Friday, August 28, 2009

Two by Josh Alan Friedman

New work by Josh Alan Friedman is always cause for celebration. And when new work arrives accompanied by a piece that's been out of circulation for 30 years, well goddamn!

"...We could only say, 'Good night, Groucho, thanks for an unforgettable evening.' Groucho: 'I think I'd rather forget it'..."

A Memory of Groucho
(from New York magazine, August 28, 1978.)

"Playing for 20,000 Poles in Krakow during the Festival of Jewish Culture, Rubin observed, 'One well-placed RPG round and a fairly large chunk of the modern Jewish music scene would be history. Just thinking out loud, mind you.'"

(Friedman's "uncircumsized" edit of Mark Rubin Schleps His Instruments Across The World In The Name of Klezmer from the Dallas Observer, August 26, 2009.)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Vanina Marsot in Berlin

(click image to enlarge)

the currywurst truck

copyright © 2009 Vanina Marsot

Click here to order your copy of Vanina Marsot's new book, Foreign Tongue: A Novel of Life and Love in Paris.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Dead Cat Bounce - September 9!

from Dead Cat Bounce HQ:

Hey there friends - Moby's got a new band with a mad name, a first gig, an insanely good drummer, a prodigal violin fiddler, an excellent bass player, and all of this happened before the end of the world came upon us! I hope you can join us - it's going to be an evening of funk, blues and mind-bending musicians using their mental powers to levitate large objects like improbable groups of Swiss Boarding School Girls! Double Decker Busses! A small Welsh Shepherd! We will bend spoons and play in tune and commune with the almost dead! Nothing is beyond us!

Dead Cat Bounce

September 9th - 8.30PM

The Bulls Head
373 Lonsdale Road
SW13 9PY

Nearest Rail station
Barnes Bridge (150 metres)
Barnes London Tube to Hammersmith then 209 Bus

Google Map

On Drums - Sam Kelly - One of the biggest names on the UK blues and funk scene, winner of the 'best blues drummer of the year' five years running, Sam practically invented the UK groove, playing with proto-funk band Cymande. Since then he has played with everyone from Chaka Khan to Gary Moore and a thousand big names in between.

On Violin - Jan Galach - an amazing blues prodigy from Poland, walked in one night and turned the world upside down.

On Bass - Alex Deligiannidis - a great session player from Greece to London's west side, he burns it up on George Marios' new album and around town with Anosis and Monks Scar Tattoo.

On Guitar and Vox - Moby Pomerance is an unquestionably adjectival guitar player. In fact just the other day one of his oldest friends said he "wasn't rubbish." So. There you go.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Untitled from Andy Biscontini on Vimeo.

As the Summer That Wasn't winds to a close and the sea change some people seem to have been hoping -- or fearing -- would change life in America (universal health care, financial regulation, the prying of guns from cold, dead hands) reveals itself to be little more than a fart in the pool (incremental compromise, bailout bonuses, “take your gun to church night”), I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on what it is that makes this country Great.

Or, more accurately, Almost Great.

Because our Greatness in the world is not, nor arguably has ever been, based on any actual Greatness, but rather on the sustained potential for Greatness, and the ability of at least a portion of the population at any given moment to never stop striving for it, even if that involves shooting ourselves in the foot.

For if our Greatness lies in our potential for Greatness, to attain actual Greatness would be to destroy that which made us Great. Perhaps that’s why we seem to be hardwired to take two steps backward, or at best sideways, for every half-step forward.

Let me confess outright to being an optimist who loves this country and is proud of his grandfather’s contribution to defeating the Nazis. Landing on the moon was also cool. So are jazz, rock and roll, Thomas Pynchon and the automobile.

But optimism based on delusion is foolishness, and the surest way to destroy something you love is to idealize it (case studies: Jack Kerouac, Marilyn Monroe, John F. Kennedy, James Dean, Michael Jackson, the Constitution...).

Where the rest of the world’s populations, especially the social democracies of Europe (not without their own serious problems) and myriad local micro-economies of Asia (which will still exist once the current wave of centralized global investment recedes) have grown out of thousands of years of natural civic growth, the United States began only hundreds of years ago with the genocidal scrubbing of generations of existing indigenous civic progress and the imposition of a new and experimental socio-economic paradigm that was simultaneously a social experiment based on Enlightenment notions of human rights (irony noted) and a global commercial venture in the exploitation of natural resources, including human populations.

Rejecting the cynical view that the rights of man were nothing more than rhetoric adopted to sucker a population of hard-up farmers and craftsmen into the Revolutionary Army, I’ll say that the current relationship between those two founding principles is problematic in that, as they have grown increasingly divergent, we only acknowledge the former while living in the latter: the spirit of freedom in the Declaration of Independence is celebrated annually, men and women die for it daily, but the social framework in which we function from day to day is purely commercial.

The actual, hard parameters by which our individual freedoms are defined, be they narrow or vast, are drawn by neither the morality of Church, the laws of State nor the bonds of Family, but by the dictates of Commerce. We all know it. And it’s always been that way.

