Monthly Archives: January 2007

And It Don’t Even Got To Rhine

Cracked magazine and, in response, Rolling Stone have published lists of the worst rhymes in pop music history. This is one of the subjects on which I am culpably curmudeonly (if you throw in “violations of meter,” I’ll be sent up the river for a long stretch). In fact, Josiah and I were kvetching about a non-rhyme rhyme (I don’t recall which song) just yesterday morning, as we were getting ready to mail him back to Vermont. Bad rhyming pushes my buttons hard.

At the same time, when I survey the lists in question, I respond with my usual “it’s more complicated than that.” The quality of rhymes shouldn’t be segregated from questions of genre and diction in general. If I wre to try to rhye the name of the former representative from California Robert Dornin with “mournin’ ’ it would probably sound artificial; if the President of the United States (who has developed an easy comfort with dropping his g’s) were so to do, it would sound consistent and fittin’. In the folk genre, rhyme should be more tolerant of elasticity. In more self-consciously ambitious lyrics, the rhyme should likewise aim at artfulness and ingenuity. Cracked cites Bob Dylan as author of the worst rhymes in pop music for “You have many contacts / Among the lumberjacks / To get you facts . . .” in “Ballad of a Thin Man.” While not wanting to let him off the hook entirely, I’d argue that naming this the worst rhyme in pop music history neglects the somewhat hallucinatory, evocative rhetoric that Dylan demonstrably adopts through his catalogue. Few Dylan songs — if any — escape the charge of outlandish imagery, and sometimes those outlandish images involve rhyming words.

Josiah anticipates writing a senior project about the relation of song lyrics to poetry; maybe he has something to say about this subject. . . .
Continue reading And It Don’t Even Got To Rhine

Mashing, Crossing, and So On

Today I saw, and enjoyed, the paired interviews of Bill O’Reilly and Stephen Colbert (thanks, David!). So I was in the frame of mind to contemplate such exercises when Pippa and Josiah and I were walking down the streets discussing the forthcoming Harry Potter book.

Pippa proposed that Harry Potter might wash up on the shores of the island where the castaway Baudelaire orphans learned the true backstory for their misadventures. In a flash, Josiah and I were envisioning other elements of the Potter/Baudelaire mash-up. VFD vs. the Order of the Phoenix! Imagine Voldemort trying to cast a spell with Sunny Baudelaire chomping on his ankle (which probably has a mysterious tattoo on it)! Meanwhile, Hagrid throws Count Olaf to the pen of blast-ended skroots. . . and so on.

Further reflection led us to observe that of the pair of trios, the Baudelaires had it all over the Potters. But that’s not fair to Hermione, who manages her role with grace and resourcefulness — the true contrast sets Ron and Harry over against Klaus. Let’s face it, Klaus beats his intemperate wizard colleagues all hollow.

Si has the last word: “The Baudelaires are totally unschooled.” Harry and his posse act like regular schoolkids; the Baudelaires, like unschoolkids.

In Lieu of Substance

* Margaret pointed me to the Chord Hat video

* Micah pointed me to the “Le Grand Content” video as an example of visual communication of data. . . in a way. . .

* I was reminiscing about the rediscovery of the Ivory-Billed Woodpecker the other day (OK, so I’m peculiar when it comes to day-dreaming nostalgia) and a chain of links led me to this fascinating paper by Jan Swart (sorry, it’s posted in PDF only). Swart argues that scholarly certainty that the ivorybill had become extinct suppressed evidence that the ivorybill was being sighted more or less regularly during the half century it was reputed to be extinct. Now, I don’t know how the ornithological guild has received Swart’s paper, but even if it’s only partly sound, he’s exposing a vitally important riposte to the empiricists’ insistence that they deal in facts and observations not subject to “social construction.” Evidently, to some extent (am I qualifying this enough?), scientists knew that the ivorybill had to be extinct, so they explained away reports that it had been sighted.

