Friday, August 08, 2014

Under the skin: my journey to belated music fandom






"Pan e Capra" statue from the house of Julius Caesar's father-in-law in Herculaneum.


Come with me on a journey under the skin
We will live together for the Pan within


I've never been a fan of a band before. Not in the diehard sense of moving heaven and earth to get to a gig and singing along, almost word perfect, to every song and comparing line-ups with days gone by while the bloke standing next to me is saying to his mate, "The Waterboys? I don't think I even know one song of theirs." To which his mate replies: "The Whole of the Moon." "Oh, yeah," says the bloke.

Well, it happened to me last night, under a not-quite-whole moon. Last night, I was simultaneously 21 years old (the year I missed the Waterboys' Leeds University gig in the same summer as the Tiananmen democracy movement) and 46 3/4. The creaking bones and the weight of the years fell away, and I danced non-stop. It was like getting laid, only deeper.

Don't get me wrong: I have always liked the band. Always had a couple of their albums. But when I was at an age when most people are going to gigs, I was either being corralled into playing classical and choral music by my school, being carted off to some really excellent classical concerts, or chasing boys who weren't interested and evading those who were. Later on, I was spending my hard-earned currency on plane tickets, either in the service of potential work, or a fragmented and compulsive love-life.

I didn't get to a gig, as opposed to a classical concert, until my late twenties. I went to see Bob Dylan in Hong Kong. He was enormously disappointing, which didn't much fuel my interest in going to see any of the other icons of my music collection, which was already smaller than other people's, and nearly always derived from theirs. I would usually copy or buy what they had, if I liked it.

But the music I bought when I was relatively young, which includes, by the way, U2 Live at Red Rocks (first album, bought independently at 16) Echo & the Bunnymen's Ocean Rain (16, bought independently with first pay-cheque) and the Fisherman's Blues and This is the Sea (copied from a house-mate at 20, bought on CD at 23), has stayed with me, and I took it seriously even then, despite being raised in an environment that looked down its nose at anything that wasn't classical or jazz.

This is the music that got under my skin, and still does; it had a quality that permeated my unconscious life. For me, it wasn't a case of being into something crap when you're a kid, then later expanding your taste and becoming more mature. The music I liked best when I was young matured along with me. The real magic happens when you put that process next to a band and its leader who are themselves constantly in flux and constantly deepening.

Back then, I thought the worlds the music brought were 'out there'; that they were in America, or Liverpool, or Ireland. Or perhaps owed their existence to a certain lifestyle. Like a lot of other people, I saw my music collection as the soundtrack to my life (which, of course, was a movie starring me). It wasn't until I got to my 30s, and my life started to look a lot less movie-like, that I realised that these are inner worlds, and that they're at once widely shared and utterly personal. That's what the best music does; it opens up the realities under the skin and between the ears and makes room in the soul for other lands and times.

There's a lot of confusion and fragmentation in outer life, and a lot of stuff that's simply boring, dull or trashy. Then there's nature. Midas was given donkey's ears for preferring the pipes of the nature god Pan to the lyre of Apollo (the god of "How do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practise!" Incidentally, his lyre was invented by Hermes, who advised him not to practise too much, saying that the lyre "abhors toilsome drudgery."). But in some cultures, past and present, including British and Chinese ones, the relationship to nature is culture (see photo). And in modern life, one of the the best places to plug into the energies of Pan and Dionysus (if you don't happen to have an obliging yet wraggle-taggle lover with a candlelit tent at the ready) is a Waterboys gig.

The Moon and the Stage: waiting for the Waterboys at Cropredy
The Moon and the Stage: waiting for the Waterboys at Cropredy 2014

I didn't go to the Waterboys gig because I happened to be at Cropredy. I knew I had to go to Cropredy because the Waterboys were playing. This may seem strange, but I had never been to one of their gigs before.

It was a really large, and very mixed crowd (mixed in the sense that not all were fans). The men were standing alert, as if they'd stumbled on a hare in a clearing among trees. But it was the women who were called movement, to life, by this music, and particularly to Steve Wickham's fiddle-playing. He was Dionysus that night; his call was to the maenad soul in men and seemed to have a magical link, like the red shoes in that fairy-tale, to the bodies of the women.

