Residues of speed
Let’s be old-fashioned and think of slowness. Still, we should be sufficiently contemporary so as not to be unmoored and find ourselves adrift amongst never-experienced nostalgias. To accomplish this, let us consider speed first.
Modernity has brought blade to the throat of many, not the least of which is slowness. The modern moment, even divested of critical/cultural markers of place, is the instant of instants, the simultaneity of history, future, and present. Realities once rendered separable by the vagaries of distance and distribution suddenly saw themselves colliding. They became essentially entwined in speed’s refusal to kowtow to space, as it was once forced to do. When Marinetti drove his car into the ditch — due to, of course, some languorous old-guard cyclists hogging the road — he, in the moments between his crash and later retrieval, truly and intuitively understood the intoxication of speed and the role of technology in producing that effect. While traveling at velocity, time and space, the very components of velocity, collapse. Speed fines the self into an arrow, a bullet, a pure movement unfettered by the stultifying demands of spatial or temporal relation. As he writes in 1909, “Time and Space died yesterday. We already live in the absolute, because we have created eternal, omnipresent speed.” Such is the Modern sublime, a reduction of the self, down to the mathematical point, scorching across boundless space and limitless duration. A seemingly small infinity. Speed promises the Dionysian ecstasies of the ancient world in the furnace-gut of the engine, and, moreover, the machinic finally allowed human desire to be transubstantiated into the pure kinetic thrill of movement.
By way of contrast, we should ponder the earlier paradigm of the Romantic sublime. Both seek an occasion of intensity that subsumes the self, but, as opposed to its successor, the Romantic finds the durational quality of nature to be the formative locus of such experience. When Shelley looks out on the Alps “all seems eternal now,” and it is. The history of nature has no origin we can conceptualize; it is a thing too large to be contained in the human mind, and our attempts to place ourselves within it, strike out some habitable coordinate amid the chaos, are fraught with complication and burdened by nescience. The history of all things is stretched out over the surface of Mont Blanc’s rough features, and while we can’t read it, through reflection, the echo that the mountain casts within us, we can — as if licked by Pentecostal fires — speak the “mysterious tongue” of the wilderness.
There are numerous axes of difference here between the Romantic and the Modern sublime: nature versus technology; expansion versus contraction; receptivity versus activity; the coarse skin of things versus the metallic smoothness of speed; reflective repose versus blinkered velocity; the contained self versus the self unmanacled; the interminable versus the instant; and so on, extending into a myriad of infinities.
To most observers today, it would appear speed remains our dominant regime of being. After all, who doesn’t begin each morning with a bit of liquid stimulant? Communication and transportation dissolved the boundaries that dictated much of preindustrial life. The modern fable is the collision of the metropole and the periphery, a forced reckoning of alternative trajectories that hardly existed before. Our own lives, even more modern, are dictated by our relationships to oh so many parallel and interwoven realities that the greatest luxury of — or rather, greatest escape from — the sociopolitical domain of our everyday is the ability to pluck ourselves out from it whenever we so choose (Benjamin writes, “In 1839 it was considered elegant to take a tortoise out walking. This gives us an idea of the tempo of flânerie in the arcades.”).
The climbing velocity of money spins the globe ever faster, but we demand to live slowly. Slowness, commodified and compartmentalized, is the ultimate consumer good. Popular practices such as practicing yoga, visiting the farmers’ market, or brunching represent the apex of speed control, modulating the experience of your own life, allowing you to step into and out of the slipstream at any instant. Even more so, the products of such practice seem to hold value far above the individual products of speed — the organic, slow-grown tomato against its supermarket simulation; the long, lazy conversation over Bellinis against the terse Tuesday night at the kitchen counter. However, slowness has become an excessively complicated mode of experience, in spite of its Luddite connotations.
The difficulty with this dichotomy of fast and slow is that it is not a dichotomy at all. Yes, we might point to the two approaches to the world outlined above, and we may address that our modern consumption of slowness tends to be non-technological — or at least, disinterested in technology — and that our participation in the day’s farrago is completely technological. Such an approach might be a little too narrow, however, and we should avoid obscuring the possibility of synthesis. That is to say, if speed is the product of our technological modernity, why is slowness suddenly excluded? These same technologies that give us acceleration can provide deceleration. As Lutz Koepnick so neatly limns, the means by which the world has sped up also reveal the means by which it may slow down. He provides a filmic example in slow-motion photography: in order to create the effect of slow movement, one must run the film through the camera faster than normal, yet playback normally.
