Dear reader,

This is a piece of writing that starts out sober, from reading a passage in Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaux, pp. 456-459, my current early AM energy source. Then it takes off on a wild improvisation. Back in my days as a scholar I tried hard to be the sober historian proving a thesis and a cautious Marxist, but I couldn’t help being inspired by my study to a kind of creativity which, to my knowledge then, was not permitted. I confined that “line of flight,” which the authors above would call it, to my private notes, bracketing it off from useful information and from the eyes of others. When I left academia I took my improvisational energy to the street, that is, to music, and for a period mostly abandoned study (and avoided the formal study of music!) When I returned to serious study in the late 80s I was even more improvisational than before, for no school was within reach to tell me what writing was valid and what wasn’t. Yet something of the scholar remained, and it’s this: for me there is no flight without thinking that I have solid ground to take off from and to keep my eye on; otherwise I am just writing to entertain myself. Only solid ground, however illusory, can join myself in space-time with the material issues before me, and give myself and my partner, the reader, something to work on together. In line with what I write below, I am glimpsing an escape from entertaining myself or being your entertainer. I am the neither/nor of that, and a both/and: a real live writing saxophonist and an imagined space, and imagining as well that I write for both of our sakes.


“Consumer” is a term that lumps together the following historical figures: that which consumes as a mere biological act, which would include all animals and Paleolithic humans; that which consumes what it makes itself communally and does not merely find, which is the Neolithic; that which buys what is available on a market according to need; and finally that figure whose acquisition of goods is mediated by a regime of consumption, which is the modern invention. Since only the latter creates what is normally called a consumer the term mystifies by implying that we today are merely paying for what we need. Or better, it’s as if we were paleolithics who on the way to the hunt met another party that offered us some of their extra catch in exchange for some berries we just picked. In other words, the solidarity of “human” history: we’re involved in a human act, still choosing the most efficient way to get what we need. We know there’s a difference today but all us humans have been consuming in order to live, right? To be a consumer then fits the model of liberation through greater efficiency, and we should be grateful that progress, from caveman to modern man, has made this possible. To be a human then confirms our common humanity together with all those around the globe struggling upwards to acquire our “advantages. “

When one says, “as a consumer,” one has already made a slip, since there is no way that I can not be a consumer in the contemporary sense. I might sustain myself by foraging for food, growing my own, or sharing what I grow through exchange, yet I cannot extricate myself from this most highly developed consumer society on the planet. Even to play music “on the side” would not qualify as an escape, since the leisure side is also created as a part of the modern regime of consumption. There is no marketplace in First World countries, not even the yard sale is a marketplace such as existed before mass consumption was created; it is a leisure activity. “As a consumer” implies choice, liberation from necessity, but it is a term of subjection; we are no longer subjects of the crown but right here. I choose this car over that but I cannot choose not to have a car without severely limiting what choice, freedom and liberation could mean.

“As a musician” I am subjected to a regime that has gathered the musicians I want to play with and those I can play for in a variety of locations that can only be reached through some overarching machine, which includes roads, cars, cellphones, recordings, and the internet. I might say I choose the most efficient means of reaching others, but I cannot choose to be efficient or not and still be a musician. The option to be “just” a musician is not on the available list. I am fully implicated in this regime, 24-7, top to toe. Yet this unfreedom is not that of the slave, who is a component of the machine, like a piston; rather I am subjected to the machinery–of suburbanization, urbanization, roads, cars, localization of activities, social networking. All this is an arrangement of the State and Capital, to which the consumption/production machine makes sense; it is their proud project. It is not my project; to it I am merely the humbled, complaining subject.

What started this off was a reflection on entertainment. I am a producer in addition to being a consumer of this; the division lives through me and I reproduce and sustain it. “Entertainment” we know is not universally human but is constructed in modern times. It is not only a function of the regime of consumption, tied to the concept of pleasure- and leisure-for-all, but the prime model motivating the regime: to be a consumer is to be entertained by “choice” and by the products themselves. We forget that we need bread etc. to sustain our bodies and rather just want to go shopping. The only one who wants to be entertained is the consumer, and the freedom is to choose between entertainers and their services and products offered competitively for purchase. News that is not entertainment is not news; music that its maker does not want to be heard as entertainment must at least swim against a fierce current, and at the end get the feedback, “good show.” It is not possible to choose to be entertained or not, any more than I can I choose to be an entertainer. And refusing to go out to any show or averting my eyes from any television set does not prevent me from being a consumer of entertainment, for this is simply how life is defined in practical terms.

