Thursday, 13 January 2011
Tuesday, 4 January 2011
Record collecting comes on like a sudden disease, like that cold you never saw coming that keeps you in bed for a week. I don’t know if anyone intends to start collecting records. It simply seems to be the inevitable consequence of not being able to get enough of new sounds, of simply not being able to stop with a Finders Keepers or Jazzman compilation which does all the digging and research for you. Offering an enticing glimpse into all that lies above and beyond, there is no way to resist delving into all those hybrid genres with hyphenated names: space-jazz, acid-folk, psychedelic-soul, sister-funk etc. Eventually, you will find yourself spending hours at record fairs, trawling through Ebay and reissue company websites and chatting to like-minded folk on record collector forums. Now, despite what mainstream films like ‘Ghost World’ and ‘High Fidelity’ suggest, record collectors are not boring. They tend to have a wide range of interests, are highly articulate and have an unforgiving sense of humour. They live and breathe their particular passion and are very generous when it comes to sharing information about music. They’re laidback. They like weird B-movies. Basically, they’re pretty good company.
And yet, as you immerse yourself in the culture, become acquainted with the language of record grading and categorisation, contentious issues start to arise. It is generally accepted that vinyl is superior to CD’s and any other formats. The reasons for this tend to come down pure visual and tactile appeal (record collectors love to fetishise that modular groove) and, somewhat predictably, the question of authenticity. To extol the virtues of vinyl is to speak to it as living history, as a product of formal classicism flying in the face of an incessant modernity. Essentially, it is implied that to exclusively own vinyl is to prove your commitment, investment and attachment to music itself. Because it pre-dates tapes, CD’s and all other formats, it engenders a sense of ownership or discovery of originality. It is perhaps not unfair to say that the obsession with rare records has everything to do with a sense of satisfaction and bragging rights as it does the actual music itself.
Of course, such arguments are not exactly new. In The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Walter Benjamin wrote any reproduction of a work of art will always lack the original ‘presence in time and space, its unique existence of the place where it happens to be...that which withers in the age of mechanical reproduction is the aura of the work of art’. Much later, Baudrillard defined the postmodern age as that in which the simulacrum has effectively replaced reality. The former decries reproduction; the former accepts its inevitability as ‘reality’ as we have understood it, no longer exists. It’s not hard to figure out what side most record collectors would be on. And yet, you don’t have to adopt Baudrillard’s mode of thought wholesale to offer up a counter argument. It is certainly true that records have a very particular sense of history but, as it always has done, history comes at a price. Original copies nearly always cost considerably more than reissues and reissues on CD are considerably more available than records. When it comes down to either waiting desperately for an original first pressing of excellent weird psych-folk artists like Coven or Simon Finn to show up and then paying hundreds of pounds for it or buying it a much cheaper CD copy from Amazon, I know which one my desire and bank account will go for. Perhaps there is something to be said about patience but the only way someone becomes a collector of music in the first place is because they love to listen to it. It is the listening experience and the desire for that experience that needs to come first. When all of that is placed secondary to its format, it seems that the way in which record collectors privilege vinyl is more to do with the values of collecting than the values associated with being a music lover. That is, cataloguing and assessing its monetary importance rather than sitting back and enjoying the music for what it is, in whatever format it is available in.
Let’s be clear: I’m not at all suggesting that record collectors do not care about or appreciate the music. Nor am I endorsing bad quality music, illegally bootlegged and given away for free on the internet. Nor do I have anything against vinyl. I own vinyl. I also own CD’s and MP3 copies of super rare records that I will probably never have the opportunity to own (kindly sent to me by the record’s original owners). My point only has to do with those occasional moments in record collector culture when it seems that it’s possible to lose the wood for the trees. Records are not like antique figurines or dolls, destined to collect dust inside a glass cabinet and look pretty. Yes, they do look pretty but the privilege of owning them should lie squarely in the fact that that attractive modular groove produces all manners of interesting and exciting sounds. And maybe sometimes, its lack of ‘aura’ needs to be forgiven. Beside, regardless of its format, music is always so much more than a mechanical reproduction.
