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Nick Cave and the mainstreaming of sexism

BunnyMunroOne of the reasons you should be subscribing during Subscriberthon is Anwyn Crawford’s article on Nick Cave in issue 197. As she points out, throughout 2009 Nick Cave was everywhere.

Cave now occupies a curious position in Australian culture. Rather than the Black Crow King of his own imagination, he’s more the Monarch of Middlebrow. His likeness hangs in the National Portrait Gallery; his journals displayed at the National Library. His headline appearances bankroll summer music festivals and arts festivals alike while his early solo albums have been reissued in deluxe packages. You can buy his lyrics as a Penguin paperback. He is a cover star of weekend newspaper supplements and most recently of the Monthly, that over-earnest, reliably dull bush telegraph of all that is causing mild consternation among the nation’s opinion columnists.

Crawford’s article stands out from just about everything else written about Nick Cave this year in that she brings some politics to the subject, especially on the subject of gender. She writes:

[F]or Cave … women are both far better and far worse creatures than he – but whether they’re saints or sluts he has to kill them. Over and over in his songs, Cave performs this murder. On the one hand because murder puts female perfection eternally out of reach and therefore renders it perpetually desirable, on the other because women’s particular filth – their blood and milk and mucky cavities – represents all that is most base and abject about human existence.

You can read the whole thing here. Remember, though, it’s only because of subscribers that we can publish things for free. If you haven’t already subscribed, please think about it.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Jeff Sparrow is the former editor of Overland. He is the co-author (with Jill Sparrow) of Radical Melbourne: A Secret History and Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within, the editor (with Antony Loewenstein) of Left Turn: Essays for the New Left and the author of Communism: a love story, Killing: Misadventures in violence, and Money Shot: A Journey into Censorship and Porn.  On Twitter, he's @Jeff_Sparrow.

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Comments

  1. I did recently subscribe (not entirely, but certainly in large part) as a result of this article. It was the tipping point, anyway … I’ve been wanting to read something like this all year. And, like Anwyn, I’ve been a fan of Cave’s music. (Still am, of his older stuff.) I really like that she comes from that place, too.

  2. Thank you Anwyn! For years this charlatan has been pointing the circular ‘bone’ & finally the circle seems to be turning. I find it truly amazing just how many women are fans of his blatant misogyny…like sheep to the slaughter. This is a modern day example of ‘The Emperors New Clothes’& I for one find it refreshing that a writer is not afraid to expose this fact. BRAVO. On the strength of this article I will subscribe.

  3. Is it OK if I’m a bit superficial and just talk about the cover for a moment? I work in a bookstore and I’m supposed to say you can’t judge a book by its cover, but since I know that Cave chose this photo for the Aussie edition, I think we can make an exception here. One of the women I work with, took the unusual step of turning the book around at every opportunity, so she wouldn’t have to see it every minute of every day she worked. Eventually she stopped and I’ve been forced to look at it ever since. Yes, it’s offensive, but not because of the ‘naughty’ photo. It’s the crass, attention grabbing, pathetic school boy stunt, audacity. But isn’t most of the book filled with this kind of puerile voyeurism? Apt cover.

  4. Alec – yes, I think perfectly okay. I HATE this book cover more than I have ever hated a cover before. It just reeks of dirty old man with the brain and sexual maturity of a teenager. (And I know it was chosen to fit the book and it does that admirably, but …) I gave the book a go and I hated that too. Couldn’t finish it.

    The image in my head when I look at that cover image is of an older man about to commence his session with a teenage prostitute (childish, innocent knickers, lurid brothel-type background), who is lying back and about to endure it. There is no sense of the woman (or girl child) in the image being anything other than a passive object of fantasy, a fantasy that doesn’t involve the person at all, even as an entire body. It’s a fantasy about penetrating a crotch, pure and simple. It seriously creeps me out.

  5. I’m sorry, but this is a really terribly argued piece. The basic point may be correct, but that doesn’t excuse the writing.

  6. I don’t get these kinds of comments Dan. You’ve got a chance to speak your mind, but you just go the bored teenager route, with your variation on ‘this sucks.’ Because I read Crawford’s piece yesterday as well. I thought it was good writing. Maybe you’d be interested in my reasons.

