Tuesday, November 22, 2005

If Brian from Iowa, who was at the reading Sat., reads this, please send me your address again; I only half-recognized you (because we last met in a very dark club), and I can't find your previous email.


Hear Douglas Wolk, John Shaw (w/ fragment of his setting of the Scooter Libby correspondence), Jodi Shapiro, others in this NPR piece on National Solo Album Month, which was just starting the moment I popped a CD out in the car this afternoon. I had given some thought to participating this year, getting as far as chopping up that Romeo Void drum hook in Audacity and adding some delay and a house-y synth-bass (I might still use the results), until I realized that, so far as my present position w/r/t my line of work is concerned, Nov. is more aptly described as National Get Your Act Together So You Have Some Idea by March of Where You Might Be Working Next September Month. Acronym's not catchy, though.


T-day w/ colleague, older grad student, and respective SOs. Perfectly lovely, didn't get into anything too heavy, tho host is a political philosopher in pretty much the going Rawlsian mode, host's partner is working on a diss critical of Habermas, other guest is finishing one on Arendt and Derrida on democracy [which I didn't know when I mentioned On Revolution yesterday], and his partner is a Columbian who was living in Paris until she married an Australian, and then there's whatever I and Bree are supposed to be. Called home to family in evening.



Main worry about Friday's photog. book is w/ his acct. of where the "intentional" character of photography lies (a now traditional defense of photography's artistic status against accts like Scruton's that emphasize the causal ground of photographic representation), which is to say in the selection of what to photograph and the composition in the frame, does any better against that objection than some earlier accounts [esp. in response to Scruton], which attempt to give the photographic techniques that artists intentionally exploit (i.e. cropping, choice of length of exposure, so on) a similar role to those we normally point to w/r/t, paradigmatically, painting. Appropriately constructed twin cases [unintentionally achieved but otherwise qualitatively and causally identical photos] work against the "composition" move as well as the "technique" move. None of that shows that one can't go ahead an do an aesthetics of photography in a somewhat traditional sense [and Friday's ch. in that direction is useful], but maybe it's more like an aesthetics of nature (or the plain old perceptual experience thereof) and less like an aesthetics of artworks as traditionally conceived. Much of the expressive as well as the representational potential of the photograph is there "in" the causal result of the photog. process, irrespective of how it was achieved; and the part that isn't rests on the part that is. My own view of this is turning toward a sort of "Institutional" account, on which it's just the fact that certain photographs are selected/displayed that gives them their "arthood," which may draw attention or bear other interesting relations to their aesthetic character, in the strict sense, but doesn't actually constitute that character. I've been writing something about this over the last 2 mos. but haven't gone on about it here except in passing.

[No, I'm not as sanguine about the autonomy of the aesthetic as the above sketch suggests.]


Finished Mathys' Forge. I guess all I can really say is that I like parts of this book significantly more than others. On the plus side, the "Inventory"s, "Ailment," and particular lines all over the place -- "filching M&Ms from tire treads." On the minus side, "Ash Wednesday," the hard-hot-sex undercurrent at a few points, and the way some pieces strain for closure (I think this is just technical -- some pieces "bring it all back home" near the end just fine. I should probably have more against closure per se than I do.) Closing "Quandaries" sequence I have to count as a success, from my idiosyncractic p.o.v., in that it does something interesting w/ material (mountain climbing/carpentry) I'd normally resist, not to mention techniques (alientated avoidance of pronouns, an elaborate sort of phrase-break w/in line-break structure) that I don't quite understand.


Evanston establishments: Dreaming of Tea, Fresh Anointment Worship Center, Fashion Tomato.


Hmm, The Wire has given their blessing to cover versions ("Often seen as a sign of creative bankruptcy....") Upon setting the issue on the counter --

Clerk: "That looks interesting."
Me: "Yeah...but this magazine can be pretty annoying sometimes."
Clerk: "All music writing can be annoying."
Me: "So true."


You all still trip down Rue Hazard regularly, I trust.


Picked from my landlord's shelf The House That Race Built, a collection of essays (original, I think, not reprints) by Toni Morrison, Angela Davis, Cornel West and so on -- flipped to David Lionel Smith's "What Is Black Culture" and was immediately confronted by a discussion of Baraka's Dutchman, in particular its central character's contention that "if Bessie Smith had killed some white people she wouldn't have needed that music." (The play, you'll remember, ends with the white female interlocutor stabbing the speaker; consider also the scene in Masc/Fem inspired by the play.) Smith (who is also the poet D.L. Crockett-Smith; not seeing any links to particular poems) is not entirely taken with this position, though he's (too?) careful not to assume the character's views are precisely Baraka's: "In effect, Baraka uses the dramatic moment as a platform on which cultural criticism struts about in the guise of spontaneous emotion....The narrowness of Clay's own obsessions leads to a critical argument that is stiflingly reductive." Elsewhere, he pursues a parallel (not an identity) between Lukacs conception of the proletariat and contemporary African-Americans, insofar as their best interests are served by "a will to truth," though the essay is too short to suggest much about how that will is to be expressed.

Also working through Johnathan Friday's Aesthetics and Photography, which I was reading piecemeal for another project. More on that later, maybe.

Headed out to immense mall in Skokie to keep Bree company while she got new glasses. While waiting, briefly peered into "Krakaboom!" the contemporary version of the video arcade I grew up with -- just a bunch of desktop PCs running 1st person shooters and a bunch of, well, I guess you can supply the gender and age group of the patrons. Headed to the B&N during the hr. wait for lenses, just got depressed looking at the philosophy section of even a not-particularly-good bookstore. [I know nothing; and at the rate I read, I could probably command, say, Habermas by, oh, the 2030s.] [Something that's been disturbing me lately is the thought that even if I manage to read rought 2 books of some sort every week for the rest of my life -- say I can expect 50 lucid years -- that's only around 5,000 books, which doesn't sound like much.]

Frankfurt School anthology reminded me that I've been meaning to look up Adorno's brief "Subject and Object"; I'm obviously not the first to wonder if the question of whether one can truly dissolve that distinction in a comprehensible way might not be the epistemological issue of which many political disputes are the surface form. I'll let someone else link to "Critique of Separation."

This book -- which, curiously, I've seen in at least 3 Barnes & Noble's, and nowhere else -- fell open to the first poem/lyric on this page: "Dem charge Jim fi sus/Dem charge mi fi murdah." How does one [me] who is no stranger to Forces of Victory, or who made a small symbolic pilgrimage to Altab Ali Park also find himself finding the need to state some "ethical" position w/r/t political violence in, I don't know, the other direction? Especially given that, all parties agree, innumerable acts are performed every day [so much so that it's artificial to separate them into 'acts'] in the name of established power which, taken on their own merits, would violate any ethical standard worthy of the name. Lesson learned, perhaps: vigilance?

Of course, I'm also no stranger to "It Doesn't Make It All Right". J. Dammers, Kantian.

[I hope it's understood that the above few notes aren't a belated or hidden "rebuttal." Treat them as self-examination.]

Also paged though NYer: I'll say without hesitation that Christopher Buckley's humor piece, a satire on a college entrance essay, is small-minded, cynical in the bad sense, and about as funny as a mass email comprised of supposedly real errors in high-school compositions. Would have been a lot better off getting into the Katherine Boo piece. (Hmm, I'd been meaning at some point to be mildly contrarian about that much-disliked Ashbery profile, but I'm not sure I'll get back to it now.)


Gave last lecture of quarter; WB's "Work of Art...." Familiar ground, though I realized as I talked that a key move is an application of the Hegelian change-in-quantity/quality pt.; obvious, but I hadn't been thinking so much about that the last time I taught it. Before class, a woman came in and asked if her father, a visiting scholar (art historian) from China, could sit in. Of course I said sure, but was aware as the class proceeded that he might be thinking that this was baby-talk or worse; also couldn't help wondering if he saw my by-now-joshing relation w/ the students as odd. Thanked me on his way out, and I realized that his English was quite limited (which I guess is why his daughter came in in the first place, but I hadn't sussed).

Finished Peter Calvert's Revolution and Counter-Revolution, a quite short book in U. of Minn.'s "Concepts in Social Thought" series. (There's a useful one on "Property" by Alan Ryan.) Not bad, as a sort of consumer guide to going theories (as of 1990, anyway) that doesn't pretend to be too unbiased. I don't really have enough background to know what to think of, to take one example, Chalmers Johnson's sixfold typology of social upheaval (jacquerie; millenarian rebellion; anarchistic rebellion; Jacobin communist revolution; coups d'etat; militarized mass insurrection -- first three relatively "spontaneous," last 3 elite-led), but it seems well-articulated enough to at least test one's historical observations against. Also makes me want to read Arendt's On Revolution (I read big chunks of The Origins of Totalitarianism for AF) -- she seems to have a nuanced, cuts-both-ways view of, in a word, America.

Lamont Sanford goes "African," decorates the house w/ masks, etc. "What's all this, son?" "A man's house should reflect his culture." "You want to reflect my culture, put up pictures of Billy Eckstine."

Watching a little too much TV lately, as you can tell; need a couple of days before turning to next halfway-sizeable chunks of work: a "job talk" in-case flyouts are in the offing around Jan/Feb. (in which case I'll be more or less expected to give it at UCLA for practice)//pulling 2 course readers together for next quarter//at least two proposals for conference presentations. Also getting back to arranging the dreaded "first book of poems" MS while things aren't too heavy otherwise; there are a couple of (non-contest) nibbles...

Bree notes that many, many commercials currently feature "Danny Elfman" music.