The effect on me was sudden and profound. It was as if some band had got up on stage with a telepathic link to my inner soundtrack, and started playing what they thought I'd like to hear, like a sort of psychometric jukebox.

They were playing MY songs! These songs don't just exist in my memory, or my CD collection, or my hard drive. They exist in my blood. I can put them on play without any kind of playback device, and they'll just play all day, if I want them to, albeit faintly and somewhat in the background.

It wasn't until I was laughing at the growling sound Steve made on the black electric fiddle to replace the sax on 'A Girl Called Johnny', the aforementioned bloke-next-to-me turned to me and said "Did I hear that right? A Girl? Called Johnny?" and I replied, "Yes, that's right," while still dancing, did I realise what I had become.

I didn't notice this process of interiorisation (AKA the portal to fandom) happening. I don't remember even learning Mike Scott's name until running across a Guardian article a few years ago, although there was a guy in uni who definitely looked like him and definitely played on this fact by wearing a hat and a long coat. When I did learn it, I had him down alongside Ian Anderson and Mac whatshisname from the Bunnymen in the "genius with a band attached" category. I started to find out more only a couple of years ago because, while I was downloading like mad/recovering from a break-up, iTunes started showing me more and more music that I'd missed because I was out of the country when it was first released, and I started Googling it all to find out the context. I read his book, which was a relief, because it's a story of stuff coming together, and we need more stories like that.

I now know that the Waterboys' records--the way they're recorded and mixed--underlie a lot of my assumptions about how music should sound. Someone once said that the spaces between the notes are the most important thing in music. But in recorded music, sometimes it's the space between the instruments or voices that counts. Those are the sorts of assumptions about sound that I've taken unconsciously into myself. Me and my ex -- yeah, him!-- used to say that a lot of British music from the 80s has the sea in it. Of course. This is the sea: the inwardness of sound.

It's not just about memory, for me, either. The Pan in this music put heart into my path towards becoming a pagan and a druid. I didn't have a hugely successful love life as a young person to look back on, and I had relationships with people not from my culture, so the music never became a couple thing. It was always mine alone. And those spaces in the music made me want to inhabit similar spaces. I started going to sessions, because I heard the sound-spaces of a session; the background noise of bars and talk and clinking glasses on the Fisherman's Blues album, and I wanted to know where music like that happened. I knew I wanted to be part of such spaces; to add my music to sounds like that.

Now that I've been going to sessions for years, I can see that the Waterboys are like the best session you ever went to, but one that has been going on for decades. A lot of bands who are older but still performing complain that no-one wants to hear their new stuff, but clamour for the same old hits. I don't think the Waterboys have that same sense of discord with their own fan-base because they treat their own music in much the same way that a trad player treats trad tunes. They've long since abandoned the notion that you can recreate some sort of original version. Instead, it's more like a session in which mostly Waterboys songs are played, though not exclusively, and in which half the players are veterans of the band, and the other half brilliant guest musicians.

In such an atmosphere, the 'same old' songs never sound the same, and there's always room for silliness and getting out of hand, for ageing and peering over one's glasses, and no-one cares if they play a tune over and over, because someone will come in with a line out of nowhere that's nothing like the recording but every bit as sweet. And you are as much a presence as the band. And you dance. Last night was a delicious whirlwind of trust, and mayhem, and Pan, and fantasy, and I hope it never stops.

Luisetta Mudie is a writer, independent film-maker, an enthusiastic player of whistles and maker of tunes and soundtracks.

Follow her on Twitter @greenflametree or on

Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/dreamburo/tracks

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Creative Commons Licence
Under the skin: my journey to belated music
fandom by Luisetta Mudie is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.hyacinthgirl.blogspot.com.

Wednesday, December 04, 2013


"I do not want to overlook the fact that the psychological method I am pursuing, following from Jung and from Campbell, gives scant attention to the historical timeframe of the myths; their geographical locations, to the philological analysis of texts where they are recounted, to the authenticity of their transmission, to the disputed evidence from archaeology, to their sociological and political contexts. In other words, the psychological method I am advancing is shame-facedly syncretistic, and may offend the patient devotion to scholarly research by those who come at the same tales with different intentions. To uncover ancient myths and behaviour in the phenomena we unthinkingly absorb as usual reality and utterly unmythical; that is the revelation an archetypal psychology seeks. We ravage the scholarship of others, and pilfer whatever we can, justifying these violations in the name of bringing deeper understanding to psychological afflictions. Our method does cast a shadow...that wears the bright smile of the New Age; its innocent optimism.

