Category Archives: Critique

The inevitable mechanics of Seveneves

seveneves-coverI don’t know if I’ve done a book review since school. So I’m not about to start now. But I read a book, and it did a lot of things to my brain. A lot of making me think. A lot of wondering. And a surprising amount to my gut too.

So it’s worth talking about.

Seveneves snuck up on me. I thought I would notice when an author I enjoy (sometimes) so much had a new book out, but now I don’t work in a library, I guess I actually need to make an effort to spot things. The instant I saw it, I ordered it, which left me going in absolutely blind as to what to expect. The only thing I knew before I opened the book was that ‘it’s mostly orbital mechanics’, which seemed to be a warning from my housemate.

It’s not untrue. But it also misses the point a little.

Anyway, if you’ve not read the book, you should stop reading this, and start reading that instead. If you have any interest in space and/or people, it’s probably worth a shot. It’s not without faults, but it rips at a good pace, and had me (mostly) enthralled despite it’s weaknesses.

But I’m not here to review the book, I’m here to try and sort through some of my thoughts on the whole thing, and more particularly, a lot of the details. I won’t really be telling you those details, but some of it is inevitable. So this is only really going to make sense if you’ve read the book, and it’s certainly going to ruin a lot of the potential surprises. I’m going to start with how the book almost immediately spoils itself, but going in blind is probably recommended. So probably stop yeah?

Spoilers

That’s not a spoiler warning (well, it is that too) but my first talking point.

I found it a really weird experience reading this, as some of it’s trappings got in the way of an imagined perfect enjoyment. The blurb on the back of my edition (which I only read about three hundred pages in) gives away the way the temporal location of the final third of the book. The name of the book starts mysterious, and I like the bluff/foreshadowing of the seven lumps of moon rock in early section, but once combined with the diagram on the inside cover, becomes an enormous spoiler. Giving you a list of at least seven survivors (and a set of names to look out for).

Iseveneves-inside-covert’s either frustrating or brilliant. I loved looking at the A+5000 diagram and not having a clue what it meant. Trying to decode it, trying to work out what it was telling me. When it clicked, it gave away the ending of the near future portion of the book (but little or nothing of the route), but that sense of predestination made a lot of sense to the broader themes, the broader motifs. Or at least the ones that I picked up.

So I want to tell everyone not to read the back of the book, but I’m not sure it matters. On some level, I think the book wants to feel like a puzzle. Like a game. Having those particular shreds of information adds to the experience. Gives you something to chew on. A thread to pull.

A Seveneves ludography

Okay, okay, so I’m obsessed with boardgames. There’s a good chance this is just me. But as I was reading I spotted three connections to games that I think are worth talking about. There’s also one revealed in the acknowledgements at the end. So I think I’m okay here. Stephenson was involved in a (failed?) kickstarter for a game peripheral, so I think I’m allowed to guess at ludic connections.

First of all, the most tenuous. One of the first things that impressed me about the book, was how smoothly it taught. It makes sense for a book that makes a hero (clearly some inspired by Sagan and Degrasse Tyson) of a television scientist to pay close attention to how it teaches, but I was struck by the particular way it happens. It reminded me mostly of Valve, and the way they teach puzzle mechanics in Half Life 2 or Portal (and beyond and, now everybody is doing it, even further beyond).

Basically, if you’re going to have to learn something complicated, it’ll break it up into component elements, and make sure you understand each bit in isolation before throwing you in at the deep end.

The book spends a lot of time explaining rocket science to you, but it only does it at the exact pace you need it, and it often feels like incidents are injected just to give you an opportunity to learn the building blocks of science you need. It works brilliantly, almost invisibly, but it means you learn a hell of a lot. I couldn’t work out whether I was more into the mechanics or the plot, but both pulled at me, and both pulled each other.

The process felt very carefully designed. Which is an odd statement to make about a book. We tend not to think of authorship in that way, one of those weird pseudo-elitist distinctions, like between craft and art. But there’s no shame in design, and it makes the book more readable, more gripping and more educational.

Which is great.

The second ludic root is revealed in the acknowledgements. Some of the thought processes for the TeReForm project to rehabilitate the planet were borne out of a game design project for an unfinished game. Actually, terraforming is a pretty popular theme right now in boardgames (which have realised that colonising Mars is much more palatable than colonising the real people of history, a topic we’ll return to later, funnily enough) so it’s not unsurprising.

The main thing I want to note here is the retroactive easter egg to be found. Finding out TeReForm was a game system, makes it make even more sense that the ONAN pods create a hex based network of life on the planet. It’s a smart visual pun, and a pleasing nod to the ideas that made the book happen.

Third is simplest. Just wondering how much time was spent in Kerbal Space Program before the book got made, and whether anyone has yet reconstructed the entire narrative in that particular simulation. The two probably just share a heritage (marvelling at the mechanical miracles of space travel), but I couldn’t quite get it out of my head. I should really give the game a go. I wonder if the book will have made me any better at it.

The final one is a bit more niche, but was a strong feeling I got. It could be seen as a criticism, but it’s hard to be sure.

Microscope is a world building role playing game, using index cards and strict structure to lay out entire histories. You have a start point and an end point (potentially separated by thousands of years, this is supposed to cover the rise and fall of civilisations), and you fill in the gaps.

The reason I mention it, is that at times it feels like the Seveneves was structured using Microscope as a tool. The key element of Microscope (and the reason it’s called that) is that as you’re fleshing out your timeline you are supposed to pause whenever you reach a critical question, assign roles to the group, and act out the moment where that decision was made. As soon as the question is answered, you stop, pull back out to the big picture, knowing the answer, and wondering how that effects the rest of your history.

If you’ve read the book, I think you’ll see what I’m getting at.

I guess it’s how you’re always going to tell huge stories, cutting off extraneous layers, and focussing on those important details. Picking out the broad strokes with intimate moments.

Certainly for the first two thirds of the book, the Microscope structure is held to almost perfectly. Whole swathes of detail that you might expect in a more traditional piece of story telling are missing. We don’t get all the details of Doob’s last year on Earth, we only get the moments where he decides a thing, or makes a thing happen. We don’t get to see most of the reaction of Earth to the apocalypse, because (and this is emphasised again and again) it is broadly irrelevant. The story of Earth ends on the first page, it’s only the survivors that matter when we’re looking at this scale.

And it might just be the only scale that matters.

But we’re people, and it’s only possible to see the big picture through small lenses.

And so that’s what the book provides.

The big picture – whatever that means

If there’s one message the book wants to ram home, it’s that the big picture is too big, and we’re broadly ignoring it. The whole book is at pains to emphasise the huge undertaking that is humanity, and how weirdly individuals relate to it.

The agent is a trigger, an excuse, a way for Stephenson to pressurise humanity, and give it a sense of purpose. Everything that happens is through that one happening, and really, it’s an inevitability.

It’s the strike of the cueball that sets everything in motion.

The book is full of orbital mechanics, but I think the important ones are figurative. We spend a lot of time learning about the inevitability of trajectories, the effort required to push from one course to another. The delta vee.

It is not the most subtle piece of metaphor, but it works.

