Judy Garland’s variety show on CBS in 1964 was cancelled after just one season. Here is her performance from the final episode, that producers cut because they judged it to be too dark.
Judy Garland’s variety show on CBS in 1964 was cancelled after just one season. Here is her performance from the final episode, that producers cut because they judged it to be too dark.
More information HERE.
Miriam Makeba talks about racism, white supremacy and liberation during her visit to Finland in 1969.
Way ahead of his time… Tiny Tim on climate change.
Live On Countdown, July 8, 1979, ABC-TV.
Just been thinking it’s really interesting how a lot of the satire I’ve seen about Trumpfest has taken the shape of musical/cabaret… The musical is an OTT form that foregrounds its own fabrication, bombastically, and also the stylised regression to past constructions of nationalist, individualist, whitecishetpatriarchal identity–the American cheesecake nostalgic dream as nightmare for those it doesn’t include. I think it’s a perfect medium for this work.
From the documentary All by Myself: the Eartha Kitt Story.
I cannot overstate how immensely John Berger contributed to awakening a critical understanding of Western cultural aesthetics and ethics in me. I feel deeply indebted. Here’s a wonderful recent interview with the man.
On this, his 90th birthday, I thought it fitting to look back on this BAFTA award-winning TV series from 1972, which rapidly became regarded as one of the most influential art programmes ever made. Ways of Seeing is a four-part BBC series of 30-minute films, created chiefly by writer John Berger and producer Mike Dibb. Berger’s scripts were adapted into a book of the same name.
The series and book critique traditional Western cultural aesthetics by raising questions about hidden ideologies in visual images. The series is partially a response to Kenneth Clark’s Civilisation series, which represents a more traditionalist view of the Western artistic and cultural canon.
In the first programme, Berger examines the impact of photography on our appreciation of art from the past.
The second programme deals with the portrayal of the female nude, an important part of the tradition of European art. Berger examines these paintings and asks whether they celebrate women as they really are or only as men would like them to be.
With the invention of oil paint around 1400, painters were able to portray people and objects with an unprecedented degree of realism, and painting became the ideal way to celebrate private possessions. In this programme, John Berger questions the value we place on that tradition.
In this programme, Berger analyses the images of advertising and publicity and shows how they relate to the tradition of oil painting – in moods, relationships and poses.
More John Berger on Fleurmach:
John Berger on being born a woman
John Berger – “Les Petites Chaises”
My kind friend Anwar gave me a ticket to Abdullah Ibrahim’s solo concert last night at the Fugard Theatre. It was the quietly incandescent performance of an old man who has been so far and seen so much, whose heart remains rooted in this troubled land even as it hurts to be here, even as his fingers know he doesn’t have forever. His playing held such sorrow, yet such peace, and playfulness, too. Refusing easy resolution, defiantly free as ever. We imagined afterwards how incredible it would have been if the whole performance could have been broadcast live on loudspeakers, into every roiling corner of this country, for everyone to hear it simultaneously. A lament. A hymn. A balm. A lesson. Beyond the span of words’ expression.
This promises to be an interesting evening in the company of a living legend…
If you’re a young musician and fancy getting involved this coming Friday, get hold of Terry-Jo Thorne ASAP.
They need (and some positions are already filled):
2 x drummers,
2 x Guitarists with own amps
2 x Pianists
2 x Bassists with own amp
2 x Trumpets
2 x Alto sax
2 x Soprano sax
1 x Flute
3 x male singers
“I’m an insatiable explorer. I’ll find music via any route I can, but vinyl is my favourite medium for its wonderful tactility. I’ve been collecting records since I was about 14. My pocket money didn’t stretch to buying CDs regularly, so I turned to second-hand LPs because I could buy speculatively and get a rush of novelty for R2 or R5 a pop. Every great record holds a slice of adventure – as it spins, thin air is transformed by sound into a tangible place you inhabit. You can take listeners anywhere your imagination and collection will stretch, and I think this can really expand your capacity for empathy.”
Read it in The Lake, and listen below.
