Archive for August, 2012

Permanent Fads

August 31, 2012

The great wanderer Bruce Chatwin began his professional career in the Works of Art department of Sotheby’s. Though he came to loathe the place (“I suddenly had a horror of the so called ART WORLD”), Sotheby’s enabled him to travel widely to investigate/acquire objets d’art. Chatwin’s global interest in art was greatly inspired by Ludwig Goldscheider’s Art Without Epoch (1937).

Goldscheider’s subtitle for Art Without Epoch was “Works of Distant Times Which Still Appeal To Modern Tastes” (which found an echo in Chatwin’s awesomely titled project “One Million Years of Art”). For Art Without Epoch Goldscheider assembled 140 illustrated plates of ancient works that transcend their moment and appeal to the aesthetics of his age (1930s Europe). In diverse works from antiquity he sees the elemental currents of, say, Impressionism or Expressionism or Late Gothic architecture. Thus, Plate 22, a reproduction of an Egyptian wall-painting of wrestlers found in a tomb from 1900BCE has the bemused caption “(Henri Matisse!)”. Plate 23, a female nude etched on a 5th century BCE Greek oil-flask, has the excited caption “(Auguste Renoir!)”.

Like Joseph Campbell with myth, Goldscheider delights at locating uncanny parallels among visual artists, across epochs. Exploring artistic technique & impulse, he sketches amusing ahistorical lineages. Of Plate 139, above, Goldscheider writes: “Landscape, etching by Francisco de Goya, about 1815.—In this work Kubin is not only anticipated, but surpassed.”

I recently re-visited Art Without Epoch curious to see which of the works, IMHO, still appealed to modern tastes. Sympathetic to Goldscheider’s premise & taste, I presumed that the search would tell more about the distance between his age and ours, rather than of the objects themselves. And most of his selections still look banging! Yet, on the whole, I found that “primitivist” statues/masks don’t hold the same fascination as they did to early 20th century dudes. Perhaps we have passed over the excitements of peak colonialism (the artefacts returned from colonial adventure; the bon savage-ism of Gauguin), and that the leveling of folk and ‘high’ art is long complete—or at least mundane.

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The thinking behind Art Without Epoch—a reflection on the cycles of taste—is of a kind with a funny/insightful question Thom WestBaby likes to ask: Is Andy Warhol cool these days? Taking for granted that Warhol is an inescapable touchstone of post-war art, the question is akin to asking about the phase of the moon: is it waxing or waning these days? So it was with un-small amusement that I came across a reading on the current swing of things, expressed in the bombastic title of a New Republic review:

“The Wildly Overrated Andy Warhol”

LuLz. It doesn’t even matter if you think Warhol’s art “looks good”. As long as we struggle this way & that within the American fame/image/money nexus, his work speaks. So you better get used to him, because it seems that he’ll be around a while! [Current assessment: Forget the silkscreens, Warhol is a trip to read.]

The Andy Warhol Question is mutable into other helpful parlour-room barometers, such as:

“Is Marc Bolan cool again yet?” or

Which Miles Davis/Bob Dylan/Picasso period is cooking?” or

“Which Stevie Wonder album is best now?” [Answer: Music of My Mind]

 

 

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AFTERTHOUGHT

BTW: Of primitivism in Cubism, and of Picasso’s African Period, I think we can agree that this is an acceptable version of “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon”, but this(!) is not. WTF kind of YOLO art prankster spent beaucoup hours assembling that bonkers trash?!?

AFTERTHOUGHT II

Lord Almighty! No sooner were we jiving about the bon savage than we came across This Video. You shan’t believe yr eye(s) when you see the spunky pocahontas dancing atop the gargantuan golden turkey. (I’m pretty sure this supports our argument…?)

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Spot the Suzerain

August 31, 2012

Speaking of ugly culture! Did we hear that 2011 was a bumper crop for global arms sales? $66billion, up from the previous year’s measly $21.4billion worth of mechanized death. In fact, weapons sales to Saudi Arabia alone ($33.4billion) were greater than total global sales for the previous record year (2009, $31billion). Do these preposterous exchanges of wealth & trophy remind anyone else of ancient kings offering tribute to one another? Rare spices, a ruby pendant, and a shipment of wheat to proclaim fealty —> 84 advanced F-15 fighter jets, a bouquet of missiles.

