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Philosophy

It has been an interesting week for me as after I published a post here, (Civic Pride), I was contacted by a local newspaper who wanted to run a feature on it. As a result I have seen unfold in-front of me reactions to my writing that have prompted some reflections on my part about the nature of writing, and how an audience responds to the written word.

The piece itself was a break from how I usually write, and a test for a personal project I am doing for my Masters degree. As I explained in an introduction to the piece I was starting to move away from this experiment, but was getting trapped into endless revisions which threatened my overall project. In posting the work I was attempting to make it more concrete in order that I could move away from it. 

The piece was written for a specific context, and in relation to specific experiences of psychogeographic wandering and wonderings I had undertaken. The departure in my writing style manifests itself mainly as a personal one, with my text being much more autobiographical with a strong critical undertow. Added to this were anecdotal experiences and historical pointers, and I wove in memories of many conversations I have had with people over the years that had filtered into my own reading/interpretation of events. I was aiming for a more reflective, reflexive narration, as I attempted to author from a similar starting point as some of my favourite writers who flirt with psychogeography: Bill Drummond; Will Self; Stewart Home, possibly Jonathan Meades, amongst others. I am in no way claiming that what I wrote is similar to them, or even as good, (it isn’t); just that they were an inspiration to me as I consciously changed my approach to writing.

What has been most interesting about this experience is how the readers of the local newspaper article have interpreted, often negatively, the intention of what I wrote. This has lead me to various observations about writing; the context it is read in; what the reader brings to the work; and therefore what they add to or take away from it. Here’s some of my thoughts:

Context is everything
Readers of the newspaper article were invited the comment on what the newspaper had reported that I had written. This removed the reader from the original context of the work. But for those that bothered to follow the link provided to the original blogpost, rather than just read what the newspaper said, had a context imposed on them before they actually read the piece. This clouded their mind and prevented them reading the piece as it was intended to be read.

The audience brings their own agenda to the work
It is interesting how some of the comments on the newspaper website seem to focus in on certain aspects of the piece I wrote, (whether they read the blog here or only related their comments to what was in the newspaper), and ignored other aspects. Some comments completely mis-read what was written and responded by applying their own belief in what they thought had been written. In one case, someone quoted what they thought I had written, but placed a word in a sentence that wasn’t actually there in my writing. This bought a new, and very loaded context to the table which completely skewed the meaning. 

You can’t choose your audience
When something is published it is there for anyone to read. This blog is subtitled: ‘Writings on art, design and music—mostly’; and much of the audience I expect to read what I post are either from an arts background or have a strong interest in what I may write about. People who don’t are quite rightly free to read what is published and so form their own opinion, but there is a higher chance of a mis-reading of the context as a result.

Interpretation of terminology is fluid
Some terms can have negative connotations for some, even if they were intended to be read positively.

The audience doesn’t necessarily assimilate the entire work
Some comments focussed on a point mid-way through the piece that meant they only considered that singular aspect. If that aspect was contextualised with what was said at a much later stage, it would have indicated a progression of thought within the piece and not a static mindset. As a writer, artist, designer etc, you know your own work intimately and therefore tend to see it in the ‘whole’. The reader will not have the same relationship with the work as you and therefore won’t see consider it in its totality.

Sarcasm doesn’t work in writing
Sarcasm doesn’t come across well in the written word and what might sound witty when read off the page by the author is unlikely to sound witty in the mind of the reader.

Audiences aren’t necessarily interested in past work
Previous writing by an author are potentially not known by the reader, and they may not be interested in hunting them out. Therefore the audience doesn’t necessarily ‘get’ the direction of the author’s thoughts over a period of time, despite the fact that what they are currently reading is an extension of what the author has created before.

The audience doesn’t know you
If an audience is reading something with no prior knowledge of you as a person, or have preconceived ideas about your intentions, they are going to layer their own personalities onto what you have written. Therefore any comments they make often say more about them than they do about you. 

An audience is equally the audience of others who have commented
If a reader reads others’ comments this automatically clouds the context of your work further.

In writing this post I have attempted to avoid discussing the actual contexts of what I originally wrote about and focussed on the nature of how people perceive work made by a writer, (or photographer or artist or designer or dancer or…). This is not an attempt to counter some of the comments made on the newspaper website, (however personal and negative some of them may have been), nor to correct being mis-quoted by the journalist. Ultimately what I wanted to explore here is the concept of the death of the author, as raised by Barthes, in a very modern context. This modern context considers social media within the mix of what Barthes and others have previously theorised over. The ability to comment online has added to their theories an additional consideration, and raises the notion of ‘the commenter being the author’. In this questioning of the nature of an audience which also reads other’s comments on a text, and has the ability to comment themselves, it has to be accepted that the reader not only brings their context and meaning to any work, but also what others have written and the origin of the piece is even further distanced from the original context and intentions of the person who first wrote the work.  

You could argue the need for yet another publication about punk. The ‘1976 and all that’ narrative has been told so often now that it reads like a dull pantomime with all original relevance of the story bled dry through over telling. There have been some publications in the last few years that have gone beyond this nostalgic rehash, such as 2012’s excellent Punk: An Aesthetic, but recently published The Truth of Revolution, Brother: An Exploration of Punk Philosophy (Situation Press) focusses, as the title says, on an area of the punk phenomenon that has largely been ignored.

