Wednesday 24 July 2019

Decolonising..... and Music Migrations

A number of friends and colleagues in art history have recently been exercising themselves over the question of how to decolonise Art History, and odd phrase if ever there was as, superficially, it suggests that Art History has to shake off its bonds. After all, who colonised it? Jewish emigré(e)s in the 1930s, complex, intellectual lesbians on the 1900s or queer English gentlemen in the 30s and 40s, or marxists ... the list is endless, from chinless wonders to control freak philosophers. I've written enough on the idea of Art History as such to tend still to think that the question of how to decolonise it begs the question of what it is in the first place and gives it rather a lot of power to non-ironically following Kipling into saying 'you're a a better man than I am..(fill in any supposedly subaltern group whom you, the empowered art historian, have decided to save through your own well-meaning).

Take, within gender dominance, the case of Nicos Hadjinicolaou who wrote The History of Art and Class Struggle, hyper Althusserian and Françoise d'Eaubonne, Histoire de l'art et lutte des sexes, hyper lesbian separatist:   Nicos on a Rubens Silenus according to her remarks that the Satyr behind him 'lui pince la cuisse', whereas, she remarks, 'il le bougre'. She, thus, decolonises the image from NH radical and implacable straightness. In this decolonising is always a critique of the subject position as we called it in those days. 

But alas for this empowered enlightenment, alas alas freedom comes from elsewhere and in some ways was there in the already and always of the supposed subaltern's gesture.

One example then I am boring myself. There is a wonderful exhibition in Paris right now, and I do not mean the Black Model.
I got a third of the way round is as many hours, a lot of dancing on the spot to old tubes I heard and saw on Scoppitones in Paris circa 1963. The Ya Ya Twist, for example. Imagine it sung by Petula Clark (see youtube, you don't have to use any imagination) Then in the exhibition sung by Malika ( who was to die in police detention, I think)

but opening in a kind of Berber mode, the thing is in that gesture alone decolonised. You can dance to this for hours and dance differently to Chubby Checker, even, less queerly in some ways, more in others. Round the corner in the show, Desmond Dekker and 'The Israelites', and the gesture recurs in a different way.

Anyway, now I am boring myself so here are some old pis of mine from Paris following the big changes of the early 80s and other stuff.

actually the Marais.

me in Southsea

London W1

Southsea again, above and below

Thursday 18 July 2019

Written Version of Munich 1917 performed piece.....

A Study in How to Non- Literally Write Up a Performance

He was enjoying the performance that came before him, it’s wit and intelligent subversion of the most loved of communist symbols, learning and fantasy refiguring the hammer and sickle, but he was anxious too; when exactly would he take over, take up position on the finely crowded stage, cluttered with the paraphernalia of two ex-centric performances. In the minutes and then seconds to go, what difference could it make to the timing of the commemoration or celebration of the GOSR? 
It’s a banal but always important issue, distance and proximity, historical and subjective time, the time of some urgency or its total absence. He remembers the fiftieth anniversary, when they were young and the Revolution merely middle aged, and how a new form of it seemed almost imminent in the world wide upsurge of anti-colonial moments and dissatisfaction in the imperial heartlands, the unfolding of the Cultural Revolution in China; and now it seems not fifty more years away, the measure of his own ageing, but rather as if it had never happened, or had just happened and we had not yet had news of it; some always spectral event, never more and never less than the desires that made it seem possible. It seems more urgent to deal with that anxiety, now, today, than what happened, or might have happened a hundred years ago.
He feels that old scansion of the slogans that came and went, staccato, almost randomly, according to the scenario, a meeting or a demonstration, changing emphases depending on some more or less radical change of ‘line’, long live, long live long live death to death to death too ….(Marx, Engels, Lenin, Trotsky, Stalin, Thälmann, Mao, Naxalbari, Enver… running dogs, US Imperialism,…) All of this might have begun then, in October, 1917, and only now is there some kind of rest, rest if not release from the burden of wanting so much. Now he will try to adopt the postures from which they had shouted their slogans, these lost mimetics of the revolutionary posture…of rallying or resistance.

