A long-standing summertime favorite:
A long-standing summertime favorite:
Easily the best music review I've read in ages:
Not the shock of the new so much as the comfort of the old. The “I like stuff that sounds like the stuff I already like” branch of the rock’n’roll fanclub meets here. This is the part where those people reflexively shout “ THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS ORIGINALITY!” Of course, when confronted with an artist who does thing differently, these same people mock them. They can’t play their instruments! They don’t know what they’re doing! This is terrible! Is this some kind of joke?
If you think rock is about learning the rules and then successfully demonstrating your knowledge of these rules, then Savages is the band for you.
Tamsin calls it MAMOR — Middle-Aged-Man-Oriented-Rock. She’s a sharp one, that Tamsin.
I don’t give a shit about originality. But I do give a shit what you do with your influences — are they a springboard or an albatross? Have you swallowed them whole or do you wear them on your sleeve like a fashion accessory. I’m not looking for something new, but I am looking for something you.
I’m not asking for originality. I’m just asking for more. I want to hear one influence that isn’t already pre-approved by a bunch of old white dudes. I want to hear one influence that isn’t already part of the accepted canon — I can’t help thinking that if this were 1985 the critics falling all over themselves for Savages right now would be massive Whitesnake fans because Whitesnake sounded like Led Zeppelin the greatest rock band of all time, not like this Replacements/Husker Du/Minutemen/Mary Chain bullshit. Meet the new orthodoxy, same as the old orthodoxy only this time with better taste. (Or is it? I’m starting to wonder.)
The irony of this--same as it's always been for the serious music aficionado--is that the best solution to the problem of fashion is to go back to the past, and those albums that have been judged and understood to be serious contributions in their own right. Nobody has to worry about the aesthetic and political significance of Funhouse or Entertainment!; social and political disputes long settled, there's only the question of whether the songs are good. What's more, this is the only music that can be genuinely surprising, and teach you something about yourself. Your feelings on Tame Impala are mostly going to be a reflection of how you feel about, say, Pitchfork. But Loveless or Voodoo--that's the sort of thing that makes sense retrospectively, but not beforehand. Voodoo, beforehand: "who could possibly like a 70-minute soul concept album about serious adult love that lacks anything close to a single, or even a hook?" After: "Well, I do like a bunch of the Soulquarian stuff, and the conceptually ambitious, so..." So also everywhere else in life: if you're only reading books or watching movies you know you'll like, why even bother?
Adventures in Commuting, That Happened Edition:
I've had the theory since I switched to my (shorter) commute that the marginally later time I'm able to leave is somewhere after the tipping point at which traffic becomes really bad. After a few successive 1:40 40-mile commutes, I decided to do some empirical testing. Turns out I'm correct: if I leave 20 minutes earlier, I get to the office 60 minutes earlier.
...and don't really have enough class prep to do to fill up the extra time. So it's probably back to sleeping an extra 20 minutes.
Labels: adventures in commuting
Adventures in Cultural Consumption, The Jew As Other Edition:
Homocide: My students are required, a few times throughout the semester, to produce reflections on class discussion. It's usually a helpful way of getting them to continue to think about the reading after class, and it occasionally shakes out questions they had but which went unasked. The assignment for yesterday was Marx's "On the Jewish Question." Class discussion was limited, as it was their first exposure to Marx and a lot of terminology had to be introduced; we touched on Marx's use of anti-semitic tropes, mostly to emphasize that he really meant them, and they are not some accident of the text.
The responses had a lot of questions, most of them about the anti-semitism. They did not understand it. Not that they were confused why Marx would subscribe to such poorly formulated theories of The Jew, but rather that they lacked the conceptual apparatus to understand why The Jew must be Other in the first place. In part, this makes sense: they don't know a lot about Christianity, and one must understand something about that to understand the fraught history of Jewish-Christian relations, and one has to understand quite a bit about that to understand why anti-semitic tropes could be so widespread when they were all based on shoddy and inadequate understandings of Judaism.