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Produced by Lisa Sofia, Robin Ryde and Charlie Waterhouse, The Truth of Revolution, Brother, taking its title from a lyric by UK’s Crass, mostly examines second and third generation punks that took the early rebellious attitude and DIY beliefs and formed life philosophies of them. The UK anarcho-punk scene is more of a starting point for many of the very personal stories told throughout to book, and specifically Crass are cited by many as being influential to their world view. But this book is much more expansive than that as the authors travelled the globe to interview those they thought carried the spirit of ‘Do It Yourself’ and who looked for alternatives to accepted societal belief systems. Interviews with Crass‘ Penny Rimbaud, Steve Ignorant and Gee Vaucher, Subhumans’ Dick Lucas and the Poison Girls’ Vi Subversa tell the tale of alternative living and libertarian leanings in the UK. What punk meant to those on the other side of the Atlantic is represented by American comic book author and singer songwriter Jeffrey Lewis, producer / musician Steve Albini, straight-edge pioneer and Fugazi guitarist Ian MacKaye and Dead Kennedys‘ Jello Biafra.

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Penny Rimbaud

Similar themes emerge throughout the different interviews, from being anti-war to championing vegetarianism, from environmental concerns to resolutely rejecting the ideology of government and control. While this may be a book about philosophy, personal politics and taking responsibility for your own actions is really at its heart.

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It is incredible to see what impact a small music scene from the UK, (in anarcho-punk), has had globally, for this isn’t just a tale of Anglo-American agit-prop. Einar Örn Benediktsson, (from Iceland’s The Sugarcubes), and Jón Gnarr formed the Best Party as a protest against Iceland’s 2008 economic crash which resulted in Gnarr becoming Major of Reykjavik in 2010—both cite punk as major influences on their attitude to politics. When it was set up the Best Party declared it would dissolve itself and as a result, after 4 years in power, Gnarr stepped down as Mayor this year after successfully running the city on anarchist principles. Benediktsson, who was a City Councillor says: “I’m an anarchist and people say, ‘But you’re not an anarchist because you work within the system. You are part of the system now’. Okay, I may be part of the system, but what I learned through punk was to listen and to take on board ideas, to try to understand and not make up my mind that things should be only one way.” After also stepping down after his first term, he goes on to say: “I don’t want the power. It’s not mine to own. It is everybody else’s so please, please come in, use it, be part of it because it’s ours to share, to feel good. I don’t think it’s naïve to say it.”

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The interviews running throughout the book are interspersed with topic heading such as Disruption; Construction; Distraction; Creation; and The Dark Side of Punk as monikers to discuss different philosophical attitudes that emanated from punk. Anarchy as a political theory and personal practice is interwoven throughout, and shining through all the interviews and discussions is a positive attitude to humanity and wanting to make life better firstly through self-determination and secondly through not wanting to rip others off. As a result, at the heart of this is a very humanist world view, one that believes living by a personal set of principles is as important as trying to shake things up.

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There are several new pieces of artwork featured throughout as well, from the likes of Gee Vaucher, Jeffrey Lewis, Dominic Thackray, Gaye Black and David King, among others.

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Jeffrey Lewis, 2014

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David King, 2014

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Dominic Thackray, 2014

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Gee Vaucher, 2014

Co-author Charlie Waterhouse, a graphic designer and photographer, has ensured that the book is beautifully typeset avoiding any punk aesthetic clichés. This helps to set this study firmly in the here and now, deliberately steering this away from coffee table book nostalgia and ensuring the reader sees this text is about the relevancy of punk and its myriad of associated philosophies to today.

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Gee Vaucher

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Each of the authors have been affected by punk as a musical force in different ways. “Charlie’s life was derailed when he heard the Fall’s Lay Of The Land on [John] Peel'”, declares the acknowledgements. While, “Lisa’s DJing career was almost strangled at birth by Steve Albini when she cued up her first record by Big Black at the wrong speed,”…and “Robin cut his teeth on punk music at the age of 13 by sneaking into UK Subs and Stiff Little Fingers gigs”. It goes on to say: “Although none of them knew it, The Truth of Revolution, Brother was always going to be the result of their friendship.”

For myself this book has allowed me to reflect on my days as a punk and the attitudes and beliefs that sprang from reading bands’ lyrics as I listened to their music. This went on to shape my personal view of the world and my sense of responsibility to those around me and society in general. One of the things that bands like Crass did for me was to teach me not to just be anti something but to also consider my role in shaping the world. As such, my vegetarianism, environmental considerations and distrust of hierarchical structures and elites comes very much from my time listening to Crass and associated bands in my late teens and early twenties. While I haven’t called myself a punk in years—I haven’t needed the youthful obsession of creating an identity for myself and thus labelling my whole persona for many years—this book has made me think again about punk as a proud term, the philosophies I adopted in my youth that have stuck with me to this day, and how this has shaped my outlook on life. And for that, I am very grateful to Lisa, Robin and Charlie, and to all the contributors to The Truth of Revolution, Brother.

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Truth of Revolution back cover

The Truth of Revolution, Brother and a number of prints of photographs taken while conducting interviews can be purchased directly from Situation Press

Below, Crass’ Bloody Revolutions, the last line of which gives this publication its title:

Today I stumbled across The Truth of Revolution, Brother, a proposed book about the philosophy of punk.

Taking its title from a Crass lyric, (the infamous anarcho-punk band that took punk’s DIY ethos to a whole new socio-political level), the book promises to go well beyond the music, fashion and graphics shlock that most nostalgic punk cash-ins opt for. For anyone like myself who formed many of their personal and social political beliefs from their experiences within the punk movement will understand what an important document this could end up being. Particularly if the accompanying promo video is anything to go by:

 

The book is being put together by the surnameless Lisa, Charlie and Robin, who say the book is largely written and designed, almost ready to go. With a launch date of August 2014, they’ve started a Kickstarter campaign to raise enough funds for the first print run, and come payday, I’ll be on Kickstarter making my donation.

 

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