POINT issue #33, 26 June-2nd July, 2013.
SOCIOLOGY AS CRITIQUE
... a brief Bourdieu primer...
Pierre Bourdieu was famously cantankerous. A sociologist who stood at the forefront of that discipline’s messy emergence, he had a strong hand in pushing it forward. At the base of his thought was his sense that democracy functions to disguise the hereditary transmission of privilege, his sense being that an emphasis on the individual allows success and failure to be presented as the innocent product of merit.
Bourdieu, who died in 2002, conducted investigations across a wide range of social groups, for instance analysing French school records. He noted that the language used to describe a child’s attainment often varied with their parent’s educational level (their occupation was recorded next to the comments on each transcript), so while the children of plumbers were frequently described as ‘clumsy’, ‘servile’, ‘awkward,’ the children of barristers and doctors were awarded ‘mastery’, ‘cultivation’, or ‘ease’. The correlation was depressingly obvious, with each parents’ cultural capital being shunted quietly down the line. He also looked at the May 1968 protests, noting that the prime movers and protesters were often members of the upper-middle class, who had not succeeded as their parents did. This ‘failure of cultural capital’, Bourdieu suggested, was part of their anger. More generally, it suggests that ‘failure’ can be a catalytic element in sympathy with other classes, which perhaps implies something depressing about the left-wing in general: that it is often led by disenchanted members of higher orders, and seldom by those who rise from within.
This is a reformulation of an issue seminal to Bourdieu reading, namely his own social movement. Though he came from rural working stock himself, and became one of France’s most celebrated academic figures, he believed such movement is uncommon, even designed against. His theories are attacked on this ground – that he was himself evidence of their falsity. However, if cultural capital operates silently (technically speaking, cloaks itself in specificity), then bringing it out into the open necessarily provokes anger from those who feel they are suddenly complicit in the argument. How many of his opponents’ qualms devolve to reasonable objections, and how many a sense of personal assault? Are they being provoked by a vaguer, semi-conscious social instinct to preserve the fictions that nourish them?
Bordieu’s term for the mutually structured and structuring environment of social existence was ‘Habitus’, but his thought is directed at the point where many such systems seem to dissolve. For instance, the habitus of an international science community sees the plaudits we present to distinguished scientists mediated by a culturally-capitalised system, in which excellence is designated by the same process that confers competence.
One of the most interesting question must be, what function did Bordieu serve within this system? His theorizing, while frequently addressing his own social rise, seldom touched on the habitus of an idea like Habitus itself. There is no single such thing as ‘capitalism’, but one of the many strengths of that multi-faced organism is that it incorporates opposition to strengthen its own ends. Cultural-capital, by that same token, requires opposition to effectively define and reinforce the lines of transmission.
By opening the machine, forcing himself within and then dropping dead on the engine, Bordieu may only have increased its complexity, while diminishing our chances of ever truly fathoming it.
DARKNESS AND LIGHT
Winter Solstice 2013, Whare Flat
Let me admit it from the outset: I am a biased reviewer. Because I love this winter solstice party. I’ve been to almost all of them, from the first one at the old Seacliff hospital, what, 18 years ago now. So 2013 was installment 19. Which makes it quite a venerable event by dance party standards, and nearly adult by human. Something is presumably outlasting individual personnel.
I like the way the party isn’t just a rave held at midwinter; it really is a solstice celebration. Most obviously, the greater part of it is basically outside, as it has been ever since those first two years at Seacliff. So there is always this neurosis about the weather, which when you think about it is as it should be. And this year that whole carry-on was a feature. Surely they weren’t going to proceed in the middle of the worst storm in the country’s history? Rumour spoke of closed roads, innumerable uncrossable fords, car parks under water, and imminent cancellation. But for those of us who’ve had a bit of experience with this party, it was pretty clear that the lead-in weather was absolutely on the money.
And so it proved to be. Whare Flat, the home of solstice for nearly a decade now, was in a state of absolute beauty. Everything shrouded in snow, and clear, still, perfect weather, with the supermoon so big it was like it was straining to come down and join in the fun.
And with elegant, tasteful lighting, and all the art around, the party has never looked so good. A shift of the outdoor dance zone closer to the rest of the party than it has been in previous years also helped create a stronger sense of intimacy and focus. Walking - or stumbling - around aimlessly has always been a feature of Dunedin parties, but this year even that gained a sense of meaning. You actually wanted to wander around aimlessly, it was so enjoyable. Even way up the road, into a winter so delectably pretty you couldn’t be completely sure you weren’t just hallucinating.
