22/02/2012

La noune

but english has no good words for it -
and little love.
but I'm not bound by one set
in many settings.
and but you are unconcerned with good words,
need 'em not.
so but between word and world I
but felt your heart beat through it
but a night just then.

19/02/2012

baby baroque


My baby brother, now 6, has a surprising grasp of English. (This is more surprising to me because it means he's left behind the awful Nickleodeon American accent of 2010 and 2011's bastard blend of American and Glaswegian.) He now sounds like a very skilled foreigner. Some choice cuts:



- [after running around and vigorously helping us move boxes] "I found that fun!"



- [after reporting being mooned on the playground] "I wouldn't have thought that a girl woulda done that." (that's an abstract past negative subjunctive ffs! Almost remarkable enough to outweigh my being sad at his gender indoctrination.)



- [seeing Gaelic for the first time, being told that Gaelic (text in which covers my brother's wall) has been a tiny preservationist's language for 120 years now] "That was a time before me. And you. And daddy. And gran. And gran's gran!"



- [during a lull] "I like it when you are here."

17/02/2012

On the order of rank in intellectual labour

Magritte (1936), 'The Philosopher's Lamp'


"...not every critic is a genius, but every genius is born a critic..."
- Lessing

"Anyone who calls themselves a philosopher is a bit of an arse."
- Bob Plant


What you get called, as a processor of culture, is not incidental. I've tried to sense out the hierarchy of terms, our snobby job descriptions of wordy people. (This is not to endorse that hierarchy.) The formal question I'm after could be: 'how much cultural capital is attributed by the title?' This is clear when we keep the activity constant and note the change in Distinction:

Take two media examples, "writer" and "author". "Writer" is completely unregulated - a guy who drools out one piece for his student newspaper is one, and so is Antonio Gramsci. "Author" is reputedly the broader category (and legally I suppose it is), but it's got a pretty clear ring of positive evaluation - of authority. But it's also pretty loosely regulated.

Two ideas examples: "thinker" and "philosopher". "Philosopher" is only uncontroversial when it is used as a job description - for that woman in teaching in that university department. Demarcation is difficult, because the field is a wilful fucking mess, but also because there really is an element of congraulation in calling someone a philosopher. Despite my disowning the following in general, I still don't want to allow just anyone to claim the title (e.g. Ayn Rand).

(Ones which often get used pejoratively are italicised:)


  • Media people: blogger < journalist < columnist < reviewer < pundit < creative < screenwriter < writer < editor < essayist < author/novelist/poet/playwright < person of letters < artist.


  • Ideas people: student < guru < writer < researcher < academic < analyst < author/... < thinker < expert < scientist < lecturer < intellectual < scholar < visionary < theorist < professor < philosopher < genius.



LIMITATIONS OF THE ABOVE

- You probably disagree (and there's not much we can do about that).

- It's rarely a simple matter of rank. Obviously we don't always have relative esteem in mind; obviously context is the determiner of meaning in basically all contexts; obviously there are loads of screenwriters with far more cultural capital than loads of playwrights; obviously the following assumes all other things remaining equal (an assumption which is never true).

- Nonetheless: in media, I think the ones from "essayist" on are honorific terms.

- And in ideas, the ones from "scholar" on. (Admittedly "theorist" gets applied to a heap of empty bullshitters - but what doesn't?)

- I've left out the real pejoratives - e.g. sophist, e.g. hack - because we soon get into Content going down that road - to nihilist and to yellow journalism.

- I've also left out trying to give the complex hierarchy across "academics" - anthropologist < linguist < physicist... (!)

- Are "novelist", "poet" and "playwright" really equivalent? Since theatre is rare and metropolitan nowadays, you could view playwrights as a little more Authorial and Classy, as happened whenever Pinter talked about large things.

- And "artist" is maybe not much of an honorific in most circles.

- The terms also don't exclude each other (e.g. Gramsci was a philosopher but also a theorist of intellectuals).



