Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Blimey, knock me down with a feather: a piece on rockism that actually hits a good portion of the nail squarely on the head (especially in the later part of the piece). Where I disagree with Mr. Bieritz is this oddly pragmatic view of rockist biases serving as a function in terms of sifting through the music overload, viz "Rockism’s greatest strength is reminding them that those filters, for all their baggage and potential harm, served a purpose too. " It does do this filtering thing, as a neat side effect, sure, but at primary level it's not about making one's consumer-life easier by eliminating certain genres from consideration a priori. Rockism primarily is positive and productive--it's a set of values, articles of faith even, which are in turns spurs to thought, feeling, action, partisanship, etc. Anti-rockism, in contrast, seems to imagine that it is somehow possible to achieve a non-ideological, "all gates open" relationship with a whole wide world of sound; a total translucence of self in which all biases, predispositions, inclinations, etc are dissolved. But even if this were possible, why would this be good? Isn't all criticism (and, at the non-verbalised level, all passion too) coming from a position? From a self that is both social and embodied. Isn't criticism by its nature always engaged, visceral, partisan, its "for" usually containing an implicit "against"? Judgement likewise is always on the basis of some kind of principles--aesthetic, political, ethical, etc etc. Anti-rockism, pursuing its negations to the limit, would open up a vast universe of un-principled prattle.

Mr. Bieritz also hits the nail on the head with his comment re. Anti-rockism as "antidote to rockism’s ills... listeners can use anti-rockism to correct rockism’s mistakes". Historically, that's how rockism as concept originated: as a self-correcting initiative within postpunk culture,
a way of resisting certain rigidities of thought and blindspots, hardenings of custom and expectation. C.f. the way that "politically correct" was originally a Left wing term, used to auto-critique fellow-travellers who'd got a bit too rigid in their thinking, too dogmatic in their pursuit of ideological soundness.

Although the anti-rockist concept (like "politically correct") has evolved some ways from its historical origin, it still strikes me as parasitic on rock in the sense that the urgency, such as it is, to the debate represents a kind of pallid ghost-effect of the original rock(ist) urgency. Anti-rockism is clearly intended as an emancipatory gesture--throw away all your preconceptions and mental fixities, unblock your taste and desire in receptivity to a vast universe of sound. But in the name of what exactly? What is the value or purpose of this "freedom"? If it is just about the right to a kind of consumer omnivorousness, it seems like a fairly trivial gesture. If it is about "understanding things on their own terms", again one wonders what is the ethical imperative behind this move? What is the improved understanding contributing to? It's not at all clear that musics come with terms-for-understanding obviously attached or easily accessible. You could define criticism as less the location of those allegedly immanent terms as the invention and imposition of them. A vigorous misunderstanding of a piece or form of music, launched from a defined position, might be more productive or entertaining than this supposed (unattainable, impossible?) blinker-less, floating-free encounter between the pop object and the translucent consumer self.

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