nuisance noun 1. a thing, person or situation that is annoying, inconvenient, or causes trouble or problems; 2. behavior which is harmful, offensive or annoying to the public or a member of it and that a court of law can order the person to stop.
I began writing this introduction about nine months ago. Ugh, what an unfortunate length of time, with it's metaphorical implication of my writing process as an act of giving birth. Be sure to edit that part out, and also avoid the terms "labor" and "labored over." I haven't been able to write anything for several months now, because the very act of setting fingers to keyboard is so imbued with fantasies of "communication" that I simply shut down. I'd rather nap, but my insomnia won't let me. Clarify goals: My intention is to write in defense of pessimism, and to critically reject the incessant optimism lurking at the core of virtually all media, conferences, concerts, events and symposia - "critical media" or not. My intention is to show that such optimism simply reflects our conformity to those First World humanist and capitalist practices we wish to critique. My intention is to warn the reader that my own texts compiled in this book also fraudulently use positive terminology which betrays my subjective views, implying a potential for "positive" social change and betterment which I do not personally believe in. My intention is to explain how this fraud not only reflects the demands and limitations of the discourses to which I have personally been exposed and mimicked in my own projects, but also reflects how the various media industries in which I have survived as a freelancer for the past fifteen-plus years demand a degree of optimism and uplifting happy-ends so as to generate a product capable of sale in a marketplace with no forgiveness for pessimism (including commodified and campish pessimism such as Goth, Death Metal or Punk, which exploits a latent adolescent optimistic desire for belonging). To this end, the product you hold in your hands now is the collaborative result of generous translators, editors and designers who worked for little or no compensation, and my working pro bono... all of which comes as absolutely no surprise to anyone even remotely involved in this line of production, and seems suspect for me to point out because doing so risks invoking romantic images of heroism, conviction, and suffering for one's art - perhaps as a consumer you admire our conviction and/or feel sorry for our financial state, or perhaps as a producer of some type you have had similar experiences and resent the potential implication that any of this is out of the ordinary or worthy of reflection (which is likely a denial of your own well conditioned self-pity and self-loathing) - all of which works against my actual intention of documenting my/our dependency upon social systems and media industries which defeat us before the first letter has been written.
When I speak of media industries it is not with the intention of conjuring images of a faceless, heartless, hyperindustrial "media marketplace." As with most producers, writers and others making cross-categorical works that do not generate sales revenues, the overwhelming majority of my employment is the result of personal invitation. I do not mean the invitations come from personal friends (although that does happen upon occasion), but simply that I am usually contacted personally by an individual event curator or other decision maker, and the nature of our interactions are one-to-one and distinct in tone from the more bureaucratic aspects of their jobs such as writing grants and securing funding. Even in instances of outright patronage, where my financial renumeration is a lump sum unaffected by ticket or product sales revenues, there is still the need to provide the employer with information and materials convincing them of the validity to "invest" in my works for their non-financial "returns" (cultural, philosophical, etc.). The employer must, in turn, re-pitch to their financers in even more optimistic terms, guaranteeing some degree of acceptable "return." Thus the very nature of my own works, and what can be communicated through them, is bound from inception to a demand for marketability and appeal - if not to the customer-as-audience, at least to the customer-as-organizer. The nuances of these demands vary depending upon the employer's particular relation(s) to the music industry, museums and visual arts industries, or academic institutions. As a result, over the years my projects and appearances have cultivated a character around myself that I presume is essentially that of a passive-aggressive sarcastic asshole. I am hired for my "criticality," and although I make every effort to keep the hypocritical implications of my position as a "dog trained to bite the hand that feeds me" as transparent as possible, the notion of hypocrisy as a strategy is often lost in the wake of awkward moments, ill-phrased comments, and even hurt feelings. As a case and point, my first contact with Nicolas Siepen of b_books, the chief person behind the publication of this anthology, was during a Q&A session following an audio performance in which I apparently dismissed his question (of which I have no personal recollection) with a snide snap that was, indeed, taken personally and perceived as rudeness on my part (probably justly so) - something he confessed to me later, much to my embarrassment. Occasionally, my transgenderism excuses some of my cynicism through common associations of the "bitchy queen." People let you get away with a lot of shit when they think you are always "on stage" in life, and the zany antics of transgendered people are easy to dismiss as the faux actions of participants in an unending role-play game. However, this is a poor way to foster business contacts, and within the music industry my working for the same promoter more than once is rare. As my bitterness accumulates with time, and my sociability withers both professionally and privately, combined with my general lack of queenish behavior to buffer my cynicism with a façade of personality, it gradually becomes clear to all that I am in fact little more than a nuisance. Bookings are down.
