24 August 2012

Polemical Interlude

text: Adorno, Greenberg, Bataille, Breton, umm...

23 August 2012

The Changing Sameness

Just above, a photograph. A photograph that I took the liberty of flipping into black & white. I'm not giving credit to the photographer, which might (or might not) be deemed problematic seeing how the photographer slapped a copyright on the image. Which I can't help but find odd, since the image is a recreation of something someone else did fairly recently, which was itself a twist on something someone else did a good many years before that, which itself was slightly modeled after something that someone else had done far earlier.

The rabbit hole, such as it is, ends there. Perhaps if you were to turn this series of repetitions and permutations into an equation, the equation might run as such: A something being repeated -- the first time as history; the second time as semi-ironic hommage; the third time as highly-ironic parody; the fourth time as utterly fucking pointless, ranking well below a fart in the wind tunnel in terms of cultural significance.

At which point I feel tempted to double back and revisit Lester Bangs's "Who Stole Punk?" spiel for the first time in many years. But instead I was recently thumbing through a copy of Paul Morley's Words and Music for the first time in a long while, a number of things jump out at me, but most particularly this bit, which echoes a common geezerly complaint of recent years...

"The Strokes were great are re-creating moments but not as great at creating moments. They were conservative (they conserved); they weren't radicals (they didn't remake the world). Their music was a tribute to a radical spirit, while missing a radical spirit. Ultimately what was lacking was the sense of newness, the sense of coming-out-of-nowhereness, that gives essentially simple, honest bursts of communication a power beyond the immediate. If Television had not made 'Little Johnny Jewel' in 1975, and we had first heard it in 2000, it would still have been as uncanny a piece of music...but it would have had twenty-five years of other things that have happened to contend with...

If 1949 Charlie Parker had in fact first popped up in 1964, well, it would have been quite arresting but, really, pretty pointless. This is the problem I began to see at my age as rock music began to photocopy itself: what was lacking for me was the suddenness that must be attached to the sound, the suddenness of its appearance and its newness. The suddenness of sound when it sounds like new sound connected to but adrift from other sounds."

At any rate: Some blog-realm cross-chatter blahblah-ing, a few clearing-the-attic thoughts on some things I'd flagged for comment some weeks ago.

One being: Phil's recent yarn on the subject of older music outselling new, but more specifically talking about of eternal returns and revivalism in pop music. I'm intrigued -- unsurprisingly, I suppose -- by his introducing the idea of entropy into the discussion, particularly linking it to bygone notions of progress and dynamic evolution in music. (Yes, we know...postmodernism told us such stuff was a very dubious and distinctly modernist idea, right? Yet we still sort of believe in it, expect it, perhaps even desire it. That suddenness, that newness, that jolt of uncanniness, that creation of a moment.) Simon offers a brief aside musing that sometimes things progress by way of crabwalking -- laterally, sideways, not necessarily in any strictly linear, teleological way. Which may or may not overlap with Phil's later thoughts about change versus "progress" in broader socio-historic terms.

This condition, of course, partly provided the premise for Simon's recent book Retromania. But I say partly because Simon's discussion of the "atemporality" of certain stripes of contemporary pop music ultimately encompassed more; is is many ways bound up with the idea of hyperstasis, having as much to do with the influence of digital culture and the internet -- with its alinear and across-the-board, equal-access-to-everything-at-once character -- rather than the matter of mere sonic stylistic apery and recycling.

Of course, part of Phil's initial post addresses the music's diminished cultural status -- about it no longer being a "driver of youth culture." Which points to how pop music now (and long has been) just one commodity among many; in most cases signifying little more than any other lifestyle accessory, something that long ago spent its own artistic and "cultural capital" through sheer market-glutting, quantity-over-quality overkill.Much of which rings familiar, echoing certain critique about information culture; about how the democratized deluge of facts and opinions ends up being a scenario of one piece of information -- regardless or truth- or use-value -- canceling another out, on and on ad infinitum, resulting in an reciprocal and comprehensive nullification of content or meaning, leaving little but a diffusive pink noise across the spectrum.

