Sunday, April 18, 2010

notetaking. my comments (from the links in the previous post)
Remix Culture:
“That entire comment destroys itself with the slightest examination. What you are basically saying is that it is better when something comes from nothing”

No. My point was that in art as in culture you have to become independent of your references.
If the choice is to kill your daddy or be killed by him, you better be strong enough to do the latter. [That's the lesson of] Kafka’s “Go jump in a lake.” An adult needs to define his or her own reality. A classical violinist is going lose out if he ends up playing as in imitation of his teacher. That’s not the same as refusing to acknowledge that he had one.

The criticism of Gansta Rap and other forms of rhetoric that indulge violence is that they reinforce it. The culture of permanent revolution denies not just present normative relations but the desire for normative relations of any sort. That’s the problem of vanguardism and the tragedy of Modernism.

Oneman: “In response to seth edenbaum, I would say that, as anthropologists, it really isn’t our job to focus on what we think is “interesting” but on what people actually do. The crap as well as the highest brilliance are both necessary sources for an adequate picture of culture.”

That’s the equivalent of saying that the writings of Clifford Geertz are no more or less worthy of study (by someone interested in systems) than the papers of a timemaking schlub struggling to make tenure in a 3rd tier school. The other way I’d put it is to say that studying the cultural life of 16 c. Florence without reference to its brightest lights is like studying the 20th century intellectual life by reading nothing but unpublished Ph.D manuscripts.

Another problem is that it’s refusing to reflect on yourself as a product and producer of your own culture/system, of imagining yourself and your perspective as universal or frameless. That logic has its uses but they are very limited both intellectually and morally. As I said elsewhere: we are observers observing and being observed. Intellectual reciprocity is the highest form of intellectual life, and that does not apply only to reciprocity among members of the same tribe academic or otherwise.
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Oneman/Dustin: “that’s a taste issue”
But I’m not interested in tastes other than to acknowledge I have them. And for Geertz substitute Boas or any other figure in your field.

I’m more interested in Michelangelo than I am in a minor 18th c. sculptor for the same reason I’m more interested in Aristotle than in a 13th c. scholastic. You can’t isolate taste for the purpose of ignoring it. It colors everything, including your writing style as a younger generation American academic in the early 21st century. Read your writing here for the analysis of style and give it historical context, or even synchronically in relation to various other forms of writing or behavior in our culture at this moment in time. You exhibit a sensibility in writing no less than Geertz or Proust or me or anyone else and that can be related to the history of articulated form. Levi-Strauss was paradigmatically French and that sensibility is foundational to his work. I know that “that sensibility” sounds too singular since all culture is remix, but he certainly wasn’t “German”. LS wrote from an esthetic and and ethic. He wrote being aware that to write about anything (to communicate at all) is to write from culture. You can’t write as if you have no tastes or as if they don’t affect your intellectual activity. You can’t separate your intellect and your imagination.
People who refer to art as subjective would never say the same thing about justice. And yet we argue of justice [without being able to define it] without denying its importance.
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My point concerned the difference between making use of references to build something independent and being subsumed by it. It isn’t a compliment even now to call someone’s work derivative. Mozart’s symphonies are not called “derivative” of Haydn’s but you wouldn’t have one without the other.
I have a short memory, this came up elsewhere recently. The word I’m looking for is pastiche. Slavishly following one source or many, there’s not much of a difference.
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In a culture where people sign their names to their works, those works that are called “scholarship” and those that are called “craftsmanship” should be treated in ways that overlap, rather than as entirely separate mutually exclusive categories.
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From the post on Simon Sinek:
[Grant McCracken] thinks advertising is art because he thinks art is content not form, and text not subtext.
If he were a constitutional lawyer he would be follower of the most absolute form of originalism. If he were religious he’d be a fundamentalist. He’s a fundamentalist about language. Again: we do not look at Giotto because he was so good at branding. I’m not a catholic or christian or religious. What’s left to us by Giotto is not what he thought but how he thought. The structures of thought not the “content.” I listened to the ideas of Simon Sinek and I observed the forms he used, physical and verbal rhetoric etc. I engaged with text and subtext (as I sensed it) I wasn’t too impressed with either but not offended either. We do not have that immediate access to something written or made 500 years ago. That’s what the originalists of all sorts can’t accept. But there’s also no valid argument for originalism even in the present. My mind and my emotions are not anyone else’s and I communicate only through being articulate in mediating form. That’s a craftsperson’s skill.

If I say “I love you” to a woman in a plaintive whine, the odds are she’d think or maybe even say “No, you don’t.”
If I say “I love you” like a sleazebag she’ll say “Go jerk off!”
If I say I love you” in another way that I’m not going to try to describe she might say “Maybe you do.”

The content of those three phrases is identical, the meanings are not. Conceptualists and ideologists of the present tense do not deal with that fact. My experience of infomercials and motivational speakers colors my response to the videos of Simon Sinek. So does my experience in bars and cafes and my half-assed knowledge of American history. It frustrates me no end that I searched the index of Richard Sennett’s The Craftsman and he had no mention of literature or law; with the craft of seduction which is central to both.

We live in intimate relation with the world. We respond is subtle ways and to things we’re not even aware of. Those relations dominate our lives; but official intellectual life in this country pretends otherwise and as a result is more and more unable to model the world we live in with any complexity or depth. Multi-lingual club kids in Miami and Queens are more international than anyone at Harvard and in that respect more intellectually advanced.

The academic commercial culture of MIT gives us Grand Theft Auto; the dissonance just in that is mindbending, Grand Theft Auto is a symptom of our time, it’s disposable. The non academic equally commercial world that gives us the Sopranos, and crime as real narrative with all the descriptive power that time allows-in multiple perspectives and contradiction[!] gives us not symptom and instant relic but complex record.
Which is more valid as a product of the intellectual imagination?
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Culture is what you can’t choose
[The author is unwilling/unable to describe his professional activities, as opposed to his religion, as functions as culture. My response as always is to describe intellectual models that are self-described as aspects of culture]

“…we should also remember truly vibrant creativity has deeper wellsprings in commitments which are unchosen”

“…the five thousandth traditional instrument sampled in the name of World Music”

Regarding the first quote: It helps to be aware of the ways in which our own sensibilities are already unchosen. Then choosing to cultivate them is a means to understanding and using them. Acknowledging a frame helps to focus and engage, without closing off the outside. A writer who focuses on writing well in English is not going to think of himself as being in opposition to one who writes well in Japanese even though they would never want to change languages.

Regarding the second: Those who enthuse about the ‘idea’ of diversity are not the same as those who live it. Generalized and vague (intellectually and musically) “World Music” is ubiquitous on the what the first commenter above calls the monocultural upper west side. The hybrid cultures of Queens are culturally very specific. The people who inhabit it develop a connoisseurs pleasure in their experience. The UWS sensibility- less experiential- is voyeuristic by comparison.

There’s also a very important difference between a culture that values individualist invention and one that values fluency. People who spend all their time inventing new musical instruments rarely take the time to learn how to play them well. This all ties into my recent rantings on this site about MIT sponsored theories of cultural production as invention vs the role played in our culture of the actually existing arts, whether the Sopranos or Philip Roth. Roth being my standard example in this context of someone who who assumes that culture is always something you can’t choose, for better, worse, or both, and that art is first engaged observation and then description. Invention is last on the list.

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