Cultural criticism in the 21st century: the split identity, the collective hope
A manifesto: the new cultural critics, and what we are doing.
I (like so many of my friends) am far too anarchic to give way to any single profession or discipline of knowledge.
Left to our careers for too long, each of us becomes depressed; have I a single friend from college who hasn't been on antidepressants throughout grad school? We say, "I don't know about that." Or, "I guess there's no telling." Or, "I suppose that's just what has to be done." We narrow our ambitions to the present. We work on becoming neuroscientists, economists, and historians, fully aware that no one will deign to interview us or publish our ideas about the world until we have reached the age of fifty.
Talking together, our brains fizzle with explanations, anecdotes, avenues for curiosity. We start to explain the world and its experience from each of the multiplce experiences each of us has collected.
I experience these two worlds through a tension between dilettantism on the one hand and the part of me that has, recently, accepted an apprentice instead in a certain profession -- the Discipline of History -- by which I conceded to discuss points of knowing and details of the craft with other academics. It means a certain removal from the world, and a certain distance from the aesthetic facts of any one piece of production.
So this part of me that wants to interpret is still adrift. I don't quite know what to do with it. I would like very much to bottle it and sell it -- an IQ for hire -- a public intellectual on demand. I don't know quite where to go with it; the columns are dying, the culture of print bores me (aside from the occasional distracting article in Harper's or Cabinet). Are those where one goes?
Another alternative: what if we had a wiki? A cultural studies wikipedia of culture and identity -- a sort of second Arcades Project -- the aim always being the interpretation of the present. Tag by tag, article by article, gloss by gloss, piecing in a story or anecdote here and another there, saying "here is what happened to nudity in the 1960s:" example. "Here is what happened to the discipline of psychology."
Oh for a Smart Mob for the young intellectuals, so full of observation and mythology. Oh to do to culture what Freud and Jung and Lacan did, reading closely, part by part, all the phenomena of every-day life.
Oh to combine them into a machine that would give us answers: real solid facts, if not about some eternal, collective soul, about the changing, sensitive soul of the experience of this last century, about how we came to be where we are, and why we are here and not there, and where it is we are going.
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