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Category Archives: industrial culture

Marcus Stiglegger (Mainz, Germany)

Guest lecture held at the ‘Body colloquium’, Clemson University (SC), 22nd of September 2008.

1. Bataille’s ‘general economy’ and the potlatch

The complex of eros and thanatos is not new to the world of film. In fact it prooves to be a main motor of cinematic expression from the beginning. But yet every era had to find its frontiers, its limits of expression. For many cinematographic ideas narrative constructions involving moments of violent and/or sexual excess and ultimate loss are cruxial. The ultimate gift – connected to the idea of the religious sacrifice – is at the same time the highes possible gift: the own life. Giving the own life is the irreversible gift and the final point of exchange. It can not be topped.

While many cinematographic genres deal with these idea of excess and the ultimate gift (which equals death), is seems appropriate to take a look at Georges Bataille’s theory of expenditure within his concept of what he calls ‘general economy’:

‘[…] the extension of economic growth itself requires the overturning of economic principles—the overturning of the ethics that grounds them. Changing from the perspectives of restrictive economy to those of general economy actually accomplishes a Copernican transformation: a reversal of thinking—and of ethics. If a part of wealth (subject to a rough estimate) is doomed to destruction or at least to unproductive use without any possible profit, it is logical, even inescapable, to surrender commodities without return.’ (Georges Bataille [1949], The Accursed Share, Volume 1: Consumption, trans. Robert Hurley (New York: Zone Books, 1991), pp. 25–6)

In the modus of over-production, energy appears that is not ‘necessary’ in the strict sense of the word. This energy is what Bataille calls ‘le part maudit’,  the ‘accursed share’. According to Bataille’s theory of consumption, the accursed share is that excessive and non-recuperable part of any economy which is destined to one of two modes of economic and social expenditure. This must either be spent luxuriously and knowingly without gain in the arts, in non-procreative sexuality, in spectacles and sumptuous monuments, or it is obliviously destined to an outrageous and catastrophic outpouring in war.

Thus the notion of ‘excess’ energy is central to Bataille’s thinking. Bataille’s inquiry takes the superabundance of energy, beginning from the infinite outpouring of solar energy or the surpluses produced by life’s basic chemical reactions, as the norm for organisms. In other words, an organism in Bataille’s general economy normally has an ‘excess’ of energy available to it. This extra energy can be used productively for the organism’s growth or it can be expended. Bataille insists that an organism’s growth or expansion always runs up against limits and becomes impossible. The wasting of this energy is luxury. The form and role luxury assumes in a society are characteristic of that society. ‘The accursed share’ refers to this excess, destined for expenditure for its own sake.

Bataille explains his idea according to the anthropological phenomenon of the potlatch-festival of the Kwakiutl-indians of the Northern Pacific coast of North America. Marcel Mauss refers to this phenomenon in his influential essay ‘The Gift’ (1923-24): potlatch is translated ‘a gift’ and signifies festivals of family gatherings, where the host shows his generosity up to the point of total bakruptcy.

A society that does not develop strategies of expendition according to Bataille is not souvereign any more and has to suffer from war, crisis and catastrophy that imply the destruction of the accursed share and more by force and without control. The western model of overproduction bears this kind of danger.

2. The body in excess

Like a society also the individual body has its accursed share that has to be expended in excess. Based on Sigmund Freud’s idea of the destructive death drive presented in ‘Beyond the Lust Principle’ (1920) that he paralleled to the already stated drive to live, Bataille imagined the idea of a turning from life to death drive. Sexuality as the ultimate expression of the will to live may turn into a celebration of death in what Bataille calls the sacred act of transgression. The act of transgression combined the idea of eros and thanatos and might be dubbed ‘thanateros’.

The playground of transgressive excess is logically the human body. While the conventional sexual act is still placed within the order of biological production-process, the transgressive sexual excess moves closer to the destruction of the body itself. Of special value here may be the dealing with bodily fluids (blood, saliva, genital fluids etc.) which belong to the realm of the abject (referring to Julia Kristeva’s essay ‘The Powers of Horror’, 1982). In his own erotic prose Bataille often refers to such elements while conventional sexual acts are very rare within his work.

