Pharmakon Abandon

[Sacred Bones; 2013]

Styles: power electronics, death industrial, noise
Others: Brighter Death Now, Hospital Productions, Wolf Eyes, Tearist, Throbbing Gristle

“The Socratic pharmakon also acts like venom, like the bite of a poisonous snake (217-18). And Socrates’ bite is worse than a snake’s since its traces invade the soul. What Socrates’ words and the viper’s venom have in common, in any case, is their ability to penetrate and make off with the most concealed interiority of the body or soul. The demonic speech of this thaumaturge (en)trains the listener in dionysian frenzy and philosophic mania (218b). And when they don’t act like the venom of a snake, Socrates’ pharmaceutical charms provoke a kind of narcosis, benumbing and paralyzing into aporia, like the touch of a sting ray (narkē)”
– Jacques Derrida, “Plato’s Pharmacy”

Etymologically, much has been made of the pharmakon as the duality of poison and remedy. But let’s begin instead with therapy: therapeia, curing or healing, from “attend, do service, take care of”: therapon, “servant, attendant.” Margaret Chardiet, a.k.a Pharmakon, is your literal attendant, a presence there in your face, right between the eyes, but you’ll be her servant.

Physical therapy and psychotherapy both heal wounds, exterior and interior. However, as Derrida put it in his reflection on pharmakos, the idea that outside and inside exist separately and separated by a demarcation is a misconstrual; rather, the one contains and creates the other. Or, in Chardiet’s words, “it is about two things that are opposite being the same thing.” There are wounds and wounds: physical and psychic, though for a reductionist, the psychic is physical. Chardiet might treat the one with maggot therapy, the other with the primal scream. She’s not only the attendant, then, but the pharmakon, the one who administers the drugs to the outcast — the outcast nourished at public expense as pre-modern human standing-reserve, before, in times of trouble, s/he (as scapegoat) is beaten on the body and the genitals, and expelled, put to death, burnt.

Those latter verbs provide some clues to Pharmakon’s pulverized atmosphere. Where many death industrial and power electronics acts tend toward childish, black-metal-esque imagery and a tryhard-transgressive obsession with fascism and serial killers, Pharmakon deftly sidesteps these to create something far more disturbing: “I know it’s offensive, but the human race is disgusting. If they think I am acceptable, then I am doing something wrong, frankly” (Chardiet). It’s thereby made apparent that genuine transgression “is not thinkable within the terms of classical logic but only within the graphics of the supplement or of the pharmakon“ (Derrida).

Abandon is a sacrificial rite, one that thus brings to mind Teenage Jesus and the Jerks , but it’s not that it sounds like the No Wavers, exactly. Rather, there’s the same quality of a speculum scraping open the Id, transforming logos back into mythos. Chardiet shares Lydia Lunch’s confrontationalism, her need to make her audience uncomfortable, to evidence her contempt and nihilistic rejection of any connection except that in which suffering is inherent (which is all connections), to make the listener feel her pain with an impact visceral as well as aesthetic. “Pitted’s” insistent thud might be the door of Lunch’s closet slamming shut, while in moments like “Ache’s” hindquarters, there’s a certain soughing, defeated dreaminess, which gestures past “dark ambience” (if I may use that awful phrase) to Nico’s frozen warnings.

But let’s leave comparisons aside: Abandon’s hammering slow pneumatic-drill beats are not so much an all-out assault as a grueling siege, in which the beleaguered inhabitants of the psyche find themselves starving, barely existing in a rising cesspool of their own shit and vomit, ridden with epidemic disease, turning to cannibalism and to frantic final Decameronesque debaucheries.

The pharmakon, however, is not only a painful pleasure, the pleasure of the pain that scratching an itch relieves: but “even beyond the question of pain, the pharmaceutical remedy is essentially harmful because it is artificial.” Chardiet’s manipulated and distorted, incomprehensible shrieks and howls not only speak to art-i-ficiality, but remind one of Derrida’s pharmakon as “a literal parasite: a letter installing itself inside a living organism to rob it of its nourishment and to distort [like static = “bruit parasite”] the pure audibility of a voice.” Purity is the last thing that will be found here.

Yet Abandon is an exorcism, and an exorcism is a rite of purification. Chardiet’s brand of catharsis is also a Derridean pharmakon in the sense that it is “an elimination [that], being therapeutic in nature, must call upon the very thing it is expelling […] the pharmaceutical operation must therefore exclude itself from itself.” This is a suffering that calls itself up in order to cathart itself, which expels itself from the mouth, like bile, and is captured mechanically in order to perform the same paradoxical operation of penetrative-aggression-that-is-exorcism upon the listener.

“The pharmakon would be a substance — with all that that word can connote in terms of matter with occult virtues, cryptic depths refusing to submit their ambivalence to analysis, already paving the way for alchemy — if we didn’t have eventually to come to recognize it as antisubstance itself ”

Derrida suggests that writing is a pharmakon, but we might engage in our own alchemy, poisonous lead as golden larvae and posit music in that role. The essence of the pharmakon is that it has no stable essence, that it is insubstantial. Despite our fetishization of vinyl and cassette, the literal application to music in the digital age should be apparent. Vinyl, we shouldn’t forget, is constituted from the crudely-transmuted dead; and in regard to “lumpy objects,” as we know the pharmakon by nature contains its opposite. Here and now, substanceless therefore has a necessary relation with viscerality (and that’s how Chardiet wants it). Furthermore, as Derrida adds, since this pharmakon has no being and its effects are constantly changing, it can’t be handled with complete security. Recorded music, like writing, is a de-composition of the voice — the pharmakon “introduces and harbours death […] makes the corpse presentable […] perfumes it with its essence […] a perfume without essence.”

A perfume without essence for les yeux sans visage. “Bewitchment [l’envoûtement] is always the effect of a representation […] the vultus.” Abandon yourself — allow Chardiet’s gaze to hit your face — and be witched.

Links: Pharmakon - Sacred Bones


Some releases are so incredible we just can’t help but exclaim EUREKA! While many of our picks here defy categorization and explore the constructed boundaries between ‘music’ and ‘noise,’ others complement, continue, or rupture traditions that provide new forms and ways of listening. Not all of our favorites will be listed here, but we think each EUREKA! album is worthy of careful consideration. This section is a work-in-progress, so expect its definition to be in perpetual flux.

Most Read