Monday, February 20, 2006

Immediate Gratification...

Just finished rereading Hakim Bey's short work Immediatism, and I have to say it got me thinking about two things I hold dear. Those would be, of course, bikes and beer. More specifically, I realized that many of us have been practicing a type of Immediatism already, without really recognizing it. But first, a little background.

The titular topic of the book concerns a sort of social practice or art that seeks to do away with the middle man, so to speak, in terms of direct experience. Bey makes the point that all experiences are in some way mediated, meaning that something comes in between subject and object that necessarily diminishes the former's perception of the latter. The degree of diminution (and thus, inversely, experience) varies depending on the media involved. In Bey's words,
    "All experience is mediated—by the mechanisms of sense perception, mentation, language, etc.—& certainly all art consists of some further mediation of experience. However, mediation takes place by degrees. Some experiences (smell, taste, sexual pleasure, etc.) are less mediated than others (reading a book, looking through a telescope, listening to a record). Some media, especially "live" arts such as dance, theater, musical or bardic performance, are less mediated than others such as TV, CDS, Virtual Reality. Even among the media usually called "media," some are more & others are less mediated, according to the intensity of imaginative participation they demand. Print & radio demand more of the imagination, film less, TV even less, VR the least of all—so far."
However, the extent to which an experience has been commodified (i.e., separated or "alienated" from the subject) can sometimes have greater impact than the form of mediation involved. Going back to Bey,
    "...an argument could be made that music distributed free or at cost on cassette via mail is LESS alienated than live music played at some huge We Are the World spectacle or Las Vegas niteclub, even though the latter is live music played to a live audience (or at least so it appears), while the former is recorded music consumed by distant & even anonymous listeners."
Bey goes on to talk about projects or activities that mitigate this mediation and thus allow a deeper experience, one akin to the play of a child (or—no stretch here—the play of an adult riding a bike), imbued with the power of imagination and the joy of pure frivolity. The rules? According to Bey,
    "All spectators must also be performers. All expenses are to be shared, & all products which may result from the play are also to be shared by the participants only (who may keep them or bestow them as gifts, but should not sell them). The best games will make little or no use of obvious forms of mediation such as photography, recording, printing, etc., but will tend toward immediate techniques involving physical presence, direct communication, & the senses."
Furthermore, Immediatism is something that should be
    "...shared freely but never consumed passively, something which can be discussed openly but never understood by the agents of alienation, something with no commercial potential yet valuable beyond price, something occult yet woven completely into the fabric of our everyday lives."
Okay, what came to mind after digesting the subject matter were those group mountain bike rides (e.g., enduros) where each participant "pays" an admission fee of a six of microbrew, or those where a local brewing company donates a keg, and riders sup after each lap or between stages, depending on the event. (Occult? Okay, maybe not, but I've had some pretty magical moments involving the combination of endogenous substances—adrenaline and dopamine, to name two—and bicycles.)

Dirt Rag's Punk Bike Enduro is probably the best known of these gatherings, but it violates at least one additional "rule" of Immediatism, namely, it is publicized and thus receives press coverage, however limited, and so runs the risk of becoming "contaminated," to use Bey's word, by media. Also, it's sponsored, not only by DR but by Troegs Brewing Company, who offer "support", as DR puts it. Thus, by the standards of Immediatism, it's already been co-opted, the whole thing a sort of fait accompli where mediation is concerned. (I'm not complaining here; participation in the Enduro is voluntary, obviously, and I happen to like both DR—missing latest issue notwithstanding—and Troegs beer. And the Enduro, for that matter.)