Kate Bush – Hounds of Love/The Ninth Wave (EMI, 1985)
Choosing only six records to feature here was an ordeal because the span of what has shaped me is just so wide. I decided to restrict contenders to female artists, who are often under-represented in these kinds of list. I got down to about 20 possibilities but then had to shuffle and pick randomly with my eyes closed. So, for starters, what’s there to say that hasn’t already been said about the brilliance of Kate Bush? This album is a perennial go-to for me on grey, melancholy-drenched days – the second side, beginning with “And Dream of Sheep”, in particular. It’s also something of a litmus test. I’ve realised over the years that if someone new I meet loves this record deeply, it’s almost a given that we’re going to click alchemically.
Nina Simone – Little Girl Blue (Bethlehem, 1958)
This was Nina Simone’s first album, recorded when she was just 25. Despite her youth, her mastery of expression is already consummate here. I often listen to music medicinally, and this is one of those records I turn to when I’m really over the world in general. Nina’s voice and piano carry all the bittersweet weight of living. “All you can ever count on are the raindrops…” The notes spill out exquisitely, painting cathedrals where my spirit can shelter, smoky bars where my soul can dance. Any morning I’m struggling to pull myself together, if I drop the needle on “Good Bait”, by the time it’s resolutely swinging, two minutes in, the kettle will be on the boil and I’ll be thinking of what to wear.
Sathima Bea Benjamin – Windsong (Ekapa, 1985)
Windsong was recorded in New York in June 1985 and released on Ekapa RPM, the label launched by Sathima in 1979 to publish her own music and that of her then-husband Abdullah Ibrahim. A meditation on exile, displacement and yearning, the album opens with a haunting rendition of “Sometimes I Feel like a Motherless Child”, alongside Sathima’s own compositions. Windsong is dedicated to “the resilient, remarkable, and courageous mothers and daughters of the struggle for peace and liberation in my homeland, South Africa, to the heroines both sung and unsung”. My copy is extra precious to me because Sathima signed it for me just a couple of weeks before she passed away in 2013.
Forces Favourites – Eleven Songs by South Africans Supporting the End Conscription Campaign (Shifty Records/Rounder Records, 1986)
This compilation was released by legendary South African label Shifty Records in support of the movement for conscientious objectors against compulsory military service in the apartheid army. Jennifer Ferguson’s chillingly honest exploration of white privilege and paranoia, “Suburban Hum”, still feels relevant right now. It’s a highlight on this record for me, along with “Shot Down” by James Phillips’s Cherry-Faced Lurchers and the Kalahari Surfers’ “Don’t Dance”. I’ve owned the South African release for a long time, but last year, while living in a small university town in Sweden for a semester, I also picked up a US pressing with a different cover. While there, I was also privileged to meet Jennifer herself. She happens to live in the very same town, and is doing inspiring creative work with refugees.
Julia Holter – Ekstasis (Rvng Intl., 2012)
Los Angeles-based composer Julia Holter makes music which is conceptually dense, yet spacious and eminently listenable – hummable even. I saw her give a phenomenal performance last year in Stockholm. I already had three of her albums on mp3, including Ekstasis, so that night I grabbed this, which the merch guy told me was one of the last copies of the out-of-print 12” 45rpm double vinyl release. By drawing on archetypes from Greek tragedy, this album simultaneously abstracts personal narrative and renders the emotional content conveyed universal. It’s a clever conceit, but one you don’t need to be aware of in order to appreciate the music. An obvious comparison to draw would be with the work of Laurie Anderson (whose ground-breaking 1982 debut, Big Science, was also on my shortlist for this article).
The Raincoats – Odyshape (Rough Trade, 1981)
I read somewhere that following the release of their eponymous first album in 1979, the Raincoats were one of the first bands to be called “post-punk”. John Lydon said they were the best band in the world. Kurt Cobain wrote the liner notes for their first album’s 1993 re-release. None of this hype really prepares one for the shambolic assemblage of punk, folk and lo-fi that is the Raincoats’ second album, Odyshape, though. A wildly experimental departure into unmapped territory, the melodies float loosely over an assortment of unusually textured percussive instruments, including kalimba and balafon. This record still sounds extraordinary 35 years on: intimate and vulnerable, uncompromisingly feminine. I can definitely hear its influence on later artists such as Micachu and the Shapes, and Tune-Yards.
This profile was published HERE.
Her new album is out today!
