Happy New Century!


Cultura en un tombant de segle · VIII Trobada de la Comissió Internacional de Difusió de la Cultura Catalana, Barcelona, 1995.

My first thoughts about the arrival of the end of the century are that in the year 2000 in this southern European peninsula, twenty-five years will have passed since the disappearance of that self-appointed caudillo; that is to say that "25 years of no-dictatorship" can be celebrated, very different circumstances of course to those blessed "25 years of peace" many of us had to endure. By blessed I obviously do not mean they were in any way a blessing.

Personally, I consider myself an inhabitant of the eternal continent of the moment, and this type of bureaucratisation of time imposed by the almanac irritates me.

By nature I am impervious to events and holidays, and I am inclined to keep away from "chubby baby" new years or decrepit and aged ending years, which leads me to take little notice of the rising or setting of centuries.

However, leaving to one side for a moment my sinful instinct in order to vibrate to the rhythm of general feeling: that we should in no way indifferently contemplate nor allow to pass by unnoticed the change in our calendars of the digit that multiplies ten to the power of three in our made-up decimal system, as made-up as centuries, lustrums, decades and other time packages in use. That invisible and implacable counter that someone, without doubt in a moment of sublime inspiration, set to zero some 63 thousand million seconds ago, should be shot with a retroactive remote control, in my opinion, as I do not believe that the inhabitants of the zero moment were conscious at all of the situation in order to do so.

Therefore, at the end of this apotheosic evening, we will contemplate on our time horizon the setting of the century and millennium, with the serenity given to us by the fact that we have overcome from all apocalyptic temptation. Humans from the previous setting of the century were not as lucky, and I don't think any opportunity in any sense was given to those of the hypothetical 31st December of the year minus one.

To me the unit of millennium seems inhuman, far too big. The century, although it is excessive, seems more embraceable. It is still, however, an enormous quantity of time for the limited quota of curiosity given to human beings; I understand perfectly that there are not many lucid centenarians.

The prefabricated container divided into one hundred tiny compartments that we are having to inventory is dense and complex; I have the feeling that this stage, the finishing line of which we are getting ready to cross, will be very, very long, and all because, as is known, speed expands time.

Speed: one of the outstanding signs of our times. Merciless speed which we feel such victims of. Rather it is more fashionable to be a victim of stress. Stress: the final consequence of speed when it oversteps the limits of what is resistible.

I prefer to talk about acceleration. Speed -it may seem paradoxical but for me this is a static concept- of course has always existed. Acceleration too, but perhaps as we are at a critical point in the bend we are more vulnerable to its effects.

The more progress is made, the faster it is. Science and technology advance in geometric progression. We know, for example, that since 1950 until now as many scientific works have been published as those in all the centuries up to that date. It is only a small sample of the brutal acceleration that in one century we have gone from the crystal radio to virtual reality hardly realising it.

This process is called exponential growth, a cosmic constant on the other hand; a natural inclination of the universe in its long journey from the big-bang to who knows where.

Perhaps this feeling of vertigo obeys a lack of mathematical objectivity. From this cold point of view, however much the lineal difference between two to the power of sixteen and two to the power of fifteen is 16.384 times greater than that separating 4 and 2, the exponential difference is the same: one.

The question is that any subset of the infinite set of members of a geometric progression is similar to any other, it doesn't matter how near or far they are from where they have started out. The fact that we come across astronomical quantities when we are far away from the starting point is irrelevant. From this point of view, acceleration seems as static as speed does to me and it is our subjectivity that creates alarming ghosts of vertiginous jumps.

From this new perspective, I am trying to balance on the slightly slack tightrope of this end of the century, and I contemplate our neighbours from last century with beatitude, cosily installed in a comfortable panromanticism -preceded by a concise "pre" and followed by a dilated "post"-, only relieved in their decline by solid but limited predecessing threats. And without any misgivings I compare these quiet backwaters with those churned up by the cultural mills of our century.

How exuberant is the current art dictionary! As I am a musician, I'll start with music: late romanticism, nationalism, folklorism, neoclassicism, expressionism, atonality, polytonality, polymodality, microtonality, twelve-tone, serialism, panserialism, concrete music, open, aleatory, electronic, electroacoustic, stochastic, minimalism, maximalism, neoexpressivism, neotonality, neoromanticism... And I go on (schematising and disordering deliberately): abstraction, new abstraction, bruitism, fauvism, pointillism, modernism, cubism, constructivism, symbolism, dada, neodada, environment, structuralism, action painting, happening, land art, expressionism, abstract expressionism, neoimpressionism, futurism, orphism, art brut, object art, conceptual, surrealism, hyperrealism, informalism, suprematism, minimal art, povera, op, pop, fluxus, new objectivity, new realism...

What to do before such diversity, before such a wide panorama of currents sometimes opposed, but often in peaceful coexistence?

What to think before the crisis of ideas, the evident absence of aesthetic debate, deep reflection?

How to face the unstoppable demographic explosion, the paradox of unlimited economic growth?

How to bring together our inherited concept of transcendent culture with the worship of immediacy, with the vacuity of the proposals of the omnipresent and all-powerful mass media?

As an inhabitant of that superrefined illuminated face of the planet - that half, often cynically indifferent to that other half plagued by medieval wars and endemic famines- I do not know whether I should celebrate the passing of a century. Moreover, if I do, I don't know very well how to do it.

Crying over the death of daring and warfaring vanguards? Condemning recycled and decaffeinated "movements" that frolic shamelessly in postmodernist synthetic feather beds covered with fake cashmere?

Polishing and repolishing the worn prism through which we observe history, history that on the other hand appeared to have finished?

Or using and disposing of what is left of my mind and making a "clean slate", with the impassivity of he who knows that yesterday's hardware will be in today's rubbish and today's software in tomorrow's.

Anyway: Happy New Century!