Pessimism is fundamental to any critique. It is core to any confession of awareness that things are not working out, and facilitates our doubts in faith toward any status quo or powers that be. Criticism is rooted in unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Yet within the "critical fields" themselves (commercial, academic, artistic or otherwise), we must continually repress the role of pessimism. Today, any viable critique capable of "reaching the people" (to varying degrees a demand of every media publisher and distributor, as well as academia - U.S. academia in particular) must emphasize romantic desires to "make things better," engaging a psychological denial of an immediate material need to simply end what exists but is unacceptable and replacing it with hypothetical notions of what could be/what should be. Despite the fact that every social critique, rebellion or act of non-conformity is anti-social to some degree, pessimism represents a kind of anti-social outlook that remains taboo even within critical circles. Today's First World status quo is so unforgiving of pessimism that the socio-sanctioned chemical mind alteration of middleclass children and adults via Prozac and other success-oriented pharmaceuticals is commonplace. Medications that would help me avoid these very thoughts. On most every First World television one sees documentaries portraying a thirty-something housewife or other likely suspect suffering from massive depression, on the road to recovery through such wonder drugs. The patients live amidst the signs of middleclass lives, in nice houses or apartments, with spouses and children. As viewers, we are encouraged to read their environment as both socially and economically comfortable (ie., the fiction of what is "standard") and with all the signs of happiness, hence the only logical source of their depression is madness, a physiological flaw, a chemical imbalance in need of repair. There is no room for unhappiness within the bourgeois lifestyle. Under a bourgeois-centric global economy, the only understandable place for unhappiness is poverty, which very few people wish to actively identify with. (And the high standard of living held by most members of First World lower classes, which is typically not starvation-level destitution, further obscures which classes we inhabit and intersect.1) Hence, multi-billion dollar self-help industries appeal to an overwhelming belief among all classes - rich or poor - that, with some effort, a better life is always waiting to be achieved. Prosperity is a lifestyle choice, and happiness is not simply an emotion of the moment, but a sustainable lifestyle that defeats other emotions. Not only does this tyrannical notion of "sustainable happiness" strike me as utterly absurd (even a "sustained orgasm" cannot outlast a day, with no loss to the power of it's conceptual image), but I believe it is symptomatic of a radical ongoing philosophical shift against pessimism among the public at large that is fundamental to capitalist development.
Radical though this ongoing shift may be, it is anything but sudden. For my immediate purposes, and limiting this discussion to the West, let's trace it back to the Lutheran reformation, leading through the Enlightenment, until the notion of deferred paradise (namely Heaven after a life of earthly suffering) was gradually replaced by Ben Franklin-esque notions of "man's" divine potential for earthly reward and self-improvement (Heaven on earth). The public fear of, and disdain for, unhappiness has led to a dismissal of those who confess to unhappiness as nothing more than whiners and romantic "martyrs." Indeed, the notion of martyrdom itself - the crux of Christianity - has become so removed from notions of critical sacrifice and social resistance, and so inextricably linked with masturbatory ego-driven anti-heroism, that Christians themselves have been forced to transformed the figure of Jesus (real or not) away from that of a pitiful social outcast struggling in endless critique against dominant cultural forces which ultimately murdered him, and turned him into a independent and self-actualized messiah worthy of the respect of wealthy social leaders - the kind of guy who today just might head his own start-up company and make it big, even without his fortunate connections to Big Daddy. Today?s First World evangelical Christians are no longer inspired by the traditional model of Jesus as a puppet-of-God whose acts of social critique were inseparable from his predestination for slaughter, but have recast him as a positive and motivational character full of life. Jesus as individual. T-shirts and active-wear asking "WWJD" ("What Would Jesus Do?") in lieu of WDJD ("Why did Jesus die?"). A friendlier face for contemporary Christo-Western economic crusade and conquest (Fig. 1). Meanwhile, befuddling an overly simplistic critical dismissal of the social functions of Christianity and religion, recent projects by audio activists Ultra-red point out that evangelical liberationist theology has become a key foundation for Central and South American labor organization, and frames the martyrdom of murdered labor organizers and other martyrs. Indeed, the martyr's decline in fashion in the First World coincides with our ability to radically reduce internal signs of suffering and resistance by exporting the worst of our barbarities to those out-of-sight countries upon which our crumbling economies stand... places that have not yet risen to standards of living where the collective social consciousness can cleanly replace material acts of abuse and murder with their reified images in televised fiction. Places where martyrdom is not an individual's romantic choice, but the result of brutal assault by forces of oppression and greed.
Fig. 1 Hell of a guy: Completely non-ironic Catholic youth outreach posters from the Philippines.
As every good Marxist already knows, this First World ideological shift toward a terminally optimistic humanism was vital to the rise of the bourgeoisie, and the decline of aristocracy. The contemporary icon of this ever-transitioning ideological shift is post-World War II "Americanization," which in my opinion gives the U.S. too much credit for economic and social policies that could only succeed through international collaboration. (This is not to deny that a majority of that four percent of the world's population controlling ninety five percent of the world's wealth are in the U.S.) Indeed, the countries which remain most un-Americanized are those who provide the fuel for capitalism without actually having full-scale capitalist social structures. They are the Asian , African , Central and South American manufacturing areas - the exported remains of nineteenth century Western industrialization policies, and all of the miseries they imply. They are countries such as the Philippines, a radically Christian (Roman Catholic) Asian nation which many people might say is for all intents and purposes "Americanized," with the signs of television talk shows and urban shopping malls, yet the basic standards of living and labor absolutely prohibit the majority's participation in anything close to an "American" way of life, not even close to the U.S. lower classes. For this reason, I prefer reserving the term "Americanization" for the homogenizing effects of First World socio-economic assimilation and inter-capitalist competition, such as in the E.U. or Japan, which is far different from the economic-fuel based globalization exhausting Third World nations.
