David Archibald and Carl Lavery
The social and political upheaval of 1968 didn’t erupt out of nowhere; many of the issues and ideas that would emerge during that year were already there in embryo in 1967, as explored by Glasgow Rock Dialogues.
Glasgow Glam Rock Dialogues is the unlikely but intriguing title of a series of performed lectures by a pair of academics at Glasgow University, David Archibald and Carl Lavery. Mixing Marxist theory with a glam rock aesthetic, they’re attempting to ‘perform thinking’ in front of a live audience, and break down the traditional hierarchies of academia.
I met up with one of the pair, Carl Lavery, ahead of their latest performance, ’67, on this week as part of Mayfesto at the Tron. He explained, “It came out of an article by an interesting American artists’ collective, Our Literal Speed, who made this comment about how in today’s academia, there are almost rock stars of academia, and they were interested in subverting that idea like in punk, though David and I were interested in running with the great inauthenticity, and staging ourselves ironically as glam rock stars.
“Since, we’ve tried to heighten the irony of what an academic glam rock star might be – and we’ve realised that we’re fucking ridiculous!”
The idea of the academic as rock star, as ridiculous as it may seem, is certainly vindicated by the celebrity of a figure such as Slavoj Zizek, who attracts as many adoring young people as Ed Sheeran, although his acolytes are a tad smarter than Sheeran’s.
As for Archibald and Lavery, while there is much humour in their performances, and there’s a only a certain amount of gravitas a middle-aged man can have lecturing in his pants, there is also an underlying seriousness, and even pathos in their conversations, presented with a welcome lack of pretension.
Lavery is keen that this element isn’t obscured: “There’s also a desire to do some interesting critical thinking, within that subterfuge of us being idiots. There might be a way in which academia, by being true to itself in a weird way, and not speaking down, but by finding alternative ways to communicate, might actually be useful in today’s climate.”
Certainly, with the backlash against elites and rise of anti-intellectualism in Anglo-Saxon culture, academics may have to find subtler strategies to engage with wider audiences.
“I think that academics – and I know this sounds perverse, but it is dialectical – if they found ways to ironise or problematise their presentation, they could make it more acceptable, then I think their ideas could get across” Again, Zizek would appear to be a prime example of this process in practice.
Lavery is ultimately quite hopeful; “I think people are really interested in learning, they want to hear these things, and they won’t hear them anywhere else.
“What I think is essential in arts and humanities is to produce certain kinds of critical thinking, to catalyse imaginative ways of thinking amongst the audience. That’s what our game was, it’s never to patronise.”
Indeed, both Lavery and Archibald genuinely love glam rock, its limitations as a genre adding to its charm.
“Bolan’s amazing – the lyrics are really shit- they’re nonsense, but the rhythm and intensity that comes out of the song, the energy, it’s really amazing, I think.
“People always think it’s a really shit genre, that there was nothing political in it, that it was inauthentic,”
The subject this time around will be 1967, a pivotal year in twentieth century history, and one that the duo regard as intensely relevant to the present.
“We were thinking everyone’s gearing up for ’68, but everything that happens in ’68 has already happened theoretically in ’67.”
As Lavery points out, the two key texts of les évènements, Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle and Raoul Vaneigem’s The Revolution of Everyday Life were both published in 1967, and there wee already a series of riots across Europe and the States presaging the political ferment of ’68. One could also add Godard’s film La Chinoise and Weekend, which caught the mood of the nation avant la lettre, as it were.
“We saw all those moments in ’67 as opening up two alternative paths in politics, the utopian politics of a passionate revolution, a revolution of everyday life, a revolution that went beyond party politics, a revolution in sex and gender, a total revolution if you will – a revolution of perceptions, as well as a revolution against the state.
“But at the same time you’ve also got a politics of elitism, a politics of individuality that tries to militate against that, a politics where the left splits, into what you could call identity politics, which, while absolutely crucial, has tended to be the focus rather than a focus on economic structures.”
The performance will use play with the science fiction trope of parallel worlds to look at these two strands of politics, and at the nature of time itself.
David Bowie on History
“It’s an attempt at rethinking how history works, if we took the idea of history as percolation seriously, an idea from Michel Serres. His idea is that history isn’t over, it percolates, erupts an comes back, so that unlike time flowing in a stream, Serres’ interested in ripples that haven’t gone downstream, that might actually come back.
“We were also influenced by Walter Benjamin, that idea of blasting the past into the future, that idea that in 1967 there were virtual possibilities that are integral to our present, that we don’t really see, but are going to set us up for the future.”
Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus – the inspiration for Walter Benjamin’s Angel of History“So we have a Hell and Heaven, and show how these two possibilities in politics, those two virtualities, are impacting on our present, and in the future, lead to the destruction of the planet.
“We want to get people to rethink their idea of history, that it’s not linear, it’s not Bergsonian, it’s moments that can come back and erupt at any time,” all of which should fit perfectly into RFN6818’s aims of investigating how the radical cinema of 1968 can speak to us today.
Glasgow Glam Rock Dialogues – STUC – Sun 6 May