Nihilist Pop Culture: Consumed by the Insignificant

What I am now going to relate is the history of the next two centuries. I shall describe what will happen, what must necessarily happen: the triumph of Nihilism. (Friedrich Nietzsche, Will to Power)

One of my goals for the course is to render students incapable of watching TV and film in the passive, mildly vegetative state to which they are accustomed. […] The inability of people to be affected by things like that, a general apathy with regard to things happening outside their immediate frame of reference, is terrifying. This class is about a society consumed by the insignificant. (Thomas Hibbs, Shows About Nothing: Nihilism in Popular Culture from ‘The Exorcist’ to ‘Seinfeld’.)

We need more nihilist popular culture

Writing in Havard’s undergraduate student newspaper about the film Se7en, David H. Goldbrenner, argues that nihilistic popular culture is damaging:

This is why nihilistic pop culture and art are so detrimental.  They help perpetuate the most damaging and destructive attitude that a free and democratic society can hold:  that life is not worth living and that all our efforts will eventually lead to pain and disappointment.  The most frustrating aspect of this is that often such thought is not expressed genuinely but rather because it will shock and entertain and earn a profit.

This is born of common (and often religious) interpretation of nihilism; that it is a state of social being without transcendental values; transcendental values include ‘objectivity’, ‘morality’ and various political manifestations. I suggest everyone reads Nietzsche’s Will to Power, in particular the first sections on nihilism, for two reasons. Firstly, for critics of nihilism, Nietzsche is clearly the primary enemy. Secondly, ‘nihilism’ is not some fantastical apprehension of existential meaninglessness; or it is, but this observation has become banal. We cannot escape from nihilism. Therefore, it is necessary to go to war or fall in love, at least in an existential sense.

To help contemporary audiences when reading Neitzsche, I suggest that you imagine you are reading a blog of someone who you suspect to be mildly insane.

For Nietzsche, as he writes in the preface, nihilism is a historical passage of development through which future societies shall necessarily pass. This is not like Marx’s historical determinism; Nietzsche is instead suggesting it shall be born of its own advent. That is, there shall be an intuitive or qualitative leap whereby the European Nihilist (aka Nietzsche) “has already outlived the Nihilism in his own soul — who has outgrown, overcome, and dismissed it.” Neitzsche’s Will to Power should therefore be read as a guide: How To Survive Nihilism.

The species of nihilism that Neitzsche wrote about in the late-nineteenth now has siblings. To think nihilism as an event (of society, of social relations, of the mind and in bodies) is to appreciate how it can be repeated in different ways. I want to explore the contemporary nihilism evident in popular culture and the culture of the popular. I want to think through both meanings of the phrase “society consumed by the insignificant”: a preoccupation with the trivial and the consumption of society itself.

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Utopia5

The Birth of Expectation

To appreciate the repetition of nihilism means to aske the question, from where does nihilism emerge? Before nihilism, there are only transcendental values. Transcendental values serve as an antidote against practical and theoretical nihilism. In Nietzsche’s era these were primarily Christian values of morality (WtP, pages 8-9). I don’t think this is the case anymore.

Now it is a more complex question, worthy of our developments in the sciences and arts, of predictive extrapolations from the present (algorithmic or otherwise)[1. Witness the 2012 US Presidential election and the battle of data-driven expectations between the two major parties. One was governed by providing the correct answers and the other by asking the correct answers. In both cases the future was furnished with a certain kind of expectation that governed the present.] and governed by expectation:

