Where is the literary and cultural capital of the world...right now?
September 9, 2014 1:35 PM   Subscribe

I'm watching a documentary on Netflix called "New York in the 50's" about poets, journalists, and free thinkers in the Village during the Eisenhower administration. The interviewees keep referencing a self-conscious attempt to emulate life in Paris in the 1920s. So two questions come to mind: 1) Where is this occurring today? Does it only appear in hindsight? Accordingly, 2) Where else have such flowerings occurred? Paris in 1848? Prague in 1968? Has the internet made this kind of location-based creativity irrelevant?
posted by jefficator to Media & Arts (20 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
posted by greta simone at 1:41 PM on September 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

posted by Jairus at 2:04 PM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think the internet's increasing atomization of niche communities has made it harder to find a "place" in the way Paris 1920 was a "place". That said, supportive communities of artists do exist here and now. For awhile, it seemed like every band between the years of 2005 and 2010 was from Brooklyn (Dirty Projectors, The Hold Steady, The National) or Baltimore (Dan Deacon, Future Islands, Beach House). In LA there's an enormous community of independent game development that's sprung up around a few co-working spaces.

That said, I think one of things that may have made 1950's New York or 1920's Paris was the diversity of like-minded folk. Now it seems like its just easier to find more people like you anywhere and so those kinds of... gatherings, the tribalism of all the great thinkers in one place in one time is harder to find because its just not so rare as to be momentous.
posted by GilloD at 2:06 PM on September 9, 2014

posted by Elsie at 2:14 PM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Due to the connectivity of technology, economic dynamics of gentrification, and shifting cultural norms, I don't think a single place has the same lock on culture as in the past. I also think how we describe culture is broader...not just drawing and music but also making food, gardens, robots, and businesses.

I think we can see it better as things are happening because of technology but never know the full impact without hindsight.


New York does still holds a certain weight...though it has been Brooklyn specifically that was more of the center in the last 10 years than Manhattan. Especially in broader cultural terms of how people eat, urban gardening, a certain DIY/entrepreneurial/tech cross-section, and some music. Brooklyn is getting too expensive for the actual artists though and the number of artist leaving or living so far far from the city centers that they are basically commuters. There is a book called the Warhol Economy that argues that Manhattans walk-ability is unique and creates a certain cross-pollination that other places lack.

Seattle in the late 80's early 90's for music.

Chicago had a small moment in rock music in the late 90's and still is a experimental music hub I think.

There is probably something happening in Detroit around urban renewal. It certainly had it's Motown era.

Berlin probably is past it's prime...I would guess there will be different takes on this...but most might argues that the 2000's was it's moment.

San Francisco in the summer of '69.

Silicon Valley in the late 90's and again now in tech.

Sao Paulo, Brazil in terms of street art has been pretty special for some time.

LA is on the rise and obviously had the golden age of Hollywood.

Louisville, KY was the center of a remarkable music scene is the 90's.

I would end by saying there is a curve to these sorts of things where acknowledgement of influence is usually following the actual creative moment and is followed by a decline.
posted by notatron at 2:16 PM on September 9, 2014 [5 favorites]

I've always found it kind of funny that Berlin's outsize, over-inflated opinion of its own importance pretty much only rivals that of New York (and I say that as a proud New Yorker - a Brooklynite, even).

The answer to your question, by the way, is The Internet.
posted by Itaxpica at 2:17 PM on September 9, 2014 [17 favorites]

If the monoculture is dead, then there is no such place.

I like to think the monoculture is dead.
posted by erlking at 2:27 PM on September 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Historically, classical Athens of course brought together Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Sophocles, Aristophanes, and that whole crew

Also, fin-de-si├Ęcle Vienna.
posted by shivohum at 2:51 PM on September 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

i do think these things mostly occur in hindsight, and are themselves a relic of a particular time in history and cultural zeitgeist.

