Wednesday, May 18, 2005
Speaking of anti-intellectualism, this item from Salon seems to show how insidious it can be, worming its way into the most casual and offhanded remarks of an allegedly liberal journal about culture. Salon's music columist Thomas Bartlett is basically providing a link to a Pitchfork feature in which David Cross lambastes Pitchfork's peculiar over-heated style. I'm not much of a fan of Pitchfork, but I respect the quality of writing they've achieved while establishing an idiosyncratic, instantly recognizable style whose influence is far reaching in the cloistered (fetid) rock-journalism universe. Pitchfork is basically the Lester Bangs of this era, redefining rock criticism for those benighted enough to want to start writing it. Pitchfork writers are not afraid of throwing out allusions that maybe five other people who can read English would get, they're not afraid of making ludicrous arguments that put pop music on a level of metaphysical significance with Kant and Thomas Aquinas, they manage to blend irony and enthusiasm in such a way as to refute the silly post-ironist argument made by dour Believer types that they're irreconcilable. More than anything, the writing is smart, and the intelligence is preserved even in the face of inscrutability. Thus writers are allowed to elevate rock criticism to Adornoesque levels of tortuousness with statements like this, which Bartlett (following Cross) singles out for ridicule: "Our self-imposed solitude renders us politically and spiritually inert, but rather than take steps to heal our emotional and existential wounds, we have chosen to revel in them. We consume the affected martyrdom of our purported idols and spit it back in mocking defiance." This was written about the Arcade Fire's album (not Lukacs's History and Class Consciousness though I suspect the author of this quip is familiar with it). Cross selects it for ridicule because it's a statement rich with personality, it is redolent with belief and in love with its own complexity; the writer seems anxious to follow her train of thought straight into its implications for the totality even if that makes her sound silly. But it is perfectly comprehensible and pretty cogent considering Arcade Fire's oft-repeated insistence that their music is cathartic. By citing this remark, Cross underscores how entertaining this kind of writing is in spite of being diffuse, how it longs to be read and re-read, as an example of someone who is alive to thought. By imitating it to mock it, Cross pays respect to it at the same time. That's why Pitchfork ran the piece in the first place. But Bartlett assumes the sentence has no meaning and is unwilling to even try to parse it or take its claims seriously. He cites it just to scorn it and the writer's attempt to say something meaningful instead of spout the weary cliches of hype prepared and market-tested by the PR releases the music industry unflaggingly generates and mainstream rock critics dutifully adopt. He accuses Cross of sour grapes, but I wonder if its not he who suffers instead, since apparently he has surrendered his own intellectual pretensions long ago, writes neutered paragraphs for a lifestyle zine, and has nothing left to do but cackle impotently at those who still dare to try to make meaning. Thus Cross's joke, while it seems to be on Pitchfork, is really on him.
Posted by Rob Horning at 2:31 PM