Death Is Dead

Event Scenes

stare into the face of refusal and refuse it not…

Refuse Nothing!

Death Is Dead

June 4, 1993

At this point I’ve noticed two cultural predispositions — aesthetics with lifestyle, as it were. The first: Kitsch Cynicism is in its declining phase (it’s de-intensifying — or as Kroker and Weinstein would say: it’s in recline); the second, now emerging to a peaking phase, is, as yet, without a name, but I identify it, provisionally, with the slogan: Death is Dead.

I hazard to avoid nomers which precede with “Post” and which would thus lead me to rest with something like Post-Mortemism (and I say I hazard to avoid it because I find myself still under the auspices of another slogan: Refuse Nothing! — and with that I may anticipate myself by remarking upon the recent preference or inclination towards lifestyle slogans where structured categories of philosophic thought (“isms”) were preferred before — Slogans, after all, are a curious identifier and are naturally mutable and malleable) but nevertheless, Death is Dead can be understood as a sign of yet another dissolving horizon.

I wish to speak about these two manners in tandem because I believe they signal predominant phase-shifts, and also register a prevailing social valence organized within a logic of volume and passage. This logic deploys a vernacular of: Disappearance, “Ushering”, and Establishment. It is a social production of culture reticulated within a general social epistemological industry that is in collusion with ontology and science.

This shift I tend to understand as non- transcendental in effect, although (perhaps for the last time) it retains the gestures of transcendentalism. Death is Dead is the graduated reduction of the volume of transcendence. And Death is Dead is turning up louder than Kitsch Cynicism.

Death is Dead is not the Death of Death, because its relation to transcendence is already, lucidly, ironic and ambiguous, because it isn’t nostalgic, and because it is neither, overtly, harbouring resentment nor reactionary. The Death of Death follows in the tradition of relegating and delegating eschatological epistemologies as “Post”. This industry, over the last thirty years especially, operates an “in-out” machinery that’s both fascinated with — and hypnotized by — alterity, and is governed by a territoriality (territorialization/deterritorialization) of personal identity (Being) which places it always at war.

Death is Dead is not war; Death of Death is, and further, it is a casualty.

Kitsch Cynicism is a merged divergence of two strains of social humour (disposition/temperament). Its inclination is usually a display of established signs as re-invested-in totems.

It is a parallel communique. A pre-established aesthetic is recognized as motivated lifestyle, and so then subjected to a superimposition; an overlay which recapitulates and recuperates an exclusive and compromising set of icons and displaces the motive which makes them such. It defies them, divests them, re-invests in them, and claims (deterritorializes then reterritorializes) the icons as the indication of their own issue. It is the rendering of an established course as flagrantly re-routed, and exposed thus as mutable. Its driver is the ecstasy of reversal. It is called play. Its principle is relativity and sublime indifference. What is high class is presented as cheap and vice versa. This is Kitsch.

Cynicism operates (with) this system by proffering the reversed state of significance as arbitrary and adds an equivalent dose of ridicule. Its alterity casually manifests — it is seemingly inobstrusive, but it is, nevertheless, still war (also). Cynicism is the weaponry of the lifestyle. It is a continual dislocation of establishing codes — of identity itself. This is the case despite the fact that Identity is still the prize. Its slogan is: I want to be whatever I want in however a way I wish to represent it. It is a challenge to a fixed policy of representation.

Lately, this movement has shown itself in Gay culture as a petulant mimesis of middle-class accruement of artifacts (the politics of the tacky), and haughty display of sexual dress and gestures upon which aspersions have been cast by a hierarchized social order that designates them (and their practitioners) as marginal. It is a tactic which orients to confounding a placement while it simultaneously revels in its difference. This (also) is war.

And more recently it can be seen in a feminist culture — or perhaps it is more accurate to say a certain community of women (inasmuch as with regard to Feminism it is inclined to not refer to itself as such; in the wake of a general territorialization and colonization of that discipline) — in a similar fashion but with the following differences: (1) it plays out an ambiguity with respect to sexual partner gender preference; (2) it displaces any notion of a settlement (whether as ‘settling down’ ‘settling with’ or as negotiated compromise) (3) it contentiously represents the transcendental fissure between the ‘stages’ of womanhood from ‘little girl’ to ‘teenage girl’ to ‘young woman’ and the process of adulthood ( or ‘adulteration’ as Jessica says) right to the social politics of “aging” woman. Here it challenges at each instance the predetermined currency of these as a self-evident position.