But this is also notably different from the discussion of, for example, the chapter on the three races in Democracy in America, or the discussions we have had of race in the context of Mill's On Liberty. The students know the stereotypes of those who are black, or Hispanic, or Asian, know the mythos and origin of those stereotypes, if only to be able to identify them when deployed so as to properly distance themselves from them. (There is no tension like the tension of a classroom discussion that veers towards race.) Jewishness, so far as I can tell, and perhaps only in the eyes of these particular students, is a slightly differentiable form of being white, and so therefore not particularly interesting.
It just so happens that the movie Netflix sent me was Homocide, which is at least in part about questions of what it means to be Jewish, and is premised on the existence of a world where to be Jewish is to be singled out as Other. The movie was made in 1991 but its existential concerns are of a piece with (to display the extent to which my familiarity with the relevant literature is limited) The Chosen, or perhaps The Yiddish Policeman's Union, which despite its future-oriented setting takes its view of Jewish-American relations from the 1940s. I can remember a world in which these concerns were omnipresent enough to make it to Real America, as isolated as we were from actual contact with people who were different. I am not entirely sure that's the world my students live in.
I have mixed feelings about this. On the one hand, it is certainly better to live in a world where some previous form of intolerance is considered literally incomprehensible. On the other, this leads those pockets that remain to be regarded as a curio rather than a serious threat, and I think they miss something of the problem by regarding it as odd or amusing rather than, say, vile. It's a view that deserves to be taken seriously enough to be forcefully rejected rather than set aside. I think there's no better highlight in the work of the midcentury theologian Karl Barth than his lecture on anti-semitism in Dogmatics in Outline. Barth is in Germany in 1946 and speaking to an audience of German theology students; to the best of my knowledge, it's the first time he was back after having been kicked out in 1933 for organizing Protestant churches against the Nazi Party. Let us feel and try to understand the weight of the theological argument for eliminating the Jew, he says: let's lay down the premises which make them responsible for killing God, and consider what the anti-semite thinks should flow from that. The presentation of the argument is taken quite seriously. What follows: when, so the story goes, the Jews abandon God, God does not abandon them: he fulfills his promise and gives to them the thing promised: he, in other words, completes the act of salvation promised to Abraham, and gives it to Abraham's children. That is to say, Barth argues, the anti-semite looks at the same facts as God and comes to the opposite conclusion: where God saves, the anti-semite condemns, and would persecute, oppress, and kill. Therefore anti-semitism in whatever form is directly and identifiably opposed to the will of God expressed in the actions of God. The anti-semite cannot be a Christian, he is barred from it; he can only be a rebel. From a Christian theological perspective, I cannot imagine a stronger response. The response is strong because it takes the objection seriously, and demolishes it on its own terms; it shames and defeats its opponent through argument, not the power of the state, or the ability of social convention to make people learn to not express their 'bad' opinions.
I worry, in other words, that not knowing the argument well enough makes the response to it harder to produce when needed.
Teaching continues to be quite the experience, one I mostly neglect to talk about because I have many of the same students throughout the year. The pedagogical insights I've gained, such as they are, have to wait until I'm no longer teaching them. They're not embarrassing, of course, but ethics and all that. I will make a brief exception because a. it was something genuinely surprising to me and b. it may be of interest to my readership: marriage, and the societal pressure to marry as perceived by women.
Mill's On Liberty, which we were reading, is primarily concerned with domination--the way in which social forces (not legislation) can limit people's perceptions of what they can do. I was stressing that liberty isn't a matter of individual decisions, but of a 'plan of life,' the ability to form goals for oneself and bring them about over a long period of time. Mill has a parenthetical section where he talks about polygamy, essentially, "look, it's bad, but if you're a woman and therefore strongly encouraged to marry, it's not clear that this is worse or less free than any other marriage." Having a class that is largely female, I suggested this as an example: can you form a plan of life that doesn't include being married and/or having kids, and if you can, do you still feel the need to justify this? If so, that's an example of domination.
Boy, did this ever connect: a lot of very-present concerns about "having it all," the "window of opportunity," and the difficulty of navigating societal approval and disapproval of one's decisions, from (mostly, one guesses) 19 year old women who have probably not even chosen a major, but feel the need to have adjudicated the question of their future relationship status, in part because people keep asking them about it. I legitimately did not expect to hear that, though a better illustration of the principle would be hard to come by.
