Thursday, June 6, 2013

A UTOPIAN MOMENT, I GUESS (2000), Peter Halley


I've been waiting a long time for this moment.  A generation has finally emerged with a worldview as different from my own - formed by the '60's and Vietnam - as my generation was different from the World War II / Depression mindset that preceded it.  Big shifts in generational worldviews are powered by the advent of the Internet.  The web brought with it a set of attitudes and practices that are not only distinct, but also cannot really be experienced by anyone who didn't grow up with the culture of the computer.  In the same way, television created a mentality in the baby-boomers that was incomprehensible to the World War II generation.

One reason I'm so excited about this new worldview is because it signals an end to the constant recycling of the 1960s that took place in the '80s and '90s - two decades in which the baby boom paradigm was endlessly reworked and repeated.  Hopefully we can now expect a new paradigm in critical thought (what used to be called philosophy).  The Post-Structuralist world-view, also a product of the '60s, has become dull to the point of exhaustion.  For me the last few years have been the most exciting time culturally since the '60s.  Great things are happening in fashion, music, architecture, and interior design - I'm not so sure about art.  This florescence in creativity is not just about money.  In the '80s there was plenty of money around and no real jolt in culture.  What's really important is that, for the first time in a long time, modernity is back.

As I consider the energy of the present cultural scene, I'm also struck by a sense of urgency - even a sense of melancholy.  After all, history shows that these moments don't last very long.  We always think and hope they'll go on forever, but they never seem to continue for more than a few years.  I wish I could convince everyone to appreciate that fact, and make the most of what's going on right now.

There are a few things I've noticed that characterize the new approach to creativity today.  I'm struck by the decline of the individual authorial voice.  Creative production these days seems to emphasize collaboration, and the results are generally about producing an ambience rather than making a personal emotional statement.  Maybe that's why it's been such a problematic time for traditionally-defined art.  People I meet these days don't call themselves filmmakers, musicians, designers, or anything else in particular.  They are, instead, prepared to do a variety of things.  There's been a strong shift towards creative multi-tasking, giving rise to a new sort of artist who deals specifically in coordinating all kinds of resources - what might be called imaginative problem-solving.

All of this seems pretty exciting to me, and it's difficult to criticize anyone else for feeling excited either.  It's kind of a utopian moment, I guess.  But I'm bothered by the complete absence of angst, the complete lack of skepticism and oppositional instinct that also characterizes the present moment.  Even people who should know better have become unquestioning Internet acolytes.  This worries me because it so much reflects the predictions that people like Guy Debord, Jean Baudrillard - even Andy Warhol - made about the future: that a society of seduction was emerging - that's we'd all be lulled into enthusiastic compliance with our social condition.  I think it's happened.

I'm deeply disturbed by the universal utopian claims being made for the Internet.  the web is the next step in the collapse of the constraints of space and time, a goal that has been the driving force behind Western technology since the Renaissance.  But it is also the most recent manifestation of a series of society changes over the last hundred years that have transformed our lives in the direction of greater and greater social limitations and isolation.  We have progressively become almost completely dependent on the intervention of technology to communicate.  No wonder that the scientists who developed the Internet had no idea that it would ever have a wider use.  They had no perception of the desire that exists in our culture for solitary experience and the avoidance of unpredictable contact.



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