Categorie archief: Music

Atari Teenage Riot doet Baudrillard

Atari Teenage Riot heeft al tijden geen nieuw materiaal meer geproduceerd. Tot nu dan. Op de website wordt nu het nieuwe album Is This Hyperreal? aangekondigd.

De term hyperreal werd door Jean Baudrillard gebruikt om onze verwijdering van ‘De Werkelijkheid’ te beschrijven. Niet alleen nemen we slechts de uiterlijke vormen van Ideeën waar (denk Plato), maar tegenwoordig kennen we ‘zelfs’ deze uiterlijke vormen niet meer. We nemen ze slechts nog via de media waar, onze werkelijkheid wordt een simulatie in plaats van een representatie. In twee zinnen Baudrillard uitleggen kan natuurlijk niet, dat bewijzen de voorgaande zinnen wel. Daarom ben ik erg benieuwd wat ATR er op het nieuwe album mee gedaan heeft. Hun eigen beschrijving zegt het volgende:

A cultural cold war divided upon class lines, a new age of surveillance, heroes’ incarcerated in the worst conditions possible for speaking out against the military complex, a corrupt press core owned by multi-national corporations and raised to repeat sound bytes. This is the post-cyberpunk world on the brink of collapse Atari Teenage Riot’s fourth album “Is This Hyperreal?” is born into. Bron:

Ik ben erg benieuwd naar het resultaat. Het zal, zoals altijd, weer een flinke bak (vermakelijke) herrie zijn. Maar ik hoop toch ook op een nieuw geluid, zeker nu er een Nine Inch Nails-lid tot de band is toegetreden.

Atari Teenage Riot: Is This Hyperreal?

How to act bad: a documentary about Adam Green

I have been listening on and off to Adam Green’s music. You might also know him as being part of The Moldy Peaches. Some of his albums are great (like Friends of Mine), others are not so great. At least according to me. Roughly four years ago I went to one of his concerts and it was both great and very weird, as he was drunk or under influence of something else. Today I stumbled upon a preview video for a documentary about Adam Green by Dima Dubson. The documentary is described as follows:

The film will reflect the excitement and artistry in the creative life Adam is living – from his music to his paintings and sculptures to his current filmmaking project (known as “The Lake Room Movie” starring Macaulay Culkin, Devendra Banhart, Jack Dishel and Dev Hynes among others). HOW TO ACT BAD will also offer a candid peek into Adam’s personal life and show him both alone (as alone as he can be in the presence of Dima and his camera) and with his friends.

You can watch the trailer here: I seems interesting to me.

HOW TO ACT BAD starring ADAM GREEN from Dima Dubson on Vimeo.

The Destabilizing Irony of Laibach 3: Destabilizing Irony

In “Short People Got No Reason to Live: Reading Irony” (1989), Stanley Fish uses the Randy Newman-song Short People Got No Reason to Live to argue that Booth’s way of stabilizing and fixating irony is doomed to fail. He notes that exactly those very marks of irony that should signal the presence of irony, are incapable of doing this, because these marks are just the things that are debated when speaking about irony. As Fish points out: “one cannot argue for an ironic interpretation by pointing to these marks, because one will be able to point to them only as a consequence of an interpretation that has already been hazarded.” (Fish 182)

So for the first mark, in line of Fish’s argument, it is not the case that anyone who believes Laibach to be ironic or anyone who believes them to be sincere doubts this very intention. This intention is just what is at stake in a debate, and therefore the first mark does not help us by pinpointing this intention: The intention of Laibach is the product of our interpretation of the song.

The second mark is, as argued by Fish, as problematic as the first one. Booth argues that ironic meaning is always covert, but again, this is exactly what is at stake. The covertness ofLaibach in their Geburt Einer Nation-performance is not an argument for a proposed meaning, the covertness itself is the argument. (Do they mean what they say, or is there something behind what they sing/act out?)

The third mark says that once an ironic interpretation is made, it is fixed and we should not come up with another meaning. Fish argues that this is true for all interpretations. Once it is made, it is there and it is stable. But there are many interpretations, all of them being stable in different directions. “Geburt Einer Nation represents fascist ideas” is as fixed as “Laibach’s song is mocking all fascists”. These fixed and stable meanings co-exist in juxtaposition and are therefore no means in deciding whether Laibach’s song is or is not ironic. In what way, in others words, the finitenessof these interpretations are properties of the interpretations themselves.

