30/12/2010

Listen Cloze, Now: "Broom People" by the Mountain Goats



"DISHES IN THE KITCHEN SINK!"


A long list of things in John Darnielle's step-house: tales of ordinary madness. The Sunset Tree is one long song sung to his past.

The title is obscure; perhaps it means "thrifty folk"; a household that has to repair its worn-out broom, (and sweep all sorts of things under the carpet). The food is no better than "fresh fuel for the sodium flares"; processed, salty crap that he gets his kicks out of burning.

It's more than Caulfieldiana. He's deeply affected by the mundane; depressed by untidiness and low-income ennui. But when he's "in your arms", "in the long tresses of your hair" this goes away. Things go elemental. He's a wild creature escaping out from under "the king of the jungle", an abusive stepfather. (We can find anything disturbing and anything profound.)

I'd thought that the arms he was saved by were his mother's, but in other places (Lion's Teeth) we see she's a stooge of his nemesis; 'You' is someone else. It's a bit of a leap to make Cathy (from "This Year") the object of each 'You' in the album, but let's make this leap. Love as exit door.


********************************************************

Every character is a fuckup whose future is nonetheless no bleaker than that of the planet we all inhabit. They aren't redeemed by Darnielle's love because he doesn't love a-one of them. But they are redeemed by his interest, in them and in the planet we all inhabit.
- Christgau, mistaken.


But this abuse escapism is tied to an uplifting, forward sound; a dirty car-exhaust bassline (a '36 Hudson?) propels a beautiful TV-theme piano intro into one of his signature staccato-block guitar lines. At 1:02 something like a back-masked accordion begins to siren the same six note pattern til the end. The piano keeps planting these emphatic, dignified chords into every other bar.

I don't want to imagine cover versions: Darnielle has an inimitable inimicability. But (though his fragile nasal frenzy is his own and only his own) he probably sings for you-as-a-teenager, too, no matter how little you were abused. Actually, I'm doing a crap job of lassoing him. It's a precise voice, not frenzied. Or: it's a demented fantasist, not autobiography. It's a deeply sincere voice, not a joke. Or: it's ironic, not sentimental. In any case: it's gotten milder in recent work, and he can breathe devastating things out casually: here, the terrible casual way he says "freeze to death".

The album is relentlessly comforting if you want to change, get over it, look forward (it's named after an optimistic Victorian hymn of renewal). But some things leave a mark that it takes a lifetime and maybe also a death to remove.


*****************************************


I was there on a Sunday, and observed the rigour with which the young people were taught to observe the Sabbath; they might not cut out things, nor use their paintbox on a Sunday, and this they thought rather hard, because their cousins the John Pontifexes might do these things. Their cousins might play with their toy train on Sunday, but though they had promised that they would run none but Sunday trains, all traffic had been prohibited. One treat only was allowed them--on Sunday evenings they might choose their own hymns.

In the course of the evening they came into the drawing-room, and, as an especial treat, were to sing some of their hymns to me, instead of saying them, so that I might hear how nicely they sang. Ernest was to choose the first hymn, and he chose one about some people who were to
come to the sunset tree. I am no botanist, and do not know what kind of tree a sunset tree is, but the words began, "Come, come, come; come to the sunset tree, for the day is past and gone."' ...

"Very well, Ernest" said his father, catching him angrily by the shoulder. "I have done my best to save you, but if you will have it so, you will," and he lugged the little wretch, crying by anticipation, out of the room. A few minutes more and we could hear screams coming from the dining-room, across the hall which separated the drawing-room from the dining-room, and knew that poor Ernest was being beaten
.
- Samuel Butler


Come, come to the sunset tree,
The day is past and gone,
The woodman's axe lies free,
And the reaper's work is done.
...
There shall no tempest blow,
No scorching noon tide beat,
There shall be no more snow,
No weary wand'ring feet.
And so we lift our eyes
From the hills our fathers trod
To the quiet of the skies
To the Sabbath of our God.
- Francis Weiland


24/12/2010

Wilde and Warhol in bed

(c) Ronald D Gosses (2009) Andy Warhol & Oscar Wilde meet over Margaritas

Somehow or other I'll be famous, and if not famous, I'll be notorious. Or perhaps I'll lead the life of pleasure for a time and then—who knows?—rest and do nothing.
- Wilde


If you want to know all about Andy Warhol, just look at the surface of my paintings and films - and me - and there I am. There’s nothing behind it."
- Warhol


(Notes on wilful contrariness for a later work.)


Andy Warhol is heir to Oscar Wilde, but I've never read anyone noticing this. I don't mean just that their queerness crashed into and shaped modernism and postmodernism respectively (though that's a good one); nor just that they fundamentally share the role of the sparkling dandy riding atop our none-more-wishful culture; nor that they're the most quotable figures in history. I mean that their similar self-constructions - the effeminate, theatrical, aesthetically-fixated, charming, amoral queer - occupy a continuum and what we have become is at the sharp end. Flippant, giggling, wonderful nihilism.

