EAT LIKE AN IDEALIST!1]
Micheal Tencer and Andy Wilson (Ed.)
association of musical marxists reader
Unkant Publishers, London 2015
When I tell any Truth it is not for the sake of Convincing those who do not know it but for the sake of defending those who Do.
In this loud
volume swansong the Association of Musical Marxists puts its no-money where its mouth is, not for the first time. As a physical thing, the anthology is luxurious and awkward: a seductive riot (uprising, downrising, community fireworks display etc.) of Day-glo, a distracting wealth of graphic charms in an outsize paperback whose shape and weight resist distracted or any other sort of effortless reading. The hardest thing about reviewing the book was opening it on a small desk next to a desktop computer. Read it on the bus and your neighbour has to try hard not to read it too (which may well be part of the point). This is mentioned only because it has something to do with the reason a review, as opposed to an annotated track-listing, can be written at all: the anomaly whereby the mutual non-resemblance of 200+ textual and visual components is so untainted by diversity – let alone editorial broad (as in ‘Church’)-mindedness – that something can be said about the whole.2
As will surprise no-one who ever saw things two or more of the contributors made before, the agent binding their un-like materials together is the same one implied in the name of AMM publisher Unkant. Namely, practical disdain for the Mind-Thing dualism figureheaded for 200+ years by Kant of Koenigsberg3.
Yes, we dislike Kant for separating the ‘best’ in us from animals…
…on the one side, those who want to turn Marxism into a new school of refined and
educated opinion, reified ex
pertise and formalist BS; and, on the other side, us.4
By elevating imagination to a separate sphere, cultural idealism actually quarantines it, and prevents it having a productive relationship to scientific and practical endeavour.5
These axioms are not so much reiterated as played out, tested, over nearly 500 pages of entangled prose polemic, verse polemic, flyposters, flyers, musical scores, historical research, postcards, comics, exegesis, memoir, t-shirt design, book cover design, correspondence, conversation, drawing, collage, complete pamphlets, paint spatters and found things. The body of the book is necessarily intrusive because the point is not to state in theory that neither disincarnate thought nor unthinkable flesh is any such thing (which would hardly pass as a fresh piece of Radical Philosophy, although it bears repeating often) but to work out what can be done under those conditions today. Practical strategies against Idealism matter because there’s more at stake than proving philosophical Kantians wrong. As the two excerpts from Robert Dellar’s Splitting in Two make unmistakeable6, an un-Kant standpoint also stands up to scientific superstitions that patrol the real world fully armed. The Idealism confronted here is more than a matter of cloudy, flesh-neglectful contemplation: at least as often it’s actively preoccupied with management of The Body (emphasis on the definite article) in the name of abstract principle, to be applied in turn to social life as unacknowledged whole.
Speculative Realism Positivist Mindfulness will probably soon make its excuses and leave, but its neo-Lombrosian premises are going nowhere. Leading spec. realtor Ray Brassier once railed7 against “marxisant” music-talk that invokes “human subjectivity, the interdependency between indi-vidual and social consciousness” and so on: all so much “early bourgeois modernity”, or indeed “Idealism”. Yet the proposed neurotechnological corrective (“brain fingerprinting, neural lie-detectors” etc., to be “confronted” – if some obsolete subject insists – “only…with neurobiological resources”) reinstates a hardy Neoplatonist theme. Petty social subject- objects are made of the canonical clay, serving as a seam of bio-behavioural data for a spectral Intellect to suck up, digest and reform. Prophecies of this sort tend to ignore the backside of the cycle, in which the findings excreted by the Spheres are composted through layers of professional guidance down to the level of policy, at which point they become the merely historical factors excluded as spam (canned meat sense) from the next intake of life-metrics.
So advanced Idealism depends on The Body as much as it institutionalizes Mind, even if it would prefer not to watch the ordeals undergone every day by bodies. Meanwhile, AMM polemicists may rarely care to mention, say, neuroeconomics by name, but their counter-Kantianism already has its measure. They answer with a libidinous aesthetics, a calculated slap/stick impact which is also history written while below. So much is staked on talk about music because so much is at stake at those thresholds where some body’s audible flailing works directly on another nervous system, decoupling the spiritual silo from its organism, the labour unit from its rational choice. And the stakes can’t be raised without reference to the monstrosities ranged against all such provisional joy. Eg.:
the institutionally empowered knock at the door that even – no, especially when it hasn’t happened yet – turns life into day release or worse for the half of any given city forced to live not quite inside the law.
