The Naysayers
October 27, 2014 12:04 PM   Subscribe

 


“Just as Niagara Falls feeds power stations, in the same way the downward torrent of language into smut and vulgarity should be used as a mighty source of energy to drive the dynamo of the creative act”

The Internet in a nutshell.
posted by Sangermaine at 12:19 PM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, yeah, but is he going to be illustrating Ms. Martian soon?
posted by ChurchHatesTucker at 12:25 PM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


Bringing PoMo Back!
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 1:06 PM on October 27, 2014


Walter Benjamin, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, also as scanned PDF.

My head a splode.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 1:12 PM on October 27, 2014 [14 favorites]


My head a splode.

Benjaminception
posted by dis_integration at 1:17 PM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, as copied out longhand by an android monk.
posted by Iridic at 1:31 PM on October 27, 2014 [7 favorites]


Thanks for this. As an undergraduate the two most demanding and interesting classes I took were a seminar on art history,—my final project was a paper reexamining Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction in light of the internet—and a seminar on images of body and robotics in Weimar era Germany.

Best classes evar. It's refreshing to read original writing by people living at times when the things we take for granted today were critically examined by eyes seeing them for the first time.
posted by tychotesla at 1:34 PM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


Lovely; thanks for posting this! I particularly liked:

Headlines have an authoritarian bark (“This Map of Planes in the Air Right Now Will Blow Your Mind”).
posted by Greg Nog at 1:35 PM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


Oh look, it's all those words from grad school I tried so hard to forget
posted by oulipian at 1:54 PM on October 27, 2014 [7 favorites]


culipian--exactly. As I got older I started to realize you could string them together and they appeared to say something of substance. Then I started deconstructing the sentences--word by word--and realized they were sometimes just strung together and the meaning was most likely in the experience of the reader.
posted by rmhsinc at 2:13 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


I wrote a paper reexamining Adorno's claims in light of the Internet when I was an undergrad. When I first set out to write the thing, my thesis was going to be something along the lines of "this stuff no longer applies in the Internet age, and here's why." By the time I got done, my thesis ended up being something like "this stuff absolutely applies to the Internet, and we're all doomed."

(Don't ask me for details; it's been about 15 years.)

I wish I'd written this sentence:

The two served each other best by challenging assumptions at every turn; it was a mutual admonition society.
posted by Shmuel510 at 2:18 PM on October 27, 2014 [10 favorites]


(As far as I know, Benjamin committed suicide on the very plausible belief that he was going to be turned back at the Spanish border by the Franco government. Adorno died of heart failure mere days after he was heckled and abused by a bunch of generation '68 student radicals in his own classroom (one of these student radicals, although he apparently hung back a bit, being Gunter Grass). The fascists got one, and a particularly mean-spirited chunk of the student left got the other.)

I am no Frankfurt School expert, but I have enjoyed what I've read. I think that if you're wanting more Frankfurt School, flipping around in Adorno's Minima Moralia and Benjamin's Arcades Project are the way to go.

I recently read "The Meaning of Working Through The Past" and really liked it. Can One Live After Auschwitz is a collection of some Adorno which I think is quite useful, as long as you have encountered in very general terms the basic "and we are skeptical of the Enlightenment Project because". I actually thought "The Meaning of Working Through The Past" very personal and moving in a weird way, more so than lots of Minima Moralia which is technically more personal but really just grumpy.

I stress again, though, that this is all part of a very, very spotty reading of Frankfurt School writers.
posted by Frowner at 2:48 PM on October 27, 2014 [10 favorites]


How can he retell that scene from "The Corrections" and omit the pivotal fact that Chip leaves the market with salmon IN HIS PANTS? But I'm probably missing the point.
posted by hwestiii at 3:19 PM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


Oh look, it's all those words from grad school I tried so hard to forget

Oh look, it's time for another round of Metafilter DAE pomo sucks amirite LOL.

Smug ignorance is a bad idea here as everywhere.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 4:01 PM on October 27, 2014 [6 favorites]


Smug ignorance is a bad idea here as everywhere--Is this a corollary of the notion that pretension is easily confused for substance. I have substantial respect for the theorists but not this essay--I really have no idea what he was saying and I found found the closing unnecessarily dismissive and not particularly accurate. ( I did read the whole article):Above all, these figures present a model for thinking differently, and not in the glib sense touted by Steve Jobs. As the homogenization of culture proceeds apace, as the technology of surveillance hovers at the borders of our brains, such spaces are becoming rarer and more confined.. I am not at all sure that culture is becoming increasingly homogenized, I see no reason to refer to Jobs as glib and I am not sure what "spaces" are becoming rarer and more confined. My observation is that "spaces", are becoming increasingly individualized, less homogenous and in many ways less integrated. There may be a thin veneer of cultural homogenization but quickly breaks down on more inspection. I am confident that the 1920s-through the 50's had much greater homogenization whether in America or Europe
posted by rmhsinc at 4:27 PM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


Yeah, yeah, but is he going to be illustrating Ms. Martian soon?

