Too Cool for Internet Explorer

a real toad in the garden!

July 30th, 2006 by slewfoot

Music: Still Various Artists: Beneath the Surface: an amazing comp, you must get if you love ambient!

Watering my plants this early evening, my shadow appeared in the Virgin water shrine (clicking the thumbs gets you biggers):

Now, I dunno why but the formatting of my template requires me to write more here so that this picture doesn’t bleed into the close-up; this text is really just filler because I’m such an asthete: I wanna see the damn layout come out real neat-like. So I’m typing typic typing . . . blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah peas and carrots [see, I did once act on stage] blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah [peas and carrots–see, I know what it’s really all about] blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah but, hark! click the title of this entry and you’ll get a HAWT close-up of my familiar/avatar, the toad!

Lookit this dude! He’s so happy in the red food-colored water! Blood of Mary! Bathe in it, oh, warted prince! Oh Knight of Ugliness that makes beauty more beautiful! So many have lost the art of contrast! So many don’t understand the necessity of toads!

god’s jukebox and the iPodic mirror

July 30th, 2006 by slewfoot

Music: Various Artists: Beneath the Surface (2006)

Well, shoot. I regret I didn’t get much written today . . . some days are good, some days are not-so-good. In part, I’m recovering from a fine time at Farid’s last night, which I’ll post about later. For the moment, here’s a section of the analysis/criticism part of my and Mirko’s essay, “Stick it In Your Ear: Toward a Psychoanalysis of Music.”

Insofar as iPod advertising represents a pedagogy of drive stimulation, then it also necessarily encourages regression to primary states of subject development. Consequently, (as is the case with most advertising campaigns), iPod advertising is unmistakably concerned with the development and maintenance of individual identity by “mirroring” how its consumers see or would like to see themselves. In both print ads and television commercial, each silhouetted figure is dynamic, seen to be moving or “jamming out,” but always with a kind of youthful confidence that reflects Apple’s stated meaning’s for the “i” in “iPod”: individualistic and independent.[1] In Lacanian and post-Lacanian psychoanalytic theory, such identity work is set into motion by the dis/pleasure of drives (in this case, both scopic and invocatory) in terms of imaginary self-image or “imago” of the so-called “mirror-stage.”

For Lacan, the mirror stage refers to both a scene (that is, a place of acting-out) and a retroactively posited, mythic moment in which a developing child first beholds his or her image in a reflective surface.2 The child is simultaneously “jubilant” and fearful as a result of identifying with its image: on the one hand, it is pleasurable to see oneself as an independent and discrete being–a unity. On the other hand, however, asserting one’s independence is painful because it means one is not “one” with her mother. Nevertheless, from that moment on, suggests Lacan, an individual internalizes the imago as a kind of self concept, which over the years becomes invested will all sorts of social expectations (gender norms, sex norms, expectations from one’s parents to become a lawyer, and so on). Since Lacan’s development of the concept of the mirror stage, a number of theorists have argued that the visual mirror scene is actually preceded by an “acoustic” stage in which the mother’s voice functions as the first “acoustic mirror,” a sonorous echo, as it were, of the child’s intrauterine position.3 Like the imago that develops later, the acoustic mirror positions the developing child’s first external object of identification as human speech, first in the womb and later, of course, in terms if the interplay between one’s own cries and the speech of the mother (although mother’s face is the “first” visual mirror, the notion of independence requires an actual image of self). Together, the acoustic and visual mirrors work in concert to stage the development of a subject in life, however, because the invocatory drive is stimulated first, music is associated with primary processes of the infant, whereas imagery–including written language–is associated with secondary, higher order processes and developing adolescence. Consequently, more so that imagery and pictures, music and human speech has long been associated (e.g., in the Platonic dialogues) with feelings of “presence” and “realness,” however illusory we determine such feelings to be.[4]

Reencountering iPod discourse as a series of mirror stages, understood both as (1) a place where the drama of identity is enacted and (2) an intersection of the imago and the voice of the Other, we can begin to see why it has resonated so deeply with consumers. iPod print advertisements are uncannily homologous to the development of subjectivity in the sense that the centrality of the image is an homage to the primacy of the sonorous; it is a representation of someone “losing themselves” in music yet remaining (visually at least) independent. In figure 2, for example, a thin woman with a pony tail seems to be either looking blankly to her right or closing her eyes, her iPod held up and close to her face, as it were a microphone and she is about to sing. Her left hand is held out beside her with the palm open, signifying movement. Either the woman is dancing, or, the open-palm held aloft is urging someone to leave her alone (the gesture brings to mind the currently youthful statement of leave-me-alone-ness, “talk to the hand”). Whether the woman is dancing or fending off someone who threatens to disturb her listening pleasure, her body language signifies both independence and musical enjoyment. Similarly, iPod television commercials re-stage the archaic site of mirrors, both acoustically and visually, in a kind of identitarian double-whammy that jubilantly celebrates the primal discovery of independence and a pre-subjective state of oceanic harmony and one-ness through the use of upbeat music and bright, hypnotic color schemes. Each silhouetted figure is “empty” of features because she enthymematically represents the spectator. In short, the mirror-work of iPod discourse is an attempt to represent the sonorous envelope, an advertising campaign that appeals to an unconscious desire to return to a pre-given, harmonious state of existence while, nevertheless, maintaining a presumed autonomy.