He tries to sleep, he thinks about how, in the short summary of his vast history of the Revolution E H Carr skilfully takes two paragraphs  two cover what takes China Mieveille thirty pages of more or less turgid and over-dramatised narration and of how Charles Bettelheim struggled to exculpate himself from what he saw as others’ errors concerning Soviet economics and he wonders if bad faith and indifferent writing, and thus even the words of its most ardent advocates, have, in their own way, contributed to the fall of the ideals of 1917…
His own bad faith, it must be, it might become the very ground from which to build some kind of a commemoration of or a memorial for a desire that the GOSR had once come to be, to have been, the figure, the desire and revolution perishing in each other’s embrace.
The stage is set just as he had asked, the chaise longue exceeds expectations in its almost queasy Biedermeier blue, the coat hanger is an immense and impressive device that looms in the background where it will be festooned with clothing and archive papers, aides-memoire of the situations from which he might have to speak; there are two screens and a small table with an office chair and a dictionary lying on it, randomly open. On the screen to the left of the viewers an extract from Kozintzev and Trauberg’s 1929 film The New Babylon will run for the duration of the presentation and, indeed,


I will try to use this soundless clip to time the event; I hope that this Soviet memory of the Commune will have become the time of my commemoration, as such. For near the beginning, kneeling with my elbows on the chaise, I will have read out some of Lenin’s comments on the Paris uprising that I once found to be a vindication of my own beliefs, but that I now hold to me unsatisfactory, a little like cashing in or drawing credit from the Communards – I am not sure which.
For example….

So, some of his papers and notes had already been scattered around the set under the chaise, and the precious little musical box, the ‘petit componium’ lies hidden in an ordinary, green nylon bag. He plans to reveal the componium right at the end, to play its funny little hand punched card with is basic but pretty enough rendering of Jean Baptiste Clément’s song Le temps des cerises, which once came to stand for the melancholy felt at the demise of the Paris Commune in the years after 1871.
The Internationale too came out of the Commune, a secretly written hymn to a future utopia that would wait until the 1880s to find a tune, and which would then flow around the world, louder and louder and in so many languages and that’s its fading in our own time is a miracle of hegemonic volume control in the suffocating regime of finance and neo-liberal capital and the piteous decline of well-meaning social democracy. I think it is entailed in the power of the relation Listen/Act, and I will try to act this out as a memorial for 1917.

I feel uneasy now, and will feel all the more so when I show the screen devoted to the Internationale, ill at ease with Eugène Pottier’s phrase ‘du passé faisons table rase…’ as that’s what I cannot do, fear to do, all this moment on stage will be spent in saying this, over and over, that there is nothing to recall from or of the GOSR if it is not our own pleasure in rebellion and our own perfidy in living at the same time in our bourgeois past, the involuntary and unavoidable perfidy of being what we are when faced with that which faces, or wants to face, only the future and the future of a class, the working class, the damnées de la terre, les forçats de la faim.’ So what we had in common with 1917 was this: that, with equal fervour, we wanted what we could never have: to be those intellectuals, of whom Comrades Marx and Engels wrote, in the Manifesto of the Communist party, that they split off from their class would go over to the side of the proletariat … and so this cluttered stage is nothing if it is not my table rase.
At the very end, when I had intended to re-play Cherry time, this time, live, so as to speak on the componium, the repeat of a short video seen quite near the beginning, I found that the fraud of my own guilt had to be called, a point of celebration had to be found, I had to sing my favourite song of revolution, not one of music hall sentiment nor of militancy on the march, debout, debout, debout… but this aimons nous et quand nous pouvons nous unir pour boire à la ronde ((la ro-o-ooonde, it sounds)), buvons, buvons, buvons, à l’indépedence du mo-o-o-onde)) THE ANTHEM OF 1848, the song of Pierre Dupont, and here to follow the track to another possible beginning…
It seems now that he is truly celebrating something, for he produces a bottle of Bourbon from under the chaise and pours a handsome slug into a tumbler and, on the last note of the last word, the mo-o-oooonde, he downs it, as if for one moment one might have what we once all wanted. Oddly too, he showed an image of Ingrid Bergman in the film Anastasia, counter-revolutionary fantasy if ever there were, seated coolly beside Yul Brynner, and he says how she taught us all ‘how a handbag should be carried’. It seems trivial on his part, but maybe he is just again crying out of his entrapment in and old and terrible and reactionary world, which 1917 came to redeem, but not then and not yet. This retreat to another origin, perhaps, is another way out, towards the table rase, an age of more credible innocence?
At the beginning it looks like this:
Screen 1 with live shot of man lying on chaise holding tablet. Looking a tablet and listening to some song, that we, the audience can hardly hear, he speaks more or less what we can see, when did it all begin, begin for me, he seems vexed by the question and if you, the audience could clearly hear what I hear on my tablet it is a song of the Incredible String Band, written around the time of the 40th anniversary and it’s called the October Song, though there the relevance ends, if you like.
 I mumble some of the words, I often do when I start a piece, I’ll sing you this October song for there is no song before it the words and tune are none of my own… Yes, saying this, that they are none of my own, is a way of belonging, perhaps to a collective of some kind, to some other people who recall something they never knew as if it were from within their experience. Yes, that is what he will do, drag out of his words and things that happened, or even did not, recalled or not, something he may be permitted to say about the Great October Socialist Revolution.