The whole book is about those delta vees. Not the ignited propellant in the engines, but the effort of individuals, organisations and social structures.

It’s about small choices dictating the course of the future.

That future though

I didn’t gel well with the final third of the book. It was a wonderful piece of sci fi,  necessary part of the narrative and an obvious challenge to write. Effectively an entire extra novel, held within the novel. New characters to establish, new stories to tell. It felt too thin in comparison to the depth of feeling I had before.

But it was so important. It was the arc etched by the delta vees of the seven Eves. We had to hear at least some of the answers, and I loved the way it still cut off at just the right time.

Don’t get me wrong, it was a brilliantly realised world, exploring some really challenging ideas, and told well. It just didn’t rip through me like the first parts of the book.

Some of this was a particular type of disbelief. A hand wave I couldn’t quite stomach, despite everything.

I dream of eugenics

I just don’t think the people we’d been introduced to would be quite as okay with the racial lines drawn in the culture they built. I understood the choice of the eves (particularly under the civilocidal threat of Dinah), in that incredibly brief fulcrum, the council of Seven Eves. But I just can’t imagine (all of them) doubling down and reducing heterozygocity for those first few generations. It smells too much like the nastiest eugenics, breeding for purity. I could understand how it happened from A+250 to A+5000, as by then the culture was embedded, but if there was a viable explanation for why they didn’t mix the races in the early days, I missed it.

And it frustrated me.

I know it was necessary for the narrative and the, well, orbital mechanics of the whole thing. We were supposed to see a set of trajectories that conjoined in the council, and then diverged for 5000 years. We needed to see inevitable outcomes, and interbreeding would’ve broken that.

And of course, the world building around those seven races was incredible. A wonderful piece of sci fi, intensely evocative, making the most of the preexisting relationships we had with the eves. I want a role playing game based around a newly formed seven (and beyond). I want to spend more time in that world, although I think ending when it did, right in the middle of a brand new story, was the perfect way to do it.

Despite everything going down pretty badly towards the end, there was a real hope there, even just conceptually, the idea of a new nine was a romantic one. The Purpose was a bit contrived, but made sense. The micro-robot warfare was not my thing, but it was smart.

I just never quite believed that my eves would have let that happen.

But there you go. It’s all about the decisions people made, and some of those are always going to be obscured.

But it really is all about those decisions, and their effects.

Amistics

I’d not heard the term before, so I’m unsure if it’s a new coining, but I think it’s one of the most useful terms I’ve heard in science fiction.

On an authorial level, it’s a great thing to remind people of if you’re writing sci-fi. If you’ve got someone who likes picking holes in your technology, remind them that societies choose how they relate to technology in very specific ways. It’s a good way to paint over cracks in your technoscape. Every possible thing will not be everywhere. People make weird choices, especially at high scale.

Which is so useful for understanding society. Any society, real or fictional. And any future, for that matter. Remembering that we have choices about technology we’re using. Remembering that we might not understand the choices we’re making about the technology we’re using.

And how we’ll be judged on them.

Tav’s mistake

Of all the little digs and prods at ‘modern life’ Tavistock Prowse’s fate felt the most snide. The social media fiend who eats his own legs and validates cannibalism in the process. It lacks subtlety, and smells a bit like a cheap shot. People love hating on social media, casting it as a demon of our time and bane of our attention spans, so this fate for its ambassador in the book, and the judgement A+5000 takes on him, seems unnecessarily cruel.

But it is a fine example of one of the things I love most in the third part, the Epic.

The idea of casting all the scenes we’ve seen as something approaching a holy text. Pulling the surveillance state around from nightmarish invasion of privacy to historical tool. It’s no justification, but it’s a great plot device. It’s one of those things that makes the finale feel grounded. It cannot float loose when it is tethered tightly to the  story we’ve been poring over for the last 600 pages.

It’s a great touch, and affords us some of our chances to try to reassess some of the missing sides of the story.

JB fucking F

Oh my word have I ever hated a character so wholly. It took a while, but I can’t remember a book making me feel as sickened by a person as when Julia nearly destroyed Izzy, on top of everything else.

I was reading the book at a festival, taking every opportunity to sit down with nice music and just drown in this wonderful book, and I found my stomach turning in my tent, and couldn’t let go of the rage as I wandered off to try some expensive food and loud music.

The enormities on Earth. The exploitation of privilege to escape her fate. The manipulation and lies. It was horrific. Genuinely painful.

And it only got darker.

It was pure emotion. Not rationality. But I’m impressed that the book managed to make me feel so strongly, and the weight and difficulty that gave to everything. It made me realise how much the stakes had changed. How my perspective had shifted to focus on this tiny orbital population.

How much I wanted someone to blame.

Aïda almost seemed mild in comparison, which is obviously ridiculous.

I think both were demonised by the lack of time spent with them. We didn’t get their emotional background, didn’t have a view to care about them through. I still can’t decide if they felt real or not.

But by god, did I feel affected by Julia. And finding my loathing acted out by another character was an intensely disquieting moment.

It’s all terrifying.

Those orbital mechanics

I guess we needed the caricature, to accept the caricaturisation of 5000 years of inbreeding. We needed definite enough information to foresee arcs of that scale, and then watch them unfold.

I’ve obviously only just finished, you can tell by my focus on the final portion, despite my dismissiveness.

But this idea of inevitability is so present in the opening sections. From the opening moments, we see a path set in motion, even if it only really becomes clear once Doc Dubois does his calculations.

When Doob paints the picture of the white sky and the hard rain, it’s an overwhelming moment, but it only changes what we know, not what was happening. Various characters work it all out immediately. Or at least enough of it. Obviously Stephenson feeds it to us in little pieces, at least as much to give us a chance to get perspective on it as for any other reason.

And so everything gets lost in a fine mist of bolides, delta vee and foreshadowing. The narrative sketches out arcs and sends you along them at a meteoric pace. It teaches you everything you need to know, as soon as you need to know it, so that you can just drown in it.

A thousand more tiny motes

So many things I’ve missed, even this far down.

There’s a note in the acknowledgements, that the mining company Stephenson consulted was really happy to see a story where the mining company weren’t the bad guys. Making me wonder about why we hate mining, even in space. Is it a projected guilt, knowing that we’re still calling it colonisation, but it’s far enough from the real world cases that western history doesn’t have to erase that guilt at every opportunity? Or is it just because space is the only place that hasn’t been corrupted by capitalism?

Doob falling in love just as everything became clear was everything I could ever have wanted.

Doc Dubois, was, in fact, everything I ever wanted. Such a warm character, with just the right number of hard edges.

Dinah felt like a shadow of characters from so many other Neal Stephenson books, so it was refreshing for Ivy to be something so different, and I loved all of their scenes together (and was amazed I didn’t like their descendants more…although I guess Einstein got me a little).

Ooh yeah, Einstein’s habit of mispronouncing details of the information he’d read on (not) wikipedia was so well observed. This is what the world is going to sound like, if it doesn’t already. This kind of person, excitedly knowing everything, but saying it wrong, is what the internet creates. If you don’t know someone like this now, you will do by next Tuesday.

