Nihilism is not a philosophy. It is just the affective truth content of a Sunday after your friends have been beaten up and arrested by cops, and you can neither write a coherent sentence nor hit a jump shot. It is the dysphoric calm before the storm, that bare acrid taste that won't go away, that tight weariness of every and all, that vile correspondence of thought and thing, that keening whine of stasis and building charge. It is a house to be built to be burned.

Data storage, contingency, veins

The constant accidents, this time of flawless correspondence, that result from the arbitrary alphabetic organization of digital music libraries: the passage from Bone Awl's "Veins" to Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band's "Canyons Of Your Mind."

I will wander through your brain
To the ventricles of your heart, my dear...

Ain't no grave...

When we're as sick of zombies as they are of being alive, when the total overextension of the metaphor shades all things blankly and uniformly under the prospect of undeadness, a fantasy bright spark I've been having: how about a post-Reconstruction deep South story of metayers and croppers forced to work too close the recently buried, putting rentier capitalist-backed structural racism back where it belongs (that is to say, where it still remains insistently, against any illusions otherwise, in the house of the never dead and never gone), bringing zombies back to the fields, and above all, taking this as theme song and title? A screen play to be pitched, perhaps, if only the catcher wasn't a Hollywood who won't stop making Resident Evil films.

One step forward, two steps back (under the shadow of Thanatos)

Pasolini against the notion of an avant-garde who leave behind the terrain of the many - and the blurred lines of transgression and instituted power - for that of the "few" behind vacated enemy lines:

"What is important is not the moment of the realization of invention, but the moment of invention. Permanent invention; continual struggle. Whoever has cross over the line on which combat occurs has nothing more to risk. One of the recent "underground" films, presented to the "few," that of Bussotti ("Rara"), is, for example, a film which does not offer its author any possibility of demonstrative martyrdom. The transgressions of the film do not take place on the barricades, but in the enemy hinterland, within the concentration camp, where everything is transgression, and the enemy has disappeared: he is fighting elsewhere.

It is therefore necessary (in extremist terms or not) to compel oneself not to go too far forward, to break off the victorious rush toward martyrdom, and to go continuously backwards, to the firing line; only in the instant of combat (that is, of invention enforcing one's freedom to die in the teeth of self-preservation), only in the instant when one is face to face with the rule to be broken and Mars is ancipital, under the shadow of Thanatos, can one touch the revelation of truth, of the totality, or in short, of something concrete."

- Pasolini, "The Unpopular Cinema"

6:30 to Infinity

OK, indeed, black metal is anti-transcendent, yes. (Sin-eater, perhaps, as Niall claims, but once eaten, rarely passed on.) But then there are songs like this (see also nearly everything by Sombres Forets, or, in a very different register, Paysage d'Hiver). Which make evident that the issue is not so much anti-trascendence impossible negativity, not flailing roaring mess, but a deeply unmodern patience. An accretion, a willingness to wait and wait for one moment that doesn't so much justify what preceded it as leave it behind. For all that ceaseless internal speed, all lines in tremolo, over-picked, the velocity of circulation, it mocks the equation of speed and progress. It moves glacially slow, through the piled fuzz and grime, so much so when a single clean riff 6 and a half minutes rings out over the hoofbeat-gallop, it becomes the fitful, soaked-sheet dream of all pop producers, the hook that got away and found itself in the wrong hands.

The echolalia of the service industry...

... is the baleful phrase, can I help someone? (In all its fractured, remixed but indifferent forms: how may I be of service, can I help you, how may we best assist you today, but none with the anonymous starkness of the someone.) To harness it, perhaps: the sheer volume of breath expelled in speaking these words every day turning windmills across the midwest...

Nothing new about this, of course. Nothing worth noting other than the fact of nothing worth noting. Yet in that way, an inroad into thinking about the "popular," far beyond the stock phrases of ingrained capitalist experience and more, returning to that old Brecht problem, toward what we take to be "popular" and toward the question of the need to bother thinking about pop music or film or all the rest. (Reality TV is excluded: no degree of air, hot or otherwise, should be used in the service of perpetuating any illusion that America cares who Frank the Entertainer will choose for shady basement sex, despite indications to the contrary.)

That said, the basic structure of the competition reality TV show makes clear the basic structure of the false popular. It is the witnessing of a choice already made. The show has already been filmed months ago, the perfect couple has already went their separate spray-tanned ways, and the gig is up. There never was a choice. To be cheaply allegorical, in the impoverishment of pseudo-democratic political choice (as if it was ever particularly there), what better figure than that of the elimination show choice already made because it was choiceless, the managed unfolding that is there to be watched as if it is happening in real time, with real consequences. Oh no, he's down to two potential lovers...

Why care at all? Indeed, so much of criticism and analysis just transforms banal shit into banal shit with an essay written about it. Further, it is predicated upon the false logic that because it is popular, it is indicative of a general mindset and Zeitgeist, or that if it is widely consumed (even with the recognition that it is because of ease of access), it still represents a fundamental choice of the herd. The doubled form: people in this era like this sort of thing and therefore it's the sort of thing made available, or this is the sort of thing made available and therefore people start to like some it, weeding out the crowd of imitators.

General critique of the culture industry, subtle accounts of market research and Toyotist cultural production, longer durée trendlines of genres and content patterns, and shifts in media forms all aside, we should stress the simple fact of simple repetition. "Liking" becomes a secondary characteristic in the face of the onslaught of the repeated, quantity let loose, swarms of snatches of songs, images, and phrases. That's to say that in the inverted causes for production mentioned above (at what point does the supposed crucial fact of "liking" as the crux of being popularly consumed occur?), the more accurate term is simply "accustomed to," "used to." There are, of course, fields of exceptions, pop things whose quality isn't just a transformation of quantity, where you come to dig the deluge or seek out the perfectly crafted mass object. (Which itself can lead to some nasty tendencies of the imagined virtuoso, the master of the esoteric yet accessible playlist, the one with the correct blade to cut through the thick and find the pop gems worth saving and studying. Not to doubt that there are plenty of such gems, though. Just because our liking doesn't concretely determine what comes before us again and again doesn't mean liking is irrelevant.)

The sole point here is to bring forth what is the genuine enemy of that "unpopular popular culture" of a combative people, around which I've been circling recently. If that unpopular popular is a project to be still developed, a project of rejection, its rejection is not of the easy banality of bad consumer choice, of ignorant sheep who vote with dollars and "don't know better." Rather, the crushing force of the truly banal, rooted etymologically (from French ban, and further back to Middle English meanings of "command" and Serbo-Croatian forms, via Turkish, of "lord" or "ruler") in compulsory feudal service, as what is compulsorily in common or to be a common duty. As such, attached to objects, it is not the radical project of "the commons" - which can only ever be a project, an offensive defense of what is not yet there - but the communal as designation of it not belonging to anyone who uses it or is hailed beneath it, and especially not belonging to everyone. That is to say, the real opposition is between the popular (the unpopular project of rejection of the given) and the accepted (the "popular" rejection of projects beyond the replication of what is given).

[Sidenote: Our cultural practices and productions, our aesthetics and relations to all this are necessarily informed by such a conception, particularly insofar as we maintain a commitment - or alternateyl commit to leaving behind the public sphere of culture - to forms that are "accessible." Where I stand on this remains unstable, though I want to return, at another time, to something China M said to me in response to a disagreement about anamorphosis and fiction, regarding dropping a "lodestone of the weird" in the middle of popular forms. Longer, perhaps nerdier aesthetic theory debate, but it's worth considering the degree to which doing requires maintaining "popular" formal elements, or if, as Brecht defending formal experimentation in the service of injunctive/instructive theater, what is objected to is not the spice (or cooking method, or other metaphors for formal treatment) but the rotten meat that the spices can only dress up so far. China's example would seem to imply something like a very good cut of meat, spiced accordingly, but shot through with a taste so irreconcilable with the general act of thoughtless eating that all distorts around us, the meat grows new bones, our tongue feels thick in our mouths...]

