Get You Back Home
GAMMA & PHILOSOPHY
Out To Lunch was in a sunny mood. So, it seemed - in a startling last-minute spasm of the pathetic fallacy - was all of Hackney and environs. Bracing autumn air poured in from the Lea valley and the Marshes, giving the mistaken impression of freshness, a slate wiped clean. The sun was a metallic disc stapled onto the morning sky, emitting dazzling coils of hard, white light.
OTL sat on a public bench in the graveyard off Mare Street and scribbled words in a notebook. He'd set off about 9.00am, so it must be about half past now. A can of Special Brew dangled in his coat pocket, insurance against any lapse of inspiration. He wanted to adumbrate his `foul materialist creed' (the Sun's characterization of Marxism had stuck in his head since 1982; a coinage from an editorial defending nuclear weapons). This bright morning, OTL's foul materialist creed was stinky-fresh and noisome, an unplucked cock's-comb of fervid vitriol waiting for its target.
Two women passed on their way to shops.
`I hope I don't do things just for money ...' one of them confided to the other as they passed. They looked as if they'd hardly seen more than tiny quantities - quantulumcunques - of the stuff in their thirty-year life-spans. Money. That alien concept, that abstraction that obsessed the world. OTL sniffed the cold, empty air and summoned up verbal candy to lucozade his brain-cells. `The concrete, the concrete, the despised concrete ...' he muttered, rolling C.L.R. James's immortal words on his tongue. In Britain, the legacy of Bertrand Russell's Logical Positivism means `materialism' is popularly viewed as a punishing, determinist philosophy with no room for freedom. But Marx's materialism is a philosophy of willed revolt, or it's nothing. `Change life!' said Rimbaud. `Philosophers have only interpreted the world, the point is to change it!' said Marx. Out To Lunch lived in the intersection of those two statements - if you can call it `living'. A victim of universal abuse, he had accepted the role of unpublished poet. He felt ready to pour his trembling soul into his notebook.
`Holmes!' The voice was familiar: a bassett-hound growling in a barrel, deeply lugubrious, though leavened with humor. Gamma! The bastard had crept up on him unawares, making his usual crass joke on his name. Conan Doyle's bloody Sherlock Holmes! Why couldn't Gamma refer to Doyle's forgotten historical novel The White Company - or even his sci-fi masterpiece The Land Of Mist? It wasn't even as if Gamma was into the Sherlock of cocaine snorts and Viennese violins. Gamma used to distribute Science Fiction Eye, the superior sci-fi journal out of Asheville, Carolina. He was a denizen of the original (and much-missed) Forbidden Planet. Now he went around making jokes about names. OTL ignored him, and inscribed some choice verbal hieroglyphs in his notebook, Gamma's cider-fuelled dog's breath coming in asthmatic gasps over his shoulder.
We approach the dovecote with a telescope dressed as a magnifying glass, Galileo sporting a deer-stalker's hat, the `I see' dream of the phallocrat seeding nose-drop icicles.
`Holmes - what are you writing? Is it Basket Case: The Negative Dialectics of the Hound of the Baskervilles? ... or How Brian Tim E. O'Tommy Spurned My Lunchpack?' Gamma was full of fun this morning. `How are you today, Doctor Watson?' he continued. OTL always wanted to quote Diary of a Nobody back at Gamma, but he'd never managed it: `A joke's alright so long as it's it in good taste, Mister Pooter, but a joke on someone's name is going just a bit too far!'. Gamma was on some diabolical new digital-strength applejack, pouring down his neck the corrosive contents of a chrome cylinder with lightning down the side. Ten in the morning and he was at it. OTL's unopened can of Special Brew swung in his pocket with a new, virtuous levity.
`Gamma!' Lunch decided to humour him. `How's tricks?'
`Okay okay, as good as can be expected.' He sat down on the bench next to Lunch and swigged again. He made a contented rumbling noise in his throat, then sighed. They sat awhile in contented silence, OTL writing and Gamma drinking. A suit walked through the graveyard, briefcase in hand, office-bound.
`Some people do it and some see right through it - and some where pajamas if only they knew it!' Gamma quoted, `And if Gail Zappa wants to sue me for copyright, feel free! I haven't got a sodding cent, missus, skint as arseholes. How are you, Lunch? Are you keeping all right? How are the royalties, Old Soldier?'
Heart of gold, as evidenced by the wide, thick-lipped smile, the barrel-chest and the bushy beard - and his ability to pepper everything he said with Frank Zappa arcana. His Zappaisms drove the other winos crazy, kept them at bay (or at `Flam Bay', as Gamma would put it). OTL could handle the Zappology, even if he couldn't keep up with Gamma's alcohol intake. The great thing about Gamma was that, unschooled as he was, he would let you say anything you liked. He was totally unintimidated, for example, by Speculative Reason in the Grand Style. Most unEnglish, really. OTL put it down to the years spent poring over Philip K. Dick's Exegesis. Listening to Zappa all day didn't hurt either. Excellent antidotes to intellectual timidity and educationally-induced priggishness. Excellent antidotes to the emotional plague that grips us all on this benighted isle. Excellent mental defumigators all round.
