MUSIC

Late Capitalism Diaries: Lingua Franca’s Cashmere Activism Vs. Lingua Ignota’s Rage

Lingua Franca and Lingua Ignota offer opposing ways of processing Marianne Williamson's "dark psychic forces."

According to former presidential candidate Marianne Williamson, "dark psychic forces" are haunting America.

These forces, she implied, manifest themselves as fear—a fear that President Donald Trump weaponized in 2016.

Though not new, or even particularly creative, Trump became the hyper-visible avatar of this evil in 2016. It makes sense, then, that Trump's election spawned a loose movement known as the "Resistance," as well as a resurgence in mainstream feminist activism in conjunction with the #MeToo movement.

The term "Resistance," however, is not quite as radical as it may seem, as it implies a sense of hope and faith in the current system. To resist is to attempt to preserve, to avoid an insurrection, to refuse change in some way. It's to abstain from something, to refuse temptation, to resist change. Though a lot of powerful movements arose from this "resistance," so did a significant amount of corporatized, performative activism.

One such corporate-activist movement is Lingua Franca, a high-end brand that mixes activism-inspired messages with luxury goods. Lingua Franca offers one way of responding to the wickedness of men and the world at large. As I was reading about Lingua Franca, with all its cutesy, optimistic messaging, I couldn't help thinking of another Lingua: the relentlessly pessimistic noise musician Lingua Ignota. Together, both Linguas offer linguistic frameworks for processing the end times*, presenting different ways of contextualizing trauma, evil men, and the capitalist system that upholds them.

Lingua Franca and the Price Tag of Performative Resistance

As a recent profile in The Cut reads, Lingua Franca is a cashmere sweater fashion brand that has labeled itself as "the official cashmere of the resistance." Founded by Rachelle Hruska MacPherson, it sells things like $380 sweaters and cards emblazoned with slogans like "WE THE PEOPLE" and "ROSES ARE RED / VIOLETS ARE BLUE / I WANT TO DESTROY / WHITE SUPREMACY WITH YOU."

Hruska MacPherson was inspired to move her company towards activism in 2017, when three F.I.T. students from Iran came in crying after Trump instituted his travel ban. "It was the first time in my white privileged life I had politics affect me. It's insane and ridiculous, but it's the truth," Hruska MacPherson told The Cut.

It would be easy to dig into Hruska MacPherson, but the fact that she was able to live until 2017 without being influenced by politics (while some people are incapable of avoiding them) is more indicative of a larger problem, one more related to Wall Street fossil fuel barons than small Bleecker Street shop-owners.

Armarium

Inevitably, Lingua Franca reeks of Hruska MacPherson's delayed turn to activism and the culture that allowed her to turn a blind eye for so long. The brand also embodies capitalism's eerie habit of repackaging activism and social justice and using them as advertising fuel, a product of capitalism's natural drive to consume and market anything that could potentially create a profit.

Despite its complicity, Lingua Franca has its upsides. The company donates some of its proceeds to charitable organizations, and all its sweaters are hand-knit by women in New York who are paid between $20 and $27 per hour. Hruska MacPherson is trying. Most fashion companies don't make an effort to make a stand for something; instead, they source labor from overseas and contribute to the environmental crisis.

We are living within capitalism. We are flawed. Everyone's trying to make it through; but some have it a lot easier than others. No, it is not fair. Yes, it could change if the people on top wanted it to.

Lingua Franca's website expresses some awareness of its own insufficiency. "We're living in uncertain (and often scary) times. We don't have all the answers. But we try to listen and we try to learn," reads a postscript on its "about" page. Listening and learning are absolutely undervalued skills.

Linguistically, a lingua franca is about communication, but it's mostly about the knowable and the visible. The term "lingua franca" is defined as "any of various languages used as common or commercial tongues among peoples of diverse speech." It refers to "a common language consisting of Italian mixed with French, Spanish, Greek, and Arabic that was formerly spoken in Mediterranean ports." A lingua franca is predicated on the idea that common ground can be found. It's hopeful and always illuminated—by the kind of artificial light that makes for fantastic photographs but sometimes hurts the eyes when you stare too long.

merriam-webster.com

Lingua Franca is one woman's way of responding to the rise of an evil man, whose rise proved the existence of an evil that white women like Hreska MacPherson had long been able to previously ignore. Trump's election and subsequent events, such as the travel ban and the images of children trapped at the U.S. border, had eye-opening effects on many American citizens, particularly those who had previously been sheltered. The election helped bring these events out into the open, creating space for a lingua franca—a common, palatable dialogue—a resistance that could exist comfortably within a pre-existing capitalist system, a resistance that mandated the participation of even those who benefitted from that system and had previously lived comfortably.

