August 24, 2013

A short history of anti-theatre, non-music, counter-philosophy, semi-specific art and unpolitics.


The things I like are, in general, in opposition to things most generally accepted. There are of course exceptions. No one wants to be contrary simply for the sake of being contrary and neither do I. Without an enemy, without something to resist against, most things fall flat. Co-operation and symbiotic relations are also necessary. There are no shortage of evils in the world that must be resisted, no shortage of mediocrity in art that must be pushed against or undermined. It is not the mediocrity of a single work of art or artist that must be resisted, but the mediocrity of art itself. And it is in fact these false dichotomies that must be undermined since, to some extent, all dichotomies are false. The energy gained from such frustrations goes to waste if it is not put to use, and so much of what exists in the world, and is most appreciated, is a waste of its own fragile potential. There is what is, and what could be, and what could be most often contains the greater energy. We must struggle with what is, in the here and now, without regret, seizing every last opportunity. How are we to understand criteria when the search is for something new and there is nothing new? How are we to understand selection? Does it entail risk to fight the status quo or is it more of a risk to fight within and against ourselves? The world is wrong in so many ways and each of us is also wrong, but everything that exists contains at least a modicum of the future. It is within the tension of this future, in its likely partial failure, that each history begins. This entails saying what you mean as precisely as possible, but not letting any preconceived meaning overwhelm you. Going against things also entails going along with some specific idea of the against. We must avoid parody, avoid satire, embrace genuine humor, find the joy within our lived refusal. There are several mysteries here that will not be explained. Several operations. If we fall behind at least we are still in movement. If we are impatient at least the situation surrounds us. Everything has not yet been done.


August 21, 2013



Yesterday, for ten dollars / I bought a used hip hop CD by Talib Kweli / the 2013 (this year) release Prisoner of Conscious / knowing I wouldn’t like it / but ten years ago, fifteen years ago / he made so many tracks that I loved / and I saw it for ten dollars and didn’t want to write him off / wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt / listen anyway / see if I could sense where he was at now / what he was trying to do / if he had lost the plot or was only missing the mark / and I listened all the way through five times in a row / but had little idea what he was trying to do / his flow frustrated, always rapid yet somehow aimless / keeping it positive yet unconvincing / strange choices that were often intriguing but not more / a few of the beats stand out and those are the best tracks / I feel I should keep listening / trying not to compare it with tracks from the past / to be with it now / keep listening / in the hope that when I lost the plot / someone out there might still buy my book (a used, cheap review copy) / might spend some time with it / try to understand where things went wrong / there’s something about knowing a good beat / something about being young / in youth the tension is sharper / Talib Kweli sounds adult, in a way / less tension / and as I’m listening through the clenched jaw of my mild disappointment / I have the feeling that perhaps he sounds relaxed / that he’s happier in life / he’s doing all right / and wonder what romantic, misguided idea of art makes me want to state / or to believe / that the record suffers because of it / and still the more I listen / the more it grows on me / the more I like it / something about repetition.


August 18, 2013

John Dewey Quote


Prejudice, the pressure of immediate circumstance, self-interest and class interest, traditional customs, institutions of accidental historic origin are not lacking and they tend to take the place of intelligence.

- John Dewey, Quest for Certainty


August 17, 2013

Opening from Eruditio ex Memoria by Bernadette Mayer


I saw a doctor, a doctor. It was Antonin Artaud. He was elected to the Royal Academy, no, that was Chekhov. This is the Russian Theater, it’s 1962 or so, the moralist of the venial sin is here, resigning over Gorky. Doctor, a doctor. “The Seagull” defends Zola and Dreyfus, it’s the Moscow Art Theater. Chekhov is Godard. This is what I learned in school. This is what I thought: Artaud, Antonin. Hemispheres become loose in the country, there are new forms. Stanislovsky, etc. Add up a column of numbers, it comes to William Carlos Williams to me. What are the spiritual heights, she said. Just as Uncle Vanya looks like a dial, Paris comes and goes, prissy, lightfooted and beautiful-looking, but, by and large, the outside forces come to the surface. 13y the same token, we seem fully uneven, without the bones and stays. The homecoming; she opened and closed her conversation with adequacy. There’s a picture of a man with a spring for a body. There’s a picture of a woman dancing with a leaf for a hand, her head on a string, hanging forward. It’s Madam Shaw. Relevant is revelant, irrational knot, unsocial socialist, unpleasant and pleasant Madam Shaw. Oh Shaw, polyg-mammalian, the candidate, there’s a heart and a louse on the skunk.

- Bernadette Mayer, Eruditio ex Memoria


Two Heather Palmer/Jacob Wren links


Heather Palmer interviews me for Poetry Teachers NYC.

Heather Palmer reflects on the interview at her blog.


