Lists and Things

January 2, 2010

Thanks to Brandon for pointing out to me that a band I play with has placed on a Spanish music blog’s top album list for 2008 (it’s a review of the decade). This reminds me of the virtues of a good list. I recently read an interview with Umberto Eco about his new book, The Infinity of Lists, in which he argues that list making has been central to the civilizing project throughout history. Basically, they are primitive and essential tools for making sense of the world around us, making it relatively comprehensible and manipulable. With that in mind–and with the knowledge that I contribute to an infinity of year-end lists–here are some music lists, mostly recorded for posterity, but also with the vain pretension that I contribute to making the world slightly more civilized.

What I listened to this year (according to

1. Angelo Badalamenti Can’t get enough of the Twin Peaks soundtracks. Grady Tate is god.

2. Nick Cave Somehow ignored the man up until now, and am trying to make up for it.

3. Starflyer 59 I went through a brief but intense phase of catching up with their last few records. And will never stop listening to Everbody Makes Mistakes.

4. Davíd Garza Still making great records. Dream Delay is possibly his best full-length.

5. Nas Someone else I overlooked for too long. Hip Hop is Dead and Illmatic prove QB is more than sucka MC’s.

6. Pulp Jarvis. That is all.

7. Ennio Morricone Mike Patton’s  Crime and Dissonance collection is simply mindblowing. In addition to everything else Morricone did.

8. Richard Swift His new Atlantic Ocean release is great. 

9. Jimi Hendrix This surprised me, but I forgot I had to learn a bunch of his songs for a cover band I played in for a couple months. Never been a big fan, but it was fun to learn these songs and I gained a lot of admiration for Mitch Mitchell.

10. Willie Nelson I’ve been really into Phases and Stages the last few months. I love this man.

Honorable Mentions: doesn’t track classical composers well (since the artist tag is usually whatever soloist or group played the piece), but I listened to a ton of Messiaen, Webern, Schnittke, Gabaidulina, and John Adams.

Concerts: I didn’t get to see much unless I was playing in it, but highlights include Steve Beresford/BLISTRAP at Cafe Otto in London, Music Go Music in London, The Sixteen performing pieces by James MacMillan at Greyfriar’s Kirk, Edinburgh, James Blackshaw at Old St Paul’s in Edinburgh, Davíd Garza at Continental Gallery in Austin. The concert I most enjoyed playing in 2009, and of all time, was a duet with vocal improviser Madame P at the Bowery, Edinburgh.

New Releases
(in no particular order)

Richard Swift, Atlantic Ocean
Wild Beasts, Two Dancers
Z’s, Music of the Modern White
Atlas Sound, Logos
Flaming Lips, Embyronic
Mos Def, The Ecstatic
Higamos Hogamos, Higamos Hogamos
Jono El Grande, Neo Dada
James Blackshaw, The Glass Bead Game
Dave Bazan, Curse Your Branches
Cyro Baptista, Infinito
Grizzly Bear, Veckatimest
Steve Lehman Octet, Travail, Transformation and Flow
Han Bennink Trio, Parken
Wadada Leo Smith & Jack Dejohnette, America


Bourdieu’s Unfinished Agenda: A “Social Europe”

December 2, 2009

In honor of the Treaty of Lisbon going into effect this week, here are some thoughts from Pierre Bourdieu on Europe:

“Social history teaches us that there is no social policy without a social movement capable of imposing it and that it was not the market, as some would have us believe today, but the labor movement that ‘civilized’ the market economy while greatly contributing to its effectiveness. Consequently, for all those who genuinely wish to oppose a social Europe to the Europe of the banks and money…the question is how to mobilize the forces capable of achieving that end and which bodies to call on to carry out this work of mobilization.” (Bourdieu, Firing Back, 56)

“But an objective as visibly utopian as the construction of a unified European trade union confederation remains indispensable. … There is no task more urgent than the invention of novel ways of thinking and acting forced upon us by the casualization of employment. Generalized precariousness, which is the basis of a new form of social discipline generated by job insecurity and the fear of unemployment, which now affect even the best placed workers, can be the basis for solidarities of a new kind, both in scope and in principle.” (Bourdieu, Firing Back, 61)

“In conclusion, therefore, I need only formulate the question which ought to be at the centre of any reasoned utopia concerning Europe: how do we create a really European Europe, one that is free from all dependence on any of the imperialisms—starting with the imperialism that affects cultural production and distribution in particular, via commercial constraints—and also liberated from all the national and nationalist residues that still prevent Europe from accumulating, augmenting and distributing all that is most universal in the tradition of each of its component nations?” (Bourdieu, “A Reasoned Utopia and Economic Fatalism,” 129-130, link)

Bourdieu on Aesthetics, Science and the Production of Truth

November 24, 2009

Okay, so I’ve given up on blogging ’cause it’s a distraction from “real” work and because it’s easier to say short things elsewhere. But I feel compelled to share the brilliance of the following quotes with the world, and they didn’t fit in a status update.

