8.15.2015

"No Doy"

As far as I can tell, this article could have just as easily been published twenty years ago, at least (via the still-magical here).

Unfortunately, I don't have time for a long post.

I don't think that when I was reading the New York Times as a teenager that I was part of the audience that those writing for the Times thought they were writing for, if only because those writers provided me with information that lead me towards having certain beliefs that they themselves would probably not have wanted me to hold at that time in my life. Namely, that higher education was bullshit.

I distinctly remember reading, somewhere around 1999 or 2000, in the year I took off between high school and college, an article about the things that parents were doing to secure places for their children at America's top schools. And those things were pretty disgusting. Though not actually. The things being done were good, but the end towards which another matter. Like.

An example: sending your teenager on a "peace mission" to Africa to "help communities" "over there". And all. I'm being pretty vague here, yes. But maybe you see the picture already. A bunch of rich kids going to Namibia ostensibly to build houses but probably to party with other rich kids at night. And even if they didn't, still. I don't think my parents had that kind of money lying around. Or did yours? And even then, even if it didn't cost that much, even if the idea of community service that only some people can afford to provide being used as a resume-builder on a college application doesn't quite get you, well, then, at least, the core issue. Well first, the article does mention how children are being forced to compete for status earlier and earlier in their lives, how meritocracy is me first, but does the author quite tie it together? Maybe I missed it, so I will. People, specifically children, are being taught to view good deeds in purely instrumental, self-advancing terms. And schools are rewarding this behavior with big, thick envelopes. Corruption begins at home.

And can't you just picture Chet, having gone to Africa at 17 to build a schoolhouse, at 25 landing a job at some big-time NGO helping developers tear that same schoolhouse down or advising local government officials that continuing to provide free education in that schoolhouse is economically unfeasible? Oh, madame, sir, I can easily picture that, and of course the money shot, the job interview whereby Chet cheerfully leverages his past for his future, "Oh you've already been to Namibia?" (Chet smiles broadly).

So already me and higher education were off to a pretty bad start before I even went (and the bad grammar in the first part of this sentence is purposeful, jerk). I'll admit some of it was petulant, childish, and that I was a snob. My whole "ideas first" principle just as much pretense. But I did believe, or at least I believed I believed. I wouldn't know myself well enough to know why else I was really miserable then until later. Though, really. I mean.

Right before I got to college I was assigned a book to read. One that all of us fresh-humans were meant to discuss at the outset. And what was it? I want you to guess. I want you to play your brain games. I mean, it's the year 2000 I am talking about. Would they go all 19th century canonical on us? Or post-modern multicultural relativism (i.e. choose a black author based on the color of their skin not on the character of their content). Or post-post-modern-relativism-fuck-it, like Moby Dick? And am I leading you down a blind ally here, forcing you assume fiction when it could have been something else? Some charming little book whereby a popular scientist explains the content and the character of the universe for laypeople without being insulting? Sounds nice, actually. Only that wasn't it. I would be flattered if you were to tell me you actually have a vague sense of anticipation right now, or have actually spent more than ten second trying to figure out the answer to this unimportant question.

So I'll just say.

Even without preceding prejudice, I knew I was fucked when I was expected to arrive at school having read, of all fucking things, Tuesdays With Morrie. A self-help book, and a maudlin one at that. Christ, at least it could have been a useful self-help book, like Here's How To Get Drunk Without Hurting Anyone Or Getting Hurt. I don't think that book exists yet, does it? If not, well, someone should write it. I can't 'cause I still don't have the answer, though, in the end, I only hurt myself, so I guess I'm doing something right, right?

I had to distract myself from what I was going to say to share that pointless tidbit. Though maybe it feeds in somehow. What was I going to say?

The author of the way-aforementioned article is right to point out that the decline in the share of those people studying liberal arts is a problem. That being said, I can't help but feel that the attitude I described way above may prevent students, even, yes, English students, from really benefitting from their contact with Good Ideas and all. Look around at the worlds of the Arts and Letters. You see the vehement dissent? The howls of protest against the world those sTEm graduates are building? Yeah, me neither. I'm guessing most Liberal Arts majors are just status-seekers attached to antiquated notions about where that status should be sought. 

