Tuesday, December 4, 2012


Phil Knight at The Phil Zone picks up on the post here about Beck and Flaming Lips doing remakes of classic albums, in relation to the difference between art (discovery, vision, bring something new into the world) and craft (doing it correctly, replication, perpetuation of the tradition etc). He mentions Spengler, who

"had a term for precisely this kind of process, which he called the descent into patternwork. An archetypal example of this is the Persian carpet, whose complex interwoven motifs were originally intensely meaningful expressions of sacred geometry (our old friend phi and its fractions), but are now churned out merely as decoration by people who have no idea what the designs signify, and if they do, view it as merely anecdotal. What once was high art becomes a kind of autistic self-replicating craft. Much of what we now consider to be ethnic styles of pottery, textiles etc. are simply the endless reproductions of art forms whose meaning has long since withered away."

I am sure I've come across this idea before -- almost certainly it was something Phil posted somewhere or other, or maybe a comment he made in a comments box at one of the Decades Blogs.  I made a mental note to do something with pattern work here, but naturally forgot.

This thought of Phil's struck me as particularly acute: 

"Most interesting from our perspective is that the lubricant for the passage from art to craft appears to be irony. It's when the replications start to be produced by people who don't get the in-joke, and this will surely happen, that the true inauguration of the long, long era of patternwork begins."

Yes, the irony phase, which in rock sets in among the cleverer sort of bands from
the mid-Eighties onwards: Butthole Surfers, Red Kross, Urge Overkill, Zodiac Mindwarp, Gaye Bykers on Acid,  Monster Magnet, White Zombie, Royal Trux (to an extent),...  later on it becomes more mainstream and less-clever The Darkness...     you also have something like Andrew W.K..  There's a urge to rock, to have that kind of scale and epic-ness and the mass response that came with it, but it's checked by an awareness that kind of ye olde rock is ludicrous and passe, and also, more significantly, what it signified in the late Sixties and pre-punk Seventies in terms of rebellion, a lifestyle of freedom and excess that was counter-hegemonic and anti-normative, that was no longer tenable. Indeed it had become hegemonic, normative, cliched. The way to deal with attraction to cliches that are no longer valid or timely was through parody, a form of equivocation.

Then you had bands, concurrent with the ironic "we just wanna rock" bands in the alt-scene, who were deadly earnest about it (Sunset Strip glam metal -- Motley Crue, G'N'R, etc), and not parodic, so much as self-caricature, or mannerist maybe.

And somewhere exactly in between: The Cult, who managed uniquely to give off the aura of presumed irony but were as far as I can tell absolutely earnestly dead-serious about it (and so succeeded in the commercial American context more than the genuinely ironic meta-rockers)

Rick Rubin seems to have some crucial place in this fake-real, becoming-patternwork of rock. He believes, with all his heart; but what he touches comes out, despite that, with this sheen of air quotes. 

Andrew W.K. reminds me of Rubin, there's a sort of Zen aura....

(Def Leppard belong in here somewhere. At some point they go from being the real thing to being the pomo thing)

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