Today, in a post-communist era which is not only marked by the failure of self-declared communist states, but a failure of socialist projects in general, it is fitting that every Disney film revolves around feudal themes of Lion Kings, princes, princesses, destiny from birth, and journeys to uncover one's birthright. As we sleep through lives filled with centuries-old bourgeois dreams, true and incontestable aristocratic distinction continues to serve as the foundation for understanding our modern individual differences. It is a foundation of envy and entitlement embodied in even the most simple of U.S. commercial exchanges by the rudeness of every dissatisfied customer demanding more for their dollar from equally ill-tempered and powerless cash register clerks and restaurant staff. Within the democratic world there is widespread delusion and belief in our capacity for individual greatness. And it is marketable. Or, to be more precise, it is marketing at work. To this end, since the late 1970s a new breed of youth-oriented marketing took hold in the U.S., denoted by "positive reinforcement" toward children, and refraining from scolding or the word "no." In schools this meant that traditional ribbons for first-, second- and third place in competitions were subsidized with "good effort" ribbons given to all students so that, ostensibly, nobody would feel like a loser. On television this meant the eradication of adult and authoritarian figures from children's programming. All television was to now approach children at eye level, with characters such as Kermit the Frog and Bugs Bunny being replaced by their infantile counterparts such as Muppet Babies, Tiny-Toons, and that most dreaded of creatures... Elmo. This shift was also apparent within the world of McDonalds characters, who had previously always resided in a fixed hierarchy with Mayor McCheese and Officer Big Mac (his chief of police) at the top, and the Hamburglar at the bottom. I vividly recall a McDonalds advertising campaign from the late '70s in which the Hamburglar emerged from penitentiary rehabilitation, and with trusting acceptance from Ronald McDonald himself, re-entered McDonaldland society as a productive and helpful citizen (who just so happened to continue dressing as a burglar). Although I was perhaps ten at the time, and the word "fuck" was not yet a part of my vocabulary, I distinctly remember reacting to the libertarian ambitions of these commercials with a disbelief that could now only be described by the phrase, "What the fuck?!!" (Another vital subtext to the phasing out of certain McDonalds leadership characters was a 1973 court decision siding with Sid & Marty Krofft that Mayor McCheese bore too close a resemblance to H.R. Pufnstuf.) In continuation of this cultural trend, recent decades have shown the Hamburglar transform from his original form as a rather sinister old man into an innocent boy (Fig. 2). While it might be going too far to say that sex panic around pedophilia and "dirty old men" could have also been a reason for the Hamburglar's physical transformation, it is safe to say that contemporary sex panic is why the original character would never be introduced into the McDonald's character hierarchy today.
The view from within those colonized countries and manufacturing centers is quite different. Humanist rhetoric falls flat in new ways as Disney's feudal themes resonate with existing hierarchal infrastructures, easily going uncensored due to their clearly anti-democratic Aristocat-ic subtexts. Simultaneous to this external trouble, the internal policies of many Third World nations limit internationalism through their physical and ideological distance from the West, and unique forms of internal corruption. Unfortunately, these limitations are seldom signs of resistance to globalization, but simply the self-preservation or shuffling of the ruling elite (case and point, Japan). Of course, the First World must always respond to such ethnocentric self-preservation with similarly ethnocentric moral upset. For example, the West's gradually increasing concern about environmental issues, and its demand that currently developing nations also adapt Western environmental concerns, fail to address industrializing nations' needs for resources (let alone admitting that the majority of contemporary environmental damage and greenhouse effects are the lingering effects of 19th century industrialization in Europe and the U.S.). Meanwhile, nations such as China are only barely able to sustain industrial viability through devastating environmental policies that have already made over 70% of their natural water sources too polluted for human consumption. What is missing from all sides is any sense of international sustainability. And this shall forever remain missing. Visions of progress come with a terminal deafness to the idea of downsizing, which is unthinkable within a global economy that demands stock markets operate as perpetual motion machines, never slowing and every growing in momentum. And when themes of social-minded downsizing do arise, such as in the Peak Oil movement's concern about impending global collapse in the face of oil depletion, they are inevitably clouded by romantic dreams of Waldenesque, apocalyptic reclamations of Eden lost.
The theme song of all this optimism is provided by the commercial music marketplace - one of my key employers. Like Disney, the sounds of Western music - from classical to hip-hop to trance to rock - achieve global appeal as it's humanist rhetoric falls flat in new ways through harmonious resonance with hierarchal infrastructures of every kind. The producer underclass of this marketplace typically consists of people who insist they simply want to "make music." That's all. We may or may not wish to make it big in terms of fame or wealth, yet we operate through limited vocabularies and social structures which betray an inability to conceive of objectives other than fame or wealth of one form or another. To accompany this philosophical poverty, our financial poverty gains meaning through long-standing images of that hero of all heroes, the starving artist. It is poverty devoid of class consciousness in any Marxist sense, in that our appeal to artistry is simply an appeal to recognition by the catalogues of bourgeois media history. Our material financial standing becomes reified into a sign of artistic credibility. It's the Punk's dilemma in that the purity of our artistic intent is measured by our economic failure - a failure which is all but guaranteed by the terms of our contracts. The result is an enormous pool of producers laboring under an egocentric assertion that "nothing matters." Not wealth... "although wealth would be nice." Not fame... "although fame would be nice." Mundane conversations laughed over backstage. On stage, walls of sound hold back oceans of philosophical emptiness, leaking into the tides of market demand. To actually hear all of this deafening "nothingness" and "not-ness" is to hear the First-World ego - the subtextual social contents ascribed by the music marketplace in the face of personal ambivalence and naïveté among producers communally dreaming commonplace dreams.
