Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Is Rock And Roll Here To Stay?

Intriguing argument by Renaissance Terry Teachout, a cultural critic for all seasons, and a former working musician, that, contra Danny & the Juniors, rock and roll will die.

I'm unpersuaded but then again rock and roll is the music I grew up with and and stays in my head. So I have, I'll cop to this, a vested interest in my position. 

A few quick criticisms. 

The whole of rock and roll is too wide and deep, too vast, to somehow say, reductively I'd argue, it will all die. 

For a few examples, Teachout makes no motion of doo wop or ballads or the girl groups or enduring instrumentals or of soul or the entirety of the "British sound" or that some rock and roll tunes have become standards and have joined into the great American song book. He talks, for instance, about rap displacing rock and roll, but says nothing about sampling. 

As well, the rhythmic back beat of rock and roll--which Teachout concedes is compelling but is outweighed by the music's simple mindedness--is more of a force for rock and roll's endurance than he allows for. He misses the contrast between its compelling, physical, bodily power rooted in its beat and the more cerebral, sophisticated aesthetic of older American standards, which he thinks are musically superior and sees making a revival.

Too, Teachout, while he dips into R&B, doesn't mention rock and roll's other main sources-the blues, country, and the sophisticated ballads of groups like the Ink Spots. For as long as these vital, authentic and beautiful forms of music last, and why wouldn't they, so will their progeny rock and roll.

Finally, I question whether Teachout deals adequately with what musical survival means. What are the criteria for that judgement; how does what's happening now point to rock and roll's demise?

Anyway, people can come to their own judgments.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Lawren Harris

Something I wrote elsewhere today:

....We went today after a few false starts to the AGO (Art Gallery of Ontario) to see the Lawren Harris exhibit, entitled The Idea Of North--title appropriated from Glenn Gould--curated by Steve Martin, who spoke so sympathetically and knowingly about Harris in a looping video as part of the exhibit. 

What can I tell you? 

I was underwhelmed and under-evoked. 

Only a few of the paintings moved me even as I thought the exhibit was curated extremely well in that I learned a fair bit about Harris, the father of the Group of Seven, and in that Martin imposed a tightly coherent framework on the art. 

In seeing the exhibit I felt the same gap that I felt when I saw the most disappointing Basquiat exhibit at the AGO about a year ago, the gap, that is to say,  between high falutin art talk--full of words like "iconic," "explore," "investigate," "spiritual," "metaphysical," "experience," "intersection," "tension'" "inner," "reconcile," "landscape as an idea," don't even get me started on conceptual art talk, and on and on--and the actual works' lack of punch, crudeness and lack of inner coherence. 

These are fine words; and literary criticism, which I know more about, certainly has its share. But they tend to the fatuous and maddeningly pretentious when what they're applied to seems not stand up either technically or evocatively. Then, they tend to reify, i.e. make a non existent mountain out of nothing or maybe a few pebbles.

But, but, but, and now I likely show my low visual art IQ, but, but, here's some text from Harris on display that I found revelatory:

...If we view a great mountain soaring into the sky it may excite us, evoke an uplifted feeling within us. The artist takes that response and its feelings and shapes it on campus with painting so that when finished it contains the experience...

This insight opens up conscious worlds for me, making plain and clear a formative idea, a first principle of visual art, that had never formed itself plainly and clearly in my own mind. It moves me from a static understanding of a static relation between artist and subject to a clearer and deeper understanding of the objective and subjective reciprocal dynamism in that relation, between, that is to say, the "out there," the world as it is, and the "in here," our thoughts, feelings, intuitions, generally, our experience of the out there, as transforming each other and finding some resolution or even irresolution in the work itself...

Thursday, July 28, 2016

Trump Treasonous: Gimme A Break

I bow to no one in my Trump disgust but I'll keep my head about me thanks and not run around like a headless chicken. 

The dumbest meme of the week: threefold dumbness: Trump encouraged Russia to spy on Clinton; Trump invited Russia to influence an American election; and, dumbest, Trump committed treason.

Trump clearly said, I paraphrase, if Russia or China perchance have the emails she deleted, he hopes they'll reveal them.

The comment was off the cuff, likely a kibitz, maybe not; I'll stipulate not for sake of argument. 

So the reference is to past emails. No encouragement to hack now. And how can the election possibly be influenced by the revealing them?  Clinton said they're all about weddings and yoga and so on. Only she knows what's on them and she says they're all benign and Clinton is an honourable man, woman.

Plus who amongst us wouldn't like to see the content of those emails, 33,000 things she shouldn't have erased?

