Templates, Sampling, and Minimalism at Culture’s End, part 2

Reading Time: 8 minutes

As a disclaimer before we start this part, just because I cite and rely upon various theorists does not necessarily mean that I agree with everything that they claim or conclude. Nevertheless, I believe that the works of Fisher, Reynolds, Jamieson, and all, provide interesting elucidations of the wider postmodern cultural zeitgeist that, I suggest, gave rise of minimalism and, with it, template-laden golf architecture. If, as Dr. Klein challenged, we are to look at golf courses as “aesthetic and cultural landscapes, with all that entails about their status as negotiated spaces mediating realms of territorial space, human cultural activity, and complex market relations transcending immediate regional boundaries” (Klein 211), then such a theoretical approach proves fruitful. 

 “Could it be that the greatest danger to the future of our music culture is,” Reynolds suggest, “…its past. {…} This is the way pop ends, not with a BANG but with a box set whose fourth disc you never get around to playing.” 

– Simon Reynolds

Western culture built narratives, it’s what we did and still commonly do. The enlightenment, for example, was a new chapter, a real step forward; from the enlightenment through to the modern, western culture always believed in a sense of progress, of moving forward. That was the narrative, the grand narrative, it told itself. The dark underbelly of this narrative of progress, its blindspots, its losers, are, of course, seemingly too obvious now to have to elucidate in detail.

“Thus, “while 20th century culture”, Fisher claims, “was seized by a recombinatorial delirium, which made it feel as if newness was infinitely available, the 21st century is oppressed by a crushing sense of finitude and exhaustion.”

– Mark Fisher

One of Fisher’s most endearing beliefs was in the evolutionary aspect of popular modernism, its ability to conceive and transmit to the receiver a better world, a better future. By “popular modernism”, he meant a kind of culture that straddled the experimental and the mainstream. Although “popular culture” and “high modernism” may now seem to be irreconcilable terms, in the 1950s and 1960s and even into the 1970s, conversely, when The Beatles and the Beach Boys and The Who were among the biggest bands in the world, when films such as Alice in Wonderland and Easy Rider and The Endless Summer were box office hits, when public television offered educational and experiential programming (Doctor Who most notably), and when Penguin Paperbacks were widely available and read, popular culture could still critique, rather than just affirm, existing culture, the status quo. 

For this flourishing post world-war state in the U.K., Fisher cites, among other things, a flourishing welfare state, social security, ample time-off from work, educational grants, class consciousness, and the possibility of legitimate upwards mobility. As Jon Lindblom writes in his own study of Fisher’s notion of “popular modernism”, “central to this post-war cultural trajectory was a link between modernism and utopia that articulated itself in terms of confronting and breaking away from the seemingly given and the static conception of reality that goes with it. A standard criticism of utopian thinking is that it threatens to become a product of mere imagination that has nothing to do with how things actually are like. Yet utopian thinking can also have a mobilizing potential, wherein its widening of the imagination may function as a resonating critique of the limitations of the present.”

It is to general ethos of mobilizing potential, then, that we can attribute Robert Trent Jones’s ideology, namely his desire to move golf architecture beyond that of the golden age practitioners. “Jones was one of the era’s keenest observers of how technology was changing the game,” writes his biographer, James R. Hansen. “Robert embraced these innovations, envisioning a bright boundless future for golf both in the United States and abroad. He saw great potential in the dynamics of modern industrial society for fundamental improvements in the design and construction of golf courses and in how the modern golf designer could enrich the challenges of the traditional game with new strategic features” (Barclay 94).    

R.T.J., a man of the moment (photo credit: New Jersey State Golf Association)

Were Robert Trent Jones’ motivations perhaps wayward, his vision of golf architecture contumacious? Maybe. Everybody has their own opinion in regards to that; what cannot be denied, however, is his belief that golf architecture, and thus the future of the game, could be, should be, improved upon from how his predecessors conceived it. In other words, that forward was the way. 

When modernism morphed into modernism, exactly, is another matter up for debate – usually the late 1970s are cited, especially in the arts. Fisher, meanwhile, cites 1979 as the defining year of the second half of the twentieth century. This last year in the decade of Nixon and Vietnam, the hostage crisis and the fuel embargo, the subsequent rise of Thatcher and Reagan, being the point when, according economist Christian Marazzi, the switch from Fordism to Post-Fordism fully occurred, and, in turn, the last and decisive step on the path towards “capitalist realism”, or the “slow cancellation of the future”, was taken. Although the term “post-fordism” has been replaced in popular vernacular by “neoliberalism”, this shift brought with it an economy centered on just-in-time production, the internationalization of capital, the deregulation of industry, insecure labor, and the entrepreneurial self. 

Manchester’s Joe Division, one of the last rock bands Fisher cites as being truly prophetic of the future (Photo credit: literary hub)

Long story short, Fisher concludes that the rise and spread of neoliberalism – with its planned attacks on social security, public services, welfare, unions, coupled with the looming inevitably of climate disaster – has, for all but the very richest, over the course of the last forty years or so, deprived western society of its ability to conceive for itself a better future, specifically one that is free of neoliberalism and its hell-bent business ontology. Thus, a “depressive hedonism” has become prevalent, which manifests itself in, for example, the ever-worsening pandemic of mental health. “I rather not think about,” is how most people think about the future now. As Fredric Jameson and Slavoj Zizek both famously proclaimed, “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than it is to imagine the end of capitalism.” 

