Monday, 26 October 2009

The New Naturalism

What you post here about the video installations got me reflecting back on some of the Taiwanese scholars/artists I've worked with (writing promos for their exhibitions, rewriting academic journal articles, dissertations etc). Mostly what I've found though is an attentiveness to "invented traditions", such as, for example, digitising a famous old painting such as City of Cathay with a view to acquainting a younger generation with its significance through a medium they are more interested and familiar with (which entails giving them avatars so they can walk around in the painting, as it were).

Perhaps your posts are closer in some respects then to Thailand's "Pink Man", which has appeared on this blog. It got me thinking more about the characterisation of a "new naturalism" allegedly permeating contemporary pop culture. I don't mean this in the sense that the Taiwanese works are exemplary of that, but rather how to go about setting a more appropriate context for reading them. I think it's tricky because the Jumpcut article in question is lumping together a number of American programs to buttress its case, but we know that if they are read as a commodity form then this implies a certain serial process of translating difference into equivalency. Those bloggers who talk about "capitalist realism" and the Jumpcut author's thesis of "the new naturalism" would probably converge on this basic point. But how much explanatory power does it have when you consider something like the globalisation of anime culture? Is it simply the embodiment of a Manichean world view or is it irreducible to the tropes of disenchantment presupposed by such an assessment? So I know you have published on anime of course already, but how about that (i.e. the applicability of "the new naturalism" to anime) as the topic of a collaboration? Afterall, there is another tradition which acknowledges how a "turn to the East" [sic] has often served as a tonic of re-enchantment for an exhausted, "nihilistic", Occidental rationality.

The other reason I raise this with you is as a pretext for justifying my guilty pleasures of late, which have been keeping me, along with other stuff I've been doing, away from blogging. I've been watching a bunch of Adult Swim American animation on DVD, and I am stunned by not only the animation techniques themselves, but the quick fire darkly satirical style, which might possibly be described as the "New Naturalism".

For example, I am amazed to watch something such as Metalocalypse, which depicts a black metal band who are so commercially successful that they generate profits larger than the economies of some small Scandinavian countries. There is a surreal juxtaposition in the program between their public image as demi-gods, intermediaries in the Great Chain of Being, and their everyday banality. In one episode, for example, the band stage a concert promotion for a brand of coffee on an epic scale; inviting hardcore fans to a remote location, some of whom carry injuries as a result of the previous concerts they have attended. As night falls, the tribe gather on the plain on a mountain top: the band's military style helicopter drops an enormous cube, which misses its intended target- crushing to death some fans and mutilating others. The sides of the cube fall away to reveal a stage- the band had descended from the heavens like gods from a machine- and so the concert begins, to rapturous applause. Apparently the worship of the commodity form disguises itself as a form of re-enchantment, substituting "rock stars" as its followers subsist in increasingly feudal conditions (as opposed to the representation of spirits in contemporary anime?). Or rather, to quote Matt Stahl:

"The contemporary popular musical performer - as author - embodies a robust form of the labor theory of property as it is codified in copyright law and fixed in the popular imagination. This represents not so much a special creative achievement of authors, or a qualitative difference in the form their labor takes from those of others, but rather their ability to preserve themselves, through fortuitous alignments and alliances with capital and the state, from conditions of appropriation endured by the vast majority of working people in capitalism, conditions that Jason Read has identified as the ongoing process of what Marx's translators call the 'primitive accumulation' of capital".

Yes, I'm interested in how "primitive accumulation" works in conjunction with "the new naturalism", but am just wondering how we might qualify its global representations? Similar questions prompt some other reading I've been doing to follow up on my earlier "Heathen Harvests" post, which can be made more vivid by inclusion of video clips, but alas this post is already taking longer than I had planned, so I have to turn my attention to more pressing matters. Here then is the definition of "the new naturalism" I'm interrogating:

"In this manner, shows like BSG, Enterprise, The Sopranos, Deadwood, and 24, among others, can be called a new genre, the New Naturalism, one marked by a kind of violent ambivalence. In the New Naturalism, no guiding moral tone is taken about dubious characters whose actions grow increasingly suspect. Without a guiding moral tone — which represents, in addition to a potential naiveté or sentimentalism, a courageous decision to put one’s values out there — the series can maintain a detached, neo-Naturalistic outlook on its characters. But as the New Naturalism shows evince, this detachment can be duplicitous and serve as a cover for a highly cynical desire to offer an unremittingly pessimistic social view. Much more troublingly, it can be a deeply hypocritical stance, one that purports to be objective but actually is much more idiosyncratically and commercially driven. These days, despair sells. Watching any number of reality series or fictional ones in the New Naturalism vein, we see people and scripted characters writhe in torment and humiliation. We see human nature at its most “raw,” its most “willful,” in its most “natural” state. This is no less a construction and a fantasy than Star Trek’s prevailing utopian future of peaceful, cooperative humanity. It’s just the cynical and no less adamantly maintained alternative to utopian optimism".

For now I can leave it to Killface to serve as the spokesperson for the New Naturalism...

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