  1. Transcendental values bestow an intrinsic value upon the world, including the values of humans and anything else. Liberal humanism is a derivation of this.[2. It is what Helen Razer is writing against, in part, in her piece about feminism.] It means you only have to believe and not do any work in appreciating structures of valorisation that everday life enters into as a kind of ritualised gladitorial combat. Everyday our values slay the meaninglessness of its own battle first and then every other violence posed by the question.
  2. There is an unthinking simplicity to the perfection produced by transcendental values. The perfection here is of a particular order. It is not the perfection of neoplatonic forms.[3. For example, there is no such thing as ’roundness’ or a ‘curve’. A circle is a series of points equidistant from another point. There is no ‘circle’ to represent the perfection of ’roundness’.] The purest expression of this in the contemporary state of affairs is the utter stupidity of justification via expectation: “What else do you expect?” This is ironically lampooning of the use of ‘shock’ in journalistic headlines: “Politician in Lying Shock” or “Celebrity in Sex Scandal Shock”. None of these are actual shocks. I’d be shocked to find someone shocked by them. The superposition of expectation introduces the same teleological inevitability once granted solely to Good and Evil. Beyond the Expected and Unexpected!
  3. The persecution of reality by transcendental values approaches its apogee through knowledge that ‘everyone’ knows. Everyone does not know it, but ‘everyone’ does. Here, expectation of something expectedly shared annihilates difference; that is, the differentials of culture that actually produce meaning. Entire fields of knowledge are organised around bestowing an adequate perception of these most important things, whatever they are, to the everyday innovators of expectation (through Ideas Worth Spreading). Everyone has the ‘right’ to participate in the glorious pursuit over expectation, where we truly value your ‘voice’ because it ‘matters’.[4. An excellent test to carry out before you say or write anything is what difference is being made (if any) or what difference are you attempting to reproduce by governing the future.]
  4. Neitzsche argued that the transcendental values of Morality were a measure of self-preservation, to prevent ‘man’ from despising ‘himself’ as ‘man’. Knowledge, he argued, could drive a ‘man’ to despair. Indeed. After the death of God, what possible hope is there? Well, hope itself; hope in hope. Hope is the handmaiden of expectation. Hope bestows expectation with a robustness that only a nihilist would seek to liquidate. Hope prepares humanity to attend the future; both to be present and to worry over it. A future governed by expectation. If the transcendental values of Christian Morality confected the righteous in Nietzsche’s era, then it is now hope itself that fills ‘man’ up when self-awareness empties ‘him’. The awesome power of contemporary predictive algorithms to ‘recommend’ a given passage of action (this book/food/elected official is an appropriate choice) is built over the heads of ‘men’ as though they were the will of ‘himself’ and, at best, a hope of a world to come. Hence, the future itself has become the operative outside of expectation.[5. It is the future that serves as the ‘authority’ of expectation, to use Nietzsche’s terms, this authority “would know how to speak unconditionally, and could point to goals and missions” (WtP, pages 19-20). For Nietzsche these goals and missions are simulacrum populated by Christian Morality, I am suggesting the constellation of relations represented by ‘expectation’ is captured by the ‘point’ action itself.]

In the contemporary era, expectation is a mobile constellation of relations, unburdened by the tradition of tradition.[6. Except, of course, when tradition is inverted, like a demonic cruxifiction, to project a field of possible futures. Witness the way all people enduring a healthy sense of the ethical grind their teeth when having to live in countries with inhospitable policies of migration. The ‘nation’ is hoisted like wet laundry upon a clothes line in the backyard of banal expectations: not in my backyard. ‘My’ and ‘mine’ is an ‘adequate perception’ of ‘ours’ backformed from a possible future governed by the ‘nation’.] Like Nietzsche’s Christian Morality (WtP, page 9), this mobile constellation of relations are fuelled by the despair of ever freeing ourselves from them. Hence, we crawl out of the slums of our expectedly shared telos, grappling with the zombie bodies and minds of the otherwise disaffected who can’t go on, but nevertheless go on. This is the stage of the transvaluation of all values.

Neitzsche only had to contend with the differential repetition of one set of transcendental values, but now the constellation of relations between elements in the present, but also through relations to the past and future, that manifest this teleology of expectation broken from its traditional transcendental mooring; it has become Mad Max surveying the wasteland of tomorrow — an immanent mobile force forever pursuing the fuel that will propel it on, on, on. Hope. Are you a student of opportunity?

