Archive for January, 2010


Intonation, beyond affect in song

1.  Singing in tune is not easy.  To aspire towards long, sustained, beatless tones with the voice, moves the singing past personal expressiveness– the materiality of the infinite possibility of scales rises up in the voice.  Singing in tune is not easy.  Roughly 20 cents, 1/10 of an equal-tempered semitone, is the difference between a just Major Third and an equal-tempered one, yet the difference in clarity and consonance is like that between linear perspective and the actual functioning of the eye.  La Monte Young’s “Well-Tuned Piano” is an example of the difference in sound.

2.  The piano as we hear it, its 12 tones and chromatic scale, are fabrications of the industrial revolution.  Its tones are approximations of geometrically exact tunings and musical space.  Just tuning is an art–its scales are aesthetic choices, a choice of structure, an architecture of frequencies.  The equal-tempered piano was produced to make all musics exchangeable.  Qualitative difference of sound, and pitches, vanished.

3.   Neither Bach nor Beethoven composed on equal-tempered pianos.  We don’t hear their music in the concert hall.  Musical education, like all education, is in desperate need of reform.  Music should be studied within a geometric-spatial field, first.  Not as the reproduction of dissonance meant to naturalize untutored ears to equal-tempered scales.

4.  “Voyelles” by Rimbaud.  Even vowel-sounds have specific and qualitatively different timbres.  The study of sound-color as a poetic and literary art lays fallow, since sound is not considered in the most basic musical study as a material in itself.  Just scales, the first production of melodies, where intervals do not repeat, became rigidified in an unmusical, dissonant form so that each step, each key of the piano, would be exactly the same distance apart.


The Ideology of Post-Ideology

“I’m not an ideologue.”
“It’s time for something new. Let’s try common sense.”
Obama during his meeting with House Republicans, 1/30/2010

“…Mr. Obama’s coolness, even his seeming detachment, became a political virtue. The corollary to that belief is that he won because he was the anti-ideologue after eight years of an intensely ideological presidency.”
New York Times, “Where Clinton Turned Right, Obama Plowed Ahead”

Every speech by President Obama begins with a discussion of great perils followed by pleas for post-partisan unity and an assurance of a saving power in the resiliency of Americans. Obama’s State of the Union Address tirelessly emphasized utilizing collaboration and post-partisan expert knowledge to fix our nation’s crises. This message also resounded in Obama’s open discussion with House Republicans. Republicans repeatedly raised ambiguous cost-free governmental solutions to both the economy and health care. Though it was of some encouragement that a U.S. president could honor a series of baseless questions with articulate responses, Obama’s invocation of the so-called ‘neutral’ and ‘practical knowledge of experts’ was deeply problematic.
Obama was rightly critical of the ineffectual proposals by Republicans for health care and the economy. The stubborn commitment to minimal government interference is an absurd position in the contexts of a severe economic crisis and corrupt health care system. While Obama ostensibly recognizes the need for a strong government, he falls short of offering solutions when he refers (or perhaps defers) to notions such as ‘what works’ and ‘common sense.’ The current national crises necessitate an interrogation not just of ‘what works,’ but also of the measures and principles used for diagnosing a ‘healthy’ market and for determining a cost effective guarantee of health care.
The idea that we can all agree upon what works in isolation of any ideology is a myth steeped in neoliberal economics and imperialism. It is common parlance in the media and popular discourse to characterize ideology as a negative attribute associated with various forms of ‘extremism’ that plague our lovely democratic world. The eight-year reign of Bush is constantly portrayed as an era of ideology and ideologues, such as Paul Wolfowitz. Paul Wolfowitz, Cheney, and Bush had arguably detestable world-views premised on an aggressive notion of the United States as the world’s sovereign power. While their ideology was deeply flawed, it is not the case that ideology itself was the cause. Ideology is merely the set of principles used to interpret the world. Pretending to operate outside, beyond, or above ideology is arguably ideology’s most pernicious form.
The pretension to post-ideology is a particularly juridical concept, so it is not a surprise that Obama would latch on to it. The concept of a law or power that operates without any force, as if directly transcribed from ‘nature’ or ‘God,’ is problematic on numerous levels. This idea is a type of theology that has no way of constituting itself or allowing for alteration. In legal theory, there is an ongoing debate over functions of negative and positive liberty. Negative liberty is the freedom from infringement upon one’s rights, whereas positive liberty is the freedom to a set of rights. There is a strong fear of positive liberty in advanced capitalist nations, particularly as it is seen as potentially tyrannical form of justice conducive to dictatorial policies. This fear is echoed in allegations that Justice Sotomayor is an activist judge, and her ultimate assurance to the public that the function of justice is not to make laws, but to enforce them. A social context of slavery, segregation, and the informal segregation of today, with banks red lining neighborhoods (such that whiteness has become synonymous with property upkeep) necessitates an appeal to positive liberty.
Historically, the ideology of ‘post-ideology’ is deeply entangled in an imperialism, which (mis)translates things like ‘U.S. interests’ as universal rights and world peace. It is an ideology which rationalizes the United States’s wars in the Middle East as merely peacekeeping missions. A close look at the actual promises Obama made in his State of the Union Address furnishes the following: tax cuts, earmark reform, (an eventual) spending freeze, off-shore drilling, and the notorious oxymoron ‘clean coal.’  These measures reflect not a pragmatic transcendence of ideology, but rather an affirmation of center-left neoliberalism. Aligning these policies with post-ideology, as if politics were an a-historical science, reduces political discourse to shallow buzzwords. The capacity for genuine debate in this context is diminished and overtaken by un-analyzed fictions of nature and common sense. This has the effect of obscuring the actual policies that constitute a given political position. Making one’s ideology visible is the only way for one’s position to be understood in context and for the reader or listener to be trusted as an active participant in the debate.


