Photo: iPhone surrounded by its future. Photo taken in my 1973 Chevy Van.
Welcome to the debris of the present. I'm reviving my heretofore "silent" blog about my life and
work. A trip to Las Vegas in August of 2006, my first, was the impetus
behind the creation of this blog. Intending to record my thoughts and
impressions of the quintessential "postmodern" city, more research journey to the heart of 21st century modernity than a standard vacation, I lugged along my
hard-back copy of Walter Benjamin's Arcades Project
, the RE/Search Conversations
with J.G. Ballard, and a biography of Guy Debord. Of course, I found
myself spending more time configuring Moveable Type and setting up my
blog than actually writing. I love things that are broken, ruined,
decaying, lost, useless, forgotten, and ignored. In short, the debris of the present. And my first trip to Las Vegas didn't disappoint on this score. One of my favorite sites from this trip is already gone, lost to the unrivaled pace of economic development on the Strip: an old abandoned and graffiti-marked water park, Wet n-Wild, with weeds growing in it, a beautiful ruin. This, for me, was my image of Vegas: dust, ruin, decay and the politics of water. In 2007 it was announced that developers planned to build an 1888 foot hotel tower and mega resort on the site of this abandoned water park. This image reminds us that all that is "new" on the strip will one day be, as David Wojnarowicz once so eloquently wrote of our modernity, "picturesque ruins." The Las Vegas mega resort as dust. It's no surprise that in the neighborhood of Las Vegas once called the "Naked City," named for its crime, seediness, and lower class denizens (prostitutes, minorities), is now home to an art gallery called "Dust." (I'll have more to say about this in my work-in-progress, "Las Vegas, Capital of the 21st Century.")
An immanently intelligent culture of the "lost" can be
most keenly seen in the area of music and the phenomenon of the
reissue. There has been a veritable explosion in the reissue of
previously "lost" and "unknown" music from the 1960's and 70's:
everything from obscure psychedelic bands, "progressive" rock, folk
music, glam, to sunshine pop and easy listening. Music that had almost
entirely disappeared, records that went virtually unheard, and even
recordings that were made but never issued, are now being released at a
record pace. This usage and discovery of cultural debris--what was lost
in and to the past, to the present of another time--is a testament to
this redemptive intelligence.
And this redemptive intelligence is, in turn, a kind of testament (a
testimony) to the fact that nothing in the present can be allowed to
exist: nothing new, different, unique. Perhaps there is some way for us
to make use of this predicament. What can it mean to think a work that
cannot "exist" until its time, its moment, has already passed? This, I
believe, is part of our contemporary condition. Blogs, it seems to me,
are less concerned with the "past" than recording whatever happens the
minute that it happens. This is a major disadvantage to
thought. Giorgio Agamben once told me that he had a deep distrust for
epistemology. In a public speech he delivered in August of 2002, he put
the reasons for his mistrusts in this way: "I don't like these kind of
problems. I always have the impression, as once Heidegger put it, that
we have here people busy sharpening knives when there is nothing left
to cut" ("What is a Paradigm?"--Please
note that the transliteration of this speech contains numerous, and
often humorous, errors). This is how I feel about blogs. They seem much
more interested in "using up" thought than in giving expression to
it--to the intelligence of a life, and of the lives, which circulate
around them. A blog about the debris of the present, of our modernity, seems like an oxymoron. What is at stake in this is to remain attuned to the excluded of the present--to what has been, and
continues to be, lost to our time. I have to say it: I am a reissue.
Reissues are much closer to my speed than blogs. After effects. After affects.
Perhaps by giving expression to a present that is always being lost we
can create a reissue of it. That is, we can give expression to what has
been excluded in and by the present moment (including ourselves). To think the debris of the
present is to think a present that has been lost to itself, to its
time. In this way, thought becomes an affirmative act of redemption.
Thought becomes possible. Moreover, to think the belonging of the present is to
think that which does not belong to it. But this is entirely unexpected.
I want this blog to be close to life and personal--in a singular
sense--yet giving expression to the immanent intelligence of cultural
practices and productions that are often neglected, ignored, or treated
as "stupid." Immanence means that intelligence is everywhere,
particularly in those places where we least expect to find it. My
experience has been, both culturally and with my students, that if you
look in unexpected places, you find the unexpected. Most of our
culture, particularly academic culture, is always in the process of
trying to keep up with itself. More often than not, this results in a
race past . . . life, past what Michel Foucault once beautifully
referred to as "that which is capable of error." In this process, which
Debord called the spectacle and Agamben calls the exception, the
unexpected, the different, life, all become the debris of the present.
What would we hear, I wonder, if we slowed down, even for a moment . .
. if we interrupted this process and listened to the echo of that
debris? Listening to what was thought but never said, seeing or
exposing what was created but never exposed, never exhibited, never
shown: these are all vital for thinking the intelligence of
potentiality. That is, an immanent thought of the present.
In writing this "welcome," I am reminded of my own unfinished and
unpublished work on experimental lounge, pop, the concept of
"sweetness," the 8-track tape as a "dialectical image," and post-war music. In addition to my thoughts and
reflections on Vegas, and other cultural observations, I hope to post
sections of my own lost work on post-war music, entitled "Sweetness," on this blog. Some of
this work, I hope, will eventually find its way into my
work-in-progress, Gestures of Love.
Welcome to the debris of the present.
Photo: iPhone surrounded by its future. © 2008 Robert C. Thomas
Image and content © 2006 - 2008 Robert C. Thomas