Finished the Cornfoth, read Zizek's "Against Human Rights" in the New Left Review that I let sit around for a few weeks. Won't discuss now; mulling it over. Also Stanley Fish's piece on the use of relativist and po-mo rhetoric by Intelligent Design supporters in new Harper's.

Annoyed to see a song called "Charm Offensive" on a promo I just got -- I've been playing a song w/ that title off and on live since 2002, should have expected someone to get there (and I realize the phrase already appeared somewhere in the cover art/text to Radiohead's Amnesiac). I really do not record often enough.

Sent off batch of cover letters (to be added to my dossiers at UCLA and sent out from there); other than a couple of jobs w/ late deadlines, now I just wait. Called dad for b-day; went to Davenport's w/ Bree, played piano for her (which I usually don't); she's putting "Blue's The Only Color of The Rainbow" in the act. Me -- I sang "The Ladies Who Lunch" and "Acc-ent-u-ate the Positive." I think I was entertaining.


Dreamt that "aesthetics" was actually spelled "asthaetics," and that my cover letters for job applications went out wrong by that measure. Am told that I said "I just want to make it clear that..." in my sleep.

Read most of Maurice Cornforth's Historical Materialism. The sort of account which seems concerned to strip out any mention of "dialectic" (I think it's relegated to a previous book; this is the 2nd of a 3 v. series) taking it as blandly obvious that social science can be conducted by just the same means as physical science, except for the obvious fact that abstraction has to occur by some other process than controlled experimentation. Kinda convincing when you're reading it (v. lucid-seeming prose), up until a very thin chapter on base/superstructure. Pretty much at the exact opposite end of the scale from the Winch I was reading a few weeks ago. And despite its evident disinterest in taking criticisms into serious account, the 2nd (1962) ed. preface says "extensive changes have been made in the attempt to eradicate any kind of dogmatism." Lefebvre has a similar note.

Transposed a song for Bree and helped her rehearse, but let her go to Gentry alone; worked on dull practical tasks. Feel like day slipped past -- vague notion of going to Dusty Groove or Jazz Record Mart came to nothing.


Reading went well, respectable turnout; I replaced a certain key epiphet with "Napster" on each occurrence so I could read the "Columbus" section. Tried not to go too long. J. did himself proud, w/ a quite complex section on, mostly, how not to approach Murmur's lyrics. Picked up the current Black Clock, which is on guilty pleasures and includes Eric W.'s piece from EMP 2004. I don't know, you can keep your guilt -- give me the pleasures of accusation.

Took Bree home and tried to meet J. at Abbey Pub to see Annie Hayden. (Remember Spent? I guess when you're on Merge, you're on Merge for life.) Got there in between sets, stayed for some of The Clientele. I didn't know they were playing, and I've never followed them closely. I don't mind that they're subtle, but any of the variation between songs that I've noted and appreciated on record seemed to be absent live; leader is a bit of a muso, which made for some uneasy indiepop + jazzface moments. Didn't mind being there, didn't feel like I needed to see the whole set.


Lunchtime talk in Hist. of Science dept. by U. of C. art historian Joel Snyder, who's been working on various problems around photography for quite a while. An overview rather than brand-new research, but helpful: takes a pox-on-both-houses attitude toward "transparency" (Cavell, Walton) and wholly "social constructionist" views of photographic relations (he commented that in the '70s, his first papers started getting mentioned in footnotes: "As Joel Snyder has shown, nothing is natural), which I find congenial. Quite interesting on photographs that aren't snapshots, e.g. the moving camera that can show win/place/show in a horse race. (Complicated technology; I got it, but can't explain here.) Seems to ultimately want some sort of distinction within "photographic representation" between "photographs" proper and "visualizations" (all the way to sonograms). I think what he's looking for could be described as a difference in the way information is conveyed; in turn based on a difference in the relation to un-mediated (in the relevant sense) perceptual information. Also, great late 19th-c. quotations from an early trial about the q. of copyright in photographs; have to track this down in Snyder's pub'd work.

Afternoon philosophy workshop by Matt Hanser, concerned w/ showing, pretty much on grammatical grounds (working off of a Davidsonian analysis of action sentences) that a certain class of ethical judgments are judgments about "the quality of agency" rather than actions per se. Some interesting points about the locution "X acted well/badly/courageously in phi-ing." Was supposed to be a purely formal account w/ no substantive implications; some comments in the Q-and-A about what's up with, say, benevolence suggested that this might not be so.

Freaky episode of Good Times in which J.J. is managing a white cabaret singer; a whole section is devoted to her "Be A Clown"/"Send In The Clowns" medley. Inexplicable in terms of what that show purported to be about; presumably Norman Lear or someone was looking for an excuse to build a show around this woman. (Still not quite as odd as the What's Happening!! I saw last week that ends w/ Rerun handing Mama his outsized belt so she can punish Raj: "My God, Rerun, I want to whup him, not hang him!" Freeze, credits.)

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