After an age where the consumtion of limitless sexual freedon was considered an utopia (following the hippie-movement of the 1960s), the human body had to be regained in conscious shaping and modification. The 1980ies brought a fashion of body building, aerobic, but also beauty surgery. The modern primitive movement of the early 1990s can be seen as the peak of the ultimate transformation of the body: beyond tattooing and piercing there was scarification, amputation and every kind of body technique imaginable. These games on the physical playground led to an inevitable loss of transgressive quality. What would have been excess ten years before, was convention by the standards of the mid 1990s.

The conclusion could be: After the body has lost its abjection it has still to be re-abjectified via techniques of body-modification. And James G. Ballards novel ‘Crash’, which was written in the aftermath of the so-called ‘sexual revolution’ to mark a dystopian turing point, appears still to be prophetic by today’s standards. The Canadian director David Cronenberg, already famous for his disturbing body horror films, recognized this twist and adapted the novel for the 1990s.

3. Cronenberg’s Crash: the expenditure of the own body

It is popular for films dealing with transgressive sexuality to point towards a fatal end: the amour fou will not work for human existence within society and leads to the ultimate sacrifice: the death of the lovers. Or at least one of the, thus ending the relationship. Classic films like Godard’s Breathless, Bertolucci’s Last Tango in Paris, Liliana Cavani’s The Night Porter, Almodóvar’s Matador, Oshima’s In the Realm of the Senses, Fassbinder’s Querelle and many more might be seen in this light.

In Crash a community of people is portrayed that is clearly devotet to a strictly ritualized and sexualized  death drive

-the central seductive figure is Vaughan: tattoo, staging of crashes

He says he is aiming for the ‘re-shaping of the human body by modern technology’; later he makes fun of that idea and actually points out his psychpathology of staging and aestheticizing crash situations and sites.

-for Helen Remington and Ballard the trauma of the first crash is elementary: re-staging of accidents

-all of them are well equipped middle class people bored by life and heading for somethign new and unpredictable – ultimately death by crash

-Catherine Ballard is the ultimate empty character who has lost its drive to live and enjoys the idea of being close to death; in conventional sexual acts she seems totally replaced

-Gabrille as the fetishized and selfstyled object of desire as a re-abjectified body:

‘And Gabrielle is now not only deviantly and hence authentically sexually desiring, she is more sexually desirable to the male who craves female abjection: pierced, penetrated, deformed, leaking like a punctured radiator, and even manifesting a variety of extra crash-created orifices that become the explicite sites of James’s desire in a more redemptive sexuality.’ (Beard 391)

The key sequence is the crash site which is staged in a very serious way by the stuntman acting out the Jayne Mansfield death. His offering is the ultimate and irreversible sacrifice: His own life and additionally that of unknown crash victims causeed by him. As Vaughan sees him in the Mansfield outfit, he is aware that he might not be able to top that. In the logic of the film he seeks for expenditure of his own life as well.

He handles the crash site as a tableau of art, very similar to Andy Warhol’s series „White carcrash Nineteen Times’ (1963).

Vaughan may fail in his idea of the re-shaping of the human body but David Cronenberg’s film have its own idea: ‘I am trying to change the audience’s aesthetics. I want them to start with the normal revulsion that they have and by the end of the movie to see some kind of beauty or some possibility of beauty in things they thought were repulsive. That’s my own project,’ he says, ‘transforming the human aesthetics.’

‘Maybe the next one’ are Catherine Ballards remarks on not having an orgasm in the beginning. And ‘maybe the next one’ will be the phrase that comments her near death in a car crash provoked by her husband. The so-called little death of the orgasm is in her world already replaced by the final experience replacing it: the ultimate death.

