the chasm of the anti luddites (relating to week of 12/9)

Our friend Mr Peter Asaro asked, although I think it is a loaded question, “given the hyper-reproducibility of media over the internet, including mp3s and digital images, is ‘authenticity’ still relevant to art”?

I’m sure everyone expects me to play the luddite, and I won’t disappoint, even to the degree that it makes everyone label me totalitatarian; but I think there is an importance to authenticity. That’s not to say there isn’t a use to fakery — it is funny, useful, makes friends and enemies, makes life exciting, etc.  However, there is both meaning and beauty in the printed item which does not accrue to the digitized one.

A simple example and a complex one. The simple example is a newspaper versus its online equivalent. In a newspaper, part of what we pay for is to see the fonts, sizes, spacing, humor in the design, etc, which is what the newspaper editor intended. There is meaning in the design itself (and in its fixed nature).  The relative importance of stories, designs, fonts, placements,  in, e.g., “The New York Times Week In Review” is utterly lost in the online version. While the online version may contain what is in the print version (although in fact it doesn’t), it will never convey the feelings in the printed one.

A more complex example is a printed magazine or book.  A printed magazine (especially one with photos, etc) is more meaningful (hence more relevant) than its online version, because the printed magazine is a physical item that can be and often is emotionally conveyed to the end user — it is precisely the artisinal nature of a magazine which conveys the meaning hence value. In fact, although the internet can do many things that print cannot, the “printed delivery” form of interpersonal relation cannot by definition exist on the internet.

I am aware of my detractors inspired by Walter Benjamin who suggest that this argument defending high culture is a prelude to fascism. (“All efforts to aestheticize politics culminate in one point,” WB writes. “That point is war. War, and only war, makes it possible to set a goal for mass movement on the grandest scale while preserving traditional property relations.”)  But, didn’t the sexual revolution aestheticize things sans war? Or was it a war?

High culture is not constant. Yesterday’s trash is today’s opera; and in the future Justin Timberlake might be of the same genre as Shakespeare, which was in its era labeled low. If we have a war over these classifications, it will be because there is so much of a chasm between academic discourse and popular culture that nobody knows what either one is, because they are or should be the same.

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One Response to “the chasm of the anti luddites (relating to week of 12/9)”

  1. Yeah sure, and if you call yourself the guardian of high culture — a fact i severely doubt — then how can you call for great art like Rembrandt to be all mixed up with some trash like Paris Hilton ads for John S.P.Q.R. McCain? And, what are they going to do with Harvard and Yale when there’s no difference between them and the University of Southern North Podunk at Hicksville?

    Plus, also, Shakespeare will NEVER be as hot as Justin, give me a break. Look at the first three letters of your last name to see the dif. Go to hell!

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