Built-in obsolescence

Over the past few years, I’ve been slowly developing a theory of what

I call built-in obsolescence in art. It’s still far from fully formed,

but in a nutshell it says that all art becomes obsolete eventually,

and that there’s something to be said for art which not only accepts,

but actually celebrates and depends on the fact that, at some maybe

not-so-distant point in the future, it will have lost its original aesthetic


Of course, art can be repurposed over time. Most African tribal sculpture

in the west is collected and admired for distinctly different reasons

than those for which it was originally made. And probably not one visitor

in a thousand has the ability to read the average cathedral’s stained-glass

windows in the manner in which their designers intended. So art can

still be great, even after it has fallen into obsolescence.

What I’ve always had a soft spot for, however, is art which deliberately

plays off evanescent cultural touchstones. Andy Warhol’s portraits of

B- and C-list celebs already have lost all but their purely formal power:

we no longer know or care who these people are. Warhol, however, was

on more solid ground when he took as subjects people who really changed

the culture: in celebrating Elvis or Marilyn, he also memorialised them

and helped their memory live on, in much the same way as Picasso did

with Guernica.

Brett Easton Ellis’s Glamorama,

however, is a different kettle of fish. It was published in January

1999, and featured lists upon lists of the hottest models of the week,

the coolest bars of the month. It was out of date within six months,

and I remember thinking at the time that it would probably be incomprehensible

within a couple of years. (It’s certainly well past its sell-by date:

the hardcover is 97,136th on the Amazon.com bestseller list, despite

being 72% reduced to just $6.99.) I loved it, though, precisely because

of its very deciduousness: loved it the way we love the cherry-blossom

all the more in the knowledge that it will soon be gone.

Last weekend, however, I read Turn

of the Century, by Kurt Andersen. It came out just four months

after Glamorama, and sought to capture the feverish dot-com millenarianism

of New York City in a future one year away. It, too, is now on the scrap-heap

of literary history: a new hardback can be bought on Amazon for $2.54,

while a used one goes for 84 cents. I bought mine from the New York

Public Library, which had no more use for it, for a buck.

For the first couple of hundred pages of this supposedly out-of-date

book, however, I was laughing out loud most of the time. Even now, long

after we’re all meant to have moved on from such things, it’s an incredibly

funny satire of what New York was like only a couple of years ago. Andersen’s

skewers are just as sharp as always, but now we see them puncture their

targets through a tincture of, if not nostalgia, at least a certain

wry remembrance of how things were.

It’s almost as if a good artist can’t help but make timeless art, even

if he’s trying not to. Scenes from Glamorama still stay with

me, vividly: the book has had an ironically lasting effect for such

a flash-in-the-pan phenomenon.

I’m not saying that Turn of the Century is great art. There’s

a very long middle section with lots of pointless plot, and the satire

of the financial world isn’t half as cutting as that of the meejah lifestyle

in general. But all the same, it’s worth exploring those books you bought

a few years ago and never got around to reading: they’re probably just

as good now as they were then. Maybe even better.

This entry was posted in Culture. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Built-in obsolescence

  1. Welcome to here:

    I think you will like.

  2. If you wanna buy some other things which are not listed in our website:please contact with our

    customer service with on-line chat or add our Email,we will stock it for you in a short time after

    you told us what you needed.

  3. Are you want to buy uggs?There are many good ugg boots :










  4. Are you want to buy uggs?There are many good ugg boots :











    and the last one .

  5. The sale of fake Gucci shoes is now a common event. But, the online shopping platform adds a fresh layer of deception. Individuals buying the fashionable shoes do not understand that the products they are buying are fake.

  6. There are many online as well as offline stores available from where you can buy discount Gucci shoes.

  7. 评论1:

    Thank you for the author’s hard write,

    in 2010 change you image, here is some good Website for

    , another you can see this any




    I very much like this article






    and so on.

Comments are closed.