Saturday, March 15, 2008

Welcome to the Archival Era

It's a paradox of history that only in posterity does a clear picture emerge of what it meant to be alive at a given time. For example, Da Vinci had no idea that he was a Renaissance Man. Wordsworth had no clue that he was a Romantic poet. Cotten Mather would have been dumbfounded at being called an Enlightenment scholar.

On the other hand, Derrida wouldn't have batted an eyelash at being called a postmodern philosopher (at least I don't think he would have; until I learn to speak in French puns I guess I won't presume to speak for the man). Some might argue that it is a unique feature of the postmodern age that we are able to see into the "black box," or as they would way, to "deconstruct our reality" in a way that previous generations couldn't. I suppose this makes metaphorical sense: a teen-ager probably doesn't really understand what it means to be a teen-ager until they are older, whereas an elderly person is all too aware of what it means to be old. So the question becomes: are we in the old age of civilization and culture? Or, to put it another way, are we at the end of history?

Fukuyama argues that politics has reached its end; author David Gates recently wrote a brilliant essay arguing that art is done:

But is there any place left where a rebel can still jump the fence and start making trouble? What fence? What trouble? The last genuinely new artistic genres, the photograph and the moving picture, appeared in the 1820s and the 1890s respectively—or maybe in 1879, with Eadweard Muybridge's zoopraxiscope. Do you sense something else coming around the bend? Narratives of odors? Symphonies of tactile sensations? Why not? On the other hand, why?
Of course Gates allows for the possibility that technology undergoes change, but he argues that the roots of art, the "words, sounds, and images," have reached a point where room for further experimentation is closed off.

The mere fact that people are recognizing the paradigm they live strikes me as highly significant. I can't imagine that artists of previous eras concerned themselves with the questions that Gates does (and though political philosophers of the past might have posited a concept of teleology, they certainly didn't believe they were at a teleological end). Therefore, ironically, self-awareness is the one thing that our current age can claim as an innovation. But I don't think that this is a small thing. If the age of human innovation is largely past, it means we can consciously enter a new paradigm. So let me be the first to take advantage of our present vantage point and coin a historical designation for our life and time: the Archival Era. We have the luxury of being able to unpack the dense tapestry of previous innovation, to enjoy the fruits of their labors. Its time to go up to the attic and start going through boxes.

Next: David Letterman's contribution to the Archival Era.


Blogger The Hungary Traveler said...

Damn Azor - very interesting post!

I'm not sure I buy your argument though. To claim society has reached or is near the end of creative and/or technological evolution and development would require insight unavailable to mankind: the ability to see into the future. By its nature, that which is "undiscovered," or further yet, "unimagined," is not known and therefor can not be affirmed nor denied. So, it's impossible to claim that development and innovation is near its end. Such knowledge, as you elude to early in your piece, can not be known until a later date, and then only in hindsight.

6:07 PM  

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