Tribute

There’s Always Music in the Air: A Doppelgänger’s Twin Peaks Playlist

Through the darkness of futures past, I used to call myself Chester Desmond, the unflappable FBI agent played by Chris Isaak, who made a (dis)appearance in David Lynch’s 1992 prequel film Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me. Before that show you like came back in style, Chester Desmond was my DJ name, and the handle I went by on Facebook. In real life, people even started calling me Chester, and after a while, I became accustomed to wearing the identity.

But now that some time has passed, I think I might be more Sam Stanley than Chester Desmond. I was and never will be as suave as Isaak, for one thing. No, I’m more apt to spill a cup of piping hot coffee into my lap. Plus, my investigative skills, if any, lean toward pattern recognition, cataloging of data, and spotting anomalies. Sam Stanley’s talent was for picking out what was crucial but concealed. Stanley was, after all, the first to notice the notorious Blue Rose, pinned to Lil’s lapel. Gordon said he was good.

In retrospect, Sam Stanley would have been a great DJ name: the glad-handed towheaded selector. So, in Stanley’s stead, as well as the revisionist spirit that drives reboots and sequels, here’s a playlist of alternate music that could have been in Twin Peaks season three, but wasn’t.

Let’s rock.

 

Tim Hecker – “Stigmata II”

The ambient sound design whispering and pulsing behind the new Twin Peaks series, done in tandem by Lynch and protégé Dean Hurley, is a kind of chopped and screwed, post-Burial, post-Tim Hecker soundscape. Specifically, Hurley’s signature sonic cue for electricity, the growling, distorted animal fuzz that accompanies scenes of woodsmen and wiring, owes its existence to Hecker’s experiments with faulty patch cables on 2013’s Virgins.

 

Lucinda Williams – “Rescue”

There’s something so Norma Jennings about Lucinda Williams. Or maybe it’s vice versa. Can’t you just picture Williams singing this cut in front of that red curtain, as Norma and Big Ed beam at one another across a booth table, holding hands and making plans?

 

Mykki Blanco – “Head Is A Stone”

For at least the last twenty years, Lynch has taken a page torn directly from David Bowie’s diary, aggressively co-opting the avant-garde into his own aesthetic. For instance, both Bowie and Lynch flirted with Nine Inch Nails in the 1990s: Bowie toured with Reznor on his Outside circuit; Lynch tapped him to contribute songs and produce the soundtrack to Lost Highway. But isn’t Nine Inch Nails a little … twenty years ago? Lynch might have provided proof that he still has his finger on the pulse of cutting edge culture had he gone for the jugular with, say, Mykki Blanco.

 

Chris Isaak – “Notice The Ring”

Speaking of Chester Desmond, where the hell was he? Why was Chris Isaak not cast in season three? Sound-wise, it was Isaak’s “Wicked Game” that helped define the Palme d’Or winning Wild at Heart. And this new series could have benefited from a vital dose of Desmond’s singular melancholy cool.

 

Neko Case – “Tightly”

Lynch did put one past the goalposts when he slated Sharon Van Etten in episode six, although I would have liked to have heard “You Know Me Well” instead—in my opinion, a far Peaksier tune in tone than “Tarifa.” Arguably, an even better case could have been made to include Neko Case, whose work on 2002’s Blacklisted faithfully recreates the 1950s twang that Lynch is so fond of.

 

Brokeback – “Everywhere Down Here”

Twangier still is this classically Lynchian track from Brokeback’s 2002 album Looks At The Bird. Lynch might have returned some favors by including music like this, which is so obviously influenced by the original Twin Peaks soundtrack. I’m hurt bad.

 

Venetian Snares & Daniel Lanois – “Night”

By far, the worst musical moment of the entire eighteen episodes was the Hudson Mohawke cameo. The call to Warp Records, I imagine, went something like this: “HELLO WARP? IT’S DAVID LYNCH! … FINCHES? … I THINK YOU NEED TO TALK TO DARWIN ABOUT FINCHES! … THIS IS DAAVVIIDD LLYYNNCCHH!! … I’M CALLING BECAUSE I WANNA, Y’KNOW, LIKE, UH, BOOK THAT APHEX TWIN GUY ON MY NEW TWIN PEAKS SHOW! … HOW MUCH?! … HOLY FUCKIN’ CHRIST ON A RUBBER CRUTCH!! … HUDSON MOHAWKE WILL DO IT FOR A BIG BAG OF M&M’S!? … OKAY, CLOSE ENOUGH!!”

