The heart and the Real: Have a Nice Life, Giles Corey and Jacques Lacan

‘I don’t feel anything where… this love should be.’

‘I Don’t Love,’ Have a Nice Life

Have a Nice Life and Giles Corey are a dark pair of musical projects. Each boasts the disquieting, unmatched talent of Dan Barrett, as well as the inscrutable Tim Macuga on Have a Nice Life. While Giles Corey is Barrett’s solo, mostly acoustic project, Have a Nice Life refrains from any defining genre, remaining a kind of transcendental testament to the elements of doom metal, cold ambient, industrial percussion, shoegaze, and post-punk. Macuga and Barrett in Have a Nice Life, and Barrett alone with Giles Corey, weave a heavy fabric of psychoanalytic and philosophical analysis with their music, at the same time relating a truth as atavistic as the dust of this earth. A truth, moreover, not the least bit lost on me: life’s situation rests atop an abyss of signification.

I get frequent heart palpitations. They are not life-threatening, and I live the majority of my days as familiar with them as I am the act of breathing. In conjunction with this relating (minor) ailment, it serves to briefly explain the genesis of them. When I was twenty-years-old, living in San Francisco, alienated and suffering at the ungainly hands of drug addiction, I began to notice my heart doing strange things — a fish flopping in my chest where my cardiac muscle should be. Before I came to befriend these nervous shudders my life-organ made, I became crippled by an anxiety so dreadful that I lived everyday weighing the option to check myself into the emergency room against the possibility of death. To make matters worse, I could not stop doing what had initially triggered them — the palpitations. It went on like this for nearly a year. I have to admit, I thought of myself as the replicant, Roy, from Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner — ‘Quite an experience to live in fear, isn’t it? That’s what it is to be a slave.’

Assuredly. That is fear.

But a fear of what? A fear of death, mainly — right? But the truth is, it’s much more than that. If a fear of death was all it took to send people like myself into a waking netherworld, this life would be a thick morass of lucid meaninglessness, perhaps uninhabitable. We always live with a fear of death. Such a truth is more or less innate, however immediate. In this sense, for those months I lived glimpsing beyond what typically structures that screen which resists our unusual closeness to death. Such a relationship with the catastrophic reality of our finite situation is unnatural — albeit common knowledge. What I experienced, therefore, and what I hear in the music of Have a Nice Life and Giles Corey, is more of an encounter with a register of subjectivity — agency, consciousness, or rather, what makes us us. In the thought of the preeminent French psychoanalyst, Jacques Lacan, this register is known as the Real.

For Lacan, and psychoanalysis originating with Freud, subjectivity is defined by desire. That is, we are beings who desire things — ie, food, clothing, love, social status, etc. However, once the object we desire is acquired, desire moves to another focus. ‘Desire is like a carrot on a stick,’ Plastic Pills says, ‘because whenever you actually acquire the thing you are wanting, desire then shifts onto a new projection.’ We can never be satiated by our own agency alone, we require what is always outside of us and what is always malleable and what always remains out of grasp. For Lacan, this persistent cycle of trying to satisfy our desire is what is known as neurosis. Therefore, since desire is an object that is outside of us, and since we can never be satisfied with us as we are, we necessarily have a void constituting our subjectivity. For if we — our subjectivity — are defined by that which we can never produce by our own agency, and if we seek it elsewhere, there is a desire-shaped hole in the center of us. Desire is a lack — ‘I don’t feel anything where … this love should be.’

Subjectivity, therefore, is structured around this lack. According to Lacan, there are two (other) registers of experience — besides the Real — that constitute our subjective reality: the imaginary and the symbolic. The imaginary is the image-based — hence, imaginary — medium of experience, made up of identities, appearance and forms. A perfect example of this can be physically accessed today via the means of social media. The symbolic, on the other hand, is the register of signs, language, and codes; that is, the symbolic constitutes communication, and also ‘where identities are not only themselves but also defer to other meanings’ (Plastic Pills). Therefore, rather than mythologies of divine investment or anthropocentric humanism, the source of these registers would necessarily be a state wherein nothing can be signified in symbolic terms, or identified in the imaginary. Moreover, the source of this reality would have to be an environment void of the necessary components of reality. That is, the source of the latter registers is the Real; a neologism marked by a paradoxical denotation and an immaterial void, not able to be talked about or accessed, the Real is also the locus of all life’s experience, perception, neurosis, and anxiety.

For Lacan, the reasoning has to do with times we experience ‘ruptures’ in our reality — the symbolic and the imaginary — which can only occur in times of sublime and/or traumatic instances. Times where language breaks down and appearances cease to produce any meaning. Lacan writes, ‘It is not remarkable that, at the origin of the analytic experience, the Real should have presented itself in the form of that which is unassailable in it — in the form of the trauma’ (Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, The Seminar Book XI, pg. ). Moreover, the Real is the unmediated, raw subjective marrow which fabricates the scaffolding of our experience; however, it is just as intangible as it is vital. Therefore, an experience that ushers a subject near the gap of the Real’s unhomely maw will trigger reality to crumble, signification to cease, the imaginary to combust, and relation to be impossible. As the definition espoused by Lacan relates, the Real ‘must once again be apprehended in its experience of rupture, between perception and consciousness.’ Such an experience is not unlike the frenetic nature of the laws of physics the closer one gets to a black hole. Moreover, according to Dino Fellunga, the Real ‘continues to erupt whenever we are made to acknowledge the materiality of our existence, an acknowledgement that is usually perceived as traumatic.’ In our case, the traumatic is an encounter with the truth of death.