Everything in our lives depends on it: where we live, if and where we work and how we get there, the decisions we can or can’t make, our social status, our access to opportunity. It is so deeply integrated into the matrices of our existence that it has become inextricable from our selves.

Which, within the context of a Commercial Democracy, should not have to be a bad thing.

But, if left unchecked by social mandate, it can (and has, again and again) quickly become incredibly socially destructive.

Central to the problem as I see it is the fact that there has never been a tradition of open social discourse regarding Capital and its relation to society in the history of the United States.

Since the Declaration of Independence, I can think of only two organized movements to attempt such an engagement between Capital and the population in any significant way: the American Socialist movement of the early 20th century and the latter Civil Rights movement of the 1960’s.

(RIP, Ralph Nader)

Both were met with brutal oppressive violence, imprisonment and assassination.

Without falling into the kind of conspiratological nonsense that makes it even easier to write me off as a crackpot than it already is, or the kind of studied confrontation that would make me worth bumping off, suffice it to state that historical events make it difficult for me to swallow the argument that our system is shaped by unforced, organically occurring “market forces".

In the abstract, the dominant commercial culture of America, which bears de facto responsibility for one of the larger nations on the planet, for which it has never been held meaningfully accountable, remains terrified by the prospect of publicly acknowledging that the American Dream exists within a framework of an actual, tactile, real America made up of dirt and rock and water and human beings who get cancer from time to time and like to fuck.

Now might be a good time to revisit “The Grapes of Wrath” next to Nick Reding’s “Methland” to contemplate how the processes by which the combination of nature (drought) and unchecked free-market principles (banks) led Agriculture into the hands of conglomerates, and how it left a wake of blight decades wide.

Before you start screaming “pinko!” you should know that I believe in private capital and think it has an important place in the social compact, and that profit and competition can be effective engines for innovation.

But we live in a society in which no such compact defining the obligations of power has ever been articulated (unless you count Carnegie's well-meaning if lopsided "Gospel of Wealth," which I don't).

I also believe that the structural flexibility of the federal system allows for capital to flourish in a manner other than it currently does. Under current practices, the goal remains for individuals to suck enough wealth out of the confusion of the status quo to be somewhere else when the dam inevitably breaks. (See Johnstown, PA, 1889). You don't have to be a socialist to question whether or not that's good for society.

If you’re going to have a government (disclaimer: I consider anarchism the domain of the narcissistic ideological retard), it is the responsibility of that government as an extension, if we’re going to get representative about it, of We the People, to ensure that business is conducted in a way that benefits society and maintains the rule of law and our individual liberties.

As it is, our federal government has never been much more than Commerce’s scapegoat, enabler, whipping boy or attack dog, depending on which party was in power.

There’s no reason profit should, as a concept, negate the right of individuals to earn sufficient means for the opportunity to live a good life according to their abilities. But in this country, as income inequality grows, it has become increasingly unlikely.

And becoming big enough to swallow your competition doesn’t count as “competition.”

The Reagan Revolution has been seen to fruition, and it turned out to suck. Hard.

Until the Republican Party acknowledges that and comes up with a new approach not based on bald cons, they will not be relevant beyond what they currently are – a disorganized, bloated and fragile backstop against an increasingly well-armed, uneducated and angry right-wing fringe.

Meanwhile, the Democrats deserve credit for maintaining the consistency of their uselessness even with a mandate and a majority (sweet Christ what will it take to get Pelosi out of office?)

Barack Obama’s “Philadelphia Speech” is a landmark because it acknowledged the validity of the anger that still lingers in the aftermath of the Civil Rights movement, and by doing so confirmed the real possibility of the fulfillment of racial reconciliation.
(A beer at the White House? Between a black Harvard Professor and a white Cop? Seriously? I’ll pass.)

But the fact is, we have no problem talking about race in America. In fact, we love to talk about it in the same way we love to talk about real estate – in short-term, superficial and ultra-personalized terms.

Apparently, though, we’re still no more “ready” to talk about Capital’s relationship to society than we are to talk about single-payer health care. (I mean, what’s up with that?)

Nerves are so raw about it that the gentlest intimation of the need for discourse is branded incitement to class warfare – which, let me be very clear, is to be avoided -- and this silence has all but guaranteed the continuity of intransigence. It is assumed that violence is inevitable once the subject is raised.

To be able to address it non-violently as a nation through elective democracy and rational debate would render us truly, actually Great.

Which seems to be more than we can bear.

I don’t know where the voices in this conversation will come from. The easily dismissed postings of un-credentialed outsider thinkers like myself aren’t going to make a dent. But I feel an urgent need to begin to hear them.

The Unions are in the woods and haven’t been articulate since Debs.

I don’t think the Obama Administration has the credibility to address it: Geithner and Summers may know how to talk to bankers and policy-makers but they sure as hell don’t know how to talk to anybody else.