And I suppose there's any number of angles one could take to analyze or explain this entropic state of affairs. For instance, extrapolating on stats: the increase of venues of distribution in relation to surplus cultural production and income, the proliferation of channels in an pluralistic media landscape and the increasing splintering and atomization of niche audiences viz market demographics, "narrowcasting," and etcetera, etcetera. Other possible models? Two come to mind, two that have less to do with pop music but (much like that image above) with music's connection with the the larger realm of cultural activity and "creativity"...

First: That of the interpenetration and eminence of design into every realm of cultural and material culture over the past few decades, if not the way it's become the essence of culture (as we now know it) itself. Or as Hal Foster has described: the all-eclipsing "value added" (ugh) manifestations of the "political economy of design," which and the way it bypasses the condition of reification in the ways that it articulates and embodies "subject-less" desire -- reducing its own essence and efforts to an endless perpetuation of cultural production "that is all image and no interiority -- an apotheosis of the subject that is also it potential disappearance."*

The second being a concurrent trend that arose and gather momentum over the same stretch of time -- that of the culture of curation and its accompanying archival impulse, the many ways in which the aesthetic of mixing and re-presentation loomed to the fore. This has not only run parallel to the first aspect but is closely connected as well, due to its obsession with an aesthetics of display and exhibition. And it's the aspect that's mostly responsible for the ouroboric process by which culture operates at present -- consuming and re-presenting itself, without having to signify much of anything outside its own culture-ishness.

The above two points being perhaps a little too tied to discussions of visual culture, as far as the whole matter of critical discourse is concerned. Still, I see them as being part of a similar critical enterprise, one that coincides with the sort of things that both Simon and Phil are addressing; although by different route. And the above probably amounting to little more than me daubing on a wall, a meager attempt at hammer out some thoughts that deserve far more time & space to address.**

At any rate, there are some other things Phil mentioned in his posts, concerning the notion and the nature of progress in all of this. Which is a slippery topic, and one that brings some other ideas to mind; but which will have to wait for another time, a possible part two. (But perhaps done a some point when I'm not so tired, and hopefully more lucid.)

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*  "When Surface Became Depth" was how Michael Bracewell summed up the decade of the 'Nineties. In hindsight, the '90s would seem -- as Warhol would have put it -- "very full," all-too willing and capable of delivering (as far as music was concerned, at least) its share of ecstatic or transcendent moments, compared to much of what has followed in its wake. Yet somehow Bracewell's dismissal has a ring of truth to it, if only because anyone who was paying attention could perhaps notice an underlying emptying-out going on beneath it all...a silence gathering beneath the masking din.

**  Have been busy with other things lately, many of which has been siphoning of time and mental and temporal "bandwidth." Case in point, I think I started this post many weeks ago, and...well, here we are.

Things as They Are, III

You don't have to, as I once did, live in Baltimore for a spell to see that things are messed up. But it seems to help. David Harvey, for instance. Or, somewhat to my surprise, Francis Fukuyama; who draws upon his time spent in Baltimore in discussing The Wire, and how the show constituted writer David Simon's critique of the American socio-political landscape:

"Our conviction that social policy is doomed to failure increasingly demonstrates the parochialism of our national discussion. The fact that North Americans have been largely brain-dead on this issue for much of the past generation has not stopped people in other parts of the world from innovating. Poverty rates and inequality have dropped over the past decade across Latin America,.... What these countries have that America lacks, surprisingly, is not just innovative policy, but a much greater political consensus that some degree of strong government action—and, yes, wealth redistribution—is necessary to undermine the nexus of drugs, poverty and crime. Americans, by contrast, have had to sneak redistribution through the back door by means of artifices like subsidized mortgage lending—a path that was neither efficient nor, as we have seen, safe for the economy as a whole. The country needs to address the problem of the underclass forthrightly and on its own terms."
* * * *

In relation to my thoughts of earlier, Mark Fisher on the "Time-wars" of our current day...

"No doubt this chronic shortage of time goes some way to accounting for the stalled and inertial quality of culture in recent years. The neoliberal gambit was that the destruction of social security would have a dynamic effect on culture and the economy, liberating an entrepreneurial spirit that was inhibited by the red tape of bureaucratic social democratic institutions. The reality, however, is that innovation requires certain forms of stability. The disintegration of social democracy has had a dampening, rather than a dynamic, effect on culture in highly neoliberalized countries such as the UK. Fredric Jameson’s claims that late capitalist culture would be given over to pastiche and retrospection have turned out to be extraordinarily prophetic.

