Jan. 24th, 2018

vostoklake: (wayne)
What with the recent revelations about many popular content creators being what is technically described as "rapey bastards", you get two major reactions.

1) "I am no longer consuming content by that rapey bastard, that makes me complicit in rape."
2) "Separate the art from the artists; love the art, hate the rapey bastard."

At this point, I want to challenge both points of view, in favour of the following formulation:

The art comes from the same place as the foul behaviour of the artist. They are both reactions to psychic conflicts based on the artist's gender/class/racial position.

Let's take everyone's problematic fave, H. P. Lovecraft, master of cosmic horror and racist about whom it was said even in the 1920s, "DAMN that guy hates on the darkies." What's unique about HPL's world? I think it's because his monsters - Cthulhu, the fungi from Yuggoth, the Elder Things and their shoggoths etc. - aren't "evil". They just don't belong on planet Earth / their presence here shatters the fundamental basis of human civilisation or even perhaps indigenous life on this planet.

In Lacanian terms, it's all about the irruption of "The Real" (that which cannot be depicted in images or designated by symbolic language) which threatens the very basis of the psyche. In political terms, it is also the basis of modern racism - in which the various "Races of Man" are fine in their own places, it's only when they start mixing and mingling and having sex with each other and making damnable half-caste babbies that it becomes an inexpressible outrage.

What else was happening in the 1920s? Modernist poets T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound were shaken by the decay of high-capitalist-imperialist civilisation, culminating in the fratricidal horror of World War I, and sought refuge in the classical certainties of a previous age (classical Europe for Eliot, classical China for Pound). They both sought to "purify the dialect of the tribe" (Eliot's words), in Pound's case through an Orientalist misunderstanding of how Chinese logographs worked. Where does this lead you politically? Ha ha, of course Pound was an actual Fascist. Eliot was just a high-Tory Anglo-Catholic with some not-nice things to say about our Hebrew Brethren. (The Jewish people always figure in racist-modernist discourse as an infection, an impurity, the Irruption of the Real that threatens the symbolic order. Oddly enough, Lovecraft married a Jewish lady. Go figure.)

We can make a huge leap from here to Frank Zappa, who, like Eliot, wanted to repackage the high modernism of Stravinsky, Varèse, Webern etc. for the unwashed proles. He actually wrote in the early 1960s that there was an untapped market between "classical" and "pop" music that he wanted to get exploit. Combine this with a lower-middle-class background in exurban California as the "smart loner" in high school, and you get to the roots of a strong resentment in his music towards the forces of conformist society (big government, big business, and ...sigh... union thugs) holding the Noble Artist down. (Funny how this kind of individualism tends towards the misogynistic.) It was probably only his preternatural sense of the absurd which stopped him becoming a dumbass like Ayn Rand. And it was definitely only his ability to wheel and deal like the classical Adam Smith/Robinson Crusoe small capitalist (which he learned in part from his 10 days on the job as a door-to-door encyclopedia salesman) that enabled him to keep going in the face of systematic sabotage by the music industry.

The thing is that I freakin' love Lovecraft, Eliot and Zappa (Pound I can take or leave). Their art is not their politics (except when Lovecraft starts going on about "half-castes", Eliot about "the Jew underneath the lot or Zappa about AIDS being CIA germ warfare). But it comes from the same place as their politics.

Next time you find out some gross, even criminal, biographical details about one of your beloved artists, it would be good to try to relate them to what you know of their art. You can do this without declaring that (for example) enjoying the Pisan Cantos means you love Mussolini, or that if you like Rosemary's Baby you want to anally rape a 13 year old in a hot tub.

June 2018


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