But what if one's existence had always been uncomfortable—even unbearable—before Trump?

Lingua Ignota and the Sound of Self-Immolation

Lingua Ignota is an experimental musician who released the excellent album Caligula this year. Born Kristin Hayter, the Providence-based musician creates stunningly violent, erratic music that combines abstract, medieval Christian hymnals and classical influences with Hayter's guttural screaming. The result is the sonic equivalent of a subway bombing.

As a project, Lingua Ignota was born from trauma. Hayter is a survivor of domestic abuse, and her experiences inspired her to create a thesis at Brown University entitled BURN EVERYTHING TRUST NO ONE KILL YOURSELF. She then started setting the sentiments she explored in that thesis to music, and Lingua Ignota rose from the ashes.

The term "lingua ignota" refers to an "unknowable language" that was created by St. Hildegard of Bingen, a 12th century abbess who is said to have designed the language for "mystical purposes."

Wikipedia

The abbess is always heavy on Hayter's mind. "With Hildegard, I think of divine immolation," Hayter said. "She wrote of "sparks of God" and "living light,", and in illustrations she's depicted with flames surrounding her or rising from her head. God spoke to her through fire… I'm trying to construct something that speaks the unspeakable, and so I use this sort of amalgam of musical devices to make my own sonic language which is meant to also be ecstatic or outside the self. There is always the urge to escape the body, to immolate."

Lingua Ignota's "initial premise was survivors of violence reclaiming their bodies through self-immolation, this idea that violence begets violence, and that resistance and empowerment meant weaponising the self with fire—that nothing else was possible," said Hayter in an interview with The Quietus. Unsurprisingly, Hayter's songs are not hopeful. They are about murdering men. They sound like something is being ripped open, like demons are being summoned from below. They are the polar opposite of Lingua Franca's neat, cashmere resistance. They are the opposite of soft. They don't ask for sympathy. Instead, Hayter stated that they are attempts to explore "the depravity of people in power politically these days; and also the depravity of people in power in our communities and intimate relationships."

The Collaborative

Lingua Ignota's music is not implicitly better or more ethical than Hruska MacPherson's project, and maybe Lingua Ignota is just another relatively privileged white woman's attempt at processing the unprocessable. But sexual assault spans race and class, and sexual trauma has a way of living in the body. When Trump was elected, that trauma (somewhat ironically) was forced out into the open.

Lingua Ignota had been splitting her sides open and screaming out her demons since before Trump was elected, but her work can be read as another, more helter-skelter reaction to what Trump represents to so many. Though she is a performer, her shows embrace suffering and nuance and focus on destroying illusions. With its refusal to be remotely palatable, her work could be read as the antithesis of the wellness-corporate feminism machine; it could also be read as a death threat to abusers everywhere. It's gospel for the f*cking tired, for everyone whose life was forever altered by the irresponsible actions of terrible men who felt they could take everything while facing no consequences.

If lingua franca (the language) was built for trading purposes, lingua ignota is about implosion and deconstruction. If Lingua Franca (the company) is the emblem of neat, pristine, Instagram-ready capitalist activism and corporate feminism, Lingua Ignota and her brutal solo performances are embodiments of a more primal, slippery, fleshy rage, one that accesses a profound emotional response to horrors that, often, we are too burned out and desensitized to actually face, let alone protest.

If lingua franca is the language of the "Resistance," lingua ignota might be the language of the apocalypse.

Originally a Greek word, the term "apocalypse" refers to "an unveiling or unfolding of things not previously known and which could not be known apart from the unveiling." An apocalypse is a revelation, and the shattering it implies is inextricable from the rise of something new.

dictionary.com

Though the sentiment behind Lingua Franca is inspiring, real change and healing will not come from cashmere sweaters that exist within and perpetuate capitalist systems. Maybe, to see real change, we need to embrace a kind of apocalyptic thinking. This doesn't mean we should be bogged down by abstract fears of the world ending*. For the fires are here. The floods are here. The violations happened. We can't really hope to see change while attempting to work within the same systems that brought Donald Trump to power and legitimized pain and oppression for so long.

Perhaps, to actually protest these "dark psychic forces," and to change the course of this burning earth, we need to be going towards their sources. Maybe we should be trying to dismantle the bomb at the heart of it all rather than perpetually twisting the pieces into slogans, or waiting for the wounded to emerge screaming from the shrapnel.

That bomb will only be dismantled when we act—by donating to causes we believe in, elevating marginalized voices, and rallying around politicians who promise to create something new rather than maintaining more of the same.

