Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Prop

I'm pleased to see that the cats at fivethirtyeight have continued to post, even with the presidential election done and over with. They dropped this handy piece of analysis on an article the Washington Post published on Obama's stimulus plan:

I'm also inclined to agree with Jonathan Ichikawa's comment, "People who are not environmentalists are people who don't care about the environment. People who are not feminists are people who don't care about equal treatment of women," though would hasten to add that I don't think it's the author's intention to suggest otherwise. Mr. Silver, on the contrary, seems to be pointing out that for a lot of people, "feminist" and "environmentalist" are bad words, and that pieces like the one in the Post actively foster the ignorance that leads to this misconception.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Thank God

In the spirit of a blog I enjoy very much, I would like to take a moment to be thankful. Thank God for those saints who shovel sidewalks. I had to walk back to my place tonight to get clean clothes, and it sure was nice to not have snow caked to the sides of my pants. Why do they even own snow shovels? I may never know, but it sure is swell that they do.

Sunday, December 21, 2008


My alt. blog is officially up and running. I couldn't sleep, so I wrote to myself about the posties. Enjoy and please leave thoughts.

Saturday, December 20, 2008


It is a bit cold here. Sure, not as cold as where you are, in all likelyhood, but it's hard to get used to. The roads are icy, and the city lacks the equipment to do anything about it. The first night almost everything closed early, but people are getting used to it I think, and stuff's opening up--though the Sip and Ship's been pretty busy the whole time.

Tonight, though, there's a winter storm warning, and we're expected to get 5-8 inches of snow in the city with the possibility of high winds and their attendant power outages. I'm going food shopping soon.

On the up side, I saw "Teeth" last night. That is one quality movie. Now to be sure, it's not for the faint of stomach, especially if your a man with a particularly strong anxiety concerning castration. I'm going probably to write about it in my new blog :). If I take the time.

Thursday, December 18, 2008


I think I'm gonna split things up a bit. I like doing cute short posts, and I like doing nerdy extended diatribes. So I'm going to keep PeatSpeak for the former, which will be the more personal and accessible (read: not boring) content, and I'm starting a new location for my more academic pursuits:

So far I haven't posted anything yet, so slow down there, Tex.


Thursday, December 11, 2008

Reading Materially

I was just watching the Mike Huckabee interview on The Daily Show. Go watch it first; it's good.

Welcome back. Huckabee, toward the end, says that words matter, and definitions matter, and he says this in defense of retaining a millennia old definition of marriage as a man and a woman for the purpose of reproduction. Now I've rehearsed several times over, though perhaps not hear, some of the problems with this position, and I'll quickly recap them before getting to what I really want to say.
1) As John points out, marriage has undergone nearly radical changes over the period during which it has retained its preference for heterosexuality. Several well-known anthropologists find its origins in chatel slavery and abductions during raids. On this point the opposition is willfully ignorant.
2) There doesn't seem to be any great ideological or moral objection to the infertile marrying, and though surely those couples who choose to wait to have kids or not have them at all feel some pressure, great or small, from friends, family and strangers to get the job done, the idea of a ban on childless marriages would be a political non-starter. On this point the opposition is willfully disingenuous.
3) The history of the word or tradition and the normative telos of a union have no bearing on the effect of a homosexual marriage upon those not involved. Since the tradition of marriage is one of change, including same-sex unions into the fold only breaks with tradition if one strategically distills tradition as seen above; and the union of Adam and Steve does nothing to keep the Mormons from breading; so the manifest effects of gay marriage are unrelated to the objections stated.

But that is a little tired, surely, and something you've already thought of.

I'm more interested in words and definitions mattering. After all, regardless of the real history of marriage, what is at stake here is how it is defined (including how the construction of its history is defined). I like to think that words do matter, but maybe I've been saying this backwards. The feminism that I'm in love with, the post-structural feminism, is directly concerned with language's role in determining what we say is real. My feminism is a feminism of definitions: the way we define words, and the way words define us.

I see Huckabee martialling similar thoughts to defend his homophobia--a phobia that has its origins in part, I believe, in his decision that homosexuality is a choice--and I get worried about me. The difference is, I've decided, that for Huckabee, words (are) matter. But I think that Huckabee matters words--he is doing the opposite of what I want to do--and the campaign against marriage-as-love is a policing action to retain the right of the moral majority to the power into which it was born.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Midnight Musings.

Hi I'm Back.

I feel like this a lot lately [see comic]. I mean always. Except I'm not so sure critical success is necessarily any better than popular success. Success? Maybe saying "self-appointed" resolves the issue.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

New Directions.

I'm tempted to take my dissertation away from minimalism, and toward phallocentrism.

I'm reading through James Meyer's wonderful book, Minimalism: Art and Polemics in the Sixties, and I've got to the section on Stella, Judd and Flavin's interview with Glaser. The former two, who do most of the talking in the interview, are comparing themselves to earlier European geometric painters, such as Mondrian, in order to establish for themselves a new position with regard to wholeness. Stella, apparently borrowing from Barnet Newman, says that Mondrian is all about compositional ballance, while his work (both Stella and Newman, and Noland apparently) makes use of symmetry, not to attain ballance (?) but to effect wholeness without recourse to composition. (Composition seems to be a really big deal for these artists, as if the problem for art in the sixties was How do I remove my own taint from this piece?) At no point is anyone, including Meyer, concerned with the possibility of creating art that isn't whole.

Broadening this up to phallocentrism rather than minimalism studies explodes everything. Cage is the first obvious direction, since his pieces seem only whole due to critical intervention. then of course Pollack and Duchamp... but then it goes all over the place. Laurie Anderson says in an interview that her pieces don't necessarily exist in a final version. La Monte Young has several pieces that are still going on right now. Debussy? One wonders what the rhetoric surrounding chant was like. Lutoslawski's concern with closed form, his characterization of integral serialism as open form... But the need in the latter for constant coherence and perfect logic...


Friday, November 14, 2008

Help me fight oppression!

The enemy is organizing.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Ciao Hazzo.

I am no longer working at Hattie's Hat. No longer a professional dishwasher. Saga, who rocks, saw me off in grand fashion, and I will miss, in spite of the unfortunate hours, that job. Sleeping soon. Gnight :)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Another video

I've been asked to share this video with as many people as I can. I don't believe anyone who reads me lives in either of the states in question, but you may know someone, and it's likely that some day similar laws will be proposed where ever you are. I think this one is actually intended for those who aren't necessarily pro-choice.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Not Ready

I heard someone on the bus repeating the TV today. I was rockin way to far out to Felix, but even so I nearly said something about it.

She was saying that McCain will win the election because, come election day, we will see that America is just not ready for a black president.

Now she might be partly right. Maybe when push comes to shove, Americans won't vote for a black man, even while they might tell pollsters that they would. But not "ready"?

Ready is something you become after work. You practice four hours a day for a year, and then you're ready for your concert. You read your book, and you're ready for your book club meeting. If Americans won't vote for Obama because he's black, that doesn't mean they're "not ready," it means they're racists. You don't have to practice or study to eventually become not racist. It's not a skill that's slowly acquired after years of diligence. Now sure, a person can go, gradually, from being racist to being less-so. But you don't, during the process, say, "Wait, I can't be friends with you, I'm not ready to treat a black person as a peer. Give me a few more weeks."

Saying things like "We're not ready" isolates and reifies the problem. By presupposing a movement toward not-racism, we can overlook the personal need to actually move. The rhetoric of racial preparedness borrows from the worst problems of Humanism by silently claiming that society is necessarily making progress, and that all that is required is patience. So don't get too worked up about America being racist still, because it will all get better on its own.

What we need is not "We're not ready," but "Damn the racist bastards who fear a man for the color of his skin, for his religious beliefs, and for his parents' nationalities. And damn the complacent collaborators who indifferently await a tomorrow they lack the compassion to build."

Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Best Thing

This is the best.

I found one with the little boy eating animal crackers saying "Hope in reality is the worst of all evils because it prolongs the torments of man."

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Oh God

There's a café in my neighborhood that I like a lot. It's volunteer run, organic, etc... seemingly a haven for exactly the sort of latté-sipping, west coast, vegetarian elitist that am I. What's strange about it is that almost every conversation I overhear is about Bible study or church or some sort of thing. Nearly every woman I've seen in here, regardless of age, is married (many of the men are too).

