A Lot Of Zeit But Not Much Geist…

“… it has been only in the past decade that we appear to have entered an aura-free universe in which all eras coexist at once — a state of possibly permanent atemporality given to us courtesy of the Internet. No particular era now dominates. We live in a post-era era without forms of its own powerful enough to brand the times. The zeitgeist of 2012 is that we have a lot of zeit but not much geist. I can’t believe I just wrote that last sentence, but it’s true; there is something psychically sparse about the present era, and artists of all stripes are responding with fresh strategies.
This new reality seems to have manifested in the literary world in what must undeniably be called a new literary genre. For lack of a better word, let’s call it Translit. Translit novels cross history without being historical; they span geography without changing psychic place. Translit collapses time and space as it seeks to generate narrative traction in the reader’s mind. It inserts the contemporary reader into other locations and times, while leaving no doubt that its viewpoint is relentlessly modern and speaks entirely of our extreme present. Imagine traveling back to Victorian England — only with vaccinations, a wad of cash and a clean set of ruling-class garb. With Translit we get our very delicious cake, and we get to eat it, too, as we visit multiple pasts safe in the knowledge we’ll get off the ride intact, in our bold new perpetual every-era/no-era.” [Douglas Coupland on Translit writing]

A work of art that refutes the possibility of chronological classification offers a dramatic challenge to the structure that disciplines like art history enforce-the great, ladder-like narrative of cultural progress that is so dependent upon the idea of the new superseding the old in a movement simultaneously forward and upward. This is not the first time that there have been challenges to the construct of historical progress and in a sense it is not progress as such that is at stake in this new, atemporal universe. Time-based terms like progressive – and its opposite, reactionary, avant-and arriere-garde – are of little use to describe atemporal works of art.
It would be more accurate and more poetic to understand them as existing in the eternal present. This is a temporal state in which, to optimistic prognosticators, the past and the future have been made available simultaneously. Instead of an information superhighway, we can picture the eternal present as an endlessly flat surface with vistas in every direction – not unlike the surface of a painting.” [Laura Hoptman on Atemporal Painting in Forever Now]

Wade Guyton Untitled, 2010

Nostalgia is nothing new. It has been a refrain of art and literature at least since Homer set Odysseus on Calypso’s island and had him yearn to turn back time. And popular music has always had a strong revivalist streak, particularly in Reynolds’s native Britain. But retromania is not just about nostalgia. It goes deeper than the tie-dyed dreams of Baby Boomers or the gray-flecked mohawks of Gen X punks. Whereas nostalgia is rooted in a sense of the past as past, retromania stems from a sense of the past as present. Yesterday’s music, in all its forms, has become the atmosphere of contemporary culture. We live, Reynolds remarks, in “a simultaneity of pop time that abolishes history while nibbling away at the present’s own sense of itself as an era with a distinct identity and feel…
Reynolds argues that the glut of tunes has not just changed what we listen to; it has also changed how we listen. The rapt fan who knew every hook, lyric, and lead by heart has been replaced by the fickle dabbler who cannot stop hitting Next. Reynolds presents himself as a case in point, and his experience will sound familiar to anyone with a hard drive packed with music files. He was initially “captivated” by the ability to use a computer to navigate an ocean of tunes. But in short order he found himself more interested in “the mechanism” than the music: “Soon I was listening to just the first fifteen seconds of every track; then, not listening at all.” The logical culmination, he writes, “would have been for me to remove the headphones and just look at the track display.” [Nicolas Carr on Simon Reynolds]

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