From the Pitchfork review:
“From the bracing incantations of 2012’s Half Way Home to Olsen’s folk-rock opus, 2014’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness, her name is now synonymous with a voice. Each note tells a story. Hers are tales of absolute yearning and resilience. They honor the romance of being alone in your head. Olsen has perfected the idea that it is still possible—if language is precise enough, if the truth of your music is as elemental as color or blood—to write oneself out of time. Her lyrics have the conviction of someone like Fiona Apple: a profoundly individual presence that centers, above all, on self-reliance, on searing autonomy, on the act of becoming.”
The Awakening Woman is consciously aware of herself and strives to be intimate with all facets of her being. She is her own person as well as relational. She nurtures and honors the relationship with herself as well as with others. She is actively awakening and supports the awakening of those around her. Her devotion to herself allows her devotion to others to be genuine and nourishing. She is sincere, authentic, vulnerable and strong. She is protective, and accepts and values protection from others when appropriate. She establishes healthy boundaries while keeping an open heart.
The Awakening Woman is intimate with her painbody and the feminine wound. She does not deny her pain, but turns towards it for healing. She knows that the dysfunctional views and oppression of females/femaleness is nothing she caused, but acknowledges the ways in which she has participated or was complacent in the unjust treatment of…
View original post 1,125 more words
The Institute for Creative Arts is proud to present internationally renowned theorist, Professor Gayatri Spivak.
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is one of the most significant and influential literary theorists of our time.
Having first come to prominence with her translation of Derrida’s Of Grammatology in 1976, Spivak has since applied deconstructive readings to theoretical engagements and textual analyses including feminism, Marxism, literary criticism and postcolonialism – capturing complex theories that transgress disciplinary boundaries.
The Institute for Creative Arts (ICA, formerly GIPCA) in collaboration with UCT’s Black Academic Caucus (BAC) is honoured to present this esteemed academic and philosopher as part of the ICA’s Great Texts/Big Questions lecture series.
Of her address, entitled “Still hoping for a revolution”, Spivak writes:
Now that the first wave of “revolution” against decrepit empires, leading to state capitalism and vanguardism, is showing its deep fault lines, I reopen the question of Marx’s real project and focus on holistic education into citizenship – as the conjuncture has moved from the central agency of the industrial proletariat – as a robust substitute for both vanguardism and techniques of pre-party formation.
This is particularly interesting for me because I have myself learned from many mistakes made since 1992, when I presented the T.B. Davie Memorial Lecture in Cape Town on “Thinking Academic Freedom in Gendered Post-Coloniality.” The general response, as I heard it reported, was “we already do this.” Yet, in 2002, Joan Vincent included the piece in her The Anthropology of Politics: A Reader in Ethnography, Theory, and Critique, commenting that I had been “prescient.” I therefore hope that my audience, which will be different, will also have learned from past “mistakes.”
Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is currently professor of Comparative Literature at Columbia University where she founded the Institute for Comparative Literature and Society. Her critical writings include Of Grammatology (1976), In Other Worlds: Essays in Cultural Politics (1987), The Post-Colonial Critic (1990), Thinking Academic Freedom in Gendered Post-Coloniality (1992), Outside in the Teaching Machine (1993), A Critique of Postcolonial Reason (1999), Death of a Discipline (2003), and Other Asias (2005).
The lecture, followed by an open question and answer session, will take place from 17:30 – 19:00 on Friday 22 July 2016 at Jameson Hall, University Avenue, University of Cape Town Upper Campus.
Refreshments will be served from 17:00.
No booking is necessary and all are welcome.
For more information, contact the ICA office: +27 21 650 7156 or email@example.com
Akira Rabelais, one of my best Myspace discoveries – remember that strange place? I love this video, too, which was not available back then – one simply couldn’t stream hour-long films online. Get the album Eisoptrophobia (which is a term for the fear of one’s own image in reflection) HERE.
Quite apart from the barbarities and blood baths perpetrated by the Christian nations among themselves throughout European history, the European has also to answer for all the crimes he has committed against the dark-skinned peoples during the process of colonization.
In this respect the white man carries a very heavy burden indeed.
It shows us a picture of the common human shadow that could hardly be painted in blacker colors.
The evil that comes to light in man and that undoubtedly dwells within him is of gigantic proportions, so that for the Church to talk of original sin and to trace it back to Adam’s relatively innocent slip-up with Eve is almost a euphemism.
The case is far graver and is grossly underestimated.