Really, if Lynch wanted something on the electronic vanguard, he would have sought out Daniel Lanois, and asked him to bring Aaron Funk along. Lanois is his name and it is night.

 

Marie Davidson – “Esthétique Privée”

The problem with all the Electro Pop on the series was that it just wasn’t creepy enough. It was too clean, too prissy, too self-assured. Marie Davidson might have lent a grittier sort of desperation to the Roadhouse. And after years of terrible dialects from the actors playing the Renault brothers, she also could have brought a proper Quebecois accent to the show, for once. Welcome to Canada.

 

Bob Dylan – “Sentimental Journey”

I hope that everyone has seen Bob Dylan’s performance nearing the end of David Letterman’s tenure as host of CBS’s Late Show. All I can say is, wow Bob wow, it was weird. While he sang into a modern microphone, there was a massive, old-fashioned model onstage, apparently just for effect (although it could have been for his tulpa). Dylan’s backup band looked like their football was empty and they were looking for Santa Claus. The upshot is that it screamed David Lynch. For so many reasons, I think it would have been at once hysterical and spot-on to see Zimmy at the Roadhouse, doing his rendition of this Les Brown standard.

 

Coil – “Omiagus Garfungiloops”

Woefully, Coil couldn’t have performed on the return to Twin Peaks. But wouldn’t it have been 🔥 if this heartfelt homage to Angelo Badalamenti, taken from the 1992 album Stolen And Contaminated Songs, popped up somewhere in the series?

There’s always season four.

 

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Born To Kvetch

Godspeed You! Black Emperor – “Undoing A Luciferian Towers” – Luciferian Towers – Constellation Records

In his informative and often laugh-out-loud funny history of Yiddish culture, entitled “Born to Kvetch,” author Michael Wex begins with a joke that only Jews and friends of Jews will get—a joke that I think applies equally to Godspeed’s particular brand of ennui—a joke that goes thus: A gentleman boards a train leaving Grand Central Station for Chicago, sitting opposite an old man reading a Yiddish newspaper. Half an hour into the trip, the old man puts down his paper and starts to whine, “Oy, am I thirsty.” Again, with more force, the old man exclaims, “Oy, am I thirsty!” “Oy, am I THIRSTY!” Annoyed, the gentleman has had enough inside of two minutes. He gets up and hurries to the dining car. He takes a paper cup, fills it with water, and rushes back. Half way there, he wheels around, takes a second paper cup, fills that with water, too, and walks gingerly back to his seat, careful not to spill a drop. He thrusts the first cup of water in his face. The old man gulps it down, and before he can say a word, he shoves the second cup in front of him, which he drinks in turn. Hoping to get a wink of sleep, the gentleman sits back down and closes his eyes. The old man leans back, allowing himself exactly one second of relief, and hollers, “Oy, was I thirsty!

The joke, of course, is that even scratching the itch, even quenching the thirst, doesn’t quell the drive to kvetch about it.

 

Karl Fousek – Two Pieces for a Temporary Connection – Archive Officielle

In almost every car commercial for the past few years, a familiar scene is one in which the car in question is driving through a digitally animated version of nature. I once imagined that this was to show how environmentally friendly the car was, despite the fact that they all still run on some version of fossil fuels. Now, I’m starting to think that maybe nature is animated in these ads because long stretches of undisturbed landscape are harder and harder to come by, difficult to access, and impossible to film car commercials in. Karl Fousek’s new tape sounds like the audio analog for animated nature. If we ever needed to soundtrack a CGI jungle scene, with digitally rendered birds and bugs, flora and fauna, this is it.

