Friday, January 13, 2012

Response to Kurt Andersen's article "You Say You Want a Devolution"

Kurt Andersen writes in Vanity Fair that the cultural landscape in America is stagnant because we need stability in the face of such fast change in technology.
I get what he's saying but I'm not sure about his thesis that the lack of change in culture is somehow compensation for the incredibly fast change in technology. Maybe that's true, but I think he misses the main point. The main point IMHO is that we are in the post-post-modern era. What I mean by that is, there's no new place to go. Take music for example, modern music was shocking. Strauss was shocking in its ambiguous tonal center, Schoenberg even more shocking by its intentional equalization of all 12 tones, the American composers even more shocking by writing with a lack of any tonal or rhythmic regularity. Well, then what? What could possibly be more shocking than music which does not possess any properties of music?  The reaction to that was a return to simple minimal harmony and rhythm by composers such as Philip Glass and John Adams. And now there is a huge variety of all kinds of music being written, which is all pretty much "acceptable" - the full spectrum of the simplistic to the complicated, traditional  harmony to ambiguous harmony. Ethnic music from all over the world has influenced us, too. There's no possibility of any new "revolutionary" music, because we've already heard the extremes. 
Same with art. Pollock brought us absolute abstraction, and then the ultimate shock happened in the 70's when that whacky performance artist did a piece where he sliced himself with a knife. As far as I'm concerned, that was the moment which defines the every end of art. Nobody can possibly out-do that in shock value and total art-lessness of art. The guy who made the elephant-dung portrait of Mary tried to be controversial, but try as he could, it didn't really shock anybody except for a few Catholic morons, but really, it was just kind of stupid.

 Take pop/rock music. Rock music exhausted itself in the 70's when my favorite bands of that time took it to its extreme by turning it into something ridiculously complex harmonically and rhythmically, bordering on 12-tone classical and free-jazz. Then the reaction to all that was punk in the late 70's and then rap and hip-hop. Rap is the newest form of pop music, and it's 30 years old already. And no, Lady Gaga is not something new. Maybe her songs are good, but it's basically 70's disco, eh? And maybe the particular odd things she wears are new, but the idea is not new. People have been wearing silly things for decades.
 I'm not saying there are no new and interesting works of art and music, because there are, of course.You can point out all kinds of great new stuff, but there will never be anything which defines a brand new movement and renders everything before it obsolete. 

So, of course everything is "nostalgic" because everything HAS to reference something in the past. We have no choice. 

1 comment:

  1. You had me right up to your incredibly insulting reference to "Catholic morons." Way to ruin a good piece of commentary with mindless bigotry.