Except that with the U.S. & the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, I can’t tell who is paying tribute to whom?! Is it a kindness of the Saudis to support our darling defense industry, or is it a kindness of the U.S. to give collectors-item death toys to a regime that doesn’t need them? Actually, it may be more like when heads of state meet and swap gifts of local significance (a violin from the Italian Ambassador, a rare wine from the French attaché). It’s just that the U.S.’s renowned, signature handicraft happens to be war instruments, of which we dedicate great efforts towards their refinement. The U.S. is like: Here is our exquisite F-15, I do hope you like it. And Saudi Arabia is like: Here are several vaults of cash, I do know how much you enjoy the stuff.

Also from the desk of Weird Empire:

Did anyone read this magniloquent jawn in the WPost about the woman who (maybe) thwarted a rogue Navy provocation of Iran and was (maybe) fired for her meddling? So many taken-for-granted shady dealings and “back-channels to rogue states”. Glad to know that when you peel back the curtain of empire, everyone involved sounds like a massive dill. Anyhow, one passage will jump out as silly self-mythologizing to anyone who has visited Egypt:

From there on, her life would seem to unfold as if it were an episode of “Alias” or “Covert Affairs.” One time, “I hired a car and driver and drove across the Sinai from Cairo to the Israeli border, with Abba [sic!] blaring on the stereo and feeling rather like Priscilla, Queen of the Desert,” she recalled. Destination: Eliat, on the Red Sea. Mission: scuba diving.

Driving from Cairo to Eilat to go diving is the equivalent of driving to the Outer Banks to go… diving. You just drive there. And maybe you play loud music along the way! She seems like someone who took to heart that corny H.S. Thompson exhortation: “Walk tall, kick ass, learn to speak Arabic, love music and never forget you come from a long line of truth seekers, lovers and warriors.” Barf. Must’ve been written during his tenure at ESPN.com.

My Soi Disant Life

August 31, 2012

Several years ago the anthropologist/philosopher Jonathan Lear wrote an fascinating book (excellently reviewed here by Charles Taylor) about doomspirals’ fav topic: kultural devastation.

Lear explores this theme through an account of the Crow Tribe’s forced relocation to a reservation in the 19th century—& how this uprooting deeply undermined Crow society. Before displacement, the Crow were a nomadic people of the Great Plains whose way of life was intimately linked to the buffalo. The movement of the buffalo dictated the movement of the Crow; the social status of Crow men hinged on their relation to the hunt and the courage displayed protecting the tribe’s hunting grounds; the roles of Crow women revolved around facilitating the hunt and managing its bounty; and Crow women derived great pride in the ability and courage of their kinsmen. In this way, the hunt influenced the rhythms and rituals of the tribe, influencing marriage selection, social hierarchy, burial honors, as well as daily activities.

The central text through which Lear tells his story is a recollection of Chief Plenty Coups, who led the Crow through the transitional period into the confinement of the reservation. “When the buffalo went away the hearts of my people fell to the ground, and they could not lift them up again,” Chief Plenty Coups recounts. “After this nothing happened.”

Lear’s book takes great lengths puzzling over the words “after this nothing happened”. Plenty Coups, presumably, does not mean that nothing transpired after the tribe was confined on the reservation. But the motivating purpose of the tribe had been suddenly removed; the acts of greatest importance and symbolic value ceased to hold meaning, and the very roles that constituted a Crow being a Crow ceased even to be possible.

[The Crow] problem, then, was not simply that they could not pursue happiness in the traditional ways. Rather, their conception of what happiness is could no longer be lived. The characteristic activities that used to constitute the good life ceased to be intelligible acts. A crucial blow to their happiness was a loss of the concepts with which their happiness had been understood.

