Friday, 18 April 2008

You Hear Laughter Cracking Through the Walls

Spellbound by Siouxsie and the Banshees(look it up on YouTube) is one of those genuinely unsettling songs, a piece of art that makes me shiver, only very slightly, but enough to prmopt me to think of the recesses of the imagination. I also think it captures neatly an imaginative or rhetorical violence in music that had been going for some years but which had lacked a register to become anything more than loud and aggressive. Here, the implied violence is given the cloaking of Grimm's Fairy Tales or of a hundred traditional stories about fairy circles and spirits. Its negative spirituality and bursting irrationality is invasive and caught me when I first heard it as a somewhat isolated teenager in 1989 (I still have my tape recording of it made off the tv from the BBC programme "Boxpops" which used to do tracks and news from previous years on a any given subject). I don't know whether you can read it as Freudian or not, I guess you probably could. I read it as a cultural symbol: out of the depths of recession and near-economic despair, of real street violence and alienation, comes this primal elaboration of fear and uncontrol. It's a metaphor, in word, rhythm and structure: this song is reaching into human experience for a very specific cultural problem.

But anything which goes in that direction can have unexpected and haunting effects. Even this vocabulary makes my point harder to communicate: "haunting", "primal", "fear" - you could add "ghostly" and "piercing" to that list. What it's all saying is that humanity fears determinism as contradicting its most basic day-to-day assumptions; and that it fears annihilation, being made unphysical or unplaced. You could make this mean death only, or you could, a la Paul Tillich and existentialism, say that it means any radical form of challenging (of the kind that was certainly underway in 1981) which dislocates and threatens to undermine you.

Whether we exist in any meaningful sense or not, we have fears of the shadowy and the ungrasped or ungraspable: I think it's straightforward to see that it all refers to the fear of otherness, which, by its very definition, means we will not be as we are. That is hard to imagine, and it means we, as we are, will be negated. We always strive against negation, create order and physicality, but we know we are going to be negated and that in steps along the way things will happen to negate what we are and what we understand on many occasions. Those things might produce something better and finer, more worthwhile, but the process is terrifying. Hence we write songs that try to show something of the nothingness that surrounds us and we shiver for a bit, or it won't leave our heads for a while: we watch horror films and are unsettled: we tell ghost stories and are thoughtful: we emphasise our bodiedness by fucking everything in sight and inventing ethics to justify our desperation.

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