Saturday, November 25, 2006

Hauntology II

Since my post last month about hauntology, there's been a flurry of blog activity on the topic (Jahsonic provides a mini-roundup here). In my post, I knew that I was more or less talking out of my ass. For one thing, I neglected to mention that the term originates with Derrida (in part this is because I have yet to read any Derrida, let alone Spectres of Marx, from which it comes). The proprietor of the new blog ACADEMITASSE, Mike, posted at length on this last week. Derrida, he writes, was responding in part to the kinds of "end of history" theses being put forth by the likes of Francis Fukuyama in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall. For Derrida,
all this talk of the end of history is really just an attempt to "exorcise the spirit of Marxism" from our collective memory. And then he went on to look at the some of the "spectral" metaphors in Marx, whose description of capitalism is full of vampires and ghosts and the living dead.

Along the way, Derrida coined the term "hauntology" as a pun on "ontology." Ontology is the study of being, of what exists. Derrida wants to say that our ideas of reality are "haunted" by the stuff we exclude—the things we don't want to remember or acknowledge. The Holocaust, for example, or the slave trade. Our sense of Western history as the progressive march of "freedom" and "civilization" is haunted by genocide and enslavement.
Though I came to hauntology by way of attempts to apply it to music--"sonic hauntology"--I'm interested in this idea of history "haunted by the stuff we exclude". Really, I always have been, even if I didn't articulate it as such. I was trying to touch on some of this when I wrote about the common thread I perceived running through old folk music and Blood Meridian and so forth. Then there is the question of who the "we" is that is doing the excluding. And who is or isn't served by certain historical myths.

After quoting part of the same k-punk passage that I did in my earlier post ("It's no accident that hauntology begins in the Black Atlantic, with dub and hip-hop. Time being out of joint is the defining feature of the black Atlantean experience"), Mike says: "This is what's at stake in the term "hauntology" losing its precision: the memory of specific historical experiences that called for specific aesthetic responses." He then proceeds with a short, interesting discussion of Rastafarianism and Dub, of which the following is only a small part:
Like Rastafarianism, Dub is a response to a specific historical situation. Artists like [Lee "Scratch"] Perry rose to that occasion. If Byrne and Eno [with their My Life in the Bush of Ghosts] were inspired by Perry's work and wanted to appropriate it for their own concerns, that's great. But when critics describe B&E as these "nerdy," "cerebral" musicians experimenting with electronic music, they start to construct just another history of the Western Avant-garde that ignores the intellectual contribution of Black artists. Perry was as much a theoretician as B&E.
Read the rest here.

I expect I'll return to these themes in the future. For now, the upshot, for me, is that Spectres of Marx is yet another book that I feel like I have to read and that, again, I need to get myself acquainted with Dub.


Jan said...

A to Z of dub by David Toop is where you want to start for a history of dub.


Richard said...

Excellent. Thank you!

Mike said...

Richard--your thoughts on American folk are really interesting, especially since we often think of rootsy American music as having that "ineluctable ore of the authentic" that postmodernist theory wants to dismiss. Brendan Wolfe of The Beiderbecke Affair (he recently closed the blog up, unfortunately), has a ridiculous amount of knowledge of folk, blues, and jazz, and writes about race and "authenticity" in American music quite a bit.

Anonymous said...

derrida versus dub.

well, richard, you don't sound so much like you want to read that derrida book, sounds like it might be a burden (yet another book that I feel like I have to read).

as to dub, well, you can READ about it but why not stick a slice of it on the CD player instead. i'd recommend Scientist V. Prince Jammy: Big Showdown (1980) at King Tubby's.

hell, why not pick up the derrida and read it to the dub. if you do, let me know what happens.

cheers, fall guy

Richard said...

Brilliant. Any particular reason for the sarcasm?

As it happens, I do want to read the Derrida. When I say it's another book I feel like I have to read, I merely mean that I want to read it, or want to know what's in it, just like I might want to read any other work of literature or philosophy, in part so that I might take part in the conversation better, but also for my own benefit (which is largely the same thing anyway). The only burdensome aspect of it is a lack of time.

As for dub, well no shit I should listen to it. That's what I meant. And if I read something about it (like Toop's A to Z linked to by Jan above) it's so I can figure out which records to sample. I should have thought that was obvious. Thanks for the recommendation and the attitude.

Anonymous said...

sorry, richard, i didn't mean to be sarcastic. my comments were just my honest response to my reading of your text. i'd own up to being heavy-handed, though.

i don't enjoy derrida myself but i love dub.

of course, i could have read the wrong derrida. i read some essays (the final one being on nietszche's forgotten umbrella, the only essay i quite enjoyed). the edition i had was a parallel text with french down the one side and english down the other. he sounded witty and charming in the french - and i could imagine his students laughing along at his jokes - but in the english he just sounded plain pretentious.

this doesn't mean that i've given up on him, exactly, but when you said 'here's another one i have to read' i had a bad flashback.

i appreciate your point about wanting to join in the conversation but maybe there are more fruitful conversations that you can join in/start up by following the natural flow of your reading?

anyway, don't mean to chew your ear off here, maybe i'll go pick that slab of derrida up myself, stick on the dub and see if they don't make beautiful music together. or at least muzak.

cheers, fall guy

Richard said...

Ok. I think I mis-read your sign-off, too, adding to my sense that you were being snarky.

I guess part of the idea is to include Derrida in, as you put it, the natural flow of my reading. I'm not going to force myself to read him just because he sounds important. Enough people I respect value his work at least to some extent, so this makes me interested, this adds him to the list of people to include in the natural flow. But who knows when I'll actually get to him.

Thanks for stopping by.