tirado/thrown


TVOTR: Golden Age

Among the things that make TV on the Radio’s music so rewarding to listen to are the currents of intense, uncontanable energy running through it.  In my opinon, their music’s the closest thing that comes to an original, radical intervention in contemporary Ameican popular music.

Daniel Hernandez points out the band’s merits as an outfit who infuse the cosmic into the everyday. He’s right. I would add to his point that TVOTR do so in a way that George Clinton and the Digital Underground (who made no secret of their desire to emulate Clinton’s stylings) were only hinting at with their experiments in playing with images, figures, and live performance.

TVOTR’s video for “Golden Age” attests to an adroit sense of production, fusing visual, lyrical, and musical elements and leaving a thematically potent package of insights left at the viewer’s door. It’s also a philosophic treasure trove. View the video a few times and you just have to wonder whether the band’s been reading Giorgio Agamben, Nietzsche, the Judeao-Christian Bible, and watching the Care Bears as sources for useful references. A few examples:

  • Scenery evoking, among other references, the revelation atop Mount Sinai, the transfiguration of Christ, and the mountain retreat where Nietzsche first introduces us to Zarathustra: These are elevated spaces where its dwellers are transformed by a gift or bestowal of some sort: of the law, glory, wisdom, or light. We can also say that these are sites of experiences that occur at the limits of experience, language, and comprehension.  In the case of the video, it is quite possible to interpret it as taking place in a state of exception.

 

  • The use of halos and auras as indicators of potentiality, the exposition of identity-shifting figures over and against the figures of sovereign power (the police), and the use of figures fusing the animal and human are found in various works of Giorgio Agamben: Not to belabor the point, but reading The Coming Community, Homo Sacer, and The Open opens up a sensitivity to these themes being played out in cultural products, music videos included.  The nexus of magic, genius, and play at work in the video might also offer examples that point to items that Agamben works with in Profanations as well. 

 

  • In the process of a face-off between the band as figures of humanity and the police as agents of the state, there is quickening of pace, a heightening of tension, and an anticipation of an unknown event.  Hints of Heidegger’s accounting of anticipatory resoluteness and the moment of vision in Being and Time linger within scene.  In the process of transformation to a quickening beat, the police officers no longer operate as agents of the state in the face of a humanity reconciled with its animal nature.  The police’s gestures no longer direct energy towards reservation, distraction, or repression but towards humanity in dance, where gestures are made artful (useful) and traverse the chasm separating spectacle and spectator.  The scene brings to mind a quote from The Coming Community: “The novelty of the coming politics is that it will no longer be a struggle for the control of the state, but a struggle between the State and the non-state (humanity), an insurmountable disjunction between the whatever singularity and the State organization” (84)   Golden Age’s video offers a visual rendition on a variant of such a struggle that Agamben addresses above.

 

I’m sure there are other philosophic themes and references at work in the video (Plato comes to mind), but these stood out most immediately. References aside, “Golden Age” is very succinct rendering of the band’s political mytho-theology, condensing mysticism, mythical symbolism, liberation, redemption, transfiguration, illumination, music making, collective struggle, pop culture, and political emancipation in three minutes.  After all, are these not the promises the holiday season offers to its celbrants, aside from food, companionship, and the prospect of staying in all day? 

It’s fantastic what an outstanding music video can do, especially when the visuals and audio complement each other so well. Enjoy; or rather, be jilted, provoked, distressed, even moved to explore the yet unknown and unspoken possibilities the video offers its viewer.



How do you say ‘mestizo’ in Russian?

card3

Above is one of many images of Soviet playing cards bearing Maya-inspired illustrations from a post on EnglishRussia.com, as referred to tirado/thrown through a special informant.  

Aside from being visual delights, you are initially left trying to ask questions about their provenance, much less making the attempt to decipher them.  They merely rest taciturn, sphinx-like, callado, to whatever you attempt to ask yourself, because they are quite fascinating.  Whatever inspired the workers at the Soviet state enterprise responsible for producing these magnificent artifacts, they generated a pretty exquisite group of cards; they’re imaginative and downright noteworthy.   Who knows? Perhaps a bored KGB officer doing slop-work in 1950s Mexico City came across a deck of Aztec playing cards from Baraja Cuauhtemoc and passed over the naipes to an acquaintance at the state playing card factory in an act of camaraderie. 

cuah_3

The magic of cards like these is that they are portable pictograms giving the the gamepiece something more interesting to look  at and wonder about than a regular stack of casino cards.  Seriously, they beat the Grateful Dead Aztec-Inspired playing cards.  Want to get a sense for Mayan language and culture during a few hours off?  Take your card to the library and check it against a codex and lexicon!  To think that gambling implements could have the potential to be edifying!

gates_pg06

Modernist flourishes on the Soviet cards such as the cats the queens hold in her hands speak of a mixture of ancient imagery and contemporary adaptation.   The distinct configurations of each of the two jokers in the deck speaks to the confluence of Mesoamerican and European at work in the deck.  The blue card seems to be rendered with a more appearance, while the red one seems almost Medieval European in a Mayan style, but I leave that up to experts to decide.

card1

card2

However, the images on the face cards are quite faithful to the drawings in codices: with respect to gestures, facial expressions, postures, decoration, and detail, which makes them all the more interesting to discover.

Still, the cards leave me with more questions than answers.  Is the existence of these cards a trace of a mestizaje in the USSR in the form of a curiously made instruments for everyday entertainment, or is it just a fluke of historical detritus washed ashore?  What do these items say about the way Soviets conceived the work of producing items for everyday life?  Why the odd reaction of being surprised at the discovery that Soviets (of all people-gasp!) produced these cards for everyday use when in the US typically has largely uniform face cards from a number of different companies, and when decorated cards would be only for serious gamers and sold as speciality items?  When will we see Mexican and Central-American takes on the matryoshka doll?  Or perhaps more symmetrically, could we find a Latin-American toy, like a balero, trompo, or loteria game festooned with Russian-style decorations? 

At some point, it would be great to give those Cuauhtemoc cards the kind of critical treatment they, as well as these Soviet ones, rightfully deserve.  For now, I am of mixed emotions.  At once I am unexplainably melancholy at seeing items produced by a now-lost regime bearing images from a destroyed civilization.  At the same time, I’m quietly joyful for their existence.

 

Image Credits- Maya Cards: Picdit, English Russia;Barajas Cuahtemoc: World of Trading Cards; Transcription of the Dresden Codex: FAMSI