Friday, 15 June 2012

A place of memory and desire, part two

What is this place of memory and desire? Dublin in the 1960s.

But I’ll leave that for a moment and make a couple of points about the phrase itself. Bion’s version anyway. That’s the one about entering a place between memory and desire.

Point one
Not that it should stop anyone using or abusing the phrase — that’s democracy, progress and fun — but Bion was using it in a very specific technical sense. He was describing the ideal mental and emotional stance of a psychoanalyst towards his/her patient/client. It was effectively the same thing Freud called free-floating attention or reverie. The idea is that then, quite simply, you are freed to notice stuff you wouldn’t normally notice — essentially, by putting off structuring it or analysing it. Bion wasn’t suggesting that we spend our whole lives in a place beyond memory and desire.

Point two Actually, maybe he was saying — or, at least, thinking — exactly that. The more I read/heard about Bion, the more I became convinced/concerned that he was part of the mystical wing of psychoanalysis. There is, isn’t there, something inherently, well, puffed-up about the phrase ‘beyond memory or desire’. Bit too mystical and eastern and, yeeeeugh, holistic for me. I’m all for a bit of yoga and that but, honestly, frankly, aren’t emptied heads nearly always empty heads.

Next I turn Bion upside down — and steal what falls out of his pockets.

Thursday, 14 June 2012

A place of memory and desire, part one . . .

One of pop’s small but consistent pleasures is the way intellectual/academic concepts have been grist for its self-regard mill.

The Rolling Stones recasting Bulgakov’s Master & Margarita. Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark flipping David Watkin’s 1977 book Morality & Architecture for the title of their second album. Just about anything Green did for/with Scritti Politti — starting with nicking the band name from the collected writings of the Italian neo-Marxist Gramsci.

Or the NME right through the 1980s when it was a rare article that didn’t quote some French structuralist thinker or other. Honestly, there was often as much about Derrida or Kristeva as there was about, say, the Smiths. Now I am far from being an expert on such philosophising but on the few occasions when I did know of what they were writing about, they generally got it somewhat — to drop into technical language, for a moment — arse about face.

Some, therefore, might call these intellectual references as specious or pretentious even. I wouldn’t, though. To me, they were as much a part of the pop game as, say, gold lamé jackets. Not dissimilar, either, in a way. It was a showing-off thing, a peacock display. And all the more wonderful for it. Pop without dumb display would be . . . well, it wouldn’t be pop.

The fact that it was almost invariably done by young men who hadn’t actually done any formal or thorough study of these matters only added to the piquancy of their appropriations. Building songs on a fine-grained appreciation of, say, Lacan’s mirror stage would, frankly, have a limited audience. However, saying that’s what you were doing but — because you’ve never actually really, like, you know, read more than a page or two of Lacan — then just writing a song about your ex-girlfriend and how she liked to look in the mirror, well, that makes sense.

Fine artists get away with that kind of stuff all the time. Read their notes on their shows. It’s like they’ve eaten an intellectual text then regurgitated and put the upthrowings down on paper. Again, I wholeheartedly approve. Just because a joke is on its cracker doesn’t mean it’s not genuinely funny.

Which is all by way of saying that I miss these intellectual sprayings on pop’s simple self. And also by way of justifying the heading for this posting.

I know it’s a misappropriation of something said by Bion — British psychoanalyst who first learned his trade as a WW1 tank officer and went a little Kalifornia kookie in the 1960s. I also know he got it from TS Eliot: ‘April is the cruellest month, breeding. Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing. Memory and desire, stirring . . .’

I also know that it has a history of popular appropriation. Stephen Duffy — once known as Tin Tin, now resident of Falmouth — called his (kind of) greatest hits collection Memory and Desire: Thirty Years in the Wilderness. (Duffy’s band, Lilac Time, didn’t, it seems take their name from that Eliot fragment but from a phrase in Nick Drake’s River Man — though it’s also possible that Drake was himself referencing Eliot.)

Which is . . . pretty much the introduction to my introduction. That’s what happens when I don’t post too often. It’s all too easy to write too much.

Next (and soon) The actual introduction to this posting, followed by the posting itself. And what’s that about? A new record by the Radiators. Come back tomorrow.