Obviously, to be sick is not the same thing as having a malady. “Malady” is so gorgeously melodramatic, like that Lana Del Rey video for “Video Games.” Have you seen this? I hadn’t seen it until last weekend. I was in Ashland, Oregon and Stephanie, Kasey and Dana turned us on to “Video Games.” Lana is a 25-year-old Promethea carrying the fire of contemporary duende. It is partly a tale of her paramour, who, despite the electrifying vicissitudes of her outfit, scent, and magnificent voice, comes over to her house not to “take a body downtown” but to play video games. The lyrics of “Video Games” make its foil the psychotic gamer who dissociates from the real world experience of the angelic (Del Rey) in favor of whatever simulacral exploit he pursues in the game. Moreover, the sound reiterates the critique by being almost impossibly huge, “stirring” beyond any legible experience of the word.
This might sound a little conservative or old-fogey-before-my-time, but I think that the real present malady of our new century is a decline in sensibility. This decline is sublimely represented by the tragic snub Lana’s beloved extends. She refuses it with a wail of full feeling. That this wail is delivered with an undeniable measure of blasé minimizes its engagement not at all. Franco “Bifo” Berardi describes the relation of sensibility’s wane to the contemporary state of precarious labor: “The cognitive performance of the precarious worker must become compatible, fractal, recombinable. Cognitive ability must be detached from sensibility, from the ability to detect, interpret, and understand signs that cannot be translated into words. The standardization of the cognitive process involves a digital formatting of the mind, disturbing the sphere of sensibility, and finally destroying it.”
I was thinking about these things after we got back from Ashland. Do we need sensibility if we want to have any experience of real revolt? Like, if the destruction of our spheres of sensibility is a “malady,” then what would the role of art be, medicinal? Is Lana Del Rey not so much Prometheus as a Botoxed Asclepius breathing caffeinated Oxycontin into our lungs, shotgun-style? Is there a way in which our poetics can manage to activate a sustainable homeopathy for this capitalist force that demands our simultaneous compatibility and fractalization?
I didn’t figure out art and revolt that night. After all, I had rented Mamma Mia!, an achievement in film no less complex and beautiful than anything by Tarkovsky or whoever. And I was thinking about Jon Leon’s The Malady of the Century. Also I kept thinking about the men’s room at work. There’s a stall and a urinal, side by side. I’m fascinated by the social encounter that emerges when one person occupies the stall, and the other stands mere inches from him to piss. If I’m in the stall and somebody else is in the bathroom, I wait there until they leave. (Not because I’m embarrassed to be shitting. I mean, even Agnetha Fältskog shits.)
Maybe it’s just not my own private exhibitionism, to lurch out of the stall and encounter this other person who moments before had been a nonvisible witness to my richest excretion. So whenever I’ve used the urinal, am washing my hands after, and somebody comes out of the stall, I always feel like they’re hoping that I can redeeem their body by cognizance. That they need me to affirm (by contestation) their ability to fully live in this world. They need me so profoundly and I have nothing for them. They have just departed with a treasured gift and now they wanted me to fill its lack. No thanks!
I wonder how this scene would play out if it were inside The Malady of the Century. In its economy of sensibility and expression all of these worlds collide: deities, demi-gods, the smelly everyday. Just when you start to think it’s TMI you remember it’s never enough.