Thursday, July 12, 2012

A Note: Car Radio, Space, and Class

A sudden insight and clarification of the piece on car audio that I'm working on.  It all hinges on Zizek's notion of paraconsistent logic, transferred in a somewhat crudely metaphorical form to the social realm.  The car radio is an instance of technological work that, at the same time, helps extend the atomized form of the early 20th century suburban/suburbanizing white middle class into the space of the car, and also produces its obverse, in the form of car radios used as broadcasting platforms that disturb both urban and, later, suburban ideals of middle-classness as they are linked to quiet/the lack of disruptive 'noise.'   This is linked to the idea that even with the earliest forms of electronic networked communication, the middle classes/knowledge classes began to transcend or escape from the physical space of social life.  At the same time, the development of a working-class vernacular of car radio as noise producer was a work of bringing power and meaning back into space.

The middle classes used the car radio to connect themselves over great distances to projects of national identity and development - for instance, during World War II, radio listening was conceived as a kind of patriotic duty.  These were early experiences of networked identity.  By contrast, the subaltern-identified usage of car radio as a broadcasting platform in local space - specifically, in the emergence of the 'boom cars' that we're all so familiar with now - was a resistance to the networking of identity, and a reaffirmation of localized identities formed in physical spaces.  It was not just a rejection of and attack on middle-class cocooning, but the articulation of a different logic of community altogether.  It is crucial to this understanding that the main media channels for boom car culture were rarely actual radio broadcasts, but physical media, in an era that roughly coincided with the democratization of the production and distribution of these forms - the appearance first of the cassette, then later the CD, then the CDR.  These were not vast networks of high-speed, ephemeral, space-binding broadasts, but much more time-binding, coherent 'records' (in both senses) of highly developed, increasingly local worldviews.

But is there an inconsistency to using Zizek, who in his take on Hegel rejects the notion of socialized reason and history as a project of "The Cunning of Reason," in an argument that hinges on the presumption that these processes play out some sort of structural problem-solving?  I'm not sure.  More generally, I'm not ready to comment on the legitimacy of Zizek's notion of paraconsistent logic - I can frankly say that I know I am well inside that mindset, and I still don't have many of the tools that I'd need to take a step back and place it in the context of the history of ideas.

All of this came to me as I was reading the exchange between John Gray and Zizek in the New York Review of Books and Jacobin, respectively.

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