 

OPN – “The Pure and the Damned, ft. Iggy Pop” – Warp Records

“The pure always act from love / the damned always act from love / the truth is an act of love.” Daniel Lopatin’s work of late has taken on an almost entirely earnest tone. Where his compositions once were pure 808s and piss takes, this undeniably lush track wears its heart upon its sleeve with no shame. It reminds me of one particular stanza from R. Buckminster Fuller poem, “God is a Verb,” published in the fall 1968 issue of Whole Earth Catalog:

for “all’s fair”
in love as well as in war
which means you can
junk as much rubbish,
skip as many stupid agreements
by love

 

Tough Age – “Me in Glue” – Shame – Mint Records

This punchy track from Canuck parking lot punks Tough Age cuts right to the heart of modern, social media-produced ambivalence. “Want to fight back, but I don’t like it either/ Can’t lose your friends when you keep it a secret,” moans vocalist Penny Clark. Don’t, for instance, tell anyone you don’t like the new Twin Peaks. (See next entry)

 

Twin Peaks: The Return – Showtime

There’s a funny scene in the 1989 Ron Howard film Parenthood in which Steve Martin, dressed as a party cowboy for his anxiety-addled son’s birthday, resurrects a family friendly version of his classic ‘70s stand-up balloon animals shtick. Clueless, but buoyed by a swollen sense of dutiful self-satisfaction, he struggles hilariously with the oblong inflatables, squeaking loudly as they’re manipulated into evermore-deformed shape. Finally, Martin hands the assemblage to a kid—something looking like a sausage link nightmare—proclaiming, “Your lower intestine!” This, to me, is the perfect visual metaphor for David Lynch making the return to Twin Peaks. Creating something that doesn’t look like anything else is equally accomplished by genius and jerk.

 

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In Gratitude

Nowhere in Ten Songs

“L.A. is like nowhere,” says Dark, the brooding, angst-ridden, teenaged protagonist of Gregg Araki’s criminally underrated 1997 film, Nowhere. “Everybody who lives here is lost.” Being adrift, perpetually searching—for a partner, for a party, for oneself—is indeed the movie’s central theme and animating force. Its misfit characters seem to wander aimlessly through their super-modern, post-industrial world, a citywide non-place. And we follow them in fascination. Yet, unlike Marc Augé’s notion of non-places—spaces void of personality and permanence—Dark’s L.A. is laden with significance and symbolism.

Much of that excess meaning comes courtesy of the soundtrack. Araki—whose previous features The Living End, Doom Generation and Totally Fucked Up included music from Curve, Ride, Nine Inch Nails, and Coil, and cameo appearances by Babyland, Perry Farrell, and Skinny Puppy—was well known for stacking his scripts with musical references, and soundtracks with unreleased songs, remixes, and other rarities. With the film turning twenty this week, it is high time to rediscover the music that made Nowhere an American cult cinema masterpiece in the salad days of pre-millennial nihilism and twilight capitalism. Whatev.

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Stranger in a strange land

Daniel O’Sullivan – “HC SVNT DRACONES” – VELD – O Genesis Recordings

Taking Latin in University isn’t completely useless. You get to read inscriptions on buildings, decipher fancy college degrees, perform etymology, and translate obscure song titles. This one means: “Here are the dragons.” One could also say “Here be dragons” if one wanted to sound more like King Arthur. Who says it’s a dead language?

 

Regis – “Maxi” – Blackest Ever Black

To me, the Holy Trinity of Techno is still Silent Servant, James Ruskin, and Regis. I am not finished mourning the demise of Jealous God, the excellent if short-lived label that released some of the musketeers’ classiest late-night stompers. But this too-short teaser from a forthcoming single on Blackest Ever Black will have to do. For now. One for the bloody dancefloor.

 

False Witness – “Revolt” – The Art of Fighting – GHE20G0TH1K Records

I knew I’d heard this before.

I have a strange affliction—some might call it a gift, others a curse: I am able to recognize aesthetic similarities across various pieces of music. Useless, perhaps. It’s an acrostic kind of memory, akin to perfect pitch: recordings inscribe themselves permanently and irrevocably into my mind’s ear. (I may have missed my calling as an intellectual property attorney.)

For example, I can sing a song in the precise key in which it was committed to tape. I can also immediately identify little phrases, licks, riffs, or passages in songs. Let’s do some comparative analysis:

Blur’s “Boys and Girls” bass line is a direct facsimile of David Bowie’s “DJ”;

 

“I don’t like the drugs” by Marilyn Manson is Bowie’s “Fame”;

 

Supergrass’s “Jesus came from outer space” contains a descending phrase reminiscent of “Star”.

