This Charmless Man: The Artist’s Message and its Disavowal

According to Octave Mannoni, the psychoanalytic term ‘disavowal’ fits into the formula: ‘I know very well, but all the same…’. It is a coping-mechanism for life; in the most general schema it runs: ‘I know very well that life is finite – not only my life, but all life – but all the same I carry on with things…’.



But the disavowist also becomes particularly odious in certain situations: the suit rocking out in that late-night city bar to Jimi Hendrix’s ‘All Along the Watchtower’, hearing Dylan’s lyric, ‘businessmen, they drink my wine’, and swigging back their cabernet sauvignon regardless; the ‘more-knowledgeable-(and-more-white)-than-thou’ history grad who ‘corrected’ Chuck D’s disquisitions on the history of black suppression at Public Enemy’s Fear of a Black Planet Don’t Look back gig last year, for example… Kurdt Kobain included this warning in Nirvana’s Incesticide’s liner notes in 1992: ‘if any of you in any way hate homosexuals, people of different color, or women, please do this one favor for us—leave us the fuck alone!  Don’t come to our shows and don’t buy our records.’ Those who match these profiles, whilst nonetheless belting out the likes of ‘Hairspray Queen’, thus fit the disavowist bill also.

And now David Cameron’s in on the act too, patently disregarding Johnny Marr’s claim that he shouldn’t be into The Smiths’ ‘This Charming Man’ because the band ‘[a]re not his kind of people’ and avowedly (i.e., disavowedly) ignoring the cease and desist tweet injunction: ‘stop saying that you like The Smiths, no you don’t. I forbid you to like it.’ Surely, Blur’s ‘Charmless Man’ is more suited… It is in that smug faux-cheekiness of Cameron’s manner, in defiantly continuing to listen, that the pointer to his disavowal in the Mannonian mode becomes apparent, as does the distinction between irony and disavowal. He is not doing this ironically, he knows very well The Smiths aren’t his kind of people, but all the same… Of this type of disavowist we wonder: could there be an any less charming man?


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