Every time I see something by one of them, I think it's the other one for like, 5 seconds. Even though the context should make it obvious it just makes me confused. Every single time, I have the moment of:

"dang, he's a good artist, his style looks a lot like- oh."

or today's variant:

"wow, he knows a lot about pomo for a guy who draws superheroes...oh wait.

I have no idea why, but they're always flip-flopped. Anyways. Good article, thanks OP.


(1) Alex Ross, Writer (2) Alex Ross, Artist
posted by DGStieber at 4:28 PM on October 27, 2014 [2 favorites]


I always think that if there's anything that Frankfurt School critique is useless, sounding and bombastic in terms of, it's sort of "and Our Culture Is Blah Blah Thing, just like Adorno warned us". Look how silly and partial Adorno was when he tried to apply some ideas about mass culture to a whole large various genre, jazz, which is experienced in many ways by many people.

I feel like I get the most out of Adorno (and again, this is as a very spotty reader of Adorno, an even more spotty reader of Benjamin, etc) either in the smack-on-the-head way, like "oh wow, every record of civilization also is a record of barbarism...." where you get sort of an upending effect that yields new insights, or it's in a highly specific context, as in the "working through history essay" I read, where Adorno is doing cultural criticism about this specific historical moment and specific trope and what he thinks it means in light of other stuff. He's not being empirical - he's asserting stuff and has a theory that cannot exactly be proven - but he's making a compact argument which truly illuminates one way of looking at his subject.

I have no doubt that if I had known dear, dear Teddy (I always think of him as Teddy) and we had gone out and listened to some low-grade pre-war German jazz band doing a creepy imitation of how their racist imaginations suggested that black jazz musicians would perform and act...well, we would probably agree that this was pretty terrible in terms of How Dreadful Modernity Is. When you give Adorno the status he was aiming for - Person Who Can Describe And Interpret All The History And The Modernity - he becomes useless or actively bad, whereas he's very interesting on the stuff he's actually talking about and he takes an interesting approach.

This sort of thing is part of the reason, I guess, why Foucault was all "Don't universalize me, I'm just this guy, you know....I'm just doing French history, people".
posted by Frowner at 5:01 PM on October 27, 2014 [5 favorites]


Smug ignorance is a bad idea here as everywhere--Is this a corollary of the notion that pretension is easily confused for substance.

It is mostly about the pretension of those who mistakenly believe that they are able make this difference. It's about those who confuse substance for pretension, because they lack the vocabulary and knowledge to make the difference.

But I should probably write more about this tomorrow (it's 3am). I'm a researcher and a lecturer roughly on things like this, and frankly, the number of students who tell me that the text they read "appeared to say something of substance", but then they started to "deconstruct" it and discovered that "they were sometimes just strung together and the meaning was most likely in the experience of the reader" - well, I get about a dozen of those a year. (Quotes from rmhsinc, above.)

Here's the thing: if you can demonstrate that Adorno or whomever was just putting one word after another, why not write a paper about it? After all, if you managed to demonstrate just that, you'd become one of today's most celebrated philosophers.

The number of students who claim to have seen through the verbiage of pomo philosophers: endless. The number of students who have actually made good on their claim in any meaningful sense?

Well, we all know what that number is.
posted by Pyrogenesis at 6:21 PM on October 27, 2014 [8 favorites]


Bringing PoMo Back!

I wouldn't really think of Frankfurt school as post modern, at all really. Though they were certainly a precursor to it.

I disagree with your dismissal, rhmsinc, of adorns et Al but I do agree with the idea of society growing more atomised, and there is plenty of evidence pointing to that as well.
posted by smoke at 7:25 PM on October 27, 2014


Thanks for the post, I really enjoyed it!
posted by the quidnunc kid at 7:43 PM on October 27, 2014


I am not at all sure that culture is becoming increasingly homogenized, I see no reason to refer to Jobs as glib and I am not sure what "spaces" are becoming rarer and more confined. My observation is that "spaces", are becoming increasingly individualized, less homogenous and in many ways less integrated.

The bit about Jobs tracks without too much trouble--he's the great icon and prophet of visionary commerce and the packaging of a product line as a kind of radical critique, etc. But otherwise you're totally right about that paragraph. "Homogenization" doesn't clearly point to anything in particular, and it's not even grammatically clear what the "rarer spaces" is meant to be referring back to.
posted by batfish at 7:45 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


"Homogenization" doesn't clearly point to anything in particular

I took it to be referring to what he said earlier about Facebook, Google and Apple dominating Internet culture, Google searches pushing you to search for what everyone else searches for ("Did you mean....?"), and promoting articles as "most read".
posted by thelonius at 7:48 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


Smug ignorance is a bad idea here as everywhere.

