The 'to don't' list is a neat little meme currently worming it's way round the net: each day you compile a list of duties, diversions and distractions you'll ignore in favour of privately meaningful activity. Or fun. It reminded me of an old anarcho-punk sticker which did the rounds in the early 1990s. 'Don''t buckle under,' it went. 'Don't go with the flow. Don't take it as it comes. Don't take a step back. Don't just make do...' These were, admittedly, vague recommendations, but I liked them. I stuck the sticker on my fridge. In 2013, they sound like marketing slogans for a pear-flavoured energy drink. (More on this sort of thing in the flawed but fascinating book Rebel Sell.) Anyway, we're currently experimenting with the 'to don't' list as a daily strategy. Point one on today's agenda: don't make pointless lists of things you'll never not do.
Over at the Guardian they're running a series of videos on radical thinkers. These are slightly perfunctory, social media-friendly intros, but the choice of subjects is pretty cool. So far there's been the French philosopher Alain Badiou, who I first encountered as a footnote in Baudrillard's The Spectacle of Terrorism, and who's tied into our recent Ballard binge here.
Next came Max Horkheimer. I recently got through a series of essays by Horkeimer and Theodor Adorno called The Culture Industry. Mainstream culture, as they and the rest of the Frankfurt School described it, is the ultimate weapon of mass distraction - a raw form of capitalism which requests a psychic investment in the parent culture. Their criticisms still apply in a world where cultural events have become branded, sponsored, front-of-mind marketing opps and where advertising is reconceived as 'knowledge share' and 'community-building'.
And yet Horkheimer and Adorno were writing before the arrival of rock 'n' roll and the counter-culture, which would serve the same role - for some people, sometimes - as Adorno's rather rigid notion of high art. Adorno's aesthetic, I think, was forged in the Holocaust; how, he asked of art and culture, are you going to make sense of that? Only writers like Beckett had the answer: "I cannot go on. I go on."
(Tangentially - and Adorno was a musicologist as well as a philosopher, so I'd be intrigued to know what he might have made of this - I am fond of Noel Coward's observation, "Strange how potent cheap music is." But that's probably a slightly different point about our subjective experience of art and the extent to which we submit to sentimentality. We probably need Milan Kundera to help us make sense of this.)
Anyway, today in the Guardian's series comes Willhelm Reich, a thinker who's had more influence - sort of - on music than any other: primal screaming, cloud-busting, orgone accumulating, iluminati-inspiring, free-love proposing; Mailer, Bellow and Burroughs were keen advocates. Here's Reich's six point plan for 'creative sanity':
To stay sane in an insane world as a creative man or woman he or she must:
Below comes Hawkwind's tribute to Reich's concept of orgone energy - the life-force he hoped to catch in a wooden box. "It's a back brain stimulator," explains resident poet Bob Calvert, helpfully. "It's a cerebral vibrator. Those energy stimulators - just turn your eyeballs into craters. I'm all gone."
I'm not sure if 'resting bitch face' - a phrase describing the natural repose of one's features when there's, like, nothing happening at all - is a great name for a band or a custom-built corporate meme designed to advertise something I don't know about. Or something else entirely. Either way, they're considering the topic here and, unexpectedly, here. Also, it made us think of this...
Writing Britain, an exhibition currently running at the British Library, is a magnificent exploration of the relationship between the island's writers and the island they've written on.
We've wondered aloud here before about the relationship between memory, words and space. This exhibition sticks a spade deep in Albion's earth and pulls up some of the worms wriggling around our collective subconscious. Plenty of this stuff you'd expect to find here: Wordsworth squinting into the twin suns of Tintern; Lear baring all on the heath; green men, Pucks, Tolkien, Blake, Lawrence, faeries and Keats.
There's JG Ballard chronicling suburbia's suppressed hysteria, Iain Sinclair's peregrinations through the psychic rubble of E9 and further psychogeographical artefacts from Tom Vague. (On display here is a poster of Notting Hill's totemic monolith Trellick Tower; I still have the original version, given away with the deliciously seditious Vague magazine back in the early 1990s.)
John Lennon gets a look-in. So too does Keith Waterhouse's long-out-of-print novel Jubb, a bleakly comic account of loneliness and voyeurism which, by rights, should have been adapted by Mike Leigh in 1966. The catalogue is vast. Our only quibble – the absence of Peter Dickinson's apocalyptic children's fantasy The Changes, in which the people of Britain develop a violent technophobia and flee from the cities; part-Edenic fantasy, part nuclear parable, part child-friendly depiction of Hobbes' state of nature, it deserves a spot next to Alan Garner's The Owl Service and Susan Cooper's richly mythical The Dark is Rising trilogy, which do feature here.
