Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Critical Project

I recently began reading Elif Batuman's excellent essay collection The Possessed (buy it here). In it, she writes "What if you read Lost Illusions and...instead of living your own version of Lost Illusions in order to write the same book for twenty-first-century went to Balzac's house and Madame Hanska's estate, read every word he ever wrote, dug up every last thing you could about him-and then started writing?"

You don't have to know who Madame Hanska was to understand what Batuman is getting at. What she proposes stands as the intended goal of her book. It also, not long ago, seemed the intended goal of James Murphy and LCD Soundsystem, one of the most significant bands of the last 10 years by any standard. It is hard not to see the connection between what Batuman describes and the manifesto laid out by James Murphy (LCD's jefe) in "Losing My Edge:"

LCD Soundsystem - Losing My Edge

The song acts as both and indictment and an embrace of Brooklyn hipsterism (or, as my friends in Park Slope would call it, Williamsburg hipsterism). Like Batuman, who describes her graduate studies as an attempt to "bring one's life closer to one's favorite books," the early LCD was an attempt to bring Murphy's life closer to his favorite records. While some might see the song as no more than a posture, a series of literal name-drops, American/British popular music is suffused throughout its history with only slightly more subtle musical name drops (cf anything by the Rolling Stones, anything by the Elephant Six collective, every second of Paul's Boutique).

This was at least the initial aesthetic goal of LCD: bringing the slacker hipster existence closer to the music on which it subsists. Of course, success has a funny way of altering aesthetic goals. Murphy has gone from name-dropper to name-dropped (in rather large letters in the trailer to the new Noah Baumbach film Greenberg), and you would be hard pressed to find an appropriate literary analogy for his newest single, "Drunk Girls:"

Sound of Silver was one of my favorite records of the last decade, but it's hard for me to get excited about this. Hopefully the new record (This Is Happening, due May 17) will have more to offer. If not, we can always put on the record more closely aligned than any with Batuman's critical project:

Beastie Boys - Hey Ladies mtv
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