A response to Simon Price’s response to Will Self’s response to Mark Kermode
I enjoyed Simon Price’s stout defence of the critic on The Quietus today, in response to Will Self’s review of Mark Kermode’s latest book.
I can’t help but think, though, that we read different articles. Price appears to have seen Will Self’s piece as a total negation of the critic in the digital age, suggesting that Self now sees the function of traditional arts criticism as one of telling us whether or not “our precious time will be wasted”. Price seems to see in Self’s article a suggestion that the role of the critic has been entirely subsumed into some nameless morass of the collective web-enabled amateur. “Any bum can look up the facts on Google or Wikipedia,” Price says, “but it takes skill to analyse and contextualise.”
I read it differently. To me, Self’s article is less an attack on the critic as a necessary hinge in the equipment of a (barely) functioning cultural machine, and more a recognition that the traditional modes of criticism are no longer relevant. He is not saying that critics must merely provide consumer guidance, but is instead pointing out that this is what the anachronisms of top-down criticism in a hyper-connected culture have yielded. In this respect he agrees with blogging Kermode. Self cites Marshall McLuhan’s idea of the “linear Gutenberg technology” that dominated knowledge transfer, and its transformation into the “total field…implied by the instantaneity of electricity.” Self continues: “McLuhan’s point is that when it comes to the impact of new media on the human consciousness – both individual and collective – content is an irrelevance; we have to look not at what is on the screen, but how the screen is used.”
On this front it is also worth reading Katherine Viner’s AN Smith lecture, in which she talks about Thomas Pettitt’s theory of the Gutenberg Parenthesis. In this conception Pettitt suggests that the advent of the printing press signalled what Viner describes as “just an interruption in the usual flow of human communication. The web, says Pettitt, is returning us to a pre-Gutenberg state in which we are defined by oral traditions: flowing and ephemeral.”
It is a non-sequitur (albeit a frequently repeated one) to suggest that web ‘content’ is necessarily ephemera. If anything, the internet is the least ephemeral method of data transfer humankind has yet invented. Once something is on the internet, barring a catastrophic event it stays there. But clearly the post-Gutenberg world cannot function with the same rules that were imposed by those “linear technologies”. Self correctly points out that criticism has become both a dialogue and dialogic: it is in conversation with itself and its authors, but it is also at play in a world of endless references, influenced by and influencing the past, the present, and everything around it. This is not, as Price seems to argue, the same as saying that the critic is dead. Instead, it is a recognition that in order to survive the critic must be malleable and discursive, as opposed to dictatorial and unaccountable. The notion of a definitive voice is laughable today, and correctly so. As Self says, traditional, diktat criticism was no more than an “adjunct of a particular media technology”; the role of the critic today must be unrecognisable from that of the 1950s, or even the 1990s.
Self recognises the once monolithic powers of the Gutenberg press machine are no longer predominant. This is wholeheartedly a good thing (and the irony of him writing it in the Guardian, even if it is online, is palpable). Technological determinists have been proven wrong (again) in postmodernity by a culture that became obsessed with demolishing grand narratives and single-knowledge certainties long before social media. Technology is catching up with our hatred for those monoliths, not dictating it. Why should criticism be exempt from that? Self’s prognosis is an uncertain one. For him, neither the “Gutenberg minds” nor what he sees as the attention deficit young hold the answer. And that’s probably right. It is logically impossible to expect a single answer in a world that has already done away with the notion of certainty. Just as traditional criticism was an adjunct of the Gutenberg Parenthesis, so too will new criticism be an adjunct (or parasite, as Price has it) of new media technologies – but now it will be forced to remain in dialogue with both that technology and the people who use it. The idea of culture being something that is done to you or around you by other people seems laughable now, and that can only be a good thing. Criticism that is in dialogue only with the art and not with its readership seems just as geriatric. The traditional critic must die, yes, but that doesn’t mean that criticism must die with it. Instead, as Self recognises, now, for the first time in decades, we have the opportunity to build something better.
Rene Hell - Vanilla Call Option
Rene Hell is Jeff Witscher’s most enduring alias. The Californian artist has made two full-lengths under the name, plus a split with Oneohtrix Point Never and a dizzying array of limited cassette releases. On Vanilla Call Option, his first record for PAN, Witscher has taken a further left turn, abstracting his work to a far greater degree than he did on Porcelain Opera or The Terminal Symphony.
Rashad Becker interview
Rashad Becker lives in his studio.
It is a classic Kreuzberg construction: a tall, graffiti-covered townhouse entrance plastered with haphazard buzzers, behind which is a series of courtyards and a boxy building. He wanders across the road, stopping to speak gently with a passing friend, and greets me at the door, bleary eyed from a flight from Moscow the previous night.
JD Twitch interview
Although he rarely speaks about it in interviews, radical politics is one of a clutch of thematic strands running through Keith McIvor’s work.
He has been known to close Optimo sets with an anthem of the Spanish International Brigades. He is “vehemently anti-nationalist”. In 2008, he produced 10 Inches Of Fear, a collection of edits of tracks drawn from Crass Records’ anarcho-punk catalogue.