And at this point Rubin, if he really is smarter than the rest of the knuckleheads who claim to have believed that anything expressed mathematically was a good idea (and that the clusterfuck we’re in now was an honest case of putting the chart before the horse and not a bunch of quantitative sand kicked in our faces), might be evil and thus can’t be counted on to come up with anything socially constructive.

Nor do I know where this public discourse will occur, with the media so widely (and deservedly) distrusted, disoriented and chewing on its own tail out of starvation (not to say bought and sold).

But my sense of urgency is not ill-founded.

In the near term, unemployment benefits for millions are about to run out – and indefinite extension is not an answer. In the middle term, at some point a large number of military men and women will have to come home, and they’ll need jobs – keeping them in the army forever is not an answer. And in the long term – Christ, this is the long term. We’re soaking in it.

Admittedly, the outlook for sane national discourse is shaky.

The minority core of “birthers” and ersatz-brownshirts screaming down Health Care Reform at Town Halls is not encouraging. Nor are the moron hippy progeny who attempted to take over the New School last year.

I realize that insulting everybody may not be the best way to establish a non-combative framework for social rhetoric, but accepting that the loudest voices on both sides are idiots seems an obvious place to start.

Yet my optimism remains intact.

Because when I ask small business people from various industries (and political inclinations) what it would take for things to work out for them, after the inevitable reaction of a jaded blank stare and a condescending pat on the head, more often than not comes a string of ideas that, while perhaps unprecedented in recent memory, are rational, practical, real, plausible and, in a real America not governed by the dream logic of vainglorious nimrods, possible.

But I’m not a fool.

I fully realize that, for the most part, we as a nation really just want things to get Back to Normal.

We’re all just waiting for the day when we wake up and find ourselves again on cruise control in Dream America.

Where the parameters of our imagined freedom are as vast as the golden clouds of toxic credit gilding the horizon and the nitwits on CNBC (Complete Numbskulls Bloviating Ceaselessy) again chirp hosiahs to the casino.

Where the world magically resets itself with each morning bell to a new set of ever-fresh possibilities, like the B of A commercial tells us we think it should.

Where we are again free to sweat the small stuff, unfettered by yesterdays, tomorrows, or the responsibility of thinking about anything bigger than how to sell a breadbox because we’re confident that people richer and thus smarter than ourselves are taking care of it.

Where that asshole really deserves to pocket nine digits a year – and if we were that asshole, we would too.

Where our children will never have to learn how to do or make anything, because they will be paid to sit and watch the computer, filled with quality drugs to keep them interested and granted tower-blocks full of a foreign-born underclass to fix their toilets.

And we shall all be forever full of our own sustained potential for Greatness.

Birthdays Worth Remembering

Ralph Bunche

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Fun, Expert, Tickle Trunk

It's been a while, and to the (now) two or three of you who still regularly check in, I apologise. Summertime here on Christmas Island is filled with guests and travel and employment. I've been enjoying all three, in one capacity or another--some more than others.

Guests I like because the guest is to be cherished.

Employment I like because you need to be employed to get unemployment.

Travel I like because other people have been doing it for me, namely going to wild, wacky, wonderful Portland to get some of my books--namely my "happy fun books" as the getter of said books called them. The box is thus a "tickle trunk" of sorts, as the words and thoughts there in are a non stop source of giggles and mirth.

Certainly you have a tickle trunk of your own, and everyone loves summertime reading...what's in your fun time summer reading tickle trunk? Answer in the comments!!!

Here's my list, with some fun excerpts:

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Fanon, Frantz: The Wretched of the Earth (with an introduction by Jean-Paul Sartre)

When we consider the efforts made to carry out the cultural estrangement so characteristic of the colonial epoch, we realise that nothing has been left to chance and that the total result looked for by colonial domination was indeed to convince the natives that colonialism came to lighten their darkness. The effect consciously sought by colonialism was to drive into the natives' heads the idea that if the settlers were to leave, they would at once fall back into barbarism, degradation, and bestiality.

On the unconscious plane, colonialism therefore did not seek to be considered by the native as a gentle, loving mother who protects her child from a hostile environment, but rather as a mother who unceasingly restrains her fundamentally perverse offspring from managing to commit suicide and from giving free rein to its evil instincts. The colonial mother protects her child from itself, from its ego, and from its physiology, its biology, and its own unhappiness which is its very essence.

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Said, Edward W.: Culture and Imperialism

An extraordinary, but nevertheless typical, example of American wilfulness is at hand in the relationship between Haiti and the United States. As J. Michael Dash reads it in Haiti and the United States: National Stereotypes and the Literary Imagination, almost from the moment Haiti gained its independence as a Black republic in 1803 Americans tended to imagine it as a void into which they could pour their own ideas. Abolitionists, says Dash, thought of Haiti not as a place with its own integrity and people but as a convenient site for relocating feed slaves. Later the island and its people came to represent degeneracy and of course racial inferiority. The United States occupied the island in 1915 (and Nicaragua in 1916) and set in place a native tyranny that exacerbated an already desperate state of affairs. (15) And when in 1991 and 1992 thousands of Haitian refugees tried to gain entry into Florida, most were forcibly returned.