`I'm okay,' OTL replied. `I'm here pondering the ins and outs of religion - its place in a rational, secularised society. Boring stuff like that.'
`Rational? Secular? What are you saying? Everyone round here's nuts!' Gamma spat out the words like clots of phlegm. `"The Meek Shall Inherit Nothing", boyo!'
`Indeed.' OTL was feeling pretty meek himself - and, gazing over the graveyard with its sprinkling of sunlit litter, felt that Gamma wasn't far off the mark. He and Gamma had indeed inherited precious little. However, OTL cleaved to his theme, an intellectual axe-grinder in the court of applecore addlement: `Middle-class liberals patronise religious delusion by applauding its "spiritual content" - but in so doing they betray the hope of the world. Likewise socialists who allow faith in something mysterious to fill up the empty spaces left by their mechanical misunderstanding of Marx. Trashing ersatz, imaginary transcendence is a necessary step towards transcending actual conditions ...'
`I don't see the connection to Frank ...'.
OTL had to oblige Gamma's foible, express himself on his warped wavelength. He thought quickly. `The satirical materialism of Zappa's "We're Only in it for the Money" is denounced as mere cynicism by those who wish to preserve a pious, dreamt-for, impossible hope - "let's all hold hands and agree we believe in a life beyond the wage-packet" - but for those who want real transformation, it packs a salutary truth!'
`Salutary! What kind of a word is that? Salty, solitary, lavatory ... mainlining tequila in the john at the drying-out clinic ... that's why they salute the smoke every time they get up ...'
`It's a vicious circle, you got it!' Gamma flashed Lunch a look of gratitude at this citation from Lumpy Gravy. `Mind you, I always heard that as "solute the smoke" - s-o-l-u-t-e. In other words, to render some precipitate from the smoke in the retort.'
`Hm, the alchemical opposite of dissolve ... "Twirl around in a lap dissolve" ...'
`"Pretend to sing the words!"'
`"I'll rent a gleaming limousine, Release a flock of ..."'
`"Ber-herna-herna-herna-herna-her-nerds ..." The Zappaholic nerds chorussed together in the winter sunshine, giving every syllable that special emphasis that showed they knew any one might become the strait gate through which the Messiah might enter. Non-Zappa civilians naturally find this emphasis incredibly irksome, the irritation all deadbrains feel in the presence of the poetico-musical heresy. Rolling these sounds on the tongue just because they sound good. What poetry in the twentieth century could match up to it? Who could conceive the suggestive splendour of a lap dissolve? Olson? Pound? Zukovsky? Pshaw!!
It would be great to spend all day with Gamma, but today OTL had an agenda. He had to inject the poetic contagion into the spectacle, besmirch the complacent face of BritPop and yBa inertia with Zapparish connectivitis, establish the Science of Free Association as a virus in academia, justify the Syntax of Dreams. London, the `swingingest place in the world'! What crud. Everyone's asleep; and when they awake, the banalities of daytime radio syringe their dreams from their minds. No-one can do what they want because they've forgotten what wanting is. Out To Lunch had a philosophical appointment to keep.
But first Lunch wanted to see if he could raise Gamma from his dependable auto-mumble. He drove his words with renewed urgency into Gamma's much-abused ear: `The bourgeoisie has a split consciousness. Its economic processes reduce all life to vicious competition. When the battle's done and the world's been spoiled, they drown us in a flood of crocodile tears, and issue kleenex homilies - pious cant about "ideals" and "spirit". If instead we grasped that we are only money, products of capitalist society rather than angels trapped on a drab planet, we might locate the social developments that articulate our potential selves!'
`Right on! Right on!' cried Gamma, `I'm a product of capitalist society! Look at me!' He held up an arm puffy with alcholic numbness, protruded a shaky, besandled foot. One of the smaller toes had turned blue. It made Lunch think of the feet on a Grnewald crucifixion. God, the Jesus-look was easy to cultivate if you're the size of a bear and you drink fortified cider and think about Zappa all day. `D'you want to go to the Mission for lunch?' Gamma was a great favourite at the Church Hall round the corner. He'd lurch in singing `Dog Breath' and `Dog Breath Variations' and sometimes even - as a special event - `Low Budget Dog Meat'. They thought he was as mad as a hatter. Maybe they were right, but he was worth practising on. OTL pressed home his argument.
`If the freedom of the press depends upon its not being a trade, the news that we are "only money" threatens catastrophe: there is no way out of the cash nexus, and we can never be free.'
`"You'll be absolutely free/Only if you want to be!!"'
`Some react to the depradations and damage wrought by commerce by calling upon "the state" to save us. The fantasy that the state can challenge the dynamic of the economy has been the twentieth-century's principal ideology for sabotaging working-class self-activity. Indeed, William Petty proved that such manoeuvres were in vain as early as 1642!'
