Futures and closures

On fictional times, media distortions, being human and cultural criticism.

Visions of alternatives worlds can provide a form of escape and solice whilst also acting as an all-too-real reminder of what might be. The ongoing uncertainty and incomprehension have pushed many towards fiction as they try to make sense of what is happening. Some of this writing and reflection has drawn on pandemic literature, others have worked with various other imagined futures to think about what might come next. This reflective and thoughtful piece by Gavin Jacobson on the 2006 film Children of Men is particularly good. Its discussion of the film is accompanied by some reflection on how fictional futures have provoked critical thinking now and in the past.

Being…

Some of the themes in Jacobson's piece are also implicit in my colleague Amanda Rees’ co-authored book Human, which has just been published by Reaktion. It was written with Charlotte Sleigh and explores the history of the human. In terms of the remit of this newsletter, it is worth noting that it contains a chapter on machines. The book seeks to disrupt blunt thinking on the category of the human. The book poses lots of topical questions through its historical reflections. The opening chapter closes with this provocation:

‘Humanity, we suggest, is something that cannot be defined, and perhaps should not even be thought of as species-bound. Instead, it is the act of inclusion - not the content of what, or who, is included - that frames humanity. Humanity, if it exists at all, can never be claimed or conferred but exists in the fragile, fleeting act of conferral…’

Framing…

Like fiction, art can often inspire social thinking. Austin Harrington has collected, edited and introduced a volume of Georg Simmel's writings on art and aesthetics. It's out very soon with Chicago University Press. I've been keeping an eye out for this. If I get time, I'm hoping to write about it. The collection looks brilliant and Simmel is always worth investing time in reading. The book gathers together more than 40 of Simmel's pieces. The work I've read by Simmel on art is really creative, often its about the art whilst also opening creative angles on other questions.

Fragments…

Whilst on Simmel, my book Georg Simmel's Concluding Thoughts, which came out last year, has now also been published in paperback. It's still expensive, but I thought I'd mention it in case you are interested. There are two chapters in there that work closely with Simmel's book on Rembrandt's portraits.

Distorted…

Elinor Carmi, whose work on ‘rhythmedia’ I mentioned in a recent newsletter, has given an interview to the New Books Network podcast on her recent book Media Distortions. The interview offers some nuanced discussion on information circulations.

Masking…

Marianne Clark and Clare Southerton at the Vitalitues Lab at the UNSW in Sydney have written a detailed blog post on the intimacy of the face mask. This struck me as being an important part of understanding the materiality and affect of face coverings, especially as we adjust to wearing them more frequently:

‘Though the thrust of these debates largely focuses on whether masks do or do not ‘work’, there are also social, political and bodily dimensions of mask wearing (or not wearing) that merit attention. Over time, and in some situations, it may become an ordinary thing to wear a mask. Nevertheless the practice of wearing a mask requires some getting used to. It changes our bodily habits, takes on different meanings, and evokes physical and emotional responses from both those who choose (or are required to) wear a mask and those who choose not to.’

Letters…

I subscribe to Ian Leslie's newsletter The Ruffian. It usually contains links to interesting things and some reflections, but here is a recent special post on the forces at play in ordinary interactions.

Social mirrors…

The growth of TikTok has been one of the main developments in social media in the last year. Here is Rob Horning reflecting on its appeal, which he explores from the perspective of its particularly sensitive algorithm:

‘That is where the algorithms come into play. The endless consumption dissolves the self, but algorithms reconstitute it externally, and presenting it to a user. In the process, algorithms train users in what is supposed to be “fun” — what links that dispersed self back to them — reinforcing lessons we have already absorbed from other entertainment forms. But this is not at the level of content (it doesn’t matter what the TikToks are “about) but in an orientation toward time: Time needs to be “consumed” so that we can realize ourselves as having recognizable interests, so that we can produce ourselves as a “self” through consumption. It doesn’t matter what specific sort of thing Spotify or TikTok recommends to us, only that it continues to do so.’

Horning uses the piece to explore the role of algorithms in shaping and reflecting notions of the self.

Of course, much of the discussion of TikTok at the moment concerns its potential ban and who might own it. Current stories are about Twitter's potential purchase of part of the TikTok operation. The social media ecology continues to change.

Connectivity…

WeChat, the world's third largest social media platform, is owned by Tencent. There's an article on this holding company here.

Last issue…

I mentioned in a previous newsletter that Q magazine was likely to close - at the time it wasn't definite but it still seemed inevitable. It turned out, sadly, that it has now published its last issue. Below is editor Ted Kessler's final editorial. I wonder now where this leaves music journalism, in the UK that is. There are still some small magazines and some remaining national titles, but there must now be very few people working as full time music journalists. This does pose questions about the role of cultural criticism - which, of course, still exists but is changing in form along with the media environment.

A time of closures.

davidbeer.net

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