And the audiences.... For those who have seen me perform electroacoustic projects before, you know that I typically begin with a short discussion of a project's theme, origin or context of production. Part of this is to fight the larger contexts of electroacoustic performance, which emphasizes abstraction over content, leaving most audiences unfamiliar with how to "hear" themes within the language of abstract noise. Another part of this is simply to be a nuisance, and rob people of the standard enjoyable concert experience by defeating entertainment through boring talk. But, getting back to audiences, how many times have I been interrupted on stage by some drunk macho bastard existential hippy-fuck waiving a beer bottle and screaming, "Muzik!!!"? Men suck. Don't misunderstand me. By all means, break that barrier between stage and audience. I don't enjoy it at all. It's nothing more than an antiquated convention predetermined by the venue, promoters, and most performers, about which I have no alternative but to accept as a precondition of my employment. I'm doing my best to deconstruct it, too. But when you interrupt me, please do it in a way that shows some thought. I mean, really shut me up! Really make me so fucking confused and shattered by some amazing point that the show cannot go on! I beg you! I recall one fine German fellow in particular who, during an introduction to Interstices, optimistically exclaimed, "Yeah, we know all this transsexual stuff! We see specials on TV about it all the time in Germany! This prejudice is not a problem! You're boring! Where's the music?" I could only ask when was the last time he saw a transgendered person working in a bank, or as a super-market cashier, or in an office, or a hospital, or at any other job that would demonstrate a level of widespread social acceptance... I believe his response was, "Muzik!!!" Another time, at the premiere of Lovebomb in a small Frankfurt bar, the interrupting cry for music actually came from a Mille Plateaux label mate. Dear audience, do you really want music? Do you really want to dance? Do you really want to forget it all? I know you do. But before I give you what you're asking for (as I must in order to pay my rent and eat, particularly here in Japan where my DJ Sprinkles persona is the only one ever employed), let me ask how much do you allow yourself to remember? How much do you allow yourself to pain and contemplate the unhappiness from which you want to flee? And if you're looking for a good time, why do you think you'll find relief by coming to see me of all people, perform in some venue that is probably either connected to the state or crime syndicates or both? Among whatever other addictions you may be fostering, what is at the root of your apparently insatiable craving for music (surely the are related)? What deafening miseries will the noise be blocking out in your mind? Surely you did not come to listen to music, but to unlisten to yourself. This is the core of concert and nightclub ticket sales. And this is the core of why we leave most music events thinking they could have been better. Such is the mundane incessantness of our unhappiness. If your demand for music holds any value at all, it is in your ability to outline my occupational role as a tool in perpetuating the cultural mechanisms of denial and suppression some of us gathered to critique, and your role as a tool in demanding your own subjugation to those mechanisms. We are both defeated before the audience lights have been dimmed and the "real show" has begun.
In attempting to write about such defeat, I find myself lacking in language skills. Two friends recommended a Walter Benjamin essay on Surrealism, in which they said he had discussed the potential of social organization through pessimism. (Again, an inescapable belief in everything's potential - even pessimism.) I had a vague remembrance that when I last encountered Benjamin I found him pretentious and boring, although from an archeological perspective I can imagine his books have value in that his incessant name dropping gives a very clear list of what books and media he and his contemporaries were influenced by.... Maybe I should take this opportunity to tell you that I dislike reading. I always have. I read as little as possible. I have probably not read a book in its entirety since leaving college in 1990, and before that I only read the minimum amount required to pass exams in school. I hate fiction. The books I buy are usually picture books, or "dead philosophy" such as antiquated sexology encyclopedias and health manuals from the late 1800s and early 1900s, usually found for a dollar in the basement of a used bookstore or stolen from my father's collection. I am particularly drawn to the editing of these compendiums, since a single book may contain essays by scientific rivals clearly attacking one another. Despite the individual writers' self-righteousness, the books as a whole convey a sense of uncertainty and contradictory poly-knowledge. One of my favorite essays is simply a series of graphs by a male sexologist who charted his ejaculation patterns from masturbation and intercourse over a course of eleven years in order to establish what he felt by now would surely be a much more substantial volume of communally maintained charts. (If memory serves, he masturbated least on Tuesdays, which he attributed to the flow of the industrial workweek.) These essays are fun to read because they usually sound utterly ridiculous, but also clearly form the rotted foundations for most of our intellectual guesses about the nature of gender, sexuality and other identities today. In some ways, Marx's writings also fall into this category, hence my deep love of his antiquated books. Marx is probably the only author I have really "read," by which I mean combed and revisited to the same extent I gave listening attention to records by Kraftwerk, Devo, The Monkees or Fats Waller - although I do not claim to be a true expert on works by any of these people. Much of my library was found in the garbage, and like my record collection is valued more for its collective eclecticism than any book's individual coherency. My dislike of reading is surely the basis of my career emphasis on audio and visual media production. When I do read, it is in a glancing way. I find that most books - including philosophical and social treatises - are as predictable as Hollywood movies. You can usually see the formulas and patterns within a few pages, if not paragraphs, and guess the book's conclusion without making too much of an ass out of yourself. I realize that I lose out on a lot of details, but I do not miss them - in the same way that I know there is a lot of "amazing music" on the internet but I do not feel compelled to download any of it. Perhaps I am more interested in observing the vehicles of distribution, and understanding how they influence the messages transmitted, more than receiving the messages themselves. This would extend to my own works. I sample, steal, paraphrase and repeat to fill space... but mostly make things up in the spur of the moment, then keep combing it over until it sounds believable. I also make lots of mistakes. For example, I misspelled the word "transsexual" with only one "s" for over 10 years and nobody corrected me. I also make up words to sound poetic; or accidentally use antiquated spellings and terms that are found in my old print dictionary but unknowingly no longer in common use; or mix up U.S. and European-English punctuation and quotation rules; or combine two words into a new word (which is common in German, but not English), sometimes just because I am too lazy to look up an appropriate existing word. Year after year, these errors and oddities build into a simulacrum of nuance, flavor and personal technique. But they are as unauthentic as everything else about my life. I have no idea why you bothered buying this book. You made a mistake, like so many mistakes before. You know you will not finish reading it all, the fault for which I admittedly share with you. Even I would not buy this book. That's why I do things like refer to the Lutheran reformation and Jesus in the fourth paragraph, at a point where you are likely to skim to in a bookstore, just to make you roll your eyes and extinguish the consumer impulse. You should simply read a few pages in the store, see the formulas and patterns within a few pages, if not paragraphs, and guess the book's conclusion without making too much of an ass out of yourself. After all, what are the mathematical odds of somebody engaging you in a conversation that would require extensive knowledge of my works? I am myself, and this has not yet happened to me, so why should it happen to you? Thus I turned to Benjamin, after one of my friends was so caught in a moment of optimism about helping me find a way to discuss pessimism that he actually purchased and shipped me a collection of Benjamin's writings which were readily distributed by Amazon.com or Barnes & Noble or some other major online book dealer.
