The phenomenon of "extreme culture" is an enigmatic one that increasingly defies a universal, 'catch all' definition. In any given cultural undertaking, there are countless maximum or minimum values that can be attained, which can then be adopted in any combination to shape individual works and cultural movements. Yet even a quick survey of the current media landscape reveals a volatile definition of "extremity" that refers sometimes to matters of antinomian attitude, sometimes to matters of aesthetic excess (louder! faster!), and sometimes to both. In addition, we must always contend with the fact that one person's perception of extremity - be it shocking abnormality or wild transgression - is another's calmly accepted, even banal, everyday experience. The same naturally holds true for entire societies.
In some respects, cultural extremity is omnipresent: certain forms of commercial advertising and popular entertainment have re-framed "extreme" as an enjoyable surplus quantity of whatever consumers are likely to desire, or have alluded to extreme content as a means of generating sales with intimidating challenges ("are you man enough to handle this?"). However, creative extremity has also been wielded as an effective psychological weapon by more marginal elements, forcing cultural authorities into panicked and over-bearing reactions that de-legitimize their power. It is obvious that extreme methodology serves alternately as a tool for personal or social transformation, and as a means of deflecting attention away from a dearth of meaningful communication. Yet there is much more to the story still. The attempt to determine the aims of cultural extremists requires serious inquiry into originary circumstances: this work will identify situations in which the extremist label is the result of a focused program to be perceived as such, or whether this label is an unwanted by-product of simply acting intuitively and without concern for shaping public opinion. This also requires investigating the differences between creative extremes being used as as a communicative starting point or as an act of last resort.
Though this is not likely to be the first, nor the last, critical look at this vital subject, it will be an ambitious and unique one that calls upon the perspectives of practicioners in diverse cultural fields- the plastic arts, music, film, architecture, philosophy, and more. The final product will be assembled from author's commentary, case histories, and an abundance of interview footage, and will try to highlight the most relevant points of consenus and disagreement on the following questions:
- Does the cultural act of "going to an extreme" always result in the eventual crossing of boundary lines, or is it actually a means of cultural conservatism- of finding a place of philosophical and methodological contentment to make into a permanent, fortified residence?
- Can "extreme art" or "anti-art" remain relevant and effective even after constant scrutiny, or after continual subjection to it? How can the "law of diminishing returns" be defied?
- Do those working with conflicting modes of extremity have more in common with each other than with cultural moderates?
Ne Plus Ultra will be both a book-length project and a companion audio album. The latter will be a seamless sound collage assembled from recordings of the book's interview subjects and other interesting sonic features. It will be constructed so as to reveal unexpected similarities of opinion, novel and perennial attitudes, and the more paradoxically nuanced aspects of cultural extremity.
Potential contributors: please get in touch here for more details.
More information will be posted here as this project develops.