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Priljatelji: Jovan Ćulibrk

 

"An Ideal for Living" of Joy Division Revisited

 

1. The Sound and the Decline

 

ImageThe famous conclusion of Paul Morley that "Joy Division are, in this order of things, the centre of the (rock) universe"1 is - according to the brackets - twofold. Out of the brackets and in the sparkling intermingling of the personhood and the universe, Joy Division are "a central metaphor for everything I feel, about me, the world, music, emotion, love, death, time, God, and so on"2. Within the brackets, they are "last ever great rock group"3 - the position that in the worldview of Paul Morley has a clear apocalyptic odor.

 

In that worldview, not only that pop culture is a Gesamtkunstwerk but it is also the recapitulation of the history of western art, art that once took over the battlefield in the fight for the primal expression of the Western world from the church - therefore being the history of the West itself and loading pop generation with an intensity of the millennial search for the meaning of life.4 Words of David Bowie that "in this moment punk reached for dada" meant that new wave from 1977 to 1980 recapitulated the recapitulation - pop culture - in the manner of historical avant-gardes. And the path ended as it began in the middle age when the Western world announced its birth: "In 1976 and 1977, and in the years to follow, as symbolically remade by the Sex Pistols, it was perhaps, dadaists, lettrists, situationists, and various medieval heretics"5 who made a historical link to punk and new wave (The fact that one of the biographies of situationists is named An Ideal for Living is illustrative paradox in this link). But most important for Grail Marcus was that final performance of the Sex Pistols "into San Francisco's Winterland Ballroom on 14 January 1978... was as close to Judgment Day as a staged event can be."6 Thus, new wave is about "the end of the world": "This is the fire around which the dadaists and Debord's strangely fecund groups held their dances (...); in the Sex Pistols' music, no footnotes at all, the fire is central. The ancestors danced around it; their inheritors dove in."7

 

ImageIt was unrecorded song Belsen Was a Gas that was tour de force of the San Francisco concert: "Kill someone, be someone! Be a man, kill yourself! Please someone! We don't mind!" screamed Johnny Rotten, and "once more he was less singing a song than being sung by it."8 That invert of an art into a life, from dancers around the fire into the fire itself was the move that made pop culture a real Gesamtkunstwerk and that is how Sex Pistols "harassed group that would be Joy Division into action" in 1976.9 And the first name of the new group was Warsaw - formally after the song of David Bowie, but it was the same "act that would make it self-evident to everyone that the world is not as it seems"10 as the Pistols' "no distance" song screamed: "fascism won the Second World War"!11

 

A year later, the group recorded four-song EP, An Ideal for Living, and changed a name into Joy Division - "a name taken from the book that inspired the EP's final cut, No Love Lost: Ka-Tzetnik 135633's House of Dolls, a pulp nightmare diary of Nazi terror."12

 

But it was only their first LP Unknown Pleasures with its two sides, "one out of the womb, the other into the tomb",13 that lifted Joy Division into greatness. Packed by Peter Saville into simple black cover with X-Ray message of a dying star somewhere in the space on the front and with the allusion on Dali/Bunuel's Andalusian Dog on the inner sleeve, Unknown Pleasures started the magnificent apollonian row of records, in which will be no place for "a mildly interesting" (as the most of the critics usually consider it) first EP. Overall accepted cannon throw the first kitten into the water as not perfect enough.

 

But, if we take a look at another cannon, the one on the first pages of Lipstick Traces where the artifacts and documents of "the major event in history"14 are given, among two dozens of records Unknown Pleasure and An Ideal for Living, a prince and a beggar, are there together. Moreover, Marcus will use description of Sex Pistols' concert by Bernard Sumner ("They were terrible. I thought they were great. I wanted to get up and be terrible too"15) to connect Pistols' behavior with a situationist practice: "It was, finally, no more than an art statement, but such statements, communicated and received in any form, are rare."16 The same quality obviously should be found in An Ideal for Living: something made this four-song record, remembered only by new introduced name of the group, an important artifact and the forerunner of the future mission of Joy Division.

 

And that was hidden.

