Thursday, September 28, 2006
“A certain deceptive variation in these fancy chapter titles”: Wimsatt & Beardsley… and Indie Rock
I wanted to thank commenters on my “Syllabus Sharing" post for the many suggestions for things to read and/or assign in my course on “Secrecy and Authorship.” Among other things, I followed up on “The Intentional Fallacy,” and found it helpful; I assigned it in conjunction with Oscar Wilde, to good results.
Just now, I found what appears to be the entire text of the essay online here. Though it makes a good teaching tool, it might be less helpful in terms of considering or reconsidering the status of Authors and Authorship in light of poststructuralism, partly because the positivist biographical criticism Wimsatt and Beardsley are refuting is no longer being written, and partly because the metaphysical claims of poststructuralism seem to supercede the specifically literary argument one finds in “The Intentional Fallacy,” as well as elsewhere in The New Criticism. The Author may still not really be dead, but any refutation of “The Author-Function” probably has to come from a fresh approach.
We could talk about this. (I would encourage a reading or a re-reading of the Wimsatt and Beardsley essay; they may well be right about Eliot and The Waste Land—I’m on the fence.) Or we could talk about a rather incidental line in the middle of the essay that got me thinking about Indie rock bands:
In certain flourishes (such as the sentence we have quoted) and in chapter headings like “The Shaping Spirit,” ‘Me Magical Synthesis,” “Imagination Creatrix,” it may be that Professor Lowes pretends to say more about the actual poems than he does. There is a certain deceptive variation in these fancy chapter titles; one expects to pass on to a new stage in the argument, and one finds-more and more sources, more about “the streamy nature of association.” (link)
He’s talking about a book on Coleridge he doesn’t like, because it fails to actually perform the close readings it promises. But as I read the passage the following phrases flashed into mind. They may be familiar to many readers in a certain age bracket: “And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead"; “Lifted, or the Story is in the Soil, Keep your Ear to the Ground"; Westing, by Musket and Sextant; I Brought You My Bullets, You Brought Me Your Love; “The Only Difference Between Martyrdom and Suicide is Press Coverage." Admittedly, the last two aren’t really so much precious as trying to be precious. They’re also not quite the age bracket we’re talking about, but I think it’s important to note that preciosity is a matter of continuing public concern.
Are there other deceptively various titlers you might wish to name--either in condemnation or in praise--from your music library? (Or indeed, your library proper; Dave Eggers comes to mind.)
The propensity for this sort of thing in indie rock is almost certainly a result of Pavement’s influence (Pavement being the last band that really mattered to today’s set of indie kids). And since Pavement got this schtick from The Fall my vote goes to them: This Nation’s Saving Grace, Hex Enduction Hour, Perverted by Language, Live at the Witch Trials.
Sufjan Stevens is a perp/practitioner, as you like it. Unduly sententious track titles (especially for instrumental tracks): “To the Workers of the Rock River Valley Region, I Have an Idea Concerning Your Predicament”; “Let’s Hear that String Part Again, Because I Don’t Think They Heard It All the Way out in Bushnell”.
"Nine Funerals of the Citizen King”, “Extract from ‘The Tenth Chaffinch’”, “Living in the Heart of the Beast”, “Beautiful as the Moon—Terrible as an Army with Banners”, by Henry Cow (itself a kind of precious name). Waldron/Stapleton/Sigmarsson/Haynes/Faulhaber, “A Few Items Known as Children”. Upsilon Acrux, “When Satan Ruled the Ocean Jesus Made My Fishtank Boil”. There’s a very short track by Hatfield & the North called “(Big) John Wayne Socks Pyschology on the Jaw”.
There’s an absolutely awful band called “This is a Process of a Still Life”, and a decent one called “Thinking Fellers Union Local 282”, and good one called “Miasma and the Carousel of Headless Horses”.
Bob Drake’s titles “The Text On The Cover Of Nandor Fodor’s ‘Encyclopedia Of Psychic Science’” and “Modest Listing Of Some Haunted Places” might actually be accurate descriptions of the songs, and John Greaves, Peter Blegvad, & Lisa Herman’s “Seven Scenes from the Painting ‘Exhuming the First American Mastodon’ by C.W. Peale.” definitely is, so aren’t really deceptive, but probably worth mentioning.