The sighting of Petty's book in the boot sale yesterday had replenished OTL's resources of historical appeal. Gamma's free association around dates was pretty wild. Anything between classical times and the 1870s was pretty-much of a muchness; in the Dark Ages, all dates were equivalent - sweet, sticky and colloidal beneath the dark waters of his instant-connection brain-scramble. Gamma reached for a particularly salty nugget, a supertosh lodged in the U-bend of his mental sewer.
`1348!' he exclaimed, `the Year of the Plague ... and the founding of Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge, currently domicile to both Stephen Hawking-Cosmic-Baloney and J.H. Prim. They glower at each other across the quadrangle ...'.
OTL ignored this interjection. `Illusions in the state provided the secret ideological handshake between liberalism and Stalinism. Consider, for example, the Communist Party's bizarre post-war alliance between English bourgeois intellectuals seeking an alternative to American commercial vulgarity, and Trade Union bureaucrats looking to justify reformism ...'
Suddenly, winged thought widened Gamma's forehead. His eyebrows shot up. His verbals came on stream, as fluent and crisply-detailed as an on-line laser-printer: `I say we should focus on antagonisms immanent to the workings of capitalism itself! Instead of a transcendent state solution to the problems of commerce and exploitation, concentrate on the conflicts of capitalism in its trashy heart, the Cleavage revealed in quotidian life!!'
`Where the fuck did you get that from?', OTL asked, astonished.
`It's written on this piece of paper I filched from your pocket.'
OTL wasn't to be brooked: `But it's precisely because we are "only money" that the struggle for freedom of expression is not simply ornamental, a Bowiesque promotion of luxury art values. Freedom of expression cannot be supplied from above, a gift of patron or academy or state, it can only be achieved by struggle at the point of production. In providing problems for those who would reduce the press to a trade, writers are engaging in class struggle. As the refuseniks of the music industry, every free improvisor deserves your attention ...'
2. Simon Hardcore Techno
Tired out by Out To Lunch's tirade, Gamma sought to distract him: `There's a Cleavage,' he said, pointing at a crack in the pavement of recycled headstones. It ran all the way from beneath their feet to the church porch. `A veritable "Oh, mein Papa" in the earth's crust ...'. Gamma was making a complex pun on Eddie Fisher's 1953 number-one hit with the Winterhalter Orchestra (a version of Eddie Calvert's instrumental, itself a cover of Paul Burkhard's bierkeller-reviving Schlager of 1948). `Eddie Fisher - fissure - geddit?' He elbowed Lunch in the ribs. `I follow that fissure-crack-cleavage-whatsit ... until I see ... his cloven hoof!' OTL followed Gamma's gouty finger and found himself staring at the shining DMs of Simon Hardcore Techno. SHT greeted them with his customary enthusiasm. Goatee, multiple ear-hardware, nose-rings, eyebrow decor, celtic `23' tattoo on a muscular brown arm. He came to the bench and squatted up on it - too nervous, too wired, too `now' to sit like an ordinary citizen. Gamma thought he was a total wanker. He had a point.
`Hey, Lunch, I've discovered Free Improvisation! I'm promoting a gig.'
`What d'you play, man?' asked Gamma pleasantly.
`My computer! I'm gonna free improvise on my computer ...'
`Does Cubase let you do that?'
`It's hard, but I'm working on it. You see I need to make some cash, but I refuse to compromise my totally Hardcore Techno, so I'm doing a course in CD-ROM technology, and I'm going to make money with that.'
`I thought you dealt drugs.'
`That only pays for what I use, and besides, that's all getting a little thin after the recent busts in Amsterdam during the Euro-summit.' SHT turned to OTL, positively vibrant with energy. `But I'm really into this Free Improvisation thing! I talked to some musicians. They say they'll play if I set up the gig ...'
Lunch had tempted fate with his categorical statement about every free improvisor deserving your attention. Still, if Simon could be persuaded to become a promoter of this musical form custom-designed to alienate the consumer, then all to the good. But surely the musicians weren't really going to play along to his tinpot Tubular Bells-style `Hardcore'? OTL ignored Gamma, who'd started whistling the guitar solo from `Carolina Hardcore Ecstasy', Zappa's chilling delineation of the psycho-sexual dynamics of beat-music sadism, and listened to Simon's reply.
`Well, I'm playing first - about 7.30 - their set will start about 9.00 ... but we've got a bar extension, so I'm hoping to get them playing to my programs ...'
`We'll know what time to get there. Who've you got, then?'
`Oh, Lol Coxhill, Phil Wachsmann, Pat Thomas, Caroline Kraabel, Fried Froth ...'
Though he tried not to show it, OTL was impressed. `Froth - brother of Semen?'
`And Anne-Marie Roelofs, who releases abysmal CDs, but her trombone's great live ...'
It reminded OTL of the time he'd declared that anyone who loved Captain Beefheart had to be a real alternative humble creative genius poet-type, only to run into some Yank arsehole that very day who declared he `so loved Beefheart' and turned out to be a complete prick. It's like Trotsky says - there are no abstract truths!
Simon seemed to conceive Free Improvisation as some kind of jolly community-seance `be-in'. He talked about it being a `superb night', a classic of the genre. It was going to immortalised on DAT. All these living legends were going to add their `contributions' to his Cubase piddle. Lunch's flesh swarmed. SHT'd make them sound like John Harle tootling along to Geezer-Garbage!