Disillusioned that Coakley lost?

Scott Brown got you down? Well, here’s the way out: Believe the universe is made of math.  The logical inevitability of reason (or complete destruction) becomes apparent, and then it’s only a matter of time before the Tea Partiers fall away.  Not like you’ll be around to see it, unless you’re lucky enough to reach the age of biotechnological immortality, but even then the idea of a self (much less rugged individualism) gets fuzzy. In the mean time, Elitism and his cousin Hedonism will keep you going, just as long as you can get a hold of some dollar bills. Let Lie E-8 show you the light, and the futility and redundancy of human government won’t be so depressing.


I Love Everything About this

“We Can Do This”


Proof #2


The only way I could think to make it work was to buy a building and name the building love and then invite you over and then say to you we are in love and since you said you’d get married when and only when you were in love that is why I have worn this very nice suit and hired a justice of the peace and I only hope you will like this dress it was my mother’s.


That is what I told her before she didn’t marry me but at least I knew we had been in love and it wasn’t just all in my head like my less supportive friends and parents would often say. I paid the justice of the peace when she – that is she ‘you’ not she the justice of the peace – when she said she did not think that her version of love worked like that and walked out of love and back into love’s parking lot. I did not follow her because I like being in love and I mostly just felt sad that she was so confused to think that she was not in love with me when yes obviously we were both standing there together and if she says she was never in love with me like she says now sometimes I have video from the security camera that proves it.


Continuing Luke Danes Coverage

He holds a 62-49 lifetime record, with an E.R.A. of 4.22 and 607 career strikeouts. I still think he looks weird with the forward facing ball cap.


Personal Reading List

Now that I have finished Infinite Jest, my personal reading list needed some revision:

2-kavalier and clay
3-garcia girls
4-manhattan transfer
6-american pastoral
7-catch 22
9-All the Kings Men
10-the fall
11-devil in a blue dress
12-empire falls
13-honorary counsul
14-lucky jim
15-book of daniel (finish)
17-unberable lightness of being
18-the road
19-blood meridian
20-white teeth
21-The Sportswriter (Finish)
22-hitchiker’s guide
23-Something Happened
24-our man in havana
25-love in the time of cholera
27-the corrections
28-augie march
29- Brave New World

I’m starting today with American Pastoral. I hope I make it halfway by 2011


the marriage of heaven and hell

If she says that she hates him and he says he hates her and neither of them are lying or joking, he and she hate each other. It is not possible to be mistaken about hating someone because hating is a linguistic and not material category. I hate you is a performative utterance.

If I hate you is a performative utterance and I am neither joking nor lying then when I tell you I hate you it means I hate you and is in fact proof that I hate you and when you say that you hate me it is the same thing.

Hate exists and acts on the world insofar as it is called upon and believed in. Therefor hate is God or a God or at least has the same ontologically provable status as God.



If he says that he loves her and she says she loves him and neither of them are lying or joking, he and she love each other. It is not possible to be mistaken about loving someone because loving is a linguistic and not material category. I love you is a performative utterance.

If I love you is a performative utterance and I am neither joking nor lying then when I tell you I love you it means I love you and is in fact proof that I love you and when you say that you love me it is the same thing.

Love exists and acts on the world insofar as it is called upon and believed in. Therefor love is God or a God or at least has the same ontologically provable status as God.


