Monday, June 16, 2008
If You've Nothing to Hide, You've Nothing to Fear: Hogg, The Presets, and Violence
I know, I know, like this is a new thing. I woke up after vivid dreams to cough for about 45 minutes, then continued where I left off two weeks ago with James Hogg's The Confessions of a Justified Sinner and find it--again--especially timely. My colleague Mr. Sealy tried to teach Crime and Punishment a while ago to his freshmen (much to my great admiration) and I think that it could readily be taught alongside this much shorter novel, with its first-person perspective of a religious zealot who sees any means within his power to be justified and the "higher path," even though we as readers all see him as an agent of nothing but evil:
"But if it will be accounted unfair to take up a conqueror, and punish him in his own way, I answer: That if a man is sent on a positive mission by his master, and hath laid himself under vows to do his work, he ought not to be too nice in the means of accomplishing it; and, further, I appeal to holy writ, wherein many instances are recorded of the pleasure the Lord takes in the final extinction of the wicked and profane; and this position I take to be unanswerable."
So long as one can get a holy book to justify one's actions, one's accountability evaporates. Sheer insanity. It's the same argument used by those who shoot and bomb abortion clinics, then go home or to church to praise the God that supposedly put them on such a mission.
While shopping for books in the same shop I, not long ago was book-trolling with James and Mike and others, I found volume one (solely, unfortunately) of a scholarly edition of Mandeville's Fable of the Bees, which seems to also touch on the same subject, in which the "poem" speaks of a "grumbling hive" where we have Swiftian representation of Society in which corruption works alongside with goodness to make the hive function. And some things don't change even today:
The soldiers, that were forc'd to fight,
If they surviv'd, got Honour by't;
Tho' some, that shunn'd the bloody Fray,
Had Limbs shot off, that ran away:
Some valiant Gen'rals fought the Foe;
Others took Bribes to let them go:
Some ventur'd always where 'twas warm,
Lost now a Leg, and then an Arm;
Till quite disabled, and put by,
They liv'd on half their Salary;
While others never came in Play,
And staid at home for double Pay.
This and the other works are fermenting toward the possible end result of some sort of essay.
In other news, I've run into the new release by the Australian group The Presets. For fans of the 80s, that decade is officially back, by the sound of this disc, and the Presets have a Cd that, at least initially, has all you could ask for. The music is spiny, angular, and actually has ideas behind it, aside from some bunch of newcomers out to plunder the vaults for suggestions of a Sound. Ultimately, the new CD sounds like a melding of the darker moments of Information Society with Nitzer Ebb fronted by the vocalist of Blancmange, the "Blind Vision" of which could point to the uniformity of purpose that seems to justify the universal ID card craze that has hit various country governments and which the Pet Shop Boys skewer in their most recent video, "Integral," with its pixellated representations of planes and eyescans. For an annual fee, you can wait in a much shorter line for the airplane, so long as you give the government a retinal scan and a DNA sample. The video, in it's tearpad pixellations, includes many subliminal scan codes that lead to documents that deal with civil rights issues and governmental invasiveness.
On repeated listenings for those who like their sonic background more sophisticated the Presets disc sounds a bit cheap and shallow in spite of all the sonic ideas that show up as the disc plays out. Some electro discs draw the listener inward with a great maze of interlocking sound, but this one tends to only skate along the surface. I'm entertaining thoughts of a brief discussion on visual rhetoric on the Presets' video This Boy's in Love, in which the violence of the video is brought into an entirely new context--that of the homoerotic--simply by being shown in slo-mo. It reminds me of a video I saw somewhere where a techno song is played over slo-mo video of people being punched in the face. Violence, after all, is what people pay attention to.