2017: The Year in Review – Part 2: Culture

While posts on this blog have been a little sparse this year, I have managed to keep our Tumblr up to date, providing a handy list of all my cultural experiences over the last 12 months; here are my personal highlights:

Music – I’ve been steadily buying more records every year since I gave up my fixation with physical objects and started downloading albums back in 2014, so picking out my favourites has been getting harder; this is a fairly arbitrary top ten for 2017, in no particular order:

  • Antisocialites – Alvvays
  • Semper Femina – Laura Marling
  • Life Without Sound – Cloud Nothings
  • The Gold String – Devon Sproule
  • American Dream – LCD Soundsystem
  • Modern Kosmology – Jane Weaver
  • Pleasure – Feist
  • Masseduction – St. Vincent
  • MILANO – Daniele Luppi & Parquet Courts
  • Visions Of A Life – Wolf Alice

I managed to go to more concerts than usual this year too; my favourite was probably Cloud Nothings, though the Pixies gig was a fun blast of nostalgia.

Film – most of my cinematic experience this year was watching DVDs of stuff that came out last year; High Rise and The Neon Demon stand out. Of films I saw in an actual cinema easily the best was T2 Trainspotting, perhaps unsurprisingly, since I am exactly the demographic to appreciate it, having aged along with the protagonists, and shared their experience of change and maturity, though rather less dramatically.

Books – I completed another volume of Proust, The Captive, and filled a slightly embarrassing gap by finally reading some Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. My intake of more recent literature wasn’t great, but I did manage last year’s Booker winner The Sellout, by Paul Beatty, which seemed worthy of the prize, though it did run out of steam towards the end. My favourite fiction of year was another old one that I’ve been meaning to read for ages, The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin, a hard-headed yet inspiring treatment of the challenges facing individuals in a communal society. I read rather less history, science and biography than in years past, Patti Smith’s M Train my pick of the latter category.

So that was 2017, insofar as it is possible to sum any year up in a few hundred words. I do regret not posting more this year, especially about politics; right now I feel resolved to do better in the months ahead, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.

Anyway, I’ll round off by wishing a Happy New Year to anyone who may be reading this, and hoping it finds you healthy and prosperous.

2017: The Year in Review – Part 1: Blogging

So here we are at the end of December, time for our now-traditional annual retrospective.

Any hopes that I may have harboured that our 10th anniversary back in May would inspire a period of reinvigorated creativity were fairly quickly dashed, but we have managed to stagger on after a fashion. It’s a while now since we more or less abandoned our original virtual-world theme, but my plan to reinvent SLS as a home for political and cultural commentary has never really taken off. I could spend the rest of this post listing the many, many topics I could, and should, have covered this year, notably the Brexit shambles and the ongoing nightmare of the Trump administration, but it seems more useful to try to identify what stopped me converting the opinions which I very definitely had about all these developments into written form.

I think the central problem is the tension between my feeling that I need to take some time to consider an issue, and the equally pressing sensation that events are moving at a pace that requires an instant response. I’m not sure to what extent this is the consequence of an actual increase in the volume of information that we are subjected to these days, and how much is due to the inability of my ageing brain to keep up as well as it used to, but the end result has been a state of intellectual paralysis, where I get part-way through formulating a position, before being overwhelmed by a dispiriting realisation that the moment has passed, and I need to start thinking about the next thing.

I have tried to overcome this by limiting my exposure to new, distracting stimuli – I gave up looking at Facebook altogether for a while, though I have subsequently allowed myself strictly rationed access – but, as can be seen from my very poor output this year, it hasn’t really worked. I guess I’ll just have to try to be a bit more selective about what is worth posting about, and not worry so much about being topical.

Anyway, for the record, here are our top ten posts by traffic for the year:

  1. Second Life demographics – a brief review
  2. Free Pussy Riot!
  3. Watching the Okhrana
  4. There is no land beyond the Volga
  5. No man is an island
  6. Bastille Day 1989
  7. On Second Life and addiction
  8. Trouble in paradise
  9. All Stars
  10. Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space

And here are my favourites from the last twelve months:

Finally, our top ten (out of 47) countries for visitors:

  1. United States
  2. Canada
  3. United Kingdom
  4. New Zealand
  5. France
  6. Germany
  7. Spain
  8. India
  9. Norway
  10. Hong Kong

Next up, 2017 in culture.

Thoughts on Catalonia

Of the many developments in world politics that I entirely failed to comment on this year, the Catalan Independence crisis is perhaps one of the more notable. I did think of writing something when it was all kicking off around the referendum a couple of months ago, but never got around to it, partly due to indolence, but mostly because I felt there was little new to say – the whole situation has played out in a way that would have been familiar to Marx back in the nineteenth century, and any commentary from me would have been nothing but a series of quotes from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon.

I think that this analysis has been largely borne out by subsequent events, as the bourgeois nationalists, after their first flush of reckless adventurism stalled, failed to harness the one force that had the potential to carry the project to success, the enthusiasm of the Catalan (and Spanish) working class for progressive social change. Fearful that the wave of proletarian expectation that they initially encouraged might end up sweeping them away too, the Catalan bourgeoisie have hastened to compromise with their counterparts in Madrid (and Brussels), a process that has led to today’s regional elections.

Of course once started these movements take on a momentum of their own, and as I write the early returns seem to indicate that the election will be inconclusive, and the crisis will enter a new phase. What happens next will depend in no small part on the leadership provided by left elements of the independence movement, and the solidarity shown by the left in the rest of Spain, and in Europe generally.

It would be hard to make any predictions about all of this in the best of circumstances, but it’s doubly difficult looking at it from the UK, though the distorting lens of our own current anxieties over Brexit. The Catalan crisis raises many important questions about the pro-capitalist nature of the EU, and support for the progressive cause in Catalonia would seem to fit into a wider anti-EU narrative, with echoes of previous events in Greece. However around here Euro-scepticism is a predominantly right-wing phenomenon, which makes it tricky to formulate a left perspective which can encompass criticism of the role of the EU in southern Europe without giving any ground to the toxic xenophobia of resurgent jingoism.

Our comrades in Catalonia, from what I’ve read, do seem to have a pretty good grasp of what needs to be done, so I’m as hopeful as one can ever be that things might work out well there. I’m somewhat less optimistic that the horror show that is British politics can be steered towards a happy ending, but that’s a topic for another post.