THE SUBLUNARY: SURRENDER, STRATEGY OF THE YEAR
If the civic was a panic for the ground, a bass-and-drum scramble, the sublunary — a contact point between the earth and the sky — contemplated the outside. The movement of the civic was from the outwards in; the sublunary simply stargazed from a cozy cranny, its big toe in the mud. The civic sought obscure/d surfaces; the sublunary staked all on the insulating projection of a privileged inner core (what Barthes, in another context, called “the ceaseless action of secluding oneself”). It was this seclusion that was the truth of what Gang Gang Dance on Eye Contact (4AD) called “everything time” — an unpredictable, unstable unraveling of stylistic possibilities in place of the certainties of the civic’s concept brand model.
Terry Eagleton said “the sublunary is where souls and fortunes are made and lost.” It was in this respect that Oneohtrix Point Never and Hype Williams deployed the stylistic confusions of the sublunary to greatest effect, articulating the belief, widespread in 2011, that there is an absurd disjunct between pop and reality. Anti-realism — produced by a surrender of agency, a distribution of engagement within the passive register — transformed pop in a series of proleptic reversals, returning to pop a sense of wonder and loss. Kitsch was not off-limits, but then neither was grief. Privileging the lost, the sublunary concealed its sources (from the smudge of sample-smidgeons weaved to the fractal caverns of reverb and delay) — making of tradition, a cardinal ideational absence, spaces that only the future can colonizev.
This ethic of directionless transmission was one of communication spurned. If the civic valorized system failure, it preserved the notion of communication. The sublunary surrender of reality was a surrender of communication generated by a suspicion of correspondence. The defining popument of 2011, 0PN’s Replica (Software), suggested but did not complete a surrender of public meaning, the coherence of which is only possible in the world of universal commodity brands where the local bootleg has more claim to authenticity (in different ways, the conceptual nemesis of Daniel Lopatin, James Ferraro, Sun Araw’s Cameron Stallones, Ina Cube, et al.) than the global replica. Hype Williams’ One Nation (Hippos in Tanks) and Kelly Price W8 Gain Vol 2 (Hyperdub), meanwhile, celebrated impossibility, fusing the illusionist’s desire for spectacle with the provocateur’s appetite for sabotage. With Hype Williams, in particular, there was something Švejk-like about these gyrations, this peerless numbskullery.
With the bulk of its revenue going to its primary producers (the Rough Trade/Factory model of independence), it was here that pop most closely resembled a state capitalist fantasy of an infinite project of improvement in monopoly conditions — evidence that the appeal of the future is strong even when competitors are absent (who else are Hype Williams but Hype Williams?). At the industrial level, the sublunary register was where pop in 2011 was most furiously active: brand-as-monad as monad-as-scene. The economic logic was one of compression, of private out-signifying public (dissent seemed monolithic), and even when politics was a putative theme, it turned out to be solely as a means for talking about something else (tUnE-yArDs, John Maus). It is useless to speculate what energies this closing of ranks suppressed. Instead, the wildest efforts at the pitch of the sublunary surrendered claims to the civic, tolling routes to the material: it was neither clear at what point diffidence became dissent nor where independence-as-strategy lapsed into vanity publishingvi. Some pop was so occluded with idiosyncrasy that its interventions and analyses seemed impossible to build on.
What this developed world tactic of cultural surrender says about the future of collective liberty in the post-scarcity zones of the OECD is not comforting; not in a year of predominantly pyrrhic victories for left/unionist activism, when a draconian bureaucratism — London, Athens, New York, and Santiago were just the highest profile examples of the state’s desperate, hedge-funded malaise — staged its own occupation of a moribund mainstream media’s responsibilities of representationvii. Surrender is a fitting ruse to nominate as the defining strategy of 2011, when — outside of northern Africa and, to an extent, the five members of BRICS and their satellites — a chorus of suburban sadnesses came close to drowning out the atonal skronk of civic resistance.
v It was in these spaces that the boundaries between the sublunary and other modes achieved their highest expression.
vi In a folklore of 2012, one would expect the bilateral antagonism between labels and distributors, against the backdrop of an emerging narrative of ‘cost-consciousness,’ to attempt an occupation of this zone.
vii Compared to which the sentient supergraffiti of social (k)notworks was a sideshow.