Such a repetition of the given is fundamentally a flattening, an emptying out of sense, a washing down to un-notice. Yet when the phrase hangs for a moment too long unanswered - as did the occasion for these thoughts in general, a coffee shop worker asking if she could help someone, to which no one responded, even as everyone was waiting "to be helped" - boils over with sense, and the senselessness of its repetition, of it being spoken in scattered chorus. Such is the sense of the accepted popular: the content of its popularity is just the content of repetition itself, and the lived action of estrangement. So that what is a genuine question, while situated, with no great weight of desperation or utopian kernel, just a practical declaration of the need for the line of coffee drinkers to move forward and be served, comes to take on near Beckettian weight. And our minds - or my mind - flees to thoughts of the impulse buried within, some cry out to help or be helped, to break the locks of social custom, at once brought out and declawed by the muteness of repetition. But this would be mistaken. If it has the content of a scream, or of the selfless gesture, it has near nothing to do with the seeming plaintive meaning (can't I help change anything, can't my grasp reach something grasping back, can't it be mutual from the start). It is the form of the question as unnecessary repetition itself, the fact that it becomes "popular" and groundless by being ground into the flatness of everyday interaction, no more or less personal than a factory's lost metallic din. In the absence of its volume, its perfunctory tone and its volume of general quantity - the unled, scattered, pseudo-communal chorus raising voices at once but not together - becomes that roar of self-doubt, far and wide, and everywhere banal.

Mining the unobtainable

Avatar is possible the most staggering display of pure plenitude ever committed to the American screen. On what ground does it rest? Underground, a massive deposit of the unobtainable made manifest - the "Unobtanium" to be mined. Flowering above, total wet fecundity, illimitable hybrid biopower, interspecies interpenetration, an absence of agriculture or organized production, and trees that have developed an information network for which Google would happily displace many millions of animist, lithe, bare-assed tribes. (What is the wealth of the metal in the face of all that lush forest and "technologies of nature" to be explored?) Forget any issues about "war on terror," liberal guilt, noble savages, or the like. It's the full subsumption of politics to the prospect of an era of unbound plenty. If this is a cinema of the crisis years, it is so only it that blows away the very category and possibility of scarcity. A wish-fulfillment of profit and the profligate behind every corner, hanging from every luminescent vine. When each pixel digital fiber drips with such lush excess, what else is there to do but frolic and drool?

Like walking through the woods, if the woods were frozen demon thigh-bones stuck in the snow

"we endeavor to have our products used wherever precision aiming solutions are required to protect individual freedom."

One of those things that is, sadly, far less surprising than it should be, an instance of total, flawless integration that, were it fiction, we would rightly mock as cut-rate lefty post-Vonnegut political surrealism. Turns out a U.S. military arms supplier has been selling them rifle scopes with coded Bible verses on them.

"Weinstein, an attorney and former Air Force officer, said many members of his group who currently serve in the military have complained about the markings on the sights. He also claims they've told him that commanders have referred to weapons with the sights as "spiritually transformed firearm[s] of Jesus Christ."

He said coded biblical inscriptions play into the hands of "those who are calling this a Crusade."

Aint' that enough to worry convicts mind

Allan Lomax recording, 1947, Mississippi State Penitentiary, Parchman.

Head already removed, the axe’s swing is a magician’s trick

A follow-up and small extension of my take on black metal as failed dialectic and headless fantasy. This is a subsequent, initial move from the acephale (without head) to the cephalophore (the head bearer), a sort of proposed second step, particularly toward the question of the leaderless collective that escapes blind irrationality or waiting for the messianic potentially fascist unifier of retroactive integrity. (Albeit a move that, as Ben has stressed in response to me, may be necessarily deferred, that pushing in such a way may be to leave its terrain entirely. We will likely forever disagree on this.) Thanks to Nicola, who I finally met in NYC, not only for being one of the severed minds behind the emergent black metal theory crew, symposia, and volumes (thinking that California may need to become the 3rd venue in this circuit: we have enough redwoods here to properly tackle the question of black metal and nature) but also for pointing me toward the figure of the cephalophore and on beheading in general, on which he's written a bunch.