Where do you put your optimism when it’s all so grimly inevitable?

The single oddest choice, and the most optimistic, is that the world doesn’t fall apart. It’s a point that is returned to in A+5000 with the Purpose. The idea that enormous societies are capable of agreeing that one thing is important enough to subsume everything.

I struggle to believe it, but it’s nice to hope, and again, it serves the purpose of the narrative. Would humanity band together, knowing that it was all pointless? Two years without any more than footnotes worth of rioting. Only one uprising against the Casting of the Lots?

I guess it’s a matter, as usual, of perspective. We see the world mostly from Izzy, or from Doc Dubois, and both are far too busy.

There’s always hope, in this story, even when there’s no hope.

So I think it’s pretty optimistic. Except the eugenics. And Tav’s Mistake. And Aïda’s Curse. And the fate of the swarm. And the annihilation of civilisation as we know it.

It’s amazing that it is so optimistic. Really, considering how much happens.

But it’s got a (likely somewhat false, but who cares, this is part of what even the hardest sci fi is for) message, running right through everything it says.

With enough delta vee, everything can be changed. Working out how it will change is less predictable than orbital mechanics, but as inevitable.

Except with more delta vee.

This works on every scale. It’s talking about civilisations, nations, communities and people. It’s not the platitude it sounds like though. It asks for an amount of responsibility, and acknowledgement of just how easy it is for you to crash and burn as to take the big ride.

It’s a bit judgey, maybe, but all for the sake of the message.

People make choices, they have big impacts.

 

Hopes and Schemes – The Promise of Fiction

So, I have this problem.

I love reading, I really love reading. I’ve got huge stacks of books left to read and I’ve read huge stacks of book. The one problem is that bigger than either of these stack, is the stacks of books I’ve started but not finished.

I’m terrible at it.

I’ve started two books in the last week. One of them I only got two pages in before deciding I wanted to read something else first. (It’s the second in a series, I decided I wanted a break before continuing).

So instead I read something else. A book I bought on a whim last year because I thought the central idea sounded amazing.

Now here’s the problem.

I am enjoying this book thoroughly. But I’m pretty sure it’s not turning out to be the book I originally intended on reading.

It couldn’t be…that book doesn’t exist.

Yet.

But let me explain further.

The book I just finished reading is the first book in the Riverworld Saga ‘To Your Scattered Bodies Go’. I enjoyed it, despite it lapsing into sexist and old fashioned views quite regularly, it’s definitely a little dated now, though part of that is because the main character is a Victorian Explorer.

Now, the basic premise of this series is incredible. Everybody in the history of Earth has been resurrected. Absolutely everybody. By some mysterious force. On a strange and vaguely Paradisical world. With no idea what’s going on.

Just think about that for a while….think of all the possible stories you can have in a world where everybody in history, from the cruellest dictator to the humblest peasant. From the most modern to the prehistoric. Every person ever.

There’s a lot of fun to be had in that setting.

The book picks a good path and makes for an entertaining yarn. But as the book continues, the options and possibility narrow. A narrative path is chosen and the adventures you imagined become, well…part of what you imagined but no longer part of the world that you’re reading.

I enjoyed the book, but I enjoyed my imagination more.

I guess this ain’t that bad, but it is frustrating.

Now, the book I’ve just started reading is called ‘Dying Inside‘ by Robert Silverberg. So far it’s actually been great, and quite unexpected it it’s route. But I still can’t help but think that the central idea is so fascinating, that I’m missing out on a million other stories that I want to read.

The central premise is that an aging telepath, as he grows old, is losing his power to read minds.

Really simple, but give space to have the whole raft of fears and worries about growing old and fading in a totally new way. It’s even got that Epilogue to The Tempest thing going on for it.

The emotional depth of the book, even just a few chapters in is incredible. It’s winding mid life crisis, with being a bit of a moody bastard, with the touching beauty (and horror) of being able to experience another person’s mind, with losing that, and hating it even more than you hated the power itself.

It’s powerful reading.

But it’s not the story my mind was imagining.

But then, that’s actually the joy of books really isn’t it. Seeing how someone elses mind works. It really is a joy; surprises come from that.

Now, us writers (ha) we know what that’s like from the inside, we’ve been surprised by ourselves, but its still not the same.

You can get so angry at an author when the characters don’t do what makes sense to you. But you remember, the characters aren’t you. The author isn’t you. You’re finding out things that don’t come from you.

Seeing into another persons mind.

Books are great.

***

I’ve kind of rushed this because I have to go to work, but still, what do you think?

It’s all in your head – Ways of Listening

So, this is about a lot of discussions I have with people. It’s about music, but it’s not going to be just like my random reviews of music. I want to look in a bit more depth at why I like music so much, and some of the kind of processual analysis of music that I do.

Woah, that sounded really heavy there, I actually meant something closer to the title. I listen to music in unusual ways sometimes.

No, this still isn’t right.

There’s a lot of different kinds of music. I like most of them. It’s a question of how you listen to it. Or mood. I’ve had arguments though. Sometimes the stuff I listen to is too abstract for some. John Cage for example. It seems to be as much about the ideas behind the music as the actual music itself. But it’s still possible to have both.

So I have a theory.

There’s a load of different layers of meaning to a piece of music. These can be obvious or non-obvious. Something with a sturdy bass drum and a 4/4 beat might imply that it has a dancing rhythm. A nice simple repeated rhythm can (and will) make me want to move. Stuff that is good to dance to is often a little more predictable, so you know where to move even if you haven’t heard it before.

The layer I’m most likely to skip is the one most people think is most prominent. I think it might me because I have bad ears…but I rarely concentrate on lyrics. A vocal part I can listen to, but only once the song has grabbed my attention (or I’m reading the lyric sheet) will the actual meaning of the words really sink in.

Odd considering my usual passion for words.

Anyway, then there’s the nostalgia element. A lot of the time songs have a very personal meaning caused by past events. Times when the song has been present for. The song your heart first broke to will always bring a twinge, even if its by S Club 7 (am I joking? I honestly can’t remember….it wasn’t really love anyway…the broken heart came much later). The songs of your childhood, even the ones you hated at the time. Always bring a smile, because they remind you of the times when everything was big and blurry (I didn’t get glasses until I hit around 10/11…I think this is part of the reason I have very little specific memory of life before this….but I have no evidence…so ignore me).

That is one of the ones that I think is actually a cheat. That’s not what it should be about…though it is the most commonly ascribed (in people I’ve talked to about this at least) reason for liking music. It reminds you of good times, or allows you to relive those times…in some way or another.

Anyway, it’s a reason. I kind of have a problem with it…as I think there actually is something in music that is special in and of itself. When I’m DJing I often get complaints from people that I don’t play enough stuff they’ve heard before. This always pisses me off. I mean…If they’re saying what I’m playing is shit, that’s fine, but its just they want something that ‘everybody knows’…but why not just enjoy new things…there’s a great John Cage quote about that: ‘I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones.’

I know I’ve put it on here before…but it’s a really important thought.

Anyway, there’s more to this.

