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Wednesday, Oct 17, 2007

Hopefully the title of this entry doesn’t have you expecting an exegesis of Marillion lyrics or something; instead I wanted to revisit the point I was trying to make in the previous entry about education and try to illuminate it with a concept from an essay by Leszek Kolakowski. In his essay “The Priest and the Jester,” Kolakowski posits two eternally warring approaches to philosophy, which in his view has yet to shake its theological roots and is always taking up eschatological questions.


The antagonism between a philosophy that perpetuates the absolute and a philosophy that questions accepted absolutes seems incurable, as incurable as that which exists between conservatism and radicalism in all aspect s of human life. This is the antagonism between the priest and the jester, and in almost every epoch the philosophy of the priest and the philosophy of the jester are the two most general forms of intellectual culture. The priest is the guardian of the absolute; he sustains the cult of the final and the obvious as acknowledged by and contained in tradition. The jester is he who moves in good society without belonging to it, and treats it with impertinence; he who doubts all that appears self-evident. He could not do this if he belonged to good society; he would then be at best a salon scandalmonger. The jester must stand outside good society and observe it from the sidelines in order to unveil the nonobvious behind the obvious, the nonfinal behind the final; yet he must frequent society to know what it holds sacred.


In the previous post, I was trying to argue that everyday life tends to make jesters of us all, while cultural institutions tend to try to instill us the reverence of the priest and the complacency that comes with believing moral questions have been settled—in Venezuela, in favor of the “new man.” But the “new man” himself was supposed to be a jester; his demeanor was precisely something that can’t be taught, an attitude that self-consciousness and second-handedness destroys.


When I was a college teacher, this dilemma was palpable to me, but I didn’t have this vocabulary to describe it. I could tell that some other English dept. professors clearly took inherited standards seriously and saw these traditions as self-justifying, worth preserving simply because others had saw fit to do the same. These priestly professors would teach appreciation classes and pass off subjective judgments on poetry, etc., without a blush or a moment’s hesitation—to them, that’s why you got credentialed, so that others would have to take your opinion as gospel, so you could essentially say whether various works of art rock, rot, or rule. Others, the teaching assistants especially, wanted to challenge the students to contest everything and reject all hierarchies and make it all up for themselves, as though they weren’t in the classroom to learn from someone else. These instructors wanted to dismantle all authority, particularly their own, and affirm the students’ voice. I would sort of ricochet back and forth between those poles, with an ad hoc pedagogy and a faithlessness in the whole process. Inevitably, one may have to become a priest to become entrenched in academia; one must professionalize and buy into one’s own bullshit, or in other words, have the dignity to take one’s own career seriously. And as a by-product of that, you might so piss off some students with your righteousness that they’ll develop their own jester-like qualities and fulfill their subversive potential.


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Wednesday, Oct 17, 2007

The summer stickiness has pretty much dissipated (though nothing can completely kill the subway’s trademark stink), and All Hallows Eve is all but upon us. So, you know what that means: it’s CMJ TIME!!!! That’s right, the industry conference to dwarf all other music industry conferences kicked off in New York City yesterday and will continue through the weekend, hosting hundreds upon hundreds of newbies, up-and-comers, and soon-to-be superstars. As always, PopMatters’ Events crew is out in force, chronicling every inspired solo and dutifully noting every errant riff. While you’re waiting for our extensive breakdown of the conference’s best (and worst) performances, how about a few snapshots from the middle of the mayhem? Check back tomorrow for more photos courtesy of our friends at Flavorpill...


Check out Flavorpill’s CMJ preview...


CMJ Begins
Press and fans from around the planet descended on the Lower East Side of Manhattan to gather their CMJ badges, stock up on free swag, and play Halo 3. People recovering from hangovers and jet lag were comforted by some afternoon-friendly indie pop and classically influenced cover tunes. The coy, unassuming sound of Takka Takka started things off, followed by the cutesy boy-girl vocals and organ-tinged rock of Saturday Looks Good to Me—leaving us early birds yearning for the Festival’s proper beginning later on at night. Also performing the afternoon show was rock and roll violin group the Section Quartet and acoustic folk chanteuse Jennifer O’Connor. A great way to start things off before we head to L’Asso for $1 pizza, as CMJ 2007 prepares to launch tonight with Bouncing Souls, Voxtrot, Q-Tip, and many, many more.
Joe Tacopino


