Discover more from Raids on the Unspeakable
On songs heard at a distance
> They war made for singing, an' no for reading; but ye hae broken the charm now, an' they'll never be sung mair.
Once was the songs heard were there, we knew or saw the singer. Say, I fell in love with a lady at the circus as a child, though she was far away and tiny; yet there was something. Perhaps it was the music, perhaps it was her costume—who knows. Some particular quality inherent in that moment marked it permanently upon me. This was tied to a physical body, yes, but cannot be accounted for as purely physical; it was rather the particular resonance for an only child that romanticised the outside world.
Of course, this is not the point. The point is that here I now have her voice trapped in a jar; that I can put my ear to this, hear her as I want. She has been recorded and can now be found immediately anywhere the wires are. Somehow that particular woman no longer exists; or she exists here, or another, somehow both—what is this thing?
Once was we knew all those that sung songs, or at least had seen them passing by. There comes from my kitchen the voice of a man I have never met, never seen, likely never will. Two people now that I know have told me they hate the idea of seeing such singers. Accidentally I showed one of these the members of the Pixies, then attempted an (apparently successful) evasive manoeuvre by claiming this was but a cover band. These few, then, to what strange thing do they hold—who or what are The Pixies?
The Pixies are a substance distributed in the world, from one perspective, and from the other a category containing various processes defined as objects; it is the singular point between all these that constitutes The Pixies as an object. This object is determined by the threshold of its application, by the active exercise of taste in distinguishing between The Pixies and not-The Pixies. We hear a song, and we ask who it is; or we think of one we love and ask whether they would have liked the song.
Or say, when a band sounded much like another and I thought I heard a friend say they were one and the same; then responded as if they were, only to later realise my mistake. Yet had not been corrected, what then? I would not have been able to find the song, for one; if by chance, however, I came across the song—then with a little luck I may well have managed to mislead another.
We thus rely on our taste—knowledge, imagination, judgment—to determine the application of categories, and it is this process which reifies the thing as thing insofar as our activity is correspondingly determined by the categorisation.1 This creates an identity which is ultimately a projection of our own ego, we understand them as like but not us; thus we are the model upon which the world is built.2
Yet fundamentally, then, does the abstraction in my speakers differ from the travelling songstresses once heard by boys? Then the echo in their head was known to them, perhaps might even be loved.3 Yet say you loved the songstress, then still you may well love but an image; often enough a love is based on delusion, and what seems matter most is merely that this shape fits without chafing too much.
Today we find insane those that fall for the sound of speakers or the images trapped in screens. If a singer sung to us, who would we say it for—that night I felt she sung for me, a classic delusion of reference; or a fair romanticism? The world now is full of faraway dreams and these mass-produced, distributed as homogenous units. The songstress is packaged with the price of my ticket, or with the subscription to a streaming service. She exists only in the abstract activity of my interacting with a digital device. For all intents, then, she is the device; or is contained therein.
And what of all these friends, then? For all intents they are the same, those known yet faraway who here are disembodied. I may call you brother, yet neither would hear the other cry for help. Once I wanted to write a short story, the tale of a pseudo-intellectual who had a stroke during a streamed debate; and I thought to write those watching this, for he hit his head in falling, and of those that sought procure help for him—sadly his opsec proved too good.
Nietzsche, Genealogy of Morals: “But there is no such substratum; there is no ‘being’ behind the deed, its effect and what becomes of it; ‘the doer’ is invented as an afterthought—the doing is everything. Basically, the common people double a deed; when they see lightning, they make a doing-a-deed out of it: they posit the same event, first as cause and then as its effect.”
Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols: “For here, the doer and his deed are seen in all circumstances, will is believed in as a cause in general; the ego is taken for granted, the ego as Being, and as substance, and the faith in the ego as substance is projected into all things—in this way, alone, the concept ‘thing’ is created.”
This is why parents should sing sweetly to their children, as when waking them; or else some ritual of song. The best I had were school assemblies in which we sung pop rock and, for this I am grateful, some few hymns which have stuck with me still.