The sound itself wraps you up. There’s the melodic, harmonic and rhythmic elements. They move your head around and make you feel things. Emotions are expressed through tonality and structure. Energy pulses along with the music. You can feel your brain dancing, even if your legs aren’t. There’s a hidden layer in there…one you make up yourself. You fill in gaps and make guesses. That’s why unexpected shifts take you by surprise..you may not even realise it but you’re predicting what will come next. There’s a satisfaction if you’re right, and even more if you’re wrong. The surprise is nice.

This is all very much unconscious, though sometimes you can work it out. You’re just trying to come to terms with bits and pieces of this weird process by which you understand these shapes of noise.

It’s really fucking screwy isn’t it.

Like…seriously weird. I mean…you just receive these vibrations in the air. Just a bit better organised that the noises and sounds that fill up our life, just put into a structure, and suddenly they have a whole load of emotion meaning, a narrative, all that kind of stuff.  Out of just organising these sounds. A Saxophone just organises air into a nice uniform order so taht you get this huge rich boom noise. It gives it a texture, almost a taste. It becomes something that is part of a bigger structure even than that, the harmony of the song, the rhythm; structure through time.

Crazy.

So then someone like Cage comes along and starts asking some weird questions: “Which is more musical, a truck passing by a factory or a truck passing by a music school?” (all Cage quotes are from wikiquote by the way, though I read them first from other sources).

I mean…Music is Noises, right? Well…that’s the theory. You can take a noise, and it is music. Of a sort. It may be less organised. But it is still a noise which has an effect right. So the essay I wrote that I just linked to, that’s talking about Noises being shifted in to music using samplers. You can get a sound and turn it into music. Any sound at all. Like when Matmos are playing around with a Cow’s Vaginal Tract or a Printing press, or when Matthew Herbert (Radioboy in this case) is eating a MacDonalds and giving away the music for free.

Now, I’m going back into territory I’ve already trod, but basically, by adding specific objects (and the noises they make) to their music, these guys (as well as others) are adding an extra, almost undetectable element to the song. You have to look it up to find out what it is about, but it is something totally intrinsic to the piece in question. It is a type of creative process, it is also actually an inherent element of the noises you listen. The music is made out of the object. The moment of performance is ‘summoned’ when you listen…and if you know the details…you become aware that the music is more than it appears. That squeaking noise is a cows vaginal tract being played like a bag pipe…that Rushing and booming sound is a Diet Coke being drunk.

The items are being used for other than their intended purpose, the meaning itself is subverted, or at least given a new meaning. The song also inherits some of the meaning of the object. But only through reading the liner notes or investigating  the music we hear on the internet do we find out what these meanings are. They are slightly outside of the music, even though they are at its core. (Check out Matthew Herberts perspective here)

That is interesting.

Music is really interesting.

Plus I love accordions.

What do you think?

Did I shoot Andy Warhol?

Of course, I didn’t shoot Andy Warhol, at least not in this life.

But I’ll get back to that later.

First, a warning. This is going to be another of my long rambling rambles. I am not going to restrain the free wandering nature of my mind. It is also potentially a very controversial post. I’m going to be discussing Feminism (and Cow Vaginas) as honestly and openly as I can. This is a dangerous thing to do, as may become clear. I am also intentionally not linking to a couple of posts and discussions that sparked possible elements of this post. I don’t want to target individuals and bring upon myself a torrent of abuse and hatred…I get enough of that going home for Christmas (only kidding). I expect I’m going to get trashed if certain people read this. I am writing in the spirit of free expression and thought. Also I may contradict myself, forget what I’m talking about and be entirely wrong headed idiotic and random.

Welcome to my head…it’s a horrible place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live here. But I do. I do live here. This is my head.

Hold on tight Sahil, we’re in for a bumpy ride.

And we’re going to start off by saying that I do generally consider myself a feminist. I am also a man. An online test tells me I’m a revisionist Feminist, 100% Gender Abolitionist, 80% sexually liberal (honk) and 60% Socialist. By my reckoning that actually makes me240% feminist. I think that’s going a bit too far.

Anyway, the quiz pissed me off quite a lot…it was very leading and a lot of the questions didn’t make sense. Also I couldn’t answer loads of the questions the way I wanted to. This is why I hate online quizzes. Also double negatives aren’t not bad y’all.

Or something.

Anyway, This is really not the point.

Lets go back a bit.

I’ve had several dreams involving Andy Warhol…the first one involved a journey on the Megabus (a cheap coach/bus service that I have never used) up to London. We spent the whole journey discussing the relative merits of cost of varying forms of transport. This was not really that interesting, but I did think it quite cool that the wig wearer was present. I assumed he was cool and therefore it was rubbing off on me. Well…I didn’t really think about it that much at the time…I was in dream mode. Whatever, we got to London eventually, and we made a film with Lars Von Trier called the five obstructions. This was the day before that film was shown on television (not precognition, I had just read the TV guide before going to sleep and had decided to watch it the next day), go out and watch it, its a damn cool film…especially if you like film making theory. Basically, Von Trier sets Jorgan Leth a series of challenges, all kind of the same. It’s just to remake one of Leth’s first films, the Perfect Human (which I’ve never seen) under the conditions of a series of ‘Obstructions’ set by Von Trier (should that just be Trier?). The film takes the form of a series of chats between the directors, and the new, obstructed versions of the short. It’s absolutely incredible to watch if you’re into films as basically it shows you how great director’s minds can work. If you don’t mind watching artsy documentaries then watch this and your eyes may well be opened to some of the more interesting things to think about as you watch films.

Anyway, I’m getting distracted. The dream version of the film was nothing like that…and to be fair I can’t remember much of it apart from a few images that are hard to explain…needless to say, the sets of the film we were making were kind of living and I kept slipping from the perspective of Director to Actor to Character and back. Though under constant watchful guidance of Andy Warhol. Oh…and there was something to do with the American Civil war…but I’m not sure what.

Ok…so that was Warhol dream number one. I thought it was pretty cool, I rarely dream about famous figures, mostly just people I’ve met. Also it remained vivid for long enough for me to tell someone about it, meaning that some of the details solidified. This is handy, as I often forget my dreams.

Anyway, the second time he cropped up I can only really remember I tiny segment. I was in a Cherry Blossom tree (I don’t know what the symbolism of this might be, but what it makes me think of is a song by the Manic Street Preachers, a band I thoroughly enjoy, though the song itself is from one of their lamer albums…the first three albums all remain high in my esteem, (does that even make sense) after that its mostly just nostalgia for my teenage years. Anyway, they become relevant again later…though some of you may have made the connection already) with a sniper rifle, I looked through the sights to see that I was aiming at Andy Warhol. Holy crap..I thought…I’m about to shoot Andy Warhol. Anyway, as I pulled the trigger and the bullet started heading for the artistic Christian King of the Factory. I shifted perspective (this bit of the dream was very visually impressive) and pulled out of the scene to see that in fact I was just sitting and watching the film ‘Who Shot Andy Warhol?’. My brother found the film amusing as poor Andy died on screen…I wasn’t aware of his biography at that time as this was pre the endless hours spent on the internet. Anyway, bro laughed, I laughed nervously to conceal the fact that I was actually really freaked out by coming that close to shooting someone. Even if it was only a film.

