Thursday, November 29, 2012

the hipster whose identity is defined by the post-Modern imperative

Five hundred names, says Aelian. (Considering the end of my last post, he decides to speak up.) Well done. That's an easy solution. That's perfect. That's fast. You'll be done in minutes. Mechanical simplicity, says PJ Ray: hipsters love it because it gives them a feeling of autonomy and control, and they hope that they are released from the humiliation of dependence that is contingent upon their existence, which supplies them with iPhones, computerised cars, and other gadgets that are too difficult to fix without a technician. "In short, the fetishization of low-tech is about the illusion of agency; it provides affirmation for the hipster whose identity is defined by the post-Modern imperative to be an individual, to be unique."

George Scialabba, paraphrasing Christopher Lasch's ideas about modern industrialisation in his .pdf chapbook, Divided Mind, pictured this "imperative" as a psychological development, Freudian rather than post-Modern, and a paraphrase like to have a well-composed adult mind would take the place, in his argument of to be an individual, to be unique. He writes:

And in promising an endless supply of technological marvels, it evokes grandiose fantasies of absolute self-sufficiency and unlimited mastery of the environment, even while the quasi-magical force that conjures up those marvels – i.e., science – becomes ever more remote from the comprehension or control of ordinary citizens. This is a recipe for regression to psychic infancy: fantasies of omnipotence alternating with terrified helplessness.

An irony, says Ray, is that the companies selling gadgets will use the ideas of autonomy and psychic freedom to sell the gadgets; these ideas are a marketing tool and how do you escape from the iPhone that is like a ritual in Gormenghast, administered only by the authorities? "We are built," he writes, "to desire what society needs from us and to demand the same from others. Delueze observes with transparent contempt that “young people strangely boast of being ‘motivated;’” they require no institutional coercion," they want, and are tempted, and are not like the kings or the narrator in The Grasshopper, by Richard Lovelace (1618–1657).

Thus richer than untempted kings are we,
   That, asking nothing, nothing need:
Though lords of all what seas embrace, yet he
   That wants himself is poor indeed.

Which is desire not unfulfilled but short-circuited, or routed back to the one object, oneself, though many of the other poems of that time and place (if the anthologies I've been reading are good guides, and the collected Donne, etc) are about longing for a thing not oneself, instead another's self, the beloved, a complicated machine but one that may be modified without technicians, let me try to pry you open with this hammer darling, oh let us come together --

Love me less or love me more,
And play not with my liberty,
Either take all or restore,
Bind me at least or set me free ...

(from Song, by Sidney Godolphin (1610? – 1643) )

-- switch me on or off, he begs, but don't leave me in the middle, a poor dickering bulb, don't leave me with my friends, the other poets, whose "fantasies of omnipotence alternating with terrified helplessness" recur throughout these poems you could say, or am I stretching it? The beloved's gaze or promise will annihilate or restore, it is worth more than diamonds or more than the sky, or it is heaven and the hair is gold, or some similar thing, so let that loved one be contrasted with some object, usually a flower or a star, the paps are snow, the cheeks cherry, nature feels shy when she walks, "The sun would steal a kiss: | The wind upon her lips | Likewise most sweetly blew" (George Wither (1588 - 1667), A Love Sonnet) and she is sometimes resistant to the poet's appeals, this resistance interpreted as cruelty ("I see you wear that pitying smile | Which you have still vouchsaf'd my smart," from the Godolphin again), though in Phillis Knotting by Sir Charles Sedley she is preoccupied, or else she is wishing the speaker would go away, or feels shy for some other reason. Enclosed in her own unpenetrated quiet she is closer to the characters in Peake's book, who are "themselves" as the author often reminds us: themselves with a bottomless reserve of self. "Titus is not a symbol. Titus is himself."

You could take the whole Titus trilogy as a piece of support for the idea that being yourself does not make you happy, seeing that so few people who live in Gormenghast castle are happy, if in fact any of them are, possibly none whatsoever except the Doctor, yet all drenched in Themselves. This notion is so prominent in my mind that when I was listening the other day to an album by the Californian band Los Cenzontles and the singer sang this line, "I want to be free to be me," I thought, No you don't, look what happened to Fuchsia. And could not stop feeling that this was an extremely legitimate criticism of the entire song.

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