‘Let’s all have a laugh and stay alive’
Been a while since my last post… Damn, I missed this blog.
‘Let’s all have a laugh and stay alive.’ This is one easy-going remark made by an old mother to a punk icon as she watched her son burned £5m worth of punk memorabilia on the river Thames.[i] Before that she said, ‘this is the first step towards a free world…. [Ever] since punk … we never had a strategy then, that’s why we never got anywhere.’ Well, the stunt came as a protest against the planned memorial of the UK government, supported by the British Library and the British Film Institute, to honor the punk generation. Joe Corre, the guy in the center of this protest, told the crowd watching: ‘Punk has become another marketing tool to sell you something you don’t need. The illusion of an alternative choice. Conformity in another uniform.’
As an avid generational enthusiast of punk culture, and a rather incurable fan of J.G. Ballard whose depiction of river Thames in his novels would fit a perfect setting for non-stop orgy, not excluding elders and children,[ii] straight and queer, all these strike me as oddly redeeming. In Ballard, the goal of orgy, not without the violence it cultivates, is to achieve a state of equilibrium, homeostasis, from which something new can emerge. Quite different from George Bataille’s economizing of death: in order to keep desire alive, sexual consummation is delayed in favor of the substitution of pain, mostly self-inflicted, for the end of desire. Marquis de Sade is the icon of this logic of substitution. In Ballard, however, after too much sex comes culture, as it were. But homeostasis remains unachievable; at best, it serves as an imaginary model for something more pragmatic than another fatiguing orgy after orgy; the point being, the body can only take so much, whether pleasure or pain. One of the literary techniques of Ballard comes to play when the body reached its physical limit performing sex over a period of time – it becomes a bird in another time but stays close to the present. The resolution is given from without, by any means an indiscernible, both real and unreal, which is nature, talk of birds, feathery creatures that ruffle hairs on ends. This rather makes nature closer to fiction. And fiction is culture, the imaginary homeostasis.
No matter what, we model the goodness that we seek after the self-determining principle of nature, which at least for Deleuze, is about chasing the animal behind whatever-becomings that a body, presumably a healthy body, can pursue. ‘Let’s all have a laugh and stay alive.’ By burning millions worth of punk memorabilia, the punk avant-garde aim to protect punk culture from too much marketing and commercialization, now state-sanctioned. The guardians of punk culture, after economizing its own death in the hands of succeeding counter-culture generations that have overwhelmed its residual influence, are now willing to proclaim ‘Long live castration, for it is the home, the Origin and End of desire!’[iii] Punk is dead. The future is extinction. A signature act of protest on the river Thames becomes however a signature submission to what Deleuze would describe as ‘sad [narcissism] or ‘pious masturbation.’[iv] As he puts it elsewhere with Parnet, ‘we blackmail ourselves, we make ourselves out to be mysterious, discreet, we move with the air saying ‘See how I am weighed down by a secret. A thorn in the flesh.’[v] Incidentally, Joe Corre’s stunt was marked by a cinematic delight as one news report describes: ‘Fireworks were launched from a boat, which was decorated with Grim Reaper figures holding flags and a banner that read: Extinction! Your future.’
For some reasons, as future time is invoked, this brings me to Deleuze’s notion of the crystal-image: ‘What we see in a crystal is a time that has become autonomous … constantly inducing false moves.’[vi] In an interview, Deleuze is extending his critique of classic cinema to that of the realist notion of time. Cinema, which generates a crystal-image, becomes expressive of time in the sense that it makes one understand time in more pragmatic contexts. Yet pragmatic does not mean closer to truth. What the crystal-image brings out, in Deleuze’s preferred neorealist standpoint, is rather the awareness that, as Deleuze elaborates, ‘when talking about offscreen space, we’re saying on the one hand that any given set of things is part of another larger two- or three dimensional set, but we’re also saying that all sets are embedded in a whole that’s different in nature, a fourth or fifth dimension, constantly changing across the sets … over which it ranges’.[vii] After much ado, what Deleuze is simply saying is that the crystal-image delivers us over into the Bergsonian concept of the Open, which is time, ‘constantly changing in nature.’[viii] What Joe Corre did in the name of the future may approach a corrective to time, much more time as eternal return, as affirmation of the Open. ‘Punk was never meant to be nostalgic,’ he said. Punk is dead. Its time refuses to be co-opted to official memory. So it seems. Long live castration, for the future is extinction. Case closed.
‘Let’s all have a laugh and stay alive.’ This seems to me a corrective attitude towards that which changes constantly, the punk that I was in my youth days, and still in many subtle ways am. I’m reminded of Deleuze’s Nietzsche and Philosophy on the virtue of laughter that apparently all men, even higher men lack: ‘There are things that the higher man does not know how to do: ‘to laugh, to play and to dance. To laugh is to affirm life, even the suffering in life. To play is to affirm chance and the necessity of chance. To dance is to affirm becoming and the being of becoming.’[ix] If this is punk, then I am closer to the logic of Deleuze, not to mention Nietzsche, the Ǚber-punk, I guess. Deleuze says of Nietzsche in the shadow of discussing the cinema: ‘in Nietzsche, one sees philosophical discourse toppling into a crystalline system, substituting the power of becoming for the model of truth, ‘pathic’ relinkings (aphorisms) for logical links.’[x] ‘Let’s all have a laugh and stay alive.’ But the punk also denies that affirmation is the end-goal of laughter, play and dance. The future is extinction. The punk denies the affirmation of eternal return, life that sells what we don’t need. The punk is anti-Nietzsche who protests against the transforming of life into a crystal-image, into our deliverance to eternal time. The punk rectifies Nietzsche.
The punk sort of corrects Nietzsche for his failure (he was born earlier, the exact point) to see how philosophy can actually transform into a crystalline system, the cinema, and how the crystal-image, at least in its neorealist transformations dear to Deleuze, would be hijacked by the television, and how television would be claimed by algorithmic systems defining today’s planetary consciousness. In these transformations, the concept of time is at stake: when television hijacked the cinema, time became a social function, what of sociality that allows one to be “in contact with technology, touching the machinery.’[xi] In the postmodern world, when even the TV would give way to a higher cerebral function of information machine, time, in the words of Deleuze’s friend, Paul Virilio, became an information bomb at one’s fingertips, courtesy of use-friendly touchscreen implements of modern information technology.[xii] Time in this sense has become multiple, yet still short of the Deleuzean promise of becoming a multiple creative solitude that he saw at play in most of Godard’s films.[xiii] Instead, we have witnessed how time has transformed into a deadly form of microfascism at everyone’s fingertips.[xiv]
‘Let’s all have a laugh and stay alive.’ In an interview, Deleuze was reported to have said, ‘I want to write a book on ‘What is Philosophy’ As long as it’s a shorter one. Also, Guattari and I want to get back to our joint work and produce a sort of philosophy of Nature, now that any distinction between nature and artifice is becoming blurred. Such projects are all one needs for a happy old age.[xv] It’s not difficult to discern in these lines how Deleuze wanted to laugh, how he wanted to be punk. What extinction tells of future time is precisely this blurring of distinction. It’s punk; it never gets you anywhere.
Whether he wanted to laugh to affirm the future, extinction, is another matter. But how to affirm the future, Joe Corre’s mother quips, ‘this is so ridiculously easy. Let’s all have a laugh and stay alive.’