Simon started describing the wonders of his software: `It's got these horizontal lines, you see, which represent time, and then these points that represent sonic events along the line.' The twerp didn't realise he was describing a bloody score, fully developed when the `technology' consisted of quill-pen and vellum, and packing all the hierarchical, entrepreneurial overview demanded by a rising bourgeoisie. The daft cunt thought that because he was using some kind of computer/software gizmo it was automatically `nomadic', `non-linear' and `right-on'. His tinny boings and thuds didn't sound like Brahms, so they were bound to bring capitalism to its knees! Meanwhile, to look for a moment at economic facts, SHT was buying mountains of equipment from Atari to create his tinker-tonker soundtracks; then he'd press up CDs, for which he paid Sony the money he made dealing E and hash - all while sitting at his desk dreaming up `transcendental sonics'. Like every bourgeois composer since the dawn of commodity production! The guy was a total dipstick, Lunch concluded, someone who coated everything he touched in duplicitous moralising slime. Simon babbled on. He reckoned that if he could add the kudos of these underground improv legends to his ticky-boo beat-parade, it was going to make him a million bucks. He'd even had Simeon Popkins at Virgin on the phone ...
OTL tried to explain his own take on Free Improvisation, the way its love for the event itself not only evaded capitalist exchange, but also challenged the reactionary assumption that what lay outside the exchange economy was parochial and insignificant. It was not an `alternative', it was a contradiction. Free Improvisation was the recording industry's shadow and its conscience - it couldn't just be scooped up and exploited (as Weather Report learned after they tried to use Karyobin as a blue-print for world domination). The free-improvising method is dialectical - it's anti-capitalist through and through! Though words were evidently wasted on this spaced-out trendie, OTL attempted to outline his position:
`Hardcore, man, it's the moment where circulation doesn't work that requires our hot attention! The moment when the extraneous, stinky world shut out by the crystalline semiotics of a "viable genre" comes rushing in as the system implodes. These are the moments Materialist Esthetix longs for: the cleverness of Cleavage in the actual. Free Improvisation doesn't have a monopoly on it. Far from it. There's a pro-art tendency within the genre that threatens to turn it all into South-Bank-friendly kitsch and baloney and quasi-religiose meandering. What we're talking about is Cleavage: the Sex Pistols on the Bill Grundy Show, the KLF throwing Extreme Noise Terror and sheep's blood at the Brit Award delegates, J.H. Prim denouncing the De Kooning catalogue at the Tate, Iggy Pop tirading beyond camera-shot on The White Room, a Conference of Critical Musicology aghast at the idea of a speaker actually criticising anyone! ... Descension provoking Sonic Youth's teens to riot at the Forum!! That's the kind of "improvisation" that means something, not bloody gurgles and gargles over your sodding conformist Cubase wankcock! Your "individually-tailored" dance tracks are about as expressive of individuality as a Yale door-key!'
Out To Lunch held up a sample of same. Glinting in the morning light, it looked the very image of petit-bourgeois anonymity and commitment to the mortgage. Maybe he'd gone a bit over the top. Simon looked bemused. Booting up up his occult powers by muttering `quantulumcunque' a few times under his breath, OTL took a `psychic snapshot' of the poor boy's unconscious.
Clasped by conundrum, the esophagal ragwort moans: any ought to water slanted permanents. Pressed plantlets sob ideological blockage, the mud lodged in the over-preened eye. Pray, prize this pearl from my shell-like, the translucent nuisance is breathing mist upon my prurient back-ups. High odour reft of window panes. The tall tower twirls an ivory baton, blatant hoof beats in the clover. Never mind the sulking ruins, here's ghastly key-fob trash to while away luncheon diatribe. Whenever the rainstorms gather over Lake Geneva, the booklet turns a page in the lower cerebellum.
Simon's cortical background riff was pure `Smoke On The Water'. Too milky for the first time round: Lunch diagnosed a mid-80s NWOBHM adolescence. But the brainscan also showed that the twerp wasn't going to take offense; Simon Hardcore Techno lacked that kind of reaction. He was as floppy as a disc - and twice as conceited. The sort of person you can't offend because they just can't imagine that you'd think them a total zero - blank, dataless, unformatted.
`I know Free Improvisation's your personal fiefdom, so you're bound to be protective ... but come to the gig! You might be surprised!' Simon Hardcore said as he waved goodbye and tripped off up Mare Street.
OTL expected Gamma to chirp up with the anal-penetratating soundbite at the end of Zappa's `Broken Hearts Are For Assholes', `I knew you'd be surprised!'. However, during this Doktor Faustus-style debate on the meaning of modern music, Gamma had taken the opportunity to fall asleep. OTL reached over for the can of vile foamy liquid clasped in Gamma's rugged hand (Gamma never spilled a drink; a true alcoholic is only sloppy about the inessentials), and helped himself to a swig. A draught of Olde English memories, latex-fume Evo-stick unpleasantness in the midst of sickly apple-sweet. Quite undrinkable if you're not at the end of your tether. Benevolently, OTL replaced the can in the giant's sleeping paw. Gamma surely needed it more than he. OTL looked at his watch. It was 11.00am, and he still hadn't broached the Special Brew.
