Back in NYC!

July 8, 2012

I just got back Thursday night. So far, it’s been a blast re-acclimating myself to the joys of humidity, crowded streets, hyper-aggressive cab drivers, a dysfunctional transit system, and, of course, the omnipresent skinny-jeans crowd. Fortunately I have a place to stay for now…but what I’m really looking forward to is the joy of apartment searching. Can’t wait! This city is the best.

Stand up for Israel’s African refugees

June 22, 2012

I just signed this petition: Stand up for Israel’s African refugees: Tell Netanyahu to fire the inciters & implement just policies. So should you.

My statement on the matter:

Like many Diaspora Jews I am outraged by the behavior of these Israeli public officials. While I am often at odds with Israeli government policy, the hateful incitement and predatory politics of Yishai, Regev, Dannon and others is absolutely beyond the pale of any acceptable notion of the limits of political discourse. The purportedly Jewish character of the Israeli state is stretched thin when such ugly speech – and uglier violence – breaks out.

NYC

June 7, 2012

Well, it’s been quite a while since I posted last. Lots is happening…

My website has come along, although there is a new version of Indexhibit that has finally (after much anticipation and several extended deadlines) been released, and I look forward to upgrading my website extensively sometime over the next few months, when I can make the time.

Three weeks from today – on June 28th – I’ll be returning to New York. I haven’t really lived there for around a decade, and look forward to a more mature, considered existence in a much-loved city that is rapidly decaying being “revitalized.”

I’m hoping to land an internship with Public Allies New York, but no matter what happens, I know I’ll be spending time re-acquainting myself with the cultural life of the city – seeking out record stores, underground events, art shows, and other happenings – and hopefully spending some energy working toward positive social change in the city. 

P.S. I now realize that over the past five years or so, I’d fallen into a negative habit of regarding life in NYC as economically out-of-reach. Well, economically, things have only gotten tougher, but I’m a resourceful and intelligent person, and I refuse to write off life in the city that I love – the only place I can call home.

So fuck the hipsters. Fuck Williamsburg. Fuck gentrification, and the billionaire vampires of the real-estate industry. Frankly, I don’t care. I’m coming back!

songs of revolution

January 29, 2011

Following the events that have been unfolding in Tunisia and across the Arab world, I can’t help but comment on something that at least in most major media, has gone unnoticed. That is, to draw attention to a new phenomenon – a force at play in the popular uprisings in Northern Africa – Tunisia, Yemen, Egypt, and elsewhere as well – to say nothing of Jordan and perhaps Lebanon as well.

But there was a crucial event at the start of it all – when popular unrest began on a massive scale in Tunisia – that was smoothly if quickly glossed over by most U.S. media. I’m referring to the hip-hop video above, of course.

After what we’ve seen over the past few weeks, it’s become impossible to deny that Hip-hop is truly a global phenomenon now, with potentially significant political implications.

And some of the most exciting events are centering on the Arab world, where a diverse mix of insurrectionists are swiftly disproving the oft-repeated lies and stereotypes about Islamic politics and divisive sectarianism in the Arab world.

While Internet-based strategies of resistance and activism seem to bear frequent mention in the media, hip-hop activism receives only passing mention (as for example when the song “Mr. President Your People Are Dead” landed a 22-year old Tunisian rapper in jail and stoked the fires of popular rage against Ben-Ali’s government).

To my mind, the omission masks a fear of hip-hop and the political possibilities it offers for transforming and redefining public space.

I’ll offer my argument for this claim after posting some more hip-hop videos:

Check out, for example, this video of the Narcicyst featuring Shadia Mansour:  Narcicyst is originally from Basra, Iraq, is super-original, and you can buy his album on iTunes. I’d recommend it.

And here is a track from Behrang Miri called Ramallah (I have Sameh Zakout a.k.a. Saz to thank for this link). This track – and video – are awesome. (In the case of this track I suppose it’s the eponymous subject rather than the MC that’s Arabic per se. I hope I wasn’t using the word “eponymously” incorrectly – I think I wasn’t, but let me know via the comment box if you think I was): 

You should also check out Saz, a rapper and beatboxer (and producer I believe) from Ramle. There is actually a documentary film about him directed by Gil Karni. You can check out some clips here, on Gil Karni’s site.

