Thursday, September 29, 2005

are you gonna finish that ?

here's a second helping of my thoughts on music.

first: last night i saw MIA's show in detroit. the show was mediocre, just not very interesting. the crowd was depressing, as though the room was filled, paradoxically, with a collective disinclination to "keeping it real." lots of girls who spent a lot of time picking out "terrorist chic" or "british council housing" outfits at forever 21. MIA's backup singer, cherry, was the best part of the night. i did appreciate that what sounds, on her tracks, like just really precise production could be recreated live on a fairly spare set. and i can still get down to it. but on the whole, discouraging. still, i'm from maine, so any live show is a better live show than i'm used to. unless its a creedence cover band, which isn't really my scene. but you could hear one every night of the week where i come from.

but what am i complaining about ? these fans identified with MIA by buying her album and her persona. just as i have so recently defended my right to do.

second: yet, as i suspected, this is all going somewhere. in _Noise_, Jacques Attali writes:

"music is not innocent: unquantifiable and unproductive, a pure sign that is now 'for sale,' it provides a rough sketch of the society under construction, a society in which the informal is mass produced and consumed, in which difference is artificially recreated in the multiplication of semi-identical objects" (5).

so on one hand, "pop as solipsism." but as mass produced and multiplied solipsism. which i would call implosion. but Adorno wouldn't necessarily agree as easily as i made him agree in my earlier post. he both stands against the relativism implied by this kind of analysis, and by mine, while also providing the ground from which an argument like Attali's can emerge. In his introduction to _Noise_, Fredric Jameson writes:

"the Frankfurt School, and most notably Adorno himself, sought escape from this kind of relativism by appealing to a Hegelian conception of aesthetic or formal self-consciousness. The utopian principle of value for these writers lies in freedom itself and in the conception of music as 'the enemy of fate.' Yet Adorno's other principle of evaluation is that of technical mastery, in which the superiority of a Schoenberg over a Hindemith, say, or a Sibelius, lies in the former's will to draw the last objective consequences from the historical state in which he found his own raw materials. These two principles, however, are capable, at certain moments in history, of entering into contradiction with one another..." (x).

I would argue that this utopian principle is what in part allows for the future orientation of Attali's work. and if technical mastery is in fact important to Adorno, i stand corrected. but what is technical mastery today, anyway? could we define technical mastery in terms of an artist's (or genre's) ability to utilize reproduction and distribution technologies to better market and sell their musical goods? perhaps these are the "last objective consequences" and then the present moment of "pop as solipsism" is when music "as the enemy of fate" enters into contradiction with these consequences. would this not be an implosive moment if technological mastery's end goal is consumption, also the fate to which music wants to oppose itself?

the implosive logic i am espousing also finds voice in Attali's idea of 'autosurveillance', which Jameson finds in his "tough minded insistence on the ambiguity, or better still, the profound ambivalence, of the new social, economic, and organizational principles....autosurveillance marks the penetration of information technology within the body and the psyche of the individual subject.... under autosurveillance, capital and the state no longer have to do anything to you, because you have learned to do it to yourself" (xiii). in terms of music, autosurveillance could be characterized as the false consciousness of identification through consumption, which is all the while not at all false because it also signals the real identification which music makes possible. and somehow, implosive solipsism leads to music as Attali's "immaterial recording surface for human works, the mark of something missing, a shred of utopia to decipher, information in negative, a collective 'memory' allowing those who hear it to record their own personal meanings, affirmed in time with the beat -- a collective memory of order and genealogies, the repository of the word and the social score" (9).

third: and i had no idea it would come to this. autosurveillance as the implosion of capital into my living space. John Cage:

"Nevertheless, we must bring about a music which is like furniture -- a music, that is, which will be part of the noises of the environment, will take them into consideration. I think of it as melodious, softening the noises of the knives and forks, not dominating them, not imposing itself. It would fill up those heavy silences that sometimes fall between friends didning together. It would spare them the trouble of paying attention to their own banal remarks. And at the same time it would neutralize the street noises which so indiscreetly enter into the play of conversation. To make such noise would be to respond to a need" (112).

but: Bloc Party: "For richer, for poorer, for better, for worse/ We've got crosses on our eyes/ We've been walking into the furniture" ("Like Eating Glass").

