Tag Archives: literature

The Wretched

I think there’s something special about double albums. I have to admit I find myself drawn towards them, usually for reasons I don’t quite understand.

Pound for pound, most double albums have counterpart single albums that are objectively better, start to finish. The White Album vs Sgt. Pepper. The Dark Side Of The Moon vs The Wall (or Ummagumma which is an exception to itself). The Downward Spiral vs The Fragile. Appetite For Destruction vs Use Your Illusion. The single album in all these cases are critically genius. The double albums on the other hand (with the arguable exception of The Wall, and with the caveat that the White Album is critically aclaimed despite it’s randomness) are generally considered good, but hodge podge, and lacking something.

I suppose there’s a consistent reason for this. It’s quite difficult to think of twice as much content and keep it of high quality. It’s a result of the creative process. I’m definitely not the first to observe that creativity, more often than not, consists of creating reams of bullshit and selecting the diamonds amongst the turds. Presumably as a musical artist, there is only so big a pile of dung you can build in an economically feasible time, and then you need to select the best from that.

It might come as some surprise to my friends that I use this process myself. It’s not entirely true that I have the most stunningly attractive son in the world (although that IS true). Rather, for every photogenic picture I put on Facebook, there are ten others that are, less than perfection.

 

shakespear
A baby smacking themself in the head, or a gifted child reciting Shakespeare?

 

A friend of mine has a theory on art. As best as I can describe it in a single sentence: the critical aspect of art is not in the creation, but rather in the selection. By way of explanation, photographers, rather than being the quasiartists that people often brand them as, are in fact the purest form of artist.

I don’t necessarily agree with his hypothesis one hundred percent, but I do think there is some truth to it. Rather than beauty being in the eye of the beholder, it might be more accurate to say, beauty is in the eye of the SELECTOR.

Back to the double albums, I ask myself what draws me to those things. These big inelegant monstrosities. It occurred to me, as I “rewound” my phone to listen to NIN’s The Wretched for the third time in a row, that in fact I focus in on parts of those albums. It’s like a collage that a brain can be thrown against to draw out the salient unconscious thoughts, much like a modern take on Rorschach ink blots.

On the flip side of random unconscious selection however, inherent to the process of making a double album, is the inverse artistic process. Rather than selection, it becomes a question of inclusion. Tracks that otherwise wouldn’t have made the cut, under an objective analysis, become the saviour of the time-filling gods.

Would Revolution 9 have made the cut, if it had been on Seargent Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band? Probably not. Even more so, the fluid unconscious thoughts that bring themselves to every decision we make, ARE subtly manipulated by extant circumstances. Even if R9 might have been considered on Seargant Pepper’s, the easy cop out of “there’s just no room” would have been all the ammo the superego would need to tip the scales in favour of extinction. Also are the songs of high art, like My Guitar Gently Weeps. Could it have existed on any other Beatles album, each with their highly focused musical theme? On the white album, however, it’s just another stroke of random genius, and more so, in my opinion, the most moving track on the album, and perhaps (one of) the most moving pieces of music in the electric guitar repertoire.

When I was younger, not even at the time understanding the significance, I would listen in darkness to Guns And Roses Coma over and over. Now it’s fairly obvious to me that the song reflected the disconnection and suffering that I found in my life at the time. Would such a self reflective song have found a home on the high energy rock anthem album, Appetite For Destruction?

It reflects a profound truth about all art, and the struggle within. We are our own worst critics. Self editing can be a destructive force. I found this, inversely, when one of my articles turned out to be quite popular. This piece, which to me was nonsense mind refuse, seemed to strike a chord and became my most read piece yet, fifty percent higher than my previous most read. I seriously had debated not posting that piece, which would have been a tragedy, both to my readers and my stats (not to mention my ego).

The truth is that people aren’t generally looking for perfection, even if most people would claim that ostensibly they are. As far as I can tell, what people really need, what they hunger for, is authenticity. They crave to know that the scabrous pile of retchinal vomit before them validates their own imperfect existence. There in lies the strength of the artist. The strength of the wretched.

Just a reflection
just a glimpse
just a little reminder
of all the what abouts
and all the might have
could have beens
another day
some other way
but not another reason to continue
and now you’re one of us
the wretched

Trent Reznor, The Wretched

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There Is No Elephant

Cinema has an amazing way of making you feel, at least for the time that you’re watching the movie and shortly after, that you’ve got access to hidden information and finally know the truth. I thought I’d write it down so others could read it later and thank me.