At some point in the event, I knew that I would have to try to perch myself on the chaise in something as near as I could get to match the posture St Theresa of Avila in Bernini’s chapel in Santa Susanna, Rome. I do this from time to time as the sculpture is so well-known both as a figure of art’s virtuosity and sense defying capriciousness as well as one of desire so extreme that the its abstraction or its lack become almost scarily visible. Whatever I say while holding this position itself becomes less than a position, as such; more of a risk, an enunciation so at odds with the posture that it becomes, let us say, its own critical absurdity, and I planned both to shout slogans that expressed my undying desire for a revolutionary transformation of society, long live, long live, long live, and to read extracts from the becoming managerial reports to the congresses of the Bolshevik party in the years after 1917. The words of (Comrade) Stalin or Comrade Lenin emerging from ‘her’ mouth as I try to mouth it, the sculpture envision and sever attachment just as, I hope adopting a posture
But while these shouts or cries or readings emerge from his mouth as he is becoming the Saint, I think that we begin to see this: that he is torn, torn between his accumulated culture, his own loves and desires, culturally, he loves late Beethoven and Elvis and Techno  and Puccini and he is, and I use the word that he uses himself, a fag as well; like a number of great Soviet spies before him; that he is torn between all this and the austere demands of a free society, or the recognition of an equality between beings in this world that goes beyond any purely formal conception of democracy. As he writes, shouting and crying out, this insubstantial or fragile articulation of being torn becomes the ground of his being in history, in this case in the memory of 1917. It is now a century ago, and he is over seventy years of age, so you can see that they have coexisted for so long that he can hardly envisage the now, the anniversary itself, as anything more than a tiny blip, if it is even that, in the unfolding of his self, his subjectivation, whatever you want to call it; let alone in the consciousness of the wretched of the earth who lived before it, who were its reason and whose reason is as lost as ever it was.
Songs, songs, he thinks all the time through songs, the beginnings seem to find themselves somewhere near of with a melody. And films too, there are the New Babylon, which plays on and on, and we get a glimpse of Les Enfants du Paradis, different figures of the people who were the supposed subjects of or for the revolution, those who bore both the joys and burdens of becoming saved from the long nightmare of capitalism.
Yes, yes, it is that, I want to talk about the Paris Commune. Under the chaise there are some papers, some political cartoons from the time of the Commune, and some prints that served as illustrations to early Soviet pamphlets, as well as Lenin’s famous comments on the fate of that uprising. He starts to read them out, but now I find them short-circuited, unimaginative, making place for 1917 to be a success at the expense of the Commune’s having been a failure, so I will play one of my screens, a short video of my petit componium, my hand turning it as it jangles out Le Temps des Cerises. Certain ‘failures’ are survived by a complex of feelings and investments which carry over the dryness of the end into a means of living now, to becoming a reminder of sounds and tunes and attitudes, as one strikes them or hums them, here now, in public, or even just in the shower. These form part of the memory, the memorial of or for the hopes a revolution might have figured, their succession and recurrence strike out the moment, one two three or ten or twenty decades, a moment that can hardly ever be made, in time, or only in time. I think about what has just gone before me, the out of time of the hammer and sickle, their out of timeliness.
I think of the Internationale, I try to show how it pursues its traitors in so many voices, so many angry hordes. Long live, long live long live (Comrade Marx, Comrade Engels, Comrade Lenin and then Stalin and Mao and Enver, in the end, yes, we took our pick thinking that making such a choice might be decisive for what happened next, but that’s who we were, filled with so much else, yes so many songs and rhythms.
Look: there is Leonid Brezhnev in 1964, he’s up there on the screen surrounded by three versions of the Internationale, in Russian, Zulu and Albanian and they play around him and drown him out, he is dressed as a bourgeois, elegantly at a huge desk, and he (the speaker, I mean) clicks the rampant, militant graphemes on his screen and sets the songs in motion while making for a white dress shirt that is hanging on the coat stand at the back right of the stage, and he brings it to the Chaise without taking his eyes off the terrible apparition, his ears filled with the music which might save, but will surely fade away. Debout les damnés de la terre, but he slumps on the chaise and shows us the shirt.

