“Prepositions”: An Essay by Julien Chang

Julien Chang © Tommy Waldo
Julien Chang © Tommy Waldo
Throughout the year, Atwood Magazine invites members of the music industry to participate in a series of essays reflecting on identity, music, culture, inclusion, and more.
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Today, Baltimore-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Julien Chang shares his essay, “Prepositions,” an accompaniment to his recently-released EP, ‘Home for the Moment’ (out now via Transgressive Records). “These four songs are a candid document of a special moment in my life, and although they are concerned with the complications of this “in-between” time of one’s early twenties, they are also imbued with the confidence and excitement inspired by deep love, long friendships, and energetic community,” Chang says of the new record. “To say it another way, it is about Baltimore, my home, and the people who live there.”
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On his essay, Chang shares: “This piece was written to elucidate a strain of thinking from my most recent collection of songs, ‘Home for the Moment.’ The elucidation is indirect, working in a different medium (text, not music), and retrospectively conceived – the precise thoughts and feelings that produced ‘Home for the Moment’ are a mystery even to me.”
“Some of the conceptual pathways this piece follows I first tracked in my undergraduate thesis, ‘Ideology and Anxiety,’ a comparative study of these two concepts in Marx and Heidegger respectively and an investigation into their implications with respect to critique, art, and aesthetic experience. I write all of this background because the structure of the piece intentionally avoids narrative or biography. It whips between extremities: on the left, dry, theoretical, philological speculation; on the right, immediate, infinitesimal, existential cries.”
“This format is true to the way I make music, which is part concrete theoretical construction and part bare, vulnerable psyche – but hardly ever narration, hardly ever cause and effect. The cries are intertwined with the main body text and respond to it directly, like a lopsided dialogue, but they also stand alone as a continuous line from start to finish. I thought about titling this piece ‘Prepositions / Carry Me Over: A Poem of Great Desperation,’ but I chose ‘Prepositions’ in the end out of admiration for a tradition of writing essays that are about something other than what they claim to be.”
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:: stream/purchase Home for the Moment here ::
:: connect with Julien Chang here ::
‘Home for the Moment’ – Julien Chang

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Home for the Moment - Julien Chang

by Julien Chang

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In English, it is customary for critical, theoretical, or otherwise “philosophic” works to have titles containing the preposition, “On…” This is just as evident in the works that comprise our own English canon as it is in our incorporation of works that don’t–via translation.

Carry me over. It is better over there. Go

On Liberty, On the Origin of the Species, On Photography: the genre is announced and legitimated by the repetition of a grammatical convention. But what of our translations? On the Nature of Things (Latin: De rerum natura), On the Soul (Greek: Περὶ Ψυχῆς, Peri Psychēs), On the Genealogy of Morals (German: Zur Genealogie der Moral).

on and on and on…

Neither the Latin De (“of / from”) nor the Greek Περὶ (“about / around”) nor the German Zur (“to / towards”) signify what is signified by the English “On.” The scandal of this genre is: its legitimating convention is itself illegitimate.

…and on anon onan.

Out of the varying prepositional tones of reverent descendence, of curious tarrying, of intentful approach, we construe the single tone of mastery. This is a sad fact of the English language: to observe something, it first wishes to hold it down. This stamps out the wonder of those special things which, by their own internal confusion, resist just such control.

I have never known it until now and still I do not know it;

Of those special things, one has been a major preoccupation in my recent work: home. One cannot write “on home.” Often it is questionable whether one can write “at home.” What preposition is best for this topic? We’ll have to wait.

so be it, amen.

When one thinks of home, one thinks of beginnings, of origins. One preposition immediately comes to mind. Home is where I am from.

I am from … I was of … I am then and was now

But where is “home” from? If we follow “home” back to its own, we find the German Heim, the common ancestor of so much trouble. Heim means home, but by association with its derivatives, the root heim reveals a double significance which is lost in English. It goes beyond–or beneath–homethings and into the dark: ein Geheimnis, a secret. These two, familiarity and obscurity, are inextricably bound.

seeing aside, by itself,

In the vocalization of the words heimisch (domestic, homey) and heimlich (furtive, surreptitious), the difference between the two can be explained, quite literally, by a slip of the tongue.

like late low-lit lifelonging:

It was Freud, the doctor of the home and the tongue-slip, who named the Un-heimlich, which we call “the uncanny.” The privative un- initiates a double negation of the double significance at work in the root heim: what has been familiar becomes strange on account of its familiarity. The potential for this revelation is the secret kept

 the peace, unkempt,

at the heart of the Heim. As an adverb, heim always refers to a direction. Homegoing, Heimkehren: home is here conceived as an origin and a destination, and because it is both, its concept must always include the feeling of the possibility (or impossibility) of return. “And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.” It rings edenic.

in my mother’s garden.

Movement is expressed in the adverbial heim; it is never used in the stationary sense of “at home.” Where can one be “at home” between the origin and the destination?

Make home on the way home,

There is no shortage of home-talk in pop music, but it is rare for songs to express this dialectic of familiarity and strangeness–and the trouble with in-betweens–by which the notion of home, even the experience of home, is essentially constituted. And even in these cases, the secret hides. The catchy beat in “This Must Be the Place” makes the original desperation of the lyrics imperceptible: this must be the place–

oh god please,

so much depends on it. “Home is where I want to be, but I guess I’m already there.” The coincidence of desire and reality here is not expressed as a happy reconciliation but as a source of confusion. Even the sober admission of reality in the lyric’s second clause posits the site of satisfaction elsewhere: “I’m already there” – but not here.

but not here.

 – Julien Chang

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:: stream/purchase Home for the Moment here ::
:: connect with Julien Chang here ::
“Home for the Moment” – Julien Chang

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Home for the Moment - Julien Chang

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