 

2. The Gesamt-world Examined

 

ImagePop culture as the real Gesamtkunstwerk mean not only that pop culture is the totality and synthesis of all the arts but that border between the art and the life also has been erased. In this relationship art often saturated life and yet in 1974 Colman Andrews wrote that "a new current of energy" in design of the record-covers came "not only from the music itself... but from the people who make the music and from the life-styles they have stimulated."17 In the same spirit, Guy Debord stated that world became spectacle and "spectacle is not a sum of images but social relationship between individuals mediated by images."18 The signs, symbols and styles do not any more relate to the reality but to the other signs and Laurie Anderson will very often quote Lenin's sentence that "aesthetics will be the ethics of the future."

 

In comparison, there was no society in the world history as saturated by aestheticism as the Nazi one. Still, it came to us just recently: "only in the memoirs of Albert Speer is to be found some appreciation of the way Hitler applied his aesthetic talents;"18a therefore those memoirs "also help to explain his mysterious grip on the German people."19 In a manner of a Wagnerian sacrifice Hitler exchanged his paintbrush for a politics "to be the master builder of the Third Reich, in that way combining the role of ruler and artist,"20 thus aiming to create a German state as the Gesamtkunstwerk masterpiece. Paradoxically enough, An Ideal for Living will combine two of Hitler's favourite arts - the visual one and the music - as Ian Curtis was described by his wife as fascinated with the aesthetical side of the nazism. A dozen times they saw together Bob Foss' Cabaret - in which "everything has the rhythm of legend, of the sacred" as Saul Friedländer said for Cabaret's German counterpart, Lili Marleen.21

 

For the Nazi 'artists', the Jew was the natural enemy of such aesthetic world: as Hitler put in Mein Kampf, "...he [the Jew] contaminates art, literature, the theatre, makes mockery of natural feeling, overthrows all concepts of beauty and sublimity..."22 Thus purification of the state from the Jews is needed as the presumption of the artwork and the beginning of the creative process. Ian Curtis will use writings of Ka-Tzetnik, "a fascinating study... of the art of atrocity"23 as the document of the world where the light and colours died out since the new 'creator' decided that Jews are to be erased from his 'historical painting'.

 

Already by its name An Ideal for Living persists on erasing the border between life and the art: the record is the mould according which life should be lived. On the front cover of 7 inch single, designed by the group themselves, there is a drawing of a handsome boy dressed in Nazi uniform, drumming a tympanum. Taken from Nazi propaganda poster drawing is black and white with pseudo-gothic lettering used for the (new) name of the group. The boy clearly recollects the Hitlerjugend member from Cabaret who sings, except this one is playing as if giving rhythm to the world: apollonian melody is replaced with chthonic drums, more suitable to the dada-punk explosion. But, being of the conscious of the Nazi aesthetics, this cover differs from the usual punk usage of the nazi symbols, where swastika usually meant plain provocation.

 

More important link is the inner one: B side of EP begins with Leaders of Men, the song about the one's desire to hide from the future and history itself driven by those who promised "a mass-salvation". The lyrics and the front cover captured pseudo-religious nature and the rhetoric of the Nazi-regime, where the leaders - and the boy on the cover obviously belong to them since he is drumming our rhythm - "Made a promise for a new life" and "Made a victim out of your life."*

 

The last verse leads us to another picture hidden within the unusual structure of the cover: instead of having simple back cover with information about the record, here Joy Division made an effect, based on the similarity of record cover as a medium with magazine. "Perhaps the closest parallel to the unique design opportunities offered by the long-playing record jacket is in design of magazine covers, for like record covers they must both contain and advertise what is inside."24 Namely, the cover folds out - in the way that magazines contain posters - into square sheet, as large as four single covers, 14" x 14". 1. Surprisingly, the front cover, now a square top left is only drawing on the cover.

 

2. Top right, which makes back when the cover is unfolded, there is information about the record and two photographs of the members of the group 3. Bottom left is large group photography and 4. Bottom right is the famous photography of Jewish boy from Warsaw Ghetto with raised hands in the sign of surrender with the Wermacht soldier with pointed gun behind him.