And on the king of dumbness:

Friday, May 27, 2016

A Legal Case Against Clinton


Did Clinton break this law:

18 USC §1924 

There are five elements that must be met for a violation of it, and they can all be found in its section (a) 

“(1) Whoever, being an officer, employee, contractor, or consultant of the United States, and, 

(2) by virtue of his office, employment, position, or contract, becomes possessed of documents or materials containing classified information of the United States, 

(3) knowingly removes such documents or materials 

(4) without authority and 

(5) with the intent to retain such documents or materials at an unauthorized location [shall be guilty of this offense].”

As far as I understand the facts:

1 She was an officer/employee of the United States;

2 By virtue of her position or office she became possessed of materials or documents containing classified material, some so high level the State Department wouldn't release them, others whose release required redaction; 

3 Clinton knowingly set up her email system to route all of her emails to and through her unsecured server (including keeping copies stored on the server). She knowingly removed such documents and materials from authorized locations (her authorized devices and secure government networks) to an unauthorized location (her server).

She obviously knew what she was doing as per these examples even if, to stipulate for the sake of argument, she didn't understand the law, the ignorance of it being no excuse.

Two examples:

3(1) When Clinton drafted an email based on or containing classified information, she drafted that email on an authorized Blackberry, iPad or computer. But when she hit “send,” that email was knowingly routed to her unsecured server — an unauthorized location — for both storage and transfer.

3(2) When she  moved the server to Platte River Networks (a private company) in June 2013, and then again when she transferred the contents of the server to her private lawyers in 2014, the classified materials were in each instance again removed to another unsecured location.

4 A private residence could be an “authorized” location, and non-government servers and networks could be “authorized” to house and transfer classified materials, there are specific and stringent requirements to achieve such authorization. The point is just being SoS didn’t allow her to authorize herself to be the requirements for retaining and transmitting classified documents, materials and information.

The IG's report clarifies that her use her private email server in her home was undertaken with proper authority.

5 Intent is to be inferred from all the facts. Can there be any question she did all this with the intention of retaining the documents where she wasn't supposed to?

It inconceivable that Clinton didn’t know the emails she received, and more obviously, the emails that she created, stored and sent with the server, would and did contain classified information.

Where are the flaws in this analysis?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Meaning Of Hamlet: Why He Can't Act


So, here's one way to see the meaning of Hamlet.

He's to avenge his father's killing and so must kill Claudius. But for Shakespeare, in this play at least,  murderous revenge is barbaric bloodletting. Hamlet intuits this but can't bring his intuition to consciousness. He's bound by his time. And so he's ripped apart between what he's obliged to do but unwittingly strains against. So, he can't act and, famously, procrastinates, but doesn't understand why. For a much fuller setting out of this idea see:

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Short Note On Whether The Merchant Of Venice Is Anti Semitic

My note to a few guys on the question of whether The Merchant Of Venice is an anti Semitic play:

....My view of this play is that Shakespeare meant to create Shylock as the times' stock figure of the reviled Jew, avaricious, a character of ridicule, even Satanic in his way, but his great dramatic instincts would not let him simply settle on such a character. 

So as is his wont, he created complexity in Shylock, gave him instances of profound and powerful moral bearing and righteousness, and showed him as terribly prevailed upon. But Shylock, a brilliantly created character who dominates the play even though he only appears occasionally, got away from Shakespeare, which results, finally, in a flawed play. 

The ending in which Shylock is reduced to a pathetic, abject, clown of a figure, to be sneered at and mocked is at flawed, friction-laden odds with the previous Shylock. And the final scenes of romantic comic resolution fall terribly flat and are completely unmoving, almost as if created by Shakespeare merely going through dramatic motions. 

This falling flat accords with the big dramatic let down at the end of the play with Shylock, and which itself results, as noted, from the dignity and profundity Shakespeare invests in his earlier Shylock.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Contrarian Reading Of Wallace Stevens's The Motive For Metaphor


Our difference is clear.  I think Stevens doesn't side with the harder view, the tough-minded.  The speaker does.  Your need to change "you" to "we" is crucial, for that makes the poem champion the tougher, which I don't think it does.  My main argument for the irony is that the speaker says metaphor is an evasion but uses it throughout.  The speaker, in effect, is contra "poesy" and in favor of hard reality, but I think Stevens thinks the opposition is bogus.  He doesn't argue for that but expresses his negative view of the simple opposition view by portraying a proponent of it forcefully via metaphor.  The motive for metaphor is the need (now I think of it) forcefully and subtley express one's attitude toward something.  We must all perforce be poets. 