Sure, there are absolutely “facts” that subsist apart from human “construction.” It’s never clear to me, however, how we can tell when we’re dealing with one of those or one of the more elusive kind. Last I checked, facts don’t come with consumer safety tags that specify whether this is the indisputable, immutable, eternal truth, or a considered conclusion for which I should trust the pertinent experts, or what.

* There’ll always be an England. In the controversy over contestants’ repellent treatment of Big Brother adversary Shilpa Shetty, the Telegraph contributes the characterization of her squabbling rivals as “has-been pop star Jo ‘S Club 7’ O’Meara, wannabe model Danielle Lloyd, and has-been wannabe Jade Goody” (it was even better in NPR’s more concise formulation, “a has-been pop star, a wannabe model, and a has-been wannabe”).

Definition

OK, this is what I have:

Postmodern biblical criticism includes a disparate array of interpretive strategies that share few characteristics other than their deliberate departure from the presuppositions of modern biblical criticism. Where modern biblical criticism strives for objectivity, one school of postmodern critics exercises their distinctive subjectivity with flair. Where modern biblical criticism eschews explicitly political interests, most postmodern interpreters acknowledge an inevitable political component to their work; many, in fact, pursue their interpretations with deliberate attention to advancing social equality, cultural diversity, and resistance to heterosexual privilege. Where modern biblical interpreters emphasize their adherence to rigorous methodological standards, postmodern interpreters emphasize the role of imagination in even the most narrowly historicist interpretations. In these and innumerable other ways, readers have propounded criteria of rigor and soundness that depart from the norms that characterize modern biblical interpretation.

For example, modern biblical interpretation tends to treat linguistic communication as optimally transparent to meaning — as though ambiguity and misunderstanding were regrettable, evitable miscarriages of expression. On that basis, biblical texts presumably equal a meaning that the modern interpreter simply restates in local languages, in contemporary terms. Such a model neglects the extent to which even the most scrupulously direct prose engenders varied interpretations (as the history of biblical interpretation amply illustrates). Linguistic expression does not evoke ambiguity as an accidental byproduct of shoddy composition, but as a necessary condition of linguistic communication. Jacques Derrida identified this phenomenon as “play,” as the semiotic slack requisite for effective communication. Biblical interpreters have seized on the discrepancy between the modern repression of ambiguity (on one hand) and the postmodern attention to linguistic pliancy (on the other) to foreground counterintuitive readings, to flout conventional wisdom. Such startling readings — however much they distress those who place their faith in modernity — rest not solely on outrageous whimsy; they articulate the latent possibilities that linguistic expression always permits.

The modern inclination to stress distinct, definite meaning at the cost of interpretive difference thus involves a determination to authorize some sorts of criticism and to exclude others. Modern interpreters defend this as a condition of rational communication: if we do not mean one thing rather than another, they suppose that it would be impossible ever to misunderstand. The willed refusal to acknowledge alternatives to modern standards of legitimacy, however, reveals a political impulse to this professedly disinterested mode of discourse. Indeed, modern interpreters who simply identify their own approach with value-neutral, rational, scientific inquiry reinforce Jean-François Lyotard’s accusation that enlightened modernity exercises a paradoxically coercive intellectual regime, “the institution of will into reason.” Postmodern interpreters typically challenge modern interpreters’ claim that their hermeneutical axioms constitute the scholarly conclusions of non-partisan reason; as male white European and North American scholars dominate the guild of biblical criticism, their social location cannot escape affecting these scholars’ interpretive reasoning. Postmodern interpreters may make their own social location the explicit criterion for their interpretive judgment; they may show the ways that dominant-class interpreters use their institutional and social power to reinforce their own interests; they may deliberately read the Bible against the grain of the dominant patterns of scholarship in order to articulate an alternative vision of biblical meaning that better coheres with the interests of women, of interpreters from a wider global community, of readers whose dissident understanding of Scripture has been suppressed in the name of cultural homogeneity.

