For Ben

Some rough thoughts.

My problem is that my interviews/fieldwork I was doing was not giving me anything I didn’t already know. It was going nowhere. This in itself was very interesting. Of course, I was already immersed in the culture as a one-time enthusiast and worker in the relevant cultural industries, but there was something else going on. There is a very limited discourse of modified-car culture available to enthusiasts. ‘Show’ and ‘go’ and ‘having fun’: Basically those three elements distributed across a very large set of differences. This doen’t take long to discover, and it is rather a process of admitting that it is a rather restricted discursive complex than anything else. I do go into the major differences across ethnic, gendered and generational lines, but even these I understand as repetitions rather than completely new forms. Others (such as Danny and perhaps Jean!!!) will baulk at my dismissal of ‘individual meanings’ of what people do, my problem is that I can only see ‘individuated meanings’, that is, components of ‘collective assemblages of enunciation’. There may be a relatively individual perspective from which an individuated meaning may be expressed, but this is not the same thing as people making their own sense of things. What else should be expected from cultural forms organised around mass-produced commodities? Crucially, I do not mean ‘meaning’ in terms of ideology, but in terms of how difference is itself selected and affirmed as mattering. For example, to debate a topic (when it is not organised around a differend) is to accept the references as legislated in the terms of the debate. (Hmm, one complex aspect of this is the question of what threshold of difference is perceptible to whom? Differences are coagulated in different ways by different enthusiasts/groups depending on the nature of their participation (intensive/extensive), see below.)

Maybe I am wrong about all this, but I haven’t found anything that makes me think otherwise. Just because language can be used to express something in an infinite number of ways doesn’t mean that (from a neorealist perspective) it is expressed in any more than a handful of ways. Why this is the case is the important question (one dimension of what D&G called Oedipalisation). Later, after the mass aggregates of individuated meanings have been established and some of the social machinery is sketched out (ie after my PhD), it will be useful to go back and look at how the personal and personal collectivities plug into these of massified individuation. To begin at this point though is to refuse to see the forest for the trees, some of the previous work on the culture does this. I see myself doing very basic work. Plus I am not sure if modified-car culture as an example of enthusiast culture, is a special case, or if other cultural formations operate the same way, or even if it is possible to reimagine any cultural formation as an ‘enthusiast culture’ and begin from there.

However, back to the research, the more interesting bits occur on the surface of enthusiast events, when dudes are hanging out in carparks, at the drags, at car shows, on forums and so on. The concept of ‘hanging out’ (or ‘doing nothing’) is crucial for this. I think about it in terms of being the principle weapon against boredom and basically involves the creative potentialisation of everyday artifacts so they become the locus of an event herald by the potentialisation (ie it is immanent), what, in some cases, criminiologists call ‘acts of deviancy’. So one axis of my fieldwork finds that there are no actual ‘cultures of deviancy’, that is the governmental position and perspective, but at one level only cultures developed as stratified means of warding off boredom. It may seem bloody obvious, but when you have peanut criminologists back in the day trying to find ‘subcultures of deviancy’ it makes much more sense to me anyway to try to figure out what they were actually doing (mechanics of desire) rather than some idea that ‘ideas’ were motivating people.

The other axis relates to the stratification of these weapons against boredom. Here there are different aspects of participation at stake and relate to the joy and excitement of belonging and participating. This is much more interesting because the ‘weapons’ coagulate and resonate until they take on a life of their own. Hierarchies form that condense the intensities of the field of potential into social differences at the same time that enthusiasts are individuated and amassed as aggregates. These hierachies exist on the surface of events (or, rather, _they are the surface_). On one end of the spectrum, the cars are the focus only so far as they enable certain forms of relation. Now, I think that car culture is on the way out and being surpassed because such forms of relation are enabled by other technological mediators (forums, blogs, phones, etc). On the other end of the spectrum are what would be called ‘amatuers’ or ‘enthusiasts’. They actually create and take part in the social institutions of the culture, the clubs, the creation of online forums, the facilitation of these other events, participation in other forms of subcultural media, and labours of enthusiasm (either for free or enterprised or waged) from which a surplus value is extracted. In this second group the abstract machines that produces heirarchies are actually materially and socially embodied in social institutions. Across this spectrum is a singular enthusiasm that is either more or less intense (affects of enthusiasm) and more or less extensive (question of involvement/participation in the culture). For example, Thornton’s subcultural capital only accounts for the second extensive dimension of enthusiasm, not the intensive dimension.

