Let There Be Lite

Following the lamentable indulgence and gratuitous abandon of the previous post I feel it is necessary to compensate by furnishing a visit to Pedant’s Corner. I noticed that on more than one occasion in Strength Weekly I have inveighed against the notion of ‘re-invention’, such as here and here. An article by Andy Gill on Radiohead in today’s Independent Arts & Book Review features the observation that, after OK Computer, ‘again they re-invented themselves’. This strikes me as a perfectly good example of the non-romantic use of the term. Such moderate use is increasingly rare, however.

My beef is that the most common use of the term refers to an impossible psychological operation. Since it is impossible its execution can only be illusory.

When David Bowie was being Ziggy Stardust in 1972 we were told that the singer had been inhabited by the character. In 1973 he released Aladdin Sane and would subsequently only ‘become’ Ziggy intermittently. However, he was and continues to be, described as capable of ‘re-inventing’ himself.

This was seen as unusual within the pop business but even then it was recognised that Bowie was only doing what actors do every few months, if they can get the work. It was not his ‘self’ that was being re-invented – just a performance persona. Hardly psychological rocket science.

What Bowie and Radiohead do is develop. In less exotic milieux people do this all the time. Often the development is gradual but if you haven’t seen them for a bit it strikes you as a sudden change. Sometimes it is actually sudden, insofar as the components of what will be the new development are not evident, for a variety of reasons, until the last moment.

But the current use of ‘re-invent’ refers to a transformation that is adept, magical and barely involves any process. It seems to be premised on the conviction that there is nothing in our psychological makeup that could prevent rapid and profound transformation. It seems, in fact, to be based on the idea that there is nothing psychological.

Once the tiresome baggage of the psychological is disposed of then what is left is, presumably, feather-light and infinitely malleable. It’s purely reactive – at night time it shuts down and is unburdened by dreams. It is My Little Pony.

This cheap-airline-hand-baggage-only quantity (we can’t really call it a ‘self’ without confusing the issue) resides on the other side of the skin to the tattoos, the adornments and the garments. It is a possession, like the other accoutrements. It is owned. As such it is readily replaceable. There are no ‘circumstances’ that define it or constrain it. You can change it whenever you want. There is nothing ‘beneath’ it.

I blame capitalism but then I usually do. Even the newsreader’s ever-changing tie has a newsreader behind it.