We are...attempting to...open a long-closed door bolted from two sides: history and its scholarship bearing witness only to the dead, the past and gone; and psychology, utterly contained within the subjective soul, painfully present and personal...

When scholars speak only to documents, and psychologists only to patients, culture languishes; its soul shallow and unrooted in historical knowledge, and its knowledge without soul."

See video: 4.15 - 5.25
I'm reading Graham Harvey's Animism: Respecting the Living World.

I can't help doing so from a depth psychological perspective, and what follows are some jottings I need to make as I take a somewhat serpentine path through this very generous book.

Jotting 1. p. 10 Freud.

Jung isn't mentioned here, although his work as a psychologist was founded on the study of spirits. His thesis (Jung, C. G. (1903) On the Psychology and Pathology of So-Called Occult Phenomena) focused on the mediumship of his cousin, Helene Preiswerk, and he conceived the spirits she experienced as split-off, projected entities from her own psyche. Here, he takes a 'scientific' approach to occultism, and is very close to Freud at this point.

However, his later work, after the break with Freud, tended far more towards the assumption that the 'psyche' isn't interior to, nor reducible to, the human subject. He wrote that the psyche is naturally dissociative, but also, that the processes that aren't made conscious within the experiencing subject manifest themselves externally, "as fate."
CW 9: AION: 126

(Sidenote: in Jungian references, the final number is the paragraph number, not the page number. CW stands for Collected Works, and the number straight after it for the volume. This is shorthand for this:
Jung, C. G. (1951). Aion: Researches into the Phenomenology of the Self (Collected Works Vol. 9 Part 2). Princeton, N.J.: Bollingen.))

His later theories of synchronicity develop this idea still further. In some aspects of his work, one is led to believe that the meaning of a "coincidence" comes from the meaning that a given concatenation of circumstances has for the people concerned, like the granary falling on the villagers (Evans-Pritchard, mentioned on p. 133 of Harvey's book).  At other times, he waxes lyrical about a broader web of meaning that transcends the grey world and its little boxes, and his kinship with all things (Memories, Dreams, Reflections.)

The Self was the concept Jung used to give this web of interactivity a sort of developmental focus and invisible coherence. This concept was later challenged by Hillman, who agrees with Jung that the psyche is fundamentally dissociative, but not that wholeness is its inherent goal. Moving from 'the psyche' to 'soul,' he favours a Greek-based polytheistic perspective, criticising Jung's Self concept for imposing a monotheism on the soul of Western culture which isn't native to it, but rather native to the higher, drier realms of spirit. He takes seriously Keats' description of life as a 'vale of soul-making.'

Hillman refuses to define 'soul,' saying it is neither a thing nor a concept but a perspective that makes all meaning possible (not just the meaning of the hero myth, which includes Christ), turns events into experiences, is communicated in love (Eros and Psyche - "the goal of eros is always, in any case, psyche"), and has a special relationship with death (a soul perspective cannot leave out Hades, the abode of souls).

The soul is constituted of images… "the soul is primarily an imagining activity," he writes (in Revisioning Psychology). But this doesn't mean it's 'nothing but' imagination. Hillman wants a revolution in favour of the (mythic) imagination, privileging it at every turn over other modes of knowing, being and thinking.

To do this, we need to beware of literalism, he warns. Acting out (one's images/fantasies) could be one form of literalism, although he never pretends that humans could ever stop embodying mythic behaviour (see video above: "Mythology [is] talking about myth...myth is action....ritual...certitude..."). This is a largely unexplored area in his work, because Hillman mostly avoids telling anyone how to do anything. The closest he comes is telling psychotherapists not to chop up their patients' images (dreams or fantasies) into handy concepts and apply them as recipes for life, or not to literalise a patient's need to be more grounded by getting them to take up gardening, for example.