Now for good measure here is a video from DAM, a Palestinian hip-hop group from Lyd / Lod:

WHY IS HIP-HOP POLITICALLY SIGNIFICANT?

Hip-hop is more than its core “elements” (b-boy/girl, graff, DJ, MC); it’s a way of life. And as such, hip-hop is about a lot more than the vagaries of materiality and insignificance. It’s not just “ho’s, bankrolls, and clothes,” as Nas once eloquently put it – what hip-hop really is about (to my mind) is the intersection between life and culture, between environment and individual identity. It’s about rebellion and reconstruction.

Hip-hop was created by young people growing up in the shattered ruins of an urban war that humanity lost. If hip-hop politics is a politics of urban renewal, of individual expression triumphing over bland conformity and mindless consumerism, then its absolute antithesis would be the politics of “benign neglect.” Hip-hop’s not just another dance style or musical genre. Notwithstanding its own emphasis on originality, style, method, and individuality, I’d argue that hip-hop is fundamentally more intrinsically social (and more political) than any of these, because it was about people (mostly young people) deciding they were fed up with the violence, abandonment, and neglect in their community and creating a style of communally-based expression to counter these phenomena. A distinctly urban style of expression born out of realism – the realism of universalized oppression and shattered communities.

Hip-hop can be recognized as both familiar, recognizable, and yet at the same time a culturally distinct style of expression. Whether you witness it in Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Bogota, Ramallah, or Cairo, you’ll still know it as hip-hop…but I’ll bet you’ll discover hip-hop to be local in character, diverse in its forms of expression, and often idiosyncratic in the way it relates to the distinctive character of the cities or territories out of which it operates. This is because, I would argue, hip-hop poses a distinct challenge to the conventional categories of group-forming and the attendant processes of identity formation. That’s because hip-hop is a way of life.

It’s time to acknowledge the truth: “Hip-hop” doesn’t just mean rap –  and perhaps it also doesn’t just mean the “four elements” of breakin’, DJin’, MCin’, and graffiti. In other words, maybe hip-hop is not just another form of “cultural expression,” a “subculture.” In fact, I would argue that history is now demonstrating more clearly than ever that if anything, hip-hop is perhaps something akin to what we might call a “trans-cultural” mode of expression. Or, if you will, a new way of addressing the difference between “culture” and “subculture” – maybe even a process of making the “sub-culture” transcultural.

A new political opposition has taken shape: hip-hop versus benign neglect.

Will governments continue to get away with not-so-benign neglect, as Ben-Ali, Mubarak, and many other dictatorial regimes have for so long? Or will hip-hop intervene, in forcing a confrontation with the world as it is, which really means a struggle to change it: to live in the world as it really is so that we can live the lives we want to live, rather than to ignore the implications of responsibility and try to hoard or plunder as many of its spoils as possible.

It shouldn’t be hard to see which of these political approaches is winning the day in many parts of the world today, particularly in the Arab world – or why.

What hip-hop might be saying to us – at its most radical – is to destroy or subvert the shattered remnants of an obsolete order, and to recreate a new and idiosyncratic style that’s grounded in the particularities of one’s daily existence.

I think it’s hard for Americans to think about hip-hop culture in a way that decentralizes it from its contiguity with American popular culture – given the subversiveness with which hip-hop has come to define many of the values and experiences associated with pop culture in the public sphere. But I’m beginning to see some of the exciting things happening with hip-hop right now in the Arab world and elsewhere, and to realize that hip-hop will never, ever be the same.

Hip-hop is more than (musical or visual) style; Hip-hop is a way of being. It’s a kind of lifestyle choice, which involves social and thus also political being. This is why real hip-hop is really more about communities and individuals, really. It’s not really about bling but about winning.

And this is why I’m not surprised that its role in popular uprisings in Tunisia and elsewhere is not being widely acknowledged. As El General’s video attests, it’s difficult to argue that hip-hop is giving rise to the voicing of discontent and affirmation of popular resistance in a more direct, unequivocal, and emphatic way.

So that’s why I wanted to write this post.

Now go check out some hip-hop you never heard before – and leave me some recommendations in the comment box, because I’ve barely just begun to stumble upon amazing Arabic hip-hop and I just know there is so much more dope shit out there.

And cheers to the Tunisian people for putting hip-hop on the map along the road to revolution, now to all my people it’s time to take action for change and start wrecking shit!