Anyway, I can’t remember the rest of that dream, but I figured it might be significant. I have occasionally explained to people that Andy Warhol may be my ‘spirit guide’. New theories are emerging. And my mouth hurts because I just ate some hot chili sauce. For those of you who are visually minded, I am wearing my favourite stripy jumper and my green corduroy trousers. My T-shirt is poking out from underneath my jumper (which was found in the street on my birthday two years ago…woo). It is also stripy but smaller stripes and different colours, it used to belong to my friend Will. I’m at work.

This is mostly irrelevant information though.

So anyway, recent clues are actually pointing to a different conclusion. I no longer think of Andy Warhol as a source of spiritual guidance.

Let’s come back to that later though, first let me assure you that there is going to be some feminism stuff here eventually. In fact…lets do a little now.

Since starting blogging and reading more peoples discussions and chatting with people, not least of which is my current Significant, I’ve been reading a lot of feminist stuff from a lot of different sources. My eyes have been opened and pretty damn wide. I’ve always considered myself an equalicist/feminist/whatever term it is that applies to me. I fell into a lot of traps though. I did things and held beliefs that would be considered to be the subtler side of patriarchy. I still do sometimes, but I really do try to be otherwise. I find this is a constant struggle and it is difficult.

Aside: I just had an argument with a customer who got banned for saying the c*t word. Now…I say that plenty at home among friends who know I don’t attach significance to it. Anyway, he shouted it at the computer, and got told off by Mr I a friend and co-worker. We decided to ban him once his time was up. He came back and started arguing the toss. Trying to defend himself (bear in mind if you think I’m being harsh on him that he is quite a young kid and we have other young kids in this place). His argument mostly consisted of ‘I didn’t say it it just came out of my mouth. It’s not offensive anyway…nobody was offended’. My responses should be obvious, when he said that nobody in here was offended, I told him I was…he then asked if I was a girl. Now…face to face, my beard usually settles that one. But it really riled me and seemed relevant to this post. Just thought I’d mention it. I told him that my gender was irrelevant, but was interrupted and didn’t finish my chain of thought. I was intrigued by his point of view and thought I might have a chance to teach some kind of equality lesson. I don’t like preaching though…and I was interrupted.

Anyway, I do keep on struggling to improve myself. A hell of a lot of the socialised and peer pressurised stuff is hard to get rid of though. I’m far from perfect. I do honestly try though. As has been made clear in previous posts gender equality is a big deal for me, something that I consider a lot. Among people I love and trust (most people I meet…I’m pretty damn full of love you know) I often make jokes and similar comic statements, I even conform to certain stereotypes in the knowledge that my good friends generally know where I stand on these things. I feel bad about this as I do think that it damages causes that I hold dear, but fun and jocularity is something I hold dear to. What I hate about myself is when I engage in some of the sexist gags of people not so enlightened, or in the presence of people who might not detect the irony. This is similar to something I’ve discussed before (the Computer Abuse Language, I can’t be bothered to find the link as work is ending in an hour and a bit and I haven’t finished discussing all this and I have to prepare the place for locking up) so I won’t go into too great detail. Basically, I’m criticising myself for falling for the jokes and the subtler side of this patriarchy thing. I even used to hold the good old fashioned ‘everyone’s equal already’ and ‘feminists are kicking up a big stink over nothing’ type views…I now realise this is crap. My mind is always open to change, and some of the things the people on the internet have shown me have changed me deeply. Or perhaps just made me realise for real a lot of stuff I half believed already. Those of you who have helped me learn, I thank you…and I pray that you continue.

Discussion with significant and Vintage in particular have been eye opening, plus many other places I have lurked. I thank you greatly.

One discussion with Siggy today went on for hours trying to work out a debate she’s having with people on the internet. The basic gist of it was that some feminists were attacking her for not being man hating enough. This clearly pissed both of us off. I mean sure…I’m willing to agree that most men are terrible in many ways. Patriarchy is fucking horrible. I don’t think that enough people realise just how much both genders are oppressed. And by Jove is it worse for women. I do however think that it is important to recognise that men suffer as well. I find that I am constantly under pressure to conform to male stereotypes that don’t in anyway relate to me. I am bundled together with people who read Zoo and use prostitutes. I read an issue of zoo once to see what all the fuss was about. There was a ‘letter’ sent in by a ‘reader’ who was describing her wonderful experience after a club night where she had got incredibly drunk and then flashed by a bouncer on the way out. She (as any right thinking woman would) gasped in shock and awe and joy at the sight. She then also enjoyed being bundled into the back of a car and driven out to a lay-by and repeatedly and violently screwed by aforementioned security guard.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that I was sick at this. I mean…this was actually a magazine basically suggesting that women love being sexually assaulted abused and raped. This was so much worse than I expected. I just thought it would be tits and trash. Generally offensive and insulting to the intelligence of most men, but it was so much more horrific than that.

I was literally sickened by it.

Anyway, the point is that it is possible that not all men are of one type. Variation and variety of people is what gender equality and gender issues in general are all about. People should be free to be different. I shouldn’t feel like I can’t express myself fully. I should feel like its fine for me to dress however I want. I lack confidence though. I am incredibly insecure (underneath a thin veneer of boistrous and noisy faux confidence and egocentricity) and worry at the slightest thing wrong with me.

I don’t think I’m alone. V directed me to a great article recently that was stating that the reason that men are insecure is because they (we) realise we’re actually the weaker sex. I agree one hundred percent with that assessment. The author of that piece (and many others) have hit a nail on a head there. Well…maybe not one hundred percent. But it’s certainly true of me. Perhap’s this makes me a gender traitor.

I don’t know.

Anyway…I’m getting distracted and I don’t have long left to write.

Siggy has been being lambasted for not being ‘the right type’ of feminist. This is wrong. Variety and discussion should be the watchwords of the feminist movements. You’re more than welcome to hate all men, but if you start hating women for discussing then you just appear to be plotting for a matriarchy. I don’t think that would be a better world…just a different one.

There is no reason to fight oppression with oppression.

I have so much more to say but I have no time to write over the next few days.

First off, let me tie up some of the loose ends.

I think Valerie Solanas may be a more likely candidate for my spirit guide that poor Andy. Because of course it was her who really shot Andy Warhol. She’s been cropping up everywhere for me lately. Mostly through the Matmos track Tract for Valerie Solanas.

I will, apparently believe anything that has a good beat. This song has a damn good beat. And is made using an inflated Cow’s Uterus and Vaginal Tract. Find out how here. Then buy the album…it’s absolutely incredible.

Anyway, I now believe that I am being told to ‘destroy the male sex’ by my dreams. I really like her writings. I will tell you more about my views on what she has written once I’ve finished the SCUM manifesto. I’m busy lots though.

Oh…and she inspired the Manic Street Preacher’s song ‘Of Walking Abortion’. It’s a good song.

She has been raised in a few days of research to the status of a hero of mine. As have Matmos…who I’m only now beginning to realise just how much.

