Tag Archives: culture

Communicating faster than creativity

I ponder in my isolation as only the digital era could provide the question of creativity in our time. We have it and use and present all over, yet I wonder whether we realize the shallowness it exudes in the newness of complexity that all these intersecting signals have created. We raced to get here as fast as we can asking not what it means but rather what it can do, or do better, or faster, or longer, or smaller. We threw our net wide and incorporated the world from streaming internationally to communicating globally. The Earth isn’t as large or mysterious as it once was, the universe too now shrinks more and more. We hunger for information, raw and unchecked, that we aggregate it all to measure its success. Yet through this conglomerate of what we can present we have lost something meaningful, something only human. In our hunger to know we’ve forgotten context and depth. What matters now is a false sense of objective knowledge crowd sourced to the masses. In that importance we deemed the editor unnecessary, the journalist a waste, and the critic ourselves. With the communication of the digital age we all became the critics and informants of our own world, assuming that because we can now get around the critical eye, the critical eye is no longer necessary. Why learn from a historian what you can google on wikipedia? Why read from a journalist what you can learn first hand from twitter? why pay to experience the new when you can create (or decide) it for yourself?

The internet and the digital age has such an ability to create depth and yet all it has been used for is breath. We are losing touch with creativity because we no longer know what it means to be creative. We trust that which we don’t understand and fear that which is unfamiliar. We are as lost as ever despite everything that is helping us get found.

In all these vague generalizations what I really mean to say is something rather simple: We have lost our desire to be challenged intellectually. The 20th century saw the childhood of this concept in art, modernism though born in the 19th century truly came into its self in the 20th. But in so doing it created a world of art that needed to be engaged, thought through, and then understood. Modernism isn’t easy art, you can’t look at it once and understand it, it takes time and thought and engagement and discussion and research and understanding, and an open mind above all. But with all the tools of communication at our fingertips we have no interest in spending time figuring something out, rather we’ll just google it. And in so doing, we fail to fully understand it.

I challenge us and myself to stop googling. I challenge us to return to our tried and true techniques of learning the hard way. Use what has come before us, trust the disciplined approach it takes to be called a historian or journalist. And if through the internet we have come to believe that these academic processes for creating measures of distinction in our society are truly damaged or corrupt then lets fix them.



Don’t Worry, Adulthood Still Alive

NY Times with a “culture is going downhill”-type article by A. O. Scott. It’s an enjoyable-enough read, but as a piece of cultural criticism it’s awfully naive. Scott extends the eternal adolescence of comedy actors like Adam Sandler to the U.S.’s male population as a whole, pining for some vaguely-defined adulthood that seems to have slipped away from us.

It’s currently fashionable to reject outright anything that, like this article, suggests a longing for the past. I’m skeptical of this. Certainly there’s a tendency to idealize the past and ignore the serious problems that we only began to overcome in the past grueling century. Certainly, for instance, the fifties were not as neat and tidy as the TV shows and movies that serve as some of the decade’s main emissaries to people of my generation. But it’s easy to overcorrect in attempting to avoid this glamorization of the past. It’s easy to wind up denying not just that the past might be better that the present, but that it could be different from the present at all. Of course the past is different, and it would be foolish not to consider the possibility that the present might, in some ways, be worse.

But we do have to be careful to avoid giving in to nostalgia – we have to carefully examine the terms on which we’re talking, and even more carefully consider just where our judgments about what is better than what come from – we don’t want to apply the standards from some time in the past to the present.

The NY Times article could easily be accused of that. It never makes it quite clear what it means by maturity and why we should aspire to it – no doubt we should aspire to maturity, but a concept like “maturity” is not the sort that does well outside of its natural habitat. There is a core meaning involving doing the right thing even when it involves giving up on pleasure or comfort, and that’s certainly a virtue, but “maturity” and “adulthood” carry massive loads of cultural baggage, and though we don’t have to reject this baggage, we do have to acknowledge it as cultural if we’re going to apply the terms to culture. A. O. Scott seems to treat adulthood as an eternal unchanging truth, which it is not.

But that’s not Scott’s most overt critical sin. I would just like to point out that, though Sandler’s characters are typically meant to be likable, the audience is supposed to be laughing at their childlike behavior. Laughter is basically incompatible with approval. I don’t think, like Umberto Eco, that comedy is necessarily conservative, but Adam Sandler’s characters make no sense unless we keep in mind the particular ideal of masculine adulthood that they so flagrantly fail to realize.


Taste (1)

To extend what I was talking about last time a bit–

Alright, so we admit a plurality of tastes. We admit that our own preferences are not objective truth. But that doesn’t mean we have to stop making judgments about things. We admit that our opinions are subjective, but we don’t have to stop caring about them. If someone becomes so disengaged from their own taste that that have not stake in it at all, then they have, in a sense, ceased to live. Objectivity about life can be taken too far – you have to value your own perspective over that of others to some degree, even it it means not being objective. There are some senses in which one cannot reason logically about culture without ceasing to participate in it. The Bergson that I’ve been reading has not really converted me, but there’s something in his argument that (and I am simplifying things) time can only truly be understood through the intuition: that intellectualizing it, as we do when we try to measure it, causes it to lose something essential, since time is essentially subjective. Certainly this notion anticipated the Uncertainty Principle. Could it apply to our experience of culture as well?


Who Oppressing Whom?

Mike B.’s post yesterday on clapclap.org addresses some problems in leftist cultural critique that have bothered me as well: there is something disturbingly parternalistic and condescending in claiming that a certain group of people is under the influence of false consciousness, and such claims are often made with little understanding of the selected group’s actual motivations. There is certainly a well-documented tendency for some practitioners of critical theory to slide towards elitism – witness Adorno in the 1960s, with his insistence that jazz fans are somehow being lulled into acceptance of what he saw as inferior music – and while not all go that way, the tendency for critics to assume that no one could rationally like the things that they do not themselves like – in this case, it was Celine Dion – persists, and, as Carl Wilson came to realize in his investigation of Dion, it is fatal. I agree with the main drift of Mike B.’s post and I have nothing to add to it except to point the way to Isaiah Berlin’s attack on paternalistic notions of liberty, but there is a minor point of his that I would like to expand upon:

Their arguments [those of speakers at the EMP Pop Conference] ran more along Carl’s lines, that a strip mall eradicates the culture of a community. Moreover, there was a creepy strain of intentionality going on there, that zoning boards let strip malls in precisely so that they could accrue the benefits of destroying a community’s culture.

There certainly is a lot of cooperation between between the corporate and government worlds, but the assumption in a lot of leftist thought is that they all form one unit whose interests are exactly those of the status quo, so that whenever there is some aspect of culture that is perceived to have a negative effect on individual or community freedom, it is assumed to be imposed willfully by this oppressive body – it’s Pynchon’s Them, basically, which, as I’ve mentioned before, is a level of paranoia that we’re not meant to aspire to. It seems like Foucault’s claim that not all power is exerted by any particular party has given way to a semi-mystical idea of a generalized opponent that gets the blame every time something happens that might restrict people’s freedom. Max Horkheimer may have made a breakthrough when he declared that the critic of culture must acknowledge the fact that he or she is also steeped in it, but I think it’s time we take this a little further: whatever persons are pulling the strings of culture, if anyone is, live within that culture just the same as the rest of us, and might be pulling each others’ strings as well. There are no puppeteers behind the curtains, and no one is following a script.