Currently knocking up the first chapter of my dissertation on the history of contemporary modified-car culture. There are a number of interesting thought-problems I have been playing with regarding the nature of historical inquiry, genealogy, and the contemporary.
First, part of what I am doing is offering some background for readers of my dissertation who have no idea about modified-car culture. I am thinking anyone who marks my thesis will have no idea, so it is an obvious strategic move. Second, I investigate the emergence of contemporary modified-car culture with the emergence of street machining. I locate the emergence of street machining in the context of broader shifts that were occuring in the ‘parent’ culture regarding changes to class structures and other events from the mid-1970s on in Australia.
The major chunk of my primary source material for the history of contemporary modified-car culture comes from car magazines. The first part draws on Van Wheels and Street Machine magazine and regular readers of my blog will know all about this. The next part looks at the rise of the Fours scene with Hot 4s and Fast Fours. Next on the hitlist I am calling ‘the rise of the imports’. Here I am looking at Autosalon magazine and a few others from Express Publications.
What has had me stumped is how to think the connection between the brute facts of what I find in the magazines, the tendencies that I am abstracting from these brute facts, and the relation between these tendencies and broader cultural shifts or formations. On one level it is a history, in the sense I am representing the past, but it is also a problematic history as I am opening up the events which become serialised as a history. In this sense it is a genealogy. One way I have been thinking about it is in terms of a history of modified-car culture as a genealogy of general car culture. The below is an extract from early in the (very much an unfinished rough draft!!!) chapter where I get hot rods out of the way:
It is with the event of planned obsolescence â€“ regular models of limited â€˜superficialâ€™ differentiation and the resultant high turnover in a relatively saturated new car market â€“ that produced the first substantial second-hand car market and junkyards full of worn out and broken cars. However, even before market of second-hand and junk cars reached such a number, which allowed for the counter-production of jalopies, another prior event needs to be taken into account. The Fordist assembling-line mode of producing cars with regulated, interchangeable parts not only meant that cars could be built faster and cheaper, it also herald the emergence of a more tactical mode of consumption that relied on the inherent interchangeability of car parts. The high numbers of car parts and cars on the second-hand and junk markets, because of planned obsolescence, and their interchangeable nature as products of Fordist manufacturing methods were the two necessary conditions for the emergence of the jalopy-cum-hot-rod.
Of course, I am using ‘event’ in a particular way. What I have found very useful is a brief essay by Colwell on Deleuze and Foucault: Series, Event, Genealogy. It is written in the ‘French’ style, i.e. without proper Anglophone referencing, so that is annoying. Anyway, Colwell engages with Foucault/Nietzsche’s method via a Deleuze-eye. Conclusion to his argument is thus:
History, as opposed to genealogy, is the ordering of events in a single series that repeats those events within narrowly defined limits; it is for all intents and purposes the repetition of the Same. History is a narrative that reduces the problematic nature of the events it addresses to problems that have solutions; solutions that are also repetitions of the Same; solutions that re-impose or attempt to re-impose the values imbedded in a long history of errors. History is the reproduction of a social memory that reproduces the tradition and imbeds it in our psyches, our social relations and our institutions. History actualizes, materializes that tradition.
Genealogy is the attempt to re-serialize events. Again, genealogy does not invent, discover or emphasize new or different events nor does it re-interpret events in order to discover hidden or sedimented meanings that have been neglected by the tradition. It is the attempt to counter-actualize the event, to return, in one form or another, to the virtual structure of the event in order to re-problematize the event. The goal is not to find a new solution, to ‘fix’ history, to offer a better or truer history or account of the past. The goal is to make the problem problematic, to make it a real problem once again, a problem we no longer know the answer to but for which we are compelled to find solutions.
What happens when you create a sacrificial history for the sake of producing a problematised genealogy if no history already exists?
I use the events of general car culture to think contemporary modified-car culture and then feed the tension between the two — exactly what is different in the differential repetition expressed as the actualisation of a shared event — back into the ‘parent’ culture. I am inspired by the old school subcultural theory, but I am taking it on a tangent through a Deleuze/Foucault nexus so it is supercharged — ‘event style’!