By my reckoning ABBA and the philosophical Socratic theory of anamnesis will finally meet somewhere along IPv6, just at the crossroads where peta-flops of ’70s and ’80s pop tune mash-ups collide with the PDF of the Ga Ga/Madonna/Bowie Manual of Reinvention.
Given that there’ll be 6 billion online personas (giving the current 2Bn + users a very conservative 3 online personas each to play with) using the crossroads at the same time, its going to get messy out there.
Now ABBA, fine, got that bit – and the Lady meets Madge meets Thin White Duke stylie for reinvention and the death of discarded personas, yup. Got that but Anemwhat?!
Anamnesis. A simple philosophical Socratic theory – and a pretty powerful one. Which is why it was quickly air-lifted into Christian Theology as a fabulous way to frame an infinite eternal re-incarnate soul running through all of humanity over time, with Christian teaching merely being a way of ‘recovering’ pre-existing yet dormant spiritual knowledge within us to accompany the soul we are born with. Nice.
Wikipedia cites the following descriptor: Socrates… …suggests that the soul is immortal, and repeatedly incarnated; knowledge is actually in the soul from eternity, but each time the soul is incarnated its knowledge is forgotten in the trauma of birth.What one perceives to be learning, then, is actually the recovery of what one has forgotten.
So what on earth have ABBA got to do with it?
I reference ABBA in this piece because, for me, they represent one of those entities that have transcended standard memory and entered a longer, denser living framework of collective or social memory – one with multiple and complex networks of interrelated life times.
They have also reached far enough into the future from their heyday to touch the hem of the skirt of the Infinite Digital Now and all that it brings. And I have a feeling that, through their burgeoning role in the global fabric of social memory and the furious sharing psst! pass it on culture of the social networks, ABBA are hurtling towards a state of anamnesis.
OK, in the realm of philosophical profundity ABBA’s Waterloo doesn’t quite set the same bar as perhaps Dylan’s ‘Times They are a Changing‘ but that does not exclude them from becoming something that a classical philosophical text might describe.
How they do this is another question entirely. Maybe they’re just so wrong they’re right. Perhaps the unique fusion of chirpy and deceptively engineered pop music and the flip-flop nature of their lyrical content: from the charming euro-nonsense lyrics of Waterloo to songs like The Day Before You Came, sung with the long shadow of Leonard Cohen and Der blaue Engel hovering over it, seems to have allowed ABBA, like all music of increasingly mythical status to become one of the more powerful threads stitching together the fabric of our social memory.
ABBA, like Mozart, Piaf, Elvis, Bowie and Ga Ga, have come to be both perceived and used as a sort of socio-cultural swiss army knife. They are a lever, a key, a signpost, a mapping point, a cork-screw and an emotional cattle prod in the ever-expanding and lengthening fabric of social memory. Music like ABBA’s fixes points of social memory into a particular context, thus creating a door through which we can access them.
But just a great song doesn’t cut it. That’s just a memory – a time machine to what was. To become part of social memory – the stored, dormant library of evolution strategies that we draw upon when life’s challenges open out, shut down, twist, stutter, or fail around us – the music must be potent enough, rich enough and loaded enough to be capable of regeneration – of itself creating a living, constantly-reincarnating relentlessly-reinventing self to qualify.
Whatever it is, and whether you like it or not, ABBA have done an amazing job of creeping under the skin and into the psyche of multiple moments, moods and generations. ABBA. The moves. The powder-blue eye shadow. The melancholy. The show. The Movie. Meryl Streep!. Madonna!! The spiritual and social halo of ABBA is immense. And the ley-lines of its cultural, social and generational impacts fall across every shape and form of social group and individual typology.
For me, being a divorce child of the 1970s in southern England, living the bleak video musical backdrop of The Winner Takes It All; and with most summers spent partly on the White Island amongst Scandinavians of all hues (long before the football hooligans and pill head fraternity turned up) I can attest to ABBA being a great example of the social big bang theory – from its very particular era specific explosive beginnings to hurtle outwards in an exponentially increasing mass of social knowledge, reincarnated and recovered across many lifetimes.
The second I hear those words. “I don’t want to talk… …cos’ it makes me feel sad…” I am hurled into a cement lorry of memory and feeling. That’s already more than just a memory. It is a living recollection that occurs with feeling and context – a trojan horse of social memory: an echo of its first incarnation. On hearing it I am immediately primed to mitigate all manner of degrees of emotional distress
But also, if I am on a dance floor and hear Madonna’s Hung Up, it’s the ABBA sample and the latent recovered feeling carried in the Trojan horse of it that lifts my heart, not Madge’s new self conscious re-fabrication of it. But the complexity of emotion that the music evokes is layered by the moment in which it is now being recreated and in which I am enjoying it. It is reincarnated.
But in the same way, the surprising joy I get when I watch Mamma Mia with my 6 year old daughter is transcendent. In this way it is incarnated again with additional and highly complex additions of light and shade for me.
This to me is a good demonstration of how music moves from being an anthem for a time past to being a source of energy, revitalisation, reassurance and guidance, transforming itself as it evolves into a burgeoning strand of social memory.
It is at this evolutionary level that music moves from being a linear recollection of a bunch of chords and stuff you liked – a piece of sentimental data as someone once chose to describe emotion – to being a living evolving strand that entrenches itself in cultures communities and tribes across multiple generations, drawn on as a social tool and in doing so, becoming reborn again and again.
My daughter will internalize the Mamma Mia experience, along with my own recollections about ABBA, music, the 1970s and my parents as part of that recollection, and it will create emotional triggers and feelings that will continue to exist, carried within her – only to be reborn every time she hears the opening chords and voices of Dancing Queen.
