Friday, 13 July 2007

Pop sociology= cultural journalism=the Simon Reynolds/k punk effect?

Jeff Schwartz's review of "The Sex Revolts" by Simon Reynold's and Joy Press contains many of the ingredients I've long wanted to put into a review of a certain cultural studies style of writing that has attained widespread currency (see "It's Only Rock 'n' Roll?" by Jeff Schwartz in Postmodern Culture v.6 n.2 January, 1996).
Here is a summary of Schwartz's main points. I read him as objecting to the formula of slapping Continental thinkers onto the products of popular culture in a repetitive way, that quickly amounts to something like a dull party trick. Whilst the object of his critique is certainly not bereft of value entirely by any stretch of the imagination, there are some recurring flaws which Schwartz is able to illustrate through his example:
1. The first point many writers in cultural studies would not contest: "The Sex Revolts" tends to concentrate on lyrics to the exclusion of the queering of performance constitutive of the artists cited. By extension, female artists are read simply as negotiating only with masculine narratives, dominant in rock music, rather than with queer sensibilities.
2. The book is vague and impressionistic, not least, ironically, because it almost totally neglects to engage with the "formal, technical, or semiotic analysis of the medium and texts in question". While musicology has neglected popular music, it has also started to institute changes making up for this absence within cultural studies. Schwartz cites as relevant authorities the work of Brett, McClary and Walser.
3. There is little evidence that the different, and in some cases contradictory, array of thinkers used to illustrate the thesis of the book, are integrated and treated in any kind of systematic way. Schwartz therefore views the citation of numerous theorists as "clumsy and irresponsible", an impression which is magnified by the way in which namedropping takes place every few pages e.g. Kristeva, Irigaray, Deleuze and Guattari, Virilio, Theweleit, Sartre, Burroughs, Marinetti, Bataille, Sade, Nietszche, Bachelard, Caillois, Catherine Clement, Marjorie Garber, etc.
These are the three major faults Schwartz diagnoses in "The Sex Revolts". Although he appears both perplexed and amused by what he regards as the books pseudo-Jungian framework, involving predominantly Klaus Theweleit, Camille Paglia and Robert Bly, he is still willing to concede that, "Even a conceptually bizarre combination like Bly/Theweleit might lead to a worthwhile mutual interrogation once it is unpacked from Reynolds and Press's rather artless framework and taken up by someone more adept at contemporary cultural and political theory".
No doubt some might like to extend Schwartz's critical typology, perhaps by citing K punk's oft favoured recourse to Lacan and Deleuze for example, or even mining the later admission of Reynolds that his "Rip It Up & Start Again" is rather derivative of Simon Reynold's earlier treatise in the sociology of rock, "Art into Pop". My only point is that these are empirical questions possibly warranting further investigation, by which means one may be able to corroborate their critical generalisability.

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