Academic journal article New Formations

Love's Unlimited Orchestra: Overcoming Left Melancholy Via Dubstep and Microhouse

Academic journal article New Formations

Love's Unlimited Orchestra: Overcoming Left Melancholy Via Dubstep and Microhouse

Article excerpt

Abstract Many post-war cultural commentators have perceived a lack of impetus to the left-wing project, especially in the wake of the influential but ultimately unsuccessful worldwide protests of 1968. For some, such as Wendy Brown, this aimlessness is a result of a traditionalist left-wing's failure to acknowledge cultural and theoretical developments over the same period that call into question its fundamental presuppositions, such as economic determinism and teleologkal progress. Instead, she argues, the traditionalist left has succumbed to melancholia, refusing to abandon its ideak while blaming their disappearance on those representative of these newer developments, often referred to as the 'cultural' left. Yet, as recent developments in electronic dance music culture suggest, the ideals more identifiable with a poststructuralist leftism may, too, have their melancholic object in the heterotopic principles associated with rave culture. The work of two contemporary electronic musicians, Burial and Farben, working respectively in the genres of dubstep and microhouse, provocatively illustrates these developments. By examining their work alongside its online reception as well as more historical debates over left-wing melancholy, we can both understand the insights they offer into the present political landscape and begin to identify the outline of a more productive relationship to political loss.

Keywords Left-wing melancholy, rave culture, digital culture, dubstep, microhouse, hauntology, Burial, Farben

Anyone considering the contemporary state of left-wing thought in the Western world will have run across the trope of melancholia. Having seen perhaps its finest moments in the anti-fascist resistance during the Second World War, the post-war European left quickly found itself marginalised in the reconstruction phase and increasingly vilified as cultural consensus and American oversight replaced the Axis with the Soviet Union in the role of grand enemy. Faced with the unappealing choice between liberal, Western capitalist democracy and what was, by then, the undeniable totalitarianism of the nominally communist Eastern Bloc, the Utopian impulse at the centre of the left-wing project found itself increasingly unsustainable over the course of the post-war era. The effects of this historical turn are wide-ranging, and not easily assimilated into a straightforward narrative of doleful resignation. Indeed, this erosion has been strongly contested both intellectually, as leftwing theorists have struggled to come to terms with the failures of these events to effect radical political change, and physically, in events such as the May 1968 student revolts in Paris, the resurgence of leftist terrorism in their aftermath and the protests, strikes and activist projects that continue to broadly define the left today. Nevertheless, the waning of consensus and direction accompanying this loss of Utopian impulse, previously provided through a teleologically-oriented Marxist economic critique, looms large in post-war conceptions of the Western left.

More recently, such Utopian considerations have arisen again, ironically alongside the very collapse of capitalist democracy's Soviet enemy, albeit in a quite different form: the promise of a tolerant, cosmopolitan multiculture where differences predicated on identity are accommodated without recourse to economic transformation. Yet here, too, a certain kind of 'post-ideological' utopianism has foundered, its celebration of the heterogeneity engendered by the global expansion of capitalism seemingly no match for the homogenizing global flow of capital itself. Diagnosing this conjuncture in the British context, cultural theorist Paul Gilroy relates the impasse to both previous left-wing losses and a nascent really existing globalism:

That lapse is closely associated with the defeat of the Left and the retreat of the dissenting social movements with which its fate was intertwined. …

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