On being Accepted

17May07

/1/ – Bob Žižek?

In their article “Play Fuckin’ Loud: Žižek versus the Left” Rex Butler and Scott Stephens discuss a moment in Martin Scorsese’s documentary about Bob Dylan called No Direction Home:

“One of the events the film depicts is Dylan’s now famous concert at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1966, during which he turns to his backing band after crises of “Judas!” from one of the aggrieved folk purists in the audience and says simply: “Play fuckin’ loud”. The offended fans are then shown denouncing Dylan while they leave during the show. And, in truth, it is excruciating to watch the attempts by various groups at the time to appropriate Dylan – from his ex-lover Joan Baez to the announcer at the 1965 Newport Folk Festival who exhorts the crowd with “Take him, he’s yours!” Instead, against the idea that he was a simple protest singer who sang about topical issues, Dylan has always insisted that all of his songs were protest songs. Against any identifiable genre of music, he argues for the moral necessity to keep on breaking with his audience in order to take them outside the usual expectations of what a “folk” song is, of what a “protest” song could be.”


Dylan, 1966

Dylan’s actions here, in psychoanalytic terms, puts him in the place of the analyst in that, the thing to do is to question the very demand of the Other (audience) – Why is it that you ask that I serve this particular function for you? Or put another way:

“the agent (analyst) reduces himself to the void, which provokes the subject into confronting the truth of his desire.” (from “Lacan’s Four Discourses” – Žižek)

Butler and Stevens compare this moment to a statement in Astra Taylor’s documentary Žižek! where Žižek says that his real fear is not to be ignored but to be accepted. Why? As is evident in the film, many of Žižek’s self described admirers describe him in various stupid ways like ‘the Elvis of Cultural Theory’ and the New Yorker refers to him as a ‘Marx Brother’ and so on. On top of this, as Žižek points out, many post-structuralist thinkers try to paint him and his cohort (Zupancic, Dolar, etc) as part of a ‘power discourse’ that has some kind of obscene control over the academy which, as he points out, is a completely ridiculous notion. The point here, as Žižek notes near the end of the film, is that this kind of popular acceptance of him functions, in many ways, as a strategy not to take him seriously.

Some have seen Žižek’s attacks upon the left, as well as his refusal to put forth a political program, as detrimental to the left as such. In the case of Dylan’s ’66 concert, what can we make of the cries of Judas? Is it only or mostly a matter of expectation (ie – Dylan is supposed to be a folk singer) or how much of it is that the content of a protest song (protest) is inherently attached to its prescribed form (folk music)?

/2/ – Form/Content

Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset in his text Meditations on Quixote argues that one cannot maintain the simple ancient poetic separation of form and content where the content is deposited in the form like honey in the comb. Form is, in one sense, the trajectory of the content in that, according to Ortega, the only form to express that particular content. There is a sort of frustrating (?) co-dependent arising going on, to borrow from Buddhism.

This is not to say that form is meaningless (it is no, form does play in important part in contributing to the ‘flair’ of works of art. In his article “Is There a Proper Way to Remake a Hitchcock film?” Zizek points out that it is not so much that the narrative that is important to the quality of the story (Shakespeare is an excellent example) but how the story is presented. There is an old guitar teacher bit of wisdom here that fits ‘It is not what you play but how you play it.’ Isn’t Jimi Hendrix the ultimate example here, of personal style (content) painting over content (or creating it)?


Another immortal…

But what, in music, is form and what is content? Genre (musically) and theme(lyrically) seem to go with form whereas (personal) style (musically) and narrative/imagery in the lyrics makes up the content. Now, it seems the best music is that which the line between content and form is obfuscated, not directly (in the case of formulaic music) but, to return to co-dependent arising, when content seems to build its form just in front of its own force of creation.

/3/ – Responsibility

In the article “The Subject of Art” it is clear that Badiou attributes quite a bit of importance to the question of art. Art is about the creation of a “new subjective paradigm” and as Peter Hallward makes clear in his book Badiou: A Subject to Truth art is, as Badiou portrays it, mostly a individualistic endeavor (which seems very problematic particularly in regards to musical creation).

But at the same time a question should be raised as to what is the concrete responsibility of artists.
The best example of this is the well known story in which Picasso was handing out photographs of his masterpiece Guernica in occupied Paris when a Nazi soldier asked him ‘Did you do this?’ and Picasso responded ‘No, you did!’ Isn’t there a kind of artistic responsibility especially when there is something like the bombing of Guernica? But then, as Picasso’s style makes clear (or unclear?) he didn’t feel the need for clarity simply for the necessity.


The Result of Franco

To bring this back to our initial discussion Dylan’s/Žižek’s actions could, in one way, be viewed as a kind of refusal of responsibility, as a kind of stepping back from the spotlight. We could argue that Žižek is always doing the work of psychoanalytic politics by pointing to constitutive lack in all places that he occupies. We can see similar acts by Dylan such as on the record Another Side of Bob Dylan and in particular the song “My Back Pages” which mocks his earlier idealism. One of the verses goes:

“In a soldiers stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that Id become my enemy
In the instant that I preach
My existence led by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow.
Ah, but I was so much older then,
I’m younger than that now.”

It is here, along with Yannis Stavrakakis and his book Lacan & the Political, that again we can point out the important difference between post-modernist/post-structuralist notions of the political and that of post-Marxists such as Badiou and Žižek – the difference is that the former says that recognition/respect of difference/otherness is enough whereas for the latter the important factor is the subject of lack, the idea that ‘the social does not exist.’

At the risk of obnoxiousness, I’d like to end by reading the above refrain from Dylan’s song (“Ah, but I was so much older then, I’m younger than that now”) in the same vein as Freud’s Wo es war, soll Ich Werden – Where it was, I shall come into being. Not in the classical Freudian sense, that a healthy ‘perfected ego’ will replace my fragmented self but that I will break through that fantasmatic identity and identify with the sinthome – the very impossibility of my own being.

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