    There’s a clear sighted view of the subject in Crawford’s piece but there’s also a personal history and passion for it. There’s an economy of words as we move from Cave’s early days in an obscure band to a national icon and some of the steps he’s taken to get there. A sense of his genius for media manipulation. A valuable insight into his relationship with the feminine and women he’s had creative relationships with. There’s political context without brainwashed agenda setting. And personally, I can’t stand journalism, which is to say that ‘BBC voice’ style blandness that so many writers choose to use when ‘reporting.’ There’s barely a note of that kind of fakery in Crawford’s piece. Beyond anything, there’s a worthy response to the utter shit Cave asked us to swallow when he dredged up ‘The Death of Bunny Munro.’

  7. I belong for many many years to Goodson, a discussion group about NC…Here’s a recent post as an answer to the ‘article’ from your contributor Anwyn Crawford (aka Emmy Hennings)…

    Montois

    ———————

    Subject: RE: [good_son] The Misogyny of Nick Cave
    Date: Wednesday, December 2, 2009 12:34 PM
    From: vegvary
    Reply-To: good_son@yahoogroups.com
    To:
    Conversation: [good_son] The Misogyny of Nick Cave

    Wow. That was….uh….amazing. And far more revealing about the insane
    misandry of Crawford. The vitroil and the venom….she could be Ed’s
    symbiotic twin…..the vagina version.

    Cave does not, in fact, take himself that seriously. Crawford, however, is
    projecting wildly because….uh, she’s about as much fun as my eighth grade
    parochial school teacher was. None. At. All. And she’s far less interesting
    sans wimple.

    Cave’s obsession with women is one of the things that draws me so
    obsessively to him as a woman. And I’m drawn more to his “art” than to his
    personage. I interpret his knife-weilding as one hundred percent Jungian.
    Not a reality he lives out….but one he gives a kind of credibility to in
    his work.

    I really find this sort of article to be venemous, pedestrian, dramatic and
    ultimately hysterical (in all meanings of the word) because there seems to
    be this NEED that some “critics” have to confuse the artist with the art.
    The art is what we should be examining, not the personality. I deal with
    this daily because I’ve got some major textual tattoo pieces penned by a
    poet some deem SCUM, but it’s his work I am drawn to, not his historically
    contextual racism.

    Is TDOBM misogynist? Yes. And no. It’s very fear based and the vagina
    dentata is used to full effect. Is this some sort of freakish happenstance
    on the part of the author? No. It’s intentional and very, very crafted.

    As ever and ever,
    Elizabeth

  8. I don’t think a novel the author repeatedly boasts about having written in two months, on his iPhone, can be called ‘very, very crafted’ …

    His music is very, very crafted. (As is his persona.) That book isn’t.