Instead, they should stick to the image, treat ideas as personified notions, and show some respect for the 'poor wild dream.' In other words, meet the image with further imagining in the mode proper to it and allow the image its own being.

Hillman has apologised in public lectures (see above video) to the people who study some of the 'things' that make appearances as images and personified notions. Why? Because depth psychology takes everything as an image; things, ideas, knowledge, external events, places, people we know (or think we know) all are dragged in and devoured by the depth psychological approach. From the depth psychological view of Jung and the post-Jungians, we cannot get out of the psyche, and so all our knowledges must also be, at heart, images (images aren't only and literally visual; they are rather the stuff of metaphorical life, which is the same as the life of the soul. The gods and myths are considered to be root metaphors of psychic life.)

I would hesitate to apply this perspective to traditions that we call indigenous or non-Western. To the study of what people in cultures not dominated by Western/scientistic/post-Christian assumptions do. That's not to say one couldn't try.

But there might be a stronger argument for bringing a soul perspective imagined by Western depth psychologists to bear on Western animisms (Dan Noel has already thought of this). Many of Jung's concepts, and even some of Hillman's ideas, pop up among Western animistic practitioners already as a way of making sense of their experience without reducing it.

This approach isn't without its problems. Hillman justifies the ravaging of the scholarship of others by saying that psychologists are seeking help from other areas of knowledge for psychological affliction. Jung says that the real is "what works," a theme taken up by Harner-type shamanic practitioners like Sandra Ingerman (this may be why this method depends heavily on imagining the shaman as healer). Inherent to using a depth psychological method is the fantasy that animisms are a way of addressing/deepening/curing/healing/resolving pathology, whether cultural (tragedy) or individual (neurotic/psychiatric). To use such methods with other intentions would violate the focus of depth psychology on pathology; on the gods in our diseases.

Whether that is true of a Methodology of the Imagination (PDF) is another matter; but I'll have to address that in another blog post.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Story of Wukan

A fishing village on the march. Their banners are traditional, evoking fishing pennants, traditional celebrations and the heroes of Chinese literature, who often battled corrupt officials. But the writing is a simplified form that was invented since the beginning of the People's Republic, and the organisers wear semi-official red armbands like community neighbourhood-watch volunteers. They also sport red baseball caps, like tour-guides. The marchers keep to one side of the road to avoid giving the impression of 乱 [chaos] and triggering judicial violence from the authorities. There is a plethora of slogans, and the march is as well-organised as a marketing or promotional campaign, and carefully orchestrated not to appear threatening.

