LA Sunset – Ziemlich angenehmer Zustand
April 3 - May 1 20201
Of course, all art is meant. But how? Neither what it looks like nor what it alludes to will deliver sufficient answers. As the work of art is always made, and thus deferred from its own genesis (what Derrida calls ‘temporalized’), it seems to relate to something that precedes it. Therefore, there is something like a shadow of meantness hanging over every artwork, whispering, as it were, a question:
“How do the artists mean this work?”
“How does the work mean itself?”
One can deal with this meantness in two ways, and best identify those two ways by borrowing from music terminology. Prog rock (progressive rock) means its object through a surplus. The shadow of meantness, here, becomes authenticity, expression, coping – or, conversely, reflection, withdrawal, ambiguity; depending on the specific attitude taken, the shadow grows longer and darker, or thinner and subtler. Always, however, prog rock separates meantness from the object that is meant: It contents itself – comfortably – with treating the object from a distance. Prog rock, thus, is never interested in desire as an object, but only as meaning: desire is reproduced, or allowed to affect and evoke, yes, but only ever from a safe distance from the object. As far as prog is concerned, desire is always only meant.
Prog rock attitude is marked by irony, authenticity, or nostalgia – and its methods are quotation, compilation, bricolage, subversion, and repetition. Prog rock is avant-garde, virtuosic, reflected.
The other way of dealing with meantness is the way of post-rock. This genre, too, appears to relate to something: It uses the same instruments as rock music, and, with its slow, climax-oriented buildups, seems to echo not only jam sessions, but some genesis of music itself. At the same time, it leaves no space from which such an attitude could be performed – there are no referrals to tradition, for example, because there is no subject; and thus nobody who could refer in the first place. That’s why post-rock does away with lyrics and distinguishable song parts – choruses, verses, breaks – and replaces ‘voice’ (Stimme) with ‘mood’ (Stimmung): «At the heart of rock’n’roll stands the body of the white teenage boy, middle finger erect and sneer playing across his lips. At the center of post-rock floats a phantasmatic un-body, androgynous and racially indeterminate: half ghost, half machine.» (Simon Reynolds in his genre-defining piece « Post-Rock », in: The Village Voice, 1994)
Post-rock does not add meaning to the object, but tries to make object and meaning absolutely congruent, to mean the object in such a way that the very act of meaning is not pushed into the foreground – and for this reason, it must try and destroy that surplus inherent to the work of art (surpass temporalization). It tries the impossible, because all art – all music, all text, and every picture – transports an attitude, and because the mechanisms of bourgeois culture subsequently add the distance. But it tries; and to do so, it must deconstruct the attitude – the middle finger and the sneer of the white teenage boy – in favor of a demeanour: of a de-meaning that makes the shadow disappear.
Post-rock is not content with merely afflicting, evoking, or reproducing desire, with simply feigning authentic feeling. Rather, it takes desire as an object, as a cliché; a cliché that must be thought about, but must also be felt through clichés only.
That’s just how the world is structured, and post-rock knows this – it works with the cliché as an object, far from wanting to break and to refract it, without irony nor distance.
Post-rock shows desire; but in arrangements so irritating that desire can impossibly be meant itself – something else is meant instead, something new. Post-rock does not represent the object, but then it must not let it dissolve in meantness, either.
Such an attempt equals a tightrope act, or maybe a surfing on a wave: There is that moment, that liminal grip, that balancing on the edge, where it all works out. Post-rock produces that moment through recursions; through repetitive loops that, as they continually work towards it, rearrange the relations between their objects without ever dissolving their meaning – before and after that moment, post-rock ceaselessly risks to collapse into inferior naiveté or arrogant reflexivity. If it succeeds, however, it achieves – for an instant, or longer – a demeanour towards art that de-means the objects without any feeling of superiority towards them.
The demeanour of post-rock is pathos, ahistoricity, and incorporeality (un-bodiedness) – its methods are syntagma, layering, arrangement, and recursion. Post-rock is strewn, planar, clichéd.