Monday, May 26, 2008

Counterculture, culture, fringe culture, marginal culture

A podcast interview with Feral House publisher Adam Parfrey brought up a really good point about all of these qualifiers, which is that fringe or counter culture are constantly changing and shifting terms, and so really don't reflect what these people are doing. People who write or make music or do stuff about conspiracies or hidden history (or socialism), do strange art, weird religious stuff, or participate in interesting movements, usually don't set out saying "Hey! I'm going to do something really strange. Won't it be cool for me to do something really strange?" Instead, we try to excel at whatever it is we're pursuing as if this stuff was accessible through the mainstream because we feel that there's value in it and if not for the way that the media works it would be part of that culture. Someone who's doing weird art who's trying to do weird art will immediately be obvious as a fraud. You can literally see it with visual art, that this person has adopted a gimmick because they think it's cool and not because they actually believe in it. Parfrey brought up a conversation with Werner Herzog, classic director of things like "Aguirre: the wrath of god", where Herzog declared that he wasn't counter culture but "I am culture!" This goes down all the way, no matter what you're dealing with. Naive artists only work because they really believe in what they're doing. You can be inspired by naive art, it can make you think and can influence your own art, but if you try to make naive art when you don't have that mind set it won't work at all, and it will be very obvious.

Even writings and rantings by people who are considered to be severely mentally ill, not to mention art by them, fall into this category. I have a link to "In the realms of the unreal: "Insane" writings", which is about the only collection of writings by people who have been seriously institutionalized available in the English language. One of the writers in there that I really like is a guy from the early part of the century name Adolph Wölfli, who's considered to be the archetypal schizophrenic author. The reason I like him isn't that he writes weird stuff but that in all of the self delusion and strangeness there's some interesting perspectives and points of view, things that might not have come out if he wasn't in the situation he was in. He was convinced that he was doing something very serious, and if you had asked him about it and suggesting that it wasn't valuable he probably would have gotten very upset with you.

Conspiracy theorists don't do it because they want to be cool, they do it because they think that features of society can be explained via conspiracies of one sort or another. People who believe in paranormal phenomenon aren't folks who randomly believe things without any sort of basis for those beliefs, even if you yourself disagree with that. Very few people on the fringe are insincere.

And if they're sincere about their beliefs and you are sincere about your beliefs then what right do you have to automatically label them the fringe and you the mainstream? Maybe numerically, but in content you would have to prove that they're wrong, and that what you believe in is right, before any kind of label of that sort could honestly be employed.

No comments: