Versions I: Yngwiepocalypse


The “Yngwie thesis” claims that the agitating element that dominates the dynamics of the crisis is de-signification. We do nothing to establish the validity of such a thesis here; we merely explore its potential ramifications. (Big if true, as the meme says…)

(The thesis does not, furthermore, establish the existence of crisis. One of its distinguishing marks is is, indeed, the particle the in referring to crisis — given the epic potential breadth of de-signification, it surely can’t refer to something as specific as the Chilean meltdown or the onrushing limits on Moore’s law).

We open this blog-post with a video recording of speed guitarist Yngwie Malmsteen performing, at an early point his career, his signature piece Black Star. Malmsteen’s whole deal is epicness; his stage role is that of an Icarus buoyed by kitschy (if at times quite effective) aesthetics and defeated by his lack of self-awareness.

In the biographic dimension Yngwie suffers from not knowing from the outset that he’s ridiculous, like Weird Al and despite some relevant degree of real musicianship (not to be found in Claudio-Ethan and Alice-Edith of Crystal Castles) and from courting competition by one-uppers: in Leningrad, Yngwie was quite unique and in many moments astonishing, but in a few years the speed-guitar sport was way ahead of him while having even worse aesthetics, and where and when did Yngwie learn a sense of aesthetics to reaffirm himself?

In the aesthetic dimension Yngwie is defeated by the standard critique of popular music (Adorno is surprisingly on point here), compounded by his pseudo-Paganini upholstery. At his best, Malmsteen switches between deploying the loose bits appropriated from classical music and injecting blues-rock quarter-notes in breathtaking 10-second increments of exciting bravura.   But the stuff of this bravura are the runs — the rather predictable upwards and downwards motions that, by virtue of being made of small upwards and downwards motions, make the guitar neck seem much longer than it is — pacing the macro-motions and employing acc/decelerando for maximum drama.

This is an application of folding tempo too: to turn the scales inside out is to see the pedestrian banality of something that, when properly deployed and in the right time-and-circumstances comes off as impressive — even “deep”, which has to do with its continual pseudo-Paganini references and our inability to dereference these little scales. Here Adorno is particularly brilliant as he zeroes in on popular’s music lack of macrostructure — just witness how every appropriation of classical motifs erases the larger abstract form (sonata, symphony, etc.) where it originally made sense.

(Witness also how, at their prime, Malmsteen’s heroics can be exciting where the classical music that he references (and we fail to dereference) is permeated by boring structural work.)


This line of reasoning foregrounds de-signification as a major mechanism for the loss of meaning. There are other ways in which meaning could be lost: for example, by erasure (like the missing bits of clay in the Akkadian Gilgamesh), or by desaturating metonymy (like the word fuck has lost all of its potency). In de-signification, by contrast, the clay tablets are intact, but we cannot dereference their content anymore — we can even put together an approximate Rosetta stone for the Akkadian script, but cannot read it anymore.

It may seem that there’s a lot of hermeneutics involved in these arguments with Akkadian tablets, but there really isn’t. The same kind of loss of meaning takes place, for example, in computer RAM; there are situations where structural control of memory access is lost and programs improperly access “raw memory” — which is set to a particular permutation of bit values that once made sense but cannot be understood now. This is a serious condition — it can be exploited by actual hackers, for one — that bifurcates computer languages: some can reference memory, while some expose abstractions of memory access in order to block access to the machinery of memory referencing (i.e. “pointers”) proper.

“Raw memory” for Akkadian tablets is carved (and chipped away) lumps of clay. What does it look like for Yngwie Malmsteen? By listening to Black Star live in Leningrad in the right spirit, one can almost discern its shape. The “right spirit” involves suspending any attempt at meaningful dereferencing; what can be discerned (perhaps for a split second during a sustained high note) is raw semiosis.

What happens when bugs and exploits trespass beyond the area for which semiosis was correctly formatted? References can no longer be de-referenced, that’s what. A plausible account for the current-ongoing ambient conditions under which, for example, the president of the United States can deal in unformatted semiosis. There’s nothing correct data structures can do to avoid this in the presence of already-ongoing memory leaks; there’s no fact-checking or Yngwie explainer that can block (even temporarily) bogus dereferencing.

This is also a plausible account for what took place in the military coup of November 15th 1889 that shut down our Meiji-revolution-in-the-tropics and brought about being-in-Patropi.


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