The Aura of the Rolling Stones in the Age of Total Mediation.

In Uncategorized on September 25, 2013 at 5:11 pm

By Macon Holt

Standing in Hyde Park, during Barclaycard’s presentation of British Summer time, I was, quite accidentally, immersed in the sonic aura of the Rolling Stones. For reasons of muddled principle and a wilful reframing of poverty, I feel my ticketless experience of the band was a far more vivid or valid or authentic or some such experience than the gilded cage of the pay-for crowd. In the park I was bathed in the sonic aura, the thickened air of the Rolling Stones’ works of art.

So this aura idea is one of the most interesting put forth by Walter Benjamin in his essay ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction’. In the essay, Benjamin argues that the unique here-and-now existence of a work of art gives it a certain hard to define aura, which is lost (the aura) through even the most perfect reproduction. The original, with its unbroken connection to some sort of originator, is vitally import to Benjamin, despite his enthusiasm for the emancipatory potential he sees in works of art that require mechanical reproduction such as film. This idea seems pretty clear and demonstrable in relation to paintings (Benjamin’s example) with its chemical composition changing over time.

In this piece of writing, I’m going to operate on the conceit that the band who – for legal and financial purposes – are allowed to be identified and trade under the name The Rolling Stones create original Rolling Stones’ works of art when they play together, even if some of the song writers are deceased. I am, for the sake of argument and illustration, agreeing with a conservative notion that live music is more authentic than recordings (I totally disagree with this but to save time getting to what I want to talk about, so please forgive this).

So the Stones were on stage in Hyde Park on two weekends in July in 2013. This, the Stones playing songs on a stage, has happened hundreds, perhaps thousands of times since their formation in 1962. This means that they have, keeping the above conceit in mind, produced tens of thousands of ‘authentic’ Rolling Stones art works. These are you-had-to-be-there moments; a phrase to stand in for transcendence in the anxiety of a perhaps wilful paucity of descriptive ability. Or perhaps, such a defensive phrase is used in face of the terrifying prospect that this transcendence is an experience that can maybe be reduced. During the over half century of Rolling Stones artworks production, they, or at least their industrial framework, have sought to profit from the ephemeral and hard to access nature of this transcendent experience with the quick and easy potential of pop music. The production of numerous concert videos, willing and unwilling photographs and appearances in all forms of commercial media have been attempts to capture some of the ephemeral transcendence and transform it into discreet commodity forms through reproduction. In short, they are some of earliest and most enduring examples of the rock and roll mythology as a staple of the popular music industry. Manipulated and situated images and sounds and 50 years of ecstatic anecdotes, are now far more pristine referents to the Rolling Stones than the admittedly impressive swagger of the elderly Mick Jagger.

When you attend a Rolling Stones concert, the crowd is enormous and so the fight for position is fierce. For many attendees, some the same age or only a little younger than their idols, this fight is unwinnable and they are pushed far to the back. Here failing eyes, even if expertly bespectacled, can’t make out the difference between a blur and a swagger. The solution to this has been decided as big screens. A whole industry has come up around this problem-of-own-success-victimhood. Strange time distance sound-speed signal transfer delay types of things aside, the thought seems to be the screen is less an obvious form of mediation but a magnifying glass. The tiny blur on stage that becomes a close up on Keith Richards rictus as he strikes a chord on his low hung telecaster claims to get you closer to the band whist maintaining the high status of these modern deities. The ideology of this large scale communal experience means that to consider such inflated images as anything other than documentary evidence that the authentically ‘Rolling Stones’ Rolling Stones are, in fact, a here and now concern, would be tantamount to a micro-biology denialist going in for a tetanus booster – hypocrisy would seem to abound from the attendees account of events.

Without paying between £50 (difficult ones to get) and £400 on tickets, you can’t see the Rolling Stones engaged in the creation of Rolling Stones art works…

Review continued at Holt – The Aura of the Rolling Stones in the Age of Total Mediation. 


My Winnipeg (2007) Guy Maddin (dir).