sleepless in frankfurt

i have chronic insomnia. i can't take medication for it since i technically get more than six hours a night. the insomnia comes in because if i had my way, i'd get twelve.

i have been counseled by my recently ex-therapist to count backwards from 100 as a means for falling asleep. i try this, and occasionally it even works. it occurred to me last night as i was counting backwards that this might be some kind of sleep-fordism. reducing my anxiety to a common denominator which can then be dealt with in a series of steps that liquidate the individual existences of these anxieties and hence my feelings to a value that may be exchanged for sleep.

adorno on my insomnia:

"[s]he reduces aura and organization to a common denominator.... [s]he is the real modern type of virtuoso, as band leader....[s]he has gotten to the point where [s]he no longer has to do anything [her]self; [s]he is sometimes even relieved of reading the score by the staff musical advisors. At one stroke [s]he provides norm and individualization; the norm is identified with [her] person, and the individual tricks which [s]he perpetuates furnish general rules. The fetish character of the conductor is the most obvious and the most hidden. The standard works could probably be performed by the virtuosi of contemporary orchestras just as well without the conductor, and the public which cheers the conductor would be unable to tell that, in the concealment of the orchestra, the musical advisor was taking the place of the hero laid low by a cold."

i'm not really sure what that means. it just seemed appropriate.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005


it is worth noting that this morning i can't be bothered to find or download any new music from limewire, even though i am totally sick of everything i have. the problem is this: i don't want to wait.
it seems that i have finally reached the point where "immediate" is not fast enough.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

cue the kelly clarkson

in the past week, i have been thinking a lot about music. we discussed Adorno's essays "On the Fetish Character in Music" and "The Form of the Phonograph Record" in one of my classes last week. it is never easy to assimilate Adorno, to integrate his ideas into something useful in my day-to-day. first of all, this is largely because Adorno doesn't want me to. so, okay Wiesengrund, point taken. but yet, at their most oversimplified, i feel like Adorno's essays are trying to tell me something about my musical taste. writes Adorno:

"If the commodity in general combines exchange value and use-value, then the pure use-value, whose illusion the cultural goods must preserve in a completely capitalist society, must be replaced by pure exchange-value, which precisely in its capacity as exchange-value deceptively takes over the function of use value. The specific fetish character of music lies in this quid pro quo. The feelings which go to the exchange-value create the appearance of immediacy at the same time as the absence of a relation to the object belies it. It has its basis in the abstract character of exchange-value. Every 'psychological' aspect, every ersatz satisfaction, depends on such social substitution" (296).

he later continues:

"But the commercial necessity of concealing this identity leads to the manipulation of taste and the official culture's pretense of individualism, which necessarily increases in proportion to the liquidation of the individual" (297).

my read: we justify our taste in music by saying that we somehow identify with songs or genres, but it is a fake identification, i.e, one based not on actual identification ( which would be an indentification with non-existence, something like Adorno's shudder), but rather based on the substitution of the commodity fetish. late capitalism necessitates confusing indentification with consumption, and "individual taste," rather than challenging this confusion, only furthers its trickery. my notes on this idea look something like this:

consumption, the right to consume, poverty of abundance justified by fraudulent identification and by identificatory processes that conceal dis-identification/alienation.

examples: last week in class we listened to some samples from the British grime/hip-hop artist MIA. she's totally cool, but that's not the point. there has been some discussion in online music forums (read, critics and rock-snobs) about the overwhelming response that her music has received. first it was widely embraced and heralded as innovative, etc etc, until the inevitable backlash that led to some really interesting ponderings of pop taste in general. Simon Reynolds wrote on (i think) dissensus (that should be a link, look it up) that "pop is invested in so intensely i think because it's about the right to consume, and in this day and age consumerism, that's one of the few areas of power and agency anyone has." right, except that by exercising this as agency consumers (we) are undermining our own agency. well, yeah, but that's late capitalism (that might actually be post-capitalism). reynolds noted that when he dared criticize MIA for, among other things, the violence she seems to promote in her music, the vitriolic response was surprising:

