Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A note on a thought that remains to be fleshed out

Mark k-p, in his piece on Peter Jackson’s King Kong and the lack of historical sense in the postmodern, makes the following observation in passing:

“in 2005, technological progress is the only faith that remains to us”.
I have been stewing over Michel Houellebecq’s Atomised (aka The Elementary Particles - the title under which there are more complete reviews on Amazon) for a good week and a half now. The novel is most certainly a most striking portrait of the dissolution of the West’s collective hope for a meaningful future. But I have been unable to put my finger on precisely what hope or myth the book embodies. I believe I now have it, however: the novel depicts the realisation of precisely what Mark has named, that is, the belief that technology provides the only source of salvation that we can hope for now.

I’m posting this unfleshed-out thought here in order to stop me from filing it away and then forgetting it. I will try and develop it more in the near future. In the meantime, it goes without saying that k-punk’s piece is worth checking out.

Interestingly, I had an experience similar to the one that Mark describes – that of a film refusing to linger in the memory – when I saw another current film that attempts to effect an ‘atmosphere of history’: the much-lauded, Goodnight and Good Luck. I could make no comment to others about the film other than to say that it was so perfect that it seemed to round itself off wholly as the credits rolled. Not having seen King Kong, however, I suspect that this may have as much to do with the parable-like nature of the film – parables being enclosed things – as with the sense of period Goodnight and Good Luck contains in its visual style. Why on earth was the Goodnight shot in black and white, anyway? What was the effect of this?

To be continued.


Blogger mark k-punk said...

It's funny, I inserted that comment last of all, precisely as a kind of afterthought that needs further development! The more I think about it, the more it's obviously right though --- we're confident in the forward movement of technology at the same time as we expect almost nothing new from culture. Technological progress goes alongside a formal conservatism. Be interested in yr further thoughts on this.

11:17 am  
Blogger Dave said...

"Technological progress goes alongside a formal conservatism."

Not sure I quite see what you're getting at here, but the drift of the argument is interesting. Technology really does seem the modern religion. Underpinning every bit of society, it makes extravagant promises and yet seems to cause as many problems as it solves.

"Running out of oil? Cheap electric cars are just round the corner."

"Smoking will cause you cancer? C'mon, they'll have found the cure before long."

"He can't concentrate? Ritalin will make him a different person."

"Global warming getting worse? We'll have a colony on the moon in no time."

"A job for life? Nah, we won't need to work when we're replaced by robots."

As a source of salvation it's especially visible in environmental areas. I wonder if it doesn't engender even less individual ownership of our problems. Few know of, or care about, the path to technological progress, and there's absolutely nothing an individual can do to help it along. Praying and going to church help with conventional religions, but there's little technological equivalent. (No, subscribing to New Scientist doesn't count.)

And I guess it leads to the use of techno-babble in marketing. "Anti-bacterial!" "Beneficial bacteria!" "Fuel injection!" "80% of RDI of niacin!" "2.4 gigahertz!" "Anti-oxidants!" "Beneficial ions!" "Magnetic waves!" "GPS!" "Pedometer!" It's faith-based. What does an anti-oxidant do? Well, it gets rid of free radicals. What's a free radical? It's an, um, oxidant. Which is bad. Obviously. Otherwise why would there be anti-oxidants, right?

Anyway, carried away. I'm told Barzun's House Of Intellect is an interesting look at this topic.

4:41 pm  
Blogger walter said...

I don't really understand how these new CGI-centered films can be categorized as formally conservative. It seems to me that they are driving the development of an entirely new form that is representative of an emerging age in which technology for its own sake is becoming an important glue for social cohesion; a sort of suppliment to terror-fueled xenophobia. Its a form from which traditional 19th-century novelesque character development is disappearing and as Mark said, technology becomes the real star. I'm not sure it the "only" faith though. The nuclear family cult seems to be coming back in a big way (at least here in the US). What I found really interesting about King Kong, however, is that I actually was able to recall much of what happened in it after the film ended (a trick I couldn't manage after the Lord of the Rings films, any Harry Potter movie, or,come to think of it, even after Goodnight and Goodluck). I think there is a lot more going on in Kong than in Jackson's other CGI films (the critique of Carl Denham, Naomi Watts and Kong's friendship which is based on their shared misfit status, the 1933 film's Driscoll character being divided into a dramatist and a shallow Hollywood actor). The narrative itself deserves a look.

5:44 pm  

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