Turn and Face the Strange.

In yesterday’s post I was looking at Badiou’s ‘ethics’ on the current political environment but today I think it is interesting to look through his lens of ‘ethics’ on Bowie’s artistic mission. None of his songs quite expresses Bowie’s existential crisis as an artist as well as ‘Changes’. If ethics is the familiar, objective, rational standpoint then as Bowie envisions truth lies away from that, within the strange.

For Badiou, truth is concurrent with a break in established knowledges as a result of an event. Established knowledges are that which we take for granted, as seemingly natural. Say for example that humans believed pre-Galileo that the Earth was at the centre of the universe. A truth however is not necessarily a metaphysical truth, but a radical break in the established knowledge that undermines all the hierarchies of knowledge (and thus feeding into the hierarchy of power) and reformulates one’s conception of themselves. As we come to being under a stabilised fiction of selfhood through the hierarchies of knowledge that exist in our time, such a radical break in knowledge due to the penetration of truth undermines the stability of our selfhood. The self’s reconfigurement that occurs due to the truthful event then reformulates the subject in relation to power. The self, for however momentarily realises some multiplicity of its identity as a fictionalised creation of the conservatism that surrounds it. This is the momentarily truth. It lies outside of understanding, it lies in what Badiou calls the void that occurs between the event which incurs a moment of unmasking previous knowledges and the process that occurs after this when the void, the unmasking becomes interpreted anew.


As Badiou states in Ethics, “A truth punches a ‘hole’ in knowledges, it is heterogenous to them, but it is also the sole known source of new knowledges. We shall say that the truth forces knowledges. The verb to force indicates that since the power of truth is that of a break, it is by violating established and circulated knowledges that a truth returns to the immediacy of the situation, or reworks that sort of portable encyclopaedia from which opinions, communications and sociality draw their meaning. If a truth is never communicable as such, it nevertheless implies, at a distance from itself, powerful reshapings of the forms and referents of communication.”

A truth then is not something fixed or stable, it is rather a process of recognising the uncertainty and delving into it, of uncovering what Badiou calls the variable, or the infinite multitudes upon multitudes that constitutes all we know.

‘Changes’ was written in 1971 and is something akin to Bowie’s manifesto for the frequent changes in persona he would incorporate throughout his career. The song alone signifies the the inability of the artist to construe an identity from the means that he inherited, that the established norms including that of rock and roll which at the time would have been considered out there enough by conservative forces, were insufficient for him in his artistic mission. I really love how just as rock and roll was hitting it’s stride commercially after its uncontrollable hedonism of the sixties, Bowie turns its back on it as it has revealed all Bowie needed to see of himself before he decided on a new direction. This directionless wandering, of reneging on rock and roll in favour of glam before again turning his back on it just after its moment of conception hints at a furtive unease at any stability of identity. To be captured in a moment or identity for Bowie was to be understood, to be understood meant that he could be claimed, that he could be made perceptible and belong to the hierarchy of knowledge that exists. Exactly as I’m attempting to do now perhaps. But with the event gone and Bowie gone too perhaps it’s time to once again remind ourselves of this explosion of multiple identities that Bowie put at the heart of his aesthetic.

“I’m not sure whether it is me changing my mind, or whether I lie a lot. It’s somewhere between the two. I don’t exactly lie, I change my mind all the time. People are always throwing things at me that I’ve said and I say that I didn’t mean anything. You can’t stand still on one point for your entire life.”

I love the fact that Bowie so often described himself as a liar, as if, in this world of ethics and established morality that seeks to cement us all with one concrete position, to be a liar, to constantly question one’s self and position and open it up to radical discontinuity is in fact an opening to the strange fascination, to the unknown, to the uncertain void of truth.




I still don’t know what I was waiting for
And my time was running wild
A million dead-end streets
And every time I thought I’d got it made
It seemed the taste was not so sweet
So I turned myself to face me
But I’ve never caught a glimpse
Of how the others must see the faker
I’m much too fast to take that testCh-ch-ch-ch-changes
(Turn and face the strange)
Don’t want to be a richer man
(Turn and face the strange)
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time

I watch the ripples change their size
But never leave the stream
Of warm impermanence and
So the days float through my eyes
But still the days seem the same
And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

(Turn and face the strange)
Don’t tell them to grow up and out of it
(Turn and face the strange)
Where’s your shame
You’ve left us up to our necks in it
Time may change me
But you can’t trace time

Strange fascination, fascinating me
Changes are taking the pace
I’m going through

(Turn and face the strange)
Oh, look out you rock ‘n rollers
(Turn and face the strange)
Pretty soon now you’re gonna get older
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time
I said that time may change me
But I can’t trace time


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