Few Americans have agonised over places like Haiti or Iraq once the crisis or their country's actual intervention was over. Strangely, and despite both its intercontinental range and its genuinely various elements, American domination is insular. The foreign-policy elite has no long-standing tradition of direct rule overseas, as was the case with the British or the French, so American attention works in spurts; great masses of rhetoric and huge resources are lavished somewhere (Vietnam, Libya, Iraq, Panama), followed by virtual silence. Again Kiernan: "More multifarious than the British empire, the new hegemony was even less capable of finding any coherent programme of action other than of bullheaded negation. Hence its readiness to let plans be made for it, by company directors or secret agents."(16)

(15) See J. Michael Dash, Haiti and the United States: National Stereotypes and the Literary Imagination (London: Macmillian, 1988), pp. 9, 22-25 and passim.

(16) V. G. Kiernan, America: The New Imperialism: From White Settlement to World Hegemony (London: Zed, 1978) p.206

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Debord, Guy: The Society of the Spectacle

12. The spectacle manifests itself as an enormous positivity, out of reach and beyond dispute. All it says is: "Everything that appears is good; whatever is good will appear." The attitude that it demands in principle is the same passive acceptance that it has already secured by means of its seeming incontrovertibly, and indeed by its monopolization of the realm of appearances.

24. By means of the spectacle the ruling order discourses endlessly upon itself in an uninterrupted monologue of self-praise. The spectacle is the self-portrait of power in the age of power's totalitarian rule over the conditions of existence. The fetishistic appearance of pure objectivity in spectacular relationships conceals their true character as relationships between human beings and between classes; a Second Nature thus seems to impose inescapable laws upon our environment. but the spectacle is by no means the inevitable outcome of a technical development perceived as
natural; on the contrary, the society of the spectacle is a form that chooses its own technical content. If the spectacle -- understood in the limited sense of those "mass media" that are its most stultifying superficial manifestation -- seems at times to be invading society in the shape of a mere apparatus, it should be remembered that this apparatus has nothing neutral about it, and that it answers precisely to the needs of the spectacle's internal dynamics. If the social requirements of the age which develops such techniques can be met only through their mediation, if the administration of society and all contact between people now depends on the intervention of such "instant" communication, it is because this "communication" is essentially one-way; the concentration of the media thus amounts to the monopolization by the administrators of the existing system of the means to pursue their particular form of administration. The social cleavage that the spectacle expresses is inseparable from the modern State, which, as the product of the social division of labour and the organ of class rule, is the general form of all social division.

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Dixon, Bill: L'Opera

p.33-34 would seem that instead of the constant, repetitious cant about (i) how things are done at Bennington; (ii) this is the Bennington way of doing things; (iii) the specialness of the Bennington students (which, after a while, makes one just a bit curious as to why so much time should be spent defending what is done rather than letting /as it does most eloquently/ one view or hear any of the works that are done, where one can immediately be made aware that there is, indeed, a 'Bennington way' of both learning and presenting what has been theoretically within the purview of the listener /in the instance of music/), there would be an attempt to let the work, etc. speak for itself.

It also doesn't seem to me that trying to spark a conversation about what might just be the EXPECTATION of a Bennington student who has made the indication of expecting to MAJOR in the subject (music) can at all be even remotely related to treachery or being negative. Why then the resistance to HONEST dialogue, since honest dialogue would certainly include those things that would have to be both wrong with the place (the inadequacies, probably other goals) that while not possibly attainable at this time might also be composed of those things and ideas that one might feel would certainly aid in the teaching and learning and thus would auger well for the future of the college in terms of an elevation of the program and a more forward looking attitude concerning the future. It is an ancient and outmoded idea that at Bennington the acme of teaching of the subject has not only been attained by those in the Music Division, but even worse, that there is no way (if that is the case) that it cannot only be improved upon but that one cannot even suggest it. Not refuting this, it obviously either affects preservation or protection of ideals or philosophies that serve to support or reinforce rather thoroughly entrenched ideas that music conceived and performed from the standpoint of Western formal concert philosophies (white, if you will) should always and unreservedly serve as the theoretical and philosophical modus operandi for all music study (at this place) with the result that any other idea or aspect of music and how it is considered convenient, sometimes serve as some sort of obscure, exotic phenomenon.