In Uncategorized on July 5, 2013 at 8:45 pm

Review by Mark Rainey

You can’t escape Winnipeg. That’s the opening gambit of this film. And the film begins with director Guy Maddin, played by Darcy Fehr, on a train heading out of town. Yet, the train can’t resist the pull of the city and instead endlessly circulates Winnipeg, with the sleepy passengers on board viewing unfolding scenes of civic history, urban myth and Maddin’s own childhood memories from the train windows.

The obscure 1967 track by the Swinging Strings, ‘Wonderful Winnipeg’, plays during the film. It includes the lines, ‘Hail my town, hail my home, the world keeps moving round and round’. I don’t know how many times the song appears, it may be only once, but just like the lyrics suggest, the song circulates the film and is ineluctably engrained on the brain of the viewer. Just like Winnipeg is imprinted on the brain of Guy Maddin, then.

My uncle, a one-time Winnipeg resident, once told me that ‘You can leave Winnipeg, but Winnipeg never leaves you’. It may sound cliché, as this could be said of any city, but it does hold truth. Winnipeg (or whatever city) never leaves you, just as you can leave your family, but your childhood never leaves you. They’re both inescapable – and Guy Maddin weaves these two together throughout the film. As Maddin says, he is trying to film his way out of the ‘heinous power of family and city’.

If there’s a theme I’d like to highlight here it is the theme of the ‘double’. It permeates the whole film. From the outset, there is continual reference to the ‘forks beneath the forks’. The ‘forks’ are the confluence of the mighty Assiniboine and Red Rivers which meet in the centre of the city. Maddin suggests that Aboriginal legend speaks of a ‘forks beneath the forks’ a supposed subterranean confluence beneath the rivers which hold a sort of magical, magnetic power. The confluence is then crudely and repetitively superimposed on the nude lap of his mother – reinforcing the power of city and family. Other ‘doubles’ include the back alleys used to illicitly navigate the city, the night-time sleep-walking rituals that supplement daytime life, the slightly macabre return of Manitoba’s legendary ice-hockey heroes who skate the Winnipeg Arena one last time before its demolition and the ‘doubling’ of Maddin’s own family, as actors are hired to reconstruct mundane scenes from his life. Ann Savage, the ‘Perfect Vixen’ or 1940s film noir, takes on the role of his ever-watchful and domineering mother.

It could be said that My Winnipeg is a psychogeographic film. ‘Psychogeography’ was a concept introduced by the Situationist International in the early 1950s and in his 1955 tract ‘Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography’ Guy Debord defines it as the ‘study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographic environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviours of individuals’. My Winnipeg is psychogeographic in precisely this sense and Guy Maddin deploys myth, legend, memory, politics and civic and personal history (everything in his toolbox) to reconfigure his emotional take on the city. Debord continues by writing, ‘We need to work toward flooding the market – even if for the moment merely the intellectual market – with a mass of desires whose realization is not beyond the capacity of man’s present means of action on the material world, but only beyond the capacity of old social organization’. In a sense, My Winnipeg is this ‘mass of desires’, with Maddin projecting various means of accounting for and even repairing his Winnipeg. Despite the weird, multiple trajectories that psychogeography has taken on, especially in the UK, the Situationists were essentially Marxists and there is a hint of this in the film, in nostalgia form, with reference to the 1919 Winnipeg General Strike. It all concludes with reference to The Winnipeg Citizen, the newspaper of striking workers, through which Maddin imagines a reconstituted ‘double’ Winnipeg that repairs the mistakes of its past. But it is idealised. And just as Guy Debord wrote that the word ‘psychogeography’ was introduced by an illiterate member, thereby undermining the whole idea at its very inception, there’s a sense that My Winnipeg can’t resolve anything. Covering over the mistakes of the past, with the same from that past, just brings more of the same. Perhaps this is the point of the film, ultimately. We’re still on that circular train ride.