The culturally resonant, psychoanalytic power of iPod discourse as a site of double mirroring is perhaps no more obvious than in the many parodies and spoofs of the silhouettes. Shortly after the silhouette campaign debuted in the fall of 2003, Photoshop spoofs of the ad began flooding webpages across the Internet. One of the more controversial spoofs is artist and video game producer Tim Hall’s CrucIpod, a stencil-art representation of the crucifixion of Jesus, iPod in hand (see figure 3). “[I]f you look at most advertising geared towards that 20 something market,” says Hall, “you will see that they borrow a lot from the graffiti/screen printing [art] scene. . . . Big corporations are taking inspiration from ‘indie’ artists to sell their products–why not take their campaign and subvert it?”5 If the silhouette figure represents the consumer, then what is particularly subversive about Hall’s piece is the way in which it calls into question the relationship between the oceanic (in this case, rendered as spirituality) and the radical brand of personal independence promised by the iPod. Here the two mirrors are reflected in two ways. First, individual autonomy is re-figured as deity, which marks a critique of the feelings of omnipotence having “1,000 songs in your pocket” inspires in some consumers. “One iPod enthusiast spoke of his device in tones one usually reserves for a powerful deity,” reports Christine Rosen. “‘It’s with me anywhere, anytime . . . . It’s there all the time. It’s instant gratification for music . . . . It’s God’s own jukebox.”[6] Second, the dis/pleasure of the drives or the curiously painful pleasure of jouissance is represented here, of course, as the passion of the Christ.[7] Yoking together two of the most fetishized objects of our time–Jesus and the iPod–Hall holds up another mirror to Western culture that reckons with the unconscious infantilism and selfish fantasies of omnipotence that new drive technologies are frequently said to promote.


[1] Steven Levy, “iPod Nation.” Newsweek (26 July 2004); available accessed 30 July 2006.

[2] Jacques Lacan, Ecrits: A Selection, trans. Bruce Fink. New York: W.W. Norton, 2004), 3-9; and Fink, Lacanian Subject, 48-68.

[3] See Steven Connor, Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism (New York: Oxford University Press, 2000), 3-43; Silverman, Acoustic Mirror; Schwarz, Listening Subjects, 7-36.

[4] We are think here in particular of Derrida’s critique of logocentrism. See [author source withheld for purposes of blind review].

[5] Tim Hall, email to the authors 29 July 2006.

[6] Christine Rosen, “The Age of Egocasting.” The New Atlantis (Fall 2004/Winter 2005), 65.

[7] He’s God, but he’s hung up. But, he’s got his iPod, so he’s still (a) god! The story of the suffering of the Christ itself is another classic example of jouissance.

ear-wigging, or, ipodding toward ecstasy, part 4

July 29th, 2006 by slewfoot

Music: She Wants Revenge: [self-titled] (2006)

The good news today is that Tim Hall, artist of the CrucIpod art I have hanging in my den, has agreed to let me and Mirko print an image of his work for our article on the iPod. Yay! Tomorrow I hope to get to writing an analysis of Hall’s art, but meanwhile, I found a quote to go along with it to share. This is from a pretty interesting essay by Christine Rosen on “The Age of Egocasting”:

When he introduced the iPod, Apple CEO Steve Jobs claimed that “listening to music will never be the same again.” Judging by the testimonials of iPod uses, this was not merely marketing overstatement. One iPod enthusiast spoke of his device in tones one usually reserves for describing a powerful deity. ‘It’s with me anywhere, anytime . . . It’s there all the time. It’s instant gratification for music . . . . It’s God’s own jukebox.”

Well, there it is on a stick (pun intended).

The iPod advertising aesthetic is an amalgum of the mirrors of subjection, reflecting the sonorous envelope of listening practice as well as the imago of a new generation of Podpeople. Yoking two important fetishized objects in our culture–jesus and the ipod–this image represents the libidinal pulsation of the drives better than we could: dis/pleasure, indeed! He’s god, but he’s hung up! But he’s got his iPod, so, like, he’s god! We can take this right back to Allan Bloom’s remarks on the Walkman in his The Closing of the American Mind, who argued rock music was akin to a drug delivered by the Walkman in a neverending masturbatory fantasy of omnipotence. I mean, jeez, is there anything more infantile than the iPod commercials–except maybe Michellan Tire commercials?

Well, anyhoo, I’ll get to this intriguing stuff tomorrow. Today I actually took a stab at the conclusion, with the idea it will shake something loose that I can then return to in the analysis section. I’m hopeful Mirko will think of something more interesting to end this all with. For the moment, though, here’s a draft of the conclusion:

Concluding Remarks: Earwig of a Deeper Jouissance

I was in the woods in St. Moritz, in the mountains . . . . The snow was falling down. I pressed the button, and suddenly we were floating. It was an incredible feeling, to realize that I now had the means to multiply the aesthetic potential of any situation.
–Adreas Pavel, inventor of the Walkman[1]

This beat that the devil, today, has nurtured and fostered is inspired by the powers of hell. And there are young people that are in these rock groups that are pulling off their clothes in full view of thousands of young people. . . . Those young people that ripped off their clothes and acted like animals, they say it’s the music. . . . “I really didn’t know what I was doing,” they said, “I just pulled off my clothes and had to do it!”
–Unknown preacher sampled in Meat Beat Manifesto’s “It’s the Music”[2]