The fiancee suggested I perhaps underestimated the propensity of the average college student to have thought about this, but I'm more inclined to believe my surprise is a feature of having been male. Despite a few people in class suggesting it was also a problem for men (it's not, and social standards are, if anything, making it easier for men to not worry about it), this is a strictly female phenomenon. I didn't worry about being single until I moved to Euphemistic New Jersey after grad school (at 28), and it was no longer clear where I'd go to meet women, not that there were any around anyway.
This made me think of a line from High Fidelity: "it takes a certain type of person to worry about being alone for the rest of their life at 25." The sort of person who only has to begin worrying about it at 25 (or thinks it neurotic to be worrying about it at that point!) is best described as 'a man,' which makes much sense of the whole Nick Hornby thing.
I interrupt my blogging silence to comment on five small matters pertaining to Boston, and specifically the arguments made here:
1. "For the area around Watertown, the advisory is primarily for the purposes of public safety. There is apparently a dangerous suspect in the area who had hours earlier engaged in a massive shootout with police that included the use of pipe bombs, and there are reports of possible explosive devices at various places in the neighborhood."
Here's the detail that seems to be overlooked: this guy, assuming he's the guy, was both well-armed and had explosives, and had several days in which he could have used either or both because no one knew who he was. He didn't become further violent until he encountered the police. I'm not blaming the police for being cautious, but this guy had already missed his chance to maximize his damage, and that led me to suspect it wasn't his primary goal.
2. "On the propriety side, I’ve seen many people, mostly on the right, compare the “Shelter in Place” advisory to Martial Law, but that analogy only works if you forget that it’s called an advisory and not an order, and if residents who decided not to stay home ended up getting arrested or otherwise detained by the police."
The analytic distinction between advisory and order, while valid, is wiped out by the circumstances and the people giving the advisory. If you've been a teacher (or professor), or ever dealt with a small child, or, for that matter, a pet who responds to commands, you should be intimately familiar with the fact that you can advise things you have neither the power nor the ability to enforce, but suggest them in such a way that they appear to have all that power and force behind them. An advisory, given by one who has authority, can easily be made to sound like an order without being an order. What's more, people in authority know this, and work to finesse the distinction if it will serve their interests. I mean, if the people who worked at Dunkin Donuts could stay open, there was literally no reason everyone else shouldn't have felt comfortable going about their day.
3. There was absolutely no reason for the lockdown; many large cities have undergone significant terrorist attacks without shutting down. Also: the lockdown accomplished nothing, since the suspect was found by a regular guy after he left his house, and not by any of those policemen going door-to-door. What the lockdown did succeed in doing was poisoning the well of public spirit by making people think that criminal (there's absolutely no reason at the moment to think of it as terroristic) behavior warrants a massive reaction by the state, especially when (details pending) the flight and lockdown seems to have been inspired by a gunfight with the police in which they somehow managed to lose one of the two people they were looking for. That is, their inability to do their job becomes a license to grant them more powers.
4. Twitter was filled last night with Tocqueville-predicted American self-congratulation* that this guy was taken alive and would be read his Miranda rights, which, whoops. But at least this is an exception to the general rule, and not something the Administration usually condones, which also whoops. There should be room to say that threats are real and must be taken seriously, but that in higher-stakes situations it is important to keep the rule of law and protection of constitutional rights and liberties; both Republicans and Democrats seem equally unable to manage this.
5. The amount of action legitimated on the idea that 'no one knows' what the situation happens to be is truly staggering.
*I have come to recognize this as Tocqueville's central insight: there is no situation in which Americans are not able to find something to praise in their own conduct. People run to help after the bomb blasts? Sure. Doctors work to save lives? Sure. Everyone keeps calm about it? Sure. Bostonians voluntarily stay home to let the police do their thing? Why not. Everyone watches it obsessively on tv? We're a united country, you know. Miranda rights? Absolutely. Etc etc. Even if some of the things we take pride in are not objectively sources of pride; even if we contradict ourselves from earlier. No matter.