Saturday, September 18, 2021
Saturday, August 28, 2021
This blog has become very focused on astrology of late, which is not what I intended when I started it, but it's always a surprise which direction your own thought will take you. Now I should stress that astrology is of value to me not for its alleged ability to forecast the future (which is itself unfalsifiable) but in the archetypes it provides to model and shape reality. Once you understand these archetypes you begin to see them everywhere, and it is of course the archetype of Pluto that is the most indicative of post-war popular culture. Solid Gold was Gang of Four's masterpiece album, and its power, as with all the most resonant post-punk LP's, is in its Plutonianism, in its depiction of individuals being internally torn apart under the external pressure of social and economic forces. The tracks on the album are not so much songs as case studies, switching between objective descriptions of the drama unfolding (usually narrated by Andy GIll) and agonised subjective expressions of the resulting inner turmoil (sung by Jon King). Paralysed opens the record by recounting that most characteristic of early eighties experiences, redundancy, and the disorientating malaise of suddenly being deprived of a meaningful social role. Note how the music churns away in the background, like the march of progress, indifferent to the souls who are chewed up by the impersonal forces of history. Why Theory? depicts banal domestic routines under the perpetual Sword of Damocles of the Cold War, and the underlying psychological disturbance that such a contrast must provoke. Once again, the crushing mass of the music, like bulldozers colliding underwater, summons the enormity of the forces involved, always just out of the view of protagonists within the song. "Distant thunder from the East/Won't disturb our morning car wash". A Hole In The Wallet reflects the contemporary battle between the fading force (at least at this time) of patriarchy, and its substitution not with feminism, but with econometrics, as interpersonal relations become increasingly focused on money conflicts. Here we see the disinterested power of capitalism not just fracturing the individual, but also partnerships, as both men and women become calculating machines, perpetually totting up the costs and benefits of human interaction. He'd Send In The Army is the album's finale, mainly vocalised by bassist Dave Allen, and is a merciless portrayal of patriarchy as a lingering sociopathology. This is the band at their blackest, heaviest and most Plutonian, the song structure positively creaking under the gravitational mass of that dark, alien planet. Also characteristically Plutonian is the sense of there being no relief or transcendence in the experience, that it must simply be endured, as though existence itself is a perpetual prison. In the archetype of Pluto the only way out is through...to the next Plutonian struggle. Bonus vid: they could also do it live:
Tuesday, August 17, 2021
In considering examples of how the Age of Aquarius is increasingly entrenching itself, the esoteric archaeologist Graham Hancock is a good place to start. He is a classic example of a disruptive individual who is pitched against a complacent Piscean hierarchy, as he himself delineates in the above podcast with good old Joe Rogan, himself an intensely Aquarian figure. Hancock is disruptive because he has, over several decades and numerous best-selling books, articulated a compelling narrative of human society, in which he posits that the first technologically sophisticated civilisation existed over ten thousand years ago in South and Central America, and that this was prematurely destroyed by the debris from a passing comet. As such, pace Hancock, the cradle of civilisation as we know it was not in Mesopotamia, but in the Americas, and the civilisations of the Middle East were seeded by the survivors of the prior American ur-civilisation, who had scattered themselves around the world with what little they could salvage from their ruined cities. Hancock cites various similarities between indigenous American and Middle Eastern artifacts to bolster his case that these were not separate civilisations, but merely temporally divergent manifestations of the same civilisation. However, the established archaeological paradigm is that human civilisation in the Americas cannot be older than 2500 years, and Hancock alleges that instead of the archaeological profession being open to refutation on this point, it instead tends to marginalise anybody who contradicts it. As such, despite being in publishing terms a raging success, he is in professional terms something of a persona non grata. His Wikipedia biography accuses him of being a proponent of "pseudohistory" and "pseudoarcheology", the prefix pseudo being one of the classic signifiers by which rationalist-atheist "sceptics" stigmatise anybody they consider beyond the pale. For anyone outside the hot and sexy world of archaeology, this kind of labelling might seem a bit infantile, but is Hancock really deceitful? In the interview with Rogan he appears to be sane, rational and engaging, and if he is a liar then he must be an amazing one because he keeps it up fluently without contradicting himself for almost three hours. A similar objection pertains to any assertion that he is simply delusional, because if he is so he displays remarkable internal consistency in his delusions. It could be argued that he has followed his line of argument purely because it is highly lucrative, but a counter to that would be that he started his career as a respectable establishment insider (he is a former journalist with The Economist), so there can be little doubt that he could have easily become extremely wealthy without compromising his respectability. Now he might just be wrong, and in fairness some of his speculations, such as that the giant stone roofs of the chambers within the Egyptian pyramids were lifted into place by telekinesis, are too much even for someone as woowoo-friendly as me. Hancock's plight is similar to that of the evolutionary biologist Rupert Sheldrake, who has spent similar decades touting his theory of morphic resonance to the indifference or even antipathy of his more mainstream colleagues. Like Sheldrake, Hancock harks to Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions, and its theory that science advances by paradigm shifts, as once-dominant theories increasingly fail to explain new evidence or data. They also invoke Max Planck's aphorism that "science progresses one funeral at a time" as doughty defenders of the status quo yield to new ideas by cocking their toes. In fact, both men are holding onto false hopes in these notions, as they misunderstand their real historical role, and why it is so disruptive. The Aquarian ideas that they proffer are dangerous not because they might upend existing paradigms, but because they undermine the Piscean hierarchies that govern their respective fields. Hancock is subversive because he recognises that only a tiny fraction of the record of human habitation on the planet has so far been exhumed, so that our understanding of human history is liable to become repeatedly overturned every time a virgin area of the planet is excavated. In turn, this will convert archaeology from being a sober, orderly, structured discipline into a wild world of constant turmoil, in which no hierarchy of expertise can be steadily maintained. However, unbeknown to themselves, his Piscean foes can only be defeated by him, as he embodies the Aquarian forces that will come to dominate not just their world, but our own too.