 

Come to think of it, all these examples are David Bowie-related. Here are some that aren’t: Radiohead’s “Decks Dark” = “Teardrop” by Massive Attack;

 

Alicia Keys’ “Blended Family” = “What I am” by Edie Brickell;

 

And L-Vis 1990’s 2009 banger “Compass” = “Revolt” by False Witness. Listen to them side by side, or at once for all I care:

It’s the same Soca rhythm, at the same tempo, in the same key. And don’t be alarmed, but it even features the same air raid sample.

AIR RAID!!

 

Yally – “Dread Risk” – Diagonal Records

I’ve been working on a theory of music akin to Thomas Schatz’s “whole-equation-of-pictures” method of cinema analysis. In contrast to Classical film scholarship like André Bazin in France, or Andrew Sarris in America, both of whom advocated for auteur theory, Schatz believes that films are in fact a product of what he calls “the genius of the system”—a more media-ecological or even proto-intersectional approach. For Schatz (and me), cultural texts are just as much shaped by complex structural forces as they are authored by an individual artist’s voice and vision. I find this to be especially evidenced in instances of historical revisionism.

Artists naturally want to pay homage to their greatest influences, and at various points set out to emulate the feel of their favourite masters. Liam Gallagher made a career out of trying to perfect John Lennon’s slap-back delay, which was itself modeled after Elvis Presley’s vocals. But Lennon’s was as far away from Presley’s as Gallagher’s is from Lennon’s, because certain elements in the equation—everything from media format to microphones, cables, effects processors, and sound dampening materials—have changed. Even when a band goes as far to emulate a long-gone sound as, say, Arcade Fire did with The Suburbs—using 1940s gear; pressing each song to a dubplate before digitization—it still comes out sounding like early 21st century Indie rock.

Regarding revision, electronic music is no different. Take Yally’s “Dread Risk”, a faithful nod to the brooding 1990s Drum ‘n Bass of Photek or μ-ziq, and the comparatively maximal belter that I always suspected (hoped) was lurking in the Raime arsenal. It sounds like Jungle, but different, simply because the whole equation is different.

 

Delia Gonzalez – “Horse Follows Darkness” – Horse Follows Darkness – DFA Records

Speaking of nostalgia, here’s one to tug at the old melancholy cord. In this vintage synth hymn, Cuban-American multidisciplinary artist Delia Gonzalez dreamily conjures the uncanny air of feeling like a foreigner at home. At a time when Trump and Brexit have become all too real, I think that many of us can relate.

 

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Hum along with me, along with the TV

Sylvia Monnier – “Theresa Russell” – Stock Shot & Addictive Sling – Sacred Phrases

This winter, there has been a mysterious and persistent hum in my house. It is a low frequency noise, lower than the 60Hz hum normally heard from buzzing home electronics or the baseboard heating. At times, usually at night, it fills my ears with a sinister resonance that is neither natural nor purely automatic. In pajamas and slippers, I repeatedly go on midnight excursions around the block to try and identify its source. To no avail: as soon as I leave the house, it disappears, submerged beneath the din of the city. But there is it again when I’m back inside, humming away, driving me a bit madder with each humming moment.

I try music to drown it out. But because it’s such a deep tone, it is not easily masked. It’s a sound that you can feel vibrating through the floor, a fundamental wave that tunes and transforms everything in the vicinity. Bassy music helps. Still, as soon as it’s done, the hum resumes its oppressive dominance over the sonic space.

The only things I find truly effective are sounds—not music per se—that blend in with the hum: drone music, durational tones, field recordings. For instance, Nancy Tobin’s 2007 CD Duo Des Aigus—an improvisational dance and sound installation based on audio feedback—works especially well. And so does “Theresa Russell”.

I have yet to discover the true origin of the hum in my house. Alternately, I have hypothesized it to be mechanical, electrical, industrial, or perhaps even imaginary. But I now fear that living with this hum is going to be the new normal. I’ll just have to harmonize myself with it, or be condemned to days of incessant discord.