Oh, I agree. Sorry to have hit a nerve. I meant my "all those words from grad school I tried to forget" comment mostly affectionately. Coming across the word dialectic feels like running into that professor I really liked but whose class I failed, or that guy from high school who used to always beat me at chess. Benjamin's Arcades Project in particular is a maze I can happily get lost in.
posted by oulipian at 7:55 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


I took it to be referring to what he said earlier about Facebook, Google and Apple dominating Internet culture, Google searches...

Yep, no, I get that. What I meant is something like that you can't yet legitimately use the term ostensively as he wants to. "The homogenization of culture" isn't something you can just point at, because, e.g., you can name as many instances of multiplicity as you like for each consolidation you name. What counts and what doesn't, and why does it all add up to "the homogenization of culture"? So far, we don't know, and "search engines guide you away from peculiar words" does not get us to an observable unified phenomenon here.
posted by batfish at 8:09 PM on October 27, 2014 [3 favorites]


If everything is the worst... then nothing is.
posted by Sebmojo at 9:07 PM on October 27, 2014


I think that lacking the vocabulary and knowledge to understand that the author has something of substance to say is a problem. However, I don't think this is a problem with the readers; it is a problem with the author. If the author wishes to write for an audience that is comprised only of those who already have the requisite knowledge then writing in this manner is fine. However if the author wishes to reach a wider audience then he should take care to educate the readers so they will not be so dismissive of his work. 如果你看不懂中文所以你不离这个句话,这不是你的错误是我的。
posted by wobumingbai at 11:20 PM on October 27, 2014 [1 favorite]


Thanks for the post. I'm not too familiar with Benjamin but now I have some reading to do.
posted by ServSci at 10:01 AM on October 28, 2014


pyrogenesis--FYI--my comments were not directed at the theorists but this particular writer--I found it difficult going. Hope you got to sleep
posted by rmhsinc at 10:10 AM on October 28, 2014


Bringing PoMo Back!

It's an interesting artifact of the culture wars of the nineties that any form of cultural writing later than Freud which relies on a specialized vocabulary is assumed to be postmodernism. I mean seriously, if the student left hadn't given Adorno heart failure, being lumped in with, like, Lyotard and Derrida probably would. Adorno was the modernist par excellence.

I suppose it's a testament to how powerful and scary postmodernism seemed - that the right talked about it enough and to enough effect that even people who haven't read any and don't have any real interest in any kind of cultural theory have an idea about what "postmodernism" is and have learned to dislike it.

I will just spitball here since almost all of my "theory" background is "I have read some Foucault and I read about ten essays by Samuel Delany about postmodernism, plus I owned some Derrida once"....but it does seem like the overlap with Adorno is the whole critique of the ideas of the Enlightenment - rational man, unified subject, knowledge as a coherent and free-standing system. It feels to me like the concerns of the Frankfurt School - especially Adorno - are really small and concrete and in the present, and they are not as much concerned with Big Ideas About Language. Like, Adorno talks a lot about how language is used and the way it shapes people, but not so much about "how is there a speaking subject at all even".
posted by Frowner at 10:18 AM on October 28, 2014 [7 favorites]


I really enjoyed that but I especially loved this part of Ross' essay:
Adorno, during his American exile, took it upon himself to analyze astrology columns in the Los Angeles Times. Upon reading the advice “Accept all invitations,” he hyperventilates: “The consummation of this trend is the obligatory participation in official ‘leisure-time activities’ in totalitarian countries.”
At first I thought it was a haha-funny plate-of-beans situation (not that I don't love some Adorno), but the more I think about it the more Adorno was right on the money: astrology as a means to (re)enforce capitalist consumption through sleight-of-hand means which obscure the ideology being reinforced, astrology's mystical, ethereal, soi-disant spiritual rationalisations being anathema to the cold hard numbers of raw capitalism, even if they're not too far divorced from the desire-generating abstract pronouncements that are specifically designed to fuel consumerism.

As an aside, I wonder if any of the astrology columns he got into were written by Joan Quigley.
posted by Len at 12:07 PM on October 28, 2014 [2 favorites]


Definitely against the assertion here that culture is becoming more homogenized. Tv and music: both require a fraction of the consumers they used to to hit #1 on their respective charts. Kids These Days are finding and making their culture on YouTube from countless video makers. Etc etc.

There's a story here about how a few big tech companies are hosting all the culture — a story about capital and infrastructure, and a story with some warnings for us — but that is very different from the homogenization of culture.

It's a good piece on Benjamin and Adorno, but the hand-wringing about the current moment is misplaced. B & A would have a lot to say about today, none of it this simplistic.
posted by wemayfreeze at 10:25 AM on October 29, 2014 [2 favorites]


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