Been a while since my last post… Damn, I missed this blog.
‘Let’s all have a laugh and stay alive.’ This is an easy-going remark made by a 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 fan of J.G. Ballard whose depiction of river Thames in his novels would fit the bill – that perfect setting for non-stop orgy, not excluding elders and children [ii] – all these strike me as oddly redeeming. In Ballard, the goal of orgy, not without the violence it cultivates, is to attain a state of equilibrium, homeostasis, from which the new can emerge. Something quite opposed to Bataille’s economizing of death: in order to keep desire alive, sexual consummation is delayed in favor of the substitution of pain, largely self-inflicted. Marquis de Sade is the icon of this logic of substitution. In Ballard, however, after an excess of sex, culture arises. One of the literary techniques of Ballard comes to play when the body reached its physical limit in performing sex – it becomes a bird in another time but stays close to the present. The resolution is given from without, by any means an act of nature, talk of birds in Ballard’s novels, for instance. This makes nature closer to fiction. And fiction is culture, the imaginary homeostasis. Fictions model their imaginary 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 aims to protect punk culture from commercialization. The guardians of punk culture proclaim, ‘Long live castration, for it is the home, the Origin and End of desire!’[iii] Punk is dead. 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.’ 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 extends 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 he 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] 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 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 by official memory. Long live castration. The future is extinction. Case closed.
‘Let’s all have a laugh and stay alive.’ This seems to me a corrective to that which changes constantly, the punk that I loved in my youth days. 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] This is punk, affirming the open, refusing to settle in memory. ‘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 that sells what we don’t need. The punk is the anti-Nietzsche who protests against transforming life into a crystal-image, into our deliverance to eternal time.
The punk sort of corrects, not without its ambiguities, Nietzsche for his failure to see how philosophy can 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 that allowed 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 Paul Virilio, became an information bomb at one’s fingertips, courtesy of the ouchscreen implements of modern technology.[xii] Time in this sense has become multiple,
‘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… 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 affirms extinction by blurring it with any possible ‘open’, future time. It laughs at its own incredulity.
On how to affirm the future, Joe Corre’s mother quips, ‘this is so ridiculously easy. Let’s all have a laugh and stay alive.’
[i] See ‘Punk funeral: Joe Corré burns £5m of memorabilia on Thames,’ https://www.theguardian.com/music/2016/nov/26/punx-not-dead-joe-corre-burns-memorabilia-worth-5m-on-thames.
[ii] See J.G. Ballard, The Unlimited Dream Company (New York: Liveright Publishing Company, 1979).
[iii] See Gilles Deleuze and Claire Parnet, Dialogues II, trans. Hugh Tomlinson and Barbara Habberjam (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), 47.
[vi] Gilles Deleuze, “Doubts About the Imaginary,” in Negotiations (1972-1990), trans. Martin Joughin (New York: Columbia University Press, 1990), 66.
[vii] Deleuze, “On the Movement-Image,” in Negotiations, 56
[viii] Ibid., 55.
[ix] See Gilles Deleuze, “The Overman against the Dialectic,” in Nietzsche and Philosophy, trans. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1983), 170.
[x] Deleuze, “Doubts about the Imaginary,” 67.
[xi] Deleuze, “Letter to Serge Daney,” in Negotiations, 72.
[xii] See Paul Virilio, The Information Bomb, trans. Chris Turner (London and New York: Verso, 2005).
[xiii] Deleuze, “Three Questions on Six Times Two,” in Negotiations, 37.
[xiv] See Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, “Introduction: Rhizome,” in A Thousand Plateaus, Capitalism and Schizophrenia, vol. 2 (London: University of Minnesota Press, 1987), 3-25.
[xv] Deleuze, “On Philosophy,” in Negotiations, 155.