As you surely know, my relationship to religion has been mercurial. The first moment that found me strongly distancing myself from Christianity was in reading Woolf's The Voyage Out. Her dismissive attitude toward Christians, coupled with her progressive politics and dismal view on European society propelled me toward secularism in ways that Nietzsche could not have. Subsequently, through a developing relationship with what is broadly referred to as French Post-structuralism--specifically Deleuze, Derrida and Irigaray--as well as some of their American interpreters--Spivak and Buttler--my mistrust of religion has become more sophisticated (which is only to say, more complicated and better articulated).

Most briefly, I'm suspicious of the "flying phallus in the sky" theory. It seems to me dangerous to presuppose a transcendent (sublime) authority that rearticulates, on a higher level, just the sort of control and domination that perpetuates models of colonial and domestic violence. I do not mean that God is necessarily an overtly abusive authority: clearly this is more the case in some Christianities than it is in others, and, following my unhealthy urge toward abstraction, I would like to momentarily erase these differences in the interest of thinking about Christianity more generally. I do mean, however, that the relationship established between God and Man [sic] mirrors problematically the relationship between Man and his family. God loves you unconditionally, but has laid out a detailed list of rules designed to restrict your behavior. When you break these rules, you will be punished, unless you atone--that is, unless you re-prostrate yourself before the law. God is discipline. He is the machine in the Penal Colony. He is the Father. I paint with too broad a brush when I say that Freud's theory of the family, with all the Oedipal problematics, works just as well to describe religion as it does to explain family dynamics, but the clumsy tracing is illustrative, nonetheless.

Underlying this is both my feminism and my anarchism--where my Marxism lies will need to be worked out still: are politico-economic equality and resource distribution contradictory? Indeed it may be that my affection for Irigaray-style feminism requires a sort of Deleuzian anarchism. Following Foucault, but with a greater attention to impossibility and nuance, Deleuze traces the genealogy of God in the West to the same problems of control (his word is fascism) that inform and are reinscribed by Plato and his descendants. "God is a lobster." God is the double-articulation of form and content. I would go further and say that God requires as an epistemological foundation the segregation of matter and form/content, and that the way to (a post-humanist) ethics is through the deconstruction of the metaphysical dualism that undergirds far more than just our religions. It expresses itself most crudely in discourses on authenticity (where is the real America?). We might lament the divisive politics of the Right, but continuing to perform the dualisms of religion makes us in some significant way complicit.

I'm getting out of hand a bit, and think maybe I should wrap it up. (Aside: if you can't drink your tea without slurping, don't order tea in a shared space.)

What I'm looking to do here is explore a little why I'm disturbed by being around groups of religious people. I think it worth clarifying, because of the pre-supposedly antagonistic relationship between theists and nontheists, that while I may lament and even occasionally lampoon the individual decision to adopt a theistic position, I don't see anything necessarily unethical about such a decision (anymore). Indeed, so long as the theism is of the unevangelical sort, it seems to me a personal choice, and surely only one of many that any given individual may make which necessitates complicity in the phallocracy. But, as Derrida has demonstrated, we cannot help but be complicit. We ought to do what we can to strive for the ethical, but for each of us there will be certain complicities which are strategic. Thus membership in a church can also facilitate charity work and community development--though this last is itself problematic when the politics of religion help to define what a community is.

Strategy is what makes me uneasy in dismissing religion. Examples both positive and negative of how membership in a religious community can facilitate activism and change can be found quite easily, and it seems to me that these resultant activities--which need not necessarily be traditionally classified as activisms--are what is of greatest importance.

Myself, I remain skeptical of the need for a religious base for any such activities, but having not participated in them myself, it would be too theoretical to dismiss them out of hand.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

New Thing

I'm pretty sure I'm preaching to the converted, but this is another good thing to share (this time via feministing:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

2 things

Thing 1:

FiveThirtyEight has an interesting little article on the cities visited by Obama and Palin lately. The comparison is considered appropriate because Palin overtly referred to the cities on her agenda as "the real America." Of course, as the author states, the racial and economic divergence between the campaigns (and from the norm) cannot be responsibly read without reference to strategy, but with strategy comes the content of the gesture. The point carried implicitly in the article is that for Palin, "real America" is quite a bit whiter than America really is (and of course for Obama America is quite a bit poorer, though he isn't using the divisive rhetoric of validity that Palin uses). To be fair, though, we should look at where Greensboro, the town she most explicity refered to as "real," lies on the chart (you have to look at Obama's chart to find it): Greensboro is only around 55% white, it looks like. Of course, this doesn't do much to balance the fact that McCain and Palin tend to cater to whiter audiences, while at the same time slinging elitist populist rhetoric.

Thing 2:

Sunday, October 12, 2008


I'm reading the beginning of Meyer's Minimalism: Art and Polemics in the Sixties. He points out something I should have been much more careful about in the recent past. I've been busy defining the boundaries of minimalism, attempting to establish a base from which to draw a comparison to minimalist musics of various stripes. Instead, I need to pay much closer attention--and starting with Meyer's book will help--to the relationships between specific minimalist artists and specific composers. This is good and bad. On one hand, it will require a much more detailed understanding of art history. On the other, it will require much less philosophical theory.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

On Why I Hate

I think perhaps the most overwhelming problem with popular music today is a misunderstanding over the difference between entitlement and loss, and between a tantrum and rage. In this respect it seems perhaps that art does, in fact, imitate life.

The song I was listening to when I started thinking along these lines is "Colorshow" by The Avett Brothers.

Thursday, October 9, 2008


What is a detail?

Saturday, October 4, 2008


Some guy said he was gonna steal my french bread while I washing dishes (at work), but he decided not to because he thought I'd kick his ass for it.
I said I'm a pretty gentle dude.
He said "well, I guess you can't judge a book by its cover."

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I totes forgotted how much I love Margaret Cho.

Talking Head

Before I go off to bed, one more thing. The last bit is the best bit, when she compares Debussy to Schoenberg:

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

For Maishe

It may be true that classical music education is done all wrong--and I mean to talk here only about classical music. This is something that has been troubling people for quite a while. (Keep in mind that I'm not much of a(n) historian.) It used to be, way back in the medieval day, that composition was taught by rote. There were certain interval progressions that were thought pleasing and proper, and a student would memorize hundreds and hundreds of these, and assembling them constituted composition (this was apparently also true of drawing and painting at the time--artists would learn to copy really well, not create new pictures). By (post?)modern standards, this seems odd, but we ought to bear in mind that composition then was not seen as a creative endeavor--composers were not artists--but a technical skill. Composers and painters, etc., were craftsmen (sometimes women, maybe).

Apparently around the 18th century this started to change. Surely this has to do with the development of Enlightenment aesthetics, about which I still know too little. Kant's and then Hegel's notions of free play and artistic subjectivity (respectively) are useful historical focal points for the increasing emphasis on the creative subject--and subsequently the development of Romantic theories of genius--but ought not necessarily to be seen as sources, but also as reflections of these cultural changes. All this is to say that, though I don't know enough about why, for some reason around Bach's time and a little later, composers were expected to be not craftsmen but artists, in what would come to be the Romantic sense of the word. They were to create, not merely make. (I think I'm over-blowing the difference a bit though.)

Keep in mind that Bach was not just a great composer. He was *the* consummate keyboard improviser. Legend has it that he was invited to Frederic the Great's court, where his son, C.P.E., was Kappelmeister, and just sat around improvising 5 voice fugues, including some to the theme of what later became The Musical Offering. Of course, we can't recover what he improvised, but the mere feat of improvising a fugue is unheard of nowadays. According to William Renwick, however, this sort of behavior, was not as rare then as it is now. Keyboard students were expected to be able to supply, in the act of performing, 3 upper voices to a pre-composed fugue bass, and this was considered to be an early step in education. Such a complicated act, expected to be performed in real-time, would be beyond the capacity of all but the most tenacious undergrads, even were they given a month to write.

Around this same time a conservative composer/educator named Fux (long U), penned his Gradus ad Parnassum, which advocated a much older approach to counterpoint. This pedagogical technique has since become known as species counterpoint, and was used by, amongst others, Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms. I won't make claims about the improvisatory skills of these composers (Schenker claims that they were in all cases great), but would like to emphasize the focus on counterpoint in their education and teaching, and in their compositional practice (Brahms continued to do species counterpoint exercises long after becoming a respected composer).