OTL's lunchtime rendez-vous was the Radical Philosophy Plenary on `Existential Positionings', an event he deemed it his duty to heckle. He needed to push off soon. Gamma muttered something in his sleep. OTL bent his ear towards his lips. `Poofters ... Froth ... Wyoming ... Plans ... Ahead.' Professor Froth? Gayness? Future shock? Nobody with an unconscious like Gamma's could be abandoned without ceremony. OTL tore a page out of his notebook to write down something Gamma could read when he woke up.
Dear Gamma, Thanks for the Fortified Tingo-Tango (but no thanks for the Holmes jokes). Arbitrariness has swallowed the agenda, the cute cause of reason is riddled with a thousand shocks, lipstick has smirched the bust of Lenin on the desk. Torn in twain by money and desire, the conscience gawps at a fag end, wonders why. No stirring calls to save the world can shift the somnolent readers from the deckchairs. Into this gel the ground-rice floats like a magical dew, the drift of thoughts no-one is heir to. Baldy domes don't summon no dandruff. Only pleasure pulls the punters at the syrup pump, the wish figured as a tweeze that lurks, encrusts a fault. D'you wish to ride out despatch upon the glassy sleigh, icicles atwinkle at the frostbite rim? The brickwall bodge of letterage etches a sump of won't-wash accident before the trying mind; the arbitrary mutter of the mingeing lingo spills a concrete pizza for your concept delectation. The actual is made of particular clusters and thrusts, so any jerk that views the buttfucks from a different ledge has a claim upon the lertish wit. Your pal, Out To Lunch
He scrolled the paper into a tight flute, and placed it in the aperture of Gamma's cider can. That way he couldn't avoid it. Lunch was off to see the philosophers of tight-arse purgatory ponce their opinions on Existential Positionings. Always leave two hours to get out of Hackney, and don't be in a hurry. Obsessional interest in graffiti and dogturds a help.
3. The Philosophers
OTL was a little late, but caught the last few minutes of the first speaker. Spots, draggled bit of beard, quotes from Heidegger and Paul de Mann, what a loser. Four speakers on the podium and no chair. As usual, these bloody liberals had no idea how to sponsor democratic discussion. Lunch spotted Esther Punnck in the audience, and his heart skipped a beat. However, he knew she'd give him pretty short schrift [sic] if he didn't emerge with a devastating critique of every paper, so he tried to concentrate. Next up, guy on Deleuze and Guattari and picking up boys in Soho. `A rentboy paints his nail etc'. Yawn. Then the `feminist' contribution, except it had gone cyber. Bad as listening to Simon Hardcore Techno - drivel about unemployment weakening macho assumptions and creating opportunities for women. For women like her, of course. She didn't look as if she'd been unemployed once in her life. Skinhead in the deadwoodpile was Stewpot Hauser. What the hell was he doing here? OTL thought Stewpot was in Hull doing some housebreaking, keeping his hand in, fending off the doldrums of becoming a literati full-time.
Stewpot's speech was the only one worth reporting. He delivered it wearing a Pet Shop Boys T-shirt, the prankster! Of course, the literal-minded skin had scribbled `I hate' above it in offensive biro - the proletarian loudmouth had no time for the winning ironies so admired by gentle readers. He began by throwing a faraway look into his eyes, then cast them down into the water jug.
That is what the academics are like - under the pretext of reforming and improving the world, they rant against riches and self-gratification, all the while immersing themselves in them without restraint.
He was quoting Charles Fourier, though he wasn't giving us a footnote. Neo-Plagiarism was meant to be last year's movement. Ah well, old habits die hard.
As proof demonstrative of the obsequious bad faith of the stipended intellectuals and their endless whingeings of self-justification, consider the academic attitude towards contingency. The stunning effects of coincidence and the inspirations of chance provide a unique spur to theoretical understanding: the truth of this is as universal as it is universally denied. This denial enables repressive ideology to maintain the illusion that it is the systematised boredom achieved by institutionalised learning that makes progress possible; it baulks criticism of the relations of production whilst burnt-corking duplicity with the bung of the begging bowl. It hides the fact that only class Cleavage betokens knowledge, that only conflict can descry the new.
Well, well! Out To Lunch was intrigued. Stewpot had hit upon Cleavage too. Gamma in the churchyard, Stewpot at this seminar. Something was in the air, and it smelt of armpits, cheap perfume, cordite, whores, lowly folk bursting unannounced into high places ... revolution?
Stewpot was on a roll: `Irony, Solidarity, Contingency ... The concepts of Rorty-Haughty Spankmann Trotter all deny their provenance. They pretend to cut the purse-strings, whilst relying on golden chords both apron-like and saucy.' Out To Lunch was surprised. Where had Stu found this new-found eloquence? Maybe Lunch's otley-motley brain was translating fool's gold into true coin ... but the impact of this verbiage was Greenbergesque, umbilical! He sat up and listened more intently.