One constant this year was mud. It got in all your stuff, and even the indoor ambient zone seemed to suck it in, despite everyone taking their shoes off at the door. The outdoor dance floor was a genuine quagmire, so you had to adapt your dancing style to the fact that your feet were stuck fast. At first it was disconcerting, but eventually I got used to it, like everyone else just flailing about like a loose scarecrow in a big wind. And I could kind of see the universe’s joke: something about being grounded.
It’s not so easy to identify how you make a party go off. There’s no recipe - though hard work and a happy community of volunteers are fundamental. So presumably they were in place, because this really was a classy party. Everyone else is saying it, so I will too: the best winter solstice so far. The unique Dunedin style was back like never before. If you still aren’t going because you hate dance parties, more fool you.
Oh, and I came home with the wrong gumboots. To be honest I hadn’t even noticed. It’s the taking them off at the ambient zone where there’s a vast collection of muddy boots at each entrance. So did I take someone else’s first or did they take mine? Socks or bare feet would have been a tough call. My gumboots have pink stars on the side, though you might not see them for the mud. I do like those stars. Maybe we can swap back next year.
“Don’t make me look too silly, I’m filming this for my daughter”
Cat Ruka is shit out of luck; but it’s her own fault. One, for bringing such goofy wigs and cheap adornments; two, for asking the audience to dress her, and three, because of her own eccentric orbit of the performance art galaxy. Ruka’s angle on presentation and materials is so reflexive you could wind up using your neck to crochet with. It all seems so lazy and throwaway. Objects, gestures are engaged, then discarded so quickly, you want to scream, what are you trying to say? The effect is all surface, irritating like dull banter.
Aye, but there’s the coconut-oil rub-down - when it comes to dealing with the identities others put on you, there are no Hamlets. Being? Not being? Feh. Whatever you say, mate. Look at the pretty pictures. Luckily, performance art works fine with lumps.
From the moment she tip-toed her seven and half month pregnant self in on roller skates, which she seemed unable to actually roll in, nothing was slick or defined. No marks were hit; no peaks of meaning and involvement were attained. She spoke about her daughter’s impending birthdate as coinciding with the time of returning eels - an image of rebirth and pulsating life - then produced a thoroughly dead eel from a bucket and did nothing much with it. The slickest element, a pianist playing Erik Satie’s “The Arches” as accompaniment, pushed the issue. Although they pre-date his “Furniture Music”, sonic manifestos of meaninglessness, these short vignettes are Bauhausian in their slavery to form and trite triumphalism (not an insult where Satie is concerned – his laugh was on y’all). The dance itself - after an aeon of preamble set to “Nothing Compares To You” on repeat - seemed like rehearsal warm-ups. Diversions, all diversions, a homeopathy of signification that wants to infect you with the concrete reality of a massively pregnant half naked brown woman - and, tucked away in amniotic dream, Ruka’s daughter has moved among us, been spoken about but allowed to simply be. The lump in Cat Ruka’s pudding has fingers and toes.
Prior to this, another mother’s touch was felt when local singer Dudley Benson and his two younger siblings had their long deceased parent’s signature tattooed on themselves simultaneously. I generally feel ambivalent towards public-personal expressions like this, that are ritualistic and important to those involved, but of low performance value to those who are not. Yet somehow the occasion of Matariki lent poignancy to the gesture, and the feeling of all of us being some kind of family, expressed by lines as thin but resonant as a signature was palpable. But it was probably just as well the bar was open.
Puipui Maya Turei says that her work is simply about joy, which would be embarrassing if she wasn’t capable of making large audiences giddily happy about the wackiest things. Opening the evening’s affair, with techno-boy Fauxhound providing beats, video and narration, it was all so stupidly simple. She was one of those kick-ass Japanese girls in the chew-and-spew video games. We were the functions that gave her strength when she battled out a level. It’s completely dumb, until you realise how much you’re investing in it – when it all becomes rather more than a game. Only the maze and the demons were onscreen; the rest of us, hilariously real. The co-creator of the stand-out Matariki performance/installation piece of last year, Plastic, and a mere 20 years old, Turei has a handle on keeping it simple, but never being stupid, that is an embarrassment of (information) ages.