"the tone of sheer indignation voiced -- 'how DARE you interfere with my pleasure,' how dare you imopse any impediment to my unproblematic enjoyment of this thing.... (subsequently it's been interesting to see how much people are prepared to explain away or jettison in order to cling onto their enjoyment, 'terrorist chic -- no problem!', 'all that "pull up the people, pull up the poor" 3rd world stuff that last week i was so happy to have as a patina of seriousness to my pop? nah, forget about that, the lyrics aren't important.... it's, it's, it's a POP record!')"

this leaves me here: i like MIA, i don't like bombing things. how can i be an educated person when i fully recognize that my right to enjoy the music i enjoy is completely and totally tied to an attitude of "why can't i just like it?" and when i pick and choose my identifications based on what most swiftly and easily justifies what i feel like listening to, even if it promotes and in the worst case actively reproduces the worst aspects of the late capitalist liquidation of the individual? how, for example, can i have a kelly clarkson song on my ipod ("it's really just purely great POP music") while at the same time telling anyone who will listen that American Idol's gift to society of clay aiken can only be seen as heralding the coming apocalypse? how can i listen to irish fight songs for pleasure? this morning, i was listening to internet radio, the "classical" station. that's what it's called (sound of Adorno rolling in grave). there is some cool internet radio, but the kind that comes on my itunes (this is getting more problematic by the minute) is EXACTLY where Adorno was afraid that music was headed. the emergence of "alternative" music as a genre is another perfect example of this.

i'm guessing that Adorno would probably have liked nirvana, because what they were doing they were genuinely doing and doing well. this is, i guess, how i justify kelly clarkson (okay, cliff, ben, and john : i'm dragging you out of the closet with me); she's making pop music. there's nothing there FOR me to agree or disagree with. and the pop music is good, and the only thing she's trying to sell me is her record.and i identify by buying the record (or, in this case, the song from itunes). unlike, say, ani difranco, who, sorry all you fans (and sorry cliff), is trying to sell me a whole shitload of politics and message, but who is pretending that she is giving me these things as a gift, and who, in the end, is really trying to sell me her record. and i think i'm identifying with everything she's saying, but really i'm just buying her record. and then i use these identifications, which i have invented largely as a pretense for buying her record, to justify buying her record. so this is maybe how we should look at MIA. if we're trying to tell people that we're doing something other than consuming her product when we are consuming her product, we'll evetually be exposed as the frauds that we are. and so will she, because as long as we're all trying to pretend that we're not consuming music as a commodity someone's always going to be trying to out-justify the other charade players. and "doing it well" doesn't mean technically well, because after all that's just another form of justification for pretending we're not consuming. "doing it well" means "doing it in a way that i like" so that i may consume without impediment. call it accepting, instead of constantly trying to resolve, the taste/consumption dialectic. my individual taste exists mainly as a result of its liquidation; can i transform consumption into a new kind of individual taste, one conditioned by consumption? this would be a big postmodern project, and i'm not ready to take it on. as Reynolds writes:

"everything that once exploded into public space, becomes interiorized, coralled, quarantined from the world, insulated from ever changing anything... an implosion."

see McLuhan on implosion. Reynolds is right ("pop as solipsism"), but it's going somewhere.

stay tuned for upcoming posts. i will attempt to justify my love of emo.


