Culture

Nothing's gonna stop the flow

Alan Jacobs, responding to Peggy Nelson's celebration of the flow, asks:

In the Flow, are “listening” and “consuming” distinguishable activities?

That's an interesting distinction: Listening, if I'm reading Jacobs right, is way of appropriating knowledge that is not simultaneously productive or at once situated in an exchange process, as the word "consuming" implies. The digitally mediated flow seeks to make any noneconomic responsiveness to art or culture or anything else in life more or less impossible -- or at least ideologically undesirable. Why just attend a lecture when you can liveblog it and "add value" with your coverage?

The implied imperative in Web 2.0 is to make all consumption productive and allows us to avoid the ignominious fate of becoming a passive consumer -- the straw-man figure of our era who represents the inauthentic conformist couch potato who has surrendered all agency. Perhaps no subject position has been more demonized than that one in late-capitalist consumerism, as various investigations of the rebel consumer illustrate.

The flow basically eliminates the lag time that listening presupposes, the space in which a more considered response can germinate (if warranted). You might call it the space that makes a deliberate aesthetic possible. (Ross Douthat suggests this space for contemplative reading is becoming a luxury, a class-based privilege contingent on being to afford a distraction-free retreat. I would add that it's also a matter of class whether one feels impelled to be relevant through accelerated productive consumption or whether one will be confident of one's relevance as a matter of habitus.) If the immediate aesthetic response is simply a coded form of obedience to existing relations of power, the social order inscribing itself on our hearts as Eagleton argues, then obviating the space of rumination reinforces the aesthetic's ideological function. We can't dispense with the aesthetic, which allows for real experiential pleasure, a pleasure that seems to resound deep within us and call forth a certain holistic sense of ourselves that is wedded to enduring ideals of the good. But when we make our aesthetic response more deliberate, there is a chance to align our pleasure with our identity with consciously affirmed social ideals.

The real-time revolution, the rise of the flow, basically requires all responses be even more spontaneous than aesthetic approval or else be forgotten and ignored as everyone moves on with the tide of events. From the perspective of real-time hegemony, listening is an arrogant effort to arrest the flow of events rather than swim with them and contribute to the flow's momentum. Trying to stand still amid the flow, to stop and listen, to focus longer than the flow's pace permits, is to ask to be drowned as the flood washes over you.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


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Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

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Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

In a staid city like Washington, D.C., too many concert programs still stick to the basics. An endless litany of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky concerti clog the schedules and parades of overeager virtuosi seem unwilling to vary their repertoire for blasé D.C. concertgoers. But occasionally you encounter a concert that refreshes your perspective of the familiar. The works presented at The Kennedy Center on 25 October 2017 might be stalwarts of 20th century repertoire, but guest conductor Antonio Pappano, leading the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, reminded us how galvanizing the canonical can still be. Though grandiose executions of Respighi's The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome were the main event, the sold-out crowd gathered to see Martha Argerich perform one of her showpieces, Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto. Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

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Rather than once again exploring the all-too-familiar territory of Dickens' A Christmas Carol, Samantha Silva's debut novel contextualizes the work's origins and gets inside the mind of its creator.


Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol has been told and retold so many times over the years that, by this point, one might be hard-pressed to find a single soul evenly glancingly familiar with western culture who isn't at least tangentially acquainted with the holiday classic. This is, of course, a bit of holiday-themed hyperbole, but the fact remains that the basic premise of A Christmas Carol has become so engrained in our culture that it would seem near impossible to imagine a time prior to its existence. It's universally-relatable themes of the power of kindness, redemption and forgiveness speaks to the heart of the Christmas season – at least as it has been presented in the 174 years since it was first published in 19 December 1843 -- just in time for Christmas.

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