Thus, “while 20th century culture”, Fisher claims, “was seized by a recombinatorial delirium, which made it feel as if newness was infinitely available, the 21st century is oppressed by a crushing sense of finitude and exhaustion.”

Nicholas Diaz sums up this concept of “the slow cancelation of the future” as such: “what does this mean? To understand this we have to first consult Italian philosopher Franco ‘Bifo’ Berardi. Bifo, describing the postmodern condition, coined the phrase “the slow cancellation of the future,” a condition where life continues, but time has somehow stopped. Essentially, what he is saying is that we are trapped in a condition where there is no longer real and significant cultural movement or development, there is no longer a future. The whole subjective dimension of the future has gradually disappeared, been cancelled, so we find ourselves repeating the past. The innovation, sense of possibility, and continuous production of newness seen in the 20th-century culture of popular modernism no longer exists.”

It is such a “slow cancellation of the future” that, according to Fisher, characterizes our postmodern culture. 

For Fredric Jameson, likely the most known theorist of postmodern culture and its effects on society and art, postmodernism is the “cultural logic of late capitalism”. “Postmodernism is a forced and highly permeating field, given that cultures are formed through mass-media or mass-culture. This so-called mass culture indirectly forces us to shape our ideologies and brings us under the influence of media culture – a process that Jameson calls hegemony. This hegemony, however, has nothing to do with the postcolonial idea of colonization; rather it is a form of hegemony in the postmodern world, where media and capitalism play the most significant role in colonizing people’s thoughts and ways of life.

Jameson argues that postmodernism is the age of the end of traditional ideologies. The ending of traditional ideologies can be seen through the new wave of aesthetic productions.”

Unlike classicism, romanticism, or modernism even, postmodern art is difficult to characterize, but broadly it can be categorized as featuring elements of irony, intertextuality, bricolage, appropriation, pastiche, and a distrust or lack for those grand, sweeping narratives.

According to Jamieson, revivalism and pastiche have become the main characteristics of postmodern art, as has “a mode of nostalgia” that can understood not as much as a way of recovering lost time, as it is for Proust, for example, but rather as “a formal attachment to the techniques and formulas of the past, a consequence of the retreat from the modernism challenge of innovating cultural forms adequate to contemporary experience.” 

Naturally, in the face of a threatening and scary future, this looming void of A.I. dominance and climate disasters, popular culture has thus resorted to the soothing comforts of nostalgia.

High Pointe, in Michigan, Tom Doak’s “hello world” moment (photo courtesy: Renaissance Golf)

From its very outset, minimalism was explicitly retrogressive, in ethos and style, and it made no bones about being so, as evidenced by the very name of Mr. Doak’s firm: Renaissance Golf Design. Whether one cites Pete Dye (whom Dr. Klein groups among the second strand of postmodern architects) or Tom Doak and Coore and Crenshaw, their work explicitly features such formal attachments to techniques and formulas of the past: namely that of the old world, in Pete Dye’s case, with his extensive use of rail-road ties, pot bunkers, and mounding that harkens back to Prestwick, in particular; or to the golden-age architects, in the case of the two latter firms and their offsprings.

Ohio’s The Golf Club (photo courtesy: top100golfcourses)

In fact, the beginning of both Doak’s and Coore and Crenshaw’s careers effectively coincides – and contrasts – with the launch of the Big Bertha driver, in 1991, arguably the biggest leap forward in terms of golf equipment.

What popular culture, in fact all culture, even most alternative culture, nowadays lacks, due to this “cancelation of the future”, is what Fisher terms as “the pang of the new”, in this era that Simon Reynolds terms a “pop age gone loco for retro and crazy for commemoration.”

In effect, if you took someone from 1995 and beamed him to 2023, society, especially its art forms, wouldn’t seem all that innovative to this hypothetical time-traveler. 

 “Could it be that the greatest danger to the future of our music culture is,” Reynolds suggests, “…its past. {…} This is the way pop ends, not with a BANG but with a box set whose fourth disc you never get around to playing.” 

Although both come from relatively the same angle, that of a highly Derridian/post-structurialist/hauntological bent, Reynolds’ conclusions in Retromania are perhaps a little more immediately relevant (read: direct) to golf’s zeitgeist currently than Fisher’s. In particular, Reynolds cites Youtube, more specifically its endless archive of historical footage, as being one of the prominent drivers of this nostalgia-fuelled “retromania”: “the young musicians who’ve come of age during the last ten years or so have grown up in a climate where the musical past is accessible to an unprecedentedly inundating degree.

The result is a recombinant approach to music-making that typically leads to meticulously organized constellations of reference points and allusions, sonic lattices of exquisite and often surprising taste that span the decades of and the oceans.” 

Perhaps no band, as great as they are, highlights the 2000s retromania movement as forcefully as The Strokes (photo courtesy: Reddit)

Close to this line of thought, Ipod and “download culture”, rather than open up peoples’ cultural horizons, as it promised to, contrarily bogged most down into different niches and rabbit-holes, precisely because of the very abundance of material readily available, suddenly at arm’s grasp, effectively for free. In the face of the great ocean descending upon them, however, most closed shop, resorting to the familiar or nearly familiar.


Leave a Reply