We’ve grown so accustomed to repetition and recycling that we no longer notice them. Yet it’s no surprise that this is the case. New cultural production requires a use of time that communicative capitalism is profoundly hostile towards. Most social energy is sucked into the vortex of late capitalist labour and its vast simulation of productivity. Innovation depends upon an absorbed (rather than distracted) drift; but it is increasingly difficult to muster the attentional resources necessary for such immersion. Cyberspatial urgencies – the smartphone’s flashing red light, the siren call of its alert – function like trance-inhibitors or alarm clocks that keep waking us out of collective dreaming. In these conditions, intellectual work can only be undertaken on a short-term basis. Only prisoners have time to read, and if you want to engage in a twenty-year long research project funded by the state, you will have to kill someone."

Via Gonzo (circus).

22 August 2012


André Malraux, c. 1950(ish), contemplating the museum without walls with the benefit of a floor.

18 August 2012

Abstractions. Other frames of reference.

13 August 2012

Out of Cold Storage

Nice mixtape newly up over at Foxy Digitalis, entitled "A Modern Lesson: Art Rock in the Thatcher Era." The thematic thread here being a survey of artists who were connected in one way or another with This Heat's Brixton recording space, Cold Storage. Featuring tracks that may already be familiar to some by Camberwell Now, Family Fodder, Flying Lizards, and the Raincoats; but also sporting a generous share of lesser-known acts as well, and rounded out by a track from Gareth Williams’s recently collected recordings with Mary Currie.

12 August 2012

Lingua Franca (Note to Self)

"Catchy but meaningless -- good!"

From the "Fax-Bak Service" series of corrected gallery press releases by BANK (aka U.K. artist John Russell), circa 1999. Click or drag into menu bar to enlarge, or see the selective archive here.

Archive link found via the article "International Art English" by Alix Rule and David Levine...

"The language we use for writing about art is oddly pornographic: We know it when we see it. No one would deny its distinctiveness. Yet efforts to define it inevitably produce squeamishness, as if describing the object too precisely might reveal one’s particular, perhaps peculiar, investments in it. Let us now break that unspoken rule and describe the linguistic features of IAE in some detail.

IAE has a distinctive lexicon: aporia, radically, space, proposition, biopolitical, tension, transversal, autonomy. An artist’s work inevitably interrogates, questions, encodes, transforms, subverts, imbricates, displaces — though often it doesn’t do these things so much as it serves to, functions to, or seems to (or might seem to) do these things. IAE rebukes English for its lack of nouns: Visual becomes visuality, global becomes globality, potential becomes potentiality, experience becomes...experiencability."

Yep, and it's been in that sort of a rut for over 15 years now. I even find myself lapsing into that sort of auto-pilot/default mode with a recent assignment I was offered, reflexively falling back on the internalized grad-school species of discourse that I've been trying to disable and undo over the past ten years. So much for circumscription, it is to shrug. About as equally shrug-worthy as any number of doleful articles I've encountered about "the death of art criticism" over the past few years.

Rule and Levine article via the recent edition of Triple Canopy.

10 August 2012


Simon riffing on '70s nostalgia for the '60s, and Mod revivalisms. As far as the first is concerned in regards to punks being unimmune to it...dunno. If there was any substantial trope of punks covering psych-era '60s tunes, I must've misssed it. What little I remember to that effect in first-gen UK punk never struck me as much more than the usual bit of pro-forma punk irony of blithe piss-taking on the legacy of its 'countercultural' predecessor. Either that or set/album filler, perhaps something left over from a band's early stages of teaching themselves to play and then later lobbed in to round out a set/album.

Except for maybe this one below, which I'd always liked a lot...

The droning and jaundiced organ washes, the randomly yelping and gurgling Tourettic vocalizations, an admirably pervasive disregard for hooks or harmonics, all laid atop an argument for an exceptional rhythm sections of its day, and even some thoroughly non-objectional harmonica thrown in for good measure.

While on the matter of Mod Revivalism, that's very much a matter of public record. Weird thing was hearing this one some years ago...

A revved-up cover of a Byrds b-side, delivered with a punchiness that made me think of The Jam anticipated by about a decade in advance. But seeing how the tune was never released in its day, I guess it's unlikely that Weller would have heard unless he he was taped into a bountiful bootleg pipeline.