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Utopia3

Anchors of Affect

There is an aesthetics of nihilism. (Are you excited? What are you excited about? I am very excited… but I don’t know why.) The comically stupid interpretations of nihilistic culture appreciate a nihilistic aesthetic to be one of violence, sex, depravity and so on; essentially, anything resonant with a moral wasteland that expresses the loss of transcendental values (such as Christian Morality).

Nope.

An aesthetics of nihilism is one that appreciates the “long waste of strength, the pain of ‘futility’, uncertainty, the lack of opportunity to recover in some way, or to attain to a state of peace concerning anything — shame in one’s own presence, as if one had cheated oneself too long…” (WtP, page 12). The goal of all expectation is that something be attained: what is the return on investment? Are you excited? What are you excited about? The nihilistic appreciates that even with a return, nothing is attained. Pure waste, but of degrees.

Like a future threat governing the present through technics and an apparatus of ‘risk’ [7. See Brian Massumi’s Future Birth of the Affective Fact], the relations of the present to the future pass through various systems of expectation. The future is anchored in the present through affect. How we feel about the future. ‘Hype’ does not simply bestow meaning upon some expected innovation, but on the innovators of expectations, and an entire apparatus of valorisation (‘optics’, targeting entire populations targeting ‘achievements’; now crowdsourced ‘likes’) through the felt-tendency expectedly shared through expectation with others. Are you excited? What are you excited about? You are already targeting the present under remote control from the future: celebrate the autoaffection of drones!

Measuring the “worth of the world according to categories that can only be applied to a purely fictitious world” (WtP, 15) produces an inevitable revulsion. Life itself is vulgarised (WtP, page 23). Coke does not sell us a drink, but a world within which the drink exists. [8. See Maurizio Lazzarato’s Struggle, Event, Media: The corporation does not generate the object (the commodity), but rather the world in which the object exists. Nor does it generate the subject (worker and consumer), but rather the world in which the subject exists.] We consume entire worlds. Quench your thirst and your appetite heralds entire worlds. You command this power to connect with entire systems of existential midwifery. Are you excited? What are you excited about? Was Nietzsche wrong to suggest that nihilism is premised on recognising there is no truth? Satisfaction terminates in the purpose of your appetite; this is the belief and truth of expectation.

Appetite here is of the body, but it is animated with the banal majesty of the future-present of meeting expectations. “Does what it says on the box.” “As advertised.” The consumer is entirely disenfranchised of dignity when following this trivial proscriptions. Hence, the manifest disgust when you begin wallowing in the consumption of this world projected by the futurity of “desiderata” (WtP, page 17). Alone with your excitement and the promise of world to come. I am very excited …but I don’t know why. “Give me a target!” demands the drone of futurity.

Is your excitement active or passive? Or, to ask this question another way, did you inherit your excitement? What were the conditions by which this excitement circulated? What are the vectors of its propagation? If you didn’t inherit this excitement, then how was it manifest? Is it part of a burning fury? Did your excitement bubble up through you? Nietzsche proposes two kinds of nihilism (WtP, page 21):

1. Nihilism as a sign of enhanced spiritual strength: active nihilism.

2. Nihilism as a sign of the collapse and decline of siritual strength: passive nihilism.

The nihilist’s capacity to act is increased (what Nietzsche calls “spiritual vigour”) when the goals or missions that once directed you are no longer suitable; the nihilist begins as an existential exploration: discover your own challenges. If you go on even when you cannot go on and subsume you own challenges according to the proscriptions of expectation, then your randomised playlist soundtrack will always and forever play cynicism. This is a passive nihilism, and the cynic’s capacity to act is diminished, like a fast food patron holding up the drive-thru line paralysed by indecision when choosing from the menu. Exhaustion should be welcomed as the inability to possibilise a future and transient zero-degree of nihilism.

