matthew fuller on Wed, 11 Aug 1999 20:09:10 +0200 (CEST)

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"The cultivation of the five senses is the work of all previous history" (1)

1. When music is recurring and a living culture is interlinear the seeking
after origins becomes the seeking after closure: an end point that
glorifies in specialisation, rarity and the explicatory ruse of desociated
genius. The more we seek after origins the more social creativity becomes
obscured and the more the movements of a living culture are negated by the
canon. Thus it becomes apparent that the discovery of an 'original' or a
striving to be 'original' is part of the process of secondary production:
a device of softened mediation and canonical filtration that, acts to
exclude participation by embossing a model of the exemplary individual
upon the social fabric from whence that individual came. That the social
shapes the individual, that culture is a social expression intimately
linked to history becomes lost when the perpetuation of the myth of
'originality' is at stake. Nothing comes first, but often obscure and
submerged precursors who have eluded the closure of the canon are
knowingly passed over in a discreditable hubbub that is too sure of its
own individualised intent in recycling and repackaging the discoveries of
such forgotten practitioners.  In this case the silence of originality
knows of nothing 'other' to credit than its own individual role:
originality becomes the work of repression and suppression. A repression
and suppression of others that thus has the effect of deprecating the
collectively developed sensibilities of history.  Being the 'first' or the
'only' becomes the mark of originality and the individual, in seeking the
canonical satisfaction of itself, its uniqueness, pursues this linear
course with a dependence that is mistaken for independence. Ambition for
such success that the canon can confer implies that what was once part of
living culture, and progressing in pact with social creativity, and in
full awareness of 'the historical development of the senses', comes to
fall in line with those markers that the canon lays down. Rather than
proceeding from the experience of practice it proceeds from the premises
and provisos of its knowledge of the canon.  It knows where the doors are
and it comes with letters of introduction, with diplomas and cosmopolitan
decorums. Yet whilst a disavowed knowledge of precursors and peers has
been used to subvert the history of the canon it is nonetheless a surefire
way to ensure ascension into the canon of dead and dealt culture because
the canon, as the expressive medium of a secondary production, functions
by a process of selection and sifting and seeks what it knows as
'original' and therefore only selects that which gives it the room to
exercise and display a measuring and linearised knowledge: a knowledge of
common currency.  Originality is the same but a same that is instantly
recognisable as original. And so, working for the canon, however
unconsciously - for the canon is the 'artistic' expression of hegemonic
capitalist social relations - becomes work for the recuperation of an
historically aware living culture that thrives as an unarbited communistic

2. That living culture thrives means that its insistence on practice and
on an exploration of sound material can proceed without knowledge of
precursors. Such an impulsive pursual of discovery often results in some
pathways becoming well trod and leading to a use of the same forms and, at
times, the same contents. In this case history functions as a form of
unconsciousness - an agency in abeyance, an undiscovered registration -
rather than as an overly conscious site of plunder. And so, is it not that
such discoveries recurr because they have not merited acceptance from the
arbiters of the canon? Are they still discoverable, still part of a living
culture, a communistic circulation, a counter current that the canon
disavows and cannot register without the risk of allowing in the hordes
and thereby inciting its own dissolution? Is it, conversely, that they are
repeatable because they are forms that are known, but are not well-enough
known to become cliches? Is it that their repetition is not the return of
an undifferentiated and individualised past but a nuanced and
singularisable return that brings historical forms into the present with
the accompaniment of many ghostly precursors? Is the repeated use of, say,
vari-speed turntables and environment recordings, not , then, simply an
indicator as to the character of a living culture? A culture that is open,
undetermined and able to "reject the definitive, concluded message and
multiply the formal possibilities" (2). A culture that is intent on
expanding the notion of 'music' so as to "expand a field of
possibilities".  Thus the living culture is a practice that doesn't
privilege perception as being the expression of an "egological framework"
(3) but as an interactive and properly socio-historic perception that is
entered into. A practice that is thereby strongly linked to its own
receptive practice and is thereby part, not only of the living culture of
the present, but is linked-into a relation with a past that is a
variegated continuity. And so the later discovery of the submerged
practitioner can be experienced as a confirmation of practice and as a
spur to further discoveries that may very well reveal this prior
practitioner as linked to yet another practitioner.  Research and destroy.
Such an exploration of history, one that cathects its 'object'
imaginatively and elaborates from it a 'first time ever' quality, means
that the listener-practitioners of the living culture are less susceptible
to the mystification of history as 'eras' and negotiable demarcations of
time that equate history with tradition and draw lines of separation
similar to that which the canon needs to draw between the individual and
society. As with the myth of 'originality' such a mechanism, necessary for
the canon to carry out its work of building platforms and launch pads in
order to refine and modernise itself, is a means by which passion can be
replaced by a business-like accounting. The maximal differentiation of the
living culture, the passion to perceive and to perceive differently,
becomes the heavily financed acceptability of normalised originals through
which perception is democratised by decree. 

