Originally published on Southern Discomfort Zine (7/12/2014)
Fragments of the urban flail around us amidst un[re]constructed grime along perpetual gentrified postmodernist scorn to the brutalist textures of modernism’s militancy; perpetual post-crash crisis meets postmodernist stagnation. All we have left is to fight the ruinous cringeful banality of Farage’s [insert other appropriate white cis-man] rivers of bloody tears with some reconstitution of our multiplicitous historical present through the excavation of the traces of the epistemes that compose our lives.
Brecht spoke of modernism ‘erasing the traces’ of the cold past but the only thing that’s getting erased these days is the modernist canon. Brutalist Britain and its concretopias being sold off to make way for a future minimalist in content; gentrified villages as the nihilistic narcissistic white smarminess that proliferates the so-called ‘creative industries’ and all the post-Fordist capital associated with it. Finally ‘alternative’ capitulates to quaint kitsch revanchist throes of ‘community’, as if we couldn’t see the tragic farce anyway.
In the middle we find the post-imperial ‘traditionalism’ of UKIP via Thatcherism //lest we forget the national hysterics of the #jubilympics,// though London’s Overthrow is always on the cards. John Martin’s Apocalypse tracing the contours of the trauma of the industrialised urban Pandemonium through the frame of time forgotten; the gothic grasped as the art of the Sublime, of that which excites terror, much like Turner’s steaming train. And what of the most gothic of them all, Queen Victoria? Her mourning of Prince Albert typified in his memorial. Imperial melancholia; the pathology of a reactionary high gothic culture.
And it always comes right back to the banks of the Thames right? Marx’s capital a vampire extracting and accumulating the flows of blood as Conrad in Heart of Darkness recites the litanies of imperial repugnance while aboard the Nelly on the Thames haunted by the horror of Kurtz, Dracula by another mask. And so we find Coppola and Herzog refracting this metanarrative through the frames of 60s Vietnam and 16th century Latin America. Hollywood’s spectacle lands us face to face with Marlon Brando’s weathered mask in the context of the great imperial failure of purple haze and napalm death. Meanwhile Neuer Deutscher Film leads us through the gritty realism of white male entitlement embodied in Klaus Kinski’s tormented search for riches and power in the fabled El Dorado only to meet his lone demise on a raft in the middle of the jungle manically immersed in monkeys. Modernism spoke of the new media of film and photography creating fragments of ourselves; Kinski’s performance was sublime gothic exposing the crisis in the secular mind post-modernism and post-colonialism through an exploration of the past. Gothic becomes the distorted mirror.
Of course Kinski has also performed as our old phantasmal friend Nosferatu in Herzog’s 1979 homage to Murnau’s 1924 Weimar expressionist classic – classic in the sense that you always catch yourself referring to it without ever really bothering to watch it, reflective in some ways of the very nature of the reproduced representation of the figure of Dracula. Bram Stoker’s 1897 version itself based on existing folk tale tropes of the vampire evoking the British imperial paranoia of invasion (some things never change eh?). Stoker was Irish, one of the first British colonies of course, and maybe he glimpsed some solidarity with the minnows of east Europe during the height of European imperial rivalry before, of course, that great war, much to the dismay of the downtrodden European working classes toiling in industrial urban squalour of Marx’s capital and Foucault’s biopower. Luxemburg’s Socialism or Barbarism, right? Not quite.
Andrey Tarkovsky’s film Solyaris (1972) – the classic form of the crisis of communism; stuck between rationalism and white masculinity, between East and West, searching for the great interstellar future of their counter-modernity only to uncover fragmented pasts. The transhistorical universalist subject shown to be the (white) working class (cis-man); let catastrophic spectacle ensue thanks to everyone’s favourite ambiguous brown leader of steel, Stalini. Pieter Bruegel’s 1565 painting ‘Hunters in the Snow’ haunting the souls of Eastern failure aboard Solyaris’s vessel. Most fittingly this painting has been brought into the post-Soviet world with electronic artist Dubna’s album artwork with the addition of modernist towering tower blocks rupturing time’s impasse. We still live in the wake of the Soviet’s attempt of breaking with the past. All that was solid did not melt into air, it only fragmented.
Béla Ferenc Dezső Blaskó aka Bela Lugosi was one of those classic souls toiling in the filth forced to flee Hungary to the centre of modernity’s many secular crises, Weimar Germany’s Berlin, after his involvement in artist’s unions in the short-lived post-WWI 1919 Hungarian Soviet Republic. Of course he wasn’t finished there and worked on a merchant ship to the good old States to become a proper white person and in the process also happened to end up as the archetypal Hollywood Dracula; a sublime life if there ever were one. But as Bauhaus hauntingly proclaimed in 1979 (the same year as Kinski’s Nosferatu) ‘Bela Lugosi’s Dead’. Incidentally László Weisz aka Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, central to the school of Bauhaus in the Weimar Republic, was part of the same milieu as Lugosi of emigrants from Budapest to Berlin in 1920. Northampton’s Bauhaus a mournful distorted mirror-image of Johnny Rotten’s crooning of ‘No Future’ as Moholy-Nagy’s grand modernist visions of the multimedia functionalism of art came true in the form of the IKEA towers of Croydon fame.
England’s dreaming, for sure, against the short memories of land of the free: Moholy-Nagy died in Chicago of course. Though there’s the other side of that American dream of course as found in Herzog’s Stroczek, partly based on the main actor’s life Bruno S., where a beaten-up ex-convict artist decides to escape the filthy detritus of West Berlin and ends up in the sticks of Wisconsin only for his dreams to take a plunge amid typical economic depravity with his wife leaving him for a lurid lorry-driver on his way to Vancouver. Yeah shit’s fucked. But you know it’s always harder for the queerer and darker ones of us but there’s less romance there I suppose, less respect and more pigeon-holing (see ‘diaspora kid’ Junot Diaz).
Or how about everyone’s favourite troubled black intellectual Dambudzo Marechera toiling against black essentialism and the walls of whiteness, escaping into the resplendent pages of English literature though historical consciousness and psycho-geographies always at the fore. As the old boy says, ‘But too often my friends are just as reckless and on edge as I am and sometimes the burden of each other’s needs is just too much and we load up our rucksacks and say goodbye without hard feelings. Just a sense of loss. My greatest disappointment has always been how one never gets the chance to give, and give unreseservedly. So I do that in my writing, only interrupting the flow when the life of it gazes unseeing at the typewriter keys.’ Constructing realities from possible narratives of pasts refracted into memory; not quite magical but something that obscures the hard cold boring logics of taxonomies of ruinous power and neurotic dominance.
The question of course is how to do so without falling into the traps of know-it-all smarminess or general misanthropy, and here the art of the sublime returns. That attraction of the urban decay and anonymity, the lack of community, the dislocative post-industrial fragments that have possibility if only you look thoroughly enough. See @hautepop’s http://street-goth.tumblr.com/ for the latest post-crash goth aesthetic, or Flying Lotus’s latest outing with ‘You’re Dead’ as bebop meets electronic soundscape to construct some sublime gestalt.
Memories as futures; futures as gothic; gothic as dissonant; dissonant dislocative memories reinvented for perpetual crisis against banal manageability.
 Dambudzo Marechera, The Black Insider, (Lawrence and Wishart, 1990)