(for PUBLIC’S LEXICON, 7/14/99)
(with apologies to Raymond Williams)
progress—full steam ahead, proceed forward, do not look back, history can only be learned from so let’s embrace the future, preserve only that which can be useful or functional, do not completely scorn decorative elements as neat colours are not merely kitsch they can indeed have high market value, progress (and progressive) refers to marching forward—to the march of time, the ongoing development of technologies and vocabularies and the resulting obsolescence of usurped technologies and their vocabularies, progress begs obsolescence, it thrives upon scrap yards and wrecking yards for all those materials that are either beyond recycling or else are simply too tacky to be recycled—tackiness referring to hopelessly retro signifiers, progress is against camp and suspicious of interpretation—it is heroic and thus neither ironic nor reflexive—it is not especially poetic because poetry involves observation and reflection and even memory—progress is constantly changing and evolving without particularly devolving it is a variant of Fluxism that is often best described as Fordism—progress is constantly and chronically down-sizing and erasing that which cannot be stored and likely forgotten elsewhere—it deliberately blurs distinctions between instructive history and trivial nostalgia- progress implies that individuals and corporations who are after all legally individuals and even nation-states and the new world economy itself must at all costs showcase forward trajectories—be expansive be outgoing be social and negotiable without being frivolous or decadent- there is after all a New Frontier and since it is constantly in flux than it cannot be assigned fixed values or images or identities it cannot be reduced to any static list of essential components and thus it cannot really have a canon because progress’ religion is a weird combination of stock-market relativism and Warholian paganism. (You can be god for fifteen minutes and then due to gravity you become toast.)
But, hold on for a goddamned minute. Just hold your horses, as the timeless expression goes, without moving forward. Please do not pass Go. Wasn’t post-modernism supposed to chip or hack away at the restrictive historical canons that have traditionally been screened in order to deny entrance to upstarts or shit-disturbers or immigrants or nomads and other perverted travelers? Well, the overriding problem with post-modernism was that it never was nor was intended to be oppositional to modernism it did place modernist practices and even masterpieces under frequently critical microscopes and it did dignify the scrap heaps that relentless modernists and borderline futurists scorn simply because they are not new. But pomo became standardized and it created its own canons or hierarchies and orthodoxies and thus people talk a lot about the inevitable progress to post-post modernism and po-pomo which sometimes recalls the joys of performative and religiously unreflective modernist practices and sometimes reminds me that F.W. Marinetti the guru of Futurism was a fascist who broke with Mussolini who also believed in the divinity of The Mad Artist but who by doctrinaire Futurist standards was a sentimentalist who wished to revive the distantly meaningless Roman Empire.
Progress, to move away from or beyond, to make redundant, the word progress is always relative to objects or situations in question, why is a movement progressive and is this movement truly an advance, does it break a deadlock or stalemate, progress for its own sake is too close to comfort to futurism and/or technological formalism but progress and progressive can be practical or constructive words not merely for their own sake but in relation to log jams and stalemates and détentes. yet these words lack value outside of specific situation or context- progressive is a valueless liberal word unless contextualized, somebody is a progressive person- specifically how is Mr. Or Ms. X progressive? (Upon closer examination they are revealed to be liberals with barely concealed conservatisms.)
The words progress and progressive are I believe too associated with the notion of advancement for its own sake or for the purpose of careers- somebody perhaps an artist has progressed they have embraced technologies but how and why?. Is the capital for technological progress taken for granted well it shouldn’t be as who has access to capital necessary for advance and why them and not others? Why progress for the sake of progress? Is this a market dictum, a personal goal, is this merely the formalist achievement values so endemic to I believe especially the performing arts (my, haven’t they improved!)—the word progress and its derivations are too endemic to Fordism unless specifically deployed in relation to particular situations, to lingering détentes and irresolvable ongoing debates, to tape loops unintended to be presented as tape loops.
I prefer this word when used in relation to very specific situations—there has been significant progress in this or that stalemate. Or; an individual or institution has finally ‘seen the light’ and progressed beyond the malaise that has been perpetuating a particularly unpleasant status quo. In such instances the word progress meaning ‘move forward’ is apropos simply because the situation requires dare I say a flexibity or a suspension of negative ideology if not an outright conversion to a positive ideology (which of course is a matter of the highly subjective)
PROGRESS (noun and verb)
advance (noun) improvement (noun) advance (verb)
headway betterment develop
course development grow
advancement growth improve
passage increase increase
Missing from these suggested synonyms and antonyms for progress is the word forward. This particular word is both an adjective and a verb (it is also a noun). ‘To forward’ is surely synonymous with
‘to progress.’ Both words are literal and linear; unless one remembers that proceeding forward involves the act of remembering and thus motion becomes as circular as much as linear. To resolve a positional stalemate by adapting a historical model is not necessarily reactionary; it can be revolutionary in a literal sense. What has been around before can come around again if it looks and feels and sounds appropriate. Digital and sample cultures by definition cannot be completely ahistorical. Examples or samples do not exist merely to be radically revamped or reconfigured beyond recognition. Progress can and should allow space for history; but when history slips into nostalgia then progression becomes regression.
So, therefore, progress as well as advance or advancement or proceed forward and indeed all synonyms or approxynms must acknowledge that motion is not and should not be uni-directional—that sometimes the most forward or progressive movement can indeed be a retreat to what made sense once before and now might at least be the basis of something that is now practical or sensible or tangible or whatever. Because, progress simply referring to relentless forwardism or Fordism contains too much negative residue of Futurism and technocracy and technologically-determined formalism where there is no content except for that of the technologies’ own magnificence. Progress and indeed all other words referring to movement must acknowledge circularity and reject unthinkingly-obedient forward motion for its own sake.