Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

Great Martinis

I've been thinking a lot about circles of influence in the independent music world. Also on my mind have been their antecedents in the domain of literature and fine art, as in the first flowerings of "Bohemia" in pre-1848 Paris and its subsequent rhizomatic dispersals and revivals. The other day, though, I realized that I have plenty of material to reflect on that is directly bound up with my own experiences, particularly in relation to Bad Subjects: Political Education For Everyday Life and the "Bad List" it presided over in the mid-1990s. Take this message, for example, from an exchange during the list's first year:
Date: Fri, 13 May 94 13:52:29 CDT
From: ana marie cox <>
To: Derek Kompare <>
Subject: Re: The Baffler

> Well, The Baffler *is* one of the most interesting journal/zines/critical voices around
> these days. The last couple issues are angry and thought-provoking.
> But...
> Are these guys full of themselves or what?!?!?!?
> I find The Baffler's editorial "we" to be just as oppressive as the corporate consumer
> "we" force fed to us. I thought I was being clever in calling them "latter day
> Menckenite wanna-bes" in a paper I presented last month; but I had no idea they'd
> already taken *pride* in touting themselves as the new American Mercury. Jeez!

MEGA DITTOS FROM U of C, home to the Baffler Boys.

If you think that Seth, Tom, Diamonds etal are annoying in print, I officially invite you to come to Hype Park and hang with them in person.

I too dig their scathing ribbing of the culture industry, but jesus, they must realize that any attention the baffler has gotten (nice blurbs at the end, eh?) has come from the very industry they critique.

they also refuse to believe that anyone besides psuedo-academics like themselves can possibly muster the acumen to resist this culture industry. Tom's essay on Sassy (baffler #5) is a great example: he says "look, these people are trying to tell young girls that dressing in a certain (grunge) way is equivalen to rebellion, then using this to sell (grunge) clothing." ok, fine, but then he says "and these girls are (metaphorically and literally) buying it." i don't think tom has spoken to a teenage girl since his youth, and i bet even then he was scared of them.

but sexism in the baffler is another subject...that's just one more thing they have in common with the 30s lefties they ape. (jesus they even dress like funking ezra pound clones, tiny speckles, wide-legged trousers and all..)

sorry to flame, but they annoy me. great martinis, tho.


Ana Marie Cox * "I listen to *Primus,* I listen to
University of Chicago * *Pavement*..." * --tv ad for Best Buy dept. store
Ana, as many of you know, went from her tender undergrad days to a year in a doctoral program at UC Berkeley, during which time she joined our editorial ranks -- and greatly helped us to improve our design sensibility, I might add -- before leaving school to become an editor, then a pundit, then a novelist and now, I guess, a media personality who moves within the interstices delimited by those terms. And Tom Frank, he of the wide-legged trousers and "tiny speckles," parlayed his skills with gin, vermouth and an olive into an impressive career as someone who writes screeds of substance, such as What's the Matter With Kansas? Not to mention that, in his undergrad days, he used to DJ in the time slot after Stephen Malkmus of Pavement, an association that no doubt charmed the insider-trading mindset of Ana, despite her complaints about how his boys club -- "like Urge Overkill," she once told me -- treated women with smarts and sass. The Baffler, in other words, is a good place to track circles of influence pertinent to our generation, just like McSweeney's -- to which I am more remotely and tenuously connected by personal experience -- or N+1.

Reading Ana's post again, I was reminded of something Pierre Bourdieu wrote about the avant-garde in late nineteenth-century Paris, which helps to make sense of her stance even though she was only a half-decade younger than the Baffler boys:
Because position-takings arise quasi-mechanically -- that is, almost independently of the agents' consciousness and wills -- from the relationship between positions, they take relatively invariant forms, and being determined relationally, negatively, they remain virtually empty, amounting to little more than a parti pris of refusal, difference, rupture. Structurally 'young' writers, i.e. those less advanced in the process of consecration (who may be biologically almost as old as the 'old' writers they seek to oust), will refuse everything their 'elders' (in terms of legitimacy) are and do, and in particular all the indices of social ageing, starting with the signs of consecration, internal (academies, etc.) or external (success), whereas the 'old' writers will regard the non-existence (in terms of success and consecration) and also the 'obscurity' of their young rivals as evidence of the voluntaristic, forced character of some endeavours to overtake them. . .

. . .The history of the field arises from the struggle between the established figures and the young challengers. The ageing of authors, schools and works is far from being the product of a mechanical, chronological, slide into the past; it results from the struggle between those who have made their mark (fait date -- 'made an epoch') and who are fighting to persist, and those who cannot make their own mark without pushing into the past those who have an interest in stopping the clock, externalizing the present stage of things. 'Making one's mark', initiating a new epoch means winning recognition, in both senses, of one's difference from other producers, especially the most consecrated of them; it means, by the same token, creating a new position, ahead of the positions already occupied, in the vanguard. (Hence the importance, in the struggle for survival, of all distinctive marks, such as the names of schools or groups -- words which make things, distinctive signs which produce existence.) The agents engaged in the struggle are both contemporaries -- precisely by virtue of the struggle which synchronizes them -- and separated by time and in respect of time (The Field of Cultural Production, 59-60)
Of course, this same line of argument could be applied to Bad Subjects itself. We were certainly trying to make our mark by breaking free of established conventions on how people connected to the academy could express their ideas. And, more narrowly, in the beginning we were also eager to set ourselves apart from the UC Berkeley English Department, particularly the way it conferred value -- structurally, as Bourdieu would insist, even when individuals were responsible for the acts of evaluation -- on graduate students within it.

There is a great deal to ponder here. I'm working on something about The Factory, branded with the name "Andy Warhol," right now, so I would very much like to complement Bourdieu's broad strokes with detail work that accounts for partial ruptures of the sort that happen within a circle of influence. I think that's how I would classify the purpose of Ana's post here, though her subsequent career suggests that in her case the "part" in partial kept growing in size.

For my own part, I recognize that what I'm doing with an entry like this involves a position taking in the present, as well as a delineation of position takings in the past. I've been especially preoccupied with questions of recognition and legitimation in recent years, on top of the already strong interest I had in that terrain when I fell in love with Bourdieu's work back in the early 1990s. One thing that has long befuddled me is the difficulty of articulating how the sweeping statements he makes in his analyses of the cultural field can be redescribed -- despite his insistence that social science correct for subjective bias in order to win a measure of objectivity -- as "power moves" without losing sight of the way they differ from the sort he is adumbrating in the passage quoted above. And that means that I am also befuddled by the difficulty of articulating my own preference to size up the power moves of others rather than making overt power moves myself might itself be conceived of as part of an effort to make my mark. In other words, how should I make sense of the fact that I've never made great martinis or even aspired to do so? Am I simply acting out ressentiment in that refusal? Or is there some other dimension to it that the concept of ressentiment can not render visible?
Tags: analysis, autobiography, bad subjects, commonplace book, cultural studies, nostalgia, theory

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