I assure you there’ll be follow up material for this. Including an essay on Angela Carter’s ‘The Passion of New Eve’ that I wrote for Uni…that book kind of changed my life a little. Maybe a lot. It’s an out of date essay though so my thoughts may have changed.

I’m so sorry for cutting this short, but I really am too busy at the moment.

I’ll post more bits and bobs but will be slowing down around the holiday season as my computer is going to the workshop for retooling.

Also busyness due to travelling to home and back and possibly to Wales as well….which will be lovely if I can afford it.

Erm…any questions or thoughts? I haven’t said half of what I wanted and I will respond and not censor anything…but please don’t lay too hard into me. I try to be good, but I am weak and insecure.

And I’ll leave with an inspirational note from Solanas herself:

‘Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex.’

– Valeria Solanas – SCUM Manifesto

Reproducing Music: Another University Essay by Me

Yo. More essay for you. This one was for a course on Art and Anti-Art. Though I just wrote about music and ownership. Again, my views have changed since I wrote this. But still…sometimes it’s good to get a bit of perspective.

More essays will follow. Unless someone complains that I’m boring. In which case I’ll go and cry somewhere. The truth hurts.

 

Reproducing Music:

Who owns the sounds we listen to?

 

The issue of music copyrighting, part of wider issues in regards to intellectual property in general, is a thorny one, to say the least. Andrew Goodwin points out that we live in an age when digital reproduction of music in which technology allows anyone and everyone the ability to ‘purchase an “original”’1. He talks about the ‘mass production of the aura’ (p259); the way music is reproduced in a way by which ‘there is no discernible difference between the sound recorded in the studio and the signal reproduced on the consumer’s CD system’(p259). This reproduction can now be performed from CD to CD and computer to computer by means of the mp3; and this copying and file sharing, normally over Peer to Peer (P2P) networks like Kazaa, is so prevalent that the US Deputy Assistant Attorney General John G Malcolm estimates ‘that over 50 million Americans have downloaded or shared files via P2P, and that about 5 million of them are doing it on any given day.’2 Record companies are in uproar to prevent what is seen by many as a ‘Marxist revolution [,] since property is theft and musical recordings are considered property.’3 Matthew Herbert, a revolutionary electronic music producer who goes under several different recording identities (Doctor Rockit, Radio Boy, Herbert and his latest project the Matthew Herbert Big Band) is among those who provide a new way of looking at these processes of reproduction, especially the act of sampling music to make more music, an issue on which I intend to focus.

Malcolm, representative of the department of Justice in America tells us that:

Millions of copyrighted songs and hundreds of thousands of copyrighted movies are illegally copied every day. The losses to those who create software and games from illegal copying are also significant.’4

That an important official is making lengthy speeches about the importance of enforcing copyright law -something that ‘has always been, and should remain, civil in nature’5 and encouraging criminal enforcement- demonstrates how serious the matter of musical reproduction is considered. Malcolm complains that too many people are of an attitude that they ‘can take whatever [they] want, whenever [they] want it without paying for it just because [they] now have the means to do so’6, and that it is their moral right to do so, on the grounds that the industry is charging too much for the music it provides. He and the industry (particularly as represented by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA)) protest that this is immoral (not to mention illegal) as it takes money away from the industry, a figure estimated at ‘more than 300 million dollars a year domestically [i.e. in America]’7, and therefore by inference the recording artists themselves. The RIAA claims noble goals to ‘protect intellectual property rights worldwide and the First Amendment rights of artists’8, and helps pursue legal action against those downloading and pirating music around the world. This activity has sparked much protest from the download community, which in general seems to fall under a category of people wanting something for nothing, because they ‘have the means to do so’9. This argument falls apart rapidly on any legal footing; intellectual property is a recognised and important part of the law, and has been in this country since the Anne Act of 170910 and was even mentioned in the original US constitution11.

Another significant aspect of copyright issues is highlighted by Andrew Goodwin in his essaySample and Hold’12, and this is the sampling of music, whereby musicians (or more properly perhaps composers/producers) digitally sample elements of other records and use them as the basis of new songs. Goodwin talks of the ‘Age of Plunder’ (p267) whereby everybody is ‘ “stealing” segments from other records [as a] part of the meaning of the “new” text’ (p271). This is fourteen years ago now, and the trend has only increased, more and more copying and pasting of bits of songs happens all the time. It is not necessarily a problem in itself, as Matthew Herbert notes ‘some of my favourite records have been done this way, including the bulk of hip hop.’13 Nick Hornby, points out that some acts have ‘upped the ante’ and that acts like ‘The Avalanches [in their single ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ from their album Since I Left You] use so many samples to create something so indisputably their own that to accuse them of plagiarism is pointless: you may as well make the same case against a writer whose books contain words that other writers have used before.’14 Hornby makes a good case for the ability of acts like these, while diminishing those who merely ride on others’ coattails, the musicians that Herbert points out who ‘sampled jazz records and called themselves jazz, they sampled James Brown and declared their music funky’.15 The case is convincing, you have to do something interesting with samples you use in order to make something valuable in its own right; but this debate of creativity, ignores the question of ownership, which brings up significant problems.

The key problem is the fact that ‘well over 90% of sample usage is never cleared’16, meaning that the composers of the original music being sampled fail to get the money from the use of their own creativity. To use Herbert’s example, James Brown does not get the money for the funkiness that the samplers have borrowed (or rather stolen) from him. There is an argument that this is acceptable because it recuperates the sales of the music it samples, Tom Simenon points out that ‘all of his [James Brown’s] records are being reissued. Kids of 18, 19 wouldn’t have heard of him if it wasn’t for hip-hop’17. This relies upon the clearing of samples, acknowledgements on record sleeves (absent from pirated, copied and shared music), through the music press, or through the knowledge of pub bores and musos. These sources of information sharing are flawed, and often fail to help the more obscure artist reach fame (and financial reward) they may deserve. Herbert eloquently sums up a large portion of this problem when he says:

Many people have considered this a Marxist revolution, since property is theft, and musical recordings are considered property. The problem…within musical composition, however, is that people then sell their own music using these samples. They are creating their own exclusive property and their philosophic raison d’être is destroyed…If people want to take samples for free, then they need to be prepared to distribute their music for free.’

(Matthew Herbert – Records and Responsibility)

Here Herbert proposes one solution to the problem, the free distribution of music, an idea that sounds like it is falling into old traps, but has not only been done by Herbert himself, but is also promoted by groups coming under the wing of the ‘copyleft’ movement.

Herbert’s album (released under the recording persona Radio Boy) The Mechanics of Destruction18 was to Herbert something of a ‘mini revolution’19 in that it was made up of the things it was rather than simply being about those things20. An example of what this means is that the first track is called McDonald’s, and is made from samples generated using a Big Mac meal as the only sound source. The accompanying website explains the political motivation for this (Herbert’s politics have become more and more intertwined with his music as his career has progressed), but the key to the meaning is the distribution method. The album was given away to any who wanted it, either given out at gigs, downloadable from the internet or by mail if you sent Herbert’s own label a self addressed envelope. Herbert says this

created a genuine and spontaneous relationship with the audience. People sent us money, stamps, cds of their own music, books they had written, pictures, artwork. It felt like a dialogue that was almost entirely absent in the traditional business models.’