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




Why care about all this cultural-conservative nonsense, though? Why not just revaluate these values, hold the people relevant to our lives - our webcomic artists, our bloggers, our tv satirists, and our youtubists - over the older thoroughbreds?



Well, cause Year Zero cultural revolution is usually needless, and perhaps impossible, and anyway vitiating. There's lots to learn, kids! Those things that are or will be new under the sun are not revealed by setting fire to the ones already sunkissed, at length, by the world.

07/02/2012

come see my consumption (songs about products)



The Believer: You wrote some Lacanian-style quotations for last fall’s Abercrombie & Fitch catalog. How did that come about?
Slavoj Žižek: Oh yes, I was helping someone who helped me once. It was easy, he sent me a series of provocative images, and I just wrote silly Lacanian statements about them. My critics attacked me, 'how can you conscientiously accept money from such a company?' I said, 'with less guilt than accepting money from the American university system'.


We only rap about things we like. I'll mention Cheetos because I like them, but if I didn't they wouldn't be in our songs.
- Damon Dash

Product is everywhere, integral to life and chat, such as they are. Product placement is still repugnant, and the ethics of advertising are indeed deeply murky. But the brainwash theory of advertising as put forward by Baudrillard and Naomi Klein and Fight Club and swallowed by many like me - is based on muddled views of commerce and human nature. Moreover, it has proved exploitable by the very same corporate forces it demonises. So let's put aside for a moment whether deception is inherent to commerce, and even whether our minds are polluted by hypersexual hypercommercial saturation.

People like things, and should admit this to themselves (even if it's not the only sort of thing they like). Products are the most concrete particulars of lyrics. Perhaps the worst thing about the MOR lyrics of (e.g.) James Morrison is not just that they're clichéd, but the dull abstraction of them - yoou, and the mooon, coming sooon. When artists eschew the details of contemporary life, they most often sink into  rather than rising above time.

Anyway, this list is not about ads - not songs used in ads, nor even anti-adverts (e.g. This Note's For You by Neil Young; "Don't make another Rickenbacker" by the Dressmakers; "Deathcafé" by Oi Polloi) - it is bands using products to express themselves, not the other way round. The choice is not between being a venal shill or a chaste Marxist. What can bands do with things?


On Spotify Here

1. Corona - Minutemen
(you could summon a place, express your cultural guilt)



2. My Adidas - Run DMC
(song of the joy of ownership - real, if transitory)


Obviously synecdoche is acceptable: see 'vaseline' for all waxy lubes (and so for gay sex); 'valium' and 'prozac' for all psychiatrics (and so for modern alienation); etc.


3. Rum and Coca-Cola - Andrews Sisters
(Back then they wouldn't pay you anyway. Note that 'Jack Daniels' is of course shorthand for being krazy.)



4. Shop Vac - Jonathan Coulton
(it's easy to avoid the nausea of product-placement if you set it amidst enough pathos)




5. Golden Boy - Mountain Goats
(also if you pick an obscure product. This is product as apotheosis.)



6. Whiteness thy name is Meltonian - Half Man Half Biscuit
(also if you are absurd about it. HMHB are the kings of the artfully concrete: e.g. one song ending with the baffling chorus "Sturmey-Archer Campagnolo" x9)




7. Driver Education - Indigo Girls
(if product references quickly age, they also let you evoke an era)

see also 7'. Village Green Preservation Society - Kinks
(childhood products as institutions; capital killed by new capital.)




8. Drink Nike - Future of the Left
(Can be used to communicate a character's culture (here, elderly alienation). see also.)



9. Mercedes Benz - Janis Joplin


(compare 'The Jeep Song' by Dresden Dolls: perfect expression of seeing an ex in specific cues)



10. Kodachrome - Paul Simon
(nerds too are safe)




11. Little Red Corvette - Prince
(In a long tradition of driving-as-sex songs. Cadillacs in particular seem to get free rein from all sorts of bands.)




12. Wearing My Rolex - Wiley
(the key to a good product song is to invest objects with meaning without losing yourself to them. see also.)