And then it was only recently that I made the connection that Tomorrow had been priorly been going under the name The In Crowd, which turned out to be the same In Crowd who were responsible for this tune which had been a "freakbeat" favorite of mine when I heard it some 25 years ago, mainly because of its supremely ramshackle, go-for-broke noisiness...

And then there's the fact that Steve Howe -- he of later Yes renown -- was the common denominator for a good portion of the guitar on these latter two tunes. Man, no wonder the first-gen punks wanted to turn back the clock.

09 August 2012

On the (Supposed) Preconditions for Culture

Mark "K-punk" Fisher, popping up with his first blog post in over a year, offering some thoughts on skepticism, the Spectacle, and the London Olympic Games...

"Cynicism is just about the only rational response to the doublethink of the McDonalds and Coca Cola sponsorship (one of the most prominent things you see as you pass the Olympic site on the train line up from Liverpool Street is the McDonalds logo). As Paolo Virno argues, cynicism is now an attitude that is simply a requirement for late capitalist subjectivity, a way of navigating a world governed by rules that are groundless and arbitrary. But as Virno also argues, 'It is no accident ... that the most brazen cynicism is accompanied by unrestrained sentimentalism.'"

While you're at it, it's perhaps worth reading the NY Times piece he links to, where author Oliver Burkemen argument dovetails into that of the Barbara Erhenreich bit I posted a long while back. And also, as I failed to mention earlier, Douglas Murphy -- he of Entschwindet & Vergeht and recently-published The Architecture of Failure note -- has had his own thoughts on the ArcelorMittal Orbit, of which you can reader here, here, and here.

06 August 2012

Just what is it that makes today's cities so disjointed, so anomic?

Venturi Visits Las Vegas, 1976

The Future of Architecture,  1979

Traffiknattet, 1979 (rvd. 1993)

First the building then the site, 1982

The Best of Architecture, 1984

Collage City, 1980

Architectural Outlook, 1987

Architectural collages by Nils-Ole Lund.

[ Via Socks Studio, via Archive of Affinities ]

05 August 2012

On Location: Re-Placement

When Orson Welles set about making his 1962 film adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Trial, he had originally wanted to shoot the film in Prague. Unable to gain permission to do so, his default location then became the city of Zagreb, which became the site for many of the film's outdoor sequences with a majority of the interior scenes being shot in various locations around Paris.

The decision to shoot in Paris was itself an 11th-hour default decision on Welles's part, when he found out that the sets being built in Zagreb were far behind schedule and wouldn't be ready in time for he and his crew's arrival. I'll admit that it's been many years since I've seen the film, but as I recall the differences between the two shooting locations ended up casting a strange, somewhat surreally disorienting feel throughout the film -- a disjointedness as scenes shift from exterior to interior spaces, the starkly modern architecture of Zagreb contrasting with the dark Parisian interiors, a fair number of which dated back to the 19th century. One could argue that this effect ended up improving the film, complementing and heightening the absurdist qualities of Kafka's narrative.

Which brings us to the images above, which are by Croatian artist David Maljkovic and taken from his 2010 series Recalling Frames. The series consists of photomontages made up of Maljkovic's own photos of various locations in the city of Zagreb as they look today, overlying and intercut with images of these same locations as they appeared in scenes from Welles's The Trial.

Looking over the artist's past work, there appears to be heavy hauntological thematic thread running throughout -- a varied sequence of revisitations to the past. More specifically, Maljkovic seems fascinated with the former Yugoslavia as it existed in its Tito years, back when the nation's Communist leadership promoted and pursued a progressively modern(ist) vision of the future. In that respect, a fair amount of Maljkovic's work could be considered as being the product of what's been labeled "Yugonostalgia," a cultural phenomenon of recent years running concurrent with the similar Ostalgie sensibility in parts of former East Germany.

In an article for the Guardian, Maljkovic explained some of the ideas that inspired the series. In particular, he spoke of the role of the state in the former SFRY, of how many of the buildings depicted in the film had been allowed to fall into disrepair as the present government of Croatia seeks to position itself at a distant end of the political spectrum from its Communist past. Maljkovic bemoans the fate of some of these architectural remnants and of the forward-thinking social initiatives that they signified. "Our heritage is disappearing," he says at the article's end.

