stare into the face of refusal and refuse it not...
Death Is Deadm-angle-angel
June 4, 1993
At this point I've noticed two cultural predispositions — aesthetics with
lifestyle, as it were. The first: Kitsch Cynicism is in its declining phase
(it's de-intensifying — or as Kroker and Weinstein would say: it's in recline);
the second, now emerging to a peaking phase, is, as yet, without a name, but I
identify it, provisionally, with the slogan: Death is Dead.
I hazard to avoid nomers which precede with "Post" and which would thus lead
me to rest with something like Post-Mortemism (and I say I hazard to avoid it
because I find myself still under the auspices of another slogan: Refuse
Nothing! — and with that I may anticipate myself by remarking upon the recent
preference or inclination towards lifestyle slogans where structured categories
of philosophic thought ("isms") were preferred before — Slogans, after all, are
a curious identifier and are naturally mutable and malleable) but nevertheless,
Death is Dead can be understood as a sign of yet another dissolving horizon.
I wish to speak about these two manners in tandem because I believe they
signal predominant phase-shifts, and also register a prevailing social valence
organized within a logic of volume and passage. This logic deploys a vernacular
of: Disappearance, "Ushering", and Establishment. It is a social production of
culture reticulated within a general social epistemological industry that is in
collusion with ontology and science.
This shift I tend to understand as non- transcendental in effect, although
(perhaps for the last time) it retains the gestures of transcendentalism. Death
is Dead is the graduated reduction of the volume of transcendence. And Death is
Dead is turning up louder than Kitsch Cynicism.
Death is Dead is not the Death of Death, because its relation to
transcendence is already, lucidly, ironic and ambiguous, because it isn't
nostalgic, and because it is neither, overtly, harbouring resentment nor
reactionary. The Death of Death follows in the tradition of relegating and
delegating eschatological epistemologies as "Post". This industry, over the last
thirty years especially, operates an "in-out" machinery that's both fascinated
with — and hypnotized by — alterity, and is governed by a territoriality
(territorialization/deterritorialization) of personal identity (Being) which
places it always at war.
Death is Dead is not war; Death of Death is, and further, it is a casualty.
Kitsch Cynicism is a merged divergence of two strains of social humour
(disposition/temperament). Its inclination is usually a display of established
signs as re-invested-in totems.
It is a parallel communique. A pre-established aesthetic is recognized as
motivated lifestyle, and so then subjected to a superimposition; an overlay
which recapitulates and recuperates an exclusive and compromising set of icons
and displaces the motive which makes them such. It defies them, divests them,
re-invests in them, and claims (deterritorializes then reterritorializes) the
icons as the indication of their own issue. It is the rendering of an
established course as flagrantly re-routed, and exposed thus as mutable. Its
driver is the ecstasy of reversal. It is called play. Its principle is
relativity and sublime indifference. What is high class is presented as cheap
and vice versa. This is Kitsch.
Cynicism operates (with) this system by proffering the reversed state of
significance as arbitrary and adds an equivalent dose of ridicule. Its alterity
casually manifests — it is seemingly inobstrusive, but it is, nevertheless,
still war (also). Cynicism is the weaponry of the lifestyle. It is a continual
dislocation of establishing codes — of identity itself. This is the case despite
the fact that Identity is still the prize. Its slogan is: I want to be whatever
I want in however a way I wish to represent it. It is a challenge to a fixed
policy of representation.
Lately, this movement has shown itself in Gay culture as a petulant mimesis
of middle-class accruement of artifacts (the politics of the tacky), and haughty
display of sexual dress and gestures upon which aspersions have been cast by a
hierarchized social order that designates them (and their practitioners) as
marginal. It is a tactic which orients to confounding a placement while it
simultaneously revels in its difference. This (also) is war.
And more recently it can be seen in a feminist culture — or perhaps it is
more accurate to say a certain community of women (inasmuch as with regard to
Feminism it is inclined to not refer to itself as such; in the wake of a general
territorialization and colonization of that discipline) — in a similar fashion
but with the following differences: (1) it plays out an ambiguity with respect
to sexual partner gender preference; (2) it displaces any notion of a settlement
(whether as 'settling down' 'settling with' or as negotiated compromise) (3) it
contentiously represents the transcendental fissure between the 'stages' of
womanhood from 'little girl' to 'teenage girl' to 'young woman' and the process
of adulthood ( or 'adulteration' as Jessica says) right to the social politics
of "aging" woman. Here it challenges at each instance the predetermined currency
of these as a self-evident position.
