Sunday, 28 November 2010
The object laughs, the object screams
(from "The Object Speaks", given at the Philosophy and the Vernacular dayschool, at the International Centre for Music Studies (ICMUS), the University of Newcastle, September 2006)
In More Brilliant than the Sun, Kodwo Eshun situates Jones’ version of ‘She’s Lost Control’ as part of a tripartite moment, beginning with the death of HAL in 2001, and continuing into the Chicago House of Sleezy D’s ‘Lost Control’.
"The womanmachine Grace Jones' 82 remodel of Joy Division's 79 She's Lost Control updates the '50s mechanical bride. For the latter losing control meant electric epilepsy, voice drained dry by feedback. For Jones, the female model that's losing control induces the sense of automation running down, the human seizing up into a machine rictus. The model - as girl, as car, as synthesizer - incarnates the assembly time of generations, obsolescence, 3-year lifespans."
Jones as a model, then… again… Girl, car, synthesizer – the mechanical bride stripped bare by her bachelors, even.
Seizing up, indeed. To lose control here is not to attain the hyper-vital contingency of the aleatory or the ludic, but to be seized, to find one’s will interrupted and disrupted by the interposition of an Other agent; and to seize up, to feel one’s limbs becoming arthritized by the irruption of the mechanical.
In Joy Division’s original, Ian Curtis abjects his own dis-ease, the ‘holy sickness’ of epilepsy, onto a female Other. We may remember that Freud includes epileptic fits – along, incidentally, with a body in the grip of sexual passion – as examples of the uncanny. Here the organic is slaved to the mechanical rhythms of the inorganic; the inanimate calls the tune.
In Joy Division’s version, "She’s Lost Control" is one of rock’s most explicit encounters with death drive: it confronts the "edge of no escape", petil mals as petit morts, Poe-like cataleptic black holes in subjectivity, intermittent interruptions of the user-illusion of identity - She’s Lost Control – flatline voyages into the land of the dead and back, like Artaud miserably waking from the white-hot torture-bliss of electro-convulsive therapy, repetition-compulsion - She’s Lost Control Again -
Joy Division’s icy-spined undeath disco sounds like it has been recorded inside the damaged synaptic pathways of a brain of someone undergoing a seizure, Curtis’ sepulchural, anhedonic vocals sent back to him – as if they were the voice of an Other, or Others - in long, leering expressionistic echoes that linger like acrid acid fog.
Jones’ version transposes the song into the Black Atlantic dub of which Martin Hannet’s production was in any case a sombre Manchester doppelganger. Perhaps it is in dub that we come as close as possible to encountering the voice as object; for in dub the voice is estranged both from the body and from signification, even as it can be heard as what they have in common.
In her version, Jones’ voice is wreathed in echoes – of itself, of course; set adrift in a malevolent haze of eerily circulating vocal fragments, figments and FX. Is it an accident that amidst this vocal detritus are two of the limit-cases of the linguistic referred to by Mladen Dolar: the scream and the laugh? In the pre-linguistic scream and the post-linguistic laugh, the liminality of the language erupts in audible signs of the loss of control. ‘Laughter … often bursts out uncontrollably, against the will and intention of the hapless subject; it seizes him or her with an unstoppable force as a series of cramps and convulsions which irrepressibly shake the body and elicit inchoate cries which cannot be consciously contained.’ (29)
Where Curtis sounds already-dead, fatalistically mortified, capable of neither screaming nor laughing, Jones sounds crazed, deranged, in some state that, neither agonized nor ecstatic, is some sublime bitches’ brew of the two; jouissance, precisely. The screams and the laughter seem to come from some Other place, a dread zone from which Jones has returned, but only partially. Is it the laughter of one who has passed through death or the scream of a machine that is coming to life?
Jones changes the words, repudiates Curtis’ disavowal.
‘I’ve lost control’, she sings, repeating her impossible identification again, paradoxically asserting her subjectivity at the very moment of its erasure.
I’ve lost control
I have become the object.
I, the object.
Posted by Mark at 14:02