3. Fed by the living culture the archive expands. It becomes the neutral
pool of social creativity, a site of dispersion where collection has taken
place without accumulation, arrangement or annotation. It is the common
storehouse. Being an historical unconscious it is a representational flux
that ensnares us in a timeless chain of thought and threads us through
with another's desire. It makes clear and confuses again, it confirms a
suspicion and provides a confirmation of our ever expanding ignorance. And
so it waits silently for us to enter it. But its doors are not marked in
the manner of an institution and its walls are not stacked with items of
rarity and once we have entered we realise that it is the place that has
always been there accompanying our search. We have been here before and
yet have always never left because the archive is the place where it has
been ever possible for us to discover and interlink those points that
preexisted us;  points that may never have been linked in the way that we
chose to connect them. Thus the archive provides us with a mirror in which
we see our own 'originality' as consisting of the idiosyncrasy of our
computation, the passionate drive that, with desire as its method,
reflects our choices as choices informed by the historic networks of
social-creativity to which we have no need to return for they are networks
that are our fibrous parallel. Our 'originality' is only in the fact that,
in clearing the unconscious we leave more room for other fluxional
deposits to accrue and in naming the nameless, in journeying alongside
those who are unfamiliar to us, we become ever retrievable from the
capitalist social relations that would seek to sever the ties of our
multilocationary connectedness and consign us to a history of
traditionalised identification. And so it is that the archive amounts to
more than any one individual and by thus surpassing the limits of
knowledge, by offering an unlimited knowledge as presence, the archive
defames knowledge by taunting us with the probability of our error and by
embarrassing us with the decisiveness of our prior assertions. Thus the
archive mocks any claim to originality and is thus safe from the trespass
of those emissaries of the canon who would not dare to face such a
decentering of their individuality, such a collapse of their certitude,
such an autocritique of their canonical role. But the archive does not
confront us with a choice between plagiarism and expressionlessness, it
does not humiliate us, but gives us an opportunity to make a living
culture even more live:  it "does not establish the fact of our identity
by the play of distinctions. It establishes that we are difference, that
our reason is the difference of discourses, our history the difference of
times, our selves the difference of masks. That difference far from being
the forgotten and recovered origin, is the dispersion that we are and
make" (4). It is such a dispersion that widens the field of possibilities
to the extent that as individuals we are social and as cultural
practitioners we contribute to the communistic circulation of culture. If
the question of origins can be forgotten it is not that the issue of
origins is repressed. The issue of origins becomes the canonical
debasement of difference as distinction. A decoy. Origins and originals
can be separated out from the social and can reduce the social to a
collection of individuals reducible to the biological status of a gene
that knows neither solidarity nor can be conscious of its being mediated
by capitalist social-relations. Thus the canon is the cultural expression
of capitalistic atavism;  the hegemony of lineage and descent that does
not allow for the self-creation of the living culture ("the dispersion
that we are and make")  but offers instead the fixed points and
superlative lines of originary distinction. But we create ourselves over
in the mutual inherence of a socio-historical that we call the archive, an
archive that disperses and capacitates us. For the archive contains the
sense that eras can overlap, that the past can carry its own timbres, that
individuals can overlap. It is a counter-canon of glorious failures and
overambitious attempts where perception and desire co-mingle. And so the
collective enterprise is hidden in the archive and it is here that the
rejected and the forgotten, the censored and the self-effacing are
assembled. And far from being quiet they speak to us and are quick to
speak of disavowed plagiarism and of the parasitism that has fed
'originality', of the way that their works were generated in
collaborations and were formed by a content that was the avowal and
celebration of communistic cultural circulation.The archive is thus the
site that reveals the underbelly of the canon's modus operandi. It is from
here that rumours of exploitation reach us and we hear once again about
the breaching of solidarity: the living culture recuperated into an
expression of individualism reliant upon repression. Culture is

Howard Slater
Break/Flow Draft: July 1999
89 Vernon Road
London E15 4DQ:  UK

Notes (i) In this piece I have drawn upon Asger Jorn's notion of a 'living
culture' and have used this term rather than 'post-media' as a description
of oppositional culture in an effort to reflect the 'transhistorical'
inflection of this piece. (ii)  Though the piece arose from research into
electronic music and the current activity of labels like Bvhaast and Algha
Marghen, who are issuing historic material that to some degree upsets the
parameters of the canon, it is hoped that its discussion of culture is
transversal enough to resonate more widely than canonical categorisation
and ghettoistic suspicion allows for. 

(1) Karl Marx: Early Writing, p353  [Pelican,1984]
(2) Umberto Eco: The Open Work, p3 [Harvard University Press,1989]
(3) Cornelius Castoriadis: World In Fragments, p297 [Stanford University
(4) Michel Foucault: Archaeology Of Knowledge, p131 [Routledge,1995]

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