Monthly Archives: December 2006

Not So Much

Micah (Micah Jackson, the homiletician, not Micah Wright Kaufmann, the chorister whom I mentioned the other day) calls my attention to this article in The Economist, which argues that recent tactics in marketing correspond to the philosophies of postmodern theorists such as Lyotard, Foucault, and Derrida.

Hmmmmm.

To the extent that the article implies that late capitalism has adapted to the characteristics of culture that these theorists were describing, it should be no news. Indeed, the quotation from Lyotard with which the article tries to drive its first rhetorical stake comes from a passage in which Lyotard was describing the effects of global capitalism. So if the article wants to suggest that there’s something ironic or self-defeating about Lyotard’s position, I’d riposte is that the only irony lies in the journalist’s misconstruing Lyotard’s essay.

The article glibly asserts that its subjects “wanted to destroy capitalism and bourgeois society” (what did they do in their spare time?). Yes, in varying degrees at varying times, they devoted their energies to exposing the brutal effects of global capitalism. At the same time, I doubt they’d have signed on to the destruction of capitalism as the goal of their work; they were a good deal more subtle than that.

In the hands of a careful reader, the essay might have explored the ways that marketers used postmodern diagnoses (which, to be true, did usually involve a principled resistance to the hegemony of liberal capitalism) as an occasion for furthering the goals of market capitalism. The author might then have considered the role that diversity and polymorphous pleasure played in specific intellectuals’ thought, concluding with estimates of what those thinkers might have made of the ways that these styles of sales and advertising tactics made use of their ideas. That would have been a different essay, more provocative and illuminating.

This essay, however, falls into the “oh, these pomos (‘as they are affectionately known to adherents’ — really? which adherents are those?), look at their silliness!” bin of oversimplification and obfuscation. C- or D, I’d say.

Ni Rituel Ni Oraison

I just caught Church and Postmodern Culture’s notice of Derrida’s last words. Rather than simply reproducing here the translation that Jamie Smith offers, I’ll note that the translation obscures at least one pun; oraison does indeed mean “oration,” and Derrida knew well the difficult obligation of composing a eulogy (in his last years he wrote funerary tributes to numerous luminaries from his generation of French intellectuals). The word “oraison” also, though, means “prayer” (especially, I’d say, in parallel with “rituel”).

I doubt I will ever come to the end of my own thinking and talking about Derrida, but these last words bespeak a heart of grace and an attentive respect for the truths to which “religions” attend harmonious with his remarks on prayer at the SBL/AAR meeting a few years back (1, 2, 3).

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Since it can be difficult to find the specific ‘last words’ in question, here’s a transcription of them:

‘Jacques n’a voulu ni rituel ni oraison. Il sait par expérience quelle épreuve c’est pour l’ami qui s’en charge. Il me demande de vous remercier d’être venus, de vous bénir, il vous supplie de ne pas être tristes, de ne penser qu’aux nombreux moments heureux que vous lui avez donné la chance de partager avec lui.
Souriez-moi, dit-il, comme je vous aurai souri jusqu’à la fin.
Préférez toujours la vie et affirmez sans cesse la survie…
Je vous aime et vous souris d’où que je sois.’

IANAMB

I am not a music blogger, but since music surrounds and suffuses my daily activities, and inasmuch as all the cool kids are posting their “Top Albums of the Year” (woe to the December release that doesn’t garner enough attention to be “top,” and then doesn’t qualify in the next year), I too decided, after having examined some of the top ten lists carefully, to write an orderly account of the year’s releases, just as they have been handed down to us by those who were on top of the music scene from the beginning.

My list below includes some material I haven’t heard, and some I know pretty well. It doesn’t add up to a round number, and it mingles single cuts with albums, and it includes music I don’t like that much along with music I greatly admire. Since I am not a music blogger, I can do whatever I want (even the whole “of the year” premise seems arbitrary to me, so I’m likely to deviate from that criterion as well).

I don’t get to listen to as much new music as real music bloggers, since I treasure long-term favorites and am not extensively patient with listening to haphazard novelties when I could be listening to consistently marvelous past performances.

I was not as impressed with this year’s Bob Dylan album, Modern Times, as I was with Love and Theft. When I heard Love and Theft, I heard a new chapter in Dylan’s work, and I delighted what I took to be his perfect accomplishment. He laid claim to the folk tradition’s continual re-employment of its own history toward new performances that still bespeak the old; on Modern Times, I hear him say, “Oh, yeah, and another thing. . . .” I’ll keep it around and I’m prepared for it to surprise me (what would be more typical of Dylan?) on relistening, but it doesn’t make a “top” anything list for me.

The Hold Steady’s Boys and Girls in America does make my list. I still prefer Separation Sunday — it’s tough to beat an album whose centerpiece tells “How a Resurrection Really Feels” — and Almost Killed Me, but Boys and Girls sustains the band’s repertoire without falling into repetition. Many critics invoked Bruce Springsteen comparisons when the album came out, but I hear echoes of the Boomtown Rats’ better work, transplanted to U.S. turf. Job well done. (Speaking of Springsteen, I admired the Seeger tribute, but it didn’t win over my listening time.)