13. Can It All Be So Simple - Raekwon
(the fledgling rapper uses posh drink and flash to expand his sense of self)


13'. Pass the Courvoisier Part Two - Busta Rhymes
(the established rapper does naked placements - since most pretend to be much more than a clotheshorse lashed to their cultural moment.)


13''. All I Need - Jay-Z
(or indeed he'll have his own shit to plug anyway)




14. Diet Mountain Dew - Lana Del Rey
(like MCs, postmodern pop divas carry their consumerism lightly)




15. Wallet - Regina Spektor
(she wants to describe a stranger tersely: somehow the material trace can suggest spirit!)




16. In McDonalds - Burial
(Like old feelings spurred by an unwelcome meeting in a public place, Aaliyah out of nowhere)


 

02/02/2012

Rating the C20th

Ray Johnstone (2010), "Francis Bacon - Icon of the C20th"


Recently asked friends what their favourite decade of the twentieth century is. Answers are varied and cannot fail to say things about us.




Noughties (1900-1909)


RH: The first one. Cos still optimism.


SS: Early 1900s e.g: 1900-1910!!! The wild west was still vaguely wild but on the wind down!!!

HW: 1903-1913. Few will pick 90s - we're too burned by hindsight.




Teens

CK1: Sassoon, Owen, Thomas, Rosenberg. Death of Enlightenment scientism.





Twenties


RM: I had a dream once I was brass player in 1920s-type town with trams. I was in a café when I suddenly felt a strong pull to run. So I ran outside - the light fell softly and air was pleasantly cool. I saw a streetcar pull away in front of me and felt an immense melancholy as a result. I fell on my knees and cried, a trumpet in my hands. Based on this I would go 20s.

AS: 20s! What style, no? Class was not dead.

AK: Jazz Age.

JC: 20s. Why?
Me: I think it's a nice, indirect way of saying something large about ourselves.
JC: ok.



Thirties


PC: Different decades connotate different cultural events, and since I wasn't there for most of them, one culture is as good as another. 1930s says I: I picture 1930s Britain as Bernard Shaw trying to finish a play, but this bloody neighbour Mr Huxley is tripping balls and playing the same record over and over again. In the street below Orwell rummages in the pockets of a grubby overcoat, certain he had money for a box of matches to light his last limp cigarette as it dangles from his lips. (or maybe it didn't happen like that)

JH: 30s. Witters in full flow, good trains, everything presumably was like the early scenes in the film Iris.





Forties (!)

MB: Most historically interesting. Most technologically important etc.




Fifties

CK2: 1950s. well cool tech and rock n roll. Computers, Everest, Little Richard.




Sixties


No one. (The backlash in full force!)




Seventies


CW: Tough i'd say 70s i guess.
Me: Stagflation, Pol Pot and prog rock?
CW: Lax health and safety rules!




Eighties

RM: 80s
Me: Controversial. Is the style epitomised in Drive really enough to compensate for the ideology epitomised in Wall Street?
RM: Yes. Plus the best and worst ever music. The distance between peak and trough is important.




Nineties


AM: 90s: calm before the storm.

MM: 90s cos it was the only one I actually experienced.

LH: Everyone's gonna say 60s, but I'm not! [This thought was apparently universal] 1990s: the days of unrestricted wealth, naive optimism, when it was still okay to believe in multiculturalism, and China wasn't scary yet.


PJ: Tough call. I'd say the fight is pretty much between the 90s and the roaring 20s. (:




Most of the selections were eC20th. What does this say about us? People seem to have taken the question to be one of style or tone, and not history, politics, or even music (since we do not listen to swing or blues as a rule, and yet). We are nostalgic and a little historically conscious (since you don't passively see much of the period, or even the aesthetic, except in certain genres of films).



