You are currently browsing the monthly archive for December 2008.

menuAlthough I’m not quite phoning it in (good thing, since I’m told people with dialup still don’t have Internet access around here), I’m going to declare an end to the Weekend Gallery with this post on POST VIDEO ART, a Japanese website dedicated to experimental filmmaking. The random researches of one person on the Internet are no match for the clever populism of well-designed sites like this; it’s almost as easy to release a video using PVA as it is to watch one (although this is not completely felicitous, since the website demands Quicktime). If any of you are going to miss Weekend Gallery: although I’m not sure their populism is quite as clever, DCist has begun a feature of the same name using photographs taken of the DC area.

The greatest Christmas rock song ever: The Sonics, “Santa Claus” (1965). A happy holiday to those amenable to the sentiment, even if like Gerry Rosalie you’re gonna get nothin’ for your trouble.

UPDATE: Even though I spent Christmas snowbound in a house disturbingly like the freeze-frame image in the YouTube link above, it turned out surprisingly well through the magic of telecommunication’s older technologies. In other words, that old Reaganite Paul Westerberg wasn’t half the visionary people made him out to be, and answering machines can be told and tell all kinds of things; but, in the spirit of giving, I’ll link to a brief discussion (with track) of what is presumably one of his (and many others’) favorite holiday songs, Big Star’s “Jesus Christ“. Peace out.

Before blogs really got off the ground, I spent my days (!) writing ‘experimental’ reviews of books on Amazon. Often I had no very good idea of what the book was about, and even when I did many people thought I did a very poor job conveying it; I’ve only recently brought my favorable/unfavorable response ratio to 1:1. Furthermore, nobody but nobody has ever bought me anything off my Amazon Wish List — this is too bad, because a couple of the selections are very attractively priced, so much so that the unionized Powell’s employees a lot of people want to help out with online purchases would just tell you to “go for it” (they’re not talking to me, long story).

Here are three selections:

Wilfrid Hodges, Model Theory (paperback)

‘High-test’ logic textbooks are often incredibly expensive: as previously mentioned Cambridge’s theoretical computer science series is reasonable, but North-Holland/Elsevier, Springer, and Oxford books easily can cost $200 apiece. The same was true of the “big red” model theory textbook from Wilfrid Hodges, which retails at $280 in the hardback edition available since 1993 but now costs only $64.80 in the paperback edition released this year, just a little more than the extracts from the book published as A Shorter Model Theory. Hodges takes a more mathematical — specifically, algebraic — approach to model theory than the old standby by Chang and Keisler, but at this price you can afford to be (slightly) fashionable.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Sämtliche Werke: Kritischen Studienausgabe (15 vol box set)

I’m no big fan of Nietzsche, but the over-reliance on tendentious interpretations surely does those of us being subjected to “perspectival thinking” and “ethical naturalism” by intellectual rounders no favors. The student with a grasp of German and a reasonable budget for scholarly books need not take das Wort of  Walter Kaufmann, R.J. Hollingdale, or anyone more recent about Nietzsche’s ideas, since the complete edition of his works and notes compiled by Colli and Montinari — though purged of some critical apparatus for the student edition — is available for under 200 dollars; as a reviewer points out, this works out to something like $12.50 a volume (their figure is lower; it used to be an even better deal, but the dollar’s slide against the Euro intervened). In particular, the material in Colli-Montinari vol. VIII (selections from which made up the Wille zur Macht and Kate Sturge’s recent Writings from the Late Notebooks) is very interesting and very different from what one might expect.

Various Artists, The Complete Stax-Volt Singles Vol. 2 (9 CDs)

This is one I’ve been waiting on a long time; long enough, in fact, for most of the material to become available free on the Internet. But artists need your money, just like Stax artists did when they sold the rights to their ’60s hits at the end of the decade and had to record a lot of new material very quickly (this box set covers only three years). Surprise, surprise: a lot of these records — like Lynda Lyndell’s “What A Man”, Jean Knight’s “Mr. Big Stuff”, and Eddie Floyd’s “I’ve Never Found A Girl (To Love Me Like You Do)” — were instant classics. The first box set is in your public library; the second should be in somebody’s stocking.

Compounding the commitment, the Portland area is unusually experiencing something like normal North American winter weather and consequently everything is all messed up. I walked uphill through the snow to tell you that there won’t be any featurettes this week: as regards approximations to contemporary relevance in art and music, you’re on your own. Otherwise, I guess I’ll leave this as an “open post” for people to write in requests for topics they want to see Mr. Rubard address; if there are no recommendations, I’m going to assume that my status as “blogger’s blogger” is secure and I should continue to write in the same inimitable style.