That last assertion is problematic in a number of ways, some of which I won't go into. But mainly its the way it invokes a particular history -- particularly one pried free of its context. Firstly, there's the consideration that the history in question wasn't exclusively the product of socialistic, state-backed initiatives. The architectural modernization of major metropoles was common in the post-war era, often the result of the positivistic, progress-oriented mentality of the Modernist era as a whole.1  But of course those very same initiatives were doubtlessly perceived as being themselves destructive of certain histories. Ultimately, it begs the question of whose idea of heritage.2

Images: Recalling Frames installation,  [center] just another day at the office,  Tony Perkins 
in The Trial from a scene filmed on the grounds of the Zagreb trade fair, and [bottom] 
Giuseppe Sambito's Italian Pavilion  at the Zagreb trade fair, c. 1961

Maljkovic's choice of the word heritage is, however, pretty poignant in this instance. The notion of heritage was something of a cornerstone in academic studies on the nature of cultural nostalgia. I'm reminded of Malcolm Chase and Christopher Shaw's "The Dimension of Nostalgia," and their observation that "Nostalgia becomes possible at the same time as utopia. The counterpart of the imaged future is the imagined past." In that 1989 essay, Chase and Shaw explore the matter of nostalaia and the ways that it connects with ideas of heritage and invocations of the past. They write at one point:

"Tradition may be the most important encounter that non-historians have with what passes for history. The past is represented in their present through activities and practices, through ritual and ceremony, and through ideals and beliefs. Whether we consider the rites of passage in life of an individual, or of the public pomp of state ceremonial, traditions are represented as the means by which our own lives are connected with the past. Tradition is the enactment and dramatisation of tradition; it is the thread which binds our separate lives to the broad canvas of history."

[Raymond] Williams teases out one of the difficulties: 'It only takes two generations to make anything traditional...But the word moves again and again toward age-old and toward ceremony, duty and respect.' These two things...link the concept with nostalgia. For if tradition is a kind of substitute for history, the past can be mobilised and articulated to provide easy and comfortable answers in the present."

At any rate, returning to the hauntological aspect of the series: In the Guardian piece, the tone of baleful nostalgia is compounded by the artist's discussion on how he went about making the series, with Maljkovic offering a description of the technical aspects of its creation:

"I took photographs of the original film frames, and then went to the same location and took another picture from the same angle. Then I put the two negatives together, and produced another photograph. It was a complex process. No labs for processing film exist any more – the craft is dead – so I did everything myself. I constructed a lab in my studio and developed the pictures by hand. It would have been easy to do it all in Photoshop, but then the end result would have a completely different feeling. I don't want to say this is better, as each medium has its own merits, but this way worked."

Which amounts to something more than the usual analog-versus-digital polemic. Rather it seems to complete the litany of laments and underlying tropes so common in recent the cultural trend of fetishizing ruination and abandonment -- the recurrent themes of entropy, "creative destruction," and obsolescence in the telos of technological progress and late-capitalist evolution, the séancing of all that which has been lost in the face of pervasive uncertainty about the worth of what has been gained (if, in fact, much of anything of tangible or lasting value has been gained at all). Which in the end prompts me to recall a remark made by Susan Sontag in her essay "Melancholy Objects," her off-handed comment that perhaps "the true modernism is not austerity but a garbage-strewn plentitude." Maybe. Or maybe, instead, both at the same time.

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1.   Yes, in some cases these initiatives were very much political and institutional in origin and intent, devised as the architectural embodiments of certain postwar social-democratic/"welfare state" civic policies. One might cite the modernization of certain portions of Stockholm during the 1950s and 1960s as an example, or the emergence of Brutalist architecture in the UK during those same years. Yet as the architectural history of the U.S. in that same era indicates, such stuff ultimately had more to do with the notion of modernization itself, and was hardly the exclusive product any specific political ideology.

2.   In this case it's an especially slippery matter when you account for the fact that Maljkovic's work often invokes a period that predates the artist's own birth -- sometimes by a full decade or more.

02 August 2012

[ ... ]

01 August 2012

What May Be Done

Via Newsweek, January 1959. Quaint, innit? File under: Futurisms of the past, and Bright ideas from a bygone era. See also: Lyndon B. Johnson, 'Project Popeye', and the inadvertent discovery of inadvertent man-made climate change.

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