Wednesday, 7 October 2009

Fag ends

I can't think of a recent time when there seem to be so many endings about and so few beginnings. Economically, politically, culturally, intellectually, we seem to be at the fag-end.

Here in the UK, we're sitting in the ruins of a crashed economic cycle, witnessing the twitches and jabbering of a dying government. Globally, there is nothing world-altering happening: globalism continues as does the well-established rise of the Asian economies.

Culturally, we seem becalmed. The Turner Prize (if we're to take it at all seriously anyway) could be taken for a stale, unfunny parody of itself. The Booker, whilst having some excellent short-listed books, features well-established authors working within one of the most traditional of genres, the historical novel. I'm not as cognisant with what the kids are up to as I used to be, but there doesn't appear to be any mass youth enthusiasm bubbling under, wanting to tear things up.

In the world of ideas there doesn't seem to be any great ferment. Environmentalism as a body of thought seems quite mature, its acolytes seem intent on converting rather than theorising. The economic crash has provided an opportunity to revive Keynes, but I don't see the rise of any new theories seeking to explain what happened and where we might go from here.

But is this rather depressing and exhausted vista unusual? Doesn't this happen at the end of every cycle, a necessary fallow period before a new crop starts breaking the surface? Well, no, it does seem different this time.

The last time we experienced a downturn and its drawn-out aftermath, in the early 1990s, we also had the birth of New Labour; the break-up of the Soviet Union; the end of apartheid; the eruption of grunge; the mainstreaming of rave culture, clubbing and recreational drugs; postmodernism and deconstruction were shaking up the academy; the Young British Artists were establishing themselves; the new British restaurant culture was emerging; Docklands was being revived and other disregarded corners of London were being rediscovered and refurbished. That's quite a lot to be occurring, I would say. I feel pretty sure I could produce a similar list for the early 1980s recession and that of the early 1970s.

I suppose there could be a lot going on which isn't visible right now. Or we may be about to be inundated with exciting new developments. But if these things don't come to pass then I'm afraid things look even grimmer than they already appear. Welcome to the Age of Stagnation.

5 comments:

Sean said...

I think today we seem to be living in a world of niches? probably brought about by the Internet.

For example how ever bizzare a fetish you might have, you are always going to find someone on the net to share it with.

Dont worry as soon as Dave gets into No10 the Left are sure to rediscovery their comedy genius.

Gadjo Dilo said...

Hmm, the Age of Stagnation - thought provoking. I really don't know what goes on any more so it's hard for me to comment, except to say that over here in Romania people are still happy to get their hands on some particularly tasty potatoes or some particularly good-value piece of second-hand clothing; this makes for some very dull conversations but peoples lives do at least seem "real", whatever that means.

Gaw said...

Sean: Yeah, humour too. It's not as good as it used to be. Blah.

Gadjo: Sorry to be so downbeat. I too am trying to concentrate on enjoying the simple things in life: chocolate cake and hats are my focus today.

Kev said...

Creativity tends to have moved from the places people looked for it, once you can identify the movement it's over. It's quite possible there are things happening now, people working now whose work we will later regard as posessing greatness. Toiling in obscurity is a fine artisic tradition after all. No obvious candidates spring to mind, but then again they wouldn't, would they?

Gaw said...

Kev: 'people...whose work we will later regard as possessing greatness...toiling in obscurity'?

Mmm. How about Brit? When history justifies him, we can say with justice: we knew him before he was famous.