Proh Mic featuring Adad

January 23, 2011

Here’s a short one for y’all:

I just discovered Dirty Science, where I came across this delightful video. Adad guest MCs alongside Proh Mic and also directed the video. Feelin’ it y’all: 

P.S. Pretty sure I heard a King Crimson sample in there! From Starless and Bible Black isn’t it? [edit] Actually, it’s Fallen Angel, off Red. Ha, didn’t notice that on the first listen – though I love King Crimson, and love when I recognize samples I know. Man, what a great album Red is! (Click the link to see search results on Amazon.)

Can’t resist posting Fallen Angel then…

Right then…enjoy!

Underworld – Stagger

January 20, 2011

As far as blog posts go this one feels a bit like cheating.

Here’s the background for this one, then: for the first time in quite some time, I have a DJ gig coming up tomorrow! It’s actually going to be a first for me – I’ve never played a gig strictly with music in digital formats. In fact, this time I won’t even be bringing along my trusty Technics. Therefore this gig (actually a private event for the Boulder College of Massage Therapy) is opening up new possibilities for me, and I was digging through the music in my library when I came across this one — Underworld – Stagger (link directs you to a youtube upload of the track.) It’s a great track from Underworld’s Second Toughest in the Infants, an absolutely massive album and one of my all-time favorites. (Go buy the album if you don’t already own it. You have to have it, trust me.)

I really just wanted to post the lyrics to Stagger – really my sole motivation for this post. (I don’t know how they came up with the lyrics on this album, but I’ve heard they sometimes juxtaposed random text or snippets of recordings or conversations they captured; not too sure on this one.) And here it is:

Album cover for Underworld's Second Toughest in the Infants

orange in the mouth again. straighten.
wearing stonewashed denim again. straighten.
carrying something wrapped in plastic. straighten.
curled on the blue velveteen again. straighten.
straighten.

siteless yellow highrise. bethnal green. straighten.
corner tubeless dark and wet. straighten.
ten tons slowly then again. straighten.
with its glass eyes a blue formica halo.
stainless steel between the fingers. straighten.
pissed and leaning ponytail. licking
colonel sanders fingers.
the naming of killer boy.

everything’s going west nothings going east. straighten.
there’s no need to be so uptight. straighten.
make up for all their messes.
I could listen to you all day. what a laugh.
cut me I bleed like you. ha ha.
the naming of killer boy.

cover your teeth. I love you.
don’t bite me yet. I believe in you.
I found you shopping in Europa on
wardour street. not phoning packwidth.
guilty as sin. straighten.
scratches on paper. pissed in a tube hole. straighten.
smelling of deep-fried beans and whispering your name.
tube hole wind in my face. thunder in gentle distance.
reactor. reactor. do you mind. straighten.
this is a random feature. random feature.
this is a random feature.
naming of killer boy. wired up.

That is all.

Gunned down on the streets of Arizona

January 8, 2011

I was appalled to read about Arizona Congresswomen Giffords being shot in the head on the street while meeting with her constituents (along with a number of other people, several of whom were killed). I suppose her desire to be available to any of the people she was representing made her vulnerable to attack by somebody who didn’t approve of her politics.

The only emotion I can express other than grief and dismay is disgust: wow, what patriotism! Gunning down a public official in the street? (To say nothing of all the other innocent people – including children – that were hurt or killed.) That sure showed a lot of respect for all our democratic principles, such as committing ourselves to a politics of transparency and openness in an (well, at least theoretically) equal-access public sphere. I can’t say I’m not a bit shocked (and infuriated) by this. (Though, surprised? Unfortunately I can’t say that I am.)

But although this is a terrible, terrible thing to happen, our response to it matters gravely. If in some afflicted person’s mind this act was an act of war, then we must indeed counter the message behind it – but we must do so non-violently. Does this make me furious? Yes, of course. Do I want to lay at least partial blame on the foulmouthed preachers of hate, or the prattlers of religious violence and intolerance pretending to be politicians (Sarah Palin, yes, I’m thinking of you) – or indeed, an entire political party that could barely mask an underlying hatred and the threat of political violence during an election season during which, for the first time in history, a Black man became a credible contender for President of the United States (and how much more infuriating to the rabid-right fringe that he actually won)?

Yes, we have to fight back. We need to fight against intolerance, hatred, and violence – but I’d say it is imperative that we do so non-violently. My way? Well-articulated opposition, massive sub-bass frequencies and underground resistance. G.O.P., you aren’t ready.

forecast for 2011: ill music ahead.

January 8, 2011

…and another post about fresh and exciting new music. Welcome to 2011.

I should admit at the outset that musically it’s hard for me to contain my excitement; for some reason it just seems as though all the music I’ve been hearing lately is amazing. And quite a lot of the electronic dance music I’ve been hearing is really beginning to unsettle a lot of my assumptions about what that category really means. There’s just a lot of good music coming out lately. It’s an exciting time to be interested in producing music – really an exciting time for absolutely anyone interested in envisioning the future of what the “music industry” might be like.

New stuff I’ve been hearing is fresh, and interesting, and dope – and more and more, blurring the lines between genres of electronic music faster than new ones can be created. And some of the new “genres” that have been cropping up reflect (at least to me and my ironic sensibilities) some serious grasping at straws. I mean, “brostep?” “Post-dubstep?” “Future bass”?

Actually, I think the latter is sort of innovative…but overall, what does this ever-abounding and increasing proliferation of genres really signify?

And if it almost seems like a sign of desperation (this persistent generation of new categories that struggle to keep up with the unclassifiability of the more hybrid and unclassifiable new frontiers of electronic dance music today), isn’t such desperation perhaps a positive indication? It seems like our capacity for naming things is frenetically being outpaced by the creativity and originality of a lot of the newer dance music of the past couple of years. (And I’m not just referring to developments in “dubstep,” “UK funky,” and “future bass” but also to newer stuff I’ve been hearing in the somewhat more well-established genres of drum & bass, minimal house, techno, grime…really the list goes on and on.) All I can say is, wicked. Bring on the freshness for 2011!

Commence my list of some of the freshness that’s been gracing my ears lately:

First to top off the list is IKONIKA. Ikonika, a.k.a. Sara Abdel-Hamid is KILLING it right now. I really liked her track Dckhdbtch (click the link to give it a listen via Boomkat). Definitely buying some of her stuff. She’s also going to be playing a few dates stateside and at MUTEK this year, so watch for that, especially if you’re in NY or LA.

I have Resident Advisor to thank for the following lead: a cutting-edge label from Germany called Fachwerk (myspace | mix / interview via RA).

I know it’s 2011, but I’m still craving more Basic Channel (site | digital releases via Boomkat ). I just bought a couple releases from the Scion sessions. Deep, deep, deep.

More music updates to follow shortly. I’ve got my fingers crossed that Portishead will make their move back into the studio and put out new material in the foreseeable future. Their last album, while different and perhaps challenging in certain ways, was good – at least, I liked it a lot, and so did other Portishead fans I talked to. I’m looking forward to hearing new stuff coming out of the Duck Down camp (will most likely be copping Buckshot’s forthcoming book – and speaking of hip-hop literature, the forthcoming book from Malice of the Clipse called Wretched, Pitiful, Poor, Blind, and Naked will be on the “must cop” list as well.) Overall I don’t even have much to say about hip-hop right now except that I’m well behind the times – but I do think this is a great time for hip-hop. There is tons of great stuff coming out and a high likelihood of lots more in 2011.

What else, what else? Oh yeah – I’m still really behind on the dubstep front, but one name has already captured my attention: Ramadanman (siteApplePips podcast). Great producer, and awesomely cool name too I might add. I just purchased the Ramadanman E.P. from last year, which he put out on his own imprint, Hessle Audio. I can’t resist posting the video for the last track on the E.P.: breathtakingly awesome jungle amazingness:

And, of course, there is so much more good music that’s been coming out that I’d love to write about. But it is now the following day from when I began this blog entry (no, I wasn’t writing continuously – I put it on hold last night to buy mp3s and go mix at a friend’s house), and now the shower is calling. Happy 2011 to all my bassheads, friends, and people everywhere!

fresh music roundup/ personal update…

December 24, 2010

What’s up everyone?

Akiva here. I haven’t posted an entry in quite some time. The following represents an attempt at a brief summary of what I’ve been up to, and also a recap (as always at least as much for my own benefit as for my readership) of some of the great music I’ve been hearing lately.

Here goes…

Well, firstly, I fulfilled a long-standing goal earlier this month when I bought the Apogee Duet and Logic Studio – two powerful audio tools that will go a long way toward helping me begin to establish a small home-based audio production studio. How exciting! I’ve barely begun to scratch the surface of Logic, but I do have some previous experience with audio software so I don’t feel like I’m totally starting from scratch.

This purchase, though, is undoubtedly a big part of why I’m so excited about music right now (and the improvement in audio quality after I got the Duet set up was noticeable). Here are some highlights for me as far as stuff I’ve heard that’s either come out recently or is forthcoming (warning: this list will be rather eclectic):

1. My Father Will Guide Me Up a Rope to the Sky: Swans (site). Let me be blunt: I was fucking ecstatic to hear that Michael Gira decided to reunite the Swans. This album does not disappoint. The first track, “No Words / No Thoughts,” which clocks in at 9:24, starts out ambient, and builds menacingly and forebodingly for minutes until it explodes into a repetitive riff that breaks down into the familiar Swans “wall of sound”…a sequence that refreshingly goes on and on, as though to make up for the years of silence since the Swans disbanded in the ’90s. It’s a wonderful album.

2. 2D33P is a new drum & bass project and label from Trace and Voyager, “focusing on the ’94 vibe and beyond.” All you really need to do is click that link (it leads to their soundcloud page), and listen to the tracks. Unless your soul is immune to sub-bass frequencies and breakbeats (in short unless you don’t like jungle and aren’t willing to be receptive to something new), you’ll see why I’m excited. I’ve also heard a couple clips of tracks forthcoming in 2011 on Trace’s legendary drum & bass label DSCI4.

Speaking of which (and I’m going to probably going to do an entirely distinct post just for this, because I don’t want the link to get lost in the mix), there is a link on the DSCI4 soundcloud page to a mix by Trace and Ed Rush from 1997 called the No U Turn Experience. If you have any interest in drum & bass history, `90s era techstep, and the legacy of underground institution that is No U Turn, don’t pass it up.

Looking at iTunes, I’m beginning to realize I probably only bought one or two releases this entire year. You know what? That’s not going to stop me. I’m going to tell an uber-brief story to illustrate why I think dope releases from 2009 and even (dare I say it?) 2008 are still worthy of mention…

Two days ago, I happily checked out a free track being given away by Blu Mar Ten for Christmas. It’s a total banger. Anyway, some asshole posts a comment, like, “Wow, this track is amazing – can’t believe it’s four years old!”

RIGHT – because it’s only in the last three years that technology has finally enabled us to make amazing music! Everything before then, while still noteworthy, is now going to be relegated to a bygone era. Because…now every producer can afford a DAW, and Ableton and Autotune and etc. etc. etc. Thank God that after millenia of primitive audio production techniques good music will finally be within our reach…OK, now that the rant is over, I’m simply going to say that there’s so much good music that’s always coming out, I’m obviously at least two or three years behind even on the stuff I like to follow most. . . like hip-hop and d & b.

3. Something that’s fresh right now…Duck Down Records!! These guys are KILLING it right now. I still need to catch up on the last five years of dope releases from them. My “to cop” list includes some of the Buckshot & 9th Wonder collabs, the Heltah Skeltah albums that have come out since they reunited a couple years ago…Sean Price’s solo stuff…Boot Camp Clik…oh my god, the shit is fresh. Brooklyn is definitely on the map right now.

4. I gotta mention my man Dash Speaks, a very talented MC, DJ, and producer that I went to high school with. What he does is fresh and original – I just downloaded his album Geography a couple months ago and really, really liked it. His lyrics and approach are unique; the production is an innovative hybrid between hip-hop simplicity and a sort of electronic dance music synth / beat aesthetic, making the album accessible without sacrificing its integrity (if you ask me).

As a matter of fact, you can too. Check a review and free download link here. Dash, Speak brother!

5. It came out last year, but Rakim’s Seventh Seal is fire. Go get it if you haven’t already.

6. While dubstep and dubstep influenced bass-heavy music has continued to become increasingly trendy, drum & bass producers and labels have been stepping up their game over the past year and many of them are killing it. A label that has consistently delivered in terms of quality and originality has been Critical. Without getting too sappy or gushing praise, I gotta say that Critical exemplifies what’s good and what’s always been good about drum & bass. The sounds are varied and diverse. The production quality is always high, and the tracks tend to be on the moodier and techier side, but other than that, the criteria seem to be whatever Kasra thinks fits the label, which is a good approach, and has really allowed Critical to hone and define its own sound. I love what they’ve been doing.