A principal example of this dissolution of cultural meaning was the transformation of “coup sticks” from elevated cultural object to inert ornament. On the Plains, it was the practice of Crow warriors to plant a stake (a “coup stick”) in the ground, which marked a boundary that if the enemy crossed, the Crow warrior would defend to the death. It was of supreme status in society to be a man who could “count” many “coups”. Thus, the significance of the chief’s tribal name: Plenty Coups. But, with life on the reservation, after the buffalo, all significance was emptied from coup sticks. Old virtues were no longer possible. No more coups could be counted.

Was this morning reading an crazy story of a Montana man who was killed attempting to stage a Big Foot hoax. Stalking along a wooded highway in a full-body Chewbacca-type camouflage outfit, the man meant to spook passing motorists, but was instead struck by a passing car. It was one of those sad, weird ephemeral stories that float across our internet radar screens and pass as entertainment(?) in our nonsense culture. But what caught mine eye was a comment beneath the story by “BonzoDog1”:

“Highway 93 is notorious for being one of the most deadly roadways in Montana without any hijinks.  At least only the fool died. The two young women could have easily died or been seriously injured, too.
I thought too of several young members of the Crow Tribe who died in the 1990s trying to count coup by slapping the fenders of passing 18-wheelers going 80 mph on I-90 through the rez.

I don’t know if “count coup” is a phrase in current/regional circulation, or if any Crow actually used this phrase to describe the horrible event, or if this internet commenter is merely a royal butthead trafficking loaded phrases. But is it not vastly sad how the old rituals have been made low, profaned? Not that these young men profaned the old rituals but that there is no possibility to practice them? (As when Aristotle tells us that happiness is the function of exercising noble virtues, and we think: ‘I can’t really do those in junk-house trash-life 2012′?) Though Lear paints a devastating portrait of the reality of culture death, he does so to tell another story. After all, the book is titled Radical Hope. Lear writes of the continuity of the Crow people. He discusses how, through mobilizing Crow imagery and history, Chief Plenty Coups was able to re-imagine Crow values and rituals, transplanting them into the new context of the reservation, ultimately helping the tribe adapt and persevere. But… the slapping-truck-fenders story is a discouraging sign of the grim state of Plenty Coups’ project, and of, y’know, the centripetal tug of ye olde Boschian gyre. [&BTW, TanFin tells me that “counting coups” is the source of the band name “The Counting Crows”. Ugh/Ack, Modrn Lyf = Long December.]

Booke 1, Page 1 of “The Consolation of Philosophy”

August 25, 2012

The Rood

August 21, 2012

“Highway”

 

The postmodernist viewer is… called upon to do the impossible, namely, to see all the screens at once, in their radical and random difference; such a viewer is asked to follow the evolutionary mutation of David Bowie in The Man Who Fell to Earth (who watches fifty-seven television screens simultaneously) and to rise somehow to a level at which the vivid perception of radical difference is in and of itself a new mode of grasping what used to be called relationship: something for which the word collage is still only a very feeble name.

 

 

[T. Morris was on the horn the other night talking about the Nicholas Roeg film, and this was the quote I was grasping after.]

1. After completing the sci-fi film, Bowie recorded “TVC 15” which was inspired by a hallucinatory episode in which Iggy Pop, ingesting max drugs at Bowie’s house, believed that his girlfriend had been eaten by the television screen.

2. “TVC 15” is the fourth stop along Station to Station, the title of which alludes to the Stations of the Cross. Your tour guide to the Via Dolorosa can be found below.

Tanky Contemplates the ‘Way of Sorrows’

Drakkar Noir [Dark Arts Now]

August 16, 2012

It is well established that the rulers of Egypt are practiced in the art of Dark Numerology. They take sinister pride in sly calendrical communications. Take, for example, the court case against the American NGOs. When, of all dates, was it scheduled? The Fourth of July. BAM. EAT IT, UNCLE SAM.

This morning I was revisiting Mubarak’s super slick jailbreak from Tora Prison and I stumbled onto a coded message I shouldn’t have missed. Recall: Mubarak was on trial for directing violence against protesters during the January 25 revolution. The uprising is famously remembered as the “18 Days” that toppled his regime.

