There's a man down the street from me who always seems to be fiddling with something or other in his garage, a middle-aged tinkerer who spends his time fixing washing machines, bikes or, recently, rabbit hutches. And as he tinkers and fiddles about in his garage he always has a radio playing and it's always set on Absolute 80's by the sound of it, or one of the other radio stations that are popping up now that only play songs from certain decades, or find other ways to play old music like ''Classic Rock''.
Each time I walk past, I get a good earful for the Eurythmics, OMD, or Ultravox. The other day it was ''Is This Love'' by Alison Moyet. Now, I'm not that old, but as soon as I heard the catchy synth and the bit where Alison Moyet seems to sing in a weird downspiral sort of way instantly transported me back to another age, which I vaguely, very vaguely, remember. It's like having a potent little time capsule explode in your face.
For the fella tinkering in his garage it must be even more pronounced because he's older than me and spends his whole day listening to it. He must live a large part of his life being reminded of feelings and emotions that are decades old, because what's being released in the brain is not just his/our personal associations with the time period, but also the political and cultural associations as well.
Nostalgia isn't just triggered by audio or visual signals, but also scent. You walk along the street and the smell of certain paint or rubber can transport you back to being an infant in school. For some reason, freshly laid tarmac takes me back to being a boy, and is usually the case, long warm summer days.
But the difference now is that the past and its mix of melancholy and comfort is on tap and just a button or mouse click away.
For me that little souvenir from a terrible year, would take me back to the 90's, and the years weren't really that terrible. If new romantics and synth was the 80's, then Britpop indie and grunge are our 90's nostalgia. But something else was also happening in the 90's, which takes us slightly off the beaten path into more interesting places: what I'm talking about is the ambient scene.
Helped along with copious amounts of ecstasy, mushrooms, and acid, the 90's ambient scene is an interesting cultural niche because you can see clearly that it had trans-human and transcendent element baked right into the heart of it. The Orb's "Little Fluffy Clouds" seemed to be fixated on mixing electronic music more advanced than we'd heard before with the idealising an average sunny day. The individual would see the world and the universe, and even other dimensions, new again.
But my personal favourite of this genre was the Future Sound of London and their epic ''Lifeforms'' album. What's so fascinating about it is that they weren't messing about, you can call it pretentious even, but the fact is they were deadly serious in their aim to transcend the bounds of space and time and present an entirely new experience, sometimes awe-inspiring and sometimes horrifying. The video complimented it perfectly, pushing the CGI of its time to its absolute limits. We'd travel across dimensions and time, we'd fly through the primordial ooze and fall into black holes, we'd visit distance moons in unknown space and swim in their oceans with weird creatures.
A 90 minute concept album which had, as its main motif, the beeping sounds of a satellite traversing an interstellar, interdimensional soundscape. Sometimes the motifs would be high energy, sometimes low as if struggling, sometimes intense.
The human consciousness unbound from the material realm, wandering time and space, and the serious and downright weird and scary music drove it all. This was the future happening, literally the Future Sound of London!
I listened to it recently, and got a deep sense of nostalgia from it.
Nostalgia, for visions of the future.
But Future Sound of London is, admittedly, an obscure detour to make a wider point; a much more common vision of the future we see online today is, of course, synthwave. Synthwave and the VHS aesthetic and blocky digital graphics which come along with it was the dissident response to the nihilism of postmodernity, but the problem with that, and the reason I never found it very interesting, is that it's essentially just another form of nostalgia dusted off and wheeled out in a world which is itself completely awash in nostalgia, a world in which the past never really seems to die, and a present which cannot express itself in any meaningful sense.
The postmodern philosopher Jacques Derrida coined a term for this which caught on among leftist intellectuals who've studied and discussed the subject far more than the right, Derrida called it ''Hauntology''. The present was ''haunted'' by ideas and forms which should have died and drifted off into the ether, but hadn't, yet what they expressed had never happened either. The Future Sound of London is now a ghostly vision of a future which never came to pass belonging to a cultural moment that died, and yet Lifeforms still exists.
Viewed from this perspective, synthwave is more of a zombie: a piece of nostalgia given a new piece of life.
The question then becomes: just how ''haunted'' are we in the here and now?
In my recent stream with Endeavour on classic movies we discussed the 2004 Pixar animation The Incredibles. The Incredibles does not have a 21st century look or feel - its aesthetic is retro-futurist. It looks like how people in the 50's or early 60's imagined America would be in the future: it's idealist and optimistic, the streets are clean, the population is overwhelmingly white, and they have nice transportation systems like monorails.
And this too never happened. Retro-futurism is like a ghost from a future that never happened. In actual fact, almost all pop culture now is a reference or a copy or a pastiche of something which came before it, nothing seems new or original. We're drowning in the past, in nostalgia for things could have been.
Cultural movements built on nostalgia are not new, the romantic era of the 19th century was nostalgic: poets, writers, and especially painters tried to re-imagine a Europe that had not gone through the industrial revolution; or the Enlightenment: the land was still pure and magical, untouched by oil and grim and mass production, by rationalism.
