In February 1996 Melody Maker's letters page `Backlash' ran a long, manifesto-like letter signed `The Digitised Voice of Desire' as its Letter of the Week. It was one of those typically postmodern, 70's intellectual influenced tracts that crop up from time to time in the music press when people try to get all intellectual about pop. The OOO is fed up with the way these people always choose hyperdull, emotionless, colourless intellectual posing when writing about something like music - it's a symptom of the way that popular culture has been appropriate by dullards. So here was our reply - which of course wasn't printed (tho' MM hack Mark Luffman wrote us a nice letter saying he thought it was great. . .)
The DVD got it all wrong. Up to a point its thin, gasping, deoxygenated prose seemed mildly diverting, but like the aftertaste of MTV, it left us feeling queasy. So here are random chapters in answer.
It's a pure lie to suggest that profundity automatically means pretentious, solemn seriousness. When finally shot through with the agony of the full realisation of the human condition, when you finally reach the point of Seeing the Joke, a hint of a Buddha smile will have appeared. The human mind is deep and inherently empty. Of course pop can address all this easily, but not when it's spuriously shackled to notions of surfaceness.
One suspects that the DVD is rejoicing in an escape from a fictitious version of depth. Depth has perhaps got bad associations with the ponderous, the pretentiously adult, with good manners, with AOR and good taste and decency. But the only way that you can end up with this sort of psuedo seriousness, Seriousness in the worst possible sense of the word, is to start out with the of depthless charm the DVD seems to find so alluring. The Appearance of rebellion (without any profundity) is the perfect starting point for persuading people to consume and conform, as it leads people away from awareness of their own inherent existential strangeness into a world of organisation of appearances. And it's irrelevant if the symbolism involved contains words like "rebellion" - really you know this, as Mr Agreeable's frequent ministrations concerning Mr Oh-so-Iconoclastic Lenny Kravitz show. Trouble is, we all know he's a monstrous, vacuous plastic rawk'n'rowl fake turd constructed by a McMusic industry to please unhealthy vacuous plastic desires the same way a McDonald's is nutritious, BUT does it really automatically make things different just to have a low budget, be unable to play your instruments, and sign to a small label? Really most small labels are just doing 2nd- rate big label music, and it looks as if almost any band will happily sign to a major when offered suitable cash to do so. I mean, even Menswear are trying to do grownup records now! No, please, no!
Cool fiddling with postmodern linguistic abstractions is an excellent starting point for sucking people in to the Machine, for persuading them that the Machine is, in fact, capable of being trendy after all.
DVD might complain that profundity does not exist anywhere, but if it feels like it does, then it does (postmodern subjectivity and all that, blah, look it up for yourself, we can't be bothered because it's dull). When MM got interested in depression, one of the things that should have become apparent is that the human mind has got depths and recesses in it that have to be acknowledged at some point. And to be perhaps more positive, creative activity, whether suddenly getting a crossword clue you couldn't work out for ages or writing a pop song, doesn't feel like it's achieved through anything that could in any way be achieved by reference to a surface.
Anyway, how could depth be considered an illusion when consciousness itself is a kind of illusion? It was consciousness that invented depth and surface, and in so doing contained both. Everything is illusory, so we can't separate the surface from the depth and call one real and the other unreal. (Please reread that last phrase and think about the implications until you start to feel weird, thank you). Ultimately all is naming, and this exists beyond notions of either surface or depth.
Foucault was an anorak. Still, he ended up taking acid and having a religious experience anyway, and serve the shrivelled little swine right. He still remained spiritually incompetent, however.
If you want intellectually intense philosophical starting points (and why not?) Wittgenstein or Korzybski are much more suitable, as they leave the door open for the numinous. Despite getting a bad press, the numinous cannot be captured by surface grammar and is therefore a safe haven and a source of energy. It'll never be bottled by the Spectacle plc and it can turn up anywhere.
Denial of the transcendent is an inherently authoritarian act. It's been a powerful trick through the ages that people have been led away from seeing this denial in itself and to look only at the surface grammar, the symbols, to gauge whether it's happening. First the churches tried to equate transcendence with political power, then science tried to deny transcendence in the first place, then countless spindly postmodernists tried to do the same. But it was the same process of denial whoever was doing it, and whatever language they used. Don't look for the meaning, look for the use.
When you write about something in purely descriptive terms, it feels like the language itself gets in the way. The way round this is to use the language to point beyond. It may sound esoteric, but we're all familiar with the way you can create an atmosphere of menace much more effectively by suggestion, by omission, and through comparatively simple language rather than clumsily and mundanely trying to describe horrible things. (The latter is what the DVD seemed to be attempting.)
The space between words is outer space. The space between people is outer space. And we shall always explore it, forever.
PS - There are technical reasons why digitising information in fact lends it infinite depth. When an analogue soundwave is converted into digital bits and then reconstituted, the reconstituted wave then has a certain square wave element to it which it didn't have previously. The better the digital to analogue converter, the more smoothed-out the square wave features will be, but they can never be entirely eradicated. As anybody who's done Fourier transform maths will know, square waves have infinite harmonics (unlike sine waves). This means, then, that digitising audio information gives it a breath of the infinite. The grim irony is, of course, that CD sound always has an irritatingly unreal feel to it compared to analogue vinyl. Perhaps this is the return in destructive aspect of Depth, brought on by the neurotic attempt to do away with it. You have been warned!
PPS - We're not very keen on situationism either, in case you were wondering. Too twee by half, and too anti-transcendent, too anti- metaphysics.
PPPS - Insisting that depth is an illusion is a statement that requires that depth before it can be taken as a fact.