The OF Blog: This little quote might generate some discussion

Friday, February 10, 2012

This little quote might generate some discussion

This is from the National Book Critics Circle Award-nominated book by Dubravka Ugresic, Karaoke Culture (itself a fitting title for what she discusses in her introduction):

Amateurs, Keen claims, devastate systems that are based on expertise and destroy the institutions of author and authorship, information (newspapers are slowly disappearing, blogs are taking over), education (Wikipedia, the work of anonymous amateurs, has replaced encyclopedias, the work of experts), and art and culture (amateurs create their own culture based on borrowing, expropriation, appropriation, intervention, recycling, and remaking; they are simultaneously the creators and consumers of this culture.)

Alan Kirby, an Oxford professor of literature, maintains that this new culture is in need of its own "ism," and as a provisional term suggests "pseudo-modernism."  "this pseudo-modern world, so frightening and seemingly uncontrollable, inevitably feeds a desire to return to the infantile playing with toys which also characterizes the pseudo-modern cultural world.  Here, the typical emotional state, radically superseding the hyper-consciousness of irony, is the trance – the state of being swallowed up by your activity.  In place of the neurosis of modernism and the narcissism of postmodernism, pseudo-modernism takes the world away, by creating a new weightless nowhere of silent autism.  You click, you punch the keys, you are 'involved,' engulfed, deciding.  You are the text, there is no-one else, no 'author'; there is nowhere else, no other time or place.  You are free; you are the text:  the text is superceded."

There is a lot to digest in just those two paragraphs near the beginning of Ugresic's introductory essay.  A lot of it rings true to me, but there are still places where I'm skeptical (perhaps the essays to follow will elaborate on this "karaoke culture," or "Generation Re-Run" as I like to think of recent trends to recycle and appropriate older narratives and symbols) of the extent to which this is happening/has happened.  What about you?  What are your immediate reactions to this quoted passage?


Brian Murphy said...

A very interesting issue, and one I've given a lot of thought to myself. I've read a lot of comments around the web from people gleefully watching the crash of newspapers, newscasts, publishing companies, etc. The problem of course is: if these institutions fail, where is the reliable information going to come from? Who is going to be on the ground in Afganistan producing quality journalism? If the Hollywood movie machine crashes, where are the big-budget films most of us so enjoy going to come from? (Skeptical commentators might say that there never was quality newsmedia or film, of course, but many others would disagree).

On the other hand I have a natural distrust for an "intellectual elite" who are the sole purveyors of good taste and the only ones capable of rendering judgement about art. I've found many big media art reviewers maddeningly vanilla and enjoy the more thorough reviews of book bloggers and sites like RedLetterMedia.

So yeah, in short, very interesting times, and Karaoke Culture sounds like an interesting read.

Eric Rhoads said...

I could place a lot more stock in "institutions" if I had any faith that they actually worked. Spending any amount of time reading blogs such as Retraction Watch really undermines any faith I have in the ability of an "institution". Especially when it is a routine occurrence for members of such bodies to be found guilty of "lower men's" crimes as fraud, plagiarizer, and lies.

Why have faith in newspapers with the de facto paper of record, the New York Times, has been so complicit w/ the government over issues such as water boarding, refusing to every refer to it as torture when performed by an agent of the US. Instead using the euphemism "enchanced interrogation technique". But when said act is performed by a non-US agent, it is torture. When a member of western culture commits an act of terrorism, he is not a terrorist, he is an extremist, e.g. the Oslo bomber. Terrorist is a label reserved for only certain "kinds" of people.

Attacking "neo-modernism" as lacking true creativity is also farcical. Look no further than Everything Is A Remix to explain why that is such a laughable claim. The internet and the computer age have simply enabled more people to interact w/ the culture they love.

So no, I don't place a lot of stock into old intellectual institutions that safe-guard are culture when they are routinely found guilty intellectual cowardice and laziness.

The problem that these old institutions have is that the internet has accelerated the dissemination and creation of information to such a degree that they are not longer able to filter and homogenize it for us unwashed masses. Somehow its dangerous for us to have access to all of this information. We "just don't understand." It is extremely patronizing.