VOXTROT


Venue-Hopping at the CMJ Festival
Before we were off to see Austin’s Voxtrot, with young Canadian sensations the Most Serene Republic and Dean and Britta (who sound like a more mellow Thurston and Kim), there were a host of shows just south of Houston street where venue-hopping at CMJ is at its best. At Arlene’s Grocery, the Swedish synth-pop band Mixtapes and Cellmates took time in between their Postal Service-like tunes to pay homage to Baywatch heart throbs David Hasselhoff and Pamela Anderson. Just around the corner at Pianos, Benji Cossa and Rocketship Park gave us some pedal steel-inspired country rock before we headed into the dungeon-like space at Fat Baby, where Centipede E’est whipped the crowd into a frenzy with their psychedelic stoner rock. Finally, at the aptly titled Living Room, the band Clint, Michigan, playing with delicate vocalist Amy Bezunartea, lulled the crowd with their banjos, fiddles, and mandolins.
Joe Tacopino


THE ROSEBUDS


THE MOST SERENE REPUBLIC


DEAN & BRITTA


More photos


STYLOFONE
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Wednesday, Oct 17, 2007

There’s a 2006 documentary still making the rounds, deserving of your attention.  Bling covers the connection between many rappers’ obsession with diamonds and the inhumane conditions of the many workers who mine them in Africa (Kanye West’s “Diamonds in Sierra Leone” was also part of this wake-up call).  One true believer is now rapper/bling entrepreneur Paul Wall.  His website now has a blood diamonds statement where he promises not to help exploit these workers anymore.  In the film itself, he went to Sierra Leone and met some of the workers who didn’t even have shoes (he bought them some) and saw miners working naked in horrible conditions.


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Tuesday, Oct 16, 2007

Last week, in an issue that went out of its way to demonize Che Guevara, the Economist ridiculed the recent efforts by the Venezuelan government to reshape its public education system in accordance to Marxist theory.


the aim of the new education plan is “the formation of the new man”.
That phrase was coined by Ernesto “Che” Guevara in the early years of the Cuban revolution. His “new man” would be motivated by moral rather than material incentives. Cuba’s communist government has pursued this chimera in vain for decades. Now its Venezuelan ally is embarking on the quest. “The old values of individualism, capitalism and egoism must be demolished,” says the president. “New values must be created, and that can only be done through education.”


All public educational programs are ideological in nature; it’s state-sponsored training in how to be the kind of docile citizen it expects. (Hence, phys ed classes.) So there’s no sense in criticizing Chavez for making the attempt. But it is strange to see an educational program that seems plausible only as a marginal, oppositional, and subversive pedagogy enacted by fringe radical instructors rolled out as a top-down national initiative. The agenda outlined in the Economist article—“children will be taught that capitalism is ‘a form of world domination’ associated with imperialism,” ” ‘a critical attitude towards any attempt at internal or external aggression,’ ” “the need to replace capitalist with socialist “hegemony”, by taking over those institutions that transmit the values of society”—are all things that back in the day many of my fellow Freshman Composition teachers used to fantasize about bringing to our classrooms under the innocuous guise of teaching critical thinking. And I wouldn’t repudiate any of these goals now. But critical thought is primarily a matter of challenging official doctrines and resisting to whatever degree is possible indoctrination of any sort, including that administered by your leftist literature teachers. When the state dictates some new hegemony, it remains hegemonic; it’s still the institutional culture, which itself carries with it the traits that we idealistically hope education will take the edge off of—conformity, superficiality, suspicion, hierarchical discipline, rigidity, etc. The instinctual response to institutional culture often seems to be skepticism, so it’s hard to imagine indoctrination working. Hegemony is never complete enough to eliminate the space for the viewpoints you are trying to eradicate. Indoctrination is much more effective when it operates indirectly, outside of institutional culture, or in what is perceived by participants as interstitial to it—the talk at the water cooler, what your hippie teacher gets away with saying, the shared jokes between individuals about bureaucratic rules as they carry them out, the things the police condone. True hegemony is achieved when these spaces too are reiterating the dominant culture, as they seem to in capitalist society, where individualism and consumerism are played out as pseudo rebellions rather than conformist posturing, mouthing a party line. Sociologists—Michel de Certeau, Henri Lefervre—have theorized this interstitial space as “everyday life,” and much is made of how it subverts the official version of how things are that makes it into recorded history—the speeches of leaders, survey results, economic data, that sort of thing. If the state seeks to leverage everyday life to its advantage, though, it needs to be subtle and circumspect about it, figure out ways to present oppression and restriction as advances in freedom. Platitudes and maxims about the “new man” are probably not enough to create this impression. The best kind of education is that which engenders beliefs that it can’t explicitly pursue as goals, education that works despite itself to create students who are curious, self-motivated, and sufficiently critical.


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Tuesday, Oct 16, 2007

Paul Steiger, outgoing editor of The Wall Street Journal, proposes a foundation-backed method for gathering investigative journalism.