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Young, Ben: Dixonia

Bill Dixon: "The Bennington Music Division had said that there was no such thing as Black Music, so I had no basis to say that I wanted the music to be taught here unless I could prove it. They didn't want to include it on any level. 1. They didn't think it existed as an aesthetic. 2. They couldn't do it. 3. In the past they had evinced no interest in it. So the first thing I did was to research everything that had ever been taught at the school--just for information. I found out about the Jazz weekend that they had done in 1964 and a couple of things that Lou Calabro had tried to do with improvisation. Then I was able to frame my thesis: 'You're saying Black Music doesn't exist because that's not within your purview'. Then I made a proposal that I be allowed to head a Black Music Institute--an independent entity, separate from all of the existing divisions--for which I would answer to the President. After that proposal, everyone became outraged along the lines of 'Who does he think he is? Why can't he just be in a department like everybody else?' That was turned down flatly when I first brought it up in 1973, a little while after I came back from Madison. So I went back to the drawing board and made a request to do this thing for a year--with the curriculum, budget, and everything all figured out. I was willing to make this 'audition' for a year, and if I passed I wanted to request being made the eighth department of the college.

What happened next is really a book in itself. I was attacked in every way imaginable. The Music Department fought it as viciously as they could, but when they realised it was being considered they had to back off."

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Mencken, H. L.: Minority Report

Life on this earth is not only without rational significance, but also apparently unintentional. The cosmic laws seem to have been set going for some purpose quite unrelated to human existence. Man is thus a sort of accidental by-product, as the sparks are an accidental by-product of the horse shoe a blacksmith fashions on his anvil. The sparks are far more brilliant than the horseshoe, but all the same they remain essentially meaningless. They constitute, at best, a disease of the horseshoe--the involve a destruction of its tissue. Perhaps life, in the same way, is a disease of the cosmos.

Artists can seldom account for their own work, and when they show actual genius hardly ever. The moment they try to explain it they become absurd, and what they have to say is commonly borrowed from the jargon of critics, which is to say, non-artists. The process of creation is only partly intellectual. The rest of it seems to be based on instinct rather than on idea.

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Fukuoka, Masanobu: The Natural Way of Farming--The Theory and Practice of Green Philosophy

Leave Nature Alone.

Man has always deluded himself into thinking that he knows nature and is free to use it as he wishes to build his civilisation. But nature cannot be explained or expanded upon. As an organic whole, it is not subject to man's classifications; nor does it tolerate dissection and analysis. Once broken down, nature cannot be returned to its original state. All that remains is an empty skeleton devoid of the true essence of living nature. This skeletal image only serves to confuse man and lead him further astray. Nor is scientific reasoning of any avail in helping man understand nature and add to its creations.

Nature as perceived by man through discriminating knowledge is a falsehood. Man can never truly know even a single leaf, even a single handful of earth. Unable to fully comprehend plant life and soil, he sees these only through the filter of human intellect.

Although he may seek to return to the bosom of nature or use it to his advantage, he only touches one tiny part of nature--a dead portion at that--and has no affinity with the main body of living nature. he is, in effect, merely toying with delusions.

Man is but an arrogant fool who vainly believes that he knows all of nature and can achieve anything he sets his mind to. Seeing neither the logic nor order inherent in nature, he has selfishly appropriated it to his own ends and destroyed it. The world today is in such a sad state because man has not felt compelled to reflect upon the dangers of his high-handed ways.

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Nietzsche, Friedrich: Daybreak

Learning solitude. -- O you poor devils in the great cities of world politics, you gifted young men tormented by ambition who consider it your duty to pass some comment on everything that happens--and there is always something happening! Who when they raise the dust are always on the alert, always on the lookout for the moment when they can put their word in, lose all genuine productivity! However much they may desire to do great work, the profound speechlessness of pregnancy never comes to them! The event of the day drives them before it like chaff, while they think they are driving the event--poor devils! -- If one wants to represent a hero on the stage one must not think of making one of the chorus, indeed one must not even know how to make one of the chorus.

[does he mean "be in the chorus?"]

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Nietzsche, Friedrich: On the Genealogy of Morals/Ecce Homo

End and goal.--Not every end is the goal. The end of a melody is not its goal; and yet: as long as the melody has not reached its end, it also hasn't reached its goal. A parable.

[this reminds me of Bill Dixon discouraging "cadences" in our playing in ensemble class--the non resolving line.]

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Nietzsche, Friedrich: Human, All Too Human

Art of the ugly soul. -- One imposes far too narrow limitations on art when one demands that only well-ordered, morally balanced souls may express themselves in it. As in the plastic arts, so in music and poetry too there is an art of the ugly soul beside the art of the beautiful soul; and the mightiest effects of art, that which tames souls, moves stones and humanizes the beast, have perhaps been mostly achieved by precisely that art.

Value of illness. -- The man who lies ill in bed sometimes discovers that what he is ill from is usually his office, his business or his society and that through them he has lost all circumspection with regard to himself: he acquires this wisdom from the leisure to which his illness has compelled him.

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Nietzsche, Friedrich: The Gay Science

When it rains. -- It is raining, and I think of the poor who now huddle together with their many cares and without any practice at concealing these: each is ready and willing to hurt the other and to create for himself a wretched kind of pleasure even when the weather is bad. That and only that is the poverty of the poor.