The Unassailably Bad Essay

The essay I am writing about is a few days old, and though it generated a little bit of talk on bookish blogs, I am pretty sure that everyone has forgotten about it. And that is a good thing, because it is a very bad essay.

But it has nagged at me for one reason: It is almost too wrong to argue with. The article in question is somehow perfectly wrong. Every point it makes is premised on a foundation that implies another wrong point. So to attack any of the argument presumes an agreement with an even more fundamentally flawed assumption.

The essay is called ‘The Naked and the Conflicted’. You will note that before the essay even begins, the title implies that conflict is somehow a negative instead of a driving force of fiction. In the essay’s body, Katie Roiphe attempts to, among other things, posit a series of absurd generational trends about the way men write about sex. Roiphe says that 30 years ago, men like John Updike and Philip Roth wrote about sex and it was brash and sexy and powerful. Now, apparently in some relation to that literature- and spirit- killer known as feminism, a bunch of emasculated and whining cuddlers have replaced our literary lions.

So where does one even begin? Roiphe is wrong in her generational characterization both aesthetically and historically– that is, neither does she choose historically coherent cohorts that represent distinctly different periods or styles, nor does she make a convincing case about a real difference between the two cohorts she uses as evidence. Of course, Roiphe doesn’t even to attempt to relate either of her generations to either women writers or male writers pre- Norman Mailer, as such complications and continuities thereby demonstrated would entirely ruin the neatness of her theory.

I was tempted to try to attack her on her own terms, to fault her for her major omissions and the way they would contradict her thesis. Donald Barthelme and Sam Lipsyte immediately come to mind as major countervailing figures, for example. But then I couldn’t justify that position of offense because to do so would be to allow that her argument holds up at least insofar as the canons she posits are taken as representative of their generations. Of course I can’t accept her canons as such, because they are not representative, but even if we go along with her up to the canon-making point, we must note that her observations about her key figures are all wrong. Take for example the sheer distance between Roth’s Portnoy and Updike’s Rabbit or David Foster Wallace and any of the middlebrow Jonathans that Roiphe chooses to employ as emblematic of major contemporary writers.

So that is the first fold or two of my complaints. Unfortunately to attack the essay for these above flaws lets slide the fact that the very premise of the essay is nonsense because the status of literature has drastically changed over the past 40 years – and for reasons that have nothing to do with feminism. Mainstream narratives are filled with big, ugly, brutish masculine sex stories. Mainstream narrative is now cinema. There is a whole long essay here about the need to accept that literature functions differently and so will read differently.

Yet to make the above point about mis-assessing the character of fiction in today’s society (and thus the inevitable change in or loss of the literary lion) is to admit that there has been a generational shift to wimpy sex writing by men, which I’ve already argued is a dubious claim at best. So I am caught in a circle. Everything is wrong about the essay and so I am unable to maintain a focused assault.

So this is an essay about me as much as a response to Roiphe’s nonsense. It is an account of my frustration as I found my critique broadened at every turn. And my critique broadens and broadens- I haven’t even touched on the problems with Roiphe’s chart, her own prose, her strange misreading of the function and history of transgressive literature, her total acceptance of gender as unchanging and monolithic….. The essay is almost magically bad, entrancing in its sheer emptiness. Each piece of failed argument opens into a gulf of failed logic. Sentence by sentence, Roiphe’s text accrues a mirror-field of objectionable claims from which to build and project an image of conceptual soundness.

I have realized that ‘The Naked…’ occupies a worldview and a position from which to assess literature that is not so much at odds with my own as entirely without relation. Such disjuncture is sickening in a literal sense, disorienting and dizzying. As a college professor, Ms. Roiphe is highly educated, well read, presumably privy to the prevailing academic debates and trends. And yet I cannot find a piece of ground firm enough engage her on.

The banal conclusion is ‘different strokes for different folks’ or some other way of locating beauty in the eye of the beholder. This is of course a perfectly reasonable thing. I should not be depressed that a person can both care about contemporary literature and have very different taste than my own. And yet and yet…

And yet the nagging and horrifying thing is that Roiphe’s (all too common) aesthetic is unbearably depressing. It is mean and small, criticizing without being critical, totally blind to the X (here it is again, my trouble, that her essay is blind to everything about literature – its beauty, its function, the way it changes over time, its social import, its intellectual, narrative, and aesthetic possibilities) of writing.


Note: I have too many more complaints to list. As I am writing this, they keep coming to mind and each one seems important to explain in detail. This is not a comprehensive objection. It is also without much positive content. I hope to write an essay about what is valuable in explorations of sex and the body in literature. That piece, if it comes together, will probably stand as a stronger supplement to this one


January 2010
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