As anticipated, I did not find anything useful in terms of discussing pessimism. However, I did find some nice quotes about Benjamin's problems with latent conservatism among his contemporaries that could also describe certain things I have observed in my own contemporaries, as well as myself. The first quote is as follows: "It is typical of these left-wing French intellectuals - exactly as it is of their Russian counterparts, too - that their positive function derives entirely from a feeling of obligation, not to the Revolution, but to traditional culture. Their collective achievement, as far as it is positive, approximates conservation. But politically and economically they must always be considered a potential source of sabotage."2 Although I am unsure whether he was referring to their being considered potential saboteurs by dominant conservative culture, or their potential for sabotaging what Benjamin identified as the left-wing from the inside, for arguments sake let's concede to the potential for both since this is the dual role which most of us "experimental" media producers assume, equally betrayed (and betraying) by our marketability and non-conformity. We don the appearance of experimental "saboteurs" while participating in state-sanctioned, financially bloated tourist events such as Sónar or Love Parade. Events that, despite (or because of) their funding, are still likely to ask us producers to pay them for the opportunity of our appearing in their festival, serving as nothing more than trade-show style promotional showcases. (Sónar Japan seems to remain uninjured by any of the various gender, class and other debates surrounding Sónar in the E.U., as I have yet to meet a single Japanese person who is familiar with any of these discussions.)
A memorable example of this dynamic occurred during a panel discussion I sat on with Spanish indie avanteur Genis Segarra of Austrohungaro, and British industrialist Alex Murray-Leslie of Chicks on Speed, at "QUÉC*** TÉ A VEURE LA MÚSICA AMB LA INDUSTRIA I EL FEMINISME, EN UN CENTRE D'ART?," organized by Montse Romani and the Belgian cyberfeminist collective Constant at Centre d'Art Santa Monica, Barcelona Spain. To be precise about my own placement within the event, I was invited by Constant and Romani, who were in turn invited by curator Oscar Abril Ascaco, who is known for his involvement with Sónar's new media art section and who was the personal connection to the Centre d'Art. The event itself spanned four days from October 25 to 28, 2005, occupying the museum space with public, open and streamed interviews, debates, meetings, underground radio broadcasts, an information room and a party on the following themes:
As usual, Constant's organizational strategies were precise in their moments of discontinuity, reading in much the same way as my old sexology books, filled with contradictory views and trivia reflecting an era other than today in which mono-knowledge editorship increasingly means consistency rather than debate. At the same time, in this generation we are all conditioned not to debate, but to seek solidarity, sisterhood and amicability in our struggles. We want to be liked on a personal ego level for our works of media manipulation and alienation. These were the ingredients of the strange panel-sandwich comprised of Genis, Alex and myself - all of whom were meeting for the first time on a leather sofa. Genis, who I understand also dabbles in transgenderism, spoke of diverting whatever profits he makes from his pop band success into a lost-cause label and live events incapable of profit. His openness about negotiating a kind of sustainable poverty was engaging, but admittedly fueled by that most conventional of desires to simply, in Genis' own words, "play music"... which pretty much puts an end to any discussion outside of a quest for individualist expression, and a feeling of obligation to traditional musicianship. Alex, on the other hand, displayed a rather enthusiastic embrace of music marketplace structuring and procedure, and somewhat distanced herself from types of "feminist" action that could be seen as potentially bitchy or negative. She simply had not seen many experimental women bands out there, so she formed one. She could not get distribution for her female-produced releases, so she formed her own woman-owned distributorship. She could not get gigs, so she organized her own festivals and events. Each step in her advancement, echoing with Anglo-U.S. styled enthusiasm for capitalist notions of career and success, was a precise self-reconstruction and perpetuation of the cultural mechanisms oppressing her. The actual roots of her success remained undefined, resting on a familiar subtext of individual can-do and stick-to-it-iveness. Her collective achievement, as far as it is positive, approximates conservation. Therefore, politically and economically I must always consider her a potential source of sabotage.
