Words in music


That’s what I’m talking about.


To bring things in from the shadows requires a light in which they can be seen.

We attend so often to the objects in the room, without acknowledging the illumination in the room that makes these objects visible.

Sometimes one has to throw up some dust or fog to reveal the illumination in the room. But then, this makes the objects harder to see.

Concealing and revealing always work together in a double movement. Without a frame there is no picture.

Is this a concealing that merely casts shadows? Or is it a concealing that frames, that establishes a horizon under which things meaningfully unfold? A clearing that protects a space for cultivation and then appropriates us to cultivate it?

And then too, what kind of clearing? Is it one that gathers everything in its fundamental unity and interdependence? A clearing in which, thus appropriated, we may dwell?

Language is that which appropriates; it is that which flows through us and that by which our fundamental story is told. Language is the concrete manifestation of sub-creation. The way of cultivation is always through a poetic language, one rooted in the idea of poiesis or bringing-forth.

What is meant by language is not merely words, but exteriorization, habit and memory itself. The basic mode of exteriorization is not speech but writing. The writing in books, the marks on trees, the genetic code. The tools we make and which also make us. The trails we form simply by walking on them.

It’s not so much the form of writing, but the fundamental way of comportment out of which writing flows and appropriates – a way in which one opens oneself to what is forming and helps it come forth – maybe trimming a few weeds here and there, but otherwise respecting what is, letting things be. When instead we become the commanders, the controllers, we the appropriators and not the appropriated, writing no longer flows.

So too, the idea of making or shaping, the act of creation itself, is rooted in poetry. Not in ordering, commanding, challenging forth. The root of the word “shape” relates to the Anglo-Saxon scop; the medieval poet who continually reshaped fundamental mythic narratives by way of which everything showed up as meaningful.

When the mythic space or clearing has collapsed, when the illumination is itself only the dying embers of a civilization that has run its course, when all objects are buried in shadow – then the work is indeed to expose this illumination, to throw up some dust and fog, even if in so doing, it may darken the night even more. Only then is a new beginning possible. Only then will we once again have words.


I’d volunteer these:


You lost me here. What?

I think, maybe, I just don’t understand what is meant by “The basic mode of exteriorization…” or maybe just “basic”. I can hardly agree that writing is somehow more fundamental than speech. So you must have meant something else…


There are moments in “1000000 Died to Make This Sound” that are somewhat reminiscent of tones we might hear from Godspeed, You Black Emporer. And yet, there are words…


I revisited this song from 1982 this week. I was single-digits then, but still remember it getting plenty of play on pop radio and TV over the years. I think it charted well here in New Zealand. And what struck me is there’s a refrain in there “It’s better to die on your feet than to live on your knees” and elsewhere they reference America’s role in rolling the elected head of Australia. The whole thing is angry about the state of affairs in their country. I genuinely don’t think a song with that kind of content would show up in the equivalent mainstream radio and TV slots nowadays and it made me a bit sad. (Does it matter? Are people around me “consuming” solely mainstream media? Not sure.)


The two bands are pretty closely associated I believe…


Nope, I think writing is a lot more basic than speech. Writing, exteriorization, technicity are all synonymous in the sense I consider them. Privileging of speech, or logos/presence more generally, leaves out very basic temporal syntheses such as habit or memory. It also leaves out the fact that things can haunt by their absence, they need not always be present to be meaningful. The idea of the clearing or meaning must extend thus beyond mere presence.

Exteriorization: Think of the stone tools, the hand-axes that helped form mind and consciousness millions of years before any spoken language. Think of mimesis, and the role such processes and tools must have played in forming that language.

Think also of the genetic code as a form of writing, and then think of all this in the sense of coevolution.

The signifier-signified distinction, no less than subject-object, is one of the biggest obstacles to thought.


Alright, rereading it with that expanded definition of “writing” definitely makes the puzzle pieces fit better.

I still think you might be selling words short.


If I am selling them short, I should correct whatever led to that conclusion; it was not my intent.

What I’m selling short, or critiquing rather, is the idea that words should be thought of as mere “signifiers”, that is that they point to fixed meanings already known in advance. I see use of words as a fundamentally creative activity that can help enact meaning, and the poetic disposition more generally as something that can help overcome a situation where meaning itself has collapsed, where we have only the sickly light of the dying embers.

I’m actually taking language and poetry as the prototype for everything – in effect giving words “first position” – and in particular considering technology as a form of writing, one that has become untethered from its roots in the poetic disposition.


Peter Garrett is worth looking into, not just for his music, but also his political career.


AhaI I get you now. Totally agree.

It can happen in speech though, this creative act of enacting meaning (and more commonly does. and I’d venture that speech is more readily accessible to a much much larger portion of humanity than written words) In fact, one might posit that much of we’re doing now has more in common with speech than written words (avoid “writing” because I intend the narrower definition here). Yeah, we edit a bit, but it’s the call-and-response that draws us here, rather than say, utilizing blog posts to express even more involved and heavily edited forms of the same thoughts.

