“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Sunday, March 11, 2007

the soundtrack

Q: In everyday life, do you sometimes have the impression of being in a film?
Baudrillard: Yes, particularly in America, to a quite painful degree. If you drive around Los Angeles in a car, or go out into the desert, you are left with an impression that is toally cinematographic, hallucinatory. You are … steeping in a substance which is that of the real, of the hyper-real, of the cinema. This is so even with that foreboding of catastrophe: an enormous truck bowling along a freeway, the frequent allusions to the possibility of catastrophic events, but perhaps that is a scenario I describe to myself.”
-From Baudrillard Live: selected interviews.

LI is of the opinion that post-modernity never happened, that all the features that are supposed to be postmodern – the hyperreal, the self as self-reference, the undermining of epistemic certainties by pure doxic moments (doxa, you Platonists will remember, are the half way real) – that all of this is what happens as we wander about the extended sensorium created by modernism. When Gerald Nerval in Aurelia recounts the l'épanchement du songe dans la vie réelle (the effusion of the dream in real life), the segues and montages and dissolves could be referenced, at best, to paintings and optical instruments like the microscope, telescope, and kaleidoscope, but now the dream is shot through real life in every grocery store and gas station rest room. And as for Nerval’s own version of the occult influence of the ordinary on his life – “I’ve often had this idea that in certain grave moments in life, the exterior world spirit, as such, incarnated itself suddenly in the form of an ordinary person, and acted or attempted to act on us, without the knowledge or memory of that person” – this is what I think I meant in yesterday’s post by saying that everything we touch turns to mythology, and it is that quality, raised to the power of an external system, that is the sensorium of modernity, on all tracks.

Which leads me to movie music, and in particular, the way my sense of myself has been bound up, at least since early adolescence, with the idea that there is a soundtrack to my life. Here we have a question for psychologists: what is the meaning and history of the life soundtrack? I know many people who definitely have this same sense – and in fact, those are the people who have always fascinated me in my life. There are many things that go into elective affinity – one of them for me is the intuition that a certain person has this soundtrack, lives with it, nourishes it, realizes, obscurely, that it is important. These people are poseurs, and I do love poseurs – it requires a lot of push back against the inertia of the everyday, which, after a while, wears on even Popeye’s muscle. I do think the soundtrack dies, for a lot of people – who knows, perhaps most people – in the twenties. It might be a sign of one’s retarded development in late modern capitalism to retain it, as I do, into middle age.

I do know, however, that Baudrillard’s sense of living in a film in America leaves out that very important thing – the radio. The cd deck. Without it – especially in those vast eyeaching spaces that you have to speed through, Wyoming, Utah, Colorado, Texas – the movie-in-life becomes simply a trance of sleep inducing landscapes. I have left behind a little bit of myself – the little bit that lived at a fictitious address in Georgia - in the computers of the state police of each of those states, just trying to get out of there.

3 comments:

patrick j. mullins said...

'It might be a sign of one’s retarded development in late modern capitalism to retain it, as I do, into middle age.'

I think, rather, that it is a sign modern capitalism's particular brand of retardation that one can only fulfill it in middle age. And it is not especially pleasant even though it is what you wanted. You think, well now I have it, but it doesn't work well within society, where you're not supposed to be able to do it unless you keep it in the newly made-safe boundaries which pretend to deplore the slow erosion of any kind of spirited sensibility while making sure that the possibilities are more and more limited, but merely more be-gadgeted, and therefore all of the erosions are re-posited over and over until the directors of all arts institutions are company men of the most mediocre sort (this is happening). So then you have to keep practising at both states, and decide if the one you wanted but attained only as if by now an anomaly is worth continuing with, however unrealistic it may seem. Because people 'you are nice to' and whom 'you are thoughtful to' are not very attuned to old thoughts of reciprocity, and are primarily competitive. Therefore, you have to watch your back all the time, but when it feels right, it doesn't feel as though the catastrophes will happen, as you and Baudrillard point out. However, this is no reason not to go on with the soundtrack if it sounds okay a majority of the time (throw it out if it's just an occasional Schopenhaurian bit of pleasure against the pain backdrop, and settle for all sorts of normal things again), because the catastrophe is not really lessened or increased by whether the soundtrack is kept running (or rather, the degree is not that great.)

roger said...

"I think, rather, that it is a sign modern capitalism's particular brand of retardation that one can only fulfill it in middle age." Well, you might be right, there, Patrick. Since you are a musician, I can't imagine that you don't have a sound track in your head that is to mine as the finest stereo system is to a battered boom box.

I was thinking about what evidence we have for how much music people carried around in their head before the existence of the all around sensorium, and I thought of Leopold Bloom. Throughout the day, his thoughts are continually falling into and out of song. But none of the spaces he goes into, of course, have a muzak system - there's no radio he passes by - there is a silence, by our standards. Raised from very babyhood with the babble of the tv set, Americans can't seem to do without babble in public spaces - hence the ubiquitous presence of the idiot box in airports, for instance. To wait, in the U.S., is to listen to music or chatter piped in from somewhere. Not that I'm bitching - the meshing of music and image in film is one of the great things, to me. A lovely product of late capitalism, which of course spews out the bad, the good and the ugly with supreme indifference. One of the excellent motifs in J.R. - my favorite Gaddis novel - is a radio buried under debris in an apartment that is squatted in variously by many of the characters in the novel, and that can't be turned off. It seems to come in and out of itself, tuned to a classical music station with the patter of an extremely idiotic d.j. It is extremely funny, in an extremely dry martini way.

patrick said...

'Raised from very babyhood with the babble of the tv set, Americans can't seem to do without babble in public spaces - hence the ubiquitous presence of the idiot box in airports, for instance. To wait, in the U.S., is to listen to music or chatter piped in from somewhere.'

No, they can't do without it, and they can't even do without several versions of it at a time, so they do television talk on the cellphones at the airport. All of this is to me unwatchable, unlistenable, and yet it doesn't even seem especially loud most of the time--just 'tinsellism', if I invent a new word. I just realized that the stores are only still open because the statistics about online use are more futurized than actual--they aren't kept open for any charm, but because they still have customers who aren't doing all their shopping online (my sister-in-law, dumbest person in my family, does this, and seems proud of it, just loathsome). It's like when Baudrillard talks about how you can go to Tierra del Fuego and if they can receive a fax, then you still don't 'escape your real time.' This is not yet quite true, but it's clear what he's getting at. It becomes progressively more difficult to find silence and to stick with it for any length of time, because it begins to seem anti-social, and therefore dangerous. Baudrillard, Virilio, and Zizek have all written stuff about these things and I am constantly trying to find out what the situation really is. In music, there is already a meshing of Muzak and music that is more complex than the old elevator Muzak. The new 'music', though, is more like Muzak than music because of the low hum that is always there. Total automatism is about all that's being offered, I sometimes think, and so it takes a superhuman effort to resist it, and then you might get killed for it. At many points of feeling threatened, one often settles for some kind of lessening. Curious, that by now, it seems more suicidal to develop yourself than not to--so if you still think there can be a flesh and blood individual, you end up being pretty much on your own, and start getting looked at askance (you get other things too, but I'm not talking about the perks, those are well-known.) I'm talking about how standing outside these media is dangerous after a certain point.