revolte

The Saturday photo, part VIII: “Christophe Colomb appaise une revolte a bord.”


In fact, I’m trying to get any further information about this image, which comes from the Library of Congress. It seems to be a nineteenth-century French lithograph by someone called Turgis. Any information about the lithographer would be most welcome. Or about the original picture of which this is a print. Or any suggestions as to how about going about finding out such details. Thanks.

reticence

Bob DylanBob Dylan is 65 today.

I’ve seen Dylan live a few times: in London, Earl’s Court, about fifteen years ago; in Manchester, the MEN Arena, about four years ago; and most recently in Vancouver, the Orpheum, just last year.

Each time there’s been something unimpressive about these shows. Dylan refuses the spectacle more than any other musician I’ve seen. No doubt others refuse it more: The Jesus and Mary Chain, for instance, used to be notorious for playing sets sometimes only ten minutes long with their backs to the audience. At the same time, in both cases, this refusal is part of these performers’ mystique: the fact that they refuse to perform is what makes their performances stand out. Put another way, they perform refusal.

In Dylan’s Vancouver show, he and his band were arranged in a rough semi-circle around the stage. At the center of this semi-circle, and so front and center of the stage, was a microphone on a stand. One expected and hoped that at any moment Dylan would break formation from his backing singers, and come to the microphone. But though he did enter the semi-circle a couple of times, this was mainly for his harmonica solos, and the stand at the front remained an empty site of non-performance.

No doubt part of the point is also the notion that there is no distinction between Dylan and his band. Indeed, he seems to want us to believe that we are simply eavesdropping onto some kind of jam in which a few friends are laying back and playing some riffs. Not that there’s much all that laid back about (what I’ll continue to call) the show: everything was up tempo, with scarcely a break between songs, each of which came to sound increasingly similar. It was as though we were witnessing one long medley of Dylan cover versions.

“Witnessing” is probably the best description of the subject position that Dylan appears to want for his audience. Neither spectator nor participant, we seem to be there but strangely not quite there in his mind. Only the most minimal gestures (a slight wave of the harmonica after a solo) are overt signs that he even notices our presence.

There’s something attractive, almost seductive about such reticence. But it is of course all in immensely bad faith. There’s no doubt that Dylan is the star, however much he may wish to deny it. And we are indeed spectators: spectators of a performance of a very particular type.

It’s been some thirty five years since David Bowie articulated Dylan’s relationship with his public (the public?) as one of abandonment or betrayal:

Now hear this Robert Zimmerman
Though I don’t suppose we’ll meet
Ask your good friend Dylan
If he’d gaze a while down the old street
Tell him we’ve lost his poems
So they’re writing on the walls
Give us back our unity
Give us back our family
You’re every nation’s refugee
Don’t leave us with their sanity
(“Song for Bob Dylan”)

This was after Dylan’s famous withdrawal, following his 1966 motorcycle accident. It’s no great coincidence that the recent fuss around Dylan (the Scorcese documentary with its accompanying CD and book, “Bob Dylan’s American Journey” at Seattle’s EMP, even Bob’s own Chronicles, however coy) has centered around this pre-1966 period. It’s as though we were seeking to reconnect, to bring Dylan back. And so ironically to bring back a presumed “unity” even from the social divisiveness of the 1960s protest movements with which the early Dylan was so associated.

But the real truth of Dylan is in this betrayal, this reticence, a sort of mutiny from above which may even have begun before 1966, but is now ensconced and strangely celebrated in the “never-ending tour”.

Dylan on tour

refusal

Ya BastaA plan is afoot at archive : s0metim3s for a discussion of Mario Tronti’s “The Strategy of Refusal”. This comes on the heels of Jodi’s Long Sunday post on “Bartleby in Power” and coincides with Nate’s encouragement: Leggiamo Tronti.

We all want to say “We prefer not to.” The brilliance of the “strategy of refusal” is its immediate appeal. Against the moralism that so often characterizes the Left. Against notions of sacrifice, struggle, or self-improvement. A valorization of what starts as an exasperated sigh: “Enough already!”

And a realization that the real moralism lies elsewhere.

otaheite

Spurred on by Le Colonel Chabert, here are some thoughts I wrote up a little while ago about Caroline Alexander’s The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty

At the end of it all, the most interesting thing that emerges is the extent to which the mutineers (but not just the mutineers) were affected by their five-month stay in Tahiti (Otaheite as they called it), picking Breadfruit prior to the voyage home. Allegedly (and on this, as on much else, there’s much dispute) as they sailed off from Bligh and his loyalists after the mutiny, they called out “Huzza for Otaheite!” This has been disputed by those sympathetic to Fletcher Christian et. al., who wish to suggest that their motive was not to return to the easy life (and easy sex) of the South Pacific, but to rid themselves of Bligh’s tyrannical authoritarianism. But why should the two be mutually exclusive?

Or even, why not revolt for something better, rather than merely against something worse?

Otaheite
Moreover, and pace Alexander’s refrain as to how much the Europeans tainted and finally destroyed the Pacific paradise (introducing sexually transmitted diseases, but also the general strife and possessive individualism of Western ways), what’s really remarkable is the extent to which the Europeans were themselves affected or even infected by Tahitian custom and culture.

It seems that the Bounty’s crew would frequently converse in the Tahitian language, and indeed one of the (convicted, but pardoned) mutineers, Peter Heywood, spent most of his time awaiting what he thought would be execution writing up a dictionary of the language. Another mutineer, James Morrison, devoted “nearly half” of the 382-page book that was his account of the voyage and defence of his actions to “Tahitian culture and customs, geography and natural history. [. . .] The work is an extraordinary and valuable document of Tahitian life as it had been before the coming of the Europeans, and would never be again” (335).

Well, yes, Tahiti was irrevocably altered; but so were these Europeans, and perhaps also Europe as a whole. Alexander’s main argument (in so far as she has one, in the morass of description) is that the Bounty story struck home so because it occurred at the cusp of Romanticism, and Christian stood as “the perfect Romantic hero” at “the dawn of this new era, which saw devotion to a code of duty and established authority as less honourable than the celebration of individual passions and liberty” (344, 345).

From this perspective, the Bounty story revolves less around the power relations between master and crew, though that is how it has been read, in terms of whether or not Bligh deserved to be overthrown; rather, it’s more about the possibility of “going native,” a possibility that carries with it the germ of what will become Romanticism.