7. A label I’ve had my eye on for quite some time, but which has really put itself on the map and garnered some attention in 2010 is Shogun Audio. Friction has done a good job showcasing a diverse range of musical talent. I would have to say that it is labels like Shogun, Critical, Exit (D-Bridge’s label and one of my faves – killing it right now) that have done a great deal to release material that reshapes the templates for what we used to define as “techstep,” “liquid,” and so on. Rightfully, much of the new d & b straddles several of these arenas. I’m also really happy to see the stripped-down sound that D-Bridge, Instra:mental, and Spectrasoul are pushing to start to get more acceptance. When Shogun Audio first showed up on the scene, I expected Friction to release forward-thinking d & b with deep roots in techstep and the “neurofunk” tradition. Of course, he did; but over the past year he’s also been pushing the envelope with tracks that hardly fit that description. His podcast has featured guest appearances from the likes of Spectrasoul, Lenzman and Rockwell. Shogun is killing it, and doing its part to help shape the new sound of drum & bass for the 21st century. With new material from Alix Perez and Icicle, Friction seems to have done a good job balancing releases from established artists with stuff from more up-and-coming producer. Cheers to the Shogun Audio massive…assassinating the global scene right now.

8. Frankly (and this could just be a reflection of my musical tastes changing), although I’ve always respected them but never been a hugely dedicated fan, I’m kind of warming up to Hospital Records. Obviously they are a total institution by now, and with fresh and hugely popular new acts on their roster like Netsky, they hardly need my endorsement. But I still want to recognize this label for their contributions. Again, a few years ago it seemed like you could pretty much sort d & b tracks by category: liquid, neuro, roller, jump-up, wobble (remember “clownstep”?), hardstep, ragga, jungle…FUCK that! Listen to the new d & b and it’s liquid / neuro-funk / dancefloor / tech. jungle. THAT’s what I’m talking about. (A LITTLE more innovation with the breaks probably couldn’t hurt…but my point is simple: d & b is fresh now so fuck the haters! Frankly more dubstep illustrates the problems associated with d & b than d & b does these days. But feel free to make use of the comment form if you want to argue that point – this is swiftly turning into a rant.) Although in any case, I gotta say, the old school vibes are making a comeback. And that’s something that makes me happy.

9. I guess now that I’ve consulted my iTunes library, I realize that Nine Inch Nails’ free album the slip was actually released in 2008. But I only found about it and downloaded it a few weeks ago. Well, it’s good. Thanks for the free music Trent…and for keeping Nine Inch Nails alive. rock on! And while I’m on the topic of 2008…Portishead‘s Third is fucking awesome. Bleak and cynical and wonderful. It took me a few listens to get into it. Totally worth while. Here, watch the video for Magic Doors.

(I’ve got to grab some dinner…to be continued)

P.S. Bonus video link…O.G.C. – Hurricane Starang. With Heltah Skeltah. It’s a real banger, not to be missed.

Still to come…artists I’m just beginning to discover and still want to check out…labels to watch…producers to watch…forthcoming albums I’m excited about. The round-up will continue! Peace, love and enjoyment…hope everyone that’s reading this has enough reason to stay positive going into 2011. I’m out.

Writing and Sacrifice

June 29, 2010

I happened across a document of free-writing I composed while trying to generate ideas for my thesis (probably written close to a year ago, at this point). Of course, my thesis has long since been completed, but on re-reading this, I still find it interesting and thought-provoking. It’s probably a good sign that my interest in this topic hasn’t waned since have actually turned it in…

Writing and Sacrifice?

When it is hinted that the body is a text, what – if anything – might this mean for the experience of the body – the way we experience ourselves as being bodies, as well as how we experience others as bodies? Both body and text (as well as the act of writing, and of communication more broadly) are spatially and temporally contained. What would it mean to relate to bodies as we might to texts, and vice versa? What are the implications, significances, and problems inherent in thinking about embodiment and textuality in proximity to one another?