The enriching memory and the spiritual and emotional information and knowing carried within it is evolving, becoming more dense and complex, developing a mythology of its own as opposed to simply reflecting that of the people who carry it.
It is in that way that something as trite as “I don’t want to talk…” or the first 4 chords of Dancing Queen, a shard of popular culture from 30 something years ago, begin to transcend normal memory, and become living social memory: a source of emotional intelligence and evolutionary experience that the same tribes cultures descendants can draw on to keep reweaving resilient communities, navigate turbulence and upheaval and ultimately manage change. This is much the same journey as that of pieces of philosophy, spirituality, faith and religion, continuously regenerated retold and proselytised across tribes, regions, cultures and generations to expand to cover the world.
To demonstrate the process in action, and of how the ripples of impact and emotional knowledge grow both more complex, and abstracted the further they get from their original source we might set an experiment:
If we were to play the opening chords of ABBAs Dancing Queen to a massed variant audience – a mixture of 8 years olds, 18 years olds, 30 year olds, 50 year olds and 70 year olds, both in villages and cities in different regions and parts of the world – and then, subsequently record the emotions raised, feelings felt, wisdoms recovered, the light and dark of their deeper emotional reflections; to reveal the texture and richness of social memory being stirred and potentially drawn on – I think we would be staggered at the scale, breadth and depth of social memory: the ‘recovery’ of deep rooted emotional ‘knowledge’.
More importantly, I believe the rarified theory of Anamnesis will help us to explain and navigate some of the more complex philosophical dimensions of social memory as they develop in the new landscape of the hybrid virtual and actual 21st century lives we live.
And we’re going to need all the help we can get in the moral maze of the multi-device ‘me’.
My point is this: in the modern world we are expected to live many more ‘lives’ than our forebears. In our post-modern world we re constantly reborn: professionally, personally, materially. It is seen as part of thriving.
I might also venture that consumerism, locked as it is in a relentless round of reinvention of the self through a continuous stream of new identities purchased – cars clothes homes holidays – is creating a truncated state of anamnesis – an expanding universe of reoccurring rebirth across ever decreasing periods of time.
But that is not where the tension will occur.
The tension will come from the fact that underneath all of this new multiple selves we still carry with us a far more one-dimensional primal, living memory. One bound by a much longer thread of continued existence; that gets passed down socially through nurture and the cultural context we find ourselves in, from generation to generation.
But the concept of generations is being rewritten by the modern world. Generations used to be a simple descriptor to identify the progeny of humanity in such as way as to mark them out by the fact that they exist within the same age frames in the same time frames. To be 16 in 1968 for example sets out a generational viewpoint and compass from which to define and explore many different dimensions of self. Generations were a linear thread that dropped down through history tying the past to the future.
But our new world of tech induced multi-persona living is exploding the concepts of generation sideways, upwards, outwards. There are now multiple generations of individuals, communities cultures and mindsets housed in each generation
Ancestors and descendents and the linear relationship between them and the threads of social memory they carry with them have been shattered into a glittering constellation of existence virtual, real or otherwise.
They do not just stand behind and in front of us any more. Our own multiple myths and histories scatter all about us in varying forms of existence – some live, some dead, some decaying dismissed or forgotten.
In a socially charged world of the multi-persona person: whose face-book profile might accent their personal ‘myth’ or story one way or tell of one very siloed professional individual Linked In one in another: their Sim city or Tour Of Duty persona another again – add in a few Farmville coins, on line shopper profiles and PIN numbers, multiple email tags and a twitter account and you’re up to 7 personas as it is. Each one ‘born’ and nurtured and raised to fulfil its immediate social need in the context of the device or channel it exists within.
So I would venture that social memory as it used to be, framed either by classical concepts like anamnesis or more recent frameworks like nationalism, versus how we have begun to frame and explore the dimensions of social memory in the last 10 years makes for a very different creature.
The next time Dancing Queen comes on – and a herd of 50 something’s, 8 year olds, 23 year olds and the ironic 41’ers charge the wedding dance floor, the old model of social memory is at work in the new world – a linear pass the parcel of collective and compounding memories, feelings, in the context of multiple pieces of data embracing occasion, company, personal fulfillment and development, fluid time and fixed geographies.
The same one that amortises their elder’s wisdoms in a box, repeats parental aphosrisms and behavioural tics. Where the work ethics and behaviours of 3 hundred years ago have been passed from Tofflers First Wave to the Second to the beginning of the third with everyone using the mistakes of the past to try and reset the opportunities of the future in an evolutionary line.
But now, where ABBA, the classic concepts like anamnesis and our 21st century multi-dimensional and multi-existence models of social memory meet, playing out across our twittering Id Ego i – pads, there’s something altogether new and far more complex happening.
Social memory is fracturing at light speed into a hydra of persona channels – the social memory as embraced in the virtual world will evolve in a different manner to its real world cousins. The social memory of gamers will have both gamer specific dimensions as well as real world ones. The time machine of music and the ever referable digital filing systems of the cloud will create a fractured concept of temporal existence.
This is no different to what was before – just multiplied. Young men who went to war developed a parallel social memory to those of the families at home. Exclusive of of but not inextricable to the everyday lives they returned to. One they could reach in and out of as they needed to. The same stands for us. But we tend to be reaching into our parallel social memory not of trenches, gas, camaraderie, distress and man’s inhumanity to man – but that of hot dog and champagne restaurant reviews and download recommendations from last year and an blog archive!
And Philosophy, truncated by the new concepts of existence, the socially networked virtual landscape and the multiple life-strands technology offers us outside the old linear temporally locked life span, is being jugged, butter patted, creamed and squeezed through the piping gun to spell out something new: but what?
Money Money Money? SOS? Take A Chance? Dum Dum Diddle? 0r Bang-A-Boomerang?