A more threatening side to the villagers' resistance, but one taken from an angle which many Chinese who spend time online will recognise. The camera, possibly a mobile phone, peeps out from between the shoulders of an aggrieved and disempowered populace confronts the power of the state, denoted by the rows of riot police in the distance. The angle, among the stick-wielding locals, simultaneously suggests great anger (power in potentia) and great powerlessness, because the view is limited and troubled from this perspective. This Twitter-like posting will draw sympathy from ordinary Chinese, and get through the wall of censorship which surrounded this rebellion in the state-run media. The username translates as "essence of chicken" which is supposed to help with energy! The metaphor of the road is suggested here: the road to Wukan. It may also subliminally suggest the word 公道 which means justice, but could suggest a public road, or highway.
>
"Return our ancestral farmland." The word 祖 [ancestral] carries the most emotive force here. Chinese identity is constructed to  such an extent on the ancestral homeland, a specific town or village where the land around is inhabited by the ancestral dead, that families will maintain ties with their 故乡 [hometown] for generations after they have moved overseas and their children have become foreign nationals. Your hometown dictates the language you use to speak to your nearest kin, sometimes your surname, the food you like to eat and the temperament you have. To take away access to the ancestral lands is profoundly disorienting and a wrong against the ancestral bloodline. Wrongs, as Chinese heroic literature and martial arts movies tell us, must be righted, either by revenge or by justice - some sort of official redress, in which history is set right.  
The rebellion reaches a new level of energy with the death of a village representative in police custody. This cinematic close-up of Xue Jinbo's grief-stricken daughter strikes all the same chords it would in the West, but with additional nuances. Xue Jianwan comes from a town that worships the sea-goddess Mazu, who, when she was a mortal young woman, saved her father and brothers from drowning at sea. This background of filial piety, of the love of a daughter for a father, enacted in many Chinese stories including the one popularised by Disney as Mulan, will become the emotional driver of the rebellion, bringing additional impetus and a new narrative to the movement, which had already had several unsuccessful visits to higher levels of government, and might well have lost momentum, like many others before it. 
Many rebellions start in mourning in China. Here, the funeral portrait of Xue Jinbo takes centre stage, alongside the huge characters 悼 [mourning] and 冤 [injustice]. Calligraphy is an important part of public statement, public identity, and political power. Note that the yuan character is dripping, as if with blood, but it's red, ie Communist, and therefore politically correct. The multiplicity of slogan has gone, and people are quietly united in front of the image of the dead man. The dead man has now by definition become an ancestor, which lends much greater weight to their collective and family narratives about their protest. The broad cultural principle compelling Wukan people to make things right for their village and for their ancestral line, has taken on a new immediacy. Strangely, the claim of needing to make a living doesn't come close to the driving force exerted by the dead in Chinese protest, unlike the conventional dramas of European revolution, where the people's cry is for bread.
Here, the camera angle lifts to take in a confident march within the besieged village. At this stage, journalists have begun to get into the village, and the villagers by their own video camera on the Chinese equivalent of eBay and make their own documentary. This picture says in the language of Chinese symbolism, 龙 [dragon]. The people are the dragon, because they are Chinese, and carry the life-force of China. This image also references a popular protest song, the Descendants of the Dragon, by a Taiwanese songwriter, which was sung by students on Tiananmen Square during the protests of 1989. 
The shrine to the departed spirit of Xue Jinbo, with incense, funerary offerings and possibly figurines of deities - there is a seated figure on the left which might indicate a figurine of Matsu. This is the process by which a person becomes an ancestor, but there is something missing: the body. The police have refused to return Xue's body to the family, thereby withholding its right to return to the ancestral lands and obstructing his progress to the next world, which should happen to a body, not just to a spirit. Police often snatch the bodies of those who have died in suspicious circumstances. The official autopsy said Xue's death was due to a heart attack, but his daughter saw his body covered in bruises and disputes the reported time of death in a documentary interview. This shrine, then, has a sort of emergency of the spirit about it. It is set up on the Matsu temple platform which was the focus for all the Wukan rallies and political campaigning that followed.


Lin Zuluan, a retired Communist Party member and trusted member of the community, comes to the forefront of the Wukan rebellion, striking all the right notes. His Party status and age are on his side, as is his use of language, which comes from "within the system." His physical appearance recalls hard-working village Party secretaries in Communist Party-approved movies about China's recent past. The cameras are already focusing respectfully on him at this stage, as the authorities send teams to negotiate with the Wukan villagers. Foreign journalists, particularly those from Hong Kong, have unleashed a torrent of good-looking coverage on the world by this stage, and the authorities want it to stop. Lin later goes on to be appointed village Party secretary, while the younger, more populist protest leaders fight a local election for places on his committee. In the background, many villagers are wearing "grass hats" which give the movement a cinematic, nostalgic, down-home feel, evoking strong emotions in people who view it. Some of the more daring Chinese media organisations are also beginning to cover Wukan by this stage.


A documentary film crew arrives in Wukan from Guangzhou and starts to film observationally. The first words we hear in the film are the words of this Party official from the nearby city of Lufeng, who has got the mood of Wukan badly wrong. Here, the subtitle reads: "Eventually we will be forced to arrest even more people." He is trying to frighten the village into submission, but the political situation in the province won't allow for a bloodbath in Wukan, possibly because of the high political ambitions of the Guangdong Party chief, Wang Yang. Here, the official is pictured on a television being viewed by Wukan villagers. He is made to look ugly, hard-line and out-of-touch; the epitome of the satirical pig-official cartoons that were soon to make the rounds of the Chinese Internet.



Polling day arrives. The happy ending. The ballot paper - usually bright pink - here is a marital red. The man's toothy grin is used by Western media to imply that the Chinese would be happy if only they had a democratic form of government, and by official Chinese media to imply that the system is 'back to normal,' that it functions basically well for the people, and that corruption is being stamped out. The only reason such a low-level election process would make the headlines at all, is its rarity value. The people have grasped political power, and it's still red.