Both of these things have changed quite a bit. No longer is keyboard improvisation (or even proficiency) incorporated into the curriculum in a serious way--not at either of the institutions I'm attended, nor in any sphere that I'm familiar with, though I know very few conservatory students. Counterpoint was more or less jettisoned (according to Schenker) in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, as university programs sought quick and efficient ways to manufacture competent tonal composers on a large (classroom) scale. Schenker, Schoenberg and schurely others have worked to reverse this trend, but it's clearly not taken so seriously now as it was by Brahms, for example. Even heavily Schenkerian text books (and Schenker privileged counterpoint in his theories) will often dedicate only an introductory chapter of so to the subject of counterpoint.

This leads in parallel motion to two points:
1) Diminished interest in piano competency reduces opportunities for students to explore music in time with multiple parts. Even those students focusing on a keyboard instrument in private lessons lose the opportunity to pursue music in a more theoretical setting, where harmony and counterpoint can be the focus, rather than expression and performance technique.

2) I don't think that it makes sense to teach species counterpoint simply because Beethoven studied it. Certainly that would be one valuable avenue to understanding Beethoven's work, but it's not the only, or necessarily the best, way to get at music. I think counterpoint is necessary because it fosters discipline and facility with musical language. Learning counterpoint requires not only the ability to read music quickly, but the ability to compose simple lines in your head that adhere specific--if arbitrary--requirements. In short, it is good practice of thinking music. If one is interested in improvisation or composition, or simply in reading well, this is an efficient (and time-consuming) way to learn.

But at this step we need to interrogate a few positions. What is the function of a university (undergraduate) degree in music (cynicism aside)? Why would we want to teach improvisation or composition (why are they good things)?

One thing that strikes me about music undergrads is how much they complain about their course load. Now, I expect that this happens in all departments, but let us suppose for a second that the situation is comparatively bad in music. Reworking the curriculum to stress keyboard and contrapuntal proficiency (I am presuming the above critique to be correct) would require an enormous increase in the demands on students. I don't think that there exists time in a 4-year institution even to begin properly the process of training competent composers and improvisers in the classical tradition. I suppose that's why counterpoint was pushed aside in the first place: it's hard to take a room full of people and teach them music in a useful way... instead we aim to teach them about music. Undergraduate education (and I think this is true of most fields) is about teaching people how not to embarrass themselves in their given field.

But I meant to put aside cynicism. We would do well to remember that most undergrads are studying (classical) performance or (primary and secondary) education, and the pressures of learning these specific components of music are a large part of what prevent the institution of the above plan. We might go a step further and suggest that entire approach to education is ill-suited to learning composition. We really should start kids immediately with the mechanics of music while they're learning the rudiments of performance--and it should be taken seriously by parents, instead of seen as a tool to develop intelligence. Too often, it seems, music is forced on children by philistine parents who are more concerned with producing cultured and accomplished offspring than with teaching their children music (of course this was equally true in Victorian times). I'm getting side-tracked :) What I mean to say is that the amount of knowledge and facility required to improvise competently in a tonal (that is, common practice) musical language is attainable only through a program that does not suit itself well to the educational superstructure as it exists today. There simply isn't enough time.

So if improvisation and composition are the goals, surely we are doing it wrong. Even a conservatory setting, where the greatest performers are produced, falls short of this goal.

However, even assuming artistic expression is a positive ideal, we must keep in mind that there is more to expression than creating new series of notes. Score interpretation is itself a creative act, valued highly enough that while few people are interested in composers nowadays, brilliant interpreters actually make pretty good money (look at me use the market to justify). So my own performances aside, a skilled university student will actually put a great deal of expression and creativity into performing what we, out of habit, call somebody else's music. This raises serious questions of authorship and propriety, which I think are dealty with best by dismissing them. Should we really concern ourselves with whose work is more important in the creation of a musical event? We do well to remember that Beethoven does not exist on paper alone; even if no one will play, we have to listen in our heads while we read the score. So the act of writing new melodies is surely important (for some), but so too is the act of creating old melodies.

I don't mean to suggest that Mike is belittling performers by saying they're not composers. Nor do I mean to claim that my sight-reading is the same sort of creative event as a Glen Gould or Mitsuko Uchida performance (to pick two performers on opposite sides of the interpretation spectrum). But I think it's a mistake to equate creation with composition and improvisation. I find much more life in playing someone else's pieces than I ever did in writing my own.

This is helping me remember that I'm not as smart as I was 3 months ago.

This is an interesting site.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Hip Hop and Hope

So I just watched the Colbert Report from last Thursday, and he had on a guest who wrote a book which the author summarizes as an explanation of why hip hop will never save black culture. Why? because even in the "conscious rap" (remember: Kweli says he's not conscious, he's just awake) it's still just people sticking their middle finger up and complaining--which, for Mike at least, will recall a quotation closer to home.

After the show the first song on my pandora station was Gang Starr's "Robin Hood Theory":

Which opens by explaining the importance of educating the youth. Now I don't want to engage here in a discussion of the benefits and dangers of religion, but this is pretty clearly a call to action, not a complaint.

Can you think of a single "conscious" rapper who hasn't discussed the importance of family and education?

Monday, August 18, 2008

One last Eco

So I finished the Foucault's Pendulum. This is a book you should probably read. It's long (+500) and the writing style is not particularly skilled (at least in translation), so it may not be your top choice for a fun read, but I think it's well worth the work. It's not an action book, like The Da Vinci Code, to which I compared it earlier (and I may repeat some of that here, since I don't remember everything I wrote); instead, the layout of the book is one of immersion. Most of the dialogue serves the same purpose as the internal narrative: to provide either historical background or the narrator's (and his companions') re-reading of history.

Does this count as a spoiler? I don't think so.

But if you're super worried, you should stop, just in case. I'm just gonna talk a little about the moral of the story.

Turns out I was mostly right, or at least Umberto agrees with me. After the climactic scene of the book, the narrator, Casaubon, reflects on what he's learned--in a chapter reminiscent of the end of most "South Park" episodes. He talks at length on the importance of mystery, though, rather than revelation. To me, this is a book about the construction of order to make sense of chaos: we create things like history and religion so that the things we do are important. Whether we're instruments of God or Humanity (I'm looking at you, humanists), the adoption of a narrative for reality means that what I'm doing has meaning--what's more, as Belbo points out, since God and Humanity are transcendent categories (humanism is only a substitute negative theology), we need neither question our role in the narrative, nor worry about the utility of our actions: the lord works in mysterious ways, etc. Indeed, the more esoteric the plot (the Plan, as Casaubon and Belbo come to name their re-reading), the less the hero--you--needs to worry about his/her meaning.

I don't want to make it sound like religion is Eco's primary target, nor do I mean to single it out for my own attack here. On the contrary, one of the important lessons of this book is that religion is but one form of ordering, and turning to secular humanism only substitutes one god for another (this seems similar to the warnings against gynocentrism voiced by some feminists). Eco also takes some time to recuperate Jesus, remembering that He said there's only one real rule, and that we can forget about the rest...and of course after this we rushed to fill the void. "What? That's it? We've been waiting millennia [the plural eludes spell check] for the revelation and it's that simple?" And from there we proceed to invent something much more complicated. From my point of view, this begets the creation of dogma; from Eco's point of view, this creates the further mysteries. We might sum this last up with "the lord works in mysterious ways," but Eco is more specific, pointing at the Templars, the Rosicruscians, and the Illuminati, though I read these as largely metaphoric--I don't think he's really that concerned with why there is a subculture of occultism.

My narrative is breaking down (the printed one). There were some interesting passages I was gonna cite, but right now the idea of constructing a quasi-academic review is completely unappealing

The secret is that there is no secret. And we shouldn't expect that to come as a relief.

Thursday, August 14, 2008



Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Looks like the Democratic party has altered a bit its rhetoric on abortion. This is a cut-and-paste from

Via Kay Steiger at Pushback:

It looks like the Democratic Party dropped the "safe, legal and rare" part of its platform on choice. The new platform (PDF), which was just released, puts less of an emphasis on the controversial abortion reduction framework. The section on choice reads as follows:

"The Democratic Party strongly and unequivocally supports Roe v. Wade and a woman's right to choose a safe and legal abortion, regardless of ability to pay, and we oppose any and all efforts to weaken or undermine that right.

The Democratic Party also strongly supports access to affordable family planning services and comprehensive age-appropriate sex education which empowers people to make informed choices and live healthy lives. We also recognize that such health care and education help reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and thereby also reduce the need for abortions.

And this is me again. I would be excited to see this incorporated into actual governmental policies.