If there is no truth, then first there cannot be appetite. The nihilist does not believe his or her own appetite[9. This is what Nietzsche calls the philosophical nihilist, one who “supposes theat the sight of such a desolate, useless Being is unsatisfying (…) and fills ‘him’ with desolation and despair” (WtP, page 30).]; hence, truth as the satisfaction in the termination of appetite fails to manifest. You feel it in your body; you reject entire worlds. Rather than grappling with the existential dimension of the abject, this is the abject on an existential level.

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Utopia4

Cultures of Nihilism

There are varieties of self-stupefaction manifest as attempts to escape nihilism. I think this is where most critics of nihilist popular culture fall short. They think they are critiquing nihilism, when they are actually critiquing the attempts to escape nihilism (not unlike the scene from Jurassic Park where the intrepid humans wonder at the grace of the stampeding herd and, just before they are almost wiped-out by the excited herd mentality, enters a species of monstrous hunter: ‘Nihilism’). Nietzsche isolates a few examples of such stupefaction:

  1. Rising above the malaise through emotional intoxification: this includes popular culture (‘music’), in scandal (‘cruelty of tragic joy of ruin of the noblest’), in blind enthusiasms (‘hatreds’).
  2. Escape by falling into an oppressive regime of documenting small joys. This includes attempts “to work blindly, like a scientific instrument” (WtP, page 24) or, as I suggest, a drone.
  3. Another form of stupefaction has developed in the ‘so-called’ networked society (the use of ‘so-called’ should signal that I am using a derivative of an ‘expectation’ that governs a certain discourse; the sheer fact that every who reads this knows to that which I am referring is proof). This is the stupefaction of belonging.

Imagine there is a global media culture. There isn’t a global media culture.

There is a global logistical network for the distribution of a limited number of cultural products that audiences imagine belong to a ‘global culture’. There is no outside point of reference for these audiences to gauge whether the cultural products are global or merely appear as global. This is not unlike the way a larger neighbour will dominate the everyday media culture of its smaller neighbour, but this presence is not reciprocated (US to Australia, Australia to New Zealand, and so on). The presumption of participatory relevance is premised on the material conditions for the distribution of culture and the speed with which audiences access these cultural products (such as a mass-synchronised ‘opening’ or ‘release’ that seduce audiences into believing they share the text, which they do not; they simply belong without possibly knowing what it is they belong to).

Of course, irrelevant participation does not preclude localised audience-based interpretations that produce the meaning of the cultural products — that is, the ‘text’ of the cultural product — that blossoms into a deep existential meaning for the audience. It is just such deep existential meaning is utterly irrelevant beyond a limited cloister of like-minded aficionados. The feeling of belonging to a mass cultural event, such as a mass-synchronised ‘opening’, is more of an expression of global culture than any normatively-considered, audience-produced meaning of the ‘text’. [10. There is a paradox here of rendering the audience irrelevant just as media companies mistakenly attempt to resuscitate their businesses by focusing on the audience; not unlike a lifeguard rescuing a drowning victim, while they are actually still drowning on barely remembered past success milked as they fellate their own decaying corporate bodies.]

Besides shared irrelevance, all that is left is a shared disdain. To produce belonging therefore requires a constant involution of immanent modes of belonging.  Shared disdain is another modality of the pessimism that heralds nihilism. Nihilism as the autoaffection of pessimism.

 

Boredom

The first post in a series on The Affective Cycle of Popular Culture on Boredom.

General disclaimer: It is the basis for a lecture on the topic. It is note-based without substantial examples and without any context-setting work for the readings (e.g. who is Kracauer and what was the intellectual context of his article?).

The two main readings for this fortnight are Siegfried Kracauer’s 1924 article “Boredom” espousing a ‘radical boredom’ and Paul Corrigan’s 1975 chapter in Resistance Through Rituals “Doing Nothing”.