Literature:

William Beard: The Artist As Monster. The Cinema of David Cronenberg, Toronto/Buffalo/London 2001

Marcus Stiglegger: Ritual & Verführung. Schaulust, Spektakel & Sinnlichkeit im Film, Berlin 2006

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“Inade visit places that even the most ambitious specialists for dark soundscapes have yet to come across.” J. C. Smith, Spectrum Magazine (2000) Music and space – a direct relationship has to be defined here: Music unfolds in space, but also simultaneously creates a new, virtual space: the sound space. Entirely independent from this rather general association, there exists another specific circumstance. It has a name that seems diffuse at first: Ambient. Generally, Ambient Music is perceived as an unobtrusive soundscape that has an affirmative effect on its sound space – the environment in which it resounds. However, the term Ambient Music made music history in a different context. Introduced by British conceptual artist and musician Brian Eno, it simultaneously describes a musical style as well as a specialized method of dealing with the relationship of sound and space. He writes: “Ambiance is defined as atmosphere or enveloping influence […]. It is my goal to produce original compositions for specific times and situations, the aim being a comprehensive catalog of background music with a wide variety of moods and atmospheres. […] Ambient Music must be able to address several levels of the listener’s attention without forcing itself onto a certain one.” The musical means of this sound art are gradually crescending frequencies, overlapping layers of sound, voice modulations, effected field recordings, piano accents, and more seldomly, also darkly droning layers of sound. Eric Satie called this “musique ameublement,” “music as interior decoration,” which should be present yet should not interfere with the conversation of those present. But this aspect of “background music” was not as simple after all. Ambient Music in turn influences the perception of space. It guides the listener’s attention, and is able to virtually contract or expand the space. Especially when used for artistic installations, Ambient Music can receive an elemental significance and guide and support the attention of the viewer. On its quieter improvisations dating from the late 1970s, but especially on the soundtrack to Derek Jarman’s “In the Shadow of the Sun” (1981), the British performance quartet Throbbing Gristle created extremely opressive, dark soundscapes: distorted modulations, producing ‘mournful’ frequencies, overlayed disturbing bass drones, reverberating crystalline sounds accompanied metallic vibrations… With this latter composition, “Dark Ambient,” an apocalyptic inversion of Eno’s original definition, had been born. It managed to combine the concepts of noise music (according to “L’Arte dei Rumori” by Luigi Russolo) and Satie’s “music d’ameublement” into a singular style which was refined throughout the 1980s, but has only reached the apex of its popularity within the last ten years. Back in the early 1990s, Dark Ambient sounds could already be heard emerging from Aue in the Erzgebirge (the “Ore Mountains” region of Saxony), specifically on two audio cassettes by the duo Inade: “Schwerttau” (“Sword Dew”, 1992) and “Burning Flesh/Seelenhain” (“Grove of Souls” 1993) were still testing the limits of the sound equipment at their disposal, and searching amidst the stylistic territories of Post-Industrial and Ambient Musics. In 2000, a few of these early recordings could be heard again on the “Burning Flesh” CD and unfolded a darkly fatalistic world view with its reverberating noise textures, chorales and occasional monotone ritualistic rhythms. 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The reference to the theme is not made through declarative exclamations or samples, but rather via carefully layered walls of sound that undergo an ongoing differentiation and almost take on a melodic character in the third part. Thematically, this release is still far removed from the occult concepts of later works, although movement, space and energy already are central concerns. Inade is an artistic moniker, an invented or possibly constructed name. Whether it constitutes a condensation of the artists’ will, a sigil, does not matter in the end. Inade has long since become a surface for projection, the source of a certain expectation. Inade is a complex conception of the world via language, image and sound. In this presentation, and also in live concerts, the human voice plays a equally important role as the electronic components and treated sounds. Already on “Burning Flesh,” we hear this voice as invocational mantra over the cascades of droning soundscapes… “It is our main interest to transform ideas and concepts that correspond to our own thoughts and interests. Inade is like a sonar, an echo location into unseen and unheard regions and abstract spheres, where the nameless and unnameable is alive” the musicians stated in Spectrum magazine (September 2000). It is their intention “to go beyond the in part static and often repetitive working principle of Ambient Music by adding further attributes” (Black, Autumn 2001). The first milestone work of Inade is the CD “Aldebaran,” released in England in 1996 and named after that dying sun that radiates its violet light on many an evening. 