In his widely read 1987 diagnostic for higher education in the United States titled The Closing of the American Mind, the late Alan Bloom famously inveighed against the Sony Walkman, one of the first portable music gadgets, as a self-sealing delivery device for “rock” music, which has “one appeal only, a barbaric appeal . . . to sexual desire . . . [rock music is] a non-stop commercially prepackaged masturbational fantasy.”[3] If one recharacterizes the “barbaric appeal to sexual desire” as the stimulus of the invocatory drive and “masturbation” as the continuous pulsation of libidinal energies around the ear, then Bloom is entirely correct. In this essay we have advanced a psychoanalytic theory of music that explicates Bloom’s anxiety about music. We have described listening experience in terms of two psychical economies, the psycho-somatic and the symbolic, which work together to produce the fantasy thing of a “sonorous envelope” of listeners to losing themselves in music. The dis/pleasurable experience of the sonorous envelope is, however, a retroactively imposed understanding on an otherwise ineffable musical encounter. Consequently, instead of analyzing a given song in order to detail how its musical structures and formal qualities stimulate the invocatory drive, we focused on representations of the sonorous envelope in popular culture, and in particular, the retroactive characterization of an anonymous individual’s experience of music in Apple’s iPod advertisements. We also showed how spoofs inspired by Apple’s silhouette ads, such as the iRaq subway posters and Tim Hall’s CrucIpod, help to underscore the fundamental ambivalence to musical jouissance, the ambivalence upon which a certain cultural politics is based: there is a kind of “pleasurable pain” to sonorous envelope that pushes representation to the very limits of taste. In this respect, it is important to keep in mind that sensorial “masturbation” is not always pleasurable: sometimes it is politics.

To say that sensorial enjoyment is political entails a number of consequences: first, it is to recognize the ways in which the symbolic and cultural inevitably colonize and mediate one’s experience of music, much like a parasite; second, as a culture we seem heavily invested in where and how one enjoys and engages the drives; a great deal of our cultural politics seems to involve who does and does not have the right to sensorial stimulation, as well as the appropriate places in which one can enjoy. Controversy about the ubiquity of the iPod is a good example of how the libidinal enjoyment of music inspires political rhetorics of repression. Although Bloom’s remarks about the insulating effects of the portable music device have been criticized for intoning an elitist conservatism, what he and a number of contemporary critics across the political spectrum share in common is an attention to the isolating effects of new, portable media gadgets like the cell phone, the Nintendo Gameboy, and the iPod, all of which are designed to stimulate one or more of the drives. Before the arrival of the iPod, the anarchist John Zerzan argued that the portable music device is part of an “ensemble of technologies” that create “a protective sort of withdraw from social connections.”4 Thomas Lipscomb has described personal listening devices as the equivalent of a sensory depression tank that “prolongs adolescence, stifles social contact, and keeps people from expanding their intellectual horizons.”5 Writing for the New York Observer, Gabriel Sherman said that he had to wean himself off of his iPod because he “had grown increasingly numb” to his surroundings, “often oblivious to the world” around him, “trapped in a self-posed bubble.” He compared the iPod to a drug that had “come to dominate [his] daily existence.”6 While it is certainly the case that music technologies are an important part of listening practices, these commentators overlook the crucial central role of music itself. Like a cigarette, the iPod is functionally a delivery device; the real drug is the music. The general shift in discussion from the sounds produced by the iPod to the fetishism of the device is functionally a rhetoric of displacement–as is most discourse about the gadget–a way to talk about the dildo instead of what the dildo does: promote a continuous dis/pleasurable, seemingly unmediated experience of psycho-somatic stimulation.

What does one really do with an iPod? You stick it in your ear, of course. Those who worry in print and on screens about the infantile fantasies of omnipotence inspired by portable media gadgets, those who fret about the uber-individualism and self-absorption encouraged by “iPod culture” are in truth troubled by the implosion of the private and public the increasingly direct actualization of the drives betoken. As the invocatory stimulator has moved deeper into the body from the speaker, to the headphone, to the earbud, paradoxically musical enjoyment has become increasingly public and spectacular yet simultaneously radically individual.


[1] Quoted in Larry Rohter, “An Unlikely Trendsetter Made Earphones a Way of Life.” New York Times 17 December 2005, New York Times Online, available accessed 29 July 2006.

[2] Jack Danger, “It’s the Music.” Performed by Meat Beat Manifesto. Original Fire (Interscope Records, 1997).

[3] Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987).

[4] As quoted in RiShawn Biddle, “Personal Soundtracks,” reasononline (October 1999); available accessed 29 July 2006.

[5] Biddle, “Personal Soundtracks,” para. 7.

[6] Gabriel Sherman, “Boy in a Bubble.” Guardian Unlimited 24 September 2004; available,13368,1311300,00.html.

earfucking, or, ipodding toward ecstasy, part 2

July 28th, 2006 by slewfoot

Music: De/Vision: Subkutan (2006)

I’ve made some more headway (yay!) on my and Mirko’s essay. Going to call it quits for today, but thought I’d post what I got done. Most of this is Mirko’s writing with my cute examples. Mirko is a smart mofo homo (hence I go heavy on the hetro examples, just cause he’s not really a “tit man” . . . ).

The Dis/Pleasure of Drives

Whatever I do to make it real/it’s never enough
–Robert Smith/The Cure

In the psychoanalytic tradition, there are two mutually informing yet nevertheless distinct approaches to human motivation: object relations theory and drive theory. The tradition that has modified yet not abandoned Freud’s understanding of motive, sometimes referred to as “classical psychoanalysis,” is that of drive theory. Fundamentally reduced, the “drive” (Trieb) is the variable yet insatiable movement of psychosexual energies throughout the body, or as Freud once put it, the “psychical representative of an endosomatic, continuous flow of stimulation.” In less syllabic terms, the idea of the drive is that humans are goaded to thinking and behaving in reference to energies that pulsate around certain objects. Freud argued that these objects tend to be located around or near libidinally-charged and psychically-privileged regions of the body, the ” erotogenic zones,” many of which are orifices. For example, the human infant’s “oral drive” aims toward (or pulsates around) the breast, the anal drive the feces, the invocatory (or listening) drive speech, and so on.