In this regard, we have an aesthetic experience distinct from both its Modern and Romantic predecessors. We have uncovered a new inventory of technologies through which we can subvert, distort, rearrange, and review our experiences of time and space. We can, as Koepnick contends, approach and contextualize conceptions of speed from a site of reflection within. Slowness can become a meditative medium by which we can engage with the structures of everyday life. We can formulate experiences using non-exclusive categories that rest upon heterogeneity and interconnection — neither Romantic dilation nor Modern contraction. Our world is neither the wall of wind at the cyclone’s edge nor the slumbering eye within, but instead manifests as spectra of intensities and experiences that, with slowness as a strategy, we might be able to sort out.
2 or 3 Things I Know About Pinkcourtesyphone
She is graceful in her boredom. Legs uncurl across the divan, and the chin holds stoically straight. Her visage summons Niobe (C’est parce que mes impressions ne se réfèrent pas toujours á un objet précis.), but she could never shed a tear, at least not when she’s alone. She cuts the image of a New American chacmool.
These moments are difficult for her as the faint narcotizing bliss of her drink and drug elides into an undifferentiated anxiousness, filling up the whole of her home. The chores have long been finished, only the laundry (Pax Americana, lavage de cerveaux super-économique) remains to be done. Much like her clean index probing the bottom of little plastic pill bottles, she spends the time trying to find anything at the bottom of herself.
In the stillness, she dreams, though wide-awake. Partial impressions float through, indistinct and bearing the smudges of things borrowed. Only half-dreamed, but by who?
(Maintenant, quand je rêve, j’ai l’impression de m’éparpiller en mille morceaux. Et avant, quand je me réveillais, même si c’était long, je me réveillais d’un seul coup. Maintenant, quand je me reveille, j’ai peur qu’il manque des morceaux.)
She hates this stillness. There is something oppressive to its weight. The sport of the dishwasher aerosolizing into white noise, the vacuum’s whirr spinning in her head long after she turned it off. She tries to cut through and reconstitute the sounds around her as they truly are. They do not return to her.
She recalls making her husband coffee (“Frank, John, Buzz… what was his name again?”) and the vortical ballet of beetleblack bubbles, the clean clink of the spoon against the mug. She knows his father, a face in a small vignette, hair slick and shining with brilliantine, but not her husband.
The evening prior, she dropped a plate, jagged shards spinning loose across the kitchen tile. She couldn’t remember why she dropped it, but in her mind the ceramic fragments arranged themselves in a sharktoothed grin written wide across the floor. She wondered if she would cut herself when she picked them up. Later, she would sit in front of the mirror and realize her cheek was stinging and her makeup had run (Quelque chose peut me faire pleurer; mais … mais la cause des larmes ne se trouve pas dans … integrée á leur traces sure mes joues).
On the divan, she imagined what it would be like to grow up in a house like this. Herself as a young girl sitting in the yard watching Mommy hang up laundry. Herself as a young girl helping Mommy clean the house and cook dinner. Herself as a young girl dressing up the cat in doll clothes and stuffing it in a stroller. Her as a young girl leaving forever. She circled around these thoughts for what seemed like hours until the phone rang (Tout á coup, j’ai eu l’impression que j’étais le monde et que le monde était moi. Il faudrait des pages et des pages pour décrire ça. Ou des volumes et des volumes). She stood in the kitchen as statuesque as when supine, the droning speaker at her ear issuing no voice. In some feral region inside of her, a pinwheel began to turn.
She imagined herself as a grown woman leaving forever.
(J’existais. C’est tout ce que je savais.)
It is Consoling that Pink Flamingoes Dream
“Pink flamingoes sleep. It is consoling that pink flamingoes sleep. It is consoling that it is consoling that pink flamingoes sleep. It is consoling that it is consoling that it is consoling that pink flamingoes sleep. It is consoling that it is consoling that it is consoling that it is consoling that pink flamingoes sleep…that pink flamingoes sleep. There is no anxiety to their sleep. It is apt and everywhere equal.”
Occasionally in our nostalgic reveries, we come across something uncertain, a stitch out of place in our most sacred of sanctuaries. That anything could breach the penetralium is terror enough, but to change it, to make it unlike, unheimlich? It is a difficult thing, this forced confrontation with memory. Bergson once proposed the tape reel as a (partial) model of time and experience. Future and past always exist in the same proportion; as one end unreels, the other spools accordingly. Bergson’s model was an ideation, a clever metaphor for an abstract concept, but the tape reel is, in fact, real. It spins and spools, and each time it runs, it runs out of time. There are failures here: failures to capture, to represent, to preserve. Finitude and decay are built in.