I cohosted one of these events a few years ago, a clandestine and illicit multi-lap jaunt around some local trails interrupted by pit stops at an oasis deep in the woods, where a cache of well-stocked coolers awaited each thirsty rider. It was a great time, one that we all keep talking about reviving. And a buddy north of me hosts an excellent one about this time each year, an almost perfect, if accidental, example of what we're discussing here. That ride, like Dirt Rag's, involves "point punks" (see the one above that I created) and the post-ride awarding of trophies—homemade totems comprised of scrap bike parts. Sadly, I'm afraid that gathering might not happen this year, because of unforseen (but positive) circumstances in his life (he'll remain anonymous here because name dropping violates the sine qua non secrecy of Immediatism, among other reasons of a more legal nature). There's another similar ride held annually in Philadelphia (as I'm sure there are in other states and other countries), and the weekly TNS local road ride involves elements of Immediatism, though it's not a perfect example, since brewpubs are involved and we make no effort at secrecy. Critical Mass is another example, though less so, since it's necessarily public and charged with overt political symbolism (and is thus not "play for play's sake"), and receives the occasional poisoned press coverage, however marginal and ephemeral.

These rides have a quality about them that is difficult to define, that kind of unique, intense euphoria that has its archetype (one can imagine) in the successful commission of a nonviolent crime that is, essentially, victimless. And indeed, that's exactly what these rides are. Each rider a kind of Robin Hood, stealing back the element of play from a system that has no right to possess, control, or sanction it, and sharing it freely with other participants.

Of course, the ideal such ride would be one where each participant offered up a few bottles of homebrew, since homebrew could be understood to be less mediated than commercial brew, and therefore more meaningful as a gift. And gears and suspension would be strictly res non grata, since each could be construed as an instrument of mediation that buffers—and thus diminishes—the riding experience.

Sounds like I better get working on it...

Interesting footnote on the lack of footnote denotations above: The title page in the front matter of the book contains this curious little statement,

"Anti-copyright, 1994. May be freely pirated and quoted—the author and publisher, however, would like to be informed at (publisher's name and address)"

Yeah, I sent 'em an email about the excerpts I lifted for this post.

12 comments:

rickyd said...

Your two smart. Get a job yet? If not, right a book!

gmr2048 said...

His "Anti-Copyright 1994" sounds like the precursor to today's "Creative Commons" license.

misCalc said...

Isn't mediation needed at some level? I certainly agree with the value of immediatism to a point. I agree that a significant portion of society has lost touch with many experiences in life and in doing so, have taken life’s experiences for granted. But this occurrence will not change… these are the people that will not grasp the concept of immediatism, giving this mass ignorance relative immortality in our brief history on this planet.

But maybe the author is missing the point. Mediation has afforded us the time to read or write such books, ride our bikes, drink beer, etc. Mediation has allowed us to increase technology in an effort to help society in many ways… There is a reason we have evolved to this level, granted it has plenty of side-effects. But the bottom line is that many people are living longer, happier, healthier lives as a result of mediation. Most people in this society of mediators experience an unparalleled level of freedom that our ancestors surely did without when they spent their days hunting and foraging. Isn’t it better to embrace (with respect) mediation in an effort to further our abilities as a society?

misCalc

iconoclasst said...

misCalc, too many questions to deal with in a Comments section, but to play the devil's advocate, in brief:

"Isn't mediation needed at some level?" Mediation isn't needed at some level, it's unavoidable. Bey is emphasizing that the degree of mediation is the kicker.

"But this occurence will not change." True, but I think Bey's point is not to try to change it, but to carve out your own little niche of less-mediated experience, just for your own sanity.

"But the bottom line is that many people are living longer, happier, healthier lives as a result of mediation." As a result of mediation? Hmm. Also, longer lives don't necessarily equal happier or more fulfilling lives.