© 2010 Emma Mould
Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks is an excellent example of a powerful critique of colonisation which nonetheless replicates the rigid colonial attitude in his negating of gender differences. In the chapter entitled ‘The Woman of Colour and the White Man’, Fanon uses his criticism of Capecia to generalise about all women of colour. Unlike his careful consideration of the psychology of the native man, he is resolutely rigid and simplistic regarding that of the native women: ‘It is because the Negress feels inferior that she aspires to win admittance into the white world’. There is a dogmatic fatalism to this statement which suggests that, for Fanon, native women cannot transcend either their inferiority or their desire to assimilate. It must be compared to the native man who, whilst also under great pressure to assimilate into the white world, can produce modes of resistance:
Indeed, Fanon’s consideration of the native women is understood ultimately as nothing more than either a barrier or an aid towards the native man’s struggle towards agency. The idea that native women would have their own particular struggle towards agency- other than desiring to become white- is foreclosed. When writing on Fanon, Bhabha’s relegates this issue to a short note at the end of his essay. Anne McClintock argues that this choice defers women ‘to a nowhere land, beyond time and place, outside theory’. More specifically, in regards to Fanon’s work, Bhabha’s ‘note’ has the effect of implicitly legitimising Fanon’s sexism by explaining it away as a desire for locating ‘a shared origin’ between sexual and cultural differences. As I have argued above, the way in which Fanon disregards the native female is far less innocent than this. Ultimately, there is no shared origin because the issue of gender is simply not as pressing for Fanon as the liberation of the colonised man. In fact, it is seen as almost entirely irrelevant to his decolonising project. Furthermore, Bhabha’s curious insistence that a discussion of gender in Fanon ‘goes well beyond the scope of my foreword’ only further reveals an acceptance of the patriarchal terms of Fanon’s dialectic. Here, Bhabha also perpetuates Fanon’s disregard for gender by implying that gender is not important enough to be included in his foreword aside from a brief note. By suggesting that any charge of sexism would be ‘facile’, he mimics Fanon in his avoidance of gender and how it impacts the native’s identity formation. Essentially, his comprehensive discussion of Fanon does not view gender as integral to any project of decolonisation. He either fails or simply refuses to highlight that such a glaring omission can only hinder the liberating effects of Fanon’s work. As bell hooks crucially points out, ‘there can be no freedom for black men as long as they advocate subjugation of black women. There can be no freedom for patriarchal men of all races as long as they advocate subjugation of women.’
In fact, Bhabha’s praise for Fanon takes on far more resonance when applied to colonised women: ‘the colonial subject is always “overdetermined from without”, Fanon writes. It is through image and fantasy- those orders that figure transgressively on the borders of history and the unconscious- that Fanon most profoundly evokes the colonial condition’. Under the Spivakian double-bind, it is clear that no one has been more ‘overdetermined from without’ than the native female. As well as the Manichean discourse of the colonisers, they also find themselves codified within the patriarchal discourse of native men, whether through the nationalist trope of mother-land or decolonising projects like Fanon’s that, whilst denouncing Manichean colonisation, continues to perpetuate its own binary logic in regard to gender. Moreover, some work by Western feminists on ‘third-world women’ has had the unfortunate effect of employing ‘various analytical categories and even strategies which codify their relationship to the Other in implicitly hierarchical terms’. In these cases, western feminist discourse is also guilty of homogenising native woman, establishing themselves as the normative referent and continuing a binary didactic. It becomes self-evident then that native women are positioned within a matrix of intersecting power structures.
© 2010 Emma Mould
Fanon, Frantz, Black Skin, White Masks (London: Pluto Press, 2008), p. 42
 Ibid., p. 178
 Sharpley-Whiting, T. Deanean, ‘Engaging Fanon to reread Capecia’ in Fanon: A Critical Reader ed. by Lewis Gordon, T. Deanean Sharpley-Whiting and Renee T. White (London: Wiley-Blackwell, 1996), p. 161
 Fanon, p. 33
 Ibid., p. 34j
 McClintock, Anne, Imperial Leather: Race, Gender and Sexuality in the Colonial Context (London: Routledge, 1995), p. 363
 Bhaba, Homi, ‘Remembering Fanon’ in Colonial Discourse and Post-colonial Theory, ed. by Patrick Williams and Laura Chrisman (New York: Columbia University Press, 1994) , pp. 123
 As above, pp. 123
 hooks, bell, Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism (London: Pluto Press, 1982), p. 117
 Bhabha, pp. 115
 Bulbeck, Chilla, Re-Orientating Western Feminisms: Women’s Diversity in a Postcolonial World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), p. 15