Category Archives: General

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elements of that necessary magic

Well, I sure as shit picked a great week to start using the birdsite again, didn’t I?

I don’t have much to say about it all, really—which isn’t to say I don’t have opinions about it, mind you, but I think the having of opinions is best left to those most directly affected, at least for now. (As a British rat who only recently scrambled off his own sinking ship, I’m in no position to give advice or laugh from the sidelines, either.) But I will reiterate the fairly common consensus that, far from being some shocking breach of USian norms that came out of nowhere, this was being signalled clear as day for months, if not years, and represents exactly the norms of a country that’s done a heckuva job of draping flags over falsehoods from day one*. It’s the naked lunch: suddenly everyone can see what’s on the end of the fork.

But the long game, beyond the borders of that souffle empire, and beyond the foreshortened temporalities of the current crisis, waits for no players. Adrian Ivakhiv knows the score, and also picked the most succinct possible title for his own post:

… the fate of the world rests between contending uses of the same tools employed by those conjurors — the tools of media, imagination, narrative, and passion, as well as reason. If some are using these tools to conjure illusions, the “magic” they are practicing — a magic of fears, lies and half-truths, and outworn but (to many) comforting myths (like QAnon’s “Storm” and the return to the Confederate States of America, depicted above in yesterday’s events) — must be counteracted by another magic, one that conveys the hope, the joy, and the real possibility of building a world of respect, dignity, beauty, social justice, and ecological flourishing.

The latter magic is more challenging to produce. It is also challenging to the halls of power, such as those represented by the U. S. Capitol, and I harbor no illusions that that building will ever be the epicenter of the great changes we need. But the elements of that necessary magic can be found all over the world, and it inspires my continued work.

I’m currently working on—or trying to work on—some of the framing arguments for my current project, which involves me making the case for the co-production of relateable and concrete climate futures with ordinary people. In that framing I am, as I have done for many years, positioning it as a question of a battle of narratives, but it might just as well be thought of as magic—and it’s a comfort to know that there are others out there looking at it the same way, and working up their own spells and cantrips. As Ivakhiv points out, dark magic is easy; fear is a highly combustible fuel, and there’s a lot of it about. Hope is scarcer—but, just like fear, it can be generated, distilled, shared, and used as as a medium for a magic with a different purpose, to make a light against the encroaching darkness.

Mystical hippie bullshit, Paul? Well, maybe. But if you still think that good old-fashioned Enlightenment rationality and liberal norms are all we need to get us out of the downward spiral, then I suggest you revisit the footage from Washington DC last night, and think again. That story had a good run, but its narrators lost control of it. Unless we replace it with something better… well, we’ve now had a pretty clear foreshadowing of how the movie ends.

gastric culture / mundane noise horror

There are lots of reminiscent reflections (and some predictable bafflement) in this MeFi FPP-thread responding to the recent un-deletion of the KLF’s back-catalogue, almost thirty years after the event… but this one was an interesting enough image that I wanted to clip it for posterity (if only my own):

I sometimes wonder whether pop isn’t a kind of digestive fluid, which makes challenging lumps embedded in popular culture more easily ingestible by capitalism.

comment by Grangrusier [MeFi user]

Should be digestible, really, but the point is well made nonetheless. Also in that thread are links to various bits of online KLF and Discordian lore (including at least one OCR’d samizdat version of the infamous Manual, which I would have killed for a copy of back in the day), and to a recent interview with Bill Drummond that suggests the un-deletion may have been a matter of financial necessity, as the guy’s developing early-onset dementia.

(I presume that pretending that to be the case might be a prank too far even for Drummond, but I suppose we’d all be fools to totally rule it out, on the basis of prior activities.)

This was a timely but not entirely unexpected trip down memory lane for me. It’s not unexpected because, as both reader and writer, I’m well aware of the anniversary-driven nature of pop-culture reflection content, and been thinking for a few years that we were soon to hit a seam of retro content that coincides with my own cultural coming-to-awareness, namely the early 1990s. The KLF are a fine synecdoche for that, being that they were both highly visible to my peers at the time, and almost universally loathed by them in a way that was not the case with much of the supposedly more “alternative” or obscure stuff I started to listen to around the same time. (Admittedly that lack of contempt may have been born of literal ignorance, but still: the point is, I loved the KLF, my peers thought me an idiot and a naif for doing so, and I didn’t understand why, given that my love for, say, Daisy Chainsaw was blithely priced into what was perceived as my baseline cultural maladaptation.)

And it’s timely because I’ve been thinking for a while that I want to start writing about the music that shaped me—though less because I think I have anything to add to the critical consensus on the music itself, and more because I want to make sense of the person I became (or began to become?) during those years, as soundtracked by that music. Growing up in a household where music, or at least an engagement with music as something more than audio wallpaper, was not really A Thing, I started my proper journey into music rather late in life; I recognise the sense of blindly stumbling into something epochal going on in 1991, much like the author of this bit at Louder Than War, but he was eleven, and I was thirteen. Furthermore, I have come to realise in recent years that while music was hugely important to me in my adolescence, my engagement with it was a bit weird and different to that of my peers, for an assortment of reasons—predominantly economic, geographical and psychosocial, but coalescing around the central fact that I was “educated” in British public schools*—that I want to think and write my way into (and thus out of).

Of course, the one thing the world needs even less than my Very Clever Thoughts about Siamese Dream or the Judgement Night soundtrack is a self-indulgent and introspective memoir-through-music by a middle-aged minor academic trying to figure out the singularity of his likely-much-less-weird-than-he-thought-at-the-time cultural formation… and the one thing I need even less is yet another project that involves cranking out a word-count to a self-imposed deadline. But that is the pathology of the writer, right there… and what else is a blog for but to write for that small audience of maybe-no-more-than-one about the things that seem to need to be written about?

So, yeah—keep ’em peeled, because there may well be some autobiographical essays in the RSS pipeline in the weeks and months ahead. Not sure whether that’s a threat or a promise, to you or to me…

[ * – Note for non-British readers: in a classic case of British class divisions having markers which make little sense outside of said system of class, “public school” in Britain means the same as what “private school” means in most other places; meanwhile, what you might describe as “public schools” would instead be referred to as “state school”, or—if you were of a similar class strata to my parent—as “the local comprehensive”, a phrase to be freighted with a careful combination of contempt and condescension. ]