I keep coming back to hip-hop as a thing that bring us that horizon you keep talking about. That ability to look off into the distance to see some kind of possible future. I need the poetry to help me see it. It makes those sky castles feel a lot more solid. Like a place I might return home to someday.


Agreed about hip hop. It’s not that I consider speech “bad” – just that considering it somewhat provocatively as a form of writing makes explicit the workings of habit and memory in and through speech, and highlights the interplay between presence/absence – the haunting of the unsaid, the implicit, the uncanny, also very much at work in speech.

In this I also admit my awareness of the fact there is much that remains unsaid that haunts the margins of my own speech/writing/music/whatever. But then also to say it requires an open, a clearing through which the saying can meaningfully resonate.


Efrim Manuel Menuck is in both, for instance.

For what it’s worth, I could barely stand Thee Silver Mt Zion, whereas Godspeed is one of my two favorite bands.

I think it’s hilarious to call Godspeed’s instrumentalism a cop-out, @jasonw22


It is a rather ridiculous thing for me to say, I agree.


I went to a Skinny Puppy show when the Iraq war was only a few months old. I was amazed at how many people got up and left in apparent disgust when they started showing anti-war imagery on projected video. How can anyone like the band and not realize so much of what they do is inherently or explicitly political?

How can you be any less subtle than them? I guess there’s Youth Code (which I do like when I’m in the mood) or KMFDM (which… I really have to be in the right mood and choose carefully) or the new Ministry album (which I had to give up on after a couple of tracks).

I think the thing about protest music is that it’s good at raising awareness… and at least from what I see, anyone who’s ever going to be aware, already is. Everyone else has too much privilege and too little compassion to ever be engaged until the leopard comes to eat their faces too.

Trying to raise awareness in 2018 that Trump is terrible and actual Nazis are in the streets and black people are being killed by cops and capitalism is destroying the planet, is about as helpful as pink ribbons in October reminding people that breast cancer exists.

Protest music can also unite and inspire people I suppose, but again, I think we’re at the point where anyone who is ever going to vote, march, call their representatives, support progressive organizations, educate themselves, and punch Nazis already has done so.

Personally: I don’t do lyrics in the first place. I am a big fan of subtext, mystery, even obfuscation. But I feel like if I just do what comes naturally to me, it is already a slap in the face of the kind of authoritarian and regressive culture that we are fighting against. I’ve thought about naming some tracks things like “Mitch McConnell Can Go F**k Himself With Three Chainsaws” or “Capitalism Is Killing Us Body And Soul” but it’s just not my way. Other people do it better.

This too.


It’s possible to go deeper. To show the relationships between the root causes of it all. To get underneath the skin of it.

It’s possible to describe an alternative. A different present and a different future.

It’s possible to tell the stories that haven’t been told yet.


And to give people something to rally around, to sing together, and to create bonds of community around art.


Sometimes, that which remains in shadow, that which haunts my own writing by its absence, is itself haunted by the horror of possibly being made explicit but only in this dying and suffocating light. Deep in the shadows of the underground things still circulate and grow, but brought into this kind of light, who knows how they would be transformed?

How to even start telling these stories, or to even tell my own story?

How indeed, were certain stories told in the 1950’s or before?

This is why I am so personally concerned about the illumination in the room, and the role of art in this illumination… also the reasons behind a certain creative crisis… it is not a conceptual or academic game but instead something very real and significant to me. It has led to and thus “haunts” everything I have written thus far.

Can the margins ever do more than haunt? Can the margins gather themselves, and move to the center? Can they really project a clearing?

which reminds me… a great poem by Anthony Barnett reflecting on absence-in-presence… a poem that itself works through being haunted by the absence of the precise situation that must have led to it, and is all the more affecting and illuminating for what it does not presence… kinda resonates with my predicament right now…

But anyway, we also of course the here and now, fighting on all fronts etc. We have the echo of Hanns Eisler’s statement that in times of fascism, art doesn’t exist, that you really are assailed at every moment by what already presences. I know all of this and it makes things hurt all the more.

To be thus explicit about that seemingly outside the political situation is thus to risk a certain type of impropriety, given the very real violence being done by Trump, Bolsonaro, and so many others globally, and the even greater violence waiting to be perpetrated by their supporters and others who will no doubt succeed them unless something very immediate is done. I recognize these tensions and consider it legitimate that I was called to account precisely for not giving this explicit priority.

[Bolsonaro, yet another personal situation, a lot of my extended family through my dad’s third and final marriage since many decades grew up in the 1964-1985 military dictatorship and in one case had childhood friends killed and tortured – something else that has put me on edge ever since a few weekends ago with many phone calls… ]

However, in the long term, in the sense of bringing forth new worlds, new modes of being, new formats in which we may express our kinship and our embeddedness and interdependence in the midst of all that is, we would not be constantly creating situations that lead to so many Trumps and Erdogans and Bolsonaros. I do see a bit this broader picture and it really scares me – and how fighting on all fronts may mean losing on all fronts, losing like in the 1930’s.