Sunday, April 12, 2015

collect yourself

At The New Inquiry, Rob Horning muses on collecting, triggered by the trauma of packing up his record collection for a move.

A well-masticated subject, between Benjamin and Baudrillard, both of whom  get quoted. And I've given it a good chew myself in the relevant chapter in Retromania. But Horning nonetheless manages to come up with some  interesting thoughts: 

"... The collection’s bulk makes it incredibly inconvenient, though therein may lie its actual appeal. The inconvenience enchants the act of listening, enchants my labor in assembling the collection.... 

"The cumbersome nature of putting on a record and then flipping it over conjures all sorts of other lost experiences — dialing rotary phones, looking things up in books, etc....  

"But is that nostalgia enough to justify all the moving boxes?...  The collection has become a physical manifestation of sunk costs; it makes me feel like I have come too far to stop now."

Know that feeling well!

Switching topic to the dematerialized forms of collection (e.g. image-hoarding and image-bingeing  as social display via the internet and social media), Horning writes: 
"On your own Tumblr, you get to be a taste tyrant; each new post supports the fantasy that you are dictating the rules of style by fiat, beyond the encroachment of cultural-capital anxieties. The mere process of adding another image... can be the means by which you push aside the fear that your choices may be governed by a social logic beyond your control. "
One strategy for fortifying one's sense of uniqueness and idiosyncracy is to play the game of what Matt Woebot once called "Good Bad Taste":

Horning writes that "when I go to record stores, I get caught up in games of aesthetic arbitrage. When I go record shopping I tend to only look in bargain bins....  To me, these records represent a cultural opportunity to buy low, a chance for me to assert myself in a territory revealed by the receding tide of fashion.... 

"By finding “good” records among the refuse, I get to assert a taste I know is highly idiosyncratic.... And even if what I buy never becomes popular again, I can console myself with proof of my unique interest in something. Only in the bargain bins can I shop comfortably, knowing that I am not coattail-riding on someone else’s cultural capital, not following someone else’s fashion. Instead I can pretend both that I am both exercising my sovereign judgment and am indifferent to the whole game of taste, and also fully invested in the game and taking a savvy position within it, letting my taste be wholly guided by tactical positionality within it.

Older readers of my blogs might remember the UBERHIPSTERS UNITED INFLUENCES INDEX  jest (but a serious jest) of 2003, in which I canvassed readers for their stock market tips in terms of which influences were going to be hot for bands to construct their identities around in the near-future and which shares should be jettisoned ASAP.  The original post throwing down the gauntlet to the Blissblog readership is here and the tabulated results are here.  It might be an interesting excercise to do an updated version. 

Alongside Benjamin, Baudrillard, and the great Will Straw, another theorist Horning bring into the discussion is Boris Groys (On The New, etc), who, according to RH, believes that "such salvage missions are the essence of cultural innovation, the hallmark of the artist’s function since the time of Duchamp’s ready-mades. Art..., stems not from the creative unconscious or from the technical ability to represent objective beauty or truth but from redrawing the boundary between art and not-art. It comes from understanding “cultural-economic logic” and fashion cycles, and having the social wherewithal to affect them. Craft is more or less discarded, and art becomes indistinguishable from curation, collecting. Once the ubiquity of reproduction (mechanical and now digital) makes technical skill superfluous, a kind of mystified ornament, the only significant artistic medium is the cultural archive itself, and the ability to shift things in and out of it."

Doesn't sound like a terribly new idea, Groys's,  to be honest -  recreativity / curativity. A/k/a record collection rock. Just another redescription of the same old, same old.  (See also Nicky Bourriaud's postproduction art). But perhaps there's more that gets unravelled in the book itself, which is sitting on my shelf, alongside another 110 books awaiting my attention. See, in addition to records, I'm also a chronic collector of books... 


I read Baudrillard's famous essay on collecting for Retromania,  but I don't remember it as being quite as bleak and negative as Horning's quotes on the same subject from  Jean B's The System of Objects

"[Collectors] invariably have something impoverished and inhuman about them.... never … get beyond a certain poverty and infantilism....  No matter how open a collection is, it will always harbor an irreducible element of non-relationship to the world." 

"What man gets from objects is not a guarantee of life after death but the possibility, from the present moment onwards, of continually experiencing the unfolding of his existence in a controlled, cyclical mode, symbolically transcending a real existence the irreversibility of whose progression he is powerless to affect....   [Collectors] recite themselves, as it were, outside time.....  What you really collect is always yourself.

1 comment:

  1. Great post, I personally relate to those last two lines of Horning's final quote, grim as they are. Particularly with regard to music (rap, hardcore, jungle) it is a way for me to relive a certain time, according to my mood, and when I am going through certain stages/emotions in my everyday life which might be mundane or challenging, I often get a craving to revisit a specific style of old music. I think because it triggers a memory of how that music helped me define myself against 'the world/others' when I was younger.