This product of capital’s fondness for demanding the impossible of its subject-objects is best described by Assassin contributor Sean Bonney elsewhere (http://abandonedbuildings.blogspot.co.uk/, passim) but the same siege-realism seeps through the excerpt from his Happiness here, along with those from Dellar, Michael Tencer, Stefan Jaworzyn, and a roster of contributors unable to afford the luxury of resignation8.
A knock at the door, also known as:
[…] him who is disgust
him being he who sicks between
your stomach lining & skin
& covers his lips in sick,
& makes a sick slick under your skin
whenever you swallow anything 9
[…] one in every seven houses in America is empty … one in every 402 Americans is homeless. […] 7,225,800 adults … under ‘correctional supervision’ … around one in every 31 adults. 10
In other words:
Tears—-not sloppy drips, but rather tears as in cuts, or rents.11
Yet no part of the book is simply a list of Terrible Facts12. So much restlessness runs through it that every mention of monstrosity contains the germ of a rejoinder, more often obvious as manner than as optimistic counter-syllogism. Or rather, there are plenty of syllogisms but most elude the opti-pessimism spectrum altogether. The real affront to luxury defeatism lies in the way the arguments are played out by the rest of the page, which repeatedly beats sheet music13 as two-dimensional specimen of musical time, or of the agitation (all senses) displayed by the agent-patients involved. Sean Bonney’s statement that “‘I is another’ = derangement of the social senses” is true even when lifted from its page and left standing alone, but that truth bursts out on all sides in the ‘Letter’ containing the statement, where supposedly personal stories bristle with anti-solipsistic stricture. Unsurprisingly, what’s true there is even more pervasive in the Letter’s original setting, but surprisingly or not it’s hardly less so when re-read in the anthology, where The Psychedelic Bolsheviks, Daphne Lawless, Verity Spott and others demonstrate the im-propriety of the disowned ‘I’ by fleshing the same insight out in wholly un-like ways. 14
Meanwhile the parts that look like historical essays (because in the best sense they are) do nothing to restore the power-sharing pact between professionally detached (tanked) Thought and a private, pre-intellectual ‘I’. Even the most ‘analytical’ contributors keep a near-obscene amount of skin in the game. Their erudition is partisan, or intellectually coherent for the very reasons it would fail Peer Review. Theses on Helen MacFarlane, ‘The Nature of Conflict’, improvisation, money and Marx share with the graphopoetic mayhem on the facing pages a self-endangering impulse and the insight that personal ‘passion’ (that winning CV item) is not in itself the point.
In equal contrast to the whims of introspection and the interchangeable bullet-points of social science – but in keeping with the method of well15 improvised music – each conjunction of sentence and image, verse or sentence in The Assassin is a matter of necessity: either an utterance must follow the one before it and precede the next one or it’s better left unuttered. Lawless, who invented ‘Chaos Marxism’ from Auckland, New Zealand (Akaranga, Te Ika-a-Maui, since you ask) and whose presence is an extra-high point in a generally vertiginous book, explains why necessity – all senses, indigence included – scrambles the polarities of Mind-Thing, poesis-analysis, profession-dilettantism, etc. Quoting a character in Alan Moore’s Watchmen comic, she writes: We do these things because we are compelled.16
[1.] Actual poster slogan displayed outside a high-end ‘health food’ store in Hackney (London), 2014. Note the prudent use of “like” in place of “as”: management apparently feared the low margins on a fully Idealist diet of Ethics and air.
[2.] Conversely, no single text, pagework or advertisement in the book could be ‘done justice to’ in less than 1,500 words of mixed disputation and applause, and almost any one of them would be ill-served by less atttention than any other. Hence the attempt here to discuss only what’s more or less true of the lot.