Siegfried Kracauer’s 1924 “Boredom”
Kracauer is concerned that “the world makes sure that one does not find oneself”:

[O]ne’s spirit — which is no longer one’s own — roams endlessly out of night and into the night. If only it were allowed to disappear! But, like Pegasus on a carousel, this spirit must run in circles and may never tire of praising to high heaven the glory of a liqueur and the merits of the best five-cent cigarette. Some sort of magic spurs the spirit relentlessly amid the thousand electric bulbs, out of which it constitutes and reconstitutes itself into glittering sentences.

Kracauer raises the brief examples of the movie theater and radio as examples of activities whereby participants are occupied, but do not occupy their own will. “Silent and lifeless, people sit side by side as if their souls were wondering about far away. But these souls are not wandering according to their own preference; they are badgered by the news hounds, and soon no one can tell anymore who is the hunter and who is the hunted.”

Kracauer’s logic is thus: If you find yourself the object of boredom, forever trying to occupy yourself with something or another, to ward off boredom, then you are the subject of interests that are not your own. This is not an ideological struggle, although it may be expressed as such, it is primarily an affective struggle over one’s interest.

The only proper response then is to welcome boredom through an act of patience, “the sort of boredom specific to legitimate boredom”. Then, Kracauer argues, “one experiences a kind of bliss that is almost unearthly”. The world is transformed and you begin to notice that the landscape is populated in ways that you had not previously perceived. As a result your soul swells with a “great passion”.
Kant would’ve called this a mode of the aesthetic sublime and a product of supreme disinterested interest; an affect when joined with the idea of the good, or ‘enthusiasm’.

Paul Corrigan’s 1975 “Doing Nothing”
Corrigan’s chapter in Resistance through Rituals begins with a different set of problematics. During his fieldwork he discovered that the principle activity of ‘British subculture’ is in fact ‘doing nothing’. There are a number of components of “doing nothing”:

1) Talking. Firstly, the most common form of talking is the story. Stories are recounted following one of Sartre’s definitions of ‘adventure’ (from Nausea), where an adventure is defined not merely by the randomness of events or the level of excitement induced by participation in particular activities, no the criterion of adventure is that you do something worthy of talking about as a story afterwards. Most consumers are convinced that the world is full of such ‘adventures’; hence with the advent of social media such ‘talking’ has migrated online and we are inundated with regular people offering a running commentary on their everyday lives.

Secondly, Corrigan argues, the purpose of the talking is not so much to communicate, but to communicate the experience of talking. It is the act of telling the story that is important, not the subject of the story (which of course matters, but it is secondary). In Theodor Adorno’s infamous essay about the Culture Industry in which he attacks Jazz, he also notes a similar shared dimension of consumption that was not so much about being linked to a specific commodity, but more about ‘sharing good times’. The burden of exchanged-based valorisation versus aesthetic efficacy implicit in his infamous critique of commercial jazz – that “it is fine for dancing and dreadful for listening” – needs to be inverted by combining it with another of his observations in the same essay. He writes that in “Amercian conventional speech, having a good time means being present at the enjoyment of others, which in its turn has as its only content being present”. Adorno acknowledges, albeit in a dismissive fashion, the necessary role of affect in its movement across the bodies of others as being colloquially realised as ‘having a good time’. The more interesting observation is the relation of alterity implicit in the experience of a ‘good time’, that is being present at the enjoyment of others.

To shift registers from the interesting to the critical, the point is that through story telling the people taking part of the story telling event experience a sense of belonging; they were within this virtuosic dimension of the story telling and witnessed this virtuosic dimension mediated through the reactions and implication of other bodies in the event. It is what Brian Massumi calls becoming-together.

Notice how there does not have to be a commodity present here? One of the current functions of the marketing industry is to implicate commodities in the everyday adventures of consumers so consumers will tell stories about them, ie Word of Mouth advertising.