Monday, August 11, 2008

Dan and Umberto

I don't think I'm the only one to see Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code as a watered down version of Eco's Foucault's Pendulum. In fact, I internetted it, and found at least one blog article on the comparison, but it seemed likely to contain spoilers, and since I'm making my way slowly through the book, I thought I'd wait a bit.

But I'm coming to realize that there's more to this difference than density. Sure, Brown is writing for a lazy audience, and his book reflects that: there's very little difficult content; his prose move smoothly, and after each puzzle is completed; the narrator comments on how ingenious the shadowy masterminds must be, leaving the reader with a sense of accomplishment, even though the puzzle probably wasn't solved before it's revelation in the text--indeed, if I remember correctly most of the puzzles lacked a crucial bit of information, the revelation of which was concurrent with the solving. In contrast, Eco indulges in lengthy passages of dense historical monologue; drops untranslated phrases in Latin, French, German and Spanish (he's kind enough, at least, to transliterate Hebrew and Greek); and has a clunky, academic writing style (though the translator may be partly at fault).

These differences are surely important to my preference for the earlier text; Eco speaks in a way that presupposes my competence, and I get to pretend I'm smart because I'm reading a comparatively difficult piece of modern (I'm not sure this is the right word, but I'll defend it a bit below) fiction. This is cosmetic. I like Eco better because he makes me feel better about myself. Reading Dan Brown is like reading The Hardy Boys, except without the irony.

But like I said, I'm coming into a less vain reason to laud Eco's work above Brown's. To explain, I would ask the question, "Why do I think these books were written?" I will leave aside cynical ideas about fame and wealth, arguing that any story would have done the trick for those. Why write a fiction book about the occult history of European religion? (And in order to incorporate the breadth of Eco's work, I won't just say Catholicism.)

I think the answer is different for Eco than it is for Brown, but I think the same historical narrative is in play. One of Eco's characters (Lia) says that the reason people put bombs on trains is because they're looking for God. Keep in mind this was written in 1988, before our particular, contemporary brand of chauvinism had equated terrorism with (Islamic) religious extremism--In Eco's book, a terrorist is as likely to be a communist or anarchist as s/he is to be a religious fanatic. In fact, one of the points is that there isn't a difference. Belbo (perhaps the story's protagonist/anti-hero) remarks at one point that very little distinguishes him as a scholar and editor from practitioners of heretical rites that he is observing. Everyone is looking for order in the chaos. The bomb is put on the train because, fundamentally, we all believe in synarchy, whether in the form of the illuminati or simply God.

To shorten, and to elide much of what's going on in my head (maybe I'll write something longer when I'm finished reading), the reason Eco wrote his book is to talk about, through metaphor, the philosophical/historical crises that surfaced in European thought from 1968 on. It's not a mistake that that's when the story's narrator--Casaubon (a character from Middlemarch who dies before completing his life's work: "The Key to All Mythologies")--meets Belbo, and gets involved with the publishing firm around which the story centers. (1968 was an important year in European--particularly Parisian, but apparently also Milanese--academia, with students protesting, even getting in fights with police, about nearly everything. It also is the year that Deleuze, Derrida, Foucault and several others all published some of their most important work.) Out of the '68 riots came declarations of the death of the author, the death of history, the death of philosophy, etc. The narrative fabric of European thought was torn asunder in a way that they thought to be irreversible--or perhaps they only had a political stake in hoping it would be irreversible. As some tell the story--and it is always noted that it's ironic to tell the story of how stories can't be told truthfully--successive and increasingly violent and destructive armed conflict (that is, WWI and WWII, amongst other things) thoroughly undermined the ostensible benevolence of reason. The Enlightenment claimed that through rational progress a better, happier world could be built. The repeated bleeding of Europe--supposedly the most civilized and advanced part of the world--suggested that the Enlightenment was wrong; the increasingly public colonial violence of Korea and Vietnam (especially the latter) made it clear to the new generation of academics that something was terribly wrong with narrative history. We've all been told that we must learn history in order to keep from repeating its mistakes. What the members of the '68 protests claimed is that this is a lie, or that it's being co-opted by power and authority not to prevent mistakes, but to refine them.

Put more concisely, history is really a series (even that word is too suggestive) of events with no order or direction. Marx and Hegel had theorized that there was a dialectical path history took, with a definite goal, which Hegel analogized to the personal quest for self-knowledge. The atrocity of the second world war, and the continued systemic international violence of capitalist democracy, undermined rationalism, and called for something else. Most of the still-read authors from '68 (and after, of course, since the good ones kept publishing) have simply (or convolutedly) argued that there is no system, no narrative, but that we, as Spivak says, "can't help but narrate." Which is why we put bombs on the train, why we believe in gods, why we switch cause and effect--missing what for Lia is obvious: that mysticism is just our way of not looking at our bodies.

Belbo--again from Eco's book--spends his life ashamed of not being the hero of his story. This isn't painted in some eccentric modernist/existentialist way, but still effectively underpins all his actions. Belbo was 10ish when the Fascists were fighting the Partisans (1943-45), and wasn't old enough to fight. His whole life he's felt like a coward, always not taking the (absurd) opportunity to lay down his life. He's not a white knight, and that devours him. In order to turn life into the narrative everyone says it's supposed to be, he and Casaubon create the Plan. I won't say any more about that, since it'd be spoilery.

The point is we can read Foucault's Pendulum as a narrator narrating the story of how it's impossible to not narrate, even knowing that narrating is absurd and dangerous.

The Da Vinci Code is a different matter. But it succeeds because it's not a deliberate allegory. Brown isn't trying to depict the urge to depict. Indeed, Brown is exactly one of the things Eco is depicting: the uncontrollable lust for narrative. Eco was writing about why stories like Brown's will always be popular, about why there will always be theories about the Illuminati, et al.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Working late is a trip. I hung out after-hours at the pub next door, and now it's 4 am and I'm supposed to sleep? Biking home makes that hard.

The postmodernism thing. In brief, since I can't really speak very well now.

1) Postmodernism as architectural style. This is pretty straight forward it seems to me. There is a modernist school of architecture (FLW, I believe) and a strong, more or less clearly defined international set of rules, and the emergence of a "post" ought not to be surprising.

2) Keith Potter: Postmodernism as sampling. Potter, writing about minimalism, samples lightly from Foster, who samples from Jameson, to establish postmodernism pan-generically as characterized by quotation in a more or less esoteric manner. Questions like "Mahler?" and "Schubert?" are left open.

3) Jameson himself. For now, because it's 4 am, I'm skipping Foster (I've had too much Jameson for another Fosters). Aside from Potter's interest in quotation, Jameson is interested in the "decentered subject," which he borrows in part from Barthes. Spivak goes to town a bit on this, suggesting that the idea that the so-called postmodern subject--that is, you and I-- is decentered only in so far as the modern subject--your mom and dad--felt anxiety, etc. That is to say, that Jameson is renaming already cataloged phenomena in the interest of presenting a break or rupture where there is in fact only a repetition or continuation.

4) Lyotard. Lyotard, though again Spivak shows some useful flaws, is perhaps the best account so far. For him, postmodernism seems to be about the commodification (i'm done looking up spellings) of information. This is only possible through the development of digital technology, and is a clear difference between contemporary society and the fin-de-siecle anxiety typified by high modernism. The question looms: is it useful to talk about art in these terms?

Again, this is the short version.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

After my second night shift.

This is sort of how I feel about me, and about most popular music:

My buddy Nate uses the term "global unconscious."

I might soon write a long one about my current thoughts on so genannte "Postmodernism."

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

The worst

So I had maybe my worst thought yet ever so far today.

I was at work, at the day job--which is the pleasant, nuclear-friendly atmosphere--and two mothers came in with their two sets of twins. Not pleasant children. They--perhaps 3 years old each?--clearly knew exactly where the limits lay. They were more than a match for their escorts, and the escorts recognized this with frazzled toleration and appeasing sarcasm.

I thought: I wonder if you can get just one abortion? You know, like leave one of them in there?

It was a pretty hot day, for Seattle.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Chiggy Check

I haven't written in a while, so I feel like I should post something. I don't have much on my mind--kinda in an unwindy (long i) space. I'm beginning my move to Greenwood soon, and look forward to having a new digs, and I've begun background readings on Schubert and sonata form, which have been interesting. Gonna try to plow through a biography this weekend.

And I'm reading Eco's Foucault's Pendulum, which so far reminds me of The Da Vinci Code, if it hadn't been written by a cinder block. The prose can be a bit dense at times, but that's what happens when your audience isn't a bunch of children.

