Thursday, May 26, 2005

I have eaten/the pluots [...] you were probably/saving for/brunch

[with a spork!]

So, here's the story. The plumicot, a straight 50/50 cross, seems to precede the pluot both in name and nature. Cross a pluot with one or more generations of plums, and you're in pluot territory; cross with apricots, and then you've got an "aprium" -- terrible name, like a minor Tolkien character.

"Pluot" and "Aprium," however, are both trademarks held by Zaiger Genetics of Modesto. (Don't be scared, it's the centuries-old kind of interbreeding, not frankenfood.) Scroll down for all their varietals, including "Dapple Dandy" and the spectacular-sounding "Flavor Grenade." "Plumicot"/"plumcot"/"plum-cot" (I've seen all 3 names but prefer the first) are, apparently, somewhat earlier portmanteaus.

My maternal grandfather's first job in America was grafting grape-shoots, so I'm predisposed (genetically?) toward an interest in juicy hybrids.


Out-Elmslie-ing Elmslie? As if one could!

Oh, and Jordan? I'm sad you don't like Shrimp Boat. I do.


Interesting to read John Yau's piece on Ashbery and O'Hara's art criticism in the context of Douglas' recent suggestion that it's time for rock-crit to "stage raids on other kinds of culture criticism: great writing about movies, about literature, about food," if only as a reminder that "about visual art" belongs on that list.

Reflecting solely on my own case: Even though reading Greil Marcus in New West/California (and Lipstick Traces a few years later was huge for me, I was encountering Ashbery at nearly the same time. Both as poet and as critic, and I think that's important: I had As We Know before I had any context for it, and it stuck me as wholly mysterious -- because of its evenness of tone and look ("Litany" aside, I guess), I thought I was dealing something that I could 'understand' the way I might the literature I learned in high school, if only I were sophisticated enough. Then, noticing that (a) the art critic in Newsweek (it must have been) was the same guy, and that the writing (b) shared that evenness but (c) was not at all obscure (just on the level of one sentence leading to the next -- I knew next to nothing about visual art) was perhaps a bigger revelation than the poetry alone would have been. Oh -- the poet isn't writing this way because it's the only way he can; perhaps he's trying to do something else. And I'm thinking now that this encounter has something do to with my own attempts to avoid the 'fustian' (in Yau's word), and my not caring much to affect enthusiasm when I started writing reviews myself -- especially not with the stylistic tools by which this was and still is conventionally done, but also not by the means through which Marcus could get me to practically drop the magazine and run looking for a copy of, for instance, Beat Rhythm News -- a toolbox I hope it goes without saying that I'm grateful he owns.

(Also, I didn't really need prose as an expressive outlet for whatever measures of chaos and excess were in me -- early 0pb shows involved more kicking and screaming than you might imagine. To be sketchy about it: Fairly uncritical acceptance of primary/secondary text distinction, later destabilized by the usual suspects [Derrida, langpo prose], and more recently by stronger division of my ego-identification between crit and my own music.)

Of course, I can now see (and Yau makes this vivid) that there are mystery and ineffability both in the substance and style of Ashbery's criticism -- but what I still value about it is that he doesn't jump straight to it, but allows it to emerge as we look, and think, with him. [Every critic worth reading eventually fails to remain silent "whereof cannot speak," but some make a stab at saying the sayable first.]


Tangent 1:

Yau writes that JA/FO'H's criticism is "object-driven," not "theory-driven," and that JA "wants viewers (and this includes art crticis) to locate their understanding of art in their actual experience, rather than in a pre-digested idea about what they are looking at it." (Obviously, the latter remark would apply to FO'H as well.) All true, but I think Yau makes heavy weather of this -- isn't it just to say that their responses recognizes the category of the aesthetic in a fairly traditional form? You can make this category of response ('judgment,' if you like) as mysterious or un- as you care to, but on all the 18th-19th c. formulations, it's characterized by its particularity. And this is what some sorts of "theory" want to deny, by bringing the work "under a concept" arrived at cognitively (which in turn needn't mean "wholly non-empirically").

But (bringing it back), isn't the best music criticism going theory-responsive, if not exactly -driven? Yes, and I think this has to be seen as salutary -- there's just been too much interesting and useful work on that end to be ignored. And this in turn has to do with the various purposes popwrite/rockwrite now serves, especially when it attempts to do social or political work as well as telling us about an object. JA and FO'H's apparent political disaffection -- even if we want to see it from here as a mere semblance, or as camoflauge -- is not a position most would now care to take, and probably not one that is even available.


Tangent 2:

I have to admit that I'm a little nonplussed when Robert Christgau and Greil Marcus are lumped in as rockists (which, nb, doesn't happen in Douglas piece). Setting aside large and obvious differences: Neither writer has ever, to my knowledge, disdained pop categorically (though, yes, xgau was deaf to ABBA), neither is especially creeped out by technological change (though Griel exhibits signs of discomfort, ultimately neither is all that interested in the "how" of music), neither is an albums=serious/singles=trivial type, and both are capable of appreciating --and conveying -- surprise, joy, and sexiness. (And which one of the two, exactly, is supposed to be racist or sexist, if that's your version.) Xgau's got his baseball card bag, and Greil his mythic one, both of which are decidedly not mine -- but in practice, don't they each shoot the curve on the supposedly relevant categories? For me, the rockists to watch out for -- complicated figures who are compelling enough to be pernicious, stylistically and conceptually -- are Bangs and Meltzer at one juncture, Carducci and Albini at a later one.

But most of the critics flogging the old positions are, frankly, not so formidable -- the "over-40s" [please note, you'll be one too soon enough, if you aren't already, and so will I] that fill out the Pazz & Jop rolls, working reviewer/journalists hanging on with more or less security and success. Often as not, their bias, lack of curiosity, and nostalgia are transparent enough that it's hard to imagine them influencing anybody -- though I'm sure I'm prone to underestimate the collective effect of what's not really on my radar. Yeah, the barnacles slows down the ship (is that metaphor accurate?), but I'm not certain the problem is structural. In, oh, 10-15 years, half the folks on ILX will have regular gigs at dailies, weeklies, what have you -- curious to see what normativity looks like a generation from now.


All needs refinement. Had a movie to write about, and other things, but the above ate up my morning.

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