Saturday, November 6, 2010

Boy, Some Day

I woke up today with a weird headache. I tried to eat food and drink water and take pills but that didn't work. So I went back to sleep. Then I slept til 4:30. Now I am using my new french press for the first time. Because the sleeping took my headache away and I love coffee.

So today is a day of two firsts. I got the internet for the first time in my new apartment, and I'm using this new french press for the first time. Yippee! This is the first time I've written directly into a blog post in about a month. Very interesting. But I did manage to keep up my writing. Or manage to keep uploading blog posts.

Unfortunate how I felt today. Because I really wanted to get a lot of reading and writing done today. Now I'm not so sure if I'll get any serious work done. But tomorrow I certainly will I think. I don't have any real plans except to have dinner with my aunt.

I want to finish reading David Harvey's The Condition of Postmodernity. I have about 70 pages left i think. Which is good considering it is 360 and I was worried about it. The best thing is that the pieces are starting to come together for me. Harvey breaks it into four sections: 1. a comparison between modernity and postmodernism in terms of art, architecture, philosophy, politics, and economics; 2. an in depth look at 'the transformation of late twentieth century capitalism'; 3. changes in the experience of space and time from premodernity to postmodernity; and finally 4. 'the condition of postmodernity'. I am now approaching the end of section three.

See, Harvey seems to believe that modernism and postmodernity are political/cultural movements that both began when western civilizations were undergoing an intense bout of 'time-space compression': i.e. these movements arise when our sense of space and time is being radically reconfigured by new understandings. In the modern period, for example, people first became aware of simultaneity and the way that things were happening all over the globe at the same time. Similarly, in Imagined Communities Benedict Anderson discusses how the invention of the map and the calendar gave people a new conception of time: that time was 'empty and homogenous', the same all across the globe. Things like the newspaper and the rise of print capitalism in general gave people a sense of simultaneity, a sense that things were happening to tons of other people all at the same time all across the globe. This is something we take for granted, but imagine what it would have been like to live in the countryside with no access to newspapers or calendars or anything. Space and time would have been experienced very differently. So Harvey believes that modernism as a political-cultural movement arose out of this bout of time-space compression.

He also believes that postmodernism is a response to another round of time-space compression. Just think about how enormous our sense of global simultaneity is. We have this internet, we have jets, we have all kinds of access to a global world. To us, time-space is not about our immediate environment, it is about a global community and an interconnectedness of everything. Harvey gives a lot of weight to the commonplace idea that 'their is a time and a place for everything'. He talks about this notion mainly to show that the regulation of time and space is a force of social power. The way that space is regulated, and the way that time is measured, both cause us to act differently, it changes and regulates our behavior.

And this is where the connection to the transformation of capitalism comes in: changes in time-space regulation happen largely in response to the demands of the capitalist system. Time becomes heavily measured because everything becomes about the maximization of profit and efficiency. We have time cards, clocks, working schedules. In short, Harvey and Marx both believed that the capitalist system demanded intense regulation of time. The same holds true for space. Workers have to be organized in their homes and in the work place so as to ensure that production will increase. That is why cities are organized in certain ways, why workshops are organized in certain ways.

So this is the structure that Harvey is building: the capitalist system demands intense regulation of space and time. The regulation of space and time leads to what he calls 'space-time compression'. The compression of space and time in turns leads to massive cultural change. So, Harvey is doing a good job of showing how postmodernism as a movement is tied of with economic change, with the most important effect of economic change being new experiences of space and time.

I am excited to try and integrate Harvey's writing into my very large essay on Art and Zen. The other day I wrote something in the book that was a direct connection to my larger writing. But now I can't remember what precisely it was. Ah well one thing is just the sheer number of artists now working that Harvey discusses and the amount of artwork being produced. 15 million works of art in the 1980s as opposed to 200,000 in late nineteenth-century Paris.

But I think perhaps a more important thing has to do with my concern with the dangers of theory-theory. He discusses how our society has moved from a society of commodities to a society of images. This an argument of Baudrillard's apparently. Marx was concerned that everything would simply become a commodity. But now things are merely images of commodities. Leading to the rise of image consultation companies that say things like: 'People make up their minds about you in around one tenth of a second these days', or 'Fake it till you make it'. Images, theoretical ideas, models. Hogwash. A very relevant concern, and interestingly something that may be related to the space-time compression and the rise of postmodernism that Harvey describes. In my latest big writing on small talk I dealt with the theory-theory issue. It is something that I am becoming more and more curious about. Especially because theory-theorists, as far as I know, don't seem to reckon with the dangers of engaging with other minds primarily on this theoretical level.

Another thing that I plan on tackling in this new essay and that Harvey directly helps me with is the rise of amusement in American culture: he talks about the proliferation of 'entertainments, spectacles, happenings and distractions'. This lines up with the notion of economic transformation because since cars and washing machines won't occupy the market forever, it makes sense to turn to 'very ephemeral services in consumption', such as movies and shows. These things are paid for and have almost no residual effect in real life. They just amuse us and we move on. Collingwood was deeply concerned with the rise of amusement in western culture. So I plan on integrating Harvey in this way.

This also gives me a chance to integrate Nicholas Carr and to link him with Harvey. In fact, that is actually why I read these books. I saw how concerned Collingwood was with amusement in 1937, and I thought: oh shit. This is going on now for sure. I better get some contemporary insights. So I looked into Nicholas Carr's 'The Shallows', and Harvey's 'The Condition'. It is fortunate that they are fruitful. Harvey describes how contemporary culture revolves around instantaneity and disposability. How our culture is so active it leads to 'the block out of sensory stimuli, denial, and cultivation of the blase attitude, myopic specialization, reversion to images of a lost past..., and excessive simplification'. All of that has huge implications for the rise of an amusement culture and the dangers of theory-theory.

So, this has been a productive round of reflection and brainstorming. I feel like I am finally feeling like I am grappling with Harvey in a meaningful way. Because for a while i felt like he was beyond my grasp. But no, I'm starting to understand him. And I'm pleased that he will fit into my larger writing on Collingwood, art, amusement, and the rest. Not sure how much more work I'll do today.

But boy I drank a bunch of coffee while I wrote this and now I'm all jittery. In a good way. Over and out.

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