February 14, 2012

Fiona Apple and a pathology called "love"

Last week, a friend's passing reference to Fiona Apple as one of Lana Del Rey's predecessors got me up in arms. I've been listening to Apple's 2005 album, Extraordinary Machine, a lot lately, and rumors about her long-awaited follow-up, which could be released a few months from now, have also just begun to circulate.Valentine's Day seems like the right occasion to rehash some of the reasons why I find her music so interesting, and why I go on the defensive when I hear her get linked to other popular female singer-songwriters.

"Not About Love" - Jon Brion's unreleased version: 

The controversy surrounding Extraordinary Machine's release is a bit muddy, but it'll help to explain why I felt it necessary to post two very different versions of the same song above. Originally thought to be delayed because Apple's label, Sony, doubted its commercial viability, the long awaited album had fans writing letters and mailing apples to label execs as part of the "Free Fiona" campaign (my roommate at the time was peripherally involved through his Fiona Apple message board--we even had a "Free Fiona" poster on the door of our dorm room). As it turns out, there was an original version, produced by Jon Brion, that was shelved because Apple wasn't happy with it; she then reworked most of the songs with a different producer (Mike Elizondo) and released the album.

Elizondo's finished product was still a good collection of songs, but the unreleased version with arrangements by Jon Brion (the demos of which had leaked several months before the official version came out) was, at least in my eyes, clearly superior. Apple felt that Brion's instrumentation had nearly taken over her songs: as such, they represented his musical taste more than they did her artistic identity (The two versions of "Not About Love," posted above, are a great example of this). But, for me, Brion's production accented the strangeness of Apple's romantic vision. What ended up sounding like sugary pop on the Sony's official release had a much darker, perverse quality to it when accompanied with Brion's string arrangements. The songs on his version of Extraordinary Machine nearly collapse under their own weight. If it's really "not about love" for Apple, it's because it's impossible for her to align herself with the security of conventional romance: instead, the kind of consuming love she articulates is pathological ("Get Him Back"), at times violent ("Window"), and often turns out to be solipsistic ("Better Version of Me"). Here's what's probably the best example of what I'm trying to get at.

And, naturally, with all this talk of psychosis, and narcissism, I think of Zizek, whose Lacanian remarks on love are, I think, realized in some of Fiona Apple's more compelling songs:
More generally, when one is passionately in love and, after not seeing the beloved for a long time, asks her for a photo to keep in mind her features, the true aim of this request is not to check if the properties of the beloved still fits the criteria of my live, but, on the contrary, to learn (again) what these criteria are. I am in love absolutely, and the photo a priori CANNOT be a disappointment - I need it just so that it will tell me WHAT I love... What this means is that true love is performative in the sense that it CHANGES its object - not in the sense of idealization, but in the sense of opening up a gap in it, a gap between the object's positive properties and the agalma, the mysterious core of the beloved (which is why I do not love you because of your properties which are worthy of love: on the contrary, it is only because of my love for you that your features appear to me as worthy of love). It is for this reason that finding oneself in the position of the beloved is so violent, traumatic even: being loved makes me feel directly the gap between what I am as a determinate being and the unfathomable X in me which causes love. Everyone knows Lacan's definition of love ("Love is giving something one doesn't have..."); what one often forgets is to add the other half which completes the sentence: "... to someone who doesn't want it." And is this not confirmed by our most elementary experience when somebody unexpectedly declared passionate love to us - is not the first reaction, preceding the possible positive reply, that something obscene, intrusive, is being forced upon us?

In a kind of Hegelian twist, love does not simply open itself up for the unfathomable abyss in the beloved object; what is in the beloved "more than him/herself," the presupposed excess of/in the beloved, is reflexively posited by love itself. Which is why true love is far from the openness to the "transcendent mystery of the beloved Other": true love is well aware that, as Hegel would have put it, the excess of the beloved, what, in the beloved, eludes my grasp, is the very place of the inscription of my own desire into the beloved object - transcendence is the form of appearance of immanence. As the melodramatic wisdom puts it, it is love itself, the fact of being loved, that ultimately makes the beloved beautiful.
 From With or Without Passion: What's Wrong with Fundamentalism. Part 1.

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