Hauser continued: `According to Socrates, the eiron was a dissembler who used dissemblance to lead his disputants towards the truth. Rorty's irony, in contrast, comes from Cicero, it's steeped in legalese: the obfuscations attendent upon defence of property values.' OTL knew Stu didn't know a word of either Greek or Latin. This had to come straight from the Wordsworth Reference Library's Companion To Literature In English. Spray a Marxist gloss on anything in the current climate, and the attack sounds minty-fresh, a ready-to-wear badge of revolt and independence. Was Stu in danger of becoming a walking recuperation, a antiquated hack of anti-post-pus-modernism?
`To hear the rutting orchid-chasers speak of "human solidarity" is to hear bourgeois pseudo-universalism steal a socialist slogan! The working class can show social solidarity in the concrete because their interests are united. Arrayed against capital, solidarity has meaning. Deprived of its actual social positioning by the description "human", solidarity is just a pomo blandishment, a pious wish, a hope. As for contingency - the last in Rorty's packet of three - that's what Hans Richter declared that Dada had rediscovered, a principle that had been repressed by the one-sided materialism of the Enlightenment. Lacking the dialectic, the pragmatic American liberal has no way of going from the contingent to the Absolute: the guy's a spiv. Rorty should be selling nylon stockings, not holding forth on rights and truths! He has no place in the philosophy seminar. Such denials of the historical roots of philosophical concepts prevent material examination of both the production of commodities and the formation of meanings.'
It was useless. OTL had to heckle. Rolling a copy of Radical Philosophy into a megaphone, he leapt on a chair.
Hauser's analogue is a cheap pun! Once upon a time, the purveyors of authoritarian idealism posed it as some kind of theoretical maxim. But now they've abandoned the shit creek of Stalinized middle-class `Marxism' for PoMo's cracked coracle, resort to it is otiose!
Stu looked up, an expression of surprise and - to his credit - hope blessing his unformed features. His chin took on a new, Punch-like firmness. This was a puppet who could clobber on all night.
Ladies and gentlemen, may I present ... Out To Lunch! Known to his few friends as `O.T.'. Even they must know the man is O.T.-iose!
Lunch wasn't to be stalled by this elementary wordplay. He hurled back:
Abstracted from the concrete particulars it might illumine, and transformed into some kind of transcendent principle, Hauser's pun allows academic cretins like yourselves to concern themselves with semiology to the exclusion of material processes - while congratulating themselves on their `interventions'. Comrades! She's frosting a cake with a paper knife!! Now the snorrgraphers barely bother to get out of the seamy text bed. Both strategies supply the convenience of ignoring particular relationships to existing modes of production, ie, where your paycheque comes from, and why. In 1966, Theodor Adorno criticised sociology in these words: `For the truth content of philosophy it substitutes its social function and its conditioning by interests, while refraining from a critique of that content itself.' In 1967, Guy Debord wrote: `The whole body of disciplines which continues to develop today as the thought of the spectacle must justify a society without justification, and must become a general science of false consciousness. This school of thought is completely conditioned by the fact that it cannot and does not want to investigate its own material basis in the spectacular system.' That is the charge I level at you academic crumbsuckers!
Materialist Esthetix was the name Out To Lunch used to describe the act of exposing these embarassing issues: to freeze the suave flow of discourse and lift it at right-angles from the page. Intimate exposition of cultural debris, its themes and objects, was to provide its anchor: as Gamma perceived, a salutory (if cheap and somewhat rancid) buttering up, gratifying a marked proclivity for obsessional detail and giving the up-puff of grandeur the slip. Speculation about what goes on behind the green door (cramped, not shaken) causes the child's pupils to dilate, the nostrils to flare. The taste of salt and dairy produce on the fingers summons at once an image of mountains, a rocklike storage of untold goodies.
Stu's face had turned purple. His head was an Italian onion atop a porcelain figureen. OTL finished. Stu launched back: `As Johnny "Guitar" Watson has taught us, it is too late to close the barn door once the horse has gone. The EC, for example, won't control the production of horsemeat.'
Lunch had got him on a scree of verbal marbles, a veritable rimbaud-ramble; Hauser was staring into words as if they were crystal balls, free-associating for all he was worth. This would vex the dunderheads of logical philosophy! Some of them were already alarmed, shifting in their chairs, making comments. Time to light the firecracker that had been shoved up their collective arse. Stu was raving: `The novelty record is an expression of Hegel's Absolute Idea, the bakelite messsage trapped in the dayglo plastique. The poodle bites, the poodle chews it. I want a nasty little Jewish princess!'
A posse of Derrideans was planning on storming the stage. OTL threw away his copy of Radical Philosophy and bellowed:
If the Zappa quotient is the only thing `wrong' with Materialist Esthetix, then the time has come to step up the quota - what do you want to replace it with, the gaping fruits of Brian Eno and fulsome fanfares for Windows boot-ups? The intention was indeed to spread the method beyond the crust assigned it, but the spring shoots back at the slightest breath of impatience with the primary obscenity, folding back with the aggression of any selfrespecting lunchomeat sandwich to airy-fairy contemplation. Fountains shoot all over, the mixture is sickening - blue dye in the Danube for fuck's sake! There's nothing wrong with the pleasures of the hobby horse, whatever the pom-pom qualms of the `angry' brigade.
