Tuesday, 3 July 2007

Conservative Revolt Against Bourgeois Society

Straining after epigrammatic descriptions based upon observation and interaction, attestifying to the difficulty of reconciling expressivity and normativity without falling into productivist logic. They should be understood as "ideal types" in Max Weber’s sense of the term. They may equally be viewed to some degree as imitations of Adorno’s style in Minima Moralia and Raymond Williams’s categorisations of "membership" in The Long Revolution. No pretence of an exhaustive survey is either assumed or intended.

The Collector

Can be bright child from poor home, with ambitious parents. Tragically, failure in education and career aspirations can be used as a deliberate means of rebelling and thereby constituting an identity (c.f. Paul Willis "Learning to Labour"). A sense of construction and refinement need not be totally relinquished, however, as each can be channelled into a popular substitute; building an enormous collection of personal consumer items. Can be accompanied by cultivation of a cynical "inside dopester" outlook in an attempt to appear worldlier than others.

The Frustrated Artist

Retains an activist orientation that is negatively contrasted with the consumption habits of The Collector, by claiming to be autonomous, "giving birth to oneself". Given conventional obligation to embrace total opposition the individual is deprived of any social position to actually affect change. Oftentimes proudly anarchist in rhetoric, energies become focused on seeking out increasingly rarer thresholds of difference to distinguish the individual from "the masses" [sic]. Interest and participation in esoteric/transgressive cultural forms/practices such as the occult, or other related taboo areas such as serial killer folklore, unconventional sexual proclivities, and extreme electronic music and avant-garde film are recurring themes. Attitude to traditionally venerated "high cultural" objects highly variable, ranging from complete antipathy to admiration of artist’s individuality and integrity (a.k.a. the cult of "genius").
The small size of network involvement and citation practices makes any acknowledgement assume disproportionate personal importance. Little thought given to how such occurrences may be attributable to mundane factors such as lack of stringency of intellectual property rights (i.e. when the market mediates the availability of one’s work). Therein lies the sense of the old adage, "scratch an anarchist hard enough and you’ll find a liberal underneath". This point might also explain the curious admixture of resentment and pride at work in such instances, arising with greater frequency once the patronage system historically declined, hence contributing to the birth of modern art’s predominant sensibilities.

The House Radical

Simply hungry for experience, here nothing is adequate to encompass the totality of what one [thinks] one is. This restless search can impel a career in education at the secondary level, owing to over identification with the receptive nascent states of adolescent minds; i.e. practical education, and spiritual mentoring are attractive prospects, but too much dedicated scholarly activity is experienced as detracting from the one dimensional vitalist appropriation of the Romantic legacy, which plays a constitutive role in this archetype. This places it closer to the charismatic authority of Dickie Greenleaf in Patricia Highsmith’s Ripley novel, or the pedagogy of Dead Poets Society, than either The Frustrated Artist or the stereotypical controlled temperament of the tenured university academic. As per Dead Poets Society, the thrill of teaching in a conservative institution arises from the "rattling of the cages", rebelling or reforming, rather than instilling aspiration for revolutionary activity. The income structure is also attractive because it facilitates new experiences, not least the possible reenchantment sought after in "exotic" overseas holidays, in addition to other commodities affirming status.

The Mobile Disciplinary Rangers of Academia

See also Adorno quotation featured in earlier post, "Words of Advice for Young People". Perhaps most immediately obvious from cases of cultural studies practitioners and scholars who immerse themselves in Continental Philosophy. In his celebrated article "The Ethnocentrism of Disciplines and the Fish Scale Model of Omniscience", Donald Campbell argued that academic specialisation has meant that most academics will have some awareness of what is going on in the disciplinary area adjacent to their own, (the "fish scale"), but that this awareness would not extend to areas one step removed. Those theorists who spent comparatively little time collecting and analysing data were, in Campbell’s view, more likely to freely range across disciplines, but the fish scale or view span was likely to decrease as depth of knowledge explodes.
When read in combination with Adorno’s wry observations, what is most curious is how this archetype recapitulates certain characteristics of The Frustrated Artist, with respect to psychic investment in esoteric knowledge and retreat from social opposition. While each is closer to the catharsis offered by Hellfire preachers or the classical figure of Cassandra than they are to the other two archetypes thus far introduced, the Mobile Ranger differs in the vital respect of having more thoroughly indemnified themselves in a material sense from the depredations of the market.

And what of the sardonic blogger compiling these ideal types? Probably some combination to varying degrees of all characteristics listed.

Further reading: Christopher Sharrett "False Criticism: Cinema and the Conservative Critique of Bourgeois Society" in FilmInt(ernational), freely available online. Sharrett offers a fitting poignant epitaph for my reflections when he treats the work of Luchino Visconti, particularly his "Death in Venice", as a critical exploration of "the contradictions at the heart of idealism and one of its primary conceits, romanticism". Sharrett continues:

"Aschenbach’s inability to reconcile the material with the ideal, to come to a reasonable understanding of human interchange, creates a self-generated crisis, an internal apocalypse leading to his demise. If one sees him as an emblem of his class and his epoch, as seems reasonable given the scope of the work, its many allusions to classical culture and the history of the west, this death in Venice is that of western bourgeois civilisation".

It is to Sharrett’s credit that he is ultimately able to extract consolation from this state of affairs, in the sense that every ending signals a new beginning, there may still remain grounds for belief in a progressive future.

No comments: