Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Pre-production II

Pre-production within my conceptualisation was linked to your comment that "there are no new forms to be made". And perhaps the conclusion will be expanded to suggest that the process of making new cultural forms is for the most part limited to big socio-historical shifts (ruptures?) such as modernity or the renaissance, followed by periods in which those forms are developed and exhausted, rather than a condition inherent to modern culture itself. 

Thus the questions I want to ask are (a) is it true that "there are no new forms to be made?" and (b) if so, what does this mean in terms of responding to our cultural present? A preliminary step in responding to this condition, if it is true, might be to think about contemporary culture and classical structuralism together. So here are a few preliminary notes.
  1. Within this hypothesis I mentioned the idea that pre-production might be a method displayed by traditional cultures, which is to say "cold" cultures (Levi-Strauss) characterised by stable patterns and circular time which seek to naturalise, stabilise and cement the social order by using a fixed set of cultural forms. However traditional cultures were never as rigid as all that, and when social circumstances changed there would always be methods for rearranging meanings while still keeping the illusion of eternal circular history. Is this not precisely what Levi-Strauss' structuralism is about: a fixed set of signs that can be recoded and rearranged so that a society can both change cultural meanings will not purporting to do so on the level of the signifier.
  2. Of course structuralism has been superseded entirely by various post-structuralist readings. Nevertheless I wonder if the ideas of the postmodern (which is increasingly fading to obscurity) overplay a "newness" of cultural forms with its emphasis on floating signifiers, remixing  etc etc. Under postmodernism we are presented with a view that modernity abolishes all inherited meaning in favour of a capitalist culture that constantly churns meaning and signs, and this further suggests that an "authentic" relation of meaning is foreclosed owing to a condition in which signs no longer are attached to referents so much as other signs. I wonder now if this reading misses a possible cultural development in which this process reaches a point of entropy and stabilises over time into a new fixed set of forms, albeit expanded. Or alternatively, whether this represents not a methodological change of meaning production (eg through media etc) but rather a highly individualised culture in which these meanings can be democratically remixed, and while this leads to an increased dynamism, is in fact no less of a fixed palette. I thus wonder whether this is equatable to a stabilisation of the social order as certain modes of resistance run their course, and we continue along the axis of the "post-political" which is some way might suggest a finite palette of signifiers.
  3. In Levi-Strauss structuralism we are presented with a fixed set of signs as a readable system that progresses by way of homology or a transposed topological mapping, that is: A is to X what B is to Y and C is to Z. And while the reductionist simplicity of this model is appealing and implementable, it has been criticised  by Clifford Geertz, to take just one example , who said that Levi-Strauss was merely seeking to project a French Enlightenment paradigm of  "a rational,universal, eternal, and thus (in the great tradition of French Moralism) virtuous mind." So equally perhaps traditional cultures were not dealing with fixed palettes quite to the extent that Levi-Struass wished to suggest.

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