[fighting over the 'chicken wing']

Better deaf than deafened.-- Formerly, one wished to acquire fame and be spoken of. Now that is no longer enough because the market has grown too large; nothing less that screaming will do. As a consequence, even good voices scream till they are hoarse, and the best goods are offered by cracked voices. Without the screaming of those who want to tell and without hoarseness there no longer is any genius.

This is surely an evil age for a thinker. He has to learn how to find his silence between to noises and to pretend to be deaf until he really becomes deaf. Until he has learned this, to be sure, he runs the risk of perishing of impatience and headaches. (60)

(60) Partly for the reasons noted here, partly because he was competing with Wagner, and partly because his solitude and the lack of any response to his books became intolerable for him, the tone of Nietzsche's own books grew shrill in the end.

[I'm sure I have no idea what they're talking about...]

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Nietzsche, Friedrich: The Anti-Christ (translated by H.L. Mencken)

The problem that I set here is not what shall replace mankind in the order of living creatures (--man is an end--): but what type of man must be
bred, must be willed, as being the most valuable, the most worthy of life, the most secure guarantee of the future.

This most valuable type has appeared often enough in the past but always as a happy accident, as an exception, never as deliberately
willed. Very often it has been precisely the most feared; hitherto it has been almost the terror of terrors;--and out of that terror the contrary type has been willed, cultivated and attained: the domestic animal, the herd animal, the sick brute-man--the Christian.

--Our age is proud of its historical sense: how, then, could it delude itself into believing that the
crude fable of the wonder-worker and Saviour constituted the beginnings of Christianity--from the death on the cross onward--is the history of a progressively clumsier misunderstanding of an original symbolism. With every extension of Christianity among larger and ruder masses, even less capable of grasping the principles that gave birth to it, the need arose to make it more and more vulgar and barbarous--it absorbed the teachings and rites of all the subterranean cults of the imperium Romanum, and the absurdities engendered by all sorts of sickly reasoning. It was the fate of Christianity that its faith had to become as sickly, as low and as vulgar, as the needs were sickly, low and vulgar to which it had to administer. A sickly barbarism finally lifts itself to power as the church--the church, that incarnation of deadly hostility to all honesty, to all loftiness of soul, to all discipline of the spirit, to all spontaneous and kindly humanity. --Christian values--noble values: it is only we, we free spirits, who have reestablished this greatest of all antithesis in values!

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Berman, Marshall: Adventures in Marxism

Marx goes on to say, "At the historical dawn of capitalist accumulation -- and every capitalist upstart must go through this historical phase -- avarice, and the desire to get rich, are the ruling passions." (Here Marx makes the curious nineteenth-century assumption, found in every great thinker from Hegel through Freud, that each individual must re-enact in his own life the entire previous life of the species.) These passions never pass away. But later on, "when a certain stage of development has been reached, ... there is at the same time developed in his breast a Faustian conflict between the passion for accumulation and the desire for enjoyment" (650-51). In this "consumer" period the capitalist becomes like other men: he regards himself as a free agent, able to step back form his role as producer and accumulator, even to give it up entirely ofr the sake of pleasure or happiness; for the first time he sees his life as an open book, as something to be shaped according to his choice. Fetishism, then, infuses the youthful exuberance of capitalism with a religious zeal--and may slacken the pace, but leaves a new freedom in its wake. Men no longer feel compelled to fullfil the infinite demands of an alien Will; they are free at last to think of themselves.

The basic fact of life for these intellectuals, as Marx sees them, is that they are "paid wage-labourers" of the bourgeoisie, members of "the modern working class, the proletariat." They may deny this identity--after all, who wants to belong to the proletariat? -- but they are thrown into the working class by the historically defined conditions under which they are forced to work. When Marx describes intellectuals as wage earners, he is trying to make us see modern culture as part of modern industry. Art, physical science, social theory like Marx's own, all are modes of production; the bourgeoisie controls the means of production in culture, as in everything else, and anyone who wants to create must work in the orbit of its power.

Modern professionals, intellectuals and artists, insofar as they are members of the proletariat,

live only so long as they find work, and ... find work only so long as their labor increases capital. These workers, who must sell themselves piecemeal, are a commodity like every other article of commerce, and are consequently exposed to all the vicissitudes of competition, to all the fluctuations of the market (479)

Thus they can wrote books, paint pictures, discover physical or historical laws, save lives, only if someone with capital will pay them. But the pressures of bourgeois society are such that no one will pay them unless it pays to pay them -- that is, unless their works somehow help to "increase capital." They must "sell themselves piecemeal" to an employer willing to exploit their brains for profit. They must scheme and hustle to present themselves in a maximally profitable light; they must compete (often brutally and unscrupulously) for the privilege of being bought, simply in order to go on with their work. Once the work is done they are, like all other workers, separated from the products of their labor. Their goods and services go on sale, and it is "the vicissitudes of competition, the fluctuations of the market," rather than any intrinsic truth or beauty or value--or, for that matter, any lack of truth or beauty or value -- that will determine their fate. Marx does not expect that great ideas and works will fall stillborn for want of a market: the modern bourgeoisie is remarkably resourceful in wringing profit out of thought. What will happen instead is that creative processes and products will be used and transformed in ways that will dumbfound or horrify their creators. But the creators will be powerless to resist, because they must sell their labour power in order to live.