The number of votes for the village committee members are finally counted in a tallying system that forms the character 正 [rightness, things the right way up, not crooked, justice and fairness.] This photo is used in the English-language China Daily to denote a happy ending to the Wukan story. The official candidates field few votes, while those who were active in the protest, notably imprisoned representative Zhang Jiancheng, who gave tireless interviews to the media, are the most popular.


Looking back in nostalgia. History reasserts itself with a series of photos of Wukan taken during a follow-up visit by a Chinese blogger. Here, the gaze is retrospective, monochrome, denoting a longing for the past and a passage connecting modern China with its ancestors, but also evoking the quiet after months of unrest. 











Wednesday, October 10, 2007



Comment posted to Dolores O'Brien's blog:

I deeply appreciate this blog in its attempt to get to grips with both Giegerich and the interface between Islam and the West. However, I notice some (probably unconscious) Orientalist tendencies in the some of the things you write or quote ("fanatical", "frenzy", "untempered by/beyond the bounds of the rational", "naive", "participation mystique", "primal", Hamas "lacking a clear political goal") and in many of Giegerich's ideas, although I appreciate his attempt to get away from the numinous and to deal with the concrete and the particular. But if you are going to come down from the peaks into the marketplace, you need a little knowledge of the local lingo, I feel, and that would mean an awareness of some contemporary political scholarship on these matters, and of the nuances of the various strands of argument among Muslims. As I have argued previously (although I think perhaps my comment didn't successfully appear on your blog), there is a multiplicity of discourse here about which one really needs to know something before one attempts to 'see through' it. I'm not sure I'm up to this task, but I know enough Muslims in contemporary Britain to know that many holes could be picked in some of your most basic statements (and Giegerich's). This has the unfortunate effect of diminishing what is a very important thinking effort among depth psychologists. Actually, neither Giegerich, nor you, nor me, are qualified to speak about the Muslim's experience, or the Islamic terrorist's experience precisely because the West has been so successful at separating itself from itself and overcoming itself. Western thinking is profoundly colonial (to paraphrase Edward Said), and, I believe, lacks a discourse with which to engage the excluded Other. Can we have (and I am no longer referring just to your blog, or addressing only you) more Islamic voices, or more voices who have at least been schooled in this massive problem, in this debate?

The Saturn/Kronos image reminds me of Hillman's point about Oedipus; that infanticide, psychologically speaking, is the killing of the second sense; the metaphorical and imagistic richness - a triumph, possibly, of tekne over onta. One of the responses to this shift is the revenge wreaked by Dionysus on Thebes. One might add here that it represents the killing of the second sense in public life, or in the world, with, as Giegerich rightly comments, the second sense denied being in linear, historical time, and relegated to the inner life of the individual. The result, of course, is a literalist social discourse and a politics of literalism. Does Giegerich's assertion that Muslims are in a different time suffer from such a splitting off? The colonialist anthropologists were often keen to deny the historicity of colonised peoples, relegating them to primitive and romanticised 'mythic time'. Giegerich, too, has denied the history of modern pagan practice, relegating it to anachronism. It seems that the charge of 'anachronism', used as a means of wiping out other experiences, is laden with the assumptions of a power-hungry God. In my view, linear, historical time is like a natural resource, a valuable perspective among many, which should be available to many peoples, rather than a timestream monopolised by the Yahwist West.

Comment on Dolores O'Brien's blog.
Lily Pad wrote: "Being works-in-progress, liberated women create themselves as they go along, negotiating between duty and vision, forging, out of the old, their new selves."

My comment: Very eloquent; thank you. Is this something like a shift from PowerOver/PowerUnder duality to Power With? Are con-sciousness (withknowing) and re-cognition (rethinking)some of the hallmarks of Power With?

