In his prose poem “Les Foules,” Charles Baudelaire enjoins us to “bathe in the multitudes.” This reminds me of the ontological claim that Deleuze makes in Difference and Repetition, where he says that “everything bathes in its difference.” To me, this is what pop analysis is all about. I take the phrase “pop analysis” from Deleuze and Guattari, my favorite philosophy writing duo (…there aren’t many duos to pick from). In A Thousand Plateaus, D&G equate pop analysis with rhizomatics, which is itself equated with schizoanalysis and nomadology. They elaborate on their sense of “pop” in their work on Kafka. What D&G call “pop” (“pop music, pop philosophy, pop writing”) is an “escape for language, for music, for writing,” an escape into difference and multiplicity, the bath of the multitudes. Pop lines of escape make use of the “polylingualism” of minorities and multiplicities. Such language resists the “oppressive quality” of any regime of signs that wants to be “an official language” or “a master of the signifier.”
Consider a pop analysis of dabbling. It wouldn’t rely on the OED definition of dabbling. It wouldn’t look to “major” thinkers like Plato or Heidegger or “major” musicians like Beethoven or Schoenberg. It would look to minor thinkers, musicians, writers, etc. Along those lines, I want to consider the sense of dabbling expressed in pop music, specifically in the rock band Tool and the hip-hop artist Nicki Minaj.
I mentioned before that dabbling is a kind of touching without touching, a partial or indirect touch. The sense of dabbling I want to engage is expressed in pop culture. In the lyrics of Maynard James Keenan (the singer in Tool) and Nicki Minaj, dabbling is more than a light or indirect touch. It is a touch that makes contact with infernal and diabolical forces. Dabbling is a way of making demonic pacts, selling one’s soul to the devil, and thereby forging alliances with darkness and the occult.
The Tool song “Jambi” opens with a declaration of a powerful position: “Here from the king’s mountain view. Here from the wild dream come true.” The lyrics go on to indicate that occult practices of dabbling preceded the realization of that wild dream and the attainment of that regal height. “The devil and his had me down, in love with the dark side I’d found, dabbling all the way down, up to my neck soon to drown.” If the attainment of power is preceded by a descent into deep darkness, the practices of descent must not touch too much, or the practitioner will drown. Dabbling is the tactful touching practiced by sorcerers as they make diabolical pacts. Dabbling is how you go to hell and come back with alliances.
This sense of dabbling is expressed in the song “Make Me Proud” by Drake, featuring Nicki Minaj. The first time through the hook of the song, Drake sings, “Everything’s adding up, you’ve been through hell and back, that’s why you’re bad as fuck and you….” In the ellipsis, Minaj starts her verse with a stuttering affirmation of how “bad” she is: “B, b, b, b, bad I am” (and I probably don’t need to say that “bad as fuck” is a powerful status to have, not unlike the aforementioned king’s mountain view). How did she get so bad? By going to hell and coming back. How did she do that? Dabbling! More specifically, dabbling in something that she never mentions, in something unspoken (maybe unspeakable), hidden, occult. Thus, a couple lines after her stuttering affirmation of her power, Minaj declares, “But I never mention everything I dabble in.” In other words, she affirms her power along with the unsaid dabbling practices whereby she attains or maintains that power.
Dabbling seems like a practice of sorcery. What interests me here is how dabbling might facilitate real practices of sorcery, such as those discussed by D&G, who call themselves “we sorcerers” in A Thousand Plateaus. D&G’s sorcery is closely allied with that of Isabelle Stengers, who adapts many of D&G’s concepts, including sorcery and magical capture. Stengers also draws on the neopagan witch Starhawk to articulate her sense of sorcery. Moreover, sorcery here is not just about attaining personal and interpersonal power (Starhawk’s power-with and power-within), but is also about resisting global capitalism, which is itself a form of sorcery that propagates hegemonic domination (power-over).