The Morning News

Listening Deconstructing Valentines

Less than a week since Valentine’s Day, the investigation of a unique and more or less distinct shared set of cultural ideologies recognized as post-Valentinism is appropriate and well overdue. Much like the precessional relationship of Modernism to post-Modernism, especially pertaining to the fields of songcraft, semiotics, and critical theory, post-Valentinism both appends and criticizes constituent factors of the Valentine, and generally incorporates, but is not limited to:
  • Extreme, often embarrassing self-reflexivity
  • Irony, parody, and subjectivity
  • Disorientation of visuality and temporality
  • Disregard for traditional distinctions of gender, genre, identity, “high” and “low” art, and “good” and “bad” gifts/dates
  • Late capitalism
The Monotones, “Who Wrote the Book of Love” (download)

A landmark song in the post-Valentine movement, “Who Wrote the Book of Love” references the subjective nature of authorship as examined by post-Valentine theorists. Ostensibly, it is ironically assumed by the songwriter (the notion of which is itself fallacious, as will be discovered) that there exists such a book, a sort of “narrative of legitimation,” as Jean-François Lyotard would put it, universally accepted since the Enlightenment as explanation for our socialization of Love. Of course, there is no such “meta-narrative” or author, for, as Roland Barthes wrote, “It is language which speaks, not the author.” Thus, everyone becomes subjective author of his or her own story, as a reader, and responsible for the production of whatever meaning may be found in a text. In his Lover’s Discourse, Barthes suggests questions for the reader of the Monotones’ titular tome: “I look for signs, but of what? What is the object of my reading? Is it: Am I loved (am I loved no longer, am I still loved)?” The contemporary post-Valentinist will no doubt wish to add to that list: Will he or she call me back (was it something I did/said, did he/she enjoy the date/my gift/genitals)?

Robyn Hitchcock, “My Wife and My Dead Wife (Live)” (download)

Noted post-Valentine theorist Jean Baudrillard’s work focused primarily on the designation of “simulacra,” or representations in popular consciousness coming to precede (and often survive) any association with their “real,” natural counterpart, much like the heart-shaped chocolate box that bears little resemblance to the human organ. In his own words, “It is no longer a question of imitation, nor duplication, nor even parody. It is a question of substituting the signs of the real for the real.” It is this very concept that Robyn Hitchcock engages in his construction of an ethereal former wife in his song “My Wife and My Dead Wife,” where his character (pertinently lacking a distinct identity other than “husband,” which must also, importantly, be inferred by the listener), confuses his “real,” flesh-and-blood spouse for her “imaginary” or representational simulacrum, though he engages participatorially with both equally. This post-Valentine song also parodically and knowingly extrapolates societal expectations of indoctrinated identity roles, specifically the notions of “wife” and “dead.”

The Kinks “Lola” (download)

Masters of post-Valentinity, the Kinks created a robust micro-narrative in their song “Lola,” which, while ironically portraying the very post-Valentine intellectual scene in which they themselves were complicit, also manages to subvert conventional, Western gender and intercourse (sexual or otherwise) prescriptions. Queer theorist (though she rejects the assignation, naturally, as do most post-Valentists) Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick has described her post-Valentinist work Between Men as being “focused on the oppressive effects on women and men of a cultural system in which male-male desire became widely intelligible primarily by being routed through triangular desire involving a woman.” Hence, the construction of the identity of the feminine “Lola” which effects an easy egress from the implied heteronormativity of the Victorian sexual status quo into the post-Valentine. All of which, of course, is largely built upon Michel Foucault’s essential argument in his History of Sexuality, Vol. 1, which frames the acquisition of gender identity at the center of all debates by stating that, throughout history, “Whenever it is a question of knowing who we are, it is this logic that henceforth serves as our master key… Sex, the explanation for everything.” Indeed.

Sam Cooke, “Wonderful World” (download)

Sam Cooke’s effective and cleverly veiled polemic against the assumptive forces which have maintained Power over human societies appears to many Valentinists as a traditional, somewhat atavistic love song professing ignorance of the very infrastructures of authority and access to “truth” which it seeks to abolish. The insightful post-Valentinist, however, recognizes “Wonderful World (Don’t Know Much)” for what it is, another deconstructivist text exposing the incredulity of contrived historiography. The subjects identified by the “singer,” that which he “don’t know much about” (history, biology, trigonometry), also fall under the rubric of Lyotard’s “grand narrative,” such that, “if a metanarrative implying a philosophy of history [by his definition, a discourse of legitimation of the sciences] is used to legitimate knowledge, questions are raised concerning the validity of the institutions governing the social bond: these must be legitimated as well.” Furthermore, as Foucault wrote, in the West these institutions, “put into operation an entire machinery for producing true discourses concerning sex.” Which Cooke had obviously considered.

Frank Zappa, “What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body?” (download)

As previously stated, but restated here by Linda Hutcheon, “Parody—often called ironic quotation, pastiche, appropriation, or intertextuality—is usually considered central to post[Valentin]ism, both by its detractors and its defenders.” This explains Zappa’s parody of doo-wop (the signature Valentinist music form) in his song “What’s the Ugliest Part of Your Body?”—a song that also proves that, while traditional romanticism is supported as normative by preceding meta-narratives, unromanticism, even aromanticism, is acceptable, even encouraged, in post-Valentinism. There are also enough body issues present in Zappa’s lyrics to keep Baudrillard and Foucault busy for years.

Robert Palmer vs. Dizzee Rascal, “Fix Up, Look Addicted” (download)

Another consistent fixture in this theory is the blending of perceived “high” and “low” art forms. Here, “high” art (grime in the form of Dizzee Rascal’s “Fix Up, Look Sharp”) is “mashed up” with “low” art (’80s synth-rock in the form of Robert Palmer’s “Addicted to Love”), yet it is important to keep in mind that these socio-cultural classifications are irrelevant in post-Valentinism, disorienting though their juxtaposition may be. Also, it may be worth noting that Dizzee Rascal here employs what critics of post-Valentinism refer to as “obscurantism.”

The Archies, “Sugar Sugar” (download)

When writing on this post-Valentine classic by the Archies, famed musicologist Theodor Adorno, who customarily described himself as “more of a Shangri-Las guy,” adroitly recognized the criticism of Late Capitalist confectionary conglomeration by pointing out that, “Not only are needs satisfied purely indirectly, by means of exchange-values, but within the relevant economic sectors produced by the profit-motive, and thus at the cost of the objective needs of the [candy] consumers.” Picking up on the Archies’ ironic, pop self-reflexivity, Adorno adds, “The actual fusion of sentimental music lies rather in the temporary release given to the awareness that one has missed fulfillment.” Much like a sugar high, ineluctable yet transient, and what many of us experienced post-Valentine’s Day, no doubt.


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