 

In that way, we have two intersected pairs of pictures. As very often in the poetics of Joy Division, the binary opposition is visible on the different levels and within these levels too: past/present, drawing/photography, Nazi Germany/pop-culture.25 Moreover, the form we are dealing with is a square with right ankles and diagonals, which for Leonid Šejka is associated with "a defunctionalization mark; a fixation mark; a signature."26 That means, a square is a sign of a process in which we take some matter out of function, fix its meaning and use it afterwards as defined symbol: sign of making an order. The same has been told for a record cover: it emerged "as a bona fide art form, a visual statement of popular concepts and intentions in the rock idiom."27

 

ImageThe illustration on the right bottom square by use of photograph leaves the world of imagination, and instead of the drawing depicting a imaginary Hitlerjugend boy, there is a real German soldier (grown up drummer boy? one more opposition!) with a pointed gun. But he is in background, and the boy with raised hands is in the front: abstractness of drawing is replaced with the personality of both the perpetrator and victim witnessed by the photography. When Judy Chicago used the same photo in her work Im / Balance of Power she simply signed it as "Historic photo of Warsaw Ghetto".28 Interesting here is that she played with the mediums in the similar way as An Ideal for Living cover did - but in opposite, combination of photography and handwork in Chicago's work erased personality of German soldier and turned him back to a symbol of hate, so obvious on his face.

 

Also on Chicago's Im / Balance of Power photo from the Ghetto by diagonals has been made a center of the wider artwork, which has right ankles and is made of several scenes. The cross in her work is visible behind the picture in the form of the scale - on the cover of Joy Division the invisible lines between four parts of the cover have made the cross. In the both cases this photograph is used as the widely known 'icon' of the Holocaust, in the same way that Joy Division used Ka-Tzetnik's book, also of the pop-cultural ("pulp" as Jon Savage put it) background. Finally, this is another opposition: the picture assigned real meaning to the old name of the group, Warsaw - and then song with the same name on EP can relate to the world of pop culture as the source of this holocaust image. Let's put it straight: according to centrality of the image of the boy from Warsaw Ghetto on the cover of An Ideal for Living, holocaust is for Joy Division the central event that ended Western civilization as we knew it and the cover is there to proclaim it.

 

ImageTherefore, the song from EP that is connected with this part of a cover is No Love Lost, relating to בית הבובות and establishing Curtis' great theme: his identification with a child. In that way we can see him in No Love Lost bounded to horrible reality of a real world as Daniella Preleshnik to surgeons table in Birkenau (whole paragraph from the House of Dolls is inserted in song in cut-up manner) - and the singer is "waiting for tape to run" in the same time. We will not be wrong if we say that Curtis' fascinating standpoint of an oracular disturbed child wherefrom he wrote and sung Joy Division's late masterpiece The Eternal was conceived here.

 

So, the very song Warsaw has here a different role: first two verses "I was there in the backstage / when first light came around" combined clear pseudo-biblical reference on Creation (although at the time of the creation of the light "the Holy One, Source of Blessing, was [then] the Sole Being in His universe29" as Rashi stated) with the position of somebody who watches pop-concert from behind the stage. Pop music is therefore identified with new created world, which is something that both Grail Marcus and man who mostly influenced Curtis' - David Bowie - could accept. An Ideal for Living cover square bottom left contains the photography of the group done in the way in which cover of the first Television LP Marquee Moon from 1977 recollects the early rock covers - they "leave it largely to the record consumer's own experience and information to interpret the facts beyond those of basic identity."30 Robert Mapplethorpe's photo of Television for the cover is only "managing to capture their characteristic aloofness"31 and hardly that more could be said about parallel photo on first Joy Division cover.