“The love of art, like love itself, even and especially of the amour fou kind, feels founded in its object. It is in order to convince oneself of being right in (or having reasons for) loving that such love so often has recourse to commentary, to that sort of apologetic discourse that the believer addresses to himself or herself and which, as well as its minimal effect of redoubling his or her belief, may also awaken and summon others to that belief. This is why scientific analysis, when it is able to uncover what makes the work of art necessary, that is to say, its informing formula, its generative principle, its raison d’être, also furnishes artistic experience, and the pleasure which accompanies it, with its best justification, its richest nourishment. Through it, sensible love of the work can fulfil itself in a sort of amor intellectualis rei, the assimilation of the object to the subject and the immersion of the subject in the object, the active surrender to the singular necessity of the literary object (which, more often than not, is itself the product of a similar submission).”

“Renouncing the angelic belief in a pure interest in pure form is the price we must pay for understanding the logic of those social universes which, through the social alchemy of their historical laws of functioning, succeed in extracting from the often merciless clash of passions and selfish interests the sublimated essence of the universal. It is to offer a vision more true and, ultimately, more reassuring, because less superhuman, of the highest achievements of the human enterprise.”

Pierre Bourdieu, The Rules of Art, xvii and xvii.

A Miscellany: Iowa and the New Atheism

April 4, 2009

I’ve entitled this “a miscellany” to avoid the confusion that I think the judicial ruling on homosexuality in Iowa has anything to do with the New Atheism. That said, I’m quite happy when fundamentalism of any stripe is thwarted, be it Christian (in Iowa) or atheist.

First things first: IOWA?!?!? Who knew???? Okay, it looks like a center-left state, at least according to the last few presidential elections. But still…Iowa? How does it feel, California, to be passed up by Iowa? How does it feel, Hollywood and San Francisco, to be a cultural and political backwater to…Des Moines?

Second, I’ve come across some well-written, incisively argued critiques of the so-called New Atheism recently. New Atheism is more annoying than threatening, but based on its astronomical book sales and how often I hear its specious arguments thrown around, it’s nice to see them get their comeuppance every once in a while. Anyway, the first of these articles is a couple years old, by the mostly boring conservative-Christian analytic philosopher Alvin Plantinga. Regardless of how I feel about analytic philosophy, the man knows how to make an argument, and it’s fun to see him make mince of Richard Dawkins. The next article is not as tightly argued as Plantinga’s, but Eastern Orthodox theologian David Bentley Hart is a glorious writer, and hilariously compares Daniel Dennet to Lewis Carroll’s snark hunter–all bluster with no evidence, what exactly is he looking for again? Finally, the skeptical philosopher John Gray reviews the whole movement and concludes that

The attempt to eradicate religion…only leads to it reappearing in grotesque and degraded forms. A credulous belief in world revolution, universal democracy or the occult powers of mobile phones is more offensive to reason than the mysteries of religion, and less likely to survive in years to come. Victorian poet Matthew Arnold wrote of believers being left bereft as the tide of faith ebbs away. Today secular faith is ebbing, and it is the apostles of unbelief who are left stranded on the beach.

More Things I Have to Put Up With

March 27, 2009

The anthropology blog Savage Minds had an amusing post recently about some ridiculously “postmodern” titles for academic papers. To wit, education researcher Paul Smith has published papers with titles like, “an ILL/ELLip(op)tical po – ETIC/EMIC/Lemic/litic post® uv ed DUCAT ion recherché repres©entation” and “Split———ting the ROCK of {speci [ES]al} e.ducat.ion: FLOWers of lang[ue]age in >DIS.” The former paper is summarized as follows:

An approximately excessive, already-much-too-full, incomprehensibly elliptical poetics of research representation, this post/conceptual writing/writhing about research explores a poetic, poemic, polemic, politic, post discourse, and describes a new grammar and rhetoric for understanding education and social science. It offers an undiscovered set of metaphors to unpack ed DUCAT ion scanty science. It is a spoken/written langue/tongue piece based on an intentionally outlandish and overwhelming form used by (some) conceptual, and POST poets. Avoiding the never-transparent language that inscribes the offalic and violent taxonomy of norm(&)al academic research Repres©entation, this writ(h)ing outlines, through a flagrantly and literally/littorally entirely tiresome, unspeakably visual and aural word conflagration, a po-etic that begins to de-inscribe the nature of metaphoric, medicalized, ventriloquizing, normative discourse of social science/education.

I admit, I thought a much milder version of this writing style was cool as an undergraduate. But that was 10 years ago! I really thought, or at least hoped, that the academy had moved on. Thanks to Lazlo for slapping me out my hyphens and slashes when I wrote my first graduate school application back in 2002.