Since it is universally believed that man is merely what his consciousness knows of itself, he regards himself as harmless and so adds stupidity to iniquity. He does not deny that terrible things have happened and still go on happening, but it is always “the others” who do them.
And when such deeds belong to the recent or remote past, they quickly and conveniently sink into the sea of forgetfulness, and that state of chronic woolly-mindedness returns which we describe as “normality.”
In shocking contrast to this is the fact that nothing has finally disappeared and nothing has been made good.
The evil, the guilt, the profound unease of conscience, the obscure misgiving are there before our eyes, if only we would see. Man has done these things; I am a man, who has his share of human nature; therefore I am guilty with the rest and bear unaltered and indelibly within me the capacity and the inclination to do them again at any time.
Even if, juristically speaking, we were not accessories to the crime, we are always, thanks to our human nature, potential criminals.
In reality we merely lacked a suitable opportunity to be drawn into the infernal melée. None of us stands outside humanity’s black collective shadow.
Whether the crime lies many generations back or happens today, it remains the symptom of a disposition that is always and everywhere present – and one would therefore do well to possess some “imagination in evil”, for only the fool can permanently neglect the conditions of his own nature.
In fact, this negligence is the best means of making him an instrument of evil.
Harmlessness and naïveté are as little helpful as it would be for a cholera patient and those in his vicinity to remain unconscious of the contagiousness of the disease.
On the contrary, they lead to projection of the unrecognized evil into the “other.”
This strengthens the opponent’s position in the most effective way, because the projection carries the fear which we involuntarily and secretly feel for our own evil over to the other side and considerably increases the formidableness of his threat.
What is even worse, our lack of insight deprives us of the capacity to deal with evil.
Here, of course, we come up against one of the main prejudices of the Christian tradition, and one that is a great stumbling block to our policies.
We should, so we are told, eschew evil and, if possible, neither touch nor mention it. For evil is also the thing of ill omen, that which is tabooed and feared.
This attitude towards evil, and the apparent circumventing of it, flatter the primitive tendency in us to shut our eyes to evil and drive it over some frontier or other, like the Old Testament scapegoat, which was supposed to carry the evil into the wilderness.
But if one can no longer avoid the realization that evil, without man’s ever having chosen it, is lodged in human nature itself, then it bestrides the psychological stage as the equal and opposite partner of good.
This realization leads straight to a psychological dualism, already unconsciously prefigured in the political world schism and in the even more unconscious dissociation in modern man himself. The dualism does not come from this realization; rather, we are in a split condition to begin with.
It would be an insufferable thought that we had to take personal responsibility for so much guiltiness. We therefore prefer to localize the evil with individual criminals or groups of criminals, while washing our hands in innocence and ignoring the general proclivity to evil.
This sanctimoniousness cannot be kept up, in the long run, because the evil, as experience shows, lies in man – unless, in accordance with the Christian view, one is willing to postulate a metaphysical principle of evil.
The great advantage of this view is that it exonerates man’s conscience of too heavy a responsibility and fobs it off on the devil, in correct psychological appreciation of the fact that man is much more the victim of his psychic constitution than its inventor.
Considering that the evil of our day puts everything that has ever agonized mankind in the deepest shade, one must ask oneself how it is that, for all our progress in the administration of justice, in medicine and in technology, for all our concern for life and health, monstrous engines of destruction have been invented which could easily exterminate the human race.
No one will maintain that the atomic physicists are a pack of criminals because it is to their efforts that we owe that peculiar flower of human ingenuity, the hydrogen bomb.
The vast amount of intellectual work that went into the development of nuclear physics was put forth by men who devoted themselves to their task with the greatest exertions and self-sacrifice and whose moral achievement could just as easily have earned them the merit of inventing something useful and beneficial to humanity.
But even though the first step along the road to a momentous invention may be the outcome of a conscious decision, here, as everywhere, the spontaneous idea – the hunch or intuition – plays an important part.
In other words, the unconscious collaborates too and often makes decisive contributions.
So it is not the conscious effort alone that is responsible for the result; somewhere or other the unconscious, with its barely discernible goals and intentions, has its finger in the pie.
If it puts a weapon in your hand, it is aiming at some kind of violence.
Knowledge of the truth is the foremost goal of science, and if in pursuit of the longing for light we stumble upon an immense danger, then one has the impression more of fatality than of premeditation.
It is not that present-day man is capable of greater evil than the man of antiquity or the primitive. He merely has incomparably more effective means with which to realize his proclivity to evil.
As his consciousness has broadened and differentiated, so his moral nature has lagged behind. That is the great problem before us today. Reason alone does not suffice.
— From The Undiscovered Self (1957).
He is vile. She handles him with brilliant wit and poise.
Interview with Grimes from 2012.
‘She’s only 24, but already releasing her third album Visions: Claire Boucher a.k.a. Grimes. With a sense of irony, the Canadian musician admits that she’s ‘pretty good at faking’. She says she doesn’t know that much about music at all. “I just push the things I’m naturally good at really hard, but if I would play as a back-up musician in someone else’s band, I would totally fuck it up for everybody.”‘
I wake up and it’s still true.
I picked this book up recently. I’ve always found Simone Weil fascinating, and her writing here has been speaking to me profoundly at this juncture, so I’m going to be posting it in installments over the next while.
I was listening to David Bowie’s brand new album last night, thinking about how much I still love him. I can’t even begin to engage with how important Bowie and his work have been to me since I was a very young teenager. It’s washing over me in waves.
He felt like my guardian angel at times, transcending the vulgarity of the mundane, making alienation tangible and difference something to celebrate wildly… How strange to think of him as mortal.
Sayonara, Starman. What a gut-wrenchingly perfect exit.
“And finally I saw it: the connection between love and death, and that the purpose of death is the release of love.”
Here is a review, and here is the trailer for Laurie Anderson’s new film, Heart of a Dog, which premiered in September. I really hope I get to see it somewhere on a big screen.
And Robert Christgau had this to say about the soundtrack:
The soundtrack to a film I missed is also Anderson’a simplest and finest album, accruing power and complexity as you relisten and relisten again: 75 minutes of sparsely but gorgeously and aptly orchestrated tales about a) her beloved rat terrier Lolabelle and b) the experience of death. There are few detours—even her old fascination with the surveillance state packs conceptual weight. Often she’s wry, but never is she satiric; occasionally she varies spoken word with singsong, but never is her voice distorted. She’s just telling us stories about life and death and what comes in the middle when you do them right, which is love.
There’s a lot of Buddhism, a lot of mom, a whole lot of Lolabelle, and no Lou Reed at all beyond a few casual “we”s. Only he’s there in all this love and death talk—you can feel him. And then suddenly the finale is all Lou, singing a rough, wise, abstruse song about the meaning of love that first appeared on his last great album, Ecstasy—a song that was dubious there yet is perfect here. One side of the CD insert is portraits of Lolabelle. But on the other side there’s a note: “dedicated to the magnificent spirit/of my husband, Lou Reed/1942-2013.” I know I should see the movie. But I bet it’d be an anticlimax. A PLUS
EDIT 6/11/15. And here’s a beautiful interview with Anderson about the film:
Hélène Cixous’ essay “Castration or Decapitation?” discusses the binary construction of sexuality and society, and how the feminine is defined by the negative: a woman is not a man because she lacks a penis. This “lack” keeps the female subject to definition by the male, as it is seen that because she is the “negative” pole to the man’s “positive”, the woman is concomitantly un-informed, and that therefore it is the position of the man to inform the woman. This imposed silence is what decapitates the feminine metaphorically, precluding her from speaking anything of meaning.
The following is an excerpt from this brilliant essay, translated by Annette Kuhn and published in Signs, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Autumn, 1981), pp. 41-55 (University of Chicago Press) – read the full essay HERE.
* * * * *
… It’s hard to imagine a more perfect example of a particular relationship between two economies: a masculine economy and a feminine economy, in which the masculine is governed by a rule that keeps time with two beats, three beats, four beats, with pipe and drum, exactly as it should be. An order that works by inculcation, by education. It’s always a question of education: an education that consists of trying to make a soldier of the feminine by force, the force history keeps reserved for woman, the “capital” force that is effectively decapitation. Women have no choice other than to be decapitated. The moral is that if they don’t actually lose their heads by the sword, they only keep them on condition that they lose them – lose them, that is, to complete silence, turned into automatons.
