Ewan Wesi on the Friends (8th Track)

(Excerpt from rock journalist Ewan Wesi’s article 100 greatest nasheeds of the 15th Century, NME, Muharam 1501 AH.)

“Authority Flow” is the 8th track from the Friends of Design’s eponymous debut album. It is what Sally Deen would refer to as their “Ringo” track — the one song on the album that features the Tailor on lead vocals with the Matronita playing the backing chanteuse.

The song is primarily concerned with the seeker subject’s relationship to the Awliya Allah, the collective “friends”/”allies” of God. These Friends feature within esoteric and exoteric Islamic organisational hierarchies on the basis of their mention in the Qur’an

Unquestionably, the Friends of Allah: no fear/threat upon them and they will no grieve, those who believe and are conscious. For them are good tidings in the life of the world and in the hereafter. No change is there in the Words of Allah (kalimati lilah). That is what is the great success. (Qur’an 10:62-64)

The Friends of Allah are yattaquna, a word meaning conscious in the sense of a fearful awe/reverence (in consciousness of the Infinity of Love, as distinct from the fear-of-threat that the verse promises is not upon the Friends), in the related sense of possessing taqwa, God-consciousness-as-piety.

The breadth and scope of the awliya — who’s in and who’s out — was, at the time of the Tailor, a point of contention amongst the Muslims and, specifically, groups professing to Sufism. Some called the Awliya an elect group of saints and teachers, others a level of Islamic practice accessible only after long discipline under a teacher, others “merely” a desirable level of piety embodied by the majority of Muslims in general.

Of course, since the Verandah Vanguard brought Tailorism into the mainstream, utilizing these very nasheeds as their weaponry, as we enter into this very Tailorite century, each one of us a Tailor-unto-himself, there is no longer any dispute and we all understand that all of the above is partial truth.

“The Sufis”, the saints and teachers, the lineages of gnosis and chains of transmission from Prophecy to us — this elite hierarchy does indeed constitute the Friends of Allah. And the Friends are corporeal, Real beings that can be encountered in the here and now. But these “Friends” are encountered, by definition, within the Symbolic/Imaginal realm of Reading, the space the album repeatedly refers to as “the dreamscape”.

Initiation into the Friendship is not the means by which one learns to Read, in the same way that, say, joining a Masonic lodge might assist in career opportunities: rather, learning to Read is the pre-condition, and Reading correctly is the flight/initiation into that Friendship. Rather than being a group of teachers who confer gnosis upon the seeker, to encounter them in their corporeal Reality is gnosis.

The song, like the name of the group itself, brings a hip-hop braggadocio sensibility to describe this process of encounter through reading. (That said, we know that the Tailor’s braggadocio was always supreme in its irony.)

The Tailor is joined by the Matronita in chorus, with the Geographer’s subtle guitar funk in play underneath:

get over to window
our Authority flow
communicating agents
i think you know
(FoD, 8:1-4)

The “window” is the crack in signs/language/perception/our heads/our houses/our soul through which the Nur of Allah can enter. Their “Authority” flowing through these cracks is the Words of Allah — the kalimati lilah of (Qur’an 10:62-64) — is the pure Speech/Words of God that constitute the Body of the human subject. It is as if each sign has a window through which the actual Word (meaning) of Allah shines through, if we look at it/Read it in the correct fashion. The possessive is deliberately ambiguous regarding who is in possession — either a Hallajian hip-hop claim or else a Russian affectionate posture (“our Sophia”). Either way, an audacious claim on intimacy with these Words: but for the Gnostic, the Beloved in immanent form (wherein the Words are Read everywhere, shining through all signs) is often intimate and personal, and we know that the Tailor, like those ecstatic Rabbis and Sheikhs of old, took things to greater extremes with his crypto-erotic poetry.

The song addresses all systems, from an entire ummah, to the components of an individual soul to the very words in a text: “communicating agents” are a metaphorical reference to software agents in computer science, computational units possessing limited forms autonomy, mobility and memory, collaborating through communication as a collective to achieve particular goals according to set (but possibly evolving) rules. The nation/text/individual is understood not as a unity, but as a multiplicity of such agents in communication, evolving, like cells in a body, or nodes in a network, into a state of “knowing”, gnosis, the light shining through their Window.