Although psychoanalytic theorists have argued that the drives derive from hard-wired “instincts” (Trieb is sometimes translated as “instinct”), Jacques Lacan distinguished the drives from the instincts for reasons that afford a central role to representation and, by extension, rhetoric. First, unlike other animals, humans are born with partial and incomplete “instincts” and must resort to symbolic resources, such as crying, to satisfy their needs. This is why Lacan insists on the drive’s primary construction through symbolic processes; simply put, biology is not enough because self-consciousness requires human beings to be “symbol-using [and symbol-used] animals.” Although the drives are facilitated by neuronal pathways that re/trace more basic, incomplete, preservative instincts, the drive represents a culturally-mediated state of “lack.” For example, the clichéd object of the oral drive for the classic, heterosexual male is the woman’s breast. When making love to a woman, like a hungry infant, a “tit-man” man will ultimately end up putting the woman’s breast in his salivating mouth. One knows the oral drive is in play because the man does not want to “get” or “possess” the breast as the object of his desire, but precisely the opposite. In other words, the point is not to own or have the breast, but to prolong sexual excitement by reckoning with the impossibility of ever getting the breast–of lacking the object even though may be in one’s mouth.

Second, the object of the drive is determined by nurture or culture, not by “nature” (e.g., whether the hunger cries of an infant are satisfied by the breast or the bottle is of little consequence to the infant). The relatively interchangeable character of the object of the drive implicates the intervention of social codes, norms, ideology, and so on in determining what is and is not a proper love object (we say “relatively interchangeable” because, of course, sticking a cigar into an infant’s mouth would not provide the nourishment it needs, although a cigar may very well–at least momentarily–stimulate the oral drive). These theoretical innovations, in turn, are built upon a number differences between Freud and Lacan that will prove important for our discussion: (a) Freud suggests that the drives emanate from “erotogenic zones,” whereas Lacan stresses that a specific orifice always defines the drive, which–by permanently “cutting” or penetrating the body’s surface–marks the precarious threshold between the internal, psychical world and external reality, otherwise known as the divide between subject and object; (b) Freud suggests that there are several “component drives” (oral, anal, genital) that initially function independent units until they are assimilated under the genital drive in puberty,ix whereas Lacan argues that the discrete drives can never attain any complete, harmonious organization and always remain partial; and (c) for Freud, the purpose of the drive is to gain sexual satisfaction through the expenditure of energy, operating on a kind of hydraulic model of tension and release, whereas for Lacan the purpose of the drive is to re/produce a always-open circuit of auto-eroticism that never closes such that libidinal energy endlessly circulates around the orifice.

Collectively, these Lacanian elaborations to Freud’s notion of the drive suggests a model that resembles the pulsation of energy in a circle that can never be closed. Some object–a breast, a shoe, a penis, a voice, and so on–both inspires the pulsation of the drive and is the impediment to its closure: the objet a. Slavoj Zizek explains that

It is important to grasp this inherent impediment in its positive dimension: true, the objet a prevents the circle of pleasure from closing, it introduces an irreducible displeasure, but the psychic apparatus finds a sort of perverse pleasure in this displeasure itself, in the never-ending, repeated circulation around the unattainable, always missed object. The Lacanian name for this ‘pleasure in pain’ is of course enjoyment (jouissance), and the circular movement which finds satisfaction in failing again and again to attain the object is the . . . is the Freudian drive.

The most obvious (and therefore most boring) example of drive enjoyment is genital foreplay: the goal of foreplay is to prolong genital pleasure, not end it in orgasm (or soreness, whichever comes first). Following Lacan, however, we submit that the most ubiquitous kinds of enjoyment in daily life concern the scopic drive and the gaze (looking at things and people), and the invocatory drive and human speech, which, as one grows older, is later surrogated as song and music.xiv As we detail below, the dialectic of “dis/pleasure” forms the basis of listening subjectivity and begins to explain why different people enjoy different kinds of music.

Crossing the Threshold of the Sonorous Envelope

Music directly transected by desires and drives, has always had but one subject–the body, which it offers a complete journey through pleasure.
–Jacques Attali

Attali’s remark underscores the intense physiological and affective responses that music solicits. Music has the uncanny ability to involve, construct, and energize the body in accordance with rhythms, gestures, surfaces, and desires.xvi But music also causes listeners to experience their body and its social identity in new ways and often “seemingly without mediation.”xvii The sometimes oceanic feeling of being surrounded, even penetrated, by music is the signature of the invocatory drive par excellence, and more specifically, represents a the experience of what a number of scholars have termed the “sonorous envelope.” In this section we explain the concept of the sonorous envelope and specify how music engages the libidinal economy of listeners by pre/discursively constructing sites for listening subjectivity.

As a privileged discourse, music allows listeners to (seemingly) circumvent external reality and directly access their unconscious drives. Since the mid-1970s, psychoanalytic research, coupled with film theory, has concentrated on the underlying connection of music to the maternal body. A number of French theorists, such as Dider Anzieu, Guy Rosolato, and Claude Baliblé, have stressed the role of sound in a child’s developing subjectivity within the womb. They argue that the perception of the mother’s body–her heartbeat, breathing, voice, and bodily movements–is a primal experience in which the child feels itself enclosed within an envelope of sound or a “sonorous envelope.” “Music finds it roots and its nostalgia in [this] original [infantile] atmosphere,” argues Rosolato, “which might be called a sonorous womb, a murmuring house, or music of the spheres.”xix This intrauterine experience suggests an undifferentiated and oceanic expansiveness; it is analogous to the all-around pleasure of listening to music. From this vantage, for example, the contemporary, five-speaker stereo system in living rooms across the country represents a classically infantile attempt to recreate the sonorous envelope in “surround sound.”