 

Diagonal opposition of this photo top right (back cover of An Ideal for Living) goes further in the settling Joy Division in the history of pop culture: here we have group separated in two pairs and a textual part that usually follows any records: names of the songs etc. The musicians are in a slight silly move, as reminding here on the early British groups and their promotional movies as Can't Buy My Love and the films as Help, influenced by the British pop art. Going furthermore throughout the history of pop culture, the onomastic of Warsaw is by this context underlined as originating from Bowie's 1976 song Warszawa: all the images of holocaust that Joy Division used on An Ideal for Living were intermediated by pop culture although their experience of the Holocaust event were direct and personal. "The [Second World] war left a big on me, and the sleeve was that impression. It wasn't pro Nazi, quite the contrary. I thought, fashionable or unfashionable, what went on in the war shouldn't be forgotten," said in 1994 Bernard Sumner who designed the sleeve.32

 

Therefore, ending song of EP, Failures, as the musical counterpart of the back cover is conclusion of both histories, the one of the pop-culture and by default - the one that pop-culture recollects, the history of the Western world. Turning with its pure punk wall of sound back to the manner of the first song, Warsaw, Failures shouts out catastrophic "story of our history". And here is hard to tell where Ian Curtis stops and where Eliezer Berkovits begins: through holocaust as the final "failure of the Modern Man", "Western civilization lost its every claim to dignity and respect... either something entirely new will arise over the spiritual ruins of the West or there is no future for man in this nuclear age."33

 

3. The Identity and the Failure

 

In the profound insight of pop culture as communion, developed in the treatise on the Jewish identity in/of Hollywood, Claire Pajaczkowska and Barry Curtis saw pop culture as "a form of 'holding' - metaphorically keeping people together and stopping them from 'falling apart'."34 Their main concern was about something else: knowing "ambivalent structure of assimilation", they longed "to integrate the entertainment of popular cinema with a recognition of historical fact" of holocaust, or more directly - of the fact of the Jew as the Other, of the fact of Jewish otherness.35

 

Is there a place for An Ideal for Living?

 

Joy Division understood the Holocaust as the "final crime, a buried wish made flesh and turned into smoke, the most complete wish ever given voice"36: the very existence of Nazism meant catastrophe for Western civilization. And Joy Division went to the very core of the Western world, to the experience of God - "Don't speak of safe Messiahs," proclaimed they on the beginning of Failures, and in their last ever song Decades, not even three years later, they will tell how strange and terrible has been their trip:

 

We knocked on the doors of Hell's darker chamber

 

Pushed to the limits, we dragged ourselves in

 

Watched from the wings as the scenes were replaying

 

We saw ourselves now as we never had seen

 

Portrayal of trauma and degeneration

 

The sorrows we suffered and never were free.

 

ImageOn their journey An Ideal for Living is a very specific station: although by the final result this EP cannot bear the aesthetical comparison with Unknown Pleasure, Atmosphere or Closer, one can find in it all the elements that will be used in a creative process so magnificent that Paul Morley proclaimed its if not cosmic then universal importance. So it contains all the objects of one specific Great Glass and by that it will influence the art that will follow the death of Ian Curtis and the disappearance of Joy Division. The conceptualists Red Crayola and the Art & Language will develop usage of the totalitarian language into their Soldier Talk and when Laibach in 1984 will use the same drummer boy for their Gesamt-propaganda it will be obvious that he comes directly from An Ideal for Living cover and that pop culture now could be a name for the totalitarianism.

 

In the aesthetics of Joy Division one can found Jewish identity as the identity of the Other at the very core of its aesthetical being: Ian Curtis turned aesthetics back into the ethics and understood the Jewish sacrifice as the very source of his own suffering. And paradoxically one can read Curtis' farewell song in the same allegorical way we read biblical proto-love poem, שיר השירים: unable to be in communion with his own world as that world has been, having it as the "weight on the shoulders", Ian Curtis decided to left that world and by that to proclaim its end. Leaving Love Will Tear Us Apart for us and for the Other too, he left open heart as the most precious and most dangerous measure for the artist and the world to come.