The Tailor then shifts voice and speaks as the subject in relation to the Friends:

i never had the least notion
that this monadic of mine
could enter a state of union
with friends of design
(FoD, 8:5-8)

The first line is a reference to the Gershwin brothers’ song “I’ve Got a Crush on You”:

I’ve got a crush on you, sweetie pie
All the day and night-time give me sigh
I never had the least notion that
I could fall with so much emotion
(“I’ve Got a Crush on You”, 10-13)

The original song concerns an urbane Lothario who boasts of his eligibility (“How glad the many millions of Annabelles and Lillians/Would be to capture me”) and his ability to remain a free bachelor, then turning to contemplate his first real Love (“But you had such persistence, you wore down my resistance/I fell and it was swell”).

Here the Tailor is playing the same Lothario-as-seeker-subject, contemplating now his movement from urbane bachelor into a surprise entrance (the entrance is always a surprise, that’s what makes it fearful) into the space of Love, the space of the Awliya Allah. The “bachelor unit” is referred to in third person as “this monadic (substance) of mine”, the monad taken from Leibniz and Deleuze rather than the earlier Gnostic or Greek connotation. The bachelor unit/monadic substance’s entrance into the space of the Friends is also a kind of retort against those who felt his philosophy was “mere solipsism”. The monad is, like a node in Indra’s net and also a software agent, both a unity-unto-itself and a reflection of the totality of Creation: any coordinated act of “communication” or “relationship” between one monad and another is mere appearance — a generated, secondary felt effect of each monads’ encapsulated functionality/totality/universal reflection. The monad, in this way, is a kind of logical predicate those domain of apparent application (whose apparent relationship) is the totality of creation (including the very act of its own predication, self-referentially).

That is, through an individual meditation on the monad as utter encapsulation, through unpacking each monad in its reflective encapsulation, to grasp this totality contained within its isolation (solipsism), we grasp the totality of interconnectedness, we become interconnected. The monad as a surprise “birth”-day present: its unpacking is the surprise. Mere solipsism doesn’t do the process justice: the Tailor is talking about subatomic solipsism, through unpacking the subatomic, essentially disconnected monadic substances of the human/text/ummah, we can ultimately join the ranks of the Friends, and enter into pure, total interconnectedness. A monadic network is the Awliya Allah’s nature. (The monad itself encapsulates historical, geographical, spatial forms of extension – they are appearances, secondary functionalities of its reflective containment. This is why Sufis can speak directly to Saints from distant lands, centuries past or centuries future.)

This entrance begins with Islam, in its true sense of a (dynamic) Journey/Path/Reading of Peace.

but once along the journey
on the path to peace
i stumbled upon a fountain
for my thirst some relief
(FoD, 8:9-12)

The self is driven upwards to the source of the soul’s emanation, the Fountain Kauthar (from which the four rivers derive):

Indeed we have given you Al-Kauthar
So pray to your lord and sacrifice
Indeed, your enemy, he: the one cut off. (103:1-3)

Entrance is always serendipitous, accidental, a leap of faith, a surprise: hence the bachelor subject’s “stumbling” to the fountain.
After drinking from this fountain, joining the party with the Friends, the subject exclaims:

if music be the food of Love
then give me excess
beyond a state of knowing
no one can possess
(FoD, 8:13-16)

The first two lines are a Shakespearean misquote — Orsino, another bachelor, this time not a happy one, pondering the nature of his love:

If music be the food of love, play on,
Give me excess of it; that surfeiting,
The appetite may sicken, and so die.
(Twelfth Night Act 1, scene 1, 1–3)

The Tailorite spin is a misquote, but also a consistent misreading: the “food of Love” is the body of the Christ, it is manna, it is the halal food of the Qur’an, it is Divine Gnosis. And Gnosis is musical in form: the Sufi cries out now for excess (the root of Kauthar having a connotation of “abundance”, “overflow”), not to consume the music, but, rather, to be consumed by it — not to a naive fana of the selfhood, but, rather, to awaken the Real subjecthood from its slumber, the “appetite” (nafsic drives) sickening and passing away. This is why the subject moves “beyond a state of knowing/no one can possess”. Beyond human, personal knowledge, now subsisting within/on/in accord with Allah’s Knowledge (that which “no one can possess”). Personal knowledge is always relative, a particular monadic configuration. While Allah’s Knowledge is absolute — but because it is possessed by “no one” — its approach is purely relative, local and dynamic by the very perennial nature of the Knowledge. .

The approach to that Absolute Knower itself is something that “almost” transcends Time by embodying, living/breathing/singing in (musical) Time: a temporally relative, dynamic non-perennial formulation, with the consequent individual form of relative gnosis configured in transmissive chains of alliance within the communion with the Awliya Allah. The subject joins the party “along the edge of Time”, drinking a transfinite, intra-temporal elixir of Gnosis: the subject drinks from the Divine Drinking-itself. And, following the traditional Islamic formulation, everyone is welcome, everyone ends up at that bar, eventually, with Time.

when you come across that party
along the edge of Time
come in and drink that knowing
with the friends of design
(FoD, 8:17-20)

“The Friends of Design” is now available through Fernmind Unilectic on iTunes, Amazon and Napster.


