Archive for August, 2012

Vote for Nobody

Posted: August 26, 2012 in but whatever
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Nobody will end the wars on abstraction.

Nobody will get you a job.

Nobody will refrain from using dumbass buzzwords like “job creators.” Dude, they’re bosses, which means they’re assholes, probably.

Nobody thinks your favorite band rocks.

Nobody will wisely allocate resources.

Nobody believes so strongly about kids that we should take one or even two of them to the park and hold a barbecue every time we want to yell more about political bullshit.

Nobody believes your Facebook links to articles about your favorite candidates are persuasive.

Nobody believes you should be proud of your political leaders, who’ve delivered you to this great historical moment.

Nobody believes another law will help us relieve whatever problem is afflicting us now.

Nobody will give a fuck. That is absolutely certain.

Nobody will seriously believe in American Exceptionalism, and won’t that be a fine day?

Nobody agrees with you about abortion, civil rights, civil liberties, the Constitution, America’s place in the world, privatization, public education, tax rates, basic economics, the importance of William McKinley in modern politics, and everything else, so you don’t have to talk about it anymore, okay?

 

I have not heard of all the world’s fine bands, but Ahab is the finest band you’ve never heard of. Each of their albums reworks and retells literature of ocean adventure gone bad into the slowest, coolest doom metal. Their most recent work is “The Giant” based on a novel by Edgar Allen Poe.

You may wonder about doom metal. You’re right to do so. Metal may be the most fragmented of musical genres. But consider that all metal is the spawn of Black Sabbath. Doom metal takes the best elements of the slowest Black Sabbath songs. Note: this does not mean the softest of songs. We’re not doing “Changes” here. Think more of the first six minutes of the song “Black Sabbath” or “Wheels of Confusion” or “Lord of this World.” These songs feature some of Tony Iommi’s greatest low end slow riffs.

Many tracks on “The Giant” feature variations on those riffs, but they also have moments that remind me of “Planet Caravan,” low, bluesy acoustic guitars which build into those angry riffs. The movement from big, mean guitars to low and pleasant (even to The Wife) very much suggests the effects of loss and being lost on the ocean. These tracks are long and melodic and mean and kind, a kind of spiral of emotions, tossed and turned on the water.

The vocals offer even greater variety. Maybe “polarity” is a better word. Sometimes we hear mournful, bluesy singing and sometimes we get classic death metal Satan-yelling. But these polarities work especially well on this album. They’re set up by the album’s opening lyrics (from “Further South”):

“I’m Arthur Gordon Pym/Or is he me?” Bluesy man is one half of Pym, sensitive and uncertain. Satan is not particularly Satanic at all. He’s the “subconscious creator” of Pym’s misery and, simultaneously, questioning the need for his creations. He’s a real fallen god.

We follow Pym on his journey south where he has encounters with an Ancient Mariner-like ship of the dead, the vast emptiness of Antarctica, and, of course, a giant (which might be a great Antarctic whale). Pym’s great enemy, though, is time. Time slows about as close as it can to a stop, or feels as though it does. A stop would be a release. He could cease movement and cease wondering what he should do with himself. But time goes forward, miserably, slowly forward.

The music in some sense mirrors that slowness. For sure, this is some of the slowest metal you’ve ever heard. Some tracks are twelve minutes long. But they are beautiful, and they tell a fascinating tale.

perspective

Posted: August 20, 2012 in but whatever
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The universe may include far more than ourselves and our desires, but the planet floating round alpha centauri is not and will never be as significant as my lunch, which is pizza from Carmine’s.

Dave Mustaine is the most talented American heavy metal guitarist of all time.

Dave Mustaine doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about.

This is not a left wing/right wing debate. I am no Democrat. I’m no democrat either. The problem for Mustaine is a problem for any follower of modern politics. The more you follow and the more you read, the stupider you become. That’s because almost everything you follow and read is propaganda of the most pathetic sort. In otherwise normal conversations, you end up spouting the opinions of thousands or millions. The more you follow and read, the less critical analysis you apply to what you follow and read. Because there is such a surplus to follow and read, you never have the time, capacity, and real information with which you can form a critique. You end up parroting another fool’s critique, which is, in fact, propaganda.

So here’s Dave Mustaine spouting off about Obama’s birthplace and gun control in precisely the manner and nearly the language of various right-wing callers to radio talk shows who spout off in precisely the manner and nearly the language of those radio talk show hosts who spout off in precisely the manner and nearly the language of pundits … keep following that line through TV ads to politicians to “think tank” “scholarship.”

Mustaine is an easy target, particularly for liberals who listen to classic rock or jazz or fucking Metallica, but those liberals might wonder about all those graphs and pictures of Obama laughing with children as though he couldn’t kill one and as though he has improved their lives and yours by a factor of ten thousand, even though he’s doing just about all the shit Bush did and even a little more.

But  dig that second paragraph again. When we grew up, we were told to read, because reading would bring knowledge, and that knowledge would bring power. Hey, man, Dave Mustaine can read. He probably reads a lot. So do you. Do you think reading what he’s reading has helped him understand the world? Or has it shaped his world so tightly and weirdly that he ends up sounding like a fool when he talks to someone who hasn’t read the same stuff he’s read? Has reading all those newspapers and speech transcripts shaped you in similar fashion?

