- Selected Letters from Readers
The following responses were submitted by PMC readers using regular email or the PMC Reader’s Report form . Not all letters received are published, and published letters may have been edited.
PMC Reader’s Report on Kevin McNeilly, “Ugly Beauty: John Zorn and the Politics of Postmodern Music”
I think a problem arises when defining postmodernity as the appropriations of pop culture as a sort of social critique — I think that, rather, Attali is right on when he stakes the claim that it is indicative of its environment as well as discursive to it. Pop culture requires itself as a lens to our vision and our voice. I would say that, rather than remark upon the music’s instrumentality, he reiterates it in a very symptomatic pop-culture fetishism. Pastiche IS NOT by its nature a revolutionary form. The moments of “tension” between the segments are not noise in Attali’s utopian sense, nor any sort of revolutionary parody which critiques each pop-gem in turn (and I think it would be a big mistake to see his classical moments without their genre lens, too) but slippages between genre units. These slippages, or shifts, are fascinating because the genres are seen as coherent chunks — it’s a pastiche, not a melange — and the listener is required to be a consummate pop-cult navigator who can identify the genres as they appear. It is these shifts that are operating in a movie like Pulp Fiction, where the slippages between gangster, boxing, film noir, kung-fu, etc. film are fetishized, nostalgic moments. The fun and the appeal of the film, and Zorn’s music, is based on the recognitions of each genre as they fly by in a flurry — one is left not with someone wiser to cultural production but someone self-satisfied with their own pop-connoisseurship. The clever aesthete. Who needs more self-satisfied clever aesthetes? Not me, that’s for sure.
And I think its a big mistake to consider Zorn as critical of any sort of consumer repetition compulsion, considering his CD’s mostly cost 25 dollars, and as I remember many repeat the same tracks/tricks. The only consumer awakening I see going on is the consumer who gets pissed at the fact that John Zorn is screwing them over. Like Warhol, he’s gotten rich from his reiterative postmodernity that supposedly attacks consumer culture. Does that make sense to anyone?
Last, Zorn treats the genres upon which whole undergrounds and cultures exist (hardcore punk, dub reggae) as pop culture chunks with all the depth of soundbites. as is typical of reiterations of capital, and capital itself: it wants you to think there is no outside of the system, and no difference between equally recognizable soundbites. Recognition is the key. What matters is who can best navigate the cracks of the collage, instead of what is being elided in or just simply left out of the pop-chunks. And what is left out is whole discursive, critical cultures and registers — what we’re left with is apolitical pop babble for hipster connoisseurs. I’m sorry if I sound too adversarial here, but I think it’s a big problem to write the equation between pop collage and a coherent critique of pop culture.
PMC Reader’s Report on Phoebe Sengers, “Madness and Automation: On Institutionalization”
Machinic analysis described by Phoebe Sengers brings to mind cellular automata and self-organizing system theory, but applied at higher levels of abstraction. The totalization could be described as the constraints imposed by the collectivity of the self-organizing automata on any other single automata — all the automata are linked, and each is limited to some degree by interactions with its neighbours. The active agents are more like processes, hence asubjective as the author states. Just as any one machine can “escape” the totalizing force of other machines — and even the big, social machine — any single automata can be the seed for bifurcated reshaping of the entire system (this is, maybe, what history is all about).
It would be interesting to develop such thought in mathematical terms. Is there such a...