And the time from his conviction on June 2nd until he broke out of jail? 18 Days. BAM. EAT IT, EGYPTIANS. “You said I wronged you for 18 Days? Well here are your measly 18 days. No more, no less. Peace—I’m out!” &With that he sauntered out the front gate en route to chillax at his plush military hospital in the upscale suburb of Maadi.

Serious Meta-Coup Action

August 14, 2012

Remember how in February 2011 as Mubarak was flailing/faltering it seemed that revolutionary forces in the street might take control? But then the military staged a palace coup in which SCAF (Supreme Council of the Armed Forces) shoved Mubarak overboard and seized the helm of power? And do you remember how at the hour of Morsi’s electoral victory the SCAF doubled down on their coup by issuing a Constitutional Decree that robbed the office of the presidency of most of its meaningful powers? (And all this upon the judicial coup several days prior that dissolved the unfriendly parliament & affirmed the constitutionality of the candidacy of the SCAF-friendly candidate…) Right, so we were already operating deep in a coup coop. And now, this week: Egypt went full coup crazy.

In the background: Since Morsi’s election, the balance of power between the new president and SCAF has been uncertain. However, Morsi’s authority vis-a-vis SCAF had been rising since last week’s deadly attack in Sinai that showcased the military’s incompetence. In the wake of the Sinai attack, Morsi flexed/tested his muscle by firing/demoting several senior officials. In response, there began rumblings within the old establishment that Morsi had gone too far/was growing too powerful—accompanied by predictions that Field Marshal Tantawi & co. would move to re-capture powers from Morsi. Some speculated a new SCAF coup later this month. Then, unexpectedly on Sunday, Morsi reshuffled national power by kicking the old guard of SCAF upstairs, replacing them with younger officers (Gen. al-Sissi & co., who recognize the need to reorient military-civilian relations and worried Tantawi risked heading further in the wrong direction.) And at the same time Morsi announced the nullification of the Constitutional Decree that had muzzled his power.

Thus, within the prevailing coup context, Morsi staged a coup built upon a coup within the military ranks (Sissi usurping Tantawi) that was a preemptive measure against a further military coup (Tantawi overtaking Morsi). As others have described: “a pre-emptive coup against a coup within a coup”. Toto wild style.

BTW 1/2. While announcing the nullification of the Constitutional Decree, Morsi also named a high-ranking judge as his VP. Shrewdly this helps Morsi take cover from future expected politicized attacks from the judiciary. And, thus making Paul Ryan the second most significant VP announcement of the weekend.

BTW 2/2. Of the new, incoming military leadership, the arabist asks/answers: “Wouldn’t it be nice if one of these guys had written, say, a 10,000 word essay on his views of the future of US strategy in the Middle East? Well it turns out one of them — no less than Sedky Sobhy, the new Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, the number two in the hierarchy — did just that while studying in a military school in the US, as many Egyptian officers do.” Makes for an interesting read!

Crack o’ the Bat

August 14, 2012

Honestly & Obviously I have nothing to say about the new single from B.o.B., “Play the Guitar”. (Feel silly even typing “new single” as if I’m familiar with the chronology of B.oB.’s oeuvre.) HOWEVER, I can report the sincere smile that overtook my face at :55 where the song is punctuated with the crisp crack of an baseball being bat-hit. Not because I’m a Ken Burns false nostalgist for the smell of freshly cut grass, but because the same sound effect opens “Life Coach”, the hit track off My Mind’s Path Masher. Very love it. How do we know it’s the hit? I suspect that’s the droll joak of the sound effect?

My Mind, “A New Man, My Life Coach, He Shine”  [+an equally good demo version.]

&, come to think of it, the crack of the bat also is featured in the best opera since Wagner. $100,000 to xe who can find it.

 

**I’m at liberty to say that Path Masher was mine fav’rite album of 2009/ever as I’m the 1/3 of here brog not in the band.

Take that flute and flute it

August 8, 2012

Advance apologies for sloshing into mainstream electoral politics.