Back to the “rough ground” for a minute (although more properly speaking said ground is soggy, soggy and cold). There’s been a lot of enthusiasm recently for Quentin Meillasoux’s theory of the “ancestral”, the material aspects of the world which are epistemically inaccessible to us and thusly fall outside a Kantian “correlationist” view of the relation between the mental and the physical. Without speculating on Meillasoux’s theory before I’ve gotten around to carefully reviewing it (twenty dollars is a lot to spend on an afternoon’s reading), I’d like to generalize the thought as it is stated and apply it to other dimensions of time and to consider the relationship of Marx to his German forebears in that light.

For the sake of the argument, consider a thumbnail sketch of Platonism: Plato was the inventor, not only of the “truth as correctness” much bemoaned by the later Heidegger, but of the ideal: the Socratic dialogues are the first place in Western literature where the question of establishing what is really the case, what is really good, what is truly true gets raised. The Ionian ‘physicists’ do not ask these questions; the various religious prophets of the Near East, including the interpreters of Greek civic gods, had no time for them. The same cannot be said for Leibniz, Kant and Hegel. The reintroduction of Plato’s works into the Western intellectual milieu helped give form to Leibniz’ early attempts at “logistic”, and Kant’s self-professed crypto-Wolffianism surely takes the form of an attention to rationalistic surety about the purchase of concepts of totality on the realm of “appearances”.

Hegel maintains all of this Platonism, but within the more precisely established bonds of intersubjectivity, or Geist. For Hegel all ideals, including the ideals of religion, realize themselves in community standards and practices. We can cheer this as a ‘precursor’ of pragmatism (although why exactly equalibertarians were ever supposed to be enthusiastic about Metaphysical Club member and Peirce’s good bud Oliver Wendell Holmes is mysterious to me); that’s not, however, the only thing it is. Rather, Hegelian intersubjectivity is a form of actualist presentism about norms and the non-normative powers that underwrite them: he probably would not even go so far as to say “the truth is what is fated to be agreed upon by all”, holding that philosophy only “comprehended its time in thought” and failure to make peace with the signposts of the age was indicative of a lack of conceptual acuity.

Perhaps we could say that Marx had something like Meillasoux’s idea of epistemically inaccesible reality in mind when conceptualizing the proletariat, although in the direction of the non-espied future rather than an ancestral past. The proletariat is fated to rule the world, according to Marx, because they simply are the forces of the future at work today: the elements of practice and revolt we do not understand today, working an effect on contemporary society at a non-conceptual level, will determine the normative concepts of tomorrow — not an “originalist” fidelity to an ‘originary’ source of insight. So perhaps we should think of Marx’s favored name for his project, “historical materialism”, in some such robustly metaphysical way.

Traffic has calmed down since the big surge related to Mark Rothko (and due, apparently, to his being featured on an episode of Mad Men — not that I’ve seen any of those). However, those of you still following along longer than necessary to grab a JPEG may be interested in knowing that although I walk the streets with impunity and write mini-essays on hot new intellectuals I kind of understand, I am still committed. This is perhaps due not so much to my expansive delusional and behavioral problems, as it is due to a ‘quirk’ of Oregon state law and its interpretation by the various counties.

I live in Washington County, comprised of most of the western suburbs of Portland and farmland beyond the Urban Growth Boundary. As far as I can tell from visiting their website, Washington County mental health is about two things: 1) families and 2) locking up dysfunctional members of functional families for as long as possible. The Oregon civil commitment statutes, which are rather vague, aid in this second goal.

Under Oregon law, a civil commitment ordered by a judge lasts up to 180 days. According to Washington County employees, “up to” means “exactly”, which would seem to render the further proviso in the statute that a psychiatrist can terminate the commitment when the person under commitment has sufficiently recovered a bit moot. Perhaps it is in fact moot: perhaps psychiatric consensus has evolved to the point where anyone needing extended help taking their “meds” and working on not “decompensating” (although this latter turn of phrase appears not to involve compensating for other people’s inadequacies) ought to run a six-month course, being gradually stepped down in supervision and stepped up in the amount of money they are personally contributing for the treatment.

However, I doubt it very much. This seems like a brazen attempt to wrest a criminal-like punishment for bad behavior and general lack of “seaworthiness” out of the medicine-based civil status, which could always be changed but should not be enforced as though it already has been changed. Although I had a perfectly nice afternoon showing someone around the Belmont district, it would be even nicer if I was not effectively sidelined from life for half a year based on phun phacts about my “hearing voices” and trajectory through life, supplemented by a clearly defective interpretation of state law. But hey, at least I can’t have everything.

I may be a little behind some curve on this one, but let me say that the music of Sandi White (aka Santogold) is definitely some kind of Event. Formerly an A&R person with one foot in punk rock and the other in the contemporary rap-club music scene, Santogold has revived the best aspects of New Wave just in time for a new era of Serious Inauthenticity; following on in the footsteps of ESG White doesn’t make “race records”, but music that mirrors the emotional present rather exactly.