 

Biggi Vinkeloe Band – “Jag Lyfter Mina Händer” – Aura Via Appia – Omlott

There is an unabashedly celebratory mood to this track—a virtue missing from almost all forms of music right now. It sounds like Scandinavian Gypsy Drum n’ Bass. I like it. And I can’t help cracking Biggi “Smalls” Vinkeloe jokes. Call it value added.

 

David Kanaga – “Go On / Salt & Scab” – Oἶκoςpiel OST pt. 1http://www.oikospiel.com

Like some cruel Pavlovian torture, the Québec brain is hardwired to immediately recognize Celine Dion’s voice. Nonetheless, Kanaga’s jump cuts in the first movement of this piece paradoxically reprogram a clandestine soulfulness into Dion’s otherwise antiseptic operating system.

 

Jlin – “Nyakinyua Rise” – Black Origami – Planet Mu

In the mid-1960s, Kenya’s first president following British colonial rule, Jomo Kenyatta, bestowed upon the Makadara Nyakinyua women dancers 1,000 acres of homeland, in gratitude for their entertainment—the president’s personal favourite. But the Nyakinyua and their descendants were forced from their homes near Nairobi in 1988 by predatory property developers. Bulldozers destroyed their houses, scattering the dancers to live with relatives in neighbouring communities. Those that stayed remain squatters on their own land.

As of January 2017, there has been no permanent resolution, with the Nyakinyua holding frequent protests and threatening to boycott elections in attempts to persuade the administration—Kenyatta’s son and current president, Uhuru (Swahili for “freedom”)—to either oblige their land claims, or resettle them elsewhere. Even if you haven’t heard this story before, you’ve heard this story before—from the Palestinian situation to urban gentrification in major metropolitan centres. Jlin’s track is a battle cry that renders the Nyakinyuan plight universal.

The problem with other peoples’ problems is that, sooner or later, they become your problems, too. So you might as well make them your problems sooner than later.

 

TCF – “C6 81 56 28 09 34 31 D2 F9 9C D6 BD 92 ED FC 6F 6C A9 D4 88 95 8C 53 B4 55 DF 38 C4” – mono no aware – PAN

The first-ever MIDI sequencer—the Sequential Circuits Model 64 MIDI sequencer—in addition to velocity, pitch and modulation information could record and store up to 4000 individual notes. Beethoven’s 9th Symphony contains over 135,000 noteheads producing more than 70,000 separate notes. TCF’s obscurely titled track featured on mono no aware, a new ambient compilation courtesy of Pan Records, reportedly consists of 150,000 MIDI events, pushing this ostensible drone composition into Georges Seurat / Black MIDI territory.

It is easy to forget that digitally recorded music—indeed everything digital—is in fact composed of discrete, granular events that our brains then smear back into something apparently continuous. A standard CD, for instance, reconstructs an analogue sound signal by taking an audio snapshot 44,100 times per second. What we hear sounds uninterrupted, but in reality, it is an auditory illusion—like a flipbook. This is an excellent metaphor for life: what appears smooth on the surface is invariably violent and unpredictable at its most fundamental constituent level.

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A loose affiliation of millionaires and billionaires

Avec Le Soleil Sortant De Sa Bouche – Alizé et Margaret D. Midi Moins Le Quart. Sur La Plage, Un Palmier Ensanglanté II – Constellation Records

There really are no words for what is going on right now. Even before Donald J. Trump assumed the office of the US president, in Avant-Garde-level efforts to inveigle the pubic, he entangled the media in the world’s most dangerous ever game of “I know you are but what am I?”

Still, there is no alternative to fact. With one of his first cabinet nominations, Trump installed the former CEO of ExxonMobil, Rex Tillerson, as secretary of state, clarifying his administration’s priorities for anyone still in doubt. He has since signed executive orders to construct a border-spanning wall between the US and Mexico, and at the same time to build an oil pipeline connecting Canada’s tar sands to refineries stateside. He has frozen new research grants to the Environmental Protection Agency, and directed it and other federal agencies to restrict their public communications. It is full-time work just keeping up with this shit. And I’m not even American.

It all makes me want to throw up my arms and howl nonsense at the heavens from the island of Montreal. Which is what Avec Le Soleil do, chiefly. As Samuel Johnson understood, “He who makes a beast of himself gets rid of the pain of being a man.”

