Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Reclaiming Resentment



One thing I would quite like to do is try and reappropriate the notion of 'resentment' from a miserablist one to one based on action. The bizarre social peace of Brazilified London, a place where poor-on-poor crime occurs in shooting distance from enclaves of the super-rich is partly based on the decline in a certain form of resentment: rather than disdaining, resisting or straighforwardly hating the rich in their midst, they are either invisible or aspired-to. Resentment is the force that refuses to let its wounds heal, that remembers the old defeats in order to one day take revenge. In pop terms, it's the lunatic self-aggrandising class war of Pulp's 'I Spy', in political terms its the new revolution always being a ghostly return of the old.



There is though, I can't deny, a more dubious kind of resentment, one that is particularly virulent post-pomo. As someone who has crossed classes, as it were (a category in which, incidentally, a great many bloggers I've met could be included), there's always a chip-on-shoulder drive to know what you're talking about, to amass facts and ideas, a kind of hoarding, almost, in order to gather ammunition. This can go horribly wrong, however. Anne Massey's Hollywood Behind the Screen is a book that from its introduction tries to define itself as a defence of her working class parents' aesthetic, and it mounts an interesting but ultimately pomo-damaged defence of the populist art deco and moderne that was popular among the suburban WC and lower MC in the 20s and 30s - the opulent, glamorous pulp modernism of say, Wallis Gilbert and Partners against the supposedly elitist world of 'true' Modernism. Therein I came across an anecdote from a similarly class-mobile architect (whose name I forget) who was brought up in an Edgware suburban house, and was then told that the entire aesthetic world he gre up in was passe, tasteless, and was immediately recommended the works of Le Corbusier. Now this seems awful, and the writer in question seems full of indignation at this affront. But transfer architecture to art here, and imagine someone outraged that the paintings on his parents' walls were considered worthless by his teachers in comparison with Picasso (or Pam Ayres for Baudelaire, or whatever) - nobody would bat an eyelid. But the acceptability of architectural illiteracy enables that move, where resentment turns into mere philistinism.



There is another resentment though, the one in which as Tricky once hissed, one 'masters your language' rather than clings doggedly to one's own, or tries to valorise the mundanity of one's own former surroundings: the Material Cultures move whereby the working class everyday is always outside of politics and history and flying ducks are worth as much as Brancusi, etc. Resentment is always more complicated than this, and perhaps there should be a reclamation against the capitalist realist consensus of that supremely arch phrase that dismisses the autodidact: malcontent.

15 Comments:

Blogger bat020 said...

Hmmm, Nice Try But...

(i) aspiration to be a Rich Tosser is based on nothing but resentment of the Rich, it is at bottom an bitter acceptance that they are Always With Us - hence the furiously oscillating couple of playa/hater in hip-hop culture... the obsession with haters gets more intense the higher the playa status (cf Reynolds on Puff Daddy awhile back, tho he's wrong on Nietzsche) - and moreover, this Aspiration is diametrically opposed to properly proletarian Ambition, which seeks not to Become Rich but to abolish Richness altogether. This of course, in Nothing Personal.

(ii) "the force that refuses to let its wounds heal" is not resentment but Benjamin's historical materialism - and this attitude is necessary not to "take revenge" (for it is they who take revenge on us, ceaselessly) but to finally vanquish them, "this enemy has not ceased to be victorious".

11:37 pm  
Anonymous KDM (not $) said...

"there's always a chip-on-shoulder drive to know what you're talking about, to amass facts and ideas, a kind of hoarding, almost, in order to gather ammunition."

Yes, gather ammuntion in order to score points in an inherently dishonest fashion...thus the superficiality of the venture and the hollow-ness of the message.

How quickly does one forget the sway of the Prison,baton,tazer,ar-15,et al in the mental dis-association of the enemy rich upon upward class mobility?

...or is the opium dada &her kistch simply that strong, these days?

12:52 am  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Bat: you're right, of course, esp on the playa-hata cycle. However what I was (rather clumsily) trying to do here is find a resentment outside of the Personal resentiment i mentioned in the second para; one not dissimilar to the Benjaminian move you rightly prioritise...To find something politically valuable in being unable to 'get over it' as it were. But its quite likely that such a thing would no longer be 'resentment'.

1:36 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Aha, the resentment cavalry!

Aside: the playa-hata cycle is curious as a critique of resentment, as how many examples actually are there of the hata's perspective? I can think of Outkast's 'Red Velvet' as perhaps the nearest equivalent, but that's more like the businessman's advice to the thug ('Bill Gates doesn't dangle diamonds in the face' etc). Wouldn't hip hop from the hata's side be more interesting? The determined cheapness of grime was interesting in this respect- watching Channel U and having a Bruza video following 50 cent was almost an instance of what this might be like...

12:29 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

oops, cavalry here

12:30 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I felt your architecture argument included, tacitly, the notion that the people the lower class resent are those with the greater insight/education. Like a man who refuses to change his accent even though no-one can understand what he is saying, the resentment felt at the moment of rejection will draw the class-mobile into a defence of things which seen objectively cannot be defended.

One of the greatest burdens on the poor and educated is (from my experience of the peccavi of my miserable state) the attendent need you come to feel for approval from the academic establishment. Students who write essays which largely concur with the opinions of their teachers are given grades - the Lisa Simpson complex.

However, one can by no means equate intellectual or aesthetic insight with class status. I was raised by drug addicts on a council estate, but my parents gave me books ranging from A Dream of Red Mansions (in the original language) to The Arcades Project. It was precisely the resentment that I felt towards others - transformed into a competetive urge to win approval - that shaped my education, and ultimately my rejection of the educational establishment when I was old enough to recognize the same old enemies filled its ranks.
I would say that resentment has been a productive part of my character, and that this resentment has engendered a much clearer vision/process of aesthetic, philosophical and ethical judgements.

6:19 pm  
Blogger Erik said...

"To be a bastard, a half-breed, but through a purification of race. That is when style becomes a language... that is when all of language becomes secret, yet has nothing to hide, as opposed to when one carves out a secret subsystem within language." -D&G, 1000 plats

Resentment as compared to resistance, say of jet propulsion in outerspace--what are the structures against which actions are launched?

12:10 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

Anonymous, your experience sounds very similar to mine (replacing the drugs and the Benjamin with divorces and Trotsky). Just to clarify:

I felt your architecture argument included, tacitly, the notion that the people the lower class resent are those with the greater insight/education.

Well, what I was trying to do here was counter the John Carey/Intellectuals and the Masses model of Resentment, where Modernism is something designed Not to appeal to the masses, a kind of antiprole code, to which we should respond by eulogising what ordinary folk can understand.

This in architecture is the move whereby the big bad Modernists are elitists who laugh at Edgware semis in favour of their Cartesian skyscrapers. This is the Nietzschean ressentiment: Modernist/avant-garde object 'a' thinks it is superior to mundane/homely object 'b', therefore we should disdain it. This seems to me politically and aethetically extremely pernicious, not to mention contrary to a long tradition of militant autoditacticism.

2:30 pm  
Anonymous 4.35 said...

Is this about not being able to get a cool job in a London University? If so, I dunno if it's completely about class, it's just that there's so few of 'em and they do tend to go to friends from way back don't they? Anyhow, why the longing to become institutionalised?

4:35 pm  
Blogger owen hatherley said...

4.25, not really: I'm blissfully unemployed right now, which bothers me not a jot.

1:24 pm  
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