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Berman, Marshall: All That Is Solid Melts Into Air

If we look behind the sober scenes that the members of our bourgeoisie create, and see the way they really work and act, we see that these solid citizens would tear down the world if it paid. Even as they frighten everyone with fantasies of proletarian rapacity and revenge, they themselves, through their inexhaustible dealing and developing, hurtle masses of men, materials and money up and down the earth, and erode or explode the foundations of everyone's lives as they go. Their secret--a secret they have managed to keep even from themselves--is that, behind their facades, they are the most violently destructive ruling class in history. All the anarchic, measureless, explosive drives that a later generation will baptise by the name of "nihilism"--drives that Nietzsche and his followers will ascribe to such cosmic traumas as the Death of God--are located by Marx in the seemingly banal everyday working of the market economy. He unveils the modern bourgeois as consummate nihilists on a far vaster scale than modern intellectuals can conceive.* But these bourgeois have alienated themselves from their own creativity because they cannot bear to look into the moral, social and psycic abyss that their creativity opens up.

* Actually, the term "nihilism" springs from Marx's own generation: it was coined by Turgenev as a motto for his radical hero Bazarov in Fathers and Sons (1861), and elaborated in a far more serious way by Dostoevsky in Notes from Underground (1864) and Crime and Punishment (1866-67). Nietzsche explores the sources and meanings of nihilism most proundly in The Will to Power (1885-88), especially in Book One, "European Nihilism." It is rarely mentioned, but but worth noting, that Nietzsche considered modern politics and economics profoundly nihilistic in their own right. See Section 1, an inventory of the roots of contemporary nihilism. Some of Nietzsche's images and analyses here have a surprisingly Marxistic ring. See Section 63 on the spiritual consequences, both negative and positive, of "the fact of credit, or world wide trade and means of transportation"; 67 on "the breaking up of landed property...newspapers (in place of daily prayers), railway, telegraph. Centralization of a tremendous number of interests in a single soul, which for that reason must be very strong and protean." (Translated by Walter Kaufmann and R.J. Hollingdale, Vintage, 1968.) But these connections between the modern soul and the modern economy are never worked out by Nietzsche, and (with very rare exceptions) never even noticed by his followers.)

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Hughes, Robert: Culture of Complaint, The Fraying of America

Throughout the whole history of the avant-garde, this hope has been refuted by experience. No work of art in the 20th century has ever been refuted by experience. NO work of art in the 20th century has ever had the kind of impact that Uncle Tom's Cabin did on the way Americans thought about slavery, or The Gulag Archipelago did on illusions about the real nature of Communism. The most celebrated, widely reproduced and universally recognizable political painting of the 20th century is Picasso's
Guernica, and it didn't change Franco's regime one inch or shorten his life by so much as one day. what really changes political opinion is events, arguments, press photographs, and TV.

The catalogue convention of the 90s is to dwell on activist artists "addressing issues" of racism, sexism, AIDS, and so forth. But an artist's merits are not a function of his or her gender, ideology, sexual preference, skin color or medical condition, and to address an issue is not to address a public. The HIV virus isn't listening. Joe Sixpack isn't looking at the virtuous feminist knockoffs of John Heartfield on the Whitney wall--he's got a Playmate taped on the sheet rock next to the band saw, and all the Babara Krugers in the world aren't going to get him or anyone else to mend his ways. The political art we have in postmodernist America is one long exercise in preaching to the converted. as Adam Gopnik pointed out in the New Yorker when reviewing the Carnegie International in Pittsburgh, it consisted basically of taking an unexceptional if obvious idea--"racism is wrong," or "New York shouldn't have thousands of beggars and lunatics on the street" --then coding it so obliquely that when the viewer has re-translated it he feels the glow of being included in what we call the "discourse" of the art world.(6) But the fact that a work of art is about AIDS or bigotry no more endows it with aesthetic merit than the fact that it's about mermaids and palm trees.

(6) Edward Said, "The politics of Knowledge," Raritan, Summer 1991

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Hughes, Robert: Nothing If Not Critical

The market is always converting works of art into passive fictions of eternity and immutability, of transcendent value for which no price may necessarily be too high. When the word
priceless crops up, the haggling has only just begun. Hence the battered state of the word masterpiece, which used to mean a work that proved an artist's graduation into full professional skill, but now means an object whose aura and accumulated myth strike people blind temporarily and render their judgement timid. It refers more to myths of status than processes of comparison, and that kind of mythmaking is the seed of what New York dealer Ben Heller, in one of the great Freudian slips of recent art history, was heard to call "creative pricing"

It is the element of fantasy in the art market, the sense that art prices are so weakly tied to more mundane kinds of economic activity, and that there is something neurotic about them, that gives them their odd liability. The art market can be set pitching and rolling by a single act, which is why it is so notoriously vulnerable to manipulation. A ring of three or four promoters can bid up the price of a dubious young star painter at auction and although the New York art world may know what's going on, the collectors in Akron, Ohio, are not to likely to--all they see is the price that was, after all, publicly bid and duly paid, and is henceforth true.