“L.E.S. Artistes”

“Lights Out”

I won’t get too imaginative with this installment of Weekend Gallery: WordPress 2.7 clearly thinks bloggers should have bigger screens available than the library terminals around here have, and I’m not feeling much like claiming the mantle of “man of culture” at the moment. Still, tradition needs its due, and there’s still a lot of interesting art projects available on the Internet; the most overarching “meta-narrative” about them is the Wikipedia Arts Portal.

Biographies of major artists and histories of artistic movements worked their way into Wikipedia early on, but the growing complexity of the information available on Wikipedia has made for better arts coverage than most other information technologies can make possible. Furthermore, sharp “console lawyering” by the Wikinauts means that many works of art (in, e.g., biographies of painters) are displayed in large and crisp versions; these easily outdo the smaller files preferred by established museums.

If you want to find out about a particular artist or movement, Wikipedia’s arts coverage is a fine place to begin.

Recent reading: Jean-Luc Nancy’s “Corpus”, which is an interesting piece for a number of reasons. Nancy is one of the foremost “post-Lacanians”; instead of insisting on the ‘rigor’ of Lacan’s own PR for his therapeutic procedures a la Zizek, he accepts the ‘validity’ of the critique of Lacan as phallogocentrist. What, exactly, does any of that mean? Well, any serious reading of Lacan (although perhaps we’re not bound to read him seriously, since Sartre himself pointed out that Ayer was only “un con”) reveals that he is attempting something like a “phenomenology of reason” to go along with what I identified as Freud’s “mythology of reason”: whereas Freud provides an external vocabulary for sizing up the discourse of the afflicted, Lacan’s objets provide a vocabulary for ensnaring the neurotic (or heretofore untreatable psychotic) in a matrix of intersubjective rationality, putting the question to the afflicted of exactly why their idees fixes cannot acquire “the unforced force of the better argument”.

Nice work if you can “get it” in a variable-length session, but this rationalist Lacan suffers from many of the same problems of rationalism generally: it might very well only amount to a “dead hand” interpretative technique that manages to retroactively justify intellectual adventurism, not prevent the squicky ugliness of mental illness on the hoof. Nancy’s “post-Lacanianism” avoids this overarching concern with an immutable structuralism of the unconscious structured like a language with continual reference to the incest taboo by developing an arational approach to “philosophical” problems of the body: Nancy’s language is the neither-rhyme-nor-reason of our own thoughts of the mucuses and viscerae that get stamped with a ‘topology’ by Lacan. This approach is interesting for a number of reasons, not least because unlike many body-centric philosophers Nancy is no ‘Captain Hale’: his life-threatening heart disease provides him a genuinely touching level of insight into the ultimate failure that all ‘biologically normative’ systems will experience.

Still, I think there is something worth rescuing from the maître-penseur and his attempt to think “Kant avec Sade” (something a maître might well encourage one to do) and bring other European titans of illiberalism into discourse with “platonist” immortals. The intellectual discourse of the present is a system of blockages, things people “don’t do” and things that “wouldn’t do”: though people were willing enough earlier in the decade to introduce a slightly sanitized version of Weimar’s voluptuous panic (modulo every fourth dame) as règles de jeu, some of the intellectual promise of the prewar era which lived on in Lacan is missing. For example, I think it would be well worth considering, in a “post-post-analytic” spirit, Carnap avec Heidegger. Perhaps the Question of Being cannot be brought into contact with the Principle of Tolerance (creating an environment where non-judgmental logical analysis meets non-valorizing ontology) without upsetting either an American intellectual anti-communism as aged as it is forced, or the vector of invigorating intellectual imperialism that the Gulf Stream seems to flood even the most “Red” locales of Europe with.

However, these are not the only places in the world and not the only “going concerns” in the life of the mind. The intellectual recomposition of standing paradigms that a variety of modern technologies make possible certainly can reflect back into the mindsets that designed them, and make for an experience of illumination with respect to texts and slogans all too long taken for granted. Let’s hope that the “philosophers of the future” (and yes, I do see them “coming up”) will be able to deftly navigate the monolithic intellectual taboos of the recent past without becoming sociopathic nullities unconcerned with the value of theory for the broad and multifarious life of “the multitude”. Which would, I suppose, make them not totally unlike Nancy.

In an Amazon review of the Luaka Bop Os Mutantes collection written half a decade ago, I lamented the fact that the movie Brazil loomed larger in many people’s “espaces mentaux” than the country itself: which was a shame, because in many ways the reality of the country under military dictatorship was perhaps not too different from the movie.

Now in the era of YouTube you can see what I meant, or was trying to mean: a clip of Os Mutantes performing “Panis et Circenses” on Brazilian TV in 1969, one year after the coup.

The song was written for them by Caetano Veloso, by then in London exile but strangely enough not missing from the Brazilian culture industry. Here is a clip from the same period of two television characters singing his “Superbacana”.

And here is the man himself singing one Kurt Cobain’s song, “Come As You Are”, earlier this decade: