We have recently passed into the Lunar New Year, an event which is marked and celebrated very widely in Asian cultures, and not least in Hong Kong, where I’ve been living and working for the past 6 months or so. Western festivals such as Christmas, the calender new year, and Easter are all sanctioned by ...continue reading "A TAKE ON CHINESE NEW YEAR"
Hasbro’s childrens’s game ‘Bop-It’ has been a familiar feature of family Christmases since the first version of the toy was released in 1996. Today, the Bop-It series includes a game for the Nintendo Wii and a new iPhone app. The jist of Bop-It is that you follow a list of commands that the device makes ...continue reading "BOP-IT, CHARLES BAUDELAIRE, THE UNCONSCIOUS"
In classical psychoanalysis a symptom is roughly a sign of something that ails us, which speaks through us by ‘hooking onto language.’ ‘It’, our unconscious, speaks when we are on the analyst’s couch – and in everyday life – through the now familiar means of slips of the tongue and pen, and in our dreams, jokes and bungled actions. But Lacan, in his late work, introduces something slightly different, which is yet connected to the symptom: the sinthome. This unfamiliar concept, which is beginning to get some airtime (it’s got an entry in Wikipedia now), has many meanings, and means of meaning, but to try to draw some together in a definition we can say that it is the unanalysable, interminable and irreducible symptom which ties our unconscious together; that inner something without which our mental apparatuses could oscillate out of control. It is not a purely essentialist idea, however, as whereas we all have sinthomes, they are not the same simple thing in all of us, but are little singular meaningless and repetitive bits that link to our ownmost primitive enjoyment; that of life itself. Žižek labels them an ‘elementary matrix of memes’ in Organs Without Bodies (p.128). Structuring us, it is our sinthomes that we must ‘come to assume’.
So, where can we find examples of them today? In music, among other places, we can argue. Lyricists may have always found an outlet for their ailments through the form of versifying in song, cataloguing their symptoms therein, but in genres like dubstep and future bass we may now be able to discern the emergence of the sinthome too. Pearson Sound’s masterpiece ‘Blanked’, for instance, will give us a first indication. The idea of the blank itself is a good way in: if there is a matrixial measure (a blank) to be filled in the quantised structure of a track, into it may be inserted a sound source that extends that measure, and therefore gets cut down to fill this blank. The cut-up repetitive bits of singing amongst the soundscape of ‘Blanked’, then, are instances of this type of sinthome; the words are no longer there, or are not whole, but their effect, their enjoyment, still is. In Burial too, in his dark tinges of mood made by manipulated fragments (those fragments so dear to Baroque creation Benjamin would remind us) – the transposition of voice into tone, of lyrics into audible glitches and memes – we see a similarly advanced means of composition from the matrix of sinthomic blanks. Thus, in this sinthomic aurality, we meet the unanalysable, interminable and irreducible soul jazz of our futures head on.
A few days ago Slate published an article calling for the end of perfunctory email sign-offs such as ‘regards’, ‘best wishes’ and ‘yours sincerely.’ For the writer Matthew J. X. Malady these gestures are ‘are holdovers from a bygone era of letter writing’ and waste time by causing email writers to agonize over the appropriate sign-off for the email they are sending.
The Daily Mail have, on the surface, and strangely for them, offered a review of the ‘debate’ without taking sides, simply offering the views for and against politeness. But close-reading nonetheless reveals the ideology behind their article. The writer has played up the ‘fuss’ that the Slate article caused. In keeping with their reactionary conservation of old models of politeness The Mail go as far as to begin with: ‘A New York writer has sparked a debate about the manners of email after calling for an end to the written sign-off’; by framing it as a debate the gesture is; don’t worry, there are still plenty out there in avid support of the hierarchical structure of politeness.
But is it really hierarchy, and deference to your seniors and elders, that The Mail wants to protect, or is there something else to the importance of politeness?