"Most people in this society of mediators experience an unparalleled level of freedom that our ancestors surely did without when they spent their days hunting and foraging." Most? Hmm. Perhaps many do because many don't. But again, I think that's not the point of the book. It's not how much leisure you have, it's what you (can) do with it. (Ironically, some people spend a part of their free time doing the hunting to which you refer, others gather things at a shopping mall.) Also, if you could ask an ancestor, I don't think you'd get an answer that supports your statement. Since our ancestors never had the technical instruments of mediation we have, how could they miss them or know what they were missing or know that life was hard(er)? Happiness/misery is relative. It's the old idea that once you introduce something desirable (hi-tech gadget, a luxury item, etc.) into a system, it's much harder to be happy when it's suddenly removed. The crticial point is that the source of happiness has shifted from the living pleasure of, say, staying warm by the fire in your shelter with your family to the dead(ly) pleasure of watching (to the exclusion of familial relationships) a sports team score on the hi-def monster tube.

"Isn’t it better to embrace (with respect) mediation in an effort to further our abilities as a society? " I'd have to understand what you mean by "abilities" before I expressed an opinion. Some abilities good, some abilities bad.

Finally, Immediatism is an attack on mediation only in the fact that one cannot fully exist at any given time in the direct presence of the other (to paraphrase Pauli's exclusion principle). I don't think Bey is suggesting that mediation can and should be done away with, but rather that its effects in diminishing experience can and should be mitigated wherever possible:

"Computers, video, radio, printing presses, synthesizers, fax machines, tape recorders, photocopiers--these things make good toys, but terrible addictions. Finally we realize we cannot "reach out & touch someone" who is not present In the flesh. These media may be useful to our art--but they must not possess us, nor must they stand between, mediate, or separate us from our animal/animate selves. We want to control our media, not be Controlled by them. And we should like to remember a certain psychic martial art which stresses the realization that the body itself is the least mediated of all media."

Bottom line: I thought the concept was interesting and saw (forced?) some parallels. I suppose the gatherings I referred to could be done without alcohol (another medium?), but you lose the crucial element of the "gift" (see Mauss's The Gift for relevance). Also, no beer would be simply going too far!

So much for "in brief."

Nick said...

You want to come to the Wuthering Bikes Punk Bike Enduro. Though immediatism might cause a problem as it's not exactly short-notice out of your front door.

butch said...

Speaking of Troegs, have you tried Nugget Nector? tasty!

iconoclasst said...

Naw, I've seen the graphic with the hand puttin' the squeeze on the hop cluster, but haven't had the pleasure.

Does Whole Foods have it?

BTW, you always manage to get right to the meat of the post, don't ya? 8^)

Let's ride...

iconoclasst said...

Gary, you're right on, Creative Commons follows the same basic precepts.

Seems counterintuitive, but apparently sales of a lot of otherwise marginalized works are bolstered as a result of their lack of copyright; they're freely posted to the Web, but people who come across them end up buying the hard copy anyway...I'm sure it has something to do with the Immediatism of the physical object. That, or with the formidable task of juggling a laptap while hunkerin' down on the can.

butch said...

Yeah, Whole Foods. I was mediated by that graphic. Something about green buds and nuggets I guess... I was not disappointed...much better than Hop Back.

iconoclasst said...

Green buds and nuggest, eh? Sounds like it wasn't the graphic doin' the mediation...

Haven't seen it at any of the WFs I've been to recently. Bastards!

2drunk2shift said...

When something is underground, yet hot. I mean its on the fringe of a trend and everyone starts catching on. It quickly loses some of its luster. It is no longer that college band that is so good you want to share it with everyone. Well, everyone ruins shit.
This is why everyone gets so bullshitty about anything that is cool, including some things that aren't. You start hearing about how, "I remember when, I was there when, I got there before blah, blah, blah.
Like all the bullshit about Gary Fisher started this, cunningham did that, kelly did something else, tom richey could have, joe breezer this, bontrager prophesized that.
Sometimes no matter how great something is, it only has a season. Enjoy the moment and try to "Be".

2drunk2shift said...

I guess my point is "that eventually things get popular enough that someone wants to make money of it. Then the mediators come in fuck up a good thing. some good comes from it and some bad. Nothing lasts, so live it up."