Monday, August 11, 2014

digital fatigue and space ennui

Two interesting recent columns at Pitchfork - Mike Powell,  dissenting from the notion of "the new", and Lindsay Zoladz on "the strange fatigue of digital life"

Zoladz, in her final Ordinary Machines column, muses, disconsolately:

"Shouldn’t unfettered access to music mean we all have impeccable taste and an intimate familiarity with all records previously deemed Classic and/or Important? Maybe, but I have to admit that in the past few years I’ve noticed that the stream has had a counterintuitive effect on my listening habits. For some reason, it’s made me jaded about greatness and even a little less likely to seek out Important Records—having all of them splayed out before me has reduced them to inherited experiences, foregone conclusions, boxes to tick off on a checklist. Too often I feel paralyzed and overwhelmed by history, by all that I don’t know. Everything happened so much."

Citing en passant Alexis C. Madrigal's "melancholy to the infinite scroll" piece in The Atlantic last year, she strikes a chord with the admission "I'm sort of ashamed to admit that I have occasionally caught myself thinking, "I wish I could listen to more than one thing at the same time," but I know I'm not alone"

But  takes heart from the ardor-revivifying effects of  random encounters and less-punctual-and-dutiful engagements with the canon

Powell, in his latest Secondhands column, worries away at the notion of the "futuristic" in music and suggests "the New" is both over-rated and elusive:

"Now and then, my wife will squint at the speakers in the corner of the room where I am auditioning some promo or another and ask me a simple question: “Do you think this is doing anything new?” My answer is usually “no,” followed by some apology for why I don’t think that newness—in the sense of a chilly, confrontational encounter with something I’ve never encountered before—is that relevant.

Cueing off Telstar the satellite and "Telstar" the international smash-hit instrumental, Mike speaks also of an ennui with outer space:

"In 2014, the song still sounds like the future, or at least some quaint B-movie version of it. Hearing it reminds me that there was a time when space was something people got excited about. Having made it west, we hunkered down at IBM terminals and recalibrated Manifest Destiny for the stars. Mysticism crossed with science; people of reason brushed against the infinite unknown. The song itself sounds like an extra-terrestrial alarm clock, whirring and buzzing to let us know we’ve finally arrived. 
"Now when I think about space, I mostly think about how much time and energy we wasted getting there. Missions failed, people died, and the benefits to those on earth remain cloudy. It seems foolish and embarrassing—a huckster’s dream, the 100-percent certifiable hair tonic that will bring men back from baldness." 

This retro-active disillusion, or more accurately of a state of never have been illusioned in the first place, of being always already immune to the romance and heroism of the moon missions  -- strikes me as a generational condition.  A real divide, although the break actually occurs somewhere in the middle of Generation X, with the first half of that age-span aligning with the babyboomers. 

It's an authentic feeling  that nonetheless speaks to a certain obscure desire to do away with the achievements of the past  - cut them down to size. In that sense not unlike the revisionist impulses underlying poptimism, the not-so-secret desire to write off the Sixties as rockist. Be rid of that burdensome heritage, these useless monuments.  

Interestingly, slightly contradicting the idea that the young generation feels no excitement about the idea of outer space, there's been a slight uptick in movie-making about space travel recently. But interestingly, the overall impressions conveyed by Gravity is the sheer difficulty of space exploration, the constant proximity of disaster. It’s notable also that Gravity’s locus is just outside the Earth’s atmosphere, implying that the immediate future for space travel will involve not giant steps further forward but the repetition of achievements of the 1970s (see also China’s recent lunar rover mission).

But perhaps Christopher Nolan's Interstellar will be more gung-ho:


  1. The Challenger disaster in 1986 cd have been the line in the sand for the generational divide you mention above. Acc to Wiki it already had huge viewership figures even before things went wrong. A lot of impressionable minds were made up on space travel there and then.
    The book Moondust tried to posit the surviving Moon mission astronauts as similar to rock stars long since irrelevant, and the author seemed to spend a good amount of time chasing them in hotels at conventions. Only some were paid any heed. The autographs of those who walked on the moon were the valuable ones, as if they were the original Kingsmen members. And just as 60s rock stars and their work have been utterly demystified from decades of heritage rock media, leading to the ennui as felt by Ms Zoladz, the more that is known about living and working in space the quicker the scales fall from one's eyes. A prominent science museum I attended in Gothenburg, pitched as it was to kids and adults, had a good display on the European Space Station but didn't bother with any Buzz Aldrin style mysticism. Being an astronaut these times it seems is more like a highly specialised engineer's job with plenty of drudgery and repetition. And you might have to grow your own food too

  2. Yeah, space lost its glamour, Became dreary. Drudgery in Zero G. It was getting a little bit like with the space stations in the 70s. But the ungainly look of the high-altitude plane plus shuttle combo -- the way it sort of sidles unimpressively outside the earth's atmosphere rather than blasts vertically like a proper rocket -- stripped away the heroic lustre. And Challenger/86 you're right is smack dab in the middle of Generation X -- that is the divide.