I have always been struck by the analysis in Process Work and World Work of the aspects of rank (privilege). That those lacking monetary privilege have access to a moral/spiritual rank that is denied the mainstream. Is your reference to the abuse of activist women by activist men an attempt by those men to appropriate that spiritual rank? The more dispossessed, the higher the spiritual rank, and the greater the fear generated in the privileged. Psychologically (unfortunately), fear cuts off higher brain functions like cognition, preventing (physiologically) re-cognition and con-sciousness from developing. Ironically, such a vicious circle is often only broken by com-passion (withfeeling) in the underprivileged person, because the fear suppressed in the hearts/minds of the privileged has cut them off from it. This surely ends up exacerbating the divide between them, as the underprivileged become more and more identified with their spiritual rank, and the privileged with their material rank.

The answer seems to lie in the territory of the heart, which somehow manages to tolerate great contradiction...

Friday, February 02, 2007

Thursday, August 17, 2006

I watched Jia Zhangke's "Platform" last night.

The things that had me writhing in nostalgic appreciation were the songs. Teresa Teng's one about coffee (when coffee was just getting trendy in Taipei), Zhang Mingmin's "My Chinese Heart", the disco lights, the piliwu (breakdancing), Genghis Khan. Other Eighties giveaways: the stonewashed jeans, the long hair, the outrageous jumpers, anti Bourgeois-Liberalism, cassette players, the obsession with Guangzhou, and the emergence of a new form of language and of dialogue. Men and women wouldn't have been so physically free with each other only a few years before, and the new-found physical freedom brought a linguistic freedom from the sloganeering of the Cult. Rev. era. Women especially said things they would never have said before. The other scene which will remain forever in my memory, because it happened to me several times, is thinking you're off for a night of fun and passion with your beloved, and ending up getting told off in a police station while you're trying to work out what your other half is telling them in the room next door. We discovered that telling them you're engaged to be married lessened the length and tedium of the bollocking, and made them think twice before sending anyone to labour camp...

It's sad, though, too, a bitter-sweet look at the hopes and aspirations of the "New Generation of the 1980s". If it wasn't a retro thing, they would have caught that train in the valley when the iconic blue-painted kache got stuck. Cui (funny he's a short, gnomish rock-and-roller - how many Cui Jians were there who never made it and wound up sleeping oafishly in an armchair somewhere in Shanxi?) lights a fire - but in the middle of nowhere. There's a lot of waiting around and smoking, something I remember from the eighties but not the nineties. Those tuan (troupes) were also a phenomenon peculiar to a time when the drive for novelty and profit hadn't yet split up the strong communities that had formed through decades of hardship.

Some people have complained that it is long and slow, and that's true, but I suppose you had to be there. I wish we could have more Eighties China retro experiences. Those crowds of people who flock to Qi Qin concerts in Shanghai nowadays; they are probably my contemporaries, my long-lost tongzhimen. I salute them!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

That the world is perhaps no longer charged with the grandeur of God is the aftermath of a religion which appropriated all possible grandeurs as the property of Yahweh. Stolen treasure doesn't disappear when the arch-magician who has been hoarding it is caught and dispensed with. Even the arch-magician himself isn't gone: he simply dissipates into the board-room to take up residence in another form. What this whole debate forgets is that not all cultures are in the same place. The world in all its human and non-human diversity isn't locked in to a single form of discourse -- yet. Giegerich is right; if we do get locked in, it'll be by Microsoft, not God. "Where do you want to go today?" Well, Bill, it doesn't matter because all places have become the same now. But this is an illusion that doesn't have to happen, although it well could. Changes of attention in individuals at crucial moments can tip the balance. Ask most Brits about Bush and the war on Iraq and their sentiments are fairly clearly anti. But they are constantly distracted by their mortgages. I think that this is what G. is getting at; that the big stuff is making us irrelevant. The mistake is to subscribe to the belief that it always had to be that way; that we never had a choice. That's the Yahwistic fallacy. It's also literalist in the extreme. Individual awareness of unfolding process in self and world (no different, I agree) is the key. Knowing how it could have fallen out some other way and realising that one has CHOSEN not to make that happen in one's individual life is a bitter and necessary experience, and that's what I suspect he's getting at. I also suspect him of inflating his own aesthetic preferences (bitterness after all has its own beauty) to the level of a universal truth when he's really addressing a group of mid-life to elderly folk in the Western world about a set of prejudices specific to their chosen profession. To reply to him on the level of universal truth, I suspect, is also to fall into the same trap of identification.

Comment posted to Dolores O'Brien's blog