So, as Fish concludes on Booth’s marks an notion of stable irony, the identification of irony always has the same status as the reading that follows from it: The reading is as certain and fixed as Booth wishes, but it is still an interpretation. As for Booth’s four steps to identifying irony, we cannot say what the incongruities in Geburt Einer Nation are, as this step would have to be preceded by an act of interpretation. Therefore step one is circular: the decision of what is incongruent is the input and output of the step itself. Step two involves forming alternative interpretations in relation to the alternative (literal) interpretation given in step one, which is as alternative as the ones in step two are. It may not be a surprise that also step three does not help us in identifying irony, as the belief we attribute to the implied author is, once again, based on the outcome of step one and two, the rejection of a literal meaning and of other alternatives. Step four is deciding on the actual, final meaning, which, according to Fish is together with step three the basis on which steps one and two are carried out. Thus it is all an interpretation, which is as fixed as Booth argues, but exists together with several other fixed interpretations. Booth’s marks nor steps will help in deciding which one is “the real”. As circular as Booth’s marks and steps are, as ambiguous irony is. As Fish argues, in line with his strong emphasis on interpretive communities (Fish 1976), stemming from the reader-response criticism, an ironic or non-ironic interpretation of a text is an interpretation nevertheless and exists in a cultural context. There is no way to fixate meaning that is not (partially) dependent on this context. We cannot escape this community, as any sign pointing towards the community would have to be interpreted within the community. It is the same with irony, is not its power exactly this uncertainty?

So, to conclude on whether Laibach’s version of Queen’s popular song is ironic, is to say that we cannot decide on this matter. As Fish argues, detecting irony is not a matter of fixating it once and for all. It is an act of interpretation, that exists in history of interpretations, a cultural context (an interpretive community). At the beginning of Laibach’s career, it could be argued that they were taken to be either ironic or fascist to start with. But as soon as anyone argued for another interpretation, multiple interpretations existed next to each other. It is the way in which is argued why a specific (ironic or non-ironic) interpretation is valuable which determines why a work is ironic in a certain time and space in history. This inability of fixating irony is what seems to be the essence of irony: once you’ve fixed it, its not irony anymore.

To take the implications of this further, controversy surrounding Laibach seems to suggest a binary opposition between an ironic and a not-ironic reading of Laibach’s act. As Slavoj Žižek has argued in an interview in the documentary Predictions of Fire (Michael Benson 1996), one very plausible option that is being overlooked could be that Laibach is neither being serious (fascist) nor being ironic (subversive). The opposition serious – ironic involves the assumption that when you are being serious you’re a conformist and when you are being ironic you’re subversive. The inherent implication of an ideology in a (social) system is that this ideology can also not be taken seriously. The serious exists by grace of the not-serious. Cynicism is a way of subverting an ideology, but stays within the system itself. The only way to be really subversive is not to develop critique or ironic distance, as Žižek argues, but to take the system more seriously than it takes itself by pointing out the constructedness of this system. Laibach’s irony would then function on another level: from within the system not taking sides, but making the system itself visible. This notion of irony that Žižek speaks of is very much related to Judith Butler’s notion of irony: it points to the constructedness of itself and the system of language in which it functions. Destabilizing irony is therefore not “just” subverting what is literally said, but the fact that the act of saying itself constructs a value which can be subverted. Laibach’s Geburt Einer Nation could, especially when taking the intertextual relation to Queen’s One Vision into mind, very well be an ironic work that exemplifies this ultimately subversive act.

Works cited
Booth, Wayne C. “The Ways of Stable Irony.” A Rhetoric of Irony. Chicago: University of Chicago,
1974. Print.
Fish, Stanley Eugene. Interpreting the Variorum. Chicago: University of Chicago, 1976. Print.
Fish, Stanley Eugene. “Short People Got No Reason to Live: Reading Irony.” Doing What Comes
Naturally: Change, Rhetoric, and the Practice of Theory in Literary and Legal Studies
. Durham, NC:
Duke UP, 1989. Print.
Laibach. “Geburt Einer Nation.” Opus Dei. Rico Conning, 1987. CD.
Prerokbe Ognja (Predictions of Fire). Dir. Michael Benson. Perf. Laibach, Peter Mlakar and Slavoj Žižek.
Kinetikon, 1996. DVD.
Queen. “One Vision.” A Kind of Magic. Queen, Reinhold Mack, Dave Richards, 1986. CD.
Triumph Des Willens. Dir. Leni Riefenstahl. Prod. Leni Riefenstahl and Adolf Hitler.

The Destabilizing Irony of Laibach 2: Stable Irony

By now, in 2011, Laibach’s act is considered to be ironic, as it is deducted from interviews that the band does not sympathize with fascism. (Although there stance towards political issues is far from clear and univocal even now.) In the eighties, their shows actually got canceled and Laibach got banned from radio stations because their music was considered to be fascist.

