Quick Study: March 2007 Archives
And now (as if in strange exemplification of cultural tendencies that I've been puzzling over since starting to read Thomas de Zengotita) there comes a video of Ann Althouse watching American Idol.
In Austin, long ago, friends and I discussed starting a metal band to be called Mötley Ümläüt. Nothing came of it, alas. Though there's a chance one of the guys still has a tape from our other side-project, the Dead Belushis.
In any case, the topic of music-related gratuitous-umlaut usage is extensively covered at Orgtheory.
The trailers for 300 made it look so much like a video game (a cultural form with no appeal for me at all) that actually going to it never crossed my mind, even though I'm interested in the history.
Subsequent critical commentary on the film has only reinforced that decision -- while adding a layer of incredulity at the idea of the Spartans being portrayed as some kind of Republican focus group, a bunch of freedom-loving homophobes engaged in a joint campaign of the Culture Wars and the War on Terror.
It takes a talented writer to convey the thought processes of a bad writer. And so, now, some excerpts from the finest piece of prose I have encountered in a while -- Neil Compstun's review of Grindhouse, the pastische of exploitation films directed by Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez.
It isn't even a movie - it's TWO movies with some trailers and stuff at the beginning, and also between the movies. The directors - more about them in a second (there's TWO!) - wanted to recreate the way movies were back in the 1920's, when you could sell a script that was one page that just said, "TITS THEN A MONSTER THEN MORE TITS THEN AN EXPLOSION THEN BONUS TITS" and everyone knew what you were talking about.
Also, there's zombies getting killed by a helicopter, which is not only cool to look at, but shows how the movie-makers did some research, to make things realistic.
Last week, the Borders chain -- which in 30 years has grown from a single used bookshop largely serving students at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor to a global empire, with stores in the U.K. and Australia among other places -- announced that it would be undertaking a major restructuring. Its new strategic plan will (in the words of a press release) "revitalize, refocus, and ultimately reinvent the company to achieve its mission to be a headquarters for knowledge and entertainment."
So much for the usual nourishing corporate baloney....
The redoubtable Phil Ford has a new post that takes off from a parsing of "postpunk" *(as that periodization is narrated in Rip It Up and Start Again by Simon Reynolds) and then goes on to propose what Ford calls the genre of the "listening biography." The latter he defines, in his own case as "the individual, peculiar, contingent path by which which I, like anyone else, come into my mature (?) musical tastes."
Every once in a great while, something I've written gets picked up by what might be called -- not entirely oxymoronically -- the "mainstream blogosphere." The latter seems to be very much a star system made up of people who are partisans of one of the two major political parties. That rules me out a priori.
For that matter, I don't even have much of a role in left-wing blogchat, ever since the dissolution of the Vanguard Workers Revolutionary Marxist-Leninist Labor Party USA (Bolshevik-Reconstructed). As some of you may recall, I was the Central Committee member responsible for Proletarian Hammer newspaper, as well as being the party's one cadre. The meeting where I expelled myself was bitter and scarring.
It feels like ages -- though it has only been weeks -- since I commented on Sam Tanenhaus's essay about the state of contemporary American history writing. (See this earlier post for the links.)
Over at Wax Banks, Walter Holland writes: "Bjork's mostly a capella album Medúlla isn't consistently enjoyable, to me; I find the most outré vocal styles unbearable, and feel unable to judge its worth as avant garde art because I (frankly) can't make it through the damn thing."
An entry on "Blogging and Identity" at Frank Wilson's Books, Inq has generated an interesting discussion. But it would be richer for a reference to Erving Goffman's work -- especially the essay "On Face Work" in Interaction Rituals, or just about anything in The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.
I'm too distracted by the looming piles of clutter in my study to do more than point out this item on the latter book. It's an adequate if by no means compelling overview, no substitute for reading the original. (Goffman himself wrote so well that it is amazing he could find employment as a sociologist.)
From The New Yorker, the quintessence of the 1960s, as conveyed to children of the Baby Boomers:
As mentioned here a month ago, my friend Richard Byrne was a finalist in the First Annual Prague Post Playwriting Festival. In the meantime he's been there overseeing the production of the one-act version of Burn Your Bookes, a work-in-progress.
Well, he won. The award includes a prize of $900, which sounds even more impressive when tallied as 20,000 Czech crowns.
You can read an article about Rich -- and/or listen to a podcast from the English-language service of Czech Radio -- here.
Shortly before waking up this morning, I dreamt that I was a writer for Dragnet.
(One comma too many can ruin everything.)