2) Weird Ideas. That major component of ‘doing nothing’, Corrigan (following his research subjects) calls ‘weird ideas’:

It is the ‘weird idea’ that represents the major something in ‘doing nothing’. In fighting boredom the kids do not choose the street as a wonderfully lively place, rather they look on it as the place where there is the most chance that something will happen. […] The weird ideas then are born out of boredom and the expectation of future and continuing boredom, and this affects the sort of weird ideas they are. A good idea must contain the seeds of continuing change as well as excitement and involvement.

Like Adorno’s consumers who ‘have a good time’ by ‘being present at the enjoyment of others’, Corrigan’s working class kids told stories to pass the time. Time, when “doing nothing”, is a burden as it populated with the expectation of future and continuing boredom. They go out looking for interesting things to occur — “we are not talking about boys going out on a Saturday night looking for milk bottles to smash, rather it is a purely interesting thing that occurs.” What is the relation then between interest/interesting things and the qualitative dimension of time? How interested do you have to be to have a good time? Or is it simply a case of being able to experience another person’s interest that makes the time good?

For Corrigan’s working class kids the alternative to ‘doing nothing’ in the street is staying at home with “Mum and Dad in the front room” or going to a venue like the Youth Club. In other words, activities that are sanctioned as morally appropriate by adults. Unlike Kracauer’s proto-consumers of the culture industry, Corrigan’s working class kids do not have access to cultural commodities that would be of interest to them. Undoubtedly, if there were interesting things to do then kids would not be hanging out in the streets. And yet, they do, because there is nothing else. They are not constrained by a cultural landscape saturated by advertising, which sends consumers off on a maze constructed by the expectations of others’ enjoyment; rather, their maze is overdetermined by their material conditions of existence.

The Affective Cycle of Popular Culture

I would like to teach a course called the “The Affective Cycle of Popular Culture”. Most courses on popular culture are organised around a particular segment of popular culture, such as an industry or particular form of cultural commodity, and then the cultural dimensions of this industry or cultural commodity. I would prefer to follow the ebbs and flows of engagement and disengagement of consumer subjectivity and the structural conditions that coalesce to produce such affective effects.

I am aiming to write a substantial blog post on each of the below topics, hopefully once per fortnight. The posts will not be complete lectures, for example I will not engage with any substantial examples, but they should communicate the substantial points for the given fortnight.

Boredom 1 February, 2011
I engage with Siegfried Kracauer’s 1924 article “Boredom” and Paul Corrigan’s 1975 chapter in Resistance Through Rituals “Doing Nothing”.

Distracting Interests (TBA)

Anxiety and Depression (TBA)

Enthusiasm (TBA)

Anticipation (TBA)

Nostalgia (TBA)

Events and Non-Events (TBA)

Differential Repetition (TBA)

Loyalty (TBA)

Politics (TBA)

Contemplating a Crackpot

Say you find yourself staring at an old pot. Your brain, being an incredibly sophisticated computer, immediately assesses that it’s an old pot, and that old pots are boring. It’s not going to dance, or sing heartbreaking songs of yesteryear. It won’t even rock gently in the breeze. It’s just going to sit there being a pot. Probably a broken one at that. If it was on television, they’d at least have the decency to back it with some upbeat techno while zooming in and out, and even then you’d immediately switch over. But instead, because you’ve got the misfortune of actually being there in front of it, surrounded by other people, you have to stand and look at the poxy thing for a minimum of 30 seconds before moving on to gawp at the next bit of old shit, or everyone’s going to think you’re a philistine. The same principle applies in art galleries and museums. They’re full of secretly bored people pulling falsely contemplative faces. It’s a weird mass public mime.

Even though it is depressing to watch, I like the TV show Nathan Barley, co-created as an adaptation from a a fake TV guide listing (TV Go Home) for a fake TV show called Cunt. (Here is a link to one of my more infamous blog posts, it is probably NWS if you live behind a coarse language firewall, but if you did, then why are you reading my blog?:)

The above block quote comes from the regular Guardian column of one of the co-creators of Nathan Barley and TV Go Home, Charlie Brooker. I was introduced to Charlie Brooker’s column by a friend with whom I share many similar tastes in popular culture consumption. Brooker is a funny bastard, I certainly grant him that. His column from the 22 June 2009 is about having an ‘interest’ (ie hobby) and the relation between this ‘interest’ and the practices of ‘interested’ people and the way Brooker has always turned his ‘interest’ into a job.

Brooker’s column makes fun of what he perceives to be the contemplative mode of engagement expressed through the practices of visitors to archaeological ruins as they pause and consider a broken pot. There is a rhythm to this practice, of walking, having one’s interest caught, gazing upon this object of interest and all the while contemplating something about it. The capacity to contemplate an object reminds me of the way Bourdieu wrote about the capacity of certain upper-class consumers of cultural artefacts. There is a pleasure in the nitty gritty of seeking these objects out, but the point is to index their particular significance. (See Hilary Geoghegan’s essay in the ‘Enthuse‘ special eissue of M/C Journal on Being Enthusiastic about Industrial Archaeology.) To realise their significance requires an informal (for amateurs) or formal (for scholars or professionals) inculcuration of these practices into the enthusiast habitus. At stake is a subcultural assessment of beauty. For Brooker there is no utility in a this kind of Kantian reflection on the ‘beauty’ of the broken pot. The Bourdieuian would simply retort Brooker is not properly equipped to contemplate the broken pot’s beauty nor have the cultural capital to realise its significance.

I am not a Bourdieuian, however. I appreciate Bourdieu’s work and what he has given to the social sciences. I prefer to take another position, one that incorporates what, following Deleuze, is the virtual dimension of the cracked pot. Think about an amatuer archeologist’s practice. They come across several if not dozens of such artefacts similar to the cracked pot in their leisure-time labour. The great joy of such amateurs, just as it is for any subcultural practice organised around the indexing and cataloguing of significant cultural artefacts, is when something that might be an artefact does not fit into the schema of the established typology.

Bourdieu went to great pains to point out the class bias in Kant’s philosophy of aesthetic judgement. But what if Bourdieu was wrong to focus on aesthetic judgement and instead should have engaged with Kant’s notion of enthusiasm to describe the cultural practices of his research subjects? Participating in a cultural formation does not only require a cultural competence, it also requires one to be mobilised. The mobilisation was assumed in Bourdieu’s account; it is a variable he took out of his analysis of formations of cultural consumption and their intersection with class-based social stratifcations. Surely everyone has met people who belong to a particular social milieu but who choose not to particpate in the practices of cultural consumption ‘expected’ of such a social positioning?

The amateur archeologists as well as many other enthusiasts are forced to use their respective powers of imagination. The broken pot has a biography, its surface and its cracks are traces of events that have been inscribed upon it. Part of the work of the enthusiast is to decipher these material signs of its biography. For example, enthusiasts in modified-car culure can ‘read’ the material signs of a car and reconstruct the ‘amount of work that has gone into it’, which would be similar to an archeologist exclaiming to how much ‘history’ is present. ‘Amount’ here is quantitative but it is also qualitative, the biography (work/history, i.e. active/passive inculcation of events) is an index of enthusiasm, deciphered from the material signs of the object’s biography and immanently valorised within the practice of contemplating the object.

Charlie Booker seems to be mobilised by the challenge of cultural critique of those practices that he deems boring (amateur archeologists). It is an unnerving practice to simply pour scorn on other peoples’ enthusiasms and I don’t care much for it. Maybe there is some inverse cultural cringe here, but I think people should be allowed the dignity of pursuing their collective enthusiasms. For some it is the only thing they have for warding off a brutal and nihilistic ennui. Booker, and many other people I have met of my generation who are as cool as fuck, is alienated from his own enthusiasm and seems to get enthusiastic about pointing out the ‘absurdities’ of another’s enthusiasm.