August 13, 2013

Emily Gilbert on fictitious capital


The “fictitious capital” that worried Marx over 130 years ago has exploded, especially over the last 40 years. In 1971, Nixon suspended the convertability of dollars into gold and brought about the end of the Bretton Woods agreement. The connection between currency and metal reserves was broken. In the words of Philip Coggan, “From that point on, the final link with gold was removed and the ability of governments to run deficits, on both trade and budget accounts, was vastly increased. Money and debt exploded.” Yet the problem was not so much that money was no longer rooted in gold or silver. Although their value appears to be “natural” or intrinsic, the value of metals is just as much a social construct as paper. What the metallic anchor had ensured, however, was that there was a built-in limit to the system, determined by the natural scarcity of gold.

- Emily Gilbert, Currency in Crisis


August 6, 2013

The cool cat was now rolling with the fat cats... : Jay-Z, Picasso Baby, Frank Sinatra and knowing how to quit while you're ahead


I've spent the past day thinking about Picasso Baby-gate. I read this beautiful, scathing piece by Sasha Frere-Jones and it was all true. This line was particularly striking: "Those civilians, in another country [victims of U.S. drone attacks], see America the way Trayvon Martin saw George Zimmerman—a force they couldn’t stop physically creating a story they couldn’t fight historically."

The overwhelming anger I feel at the Zimmerman verdict, and towards American foreign policy (now and for the past sixty years), is in violent need of some popular culture expression. This protest song by PJ Harvey about Guantanamo is clearly what we need more of, is what I wish I heard every time I turned on the radio. ("With metal tubes we are force fed / I honestly wish I was dead.") For that matter I would love to turn on the radio and hear Misogyny Drop Dead by planningtorock. Protest is out there, yet somehow endlessly marginalized, hidden away unless you're already looking for it. The closer you get to mainstream, the less really effective protest-rhetoric makes it through.

However, it seems to me, that Jay-Z has never felt particularly at home talking politics. (And not only because of his ongoing desire to become the mainstream.) He spits the occasional political line ("Blame Reagan for makin' me into a monster / Blame Oliver North and Iran-Contra"), but quickly moves onto territory he's more comfortable with (boasting, running his 'army', money, sex, more boasting, and, of course, the further you go back in time, drugs, crime and the streets.)

Daniel Nester had a good line on Facebook: "Everything is interesting about Jay Z except Jay Z."

And I came up with this rather mild quip: "Jay-Z should cover that Modern Lovers song, the one with the chorus Pablo Picasso was never called an asshole."

Then, today, I remembered a Frank Sinatra obituary I read a long time ago in, I think, Rolling Stone magazine (or maybe it was Spin.) In particular, I remembered (or perhaps misremembered) one line, the author explaining why he felt Sinatra had betrayed him, in fact betrayed all of his fans, (I feel it also had something to do with Sinatra's Vegas years): "the cool cat was now rolling with the fat cats." (I'm constantly amazed at these short phrases still in my mind fifteen years later. Though I tried to find it on line, and couldn't, so maybe I simply made it up.)

I wondered if this Jay-Z / Sinatra comparison might lead somewhere. They were both pure entertainers, rags-to-riches aura, their own trademark style, different versions of mafia-chic, false retirement announcements, generally considered to be 'the greatest' in their field. They both started cool and eventually got lame in ways that might have something to do with having lots and lots of money. (That quote by Sinatra where he says what he wants is 'fuck-you money'.) I'm not sure. There are certainly people out there who know so much more about both of them than I ever will.

The Beatles broke up and The Rolling Stones kept going. So The Beatles remain legendary while the Stones most often come across as an embarrassing shadow of their former selves. Tupac and Biggie are dead, while Jay-Z just keeps rolling. (Rock 'n' Roll eventually became embarrassing and perhaps now it's Hip Hop's turn.) Is ongoing reputation simply a question of knowing how to quit while you're ahead?

I actually don't find the Picasso Baby art world cluster fuck all that embarrassing. Jay-Z handles himself well. He looks like he's having fun. But if I compare it to any of his best tracks, I suddenly feel something has gone horribly awry. Then again, I came to Jay-Z really late. The first track that got me was The Takeover ("A wise man told me don't argue with fools / Cause people from a distance can't tell who is who"). I think my favourite track might be the much-too-late-period Trouble ("I try to pretend that I'm different but in the end we're all the same".)

"I try to pretend that I'm different but in the end we're all the same..." It's clear that Jay-Z thinks he can escape his fate, that the same boasts he once made from the streets will remain convincing now that he's a multimillionaire with friends in the White House. And of course they're not. While once they seemed angry, hungry, aspirational, now they feel aimlessly arrogant in an unnecessary, deluded way. Why continue to boast when you already have everything? Why rub our faces in it? I suppose that's what makes it car-crash-fascinating, why I've been thinking about it all day. Most of us will never be as successful as Jay-Z, and therefore have no idea how we would deal with such fame (artistically or otherwise), and clearly he doesn't know either.