(Matthew Herbert – Records and Responsibility)

It is this spontaneous relationship, the free giving of unasked for reward that suggests a new way around the problem of copyrighting. A way that allows copying and sharing of music, but still allows the artist to be rewarded. It also avoids the institutionalised power of the record companies, the industry (as seen earlier in the RIAA comments) that demands rights for the artist but in fact takes most of the money from intellectual property suits for itself. Ram Samudrala, author of an essay entitled The Free Music Philosophy21 encourages this sort of distribution process (often called copylefting, as a simple pun on copyrighting, that points out its left wing origins) and offers an appropriate liner note that, as I am running out of space, I shall offer as a fairly self explanatory legal alternative to copyrighting, and my conclusion.

Permission to copy, modify, and distribute the musical compositions and sound recordings on this album, provided this notice is included with every copy that is made, is given for noncommercial use. If you obtained this by making a copy, and if you find value in this music and wish to support it, please send a donation based on whatever you thought the music was worth to the address given on this notice.’22

 

 

 

Bibliography

1 ‘Sample and Hold’ in On Record Edited by Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin (London: Routledge 1990) p259 – all quotations from this edition

2 Privacy and Intellectual Property – Legal Issues Related to Peer-To-Peer File Sharing Over the Internet New York State Bar Association & International Bar Association (Amsterdam, The Netherlands – October 23, 2003) –http://www.cybercrime.gov/Malcolmtestimony102303.htm – all quotations from this web page

3 Matthew Herbert in Records and Responsibility: An interview with Matthew Herbert by Clare Birchall 15th June 2003 – www.signsofthetimes.org.uk/matt.html – all quotations from this website

4 Privacy and Intellectual Property

5 Privacy and Intellectual Property

6 Privacy and Intellectual Property

7 RIAA Website (2003)- http://www.riaa.com/issues/piracy/riaa.asp

8 RIAA Website (2003)- http://www.riaa.com/issues/copyright/history.asp

9 Privacy and Intellectual Property

10 RIAA Website (2003)- http://www.riaa.com/issues/copyright/history.asp

11 RIAA Website (2003)- http://www.riaa.com/issues/copyright/history.asp

12 ‘Sample and Hold’ in On Record Edited by Simon Frith and Andrew Goodwin (London: Routledge 1990)

13 Records and Responsibility

14 31 Songs (London: Penguin 2003) p170

15 Records and Responsibility

16 Records and Responsibility

17 ‘Beat Generator’ in New Musical Express, quoted in ‘Sample and Hold’ p271

18 www.themechanicsofdestruction.org – recordings available free for download

19 Records and Responsibility

20 Records and Responsibility

21 The Free Music Philosophy v1.4http://www.ram.org/ramblings/philosophy/fmp.html

22 The Free Music Philosophy

Venetian Snares – Hospitality

New record in the post.

Oh my word. I’ve already heard most of it before. But now I’m getting to consider it properly. This is the good shit. Sorry if all of my music reviews lately have been Breakcore related..I promise to write about other stuff eventually.

Anyway…on with the show. First track is a stormer…kind of like a certain type of Breakcore perfection. About two minutes of gentle synth intro, all world music sounding drums and a hint of a less shit Enya. Then it slams into action….and it is real action. The initial burst is formed as much of harsh synths as of hectic beats…the beats are ‘well hectic’.There’s definitely more to this though. The ‘melodic’ elements take the fore beautifully. Snares hasn’t really done this since the hungarian titled album (Rossz Szillag something something…..I can never remember the full name off hand). Only here it sounds less like an experiment in contrasting classical elements with the harsh thrust of the breakcore beats…but actually a beautiful experiment in maintaining a focus on something. The structure of the first track is incredible…pushing up and down all the time. Once the beats kick in they don’t really die until the end, but its not just full on aural assault (although it is that too) its a more balanced approach. It actually challenges you to think about the muscial qualities of it. There’s an amazing sense of energy and beauty here. More like real songs than just a kind of sonic sodomy. It still remains brutal and scattered enough to appease most tastes though.

I don’t want to describe this record as accessible…because it’s effectively a put down. Squarepusher did a similar thing on his latest album, eased up a little to do a more easy to listen to tour of his kind of sounds. I loved it, I didn’t think it was copping out…I think it was just a matter of relaxing enough to explore some simpler ideas…adding up a lot of what he’s learnt over the many years he’s been making head screwing music. He always had a good sense of instrumentation and melody though…Music is Rotted One Note proves that he doesn’t need beats to screw you to the wall in paroxysms of joy.

Anyway, the album isn’t really accesible…not to most…it’s is still settled on beats too disjointed for most people. The thing is…its got this melodic focus and the energy kind of makes more sense than usual. I’m a big fan of not making sense, but as an introduction to this type of music you could do a hell of a lot worse. On top of that it’s definitely a contender for being one of the best Breakcore albums he’s ever produced. As this is by Venetian Snares, that makes it one of the best albums in the whole screwed up genre.

I can sense the lasting appeal in this one to. There’s so much interest in it. The simpleness of the complication is just so damn warming. There’s a lot of brutality here…but its like it has a reason.

Ok, I’m starting the second side. This is opening with more conventional beats…that kind of pulsing bass synth so common to the genre. Then the beats slide out and you get a bass tone to consider…then the beats return…different though. The bounce here is infectious. So much energy and excitement. Harmony is the thrust so far…the melody has only just kicked in. This is amazing. It relaxes in a really impressive way. It doesn’t feel the need to just pound on your skull constantly…its doing a much better job by easing up and pushing the excessiveness in subtly. Subtle excess….wonderful.

Synth break….lovely structure to a beautiful toying with the melody. Then reintroducing the beat by (I think) putting the melodic elements through a granulizer or similar, and highlighting the rhythm of it. Then slamming the beats back in. This is pretty damn cool. It’s almost laid back…but not many people would agree with me there. The BPM is high enough to make you feel like you should be running at the speed you can only run when fleeing from a horrific and nightmarish monster. The end of the world is night..yet you’re still dancing.

A wash of phaser sounding synths….the kind of stuff my dearest Davey would describe as ‘space music’ in the joyous tones of a young child just discovering that magic is real…and it has a tasty beat.

That was a good track.

The album doesn’t ever entirely let up on the beats…it just makes it sound easier to listen to. The focus is perfect. At no point does it feel like you’re just being messed around for the sake of it. Structure and form are used to exceptional ability here.

This is really fucking good.

I mean…the things you can do with these simple ‘traditional’ jungle beats. The music has been twisted into something really special. Snares has been twisting for years. The sheer volume of output from that guys shed is incredible. Some of it is a bit lacklustre though. Its all pretty good at screwing your head up and giving you something to just bounce like a fool to. It really is made for dancing like you’ve forgotten how to dance but instead remember how to beat yourself and others up whilst having some kind of uncanny fit.

Not that I condone violence.

For such a short album (technically just an EP really) it is shocking just how many ideas and how much energy this thing has. There’s a joy in it too. You can tell that this guy actually lives, eats, breathes and shits music. I just don’t see any other way you could make such refined breakcore…refined…not like posh or anything…its just been treated to perfection.

