Those of you who are paying attention to cool things happening in Winnipeg (my assumption is that this is most people) have probably heard of, heard, or seen the Riel Gentlemen’s Choir. A few months ago I drafted a preliminary version of a manifesto for the choir. After much delay I have now completed a second draft. While consciously it is an attempt to articulate what it is that we as a choir do/are, it also more or less ended up being an unconscious attempt at a synthesis of Yoder and Deleuze. It’s also a fun piece that I very much enjoyed writing.
Thanks to Kampen for initial conversations on the nature and shape of this manifesto and to the many chorister-gentlemen who gave valuable feedback to the initial draft.
[R]ise up on your own two legs and sing with your own God-given voice. To confess, to whine, to complain, to commiserate, always demands a toll. To sing it doesn’t cost you a penny. Not only does it cost nothing – you actually enrich others (instead of infecting them)….The phantasmal world is the world which has not been fully conquered over. It is the world of the past, never of the future. To move forward clinging to the past is like dragging a ball and chain….We are all guilty of crime, the great crime of not living life to the full.
-Henry Miller (quoted from Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia)
A gentleman is defined as a man who exhibits chivalrous, courteous, and honourable qualities. Were these happier times, this reminder alone would be sufficient to describe the character, mission, and purpose of the Riel Gentlemen’s Choir. Alas, this is not the case. Our world is not chivalrous, courteous, or honourable, and as a result these virtues have been distorted beyond recognition. Effectively disguised under a veil of scripted collegiality that pretends to gentlemanliness, we live in a world that is in fact barbarous, cruel, and underhanded.
Finding ourselves in such an environment, we as the Riel Gentlemen’s Choir hope to give voice to another, truer reality of gentlemanliness. Through resounding verse and rousing chorus we exist to evoke forth the chivalry, courtesy, and honour that, though at the heart of our true nature, slumber, nearly forgotten, in our roguish times.
In the following, we proclaim against the raging, castrated mob, are the first few steps to a world that would be more courteous, honourable and chivalrous.
Where the world subjects itself to tyranny, begging to be led, we strive to challenge posturing of despots and liberate desire from their dominating grasp. Where we are awash with half-hearted ascent to deleterious ideologies that assume the worst in human nature (namely capitalism), we seek to stridently celebrate our most estimable qualities. While humanity happily stands by and actively participates in the destruction of our forests and streams, we cry out in protest on their behalf. While around the globe people foolishly believe that they might elevate themselves above the non-human world, we seek esteemed partnership with the non-urban world and non-human animals, shamelessly exploring our bestiality; it is modes of contemporary civilization, we say, that are truly savage and cruel. While men and women stumble around in an impotent stupor, we seek to reclaim unleashed passion, exuberance, and full throated rowdiness; we reject primitivism as a pejorative and declare the construction of ‘rationality’ to itself be oppressive and irrational. Faced with systemic oppression inaccurately named order, we let loose our wildness. Rejecting the false dichotomy between rigor and enjoyment, we attempt good work. In the face of listless conformity; where connections with others are marked by fear, suspicion and superficiality; where fraternity expresses itself through rigidity and exclusion, we practice full throated dissent, unabashed camaraderie, and joy at the gift of difference. Addressing a world that has forgotten how to speak, we dream of daring, productive expression.
In the name of specificity (where society contents itself with vacuous slogans and vapid bravado) we wish to conclude with eight beliefs. While we push against a dogmatic agenda that would attempt to capture and contain our essence, we hold that the following beliefs point (if only fleetingly) towards the truer reality of gentlemanliness into which we seek to live.
- Getting together with men and singing is a good thing; denim and sticks makes it better yet.
- Don’t let yourself be paralysed by “buts,” considerations, reflections, and deliberations; act first and you will (or will not) yield results.
- To put it differently, let your considerations, reflections, and deliberations be of the body; engage in conversations, try (adventure) things out, boldly speak/sing ideas, make/compose, get dirty. There is more wildness in us than you think.
- Engage in productive activity outside of the logic of quantity; that is, productive activity that does not produce numbers, or goods that can be quantified. Cultivate friendships, make love, smoke something, burst into song, sleep outside, climb things, sit on roofs, drink beer in the shade, help people move, go canoeing, read good books with others; in a word, make time for being playful.
- Ruffle some feathers; do try to ruffle the right feathers at the right time; you won’t do so perfectly, but that is why we practice. Note that one of the best places to practice this is during (give or take) spontaneous street performances.
- Experiment boldly.
- Learn about the work and passions of those close to you.
- Remember that the true chorister is a nomad. Resist all absolute forms of settlement, complacency, and territorialization.
We take our name from Louis Riel, father of our province. He was hanged as a traitor for opposing a government that stole his community’s land, destroying their culture and livelihood. If this makes one a traitor then let all true gentlemen be traitors. Indeed, let us all be traitors and let none deny male vocal fury. On this note, at all times and above all else: Let the choir be the choir. Let the choir sing!
 Definitions are risky. Nevertheless we shall at this point risk a tentative and partial definition of courtesy, honour, and chivalry. Following Kierkegaard, in turn following the apostle Paul, we suggest that these terms be understood as the embrace and building up of our fellow man, for man is created good.
 This parenthetical example need not be read as straightforwardly anti-capitalist. The point is rather that the logic of operation assumed by the choir is completely outside of the foundational logic of capitalist production. There are those, in fact, who argue that the beauty (a revulsive word in this context…) of capitalism (and big brother liberalism) is that it allows for modes of production outside of itself; that is, that it is the system of capitalism-liberalism alone that allows for things such as the Riel Gentlemen’s chorus. I (Gerald) happen to strenuously disagree with these arguments, but that does not mean that those adhering to them should be disbarred from the choir. Just remember, as long as you are in the act of singing with us you are striving towards something other than capitalist production.