I like some of what you say but don't agree with the thrust of it, there being a dialogue between two speakers, the "you" of the poem and the voice of the poem. And I don't agree with what you see as irony playfully running through the end of the poem that undermines what's seemingly wanted, on your readíng, intimation against steel.

As a side note, I don't see where what you're saying is any less of a version of the poem's "argument" than mine or others. It just sees the "argument" differently. Btw, I'm not sure you've identified or approached the motive for metaphor.

I rather see the "you" as "we," a more general you, for example you as the reader.

What we "like" is the escape from what's demanding and harsh in reality. In that, we demean and lessen ourselves: 

....Where you were never quite yourself 
Nor did not want nor have to be...

So we take our eases, our comforts, our happinesses, in a weak, unchallenging, passive approach to reality, where we like things barely stirring, half dead, crippled meaningless:

...You like it under the trees in autumn,
Because everything is half dead.
The wind moves like a cripple among the leaves
And repeats words without meaning...

This could be as well, as is The Poems Of Our Cimate, a swipe at a desiccated, esthethe, minimalist art like Imagism, as Stevens saw it.

The second stanza moves back in time to the Spring preceding the first Stanza's Autumn.  Spring's aborning life is made prosaic and near lifeless.There, in the season of rebirth, just as Autumn moves us toward the death of winter--the nothing of the Snowman--we're in flight from vitality in all things, life, art, other things. We draw resigned, languid happiness from what is weak, insensible, recondite to the point of being meaningless:

...The obscure moon lighting an obscure world
Of things that would never be quite expressed,
Where you yourself were never quite yourself
And did not want nor have to be,...

This mocks the desire for "the exhilarations of changes."

So light then, in that Spring, is the moon's weak reflection, an ersatz light perhaps, keeping the world, and, so, you or we in it, safe, languid and mindless. Nothing to be clearly expressed, nothing challenging us to confront ourselves, keeping us from ourselves, all pallid, free of compulsion and obligation.

To quote the same quatrain again

...The obscure moon lighting an obscure world
Of things that would never be quite expressed,
Where you yourself were never quite yourself
And did not want nor have to be,...

I read the first line of the fourth quatrain as syntactically connected to the last lines of the third quatrain, with that first line's ending colon signalling a near to complete grammatical and thematic stop. So that, on this reading, you--under no compulsion or obligation--are essentially released from the desire for "...the exhilarations of changes." But, says Stevens elsewhere: 

....Still one would want more, one would need more,
More than a world of white and snowy scents.
There would still remain the never-resting mind,
So that one would want to escape, come back
To what had been long composed...

These lines inform, I'd argue, the point of the colon. There is a kind of suppressed continuity ranging over the stop of the colon. The motive for metaphor, for taking on imperfectly the world, shrinks to suit our happy, liking-it passivity. You, we, are overwhelmed by what's hard and ultimate, the great and terrible truths of essential being, the basics--"A B C of being"--violence, physicality, dominance, brightness and sharpness: ..."The vital, arrogant, fatal, dominant X"...resistant to meaning, but vital in its beauty and its terror. This is what the motive for metaphor shrinks from, from operating the only way we can, by metaphor, in truly taking on and taking in the world. It's imperfect. But only here is paradise: 

...The imperfect is our paradise.
Note that, in this bitterness, delight,
Since the imperfect is so hot in us,
Lies in flawed words and stubborn sounds....

I don't see any sardonicism here or playfulness. 

Added note:

One critic argues that the Spring quatrains, the time of our youth, herald a good time, a time of becoming, with self unformed, not yet expressed, not yet understood, a time of exhilarating changes. I don't read this poem's Spring that way at all. Just the opposite: happiness is in what is so subdued and minimized and obscure, happiness is in the same way we/you like(s) it in Autumn, languid, crippled, fractionated, half dead, meaningless.

I don't see the poem turning (playfully or otherwise) on the paradox of wanting bright, clear, fiery X, fatal and vital, wanting what is as is, without metaphor but yet with that wanting and what is wanted only expressible by metaphor. The reason for that, in my view, is that metaphor for Stevens in this poem is an inescapable epistemic basic: the world can't be approached or taken in without it. So it pervades all quatrains. Escaping metaphor isn't the question. The question is the use we make of it: shrink in its use as done in the first four quatrains or use it to confront imperfectly, as best we can, what is vital and  great, what is fatal and terrible, and what is ineffable too--X.