Surfing the Blues


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I continue to think about vulnerability, chaos and blues.

These, it seems to me, not only have to be dealt with or cured but incorporated into a practice that is also a life.

Blues musicians, and many singers and poets of course have a long tradition of turning difficult feelings into shared beauty and universal messages.

For some reason, the contemporary artist has, in recent decades, been trained to be more cerebral, strategic, controlled, ironic, rational and cynical than this model, thus avoiding this kind of ‘trouble’.

This doesn’t really work for me, and so it’s been interesting to see, in my own thoughts, the work of my students and the ‘research’ of my colleagues an increasing interest in feeling, ‘affect’ and that word ‘trouble’.

It is the theorist Donna Haraway, I believe, who is generally regarded as having coined the axiom ‘staying with the trouble’ (part of the title of one of her books); a ‘trouble’ that perhaps arose form Judith Butler’s earlier title ‘Gender Trouble’ (a book that heralded the popularistation and proliferation and affirmation of previously more marginal ‘queer theory’).

So today, it is possible for me to draw upon all of this as a resource, to see that a bluesman or blueswoman is or was, just like Haraway, or like one of my students, ‘staying with the trouble’ (and not avoiding, curing or medicating it) in an attempt to acknowledge and work constructively with all the difficulties of a life, and particularly of a creative life.

Above, I also used the words ‘vulnerability’ and ‘chaos’, so I’ll just say a few words (to you and to myself) about those, before ending.

Chaos is frightening. We would like our lives and careers to be both consistent and dynamic, for them to have consistent momentum while going from strength to strength, achievement to achievement. But in my experience, this is usually an unattainable fantasy.

It seems that we are necessarily more like surfers who have to dawdle for a time, perhaps even feeling a little nauseous through inactivity,  passively accepting the effects of our environment upon us. Until we are, now and then, able to harness a certain temporal energy, an event, force, direction or moment of focused creativity. Then we can rise and momentarily stand and see for miles all around us as we are transported on a wave of our own achievement.

Enjoy it while it lasts, because it cannot last forever. Soon we are pulling our board uncomfortably up a beach that hurts our feet, then back out there dawdling in a discomforting swell again.

When I use the word ‘necessary’ above I mean that, without periods of Blues and Chaos we are just not able to locate the rare and special and (importantly) unexpected elements that we need to bring together into our next creative achievement or formation.

I mean that we necessarily have to make ourselves vulnerable, stay sensitised and ‘with the trouble’ in order to remain true to engage deeply with our own creative project, and to avoid the temptation of merely repeating ourselves, ‘exploiting’ or ‘capitalising on’ our previous success.

I’d like to illustrate this post with a song rather than just a picture, so here is a YouTube link to:




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