It’s a question of submitting feminine disorder, its laughter, its inability to take the drumbeats seriously, to the threat of decapitation. If man operates under the threat of castration, if masculinity is culturally ordered by the castration complex, it might be said that the backlash, the return, on women of this castration anxiety is its displacement as decapitation, execution, of woman, as loss of her head.
We are led to pose the woman question to history in quite elementary forms like, “Where is she? Is there any such thing as woman?” At worst, many women wonder whether they even exist. They feel they don’t exist and wonder if there has ever been a place for them. I am speaking of woman’s place,from woman’s place, if she takes (a) place.
In La Jeune Née I made use of a story that seemed to me particularly expressive of woman’s place: the story of Sleeping Beauty. Woman, if you look for her, has a strong chance of always being found in one position: in bed. In bed and asleep-“laid (out).” She is always to be found on or in a bed: Sleeping Beauty is lifted from her bed by a man because, as we all know, women don’t wake up by themselves: man has to intervene, you understand. She is lifted up by the man who will lay her in her next bed so that she may be confined to bed ever after, just as the fairy tales say.
And so her trajectory is from bed to bed: one bed to another, where she can dream all the more. There are some extraordinary analyses by Kierkegaard on women’s “existence”- or that part of it set aside for her by culture-in which he says he sees her as sleeper. She sleeps, he says, and first love dreams her and then she dreams of love. From dream to dream, and always in second position. In some stories, though, she can be found standing up, but not for long.
Take Little Red Riding Hood as an example: it will not, I imagine, be lost on you that the “red riding hood” in question is a little clitoris. Little Red Riding Hood basically gets up to some mischief: she’s the little female sex that tries to play a bit and sets out with her little pot of butter and her little jar of honey. What is interesting is that it’s her mother who gives them to her and sends her on an excursion that’s tempting precisely because it’s forbidden: Little Red Riding Hood leaves one house, mommy’s house, not to go out into the big wide world but to go from one house to another by the shortest route possible: to make haste, in other words, from the mother to the other.
The other in this case is grandmother, whom we might imagine as taking the place of the “Great Mother,” because there are great men but no great women: there are Grand-Mothers instead. And grandmothers are always wicked: she is the bad mother who always shuts the daughter in whenever the daughter might by chance want to live or take pleasure. So she’ll always be carrying her little pot of butter and her little jar of honey to grandmother, who is there as jealousy … the jealousy of the woman who can’t let her daughter go.
But in spite of all this Little Red Riding Hood makes her little detour, does what women should never do, travels through her own forest. She allows herself the forbidden … and pays dearly for it: she goes back to bed, in grandmother’s stomach. The Wolf is grandmother, and all women recognize the Big Bad Wolf! We know that always lying in wait for us somewhere in some big bed is a Big Bad Wolf.
The Big Bad Wolf represents, with his big teeth, his big eyes, and his grandmother’s looks, that great Superego that threatens all the little female red riding hoods who try to go out and explore their forest without the psychoanalyst’s permission. So, between two houses, between two beds, she is laid, ever caught in her chain of metaphors, metaphors that organize culture . . . ever her moon to the masculine sun, nature to culture, concavity to masculine convexity, matter to form, immobility/inertia to the march of progress, terrain trod by the masculine footstep, vessel… While man is obviously the active, the upright, the productive… and besides, that’s how it happens in History.
This opposition to woman cuts endlessly across all the oppositions that order culture. It’s the classic opposition, dualist and hierarchical. Man/Woman automatically means great/small, superior/inferior… means high or low, means Nature/History, means transformation/inertia. In fact, every theory of culture, every theory of society, the whole conglomeration of symbolic systems-everything, that is, that’s spoken, everything that’s organized as discourse, art, religion, the family, language, everything that seizes us, everything that acts on us – it is all ordered around hierarchical oppositions that come back to the man/ woman opposition, an opposition that can only be sustained by means of a difference posed by cultural discourse as “natural,” the difference between activity and passivity. It always works this way, and the opposition is founded in the couple [binary]. A couple posed in opposition, in tension, in conflict… a couple engaged in a kind of war in which death is always at work – and I keep emphasizing the importance of the opposition as couple, because all this isn’t just about one word; rather everything turns on the Word: everything is the Word and only the Word. To be aware of the couple, that it’s the couple that makes it all work, is also to point to the fact that it’s on the couple that we have to work if we are to deconstruct and transform culture. The couple as terrain, as space of cultural struggle, but also as terrain, as space demanding, insisting on, a complete transformation in the relation of one to the other. And so work still has to be done on the couple … on the question, for example, of what a completely different couple relationship would be like, what a love that was more than merely a cover for, a veil of, war would be like.