Saturday, August 7, 2021
There was no greater metaphor for the Plutonian experience than the conflict in Northern Ireland in the late 20th Century. Its grim aesthetic perfectly evoked the two sides of Pluto, both schizoidal internal conflict and external oppression.
Tuesday, July 27, 2021
Monday, June 28, 2021
There's a notable interview with Elton John in The Guardian, in which he lambasts the Conservative Government's apparent neglect of the performing arts during the negotiations around Brexit. According to Elton: "People like me can afford to go to Europe because we can get people to fill in the forms and get visas done, but what makes me crazy is that the entertainment business brings in £111bn a year to this country and we were just tossed away. The fishing industry – which they still fucked up – brings in £1.4bn. And I’m all for the fishermen, but we’re talking about more than a hundred billion pounds of difference here, and we weren’t even thought about! 'Oh well, the arts: they don’t matter.'" Now I think that Elton is a little mistaken about what is going on here, because I strongly suspect that the Government are tanking the arts quite deliberately. And, if they are, it demonstrates that the Tories are belatedly exhibiting some political nous. The first and most obvious point is that the British culture industry is generally very strongly anti-Tory, and in funding the arts what the Conservatives have actually been doing is feeding their enemy, and indeed shoring up one of the most implacable cadres that oppose them. For purely opportunist reasons it would suit the Tories to torpedo the culture industry no matter how much revenue it brings into the country, and it amazes me that they have taken this long to apparently figure this out. However, there is an added benefit for the Conservatives in hobbling the arts, and which I referred to at length in a previous essay. This is that the culture industry, and popular culture in particular, have since the 1950's been one of the primary motors of British national demoralisation. This has not necessarily been ideological in character, but rather derives from the only future that most contemporary artists find Imagine-able - the peaceful world-utopia where there is nothing to kill or die for, and above us only sky. In opposition to this, the state and society that has been inherited from the past can only be viewed as outmoded and oppressive. Naive optimism and jaded cynicism are the two sides of the same nihilist coin, and this is why Give Peace A Chance and Holidays In The Sun are both essentially the same song. As a consequence, popular culture and especially popular music have tended to portray Britain, not inaccurately, as a spent and decaying former imperial power, lost in illusions of former glory, and internally riven with divisions based on race, class, and much else besides. Just spend five minutes perusing John Harris's Twitter feed, and you will get the picture. This outlook has never been seriously challenged by the British state itself, mainly because most politicians, including even Conservative ones, basically agreed with it. When the Sex Pistols snarled that "there is no future in England's dreaming", or when The Waterboys trilled that "Old England is dying" they were, despite their apparent outsider status, merely reiterating the common sense of the ruling class. Unfortunately for Britain's creative artists, the one politician who now appears to stridently disagree is the current Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. In a recent interview (of sorts) in The Atlantic, Johnson was prompted to hold forth on the subject of the author John le Carré, as follows: 'He told me he’d taken a completely different lesson from the novelist. To Johnson, le Carré had exposed not the fakery of the British ruling class, but its endemic passivity, and acceptance of decline. “I read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy at school,” he said. “It presented to me this miserable picture of these Foreign Office bureaucrats … For me, they were the problem.” Johnson told me this was exactly what he was determined to fight. "You lump me together with various other people—and you say we are all products of these decadent institutions and this culture, an inadequate and despairing establishment. That’s not me!" He said he was trying "to recapture some of the energy and optimism that this country used to have."' Now it could indeed be the case that the likes of Roger Waters, Joe Strummer and Thom Yorke are absolutely correct, and that Britain, or at least England, is definitively clapped out and cannot be revived. It may also be the case that any attempt at national renewal is wrong in principle and that it is through international collaboration and transnationalism that the future beckons. It is nonetheless definitively the case that if anybody was to attempt a serious project for national renewal, the very first obstacles that would need to be swept aside are the creative artists and performers. This is why the arts and creative industries will need to ready themselves to meet, for the very first time, a government that will be happy, and perhaps even eager, to see their demise.
Monday, June 21, 2021
Stumbled across the Alan Lomax Archive, a film-maker who travelled through Mississippi, the Appalachians and Louisiana in the late 1970's, producing a record of the music of these regions, such as these fine gentlemen, the Heavenly Gospel Singers: The impression these clips give is of a skein of spiritual force that these performers, who are, after all, mostly amateurs, can effortlessly plug into. And when I say spiritual force, I am of course not talking metaphorically. There's an ease here in channelling spiritual mana that would necessitate gut-wrenching exertions from professional musicians if they attempted its replication. This also gives an insight into the sheer artificiality of the music industry, of how it is very much a soiler and a spoiler. There's also an archaic aspect to these performances; they seem as though they could equally have been recorded in 1958 or even, but for the electric instruments, in 1928. The mass culture ploughs insanely on through its countless mutations, while in the back country the culture remains timeless. It's amazing to think that this was filmed in a country that had only just finished visiting the moon and was still immersed in the space race. I like to think that you could see similar scenes in the more neglected regions of the USSR, only with the guitars replaced with balalaikas and the root bear substituted with vodka. I do wonder to what extent this kind of music has persisted into the present day. I would guess the two main threats to it have been rap culture and middle-class hipsters co-opting it in their eternal search for authenticity. I expect the level of poverty is still the same though, or possibly even worse. One string guitar = me when I get on the subject of Spengler or Jacques Ellul.