I just got back from watching Ender’s Game, based on the amazing novel by Orson Scott Card. I won’t spoil it, but besides that’s not really what was on my mind.

Now Orson Scott Card, by some measures, is not a very nice man. He’s a known bigot. He struggles with concepts that are clearly more driven by his religious upbringing than his keen intellect. Which is sad, since his writings show that also inside is the mind of a great thinker.

Ender is a boy of vastly superior intellect. Even using those words strikes a little pang of concern. It’s as true today as it was when the book was written that intellect is seen by society with fear, mistrust and jealousy. Just think of all the loaded meanings and insults that reinforce the idea: smart ass, don’t be so smart, you think too much (oh really?? Maybe YOU don’t think enough?). There’s also the sneaky cousin of the insult: everyone’s entitled to an opinion (and therefore your one backed by evidence and critical reasoning is WRONG you asshole).

The discrimination is even implied deeply in how we judge people. Compare the dumb thug versus the intellectual mastermind. Who would you be more likely to forgive. But as a friend once so eloquently put it (to paraphrase), the difference between these two is not in their value as a character, it’s just one did a hella better job of the crime.

Which brings us back to the character of Ender. Ender is a very violent person. Only ever in self defence mind you, but violent nonetheless. As much as I abhor the intellectual discrimination implied, even I feel a little fear at the thought. An intelligent and POWERFUL person is an intimidating thing. Yet, let’s be honest, if you wanted to get the shit done, isn’t that exactly the person you want in charge?

Yet violence, it seems, is used as the balancing factor for those who lack in intellect. Not encouraged exactly, but excused, almost like unconsciously we’re conditioned to root for the “underdog”. “You may be smarter than me, but I can sure beat you up!” For further details see Revenge Of The Nerds.

I find it frustrating in fact, to see comments on the recent death of one of the greatest heroes of the twentieth century. I’m talking, of course, about Nelson Mandela, also known by his tribal name Madiba.

Briefly mentioned in the novel of Ender’s Game (although absent from the movie), and the main topic of the sequel, was the idea of a person called the Speaker For The Dead. The basic premise is for the speaker to speak honestly and truthfully about the deceased persons life, both good and bad. The aim being that all people will see that we are not good nor evil incarnate but simply human. By celebrating a persons whole life we truly honour the great things they achieved, and also allow ourselves the freedom to forgive ourselves and seek a higher purpose in life, regardless of our past.

Which is apt, I feel, given Nelson Mandela’s complicated life. How offensive when others point to Nelson Mandela’s violent acts as if to discredit his life. As if to say, none of it mattered.

It’s a common kind of poor thought, that something so complicated as a human life can be distilled to either good or bad. Yet funnily, we seldom apply it in the other direction, as if, for example, we should celebrate Adolph Hitler as some kind of hero because he invented the Volkswagen.

Is it, then, some kind of lazy excuse for discrimination? “Oh, suuuure he may have freed millions of people from second class status and altered the discussion on racism more than just about anyone from the twentieth century, but lets not forget he’s a terrorist (oh and black too by the way just in case you forgot)”. After all, how many so called terrorists come from privileged classes? Was Ned Kelly a terrorist or a hero? Robin Hood? William Wallace? Strangely peculiar, the fine line that divides heroes and villains.

Ask yourself, if someone threatened to enslave your friends and family, wouldn’t you do the same thing?

I don’t pretend to be any kind of expert. I can’t speak for the man nor his ideals. I’m merely trying to suggest an idea. Maybe the very language we use is corrupt. Maybe the very morals we live by are just a thinly veiled means for keeping us under control. For stopping heroes like Nelson Mandela from fighting back.

As I see it, though, there is no elephant in Nelson Mandela’s room. The man lived a life of integrity. A life of courage. For all his faults…INCLUDING all his faults…he lived a life to be proud of. The simple life of a human.

Or maybe I was right earlier. Maybe violence should be kept as the sole domain of the bullies. After all how else would the spineless pricks ever compare to truly great men?

There are many people who feel that it is useless and futile to continue talking about peace and non-violence against a government whose only reply is savage attacks on an unarmed and defenceless people.
– Nelson Mandela

I do believe that, where there is only a choice between cowardice and violence, I would advise violence… I would rather have India resort to arms in order to defend her honour than that she should, in a cowardly manner, become or remain a helpless witness to her own dishonor.
– Mahatma Gandhi