 

Gnod – Bodies For Money – Rocket Recordings

If it is words you want, though, you cannot do better than Just Say No To The Psycho Right-Wing Capitalist Fascist Industrial Death Machine, the title of Gnod’s recently announced upcoming album. The MC5 might have been proud of how this Salford ensemble mightily riff through politically-charged lead track “Bodies For Money.” It bashes unabashedly.

I recently saw someone tweet something like, “We’ve now entered the realm of by-any-means-necessary.” One of those means, an ideological imperative, I argue, has always been to unconditionally rock the fuck out. “When we become crazed in our obsession with idiotic enjoyment,” wrote the always-provocative Slavoj Žižek, “even totalitarian manipulation cannot reach us.”

 

Slowdive – Star Roving – Dead Oceans

I have no emotional space left for nostalgia. Fortunately, this is not a trip down memory lane. Slowdive are simply a band that stopped making music together for a while, and recently started again. It’s actually a boring story, and a welcome one.

 

Happa – Bum Trance – PT/5

One hallmark of a great tune is that it immediately makes you want to listen to it again. “Bum Trance” manages this. Operationally, it seems like the track, which represents restraint as much as maximal over-indulgence, wants to go back in for one more drop. The fact that it doesn’t—that Happa winds it down rather than back up again—bestows the banger with a charming if false modesty.

 

Open letter to Brian Eno – Re: The Guardian interview, 23 January 2017

Dear Mr. Eno;

Long-time listener, firsttime caller. I hope this note finds you well.

I have always held you and your music in the highest regard. But I am concerned by some of your views expressed recently in The Guardian. What dismays me, as a music technology historian, is your misguided notion of music’s structural homology with social organization. You describe the orchestra as a top-down, pyramidal model of power (bad), as opposed to the “more egalitarian model of a folk or rock band” (good).

In reality, however, neither of these models broadly characterizes music nor politics. It is, rather, rogue dictatorships that we now witness rising in all forms. We can read Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, Marine Le Pen and their ilk as political incarnations of the contemporary musical studio sovereign: the producer. Today, (usually lone, often male) producers, of whom you are one, more than anyone else prescribe, transform, and regulate the musical landscape.

Industry standards like CDs or MP3s, technological protocols like MIDI, and computer platforms like ProTools have facilitated this shift, allowing one person with little to no traditional skill necessary to create entire musical works from start to finish. Comparing today’s musical and social organization, the respective fields reveal increasingly decentralized societies recklessly helmed by defensive amateurs. That’s about as far from egalitarian as one can imagine.

Best-case scenario: one of these dictators, either of the political or musical variety, experiences a profound awakening, turning out to be benevolent instead of tyrannical. This might manifest in selfless acts, incongruous with capitalism. For example, lending your considerable talents to assist someone more overtly radical than, say, James Blake or Owen Pallett might get that ball rolling. How about a Brian Eno-produced Godspeed record? Better yet, the next Solange. Just a thought.

Respectfully and sincerely yours,

Ryan Alexander Diduck

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999 Words

Walls and bridges: how to break the media mirror and reclaim reality

“Is this … really happening? Is this … an act?”

Through the nervous, refocusing lens of an unsteady camcorder recording, an increasingly worried young girl verbally processes the scene before her. She’s witnessing the entertainer Meat Loaf moments after he collapses on stage at a performance in Edmonton, Canada. But this is not part of the act; this is really happening.

The camera briskly zooms out, revealing a confused and restless crowd. Audience members begin to vacate their seats. A roadie calls reluctantly for applause from the stage. Panic rises in the girl’s voice: “Oh my god, mum! Mum, what happened?”

 

At some point during this foul year—whether after the Brexit result in Britain, or Donald J. Trump’s US presidential election victory, or simply at a Meat Loaf concert—we were all various versions of that terrified girl, watching in shocked disbelief, grappling for a parental figure to assure us this was just a bad dream while something that wasn’t supposed to happen happened right in front of our very eyes.

Reality as we knew it broke down in 2016. All artifice revealed. Finally, ignoring or wishing away our collective situation would no longer suffice. But what is our situation?