This morning I was reading the Post‘s lead editorial [ugh, what has my life come 2???] concerning Harry Reid’s ongoing challenge to Mitt Romney that he reveal his tax returns. Harry Reid latest tactic is to speculate publicly that Romney didn’t pay any income taxes for 10 years. Seems like a pretty standard political gambit, right? Reid is overreaching, sure, but to refute the charge Romney would have to release embarrassing information. But the Post is aghast.

If the senator has any proof, he owes it to Mr. Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, to put it on the record, now. Otherwise, Mr. Reid ought to pause and reflect on the record of another senator who once claimed to have a list of Communists and spies at the State Department — and could not substantiate it.

Oh shit, is the Post insinuating that Harry Reid is as bad as Joseph McCarthy? Oh, wait, no, it’s not insinuation:

Mr. Reid’s smear tactics are not unlike those of Joseph McCarthy and deserve equal condemnation.

KABOOM! Baiting a presidential nominee about his un-disclosed tax filings is on par with the broad & systematic witch hunts of private citizens by the House Un-American Activities Committee? I’d say the Post doesn’t know any better… except that the term “McCarthyism” was coined by The Washington Post! One can only assume then, that drawing this insane moral equivalence stems from a pandemic of false consciousness for our financial overlords.

 

Did I mention that I bought a COFFIN?

 

[Every time I hear Harry Reid’s name I automatically think of the epic hit song “Reed Flute” by the underground sensation I’m In Love With You.]

You’re The One For Me, Fatih

August 3, 2012

Last month doomspirals happily happened to be in Turkey during the Istanbul Jazz Festival, which, incidentally, owing to Ataturk’s alphabet, is the Istanbul “Caz” Festival. To sweeten this coincidence of our visit, a certain friend of the blog happened to be headlining the festival.

Morrissey was performing at an outdoor amphitheater and a wise friend knew of a hilltop plaza perched above the venue where we might sprawl and enjoy the musics & an few beers bottles. Though we couldn’t quite see the stage, the tunes travelled up the hill krystal klear, and we could even make out Moz’s rather stunning monologues. (“I’m in Istanbul again… and my arse is in the air… so climb aboard!”)

At a few points Moz modified his lyrics, including “Shoplifters of the World”, where “But last night the plans of a future war | Was all I saw on Channel Four” became “Last night the plans for future war | With Syria | Is all I saw.” Topical!

Not being able to see the stage, I didn’t realize how Full On Mid East Moz’s entourage had gone. Check the video at :20. The badass drummer has two bass drums, each emblazoned with the Turkish flag, and is wearing a red t-shirt with white iron-on letters that read: ASSAD IS SHIT.

Luvnit. [Which reminds me of my new British pop band Luvin It ’s debut album, “Luv Innit?”]

 

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TOTALLY unrelated: Yesterday the NYT’s website seemed insistent that I read an interview with Rashida Jones. OK, whatever, she is American Cultural Royalty (Twin Peaks + Thriller) so I duly clicked. Whatever. The intro paragraph mentioned a comment from Ms. Jones: “My pet peeve and my goal in life is to somehow get an adjective for ‘integrity’ in the dictionary,” she said, going on to explain: “ ‘Truthful’ doesn’t really cover it, or ‘genuine.’ It should be like ‘integritus.’”

Whatever, ok, no big. BUT. Then. Later that night I was making banana bread and listening to a random public radio story about a 9-year-old boy trying to rescue the doom’d City of Detroit through popcorn & lemonade entrepreneurship. Whatever, still. But then his dad, asked to appraise his son’s mission, said “I think what he’s doing is just so integrous”.

There it is. A small coincidence. One of life’s top 10k tiny pleasures.

Stay Classy, Washington Post

August 2, 2012

And who’s this ‘analyst’, Sylvester Stalone?? Da’fuck kind of mindless macho posturing is this? Not appropriate tone for international news headline!

Abstract chest-thumping about a distant civil war in which you have no stake or concern? Oh yeah, down here in the news room we like to keep our violence fantasies flippant! Hey Brian, do you want anything from Cosi, I’m gonna get an iced coffee…