taste and the worthiness of life

The logic of “[Number of] [things] you must [activity] before you die” is found in books (about films, music, etc.) and magazines, and is a wonderful indictment of bourgeois life. ‘Must do before you die’ is a translation of ‘your life is meaningless… unless you do these things’.

The ‘must’ is meant to be read as a directive, or ‘command’ as psychoanalysts say, but it can also be read as a pleading, like a little kid begging for some sticky sugared preservatives in the shape of sub-tropical fruit. This sort of desperation opens up a savage existential chasm that operates on my guilt; I really can’t resist it. To the bourgies living in the existential desert of their own lives, I would be the one to say, “Oh, ffs… Let them eat cake.”

As Mel notes, the cultural activities and ‘things’ in this list seem to be an expression of strict bourgeois taste and correlative social formations. She argues that what the magazine article misses are the simple pleasures in life, or rather the meaning produced within situations that does not come from how exotic the ‘thing’ is. This is a kind of bottom-up valorisation of events that in turn relies on valorising a certain social machinery of valorisation. It needs a mobile disposition for selecting worthy moments from the everyday and an ethics of cultivating the way such moments accelerate and carry you along, so the everyday folds into itself and crosses some sort of threshold felt in the body and remembered in its emphemerality.

I wonder if anyone would attempt to complete the 20 things on the list? Or would they suffer a worse fate than simply holding onto the list as a hopeless goal and that is to make it halfway through the list only to realise that their activities are fueled by the paranoia of having lived a worthless life? By pursuing such monumental cliches that their life becomes a monument to this meaningless paranoid will-to-meaningfulness.

The logic of the recent film The Bucket List is a dramatisation of exactly this process. Both of the terminally-ill men who seek to complete the must-do’s on a list of must-do-before-we-die’s realise what they actually find worthy in life after all their fantasies have been realised. (Of course, Morgan Freeman’s character can’t complete his real dream of becoming a university professor because he has devoted his life to his family…)


I’ve been having a few bookish ideas of late. Not ideas that indicate I am of a ‘bookish’ disposition, which, of course, I am, but ideas for producing a book… or two. (And why isn’t the study of ideas called ideology?) I have been doing research online reading various information sheets from different publishers on how to transform one’s dissertation into a book. I am not too interested in an attempt at a wholesale publication of it as a single work.

My first idea is to produce a popular history of the scene of modified-car culture in Australia. I have about 60% of the content done, including most of the hard work of actually figuring out what happened. This part would be derived from my dissertation. I am thinking the history will be organised as a genealogy of various issues. For example, the first chapter would be on the importance of the ‘street’ in Australian modified-car culture, so I’d follow the current usage of ‘street’ back to 1973 and the formation of the Australian Street Rod Federation (and the Australian National Drag Racing Association) from the Australian Hot Rod Federation. The ‘street’ side of rodding split with the ‘drag’ side (ie organised motorsport). Next would be a chapter on the road registration/engineering of modified cars followed by another on the transition from rodding and panel vanning in the 1970s to street machining in the 1980s. Then on processes of globalisation and the near-death of the V8 in the early 1980s, and the spectacularisation of the scene, etc.

The historical stuff is sorely needed in the scene to give enthusiasts some awareness (‘consciousness’) of what has gone on and how the scene has developed. There have been a handful of similar books in Australia in the past. Most have not been written histories as much as they have been pictorial accounts of the past. One was an attempt at a kind of social analysis of the 1970s mucle car era. This failed because I don’t think the author or publisher realised that hoons and car dudes simply don’t go into bookshops to buy books. You need to take the books to them, i.e. set up a stall at every major car show event on the eastern seaboard for a year. Robert Post did the same thing with his history of US drag racing. In Australia, most (about 5 or 6 different shows) get more than 20-25,000 people through the gates. Summernats gets 80-100,000. Not all of the same demographic or market. All would be catered for in my book, however. Only 10% of the enthusiast market (of at least the 120,000 enthusiasts I guestimate who regularly purchase the main 5-6 car mags every month) would need to buy the book for it to be a success. I think it would have broader appeal though…

So I have started writing the introduction, and it is so much fun. I am writing in similar style to that of when I used to write for car magazines. It is almost poetic. While I aimed for conceptual precision and evidential competence in my dissertation, now I am aiming for expressive style. I have a few ideas about the layout, too. It would follow more the magazine-style (which in this context would almost be text book style!) of ‘breakout boxes’ for side stories and the like. (Latour did it in Reassembling the Social.)

I am not sure if this is the sort of thing that I could apply in the hope of postdoc funding? I am a bit sick and tired of the fucked university system at the moment after weeks of fine-paying and logon-details waiting. I would much rather fund it myself as the labor intensive hoop-jumping that I see my colleagues and mates perform really doesn’t interest me. The lumbering hulk of university bureaucracy inculcates a kind of organisational stupidity that I detest. Not that people who work at universities are stupid, but that they need to perform their jobs as if they were stupid. I don’t want that sort of burden. If I can get a few regular teaching gigs, then i would rather fund myself. Maybe I can’t? See what happens.

The other 40% content will come from interviews I hope to do with important people who played important parts in this history. I need the authenticity of their stories and their knowledge of events to fact-check the accounts I have gleamed from magazine archival work. I reckon this would be fun as it would require carrying out a whole bunch of interviews with very fascinating people.

The other book is a fuck-off theory number. I think called something like: “Enthusiasm: The ontology of the challenge” (Has anyone else noticed how often the word ‘challenge’ is being used at the moment?) Anyway, it would also be written in a performative expressive style, but in such a way to present a challenge and inaugurate a different kind of enthusiasm… Not sure about this one. It would be quite short, 4 or 5 chapters at most. It has to be some viscious sinister-looking thing, with a matt black cover and metallic chrome writing.

First I need to graduate and let the monstrous infantilising machine of the university do its thing.

Eventalization and Popular Culture

Below is an edited extract from my dissertation. In it I discuss my use of Foucault’s historical method, which I term, following Foucault, ‘eventalization’. It does not include any of the actual historical work and is selected from roughly 15 pages of one chapter. Plus, to conform to the blogging form, some of the footnotes have been included in the text, while others have been deleted. I am posting it here to give some of my students a sense of what it means to follow Foucault’s method beyond simply using the philosophical concepts (‘theory’) he created through his method.

Continue reading “Eventalization and Popular Culture”

Depressed Blog

Via Ars Technica

Those that are intending to blog score higher on some measures of distress, including anxiety, depression, and stress. They rate themselves as less socially integrated (both online and in the interpersonal world), tend to blame themselves for their problems, and attempt to cope via venting. This profile overlaps that of people who maintain a traditional journal, who also show more signs of psychological distress and attempt to cope via venting.