The extraordinary response to the early death this weekend of Amy Winehouse reveals the extent of the affection in which she – and her music – were held. But her life and public engagement with it says equally sorrowful things about life under capitalism, under whose ideological pressure we are all addicts. Continue reading
The next issue of The Wagner Journal will carry my review-article on Laurence Dreyfus’s Wagner and the Erotic Impulse. The full text PDF is available here; the full text may also be read as a web page. Dreyfus’s discussion of the erotics in Wagner’s music is based on an attentiveness to historical voices, including Wagner’s own. I find the decision to sidestep more than a century of later thought problematic and the decision to offer a personal reading of the erotic in Wagner’s music, rather than broadening out into cultural criticism, something of a missed opportunity. Continue reading
First, a joke from medieval Russia under the Tatar occupation.
A Tatar horseman encounters, on a lonely country road, a peasant with his young wife. The Tatar warrior not only wants to have sex with her, but – to add insult to injury, and to humiliate the peasant even further – he orders him to hold his (the Tatar’s) balls gently in his hands, so that they will not get too dirty while he copulates with the wife on the dusty road. After the Tatar has finished with the sexual encounter and ridden away, the peasant starts to chuckle with pleasure; asked by his wife what is so funny about her being raped in front of her husband, he answers: ‘Don’t you get it, my love? I duped him – I didn’t really hold his balls, they’re full of dust and dirt!’ Continue reading
I can’t be the first person to think that Margaret Thatcher is a bit like Caesar. Both greatly exceeded the acceptable limits of personal political power and both ultimately got it in the neck – Caesar fatally, Thatcher only insofar as she was ousted from no. 10. But what happened next is, in both cases, the really interesting part. The result of the murder of Caesar was the institution of caesarism (with the first caesar, i.e. Roman emperor, Augustus); the result of the eviction of Thatcher was the institution of Thatcherism, a politico-economic system we have endured since 1990 and which will deal its fiercest ever blows in 2011, thanks to Cameron and Osborne, who are proud to call themselves her children. We might call this theory of the dialectical progress of history the Obi-Wan Kenobi Principle, expressed in his maxim:
If you strike me down, I shall become more powerful than you could possibly imagine. Continue reading
As a way of filling out the picture of what the Tories mean by the Big Society, Francis Maude proposes that we should be prompted to give to charity when we withdraw cash from a hole in the wall, fill in an official form, or win the lottery. The majority of commentators on the Guardian website seem to be demonstrating their excellent common sense. ‘Charitable giving should not replace taxation’ is the popular view, with which of course I agree. But the general context of charitable giving is more complex than that. Continue reading
I heard earlier today that a student I teach is occupying the Radcliffe Camera in Oxford (the student website is here). I was driving a car at the time I heard, so I couldn’t jump for joy, but my heart swelled with pride. In the university at which I teach full-time, they’ve been occupying the Founder’s Building and set up a webcam to display their peaceful protest (see their website).
These excellent students stand in solidarity with thousands at more than a dozen universities across the country who are protesting not just against the proposed rise in tuition fees, the cutting of the Education Maintenance Allowance, and the evisceration of the funding model for higher education, but in general against all the cuts that the ConDem government is visiting on the country – cuts that disproportionately hit the poor, sick, and otherwise vulnerable. There is no economic case for the cuts; they are simply being pushed through as a continuing consequence of an ideological shift that took place a generation ago, when the fall of Communism brought with it, mostly unacknowledged, the death of social democracy. (David Wearing provides a nice analysis here; Žižek’s New Left Review piece from this August is a more substantial piece: read it here.) Continue reading
I’ve been awarded an AHRC Fellowship from January 2011 to January 2012 to work on my next book, Modernism’s Quilting Points: Heidegger, Žižek, Walton’, which will result in a Cambridge University Press monograph (with the slightly different title The Quilting Points of Musical Modernism: Revolution, Reaction, and William Walton). A summary of the project follows.
Modernism is both a contested aesthetic category and a powerful political statement. Modernist music was condemned as ‘degenerate’ by the Nazis and forcibly replaced by ‘socialist realism’ under the Soviets. Sympathetic philosophers and critics have interpreted it as a vital intellectual defence against totalitarianism, yet some American critics have labelled it ‘elitist’, ‘undemocratic’, and ‘unnatural’. Despite its evident importance, there is little agreement among this range of critics as to what the canon of modernist music actually comprises, or what its aims are. Continue reading
I’ve recently had an article published as part of a bigger project (see also here and here) that examines Britten’s postwar interrogation of the human subject (‘Made You Look! Children in Salome and Death in Venice’. In Benjamin Britten: New Perspectives on his Life and Music, edited by Lucy Walker, 116–37. Woodbridge: Boydell and Brewer, 2009.). This is fascinating in its focus on the role of a symbolically powerful authority – das Man in Heideggerese, or the big Other in Žižek’s Lacanian idiolect – which structures, through the language it uses, the space for individuals to create a self-identical personality.
The essay explores the links between two seemingly unrelated operas as a means of situating one of Britten’s most astonishing musical statements in a longer cultural moment – an exploration of varieties of sexual expression – which began in the fin-de-siècle and has not yet run out of steam. Continue reading