But to speak of beheading, we must ask: what happens to the head? And whose was it to start? For the acephale (the headless) is the ground of black metal, its fundamental and unstable condition, but also what dooms it to both its fascism-in-spite-of-itself and to the lingering sense of the bad faith to not follow through on its convictions. The acephale needs to be taken as a first gesture, not as a permanent condition. Not in order to recuperate or excuse, neither to denigrate nor to valorize, but to see that the act of becoming headless opens the way for the second gesture, that of the cephalophore, the head-bearer, the one defined not by the condition of being without head but by the act of picking the head back up.

“Head” here should be taken in its full range, for the acephalic is a fantasy both of the leaderless (the “body” of the people rules alone, brought about by that revolutionary act of beheading the sovereign, materially or in principle) and of the irrational (headless, the body rules in its singularity and decides on the basis of the affective, and phenomenal, taking on unreason as its shared principle). As such, the acephalic condition of black metal must surpass itself and extend this to a total condition. It isn’t enough to remove the leader and imagine the hard collective – of cold Northern sovereigns to be – merely touched by this act of negation, for the outcome is one of three inevitabilities:

1. Resubmission to the bellicose repetition of the act (which is perhaps fine with black metal, at its most raging-in-place).

2. A slide toward the directionless muddled chaos of a crowd of loners.

3. Most disturbingly and more determinately fascist, the elevation of a new leader capable of both retroactively verifying the absent and deferred integration of the mass, as well as yoking concretely together the necessarily linked and distanced practices of politics and aesthetics.

In other words, the crowd itself must not only sever all. It must also pick up the pieces after. And more than that, to realize that the destructive undercurrent of this is above all an affective stance and an aesthetic tendency. The heads are already severed, reason cast to the ground. Black metal makes appear as decision what is in truth a general state of affairs, not just of its imagined post-apocalypse but of the systemic chaos and non-direction of the contemporary world. Hence the performative theatricality: the head already removed, the axe’s swing is a magician’s trick, tracing the negative space there all along between the body and the head.

For to remain in the acephalic is to rest in one of two unacceptable options, each of which can then go in one of two ways.

There can be an acephalic leader, which means either heterogeneous sovereignty (the elevation of a singular, irrational, decisionist leader to prop up the whole collapsing sphere of homogeneous and ordered life) or that crowd of individuals against rational leadership only because it is the wrong kind of rational leadership (i.e. liberal, plural, “diverse” and contemporary, rather than something more metal, European, singular, and ancient).

And there can be an acephalic crowd, either stuck in waiting for a properly headed leader to emerge and give direction, or caught in riotous, irrational, affective bloodbath, stumbling and flailing around, confusing an attack on totality with an attack on everything and anything within reach, wounding itself as it goes.

But despite its recurrent anti-intellectualism and penchant for uncritical reenactment of stale dark vitalist tropes, black metal is smarter than it thinks. Appropriately for its Satanic grounding, it shares much with the integral atheism of de Sade: to take on abstraction and the generic, you have to do so on its own terms. In other words, you can’t afford to throw away the head. It must be picked up, made open use of. Not to resuture a lost order to the mediated despair of the present, not t0 stitch the head back on. Rather, to make its absence and dislocation visible, to make something better of the inherited atrocity. To be sure, a cephalophoric leader could be no better than the acephalic, now holding up the head as proof of martyrdom (how I’ve suffered for you), reconciliation (I know you were mad when you cut off my head, but I forgive you and come back whole and wholly different, ready for hope and change), or permanence (cut my head off, it won’t do any good, you’re stuck with me, foolish sheep).

And so the requisite fourth here, and the possible way for black metal out of its stalemate of wishing to lose its head even while it won’t let it go, is the cephalophoric group. Headless one and all, they hold heads aloft, not sure to whom each belonged in the first place. Removed, yes, but redistributed: the general intellect and spheres of abstraction are severed decisively from their “natural” connection, and then turned to other ends. Of course, black metal doesn’t reach here. It remains the stumbling din, and the bad faith of a rational proclamation of irrational singularity, of the acephale who knows better. The question held out in front of us, like a disjointed head, is what can be gained and seen otherwise, the sight and praxis to be found in becoming wrong-headed, one and all.