I saw Torrie again for the first time in years (since our breakup). It was interesting. Good.

Riding a bike is a lot easier when the front tire has air in it.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008


I love Margaret Cho. You should watch all 8. NSFW

Monday, June 30, 2008

I could use $450 though.

I had a dream last night that I sold my barely working monitor to someone for $450 dollars, and then sat back and hoped that she didn't notice it was broken. Of course, I knew she would notice, so I also tried to convince myself that I wasn't really sure it was broken, and that it ought to surprise both of us (her and me) if it didn't work for her.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Look at me get all gushy

[While it will be clear that there is a particular person who inspired me to think down this path, it should also be made clear that this isn't about anyone, nor is it meant to be a chronicle of my or anyone else's experiences. "You" is meant, almost always, in a rhetorical sense, as is "me," to the extent that that is possible.]

I think the first step has to be dealing with what it means to know. I want, for present purposes, to divorce knowledge from meaning, the former being dynamic and indeterminate, the latter being negative and prescriptive. Meaning comes from a "that means," which dictates the limits of the object, presenting an end result--I'm reading Nancy's Listening, from which we might take that meaning is a result of hearing (entendre). Knowledge, as I mean the term (sorry) here, is an intimate caressing, a dynamic exploration.

(Of course, the two do not really exist separately--"as I mean the term," for example--and are both themselves each other: meaning is never so static as we mean it to be, nor does knowledge exhibit the flexibility I romantically attribute to it. But the reason I want to tease them apart is to purify knowledge--I'm looking for the logos, I suppose--and in so doing I am implicated in a search for meaning, which has already begun by trying to avoid meaning. In fact, I've considered starting this by not starting this way, since it is a bit of a track that I might not be tall enough to step out of. So I'll leave off where we are, and willfully pragmatize. Let's talk about knowing.)

The reason for separating meaning from knowledge is allow for the non-existence of divinity/fate. It is one thing to run in semantic circles and talk of chains of signifiers; nowadays it is hardly Earth-shaking to say words don't mean anything (in a concrete sense) but only point, more or less vaguely, at other words. I don't want to talk of words, but of people (even if it is, as Bloom says Stevens says, " 'a world of words to the end of it' "). I want to talk about knowing a person, and not about what a person means. And we'll return to how the former bleeds into the latter, tearing a gash. So I'll dismiss for now, strategically, that people mean anything. We're not meant for each other; no one is meant for anyone or anything. This isn't depressing; it doesn't mean there is no happiness or love, etc. Indeed, it is the opposite of depressing: no fate means freedom to love as love happens, not out of necessity or obligation, but out of love.

So whom do we know? I'm going to risk absolutes again, and say I know only one person. In touching, there is feeling on both sides. If I touch you, I feel what you feel like, but I don't feel what you feel. You react, and I feel your reaction, but I don't feel what makes you react, and I don't feel why you react. But, I do feel me feeling your reaction, and can feel how I react to your reaction and reacting. You exist on the other side of a membrane that doesn't let messages pass. The only membrane of which I can feel both sides is my own. I can feel myself feeling myself, like two lips in Irigaray's metaphor, and can become my own site of knowledge. What passes colloquially as knowing you is me getting to know myself better. You, like everything, are radically exterior, and our mutual existences comprise of mutual alienations, the negotiations of which constitute the experience of knowing oneself. In this conception, I have not moved beyond Schopenhauer's first sentences:
It then becomes clear and certain to him that he does not know a sun and an earth, but only an eye that sees a sun, a hand that feels an earth; that the world around him is there only as representation, in other words, only in reference to another thing, namely that which represents, and this is himself.

But then there's love. The preceding makes it impossible to talk about love. First, because it follows necessarily that even if I know what love is, I only know what it is for me. Love runs the risk of being the insufferable banality of the Universal. Indeed, even in saying "love" I recapitulate the prescriptive role of Man, explaining to you the quest upon which you're meant to embark. So I will step back from this just a bit, though will, for better or worse, retain the age-old narrative of woman/truth that will underpin most of what follows. And in this respect, maybe talking about love along side an exploration of the limits of knowing is perfectly appropriate--or at least scrupulously self-interested. Maybe I can sublimate after all; perhaps my longing for knowledge (and truth) is intimately interwoven with my longing for love, which is, for better or worse, directed toward a longing for woman. But I won't get too Freudian here. Suffice it to say that in searching for the truth about knowing, it can hardly be seen as coincidental that I must now turn to love, and that the problematic between the two orbits around knowing/loving a woman.

Let me take a moment to be more specific about what I mean by love (there it is again). Agamben says, and people grow tired of me reciting this, that we don't love for the particular: I love your eyes, your kindness, your lameness (his choice, not mine). Nor, however, do we love for the universal: this is not a story of Universal Love, etc. So while might love your flowing brown hair, or your mercurial, arresting eyes, I do not love you for those (or in spite of them). Nor would I love you for the sake of loving. Love exists in such a peculiar, particular position that it seems best suited when it eclipses the rest of the lexicon and grammar. Love. And in so being, as if isolated but of course always with a tacit context (I've been assuming a subject/object complex, but that is primarily for rhetorical simplicity; there is no reason to presume that love needs only two, or even two), love presents the fallacy of the absolutism of the membrane that prohibits inter-subjective knowledge. Love. By erasing the two-way subject/object relationship of the verb, it is no longer clear where lines are crossing, which direction the intensities are flowing. That is to say that love, by existing neither in terms of the specific nor the general, effects a re-evaluation of the limits of knowing.

Love, at the risk of being a romantic, is the condition of knowing someone else. But this is not to say that it is true that we can know someone. I would suggest that these two conditions--love and not-knowing--exist in constant tension. They are not extremes of a continuum, for to be so, we would then have to talk of degrees of love, and love would no longer be non-specific, nor non-universal: it would be both specific and universal. To say that love is the extreme of a continuum is to suggest that one love could be replaced with another, in the interest of maximizing utility. And though I have not loved much, I am sure I've never had one love that I would exchange for any other, under any circumstances. The continuum with love on the horizon universalizes a "pure" love, and at the same time assigns a specific value to the less than ideal love you might experience at any given time.

Not a continuum, but also not a dialectical tension. Love is not the negation of not-knowing. The latter condition does not pre-exist the former, nor does it cease to function when love "comes along." And most importantly, regarding the dialectic, there is no synthesis of the two opposed conditions.

It is because of the non-dialectical tension between love and not-knowing that we bleed. (I need to go to bed soon) When I love, I also still don't know--even while knowing. This still-knowing in the face of not-knowing is not to be viewed as self-delusion. That the two coexist is the condition of love: we both know and don't know each other. This constant tension is what leads to jealousy, as well as to reasons for jealousy. It can breed distrust, insecurity, and, in the opposite direction, a certain wanderlust: how do I know what I'm missing (if I don't even know what I have)?

But these are trivial matters. We will or won't work through or around cheating. What is much more grave is the gash that is torn when love and not-knowing bleed together. When loving and not-knowing become having-loved and (still) not-knowing. When the ignorance resulting from the impossibility of inter-subjective experiences shocks the system and disrupts the knowing of love. The sweet dissonance of the affair becomes the unconditioned dissonance of alienation--and not the continual alienation from one another we always feel, but a self-alienation. The love that defied not-knowing now become the not-knowing of the self, as one must now wonder how or why one thought one knew, when clearly one did not.

Of course, even as the gash bleeds, one must remember that even while one did not know, one knew.

Now I'm too sleepy to keep things straight, and will hopefully re-read this soon to see if I left anything out or got stupid :)

Monday, June 23, 2008

Race and Sex

I've been a little concerned about what I've been hearing about Clinton supporters getting angry about losing, and about some of them going so far as to threaten to vote McCain. How could progressive women vote for a man who is openly anti-choice and calls his wife a cunt? Via Feministing, I've come across a great piece that helps to explain why some people are exactly that angry. And more specifically, why many of them are angry at not just the good old boys, but at the good guys too.

Here's an excerpt that particularly intrigues me:
Of course, the ease with which these kinds of stereotypes were bandied about suggests that it is women -- about to take your jobs and your college acceptance letters and your seat in the Oval Office and probably your penis! -- who are the most threatening to the established white male power structure.
Then I think back to the relative treatments of Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. In this case too, much more vitriol is spewed toward the woman than the man, and like the democratic primary, race is shown to be less flammable than sex. I think this is fundamentally related to what Immortal Technique--and others, but him most recently for me--have said regarding racism and economic class. He says, in The Poverty of Philosophy, that while racism is still clearly active in America, class repression is much stronger--which is why he doesn't hate the white kid down the street, but only the politicians, et al.

