 'em. That mix of me thinking of them and me not wanting them to think that that's what people think of when they think of them. Then taking a left turn and choosing something I'd like to get. Someone said that we don't desire things because they're beautiful, but that desiring something makes it beautiful. Desire king and queen and above blind morals. That's my excuse, anyway. We'd fall for the whole damn world, if.. if..
If Goffman is right (fans included Foucault and his dirge 'Madness And Civilisation') then there simply might be no authentic self at all (though we seem to get attached to the battlegrounds around our Official and Performing selves). Does it make for an emptier world?
<Sending..> Oh man; Oh maaan; I can't sleep, A; I left a pack of hypnophen on HD040573; Shit, Arlene; I CAN4T SLEEP; I've been pacing around this fucking christmas tree for eight months man
And who do we mutter to on journeys home or want others to seek and appreciate?
"Hey. It's been an age."
"Some guys. A little black coatcheck girl I did the splits on in Miami. Her brother-in-law used to be Goofy. Wanted to break my face."
"Men are black, Chico. Women are ebony."
"Limeys, they get slimier. What's happening?"
"Antonin Artaud on the bendy bus. He says musicians should.. hold on.. we're going under a bridge.. 'make up a swift temple of our familiar feelings. Build us a little hell with cavernous skies where the loveliest church opens its deepest flutes."
"Whaddya know. I'd buy the ringtone. Can he dance?"
"Dead, mad and disgusted."
"Frenchman, eh? I'll look out for him."