Fuck Provenance

To the tune of: The Durutti Column – Trust The Art Not The Artist

Fuck provenance. The joy of many modern critics seems to lie in the attribution of intention to the auteur, or at least cause to the auteur, focusing on the backstory more than the object of study; the importance of something is thus pushed back, the homunculus raised to the point of key importance, and credit or blame ascribed to this new creation instead of the creator or the piece, and so on, ad infinitum. The homunculus is to blame, no it’s the sense of ego, no it’s the neuroticism in that ego, etc. Value drains out of the object and down this chain of blame or praise.

What does this hunting for origins add to the enjoyment of the piece? What does knowing where Jeunet grew up add to the value of Jules et Jim, or even knowing Jeunet made it? Provenance is not mandatory knowledge for the appreciation of a good. As if a single billionaire could tell the difference between a identical diamond dug out of the ground in Africa and one compressed in a Russian machine, but they pay the price for the story. It’s the placebo effect, carried over to appreciation; oh, this was Nabokov’s cap, my look at the lining, that must be his sweat staining the hat-band, my, I’m enjoying this hat so much more. This steak was cut from Wagyu beef; not grown in Japan, no, nor of the same breed, nor subject to the possibly-mythical abuse/massage, but it’s Wagyu despite the lack of relevant attributes. If the sense data is the same, what matters the origin?

Much of this painting's quality is from the canvas's texture; whether that was intended or not is unknowable and doesn't matter.

This approach is used in food, increasingly, and I was with Delia in her kickback against the snobbery of food provenance; some of the most interesting food I’ve eaten has been cheap, or canned, or frozen, (though the mediocrity of source matters as little as the quality, of course, and inverted snobbery is as bad as the original.) In the arts (movies, games, paintings), we ask what the intention of the author is, as if that’s relevant to the finished product. Yet intention does not imply result, especially where silver-tongued auteurs are involved, and correlation does not imply causation. I judge Gaugin on his skill levels and the general quality of his works (occasionally good texturing, great colour range, poor penmanship/perspective); I judge his artwork on its own merits.

Again, if you’re a subconscious determinist, you might argue for the creator’s story being important irrespective of what he actually intended, the act of creation being valuable whether or not the direction was accurate. I, personally, don’t understand this. I have no problem with you appreciating a story; but it should not impinge on the important aesthetic judgement, that comes from you irrespective of history. The way cut glass grates against your incisor; the satisfaction in the predictable kickback of Bioshock’s shotgun; the richness of colour I’m told raw meat and Van Gogh’s paintings possess; the surprising toxicity of lead-based paints eating away at your reason. These are the raw materials for your judgement, not the supposed intentions of a fellow human black box, not that the water of this distillery flows through peat bogs; I just love the scent of smoke from that glass, and I don’t need to know why it’s there to appreciate it.

Fuck provenance. Fuck intention. Fuck origins. Taste is personal, value is visceral; move away from that and you’re just lying to yourself.

That Song Meme – part 1.

There was a meme travelling my friend’s pages a couple of months ago, infecting time-rich and socially-starved brains as it went, and it was a music meme. I don’t have the musical erudition like Mister Gillen to write my life story into every song, but here’s a selection of my musical gems, shoehorned into this damn trope.

To the tune of: That Song Meme

day 01 – your favorite song
Ewan MacColl – Dirty Old Town
I heard it covered on the Pogues guts-sodden album Rum, Sodomy and the Lash. Ewan MacColl wasn’t his real name, and there’s a suprising amount of self-creation and revanchism in folk music in general, pulling lost traditions out of your arse, but, whatever my feelings about the autochthonous nation-creating nonsense of demagoguic politicians from the 19th century onwards, I can’t deny that Ewan MacColl got me riled up about English folk music in a way that one else ever managed. This is a great, simple, romantic song about a man’s love for his girl and his city. You can tell he was Mancunian.