it is time for me to really examine my feelings about furniture. for many years, i had legitimate phobias. i was scared to death of throwing up. i used to hyperventilate and pass out if i saw a rat, or a rat on tv, or a photograph of a rat. or a child's drawing of a rat. and then for years i was terrified of flying. i worked through these phobias to the extent that they are managable. i was proud of myself.
and now i have a new phobia, which i have only recently realized truly qualifies as an irrational fear. i am now scared of.... furniture !?!
i think it all started with the easy chair. all i needed was a place to sit. i went to furniture stores, walked around sweating, pupils dilated, likely resembling a devoted meth-head trying to replace the couch i incinerated. all the furniture was hideous. the thought of it in the space where i live made me feel trapped. for any of you out there with anxiety issues, you know that trapped is not a good starting point. plus, if i were to put any furniture in my apartment that couldn't be easily disassembled and packed, flat, into the back of my car, i might have to (gasp) stay here. my habit of serial moving allows me to justify ridding myself of all manner of junk as frequently as i wish so that i may live as clutter-free as any self-respecting low grade OCD sufferer with a fear of knick-knacks should.
anyway. i have learned from my years of various phobias that they are best defeated by being faced. so yesterday i ventured into "Design Within Reach" in birmingham. i had seen their stuff before, and found it fairly inoffensive, so i figured it would be a good place to start. and, voila! it didn't make me want to puke! i felt pretty calm, not like the furniture was assaulting me. there were beds, chairs, even couches that i could live with! i felt fairly confident. i spied a nice, innocuous chair and went over to look.
it was at this point that "design within reach" began to beg the question: within WHOSE reach? granted, i was in birmingham, but still. even if i actually MADE a living, that shit was expensive. which is fine for an expensive furniture store. but given that this store was conceived upon the basis of being "within reach," it just didn't add up. now i know how most of america feels when told that something is "affordable." it's not that i had lived a blissfully priviledged lifestyle before yesterday, it's just that, well, i've never really BOUGHT anything before. cars, sure. computers, yes. but those things are SUPPOSED to cost money.
i retreat back into furniture phobia feeling somehow.... vindicated. relieved. design is clearly not within my reach. so for right now, i don't have to worry about it.

Saturday, September 24, 2005


i have decided that this will never be a political blog, so-to-speak. of course politics and power are everywhere, and i cannot imagine speaking from an apolitical position ever. on anything. i admire people who can speak knowledgably about politics and the current state of affairs. they are the ones who should be doing it, who need to be. i am not one of those people, so i'll leave it to those who know what they're doing. with respect and gratitude for their contributions.

miles and miles

"Whence a metamorphosis in literature: we have passed from a pleasure to be recounted and heard, centering on the heroic or marvelous narration of 'trials' of bravery or sainthood, to a literature ordered according to the infinite task of extracting from the depths of oneself, in between the words, a truth which the very form of the confession holds out like a shimmering mirage."
Michel Foucault, _The History of Sexuality_

this semester, i am studying both pedagogy and sonic culture. i am also studying queer theory; hence, the mileage i am getting out of Foucault. i am the operator of a blog that takes its title from a passage by one of the writers of the previous century who best explored the depths of self, the in between of words. i do not think, though, that Woolf undertook this exploration to discover some hidden truth as in a confession. rather, her "in between" of words, the depths of self, seem to me constituted by telling and by hearing, the self then as not an ontological "mirage" of truth, then, but instead as a locus of speaking and listening. the summer-house in _To the Lighthouse_ listens and tells; it listens and tells in-between chapters recounting human action, "trials of bravey and sainthood," and in this section ("Time Passes"), human action becomes the "in-between" of the house's words.

and this seems to me to be the kind of third stage that Foucault never gets to - nor should he, his task being, as it is, to examine a history for practical purposes. but yet the combination of the two distinct states that Foucault recognizes in literature looks to me a lot like the present cultural state -- call it postmodern or not -- that i find myself faced with, both as a student/listener and a teacher/teller. so what if i approach teaching "sonically"? to "make it real by putting it into words." that is, that the writing self is constituted as "recounted and heard," and then that the classroom space somehow captures the dynamic state of in-betweenness that produces writing, especially writing by a speaker who is always already a listener. at the very least, this approach to teaching and learning disrupts the binary that Foucault recognizes and allows for a new way of looking at the cultural situation of the subject of teaching. the capacity to hear all kinds of things; the capacity for all kinds of things to speak; and what it means to find ourselves in the midst, as though in a summer-house between narratives of bravery.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

still sitting

easy-chair attempt aborted.
there is some REALLY ugly furniture out there. my options are slowly dwindling. i could call up the Pottery Barn and get a chair that matches my neighborhood (ie the suburbs), but which i hate. the problem is the design aesthetic in my apartment, which has variously been described as "spare," "minimalist," "depressing," and "non-existent." i have almost no furniture, which is why i so desperately need a chair. the problem then becomes: where do i find a chair that matches "nothing?"
for most of my childhood, when asked my favorite color, i invariably replied: "clear." swear to god.
and i also need a bed, but the idea of a real bed, with a box spring and frame and -- god forbid -- a headboard, sends me into spasms of anxiety. if only i could get my mattress to float 18 inches above the floor.

design advice appreciated. psychiatric advice coveted.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

portrait of the blogger as a young....