Now, the public gets to develop their own filters. What is the worst that can happen? What, we might develop a distrust of old institutions that we find increasingly lied to us for their own benefit? I can live w/ that.

Next Friday said...

I've seen a number of similar arguments over the years, most of them assuming that the world used to be more ordered or more reliable and somehow better. As if you could trust it. As if history has never been written by winners or science has never been a slave to ideology. Good times when people believed institutions and authorities, and those engaged in cross-reference could easily swept aside as irrelevant. Now all these unwashed masses, pardon me, amateurs can actually find each other, communicate, evolve, and come up with their own interpretations, all in "a weightless nowhere of silent autism".

What can I say, the end of the world as we know it is always coming about now.

Larry said...

Good comments so far. I want to respond at greater length, but I think it might be best to wait until I finish reading Karaoke Culture, as Ugresic introduced some points that touch upon things each of you raise. I'm not yet completely persuaded by her arguments, but she seems to be building a strong case for a society in which we base our norms off of the appropriation and remixing wholesale of previous cultural artifacts. If I'm interpreting her words correctly, then what is happening could be one of the greatest/worst triumphs of anarchic culture in generations. There is that sense that it's not a wholly good thing, but I'll explore that in a review essay when I finish this in a few days.

Anubis said...

Don't know. The concept of pseudo-modernism sounds plausible to me, but I can't help thinking it's a little shortsighted to believe that blogs really will replace newspapers etc.

I can't see that this is happening, at least not in my personal context in Germany. I believe that in the near future newspapers will be fewer and more monopolistic, but they are not going to disappear because of blogs. More likely there will be more blogs run by professional journalists who cooperate with newspapers. Wikipedia, on the other hand, surely destroyed print encyclopedias, but now Wikipedia is desperately trying to motivate experts to participate in the project.

In short: Rather than amateurs becoming the hegemonic force, large parts of amateur culture will sooner or later be professionalized and in the hands of experts again.

Eric Rhoads said...

@Anubis Wikipedia didn't kill the traditional encyclopedia, encyclopedias killed themselves. Encyclopedias as a format were expensive, prone to errors and stuck on a yearly update cycle that only updated partial information.

What killed the encyclopedia was the internet enabling science to move faster. Suddenly, waiting a year to see an encyclopedia update was FOREVER.

Encyclopedias couldn't keep up and refused to move online as their entire business was based on selling hugely expensive multi-volume sets of books.

Wikipedia was merely the result of a problem looking for a solution. The information was online. If you were saavy you could find it via a good Google search. If you were lucky you had access to JSTOR and related databases.

The fact that you still cannot find a decent scholarly encyclopedia online that is easily accessible is sad. Britannica and their ilk had a monopoly. They could have been Wikipedia but let the moment slip by. Now, we are stuck w/ a much inferior product that is really useful for nothing more than cataloging cultural artefacts.

Next Friday said...

Anarchic culture sounds much better. While anarchism has its own connotations, it doesn't carry Kirby's patronizing rhetoric.

Anubis said...

@Eric Rhoads: I totally agree. Wikipedia has some fairly obvious advantages compared to traditional encyclopedias, who so far have been unable to keep up in terms of accessibility and the range of topics covered. So I didn't mean to blame Wikipeda for the demise of other encyclopedias (some of which, like Encarta, have proven to be incredibly bad).

What I meant to say is that I totally disagree with the views of Andrew Keen and other cultural pessimists: Blogs don't replace newspapers like the DVD replaced VHS, rather blogs are a totally new form of sharing information. The internet doesn't keep people from reading books (like some people used to claim), rather it is the internet that provides me with tons of ideas about which book I might read next. Wikipedia offers a user-friendly alternative to inaccessible and slowly updated print encyclopedias, but it doesn't replace encyclopedias in highly specialized fields of knowledge and research who continue to work with experts as authors.

The pessimistic critics today are not really different from Plato, who (according to Umberto Eco, haven't checked it myself) believed that people would lose their capacity of memorize things when they could write everything down in a book.

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