// Sometimes in my attempts to steer homewards, upon nautical principles, by fixing my eyes on the pole-star, and seeking ambitiously for a north-west passage, instead of circumnavigating all the capes and headlands I had doubled in my outward voyage, I came suddenly upon such knotty problems of alleys, such enigmatic entries, and such sphinx's riddles of streets without thoroughfares... //
But just as we might garner courage to reinvent a new world and live new fictions — what a sociology that would be! — so a devouring force comes at us from another direction, seducing us by playing on our yearning for the true real. Would that it would, would that it could, come clean, this true real. I so badly want that wink of recognition, that complicity with the nature of nature. But the more I want it, the more I realise it’s not for me. Not for you either…. which leaves us in this silly and often desperate place wanting the impossible so badly that while we believe it’s our rightful destiny and so act as accomplices of the real, we also know in our hearts that the way we picture and talk is bound to a dense set of representational gimmicks which, to coin a phrase, have but an arbitrary relation to the slippery referent easing its way out of graspable sight.
At the Chicks on Speed show at Roxanne last night I felt old. Worse, I felt nostalgic. Roxanne is on the top level of Charlton’s. It’s possible that Charlton’s was the first alleyway bar in Melbourne; but this was when ‘alleyway’ meant sordid, not hip. The clientele seems to consist solely of middle-aged men, who can be seen ferrying their dicks between the bar and the strip club across the way. Charlton’s has a karaoke level, too. In 2002, Charlton’s became the ’so-bad-it’s-good’ karaoke venue of choice for a bunch of my friends. I did Eminem’s “Without Me” there one time, surely the most difficult song in the history of English language karaoke.
That’s just random backstory, it’s not why I felt nostalgic. Anyhow, the tone for the night was set when we walked into Coverlid Place and a dude in an Armani suit wanted to give me a high five on the way past. “C’mon boy!” he said. “High five!” “Get fucked,” I said, not in an unfriendly way. We kept walking. “I used to run most of Melbourne,” he yelled at us from behind. Now I wanted to touch his hand even less than I had a moment before. (Confession: I don’t know if his suit was really Armani. But it looked expensive and had double butt flaps.)
In terms of art, Chicks on Speed are still doing what they’ve always done. They came onstage in postmodern kimonos with cardboard cutouts of various domestic items pinned to their hairdos, like stilettos and sewing machines. The whole show was built around domestic items. Possibly this is because they’re also playing the Melbourne Fashion Festival — odd, but in keeping with the whole idea of playing to different audiences. (Their other Melbourne engagement is some conference at Monash Uni.) A Husqvarna sewing machine in the middle of the stage literally set the beat. Alex was playing a stiletto with sensors, like electric guitar strings but shoe. They really don’t play guitars, and it’s a beautiful thing.
But something wasn’t right. The crowd was too young. And also too drunk. No respect. Some weirdo got up on stage after the first song and began to spout made-up poetry, calling them “girls” and telling them to get off. They weren’t taken aback at all. They just grabbed gigantic sewing scissors and started chopping off his hair. A woman next to me said something about how she’d only heard one Chicks on Speed song. “I like Le Tigre and Peaches more,” she said. It was too loud to give her a quick lesson on grrl electroclash history. Chicks on Speed actually predate Le Tigre; in fact, they released the first Le Tigre album. Peaches came later, was less into contemporary art and more into the sexxxing, and got more famous. Anyhow, shortly after this the woman smashed her hand through the UV tube stuck on the foldback amps and cut herself. She kept pointing at her hand, the blood running down onto her wrist, and at the shards of black plastic, in a kind of drunken wonder. Melissa from CoS ended up bandaging the cut with a piece of fabric she cut off her costume.
Mostly, though, it was weird because the moment of riot grrl electro really was in the early 00’s. For a split second, everyone and their dog loved Chicks on Speed. The space for specifically politicised, art-influenced electro sound of CoS and Le Tigre has been evacuated and in its place enter Justice and LCD Soundsystem: yet more rock boys with mixers. (Not that I don’t like Justice or LCD, but it’s not the same.) Perhaps The Knife has filled some of the gap left, but The Knife are all about the music, not the fucking with shit. And here are CoS, still doing their thing, but at a much smaller venue, with a crowd who like Peaches better. I wanted more for them. And I remembered their other Melbourne gigs, at Revolver and the Prince of Wales, when everyone was packed into the venue like sardines, and there was a serious appreciation for these crazy punk art makers.
Hence, serious nostalgia. The irony of this will not be lost on readers more familiar with the late 70s art punk band Malaria!, who wrote arguably CoS’ best song, “Kaltes Klares Wasser.” But in the encore, “Kaltes Klares Wasser” still rocked out. And here it is again:
I am sad. I tried to install Google Toolbar and it broke Firefox. (Yes, stupid! Lazy! Any self-respecting geek would have designed a customised search engine toolbar instead of relying on the packet mix.) Does anyone know where to find the actual files Google Toolbar uses, to delete them, on a WinXP machine? Or does anyone know a shortcut to open Firefox in ’safe’ mode, disabling extensions? Google is, of course, no help. (Edit: done! One can, indeed, restart Firefox in safe mode. Really easily.) Meanwhile I’m discovering the weirdness that is IE 7.0. Looked like they finally discovered tabbed browsing! Hilarious.
I’ve been writing about methodology tonight; a summary of some Foucauldian strategies like geneaology and ‘histories of the present’, which, although I’m familiar with them (or perhaps because I’m familiar with them) I need to piece together again. Which brings me back to the beautifully blunt familiarity of Rabinow and Dreyfus’ Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics:
In Discipline and Punish, Foucault says, “I would like to write the history of the prison with all the political investments of the body it gathers together in its closed architecture. Why? Simply because I am interested in the past? No, if one means by that writing a history of the past in terms of the present. Yes, if one means writing the history of the present.”
This approach explicitly and self-reflectively begins with a diagnosis of the current situation. There is an unequivocal and unabashed contemporary orientation. The historian locates the acute manifestations of a particular “meticulous ritual of power” or “political technology of the body” to see where it arose, took shape, gained importance, and so on…. [T]he genealogist, having destroyed the project of writing a ‘true’ history of the past, has no recourse to its comforts. The correspondence theory of reality is dead. The search for finalities should be over.
Back in full-blown thesis mode. In an effort at treating this blog like the laboratory it was once intended as, I’m going to explore some ideas here. Feedback and questions are welcome, as always.
At the meeting to confirm my candidature a year ago, one of my supervisors suggested I dig deeper into historiography in answering the question of how (I think) discourses of travel are central to the emergence of practices of transsexuality. At that stage — at the initial stage of rejecting transhistorical narratives that place transsexuals in every era and locale — it seemed fairly obvious that transsexuality was a specifically ‘modern’ thing. The particular technologies that enabled hormonal and surgical transition were only just developing in the early 20th century; they didn’t become legitimate medical practices until the 1960’s. And it was only at the beginning of the 1920’s that European sexologists split off same-sex object choice from cross-gender identification, arguing that just as there could be homosexuals who did not present as inverts, there could also be ‘transvestic’ persons who were not to be categorised in the same class as homosexuals. Hirschfeld locates what he refers to once as Transsexualismus on a continuum with homosexuality, but argues it’s a fundamentally different order of identification/desire to homosexuality. This is part of what enables ‘transsexuality’ to emerge as its own sexological category, with its own set of diagnostic procedures and (at that time, extremely speculative) treatments. (more…)