OTL knew the reference to the English sub-situs would goad Hauser past endurance. This was his turf, a green and pleasant zone that brooked neither casual citation nor ill-informed poetical transformation.
A shrill sound brought the heaving mob to silence. Had Hauser gone castrato? No, it was Esther Punnck. She'd occupied her favourite position - a point of vantage above the crowd. Lacking a mantelpiece to perch on, she had mounted a stack of chairs behind the speakers' podium. She was reading from a manifesto coated in some kind of soft, semi-transparent plastic. It was as if she were reading from a square of livid jelly.
A residual idealism amongst even lunchophiles seems ever eager, faced with the slab, to (a) plunder the gear and dispose of the box (are all loudspeakers condemned to misogyny?); (b) pile up the coins while forgetting which sighed (once it's a fixture, then tokens are tomahawks); (c) butter up the Tao St and show the rapper the door (grim, green, and fading; but there's gold in them there - tuckshop, paperhat - greaseballs, Colonel). The motorized squaredance of this eight-layer pancake will finally round on its users as they shoot poison arrows through the cook's voluptuous donuts, because, whatever the complexion, matter IS crucial and Ambient smarm is just not sufficient. The bolts'll be sprung on the twopenny stalls, it's a flux of pink indians (an ominous honk from the keyhole of the punks the bouncers loched-out). It's no longer safe to shelter behind protests about Viennese sugar, the thunder of drums is upon us, and shortly! Music-music is again on the agenda and there's no peeling of coats from the coatless or tolling of tithes from the indigent - they are naked already, clean as a whistle, stark as a submarine bell chime. You're not going to catch me blazing the starry vault of the firmament with no bleeding spear of destiny, I'll tell you that for nothing. Ugh, all this hogwash, apricot stones and passionate beat boys, new agers on a mission from Conspiracy Central, kaftans sprouting from an uncauterised stump. Fetch the pitch, black as the night! Bring me the flames and the red-hot pincers! We must nip this renascence, old buddy, roll out the phials of venom and rat's piss. Come, it's indeed time to face the music: Stop being riddled by the existential bake 'n take, how's about a Chu Berry milkshake?
Like a star-struck punter in a nightclub, OTL was convinced she was singing just for him. Of course he thought her last words meant, `Let's split and go for a drink, OT'. He stood up, the can of Special Brew in his mac pocket bumping rudely against his neighbour, a not-so-liberal Kantian who'd been grimacing and hurrumphing all through Ms Punnck's diatribe. Then OTL felt a hand on his shoulder, the firm grip of someone used to handling pliable materials ...
It was Nellie Condottieri, the sculptress. OTL hadn't noticed her occupying the row behind him. `Sit down, you prize idiot!' she hissed. `It's only just begun. If you want a chewberry milkshake, drink the Special Brew in your pocket. And pass me some!' OTL nodded meekly and subsided. His penis was erect and throbbing, yet the wave of lust felt curiously intellectual, as if the turn-on was to do with Esther's words - and not merely the paedophile's-wetdream turn-on of her flouncy miniskirt, her strawberry stilletos and the tiny high breasts that budded beneath her flame-orange satin-finish blousette. There was no speaker to call the meeting to order and allow Hauser to finish his paper. He didn't seem to mind. OTL wondered if he had the hots for Ms Punnck too. Mizz Punk, mispunk, miserable spunk ... ominous verbal associations, but her tirade was too magnificent to allow these intimations of disaster to distract OTL from the ideational volcano in hand.
Esther Punnck seemed to find endless words in the square of jello that trembled in her grip. OTL remembered that Camerawork had managed to print the entire text of Benjamin's Artwork essay on a postcard - maybe this was like those perverts on the Ramblas in Barcelona, who promise to carve your CV on a grain of rice. This Jewish princess knew how to be nasty, and she was mobilizing all the tricks in the Kaballah ...
Beneath the crowing cock of Postmodernism, a fast-stuck sociology rules the roost - an endless whinge about the claims of the `oppressed', while the house-slaves baste the master's roast!