In the last two years, though, JD Twitch has made the most overtly political gestures of his career. Autonomous Africa is a 12” series with an unequivocal mission. It is intended to further the cause of an independent Africa, governed in the interests of its people and without interference from abroad. It calls for African land to be put into the service of Africans, and not sold on to foreign countries eager to exploit the continent’s resources. Today, as Africa suffers ever more violently at the hands of the market, these are radical demands.
Interplanetary Prophets - Zero Hour
Jamal Moss has been especially busy recently. Last month saw the release of The Universe Next Door, the latest addition to his Music From Mathematics CDR series. So far in July Moss has been responsible for the Electronic Belt EP, out on Luke ‘Helm’ Younger’s Alter, along with a return to Paul Du Lac’s BioRhythm label for a second 12” as The Sun God. Further material is due on Machine Dreaming. Add to that the continual mining of his Somuchnoise2beheard Soundbook and an increasingly busy live itinerary, and it can be assumed that the Mathematics boss is in one of the most fertile phases of his fantastically productive career.
A few quick thoughts on Meltdown’s dire ‘Activism Weekend’
This short piece was going to be published elsewhere but wasn’t, for one reason or another.
The name augured ill. ‘Activism Weekend’. A weekend about, and explicitly not of, ‘activism’, however loosely defined we might take that questionable term to be. The lineup was just as worrisome: a spotter’s sheet of those guaranteed a place in the first wave of people up against perpendicular brick constructions come the endtimes.
Kerry McCarthy, an MP in a party that has pledged to plough forward with cuts when it is elected in 2015, who has consistently voted for ID cards, who has voted for Trident, who has voted for Labour’s desecration of our most basic civil liberties, dared to appear for an afternoon session on the Saturday. Shami Chakrabarti, head of Liberty, the organisation that routinely collaborates with the Met against protesters, that referred to itself as a “critical friend of police” in the aftermath of the shooting of Mark Duggan, led a rambling panel on ‘Art and Activism’. The ‘Guerrilla Girls’ encouraged attendees to ‘Aestheticize Your Activism’ in a workshop at the JP Morgan Pavilion - just as JP Morgan, already so widely acknowledged as a paragon of radical thought, publicly called for the abolition in the EU periphery countries of the right to protest.
There were, however, highlights, the key one of which was the unscheduled appearance of uninvited anti-Shell protesters, who delivered an impromptu workshop about the oil giant’s sponsorship of the venue - to a combination of quiet enthusiasm and noisy tutting. Indeed tutting was a recurring theme; the mere mention of Duggan, during a fascinating session on an uneasy truce between two rival Birmingham gangs, yielded noises of passive aggressive disapprobation. That session, in which members of the two gangs revealed that police had been actively attempting to restart the conflict, lying to members of the opposite group about ‘trouble’ being planned by the other side or about snitches that didn’t really exist, should have been another highlight - but the incessant Immortal Technique, a man who wears his erudition insufferably heavily, rendered it virtually unbearable.
The real high point, though, came with the unannounced appearance of two members of Pussy Riot during the launch of a book, Let’s Start A Pussy Riot, put together by London curator Emely Neu and editor Jade French, and to which more than 60 artists including Judy Chicago, Antony Hegarty, and Robyn have contributed. The pair arrived in block colour balaclavas and spoke through voice anonymisers, providing a timely reminder of the risks that ‘activism’ brings when it involves real conflict - in contrast with the “conflict” referred to by 38 Degrees director David Babbs earlier in the day, a man who seems to believe that signing a petition is an act of sedition.
Pussy Riot aside, this was a weekend of self-congratulatory waffle of the sort that would tip any sane person towards homicide; a cultish get-together for those who have applied a thin patina of flimsy liberalism lest their true reactionary selves be noticed. Worse than worthless.
Liberalism, for Mao and for us, is not merely a lack of radicalism against such a serious enemy. If insufficient radicalism were the only problem, we should throw ourselves entirely into our propaganda departments and sloganeering. Liberalism is a cowardly equivocation, one that knows what is to be done but always stops short. It is the fantasy, that if only we hadn’t struggled, we could have tempered our domination. The liberal knows there will be better rations coming, if only we limit our demands to better rations. But it is also the fear of power, and power’s fundamental character, that it is taken, not shared.Combat Liberalism (via fourwindsshotgun)
should never have brought babar to the damn club “i like learning” be cool, babar. fuck.
The ancients aimed at a distribution of power among all the citizens of a given state, and they referred to this as freedom. For the moderns, the goal is security in their private possessions. For them, liberty refers to the guarantees of these possessions afforded by their institutions.Benjamin Constant, The Liberty of the Ancients Compared with that of the Moderns (via fourwindsshotgun)
Some recent clips
Indie Is Over! (If You Want It) - Why 2012 was the end for boys with guitars
Man Up? Why we need to talk about depression
Refused live at The Forum
Plan B - Ill Manors
Trevor Nelson interviewed
Nas live at The 100 Club
Hot Chip - In Our Heads
You Had Me At Hello: Mystery Jets interviewed
Bryan Ferry live in Reykjavik
Ecclesiastica: Forss interviewed
Frank Turner - The Second Three Years
Council House Music: exploiting local authority architecture
Plan B is not your saviour
Commodified Authenticity: faux-folk and the manufacture of shared experience
After a year of beatings and austerity…
Lana Del Rey live at the Scala