But the difference between then and now is that it isn't one particular cultural movement which haunts us, it's the past in general, the past as a whole.The past just refuses to lay down and die, it can't, and so the present and the past become merged into one mass of forms.
My YouTube suggestions, for example, will feature Pink Floyd, Wagner, and New Order all being suggested alongside each other. Leftist intellectuals from Adorno to Mark Fisher have understood this problem and put the blame down to capitalism or, more recently, Neo-Liberalism.
In 2009 in a backlash against X Factor destroying the music industry, the public tried to get their own song to Christmas number one, the song they chose was by Rage Against The Machine, rebellion against the machine will also be outsourced to 90's.
Lana Del Ray is certainly of the post 2000 era, yet once again a brief browse of her Wikipedia page says:
Del Rey herself have noted a persistent theme of 1950s and 1960s Americana. The strong elements of American nostalgia brought Idolator to classify her firmly as alternative pop. Del Rey elaborated on her connection to the past in an interview with Artistdirect, saying "I wasn't even born in the '50s but I feel like I was there''.
Lana Del Ray also perfected the ''home movie'' aesthetic which reminds you of 80's and 90's cozy family videos. In fact, we see that style more now than we did then.
The tinkerer in the garage has access to any era of music he feels like reminiscing to because he's willing to listen to the ads that pop up between songs. I actually think the problem is more fundamental, and when followed through, reveals something much more troublesome for ''progressives''. The problem is technology.
Technology is essentially freezing cultural forms and preventing them from disappearing. The advent of the internet means everyone has instant access to all previous cultural trends, and so the cultural landscape becomes overwhelmed by these ''ghosts'' of the past to such a degree that the present can't actually emerge and express itself in a distinctive way.
And history ended, around 20 years ago, the exact time we saw the emergence of pastiche and references to references, in the likes of Pixar animation.
But even outside of pop culture the problem can be seen.
This video was picked up on Ebay then uploaded to YouTube and monetized. Who this family is, or was, is entirely unknown. Yet through technology we get to see them having Christmas dinner in 1988 and, I have to admit, it's very creepy - they're literally ghosts.
Just like Dexy's Midnight Runners, The Future Sound of London, or retro-futurism, this family Christmas dinner of 1988 stalks the present along with a billion other images and forms. The present is being crushed by the past.
It's a curious thing to watch left-wing YouTube today because it seems every second video cites Mark Fisher, but they never address the real problem facing a cultural philosophy which is ''progressive'' and forward looking, that things will always get better. They never address Fisher's point that, in truth, the left lost the future, as he would have it, to neoliberalism, or as we would say today ''woke capitalism''.
We've never been further away from some sort of socialist idealism. And just because BLM run riot in the streets, or Captain Marvel is a woman, doesn't mean we're getting any closer to it.
And it gets worse again, because to begin railing against the present sees them fall into the mode of a ''Reactionary'' or conservative. All those Utopian visions of working class revolts resulting in socialism breaking apart Global Capital and sharing out the loot are, once again, just ghosts haunting our present. Another vision of a potential future which never happened.
And unlike the right, thinking leftists can't even allow themselves to engage in nostalgia because the future was always supposed to be better than the past.
The question currently facing the right, and a possible way out of the maze, is whether or not we should have been looking for meaning in these societal structures to begin with. In a famous Red Letter Media sketch, Mike asked Jay the question "Are you happy you lived long enough to see all your childhood heroes trashed and destroyed?"
The same applies to Europeans more generally.
At the beginning of the end of history in 2000, Tom Wolfe published a great novel called A Man In Full which I read about five times. The blurb on the back of the book said "This book will be a good friend to you". Wolfe's book features two white men at opposite sides of the social spectrum, one a larger-than-life real estate tycoon who's bankrupt called Charlie Croker, and the other working-class and wrongfully jailed.
The question posed by Wolfe in the book is what do men do when whatever choices they make result in bad outcomes? And his answer becomes pivotal to the book: stoicism. Stoicism allows men to liberate themselves by focusing on their actual lived lives and not worrying about narratives and social constructs. And if we're honest about it, most of us are already in that state of mind, but to be so consciously is something else.
From this perspective the cultural malaise is itself a passing phase and its ghosts, and increasingly actual demons, are contingent on that state of Being. The phase of deconstruction, fluid identities, and commodification of everything is something to be endured but not embraced. It isn't that we do not understand the moral codes of the day - we do - it's just that we reject them, all of them, out of hand and are simply waiting for the era to pass, rather than yearning for the past.
In the end it's the acknowledgement that postmodernity has become stale, and it's beginning to stink, and it too will eventually become just another ghost of the past. State of mind is everything: how do we conceptualize the present in the dissident right? What even is the dissident right?
Nostalgia as a force sets in when a thing has Become, when its maturity is reached and begins to dwell on the past, on times gone by. Essentially, this is why so many leftist intellectuals fell into a deep melancholia: a worldview built on a positive vision of the future stagnated and was absorbed into capitalism, its arch enemy, and became nothing but a woke tumour waving a crass flag.
At the beginning of this year after the Trump debacle, I made a video called the "Long Road to a New Story". The road we need is the road to Becoming, but it'll begin first with stoicism, endurance, and a letting go...