As a stimulus for the invocatory or listening drive, surround sound and other forms of musical playback that inspire the listener to “lose herself” work by helping to circulate psychosexual energies around the ear. Juan-David Naso’s elaborations of the Lacanian concept of musical enjoyment (jouissance) helpfully explains the crucial role of dis/pleasure in this circulation. Nasio refigures Lacan’s notion of jouissance as a “thrust of unconscious energies.” In this newer orientation to the experience of enjoyment, music speaks to unconscious flows (or drives) of psychical energy that are never immediately experienced by the conscious subject (this is why Lacan states that the invocatory drive is “closest to the experience of the unconscious”). If these energies do emerge, they are always “condensed in a corporeal segment,” meaning that [explain here Mirko].xxii These condensations would include such involuntary responses to music, such as goose bumps, which are physical reminders of archaic moments that Schwarz terms “threshold crossings.” When music addresses conscious or preconscious feelings–whether they are pleasurable, displeasurable, or ambivalent–it is the direct result of music’s translation or crossing into the symbolic matrix. In short, music affects listeners unconsciously through psychical energy, and consciously through this energy’s culturally mediated transformation.

A number of post-Lacanian theorists have argued that music seeks to re/discover the sonorous envelope though its very repetitiveness, which suggests a powerful parallel structures. Music engenders a “repetition that postulates an anteriority that recreates itself . . . encountering a lost object (the mother . . . ) or one of its traits–sound, the voice,” argues Rosolato. “Throughout this return, it is the movement of the drive itself that is reproduced since it works to reestablish an anterior state” (our emphasis).xxiv Although Rosolato and his followers essentialize music as re/enacting a series of lost maternal representations (wrongly so, we think), they nevertheless recognize the rhythmic and energy-laden nature of the invocatory drive. In fact, most musical structures are repetitive and thus are homologous to the circular pulsation of the drive in this pure kinetic motility. In other words, as we argued above with drives in general, invocatory energies endlessly circulates around the orifice of the ear in a manner that formally parallels the repetitive structures of music itself, thereby keeping the ear in a permanently erogenous state and unable to reach the end-goal of complete sonic satisfaction (we are minded here of children who never tire of playing or singing the same “I Love You” Barney song over and over and over). An obvious example of the homology of the invocatory drive and musical experience is the modern dance club or “discothèque”: inside a comfortably warm and dark room, colorful lights bathe dancers and pulsate repetitively as a driving musical beat urges bodies to move. Each pound of the beat or melodic return to the tonic and chorus signifies a pulsation of the invocatory drive. As most individuals who have been to a dance club can attest, even if one does not like the music she will find herself, nevertheless, eventually nodding her head or tapping her foot to the beat. The dance floor pulsates to the music just as the drive pulsates to the music; when one adds de-inhibitory drugs to the experience, the oceanic feeling of the sonorous envelope is overdetermined. Dance clubs, in other words, are hyper-drive zones.

Although the appeal of music in a dance club has as much to do with its technological reproduction (usually overpoweringly loud) as the monotonous, repeative beat, musical harmony also works to remind listeners of archaic, oceanic moments of developing subjectivity. Listening to a favorite song through a telephone speaker–which sounds terrible–can still cause one to “lose oneself” in the music. Such an experience implies a powerful compensatory role for memory and, therefore, symbolic re-presentation, which underscores the fantasmic and rhetorical character of the sonorous envelope. Although Anzieu and Rosolato have argued that music can re/interpellate the listener’s blissfully anterior (i.e. pre-subject, pre-linguistic, pre-Oedipal) state, such a theoretical position only articulates the parameters in which listeners may have access to vestiges of pre-symbolic conditions. xxv David Schwarz, on the other hand, argues that the sonorous envelope is a fantasy concept or a psychical representation that is retroactively attributed to a powerful, sonorous experience:

On an elementary level, . . . the experience of being embraced by the all-around sound of music . . . [is] made possible by [one’s] experience of the sonorous envelope in the early stages of . . . developing subjectivity. But, even though the experience . . . [is] visceral, it was a fantasy–a representation of an experience to which neither I nor anyone else can have direct access. Thus, representations of the sonorous envelope are always retrospective; they are produced by a wide variety of theoretical, historical, psychoanalytic, and personal contexts. Given its retrospective structure, the sonorous envelope can be described as a thing, an immanent experience whose features represent how we imagine the sonorous envelope might have sounded.

To put the same point alternately, although music can be understood though primary, psycho-somatic processes and experiences, it first becomes fully enunciated through the secondary processes of the symbolic order. How one reflects upon or represents a powerful sonorous experience (e.g., getting goose bumps during a favorite aria, nodding one’s head or dancing unwittingly, and so on)–that is, how one imagines and describes the sonorous envelope–is consequently fundamentally rhetorical. The retroactive rendering of the sonorous envelope is the primary site of analysis for a psychoanalytically informed rhetoric of music.

ipodding toward ecstasy

July 27th, 2006 by slewfoot

Music: Godfathers of German Gothic Rock, Volume 4

Currently on the docket is a co-authored essay with Mirko on drive theory and the i-pod, or rather, the “rhetoric of the i-pod,” and by that I mean, how the ipod musical experience is represented in print and image. The argument is twofold: first, that the psychoanalysis of music involves two economies, one somatic/kinetic, the other, symbolic/rhetorical, and that both inform each other. Second, understanding the kinetic in terms of the drives helps to explain the sexual/cathartic/passionate represenation of musical enjoyment in everthing from rave posters to children’s lunch boxes (usually the body dancing). As a demonstration, we’re going to examine the advertising campaign of the ipod, which is a gadget, and all gadgets are objects that are typically inserted directly into the drive. The ear-pods of the ipod, of course, insert directly into the ear. The analysis will lead up to variations of this image on the left, the iGod or iChrist: the passion of the Christ is represented by an insular activation of in the invocatory drive. Of course, this image is overdetermined, but it also links two of the most libindinally invested objects of our time, Jesus and the ipod. Is it any wonder the question has been asked, “is the ipod more popular than Jesus?”