As Derrida has emphasized, it is crucial to take notice of differences within a text – its ambiguities, inner tensions, contradictions, and paradoxes – and to try to understand how this play of differences creates meaning. In some ways the value of this insight may be easy to understand – for a text that is not dynamic, that does not disseminate multiple, conflicting meanings and at times turn against itself – is a dead text, one that ultimately may fail to engage its reader. It is the dynamic play of differences throughout time and space – and especially, within a “text” – that renders meanings not only intelligible, but vibrant and compelling. The insight that texts are crucially grounded upon difference is also essential for noticing how such differences may be built upon fundamental existing hierarchies, tensions and inequalities, and to attempt (through interpretive practice) to subvert and transgress the reign of binary oppositions implicitly invoked within “text”. Can “the body” be deconstructed in this way – related to as one relates to writing?

I put the word “text” within quotation marks to provoke the question: just what exactly is, or qualifies as, text? In the contemporary world, we increasingly realize, perhaps, that anything can be a text; a social ritual, a tradition, a historical event. We furthermore recognize (often implicitly, without even bothering outwardly to acknowledge the fact) that such “texts” are far from univocal, but rather, to borrow words used by Whitman, “contain multitudes” of voices. We may even be comfortable with the notion that any absolute determinacy of meaning is impossible. What, however, makes bodies “meaningful”?

I want to pursue further the idea of writing, for it strikes me that the materiality of writing provides a crucial mode of reference for the oft-cited concept of the body as writing, the view that understands the body as text. If we reflect and free-associate on the idea of writing, we might think first of the experience of reading, or of the graphical representations that constitute writing (letters, words), or perhaps the apparent fixedness of the boundaries that define a text, or even the unresolvable absence of the text’s author, and the fundamental indeterminacy of meaning. How do such conceptualizations accord with our understanding of the body?

It is easy to see that the body-as-text is a way of thinking the self in a way that goes against the grain of liberal notions of the subject, which tend to ground the self in an ideological set of convictions about individuality, autonomy, responsibility, agency, and the like. However, I struggle to understand where the textual analogy of the body leaves us vis-a-vis the realm of bodily experience. It is one thing to attack entrenched notions of the self, and to show that ideas of the self, and perhaps even modes of embodiment, have as their genesis processes that are social, material, and that ultimately come to define our idea of (and certainly help to enforce the centrality of) the individual. The insights produced by such critique are both necessary and valuable. It is another thing, however, to overlook the proximity of the body to individual experience, and thus also the way it is linked to how we think of ourselves as individuals. Is the idea of the body as text alienating to the way in which we experience ourselves, through our bodies?

And how do we express to others (using what language?) the idiosyncratic ways in which we experience ourselves as embodied?

At this point – precisely the point where it becomes most crucial to comprehend the implications of this textuality of the body – and the processes of “writing” presumed to constitute embodiment – precisely here the idea seems to fall short. For ultimately, we seem often to think of writing in terms of representation (its materiality has power precisely because it is stable – its systems of representation, of organizing graphical signs will remain the same, not fade or be rendered meaningless overnight). But do we actually think of our embodied experience as being representational in this sense? Or is our bodily experience characterized more by immediacy and felt sense, with our awareness of processes of signification, representation – even discourse as an abstract whole – taking on a more secondary role?

Clearly, much is at stake in these questions. Yet I believe they point clearly in a particular direction – that is, toward thinking about the link between body and communication (materiality and signification), and inquiring into the limits of what can be said about this link. We often seem to want to think of the body as living, dynamic, creative – perhaps as resistant to the kind of shaping that would enable it to signify, like text does – and conversely, that we often think of text as dead, inert, passive, lifeless – a receptive materiality that, like the earth of Genesis 2, can be shaped by a creative force and, when bestowed with living spirit (“Adam” – lit. human being, but the word is related to that for earth, “Adamah” – is essentially inert matter in-spired, or breathed into, by the divine Creator), may be transformed into something meaningful, something that lives.

This may be (I would suggest that it is) a problematic kind of binary opposition, although it bears thinking about: I would contend that we might, intuitively, want to object to the idea that the human body could be a kind of text. But why is this so? What is disconcerting about this recasting, or “reterritorialization” of the body as “text”? What would it mean for the body to be textual, and why might this be problematic (or, perhaps, hold promise) for the way in which we think about embodiment?

One way of approaching the link would be the claim that the body faithfully records its experiences – ALL its experiences. (see Freud, Civ. and its Discontents)

The connection between the body and language seems difficult to fully theorize – that is to say, the link between the body and language (or “text”) is difficult to understand because we can find no reference point within language within which to fully express the experience of bodyness. But is the reverse true?