Both reject practicality, but are often intensely unromantic too:
  • Wilde deflates love (his tools: the realist farce, the counter-induction, the epigram);

  • Warhol deflates Life in general (his tools: flat textures, block colours, impersonal industrialized production, print runs, trivialization, and glorification of the status quo which the artistic status quo reviles).

They also share a basic contempt for their audiences. I don't believe that Wilde meant much of what he ever said or wrote. Lord Henry, from Dorian Gray: "It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances. The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible."

And the opposite, from Personal Reflections of America: "Appearance blinds, whereas words reveal." (Although he also thinks "Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative.")

**************************************************************


It's not an original thought. The mercenary nature of his intelligence was clear enough at the time, and we loved him anyway:
One might go through his swift and sparkling plays with a red and blue pencil marking two kinds of epigrams; the real epigram (which he wrote to please his own wild intellect) and the sham epigram (which he wrote to thrill the very tamest part of our tame civilization).
- GK Chesterton, 1909


Warhol we didn't exactly love, but we lusted after his things hysterically enough to close the difference. Warhol is the logical conclusion of Public Wilde, a deconstructed dandy: he doesn't even need to be witty; he doesn't even need to be handsome; he doesn't even need taste; he doesn't need his talent!

These are lives aimed at glamour, and which feign indifference to all else. Wilde's greatest cultural legacy is to have tied campness to homosexuality, and, worse, vice versa. (You could call it "the birth of public gay identity" if you were feeling optimistic). While there is little that is elegant about Warhol, he freed art from the need to have any content at all; a development which Wilde would have adored.


The idea of a "fake Warhol painting" is ridiculous. There's no such thing, except perhaps for tax purposes. The Economist magazine uses him as the windvane for the art market general - metonymy which Warhol would have adored.

You might have heard the story about a Warhol exhibition in 1971; there were so many attendees (and so much writhing) that he took down the paintings, so that people could get in. Warhol was the point; he was the work. The actual paintings were derided at the time as "hoaxes"; and so they were. And so all art is. The idea of a "Warhol urban legend" is ridiculous... (What on earth has truth got to do with it?)


**************************************************************


But beauty, real beauty, ends where intellectual expression begins. Intellect is in itself a mode of exaggeration, and destroys the harmony of a face.

(So speaks a man who loves men.)

I know a girl...she just sees a beautiful face and therefore she thinks she's a beauty. And therefore, I think she's a beauty, too, because I usually accept people on the basis of their self-images, because their self-images have more to do with the way they think than their objective-images do.

(So speaks a man who loves cats.)

Beckett might have slotted neatly in between them - another malin provocateur. But he's too stark, so lacking in ornament that he would burst my neat category apart. De Sade fits, and anyway would use a knife if he didn't at first. Lou Reed was groomed by Warhol specifically for the task of being a nasty little man. Damien Hirst is a macho shit who'd headbutt his own way out of the analysis. These people are the cattleprods we grab on to.

Is it Nietzsche they come from, then? Maybe not. (We never accepted Nietzsche in time.)


**************************************************************


Wilde's too beautiful to ignore (e.g. try this, from his Canterville Ghost:
Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one's head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace.)
but too dishonest to really respect. Maybe that's the point. (You can rightfully say "maybe that's the point" to any artwork; any ambiguity; any old piece of hollow crap. Maybe that's the point.) He exasperates me, but I am queer.

Warhol's neither beautiful nor honest, but the fact that his "work" happened has importance despite itself because, without its freshening sort, art will die; 'art-lovers' will kill it. It will become what classical music sadly has; a marginal, elitist, ossified time-capsule. This classist classicism is bad only because it's entirely false, traitorous and suicidal. I hate Warhol, but I am Pop.

Their indifference is horrific. Hopefully that's the point.


Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about. "
- Wilde

The best thing for everybody now is to forget all about Oscar Wilde, his perpetual posings, his aesthetical teachings and his theatrical productions. Let him go into silence, and be heard no more.
- L'echo de Paris, 1895
(unwittingly immortalising 'Wilde' as a Name for a nameless love).




Warhol is a sphinx without a secret."
- Capote
(Yes, but so are you, you deep man.)


22/12/2010

Listen Cloze, Now: "Stand By Me" by Ben E King



Schlep; schlep;
Schlep-schlep-schlep; schlep,
Schlep-schlep-schlep; schlep,
Schlepppschlep; schlep........



An old Drifter rolls into town, and your front yard, and your arms.

In the best version (1961 single, not this ^ one), the double-bass is a mess; waterlogged, flattened, hushed. It's just percussion. But out of it: glory underplayed, undertoned, motive, roadlike.