Music Features

On This Day: Hip-Hop Forever Changed America

Happy birthday to the world's biggest genre

On this day in 1973, Clive Campbell, the Jamaican-American "selector" known as DJ Kool Herc, hosted a "back to school jam" at 1520 Sedgewick Avenue in the Boogie Down Bronx of New York City.

Armed with a booming sound system and reggae beats, Herc– a shortened nickname for "Hercules"– commanded insatiable audiences across the South Bronx with his unique looping technique called the "Merry-Go Round." "[I knew that] they were waiting for this particular break," Herc later said, "and I got a couple of records that got the same break up in it. I wonder how it would be if I put them all together."

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MUSIC

Albums That Made You Want to Join a Cult in 2019

From the self-care cult of Lizzo to Lingua Ignota's cult of vengeful women.

2019 saw a lot of fabulous releases, but which ones will stand the test of time?

While some albums are critically acclaimed but then rapidly fade into obscurity, others are so good that they could easily inspire cults. The albums on this list may not have been the year's most highly acclaimed, but they are the most likely to inspire (if they haven't already) massive cultural shifts and changes that will persist long into the 1920s.

1. Lingua Ignota — Caligula

Lingua Ignota's raging, heavy, monstrous Caligula mixes harsh noise with effects and lyrics that blend liturgical services with murderous impulses. It's a howl of rage that damns all abusers to eternal hell and suffering; and, at a time when women are getting tired of the inaction that accompanied #MeToo, Caligula could easily inspire a cult of women to take to the streets and take back what was taken from them.

LINGUA IGNOTA - DO YOU DOUBT ME TRAITOR (official audio) www.youtube.com

2. Lizzo — Cuz I Love You

The cult of Lizzo is already in full swing, and it looks like it's only going to continue to grow. Lizzo already has tremendous sway, and her lyrics are ubiquitous in Instagram captions and in politicians' Twitter feeds. As many of us resolve to get over self-hate and turn over a new leaf in 2020, Lizzo will certainly only gain notoriety and acclaim. It's easy to imagine a massive group of Twerking, face mask-using, body-positive Lizzo fans and imitators snapping selfies, going viral, and starting the defining cult of the next decade.

Lizzo - Cuz I Love You (Official Video) www.youtube.com

3. 100 gecs — 1000 gecs

100 gecs didn't mean for their album to go viral, but their absurd, chaotic collection of angsty electronica has sparked a revival movement for ex-scene kids who moved out of their small towns into big cities and immediately gravitated to the local noise venue. Like the best memes, the duo's meme-inspired album toes the line between hyper-seriousness and total parody, and ultimately it hits the perfect level of absurdity for what's going to be a very chaotic decade.

100 gecs - money machine (Official Music Video) www.youtube.com

4. Tyler, the Creator — Igor

The Igor wigs were one of this Halloween's most popular costumes, and it's likely that Tyler, the Creator and his Igor alter-ego aren't going away anytime soon. Tyler, the Creator was already powerful enough to inspire Frank Ocean to start his music career, and Igor was a master-class in the art of transformation—and really, who wouldn't follow him to the edges of the Earth?

IGOR'S THEME www.youtube.com

5. BTS — Map of the Soul, Persona

The BTS ARMY is already a kind of cult, and the group's powers are continuing to escalate. They're even going to ring in 2020 as special guests on New Years' Rockin' Eve in Times Square. If BTS asked their fans to do anything or cancel anyone, there's no real doubt of what would result, and in the 2020s as algorithms become the center of warfare, the ability to instantly get something trending is a unique and formidable superpower.

BTS (방탄소년단) 'DNA' Official MV www.youtube.com

6. Kanye West — Jesus Is King

This one is contestable, because cult experts have reviewed Kanye West's Sunday Services movement and have determined that it doesn't really have the signs of an actual cult. It's just really, really born-again Christian. Whether you think Christianity itself is a cult is another discussion (but also, it is).

Kanye West - Jesus is King - Sunday Service Experience (The Forum - 11.03.19) www.youtube.com

7. Better Oblivion Community Center — Better Oblivion Community Center

Earlier this year, Phoebe Bridgers (emo-folk queen of the late 2010s) and Conor Oberst (emo-folk king of the 2000s) came together to create a cult-inspired emo-folk band about apathy, drunk nights out, and togetherness. They're definitely trying to recruit you, though it's not clear if BOCC practices any specific ideology or if they're just real sad about everything but still excited to hang out.

Better Oblivion Community Center - Dylan Thomas www.youtube.com

What artists or albums would you follow all the way to Jonestown?