[3.] The authors seem neither oblivious to nor swayed by arguments deploring Idealism but disculpating Kant. For debate on this point, see the correspondence between Jacob Bard-Rosenberg and Ben Watson at: http://ammarxists.org/why-unkant-reply-to-jacob-bard-rosenberg/.
[4.] Susan Witt-Stahl (interviewer): Thought Should Not Cause the Heart Grief, interview with Andy Wilson (co-editor) and Ben Watson (prolific contributor), The Assassin, ed. Michael Tencer, Andy Wilson, Unkant, London, 2015, pp. 6-7. Subsequent citations identified by page number only always refer to this book..
[5.] Esther Leslie & Ben Watson, Comic Book Marxism, p. 91.
[6.] Robert Dellar, Splitting in Two: Mad Pride and Punk Rock Oblivion, Unkant, London, 2014. Excerpts in The Assassin: pp. 407-419. On Dellar, Mad Pride and armed science, see also: http://www.metamute.org/editorial/articles/liars-wouldn%E2%80%99t-let-it-lie
[7.] Ray Brassier, Genre is Obsolete, in Noise & Capitalism, ed. Mattin, Anthony Iles, Arteleku, San Sebastián, 2008, p.69. All quotation, paraphrase and inference in this paragraph refers to the passage cited.
[8.] Sean Bonney, Happiness: Poems After Rimbaud, Unkant, London, 2012, from which comes Letter on Poetics, in The Assassin, pp. 321-2; Michael Tencer, Letter From America, pp. 29-32; Public Squirm Rummage Burst Scruple Pap Lingo, p.89; Cartoon Trumpets and Horseshit-Marx Estranged (conversation with T.H.F. Drenching), pp. 117-136; Hostile Takeover, p. 191; Stefan Jaworzyn, I Was A Teenage Coathanger Abortion, pp. 81-87. These references are singled out arbitrarily for reasons of space; the same (i.e. experience of social siege and consequent inability to afford, in any sense, resignation) is also true of every contributor of whom the reviewer knows anything at all.
[9.] Verity Spott, Coupling Anterior, pp. 187-190.
[10.] Tencer, Letter From America (see note [8.] above).
[11.] Esther Leslie, Square Mile Quagmire, pp. 425-6, from Derelicts: Thought Worms Against the Wreckage, Unkant, London, 2014.
[12.] Which is not to say that lists of Terrible Facts cannot be salutary can be when used properly. See: http://www.militant-esthetix.co.uk/stickers/stickersfr.htm
[13.] The ‘scores’ reprinted in the book – by Marie-Angelique Bueler (Sonic Pleasure), Richard Hemmings (Evil Dick), Simon H. Fell, Ana-Maria Avram and Iancu Dumitrescu (pp. 221-229) are Exceptional Facts but not exceptions to the rule implied here: unlike ‘sheet music’ in the sense held over from the centuries before sound recording, they are working components of the reproduction of singular sounds, not purported equivalents of the sounds as such. See also: Guillaume Ollendorff, The Society of the Spectrum, pp. 387-9, and Andy Wilson, Ben Watson, The Music of Iancu Dumitrescu, pp. 391-405, from Andy Wilson (ed.), Cosmic Orgasm: The Music of Iancu Dumitrescu, Unkant, London, 2013.
[14.] Bonney, Letter on Poetics, originally published in Happiness…, republished in The Assassin. See note [8.]. As in note [8.] above and note [15.] below, the names actually mentioned are metonymic: in order eventually to finish the sentence, a few parts must stand for something true of the whole. In this case: Psychedelic Bolsheviks, Manifesto Edit By Mushroom Watcher; Take Your Balls Away; Permanent Avant Garde; Normally Our Politics; Minimum Wage; Korsch 8-Pack, pp. 193-200; Daphne Lawless, Newhaven Journeyman 1&2, pp. 159-161; Verity Spott, Coupling Anterior, see note [9.] above.
[15.] ‘Well’ has nothing to do with virtuosity or purity. OBNOX improvised André Williams into a sad London café earlier this year. Certain skilful pedagogical players improvise TED talks.
[16.] Daphne Lawless (see note [14.] above). See – if you see nothing else this year! – Chaos Marxism: http://chaosmarxism.blogspot.co.uk/.