Forever Einstein has lots of lengthy and odd song titles, some taken from The Simpsons: “You’re Living ina World of Make-Believe with Flowers and Bells and Leprechauns and Magic Frogs with Funny Little Hats”; “It’s Almost Impossible to Concentrate in This Café with All
These Leggy Belgian Girls Walking Around in Miniskirts”; “ A fruit pie salesman with a whoopee cushion living in Wichita Falls OR Wow! If your fly weren’t open you’d look just like Roger Moore”. Frog Eyes and The Fucking Champs do shit like this too. There’s an Eyesores album called “May You Dine on Weeds Made Bitter by the Piss of Drunkards”; John Fahey’s “Dance of the Inhabitants of the Palace of King Philip XIV of Spain” and others; the bands Spires that in the Sunset Rise and Kiss the Anus of a Black Cat; Nurse With Wound’s “Blank Capsules of Embroidered Cellophane” (from Chance Meeting on a Dissecting Table of a Sewing Machine and an Umbrella); Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra & Tra-La-La Band.
But no one can defeat Keiji Haino! Consider the following song and album titles: “ Don’t Be Cheated by the Oozing Silt from Both of the Accuser and the Accused Which Is Always There, Saying, ‘Something Have to Be Done’”; “The Decision of a Dream Which Will Never Be Completely Red”; “
Decided...Already the Motionless Heart of Tranquillity, Tangling the Prayer Called ‘I’”; “I Said, This is the Son of Nihilism”; “ So, Black Is Myself, Wisdom That Will Bless I, Who Live in the Spiral Joy”; “If I had been showered in gold blood, wouldn’t my prayer have been answered?”. Indeed.
In conclusion, weird track and album titles are nothing new; complete sentences for band names might be.
There’s something vaguely “Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said” PK Dick about the complete sentence for a name thing.
The absolute monarchs of this silly realm are the band-cum-collective Godspeed You Black Emperor and its various offshoots, side projects (e.g. A Silver Mount Zion Orchestra and Tra-la-la Band). Take, for example, ‘He Has Left Us Alone but Shafts of Light Sometimes Grace the Corner of Our Rooms...’ And best of all, lots of them are instrumental.
It’s all extraordinarily pretentious, but great fun (although a tad self-defeating for the instrumentals, which incline toward mood-pieces, to be given the heads-up on what one should be feeling when listening).
Ah, I had forgotten about Godspeed You Black Emperor.
Some of the titles Ben Wolfson names are particularly bad poetry. All those terrible titles make Bright Eyes seem much better in some ways.
The two titles John names (by Sufjan Stevens) are actually pretty good.
And yes, Pavement started all this, started all this, they did, goddamnit. “I don’t understand/ what they mean/ and I could really give a ...”
Next week, in an ideal world: a review of Mastodon’s “Leviathan” (a heavy metal concept album rendition of Moby-Dick).
"Extraordinarily pretentious, but great fun” is a very good encapsulation of GSYBE. The titles especially work with the clips of meandering old men that they fit into the music. It’s awesome.
The place where metal meets ambience is prone to extaordinarily long titles, as a general rule.
I take myself to have demonstrated conclusively that Pavement did not start all this.
Whenever I encounter a whole phrase, instead of an honest-to-God title, I immediately feel that the artist has not gotten the memo about the greater intensity of aesthetic consciousness. They have missed the reference to the ineffable in the condensation of language.
The following atrocity was committed by brilliant artist Fiona Apple. It is the title of her second album:
When The Pawn Hits The Conflicts He Thinks Like A King What He Knows Throws The Blows When He Goes To The Fight And He’ll Win The Whole Thing Fore He Enters The Ring There’s No Body To Batter When Your Mind is Your Might So When You Go Solo. You Hold Your Own Hand And Remember That Depth Is The Greatest Of Heights And If You Know Where You Stand. Then You’ll Know Where To Land And If You Fall It Won’t Matter, Cuz You Know That You’re Right
JH --Ellison was doing that before Dick.
’’Repent, Harlequin!’ said the Ticktock Man!”
Yes, I thought of that, but then I thought that came later. But probably you are right and it came earlier.