What we find in the Clinton/Obama race is the flip side of this. A black man running for president is not threatening to the sophisticated chauvinist because it does nearly nothing to change the precedent of oppression as it exists. With Obama's primary victory we can now say race won't keep black men out of political position, and we can simultaneously ignore the very real economic barriers that continue to prevent most African-Americans from even leaving the ghetto, much less aspiring to any position of power. In short, Obama is not threatening because he doesn't represent--Darstellung--the black man that racism fears. Electing him will not empower those black people that racists fear because it will not upset the economic imbalance that structures racism. We might say that racism is benefiting from a well-ingrained paradox: electing Obama would be declared historic, because he represents an disempowered minority; but electing Obama is not threatening--and in terms of "progress" might not really be so historic--because he doesn't represent a disempowered minority.

Clinton is quite a different story, because of the structural differences between sexism and racism. Women as a class (?) are oppressed not by economic fiat but by social convention. Women are not born to poorer families then are men, and don't grow up in more dangerous neighborhoods (excepting of course that, because of the epidemic of sexual violence, nearly all neighborhoods are more dangerous for women). The only thing that stands in the way of a woman and the presidency is sexism. Of course it's harder for women to land extremely high-paying jobs--to appease non-feminists, this could be toned down to "less likely"--and such jobs make running for office much easier to do, if for no other reason than the increase in assets and connections, but the restricted access to such a market too is a result of sexism, not economic class. So racism always acts in tandem with structural economic oppression, but sexism does not (I am finessing away, in unforgivable fashion, overlaps of sexism and racism). As a consequence, electing a woman would do a great deal to undermine the institution of sexism; it would alter precedent and preference, which are the only things keeping women from the highest office. Thus electing Clinton is threatening to chauvinism in a way that electing Obama is not. Electing Clinton--or any woman, but I am inclined to say any white woman--would, in a very real way, upset the position reserved for women as a support and background, rather than as a leader. And it would do so in relation to every bi-sexual encounter, where the only thing ensuring the subordinance of the woman is the precedent that she is by nature subordinate. In that respect, voting for Clinton--policies aside--would have done much more to upset white male dominance than voting for Obama can do. Policies aside.

What we have to hold on to is that another woman will come along, and that she'll actually be progressive. Clinton is a point of ambivalence for me. I want to vote for a woman, because sexism is habitual in ways that racism is not (because of the above), but Clinton demonstrated an impressive capacity to do things that made her completely unvoteforable. The two things that spring to mind are the "gas tax holiday" and her habit of calling Obama "elite" and dismissing things she didn't like as "elite opinion." (I'm irritated about anti-elitism and about conflating "elitism" and "elite." Doesn't elite just mean better? How can that be a bad thing?) Why did she have to be such a bad candidate? And will I ever be able to sort out her bad positions from the devil-mask painted for her by the sexist media?

I want to be sure, before I go, that it's clear that I'm not arguing that sexism is better or worse than racism, or that it's easier or more important to combat one or the other. Both are rancid cancers that we will all die with, and I don't mean to make the abolishionist mistake of putting one struggle ahead of the other. But exploring why the Man flamed Clinton in ways that He didn't flame Obama is important, especially since we all hope to go through this again very soon.

Thursday, June 19, 2008


It is a clear night tonight, and the city lights are bright.  The underbellies of the streams of jet exhaust are white against blue, and they carry with them the despair of unknowable distance and space.  Glancing north means knowing there is too much for me to ever matter.

All this is dreadfully banal.  What was fun about tonight is feeling this cliché turn around on itself so swiftly, as I remembered that that much space is a good thing.  Finite sets are as oppressive as infinite.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008


An eminent philosopher among my friends, who can dignify even your ugly furniture by lifting it into the serene light of science, has shown e this pregnant little fact. Your pier-glass or extensive surface of polished steel made to be rubbed by a housemaid, will be minutely and multitudinously scratched in all directions; but place now against it a lighted candle as a centre of illumination, and lo ! the scratches will seem to arrange themselves in a fine series of concentric circles round that little sun. It is demonstrable that the scratches are going everywhere impartially, and it is only your candle which produces the flattering illusion of a concentric arrangement, its light falling with an exclusive optical selection. These things are a parable.
--George Eliot, Middlemarch, 182.

Maybe what I like best about this is that it applies equally to religion as it does to science, but does not dismiss either in their essence.  Further, it cautions against all those who position themselves more moderately in the science/religion spectrum--though a linear ordering of disparate approaches replicates the same mistake against which we are warned.   We might read it as a critique of methodology, rather than ideology, though I would be reluctant to separate the two so cleanly.  Indeed, in many ways, particularly symbolism, Eliot prefigures Irigaray here, by suggesting that it is the light of reason--of the subject's gaze--that privileges certain ordered readings of the world while marginalizing others; in short, the light lets us ignore what Rorty calls "feminine messes."

Monday, May 26, 2008

So it turns out Cake covered Mahna Mahna. I just heard it in a coffee shop, and am now doing some research. I don't know where star wars comes into this...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Strawberry Lemonade.

I'm not sure what to write here, but I feel that I am obliged.  I just took my first written exam, in which I was asked two questions, the first of which covered 3 topics (though only mentioned 2) and the second of which covered 2, as well as some extra-topicular material (namely, Schönberg).  The experience was strange.

Shaking was hard not to do, especially at first.  I was both excited by the encounter, and quite frightened about the slowness with which I comprehended the first question (which dealt with Deleuze and Guattari as well as the more complicated feminists I've been looking at).  While I have been too cowardly to review my writing, I fear it was somewhat inchoate.  I, in spite of myself, neglected to map out an outline, and the result is that, in my excitement, I occasionally lost my way.

On the whole I think it was successful.  It seems to me that I demonstrated at least sufficient knowledge to pass, and I hope to have actually done quite well on the first question.  The second was more difficult to manage, since I am uncertain about how much the asker knew about the subjects.  I may have given too much background, I may have given too little.  In any event, there was undoubtedly insufficient analysis, but the nature of the quesiton, if I read the asking well enough, necessitated this outcome.

At any rate, it is done, and in Elena's hands now.  I need only wait until Friday, when I'll be asked anew.

I pee a lot when I work under pressure from home.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

I crack me up (in my dreams)

So I had a dream last night.   Hillary Clinton was in Hawaii, and a bunch of kayakers were starting a race.  The race was started by getting in the kayaks at the top of the hill and riding them down to the ocean (which is not bad for the kayaks at all) where presumably they would then race in water.  What they didn't realize was that Clinton was in their path, and she got thoroughly run over by a bunch of kayaks.

So I said, "If I were already known as the first lady, I wouldn't go anywhere near a race."

Wednesday, May 14, 2008


I met with my advisor today to practice the oral presentation of my topics.  It was not so good.  He said it was, but I know better.  I was really nervous, which bodes ill, and had difficulty organizing my thoughts.  And it was hard to not sweat a lot.

Writtens start in a week.

Sunday, May 4, 2008


I've been dreaming a lot lately.  Maybe my stress is making the dreams more memorable, or maybe I'm more prone to remember on account of waking up more than is common (I understand interrupting dreams increases their memorability).  But my dreams have two themes: spiders and stability.

The spiders make sense.  I've been dreaming about them since I started finding spiders all over the place in this house.  I don't really get too worked up about the spider dreams anymore.  It's more like, "ooo a spider... um... scary... ?" and then I wake up. (I still wake up when I find the spider.  In terms of form, it's still a nightmare: normal stuff is happening, I start getting apprehensive, "what could that be? oh a spider," and I wake up.  The only difference is that I'm not really scared.)  I'm sure anxiety has some play here as well, but for the sake of simplicity, I'll just leave it at There are spiders in my house and that scares me into having dreams about spiders so much that I'm not scared by the dreams any more (but the spiders are still really scary when they're behind the dryer).

The other dreams I'm thematizing with a rather broad brush, but I think it is useful and telling.  These are dreams about family, old friends, lost lovers, and basketballs.  I've had dreams like these in the past, and they've always been so very sad.  These new dreams aren't sad until I wake up, and realize my lack.  It is as though my mind were seeking refuge in a projected past.  Projected because these dreams, also unlike my older ones, are not set in the past, but in the future/present.  Not as a feeling of return to a lost space, but as a movement into a new space with all the joy of those past ones.  When I dream of basketball (to take the least loaded example) it's me playing tomorrow and over there, not yesterday and/or back there.

