Docteur Chaussette in front of a poster by L’École de la Montagne Rouge (2012).
In her poetics, Hannah Arendt has been understood as one of the twentieth-century’s great articulators of the experience of exile, pariahdom, and the struggles of statelessness. This article suggests, though, that Arendt’s extraordinary descriptions and explorations of the nature of displacement always carried with them a kind of counter-point that has been largely missed in the emphasis on Arendt as a thinker of exile. Particularly in her literary engagements with poets and poetry, Arendt’s exilic sensibility always carried with it a countervailing valuation of rootedness, and an emphasis on the creative power of a heightened sensitivity to physical space that in some sense defies the ineluctable struggles of home-lessness. The unique political power of poetry, Arendt suggests, is the capacity to express the tense interdependence of these two experiences of exile and rootedness in a way that no other narrative form can quite capture. For Arendt, this leaves the poet with both a singular power and accompanying responsibility, but also a peculiar set of perils that comes from the way their words enter the public realm. The price to those “blessed by Apollo” for their ability to “tell the least welcome truths” is a demand that the process of making meanings of political truths simultaneously disrupt and preserve, discompose and conserve. The dialectic in which the political poet is caught, between these twin irreconcilable demands, is one particularly acute vision for Arendt of a more fundamental struggle that all political actors must face: how to act, engage an ailing world, and also simultaneously articulate the grammar with which we can understand that action and that world.
In the three decades since it first appeared in English translation, Jacques Attali’s Bruits has come to occupy an important place in Anglo-American music studies, a standard point of reference in discussions concerning music’s social mediations. Much of the book’s appeal derives from its inversion of the relationship conventionally held to exist between music and the social. In Attali’s account, music functions not as a medium that passively registers the influence of extrinsic social forces, but as an augur, its sonic patterns providing a presentiment of some future socio-economic order. Bruits thus turns the traditional Marxian understanding of the relation between base and superstructure on its head: music, long seen as standing at a remove from political economy, is instead placed squarely at its center.
Yet for all of its suasive power, the central claim of Bruits—that musical change prefigures socio-political change—is also its least substantiated. This article seeks to make sense of the lacuna at the center of Bruits by situating it in the context of the political debates taking place in France at the time of its initial publication in 1977. Attali’s position as one of the leading intellectuals of the Parti socialiste, his role in the ideological reorientation of French socialism, and his involvement in disputes pitting the party against various rivals—above all the Parti communiste—find expression in key concepts used to support his claims regarding music’s prognostic power. But they also find expression in the model of socio-economic change sketched in Bruits, a model that has remained an enduring feature of Attali’s thought to the present day—a fact borne out by the heavily revised version of the book published in 2001.
Taking heed of the particular context out of which Bruits was born compels a reassessment of Attali’s arguments, as well as the influence they have exercised on Anglo-American music scholarship. This reassessment reveals the degree to which the brand of libertarian socialism sketched in Bruits laid the intellectual groundwork for the policies of deregulation and economic liberalization that Attali now champions in his capacity as a prominent public intellectual and advisor to successive governments of both the left and the right. Beyond this, it indicates the need to rethink certain concepts central to Bruits, most notably that of noise itself, whose political valence can no longer be assumed within the reigning neoliberal order.
The physiognomy of our age has been secularized, automatized, digitally coded, visually metaphorized, privatized, and depoliticized. In other words, the wide spread of biometric systems proves that the aestheticization of politics that lasted from the eighteenth century to the twentieth century has yielded to a system of hidden and fragmented biological control. The presence of biometric systems in our midst shows that after the shift from a single divine hand to a united sovereign control has come the “soft” and “plural” computerized control of the present. The process that led from European physiognomy to the universal security system cannot be separated from the evolution of democracy, from the power recently described as “radical centrism.” In my conclusion, I present biometric control in the United States and Israel as an expression of political centrism.
Welcome to the age of neo-Muzak. Whether at work, home, the mall, the gym, or in transit, web-connected subjects live and weave among an array of streaming platforms for algorithmic or curated musical moodscapes and affective atmospheres. The immense popularity of user-interface music streaming, like the earlier juggernaut success of Prozac and other SSRIs, sheds light on the spheres of affect management within which web-dependent cognitive laborers and others presently live. For assorted reasons, scholars of affect have been largely silent about the business of mood and the role of mood music within it. This essay argues that shifting forms and functions of music delivery and ubiquitous listening are revising and expanding Muzak's classic function as an affective stimulant for the Taylorized and externally administered industrial workplace: hence the term "neo-Muzak." User-interface music and mood services are not only new tools for building permeable affective micro-climates at work and home; the current monetization of mood extends further to how these services lay bare users' labile and non-secured portfolio of psychological capital. Amidst these developments, revised versions of older delivery systems like Muzak continue to impart mood ambience through large-scale sonic air conditioning and multi-sensory marketing. Such that they can be effectively measured, classified, and aroused, moods are objects of manufacture pressed into genre logics and delivered to targeted audiences. Affective capture by mood targeting and the algorithmic narrowcasting of digital music streams is never guaranteed. On the other hand, achieving escape velocity from the business of mood is more than unlikely. Scholars are urged instead to descend into the phenomenology of music and moods. Once there, we might feel around for the seams of a mood's genre characteristics and find the warm pulse points of capital.
In May of 2012, at the height of the longest and largest student strike in Canadian history, the City of Montreal banned the wearing of masks at protests, enforceable upon the discretion of the police, with a fine of up to three thousand dollars. The bill foreshadowed a Canadian federal ban on masks that would be passed in the fall of 2012 criminalizing mask wearing at protests, with a maximum penalty of ten years in prison. Here I explain the logic and timing of the mask ban, pointing to the ways in which it sought to divide, order and control would-be allies in the fight against austerity measures. I then go on to illustrate how creative strategies for adopting the common persona of masks, from black scarves to clown make-up, resisted attempts to individualize and discipline particular protestors. I argue that a democratic notion of persons must not be contingent on any particular or individualizing quality and point to the political quality of the mask that has historically underscored the development of notions of the person as a social actor with a political role to play. I end with a discussion of how the use of masks resists the moral subjectivity that comes with the individualization of debt, insisting instead on collectivity.