CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature

Art and Tech, part 2: the uneasy relationship between artist and technology

As technologies have been developed and then evolved, artists have exploited them in the creation of art. But is it possible to reach a point where technology exploits artists – and through them art?

(For previous essays in this series, look here.)

Neil Postman (image courtesy Wikimedia)

The work of the late Neil Postman, especially in the camps of those who sing the praises of our current era of rapid technological innovation and implementation, is treated with, if noted at all, skepticism bordering on disdain. Reactions to his 1993 classic Technopoly: the Surrender of Culture to Technology even went so far to to accuse him being a Neo-Luddite.

But Postman raises important questions about society’s relationship to technology and asks that hard question for which none of his critics (this may explain the dismissiveness of some) seem willing to offer an answer: Do we control technology – or does technology control us?

Such a difficult – and profound – question seems important for art and artists for a number of reasons. Continue reading

Who is ISIS? Time for an airlift.

So picture this scenario. A leader in a fledgling democracy creates a space for himself, a perch above it all from which to tame the beast. Sounds reasonable? Except, wait. No it doesn’t. Remember when George Washington turned down the crown? Remember when he set the two term precedent? That’s a leader. What we’re dealing with is a king. Let’s hope he’s not a tyrant. Continue reading

Energy

Open letter to America: the endless war for oil

What if I told you that all wars were waged over resources, that at the moment the most important resource in the world is oil, and that the war in the middle east and the trade war over the Alberta tar sands, seemingly different conflicts involving different parties, are actually the same war, waged by the same economic force and subject to the same economic necessities, one of which is within your control? Continue reading

Police Violence

[(Ferguson * Occupy) + police brutality]/Obama

One of these things is not like the other

In a Sunday interview, President Obama defended his recent controversial executive order that shields some, but not all, illegal immigrants from deportation. The president also fielded questions about other issues during the interview. Regarding the tensions in Ferguson in anticipation of the grand jury’s indictment decision, he had this to say: Continue reading

Politics: Democrats vs Republicans

House Intel Committee: new report exposes lies while pushing more

Next up: Issa to investigate House Intel Committee?

Associated Press reports, as seen here at Time, that the House Intelligence Committee has released a new report on the Benghazi tragedy. Or, as AP put it, “The House Intelligence Committee report was released with little fanfare on the Friday before Thanksgiving week.” Why might that be? What could possibly be in a Republican-led Intelligence Committee report about Benghazi that the GOP wouldn’t want plastered all over the place for everyone to see? Read on. Then get the report straight from the horse’s mouth.

Debunking a series of persistent allegations hinting at dark conspiracies, the investigation of the politically charged incident determined that there was no intelligence failure, no delay in sending a CIA rescue team, no missed opportunity for a military rescue, and no evidence the CIA was covertly shipping arms from Libya to Syria.

Continue reading

Wheel of Fortune

What President Obama didn’t mention in his immigration address

There’s a sequence of 6 letters that appears nowhere in the transcript

President Obama finally addressed the nation today regarding the executive actions he’s taking in regard to our broken immigration system. If you’re looking for a strident pro or con piece, this isn’t it. If you’re looking for a call to see him impeached, yeah, good luck with that. If you’re acting like this is the first time a sitting president has ever had the temerity to go it alone on the issue, maybe you might want to bone up on the administrations of Ronnie “Golf? I NAP!” Reagan and creepy ex-chief of the secret police George “I Threw Up on Helmut Kohl and All I Got Was this Lousy T-Shirt” Bush, the Elder. Even so, I’m here to throw our friends on the right a bone. Continue reading

Earp grave

Tuesday morning with the Earps

Fanciful middle-aged musings in a garden of the dead

It was just another Tuesday…

Wyatt Earp is dead and gone but I have sometimes talked to him in the years since I became a Heart Disease Missionary. When I come to the cold shores of Colma, I come to stave off cancer by snacking on his western bones.

  …and I was out running an errand. And running that errand put me in a location in South San Francisco from where it would be easy to run other errands. You know how that goes. One twenty-minute task turned into five, and without prior planning I ended up in a Carl’s Jr. eating a chorizo breakfast burrito, wondering what it would do to my cholesterol levels and feeling bad about fast-food slumming.

I figured after I’d eaten I wasn’t yet ready to deal with the shuffling toddler-mom shopping carts or oblivious merchandise stock-monkeys at Target or Best Buy. Then I realized Josephine and Wyatt Earp were within my automobile errand sphere, so I decided to go see them.

