What did it feel like to be alive and culturally enmeshed in the 2010s? What were our values, our hopes, our insecurities and terrors? Only a few days of /lit/ are excerpted here, but even they give us a glimpse. April 25: And I thought, “This is the saddest thought I think I’ve ever had.” November 22: “…the second we touch down on Mars, people are going to realise how unfulfilling it is. Oh look, we moved over there. Fantastic. A few billion more planets to visit […] before entropy devours us all huehuehue.” More
Heteropia is a word which originates with Michel Foucault, derived from the Greek héteros (“other”) and tópos (“place”). Its meaning is most concretely delineated in his essay “Of Other Spaces: Utopias and Heterotopias” (from the French “Des Espace Autres,” March 1967), though the phrasing “concretely delineated”may be overly generous. Foucault’s own definition of the heterotopic varies from lecture to lecture, and the aforementioned paper contradicts itself both inter- and intra-paragraph. Yet the term’s formulation has touched some nerve in academia, leading to a wide range of scholarly implementations which somehow must be reconciled and dealt with.
In the Second World War, Allied troops airdropped massive amounts of food, weaponry, and supplies onto the Melanesian islands. To the islanders, largely isolated from modern industrialization, the wealth and abundance of the drops was interpreted within a mystical, quasi-religious framework. Upon the war’s end, these airlifts dwindled to a stop, and island cults emerged which attempted to ritualistically summon more supplies. Lacking an understanding of the core mechanisms behind the airdrops — a world war, mechanized flight, the Allied island-hopping offensive — these so-called cargo cults began constructing imitation runways, dressing like U.S. soldiers, and generally mimicking military behaviors without success.
One of my favorite pieces of Mark Richardson’s writing is his 2012 essay “I Wanna Live: Two Songs About Freedom” for the now-dead column Resonant Frequency. In it, he waxes eloquent on the two-chord song, especially Bowie’s “Heroes,” Cat Power’s “Nothin But Time,” and LCD Soundsystem’s “All My Friends”:
[There] is something especially powerful about music with this harmonic structure. In my mind, when I’m listening — and especially if it’s a song that wants to comment on something about “life” — the two chords seem to say, “Sometimes it’s like this, and then other times it’s like this.” Day and night, love and fear, yin and yang, life and death.
“And I said to Mabel, I said, ‘computational aesthetics, super-short. Jürgen Schmidhuber’s Theory Jürgen Schmidhuber, an AI theorist and theoretical computer scientist, has proposed a computational account of aesthetic judgments. In his view, a stimulus is judged to be beautiful or attractive by a subject T to the extent that the stimulus is compressible for T. Schmidhuber’s notion of compressibility is taken from algorithmic information theory, but concerns actual rather than ideal compression: it refers to the actual # of bits in T’s mental representation of the stimulus, bounded and fallible as T may be. Beholden to the limitations of T’s computational resources, two kinds of stimuli should be the most compressible: stimuli with evident internal structure (e.g. fractals or a chessboard), and stimuli with noticeable similarities to stimuli already stored in T’s history (e.g. English words or a the sight of a friend’s face). Experimental psychology supports both a preference for stimuli with internal patterns and a preference for stimuli with a similarity to past stimuli.”
One of the critical ideas I’ve found most interesting of late is a seeming contradiction: Just because it sounds like bad music doesn’t mean it is bad music. “Just because it reads like a bad novel doesn’t mean it’s a bad novel” is also sort of true, but a bit more complicated.
The tenability of the first statement, of course, is the result of specific parameters for what it means to sound bad versus be bad. Specifically, the phrasing of “sounding like bad music” is key: it opens the possibility, when X track sounds like bad music Y, that the sonic trappings and features which X shares with Y music are not in themselves bad; that the “bad music” in question is ineffective or unpleasant for reasons separate from its overlap with track X.