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3 thoughts on “Ewan Wesi on the Friends (8th Track)

  1. The breadth and scope of the awliya — who’s in and who’s out — was, at the time of the Tailor, a point of contention amongst the Muslims and, specifically, groups professing to Sufism. Some called the Awliya an elect group of saints and teachers, others a level of Islamic practice accessible only after long discipline under a teacher, others “merely” a desirable level of piety embodied by the majority of Muslims in general.

    But, Musa, whose friends are they?

    One of the things that is most striking about… so many of these debates in the ‘Ummah’ is the total absence of Allah as a real, living factor. It’s almost as if God exists only in the Qur’an, to be understood litigiously like some arcane legal precept.

    If one accepts that there might be a real, existent God, then that God has the absolute – and unlimited – right to choose whosoever ‘He’ pleases for his friends. Without any binding contract laid down in C7 C.E. Hijaz to determine who ‘He’ can or cannot choose.

    To discuss what constitutes a ‘Friend’ is thus quite simply presumptious.

    This reminds me of the arguments the execrable ‘Salaf’ make about the use of the tasbih. They fuss and bother interminably about whether the Prophet used such a thing but seem to completely forget that the purpose of the thing is to faciliate the Remembrance of God. If that Remembrance is pleasing to the One who is remembered, who really gives a fuck whether a string of beads is ‘bidah’ or not?

    In such ways, your ‘City’ daily irrelevances itself from anything approaching an appropriate theology of worship and unknowing.

    1. Peace James,

      With respect to the state of the City, we know where we both stand 🙂 But the curious thing is which certain (minority, apparently poor) suburbs of that City utilize a capital of power gained from a “mystical” characterisation of the awliya.

      The main parts of the City — the majority — are much less interested in the term and defer it to be a kind of piety that is, topologically at least, not too far away from what you are talking about — apart from the absence of a direct, living contact with the God of Love and, in its place, an physically embodied regulation of piety.

      But these minority suburbs — with an outwardly Sufi local government — do make much more theological fuss about the term and utilize it as a means of control of their citizens (the extent of the control ranging quite a spectrum). Not naming names here, of course 😉 But it is strange that there are systems of control within this system of control.

  2. But these minority suburbs — with an outwardly Sufi local government — do make much more theological fuss about the term and utilize it as a means of control of their citizens (the extent of the control ranging quite a spectrum).

    You’re undoubtedly right, but this just goes to underline that the fundamental value system of the City is about control, despite more superficial divisions (I heard last week that Iran’s Revolutionary Guards had found common cause with the Taliban, which testifies to the power of political expediency over religious principle – on both sides).

    There are at least four different kinds of ‘Sufis’ within the City’s precincts.

    At the basest level, there are those who use their ‘Sufism’ for personal advantage, and to hold others in their thrall. Some, at least, of the absurd henna-bearded hereditary ‘pirs’ of the Indian sub-continent – with their dressing up box antics – fall into this category (but then the Hereditary Pirage has always been in love with high camp, and having people scurrying around after their every whim).

    Then there are the ‘infiltrators’, who form part of a project that has been going on since the time of Ibn Taymiyyah – and perhaps well before – to steer people away from Sufism towards a narrower and more conventional form of religion. They do this by claiming that a literal (and often anthropomorphic) form of Islam is in fact ‘Sufism’, and there is no other kind of Sufism outside of this. These are the kind of ‘Sufis’ who love to say that certain esoteric subjects are very advanced, ‘and not to be discussed with the common people’, when in fact they simply disagree with them and wish to banish them from the popular discourse.

    Third are the “soup of the soup” Sufis, who follow a path that was once vital, but has become so atrophied that hardly a glimmer of the original dynamic exists within it. They have replaced the transformational practices of their founders with rituals and ceremonies designed only to heighten their emotions. They are often desperate to present Islamic credentials to match those of their fundamentalist critics, in the process of which they can become more salafist than the salafis.

    Fourth – with precious little to connect them with any of these other three groups – are the ‘People of the Path’, who mostly keep themselves to themselves, and their profile as little visible as possible as the walk amongst the other denizens of the City. They have learned to watch the ‘controlling self’ and avoid its wiles, and to cultivate true friendship. And it is here, I would suggest, that the real ‘friends’ are to be found.

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