Continue reading

Ethics

Rev. Al Sharpton, his fans, and Boolean operators

Apparently it’s not okay to take on one of our own

This was originally going to be a comment at Democratic Underground. The more I typed, the more I thought I should just go ahead and stir the pot far more broadly, but I’ll still do my left-leaning compatriots there the courtesy of linking back to this for their consideration.

See, I don’t understand why some folks there are taking issue with a NYT article as though it were a hit piece. The article? As Sharpton Rose, So Did His Unpaid Tax Bills. Continue reading

CATEGORY: RacePolitics

State of Emergency! Ferguson battens hatches

And who can blame Governor Nixon for that?

Like most folks who keep up at least a little with the news, I’ve heard a thing or three about Ferguson. Of late, I’ve actually stopped keeping up with news in general to the extent I used to. Partly that’s burnout. Partly it’s that I’ve found a few other things to keep me fiddling while Rome burns. But I still scan the headlines at least a few times a week. Maybe it’s like a junkie getting a half-assed fix. Maybe it’s just a good idea to keep some fresh idea of what’s going on in the world. Anyone blow up Russia yet? Has the ebola outbreak spread to my neck of the woods? What about Kim Kardashian’s ass? You know, the usual important stuff. Continue reading

ArtSunday

Pride and Prejudice: The Romance Novel as Literature…

Amid current discussions of how genre fiction and literature are merging in the 21st century, Pride and Prejudice is a reminder that the genre of romance merged with literature a long, long time ago…

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (image courtesy Goodreads)

As I have noted before, my custom of re-reading Austen’s works systematically has shifted from reading all six of the completed novels each year (as I did for more than two decades) to a rotation through the oeuvre of that allows me to read two novels each year. My own background as an Austen scholar has given me cause to give each of the novels “close reading” (the scholarly term for close analytic reading of a text to ferret out meaning) numbers of times. Still, each time I return to any of Jane Austen’s novels, I find myself surprised by what I learn.

Such was the case during this reading of what the general public consider Austen’s masterpiece, Pride and Prejudice. It is certainly her most widely read work, partly because there seems to have long been a belief among educators that it is her most accessible novel (I’d argue for Emma) and partly, I suppose, because it has enjoyed the most attention over the last century or so as the basis for classic Hollywood bowdlerizations, faithful and thoughtful BBC renderings, and hipster revisionist treatments. It says something for the greatness of the book that it has borne all these cinematic renditions without losing any of its charm as entertainment or any of its impressiveness as a literary performance. Continue reading

Popular Culture

Murdering culture, one hipster delusion at a time…

Hipsters being savaged by a former hipster seems – oh, I don’t know, about right…?

Author Will Self (image courtesy Wikimedia)

No one who is a thinking person doubts that our culture is in trouble. Whatever forces have taken us down a road where knowledge of reality television shows is considered social capital are, I think we can all agree, malevolent.

In a recent essay in The New Statesman (and republished in The New Republic), British novelist and intellectual Will Self savages his generation’s acquiescence in failing to overcome being what he calls “the pierced and tattooed, shorts-wearing, skunk-smoking, OxyContin-popping, neurotic dickheads who’ve presided over the commoditization of the counterculture; we’re the ones who took the avant-garde and turned it into a successful rearguard action…of capitalism’s blitzkrieg.” His critique (written in a classic snarky style) continues with an indictment of what he sees as a completely delusional group of “artists” – : Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Louis Hemon’s Maria Chapdelaine: Il se souvient

Like other classics of of what might be called pioneer literature, Louis Hémon’s classic of Quebecois literature Maria Chapdelaine conveys the love of a people for the land in a way that is beautifully simple and simply beautiful.

Maria Chapdelaine by Louis Hemon (image courtesy Goodreads)

Maria Chapdelaine belongs to a noble tradition of what we can call pioneer literature. (It might also be called agrarian literature, but that term has come to be associated with the Fugitive Movement in Southern literature that began at Vanderbilt University in the 1920’s.)  Most readers have some experience with such books, especially in young adult literature – many have read at least one of the Little House books of Laura Ingalls Wilder or Lucy Maud Montgomery’s Anne Shirley series.

More mature – and sophisticated – readers may be familiar with works such as Sergei Aksakov’s The Family Chronicle or any of several novels by Willa Cather, particularly O Pioneers! or My Antonia. These are works that celebrate the difficult but rewarding lives of settlers, lives that are quietly heroic and which are tied to the rhythms of the land whether that land is on the Russian steppes or the American plains.

