Admiration for those who can sustain a strong affect over the course of an artwork. Syd Barrett's song 'Opel' is the work of one who has seen everything - or for whom everything has been seen as it is given in a single, streaming affect. Who has been called forward to sing? Who called forward to play? When I hear this song, I am frightened. 'I'm living, I'm giving, I'm trying', each verb stretched and attenuated as if what he was singing was 'I'm dying'; as if he sang from the crucible wherein everything boils itself down to its essence and in which he, too, is boiled down to his essence.
What had he lived in order to sing like that? What had he seen? He is dying; he is living in dying. That is the authority of his song, and what carries it in its raggedness. Syd Barrett and guitar; a song unreleased, but when it reached me, in the late 80s, I think, I knew what I know now: these are those who can endure a region we cannot - those who endure and make art in that endurance, and bear the whole work of art there where we could not bear to be. How hard it is to bear a strong affect! How hard to live and die in the event!
Last night, I let Newsnight run on into The Culture Show. How foolish! I admit I was curious to see Houellebecq talk; I was not disappointed. His skin is grey. He speaks slowly, as one who has seen everything must talk. I have read one of his books, and am in no doubt: respect is due to one whose work is a block of extraordinary despair. A ragged book, Atomised, and no matter - that raggedness is a sign of the affect and its ravages. It turns, slow whirlwind, in the pages of the book. It is there and unmistakeable.
I read the copy W. lent me in a single sitting. I thought: Houellebecq is a man who has lived and died in the event. I saw it on his skin last night, the same waxen grey as that of Mark E. Smith, whom I saw with the Fall a couple of weeks back. These are half-destroyed men, very different it is true, but those who are able to carry themselves in a zone most of us will not know and most will not bear. These are the late men, the ones who come after the world, those who have seen everything and know everything.
Of course Mark E. Smith is not a man of despair, but a man of fervour. Only a cold, insectoid fervour, like that of Francis Wyndham. The song is fractured with Mark E. Smith; lyrics, sung by no one, speak from no position. Mark E. Smith is the conduit, the medium. The phrases come; they are sung from no centre, but from the dispersal of the centre. They belong to the shattering of the world and come from all directions.
How hunched he is! How wizened! How tiny! How waxen and grey his skin! But he has already lived several lifetimes! He's already used them up, nine lifetimes in a row! When did he die first? After the year of Hex Enduction Hour and Room to Live? After the year of Perverted by Language? He has died many times since. Dead man, it is fervour which binds him to himself. What power of will and ferocity! He reminds me of another Francis - Francis Bacon, who drank away each evening, champagne and oysters, and rose, hungover to paint like an insect. Vision from the other end of the world!
Did I see the same in the Frieda Kahlo exhibition at the Tate? Was it there too, in the waves of extraordinary pain she set forward in painting? She depicts herself riveted, stamped by pain. Never melodrama. But pain is here - pain which is the whole world and a life. Pain that reveals the whole and sings the whole. Unimaginable torment! Death throes without cease! And she depicts herself, animal caught in a trap, trapped animal who is only pain and waves of pain. In truth, it is time she experiences - the nakedness of time detached from tasks and projects. Time that insists in the measurelessness of pain. Pain without measure, time without measure: Kahlo is riveted to what destroys her body. Promethea bound. Promethea to whom the vultures come each day again to devour her liver.
On came the academics last night's interview with Houellebecq, to defend him and to praise him. What horror! What have they felt or lived? They are fleas and fleas of fleas: busy nothingness, the hopping of those who are too alive. Where is death in them? Where is dying? They have felt nothing and lived nothing; there are books behind them in their offices; we see them, the books - but what do we see? Nothing worse than a bookshelf full of books. Nothing worse than the conservers and mummifiers for whom oeuvres are to be pored over with magnifying glasses. Do they know nothing of awe? What of that sacred pause before affect? What of the pause and the silence before the magnificent strength of affect? I dislike them with their books. Set fire to your books! Better that they are charred and useless than they are processed by the introducers and paraphrasers!
I was sickened; I knew I could save myself only by listening to another who sustains an extraordinary affect. No surprise that when Bill Callahan releases songs, it is always as part of a suite. A River Ain't Too Much Too Love is a block of ... what? And this is the sign of an artist of affect: no words will do; all words are synonyms. There is only intensity, and one without form or limit. Only the block of affect that is the molten lava over which words congeal and are melted away.
And isn't this why we go to see an artist like Chan Marshall, even as we know how erratic a performer she can be? She is the crow who has broken herself against heaven. That breaking is there in the songs, in their frailty. Always a suite of songs, always songs bound together with so much strength! Always the are strewn across the night! When she records, she discards songs she has written and writes new ones then and there. She discards the long-worked-on songs, and writes new ones in the moment. This is because she knows the fragility of the moment, and has the strength to let herself be broken in the moment.
Fragility's demand: she must sing along, with a piano, with a guitar, crudely played. There is no room for talent here. No room for musicians. She begins; she rewrites - songs (The Covers Album) are broken from their choruses. What has 'Satisfaction' become? And 'A Salty Dog'? The reversed image through which darkness shines. The reversed image like the night window, through which what is seen reflected, the room in which you are sitting, is filled with night.
On come the academics, and always too late. On they come, the academics, when the life they celebrate or dismiss is like the shadow blasted on the wall of one caught in Hiroshima. Do they know what it is to have been blasted out of existence? Do they know, latecomes, assessors and judgers of work, what it is to have died and left a shadowy trace for a life? Somewhere Houellebecq is drinking. Night and day he is drinking and his teeth are rotting. Somewhere Mark E. Smith is drinking and his teeth have dropped out. The academics are gathering. The academics are coming to assess and to judge. Look at the fleas! Look at them hop! Fleas on fleas, commenters on commentary.