Saturday, 1 September 2007

Collapsing New People

Faded - Collapsing new people

Watch them collapsing

Jaded - Collapsing new people

Watch them collapsing

Stay awake all night

But never see the stars

And sleep all day

On a chainlink bed of nails

Fated - Collapsing new people

Watch them collapsing

Dated - Collapsing new people

Watch them collapsing

Steer clear of the sun

Pancake, sandpaper skin

They have no reflections

Drink blood but pierce no veins


Exagerrate the scar tissue

Wounds that never heal

Takes hours of preparation

To get that wasted look

Hated - Collapsing new people

Watch them collapsing

Wasted - Collapsing new people

Watch them collapsing

Fated - Collapsing new people

Watch them collapsing

Faded - Collapsing new people

Watch them collapsing

As evocative as I found the essay on hauntology and gentrification in the special issue of Perforations, I thought it tended to underestimate one important feature. While it may certainly be the case that urban decay is currently attaining a greater degree of representation in the public sphere owing to social ills such as poverty and racism, a decade ago Christopher Leo correctly noted how lack of civility was a causal factor in its own right:

One can talk forever about how we are living in a new middle ages, with individuals retreating to their private fiefdoms [outside of work hours] for secular rituals based around consumption and genital sexuality. In a risk culture, post 9/11, Otherness can only [sic]be constituted as a threat. In my earlier essay, posted on this blog, "England's Barmy Army", I argued that a broader organising logic could be discerned: the problem of organising collective identity, forms of communal solidarity, in a world society subject to differentiation.

To ratify these points I made earlier, I can return to Britain specifically, inasmuch as to my mind there is compelling evidence of these trends really starting to take effect from the 1970s onwards. In these terms, the ascendancy of Thatcher marked the dissolution of an "organised modernity". What sort of challenges did individuals face in reconstituting their identities under the changed circumstances? Some general terms can be discerned in the global terms of the "world society" I referred to. Of specific interest is the difficulty of maintaining reflexivity, what could be referred to as "the flexible personality":

In these terms, cultural workers such as Joy Division's Ian Curtis, were in part reenacting Gehlen's dilemma of "cultural crystallisation". A cultural and personal crisis confronted those only able to identify with a dead signifying chain. In the interest of cross cultural comparison, when discussing possible responses to this perceived cultural exhaustion, I would want to add to k punk's character typologies of Curtis the neurotic and Mark E Smith the psychotic, the charismatic/mystical persona of The Church's Steve Kilbey (enacting an empty ritual given the absence of collective effervescence therefore guaranteeing the inaccessibility of both mystical experience and charismatic authority- hence in part the withdrawn persona). Kilbey's lyrics for "Shadow Cabinet" are filled with rich associations, evoking Weberian motifs of disenchantment, coupled to references to futile sacraments, "chemical nuptials", not least the privatised "shadow cabinet" itself, which it turns out is disappointing inso far as it transpires that it is a mere byproduct of mundane factory labour:

Now chased by the shapes of your vows

Look at the things she allows

Junction fever must have closed down the rail

The gluttunous wind keeps on nibbling the sails

Queueing in the ruins in the wake of the gale

it'sHarmony I say

Hear the difference between close and near

The way oaths and oafs interfere

Bliss comes first as a jangling flood

Pillow from the old country arrives with a thud

That night she drinks ceremony and mud

it'sHappening I say

Must be thirsty, drink, drink, sink, forget

Must be empty inside the shadow cabinet

She offered her chaos to me

Proffered herself languidly

The eldritch bitch must have muddled her spells

Tinges of Persia, Ihope that it sells

Chemical nuptials and ringing the bells

It's heavenly I say

Then one winter morning you walk through the trees

But they cut them all down for the factories

Made this pretty cabinet and gave you the keys

It's hardly used I think

If it is legitimate to discern anything distinctive about the cultural crystallisation England faced, it may have much to do with the sense of entropy associated with the breakup of colonial empire (as Jameson rightly points out in his commentary on Ballard in Archaeologies of the Future). Notwithstanding earlier qualifications, it would also be ill advised to lose sight of the potential for class anxiety following on from the proliferation of other forms of distinction in a world society: fantasies of urbicide, of empty cities, industrial ruins, have as much to do then with the fears of devious elites that "the masses" are getting out of hand, and consequently, some of us feel we woud be better off without them. What remains to be determined then from a Luhmannesque perspective, is which position of "the observer" artists such as Fad Gadget and Joy Division were adopting when they highlighted the issue of cultural crystallisation. Perhaps it follows that Fad Gadget was describing the situation where the old distinctions had started to collapse, (or at least were starting to be codified as undergoing some relativisation), and new forms of difference were attaining representation in the public sphere: those unable to keep pace were doomed to be "faded", lifeless, pale creatures comparable to Bram Stoker's anachronistic aristocrat, Count Dracula. Irrespective of the details of this individual case, the general point remains:any observation you make ultimately presupposes another observing your observations. For all the problems this can in principle entail, the source of hope is that while the monitoring of reflexive action is a means of discipline open to abuses of power, it is also the condition of possibility for the generation of forms of civility, and therefore the sustaining of utopia.

My concluding point is something of a critique then of how much of current discourse about "Ballardian" problems remains stuck at the starting points, forged in the crucible of the period I've discussed here, rather than thinking dialectically, or even in terms of difference along with Luhmann, of realms of possibility beyond the organisation of our society in terms of one code of differentiation alone: inclusion/exclusion. It hardly need be said that failure to collectively realise a utopian altenative could result in nothing less than the dystopia to end all dystopias, yet it is exactly this path that the neoliberalisation of all distinctions is leading us towards.

(The picture is derived from Jonas Bendiksen's Satellites, a critically acclaimed series [from a member of Magnum]. The images take the viewer on a journey through the peripheral regions of the old Soviet Union, featuring space junk, crosses in the snow, and lonely figures, dispersed throughout isolated communities, and mini states).
Twentieth Century SF Images
Where London Stood
(well chosen; marvellously evocative images and resources here):

The Tripods (surely a must have on dvd later this month):

BBC: Science Fiction Britannia:
Book Description: Ultimate Island: On the Nature of British Science Fiction
"This study confronts current influential theories that science fiction is either an American phenomenon or an international one. The study rejects the idea that British science fiction is distinguishable only by its pessimistic outlook--while also rejecting the idea that other designations, such as "scientific romance" or "speculative fiction," better fit the British product. Instead, the study traces the evolution of British science fiction, showing how H. G. Wells synthesized various strains in English literature, and how later writers, conscious of this Wellsian tradition, built upon Wells's literary achievement. An introduction defines what might reasonably be placed under the heading British science fiction, and why. Chapter 1 examines previous critical ideas about the nature of British science fiction, revealing that most of them are based on untested assumptions. Chapter 2 explores the significance of the dominant motif of the island in British SF --a motif that suggests that British SF and mainstream English literature have been long and fruitfully intertwined. Chapters 3 and 4 deal respectively with British disaster fiction before and after the Second World War. They focus on why British science fiction has so frequently seemed obsessed with catastrophe. Chapter 5, a polemical conclusion, deals with the future of British science fiction based on its current predicament. Ultimate Island forms a theoretical counterpart to the author's recently-published British Science Fiction: A Chronology 1478-1990 (Greenwood 1992), which defines the historical scope of the field".
British Science Fiction Television: A Hitchhiker's Guide
"From "Doctor Who" to "Red Dwarf", "Thunderbirds" to "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", British science fiction shows have delighted audiences worldwide with their distinctive visions of the future. This pioneering book, written by leading writers in the field, gives for the first time a detailed national survey of this well-loved British TV genre. It provides in-depth analyses of these shows, as well as others including "Blake's 7", "The Prisoner and Threads", showing too their value in illuminating wider aspects of our recent social and cultural history. It also features a contribution by the biographer of the late Douglas Adams, author of "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", as well as an exclusive published interview with "Thunderbirds" creator Gerry Anderson. Designed to appeal to students and fans alike, "British Science Fiction Television" offers a thought-provoking and accessible read for those interested in science fiction, television history and their respective relationships to wider media, culture and society".
A fascinating, very visually oriented blog, featuring some memorable imagery from the Japanese classic Fires On the Plain, the subject matter of which is hardly unrelated to some of the general themes of this post:

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