Ouch. I am an asshole and I am going to stop there. Because my torrid belief in Ideas and Principle and all that, well, I have to go bartend right now.

EDIT: A better writer and thinker (not jealousy, self-criticism and objective honesty) on much of what I implied but couldn't articulate and, of course, a whole lot more...

8.13.2015

How Does One Become A Criminal Mastermind?

I'm only half kidding.

Like.

I've been watching a bunch of "summer movies" lately and there seems to be this guy in a suit who spends his time in a nice apartment, centrally located in the most photogenic urban region of whatever country offers the best financial incentives to the makers of action movies, accompanied by the finest women and scotch and furniture. In fact, he seems to already have more money than he could ever spend given that he has already spent millions of dollars on a plan to threaten some nation or government or community with certain destruction unless they give him more millions. 

Because, well, as for me, instead of spending millions on the high-tech gadgetry and mercenaries necessary to enact my evil plot, necessarily foiled, of course, by the nonconformist government agent who doesn't play by the rules but gets things done, regardless, wearing a leather jacket and a two-day stubble instead of a navy suit, well, I would just keep the apartment and the scotch and the women and the designer outfits and then hold on to my untold millions in order to keep my exact same lifestyle going into perpetuity.

If I pretend I'm going to release poison into Chicago's water supply, um, could you give me a nice pad in Hong Kong and a few perfectly-tailored suits to go with? I promise I won't kill anyone. Just send me the lease, the plane tickets, the aspiring actresses who should stick to modeling, etc.

Thanks.

8.12.2015

Something Pretty Instead

The Guardian has a nice series of photos of some impressively-futuristic looking TV sets in the UAE. Some of them actually seem to get closet to being actually futuristic as opposed to "futuristic" as a previously-contemporary aesthetic, if you know what I mean... Of course you do. Enjoy.

8.11.2015

Appeal To Authority

During the 1960s, a young black man in a university class described the Dutch painters of the seventeenth century as "belonging" to the white students in the room, and not to him. This idea was seized upon by white members of the class. They acknowledged that they were at one with Rembrandt. They acknowledged their dominance. They offered to discuss, at any length, their inherited power to oppress. It was thought at the time that reactions of this type had to do with "white guilt" or "white masochism". No. No. It was white euphoria. Many, many children of that day felt the power of their inheritance for the first time in the act of rejecting it, and they insisted on rejecting it and rejecting it and rejecting it, so that they might continue to feel the power of that connection. Had the young black man asked, "Who is this man to you?" the pleasure they felt would have vanished in embarrassment and resentment.
George W.S. Trow, "Within The Context of No Context"

8.08.2015

Bravo

Really necessary piece of writing by Neil at FUNK. I really wish he was still writing as many essays on big ideas as he used to when he first started the above blog.

I think Neil's ideas about the perceived mental ineptitude of "the wrong sort of fans" are especially valuable and valid.

I love, for instance, the album Gentleman by the Afghan Whigs and am quite aware that the lyrics can either be interpreted as misogynistic or as violently self-lacerating against the male ego (I and most critics tend to defer to the latter). That Kanye's perceived misogyny will rarely be regarded as having the same self-awareness that precedes self-criticism does reek of prejudice, especially when combined with the idea that somehow the fans might not be able to achieve that sense of distance, either from themselves or the music they love.

White rock musicians get a pass, I think, mostly because they are seen as aberrant in relation to their, especially lately, comfortable upbringings. This would be fine if it weren't for the unstated inference, that Kanye or others, are, well, not aberrant. Their "misogyny" becomes "natural" and not a purposeful transgression or exploration of preceding values. We're steps away from non-whites as "animalistic" and all that. Only with "proper" language.

What's tragi-funny too is, of course, how could white middle-class rockers and their "(un-)ironic" racism, sexism, whatever, be aberrant when it's really, you know, those type of people that have held the reigns for so long. Those of us who think of our societies as racist or sexist don't think of them as such because Luther Campbell has been dictator for seventy years...