Literacy does grant power, but that power is limited, particularly in these dumb times. As noted everywhere, we live in a land of ridiculous surplus super-sized everything. So many people write books and papers and blogposts and so much of all that is an echo of others’ writing and speech, half-heard and remembered.

Know that, and know this: reading helps you understand and makes sense of words, but not necessarily the world.

pactor as jane goodall

Posted: August 15, 2012 in but whatever
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it’s mid-august, a time of heat and university departmental meetings. the former is more widely known than the latter, which is why i offer these zoological observations of phds in their natural habitat, a place you are rightly scared to visit.

what creatures have i seen?

slickitus possumii: smiling, smiling forever; they wish to be better friends and more familiar with your work; they touch your shoulder gently as they peer beyond you, at someone they’ve missed all summer.

bright-eyed democratii: thin; strange moles growing or hatching atop their witch hands; at every moment the meeting might advance to a conclusion, they question points of procedure; they still believe in fairness and that jimmy was safe in that kickball game in third grade, but no one listened to them then, and so you must listen to them now.

terminators: they have seen the future of the university and have come to the past to alter it, not with weapons of death and monotone kill-lines, but by laser-focus on personal projects and goals, for which they will hijack any conversation between two-plus people; actual meetings give them robot orgasms.

greybrained gnomes: these creatures are the natural enemies of democratists, for they have been around forever and can quote university bylaws as though they are poetry and even, on occasion, intone bylaws as such; anapests and trochees explain why you park here and i park there, now peace and good night.

(how to explain the animosity? perhaps it is the difference between true and false knowledge, or perhaps recognition of another man’s sophistry reveals one’s own; a bitter moment, yes?)

doodlers: most resemble children in ties or easter dresses; these creatures smile truly while they draw spirals and cross-hatches till it’s time for soda; harmless; love anything but the subject they teach; nonetheless, they share the democratists’ passion for the vote.

for certain, we live in a nation and time in which hatred for the meeting is widely, supposedly shared, yet it is clear that in the actual land of meetings, a large population has evolved to enjoy them. perhaps first they learned to survive them, but now they need and even desire them on a regular basis. this may be kin to the human sex drive, a terrifying analogy or thesis.

ImageLater, army drones lobbed tennis shoes and baseballs into the roads. We couldn’t see them till people got brained or fell into craters. The shoes were K-Swiss: garbage. Afterward, this android with impeccable fashion sense marched down the street. His suit shined under the moon. He inspected our lawns and corpses. His jaw gears clicked and whirred into smile mode. He asked us to take his gifts. Learn to play. We ate him and drowned the materiel in the river. The police invaded and watched us excrete. Many were unlucky, but Mother had taught us to eat only meat, never skin.

Relief

Posted: August 6, 2012 in greater writers than me
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I’m hip deep in Flaubert’s A Sentimental Education. Briefly, a knucklehead with all kinds of fairytale ideas of love and society finds himself with too much money in Paris on the eve of the 1848 revolution (not the French Revolution, another one).

For all the talk about the publishing industry’s imminent demise, a writer has too much contemporary stuff to read. Most of it is astonishingly bad, even after subtracting the various vampire novels and Jonathan Franzen’s tedium. Little of this work offers personal vision. I’ve recently talked a lot about sentences, but in some cases I think too much attention has been paid to making the sentence sound good or sound weird. This comes at the expense of actual meaning. Sometimes I need the comfort of a classic.

Flaubert delivers the traditional goods. I mean that he does what we all wanted to do when we first set out to write stories: to take you to a particular place and moment. If you know that place and moment, you’ll recognize it by the wealth of detail. If you don’t know that place and moment, you’ll learn about it by the wealth of detail. You’ll learn about the wide variety of characters in this world. You’ll be involved in the original spell of storytelling, the one in which you forget you’re reading words on a page.

The spell is cast by not simply beautiful sentences, but patient, purposeful sentences. Each detail not only establishes a fact, but is part of a chain of details which build meaning.

Occasionally the hope of finding something do distract his mind would take him up towards the boulevards. He’d emerge from the cool, damp smell of gloomy little lanes into vast squares, deserted and dazzlingly bright, with fine tall buildings casting jagged shadows along the edges of the cobbled streets. But then the carts and ships would begin again and he was bewildered by the crowds—particularly on Sundays, when an immense throng of people would flood over the asphalt amid clouds of dust and an unceasing din from the Bastille to the Madeleine; he was sickened by the sordid vulgarity of their faces, their inane remarks, the smug idiocy exuding from all these sweaty foreheads. However, the realization of his own superiority over such people did mitigate the strain of having to look at them.

As elsewhere in this novel, Frederic’s brain is opened to us with patience, with well-chosen precise words and details. He walks with his characteristic scatterbrain, seeking distraction in bright streets and cast shadows. Actual people bewilder him, and the more of them the worse for him. His misanthropy and snobbery—of which he is entirely unconscious—is built up and finally revealed in the conclusion of this passage.

Flaubert builds France itself with the same patience and precision of detail. Everything in this novel fits into his design. Now, I’m not sure I love how tightly everything fits together. A rough edge or two makes a book seem more human. On the other hand, here’s a sentimental image: a kid loves walking hand in hand with a Daddy, knowing or at least believing he’s perfect. Faith creates security. You don’t want that all the time, either in literature or life, but at some point you will want it, and when you do, Flaubert’s on your shelf, waiting.