20 February 2012

Retro-Retromania-mania: Ideas for appendices

Retromania beyond Pop Music (of the 1950s-2000s)
Modernism as belated Romanticism: Eliot's elegies, his texts-as-tissues of quotations; Joyce's fixations on his adolescence, on 16 June 1904; Pound's obsessive worship of medieval Provencal. Wordsworth's spots of time; Schlegel's ironic fragments. Ossian. The Hellenism of pre-Romantic literary culture; the battle between Ancients and Moderns. Medieval concepts of authorship.

The teenager
An extension of Retromania which cross-references it with a continuation of Jon Savage's Teenage: The Creation of Youth Culture beyond 1945 to the present day. The sociology of the teenager feels crucial to the most pathological of the symptoms SR discusses. Obviously retromania as defined by SR is a condition made possible in its most frantically becalmed state by technology: cheap storage (MP3, .rar, upload sites), cheap transport (broadband, wifi) and cheap manipulation (samplers, ableton etc) of digitized cultural data. But that technology has entered into and mutated a particular social formation: one essentially unprecedented, in which huge swathes of youth in the developed world enjoy privileges hardly imaginable even in the first half of the C21, let alone before: freedom from responsibility, a freedom from work, along with disposable income, and are thus courted aggressively by advertisers and corporations (NB all those freedoms are relative of course). A post-war paradigm that's seen progression to the ranks of adulthood increasingly postponed or even deferred altogether, with the average age of parenthood and independent living rising, and careers put on hold to allow for the middle-class version of the Grand Tour, the secular rumspringe of the gap year.

This is a valorization of youth which writes and re-writes itself (as retro) in looping feedback through the decades of the second half of the twentieth century, from The Catcher in the Rye (1951: disgruntled adolescent as touchstone defense against corrupt 'phonies') to the present, a process which culminates in a sense with Lee Edelman's discussion of 'reproductive futurism'. There's a kind of ideological default to the child as sacred, as cultural 'value' in if not its purest, then its least arguable or controversial form, a common-denominator market-friendly appeal to biological imperative, because all sides in the culture wars, left/right, religious/secular agree the children are our Future. But once we were children/teenagers too, and retromania must be bound up here - a sublimation in which the post-adolescent is displaced and then displaces their own envy/fury into extending the legitimacy of their own cultural moment, not purely as a return/restoration, but as an ongoing cultural form.

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