I had a bit of an epiphany lately. I was listening to an old Malcom X speech (well, that word "old" is sadly, an entirely redundant word in this sentence). I love listening to him because of his confidence, because the truth, the Truth, is so self-evident and obvious to him that the idea of compromise seems ludicrous. Racism itself is, basically, really fucking stupid isn't it, a practically cosmological outlook that is even more dated than, say, pantheism (dated is an odd word here, but somehow, if we assume a linear narrative of progress, it should have been harder to disavow the notion that trees are not gods than to disavow the notion that black people are intrinsically inferior). While Malcolm takes the effects of racism seriously (obviously!), his impatience to move beyond it, to discredit it, to get to the future, NOW, it's so energizing. And, while I digress, what a witty man he was. Does anyone ever really talk about that? Fiery, intemperate, blah blah blah. Fucking boring. The archetype preceding and all of that. Malcolm X the wit, like, I dunno Oscar Wilde? Someday, someone else will get it (or maybe they have and I haven't read the right books)!

I digress no longer. But I do warn you, some essentialism to follow and to precede. Just for the sake of expediency. 

As if any culture is so homogenous. 

I'm certainly not an expert on the history of black thought in America. But, at least for a while, as far as I can tell, the big question seemed to be: to assimilate or not? And that question really reveals the pervasiveness of racism, doesn't it? I don't generally think people discuss that question in that way. It's a question, really, about what black people should do. But the unspoken part. What should black people do in relation to white society. White society is subconsciously instantiated as that which is presumed, the thing that will not or can not or should not or may not change.  It's a sad thought (really, why should black people have to do anything at all, you know?). And I probably came to it from another one, which is more topical given that I am here to respond to Neil's piece. The discourse around racism, when it comes not to what black people think black people should do (in relation to white society), but when it comes to what white people think white people should do, is that, again, it is what is to be done in relation to white society. When white people discuss racism, they are really just talking about themselves, aren't they?

(I wish I could be smarter about that last sentence, more academic. Longtime readers may have noticed my prose started off perhaps a bit more studied, haughty, even, and now, well, insouciant is not quite the right word, because I am not indifferent, well, not indifferent to the subject matter; I am indifferent to writing properly.)

I'm just going to say what I said before again and I want to to take this small idea and then look at everything again and then maybe you will realize it is a big idea and that it applies so universally that it's easy to miss.

When white people discuss racism, they are really just talking about themselves.

(And just for the record, yes, in that I benefit from white privilege, I am white, but, for fuck's sake, I've heard so many fucking nasty comments about Jewish people, especially here in New England, that, well, fuck you crackers, I'm a fucking kike, I'm not one of you, fuck off.)

When white people discuss racism, they are really just talking about themselves. If you start to think from this perspective, it all makes sense. 

Here I am in a liberal, tolerant university town that is even more disgustingly segregated than my hometown in Virginia. A place where "Black Lives Matter" signs hang in the windows of shops whose owners are so glad that downtown was cleaned up so that they could operate in safety. Exactly what, or, really, who, was removed from downtown just so that VINTAGE tchotchkes could be sold in shops no young black teenager would ever dare enter for fear of a nervous glance? 

Coke signs from the 1950s! Such a great decade. Coke signs and housing discrimination are not related exactly and yet maybe you should consider for a moment why there are some people who might not have the same relationship to the past you do.

And really this vintage thing has been going on too long hasn't it. 

The fetish for the rare and the obscure is (necessarily) the prerogative of those who can easily get their hands on everything else.

Wealth is more deeply implicated in its rejection than its celebration. 

The exact same idea can be utilized in a seemingly different context:

There's nothing that proves privilege more than the opportunity to disavow it. Yes I know that means me too.

Most of what passes for anti-racism amongst whites is really a class-based prejudice against other whites. 

Read that one again!

I'm not a great writer because I can't explain to you something that we both know is true, even if my idea is not one that had occurred to you before you read me write it. 

Damn. No column on Salon for me.

What I lack as a writer is authority. You need to be sure you are getting your ideas from the right people. If you repeat any of this at a party you'll have to say where you got it from. Your friends won't be impressed. 

The appeal to authority is a fallacy in formal logic.

You will only grow as a person amongst those more intelligent than you.

Therefore, you need new friends. 