I did not take to twee pop quickly; I liked some odds and sorts of Belle and Sebastian (“If You’re Feeling Sinister,” “She’s Losing It”), but didn’t listen long enough, carefully enough, to take them up enthusiastically. Over the past year I gathered more of their work and they’ve won me over. During the summer, Margaret heard a fair amount of The Life Pursuit at our church-day coffee haunt, the Brothers K and intrigued her. I respect the band’s willingness to extend themselves, and their success in sustaining a distinct style as they move out from the secure base they built over their earlier albums. Another top recording.

While I’m talking twee, I can’t say much about Camera Obscura except that their single, “Lloyd, I’m Ready To Be Heartbroken” (from Let’s Get Out of This Country) captivated me. If you don’t already know Lloyd Cole’s “Are You Ready To Be Heartbroken?” (with the Commotions, from Rattlesnakes, itself an estimable track), you can size up the blithely appealing lead vocal and the smooth arrangement — but if you can make the connection back to the Commotions, the wit of Camera Obscura’s response is irresistible.

The Indigo Girls’ new album Despite Our Differences didn’t knock me out; good, not outstanding. On the other hand, Jenny Lewis and the Watson Twins’ Rabbit Fur Coat knocked me out (pre-album live performance available for download here). Lewis’s voice and her musical sensibilities already sttod out from Rilo Kiley albums, but the this album distills many of the qualities I admired before into a more intense, tighter focus.

Margaret pointed me to the Wood Brothers’ Ways Not To Fail, a sort of bluegrass-meets-blues endeavor that works. That reminds me (not sure why) of the Raconteurs Broken Boy Soldiers, which I enjoyed (though not as much as last year’s White Stripes album, Get Behind Me Satan). I like M Ward, haven’t soaked up Post War yet.

My patterns of taste suggest that I might like the critical favorite TV On The Radio’s Return to Cookie Mountain, but I haven’t heard enough to form a judgment. The Beatles’ Love album sounds all right, but I haven’t quite passed the “acceptable novelty” feeling about it. I just haven’t heard Gnarls Barkley much, though I’d anticipate liking at least “Crazy” (I’ve got it, will listen right away as soon as Camera Obscura is finished). I deliberately neglected the Arctic Monkeys — I may be small-minded, but I got a flash-in-the-pan vibe from their internet buzz. I’ll repent if they show staying power.

I’m getting acquainted with Ghostface’s Fishscale album. I’m still not cool enough (or whatever) to take to hiphop as certified tasteful critical listeners, but Fishscale is this year’s tentative step into hiphop.

Speaking of not cool enough, I also fail the Joanna Newsom test. I can admire Ys in a distant, unconvinced way, but right now it will never be on a playlist I make for myself. I’m not quite sure where all the enthusiasm is coming from; I have a hunch that if this were still the material-artefact era, there’d be a lot of used Joanna Newsom CDs and LPs on the market in a year or two.

Oh, I discovered Laura Cantrell this year — if you haven’t yet, you might want to try the material she’s offered on her downloads page.

As always, I’m sure I’ve forgotten good stuff, and I’d love to be convinced that I misjudged something. The more enjoyment of music, the better; I’m not doctrinaire about any of this. Use the “email” button to send me comments, and we can continue the conversation in the “extended” version of the post. I’ll finish adding links as I can; right now I have papers to mark.

Oh, don’t forget Jonathan Coulton’s Thing a Week project, especially “Code Monkey,” though I preferred his performance of it on NPR the other week.

Three other music notes: Geoffrey Pullum posts an appreciative commemorative reminiscence of Ahmet Ertegun, and Tim Bray nails it with his 5-star review of “Better Git Hit In Your Soul.” And Michael Iafrate has released a Christmas EP, The Rebel Jesus, freely downloadable here.

Mission. . . Oh, Never Mind

The sermon went off this morning, with a generously positive reception. I have a fair number of reservations about the way I finally realized the composition; another day of gestation might have served the sermon well — but I did meet the challenge of (a) incorporating the metaphors from the “O Antiphons” in to the sermon, (b) accommodating my inuitive assoication of the present moment with Candide, and (c) infiltrating an online gaming phrase that my buddies demanded to hear/see in the online text. I did not mention Micah, Kaethe, and Pippa by name, as Micah had suggested, but Pippa and the Wright Kaufmann young’uns appear as a non-specific next generation, which they would probably be more comfortable with.

I will note that I had assumed (without checking, shame on me) that we would be singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” on this Third Sunday of Advent. I shoulda checked, but the week was pretty stressful, and I put it off.

