Critical analysis via neologisms as a way of throwing light on Retromania

Take 3 suffixes; -phobia, -philia, -mania meaning a Fear of, Love of or an Unhealthy Mania about a subject. Now apply these to the past and you have the following.

Retrophobia, Retrophobe : Retrophilia, Retrophile : Retromania, Retromaniac

This allows us to see that Simon Reynolds' ongoing obsession with the Retromania (c) tendency in western art and music looks principly at a view of the past that is an "Unhealthy Mania". A decadent view of the past that simply repeats it endlessly in pattern work without adding anything new except context.

It also points out at least 2 other possible standpoints in relation to the past. Retrophilia might be a celebration of the past. Not just as a curator but perhaps also as a stepping off point but without the unhealthy obsession. This is the positive, non-decadent counterpoint to the negative, decadent practice of Retromania.

For symmetry then, there is also Retrophobia; the fear of the past. Which might express itself as a denial of the past and an attempt to airbrush it out of existence. So for instance some aspects of Modernism can be seen as Retrophobic. Similarly the practice of re-writing history. In cultural terms, the unfortunate habit of Hollywood to re- write history so that the Americans did everything might be an example of the consequences of Retrophobia.

That neatly dispatches several possible reactions to the past. What about the future?

Neophobia, Neophobe : Neophilia, Neophile : Neomania, Neomaniac

First, Neophobia or Fear Of Change. conservatism with a small c that wants to keep things as they are. There's often a relationship here with Retrophilia that wants to return to the certainties that our parents represented when we were too young to know better. Or to a rose tinted golden age of early adulthood when you mistook the shock of the new for enduring value.

The counterpoint is then Neophilia: Love of the New. Embracing progress and change and taking pleasure in each new experience. It might be easy (for a neophile!) to portray this as almost wholely positive. But of course it can easily slip into one-up-manship. The hipster cliche of "I was into them before they were famous". Or the failure of full appreciation in the too rapid discard of each item because of the next "ooh shiny" moment.

Which brings us to Neomania: The Unhealthy Obsession with the New. This can be child like where a short attention span means that the latest toy is thrown out of the pram for being boring. It can also have almost vampyric quality when aplied to artists where we consumers demand to be made to feel the same way we felt when we first ecountered an artists work. It can also result in the "Rapture of the Nerds".

Simon Reynolds again. Here's some classic neo-mania in the final words of the book of Retromania: "I remember the future-rush. It's different from the thrill of encountering a true original. The sensation is electric but impersonal; It's about new forms not new faces; It's a much purer, harder hit. It's the same scary-euphoric rush that the best science fiction gives: the vertigo of limitlessness. I still believe the future is out there."

As if that wasn't enough, there's also the suffix -phagy literally meaning "to eat" or "eating". So for instance, Anthropophagy is usually a euphemism for Cannibalism. Literally the eating of humans. But it's been used by an Art school in Brazil as a metaphor for eating cultural references in the Anthropophagista. I suspect they should really have called themselves Sociophagists but then this was the 20s of Surrealism so perhaps the implied real Cannibalism as well as metaphorical cannibalism was deliberate. If we apply the same suffix to rerto and neo we have Retrophagy and Neophagy. Putative artistic movements or standpoints that eat past and future influences, ruminating and regurgitating them to produce something new. I'm not sure how real this is but I think there's still plenty to explore for another day. Even though Retrophagy is a pretty ugly word!
[from: Google+ Posts]

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[ 08-Dec-12 10:48am ]