It's a brilliantly curated exhibition and it says a lot of contradictory things about Britishness – as, indeed, do the British. We're Pooterish busybodies. We're red-eyed visionaries. From the city, we gaze longingly towards the hills. From the hills, we look longingly back at the city.
It'd be lovely to see a contemporary anthology of UK writers exploring the strange set of impulses that land and location arouse, as does a woozy strain of current psych-folk: Songs of the Green Pheasant; Tout. An attitude grounded not in rolling meadows or elderly hills but in that eerie area to the side of an A-road where crisp packets nestle among the nettles.
Above, and shamelessly ripped from wiki: the original cover to Kenneth Grahame's The Wind In The Willows. Chapter 7, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, depicts tweedy Toad and co. encountering Pan down by the river, where he presents them with a darkly symbolic representation of the cycle of life. Syd knew what was going on.
With the summer solstice revving up above us this evening, full instructions for a ritual purging below.
Next, a grisly little tale from forgotten psych-folk terranauts Comus, released in 1971. In Greek mythology, Comus was the god of nocturnal revelry, mockery, heavy drinking and all round rock 'n' roll excess. Diana, the subject of this story, was the Roman goddess of chastity. When they met, as Hart To Hart had it, it was murder. By a strange coincidence, a quote from John Milton's interpretation of the Comus myth opens one of our favourite novels, Joseph Conrad's 'Victory' from 1915, which describes the general impossibility of not getting involved in things you'd hoped to avoid: "Of calling shapes, and beckoning shadows dire, and airy tongues that syllable men's names on sands and shores and desert wildernesses."
Bright blessings, and so forth...
'Glamour': in its original meaning - to mystify, manipulate or cast a spell. Derived from the seventeenth century Scottish word 'gramarye' - from which also comes 'grimoire', a manual for invoking demons - itself a derivation of the English word 'grammar', referring to scholarship and - particularly - any form of occult learning.
_ Two messages from the old world today.
The first is an hour long documentary, not new but enjoying a renewed lease of life, about Crass - probably the single most significant punk band ever - called No Authority But Yourself. Unswervingly committed to psychic resistance in all its forms, to describe Crass merely as a band seems somehow to miss the point: this was what we'd now call viral activity - an anti-ideological ideology, with all the complicated subtexts and conflicting agendas that suggests. And yet if you pitched up to their commune in Essex in the 1970s or 1980s, you could probably crash there for as long as you liked, get fed on veggie soup and record a couple of songs. (I exaggerate here for effect. Though apparently not that much.)
Their music had a strange role to play in all this, in that it was both relentlessly extreme and largely irrelevant to what Crass were about, though they did generate some unsettling moments. I still recall a fearful first encounter with Reality Asylum, aged around 13. This was their attack – weirdly intimate in tone – on organised religion and the church. Even now it sounds like an ambient-Satanic rite recited by Radio 4's Charlotte Green. (Uniquely for a band, Penny Rimbaud's book Shibboleth probably serves as a better introduction to Crass than most of the band's actual records. The Mob's No Doves Fly Here and the stuff they released with a pre-Sugarcubes Bjork under the name Kukl was probably the most enduring stuff, musically speaking, to appear on their label.)
At their anarchic heart though was a terrible irony, of which they became increasingly aware: in attempting to dismantle the entertainment-industrial complex with all its familiar myths, they created a new myth of their own. Penny Rimbaud still writes for our old friends The Idler, who gave away Youth's New Banalists Orchestra album – featuring Penny Rimbaud, Z. Mindwarp and Mark Stewart, amongst others – a while back. He walks it like he talks it.
Unexpectedly, I re-encountered this doc today not on any of the usual, seditious sites we tend to frequent round here, but via online marketing mag NMA (that would be New Media Age rather than New Model Army), who announce that Vice are streaming the film on their new social video channel. I am confident this is the first and only time Crass have ever featured in a digital marketing publication. But their legacy frequently manifests itself in highly unlikely places. So maybe… not.
The second message from the old world – and if you've been to this blog before this will be fabulously predictable - comes from Killing Joke, who have released a new track off their new album. KJ are hosting an end of the world party in New Zealand later this year – assuming we all make it that far - but we'll have to settle with a pilgrimage to the Roundhouse in March, which may occasion a proper piece here on an abiding obsession. New tune below. It rattles.