The primary function of the social instutitons is to reproduce the conditions that enable the connections of the enthusiasm. Here is where I turn to the magazines because in modified-car culture they are the primary social institution that legislates the sense of these ‘enthusiast events’ into reference. (You can actually see this happening in ‘real time’ in sports commentary. The function of the commentator is to legislate the sense of the event as it is transmitted into homes and other spaces. Legislation of sense is the selection of difference and condensation into what matters. John Howard is the master of this. ) I only came up with the idea of thinking about it in terms of ‘legislating sense into reference’ after reading D&G’s Kafka a short while ago (and D’s LoS ages ago, but the penny didn’t drop then). My working hypothesis is that the incorporeal events of legislating sense modulates the referential parameters of extensive paricipation and cultivates the engagement into various plateaus of intensity (how ‘serious’ you are about cars, modifications or events pertaining to the culture and what are the cars, modifications or events that one should be serious about). For example, there was an interesting transformation the 1980s around the shift from the Street Machine Nationals to the highly commodified Summernats. The shift occured on a number of levels, but the biggest shift involved the sponsorship of Street Machine magazine and their discursive construction of Summernats as a ‘serious party’. ‘Serious party’ may seem to be a paradox but it is not.

In part this approach explains why Zizek is so popular among scholarly/academic types as he has developed a system that allows him to take any cultural form and legislate a new sense into reference. He is an artist. The problem is that he is artist-assemblage that eats its own tail and his tired jokes and tired frames of reference become circuits into which the desire of his fans never has to escape. He is a cancer growing out of popular culture that produces more popular culture.

4 replies on “For Ben”

  1. Thanks. I’m gonna have to chew on that.

    In the meantime, did I ever tell you that one of my mates has been working for Supernats since she was, uh, little? These days she carries a baseball bat with her to keep all the dudes in line. She’s a scary muthafrakker. Oh, and Shane’s friend C did media for them last year.

  2. no! holy shit! I am afraid to ask if you could hook us up so we could have a chat! afraid cause I am 5 months away from finishing and I don’t want to fuck my shit up! hmmm, you reckon she’d mind having a chat? I’d like to know her POV of the gender issue, see what she thinks about the gendered relation between the boys and their toys. Was this the same person who was into the new Monaro?

    On another note, Supernats are funny (interesting) in that they are referred to as being run by promoter Ahmet “The Mad Turk” Shiringelli. No one refers to Summernats as being run by Chic “The Mad Skip” Henry. Hence the overcoding in some quarters of Supernats as a ‘wog event’ or at least a space where that difference of ethnicity matters (ie it is visible) and is played out: “What a battle it’s going to be between the V8’s and the Rotaries. Who’s going to win the Championship?” I would argue ‘rotor vs piston’ is technological embodiment of difference in ethnicity. Plus I notice this year they have drifting! Anyway…

  3. “The problem is that he is artist-assemblage that eats its own tail and his tired jokes and tired frames of reference become circuits into which the desire of his fans never has to escape.”

    Thanks for that. Made me laugh. I have a complicated intellectual relationship with his thought. I try to read it without thinking to myself, Oh wow. Someone else wrote about that 100 years ago, buddy. Can’t you at least give credit where it’s due and quit pretending you made it up? Sheesh!”

    Which doestn’ really rise to the level of serious criticism, but it annoys me enough that I always want to chuck to book at the wall.

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