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And this is the end of the beginning.” The cosmic cycle indicated here corresponds to the basic assumptions of alchemy, which in turn inspired the idea of the invisible black sun that forms a reciprocal relationship with the visible white sun. Like an endlessly turned hourglass, these two suns send and receive the energy of the other. They form the cyclical relationship of “Sun-Ur” which is hinted at by the motto “Die and become!” In addition, this work ends with the visionary words of Ernst Jünger: “The real is equally as magical as the magical is real.” With “The Crackling of the Anonymous” Knut Enderlein and René Lehmann continued the cosmic concept of “Aldebaran.” The title describes “the symbol of a bright shining unexpected impact, followed by a calm vibration, as a kind of disharmonic phenomena whose repolarisation is effected through divine signs or even through anonymous factors. 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Sofar, two compilations dedicated to the occult underground in early 20th century Germany have appeared in the series “Germania Occulta” which is produced in collaboration with Turbund Sturmwerk and also features other musically and conceptually kindred musicians. “Saturn Gnosis” dealt with the concepts of Gregor A. Gregorius and “Peryt Shou” with the ideas of the “spiritual seeker and teacher” of the same name. In these elaborately designed combinations of vinyl records and booklets, sound space, spiritual idea and conceptual art have merged effortlessly. 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The possibly banal appears special since it arouses the ‘suspicion’ in the viewer that something ‘else’ is hidden under the perceptible surface, in the “submedial space.” And what if this suspicion should be in fact confirmed? Büsser’s misgiving that sound art tends towards the ‘esoteric’ – his ‘suspicion’ – is perhaps completely undone by the occult sound art of Inade. Of course, their works can be consumed out of the pure enjoyment of ‘physical’ sound, but Inade’s idea to symbiotically join sound and concept in order to explore new, uncharted territories promises much more than just aesthetic enjoyment. “Aldebaran” and “Crackling of the Anonymous” have established themselves over the years as convincing total works of art (“Gesamtkunstwerke”) that reopen the gates of perception with every new listen and uncover vistas of realms that are usually obscured by the everyday ballast of a materialist industrial world that has forgotten how to listen to its most subtle receptors. That is why it most likely requires a musical tremor like Inade in order to once again conjure up such a state of ‘transcendental trembling’… I N A D E Colliding Dimensions 4xCD / 4xLP BOXSET At the intersection between dreams and ears wide open cognizance, between the known reality and the spiderweb cluster of dimensions dissecting it, reside the premier purveyors of dark ambience, Inade. But it’s more than simple dark ambience that they traffic in, for their dreams are vast and unrestricted, and their imaginative, ears wide open approach to sound manipulation is audacious and unparalleled. It’s as much weird ambient as it is dark ambient; strange, perplexing sounds in which origin must be questioned. Arcane musings from the cosmic wasteland collide with insectiod utterances culled from ancient alien terrain; deep audio ripples pulsing across dark matter plains collide with the ephemeral flotsam of German occult murmurings. Pterodactyl’s squeal in atavistic joy, space itself breathes–inhalations like crackling Cthulhuian dread, exhalations etched on the machinery whine of Forever–and the ever shifting cartography of the infinite is sonically translated along the ridge of collision, where Inade dare to explore. What remains is incomparable: the audio mythology they have nurtured, and the legacy that is Colliding Dimensions. Announced for several years we can finally present the long requested compendium of INADE that closes a circle from near the starting point of the project to their Peryt Shou release and concert in December 2002. All material of this set was recorded and sculptured during live shows and rehearsal sessions from 1995 to 2002 and was especially selected and mastered to receive high quality audio recordings with no compromise in sound. A third of the tracks has not been released in any form yet and this release brings back as well a lot of long sold out material like Vitriol, Flood Of White Light and more in new and powerful live versions. The vinyl edition is limited to 525 copies only. CATALOGUE-NUMBER: LOKI 38 AVAILABLE 25. April 2005