Sunday, February 6, 2011

"every time you say 'we,' do you think about me?" (random notes)

If I were to open my eyes
And stare at the sun
The delicate brown would burn
It's too painful
Too painful
But I never never learn

-Achinoam Nini (Noa), Too Painful

In his Noise: The Political Economy of Music (University of Minnesota Press, 1985, Trans. Brian Massumi) Jacques Attali basically discusses a history of music as, say, a lightning rod. To put it simply, from ancient sacrificial ritual to today's pop music, music has been a substitute for violence: a history of domestication of violence, noise. He classifies the history into 4 stages: 1. the network of sacrificial ritual; 2. the network of representation (music concert); 3. the network of repetition (recording); 4. the network of composition. He foresees a society in which everyone compose music: "Thus composition proposes a radical social model, one in which the body is treated as capable not only of production and consumption, and even of entering into relations with others, but also of autonomous pleasure(p. 32)." That network appears to be partly realized.

Of course, that's why I'm reading his book now. I had a bit of knowledge about this book. About "the network of composition," he is not simply optimistic. He quotes Boulez: "...everybody arouses everybody else; it becomes a kind of public onanism." It's classic Boulez! But, what Attali argues is a sort of historical necessity. In short, music as commodity no longer satisfies us. He says:

It announces something that is perhaps the most difficult thing to accept: henceforth there will be no more society without lack, for the commodity is absolutely incapable of filling the void it created by suppressing ritual sacrifice, by deritualizing usage, by pulverizing all meaning, by obliging man to communicate first to himself (p. 147).

We no longer share a big catastrophe as ritual sacrifice, but each individuals indulge own small persistent explosions: as Israeli singer Achinoam Nini, or Noa, puts it, we stare at the sun, go to the sea with an open wound, hold on to a high note, are drawn to touch the flame, ride a roller coaster, and never learn.

Or, do we? Why are we watching ongoing rallies and riots in Egypt? (Ousting Mubarak may be just a symbolic change, but they are demanding it....the symbolic is the substantial) And, who are 'we'?


I do not always agree with what Achinoam Nini says, though I believe she is genuine, because when the things often, as far as I understand, look disproportionate, just calling for peace or tolerance might be rather oppressive. When we are trapped in a dichotomy of "either peace or justice," we should think why such a dichotomy has been made in the first place. It is a false choice. That's why Judith Butler refused the prize in 2010 at Berlin's Christopher Street Day(click 'CC' to see the English subtitle).

But, Nini appears to be aware of this problem more than I am. Her song We shows that:

But, every time you say 'we,'
Do you think about me?

It's very a conventional song, but I like it. It has to be conventional in order for everyone to understand what it says and even sing. Broadcasting this song in the Netherlands gives this song another meaning.

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