My mind is not protesting against or protecting itself from a depressed or embattled now, it is not looking for friends or lovers I don't have.  The lack this is making me feel is not one of persons.  Instead, it is drawing my eyes to a lack of stability.  I'm in flux right now as I may never before have been.  The stress of my exams (which for all intents and purposes ought not to stress me--one person ever has failed this test, at that only provisionally) has put me in a sort of brownian motion unknown to me.  I lack the expectation that tomorrow I will do X.  Not only is the variable unknown, I cannot even establish its existence (what if I fall ill again and cannot do even that which I finally decide upon?).

I think I'm doing it wrong.

The psychoanalysts tell us that desire is about lack.  I want X, so I seek to attain it.  Of course, as Lacan tells us, we can never really get X, so instead we tell ourselves we really want Y, or we say that Y is a reasonable substitute, and it is noble to accept it in stead (how complimentary to Y, that we openly mistake it for X).

But those of a more positive bent (Deleuze, Irigaray--one can readily see why a feminist would have problems with desire always being about finding the right object to cram into an emptied, lacking space) say that desire is about desire, not lack.  So how about this?  Sure I want stability.  It makes it easier to do things.  But what about also enjoying the imbalance?  Where did my aesthetic of discomfort go, which I loved so well in years past?  This may be one of the only times I'll get to really feel this confused, and my dreams are trying to tell me I should hate myself right now.  I'm not doing it right.  Maybe I can wake up smiling instead, enjoying the really quite bizarre trips I'm going on at night.  Maybe I can waiver patiently, and live the uncertainty of Xness.

But also, what's wrong with wanting something?  Can't my lack-induced desires also be flows and intensities?  Even when lust isn't for lust's sake, can't lust be also an ends in itself?  I can understand why it would be pathological to think of desire as always only (impossible) lack, but it seems equally paralyzing and dangerous to see desire as lack as in itself pathological.

Trivia night!  I'm late!

Thursday, April 24, 2008


First of all, thanks for your comments on my last post. I agree with most everything that was said, though for now I'm going to leave it at that, so I can get on to the problem I need to work through.

I wrote a paper a few years ago called "The Myth of Inaccessible Music," using Deleuze and Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus (TP) to argue in favor of both music theory and avant-garde music (especially that of the atonal, high-modernist variety).

My argument was based on the assumption that the avant-garde is inaccessible because it is unfamiliar, and listeners tend to approach music in search of a familiar discourse.  By this assumption, people like Beethoven, or Coldplay, or whatever, because they are familiar with the language used and they can understand what's going on (I mean language and understand in very general senses--I'm not trying to start a "music as language" argument).  People do not enjoy the avant-garde because they approach it with similar expectations--understanding--and are let down.  Webern (the musical example with which I began the paper in question) simply does not employ the rhetorical devices people expect from music, and their absence is alienating ("why can't I understand this? does this mean I'm stupid?")

From the perspective of TP this is a problem (or instance, more properly) of territorialization.  Expectation and identification are mechanisms of ordering, which mark out a territory from surrounding chaos.  Belonging to (read: understanding) the musical tradition presented grounds the listener in a secure cultural environment.  The memory triggered--the long-term memory--territorializes the musical object, letting it function as a poster or sign-post.  Long-term memory acts as an instrument of arborescence.

The two solutions I propose involve seeking a rhizomatic listening.  The first is the attempt to push aside long-term memory and experience music without expectations.  I lack the sophistication to suggest a legitimate program that would lead to this position, but in theory it would be the same project as the body without organs: a (nearly) complete destratification of the subject (which at that point would not be, properly speaking, a subject at all).  (Can there still be music in this space?  Does the organization of sound require stepping back from the milieu?)

The second solution is to over-stratify.  Through studying music--theoretically, historically, aesthetically, etc.--one could so over-stratify music as to effectively overpower expectation.  This is not the same as learning harmony and counterpoint to appreciate Beethoven.  Studying common-practice music to understand common-practice music only reifies and contextualizes expectation (at the same time? can you do both?).   But placing the avant-garde in the context of radically divergent possibilities would open the listener to these different possible lines of flight.  This is, in effect, creating too many expectations.  When an listener with long-term memory hears Beethoven, there are a set (and quite small, really) number of possible next moves.   But when a listener with long-term memory and an extensive knowledge of new music hears something "inaccessible," the lines of flight are not blocked, but instead opened in advance.

Now, a few years later, I understand the book quite differently.

The first solution is partially consonant with TP.  It acknowledges the machinic relation between the listener and the music.  Music territorializes the person as a listener (a listener to this music), and the person territorializes the music as music (as this music).  In order to dismantle this mutual constitution, one goes in search of absolute deterritorialization: the rhizome, short-term memory, the BwO.  But it is problematic because it leaves intact, after the fact, music.  To argue for a rhizomatic listening experience is to invoke an Idea of music that exists separate of reality.  I do not mean (and D+G would not mean) that music is "just" a construction, that it is not real.  On the contrary, territorializing sound as music is precisely what makes it real.    This is the double motion that rejects Platonic Idealism, in the interest of recuperating matter, while simultaneously retaining the idea, not as exterior or mystical, but as real.  However, given that it is listening (perceiving) that makes music real, there doesn't seem much point to talk about music after absolute deterritorialization.   Indeed, this critique could be leveled at al the various quests for "Deleuzian music" (leaving aside what "Deleuzian" could possibly mean).

The second position is significantly more problematic from the perspective of TP, if we accept the position that deterritorialization is a good thing.  After all, it's pretty clear that what I'm doing is not deterritorialization, but the opposite.  Indeed, we might even argue that education isn't a means of opening lines of flight, but of contexutalizing the avant-garde.  It doesn't so much allow for radical possibility, but instead creates the expectation of radical divergence, and an expectation that is of course founded upon long-term memory and its contingent narratives.

Where does that leave this project?  In a position to question its opening question.  I asked--tacitly--"Why is some music inaccessible?"  The question should be "Why am I concerned with making [my] music accessible?" (mine in the sense of cultural ID, not actual composition.)

To answer, first I would need to radically critique the possibility of music, its relation to the politics of territories, and what remains at the (impossible) position of absolute deterritorialization.

The first part of this critique (the possibility of music) would be a book.  And a long, complicated one that only French people read.  Music plays an ambivalent role in TP, certainly in part because it lies beyond the authors' areas of expertise.  It appears on the list of becomings, but the obviously metaphorical nature of these undermine any attempt to generalize this passage (music's role in the development of the cult of genius suggests that it is not always--or maybe even ever--so subversive as becoming-music implies).  It also is central to the section on the refrain, in which it functions as a territorializing, organizing force (as discussed above).

Which bleeds into the territoriality of music.  Ultimately this will bring us back in circles, because now the question must be raised: "What do you mean by music?"  It seems supremely silly to suppose that music is all the same, and only slightly less so to suggest that all music shares some common characteristic.  Thus there is in basis, absent of an argument, for assuming that music's role as a refrain prevents it from also being a becoming.  Indeed, unless we adopt the notion of a "work," unless we assume that a particular piece is always that piece regardless of who is listening and how and why, we cannot even argue that there is only one role that one piece can play.  Memory is key here.

Lastly we face the unknown.  My reading of TP makes it very problematic to even talk about the plain of consistency.  I read this book as an extended polemic against the coherent subject and its constitutive other.  For Deleuze and Guattari, there is always first "we," not "I."  But they continue to do a few things "just for kicks," like say "I," or talk about the orient or "primitives."  Their own text, which is meant to undermine centuries of relying on the subject/object positions, turns on these moments in which I and they return.  I think this is because language is intimately tied into subjects and objects (which are named not by mistake). This is confirmed in TP.  The state apparatus, Jesus, etc. are all intimately tied to the face, the white wall of which comes from language, and the black eye of which comes from the subject.  Ultimately we cannot talk about the place TP wants to take us, and that is why it doesn't take us there.  Utopian without leading to Utopia.  So there can be no comments on "Deleuzian" music because we cannot speak there: there is no we, and there is no speech.  Whether or not there is music becomes irrelevant as soon as we ask, because both asking and being we dismantles the BwO.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Voices and Violence

I'm really tired, but I feel like I need to do this right now, while I still feel really uncomfortable.  But first:

Oral exams are June 4th, so I'll know by then at the latest if I'm a complete wasto!

