Haptic Spectacularity in the Desert of the Real: Love and Revenge and a Tribe Called Red

Turning 60 a few days ago, here in Abu Dhabi, I am hyper aware of the unsettled and transient quality of life that heightens/intensifies the real into its dream other, in a space that is uncanny because it is unheimlich. Such awareness informed my experience of the haptic visuality of a music-saturated evening that blurred the lines between reality and dream, turning the Real into the Hyper-real, visuality into a haptic spectacle of what one might also call, the aural gaze of a Re-oriented impossible sexiness–which is also

the horizon of our political imaginary.

An ironic orientalism….

It began with a viewing and listening experience of a double bill of music at the NYUAD Arts Center that immersed the audience made up of students, faculty and outsiders into the synesthetic realm of sound and vision created onstage by the veejaying teams of Love and Revenge and A Tribe Called Red respectively.

The former is composed of Lebanese-Palestinian dj Waël Kodeih aka Rayess Bek who lives in France, and vj Randa Mirza aka La Mirza who is also of Lebanese background. Along with their wonderful Oudh player and keyboardist, they create a lushly sensuous experience for audiences that turns the gaze into an organ of touch, reaching into the world represented onscreen by the glamorously melodramatic scenes of 1950s Egyptian cinema, a vanished world of impossibly sexy actress-singers who jolt audiences awake into a past that makes us yearn in the present. A literal immersion into Baudrillard’s Desert of the Real!

From this manipulation of image and sound of Arab songstresses like Warda and Asmahan ( the latter was a Syrian princess who became a singing star and screen idol of Egypt later accused of spying for the British)— we were plunged in the next part of the double bill, into the electronic techno pop and powwow drum n bass musical that was created by the veejay experience of A Tribe Called Red. This is a Canadian duo comprising 2oolman and Bear Witness and their two onstage dancers who dance in full native tribal regalia of First Nations against the incongruous background of looped images of scenes from old racist Cowboy and Indian movies of Hollywood’s yesteryear. We are reminded of how the spectacle of the reel mediates our perception of the real; through their haptic remix that turns the audience’s gaze into an instrument of touch and hearing, we listen and observe the reel of real.

And from this sensory overload to an unfolding of an Ethiopian musical feast at a local club downtown where a bunch of us headed after the show— our party were plunged into a netherworld; here, observing beautiful young women clothed in native Ethiopian dresses, wearing incredibly outrageous high heeled shoes 👠, perform as background chorus to live singers of hypnotic dance music that mixed melody and rhythm of Ethiopia with Maghrebian sounds—turned into a Dionysian frenzy of dance and trance for all of us, blurring the lines between performer and observer, between performance and the real.

The dancers onstage became the focus of our haptic frame, turning the objectifying gaze back onto ourselves, participants in a destabilising move and mood that made us the objects of our own gaze.

To what world, then, do we awake? That is the question that continues its march into the matrix of mymymy mind….

Here is the post that inspired the writing above which I forgot to upload earlier:

So I’m leaving on a jet plane yet , again, to teach this academic year at NYUAD ( New York University ) in Abu Dhabi.

Having spent a semester there before, it is a space that is definitely spectacular in the way Zizek theorises the postmodern “passion for the real” in his 2002 book called The Desert of the Real. This book, written after 9/11, the title based on a phrase in French philosopher Jean Baudrillard’s book Simulacra and Simulacrum, and one that most of us remember from the movie The Matrix–proposes that the terror attacks of 9/11 were the kind of spectacle that has come to occupy- simulate–the experience of the Real in a world saturated with the optics of reality television.

When Neo in The Matrix wakes up from his computer-generated virtual reality, he experiences the real world as a nightmarish, desert landscape that is desolate but beautiful. According to Zizek, that is what the terror attacks, the horrific images of crumbling towers and jumping bodies- became or were experienced by the American public craving/fed on, a diet of the Real as Spectacle– a reality that becomes the ultimate “effect”, leading us into a war torn but spectacular geography that is continuing its march through the historical Real/reel of today.

Abu Dhabi and the UAE itself is a space where one experiences such reality as a simulacrum, at a remove, a nether-state that spectacularizes the desert, in which dreamworlds merge to create virtual realities.

In traveling to and through this desert of the real, I will keep trying to map its effects, staying alert to the glitz that overlays material historical processes in order to feed our postmodern penchant for the spectacular.

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