In somewhat happier news, I just read an article that claims Amazon sales of the Communist Manifesto have risen 700% (!) and those of Das Kapital have doubled since the beginning of the economic slump. (Side note: how does Amazon know when the slump started if none of the economists can figure it out? Corporate conspiracy!) There’s better reads than Marx in times like these, but Marx is waaay better than most of the standard alternatives.

New Mexican Sanity

March 19, 2009

Gov. Bill Richardson of New Mexico signed a bill yesterday ending the use of the death penalty in that state. Richardson’s statement has some good reasons even people who support the penalty in theory should be against its current practice. 15 down, 35 to go….

Yoder Comes Alive!!

March 12, 2009

The great Christian-anarchist website Jesus Radicals has just updated their website and simultaneously blown my freaking mind. Not only do they now have the internet’s best Jacques Ellul collection. Not only do they have previously hard-to-find Yoder articles from the Gospel Herald. But they have 10 minutes of video of Prof. John Howard Yoder rapping about why democracy is an ambiguous concept. Yoder has been my intellectual master for the past 5 years or so, and until about 15 minutes ago I’d never heard his voice or seen more than a couple of pictures of him (he died in 1997). I’m kind of freaking out.

Regent Bookstore has made available DVDs of a full lecture series Yoder did on New Testament Ethics. Umm, my birthday’s soon…anyone?!

Baila el guaguanco

March 9, 2009

Okay, I haven’t been posting at all because I’ve been super busy with school/music and really haven’t had anything to say that’s not directly applicable to those two things. But today I feel like communicating with my legion of virtually real readers, so here are two possibly interesting things I’ve done in the past week:

(1) Submitted two paper proposals for next year’s American Academy of Religion Annual Conference. I presented at the last one in Chicago, and really need to get in to this one, as it’s pretty much the main place I’ll be interviewing for jobs (if there are any jobs). I feel great about my paper proposals, though there’s never any guarantees.  I put in a paper on Bourdieu, Yoder and the possibility of nonviolence to the Religion and Social Sciences section. Here I look at how Yoder’s Politics of Jesus was written against traditional Weberian sociology of religion; but Bourdieu significantly updated/transformed that sociology, and I think grappling with Bourdieu’s critique of prophets as essentially violent is a good exercise for pacifists in learning to be symbolically nonviolent.

The other paper is for the Christianity and Academia Consultation and argues that within the symbolic and material economy of the university I attend, theology is essentially worthless, i.e., not worth people knowing about at all. This second paper may provide a foundation for the last chapter of my dissertation, and gives me the opportunity to do a little empirical research. But mainly I proposed it because I find it really fascinating that people I meet in bars and parties on a weekly basis have no idea what “Divinity” (as an academic discipline) or “theology” are. I understand that people might think it’s lame, but that they (“they” being mostly other university students) are totally ignorant about the subject is strange. So I’m looking around at the structure of the university in terms of funding, enrollment, etc. to show that there is really no advantage whatsoever for anyone to know about us…even if they like our library a lot!

(2) Just went down to London for a couple shows with Diva Abrasiva. The first one was at the legendary Cafe OTO and we were honored to hear a speech there by the even-more legendary Steve Beresford on accidents in electronic improvisation (in brief, he thinks they are good). Then BLISTRAP absolutely blew my head apart. Mick Beck is a god. Possibly the best thing I’ve seen since Humcrush a couple of years ago. The second show was at Pangea Project, which is a cool new venue/community space in Stoke-Newington. We had a tiny crowd there but still a fun show. Oh, and I seem incapable of playing anything other than guaguanco on the drums right now, hence the title of this post. Diva Abrasiva is still touring, so if you happen across this in the UK, click on the link and come out! I’m back in Scotland, but will rejoin the dudes in Dundee on Friday.

The Things I Have to Put Up With, Pt 2

February 24, 2009

Ahh…the French.

Being is equally beyond negation as beyond affirmation. Affirmation is always affirmation of something; that is, the act of affirming is distinguished from the thing affirmed. But if we suppose an affirmation in which the affirmed comes to fulfill the affirming and is confused with it, this affirmation can not be affirmed–owing to too much of plenitude and the immediate inherence of the noema in the noesis.”

(Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, lxv.)

The Queen is Haunted

February 20, 2009

Last night I had a show with Diva Abrasiva at Canongate Kirk. The Canongate is where Adam Smith and his mother are buried, and it’s where the Queen goes to church when she’s in Scotland. They even had a “royal pew” roped off in the front. Pretty Cool. Anyway, it’s a massive old church, and it was fun to play there for the monthly Edinburgh Composer’s Collective. The room reverb sort of kills parts of the recording, but I’m pretty happy with how it came out, especially the second “piece,” which starts about 2/3 of the way through (recorded in stereo and available in mp3, for boli’s pleasure).