What Is Claws & Tongues (About & For)?

Claws & Tongues was started in order to provide a visible yet fluid platform with which to try out ideas for writings by Gustav Thomas that may or may not lead elsewhere, as in articles, chapters, essays, papers zines or books. Gustav Thomas is my real name in so far as it comprises the two middle names included on my birth certificate, which, as a bona fide part of my ‘real’ name makes it only a half-alias. I’m not ashamed, especially, of what one would normally consider my ‘real name,’ but I don’t intend to use it or announce it here, in this ‘about’ text, or anywhere else on this blog. That’s not because I wish to keep it somehow hidden or secret – to find out what my framing monikers are would be very easy since I’ve never sought to keep them separate from Gustav Thomas. Rather it’s because that ‘real’ name is the one that teachers, headmasters, employers, receptionists, the Inland Revenue, medical staff, authorities of any kind, and so on, and on, has been so thoroughly used by, and thus inextricably tied to, such institutional protocols, that it leaves me, as an individual who, like any individual has the capacity to access their own agency, very little space or scope for developing the potential power and effectiveness of that agency. Gustav Thomas happens to also be my facebook name and as a musician I also chose it (the first time I used it) as the pseudonym I use whenever I produce 8-bit Techno on a Gameboy. Gustav Thomas also conveniently encapsulates my two ethnic provenances as half Slovene and half Welsh; they are also the first names of both my grandfathers, one a fairly well known (in his time) Slovene writer, novelist and educationalist, the other a WW2 colonel descended from Welsh solicitors and priests who was  among officers that led the Normandy landings, for whatever significance that, or any other part of their own rich histories, can have, here, or in anything else that I do.

Above all, I have started this blog because in my professional life, as an academic, I have made the decision, officially, to have my research assessed (by the various state bodies that do that, through the RAE, REF etc.) as much through my writing as through my art practice, which it has been exclusively so far. The kind of writing I intend to do is the kind of writing I’ve always done, over the past 15 years mostly on internal departmental blogs meant as teaching support, and will almost completely draw on things I’ve been thinking and saying within an academic context during that time. My first extended pieces, then (those that are 10,000 words or more), are being extracted from my brain as a matter of almost pathological necessity, freeing up space before I can move on and at least learn new ideas, if not make them and articulate them formally. Given the context, and my stage in life (a 50-year-old whose two kids have left home), I fully intend not to start teaching myself to write in a recognizably formal-academic style; nor do I intend for my writing to be considered as such, albeit there are inevitable traces of academia in what I’m writing due to my having earned my living as an academic for – already – too long. Instead my intention is to improve, develop and extend the style I already have which will have probably begun somewhere in early childhood when I first scrawled some short stories with the vague idea that I wanted to be a ‘writer’ and, above all which has evolved through at least three decades of learning, loving to know about, talking about, and teaching about music, art and the ideas, their impulses and inherent discourses that inhabit and surround them.

I am aware that I have a propensity to criticize certain other artists and commentators harshly, often with tart pronouncements, in a manner easily perceivable as arrogance or some such self-ingratiating tendency. I’m not sure exactly where that came from; it could be the years of being fully committed (because I knew it was right) to a mode of expressive practice that operates very consciously, and critically, beyond the reductive ring-fencing of ordained culture, what most people think of as Music, Art and Culture; it may well be, though, that I learned such an approach from certain writers I’ve read over the years – it’s in Dostoyevsky, Bukowski and DeLillo in ways I can see in my own mannerisms, but also in someone like Ben Watson/Out To Lunch, whose writing on music and ideas not only had a big impact on me but certainly also encouraged me to be bold and direct about what I knew needed saying, not least because – and this is central to everything – the way in which music, popular music, popular arts and cultures are dealt with on the day-to-day, ordinary level – as in what people consume, accept and ingest, how/why they do it – manages to circumscribe completely the immeasurable seriousness regarding how politically and ideologically penetrating all art is (and was always meant to be), but especially (and this is embarrassingly tautological in a way that’s generally ignored) that which is thrust upon a people at great expense by its state and the (almost entirely) corporate (read: oligarchal) interests the State serves. I’ve been accused by colleagues of being too polemical and by Ben Watson himself as not being a polemicist at all, in both cases identifying a weakness; I would say that to consider anything I write as polemical would be to negate any capacity it may have to say something useful – too much is being said and done by modern humanity that is unfathomably (self-)destructive. My drive in all this comes from a need not necessarily to oppose and take up the position on any opposite pole; rather I just feel that someone (as many someones as possible, starting anywhere at all, including just ‘me’) needs to be engaging in a tendency to question, starting with the very simple interruption, ‘Hang on a second… that can’t be right.’ There are tens of thousands of writers and artists already doing that very well, of course. This blog is merely a workshop from which to start making my own contribution more discernible and, just possibly, useful.

The title ‘Claws & Tongues’ has a backstory to do with my ongoing practice as a visual artist (ongoing as in having never stopped after leaving art college after just one year of it in 1985) and my maintenance of it through keeping a drawing book on me at all times so that no moment of suspended activity imposed by daily routines may be surrendered as unproductive in some way. Over ten years ago I suddenly had the urge to try and draw a sense of despair, sometimes actual depression, that, I guess, my involvement with the ‘world’ was depositing in me; the initial results were ink drawings of cracks in bleak rocks and stone (all drawn from imagination in a way that straddles abstraction and figuration) which in turn naturally evolved into fissures and folds in flesh-like forms that started, at some point, to also include actual allusions to human surface and interiority such as wrinkles and crevices, which (I felt) inevitably invited graphic allusions to guts and creases, balls and tits, pimples, pubes, arseholes, cocks and cunts (although rarely gratuitous, generally hinted at through stylization). At some point in the past two years this ritual, which is always necessarily improvisational in its resistance to intending to ‘draw something’ necessarily identifiable, started to produce two very distinct motifs assembled together: claws and tongues. How exactly they evolved and emerged remains as much a mystery as any spontaneous expression, one of the ongoing attractions of that discipline. But they bore an attractive significance since their combination entangled and intertwined the actions of cleaving, licking, articulating and declaiming, tearing holes and sensuously probing them (plenty of other things as well, of course), all of which can be seen to represent vitally penetrative and explorative functions, both biologically and critically. I was happy, therefore, to welcome their symbolism into my own lexical tool-kit of critical-practical materials.

I intend to scan and post many of these drawings on the Claws & Tongues tumblr, among making other use of them, such as artwork for the Make Property History radio show uploads on Mixcloud. Since posting the Gustav Thomas Gameboy album Soul Anus on the Free Music Archive (where it has had thus far over 6,000 downloads and, apparently, though I’ve not seen it, garnered a review in that other extreme metal magazine that isn’t Terrorizer, but whose name is suddenly eluding me), I’ve been trying to get around to completing the follow-up, working title Gustav Thomas On Crack (the pun obviously being that the ‘crack’ I’m ‘on’ refers to the fissures, interstices and contradictions the work is meant to cleave). The finished product is intended to be some form of hardcopy audio format along with a booklet, gatefold, zine of drawings meant to be considered inseparable from both the music and the writing.

It’s important to stress from the outset that I intend to edit any post at any time subject to changes or developments in my thinking (as a result of further immersion in debates and discovery or as a result of subsequent commentary and discussion) on a given topic, thus exploiting blogging’s capacity to be fluid rather than fixed and letting it behave like a kind of diaristic window onto chronological progress.

What Is Claws & Tongues (About & For)?