Sunday, December 18, 2011

Have Yourself A Merry Christmas!

We're heading south to Cuba for the next few weeks - so Merry Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

This is how It's a Wonderful Life should have ended...

Goodbye Mr. Potter!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Nothing Compares 2 U: Prince In Edmonton

"When Doves Cry"
Prince rolled through the Great White North last Tuesday and left behind a bucketful of purple pixie-dust...

"Nothing Compares 2 U"
James Brown's legendary sax player, Maceo Parker, was along for the ride linking "Play That Funky Music" with "Alphabet Street" and "Delirious"....

"Purple Rain" was followed by "Take Me With You" and a smoldering "Kiss," but no "Little Red Corvette." At 53, the Purple One can still grind - maybe not in stilettos, but high-heeled runners with flashing red lights (not kidding), the kind that all the pixies are wearing on the playground these days...

As expected, he played his MadCat Telecaster like a man possessed, opening the night with "Let's Go Crazy" and even got behind the keys to take the band "back to church" on "Nothing Compares 2 U." When he shuffled out to the stage's tip of the arrow to duet on Michael Jackson's "Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough" it was the crème de la crème, the icing on the cake with a bright purple cherry on top...

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Generation Waste: Coupland Redux

“When I get up in the morning, my daily prayer is, grant me today my illusion, my daily illusion. Due to the fact that illusions are necessary, have become necessary for a life in a world completely devoid of a utopian conscience and utopian presentiment.” ~ Ernst Bloch
My god, was there ever a more sickening bunch of neanderthals than the cretins moping around in Douglas Coupland's first novel, Generation X? At least I was too young to be sucked up into their demographic - apparently 1959-1965 is the window of inclusion. I never cottoned on to the slacker ennui aesthetic this novel embodies, and I'm pretty sure neither did Coupland. He went on to do much greater things, but unfortunately for him this cultural milestone will forever be hanging from his scrawny neck. I mean, what idiot travels to Palm Springs to find the meaning of life?

What can be done “in a world completely devoid of utopian conscience,” as the great Ernst Bloch asked? First, Coupland’s Gen X’ers would need to wake up to the possibility of radical difference before realizing that they do have a future that can be partially determined (at the very least) by actions they commit to in the present. If this level of awareness could be obtained, they might understand that culture is a malleable construct that can be subjected to pressures and alterations.

(Coupland, 1992)
But what Coupland's Gen X'ers settle for is something far from any utopia:
We live small lives on the periphery; we are marginalized and there’s a great deal in which we choose not to participate. We wanted silence and we have that silence now…We had compulsions that made us confuse shopping with creativity, to take downers and assume that merely renting a video on a Saturday night was enough. But now that we live here in the desert, things are much, much better.”
Their goals are modest, “small” even, and they avoid participating in “a great deal.” They also dislike noise and desire “silence." Sounds a bit like a cemetery to me. Nevertheless, they still hang on, even in Palm Springs, to the forces that caused them to leave in the first place. They lack the ability or desire to go all the way and imagine a real alternative outside of the natural flows of apathy or fear. Instead they succumb to a life of futurelessness, a dystopia where nostalgia is the only true respite.


Friday, December 09, 2011

Oryx & Crake: Fair Warning

“Something’s missing when instead of the possibility of radical difference, we find always and everywhere the same ideas of how we might proceed.” – Eric Cazdyn and Imre Szeman in After Globalization.
What can be done in a world that's moving beyond our control? When systems take on a momentum of their own a sense of fatalism can overtake any gesture of collective will. Just look at what Stephen Harper has done in Canada's name at the Durban climate conference this week. Margaret Atwood’s 2003 novel, Oryx and Crake, is a warning and a harrowing portrait of the dystopia that awaits if we fail to harness a utopian conscience, if we fail to consider the “possibility of radical difference,” and succumb to the perception that forces remain beyond our control.

(Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights)

The main character in Oryx and Crake, Snowman, is trapped in the hell of his present dystopia:
"He doesn’t know which is worse, a past he can’t regain or a present that will destroy him if he looks at it too clearly. Then there’s the future. Sheer vertigo."
(Jason Courtney)

His unbearable present is overwhelming and leaves him with nothing to do but seek out ways - like alcohol - to avoid the obvious. While this seems to suggest that all is lost, in the final pages of the novel Snowman is confronted with a chance to step forward and initiate an action that may finally offer redemption...(read the novel!)

(Earth's Future)

In the figure of Crake, Atwood targets the messianic impulse to remake the entire world as the main source for all our problems. It's what Hannah Arendt identified as the concept of homo faber ("Man the Creator"), or he who uses every instrument to build a world, even when the fabrication of that world violates its own materiality, including its people.

(Jason Courtney)

Gil Scott-Heron had it right all along - "Ain't No Such Thing As A Superman":

Monday, December 05, 2011

Down In The Mall: Schmaltz & Legitimacy

Schmaltz legitimizes from the bottom up, not the top down. So-called “legitimacy” as it currently exists, is a sham. Schmaltz, I suggest, is an attempt to reclaim what Fredric Jameson called “totality” though “global cognitive mapping” by using the atomized tools of our present condition:
“A new totalizing political art – if it is indeed possible at all – will have to hold to the truth of postmodernism, that is to say its fundamental object- the space of multinational capital - at the same time at which it achieves a breakthrough to some as yet unimaginable new mode of representing this last, in which we may again begin to grasp our positioning as individual and collective subjects and regain a capacity to act and struggle which is at present neutralized by our spatial as well as our social confusion."

Schmaltz is actually a food, a rendered pâté. The verb "to render" is central to the Schmaltz aesthetic. Schmaltz renders art from the elite to the collective and mashes genres together to create its own accessible taste.

"Legitimate" art as Pierre Bourdieu would define it, supports the taste preferences of the dominant class, or what he called, "The Aristocracy of Culture." Legitimate art is endowed with the privilege of speaking for humanity, for expressing the soul of our time. In this way artists are, in Shelley’s famous phrase, "the unacknowledged legislators of the world."

Schmaltz rejects this view as hubris, vanity and snobbery masking as universality. Schmaltz is the great leveler – it’s only assumption is if one person can do it, then so can I. It collapses all hierarchies, flattens authority, and reverses the flow of justice from a transcendent domain to an immanent one. The defining attributes of Schmaltz are that it is sincere and earnest – essentially kitsch without irony.

I got the idea to pursue this work-in-progress from Carl Wilson's book on Celine Dion, Let's Talk About Love: A Journey to the End of Taste. He identifies Schmaltz as a kind of recurring ephemeral phenomenon:
"Schmaltz is an unprivate portrait of how private feeling is currently conceived, which social change can pitilessly revise."
I'm not sure I'd agree that Schmaltz is exclusively "private feeling" - most art originates from a "private" space, essentially. Schmaltz differentiates itself through its fearless approach to sentimentality. Schmaltz replaces the notion of cool with genuine feeling. That it sometimes appears drippy or sappy is not only worth embracing because it offends Bourdieu's aristocracy, but because humans are sometimes naturally inclined this way. When it comes to the realm of feeling, Schmaltz exclaims, "No shame!"

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Adorno To Zappa: Culture Mechanics

If the A-Z of cultural studies begins with Theodor Adorno's critique of enlightenment as "mass deception," it should include Jacques Rancière's "emancipated spectator" as its dialectic and wrap up with Frank Zappa's Lumpy Gravy as its synthesis.

"The single most important development in modern music is making a business out of have reached a point where you can't just sit down and write because you know how to write and you love to write and eventually somebody will listen because they love to listen and maybe somebody will play it because they'll want to play it. That is gone." ~ Frank Zappa
"The culture industry not so much adapts to the reactions of its customers as it counterfeits them." ~ Theodor Adorno

Don't be too sure, Mr. Magoo...

"An emancipated community is a community of narrators and translators." ~ Jacques Rancière