Sitting in the middle, I suppose I provided the negative cohesion between these two different yet positively charged magnetic poles (Fig. 3). I spoke openly of my lack of respect for music in general - that I consider it simply one of many mediums which may be used as tools for communication, but I do not believe it is a particularly good medium for expressing the issues at hand that day. I spoke of the difficulties of talking about sponsorship and poverty without conjuring ghosts of starving-artist heroism, and confessed that my primary motivation for talking on a couch in a Spanish museum was financial, and that indeed I was getting paid for my attendance. I said that I did not believe in social transformation or revolution, nor the value of individual artistry, nor had any interest in pretending that "alternative" media industries which mimic dominant industry qualify as alternatives to anything. I said that we must approach "alternative" music industries with the same suspicion as major labels, treating them simply as employers like any other, and the best we could do is to steal their monies through whatever fees and advances we can get hold of so as to weaken their organizational power. And if we are to work for free, as this industry so often demands, that it may be better to reserve our pro bono energies for secretive and undocumented activities disconnected from any media production or distribution, not out of any idealism about sub-culture building, but rather to redistribute funds in unaccountable ways while providing as little free labor to industry as possible - mainstream or alternative, dominant or sub-cultural. Doing something other-than-concert. Something other-than-pleasure. Something other-than-entertainment. This did not go over well with the curators, musicians, critics and other professionals in the audience, many of whom were Sónar enthusiasts, and whose comments and expressions showed disgust at my flagrant exploitation of sub-cultural organizers and music fans. I had violated that most sacred of industry bonds between "promoter" and "artist" by simply stating the obvious, that most "alternative" promoters and producers were little emperors standing naked in their complacency with the understanding that all audience support and government funding is given as part of a consumerist exchange for pleasure based entertainment. By identifying as a thief who consciously steals from sacred alternative industries with the specific intention of not being entertaining, I became an ego-driven individual devoid of all artistry, such that politically and economically I must always be considered a potential source of sabotage.
Fig. 3 Bringing down the house: (Left to right) Genis Segarra (Austrohungaro), Terre Thaemlitz and Alex Murray-Leslie (Chicks on Speed) at "QUÉC*** TÉ A VEURE LA MÚSICA AMB LA INDUSTRIA I EL FEMINISME, EN UN CENTRE D'ART?," Centre d'Art Santa Monica, Barcelona Spain. Note electromagnetic repelling forces between bodies.
I could explain that my mood in Barcelona was affected by a seizure I had the previous evening during the landing of my flight from Tokyo to Paris, apparently the result of an oxygen imbalance. I became physically paralyzed in my seat and - bizarrely enough - completely unable to speak English. It was only after several minutes of speaking to French airline staff in s-s-stammering J-J-Japanese that they realized in my state of panic and paralysis I was not speaking jibberish, but an actual language - testimony to the role of the body-as-sign in processes of communication. Japanese staff were eventually called to translate for me as French doctors carried me off the plane, heavily medicated me with sedatives, and wheelchaired me onto my connecting flight to Barcelona while still unable to stand. (Upon returning to Japan I had a thorough medical examination, during which the physician also expressed surprise that in a moment of extreme emergency I did not revert to my mother tongue, but to Japanese - which I do not consider an indication of my assimilation into Japanese society as much as a meter of the depth of my physical disdain for the U.S.) Once I landed in Barcelona, as a male with long hair passing through Spanish customs in a drugged stupor, I was predestined to be pulled aside and have my bags inspected. Customs officials then attempted to impose what I call a "tranny tax" on my women's clothing, which they assumed to be taxable goods I was smuggling in as gifts or for resale. Barely able to stand, let alone talk, I somehow argued my way past them. Perhaps if I tell you these things, my attitudes and opinions expressed at "QUÉC***..." become less bitchy and more tolerable to you as an unfortunate extension of personal problems. But to invoke such pity would be, in fact, simply another emotionally manipulative act of sabotage. Similarly, I should be clear that those travel incidents did not wear away my inhibitions and give me any newfound courage to speak freely. Therefore, in order to avoid presenting myself as either a victim to be pitied, or a person of conviction to be admired, it is best that I do not mention any of these larger contextual details.
The second quote by Benjamin with which I found resonance is: "To live in a glass house is a revolutionary virtue par excellence. It is also an intoxication, a moral exhibitionism, that we badly need. Discretion concerning one's own existence, once an aristocratic virtue, has become more and more an affair of petit-bourgeois parvenus."3 Exhibitionism plays a key role in many queer and transgendered events. The notion of visibility integral to most Western identity struggles and discourses is in itself a form of exhibitionism. Unfortunately, while Benjamin wrote in an era where we can excuse his plea to morality as symptomatic of the ideological blind spots of his day, 80 years later we still find that most queer media exhibitionists cling to naïve notions of the purity of their gestures. While most producers would concede that every act of display is simply the simulacra of display - a strategically self-placed scandal - they remain emotionally and economically invested in authorship, authoring bodies, and authoring the self. One glance at Pride-filled queer porn is more than enough to show how a vague optimism infects every corner of critique and life and human relations and sex and eating and violence, replacing every real tension with an over-inflated positive sensation. A desire for the ashes of trauma to give rise to a healthy, self-actualized individual.
In my own works, critically addressing this terminal naiveté has meant actively exhibiting both public and private aspects of my life, all the while showing how both are constructs and neither grant much visibility to myself as a person. Neither clarify my subjective struggle for a sense of placement within social contexts, and neither give you any true sense of knowing me. If you are a follower of my work, I am sure you would agree that despite all of my apparent openness and insistence upon invoking first-person narrative, and despite all of the words or images which one can conclude cause embarrassment for my parents or others, all of this "private" information somehow shares very little about my life (what life? terminal homebody), what I do (as little as possible), what I am like to talk with (I hear warmer than most anticipate, but maybe a bit too formal or polite, which may in turn be alienating), what I eat (my overwhelming knowledge of McDonald's characters is a clue), what my friends are like (generally non-queer, non-transgendered outsider types of various class and cultural backgrounds), whether or not they know about my work (maybe of it, but generally not about it), if I smoke or drink or take drugs (never, although I would like to think this does not necessarily relate to any moral conviction - but from observation they seem to be more burdensome than liberating, and their use generally linked to transcendental ideologies which have no appeal to me), if I really am as economically strapped as I claim to be (yes, but I think I live more comfortably than people with standard incomes and heavy lifestyle loans related to homes, autos, etc. - also, I have no costs related to alcohol, tobacco, drugs, etc., which burden most low-income persons I know), if I am the kind of person who can comfortably take a shit in front of a lover (never), if I mind a lover taking a shit in front of me (no, but it is not something I would request), etc. Both publicly (professionally) and privately (inter-personally), every attempt at openness is yet another fractured image held up for someone's rejection or approval - including my own, of course - connecting every act of exhibitionism to morality like Benjamin wished for. Neurotic compulsion takes the form of civic duty, public and private.
It happened again in June, 2005, while participating in the exhibition "1-0-1 Interstex: Das Zwei-Geschlechter-System als Menschenrechtsverletzung" ("Intersex 101: The Two-Gender-System as a Human Rights Violation"), an exhibition featuring works by intersex, transsexual, transgendered and female artists curated by Ins Kromminga and Nanna Lüth at the Neue Gesellschaft für Bildende Kunst (NGBK) in Berlin. It was, coincidentally, the day of the "alternative" Gay Pride parade happening right outside the gallery. As is to be expected when I dress in women's clothes, my thirty-minute afternoon walk from a friend's apartment to the gallery was peppered with occasional odd looks, snickers, snide comments, and offended faces. As mundane as these occurrences were, when the organizers asked me if I had a pleasant walk, I blandly mentioned that there were a few mild hassles met along the way, but nothing particularly unusual. The organizers, many of whom are transgendered themselves, responded with mild surprise, "Here? In Berlin? No... really? I can't imagine that happening." Our exchange was all quite normal. There was no call for urgency in my voice, nor any practical need for urgency in their response. Urgency implies panic. And, on a personal level, panic is difficult to manage. Clearly I was not physically hurt, hence, "nobody panic." During my fairly frequent visits to Berlin over the years, I have noticed that most Berliners (transgendered or not) seem to perceive the town as "safe" and hassle-free in a way that eludes me. However, I am never sure if this is a sign of their higher personal tolerance for (or numbness to) harassment; an unconscious denial of such troubles in their immediate environment as a means of maintaining their own calm; or, most likely, my own over-sensitivity to the gaze of others. In any case, it is very important to me that you understand I am in no way implying that any of our actions or responses were unusual or insufficient, nor to underestimate the warm heartedness and concern of the organizers, which struck me as sincerely boundless. To the contrary, I ask that you/we consciously follow the sublime ways in which we monitor inevitable social frictions, and attempt to define the boundaries of our own tolerance of intolerance through a standard aversion to feeling our own anger, fear or other negativities.Then co-exhibitor Del LaGrace Volcano showed up in a lovely queer outfit (including a black frilly skirt a bit too similar to my own for comfort), brilliantly conjuring the image of a gay boy poking fun at drag queens. Del told me that on her/his way to the gallery a man in the subway had threateningly followed Del and her/his partner between cars, eventually pulling out a knife, at which point they promptly exited that train to elude him and waited for the next one. Such is life. Nobody panic. During Del's ensuing lively and upbeat presentation, the room responded with laughter as she joked and made light of his/her, and our, representational issues in public. "Gender Terrorism" and dressing to confuse the public was framed in an energetic and optimistic white light. There was an innocence to Del's presentation that reminded me of my gender-fuck teenage years, washed in the punkish sensibility that if we are unable to fit in, we shall stand out fantastically. There were no public references to the incident on the train that day. Huddled in tight numbers at the gallery, we nodded to each other, "Make no doubt, we are in control." ...Or are we simply mistaking personal micro-management for the myth of self-determination?
All of the dirty looks, aggressive stances and everyday reactions from others point to the fact that confusing gender signifiers (willingly or not) is dangerous. Not "potentially dangerous." It is dangerous, both personally and socially. Dangerous to societies at large in terms of disrupting social order and standard inter-gender relations. Dangerous to myself, perhaps both physically and mentally. "Empowerment," then, seems to be the internalization of this danger filtered through a moral system in which cross-dressing and transgenderism are imbued with value as forms of cultural resistance. Controlled exhibitionism is our tactic. It is also an intoxication, a moral exhibitionism, that we badly need. We are the material manifestations of Benjamin's antiquated dreams.
I am the first to admit my oversensitivity to even the most harmless or unavoidable social pressures around me, to the point of terminal unhappiness. I still get upset when someone looks at me the wrong way when dressed in women's clothes, although I clearly realize how and why my behavior can and will be perceived as an act of social aggression on my part. Still, gazes make me feel insecure and vulnerable. They make me wish I had decided to dress in male drag, although I also get upset when someone looks at me the right way when dressed in men's clothes. It all keeps me from smiling casually. I reserve my smiles for people I know. On a personal level, I am exhausted and paranoid. Family, friends and loved ones often ask, "Why do you always have to make your life so complicated?" I admit my transgenderism is inextricably linked to my unhappiness. But their error is to assume my abstinence from transgendered activities would somehow increase my happiness. For myself, in a world of personally irreconcilable gender conflicts, transgenderism is simply a manageable form of unhappiness adopted in response to the personally unmanageable despair of attempting to conform to conventional gender models. It is the unavoidable logical outcome of crossed signals from people demanding my conformity while simultaneously (and generally derogatorily) categorizing me as a gender- and sexual-other - crossed signals literally pounded into me during youth until "conformity" and "otherness" were inseparable, insufferable. Unfortunately, at this stage in my life where I see myself in some kind of Male-to-Female-to-Male loop of body signs always pointing back to an inescapably masculine image (either by living day-to-day in male drag, or by being easily identified as a "man in a dress" when in female drag), and as a person uninterested in hormonal or surgical alteration, I must also struggle with the fact that my gender representational-options are rather exhausted. In what forms does the transgendered body exist when one's birth gender and visual gender coincide? (Although this may read like an unusual conundrum, I maintain it is actually the most common transgendered experience - that of the closet. In my case, a closet with a revolving door.)
