Wednesday, December 24, 2008
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
Sunday, December 21, 2008
Saturday, December 20, 2008
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
So far I haven't posted anything yet, so slow down there, Tex.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
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
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
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
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Thursday, October 30, 2008
Monday, October 27, 2008
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
Thursday, October 23, 2008
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
Sunday, October 19, 2008
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.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Saturday, October 11, 2008
The song I was listening to when I started thinking along these lines is "Colorshow" by The Avett Brothers.
Saturday, October 4, 2008
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
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.
Monday, September 15, 2008
Tuesday, September 2, 2008
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?
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Monday, August 18, 2008
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Monday, June 30, 2008
Wednesday, June 25, 2008
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
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
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.