For the first time since university, for reasons ultimately unrelated to this review, I’ve spent time reading Michel Foucault. Maybe it’s that I’ve found it difficult to make his work useful, and that I’ve concurrently been unconvinced by the efforts of many of those who have tried to make his oeuvre participate in an economy of criticism he long sought to imagine his way out of. I don’t know. But I’ve found myself recently held captive by Madness and Civilization and its descriptions:
To say that madness is dazzlement is to say that the madman sees the daylight, the same daylight as the man of reason… but seeing this same daylight, and nothing but this daylight and nothing in it, he sees it as void, as night, as nothing; for him the shadows are the way to perceive daylight. Which means that, seeing the night and the nothingness of the night, he does not see at all. And believing he sees, he admits as realities the hallucinations of his imagination and all the multitudinous population of night.
Again, I don’t know how to use Foucault or his descriptions, but I read them and can’t help but think about Michael Angelakos, whom I’m unable to write about.
I’ve tried. I had compiled a series of Angelakos’ quotations from a recent story:
“I walked myself to the hospital and waited for four hours — my coat had blood seeping through it, and I was passing out on the floor. The hospital employees finally realized what was wrong with me and said, ‘Why didn’t you tell us what was happening?’ I didn’t tell them because I was embarrassed.”
“It’s a constant thing — I’m on suicide watch all the time.”
“I’ve told people that I don’t see myself living very long. That really upsets them, but I’m just being honest.”
And I positioned between each quote remarks from David Foster Wallace and William Gass, respectively, for affect:
“And the truth is that most of these suicides are actually long dead before they pull the trigger.”
“To paraphrase Freud, what does a suicide want? Not what he gets, surely.”
(1) Because Angelakos’ words, and my own history with the mentally ill, makes me unable to read the situation otherwise, that is, hopelessly. Angelakos is, to make matters Foucauldian, lost in the night of truth.
( 2) Because it brought to mind that other passio- pit: “I am counted among those who go down to the Pit; I am like those who have no help, like those forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand. You have put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep.”
(3) Because I believe that it says something significant, perhaps ultimate, about the new Passion Pit album, Gossamer, for which there are already so many wasted words written.
But, finally, it seemed like a cheap move on my part.
I tried again. I wrote a series of lines about tragedy:
• Once, I heard a simple distinction made between comedies and tragedies. A hero sets out on a journey. In the comedy, the hero returns; in the tragedy, he doesn’t.
• I know that lives aren’t stories, but stories tell us something about lives — ours and others. The patterns are there already, and we conform to them, predictably. They’re sewn, indelibly, into the fabric of our psyches.
• It’s true: Inevitably, we’re all tragic figures, subject finally to the fate of being mortal. The tragedy, as genre, merely focuses on that end, blurs the unnecessary edges, and brings character to bear upon the fact of death.
• For most of us, it will be our baser instincts: illness or accidents derived therefrom. For some of us, it will be something non-instinctual, a hiccup in the machine, a bent prong.
And while many speak frivolously of “panic attacks” or “depression” or “psychosis” or “mania,” when all they mean is something slight and utterly situational, some don’t. So what happens then when you introduce an alien antagonist that can’t be fought, but only subdued, barely, for a little while?
But these are personal questions. More inspired by Hölderlin and Walser than Angelakos, although they each bear some resemblance to each other.
So I’m left with a potentially endless expanse of blank pages to fill, about an album for which I have weak opinions and about a life for which upon an album rises and, perhaps, falls, a life that I have no business analyzing.
Jeff wrote regarding Manners that “it seems vaguely wrong and somewhat dismissive to review an entire album within the context of one track… but…” Maybe, too, it’s wrong and dismissive to fail to review an entire album for the sake of one band member’s mania, to confine him to his work, to confine his work. We’re taught from a young age to leave fragile things alone.
I’m reminded of a quote at the beginning of Madness and Civilization from Dostoevsky: “Is it not by confining one’s neighbor that one is convinced of one’s own sanity?”
The truth is that I find Gossamer to be a threatening, and meaningful, document precisely at the unnameable source of its panicked affirmation.
He cries out from below: “This madness is not my fault alone.”
“Let’s get married!”
Words: “broken,” “messy,” “pain,” “problems,” “lifted,” “crimson,” “bath,” “love,” “love,” “love,” “selfish love.”
“We all have problems… and we’ve all got something to say.”
Both Gass and Foucault talk about the syllogisms of the mad:
“The logic of misery hides its premises to forget its fallacies: Hamlet’s a prison; Hamlet’s a Dane; Denmark’s a prison; then the world is one.”
“The marvelous logic of the mad which seems to mock that of the logicians because it resembles it so exactly, or rather because it is exactly the same, and because at the secret heart of madness, at the core of so many errors, so many absurdities, so many words and gestures without consequence, we discover, finally, the hidden perfection of a language.”
Ultimately, Angelakos’s words and music are given through an alien narrator and forced into a stylized narrative. (And before you bash this review, re-read the others. Note the similarity. The music is always an afterthought to the constructed personality.) The truth of the narrative per se is not necessarily suspect (we believe that he believes, etc.), but the start and end points are what makes the difference between a cover story and rambling. If Dostoevsky and Foucault are correct, Angelakos is confined less by a voluntary admission than by the premature, melodramatic closing thoughts of the writer who writes: “I get a text [from Angelakos]: ‘I’m going back to the hospital. Wish me luck.’ ‘Are you okay?’ No answer.”
There’s always an answer until there’s not. Silence, here, is only a matter of style.
(4) Because it’s always easier to write the syllogism for him:
Gossamer is a prison; Angelakos is Gossamer; Angelakos is a prison; then the world is one.