It’s proved futile to establish “reality” today: television shows like Mr. Robot and Black Mirror blur the lines between cultural verisimilitude and speculative fiction; bogus news items propagate virally online, only to be revealed as such by “real” news organizations—publications and networks of which we have become progressively more distrustful; social media act as echo chambers, containing and reflecting our own images and opinions and desires back at us, reinforcing the perception of societal stability and normalcy; even comedy and farce have failed their critical duties, in part because reality itself seems evermore ironic, satirical and absurd.

How did we get here?

This peculiar account begins in July of 1892, with an obscure American philosopher and logician called Charles Sanders Peirce. Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Peirce attended Harvard University in the early 1860s, graduating summa cum laude with a degree in chemistry in 1863. Peirce held only sporadic academic appointments, but his ideas on pragmatism and the nature of mind would have a profound influence upon a century of Western thought.

One of Peirce’s key philosophical contributions was called “synechism”: “the tendency to regard continuity” in all things. Peirce believed that we mistakenly perceive the world as a series of binary operations: utterances and interpretations. The medium of consciousness then wants to smoothe them out, and makes them appear uninterrupted and endless.

Peirce outlined synechism in an article called “The Law of Mind,” published in the journal The Monist. Radically, he argued further in 1893 that synechism implied the illusory nature of independent identity: “the selfhood you like to attribute to yourself is,” Peirce wrote, “the vulgarest delusion of vanity.”

But this notion of unified existence and consciousness found itself at odds with another, more lucrative view of the individual—one that would come to dominate the 20th century: the idea that each of us is utterly unique.

In 1925, the Austrian psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud authored a brief but important article called “A Note Upon The Mystic Writing Pad.” In it, he likened perception consciousness to an Etch-a-Sketch-esque device made of wax and cellophane. Freud noted: “the appearance and disappearance of the writing” is analogous “with the flickering-up and passing-away of consciousness in the process of perception.” For Freud, consciousness was a discontinuous and malleable activity.

Peirce died in poverty in 1914, with many of his later writings going unpublished. Synechism was incongruous with the anthropocentric, Western notion of the individual’s supremacy. However, another of Peirce’s concepts would prove consistent with Freud’s imminent individualist ideology: pragmatism.

Peirce also thought that the best way to perceive reality was through logic and scientific inquiry—by data gathering. All objects had practical consequences, argued Peirce, and those consequences constituted the whole of our perception of them. It was the beginning of a results-based, utilitarian conception of reality.

Pragmatism would come to govern both public administration and private markets. For the following hundred years, value would be determined through demonstrating practicality.

A problem with the results-based reality arises when it rubs up against Freud’s notion of discontinuous consciousness. Freud supposed:

If we imagine one hand writing upon the surface of the Mystic Writing Pad while another periodically raises its covering sheet from the wax slab, we shall have a concrete representation of the way in which I tried to picture the functioning of the perceptual apparatus of our mind.

Modulating the intervals at which our perceptual apparatuses register experience, for example, could destabilize our observation of time. Bombarding people with rapidly cycling and shifting forms of information could manipulate the development of memory, too.

In the 21st century, almost all of our memories emerged mediated. Even immediate, first-hand experiences were described in mediated terms: numerous eyewitnesses of the September 11th terrorist attacks in New York City, for instance, recalled the twin towers’ dramatic descent as “like a movie.” Reality was entirely a simulation.

Suddenly, any practical result could be mass-produced: wide-ranging policies could seem effective on screen when, in reality, they failed. Corporations could appear to produce giant profits when, in truth, they were losing vast sums of money. A game of managing appearances became reality—carefully manufactured, and delivered through increasingly individualized media channels.

By 2016, those media forms completely dissociated: The New York Times and Fox News began reporting entirely different stories; political dissent was officially pathologized; Facebook and Twitter turned into self-reinforcing bubbles; Apple attempted to further circumscribe its ecosystem through new and proprietary standards; reality became a hall of mirrors.

That really happened. It wasn’t an act.

The world today is not a two-sided coin; it’s a 99-sided die, and on each side a problem. What we desperately need now is to tell ourselves bold and original stories about the future, building neither walls nor mirrors but bridges—bridges that revive a sense of interconnectedness, continuity, synechism.

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