My head hurts. This morning, I read an essay by Joseph Tate in which he applies the rhizomatic techniques of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (bear with me) to Radiohead's Hail To The Thief album.
I should have read Tate's essay before; I've referred to several of the other pieces in the collection he edited, but I've been trying to steer clear of the overtly critical/theoretical stuff while I write my own book about OK Computer. I'm not, after all, supposed to be writing for a specialised, academic audience; I'm writing for Radiohead fans, who are (one imagines), a bit smarter than Oasis fans, but aren't necessarily given to ploughing through tomes of French philosophy of an evening. I've been content to chuck the occasional teasing tapas of Barthes and Foucault into the footnotes, but that's it.
Anyway, I realised that what I'd been doing, unwittingly (not having read any Deleuze myself, but does that make me a bad person?) is applying exactly these techniques when writing about OK Computer. Brief detour for clarification - "rhizome", in a cultural or philosophical sense, refers to an academic method using many and various entry and exit points. It's opposed to an arborescent (treelike) set-up, which involves hierarchy and a fixed canon of sources. Those of you with GCSE biology will realise that the opposed concepts are metaphors drawn from differing models of plant growth: a rhizome is an underground stem from which shoots and roots poke out in all directions; a tree tends to grow upwards and outwards. Rhizomatic cultural phenomena include flashmobs and critical mass cycling events. Wikipedia is somewhere in the same timezone, although it's clearly become a victim of its own success, and less of an intellectual free-for-all.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I'm having huge fun pulling in cultural references from every crevice of my memory and dropping them into the Radiohead mix to see what might happen: recent provocateurs have included John Donne, JG Ballard, the 1997 Asian financial crisis, Lynne Truss, Metallica and mortgage contracts. But now, I realise, what I'm doing is Deleuzian. Or even quasi-Deleuzian, which is better. Marvellous, I think, now I can make the book as up-its-own-arse as I like, on the basis that in doing so I'm being non-hierarchical and therefore accessible and therefore readable. Bollocks, I then think, almost immediately:
a) If I carry on like this, about three people will buy my book, and;
b) I'm meant to deliver the manuscript in six weeks, and if I start pebbledashing it with fresh semiotic shale now, it might just be ready in time to celebrate Sir Thomas Yorke's 50 Years In Showbiz.
In the state of mind that PG Wodehouse defined as "not exactly gruntled", I traipsed off to meet our old buddies James and Jeab for lunch, serenaded by the fabulous New Orleans trumpeter Leroy Jones. Also present was James's tai chi teacher, a veteran anarchist of the Kropotkin variety, who was arrested at Grosvenor Square in 1968.
He does a lot of work with Bangkok's slum dwellers, especially those with HIV/AIDS, and he had an interesting angle on our recent local difficulties here in Bangkok. While no fan of Thaksin (the deposed PM, currently enjoying an extended holiday in London), he said that he was the first Thai politician to acknowledge that the poor existed. Much of this was opportunistic; he offered short-term fixes to buy their votes, and wasn't genuinely interested in improving their lot. But the simple fact that he addressed the concerns of people at the bottom of the heap stirred them out of their apathy; for the first time, they paid attention to what was going on in the wider political and social sphere, because they now realised that it affected them. Although my new acquaintance (I won't name him - the situation is still sensitive enough for the 'wrong' opinion to provoke the interest of the authorities) wasn't sure what form this attention might take, the simple fact that this huge mass of people had woken up was interesting enough. Thaksin had summoned a rhizomatic genie out of the lamp; he wanted to spur Thai people on to become members of the consumer society, but the phenomenon could have gone in any one of a hundred directions, with all sorts of political and other forces pushing it here and there.
I started to feel a little uneasy. Only a few days before, I'd written an article offering a cautious welcome to the coup. Now, I realised that while the generals had undoubtedly rid Thailand of a corrupt and self-serving leader, they'd also rammed the cork back in the Deleuzian bottle. What Thaksin had offered to the poor was not necessarily hope, but possibility; the possibility of bypassing the karmic inevitability of their lot, their preordained role on the outside of Bangkok's gleaming new shopping malls, not even daring to look in. Maybe those other people, the ones who'd been making all those bleaty noises about democracy and the will of the people, had a point after all. Thaksin (inadvertently) provided the possibility of Thai society becoming ginger or asparagus or a fern, with all the options that might offer; under new management, it was back to being a tree, and a tall, straight one at that.
And I came home, and found that the generals had been true to their word, and (as had been rumoured for a few days) they had relinquished power within 14 days. To another general. And then I Googled for a bit (another function that feels pretty damn rhizomatic, but isn't really) and found this fascinating article explaining why Deleuze and Guattari have become so popular in that haven of anarchists and egalitarians, the Israeli Defence Forces.
And the only question that formed in my mind was this: would I have this pounding headache if I'd decided to write about Oasis instead?