(Audio downloadable courtesy of St Luke’s website.)
Continue reading Mission. . . Oh, Never Mind

Trompe Les Visiteurs

Our friend John Utz had long felt uneasy about having a mantelpiece without a fireplace — so he set about taking direct action against an underornamented room:

John's Chef-d'Oeuvre

Don’t tell Amy Laura, Rachel, or Emily, though; it’s a surprise. (You can probably tell Emily, since if she relayed it to Amy Laura and Rachel they wouldn’t believe her.)

Too Late or Nine Days

OK, so I forgot to mention this in time for Hanukkah, but I think you can still order David Weinberger’s My Hundred Million Dollar Secret in time for Christmas (and there’s always the tradition of gift-giving on the Twelfth Night of Christmas, and Purim is right around the corner). (The website that accompanies the book seems to be down this morning, so you can’t preview the book just now, but how many books that you buy for children have thought-provoking websites designed by philosopher-Web pundit-humorists?)

Checking In, Checking Out

I very much want to square away the sermon today, so I won’t devote reflection time to my comments on the status of the Anglican Communion, the idea of “reinventing” things and selves, year-end lists of music, or any of the other topics that dangle shiny trinkets in front of my easily-distracted consciousness.

I’ve been challenged to incorporate a variety of allusions (from widely varying contexts) into the sermon. Richard Kieckhefer and I were discussing the extent to which such challenges — allusion, specific rhetorical figures, alphabetical embedding, acrostics, lipograms, other Oulippean devices — can paradoxically make composition easier; since one can’t write just anything, what one must write sometimes comes more easily to the fore. We’ll see whether that’s the way this sermon develops.

(By the way, Mac users, there’s a terrific holiday bargain available at Mac Heist: an array of excellent, useful, enjoyable software for the package price of $49, with a percentage going to charity — can’t beat it with a stick. And now I too have Delicious Library.)

Sixth Thing

Bonus Sixth Thing: Evidently, I permitted my feet to suffer cold damage at some point — I suspect the days when I was driving a Waterbeds East delivery truck with holes in the floorboards — and parts of my feet are painfully sensitive to cold weather. (By the way, I went to college with Fred, whose site hosts the case study about Waterbeds East, and who preceded my tenure at that retail establishment. Fred, if you’re following a referrer log back to this page, Hi!)

And You Really Didn’t Want to Know

Yesterday, Maggi listed me among those to whom she passed the webquery about “Five Things You Probably Didn’t Know About Me,” and in the message she sent me about the post, she allowed that I might be cranky about such phenomena — but she was very polite about giving me an escape clause, so I’ll respond by not taking advantage of that offer.

(At this point, Margaret rolls her eyes and wonders how much more there is to know about me about which I haven’t already offered too much information online, and with good reason.)

One, echoing Maggi’s fourth point — I too am inordinately prone to vertigo; I have a hard time watching movie scenes involving heights, and I even get edgy playing Warcraft when my character is on a precipice. This affords my offspring frequent opportunities to fleer and jape at me as I cower in my seat at the movie theater, or press myself back against the couch while watching a DVD at home.

Two, I was once a bowler, both in a Sunday family “league” (a dozen or so friends and neighbors who got together every week to roll a few frames) and in the Taylor Allderdice Bowling League (wherein I headed a team whose name I don’t remember, though I recall getting the Captain Kirk Award at the end of the season, for “valiant captain, incompetent crew” because although I maintained the second-highest average in the league, the rest of my team dredged the bottom of the league, and got worse every week, so that even our handicap didn’t help us). And I was second board on the high school chess team one year, second to Dennis Fischman.

Three (I should find something more recent to mention), I started working in computer graphics in 1980 or ’81, with a PDP-11 (I think it was a PDP-11; by the way, I am not in the picture to which I linked, nor did I work with anyone who looked like either of those characters) the size of two phone booths and a custom-built camera the size of another booth.

Four (even more recent), ummm, I have a particularly heightened sensitivity to betrayal of trust — the scene in The Fellowship of the Ring where Bilbo tries to reclaim the Ring from Frodo knots my viscera.

Five, the first car I drove was a rusty white Toyota pick-up truck handed down from my dad in 1978. One particularly snowy day, John Markert and some accomplices not only filled in the cargo area, but went on to bury the entire vehicle in a monumental pyramid of snow. When Michael Cartwright found out that I drove a pick-up truck in college, he said “You were postmodern even back then!” but I’m not sure what he meant by that. Since then I’ve driven a Dodge Colt, a Mazda 626, a Toyota Tercel wagon, a Dodge Grand Caravan, and our present Subaru Outback. Of these, only the Tercel was bought new.

I don’ usually tag other people for this sort of thing, especially if it means extracting from them more personal information than they have already offered the whole online universe and its permanent memory. If, however, you think I might have tagged you if I’d been so inclined, by all means post a list of five and cite me as the person who tagged you. I won’t deny it.
Continue reading And You Really Didn’t Want to Know