Tag Archives: PJ harvey

Chain of Keys

“This house was built in 1788.”

Although most people will see this statement is a factual one, I will argue that it is, in fact, imbued with value and judgment.

We choose to highlight something by stating it, by making it the subject of a statement. Something must be focused upon (apart from “dummy” statements like ‘it’s raining’ or ‘it’s me’ but I will argue these are not empty subjects) when we say anything. To choose to focus upon the house is something consciously done by a speaker. And to choose to highlight its age is another choice. Both are given importance by stating them as facts. Value is thus given to them. They – the house and its age – are judged to be important facts.

Poets and songwriters are masters of value making. A good example is PJ Harvey’s Chain of Keys.

Fifteen keys
Fifteen keys hang on a chain
The chain is joint
The chain is joint and forms a ring
The ring is in
The ring is in a woman’s hand
She’s walking on
She’s walking on the dusty ground

The dusty ground’s a dead-end track
The neighbours won’t be coming back
Fifteen gardens overgrown
Fifteen houses falling down

The woman’s old
The woman’s old and dressed in black
She keeps her hands
She keeps her hands behind her back
Imagine what
Imagine what her eyes have seen
We ask but she
We ask but she won’t let us in

A key so simple and so small
How can it mean no chance at all?
A key, a promise, or a wish
How can it mean such hopelessness

“The circle is broken”, she says
“The circle is broken”, she says

Out of the void of the music comes fifteen keys on a chain. We send time wondering, imagining, what kind of keys and chain they are. We are told, next, chain is not a like a strand but is joined to form a loop (ring). But where is this ring of keys? It is in the hands of a woman. What is she like? How are we to imagine her? We don’t know, but we are told she is walking on the dusty ground. Why is she walking on here? So many questions. So many images. The sparse repetitive sax and drum line gives us an image of her walk walking among the fifteen empty falling down houses with their overgrown gardens. The story goes on.

I hope you can see how the words have created the image for you. It may well be based on an actual place with actual persons with actual things and actual dialogues but it no longer belongs to the event, only belonging to the memory (or thought) and (or) to the song.

To take statements as facts of reality is to not understand that statements are acts in reality. They are acts within the reality. They do not stand outside of reality. This is what, I believe, Derrida had meant by there is no outside text (alternate translations ‘there is nothing outside of the text’; ‘there is no outside context’). The largest most inclusive category – as tiring as this approach physically and mentally is – must be taken in order for anything to be make complete sense. And we must forget that rational sense itself is an act within this reality not separate from it in any way.