Maria Chapdelaine stands slightly apart from these other examples of pioneer literature for a couple of reasons. Continue reading

Music and Popular Culture

Sir Paul the Evangelist: McCartney gets a bad rap

A Paul McCartney show these days is a music history lesson wrapped in a plea for understanding with a side order of “Remember when they made music and you actually cared about knowing the words…?”

Sir Paul McCartney (image courtesy imdb)

Sir Paul gets a bad rap.

Part of this I attribute to the influence of a certain generation of music critics, those for whom the term “snark” might have been invented, and many of whom resent anything and everything Beatle related. They have long crusaded against all things Beatle and especially against Macca, because he’s not John and because he’s not George, and because – Wings (which had its terrific moments and some damned silly ones, too).

Then, too, Sir Paul made that unforgivable decision, the one either Dave Marsh or Greil Marcus (I forget which – and that says something about the importance of critics vis a vis artists, kids) called “the decision for pop.” He’s focused on writing songs that get denominated pop no matter how hard they rock or how brilliantly they incorporate his many musical influences. The Cute Beatle he is the The Cute Beatle he shall remain. I have a response – and I know I don’t speak for Paul – but I wish I did, because I’d say… Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

Ben Ames Williams’s The Strange Woman and Art as Commerce….

Almost forgotten as a writer now, Ben Ames Williams’s novels and stories represent the most interesting of American literary legacies – market driven art….

The Strange Woman by Ben Ames Williams (image courtesy Goodreads)

This essay concerns one of the novels of Ben Ames Williams. If you’re asking yourself “Who?” be assured that you’re not alone. A very successful “popular fiction” writer of the first half of the 20th century, Williams is almost forgotten now.  The novel we’ll be discussing shortly is called The Strange Woman and was published when Williams was at the height of his popularity.  The novel itself is…okay. The writer who produced it is fascinating as an example of a writer who made his creative decisions with a watchful eye to the market and whose oeuvre, as a result reflects that watchfulness – and whose literary reputation also reflects that watchfulness.

I have written on multiple occasions about the American reading public’s interests, partly because I have wanted to understand the literary marketplace better myself, partly because as a writer who now lives in the purgatory assigned to the vast majority of those who write “literary fiction,” I have often looked with envy at those who have been able to navigate the labyrinth of American publishing in ways that have given them great success – both popular and financial (let me note here that no artist is averse to making money, no matter how much he/she may protest that art should be an act of illumination for humanity and money be damned). Continue reading

SCotUS

Should Justice Ginsburg retire?

No, and here’s why in her own words

Just a couple of months back I wondered out loud as to why Justice Ginsburg shows no signs of retiring while President Obama still warms the chair in the Oval Office, especially given her age, health, the precarious balance of the Supreme Court, and the lack of any guarantee that there will be a solid shot later at at least a half-decent successor for her.

With a hat-tip to ThinkProgress for pointing the way, here’s Justice Ginsburg in her own words, courtesy of an interview with Elle magazine’s Jessica Weisberg:

Who do you think President Obama could appoint at this very day, given the boundaries that we have? If I resign any time this year, he could not successfully appoint anyone I would like to see in the court. [The Senate Republicans] took off the filibuster for lower federal court appointments, but it remains for this court. So anybody who thinks that if I step down, Obama could appoint someone like me, they’re misguided. As long as I can do the job full steam…. I think I’ll recognize when the time comes that I can’t any longer. But now I can.

Continue reading

ArtSunday: LIterature

I read books because I need to know … so much more than I do now

As I age, what I read and why has changed markedly over time

ArtSunday: LIteratureIf you’re a reader, you probably have a list of “fave” books. Or of books you found “influential.” Or of books you liked because each told “a good story.” Or maybe because the books were filled with vampires and such.

I’m surrounded by book listers. I lurk on a listserv of really bright people, and one of the topics du jour is “what’s your book list.” (Thanks to them, I’ve picked up several to add to my own list.)

Jim Booth, one of my fellow co-founders of Scholars & Rogues, compiles a list of books each year and reviews them here. (He’s done more than 50 reviews this year alone.) A faculty colleague has from time to time posted outside his office a list of “books I spent time with this summer.”

I never thought much about book lists.

Then the Time of My Great Disenchantment with Mega-Corporate-Run Journalism began to descend on me about seven years ago. I realized that the grist of daily journalism no longer dealt at length or in depth with the gnawing questions I need answered:

How does the world work? Why does it work that way? What are the consequences of the answers to the first two questions?

So why isn’t mainstream journalism as practiced these days telling me what I need to know? After all, journalism has been billed as “the first rough draft of history.” Continue reading

Scotland

Erm, hi, England here. I get it. I’m sorry.