These examples show some directions that a postmodern temper may take in biblical scholarship. Since postmodernity characterizes biblical interpretation not as a regulative method but as a sensibility, one can not set boundaries for postmodern interpretations (though one can argue the justification of applying the characterization “postmodern” to particular readings). For just this reason, postmodern biblical criticsm will probably not constitute itself at distinct interpretive practice so much as it will influence the ways that particular interpreters approach their work. Some critics will continue unaffected; others will pursue familiar methods with a different inflection; a smaller group will depart markedly from modern critical expectations.

You’ll notice that it doesn’t have a proper conclusion, and it’s already too many words. I’m hoping that if I’aid anything dreadfully off-trarget, or if someone senses an inchoate wrap-up sentence that will free me to send this off to its publisher, you will let me know. Until then, I’ll count on letting the definition incubate, and will move on to my next assignment.

Demotivation

I don’t have the time to search the Demotivators site to see whether they’ve already gotten there, but in a chat with a friend this morning I envisioned a new poster for them. Imagine a stirring nautical scene in the North Atlantic, with the blazon:

INNOVATION
Discovering new, different icebergs to steam into

Ha!

Demotivational Poster

Getting There

Most important, Pippa last night just got up and made a big tray of fudge brownies — no prompting, nothing, just a chocolate treat for herself and surprise for her dad. She amazes me every day.

Now, I know professional writers will say that 500 words is not so much; I say the same when I have to compose one of Seabury’s five-minute homilies (I preach at about 100 words per minute). Still, I’ve “defined” topics in the field of postmodernism so very often that yet another short definition of the subject comes as a particular point of stress. What shall I say that I haven’t already said? How shall I say the same old things in a different way? Nonetheless, I’m hammering it out, and I’m determined to finish a draft of the definition here by bedtime tonight. We shall see.

Ninety-Nine and a Half Won’t Do

Dorothy Love Coates sang it about God’s expectation that we offer our whole selves, but Pippa expects that a discount outlet offer more than fifty percent off. She noticed that a local outlet was offering a special sale on men’s blazers — my black blazers have been looking pretty shabby lately, even the ones I got new — so Pippa prodded me to go with her to look in. We made a couple of stops, the second of which brought us to one of those “please please please relieve us off the merchandise we ill-consideredly overstocked before the holidays” sales. Pippa’s eyes lit up: “Eighty percent!

We did well. We had a lovely time together (in the non-shopping sense, although finding bargains always puts my frugal daughter in a better mood). I won’t look quite so threadbare when I stand in front of my classes. These are good things.
Continue reading Ninety-Nine and a Half Won’t Do

Grrrrr

OK, I said I wasn’t going to devote more energy searching for the Ray Charles appearance on Saturday Night Live, since the relevant parties were energetically preventing me from showing it to Pippa. I was wrong, though; it occurred to me, in my preparations for tomorrow morning’s class, that the “Young Caucasians” sketch would get at the precise topic I’m concerned with. So I renewed my efforts to track down those five minutes of performance.

It turns out that the Saturday Night people have repackaged various segments from their archives in a haphazard, unsystematic way. It’s exceptionally difficult to determine which of the repackages include which sketch or performance. It seems likely from the metadata, though, that the Young Caucasians appear on the first disk of the 25 Years of Music compilation. After extensive phone-calling and basement searching, though (I remembered that somewhere we have an audiocassette of that segment, which I could have played as a substitute, if only I’d been able to find it), it turns out that that item can’t be obtained in Evanston on short notice. Grrrr.

(Found it. I think this meets the requirements for demonstrating wat a stubborn cuss I am; we won’t calculate how many pages of Google search results I combed through to reach this. Also submitted for your consideration: “Hit the Road, Jack” and three performances of “What’d I Say?”)
Continue reading Grrrrr