Mark Sinker put this up on Freaky Trigger while I was away. It’s a very long, very dense review of a book you might not ever read - though after reading this, you’ll want to. It’s a great piece, sparking all kinds of thoughts.
One of them is about the arguments around “retromania” - the concept as it’s trickled out into Internet chat, not the book itself. The “elevator pitch” version of this is - the forward motion of pop (and other strains of popular culture) has ground to a halt because we are so busy gorging on our past. It’s struck a chord with an awful lot of people.
You can ladder up this idea to see some of the assumptions behind it. Why do we want pop to move forward? Because newness is good. Why is newness good? Because it’s exciting. Why is it exciting? Because it disrupts and unsettles things. And so on. I don’t disagree with any of these, by the way.
But then there’s the related idea - which doesn’t actually follow, and sensible critics don’t assume it does - that the past is settled and undisruptive. And this is what Mark’s review is digging under. He’s making two very important points:
- That to the extent the past is settled and safe, WE - meaning critics as much as anyone - are the ones who made it that way. If the safeness of history is a problem then it’s our own critical practises, our urge to tidy, storify and dismiss, that need changing.
- And as a counter, the past in any case isn’t safe: its perceived settlement is always treacherous and in skilled hands (critic, musician, whoever) it can disrupt and excite. Throughout history, it’s the people who think they’ve got the past worked out and tied up who end up feeling the lash of unintended consequences the worst.
Anyway, Mark is great and you should look at this.