Sunday, December 3, 2023

 'One cumulative effect of mass communication nowadays is that, though transient in intention, it more and more puts itself on record. So the music, manners, and modes of the past are instantly and synchronously to hand in a way they have never been before. Revivals of style can go with ever-gathering speed. The cycle, rubbish-camp-acceptable-antique, has now become almost totally telescoped. Mass communication is like the memories in a mind half-asleep. Or like your mind when drowning? In everything, the mass media are flatteners and foreshorteners, like zoom-lens photography. Every high street with the same advertised brands; every newscast with the same news; every singer with the same tune. Even what is local becomes merely another candidate for mass consumption : good for a joke by Eddie Waring on It's a Knockout.'

Paul Barker, introduction to Arts in Society, a collection of writing from New Society, 1977.


  1. In Tesco today, I found a book in their book drop-off bin, called The Social Construction of Reality, by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann. With a title like that, you know it's got to have some doozies of sentences. Chosen completely at random:
    "Therapy uses a conceptual machinery to keep everyone within the universe in question. Nihilation, in its turn, uses a similar machinery to liquidate conceptually everything OUTSIDE the same universe. This procedure may also be described as a king of negative legitimation. Legitimation maintains the reality of the socially constructed universe; nihilation DENIES the reality of whatever phenomena or interpretations of phenomena do not fit into that universe."
    I love such bullshit sociological verbiage as much as you do (typing those sentences was utter bliss), but where should you stop/start taking this seriously?

    1. I've never heard of that book but I looked it up and it's considered a major sociological work - or more precisely, a major work in the sociology of knowledge. I can understand it fairly easily - it's not what I would describe as enjoyable writing to read, but it's reasonably clear, I think. But it's not really meant for a lay audience - it's written in the specialized language of an academic discipline. Someone in that discipline would be equally befuddled by the specialized discourse that goes on in these blogs and their comments boxes - discourses on Happy Mondays for instance, they would be completely lost, while we, versed in the idiolect and the common reference points, can easily navigate the discussion.

      The points being made in that passage seem fairly old-news to me, a lot of people would agree with the idea - but perhaps it was revelatory at that time (1967 is when it came out I believe).

      Interestingly, "nihilation" was a concept that Mark Fisher used, but I doubt very much he got from sociology - he wasn't particularly interested in that way of looking at things. It must have some other currency within philosophy or critical theory.

    2. Okay, cards on the table, I am far more tolerant of post-structuralist flim-flammery than perhaps I have appeared; why ponce about with the magic realists (Borges the sainted exception) when you have these French nihilists planting their linguistic semtex? But Bataille and Baudrillard never actually claimed to describe the real world. Their worlds are unreal, wonderful and terrifying (see what I did there?).
      I literally just picked the first few sentences from a paragraph chosen at random. I didn't give a definition of therapy or nihilation. I can't tell you if I was fair or unfair. Legitimately, can you?
      But I feel justified in saying the book is (enjoyable) massively pretentious. Here's another sentence from it: "The ongoing production of vocal signs in conversation can be sensitively synchronized with the ongoing subjective intentions of the conversants." Unless I'm massively missing some subtext, that can be rephrased as, "People mean things when they speak."
      Can you give me a precise definition of nihilation? You make it sound interesting.
      Have we had a specialised, technical discussion on the Happy Mondays? I know we're both comfy with postmodernism, but I don't think we've ever got to the stage of explaining Bez as a contemporary shaman/sacrificial lamb.

  2. Yes that is a bit of a woffly sentence, agreed!

    Ah apparently there is a precise philosophical meaning to "nihilate" Verb
    nihilate (third-person singular simple present nihilates, present participle nihilating, simple past and past participle nihilated)

    To encase in a shell of non-being.
    (philosophy) The action of consciousness, which is the origin of negation in facticity.

    I am only familiar with the way Mark Fisher used it, which might have contained these philosophy undertones (as that's one of things he studied in academia) but in the context of his writing, seems to mean more a ruthless campaign of ideas-demolition, discrediting an opposing worldview or aesthetic:

    "What Pop lacks now is the capacity for nihilation, for producing new potentials through the negation of what already exists. One example, of many possible. Both the Birthday Party and New Pop nihilated one another: far from existing in a relation of mutual acceptance or of mutual ignorance each defined themselves in large part by not being the other. One shouldn't rush to conceive of this in simple-minded dialectical terms as thesis-antithesis, since the relationships are not only oppositional - there is always more than one way to nihilate, and it is always possible for any individual thing to nihilate more than one Other. It seems at least plausible to suggest that the capacity for renewed nihilation is what has driven Pop. So let's dare to conceive of Pop not as an archipelago of neighbouring but unconflicting options, not as a sequence of happy hybridities or pallid incommensurabilities, but as a spiral of nihilating vortices. Such a model of Pop is utterly foreign to postmodern orthodoxies. But Pop is either modernist or it is nothing at all."

  3. Berger & Luckmann's book is a well-respected work in the sociology of knowledge. I can't remember reading it but I've read plenty of works that reference it. I've certainly read Garfinkel's work on ethnomethodology (which has similar origins). The experiments he got his students to do verged on performance art.

    I was about to crap on Fisher's comments on nihilation but they actually work better in the context of the original blog post - which has echoes of Nick Land - although the nihilism is exhausted rather than virulent.

    Barker's quote is of the "time speeding up" variety Which people have been complaining about for centuries. What is perhaps more interesting is Michel Serres' notion that time is like weather. Some times it moves quickly, sometimes slowly. Sometimes it's linear and sometimes it's chaotic and vortical. We experience time at many tempos at once. Like 90s jungle.

  4. "Far from flowing in laminar and continuous lines, like a well-behaved river under a bridge, upstream to downstream, time descends, turns back on itself, stops, starts, bifurcates ten times, divides and blends, caught up in whirlpools and counter-currents, hesitant, aleatory, uncertain and fluctuating, multiplied into a thousand beds like the Yukon river. Sometimes time passes, sometimes not; but when it passes, it does so as if through a colander... and this filter or percolator supplies the best model for the flow of time." (Serres, "Turner" 15)

    1. That's a great quote - I'm going to put in the Thinkige Kru line-up for posting.


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