As evidenced by novelist Jarett Kobek’s fictional neologism ‘gootbluck’ (‘a work of art that you recognise has high merit but doesn’t appeal to you on a personal level’), and musician Brian Eno’s definition of ambient music – that it should be ‘as ignorable as it is interesting’ – ambient writing occupies a similar domain. Cultural critic Kyle Chayka possesses a parallel view, noting in a New Yorker article what he refers to as ‘ambient television’ (à la Emily in Paris, but I will also point to Stranger Things, Bridgerton, and arguably the entire Netflix franchise; dont @ me). Ambient art, then, serves to comfort its viewers with its all-encompassing linearity – they are as fresh as they are predictable, cultural products one can enjoy while idly scrolling social media applications or folding the laundry. Attention is not of paramount importance; rather it is the experience that said cultural product provides to the consumer, a.k.a. ‘vibes’. It is obvious that the discourse-production machine adheres above all to the golden rule of efficiency in its de-livery of concise packages of authoritative-sounding descriptions and interpretations, and the ways in which they are sometimes interspersed with an air of criticality. It is equally clear that this standard of creation is propelled by broader structures, namely the relentless attention economy and hyper production cycles (and consequently, its equally rapid obsolescence) that also drive arts programming and magazine publishing schedules. One might be sufficiently awed by the experience that pieces of ambient writing provide, but they are just as easily forgotten. We might glimpse the seed of an idea as we absorb its efficacies, but it leaves less and less of an impression on us the more time passes. In other words, they are easy to forget.
All of this begs a question. Is writing in these modes consistent to our artistic practices and the culture(s) and society we inhabit? There must be other, more stimulating, ways to imagine, particularly with regard to an art form that is frequently touted as ground-breaking and inspiring. Of course, one can argue that palatable and recognisable ways of writing is towards the purposes of accessibility, in which we do not limit audiences from being able to enjoy the work regardless of their educational or cultural backgrounds. We do not desire to be elitist, so to speak. This assumption, however, may not be as far-reaching and verifiable as we believe it to be. Instead of trusting the reader – or better still, finding our readers – should we aspire towards a certain readability that then extinguishes the possibilities of art? I realise that this is now more than one question; perhaps this conundrum is made up of myriad, interlocking issues that make them impossible to isolate, each one caught within a temporality that is as liberating as it is restrictive. Another person can argue that novelty is dead, that we have exhausted our creative capabilities, that we are now unable to avoid the fact of regurgitating those which came before, or that the very idea of novelty itself is a capitalist construct that only serves the most visible artists, where the work they create, while noteworthy, resides in a cultural space that inoculates them from the vicissitudes of time. Worse still, if we are to debate this issue further, we may arrive at the futile conclusion that accessibility and experimentalism are not mutually exclusive. For someone like myself, I prefer to trust that the reader seeks to comprehend my artistic intentions regardless of whether they find the work to be ‘readable’ – and perhaps tangentially, ‘relatable’ – or not. As an anglophone speaker and writer raised in and living on lands and cultures stolen and reshaped by Englishmen and women, perhaps this is a privileged opinion. Perhaps to contemplate this at all, in a limited language such as English, is to perpetuate colonial constructs that can see no point of resolution. Words and attempts at creating new ways of thinking encircle in on themselves, akin to an ouroboros of happiness.