Destructive Plasticity and the Living Dead: Malabou Reading Freud

In Uncategorized on May 10, 2013 at 12:26 pm

Review article by Richard Iveson (forthcoming in Reviews in Cultural Theory as “Figuring Those Who Have Already Been Dead: Destructive Plasticity and the Form of Absence”)

Introduction: thinking plasticity

 For nearly twenty years, French philosopher Catherine Malabou has been exploring the unpredictable terrain of metamorphosis, through which she has evolved the important concept of plasticity (plasticité) understood as the hermeneutic motor scheme of our “new age.” By this, she means that plasticity is a singular scheme or motive that opens the door to the current epoch by enabling the interpretation of phenomena and major events as they arise. In this way, argues Malabou, plasticity has displaced the previous motor scheme of writing (écriture).

In contrast to elasticity as the capacity to return to an original form, plasticity denotes the production of form in its positive and negative aspects. Plasticity, in other words, refers positively to both the donation and the reception of form and, negatively, to the formative destruction of form. It is this latter aspect, an aspect consistently shied away from by both scientific and philosophical discourse, which forms the subject of her latest book, The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage.

A formidable close reader, Malabou is thus in one sense continuing along a clearly delineated philosophical trajectory with what is an important new reading of Freud. At the same time, however, The New Wounded, originally published in 2007, demands to be considered as utterly discontinuous with her earlier works. As she acknowledges in her “Preamble,” her work bears a distinct break marked by her “incursion into the domain of neuroscience” (xii). This rupture can be located precisely between the “before” of The Heidegger Change, and the “after” of What Should We Do with Our Brain?, both of which originally appeared in 2004.

As regards the “post-neuronal” texts, Malabou’s aim is twofold: first, to free neuroscientific discourse from its unwitting production of conservative criteria that ultimately serve to regulate social functioning; and second, to produce a consciousness of the brain that emphasizes the mutual speculative relation of brain and world, and in so doing place “scientific discovery at the service of an emancipatory political understanding” (Brain, 53). Such an understanding, she argues, is urgently required if we are to respond adequately to what she maintains is a “new age of political violence” (New Wounded, 156).

Here, Malabou attempts to further this understanding by placing the “profiles” of psychoanalysis and neuroscience side by side, a long-overdue articulation that reveals a surprising specularity between the two, seemingly incommensurable discourses.1 According to Malabou, moreover, if psychoanalysis is to move forward, it must be forced to come to terms with what she calls the new wounded (in contrast no doubt to its “old,” hysterically wounded). Exemplified by the victims of catastrophic brain lesions, the new wounded are those subjects who, transformed completely by trauma and oblivious to affect, find themselves utterly indifferent to everything around them. In short, contemporary psychoanalysis must risk a – potentially destructive – encounter with a new wound and thus a new form: that of the embodiment of the death drive itself.

Coming together: cerebrality and sexuality

 At the root of the conflict between psychoanalysis and neurology, Malabou locates a struggle for etiological dominance. As is well known, Freudian psychoanalysis is characterized by the etiological regime of sexuality, referring not to the narrow set of genital practices, but rather to a law that functions to regulate the form of causality specific to psychoanalysis. To elucidate how this apparatus works, and hence establish “the causal value of sexuality within the domain of mental illness,” thus becomes fundamental to the constitution of psychoanalysis as a scientific discipline (New Wounded, 2). Sexuality, in short, determines “the sense of the event within psychic life” (2).

By contrast, Malabou identifies a radically different causality at work in contemporary neurology, for which she coins the neologism cerebrality. Mirroring the psychoanalytic relation between sex and sexuality, here the brain refers to the narrow set of cerebral functions, whereas cerebrality designates “the causal value of the damage inflicted upon these functions – that is, upon their capacity to determine the course of psychic life” (2). As such, cerebrality “implies the elucidation of the specific historicity whereby the cerebral event coincides with the psychic event” (2). In this way, a cerebral etiology of psychic disturbances becomes possible, one which, according to Malabou, will inevitably supplant sexual eventality in the psychopathology to come.

As we shall see in more detail in the next section, developments in neurology have demonstrated that cerebral activity goes well beyond the merely cognitive, encompassing “the affective, sensory, and erotic fabric without which neither cognition nor consciousness would exist” (4)…

Review continued at Iveson – Destructive Plasticity and the Living Dead


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