Photograph by Soffia Gisladottir

Photograph by Soffia Gisladottir



In Philip K. Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? the first sign that the environment was degrading irrepairably was that owls—the symbol of wisdom—began to fall dead from the skies. It’s an image that didn’t make it into Ridley Scott’s epoch-defining film adaptation of Dick’s novel, Blade Runner, but he heaped other, different symbolism into the movie, which became a vision of a ruined world that continues to gain influence. In 1995 Martin Walker interviewed William Gibson and wrote: “When he first saw Blade Runner, Gibson staggered from the cinema in despair, fearing that someone else had already cornered his nightmare future. Slowly, he realised they had the street scenes and the landscape but not the mindscape, not the alternative sensory universe of the Net.”


In an interview in Wired magazine this month Scott talks about a newly-tweaked version of Blade Runner he’s just released and the movie’s influence on urban planners and architects. Wired asked Ridley Scott what it was like to be discussing a movie that he began 25 years ago.


It’s been ongoing so long, it never went away. So I’m used to it. It kept reemerging, and that’s when I realized that it had really unusual staying power. And it’s all very well, at the time, as the person who made it, to say, “Well, I knew it had.” But I didn’t, really, at the time. I knew I’d done a pretty interesting movie which, in fact, was extremely interesting but was so unusual that the majority of people were taken aback. They simply didn’t get it. Or, I think, better now to say they were enormously distracted by the environment.


Wired: What do you mean, “enormously distracted by the environment”?


Scott: Well, we — I mean I had new ground to address: the idea of doing a film that is not necessarily futuristic in the sense of the, futuristic science fiction, but actually more as a look into the future, and the future possibility, which can be more interesting. Because then you’re touching on various possibilities of, like, replication, which now are quite commonplace, but 25 years ago they were barely discussing it in the corridors of power where you have to — you know, like the Senate and things like that. They hadn’t even gotten to that point. I’m sure it was firmly in biological institutions and laboratories, but they hadn’t yet gone for permission. It was almost 10 years or 15 years after Blade Runner that I read about replication. Now, the film is not really about that at all, it’s simply borrowing that possibility and addressing it and putting it to making a sort of unusual protagonist or antagonist that will be leveraged into a Sam Spade or one of those detective, film-noir kind of stories. So people will be familiar with that kind of character, but not at all familiar with the world I was cooking up.


Ridley Scott talks about at the time being aware of the spectre of environmental breakdown, what we now call global warming, and giving that a futuristic aspect. What he created, in a way, was a kind of speculative investigative journalism. The question is now, since we’re living in a Blade Runner world, who is going to notice the owls falling, the erosion of wisdom, when the kind of investigative journalism undertaken by major newspapers as a public trust is disappearing?


One of the feeds I subscribe to is Jeff Jarvis’s Buzz Machine and he writes today about a new organization, Pro Publica, created by outgoing Wall Street Journal editor Paul Steiger.


I think that if we analyze the staffing and production devoted to investigation in American journalism, we’ll find that it’s a pretty damned small proportion of news budgets. And I suspect we’ll find that if it is not supported by large media organizations, it could be supported by foundations and public donation. That could come from independent organizations like Pro Publica and others (in its list of comparables, the Times misses the Center for Public Integrity). It also could come from independent journalists like Josh Marshall.


There is one caution to this: These organizations can be backed by and run by people with axes to grind. And so we may find an imbalance in investigation. That’s why the role of the editor, the journalist upholding public standards, remains important. Jay Rosen saw that when he started New Assignment and initially planned on having the public assign the stories (which I hope he still does); the editor stood in the way of the axes. And at Pro Publica, I have every confidence in its independence and intellectual honesty because it has Paul Steiger at its helm. It’s hard to name a more respected editor in this country.


No, foundations are not the salvation of newsrooms as we knew them. But this one could demonstrate that we could save — even expand — the scope of investigative journalism. I’ll be eager to watch.


Jeff Jarvis. Buzz Machine.


Jeff Jarvis links to a New York Times story about Pro Publica:


Paul E. Steiger, who was the top editor of The Wall Street Journal for 16 years, and a pair of wealthy Californians are assembling a group of investigative journalists who will give away their work to media outlets.


The nonprofit group, called Pro Publica, will pitch each project to a newspaper or magazine (and occasionally to other media) where the group hopes the work will make the strongest impression. The plan is to do long-term projects, uncovering misdeeds in government, business and organizations.


Nothing quite like it has been attempted, and despite having a lot going for it, Pro Publica will be something of an experiment, inventing its practices by trial and error. It remains to be seen how well it can attract talent and win the cooperation of the mainstream media.


Richard Perez Pena. The New York Times. October 15, 2007


 


 


 


 


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