The sound of things to come is the guttural thrum of a Tuvan throat singing rendition of the "Interntionale"

Back to California from Historical Materialism in NYC, from comrades old and new, from meeting in the flesh a number I've only known digitally, from demonstrating that whatever our political miscalculations may or may not be, our young Turk "ultra-left" crew remains particularly good at embarrassing yuppies in bars where it is apparently in bad taste - which is to say, necessary - to dance.

And back with this gem from Alberto: a Tuvan throat singing version of the "Internationale." Amazing, and with certain odd harmonic similarities to Leadbelly's "Where Did You Sleep Last Night." Imagine this played very, very loud, rumbling out over the city.

RIP, Rohmer

Rohmer, director of the perhaps greatest movies of minor difference, films in which people did very little but talk and muse on possibilities not taken, the very talking about and circling back upon makes them sadly hypnotic, died today. Perhaps time for a collective repassage through the Six Moral Tales...

Counter-use, counter-flood

The hypothetical real world juncture point of two of my apocalyptic strands, or where the disastrous meets salvage:

“All of the money is going into homeland security,” Mr. Lindell said. “The solution to the problem in the levees in New Orleans would have been to take all the chemical-protection suits that have been purchased for little tiny towns that are too small to be targets and too far away to assist, and fill those chemical-protection suits with sand, and use those to fill the levees. It would have been a better use.”

In other words, a line of sand-bodied haz-mat ghosts, holding back the encroaching waters.

(thanks Alberto for the link, full article here)


Melancholia, snare drums, bi-polarity, and the pleasures of yé-yé: Marie LaForet's unmatchable rescription of "Paint it Black."

mais surtout pour participer, sur le terrain, aux manifestations de contestation de l’ordre établi

William Bunge, quantitative geographer and crucial missing link between psychogeography and the aesthetics of economic oppression. See here (en français)

"La réappropriation matérielle et symbolique, par ceux qui y vivent, de ce territoire façonné par le capital, la révolution écologique par et pour la révolution sociale, est, pour Bunge, le premier pas vers l’émancipation des classes subalternes."

(thanks to Gopal for the link)

The popular is not a German farmer wrestling a deer to the ground

America's Most Wanted Painting, Komar and Melamid

Rereading the Brecht/Lukács debates about realism, totality, and all the rest, and struck by the gestures Brecht makes toward thinking the popular. In trying escape the deadlock of Heimat (i.e. said farmer in front of the undulating slopes of Bavarian wheat), habit, and fetishized folk traditions, on one hand, or the gargantuan beast of mass media production, on the other, Brecht ventures this:

"Let us recall that the people were for long held back from any full development by powerful institutions, artificially and forcefully gagged by conventions, and that the concept popular was given an ahistorical, static, undevelopmental stamp. We are not concerned with the concept in this form - or rather, we have to combat it.

Our concept of what is popular refers to a people who not only play a full part in historical development but actively usurp it, force its pace, determine its direction. We have a people in mind who make history, change the world and themselves. We have in mind a fighting people and therefore an aggressive concept of what is popular."

Against any sense of the popular as a verification of the inherited status quo of a historical moment, of the average measure of what is taken to be acceptable to the people, this counter-sense of the popular is the process of emergence of a people becoming unacceptable to the average of their moment. It comes only after, and on the scorched ground of, all the idiocy of what we otherwise call popular. If our struggle is one that necessarily takes the form of expressions of minority will - in the name of the common - against the average functioning of things, we need an equivalent aggressive concept of the popular as that which does not exist outside the attack on what is assumed to be popular, tacitly agreed on, ground into the carpet of habit through repetition, and falling under the shadow of the "mass choice," as if the way things are expressed the general will and the legitimate choice of how we want things to be.

As such, the popular is nothing if not the stark realism of any and all who make unpopular combat.

(Thanks to Hunter for the title line, a negative definition if ever there was)