Theorist Robert Pfaller comments that ‘narcissistic societies’ maintain a public sphere because they perceive any played role in it as an ‘alienation’ from the true self. The statement is relevant here; the email sign-off, or the polite behaviour that The Mail wants to defend, allows the individual to believe that beneath this performance of politeness they have a ‘true self’ who could potentially act unconstrained by social rules and conventions.
Thus, the gesture that The Mail is making is not one of preserving an oppressive culture which does not allow you to ‘be yourself’ but rather, it recognizes that one needs the exterior public politeness in order to trick oneself into the comforting feeling of having a ‘real’ and ‘true’ self beneath that performance. The real beauty of politeness on the other hand, is that it is impossible to ‘pretend’ to be polite. If you perform polite, you are polite. In truth, there is no you behind your politeness.
Richard Prince’s The Catcher in the Rye is a facsimile of the first edition of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, except it has Prince’s name in place of Salinger’s, and is thus a work of ‘appropriation art’ billed as a ‘sculpture book’. The appropriateness of such appropriation is uncontested if the bill ...continue reading "THE ASSASSINATION OF J. D. SALINGER BY THE COWARD RICHARD PRINCE"
‘Change Your Life’ is the latest single by the girl-band Little Mix, winners of the 2011 series of The X-Factor. It is a song that tells us an awful lot about ourselves. ‘Change, change your life, take it all’ the chorus commands, reminding us what we already know: our current life is insufficient, it lacks something. The song is an inspirational one however, as the swelling chords indicate, and it does not want to suggest that there is a problem with our identity – with who we really are. Our life may be lacking but we are not: this is the song’s message. For this reason, the command to ‘take it all’ is followed by the line ‘you’re gonna use it to become what you’ve always known’. ‘Taking it all’ is not consumption for its own sake: it is a means – perhaps our only means – of self-realisation. ‘Taking it all’ enables us to bring about change, and change is required, paradoxically, to become what we’ve always known.
This takes us to the kernel of the song: identity. Identity in this song is not what you are, but what you want to become. At the same time, it is determined by ‘what you’ve always known’. ‘What you’ve always known’ must be distinguished from what you learned when you were very young – it is more radical than that. It is the category of whatever goes unquestioned, whatever does not even enter into thought. We must also recognise that, if becoming it requires you to change your life, then ‘what you’ve always known’ is that which you are not. It is a knowledge which is not yours. A gap opens here, which is precisely the gap in which identity is constituted. Marxist theories of ideology call this gap alienation. For Lacan, it is the gap that emerges in the mirror stage when the child identifies with an image of herself. The problem is that any image with which we are forced to identify is always insufficient, as the first line of the song reminds us: ‘She captures her reflection then she throws the mirror to the floor’.
Yet this song is also a story about Little Mix. They are the ones who have changed their life, winning a talent contest and achieving success in the charts. They are telling us, in this song, that they have become what they’ve always known. It is a celebration of self achievement. The song turns against itself, however, with the recognition that ‘what you’ve always known’ is not identity but rather the ideology or Symbolic order that precedes identity. What Little Mix are saying is that they have become embodiments of the system which tells us that our lives are incomplete (and in the telling makes them so). Instead of returning to a true, original identity, Little Mix have become images which show us that identity is separated from life. The song says this: if you’ve always known that your life needs changing, then follow Little Mix’s example and become the means by which this knowledge is perpetuated and disseminated. The success of ‘Change Your Life’ is that it turns this position of absolute alienation into one of affirmation.
Theodor W. Adorno uses the word ‘culinary’ to designate something of an unanalytic and self-satisfied attitude, so cookery advice might be the last thing you’d expect of us, but…
There are three Lacanian orders: the Imaginary, the Symbolic and the Real. If the Imaginary registers the split in subjectivity (the gap between what we know ...continue reading "HOW TOASTIES HIDE LITTLE BITS OF THE REAL"
Check out this nice little analysis of a cough-sweet wrapper by the Centre for Material Texts at Cambridge!