Art Holm

It begins with record crackle that skips and replays, as though time itself were stuck in a loop. Hamlet’s father returns as a ghost emerging from the fog. Time is out of joint. The path forward has been derailed. History repeats itself over and over in a mechanistic metaphysical determinism at a cosmic scale, as described by a hopeless Blanqui consoling himself from a prison cell after the fall of the Paris Commune. Walter Benjamin would later call Blanqui’s defeated cynicism a perfect expression of the phantasmagoric, a vision of a world without substance, where any new appearance is only the return of the same. The rhythmic breath of a fevered dreamer builds as an acoustic guitar sample enters from an unknown origin. Samples in this piece are themselves revenants, disembodied aural spectres that have been removed from their concrete and organic historical contexts. An image of sound captured in a time to which it does not belong. 

My father died from cancer. I came back west after living in Ontario for a year. I had no job waiting in Winnipeg, and no money, so I stayed with my mother until I could find work. Returning to my childhood home felt strange, or uncanny in the Freudian sense. The German word is unheimlich – literally, unhomely. With my widowed mom living there alone now, the house felt empty like hunger. When I started working part time in the evenings, I would arrive back home after my mother was already in bed. We spent most days in separate rooms, dealing with our grief privately. We were like ghosts to one another, only aware of the other’s presence by the slight readjustment of objects in otherwise empty common spaces. One night, I had a dream about my father. I heard his disembodied voice from another part of the house. When I woke up, I was in my childhood room. As I lingered a moment in that liminal space between sleep and wakefulness, I felt my father’s presence as though the voice I heard in my dream resonated in the hallway beyond my closed door. The house was haunted not only by the dead, but also by the living. It was haunted not just by the past, but also by the future that would never come to be: my adolescent dreams and aspirations, my parents’ plans to finally live for themselves after retirement. 

Time is out of joint. The line of succession has been broken. Hamlet’s father returns to tell Hamlet to seek revenge, to set time back on track. Derrida draws connections between the paternal ghost that appears at the beginning of Hamlet and the spectre haunting Europe described in the first sentence of the Communist Manifesto. Writing in 1993, Derrida is pondering the future of Marxism in the wake of the so-called fall of communism. A promised future had been thrown off course and the End of History had been declared. Marxists had envisioned a world in which the toiling masses would seize the reins of history and mould human nature to the universal will. Socialism would produce a classless society called communism, wherein the freedom of every individual would perfectly coincide with the freedom of the collective. As gangsterism and austerity ravaged the Eastern Bloc, it was clear that this dream had been tragically deferred. 

Capitalist ideology makes no claim about creating a new human nature. Human nature is fixed. Humans are greedy and individualistic, and history has proven that capitalism is the best system suited to these traits. To demonstrate this, capitalism is projected into past societies, as if it had always already existed: the social contract, Robinsonadism, social Darwinism. The official time of capitalism thus becomes a paradox of linear progression and repetition of the eversame. It constantly wows us with the new inventions that purportedly improve the general quality of life without questioning the structures of society. In reality, capitalism has outlived its revolutionary thrust. It is a decaying system that is leaving more and more people absolutely destitute, commodifying the bare necessities of life and pathologically destroying the planet. We’ve had it drilled into our minds for so long that capitalism reflects the natural form of social interaction that we cannot imagine anything beyond it. As Frederic Jameson says, the only future we can envision is cancer and planetary destruction.

Verse, chorus, verse, chorus, bridge, chorus. How much have songs really changed in the past century? Old forms are being re-invented with technological advances and studio techniques, but underneath it all, there is little that is new. Does life really have choruses? Certainly, things rise and fall, feelings return in nostalgic waves. This bus route, this window seat, this melancholy are all so familiar. But this repetition is not abstract, as in a pop song. This is time embodied. Proust’s narrator wakes from a dream and doesn’t know where he is, nor what time it is, until he can situate himself in his body. The experience of time is linked to determining one’s coordinates within the habitual structure that positions bodily experience within the environment. In Merleau-Ponty’s later work, this interconnectedness of the body and space is described using the concept he calls the flesh of the world. Flesh is both subject and object at the same time, and experience is constituted by this duality of feeling and being felt. One looks outwardly and sees oneself through the eyes of the other. The flesh that separates the subject and the object is porous to the point that internal reality cannot be distinctly distinguished from the external. Odours stir up reminiscences, a melody sets off memories of a time and place long lost. Returning to a place again – your old street, your old house, your old bedroom – is like walking through your unconscious. Your father is dead but he is here. At the level of everyday life, time is not linear. It ebbs and flows, it circulates between the past and the future. If time is not linear, why should songs be?

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