Anyhoot, for the bored here’s a preview:

Stick it In Your Ear: Toward a Psychoanalysis of Music

Mirko M. Hall and Joshua Gunn

Theory will cause me, unconsciously, when I do not expect it, to adopt a special listening.

–Juan-David Nasio[1]

A number of scholars within the fields of musicology, communication studies, and cultural studies have taken to explaining in detail how the formal elements of a musical text communicate meaning in seemingly nondiscursive ways. For example, in his classic study of music education, Christopher Small argues that the central logic of Western music is formally telic. The evolution toward functional harmony in the history of Western music created musical gravity that depends feelings of expectation and satisfaction.[2] The sonata form that resulted from these manufactured feelings (variously represented by AABA, ABA, or as a certain group of Swedes made famous, ABBA) underlies the structure of most of what we characterize as “popular music,” from the Beach Boys to Gerswin to Frank Zappa.

This notion of a drive toward the tonic or the beginning key or note of musical composition is not merely an aberration or circumstantial event, but one that was overdetermined and ripe with cultural and ideological influence. Consequently, in addition to analyzing and critiquing the sensory effects of tonal music in the West, many scholars have also been tracing the persuasive or “rhetorical” dimensions of formal musical structures and their relationship to the social.3 Scholars in the field of communication studies have contributed to his effort in a number of ways. For example, Karen Rasmussen has drawn on semiotics and Kenneth Burke’s theory of form in order to show how Leonard Bernstein’s Kaddish Symphony encapsulates a formal struggle between tonal and atonal compositional motives that serves as a rhetorical inducement and reckoning with a Jewish struggle outside of the symphony’s narrative.4 The mediation and rhetorical or suasive effects of social also figure prominently in Theodore Matula’s schema for analyzing popular music. Matula focuses on the interplay of text and context at multiple levels of abstraction to better specify an individual’s listening practices as a complex amalgam of personal life experiences and ideological influence.5 Dissatisfied with the focus placed on meaning “intrinsic to the musical event” and the attention given to the “internal relationships of the [musical] composition,” Robert Francesconi has argued for a “rhetoric of musical style” that emphasizes social frames of interpretation.6 Although far from exhaustive, these three studies help to demonstrate how almost every attempt to specific “a rhetoric” of music forwards a strategy to help navigate the object of the “musical text” and the historical, social, political, or cultural context of its reception.

Whether one studies the critical object of a speech or music, the key theoretical difficulty of any rhetorical theory is the reconciliation of an individual’s personal experience of a text and the external forces and discourses mediating and influencing her reception of that text. In this essay we advance a psychoanalytic theory of music that reconciles the internal and external meanings of a given musical text in the subjective listening practices of the music listener. Although the suasive influence of music can be partially explained in reference to the ideological and political norms encoded in formal musical structures (e.g., timbre, timing, the tonic, lyrics, and so on), the fact remains that different kinds of music appeals to different kinds of listeners, and consequently, any explanation of the suasive appeal of a given song or genre of music based solely on musical structures cannot account for the idiosyncrasies individual enjoyment. Why do some people enjoy country music when others despise it? Why does techno music cause a person to tap along to the beat, even when she hates techno? We submit the answer to these and similar questions has something to do with infantile experiences and libidinal energies that reside and emanate from the unconscious.

More specifically, in this essay we argue that the appeal of a given song or genre of music resides in the dynamics of two interwoven, psychical economies: one that is libidinal and concerns pure kinetic rhythms (the psychical); and another that is linguistic or representational and which involves the relationships between sounds and their culturally defined meanings (the rhetorical). Communication scholars have tended to focus on the latter at the expense of the former. Consequently, our goal in this essay is to supplement extant rhetorics of music keyed specifically to cultural representation and mediation with a theory of desire, or an explanation for what attracts a listener to a given musical object. To this end we first explain the psychical apparatus central to our understanding of the appeal of kinetic rhythms, the “drives,” with particular attention to the instinctual drive to listen, or the “invocatory drive.” Then, we detail the relationship between the libidinal and symbolic economies of meaning exchange in musical experience in terms of two crucial concepts, the “sonorous envelope” and the “threshold crossing.” Finally, we illustrate our psycho-rhetorical theory of popular music with a brief examination of the discourse surrounding the popular i-pod device, a small, handheld music player that has become the must-have gadget of the early twenty-first century.

The Dis/Pleasure of Drives . . . [stay tuned for part two]


1 Juan-David Nasio. “First Lesson: The Unconscious and Jouissance.” Five Lessons on the Psychoanalytic Theory of Jacques Lacan, trans. David Pettigrew and François Raffoul (New York: State University of New York Press, 1998), ______. fl need exact page number

2 Christopher Small. Music, Education, Society (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1996), 7-59.

3 For two excellent examples of this kind of work, see Susan McClary, Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991); and Robert Walser, Running with the Devil: Power, Gender and Madness in Heavy Metal Music (Hanover: Wesleyan University Press, 1993). Some notable article-length approaches in communication studies include James R. Irvine and Walter G. Kirkpatrick, “The Musical Form in Rhetorical Exchange: Theoretical Considerations.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 58 (1972): 272-284; Deanna Sellnow and Timothy Sellnow, “The ‘Illusion of Life’ Rhetorical Perspective: An Integrated Approach to the Study of Music as Communication.” Critical Studies in Media Communication 18 (2001): 395-415; and Eric King Watts, “An Exploration of Spectacular Consumption: Gangsta Rap as Cultural Commodity.” Communication Studies 48 (1997): 42-58.

4 Karen Rasmussen. “Transcendence in Leonard Bernstein’s Kaddish Symphony.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 80 (1994): 150-173. Kenneth Burke’s famous theory of “form” as the “creation and satisfaction” of appetites in an audience is based on his experiences as a music critic. See Kenneth Burke, Counter-Statement (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1968), 29-44.

5 Theodore Matula, “Contextualizing Musical Rhetoric: A Critical Reading of the Pixies’ ‘Rock Music.'” Communication Studies 51 (Fall 2000): 218-237.

6 Robert Francesconi, “Free Jazz and Black Nationalism: A Rhetoric of Musical Style.” Critical Studies in Mass Communication 3 (1986): 39.

7 Jacques Attali. Noise: The Political Economy of Music, trans. Brian Massumi (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1985), 143.

straw people

July 26th, 2006 by slewfoot

Music: Cat Power: The Greatest

Yesterday was an interesting day for email. I heard from a bunch of friends across the country that I’ve not connected with in a long time. I heard from complete strangers. A little queer theory–if only in name–goes a long way.

The editor of IHE said he was very pleased with the reaction to the post, especially because it seemed to get “some people thinking” and “to prompt several people of very different political perspectives to do some serious thinking.” Golly, I hope so; if only a fraction of the work we do does that, it’s a good thing!

I do think the “two cultures” stalemate bandied about is a self-fulfilling prophecy that is imposed from the outside-in (it’s just as facile a characterization as “men are from Mars, women are from Venus”). Nevertheless, my thanks to those of you who chimed in. Sure, I received more attention for accurately drawing the state of Georgia on a student-made map in seventh grade (those were my fifteen minutes), but it was kind of neat to meet new online folks and have a conversation (email seemed a less heated speakeasy for some).

Now, what is really interesting to note–especially for those of y’all know me–is the way in which the publicity/secrecy dialectic takes place on “the backs of things.” A respondent “Publius” (tellingly, an anonymous poster) says:

My point [in criticizing Josh for dismissing students] was to suggest that living in the rarified air of cultural studies, Professor Gunn may need to be alert to the possibility that most students in Bush country and elsewhere are thoughtful members of the second camp [“the traditionalists”].

Elsewhere I’ve written that powerful drama of publicity in our times has framed the academy as the Final Occult Cabal, and apparently “cultural studies” and “deconstruction” have become the magickal argot of our Craft. One need only claim “queer” or “cultural studies” in public to enrage those who are obviously “not in the know.” It’s not simply a case of “guilt by association,” but truly a case of ignorance. Yes, this is another battle of the ill-named “culture wars,” but the battle is over language clubs, not knowledge or issues or meaning or the rest of it.

Another example: in a blog titled “Phi Beta Cons: The Right Take On Higher Ed,” David French holds up essay for IHE as “Required Reading for the Skeptic”. According to French, my work is an in-your-face example of “radical leftism,” “general oddity.” Its politics is affiliated with “incomprehensible deconstructionist writing” and the vocal exploits of Ward Churchill! My re-introduction of the liberal-humanist argument for tolerance to my students is a John Galt style “paragraphs-long screed.” French asserts this is a marvelous and profound irony, apparently because I discriminate against conservative students in my classes at a “state-university” (viz., even though your tax dollars support such odd, radical left teaching).

What I said was “radical?” Um. Er. Ok.

I recognize this is largely “online” banter that has no bearing on education policy, but even so, I cannot help but worry what has happened to school boards across the country–politicians running for superintendent, and so on–is slowly happening to “higher ed”: non-teachers making pronouncements about what is and is not acceptable to “teach,” and this largely based on image, spin, and smell, not content (there is content, right?). Oh, Lord, protect us from Bono’s canned lectures on world poverty and lesson plans from Bill O’Reilly.

more than i’m used to

July 25th, 2006 by slewfoot

Music: Today Show

The Inside Higher Ed article I wrote, “Why I Am Not Radical Enough,” was published this morning. It reminds me of a song on Depeche Mode’s new album, “A Pain that I’m Used To,” but it’s not painful yet (that may come if there are ad hominems in response, since I hear folks can get pretty heated). Right now I’m just adjusting to having a larger audience than I’m used to. Just think if we could get one of our scholarly articles in front of that many people!


July 24th, 2006 by slewfoot

Music: Stuart A. Staples: Leaving Songs

I haven’t the slightest clue if the music I’ve recommended to y’all has ever influenced a music purchase, but, here’s another that I think most folks who share my love of melancholic sounds will really dig. Stuart A. Staples’ new release Leaving Songs is really a fantastic record. I had no idea this was one of the dudes from Tindersticks–which explains its magic–but wow! It’s slow stuff, in the order of the Willard Grant Conspiracy and Leonard Cohen . . . it’s such a summer night mood making album. I’m sitting in the media den filing away CDs that are yet to be alphabatized (a normal summer task) and listening to this sadness. The organ, the slow chords, the gentle voice, the mood . . . all very lazy and sad. Good stuff.

fitful sleep

July 24th, 2006 by slewfoot

Music: Pink Floyd: Wish You Were Here (1975)