for years i have argued with myself over the relative merits/dangers of having a blog. i have been excited about the idea of self-publishing, of having a forum to share my irrelevant/ irreverant thoughts with an unsuspecting public, and of linking - networking - conversing with others doing the same thing. at one and the same time, i have been put off by the seeming self-importance, shameless self-promotion, and obvious self-centeredness of many, many bloggers. so i put off starting a blog until i could justify it to myself and until i could be sure that i was doing it for the right reasons.

and then i was assigned to write a blog for class.

what kind of blogger would i be ? i had to decide. would i be a humble conversationalist, selflessly trying to use words to become part of a growing (yet imploding) global community? or would i be a verbose, self- aggrandizing, pretentious asshole, typing only in lowercase and trying with each phrase to prove how cool i am, all the while blowing my own personal brand of smoke up the world's ass?

like this:

it turns out, looking at my first post, that i am the second kind of blogger, the asshole kind. i'm that person who i always said shouldn't have a blog. that's it, go tell my mother i'm cussing in the house. shit.

i love to hear myself talk! why, god, why?


"The implosion of electric energy in our century cannot be met by explosion or expansion, but it can be met by decentralism and the flexibility of multiple small centers. For example, the rush of students into our universities is not explosion but implosion. And the needful strategy to encounter this force is not to enlarge the university, but to create numerous groups of autonomous colleges in place of our centralized university plant that grew up on the lines of European government and nineteenth century industry." - Marshall McLuhan "Introduction" : _Understanding Media_ (1964).

first: this passage, from McLuhan's most recognized work, appeared in my assigned reading for another class to provide me with the perfect starting link between pedagogy, modernity, and new media. McLuhan's "decentralized university" is more or less the same thing that progressive pedagogical methods address, n'est pas? as teachers, it seems like our challenge is to "create numerous groups of autonomous classroom spaces" to address the implosive logic of postmodernity as well as to address the very concrete and practical concerns of new generations of students, many of whom have never before had access to the university system. indeed, it is precisely these students who will play an instrumental role in the formation of the "new university"; they begin, frequently, in our writing classrooms. are these students the differentiated "spray" of the postmodern self, individual manifestations of the fragmented and fragmentary subject borne along the lines of the post-industrial landscape, who give the lie to the image of the "traditional" university student, the one who grew up inside the university discourse, who maintains the illusion of the modern learning subject (the receptacle)? Erik Davis, in "Acoustic Cyberspace," calls "the world we're moving into" "a world full of cultural viruses, memes, decentered subjects and unfolding para-spaces." And this is the world we need to teach (in both senses of the word).

"numerous groups of autonomous classroom spaces" sounds difficult, doesn't it? i don't mean to suggest a classroom divorced from the university, but rather one that unfolds the logic of decentralized learners, that doesn't rely on a modernist logic of the teacher as the authorial "I" representative of the real and textual authority of the university. McLuhan would argue that this happens in an acoustic space, that is, one determined not by linear causality but by resonances. and i think one way to engage this idea might be on its most oversimplified level: consider it a listening space, where writing becomes not an exercise in truth-proving but instead one of cooperative hearing and telling.

disclosure: i spent my high-school years in a progressive private school; round tables, democratized learning space, seminars and collaborative writing projects. i purposely chose, 3 times so far, large state universities for my later education. maybe i am fascinated by implosion, by the implosive energy that comes from watching the "new university" form. prep school, maybe, can practice sort of an ideal pedagogy, but is it not already dead there?

on a more banal note: i have spent years engaged in the search for the perfect alarm clock. in the process i have owned upwards of 20 of these gadgets at a time. turns out that my cell phone is the best alarm clock of all. so now i am onto a new quest: i realize now, as i am starting to study for the fall term in earnest, that i do not have, nor have i had in any of my recent dwellings, a fucking comfortable place to sit. seriously. i have: a bed, 4 hard wood chairs, and a $100 futon (i'll let you imagine how comfortable that is). most of my non-electronic work i do in the bathtub, which is why, i guess, that it is while computering that i suddenly feel the need for an armchair. with an ottoman. maybe i'll check the mail for my student-loan check and set the alarm for an early morning trip to the la-z-boy store.