On Christmas night of 2020, Charlie Curran was visited by three ghosts: the Ghost of Eros Past, the Ghost of Thanatos Future, and the Ghost of In-Between Drives, or yours truly. It was in the course of this phantasmic visitation that we realised we were each sitting on remarkable ―perhaps unparalleled― databases on the Covidian turn, that we’d do well to roll together.
What you’re about to witness are the minutes of that meeting.
But first things first (before we really go non-linear). Though you could fairly call it a review by two maniacal indexers, All Tomorrows Parties is emphatically not a 2020 retrospective: anyone can do that, many will and have. In alignment with Kulturinstinkt, this is tracer ammunition; meant to chart the multimedia course and contours of the three Aesthetic Waves I have identified thus far, through the lens of generally American ―because dominant― pop culture.
The First Aesthetic Wave started on March 11, with the official declaration of the pandemic, and it was the shortest and most psychedelic of the three; largely because no one ―including the experts― knew enough about the virus. It took place under warped institutional directives and incentives, and featured the first lockdowns and first exponential surge in deaths (which felt more staggering at 35,000 than they do now, at almost 350,000). The reorganization of pandemic time and space began to snowball into form. And, while frontline and essential workers were sacrificed as “heroes” on the altar of societal continuity, a palpable sense of Being-in-It-Together emerged, despite ―or possibly because of― the suddenness and shock of forced physical distancing.
The Second Aesthetic Wave began no less abruptly with the death of George Floyd, which triggered an immediate and collective shrinking from the challenges and possibilities offered by the pandemic. Experts compromised popular trust, again, with their uncritical encouragement of the Black Lives Matters protests. Though it’s easy to frame this episode as being about justice, (pseudo)solidarity and uncontainable social unrest, these are also the civilizational veneers of a pent-up drive to crowd. Wave Two is thus an object lesson in how trailblazing can be premised on triviality and tribalism, or how to miss the forest for the trees (as reified in the portentous California wildfires). It encompasses the irreversible politisation and polarisation of the virus, and of masking. It also shows US events dominating the world stage despite the virus being global: a living essay in Zivilization and its malcontents.
Wave Three took off this month with the vaccine’s approval. There is an air of optimism, as the “I believe in science” meme has regained traction. However, lacks in global state capacity, resistance to vaccination, economic precariousness, new viral mutations and second or third lockdowns should prepare us for an even angrier and more frustrated Fourth Aesthetic Wave. There is also a latent expectation the vaccine might yet reset us to an antecovidian normalcy of sorts. People who did not pass this Great Filter still live among us (and we, among them). There are at least two splinter universes overlapping now, at growing friction with each other, and they will be impossible to reconcile. The place where Zivilization ends and Kultur begins is a subduction zone.
This should explain how All Tomorrows Parties is avant-garde —frontline, rather than say, guerrilla— filmmaking. Though Charlie and I are not battlefield medics, we are feasibly something between field scouts and war correspondents. As the former, we are prepared to be the ones cultural forces aim for. As the latter, we hope to catch it on film ―for the record.
All Tomorrows Parties is all noise and all signal, all at once; slightly more and less than film as we are used to it. By definition, it’s synthetic. As an exercise in composition, it will be archival. It is part cut-up, part video-clip, part found art, part infomercial and part video-essay; montage and post-iche. It is [n]on-sense poetry that seeks to tap into the cultural motifs of our age of sped-up simulacra, acknowledging these are more (and more) often found on surfaces and glitches. It is a transmission device from within the epochal event horizon. It is assemblage and slippage. It will be shot into the bloodstream, not the mainstream, as a lure for compound-eyed sighthounds. It is the recent future and the short now and a culture war machine insofar as implicit in what’s here is what’s next.
There are real limits, I believe ―acceleration and velocity foremost among them― to what can be accurately conveyed in writing about a world-historical shift of this magnitude and nature in real time. This is why we will be using audiovisual media and writing —ranging from the psychoacoustic to the semiautomatic— to generate a manner of representation that assists our navigation of the spectrum between memes and egregores.
Without further ado, here is the first in a series of films exploring the end of the long twentieth century and the birth of Covidian Aesthetics.