 

Footnote:
1) Paul Morley, Listen to the silence, in booklet of 4 CD-set of Joy Division Heart and Soul, London Records 1997, without pagination.
2) Ibid.
3) Ibid.
Image 4) The article of Frederic Jameson Postmodernism as the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism developed further this idea from the original Bowie's words; for the more detailed and contextualized insight see the writings of Dejan Kršić, for example Prije i poslije (14 slika) [Before and After (14 Images)], "Republika", Zagreb, 10-12/1985, pp. 261-265. About Joy Division's place inside the recapitulation of western culture see our essay Don't Walk Away In(to) Silence, lecture given in 1996 on Faculty of Philosophy in Nikšić; "Svetigora", Cetinje, 53-54/1996, pp. 56-61.
5) Grail Marcus, Lipstick Traces - A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, Penguin Books, 1993, p. 21-22. This book is in a fact full development of Bowie's statement: a meticulous treatise of the link between medieval utopist heresies, dadaism, situationism and punk, emphasizing the way how French situationism handed over dada philosophy and art practice to punk.
6) Ibid. 36
7) Ibid. 443
8) Ibid. 121-122
9) Paul Morley, Listen to the silence, op. cit.
10) Grail Marcus, Lipstick Traces - A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, op. cit. 118
11) Ibid.
12) Jon Savage, "Good evening, we're Joy Division", in booklet of 4 CD-set of Joy Division Heart and Soul, London Records 1997, without pagination.
13) Paul Morley, Listen to the silence, op. cit.
14) Grail Marcus, Lipstick Traces - A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, op. cit. 5
15) Ibid. 7
16) Ibid.
17) Walter Herdeg, Record Covers, Editorial Blume, Barcelona, 1974, p. 118
18) Guy Debord, Društvo spektakla [Le societe du spectacle & Commentaires sur la societe du spectacle], Arkzin, Zagreb, 1999, p. 36
18a) Frederic Spotts, Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, Hutchinson, London, 2002, p. xiii
19) Ibid. xii
20) Ibid. 28
21) Saul Friedländer, Reflections of Nazism, Harper & Row, New York, 1984, p. 49
22) Quoted from Frederic Spotts, Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics, op. cit. 19
23) Moshe Pelli, Toward an Evaluation of Hebrew Literature on the Holocaust: ‘Star of Ashes' Becomes ‘Star Eternal', "Hebrew Studies" XXIII/1982, p. 221
* All the quotes from Joy Division lyrics are from the 4CD set Heart and Soul and they will not be marked furthermore.
24) Walter Herdeg, Record Covers, op. cit. 24
25) For the detailed description of the use of the binary oppositions including apollonian and chthonic one by Joy Division see our essay Ian Curtis 1980-1990, "Ritam", Belgrade, May 1990.
26) Leonid Šejka, Intimni rečnik [An Intimate Dictionary], in: Grad-Đubrište-Zamak 2 [City-Garbage Dump-Castle 2], Književne novine, Belgrade, 1982, p. 167. Leonid Šejka (1932-1970) was a Serbian painter who searched for "an integral painting" in the way that later Anselm Kiefer or R Irwin S reconsidered Duchamp's The Great Glass (especially its perspective) in painting or Arturo Schwartz in critics.
27) Angie Errigo and Steve Leaning, Rock Album Cover, Octopus Books, London, 1979, p. 9
28) Judy Chicago, Holocaust Project, Penguin Books, New York, 1993, p. 205. The picture (sprayed acrylic, oil paint and photography on photolinen) is on the plates 16 and 17 of the fourth part of the book.
29) Chumash and Rashi's Commentary - Bereshis, Feldheim Publishers, Jerusalem-New York, 2002, р. 4
30) Angie Errigo and Steve Leaning, Rock Album Cover, op. cit. 15
31) Ibid.
32) Jon Savage, "Good evening, we're Joy Division", op. cit.
33) Eliezer Berkovits, Faith After Holocaust, Ktav, New York, 1973, p. 18
34) Claire Pajaczkowska and Barry Curtis, Assimilation, Entertainment, and the Hollywood Solution, in: Linda Nochlin & Tamar Garb, The Jew in the Text, Thames and Hudson, 1995, p. 251
35) Ibid.
36) Grail Marcus, Lipstick Traces - A Secret History of the Twentieth Century, op. cit. 118

 

ImageREFERENCE:
THE HEBREW UNIVERSITY OF JERUSALEM,
Rothberg International School,
The name of the seminar: Complex Identities: The Jewish Context and Modern Art,
The instructor's name: Milly Heyd,
The student's name: Jovan Ćulibrk,
The date: 15th of August 2004.

 
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