However i think the real problem of identifying the current cultural capital is probably going on outside of the West.

in terms of impact i think China and the Oil emirates are the places where big things are happening, and the real shifts are occurring politically, socially and culturally that will shape the 21st century, though western perceptions and domestic politics in those states all tend to obscure whats really going on.

in 50 years i think we might be surprised!
posted by Middlemarch at 2:55 PM on September 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

If it ever was Berlin it certainly isn't any more. Source: lived there for the last 12 years. In the 80s it was something, ever since it's been spiraling away from that that.
posted by runincircles at 2:58 PM on September 9, 2014

There are just more scenes now. Also, Montreal.
posted by kaspen at 3:30 PM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

In a very prosaic way, Doha is the place that I hear most about people going to for exciting work, and, depressingly, Qatar is funding most of the people I know who have jobs in the arts. But it's no creative hub. London probably still has that cultural first place, but New York and Berlin are well within the same ballpark. And, I suppose, Shanghai and Seoul.
posted by ambrosen at 4:23 PM on September 9, 2014

Berlin in 2007
posted by Potomac Avenue at 5:26 PM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Algonquin Circle? The Harlem Renaissance?
As an additional question is there an internet group that is select enough that it aims to be Paris in 20s?
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:30 PM on September 9, 2014

I'm not convinced enough is going on anywhere at a high enough level to claim "It" status. Back in the fifties, a book or a poem or a painting could still matter, still enter public discourse on a fairly wide basis. These days? Creatives, successful creatives, seem to have niche audiences, and with the general size of the market, a niche is all you really need to make a living.

Beyond that, well, magical spots of creativity tend to be short and spectacular (Elizabethan theatre, Renaissance Italy). Lot of dry periods between these. Frankly, I wouldn't put hard money on much of the twentieth century lasting another five hundred years. (Jazz, I hope, excepted.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:32 PM on September 9, 2014

Follow the money. Which, in this day and age, means China. The arts scenes in Beinjng and as a Shanghai would be worth exploring, but censorship, on one hand, and cultural/linguistic distance (from a western standpoint) makes it mid difficult to consume.
posted by AwkwardPause at 7:50 PM on September 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Berlin in 2007

Not hardly. Berlin in the 1920s, yes. But now? A groovy place to live, to be sure - like Amsterdam, Tokyo, New York, etc. But I agree with

I'm not convinced enough is going on anywhere at a high enough level to claim "It" status.
posted by Rash at 8:58 PM on September 9, 2014

I'm not sure what constitutes a cultural capital, but if following money is a major factor (as mentioned above) then Santa Fe is notable as the third largest art market in terms of dollars spent, behind New York City and Paris.
posted by mr. digits at 10:32 PM on September 9, 2014

I posted this question, basically, in 2007. The answer then was also, pretty much, 'The Internet'.

It's still something I'm fascinated with - there's been a series here on the BBC called Bright Lights, Brilliant Minds which did Vienna in 1908, Paris in 1928 and New York in 1951. Fascinating stuff.

I think a big part of this kind of thing is that it only really becomes recognisable after the fact. Paris was known for lots of things in the 1920s, for example, but the products of that environment only came out over subsequent decades after as the creative work produced found an audience.
posted by Happy Dave at 1:58 AM on September 10, 2014

The 'it' place is ultimately determined by what its denizens do next. That is, now they are just fucking around, working and hanging out and etc, but in five, ten years will they be driving cultural trends? How big?
About 15 years ago I asked a German artist why they didn't live in Berlin (because I thought Berlin was the bees knees)? 'Money' was the answer. So the question is what has come out of Berlin in the last while? The most dominant/influential that I can think of is Chaos Computer Club (Chilly Gonzales too, maybe, and James Wood lived here for a year or two: it's maybe this, that so many people comes through but don't stay.) I'd say the verdict is still out, and it's getting more expensive every day, thus bringing the period when this could be a refuge ever closer to an end.
posted by From Bklyn at 3:53 AM on September 10, 2014

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