Music, Yesterday.

day 02 – your least favorite song
John Cale – Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend
Because I love Cale’s misanthrophic solipism, and I love this song until that bit where he throws his toys out of the pram, the pram down the stairs, through the front door, knocking a Queen-mum-reminiscent granny and her Imipolex twinset into oncoming traffic.

day 03 – a song that makes you happy
Elvis Costello – The Big Light – Album Version/Live In Studio
It just reminds of that glorious stiff-legged feeling you get in a comfortable soft bed when you know the hangover hasn’t hit yet, and won’t until Dawn rosily fingers the outside of your eyelids. I used to wake up to this every day at university.
day 04 – a song that makes you sad
Aimee Mann – One
Hell, it’s just a grim little song about loneliness and mortality, bound up with Aimee Mann’s lovely voice.
day 05 – a song that reminds you of someone
Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band – I’m The Urban Spaceman
Sex to the tune of the Bonzo’s is the funniest thing ever. Check out The Big Shot, The Intro & The Outro, and Trouser Press to sample a variety of their styles. Brilliant, quintessentially English (belying my words about the hypocrisy of nationhood earlier) and amazing live performers.
day 06 – a song that reminds of you of somewhere
Miles Davis – Sketches Of Spain
When I was a lad, I got confused due to a lack of literature, and travelled the wrong way along the Pilgrim’s Way, walking the North Downs then the South Downs, from Canterbury to Winchester. It was hugely lonely, and it confirmed to me that recognising my misanthropy and wanting to change it wasn’t enough – I just wasn’t going to ever be approachable and sociable, and I couldn’t force myself into that mould. The soundtrack to my idyllic 250 mile month-long solitude was Miles Davis and Gil Evans orchestral jazz album Sketches of Spain, which just burns vistas of golden countryside and endless tree-lined footpaths into my unfocussed eyes whenever I hear it.
Please go and see the Bonzos live, before they're dead.
day 07 – a song that reminds you of a certain event
Green Day – Basket Case
Sitting in the back of the school bus, with the cool kids, who were surprised I knew all the words to Basket Case. Acceptance was temporary, but they were friendly afterwards – I’d turned from an object to be ignored, if never bullied, into an amusing if very strange person.
day 08 – a song that you know all the words to
Monty Python – Accountancy Shanty (Monty Python Sings)
My brother and I, for reasons unknown, loved these songs and memorized all of them, having copied them from a library tape (apart from the naughty ones about venereal diseases that my mum surreptitiously wiped.)

day 09 – a song that you can dance to
Mikis Theodorakis – Horos Tou Zorba (I) / Zorba’s Dance
Everyone can dance to this. You just stick your arms out, and bounce your hips and shoulders in time to the music. Then Kazatzky!  Now you’re Greek, Jewish, etc…
day 10 – a song that makes you fall asleep
The Smiths – Asleep
“Sing Me To Sleep” sings the song that sings me to sleep.

Dream Instrumentalism

Not Quite a Khazar
Not Quite a Khazar
I dreamt of a musical instrument last night.
I was on a train stuck between cities, heading for the engine and the drivers, and I passed a family of khazars, entertaining themselves by taking turns on it.
I had to push past a shtarker in traditional dream dress, a white archaic tunic with red piping, his small flat red cap pinned to the side of his head, focussed on a lugubrious old man playing.
The instrument was a like a clockwork squeezebox a cubit long with a rubbery grey bald human face at one end and a limited keypad at the other.
They played it by struggling against the clockwork and bellows; it only played one tune, which sounded like something from Kroke, and which I was humming when I woke up.
The artistry, as I saw later when a wizened granny took over, is in putting your own interpretation on the tune by distorting the sounds.
She kinda stretched and crushed the head to distort the sound, made it sound childish and whiny, like a nursery rhyme.
He played it straight and slow, hardly touching the face, so it sounded sonorous and, yes, meaningful.
My brother says, it’s like the interpretation of a song, theme and variations, that’s all we can ever do…

Come On Nietzsche

Come on Nature by the Proclaimers.

Why did I assume they were saying “Come On Nietzsche”? Would they walk five thousand miles to see some shadows cast on a cave wall? Would they send a letter to America declaring the death of god? The only link between them and the ubermensch is twin studies…

This site is excellent: The Nietzsche Family Circus.

Apologies, I’ve been in the office too long. Rambling, dangerous rambling again. Home, Dan.