You'll recall that a while back we were chewing over Bill Drummond's A Smell of Sulphur in the Wind - his project to slice up Richard Long's photograph of an Icelandic landscape into 20,000 pieces, sell them and then take the cash back to Iceland, where he intends to bury the proceeds in a wooden chest. (Here's the earlier post, should you wish to refamiliarize yourself with it).
Anyway, I am happy to have helped Bill towards that noble goal. Today arrives one twenty-thousandth of Long's original artwork, stuck to a postcard signed by Bill himself. There still appear to be a few left. Get yours for a fiver here.
Somewhat abridged, an excerpt from Mailer's essay 'From Surplus Value to the Mass Media', contained in 'Advertisements For Myself', first published in 1961. How much is our free time worth, and who's paying who for what?
Let me start with a trivial discrepancy. Today one can buy a can of frozen orange juice sufficient to make a quart for 30 cents. A carton of prepared orange juice, equal in quality costs 45 cents. The difference in price is not be found by the value of the container, nor in the additional cost of labour and machinery which is required to squeeze the oranges, since the process which produces frozen oranges is, if anything more complex [...]
What is most likely is that the price is arrived at by some kind of developed, if more or less unconscious by the entrepreneur of what it is worth to the consumer not to be bothered with opening a can , mixing the frozen muddle with three cans of water and shaking.
It is probable that the additional 12 or 13 cents of unnecessary price rise has been calculated in some such ratio as this:
The consumer's private productive time is worth much more to him than his social working time, because his private productive time, that is his time necessary for him to perform his household functions, is time taken away from his leisure.
If he earns $3 an hour by his labour, it is probable that he values his leisure time as worth ideally two or three times as much, let us say arbitrarily $6 an hour, or 10 cents a minute.
Since it would take three or four minutes to turn frozen orange juice into drinkable orange juice, it may well be that a covert set of values in the consumer equates the saving of 3 or 4 minutes to a saving of 30 or 40 ideal cents of leisure time. To pay an extra actual 12 cents in order to save his ideal 40 cents seems fitting to his concept of value.
Of course he has been deprived of 10 actual cents [...] So the profit was extracted by a disproportionate exploitation of the consumer's need to protect his pleasure time rather than an inadequate repayment to the worker for his labour.
Anna Kavan, born Helen Ferguson in 1901 was a very English - and at the same time utterly alien - novelist whose own life took on the quality of an existential mystery.
Praised by JG Ballard and Doris Lessing, drawing on Kafka and anticipating slipstream long before it became a genre in British writing, her novels described eerie states of dislocation; a lifelong heroin user, her prose has a needle-sharp precision but her subject matter was never drugs. Aimless, alienated, lonely and depressed in life, writing, suggests Jeremy Reed's excellent biography A Stranger On Earth, was her home. Like the great American poet Weldon Kees, creator of the enigmatic nowhere man Robinson, Kavan's territory was inner space: subjective states, private drives, places that had no name. Literally, in fact: she deliberately eschewed unnecessary details like names and her final novel, the warped apocalyptic masterpiece Ice, derives much of its power from the absence of specific data.
Kees vanished one day in 1955. His car was found by the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco, but the poet was never seen again. Helen Ferguson also disappeared, or more accurately was edited out of the story by the author herself.
In 1940 the artist formerly known as Helen Ferguson published Asylum Piece, a fractured account of her own mental disintegration, under the name Anna Kavan - a character from her own 1930 novel Let Me Alone. You can imagine that for a novelist such as Kavan, toiling away in unprofitable obscurity, it was a great gesture of empowerment and defiance: her imagination manifested in the real world. She literally made her own name.
Kavan died in 1968 and in his biography Reed persuasively argues that she caught something of the London air during those final years, sympathising with hippy seekers, druggy experimenters and others pioneering the realm of the unreal.
With a pedigree like that, it's strange that musicians have never picked up on Kavan's work. The only reference I can find is to David Tibet, christian-mystic voyager, occult archivist and leader of the neo-folk legend that is Current 23; Tibet named his 2000 album Sleep Has His House after Kavan's book of the same name, and a quick glance through the credits to Reed's biography indicates that he and Tibet are pals.
The frighteningly prolific writer and poet Reed, incidentally, is always worth checking out. My own favourite of his books is a semi-fictionalised biography - or 're-imagining' as we have to say now - of Arthur Rimbaud's life called Delirium, published in 1990.
Here, shamelessly plundered from elsewhere, is one of Kavan's paintings.