My gift to you will be an abyss, she said – Roberto Bolano
While all living on Old Glory’s peristyle, there is coming across Blanche Dubois exclaiming that “I want magic! Yes yes magic.” There is also the very first sentence of Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs. Dalloway, “Mrs. Dalloway said that she would buy the flowers herself,” and then the second, “for Lucy had her work cut out for her.”
There are the pictures of Soraya that one can see in a magazine from the 1950’s. Soraya could not produce an heir for the Shah of Iran and so was divorced in 1958. An awful tragedy.
There’s also Milan Kundera’s The Unbearable Lightness of Being. The Novel’s Tereza and Sabina, the first hurt by man’s infidelity, the second a man’s mistress torn between a conservative faith and communism. They are women living in revolutionary times, both affected and affecting (the reader included.)
There is Antigone. In Slavoj Zizek’s words: “while Antigone admires and loves her father Oedipus, she knows the truth about him. Her deadlock is that she is prevented from sharing this accursed knowledge.” Antigone knows a truth about the realities underlying human government, her father is King, and she also chooses to do right by her brother’s honor. There is, in the same play, Ismene, beautiful, who follows authority and does not rebel. In other words, there is Antigone and then there is Ismene.
There’s, importantly, Charles Baudelaire’s Dorothy.
Ever So Far from Here
This is the house, the sacred box,
Where, always draped in languorous frocks,
And always at home if someone knocks,
One elbow into the pillow pressed,
She lies, and lazily fans her breast,
While fountains weep their soulfullest:
This is the chamber of Dorothy.
— Fountain and breeze for her alone
Sob in that soothing undertone.
Was ever so spoiled a harlot known?
With odorous oils and rosemary,
Benzoin and every unguent grown,
Her skin is rubbed most delicately.
— The flowers are faint with ecstasy.
Dorothy is a pretty familiar character, isn’t she? She’s been painted by mastery: Mary Cassatt, Paul Gauguin, Berthe Morisot, and even Pablo Picasso. She is beautiful but never doing something important either to civilization or to herself other than being beautiful. She is Ismene, the opposite of Antigone. Her chamber, room, is where she lives, to be courted or, as so many old plays go, stolen away.
There’s Rock and Roll, a 20th century phenomenon pretty like 18th century Vienna’s Waltz. In both cases, in caste societies, the privileged step outside of the norm and dance the seedier dances of those less privileged than them. The Viennese nobility found the waltz in the dancing lower class and Rock and Roll was found in the segregated living of black Americans.
There are the kids, millions of them, and among them women and men who would like to produce Rock N’ Roll. Japanese Breakfast are those kids, those who have, have wandered their souls through society, nature, and infrastructure, through country, in the end to decide that what this country needs is not rhythm, harmony, or melody, but all of it combined into a band’s music. Musical kids laying claim to the nation’s fatum, its fate – with an idea about a state of grace that can be cultured by music.
Japanese Breakfast are a band of girls and boys producing, yes, cool, ambient, slogan, Rock N’ Roll but poetic Rock N’ Roll. They two are in the business of producing narratives and characters, in their case often unnamed. The difference is the music that comes along with story. Their magnificent first album Psychopomp is mostly written by Michelle Zauner, a chanteuse-songwriter as the poet Sappho was.
Come to me now once again and release me
from grueling anxiety.
All that my heart longs for,
fulfill. And be yourself my ally in love’s battle.
Dorothy, burned into their minds … Dorothy, burned into their soul … Dorothy, come with, leave your room, is what Psychopomp leads to, amongst other things. In an age of accelerated living, our rooms generate selves, don’t they. Psychopomp taunt to them help exclaims. The polity is so often disturbed by what it hears, feels, and says that it awakes not as it was previously. It awakes with new commitments and convictions but some things, such as rooms never change.
Why Dorothy? Perhaps because she has been painted, we humans have sold Dorothy’s room as a norm to both the girls and boys: promising that courtly romance, obedience, and chivalry and the way forth. It’s a simple formula: we wait for it to gain its luster and for be for the most part unquestioned to then mass produce it.
Like most other American cities, New York is a product of the nineteenth-century Industrial Revolution, built on a standardized grid, conceived neither as a thing of beauty nor as an image of the cosmos, much less as an expression of man’s humanity to man, but as a shopping mall in which to perform the heroic feats of acquisition and consumption. – Lewis Lapham
Especially in the United States, from the cities, and industrial parks, we’ve built for ourselves, we’ve packaged and sold Dorothy and Dorothy’s chamber of a room beyond to the masses that we are, making Dorothy, and her room, that much more popular.
Now that some of us don’t think it’s funny that Dorothy often isn’t friendly, we dance for the fall of an empire. Amongst many other things, Japanese Breakfast, crusaders like all Rock N’ Roll bands, shout, sing, slowly sometimes, Dorothy out of a frame and portrait of herself that she did not paint, and even Ismene, to the new ball, the one with noise and poetry layered onto melodic audacity.
Oh do you believe in heaven?
Like you believed in me
Oh it could be such heaven
If you believed it was real
Is there something you can do with yourself
As I sift through the debris
While I empty every shelf
And flounder in the muck that I’ll be drowning in so soon
You can’t watch me from the banks then
Turn to say you’re swimming too
If ballrooms, dancefloors, once hosted mainly well shaped social dance from the minuet, the waltz, the foxtrot, to the cakewalk, they now host rebels. The larger cities and their need for symbols of political rebellion and amassing literally infinite amounts of capital, the same cities where philosophy and liberalism are a thing, have sculpted the rock and roll, R&B, bluegrass, etc., of the contentment of smaller cities and rural areas newly and packaged it, as they have packaged Dorothy and her room. Now women and men either dance alone, swaying back and forth, or else dance together without much form, in the polity where Minerva, goddess of wisdom, patroness of Rome, whispered to the founding fathers, and mothers, that it has come the time to live without a court and meld democracy and capitalism. Psychopomp goes beyond that, into the realm of bodily movement with real societal consequences.
The frame began to break by itself and the canvas slipped down. A fleet of kids ran, one girl with ribbon in her hair, trampling the dress that had so obsessed about Dorothy and had persuaded Dorothy to remain in her chamber. Then there was no more belief in Dorothy, that she must exist, is what this fairytale ends up being, after a night out, or a night in (or morning, or day,) listening to Psychopomp. What do we make of empty canvases and frames, poems without much meaning anymore? We seem to forget that they are there, as they fade away. To replace Dorothy with whom, or what?