  9. I’m compelled, here, in this forum of electronic access and correspondence, as both an emerging writer, academic, and founding editor of an independent Australian literary journal, myself, to articulate my responses to Anwyn Crawford’s journalistic essay on the problematic career of Nick Cave: I’m agitated (by this, I intend \engaged\) and am emotionally invested to do so, because Crawford’s article constitutes an exercise in academic intellectualisation and compromised political bowdlerism about a subject — not Nick Cave, the man himself, of flesh-and-blood composition, which no-one equipped with any considerable analytic-theoretic aptitude nor a capacity for un-superficial intellectual discussion would protest to understanding or apprehending — but Nick Cave, the cultural product, which suggests you can discern (Crawford argues for \define\) an artist or creative practitioner, by referring to explicitly to his works. This is an immediately facile and unsophisticated theoretical intervention for Crawford to champion, especially in the context of the study of textual analysis, which discredits this semblance of criticism as an ideologically ill-advised attempt on the behalf of contemporary narratology to qualify that the \soul\ (the personality) of the artist resides in \deciphering\ his art. It represents an exceedingly contemptuous and unenlightening method of transubstantiating a body of work into the body of a single individual, and in effect functions as an extremity of the New Historicist/Greenblatt argument: We can construct a mosaic of the internal life of this artist, by compositing it from fragments of his art. By adopting this framework of criticism, Crawford’s essay is engineered to deconstruct and devalue the man, by first attacking the \myth\ of Nick Cave, and then using that same \myth\ to legitimate her ambit claims: \You can just tell that Nick Cave is a misogynist musician because he’s a misogynist individual which you can just tell because he’s a misogynist musician\. This is an uneasy and wholly erroneous approach to detailing the life and exploits of an Australian cultural figure as immediately and paradigmatically recognised as Nick Cave, and it undermines the genre or milieu of writing with which Crawford wishes to pursue: she’s presenting a feature article couched in educated opinion as a deeply-philosophical and rigorous example of feminist criticism. The thing with the fluid componentry of all cultural theory, is that anything can be applied: Crawford could have just as successfully championed Nick Cave as a communist sympathiser,for example, by applying the theory of dialectics (cf.: \Easy Money\ from \The Lyre of Orpheus\), or Nick Cave as a transcendentalist, by applying the theory of Aristotelean logocentrism (\God Is in the House\ from \No More Shall We Part\), but all criticism is arbitrary if it disassociates the disparity between the man and his artefacts. In the realm of cultural analysis, especially the sort of uncontained and deviating Structuralist mode that Crawford advocates for, Nick Cave can only ever be a body of music. To then exercise allegations against this body of music by attributing it to the man is a poor argument, to be forgiving, because it simulates a logic that suggests the word (the phonic utterance, the sound-image, the non-existent pre-linguistic text) is a recomposition or parasite of the man, instead of an intersection for creative performance. And that’s where the essay fell apart at the seams for me: What Cave is doing is performing; Crawford should knows this, she occupies a great deal of verbiage and page space distinguishing and identifying the manifestations of Cave’s performance; but what she fails to understand is that performance, whether it contain problematic political content or otherwise, and whether that same content functions to trivialise or sublimate the role of the contemporary woman or not, is an act of mimesis, of showcase, or cultural hybridity, of re-transmission. In the same discipline of textual analysis that Crawford chooses to pursue, you could equally argue, then, that Cave is re-transmitting common cultural paradigms in song form; this can then enter into the contentious realm of perpetuation, of whether Cave is contributing to that which his work is attempting to subvert by application, but at least it would make the article more compelling, better researched, and academically creditable. It’s galling to read something that proposes to demonstrate a canny journalistic insight on a valuable cultural subject, and which then fails to engage because of an unfamiliarity with the angle with which it’s adopting. I actually hated the piece on the basis of its contempt for the reader; it’s so self-pleased in style and tone that it can’t possibly conceive betraying its subject in the process.

    Don’t buy the 197th issue of \Overland\ for this: buy it for the examples of staggeringly subtle and innovative fiction, instead.

  10. Kirk, you’re right that there is in Anwyn Crawford’s polemical critique of areas of Nick Cave’s artistic production, a degree of subsumption of the personas presented to Cave the man. That said, what Crawford’s critique does draw attention to is the repeated use of women as objects of lustmurder which become a naturalised condition from which his art proceeds. It’s debatable whether or not this fixation is willfully misoynist or stands at some ironic distance to it. Either way, I take Crawford’s essay as pointing out the problem of this precondition in an important area of his work.

    The problem with your metacritism is that if you can hold Crawford to account for her choices, then I think it follows that you might accept that she can hold Cave to account for his.

  11. ” I actually hated the piece on the basis of its contempt for the reader; it’s so self-pleased in style and tone that it can’t possibly conceive betraying its subject in the process.”

    Oh Lord. Glass houses, and so on. A comment that opens with a tangled thicket of language– several hundred words of it!– gesturing to philosophy and theory in order to say, simply, ‘Don’t conflate the artist with the art’ has no business concluding by accusing Crawford of being ‘self-pleased in style and tone.”

  12. “whether that same content functions to trivialise or sublimate the role of the contemporary woman or not, is an act of mimesis, of showcase, or cultural hybridity, of re-transmission.”

    Further– this is extraordinarily lazy thinking, indulged in by every apologist for misogyny who has hewed onto the idea of the performative.

  13. I think you’re ignorant of the fact or ignoring the fact that Nick Cave is completely narcissistic and misogynist in his real life as in his art and you only have to watch or listen to any of the countless interviews films etc made of him. And I love his music and showmanship because he is a strange creature bred on unadulterated self obsession and as such unlike anyone that a sane person would ever choose to have as a friend.

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