So, some of the pertinent info that's on my mind is here:

I'm worried about my ability to communicate.  I entered the above thread in the interest of expanding my vocabulary, to better understand my position as someone striving to be a feminist in a late-capitalist patriarchy.   What does being entail, and how can I minimize the violence essential to my existence.  I am, after all, privileged, par excellence, and will be received that way.  When I look, I gaze, and I need to learn (it will be my project for life to learn) how to mitigate that gaze, to make it positive rather than possessive.

Porn is an obvious site of exploration.  Without the gaze, there is no porn.  Regrettably, studying music theory and being interested specifically in how feminism works there has steered my reading away from the visual and into the areas of cultural production and music.  Representation is key, as is subjectivity.  Understanding various theories of ontology and epistemology has taken a great deal of my time, and, I hope, allowed me better to understand the degree of my complicity in the reinscription of a phallogocentric economy.

But maybe not.  Maybe the sound of my voice, the intrusion of my name, is enough to prevent me from not being the father.  My identity as a heterosexual male seems to be enough to align me with the phallocracy, to pin me as a porn-mongering apologist.

Recent experience outside of the web has taught me that it doesn't do any good to blame the reader for misreading.  If that were the case, there would be no motion outside the dominant, no room for dissenting voices.  It seems to me the only wiggle room is found in a multi-vocal approach to reading that is inquisitive rather than accusing.

But this doesn't get around the problem of speaking.  I have a voice: it's part of being privileged.  How can I find a mode of discourse that invites multi-vocal reading?  Some speech (and some topics) automatically restrict response choices (I do not think this is necessarily one of those places, but I have personal reasons for wanting to theorize this moment).  My position of power as a pretty good-sized straight white male means that I'm in that position a lot (I even had a young girl run down the street one night because she saw me walking home).  I try to be sensitive and sensible of the sometimes silencing effect of my body, but that is not enough, even when I'm successful.  Is there a way for me to be, to speak, to touch, etc., that always leaves open every avenue of response?

It should be pretty clear that I don't have an answer to this.  If I did, I'd already have a job.

The question of porn is a particular instance.  I will rule out immediately porn of the violent stripe, and porn involving coercion (economic, sexual, narcotic, etc.): those are clearly negative, both in their treatment of the cast and in their construction of culture.  But suppose in a fantasy land there is a recording of people enjoying a sexual exchange, filmed, packaged, sold and viewed with the intent of arousing the viewer (let's be self-indulgent and pragmatic and assume, as is often done tacitly, that the viewer is a heterosexual male), perhaps even for masturbatory purposes.  Is their violence there?  (and please, these questions are of course rhetorical, but not meant to imply a specific answer, but rather to leave them open)

This is a problem, as always, of representation.  What porn does that seems most violent (in Butler's sense of the word) is construct sexual ideals.  The very act of recording and marketing the sexual image of a person is an endorsement of that image as preferred, and the success of the image reifies it as an ideal.  Then if your boobs aren't big enough, you're not sexy enough, because you don't meet the ideal (e.g.).  But of course, that's not just porn (excepting absurdly broad definitions of the term): movies, advertisements, books, religion, the state, philosophy... all these things are in the business of constructing ideals up to which no one will ever measure.  If representation is the problem, then if we can't watch porn, we also can't engage in most modes of cultural production (including classical music, according to McClary--and I buy this part of her argument).

But there is a difference.  Cultural production that participates in the construction of ideals is ubiquitous: we call it patriarchy, but it goes by any number of names (see Oh God, below).  Porn is unique, though, in it's portrayal of sex.  When I go to bed with a woman, she is almost always completely physically vulnerable to me.  Because porn does not exist in isolation, but rather interacts with everything else, the idealization of a sexual body, combined with a culture of rape, recodes my body as dangerous, rather than only sensual (and by rape culture I mean Western culture--see Susan Brownmiller, Against Our Will [which I've not yet finished], or for a shorter article, Ruth Solie, "What Do Feminist Want? A Reply to Pieter van den Toorn," The Journal of Musicology 9, No. 4, 1991, 399-410).  The interaction between a culture of physical violence against women and an industry predicated on the construction of an impossible sexual ideal breeds both violence and the expectation thereof.  While I cannot do much to change my cultural membership or my body, I can control my relationship to porn.  In the hope that this small change will make she whom I love (still I speak in ideals--both love and she at the present) safer.

Most of this reasoning is happening in real-time.  I'm beginning to think it would have been more effective to talk to myself than to try to enter a stream in which, in retrospect, I was clearly not welcome.

I'm very bitter about this last.  I love Twisty's work, and will continue to read her blog, but I'm quite scandalized by the ease with which I was presumed guilty even while I expressed my interest and openness.

Politics is impossible, and always happens anyway.  I've often heard people claim that feminists hate porn because they're all a bunch of fat lesbians and it makes them feel bad (or that they're lesbians because they're fat and men don't want them--Freud gets pretty close to exactly that claim.  Freud was a pretty horrible person).  I'd like to pretend this is just a caricature of conservatism, but I'm sure we all know better.  I obviously don't share this view of feminism: if I did I wouldn't have asked for a reason, believing instead that I already held it.  What caught me off guard was that I was instantly caricatured in an equally unflattering way.  I wanted to know the reasons behind a position, and I was therefore opposed to the position, and entrenched in my love for, need of, porn.  But we went over this a bit above.  I'm recursing, this time with more frustration in my voice, and I will move on.

I was going to end by repeating my resolution to take mearl at his/her word, but now that I've had the time to work through the argument on my own (spurred on, admittedly, by a recent and distressing revelation I shan't recount), I need not (though I will anyway).

It is pretty clear at this point that the differentiation between gay and straight porn, between violent and non-violent porn, etc., is unnecessary.  I began this inquiry from a selfish point of view, wanting to know how I might better conduct myself to minimize my complicity.   Since I don't participate sexually in the gay community, nuances of that genre are not relevant.  Since it is unlikely that the quality of my porn will affect its reception by a third party, this latter is irrelevant as well.

So while I'll certainly keep thinking about this, and reading (Dworkin here I come, once those general exams are done), I'll go ahead and make this my official renunciation of porn statement.  I know this will ring hollow for most of you, since you've no idea whether or not I'm lying.  Do I even know?  

I'm not sure the title seems as relevant now as it was, but I think it still is.  After all, this is the sort of thing that might not be easily discussed, even between intimate partners.  How do you tell the person you love that there is a physical threat, and it's him?

PS, thoughts, comments, tirades, criticism, expansion, etc., are all extremely welcome and solicited.  Especially if you're pissed at me still.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Oh God

"This is the situation Lévi-Strauss describes: the world begins to signify before anyone knows what it signifies; the signified is given without being known.  Your wife looked at you with a funny expression.  And this morning the mailman anded you a letter from the IRS and crossed his fingers.  Then you stepped in a pile of dog shit.  You saw two sticks on the sidewalk positioned like the hands of a watch.  They were whispering behind you back when you arrived at teh office.  It doesn't matter what it means, it's still signifying.... Nothing is ever over and done with in a regime of this kind.  It's made for that, it's the tragic regime of infinite debt, to which one is simultaneously debtor and creditor." (Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus, 112-3. Emphasis theirs)

This is from their discussion of regimes of signs, and the endless chains of signifiers, in which signs refer only to other signs (words defined only by words, defined by words, etc., e.g.  I'm not sure if they actually used the term "IRS" in the original French, or if they used the French government's equivalent).  Then later, in their chapter on Faciality:

"Earlier, we encountered two axes, signifiance and subjectification.  We saw that they were two very different semiotic systems, or even two strata.  Signifiance is never without a white wall upon which it inscribes its signs and redundancies.  Subjectification is never without a black hole in which it lodges its consciousness, passion, and redundancies.  Since all semiotics are mixed and strata come at least in twos, it should come as no surprise that a very special mechanism is situated at their intersection.  Oddly enough, it is a face: the white wall/black hole system.  A broad face with white cheeks, a chalk face with eyes cut in for a black hole.  Clown head, white clown, moon-white mime, angel of death, Holy Shroud." (Ibid., 167, emphasis theirs.)

And a little later in the same section:

"The face is not a universal.  It is not even that of the white man; it is White Man himself, with his broad white cheeks and teh black hole of his eyes.  The face is Christ.... Jesus Christ superstar." (Ibid., 176)