I said it turns on the Word: we must take culture at its word, as it takes us into its Word, into its tongue. You’ll understand why I think that no political reflection can dispense with reflection on language, with work on language. For as soon as we exist, we are born into language and language speaks (to) us, dictates its law, a law of death: it lays down its familial model, lays down its conjugal model, and even at the moment of uttering a sentence, admitting a notion of “being,” a question of being, an ontology, we are already seized by a certain kind of masculine desire, the desire that mobilizes philosophical discourse. As soon as the question “What is it?” is posed, from the moment a question is put, as soon as a reply is sought, we are already caught up in masculine interrogation. I say “masculine interrogation”: as we say so-and-so was interrogated by the police. And this interrogation precisely involves the work of signification: “What is it? Where is it?” A work of meaning, “This means that,” the predicative distribution that always at the same time orders the constitution of meaning. And while meaning is being constituted, it only gets constituted in a movement in which one of the terms of the couple is destroyed in favor of the other.
“Look for the lady,” as they say in the stories… “Cherchez la femme”– we always know that means: you’ll find her in bed. Another question that’s posed in History, rather a strange question, a typical male question, is: “What do women want?” The Freudian question, of course. In his work on desire, Freud asks somewhere, or rather doesn’t ask, leaves hanging in the air, the question “What do women want?” Let’s talk a bit about this desire and about why/how the question “What do women want?” gets put, how it’s both posed and left hanging in the air by philosophical discourse, by analytic discourse (analytic discourse being only one province of philosophical discourse), and how it is posed, let us say, by the Big Bad Wolf and the Grand-Mother.
“What does she want?” Little Red Riding Hood knew quite well what she wanted, but Freud’s question is not what it seems: it’s a rhetorical question. To pose the question “What do women want?” is to pose it already as answer, as from a man who isn’t expecting any answer, because the answer is “She wants nothing.” … “What does she want? … Nothing!” Nothing because she is passive. The only thing man can do is offer the question “What could she want, she who wants nothing?” Or in other words: “Without me, what could she want?”
Old Lacan takes up the slogan “What does she want?” when he says, “A woman cannot speak of her pleasure.” Most interesting! It’s all there, a woman cannot, is unable, hasn’t the power. Not to mention “speaking”: it’s exactly this that she’s forever deprived of. Unable to speak of pleasure = no pleasure, no desire: power, desire, speaking, pleasure, none of these is for woman. And as a quick reminder of how this works in theoretical discourse, one question: you are aware, of course, that for Freud/Lacan, woman is said to be “outside the Symbolic”: outside the Symbolic, that is outside language, the place of the Law, excluded from any possible relationship with culture and the cultural order. And she is outside the Symbolic because she lacks any relation to the phallus, because she does not enjoy what orders masculinity – the castration complex.
Woman does not have the advantage of the castration complex – it’s reserved solely for the little boy. The phallus, in Lacanian parlance also called the “transcendental signifier,” transcendental precisely as primary organizer of the structure of subjectivity, is what, for psychoanalysis, inscribes its effects, its effects of castration and resistance to castration and hence the very organization of language, as unconscious relations, and so it is the phallus that is said to constitute the a priori condition of all symbolic functioning. This has important implications as far as the body is concerned: the body is not sexed, does not recognize itself as, say, female or male without having gone through the castration complex.