I love Kanye by the way, though I don't love his music as much as I want to, especially lately. I guess it's just my ears and years of listening to electronic music. That last album, it could have been so much more. So close to the edge of epiphany without quite.

People seem to hate his arrogance. I mean, hasn't he said that he is the only person worth discussing? Or something like that? Well, isn't he right? Who else shouldn't have played Glastonbury? And would your answer be a matter of taste or something more?

I feel like I have a guess at Kanye's "attitude".

There is a great interview that The Wire published years and years ago. The interviewee was Juan Atkins, and Mr. Atkins basically stated that black people can be considered and accepted easily as entertainers but still, not really, as artists. Artist Artists, even. I think it's still true. Really. There's always an asterisk isn't there. Kanye is the only person worth discussing on his level. And yet. Will what he did ever be considered momentous? And if not, whose fault is it? His? No. 

You can't change the world without the world.

7.24.2015

#Consumerism #Depression #Change

At this point in my life, I understand two things:
1. I want to live.
2. I never want to be in a Bed, Bath and Beyond trying to find the proper vessel in which to dispose of snot-covered tissue paper while listening to Smashmouth's cover of "I'm A Believer" again.

Therefore, I must change my life.

But what next?

I'm not sure.

Until I figure it all out, I have some distractions.

Providence bookstores almost always have something I want to read, but never, ever, what I am actually looking for, so I placed an order with an online behemoth. At this point, I am so disgusted by Amazon's business practices that I actually spent the $10 extra dollars to go with Barnes and Noble, aka the Olsson's killers. Olsson's was the only bookstore I have ever worked for (in the music department, of course), and one of the greatest independent book/record stores to have existed in 20th century America. Yes, Barnes and Noble are now the good guys.

The what and why should be obvious to most readers except, perhaps, for Prague Fatale. I'll never, ever be a good literary critic (or maybe I could be the best one in decades) because I don't care about literary values. I've always read fiction from an almost sociological perspective and what I most value about my favorite novels has a lot more to do with the coherency of the human world described and the way that the beliefs and values of the actors within them approve and sanction actions, both their own and others, in line with or contravening those aforementioned beliefs and principles, has always been much more interesting to me than, I dunno, style, poetic descriptions, psychological "realism", etc. Which is all a roundabout way of saying nothing. 

When I don't feel like reading reading, I read hard-boiled fiction. Solitary nocturnal wandering around empty yet cosmopolitan cities, cheap and plentiful whiskey, male loneliness and moral ambiguity: yes. I tend to reread the same novels over and over again, and, actually, that is true for all books when it comes to my habits, so I haven't ventured too far behind the obvious: Hammett, Cain, Chandler. So take the following in context of the preceding: bearing in mind that he is working well within the conventions established by his predecessors, especially, I think, Chandler, Kerr's Bernie Gunther novels are a real delight, and, excluding the relative lack of innovation in comparison, I believe his novels belong in that rarified category of involving detective/crime fiction that doesn't insult the reader and offers real surprises in its smilies. 

So yeah, ordering from "an evil corporation", totally worth it. I actually felt a little, well...

7.03.2015

I guess what I am trying to figure out

Well.

I really haven't read as much post-1968 French theory as I let on. I am a bit of a phony, really.

So, while I intuitively understand that whole collapse of liner/meta-narrative thing, I guess I'm trying to figure out why it happened. Maybe someone has already answered. I have a book by Lyotard lying around somewhere. I'll get to it someday.

But.

My best hypothesis so far.

Well there's a few.

I mean, the rise of consumerist individualism.

But you knew that one.

Um.

More like.

That whole linear narrative thing had another thing attached, right. Progress.

Towards. The forwards that provides the past with agency.

And here's where I wonder.

What came first.

Did utopia die because the narrative died or did the narrative die because utopia died?

And why did utopia die?

The impossibility of a social subject?

The materialist conception of humanity?

Like, we're all just skin and bones and all. I mean You Only Live Once, but humans live forever?

Is our inability to "fix" the environment symptomatic with a general weariness with life?

Does that weariness come from feeling like there is nothing really to look forward to?

Why is there nothing to look forward to?

Because there is nothing to look forward to or because there is no forward?