Les Baines Douches
ear is a funny thing: it amputates attempt, it destroys a decision undecided; it cows one’s life course. Fear’s as personal as a phobia, as all-inclusive as hysteria, as ephemeral as anxiety. It’s Fear proper that Montaigne feared freely; Dostoyevsky offered that people fear breaks from routine most; Anais Nin drew fear into her art as an eraser of life’s growth—the stymie of personal progress; Oscar Wilde suggested that that which induces anxiety, or delves out dread, most often happens, regardless of preparedness, awareness, or courage. Listening to Joy Division’s music acquaints us with a fear and hopelessness so massive and unrelenting, we feel as if we could walk through it as one does a cathedral. Whether adolescent or adult, we know that Fear doesn’t always require an object as cognitive scientists tell us. Fear isn’t always structured as a skyscraper; it’s often—to our collective dismay—abstract, which desires the putative process of abstraction, a method junked with clunky concepts and fitful features. Hearing Ian Curtis ask: “Where will it end” on “Day of The Lords”, we know instantly that this isn’t dialogue or dialectic; this is anti-reason, sentences shaken free of their sense. For Curtis, the mind that makes words is the enemy to action, even if his dread has fitted his feet with concrete, paralysis is the only avenue taken to distance us from animals. Even amidst all of Curtis’ externalized condition, he never explicitly states the case; Curtis’ intent is limited, but direct: Compulsion can be carved free of its threat only when all impulses are deadened with dread’s false nightmare.
The vernacular of the 24-hour cable news channel is raised on repetition: the more one sees it, the more real it becomes. It follows, then, that a preponderance of televised images can overpower even facts and statistics. The notion of preemptive war, known by its onanistic moniker, the “Bush Doctrine”, is this country’s most malevolent means to an unending end. Its effect is oxymoronic: it breeds more violence than it eradicates. The feeling that a great many of us ‘get’ from thinking about the Bush Doctrine’s repercussions is anything but fleeting. Yet, without an organ to articulate this anger, this voiceless dissent, we either internalize it, or submit it as informed indignation in one of our numerous preaching-to-the-choir sessions. But when injustice wounds Curtis, he retaliates. In the throes of “A Means to an End”’s spite, he spits “I put my trust in you”. On paper, it doesn’t sound like much, but it’s a statement that holds enough fury in its well as to be spoken of as Homeric. It’s so angry, that I’m left ambivalent: yes, it’s frightening, yet it satisfies a near physiological need: when Curtis vents his spleen it’s done so convincingly that we believe it to really be object specific; he’s pried free of his paralysis and identified his fear by its own name. Yet, Curtis’ feat doesn’t linger; like the reiteration of 24-hour cable news there’s another song and another, each one hewed from his hopelessness, each one at first face appearing as all incidents do: simultaneously grave and concomitant. Each piece is a separate suicide, a ritual murder of self and song. So when Curtis exclaims: “I’m not afraid anymore”, we no longer believe him; he’s cried wolf too often, and we’ve turned our back on his ecstatic ego, no matter how well it articulates his rage, fear, and failure. These are states no longer separate, which is just cause for wonder and alarm.
When George W. Bush uses Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda as co-designative terms, their fences dissolve, meanings mingle, and facts fail. If it’s done with enough conviction, we’ll believe most anything: when Curtis greets us with “Welcome to the atrocity exhibition”, we might as well be flipping through photos from Abu Ghraib, circumambulating Auschwitz, denouncing Mai Lai. Curtis continues to point: “This is the way; step inside!” Step inside, Curtis screams incessantly, wanting us to fill his void. We can’t remove his pain as one would a tooth; all we can do is listen to it. And the more we listen, the more real it becomes, the more it happens, the more the abstract is allowed to free itself of the conceptual inchoate, and find a form.
Reviewed by: Stewart Voegtlin
Reviewed on: 2004-09-15