Friday, May 3, 2013

A dialogue between myself and Justin Buckley, in which he picks up on some things in that Datacide review of Retromania, these quotes in particular :

"Each historical phase seems to have its own psychological mental states and fetishisms…"   "... Technological optimism fights with other ideas about conclusive authority. And today Space optimists are at their historical ancestral space: at the lunatic fringe of society of harmless wackos…."  "...So if each epoch has its own psychic constellation, nowadays a detached fatalism in the sign of massive state deficits and financial crisis in the USA and Europe is the current paradigm. Believing in the future doesn’t seem like an option."

JB: The point about historical phases having their own mental states connects with a recent post of another blog I read, from the head of the Order of Archdruids of America (!). He writes lucidly about peak oil and possible responses to it. He summarises how different cultures and different historical periods within certain cultures have a different sense of 'the shape of time', which affects how these cultures view progress, i.e., in ancient Greece the belief that a golden age had already happened and that as time went on, things got worse and worse. He writes that in the past 300 years, since what he calls the age of cheap energy has begun, the natural view we would have of time would be a belief that things will always progress and get better.

However, as you and others have discussed, we seem to be stuck in a rut. Obviously there are numerous reasons for this, but I wonder, if peak oil is actually 'true', then it might be that we are over the apex of our culture (it may have happened in 60s-70s?) and that our cultural view on time and progress is holding us into this rut. 

OK, a sweeping statement with a few dubious assumptions built-in: that a hidden cause of the economic crisis of the past 5 years might have to something to do with peak oil, and that the energy required for further 'poetic' technologies like space travel may or may not be available. 

I can't yet make fully the link between this and Retromania, but I'm thinking about it! Maybe related to numerous media stories about our culture running into economic and environmental limits, which trickle-down into the thoughts of musicians, writers, artists.

Honestly, thinking about whether peak oil is really happening or not, and whether or not shale gas fracking is another bubble or not, is something I think about quite often with quite some frustration; it's a pretty fundamental thing to get right because oil/coal/gas has made so much of our culture possible. If it IS a real phenomenon: then what does mean for cultural producers over the next 40-50 years? That there is nothing new, and that cultural activity becomes more about somehow preserving the 'best-of'? 

If peak oil isn't true; then the original question holds: what's next? I'm not sure if I'm right, but it seems that there are thick fault-lines developing in our cultural attitude to technology - it used to be that technological change was generally viewed positively by our culture (i.e., space travel - well, OK, not to nuclear weapons) because technological change always would lead to something better - whereas now technology seems to be viewed with more distrust, i.e., the worries about drones, the backlash to Apps and Facebook, etc. Aside from the small-scale cultural segmentation that's happening because of the internet, I've felt that there's a broader cultural segmentation happening which runs along the lines with one's feelings towards technology. My own attitude towards this is my second-most frustrating and unresolved question.

Related to this, I found a day or two ago a notice about an exhibition called UnitedMicro Kingdoms at the London Design Museum (by designers Dunne and Raby): It outlines 4 fictional (possible future?) counties in England with 4 broadly different  'lifestyle , governance and economic' assumptions, and each has a different set of 'technological values'. Seems that the designers see this broader segmentation as well…

SR: There’s a chapter at the end of one of Nicolas Bourriaud’s book – The Radicant, I think - where he talks about energy, about how modernism coincided with this surge in energy production, new extractive technologies. And with that not only huge increases in industrial productivity, but also a drastic increase in speed (the invention of the automobile, the aeroplane) within a really short period of time, historically. As I recall there’s stuff about how these new energetics inform modernist works (poems,literature, painting) both in terms of explicit content and in formal ways.

 (There's probably stuff this in Virilio, now I think about it – his obsession with dromology, the study of speed -- the history of civilization understood as stages in the evolution of speed, thresholds passed.)

Anyway the argument re. modernism versus postmodernism is often related to the notion that post-1973 there's been this stagnation terms of cheap energy, which had fueled the 20th Century's sense of cultural acceleration... 

I interviewed Joe Boyd once about his memoir White Bicycles, and - in the book and the interview, but not the piece itself - he was very specific about 1973 as being a key point, OPEC, oil getting very expensive, and a sense of narrowing possiblities, the bohemia of the Sixties when you could get by on very little becoming less and less tenable... 

Two things that complicate the cultural stagflation and deceleration as our future scenario....

1/ recent talk of a new energy boom related to discovery of new fields of gas and oil, or existing areas that had been too difficult to access and profitably extract from.... also the stuff you mention about fracking, shale etc... talk of America soon becoming the second largest oil producing nation on earth, energy self-sufficient by 2030. That suggests that the slow-down may be reversed...  that a new phase of cheap-fuel fueled "irrational exuberance" could get underway. 

2/ seems like our desire to “go” and to go fast has imploded into the internet. There could be an update of Chuck Berry’s “no particular place to go” adapted to whizzing about on the net.

But yeah the relation between what’s going on substructure-wise in terms of the economy and human domination / exploitation of the physical world, that would quite logically have a decisive role in determining how a culture perceives reality, its conception of space and time, the direction that History is going...

JB: My only other comment would be about the new energy boom. I'm no expert, but my understanding of at least the shale gas / tracking thing is that the language used in the media in discussions of that industry is that it's somehow similar to language used in describing pre-bubble-burst real estate, etc - i.e., not a lot of critical press. 

Also apparently findings of large sources of oil/gas are predicted by the peak oil model, but the general long term trend is a decrease of discoveries of new sources. I've also read the talk of how the US will be the second largest energy supplier, but I'm a touch suspicious of the cheerleading in the media about it. And that's for me the frustrating part - trying to get somehow at the truth of the matter.

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