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Horkheimer, Max and Adorno, Theodor W.: Dialectic of Enlightenment

Nothing that the experts have devised as a stimulant must escape the weary eye; no stupidity is allowed in the face of all the trickery; one has to follow everything and even display the smart responses shown and recommended in the film. This raises the question whether the culture industry fullfils the function of diverting minds which it boasts about so loudly. If most of the radio stations and movie theaters were closed down, the consumers would probably not lose so very much. To walk from the street into the movie theater is no longer to enter a world of dream; as soon as the very existence of these institutions no longer made it obligatory to use them, there would be no great urge to do so. Such closures would not be reactionary machine wrecking. The disappointment would be felt not so much by the enthusiasts as by the slow-witted, who are the ones who suffer for everything anyhow. In spite of the films which are intended to complete her integration, the housewife finds in the darkness of the movie theater a place of refuge where she can site for a few hours with nobody watching, just as she use to look out of the window when there were still homes and rest in the evening. The unemployed in the great cities find coolness in the summer and warmth in the winter in these temperature-controlled locations. Otherwise, despite its size, this bloated pleasure apparatus adds no dignity to man's lives. The idea of "fully exploiting" available technical resources and the facilities for aesthetic mass consumption is part of the economic system which refuses to exploit resources to abolish hunger.

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Debord, Guy: Comments on the Society of the Spectacle

With the destruction of history, contemporary events themselves retreat into a remote and fabulous realm of unverifiable stories, uncheckable statistics, unlikely explanations and untenable reasoning. For every imbecility presented by the spectacle, there are only the media's professionals to give an answer, with a few respectful rectifications or remonstrations. And they are hardly extravagant, even with these, for besides there extreme ignorance, their
personal and professional solidarity with the spectacle's overall authority and the society it expresses makes it their duty, and their pleasure, never to diverge from that authority whose majesty must not be threatened. It must not be forgotten that every media professional is bound by wages and other rewards and recompenses to a master, and sometimes to several; and that everyone of them knows he is dispensable.

All experts serve the state and the media and only in that way do they achieve their status. Every expert follows his master, for all former possibilities for independence have been gradully reduced to nil by present society's mode of organisation. The most useful expert, of course, is the one who can lie. With their different motives, those who need experts are falsifiers and fools. Whenever individuals lose the capacity to see things for themselves, the expert is there to offer and absolute reassurance. Once there were experts in Etruscan art, and competent ones, for Etruscan art was not for sale. But a period which, for example, finds it profitable to fake by chemical means various famous wines, can only sell them if it has created wine experts able to con connoisseurs into admiring their new, more distinctive flavours...

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Adorno, Theodor W.: Prisms

Jazz fans, as has once again been emphatically shown by David Riesman, can be divided into two clearly distinguishable groups. In the inner circle sit the experts, or those who consider themselves such--for very often the most passionate devotees, those who flaunt the established terminology and differentiate jazz styles with ponderous pretention, are hardly able to give an account, in precise, technical musical concepts, of whatever it is that so moves them. Most of them consider themselves avant-gardistic, thus participating in a confusion that has become ubiquitous today. Among the symptoms of the disintegration of culture and education, not the least is the fact that the distinction between autonomous 'high' and commercial 'light' art, however questionable it may be, is neither critically reflected nor even noticed any more. And now that certain culturally defeatist intellectuals have pitted the latter against the former, the philistine champions of the culture industry can even take pride in the conviction that they are marching in the vanguard of the Zeitgeist. The organization of culture into 'levels' such as the first, second and third programmes, patterned after low, middle and highbrown, is reprehensible. but it cannot be overcome simply by the lowbrown sects declaring themselves to be highbrow. The legitimate discontent with culture provides a pretext but not the slightest justification for the glorification of a highly rationalized section of mass production, one which debases and betrays culture without at all transcending it, as the dawn of a new world-sensibility or for confusing it with cubism, Eliot's poetry and Joyce's prose. Regression is not origin, but origin is the ideology of regression. Anyone who allows the growing respectability of mass culture to seduce him into equating a popular song with modern art because of a few false notes squeaked by a clarinet; anyone who mistakes a triad studded with 'dirty notes' for atonality, has already capitulated to barbarism. Art which has degenerated to culture pays the price of being all the more readily confused with its own waste products as its aberrant influence grows.

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Hope you have a fun summer!

copyright © 2009 Stanley J. Zappa

From a Philadelphia Notebook

copyright © 2009 Wyatt Doyle