Thursday, December 15, 2005

Nietzsche, Postmodernism, The Modern Review, Toby, Julie & Camille

On his Click Opera blog, my fellow Scot, (cult crooner/pop poet/media subversive) Nick Curry (a.k.a. Momus) meditates on the UK/US clash of cultures (the "two nations divided by a common language" conundrum).

If I had to sum up what the division between American and British journalism is all about, I'd say that America is Nietzschean and Britain is postmodern. Hello, Pseud's Corner! I'm not afraid any more! Americans are "Nietzschean" because they're interested in power, and unafraid of seriousness. They're also quite prepared to pose as something they're not, to remake and remodel themselves, to be boastful, to be utopian, and admit to optimism about the future...

I'm not saying Britain is less smart or sophisticated than the US....The layers of now-I-mean-it,-now-I-don't irony alone require a PhD to sort through, and it's all tremendously postmodern and meta and referential....Trouble is, when you get down to what's being said, it's often a little lecture on marketing, leavened by some TV Cream / pub quiz pop culture in-jokes. And, frankly, if we see this British style as postmodernism gone mad (references to references, ironies upon ironies, the collapse of high and low culture, and a bit of clever marketing as the bottom line), then it's just as pretentious as telling people what Descartes said in "Meditations on First Philosophy"... and possibly even more so.

This reminded me of Toby Young's short-lived, "more talked about than read", but undeniably brilliant, and profoundly influential, postmodern periodical, The Modern Review.

TMR's avowed intention was to peddle "low culture for highbrows." It was what Smash Hits (for the benefit of our American friends: an anodyne UK pop periodical aimed at teenagers) might have been like if it had been placed under the editorial control of FR Leavis (a relatively esoteric, but highly influential British literary critic). Leavis and Butthead, if you like.

TMR's crew -- hip, if by then, not-quite-so-young, ex NME gunslinger Julie Burchill and the wonderfully acerbic Will Self amongst them -- were patently mad, bad and dangerous to know. The tales of drugs, debauchery, internecine sex & incestuous squabbling may have been embellished for the sake of circulation, but clearly contained more than a scintilla of truth.

The Modern Review assimilated Kerouac's Dionysian spirit
The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn, like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars..."
into their hedonistic, hell-raising, sacred cow-sacrificing mission statement and mindset.

After a mere 21 incendiary issues, Toby Young torched the joint and set off to carve a rep at Conde Nast's Vanity Fair (his entertaining book How to Lose Friends and Alienate People chronicles how he crashed and burned, characteristically incandescently, in The Big Apple).

TMR also lured contributions from first class Yank talent ~ Camille Paglia, Pauline Kael, Rob Long et alia ~ but the party was on this side of the pond. The Modern Review was predicated upon dissonance: high and low culture, Anglo-American culture clashes, the Appolonian and the Dionysian, creativity and debauchery. Hitherto hermetically sealed, mutually exclusive categories, such as philosophy and pop, were conflated and condemned to an eternity of symbiotic entanglement, but the true Clash of the Titans, a seismic collision of tectonic forces, began when those dynamic divas Julie and Camille fought and faxed:

The full transcript of the Julie/Camille fax wars can be found here


Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

you use the name Ionesco to mean that everything's absurd. Well, yes it is. But on the other hand, there's a method to the madness. And the differences between USA and UK? Your upper crusties tell the American upper crusties what to think and how to fool the masses, including --or especially-- the so-called "left." The UK upper crust hasn't changed since the Cliveden Set, presumably you know what that means. You know that ex-king Edward, husband of the Duchess, implored the Germans to bomb London. Now, the UK authorities in Londonistan facilitate jihad against their own population. The Muslims are inclined to jihad mass murder anyway, and your superiors make it easier. The diffs between UK & US remind me of Stalin's words on culture for the many Soviet nationalities: National in form, socialist in content. In other words, the same bullshit on both sides of your pond. Do you actually believe that the top dogs on both sides of your puddle really want different things? By the way, when little Harry wore a Nazi costume, was that a mere mistake, or was it his true stupid self? Where did the Nazis and their sympathizers go? NOw they understand the Arabs and love Islam.

Anonymous said...

Characterizing the American media as Nietschean is a disservice to Nietsche, who, after all, appreciated levity much more than most of your run-of-the-mill German philosophers. Yes, the media - and indeed the whole political scene - in the US is entirely humorless. "Serious" - never. It's simply that they have forgotten how to laugh at themselves..