When we consider Laibach’s song Geburt Einer Nation ironic and try to pinpoint what the irony is, we often use irony in the sense of an opposition. Irony in this sense is saying one thing, but actually meaning the opposite. In A Rhetoric of Irony (1974) Wayne Booth argues for a way to locate irony in a text. In chapter one, “The Ways of Stable Irony”, he therefore argues for a method of “deciding” whether a text is ironic or not. Booth’s agenda is to rid irony of its vague and broad meaning and to treat it as a (clear) rhetorical device. In order to do this, Booth introduces the notion of Stable Irony; four criteria (or marks) determining whether a text or utterance is ironic. Booth illustrates his problem, in light of Pride and Prejudice: “I know that Jane Austen intended Mr. Bennet’s statement as meaning something radically different from what he seems to say. [But] then we have a real and specific problem, or set of problems: In what sense do I “know” Jane Austen’s intentions? How is such a peculiar kind of knowledge possible, if it is?” (Booth 3)

So, Booth discusses the four marks of stable irony, in order to solve his problem. The first mark of stable irony is intention. Irony has to be intentional. As Booth argues, irony has to be “deliberately created by human beings to be heard or read and understood with some precision by other human beings[.]” (Booth 5) Booth locates this intention in the implied author. (Booth 11) The implied author is the author the reader constructs on basis of what he has read and seen (“knows”) of this author. Thus, for Booth, in the tradition of New Criticism, the intention and therefore irony is an inherent quality of a work.

The second mark of irony is that the irony must be covert. It must be intended to be reconstructed as having another meaning than that stated at the surface of the utterance. Thus, the statement “it is ironic that…” does not count as irony for Booth.

The third mark of irony is that it has to be stable or fixed. Once the irony has been reconstructed from the surface of the utterance, “the reader is not then invited to undermine it with further demolitions and reconstructions.” (Booth 6) So, when we conclude that the utterance “Think it’ll rain?” is expressed is a situation in which it is clear that it is, it is ironic and not to be further analyzed or interpreted. It is fixed.

The fourth and last mark of stable irony is that it must be finite in its application. The irony must cover a limited area, it must not (just) make general statements like “the universe is ironic” or “there is no truth”. (Booth 6)

While Booth expands his theory on irony in a number of ways, for this post I propose I will look at the four marks in respect to Laibach’s song. Booth suggests interpreters need four steps for detecting irony.These steps happen, according to Booth, “virtually simultaneous” and intuitive. (Booth 12, 13)

The first step is to reject the literal meaning. We must recognize a dissonance between what we read and what we know. We read, including music and video, Laibach singing Queen’s lyrics in German. The text appears to have a literal meaning of unified glory and ultimate homogeneity. Together with the bombastic sound of the music and the militant images, this unified glory is placed in a military context. We make of this a German war context based on the German translation. Thus we have a text that displays German, military unified glory, not unlike Triumph Des Willens (Riefenstahl, 1935). The link to the Second World War is obvious. There are two things in the text and its context that could make us reject this literal meaning: 1) the text is a copy of a popular song about a peaceful global nation which is conflicting with the military message portrayed by Laibach and 2) exaggeration: the neo-fascist meaning is so over the top and overt, that it cannot be serious. On basis of the incongruity between 1 and 2, we could argue for rejecting the literal meaning.

Booth’s next step is to try out alternative interpretations. Laibach could be unaware of militarizing the song or could be unaware of the original song by Queen. Is their version just unfortunately referring to 1930’s/1940’s Germany or are we missing something? These alternatives seem to be highly implausible.

Continuing with step three, we have to decide on the (implied) author’s knowledge or beliefs. As the people in the eighties, we cannot just take our (current) knowledge of the band Laibach into this decision. Therefore we have to base our knowledge about Laibach on what we see and hear. As copying someone’s text could count as parody, and the exaggeration of German military aspects, we could take this to be a hint at believing the author meaning something else than is said. This is (in a problematic way, as we will see Fish argue) in line with step 1, the rejection of the literal meaning.

Finally we come to step four, in which we choose a new meaning based on our beliefs about the author. We therefore say that Laibach’s song is ironic and thus not fascist, precisely because it exaggerates this literal meaning and counters Queen’s song.