It seems to me that a failure to strategize a conscious response to what makes one unhappy, even if it leads to different forms of unhappiness, is nothing other than denial - and, for whatever reasons, I do ascribe to that Western school of psychology that long-term denial eventually manifests itself in personally undesirable ways. However, I also realize that the world spins on denial, and that denial is key to a "healthy" and optimistic outlook. It's the oldest trick in the book of social control, still propagated by the magicians of religion who convince us to accept the urgent sufferings of this world, because our good life begins after death. As a completely non-spiritual atheist who believes all sense is reliant upon chemical reactions (as proven by the success and effectiveness of personality altering psychiatric drugs, which are essentially well-targeting chemical lobotomies), I find no comfort in success through systems of denial. No happiness through a failure to feel unhappy. I fondly reminisce about the term "anger" appearing in the late '80s mission statement of ACT-UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power), "A non-partisan group of individuals united in anger to end the AIDS crisis through direct action," printed on a business card I still keep in my wallet at all times. How absent, if not impossible, that term "anger" is from counter-culture today. Of course, despite the term, at it's peak ACT-UP was more about cruising than anger for most attendees. Never rely upon any document as accurate testimony to that which it so eloquently encapsulates... which brings us back to the topic of this book introduction.
Pessimism, anger, worthless secrecy, returning as little money as possible into any economy (mainstream, alternative or sub-cultural), information theft, used clothing, shopping in garbage cans, and product recycling rooted in economic necessity more than ecological concerns.... Economic and social isolation from the reified body of consumer culture by witnessing but not following trends (which inevitably means becoming distanced from loved ones who value community, fashion, comfort, stability, etc.), all the while living neck deep in dominant culture feces (whatever one's culture) with no Waldenesque dreams of social transcendence or escaping to an Eden lost.... Admitting an aversion to family structures, making a conscious effort to leave no DNA progeny behind, and being unforgiving of the egomaniacle presumptiveness of birthing in a world overpopulated with abused, neglected and orphaned children.... Life devoid of authenticity. These means are the closest I can come to consciously connecting with the processes of abstraction and alienation inherent in our era of capitalist globalization. They cannot result in personal or social transformation, despite unavoidable dreams of transformation. They absolutely cannot be collective, despite unavoidable longings to overcome loneliness and isolation. They do not bring happiness. They are my continued undoing in a world in which I am already undone. A colleague emails, "Yes, okay, but what is next?" to which I do not respond because I know she knows that there is no next step, only plodding and meandering toward nothing in the middle of everything, like shopping in a crowded Tokyo department store, until we drop. The flow of the crowd may at times give a sense of direction, but it is motion within a non-transcendental meaninglessness that has zero zen potential. (Of course, I am only interested in the idea of zero, and not of zen.) Speaking of which, a Japanese atheist friend begins talking to me about how Buddhism likely started as a critical rejection of reincarnation, which was (and is) an ideological device used by Hinduism and other belief systems to justify oppressive caste systems. What has now become a religion about Buddha-hood symbolizing "eternal oneness with everything" was rooted in an opposite statement about the potential for endings and utter nothingness - Buddhism as a materialist message to the oppressed castes that the reincarnation cycles are fiction, and they can and will be broken by the finality of a soulless death. It was a complete ignoring of the idea of universal continuity. An absence of eternity. An anti-social rupture with notions of a human time continuum. It was the Buddha as a rotten corpse - the finality of which his followers could not accept and, in typical fashion, had to deify into an eternal transcendental being whose image and teachings were reconcilable with cultural norms supporting strict hierarchies, hence the various levels of enlightenment, the persistence of notions of reincarnation, etc., etc. I tell her I agree, people are idiots, faith demarcates the internalization of injustice, and the intentions behind critiques are too easily lost to habit. Every revolt is ultimately betrayed by the distortions of remembrance, and time's temperance of anger. By coincidence, the previous colleague emails that processes of deification are all very close to the mythology of the artist, who finds resurrection through the willful or unwillful indoctrination of one's works into the post-Industrial globalized art canon and other memory systems.... Be sure to insert something heavy handed about this introductory text as a project on the complication of post-Industrial memory systems, including an attempted complication of interpretations of this very book.... Conclude by reiterating that a subtext of negativity and pessimism facilitates my life as a nuisance-for-hire, some aspects of which are documented in the projects related to the texts compiled herein. The terms of my employment have often meant the suppression of some part or another of this anti-optimistic subtext, usually in deceptively subtle ways that reinforce my authenticity as a producer or "artist." Apologies. For the record, these texts are treatises by a sell-out dedicated to the production of dead stock products whose inventories are incapable of selling out, the majority ending up gathering dust in (less than ironically) my closet. Ultimately, it's just a job to be treated with suspicion like any other employment, and every project is simply the commercial sublimation of other desires.
- Terre Thaemlitz, January 2007
Illustration: Tsuji Aiko.