Death, in a way, is a part of our reality. Indeed, it is a truth. The fact is, however, we cannot access death without the experience of it; and since experience is necessarily constituted by images, symbols, and other signifiers — that is, subjectivity — death remains well out of the bounds of this system. Therefore, it is an ‘unassailable experience,’ as much as it is a part of the reality we traffic. It follows then, living in proximation to death’s harrowing tactility is only possible via a rupture in subjective reality. An encounter with death is necessarily a Real encounter. When this happens, reality proper ceases in its cohesion.

Moreover, in order to properly assimilate oneself back into the symbolic order after an encounter with the Real, one must overcode said experience via the coordinates of a narrative. That is, one must articulate the confrontation with the Real, through language, in order for it to be properly signified; thus, psychotherapy allows for this narrative construction. Just think of a subject who has undergone a traumatic event. Nothing makes sense to them, nor can they be properly reasoned with. After some time, and after the process of properly assimilating the traumatic experience back into the realm of reality takes place, is recovery then possible. In this way, the music of Have a Nice Life and Giles Corey serve as a kind of traumatic testimony.

On New Year’s Day 2008, Macuga and Barrett released their debut album titled Deathconsciousness, under the band name Have a Nice Life. There was no anticipated release, no press coverage, no one cared — just out to waste on the internet, they thought. What came as a surprise were the legion of 4chan /mu/ kids and Reddit users, gawking and cowering in a frigid anxiety at the sublime testament to life’s acutely distressing reality. The album, fostering a severe account of the desire for non-existence and that state’s ineffable horror, is a biblical account of desolation, gloom, and misery unlike any other. It is also dazzling in its sonic range and uncanny audible beauty. Songs like ‘Hunter,’ auditioning sounds one might expect to hear off a Cure record — albeit one demented and incensed — stands in contrast to the chilly ambience of ‘A Quick One Before the Eternal Worm Devours Connecticut,’ and the near ballad-type eloquence of ‘Holy Fucking Shit: 40,000.’ Not to mention, it’s almost playful, self-aware humor on tracks like ‘Waiting for Black Metal Records to Come in the Mail’ and ‘Who Would Leave Their Son Out in the Sun?’ What isn’t lost throughout the album is its persistent industrial percussion, and overdriven, cathedral-style reverb; tracks like ‘I Don’t Love’ being the obvious trademarked sound of Deathconsciousness

What’s more, Barrett and Macuga seem to take the same overdriven, distortive tendencies of doom metal, at the same time, reserving all impulse to merge into a similar vocal territory. Where doom tends to trend into those deep, growling vocals, Have a Nice Life relies on their lucid voices. The vocals on every track are nothing more than Barett’s tenor drenched in the darkest reverb. Such a characteristic allows the music to expound an element of clarity not allowed with doom or black metal’s screams and wails. Although the vocals are doused with effects, drowning what signifies their lyrics into the backdrop as if they are just another unimportant feature, the lyrical content manages to glimpse through the sheen of distortion and grim percussion. Almost as the Real lightly pierces the fabric of our reality just enough when a rupture occurs, Barrett and Macuga’s lyrics offer that same degree of trauma and dread with the ounce of lyrical utterance that remains audible throughout each track. 

Five years after Deathconsciousness, Barrett released the solo EP Hinterkaifeck (2013) under the project name Giles Corey. Although hosting notable tracks such as ‘Guilt is My Boyfriend’ and ‘Winter House,’ the quiet, acoustic EP proved to be more of a blueprint for what would become 2015’s Giles Corey. The record, much like Deathconsciousness, focuses on thematic elements of death, existential nothingness, and anxiety, as well as an acute loneliness which Barrett seems to almost bathe in. In contrast to Have a Nice Life, however, Barrett’s Giles Corey is more consistently acoustic in its sonic aesthetic; with tracks like ‘Blackest Bile’ and ‘Spectral Bride’ sounding almost folksy, albeit for those lucid, haunting overdubbed voices as if the shades of the Lethe joined Barrett in chorus. This feature, more than any other found on Giles Corey, makes this record a much more Real endeavor. The scene, just barely audible, at the end of ‘The Haunting Presence’ illustrates this fact. It is traumatic even from this mediated, audible distance. A piano being hit in dissonance and the unsettling cries of a man as he is trashing the instrument; a scene made all the more eerie by how it plays out into the faint female voice, shrouded by a dense fog of reverb, uttering, ‘there’s a devil on my chest.’ 

Moreover, this chaotic ethic proves there’s no locus to Giles Corey’s suffering — Deathconsciousness too, for that matter. In fact, it might be false to claim that there is any suffering at all. For what they seem to evoke, more than anything, is a strange kind of longing, or an aching, for a subjective experience that is not burdened with life’s inherent situation atop that maw of abyssal nothingness — ‘I don’t want to be this face anymore; but if I don’t that’s all.’ The locus of Giles Corey and Deathconsciousness’ burden, therefore, seems to be nothing — the Real. Moreover, that elements’ persistence throughout Giles Corey’s and Have a Nice Life’s ‘nice life,’ if you will. Their entire relationships with experience and perception, as the music illustrates, are fraught with this sort of familiarity with the Real, causing the exposition of those gloomy, desolate tendencies we hear. 

The heart is typically an organ we youth leave alone to labour in solace. Take it from me, when our minds wander into that chest cavity, a traumatic encounter ensues. We become our finite selves. The netherworld beyond symbols, language, and images can be glimpsed. Reality becomes a shattered mirror. This is the music of Giles Corey and Have a Nice Life. A shattered mirror held up to the thin veil of reality we wish to think so impenetrable.

Published by Pale Sulter

Journalism, philosophy, student.

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