Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Why Does This Video Exist? (#1)

I'm over-due to begin a somewhat self-explanatory series. To introduce it, I'd like to share one of my favorite quotes by an important critic, Lester Bangs.

"I hate Stanley Clark, but I have to admit he's playing jazz whether I like it or not."

There's something so gloriously nihilistic about that quote which makes me really love it, and which also makes me reconsider my working definition of nihilistic. I've used it a lot lately because I think I extrapolate more meaning from it than people are used to. For example, last week, I was asking The Onion editors Chad Nackers and Joe Garden "Whether you view your roles as either: acting as a reflection of the zeitgiest, or simply running a nihilistic joke-machine for cash?" As they answered, I began to realize that "nihilism" is a concept that is more connotative than literal, and as such it seems like a much less effective descriptor than I expected. So let's examine:

From www.thefreedictionary.com

1. Philosophy
a. An extreme form of skepticism that denies all existence.
b. A doctrine holding that all values are baseless and that nothing can be known or communicated.
2. Rejection of all distinctions in moral or religious value and a willingness to repudiate all previous theories of morality or religious belief.
3. The belief that destruction of existing political or social institutions is necessary for future improvement.
This seems like a reasonable representation of the working meaning of nihilism, but different from my personal relationship with the word.

[By the way, an exciting realization is that dictionaries are not the final authority on the meaning of words, they are simply a reference point, aggregating the active meanings of words based on the real authorities: the English-speaking community. If you were to use a word 'improperly' and I know exactly what you mean, then that's more proper than whatever Oxford has to say about it. Why do you think there are so many 'volumes' and 'editions'? Neologisms and portmanteaus are on the rise and have shown that language is just as much a living organism as earth's environment or the economy.]

But to me, the word nihilism is so much less attitudinal and so much more phenomenal. [There's another word that's taken on new meaning. By phenomenal, I mean relating to observable occurrence. I use both nihilistic and phenomenal with somewhat neutral connotations.] In regards to The Big Lebowsky definition, "We believe in nothing!" I subscribe to the more basic way to arrange that sentence: "We don't believe in things."

Narrating the Pre Apocalypse

...that must be exhausting!

Nihilism to me is the absence of the great scaffold. A syllogistic breakdown to zero (or, one, as it were). A non-emotional view of something for exactly what it is and nothing more. Hell, my view of the modern role of dictionaries is pretty nihilist, as are a lot of my views nowadays. [Which is why I feel I've been skewing more right-wing lately. People mistake religion and faith as part of the right-wing lifestyle, but a true breakdown of government stems from a very reptilian, Darwinian, "every man for himself" view of the world. If you think Jesus was a republican, you haven't read a single page of the Bible.]

So, I've been using Nihilism to indicate a complete removal of context, an uber-utilitarian framework. But people have been hearing it in a "cynical" or "bitter" context. It's true that skepticism is a large part of nihilism, but you have to remember that skeptics are not cynics, and optimists are not (necaserrily) naive.

Bangs' quote about Clarke to me is the ultimate realization of a critic's true place in the world. A critic isn't creating anything, we're just attempting to shuffle things around--to reposition those things that other people have created into more logical scaffolds because, deep down, we're uncomfortable with the fact that art and entertainment (especially art) is simply zooming wildly across the big grid, existing independent from any REAL systems, creating ripples both intended and unintended; and we want to lasso them in like rampant steer so they can be most effectively channelled, consumed or discarded. This rather Sisyphean attempt to put untethered phenomena in its place is rather amazing to behold at large, and Bangs' quote really captures the essential defeat of the lesser of two gods. Between a god that creates and a god that reduces, there is often less incentive to be the former, and it feels cooler to be the latter, but the former's work will always be more complete, because even if it's bullshit to us, it DEFINITELY exists without regard to our opinions.

Which leads me to the first video in the series, "Why Does This Video Exist?"

Don't get me wrong, I SORTA understand why this video slipped into existence. It's not completely beyond explanation in the bottom-line, nihilistic sense of the word. But it's that ever elusive BIG PICTURE explanation that I fail to capture. Hell, it seems absurd to even attempt to abstract this video into the big picture, which is probably what draws me to it.

And regardless of what you think about the value of this video, you have to admit one concession... it doesn't NOT EXIST...

[I'm going to be pretty embarrassed if this video gets removed for any reason, because then, it will not, in fact, exist.]

1 comment:

Chubbles said...

Stanley Clarke was a badass. Fuck Lester Bangs. Go get his album "School Days", it's a classic.