Seriously…this is good. You should give it a listen…don’t just stick to samples of it though. Find the full tracks (and pay for them…this guy is on an independent and is exactly the type of music it is really important to support) and give them a play. Any sample can’t give you an impression of the richness of it. The ideas are carried out to their fullest extent.

The only way I can see of making it better by adding more accordians.

The album’s over, so I shall now stop writing.

Any questions?

“Life ain’t Nothing but Bitches and Money” – A half arsed discussion of Psychoanalytic and Marxist Criticism

God…that title looks boring.

Anyway, basically, I’m going to do a half arsed version of an essay I’ve been intending to do for ages. But because its Sunday, I’m not going to do any research, and I’m probably going to stop halfway through to start tidying up my room.

Still, at least I’ve got an NWA quote in the title.

Anyway, lets get on this.

So, I guess this could be considered an attack on the grand narratives of Freudian Psychoanalysis and Marxism. Which is interesting because It think there are lessons to be learnt from both. Its just the old post modernist thing of attacking the grand narratives I guess. Plus when you try and summarise Freud and Marx using the words of Ice Cube…it becomes much clearer just how much the two can be seen to reducing everything to nothing.

Lets (for some reason) ignore the fact that Freud was a sexist pig who had no idea of anything that happened in the lives of people who didn’t live in Middle class Vienna. This is probably a gross oversimplification of him…but that’s all that everybody ever does with Freud, which is perhaps the problem. My housemate did Psychology at Uni, and she always finds it interesting that I did loads of stuff on Freud (in my Literature degree) when they were taught from the beginning that the whole thing was unprovable tosh. Freud and the interpretations of Freud (we’re talking Lacan’s phallus here by the way) are still prevalent modes of criticism in the field of Literature.

There is genuinely some really interesting stuff going on there. You can compare Freud’s understanding of ‘the dream work’, that is the way our subconscious presents thoughts in dreams but then we encode and disguise them so our conscious mind doesn’t have to face up to the unpleasant truths within, with the practice of writing and creativity. The construction of meaning in writing can be compared to an expression of the mind of the author (who, as we all know, is dead) being transmitted through the veiling and changing process of language. Does that make sense to anyone who isn’t a pretentious wanker? Possibly not. But there’s definitely some interesting stuff going on there. For the likes of Nick Royle, literature is a form of telepathy (I’ll post my dissertation on Philip K Dick at some point for more discussion of this) between the minds of author and reader. In fact this is probably a gross mis-interpretation, but that’s what I always got out of it. In fact I think that its closer to empathy at least half of the time. Good literature has an ability to make you feel a situation, rather than just think about it. That’s why we love reading even when its not the smartest and wittiest and most intelligent pieces of Canonical literature. That’s why ‘trashy’ and ‘lowbrow’ books are still damn good.

Michael Marshall Smith’s Only Forward is an excellent book that essentially deals with psychoanalysis through the medium of a witty and fast paced sci fi narrative. Read it now…its worth it. The writing seems a little stilted at times but the pace and humour is so good that you forgive it immediately…and its a first novel…so its a pretty damn fine achievement. I won’t analyse it now as it would spoil it. First person who lives in my area and e-mails me asking for it can borrow my copy.

Anyway. The point is that you need to get the whole breadth of Psycholanalysis being considered in order to get something useful out of it. I don’t like the way that one tiny element has effectively become the whole grand narrative. Its a simplification. Everything is about sex…apparently…it just becomes a hunt for phallic symbols and returns to the womb. Eye removal is apparently synonymous with castration anxiety…as is almost anything else that can happen. I mean…I can appreciate that people think about sex a lot…I sure do. I can even see how it could be considered one of the primary motivational drives. The reproductive drive (continuance of DNA…the selfish gene and all that jazz) is the obvious motivation. But even Freud had to override that with the Death Drive once he saw the results of the First World War. I don’t know…I guess its the reductionism of most psychoanalytic criticism that pisses me off. It is possible to take note of Siggy and not actually have to make everything about a couple of out dated and genuinely quite ridiculous statements. If most psychologists think that its nonsense…then why is the literary world still so obsessed with the Mother Loving Austrian Prick.

And I haven’t even mentioned Oedipus yet.

Anyway. Marxism is something i like. The key reduction here is viewing everything through a system of economic relationships. Sahil believes that every relationship is a constant series of negotiations…and that applies on International levels and on personal relationships. For Marx it’s about class war (aside: protest on campus once…someone yelled out ‘its a class war’ and got the biggest laugh of the day as everybody noted that in fact the only classes present were the middle…that’s what University protests are all about..middle class kids pretending they aren’t) and the constant dialectic struggle between the oppressor and the oppressed. The important thing however, is that everything becomes economic. The money and the value of goods is exchanged, and this leads to the exploitation and alienation of the proletariat etc etc blah blah blah.

We all know about it. If you don’t (or just like re contextualised works) look at this .

Anyway, I’m talking through a literary lens today…so lets go into what Marxist literary criticism is like. Basically, (I think) literature is considered complicit in the oppression of the ‘people’. It forms part of the ruling hegemony (unless it is subverting it of course) and creates and uses language to promote the status quo. The ideology of the ruling class controls the language and uses its meanings to impose its thought upon people. Language itself is guilty of oppression, which is why people try to screw the system up by subverting language itself. Look for those experimental poets fucking shit up. My mate Jeffers does a fine job of it. I think its all well and good. I kind of tend to agree with bits and pieces of it to an extent. But at the same time…I don’t like the idea that language is to blame. Can we not change language. I mean…I know language and meaning has its limits. But the beauty of language is in the fact that it changes every fucking time you use it. Every time I use a word in the company of someone…then for both of us that word acquires a meaning related to that moment. It adds an extra level to it. A lot of the stuff in my short story posted below (Abort , Retry, Fail) is little words and phrases that only make sense to me and a couple of people who will recognise the original situation. I don’t know if it makes sense to put them in there…but I think it actually challenges other readers to associated new meaning with those phrases. The story isn’t as subversive as I’d originally hoped…but it certainly is a struggle to read…it makes you think…but at no point to I make up or invert language. Everything is in vaguely accurate English. The grammar is disjointed…but you generally understand what is going on.

Anyway, I’m going to edit it soon and hopefully it’ll be better then.

I’ve rambled off topic.

Basically..the general point is that grand theories must be looked at in all their intricacies, and should be only used as a lens. You must be aware that you are making a certain judgement of something using a certain set of rules laid out, by that something.

Life is more than sex and economics. Don’t reduce things to that. Look at everything. If you’re being Marxist..then note that you’re being Marxist and try and think of what the other side is. same for Freud…don’t just glue yourself to his ideas so that eventually all you can see is cocks flying through tunnels or whatever it is that Freud saw everywhere.

Hmm,

I haven’t said anything have I…ah well…any thoughts? Any questions? Want to call me a big shit and tell me I’m wrong? Go on…make a comment…I dares ya.

Edit: Read the commments if you haven’t. My second comment below actually ends up saying what I was trying to say above but couldn’t quite figure out.