The new collection of essays by Clive James seems to be getting a lot of attention. No review copy of it has arrived, and I cannot spare the blood it would be necessary to sell in order to purchase a copy. Genteel poverty sucks. As the expression "sucks" here may suggest, the genteel part does not come naturally, and the rest is a bore as well.
Last month I mentioned that Political Theory Daily Review had found a sponsor -- the magazine Bookforum. As it happens, the new issue just arrived in my mailbox yesterday, even before it reached the newstand, which doesn't always happen.
Well, now you can read it, too. As of the April/May issue, nearly all of the contents are online for free. It looks like a couple of items are print-only, out of about 45.
So I will take this occasion to link to one of the handful of columns I've written that really struck a chord with other people -- namely, the one proposing that cell-phone users in libraries be shot. Or listen to a podcast discussion of the piece here.
Having just recently watched several episodes of the first season of Adam-12, it feels like I'm halfway to ready to draft an essay about Jack Webb as auteur. One obsessed by the differences between bachelorhood and domesticity, it turns out, at least as much as he is with crime and punishment, or freaks and squares.
Speaking of squares....Let me work out a set of Greimasian semiotic charts on this and the cultural-studies paper would just about write itself.
There are mornings when facing the notepad is even more of a burden than usual, simply because its blankness corresponds only too clearly to the state of my own mind. But it doesn't matter. The one thing I have learned after all this time is that it doesn't matter how I feel, that isn't actually necessary to want to write in order to do it. Actually writing something is point of honor -- and usually, after a while, something creditable starts to take shape.
If I've been reasonably well organized about it, I'll have some drafts with me to rework. Or notes to look over. Something, anything, just to get the process started. I have no trust in inspiration and sometimes think that talent alone is greatly overrated. Neither is sufficient.
Well, not quite. Let's put it this way: Were it possible for me to write that sort of thing at the Chronicle, I would still be there.
But then we get into counterfactual history -- a complicated subject.
I'd like to think everyone visiting Quick Study is also aware of the group history blog Cliopatria (of which I have been a member for a while). But you never know. So now I will do some advertising.
Recently Manan Ahmed organized a symposium there to discuss an article by Sam Tanenhaus about why there are no longer major, influential historians of the calibre of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. My response will probably annoy some people. Such is life.
On a completely unrelated note, see my recent item at Crooked Timber regarding donuts, sex, and journalism.
John Leonard (once my editor at The Nation, now simply a friend) just won the Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Book Critics Circle.
In the words of a comment at Posthegemony signed "Serena":
occasionally you come across an image that causes the seizure of a feeling that passes before you can describe it, for you have already stared at the image for too long, but is usually in reaction to a previously unimagined cruelty, something that makes an unexpected and affecting connection to someone else's tragedy. this is one such image.
I have nothing to add. The image in question is here.
Upon starting QS, there was no particular plan for me to become a part-time video jockey.And yet the impulse seems to be there. I stopped keeping up with new music sometime in the early 1990s (long story) so my instinct when looking around (whether for something to listen to while working, or for performance clips) is to find things from earlier decades. One of the few exceptions to this normally arriere garde mode was discovering the Toronto-based musical collective Broken Social Scene a few years ago.
That was well after everybody else had heard of them, so perhaps my record of un-cutting-edginess remains consistent after all.
It was originally published by Stanford University. The online version doesn't give the publication date, but I read it in 1989 and it can't have come out more than a year earlier than that.
Could go check the copy on the shelf in the living room, but I have a bad cold now, and typing this is about the limit of what seems possible at the moment.
Might write on Baudrillard again later (esp. if an editor so requests) but for now will indulge in the vice of quoting myself. From a piece that ran six years ago:
It's now been three decades since Poly Styrene (who looked younger than her nineteen years) took the microphone to announce:
Some people say little girls should be seen and not heard but I say, Oh bondage! Up Yours!
-- which was definitely a case of a new musical form making it possible to express a thought that hadn't been expressed before. Certainly not in those terms, anyway.
In 1987, I lived in a group house with the other guys in my band. All of them were named Michael. We ought to have exploited that fact by having me change my name and just calling ourselves The Michaels. Oh, the benefits of hindsight.
Enthusiasm for The Wire came to this household rather late (last summer, I think) but when it did hit us, it hit plenty hard. All the superlatives are appropriate.
The show does what Lukacs thought only the classic realist novel could -- that is, portray a social totality and unveil its inner coherence. (Again with the Lukacs!)
I am intrigued, even persuaded, by Whimsley's thought that it would be useful to have word meaning "skepticism about blogging" -- but not convinced that "ablosticism" will quite cut the semantic mustard.