In the activity of memory, we resemble the two, the imaginary and the real tape. By way of our corporeal technologies, we somehow, in the material stuff of our skull, produce ideas of our past. However, there is a crucial disconnect: we generate ideal images via imperfect methods and machines. In our attempts to invalidate time and space, we must contend with the decaying core of our own experience; memory has a cost. To analyze completely is to destroy, as Norbert Wiener concludes in his own studies on human uses of human beings. Both analyzer and analyzed are forever changed by their interface. The memory is not the same and neither are we. In remembrance, we vivisect ourselves. Still, that is no reason to despair. Saint Augustine saw this analytical function of memory as central to self-knowledge, even in the wake of forgetfulness and distortion.
Richard Chartier is most certainly tuned into all of this. His Pinkcourtesyphone project, as distinct from recordings under his own name, possesses a dark playfulness, exploiting our common tendency toward distorted self-reflection. His impeccable visual aesthetic (he is a graphic designer, as well) inspires both elegance and distance, a long gaze into an empty world curtained over with pink gauze. It plays with the fear of desensitization, of becoming puppet-like, of surrendering to psychic vacuum. The sound conjures the domestic space, that wilderness of surfaces, stretched sinister by a blear blend of clonazepam and a cocktail. Pinkcourtesyphone is an exercise in how our memory becomes warped, how we become uncanny to ourselves, and how we may salvage something greater than what was lost.
It is penumbral, composed in both darkness and light. It is slow work. Taking into Account Only a Portion of Your Emotions, Chartier invites us to inhabit his music, to step into the slowly contorting domestic he has sculpted. We stay for a while. The corridors of the house, by their very shape and configuration, lead us somewhere by its own intent, a psychogeography of sound that repeats and remakes passages. Our advance is gated by repetition, which becomes a demand to notice the subtle transformations of the world and of ourselves.
His work is benthic and slimed over in syrup. Each sound is elongated, mimicking a slow-mo camera sweep across some new domestic landscape. Synths swell to a shimmer, and dark melodies wait crouched on the shadowy margin. Abyssal yawns threaten to swallow the scene, and gelid giallo stings call out through the haze. One can hear a music box chiming and twinkling, its ballerina frozen in arabesque turning for an empty audience. Everything must move slowly for fear of breaking the hypnosis and dispelling the memory.
Even the intermissions are long; we are never between acts, or rather everything is intermezzo. Whereas speed structures an A-B mindset, slowness inculcates a spectral mode, one that opens perception and relation to the space between two points. This “journey, not destination” thinking is nothing new, but as the circulation of capital accelerates and the space in-between contracts, it becomes necessary to strike out new land in which to live slowly. For Pinkcourtesyphone, that land is a house built to mimic the mind. A home constructed of fragmented memories belonging to no one in particular.
Perhaps most importantly, Pinkcourtesphone is boring. We often think of boredom as being forcibly left out of the procession of events, but this is not boredom in the negative sense — waiting at the DMV, your nephew’s school play, dinner with the neighbors. Rather, it is an epistrophic boredom in both the rhetorical and Platonic senses. It is a boredom predicated upon repetition with difference and with a turning over and inward. Benjamin married boredom and generative inward reflection as well, drawing up pages of notes on the subject for his Arcades Project. He writes:
Boredom is a warm gray fabric lined on the inside with the most lustrous and colorful of silks. In this fabric we wrap ourselves when we dream. We are at home then in the arabesques of its lining. But the sleeper looks bored and gray within his sheath.
The early figure of modernity and urbanity, the dandy, was by choice and distinction always bored. We too can choose to be bored: instead of seeking to kill time, we can invite it in. We can use the opportunity of slowness to collect and reorient ourselves to the world around us. In such boredom, normative relations decouple and all things become pregnant. There is nothing more domestic and comforting than wrapping oneself in a blanket and dreaming.
(Il faut que j’écoute, il faut que je regarde autour de moi plus que jamais le monde, mon sembable, mon frère.)
By this praxis of boredom, memory, listening, and dreaming — the loosed flood of images and impressions — we can more nearly know ourselves and cut loose from the exigencies of ceaseless motion. In the sedate dreamworld of Pinkcourtesyphone, we are given a place to retreat to, a place to host time and memory and boredom on our own terms. These days, it takes more effort to be slow than fast, and this inurement to velocity risks a separation of the self. Chartier ably dramatizes and complicates this paradigm. As listeners, however, we must want to spend the time and choose to confront ourselves within the drift. We must want to be slow. There is nothing wrong with the indulgence of a leisurely pace, and it may in fact tell us more than the headlong rush into the next. Just don’t forget to eat.