Now I’ll tell them an anecdote. It’s long and maybe too personal, but it controls me at this moment, this century of uncertainties about endings and beginnings and the order of their occurrence for us, each of us. Listen, this is too personal, I know, but how do I know when it began and when it ended? You see Brezhnev (Death to revisionists, death to the running dogs of of  of … long live Mao Tse Tung), this photograph or one like it came out on the front page if Time or some other influential mag and I was walking through the college to me room and my tutor came rushing down his staircase into the quad and said, urgently, Rifkin, some and see this, come up and see what I just say, and my tutor came from a family of academics who knew Eastern Europe and Russia inside out and, indeed, his father had drawn some of the boundaries of countries at the Treaty of Versailles, a bit after the birth we are seeing today a 100 years on, and had founded the Czech Boy Scout movement, so you can see the kind of education I had as a young would-be communist and he showed me this picture or one very like it and he said look, look carefully, look at his cufflink, he wants us to see it, this isn’t Kruschev bashing his shoe on the podium, he wants us to see that link and he paused and he said this: “that’s it, the Revolution is over”.
So he was telling us some kind of parable, because he showed us the shirt he held, screwed up, and spread it out, and showed the beautiful link in one of the cuffs and said it was his shirt and (down with down with down with), whatever, Brezhnev joined the bourgeoisie from which he longed to split, so he could never split from Brezhnev, he was nothing more than an abject fellow-traveller, a fag, a rotten element, and the Revolution never stood a chance, it had no beginning and too many ends. He always wanted too much, and always what he could not have had.
So I threw myself into a hesitant torrent of impossibilities, I loved the people because I saw Les Enfants du Paradis at a ciné-club in Manchester with my mother, and I found there and then and for ever the beauty of the sound of a film passing through the gate of a 16mm projector, and that was the gateway to a world or a worlding in me of so many cultures, the menu-peuple of Paris, the substance of the modern art work in the clicking of the projector, the political and aesthetic avant-garde merged into a single sonority, oh how I did believe in that, and from love loved so many irreconcilable objects.


 and the fighting revolutionaries of the Battleship Potemkin and the revolutionary upturning of vision of the Man with a Movie Camera and the devastating beauty of the doomed prince in Ivan the Terrible, and I saw these movies in a civic library with vast porticos that made me want to pass through those of the Soviet magnificence of Moscow and Leningrad archives, even when there was no longer a Leningrad. And that was why, at the beginning, I tried to sit like Warren Beatty in Reds and read out what Gorky said about Lenin saying that one could only love the Appassionata sonata too much and that this too much was a menace to Revolution, because it seized all of one’s energy. So, in the Brezhnev screen the Appassionata survived the International in all its versions and played on and on, and the memory of the GOSR became a fragment, a figment of everything that was well-meaning and good on one’s, my bourgeois subjectivation. And that Eisenstein and Marcel Carné and I were all fags and that was why we wanted, so badly, the proletariat, and its otherness, and that the day the damnées would be truly debout, we could no longer desire, perhaps at all.

Long Live,
Death To
Aimons Nous, et quand nous pouvons unir pour boire à la ronde buvons buvons buvons à l’indépendence du monde

Choose one of the above three