As for me, I think the strongest overall case (not of style) belongs to the noughties:


  • Sheer optimism:


  • they thought they were going to finish science;


  • only one big war (didn't they think the great Alliances made them impossible?);


  • thought they would create a perfect language and spread it universally;


  • technology punched society in the mind a dozen times: (the first powered flight, first film, first affordable portable camera, first united telecoms, first radio broadcasts, Ford Model-T, Einstein, Freud, washing machine, suffrage in Finland...)


  • Culture ain't so stellar; Mahler being the pop star of choice.


  • inklings of modernism tho




miscellany three




1, Is the signal-to-noise ratio of the internet deteriorating? (Yes.)

Is the divergence between actual content and the automated link-spider adsites, the thriving apocrypha trade, the articulate nonsense, the inarticulate rage, and the endless incestuous copy-paste regurgitated spam accelerating? ...

One day we may need state provision of mythbusting, meme-history, and quotation-sourcing: The Ministry of Snopes. ("An Enema for the Bottom Half of the internet since 2021.")


(And that's before accounting for the operation of the iron law of trolldom: )






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


2, Several women I have known have eventually told me, more or less sternly, "Let's not talk philosophy."



An awkward position, surely - for what else is there?




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



3, Was aggressively asked the other day if I thought that being a vegan makes me better than other people. I thought about this for longer than he apparently would have liked.

What I can say is that I am superior to myself, before. We are too different on too many counts, and our measures are too incommensurate to make the glib comparisons of elitisms past mean much at all.


But actually the superiority (moral, environmental, spiritual) balances out to zero, I think, when we consider the aesthetic, commercial, social, and spiritual friction of it. (The spiritual tension comes from that risk that my reactionary interlocutor resented: the risk of setting oneself aside from people; and so disowning them; and so becoming one of those awful Kierkegaardian / Nietzschean atoms. But there's also e.g. the nagging consciousness that our world is built on pain. And, e.g. your lack of ease at friends' meals.) This does not, however, relativise our obligation away. The moral superiority remains pretty clear, and overrules, me.



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



4, An absurd CV (skills which we do not view as skills)



- Can tell time
- Can tie shoes
- Can write (joined-up)
- Can withhold comment on social superiors.
- Can toilet.
- Act my age.
- Act my attributed gender.
- Know what foods I don't like.
- etc.



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

5, A man called Grice once wrote down some rules he thought people do and should speak by:

a. Maxim of Quality: Truth
Do not say what you believe to be false.
Do not say that for which you lack adequate evidence.


b. Maxim of Quantity: Information
Be as informative as is required for current purposes. (No more or less.)


c. Maxim of Relation: Relevance
Don't go off-topic.


d. Maxim of Manner: Clarity
Avoid obscurity of expression, prolixity and ambiguity


To be fair to the man, he couldn't have seen trolls coming. But! We may be able to reconcile John Gabriel's theory of dickwaddery with Gricean conversational maxims. Though Trolls have shattered the above for the {internet} context indexical, we can save it with the following Overriding Gricean norm for {internet}:

0. Maxim of Suspicion: Consider all statements possibly insincere.

0*. Maxim of Selection: Do not feed the trolls.



And this is the only real evil of trolls: they force us to adopt the above defensive distrust. The internet is sans innocence.



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


"Epistemology is the ethics of belief"
- Roderick Chisholm


v


"Epistemology is the ontology of knowing."
- Gustav Bergmann

I know which side I'm on.

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




7, Realists are wrong but necessary.



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



8, Entropy is Satan for secular people. It is the great Beast waiting at the end of all paths, jaws agape. One that we cannot even cross ourselves against. On this reading, thermodynamics is the real dismal science. "Every action is corruption, and every restoration contributes to degradation." (Peter Atkins)

But entropy is not a process; it is the product of all* processes, including everything people do. We increase entropy, smash up the place, a little, just by existing!

Those secularists still ridden by Plato will be broken by this news. (The ones that think that contingency is nihilism; that something must be eternal to be meaningful.) They will take no comfort from our agency; it will in fact sharpen the irony; entropy as not only the devil but original sin too.



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



9, "Let's all embrace Elgin!"
- new ad campaign back home



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