I’ve been the problem all along

This is really awkward for me, what with being a country and all. I don’t usually speak, and I certainly never imagined I’d speak from a position of humility. That’s just never been my style. I’ve always been more of a see it, seize it, dominate it sort of country. Short on words, big on colonies. But ya know what? I do read the papers. There’s lots of talk about Scotland, well, about half the Scots, wanting out of this little forced arrangement that’s worked out so well for us, well, for me, sort of, for so long. But then there was this sore little reminder run by The Guardian, mapping out every one of my little imperialist failures.

Continue reading

WordsDay: Literature

Ian McEwan’s Atonement: very good – but that gimmicky ending…

 McEwan’s novel is well written and has a fine plot – except for the gimmicky ending…

Atonement by Ian McEwan (image courtesy Goodreads)

This essay about a work from my 2014 reading list looks at one of the most successful novelists of the last two decades. Ian McEwan has had a highly successful run as a commercially successful and acclaimed writer. His 2001 novel Atonement was short listed for the Booker Prize (England’s most prestigious literary award) and was made into a highly successful motion picture in 2007.

In most ways Atonement is a worthy novel. The theme, which examines the results of allowing one’s imagination to overpower one’s reason and senses, allows McEwan to examine the role of the artist in society and issues of class prejudice and family dysfunction. McEwan writes with both authority and skill and has a grasp of language that allows him at times to play with words (especially in his descriptions of the novel’s “writer” character, Briony Tallis, and her early forays into writing).

The plot of the novel owes something to other authors, particularly Graham Greene (one thinks of “The Basement Room,” Greene’s fine story that served as the basis for the excellent Carol Reed film The Fallen Idol). In a reversal of that storyline, McEwan has Briony Tallis, a child of 13 at the time of the novel’s major incident, hold the novel’s romantic lead, Robbie Turner, in a sort of snobbish didain based on his class background. Turner, the son of a Tallis family servant, has been sponsored to both grammar school (English prep school) and to Cambridge by Briony’s father. Briony’s older sister Cecilia, roughly Robbie’s age, has grown up with him – and has attended Cambridge with him as well.  As often happens in novels of class/manners in English literature, the two have long been in love without acknowledging their feelings. Briony’s childishly violent disapproval of their relationship – provoked by her discovery on the two in flagrante in the library of the Tallis home – leads her to commit an act of perjury against Turner that ruins not only his life but her sister’s. To compound the miseries associated with her act, her lie allows a rapist  to escape punishment and have a long, successful career in business – he even eventually marries his victim. Continue reading

CATEGORY: ArtsLiterature2

John McPhee and Immersion Journalism: The Survival of the Bark Canoe

John McPhee’s greatness lies in his ability to make the real world and its inhabitants as interesting as if they were fictional…

The Survival of the Bark Canoe by John McPhee (image courtesy Goodreads)

Here’s one from the 2014 reading list that I’ve been looking forward to reading. I have been a John McPhee fan since I was an undergraduate. My composition class “reader” had an excerpt from Oranges about fighting a frost in Florida with smudge pots that hooked me on his approach to nonfiction.  (Some of the more hoary of you working through this piece may remember those books called readers. They were books of essays by great nonfiction writers assigned in 1st year composition classes to provide “writing models” to callow 18 years olds in the quaintly delusional hope that some of the greatness of an E.B. White, Lewis Thomas or John McPhee would enter our heads and come out through our pens back in those halcyon days when we rode dinosaurs to classes.)  The use of these has been widely discontinued – an act, I suspect, owing as much to the despair writing teachers feel of ever encountering a writer who could, to borrow a metaphor from Rogers Hornsby, at least “carry the bat” of a White or Thomas – or McPhee – as to changes in the pedagogical approach to teaching writing.

The Survival of the Bark Canoe is a brief book, only 114 pages. That is often the case with McPhee; he does not write long pieces because he actually writes pieces suitable for inclusion in magazines. The magazine he is most closely associated with is the same one that E. B. White and his contemporary James Thurber helped make famous: The New Yorker.  Given that magazine’s history for stellar writing – and occasionally writing that manages to be pompous and precious at once – one can easily jump to the conclusion that McPhee has that ironic, wittily condescending style many associate with the nation’s premier “high brow” mass market magazine (though these folks might disagree with that assessment). Nothing could be further from the truth – and therein lies McPhee’s greatness. His ability to immerse himself in the stories he explores and bring to life their characters draws readers along as if they were reading fiction. Continue reading