Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Endless Variations on a Drearily Glossy Theme

k-punk, excellent as ever on the homogeneity of capitalist culture, and the need to recognize what was worth keeping about the past, without engaging in fatuous nostalgia (a theme nicely dovetailing with some of my concerns here):
'Diversity' and 'choice' are of course the very names by which today’s homogeneity goes. Yet it is by now clear that it is not 'paternalistic' but consumer-driven broadcasting that leads to infantilisation, and that a proliferation of barely-rejigged formats does not constitute choice.


What is important, now, is not simply a nostalgia for an earlier time, but a rescuing of what was valuable in that era from its slandering in the false memory that neo-liberalism has installed and naturalised - a task characterised by Dan on The End Times as 'reinterpreting the past in order to find a way out of the present'. From the commanding heights of the post 89 End of History, the pre-Style, pre-consumer 70s represents in time what the Soviet Union represents in space: stagnancy and shortage. Yet public funding yielded more than the dreary State propaganda or dour Reithian austerity that neo-liberalism painted as its sole products. In the December issue of Sight and Sound, Ian Christie reinforced the point I made about Tarkovsky in Marxist Supernanny:
Tarkovsky is now generally acknowledged to be a great artist… But it is worth recalling just how much his genius owed to the limitations and freedoms of being a Soviet film maker. Back in 1981, well before the Soviet edifice began to crumble and before his own defiant departure into exile, Tarkovsky walked a tightrope between being the USSR’s highest profile director and a standing reproach to its values … Russian culture of the Soviet era was Tarkovksy’s culture, despite his contempt for its pettiness and mendacity.

Once again, the point is not to indulge in Old Left nostalgia for the Soviet state apparatus. The point is to correct the misapprehension that neo-liberalism has successfully propagated that only capitalism can produce a vibrant culture. Not only is it by now clear that the ‘dynamic’ culture of ultra-precarious capitalism would never produce something like Tarkovsky’s films, it is beginning to appear that - as Jameson suspected over a decade ago - unchallenged and unsheathed capitalism cannot produce any sort of vibrant culture at all, only endless variations on a drearily glossy theme.


Anonymous said...

Kind of a sweeping indictment of an awful lot of art, no? So now only non-capitalism can produce vibrant culture?

Kira Muratova, to name one example, found it very difficult to make her uncompromising, very Soviet films until after the fall of the USSR, after which she has churned out work very quickly. Which is not to say that the USSR didn't produce great culture, obviously, only that most non-totalitarian cultures produce occasional works of greatness amid wide swaths of crap, and that seems to be a constant.

Richard said...

I dunno... I didn't quite take that from the post (or my excerpt from it). The key thing I liked was the necessary argument against the pervasive idea that, in culture and in economics, "there is no alternative". Looking to the past for ways out of the present, without dreamily and foolishly imagining the glories of the USSR, seems to me to be a useful and important exercise in that context.

Your point about Muratova is well taken (though I know nothing about her). But I don't k-punk is saying that capitalism doesn't "produce occasional works of greatness amid wide swaths of crap"--I mean, obviously there's been plenty of great art under capitalism. It seems to me that there's a difference between "vibrant culture" and "great art", though I'm not prepared to expound at length on it here (nor would I presume to make any claims about life in the former Soviet Union).