I can only play what is called music for others as a producer under this regime; it is that which makes me a being of the world. If I am a saxophonist I have chosen this instrument among many; my choice between the saxophone and the trumpet is the choice to sleep under this bridge or that. I would not, as a ten-year-old, have chosen the hurdy-gurdy, because that signified the past and would not have connected me with the real world. Playing the saxophone was qualitatively different from imitating my mother humming a tune, which is only barely called “making music.” And surely I have developed my understanding of what music is and is not music, and the parameters of what I think of as my musical imagination through knowledge of other music producers, and these have all reached me through the regime of entertainment. It is then a mystification to think art is more than glorified, idealized entertainment and not, if we’re awake to catch it, a momentary glimpse through the veil of what engulfs us. Isn’t idealization itself the greatest of entertainments?

What this means is that if we sense that there might be music that escapes the regime of entertainment we must go very far in examining the extent of our subjection, our incorporation into the consumer project. We would have to at least imagine an isolation quite different from the act of simply not watching TV or buying a car, an autonomy beyond turning off the computer. An imagination such as this is not below action, as our intellectual culture dictates (imagination as indulgence; action as necessity), but on a different plane. Put it this way: I would have to imagine that as a player I embody music as a child humming to himself and not performing an entertainment for himself (which he could then produce for others). I might imagine the social body of those who hear me, even if they do not “listen” (a culturally determined mode), as an expansion of my own resonant body, which loves to vibrate. I would be and not produce music. I would have to endure the accusation of narcissism, “not truly caring” about others, an accusation fully in service to the regime. Even to imagine such lines of flight is to escape for a moment, to glimpse another world, a somewhere else that is nowhere. They are inherently a critique of the regime of entertainment and consumption. The imagination that I am music, for instance, might well be inaugurated by the discursive critique found in books and talk, but unlike discourse this thought actually enters the nowhere. It plays the very conditions of what makes it possible to play.

There is no such thing as freedom but there is, in Deleuzian-Guattarian terms, “becoming-freedom,” which does not exist as one’s substantial acquisition nor as the not-yet of hope but as the kind of imagination that is turning the body, is the turning body. It points in a direction that is indeterminate and does not really matter. In this sense it is experimental; not the part where you’ve set things up to confirm something but the part where you don’t know where it’s going, where everything is an accident. The concept of innovation, of constructing newness and “creating positive alternatives,” is not that experiment, not that turning of the body. Innovation, the watchword of neoliberal hype, is made to look indeterminate, like a real choice—that’s entertainment!–but there is nothing accidental and indeterminate here, the new is not just any new. Whatever it was in the days of Rimbaud and Pound, the new is now fully realized as a component of the machinery of consumption: we are absolutely modern (in this sense) and don’t have to achieve it. We can have the new and alternative ad infinitum–desire, sense of risk, and reward for waiting—which leaves as little to the imagination as possible. We do not need to imagine the new, in fact imagination that is not desire craving fulfillment would just get in the way. The entertainment regime does not compel us to turn the body; in fact we do not need to leave the cave, for the new is fully what is offered as our choice.

There is however this, beneath the airtight analysis and cynicism: the regime may proliferate but must bow before the possibility that in incorporating all its presumed alternatives—the new, the ecstatic, the boring, the cynical, the journalistic (the “real world”), the utopian, and of course art–it will exhaust us, its subject consumers and producers. We can’t go on, and we don’t have to. This is where imagination leaps ahead; as we imagine the overwhelming finitude of our regime we can feel our exhaustion down to the depths, and that feeling is our body turning.

Let’s say the imagination is flimsy, insecure, soft or androgynous, is not fighting for freedom or trying to figure out how to escape, how to be saved. It is the ear attuned to the accident, what escapes the world’s ordering. It is as much turning as being turned by what it now hears, sees, and finds out. It senses but does not put its finger on what it is doing. To know is not its basic direction; knowledge and critique always trail after the fact, in this case the fact of turning. This imagination does not need the truth but is compelled by what rings true, and is motivated to hear that ringing day in day out. And it will never know for sure that the ringing is heard by the ear attuned to the accident or is, like the tinkling of the new article on display and Nietzsche’s “truth effect,” just the come-on and the reward for waiting.