What we have now, in terms of Booth’s four marks, is a music video in which the implied author, our idea of what Laibach is according to the music video, has another intention (mark 1) than is present appears at the surface of the music video. Therefore, the surface meaning is different from the underlying and covered up “real” meaning (mark 2). Now that we know this, we do not form other interpretations. As covert as the ironic meaning may be, we believe we have now found and fixed it (mark 3). This fixed meaning is about a particular subject, in this case mocking both fascism (war) and popular culture (Queen) by exaggerating the first through copying and subverting the latter. Although this is, according to me not a final and fixed meaning, it seems plausible. But in what way did we get to this meaning in respect to Booth’s marks? We can see that practical use of Booth’s marks of irony is highly problematic, at least in Laibach’s case. Therefore we turn to Stanley Fish’s criticism of Booth’s stable irony in the next post.

Works cited
Booth, Wayne C. “The Ways of Stable Irony.” A Rhetoric of Irony. Chicago: University of Chicago,
1974. Print.
Laibach. “Geburt Einer Nation.” Opus Dei. Rico Conning, 1987. CD.
Queen. “One Vision.” A Kind of Magic. Queen, Reinhold Mack, Dave Richards, 1986. CD.
Triumph Des Willens. Dir. Leni Riefenstahl. Prod. Leni Riefenstahl and Adolf Hitler.

The Destabilizing Irony of Laibach 1: Geburt Einer Nation

Laibach is an industrial band from the capital of the Republic of Slovenia, Ljubljana. The band has often been accused of Nazi-sympathies and being fascist. On their 1987 album Opus Dei one song in particular, Geburt Einer Nation (Birth of a nation), was the aim of fascist accusations. In the music video the band members dressed up in uniforms that resembled Nazi-uniforms.

Laibach’s Geburt Einer Nation.

In these three posts I will argue that the discussion on Laibach either being fascist or ironic is inadequate of dealing with ironies complexities. I will use Wayne Booth’s marks of irony and Stanley Fish’s reaction on Booth to point out the problems of fixating irony. At the end, I will very shortly touch upon an interpretation of Laibach’s song in relation to Slavoj Žižek’s comments on taking Laibach seriously and Judith Butler’s discussion on fundamental and destabilizing irony.

Laibach’s Geburt einer Nation
In 1985, just after their Live Aid-performance and in light of this performance, pop artist Queen recorded One Vision (Queen, 1985), one of their big hits. Just two years later, Laibach recorded their album Opus Dei (Laibach, 1987). Geburt Einer Nation, a song on the Opus Dei-album, was the aim of much critical attention towards the band, mainly focusing on their alleged fascist sympathies. The interesting thing is however that Laibach’s song is a copy of Queen’s song One Vision, except that it is in German.

Queen’s One Vision.

Laibach almost literally translated One Vision, as can be seen in the excerpts below.

Laibach’s Geburt einer Nation (cover)
Ein Mensch, ein Ziel, und eine Weisung.
Ein Herz, ein Geist, nur eine Lösung.
Ein Brennen der Glut.
Ein Gott, Ein Leitbild.
Ein Fleisch, ein Blut,
Ein wahrer Glaube.
Ein Ruf, ein Traum,
Ein starker Wille.
Gibt mir ein Leitbild.

Queen’s One Vision (original)
One man one goal one mission,
One heart one soul just one solution,
One flash of light.
One god, one vision.
One flesh, one bone,
One true religion,
One voice, one hope,
One real decision.
Gimme one vision.

As you can see, the texts are nearly identical, be it that Queen’s original is in English and Laibach’s cover is in German. Of course there are differences in music and music video. Where Queen’s music is their typical pop and rock sound, Laibach’s music is a repetitive, almost military drumbeat, accompanied by triumphant melodies played through trumpets and other instruments. Queen’s music video shows us their recording process and shots from fans chanting the lyrics along with Freddy Mercury in a massive and packed stadium. Laibach’s video however shows the band in their military outfits, almost mechanically hitting the drums and playing the trumpets as in a victorious battle concert. The video shows, as is claimed by some criticism, similarities to Leni Riefenstahl’s Nazi-propaganda film Triumph Des Willens from 1935.The question of course is, why Laibach got so much accusations for sympathizing with Nazi-ideology, while their song was a literal translation of Queen’s top 10-hit, which did not fall prey to criticism.

To be continued in the next post.

Works cited
Laibach. “Geburt Einer Nation.” Opus Dei. Rico Conning, 1987. CD.
Queen. “One Vision.” A Kind of Magic. Queen, Reinhold Mack, Dave Richards, 1986. CD.
Triumph Des Willens. Dir. Leni Riefenstahl. Prod. Leni Riefenstahl and Adolf Hitler. Reichsparteitagsfilm.