This obvious reference to masturbation - considering the state he was in - made Lunch blush purple. He hoped no-one could see. He looked to his left. The Kantian was reading an antique orange paperback by P.G. Wodehouse. He hoped Nellie wasn't looking at his neck. It seemed to burn red as fire. Ms Punnck continued:
As the `Marxism' of the 70s is abandoned, the sociological assumptions of the intelligentsia becomes unconscious tics, cricketing secrets immune to critique. As Nikolai Bukharin said, providing a brief taste of Old Bolshevik impatience with non-dialectical `political correctness': `The tendency, therefore, which can frequently be observed in our own Marxian ranks - namely, a purely nihilistic attitude toward the problem of form as such - is entirely wrong. In such an event literary research resolves itself into nothing but a superficial social-class characterization of the so-called ideological content of the poetic work, which in its bare, rudimentary and over-simplified form, is carried over into the characterization of the poet as a poet. As we have seen above, however, form and content constitute a unity, but a unity of contradictions. Moreover, such an attitude leads people to understand by "content" what is, properly speaking, the ideological source of the content, and not its artistic transformation. Needless to say, this leads to quite incorrect conclusions.' In other words, before Stalin crushed the Bolshevik project, `formalism' was not a crime. The reduction of artworks to their ideological content is not a Marxist error, but a perversion of Marxism - the same perversion is perpetuated in the Political Correctness of petit-bourgeois identity-politics and censorship lobbies. As Franz Mehring made clear in his biography, Karl Marx was exceptionally tolerant of the `failings' of poets: the so-called radicals who are so sensitive to mis-representations in Hollywood films are actually Stalinists - middle-class reformists who wish to perfect the capitalist order rather than bring it to its knees! The cloven world needs only the kleen-cut scalpel of revolutionary cleavage to meets its dialectical Zwiespaltung! I see owlish flights thru twylyte and the thievish principle of surplus value out-plus-extra'ed into chasmic spasms of spalted ham-bone!!
The Kantian at OTL's elbow snorted in derision: `What has this got to do with Existential Positionings? All this Hegelian-Marxism is so old hat! I came hear to hear some vicar-like pronouncements from the likes of Timothy Bewes, not to have my ears chafed by a Bolshevik in a mini-skirt ...'
The meeting had disintegrated into chaos. Again. Stewpot bustled over to Lunch. Noticing a Post-It sticker attached to the hem of his T-shirt, OTL plucked it off and put it in the pocket of his raincoat. It might hold a clue - a name, a phone number, a reference - some explanation of Stewpot's hitting on Cleavage Continuity. The ranting skinhead was too fired up to notice Lunch's action. More for Nellie and Stewpot's benefit than for the Wooster-Booster's, OTL sprang to Esther's defence.
`But the tirading Trotskyist is correct! The external, sociological approach is the bane of all so-called "progressive" cultural criticism. In suggesting Cleavage as an organising principle, Esther Punnck wishes to provide criticism with a focus learned from revolutionary politics and sexual arousal: the rift in the boredom from which we learn! Instead of looking for an ideal representation of our values, a trophy to atrophy on the mantelpiece, we want to penetrate the cracks and fissures that cleave the edifice.'
Abandonning her usual reticence, Ms Condottieri put in her tuppence-ha'penny: `Your image is surely derived from Henri Xhonneux and Roland Topor's divine Marquis, a video I picked up for 1.99 from a remaindered booksellers outside Camden Town tube - the bit where his disputant willie demands that de Sade fuck a crack in the prison wall.'
`That's right - the very same!'
`They describe it on the box as "The Marquis de Sade at his most bestial". I thought its use of animal puppets to argue about desire and revolution and reason - Existential Positionings, indeed!' she gave the Kantian a sharp look, `- proved that Wallace & Gromit is the product of an infantilised, sexless, parochial, philosophically-lobotomised and historically-deprived national culture. When they rolled out Gromit to comfort all the sobbing Mail-readers after Lady Di's funeral, I knew I'd got it right. But Xhonneux and Torpor's Cleavage was suppressed - along with hers. "Titties 'n Beer"!! Frank Zappa was right with his Nightschool proposal - there's something revolutionary about breasts. They're an eruption of desire from the lower orders. The upper classes of course prefer the androgyne buttock ...'
Lunch had forgotten that Nellie was a Zappa-maniac too. The thing was breaking out all over! There was a silence in the room. For some strange reason Nellie was being listened to by everyone. Out To Lunch needed to rise to the occasion. He leapt up on a chair, determined to make his voice heard.
The piece cries out for dismantling from the fixtures! Our Destructive Tendency does not abandon Marxist Critique for relativism as some stick-in-the-muds have complained (not that we don't love the mud, of course, we just want it unstuck, fluid and lovely). Blinded by the idealism of post-structuralist philosophy - taking the concept for the thing conceived - the postmodern doxa on Existential Positionings confuses Marxism's assertion that capitalism totalizes with a totalising system. When Lenin refered to Marx's `entire "system" sit venia verbo' he hedged it with scare quotes and a Latinate proviso. There is a Stalinist skeleton in every postmodern closet: tacit belief that in the 1930s the Russian toughnuts really did put Marxism in practice. That is why the only convincing opponents of Postmodernism are those who talk about Trotsky and his all-important heresy: the Russian tyranny was socialism betrayed!
The was a chorus of `disgusting!', `rubbish!' and `bollocks!' (OTL even thought he heard a `boulderdash!'). Sensing an opportunity for a ruck, Stewpot had picked up a chair and was waving it around. There was a general rush for the exit. Someone - Punnck? - had exploded a stinkbomb. This was all too infantile. Out To Lunch had to get away. He rushed with the mob to the exit.
On to Chapter Four
Get You Back Home