This can be seen recently in the emerging increase in the volume of artistic production by women (mostly on the part of their current generation) from fashion shows, to theatre, visual arts, literature, cinema, and music.

Death is Dead introduced itself to me initially in the late phase of the cult of death, which in its decaying sustained note presented an anti- transcendentalism (which was its undoing) in a cultural production of a revised fascination with vampirism ( or more pointedly, with vampires). Goth music and vampire stories (as literature and cinema) proliferated throughout the 80’s and worked-out a seductive disregard for rites of passage and sustained the rite itself as a romance logic no longer culminating in apocalypse but rather commensurate with it — a romance, in fact, of apocalypse itself. It was the erotics of uncertainty, where the certainty of death as a social function (as a social philosophy of a biological/medical event) was challenged. Vampires are warriors.

It was a bit like Peter Pan with a hard-on, or a horny Wendy cultivating her archival fascination with the image of a dangerous and sardonic male, and her role in overwhelming the overawing — all this with both of them having a drug habit (the delicacies of excess). It was the seduction strategies of the predator, and it was articulated largely within an aesthetics which privileges the male through a reversible metaphysics of master/slave relations.

The next move of the ushering aesthetic of Death is Dead was the cultural side-effect of the AIDS crisis, that is to say the crystalization of the entanglement of sex and death; of pleasure and consequence. Death is Dead cultivates an eroticized indifference to consequence. Consequence becomes hence an opportunity to reify a deliberate referral to self as true current (the imminentization of the ontological eschaton — which is to say that selfhood is conceived of being actualized only at the moment of its end as a psychoanalytic concept and its subscription to bio-electric paradigms). It is lifestyle as an unimpeded unfolding of self as motion — as momentum.

It is thus selfhood or personality, or Being, as the surfer and the surf — it is a gerund; it is surfing. Other analogies could be: electricity and digital processing (that is, a digital relation which dispenses with analog refusal, i.e. non- dialectical, because the analog is not an alterior — or ulterior — method but rather a procedural method whose movement is commensorate — or complicit — with digital trajectories, so the thrust is not upon digitalization per se but rather the interface between organic and mechanic — mechanization — as a symbiosis between human and machine, as a relationship which is stimulating and generative). The erotics of envelope modification.

Self thus, is not strictly embodied, it is a collusion — interstitial; it is apparent, yet only inferred, like the center in sampler music. It is oblique.

(As an aside, it allows for an aesthetic vernacular concerned with parameters).

Death is Dead was next sighted at the performance of a play entitled Terminal. The title allows for electrical analogies and the structure of the play fits an oblique agenda. More or less a walk through a kind of occidental Book of the Dead, laid-out in 21 tableaus without a narrative through-line (despite the organizing thematic) or resolution: its presentation is multifaceted and illustrates a distribution of death as that which can be informed by/with a range of visceral ‘takes’: gruelling, funny and a turn-on and more. Death, then, as a fractal calculus or algebra set up for interfacing.

Suddenly I noticed a cultural production of death everywhere. Death-core music groups; another theatre piece to come which is a funeral procession. I thought about all the intellectual death parties: Death of the author, meaning, et. al.; of trend proclamations the death of jazz, punk, etc. A killing spree which seemingly left nothing alive. Mass cultural genocide. Then I thought about the mysteries of the interface between David Karesh, Waco and the F.B.I. — Death as battleground. All of which is yet to be flushed out.

But the kicker came when I went into a comic store and noted that the hype was on three things: the death (and resurrection) of Superman; Death the three-part comic (who is depicted as a benevolent young woman in goth punk attire) and all its merchandising (dolls, posters, T-shirts, etc.); and issue #497 of Batman, which was being restricted in its sale to 2 per customer — the attraction being therein that the invulnerable vulnerability of the hero is ended when an old man breaks the Batman’s spine over his knee. The Batman is therefore paralyzed. Granted, a symbolic death, yes, and I realized this was the generative point. For with so much death around, its distribution was inevitable, and that is a symbol which is very efficient in distribution. With so much death around, I surmise that it is the sign of its total exhaustion, like so much before it.

Death then, is Dead. But it has resurrected (or at least come to be regarded) as a machine to interface with. Death as cybernetics, and as virtual. Life and Death therefore, as misnomers. Death as the new wave, the new life, the new lifestyle.

Are you laughing yet?

Are you crying?

Are you nothing?


Of course.

Of course.

m-angle-angel is the cyber-alias of Michael Boyce, who is author of The Vague Generation and director of the video documentary of the same name.