Today I’ll write about the invocatory drive, and hopefully will have a teaser to post later. Meanwhile, I’m recovering from a night of unpleasant, sweaty dreams–one after the other. Here’s an “asleep” post, following the style of my friend BH:

dream the first: I’m driving a panel van through the Midwest toward the north, presumably full of my life’s belongings. I get lost in a state park somewhere, and end up pulling into the driveway of a visitor’s center of some sort. The parking lot and center is at the top of a very steep hill. I walk to the edge of hill and look below and see a vast lake. I walk back to the van and discover I left it unlocked, and everything inside has been taken but for a single suitcase. I am devastated. I go inside the welcome center and ask for someone to call the police. No one seems interested in helping me, as today is a Paul Revere holiday and they’re trying to deal with a floodtide of people heading for the events on the lake, apparently a restaged battle of the beginning of the American Revolution on the water, in canoes instead of on horses. People swarm through the welcome center and the park. I start asking random people to borrow their cell phone, but they are worried I will steal them (apparently I don’t have one myself; I didn’t until about two years ago IRL). I give up, sit on the steps, when some person lends me their phone. I call the police; the police show up and we go to the van, only to discover my last suitcase has now also been stolen. The police say nothing can be done, but give me a map. I drive away

dream the second: [After waking, changing pillows, and moving to the cooler side of the bed five feet away] I’m driving the panel van through some crazy overpasses, sometimes the road travels vertically and I floor the pedal to escape the pull of gravity; I am lost again. I close my eyes and use my psychic powers to guide my van. I arrive at an old elementary school, where I have been called to meet a clandestine group of like-minded and aged adults–mostly scholars–for a production of Sweeney Todd. I go to my assigned seat. A friend is there, who begins to tell me he loves such and such an article I published, but here are fifteen problems he has with it. He congratulates me on having the courage to publish half-baked work, and for not being afraid to publish because I am stupider than “the rest of us.” Across our lunchroom table is a vaguely familiar face, a young woman with coal black, short cropped hair. She sees me and anger fills her eyes. Sometime tells me that I got her fired five years ago. The woman starts to cry. I ask her if she would like to talk in private, and she nods yes, so we go out in the hall. The woman then begins to tell me that I evaluated her classroom teaching at such and such a point, but that I wrongfully criticized her for something and got her fired. Her face then changes abruptly like the ones in Richard Linklater’s cartoon films. She cannot maintain a steady emotion, and flips from anger to passion. She comes in for a kiss, whereupon an older woman passing by says “what the hell are you doing?” She whips up the young woman and takes her off. I’m confused. The older, scolding woman comes back and says, “you should know better! That young woman has issues! Couldn’t you see it on her face?” Then I decided to find my group, as other groups are heading into the theatre. I’ve not memorized my lines, and I’m carrying a backpack and loads of the few personal belongings I have left, such as my cherished ipod, and I don’t want it stolen. I cannot find my “class.” I’m upset, because I wanted to sing. The older woman appears and says she knows somewhere I can put my stuff. It’s a classroom full of Asian students with an Asian teacher, and they are speaking the language of love. The teacher sits at a desk and smiles. She says something to me that is so kind I would rather stay and learn, but I am motioned to put my things in a corner. “Put your stuff here. It will be safe.” For a moment I worry my ipod will be stolen by the young kids, but then something inside me says that it will be fine. I then wander the halls looking for my class . . . [and wake up].

Sometimes one worries Freud is of no use. My insecurities are boring.

Ok, time to write about drive theory.

those goddamned writerly to do’s

July 23rd, 2006 by slewfoot

Music: Sigur Ros: Takk (2005)

What else but Sigur Ros on a Sunday morning? Ah, I slept better last night, but still got too hot. Memory foam is comfy but hot. So today I have to pick up a mattress pad to contend with my hotness.

I have a ton of photos to upload for my visits and all my good peeps, and hopefully I can use this fine Sunday to uploading them. Until then, I thought I’d blog to organize my brain and share with you my overly ambitious summer writing plans for the next four weeks, in order of doingness:

  • Finish revisions on “Gimme Some Tongue” short essay.
  • Finish revising “On (Tolerating) Queer Theory” for IHE.
  • Outline and draft “The Ecstasy of Drives: Toward a Psychoanalysis of Music” and send to co-author, Mirko
  • Outline and draft “Yet Another Rhetoric of Music” (based on my class experience)
  • Add my part to “There’s Something (Else) About Mary: Alchemy and the Da Vinci Code” and send back to Tom

  • Finish draft of “Staging the State of Exception: Spielberg’s War of the Worlds

Gee, I know I’m not going to get all of this done. My will is stronger than my follow-through-ness, though I think I will probably outline the “Ecstasy of Drives” essay today. Mirko and I have been working on this for three years–mostly in the talking stages. The idea is to take some of what Mirko is already written on the drives, slap an example on it and frame it up (I’m slapping and framing). While I was in a bar in Baton Rouge, I finally figured out what the hell our exemplar would be: the i-pod advertising campaign. Why? Well, that campaign is a visual representation of the invocatory drive: it’s all about music pulsating around the ear and causing the body to remove. As Mirko told me on the phone, it’s a perfect illustration of the relationship of “the gadget” to drive theory as well: the ear-pod is inserted directly into the orifice. Yup: we’re talking about ear-fucking here. I was telling Barry last night about the project, and I came up with a better, alternative title: “Stick it In Your Ear: Toward a Psychoanalysis of Music.” Let’s see if Mirko will go for that.

Ok, breakfast, a bath, outlining, and then back to the mall for a mattress pad. Yay Sunday!