As in all this calibre of R&B, the guitar and backing trio are barely there. The strings creeping up, up, up on him are a masterclass in predictability; their 1:55 spotlight is painful, extremist contralto schmaltz. And yet! they are after all only the bassline given razored, tight wings, dream-come-true dignity.

There's only two bits to the lyrics (fidelity, and apocalyptic fidelity) and scarcely two in the sound (that stepwise homophony, which King's voice is just interpolating, but with such measured, accented passion that you don't notice). Is that enough for this song to "be about" anything?

: Yes. Who knows what loneliness is? Not I, when I've you there. Metaphysics of friendship is big and strange, child. By the end, it's changed, no longer a plea. "Whenever you're in trouble, won't you stand by me": he's offering. There are better things in the world than reciprocation, but they're usually illegal.

Note the varying volume in the vocals (2:25); he's let go, dancing around the mic. Well? Would you be standing still, ever, at all, if you were Ben E King? The fade-out is brutal, one-second-long, demanding a repeat play.

Why can't something be pedestrian and spiritual? Surely only shows our crap understanding of what spirit is (and, relatedly what pop songs are).

There are apparently 400 covers extant. (A lot of them drop the bass part, a profoundly senseless and anti-musical thing to do.) Lennon's one is wrongly dominant (breadthless Bowie stuff). Muhammad Ali did one, and he actually does alright until the end. The Otis Redding one just underscores how balanced King is; OR wasn't half a drama queen. Pennywise's is an above-average entry in the LimeWire comedy punk-cover tradition. Sean Kingston's only song grabs the bassline, but leaves behind its charm, momentum, emotional poise. Bloody Bon Jovi did it in Persian(!) last year, encouraging "worldwide solidarity for the people of Iran" (this is a fact I don't know how to respond to). And turgid bachata toy Prince Royce took it up charts again last year.


06/12/2010

my word processor says the antonym of philosophical is "realistic"

(c) Rembrandt (1632), 'The Philosopher in Meditation'


Bertrand Russell once referred to Kant as the greatest catastrophe in the history of philosophy. C. D. Broad commented that this position surely belonged to Hegel. Russell and Broad were wrong, because this title undoubtedly belongs to Martin Heidegger.
- Paul Edwards,
two citations needed.



******************************************************

In eighteenth-century Europe, as in modern times, passports — quite literally documents which allowed the bearer to 'pass through a port' — had to be carried on most long-distance journeys... For identification purposes they contained a detailed description of the bearer. 'It is commanded to safely and freely let pass: Jacques Cazanua Italian thirty-two years old, five foot ten and a half inches tall or Thereabouts Face long, plain Swarthy. Heavy long nose. Large mouth. Brown, highly intelligent eyes.'"
- Judith Summers

People's passports used to have descriptions of them instead of pictures! Casanova's one could be made better though, something like: Irascible of brow, his heavily intelligent brown eye fills one's apprehension, and his cheek tapers down to a full, high chin.
Here, Arts students! Jobs! (Verbal portraiture.)


*********************************************************************


EPISTEMIC VIRTUES IN STATISTICS
(which help in drawing neat lines through large clouds -
which is to say, "producing knowledge")

  1. "Unbiased" - (N/A) - Having great expectations.

  2. "Consistent" - The more there is, the more I am.

  3. "Free" (v) - Having lots of things to talk about relative to the complexity of the grammar.

  4. "Significant" - (t, F, P) - Having the right to say I am not nothing.

  5. "Efficient" - (N/A) - I do the best I'm able.

  6. "Sufficient" - (N/A) - You're all that I need to get by.

  7. "Unskewed" (γ) - Keeping an even keel in different waters.

  8. "Goodness" (R^2) - What stones do you leave unturned, my child?


Maths is very human, isn't it though? These are virtues in everything we do.


*********************************************************************



Everyone thinks their taste is eclectic.



*********************************************************************


Epigram to an essay on Russell's Paradox that I'll never write:

I DON'T WANT TO BELONG TO ANY CLUB THAT
WILL ACCEPT PEOPLE LIKE ME AS A MEMBER
."
- Groucho Marx


********************************************************************


Some literature prof (or Cultural Theory bod) must have done the legwork on a theory of monster movies. They're so great at expressing our nastiest fears, endlessly workable as satire, and have been doing it throughout history. From primal fear, to fear of science; to fear of sex; fear of Jews; or the trauma of nuclear genocide; fear of the anger of Gaia; fear of Communism; fear of McCarthyism; fear of atavism; physical insecurity; epistemic uncertainty...
Additions to dark symbols in very recent years (mostly single lumpen Ideas than anything elemental):



*******************************************************
Worms do not posses any sense of hearing. They took not the least notice of the shrill of a metal whistle which was repeatedly sounded near them. Nor did they hear the deepest and loudest tones of a bassoon. They were indifferent to shouts if care was taken that the breath did not strike them. When placed on a table near a piano which was played as loudly as possible they remained perfectly quiet.
- Darwin

Good christ, science used to be fun.

