Culture: Gothic Complexity

The primary purpose of cultural systems, sub-systems and sub- or counter-cultures is also their primary method. That is (and fundamentally): the replication of the process of self-replication.

I’m not certain as to the accuracy of the visual Goth genealogy and network of influence represented above but it is interesting to note that members of any subculture or fantasists for any specific genre of participatory cultural emulation (or simulation) tend to immerse themselves in the history and folklore of that to which they seek to belong and that they wilfully or unwittingly assist to self-propagate. The logic of functional relationship, lifestyle and participatory cultural systems of value and aesthetic production always find themselves defined in regards to the “host” culture within which they are encapsulated; here – subculture stands by its own lore and assertion in some aspirational sense “outside” the mainstream and yet is as tightly bound to, by and through the normative methods and logic of inscription, role, purpose and relational ideation as is any other person, group, clique or (other) sub-culture within this self-propelling and self-referential dynamical whirlpool of generative metamorphosis and evolution.

To stand against a system, ideology or cultural value system is also (and inevitably, irrevocably) to be defined by that thing, if inversely, and for this reason alone it is apparent that there is no “beyond” or “outside” a culture or society. All action, reference and ideation is of an internally-extensible nature. Under any authentic holistic or global systems analysis the very first assumption, axiom and consideration must always have to be that all action, thought, value-generation, reference, productivity, commerce, signification or concept is fundamentally and inextricably either within that cultural system or acts as functional assertion of the ongoing and open-ended internal extensibility of that system. Indeed, all possible paths and actions or choices are fundamentally encapsulated and directly or indirectly defined by the broader cultural context and social or economic world within which the subculture exists; there exists a certain self-warping field and matrix of possibility and action.

It is a salient feature of sub- and counter-cultures that the more rigorously they seek to extract themselves from the logic and value systems from which they profess to feel so deeply alienated, the more overtly and extravagantly do they mark, brand and identify themselves as “separate” and “unique”. It represents something of an irony that this cultural “rubber banding” and increasingly vigorous self-definition at the notional periphery of normative social or cultural value systems indicates that the more a person seeks to extract themselves from the cultural center, the more they are drawn back into it; as though this is a fundamental logical gravitational field and irreducible, inescapable systemic and distributed or non-local self-referential and self-labelling process. A person may not choose from the more probable or central and normative choice but they will choose and in this act of individuation they have become a part of the logic of taxonomy and categorisation which perpetually seeks to know through labelling and to expand through the growing pool of all possible entities and references.

What is most interesting about all this is not that it is all in essence as though some perspectival wizardry of spatial curvature fabricated by M.C. Escher and rendered into a culturally relativistic logic, although this is (and remains) both instructive and interesting. The fascinating component to all of this is that it illustrates one of the central, key components of cultural systems: their primary purpose is also their primary method.

Cultural systems are constantly undergoing metamorphosis and change and it is in the “edge-cases” of subcultural replication and evolutionary development that we can most clearly (and perhaps rapidly or easily) identify that:

• First, a subculture represents a test-algorithm and virtual machine running within the host environment and operating system of the predominant method of individuation (i.e. culture) of any specific time and place – a notion of location and moment perhaps complicated somewhat by the distributed sense of presence and shared identity now available and manifest due to globally-networked information and communications systems.

• Second, that the process of self-labelling and adoptive methods of logic and self-reference provide insight back into the whole cultural process as a bundled suite of values, beliefs, labels and references – essentially that this is a system that is in many different ways and upon many congruent contours perpetually mapping itself back onto itself; inscribing narrative upon narrative and glyph upon glyph, symbolic language upon symbolic language and logic upon logic.

In the overall recombinatory choices and selections made by individuals from those available pre-existing choices and combinations of referential elements, entities, concepts and objects – the cultural system as a whole is effectively self-propagating itself. Some patterns persist and others fade away, perhaps to be reintroduced from memory or artefact at a later time or to disappear into obscurity forever, available only through the technologies and efforts of future archaeologists and motley analysts but then, too, to be reintroduced in some sense back into that pool and whole of all available reference, choice and action. Those patterns of reference, artefact and behaviour which survive the (self-)selection tests of cultural evolution then proceed to become part of the pool of resources and artefacts from which further recombination, reconstellation and reconfiguration might be composed.

There is much to be said about all of this but the central axis of this conceptual wheel is that of elementary self-reference and recursive self-propagation. The cultural system is itself only doing what physical, material and organic systems also do (perhaps unsurprisingly as it is merely a higher-order abstraction of the same energy and information flows). There exists a gravitational center to all of this. That center is precisely that what is being self-replicated is at base the process of self-replication itself; such self-accelerating biases become pronounced at ambiguous yet broadly definable thresholds of cultural and technological mass-density such ad thst moment of accelerated change in which we currently exist. The mental image here is subtle (and complex) but is somewhat as of a graph or representation of a logarithmic curve or exponential acceleration which, by some internal logical necessity, is dragging its own frame of reference and axes into another (or additional) perpendicular axis and dimension; a dimension defined by the arc of that very same contour and curvature. This is a concept which sounds more nebulous than it actually is but finds itself very poorly articulated in language and linear narrative.

Cultural metamorphosis, individuation and splitting or (an almost genetic and cultural species) variation exists on this enigmatic spiral of procedural self-replication of self-replication. The propulsion and driving impetus behind all of this is a kind of implicit logical necessity (self-)contained within the concept of holistic and global systems-theoretic analyses of culture, of time and of place; there is a subtle principle attempting to percolate (and self-propagate !) through all of this. Representing a non-linear process of process eventually becomes difficult to articulate within the boundaries of linear narrative; I should have to revisit this all again at some later time.

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