This can be seen recently in the emerging increase in the volume of artistic
production by women (mostly on the part of their current generation) from
fashion shows, to theatre, visual arts, literature, cinema, and music.
Death is Dead introduced itself to me initially in the late phase of the cult
of death, which in its decaying sustained note presented an anti-
transcendentalism (which was its undoing) in a cultural production of a revised
fascination with vampirism ( or more pointedly, with vampires). Goth music and
vampire stories (as literature and cinema) proliferated throughout the 80's and
worked-out a seductive disregard for rites of passage and sustained the rite
itself as a romance logic no longer culminating in apocalypse but rather
commensurate with it — a romance, in fact, of apocalypse itself. It was the
erotics of uncertainty, where the certainty of death as a social function (as a
social philosophy of a biological/medical event) was challenged. Vampires are
It was a bit like Peter Pan with a hard-on, or a horny Wendy cultivating her
archival fascination with the image of a dangerous and sardonic male, and her
role in overwhelming the overawing — all this with both of them having a drug
habit (the delicacies of excess). It was the seduction strategies of the
predator, and it was articulated largely within an aesthetics which privileges
the male through a reversible metaphysics of master/slave relations.
The next move of the ushering aesthetic of Death is Dead was the cultural
side-effect of the AIDS crisis, that is to say the crystalization of the
entanglement of sex and death; of pleasure and consequence. Death is Dead
cultivates an eroticized indifference to consequence. Consequence becomes hence
an opportunity to reify a deliberate referral to self as true current (the
imminentization of the ontological eschaton — which is to say that selfhood is
conceived of being actualized only at the moment of its end as a psychoanalytic
concept and its subscription to bio-electric paradigms). It is lifestyle as an
unimpeded unfolding of self as motion — as momentum.
It is thus selfhood or personality, or Being, as the surfer and the surf — it
is a gerund; it is surfing. Other analogies could be: electricity and digital
processing (that is, a digital relation which dispenses with analog refusal,
i.e. non- dialectical, because the analog is not an alterior — or ulterior —
method but rather a procedural method whose movement is commensorate — or
complicit — with digital trajectories, so the thrust is not upon digitalization
per se but rather the interface between organic and mechanic — mechanization —
as a symbiosis between human and machine, as a relationship which is stimulating
and generative). The erotics of envelope modification.
Self thus, is not strictly embodied, it is a collusion — interstitial; it is
apparent, yet only inferred, like the center in sampler music. It is oblique.
(As an aside, it allows for an aesthetic vernacular concerned with
Death is Dead was next sighted at the performance of a play entitled
Terminal. The title allows for electrical analogies and the structure of the
play fits an oblique agenda. More or less a walk through a kind of occidental
Book of the Dead, laid-out in 21 tableaus without a narrative through-line
(despite the organizing thematic) or resolution: its presentation is
multifaceted and illustrates a distribution of death as that which can be
informed by/with a range of visceral 'takes': gruelling, funny and a turn-on and
more. Death, then, as a fractal calculus or algebra set up for interfacing.
Suddenly I noticed a cultural production of death everywhere. Death-core
music groups; another theatre piece to come which is a funeral procession. I
thought about all the intellectual death parties: Death of the author, meaning,
et. al.; of trend proclamations the death of jazz, punk, etc. A killing spree
which seemingly left nothing alive. Mass cultural genocide. Then I thought about
the mysteries of the interface between David Karesh, Waco and the F.B.I. — Death
as battleground. All of which is yet to be flushed out.
But the kicker came when I went into a comic store and noted that the hype
was on three things: the death (and resurrection) of Superman; Death the
three-part comic (who is depicted as a benevolent young woman in goth punk
attire) and all its merchandising (dolls, posters, T-shirts, etc.); and issue
#497 of Batman, which was being restricted in its sale to 2 per customer — the
attraction being therein that the invulnerable vulnerability of the hero is
ended when an old man breaks the Batman's spine over his knee. The Batman is
therefore paralyzed. Granted, a symbolic death, yes, and I realized this was the
generative point. For with so much death around, its distribution was
inevitable, and that is a symbol which is very efficient in distribution. With
so much death around, I surmise that it is the sign of its total exhaustion,
like so much before it.
Death then, is Dead. But it has resurrected (or at least come to be regarded)
as a machine to interface with. Death as cybernetics, and as virtual. Life and
Death therefore, as misnomers. Death as the new wave, the new life, the new
Are you laughing yet?
Are you crying?
Are you nothing?
m-angle-angel is the cyber-alias of Michael Boyce, who is author
of The Vague Generation and director of the video documentary of
the same name.
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