EDIT: My mate Johnny says it still is, and he's made a fractal exclamation to prove it:
https://github.com/elginer/exclamation/blob/master/surprise.gif



***************************************************************


Is it any wonder he lost it in later life? Is it any wonder he pissed on nun's heads?
- James, possibly confusing Benjamin Britten for Little Richard


******************************************************************





01/12/2010

The Arrogance of Saints, 1



A friend said he wished to improve the world. Just improve yourself; that is the only thing you can do to better the world.
- Wittgenstein

vs

Is [existing] not an act of repulsing, excluding, exiling, stripping, killing? … I fear for all the violence and murder my existing might generate. I fear occupying someone's place.
- Levinas



Observation statement #1:
The Shanghai district government is offering postgraduate scholarships to foreigners (even philosophers).


Observation statement #2:
I am relatively poor and want to know Chinese.


Observation statement #3:
The Chinese government publically-but-secretly executes about 6000 people a year, putting to shame the rest of the world, who are only unspeakable 2000 times a year put together.


Observation statement #4:
The Chinese government covertly tortures lots (illegally, even by their own fucking law).


Observation statement #5:
There is in place, in this "Communism", a hereditary class order (rural/urban) reminiscent of apartheid.


Observation statement #6:
China's media is the 171st free. Censorship is omnipresent and often absurd. This only shows you what constitutions are really worth (Chapter II, Article 35).


Observation statement #7:
All the power is in the hands of nine men who choose their next nine men, and all the other men.


Value disclosure @3:
I am opposed to capital punishment.


Value disclosure @4:
I am opposed to torture, absolutely.


Value disclosure @5:
I don't like apartheid very much.


Value disclosure @6:
See that thing where people can speak in public? That's well good.


Value disclosure @7:
Whatever democracy is, it ain't this.



The CCCP is authoritarian in dozens of other unacceptable ways, and when clever people point this out with helpful suggestions, they get fucked.


Clincher:
I hold the tacit approval argument, under which one's economic or indirect support for an immoral process is itself immoral. This degree will be wrongfully obtained. (Someone is going to accept it. Someone with no interest in reputation or plans for future political action I suppose.)


Value judgment:
"Oh bugger, not again."


Possible appeal:
To get anywhere with these regimes, the human rights movement needs people able to familiarize and engage, more than partial boycotts and self-righteousness.


Appeal result, from Supreme Court Judge Ethics: "Lisa, maybe if I'm part of that mob, I can help steer it in wise directions. Now where's my giant foam cowboy hat and airhorn?"


: Fuck off.





Arrogance #2 is on Responsibility


Arrogance #3 is on epistemological honesty

A SKETCH OF FIRST PHILOSOPHIES WHICH TOOK FAR TOO LONG AND WAS IRRELEVANT TO THE QUESTION


What various people said the most fundamental part of the world was - the bottleneck through which the rest of reality flows. (Or does now, after their work done unbunged it.)


  • ARISTOTLE: Begin with the first causes and the principles of things.
    "what is being qua being?" (metaphysical priority).

  • DESCARTES: Begin with yourself, with only the most evident things.
    "what is known?" (epistemic priority)

  • KANT: Begin with the interface of active subject & world:
    "how do we have knowledge"? (apperceptive priority)

  • RUSSELL: Begin at the most basic facts:
    "what are the real átomos?" (logical priority)

  • HUSSERL: Begin with the universal impression of consciousness:
    "what does the a priori shape of our experience say about the objective?" (phenomenological priority)

  • HEIDEGGER: Begin with the meaning of Being:
    "why something rather than Nothing?" (fundamental-ontological priority)

  • LEVINAS: Begin with the Other:
    "have I a right to be, given this Other?" (ethical priority)

  • BECKETT: "Don't begin." (No attempt.)

  • PUTNAM: Begin in medias res.*
    (No priority.)

  • MADDY: Skip first philosophy altogether.**
    (Naturalist priority.)



* It is as if they wanted to see ethics as a noble statue standing at the top of a single pillar. My image is rather different. My image would be a table with many legs. We all know that a table with many legs wobbles when the floor on which it stands is not even, but such a table is very hard to turn over, and that is how I see ethics…
- Putnam



** Modern science … has refused to recognize the authority of the philosopher who claims to know the truth from intuition, from insight into a world of ideas or into the nature of reason or the principles of being, or from whatever super-empirical source. There is no separate entrance to truth for philosophers.
- Reichenbach (& Maddy)



(Yes, it amuses me to say "Russell" and "Husserl" alternately.)