Friday, December 05, 2008

Mp3 collections and Lacan

It's the time when people start compiling their lists of the year's best music. I've cobbled together my own lists over the past few Decembers, in spite of the fact that I'm not a music professional and no one, not even my wife and cats, cares that much about whether I liked Boris's Smile better than some unrelated dubstep album. Looking back at them, it's interesting to see what was a top 10 list turn into a top 50, not including runner-up albums. It wasn't too long ago that I had a difficult time coming up with 10 new albums with which I was even familiar.

As the year ends, I find myself furiously listening to recommended albums that I missed during the past year. Part of me is horrified that I might have missed something good. And inevitably (as most things that confuse me do), it makes me think about Lacan and the superego injunction to "enjoy!" at all costs. What was once a simple pleasure has become an all consuming, unstoppable burden that I've placed on myself. For all of the time that I spend pouring over hornbooks and case law, I spend an equal amount of time organizing my digital music collection, making sure all of the genre and year tags are right, and getting the best possible album art. I spend more time doing this than actually listening to a good portion of the music itself. But thanks to cheap hard drive space, I have a way of hording all of this music without the burden of actually listening to and enjoying it. My Western Digital drive relieves me from that task.

I am reminded of a Zizek quote (yes, I know, roll your eyes):
In order to account for these paradoxes, Robert Pfaller recently coined the term "interpassivity." Today, it is a commonplace to emphasize how, with new electronic media, the passive consumption of a text or a work of art is over: I no longer merely stare at the screen, I increasingly interact with it, entering into a dialogic relationship with it (from choosing the programs, through participating in debates in a Virtual Community, to directly determining the outcome of the plot in so-called "interactive narratives"). Is, however, the other side of my interacting with the object instead of just passively following the show, not the situation in which the object itself takes from me, deprives me of, my own passive reaction of satisfaction (or mourning or laughter), so that is is the object itself which "enjoys the show" instead of me, relieving me of the superego duty to enjoy myself? Almost every VCR aficionado who compulsively records hundreds of movies (myself among them), is well aware that the immediate effect of owning a VCR, is that one effectively watches less films than in the good old days of a simple TV set without a VCR; one never has time for TV, so, instead of losing a precious evening, one simply tapes the film and stores it for a future viewing (for which, of course, there is almost never time).
One should therefore turn around one of the commonplaces of the conservative cultural criticism: in contrast to the notion that the new media turn us into passive consumers who just stare blindly at the screen, one should claim that the so-called threat of the new media resides in the fact that they deprive us of our passivity, of our authentic passive experience, and thus prepare us for the mindless frenetic activity.
But I should really be writing about computer fraud now.

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