in Frieze | 04 SEP 07

High, Low and In-Between

Dan Fox finds solace in post-Structuralist Country & Western Music

in Frieze | 04 SEP 07

Unbeknown to the world of French academia, still reeling from Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont's scathing blitzkrieg on pseudo-science and linguistic obfuscation (Intellectual Impostures, 1998), the patrons and stars of the Grand Ole Opry, Nashville, Tennessee, have long had their horses hitched to the postmodern post. Though poor ol' Tammy, Hank and Johnny may still be waiting to be canonized for their groundbreaking psychoanalytic dissolutions of the self, some recognition at least has now arrived.

'Post-Structuralism in Country and Western Music' is the third issue of Commerce, a self-published venture based in New York. A compact disc comprising 22 Country and Western ballads, it contains contributions from such Nashville luminaries as Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers and Willie Nelson. A cursory listen sheds little Southern wisdom on Derridean dichotomies or Foucaultian power structures, yet beneath the rhinestone glare lies some curious lyrical self-examination. Schizophrenia seems to be a rich source of inspiration, exemplified by Jimmie Dale Gilmore's 'My Mind's Got a Mind of Its Own' and Terry Allen's 'I Just Left Myself', while Willie Nelson takes a wry look at the architectural codification of dominant power hegemonies as he talks to his room in 'Hello Walls'. Just the title of Freakwater's 'Forgettable Song' sets in motion a whole train of self-reflexive thought as you ponder the death of the songwriter.

The first issue of Commerce - 'Nesting Bookcase: The First Decade: 1989-99' - was a series of essays taking Joe Scanlan's Nesting Bookcase design as their starting point. Designed to look like a particularly ascetic issue of October, the playful curiosity of the essays within - arguments for and against the economic viability of the Romantic pursuit of art - further emphasize its tongue-in-cheek attitude. Shoehorning the broken-hearted songsmiths on issue 3 into Commerce's post-ironic conceit may be a little arch and knowing, but as journals go, perhaps this is one that makes you want to hitch up your horse, pour yourself a whisky and watch Jacques and Julia ride off into the sunset.