What psychoanalysis points to as defining woman is that she lacks lack. She lacks lack? Curious to put it in so contradictory, so extremely paradoxical, a manner: she lacks lack. To say she lacks lack is also, after all, to say she doesn’t miss lack … since she doesn’t miss the lack of lack. Yes, they say, but the point is “she lacks The Lack,” The Lack, lack of the Phallus. And so, supposedly, she misses the great lack, so that without man she would be indefinite, indefinable, nonsexed, unable to recognize herself: outside the Symbolic. But fortunately there is man: he who comes … Prince Charming. And it’s man who teaches woman (because man is always the Master as well), who teaches her to be aware of lack, to be aware of absence, aware of death. It’s man who will finally order woman, “set her to rights,” by teaching her that without man she could “misrecognize.” He will teach her the Law of the Father. Something of the order of: “Without me, without me-the Absolute-Father (the father is always that much more absolute the more he is improbable, dubious)-without me you wouldn’t exist, I’ll show you.” Without him she’d remain in a state of distressing and distressed undifferentiation, unbordered, unorganized, “unpoliced” by the phallus… incoherent, chaotic, and embedded in the Imaginary in her ignorance of the Law of the Signifier. Without him she would in all probability not be contained by the threat of death, might even, perhaps, believe herself eternal, immortal. Without him she would be deprived of sexuality. And it might be said that man works very actively to produce “his woman.” Take for example Marguerite Duras’ Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein, and you will witness the moment when man can finally say “his” woman, “my” woman. It is that moment when he has taught her to be aware of Death. So man makes, he makes (up) his woman, not without being himself seized up and drawn into the dialectical movement that this sort of thing sets in play. We might say that the Absolute Woman, in culture, the woman who really represents femininity most effectively… who is closest to femininity as prey to masculinity, is actually the hysteric…. he makes her image for her!
The hysteric is a divine spirit that is always at the edge, the turning point, of making. She is one who does not make herself… she does not make herself but she does make the other. It is said that the hysteric “makes-believe” the father, plays the father, “makes-believe” the master. Plays, makes up, makes-believe: she makes-believe she is a woman, unmakes-believe too … plays at desire, plays the father… turns herself into him, unmakes him at the same time. Anyway, without the hysteric, there’s no father… without the hysteric, no master, no analyst, no analysis! She’s the unorganizable feminine construct, whose power of producing the other is a power that never returns to her. She is really a wellspring nourishing the other for eternity, yet not drawing back from the other … not recognizing herself in the images the other may or may not give her. She is given images that don’t belong to her, and she forces herself, as we’ve all done, to resemble them.
And so in the face of this person who lacks lack, who does not miss lack of lack, we have the construct that is infinitely easier to analyze, to put in place-manhood, flaunting its metaphors like banners through history. You know those metaphors: they are most effective. It’s always clearly a question of war, of battle. If there is no battle, it’s replaced by the stake of battle: strategy. Man is strategy, is reckoning . . . “how to win” with the least possible loss, at the lowest possible cost. Throughout literature masculine figures all say the same thing: “I’m reckoning” what to do to win. Take Don Juan and you have the whole masculine economy getting together to “give women just what it takes to keep them in bed” then swiftly taking back the investment, then reinvesting, etc., so that nothing ever gets given, everything gets taken back, while in the process the greatest possible dividend of pleasure is taken. Consumption without payment, of course.
For me, the most surprising part of the Rachel Dolezal debacle is how many people, both black and white, see faking black identity as selflessly forsaking one’s privilege.
On the contrary, in places of privilege that are inaccessible to most black people, particularly in contemporary humanities departments steeped in postcolonial critique, blackness has credibility that whites crave. Being able to claim that one has “been there” and experienced marginality trumps white voices who can only speak from second hand information. I’ve met American students at UCT who are as white as I am (and decidedly more privileged), but use the one drop of black or hispanic blood in their veins to reap the special bursaries, grants, opportunities and legitimacy reserved for black voices in humanities departments desperate to prove they are transforming.
Likewise, in South Africa, I can’t even count the number of white friends who lay claim to being African, to move themselves out of the uncomfortable status of hated, oppressive “settler” always on the wrong side of history. That’s not even counting those who confer on themselves “ancient African knowledge” as sangomas, or emphasise that they see themselves not as “white” but as “human” and they don’t “see colour.”
While being black is a cause of suffering for black people, cherrypicked “blackness” is a decided advantage for whites. We’d love nothing more than to deny the past ever happened, and claim that the system isn’t rigged to our advantage but that we deserve this. And we ogle at the rewards we could gain if we could lay our mitts on the credibility, cachet and funding our whiteness disqualifies us from. We’ve all dreamed of being able to have our cake and eat it, like Rachel Dolezal did. That she caved in to this temptation doesn’t make her a hero of non-racism.
Including wonderful commentary from Tricky, Peter Gabriel, David Gilmour, John Lydon, Tori Amos, Natasha Khan, St Vincent, Neil Gaiman, Brett Anderson, and some fascinating archive.