Saturday, December 19, 2009

Never Listen to Céline? Radio Meter Begs to Differ

This is timely: "American men have a naughty little secret. Sometimes, they like to relax with a little Céline Dion. Professed classical music fans have one, too: as it turns out, they don’t tune into classical radio nearly as much as they claim... As radio executives are discovering, what people say they do and what they actually do is different — especially where 'My Heart Will Go On' is concerned."

Even the snobbiest snobs have a few Célines in their closets.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

But It's Not Even the End of This Semester Yet!

I know, believe me, I know. But with our much-too-short winter break, I want to give all of you--my upcoming students--as much time as possible to track down used copies of the books that we will be reading next semester. Also, if you'd like to shell out some cash for these texts at smaller independent bookstores, you should have time to do that as well. So look below for our required reading list. As always, the links to amazon are there for ease, which is probably why they're so successful over there: They make everything too easy.

See you on the flipside!

The Norton Anthology of American Literature (7th edition; Volumes C, D, E), edited by Nina Baym

Annie Proulx's Postcards

Manuel Muñoz's Zigzagger

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Potential Stocking Stuffers

I'm not sure if anyone is still checking the blog right now.....but I hope so!

I came across this today when I was playing around on my computer (instead of studying for finals)...Its Post-Structural-it stickies!

http://www.philosophersguild.com/index.lasso?page_mode=Product_Detail&item=0641

My favorite is the author gravestone......


Thursday, December 10, 2009

Let's test our skills...

The Blind Side

Watch the trailer to this movie. What can we say about the story line from what we have learned this past semester? Thoughts on the movie??? What would some of our theorists say?

Monday, December 7, 2009

Why, I like those apples just fine, actually.

Well, folks, we're heading into final exams and, ultimately, Winter Break here at GWU, which means two things: 1) This particular section of 120 is no more; 2) This blog will be on a hiatus for a bit until it returns revamped, reimagined, and revised next semester, with some new students. In the meantime, I'll leave everyone this famous clip from Good Will Hunting. Sometimes sounding obscure and smart makes one look like Michael Bolton. Other times, sounding obscure and theoretically rigorous gets you the girl. Thoughts?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Some more anti-Celine....the Mars Volta

The following is a video by one of my favorite experimental bands, the Mars Volta. This group came to fruition when its original band, At The Drive-in, split up owing to creative differences (another band, Sparta, was also forged after the break-up). I thought the Mars Volta would be a a more user-friendly example of a progressive (and critically acclaimed -- they won a Grammy) musical group. One major accusation that this band has continually received (along with At the Drive-in and Sparta), is that the lyrics are absolute nonsense. Consider the following response, given lyrically in one of their songs, to that claim:

"If you came here/For semantics/It's only a matter of folding/Time and space/Before I become your epidemic."

I believe that someone in class said that musical taste has to be cultivated and I agree. I remember when I first heard Mars Volta bursting under my brother's bedroom door in high school, my initial response was, "What in the hell is that??" After immersing myself in their work, however, they are one of my favorite bands (I think Angela mentioned her friend now loving house/techno music...)

I am not suggesting that everyone immediately quit their personal music tastes and jump on the progressive, experimental bandwagon. However, I do think its important to recognize the richness and musical daring that goes into groups such as these, especially before admonishing it as "weird" or "loud." Thoughts?

Your Habitus

Wilson uses the Bourdieu theory that your Habitus is formed through a combination of your "home base" and your "habits". This combination then goes on to serve as a filter for your perception of new objects. If something falls within your Habitus, Bourdieu argues, it "maximizes your satisfaction"

40 years later, we are having trouble with this theory because of the emergence of "No-Brow" tastes that can't be classified into high or low society

Looking at your own Habitus and tastes, do you believe that this old system has collapsed with the emergence of the "omnivore" or the person who balances high culture with popular culture, or is Bourdieu still as right as ever? Is this the modern "reneissance man"?
I randomly decided to google Wilson's book and I came across this - "this book documents Carl Wilson's brave and unprecedented year-long quest to find his inner Celine Dion fan, and explores how we define ourselves in the light of what we call good and bad, what we love and what we hate" (http://www.powells.com/biblio/1-9780826427885-0). I think maybe we should try and focus a little more on this idea of what we consider to be morally ethical in today's society. Wilson explores this notion in relation to the typical Celine Dion fan and the motives behind so many people disliking her, but how can we relate Wilson's claims to a greater good in terms of American society?

On the topic of autotune

Just as an example about how effective auto tune actually is, below is a Jimmey Kimmel bit where they actually autotuned President Obama using a new iPhone application "I AM TPAIN"

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The world of AutoTune

When talking about Celine Dion we all tend to agree that she has an extraordinary voice and vocal talent but that her songs are laking. I wonder if she only sang acapella that we might like her more.

In today's society, with the emergence of technology like autotune, its becoming more apparent that you do not need to have actual God given talent to be a good musical artist. If a singer is tone deaf all you have to do is put their voice into a computer and it will sound good enough to be sold in stores.

Here is a commercial for a new american idol type competition that in the spirit of Foucaut is resisting the norm of today's music to bring it back to pure talent. Its one thing to miss a note with a full band behind you but its another when your voice is the band.


http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yUt-a3-Tuv8


So why is it that we condemn Celine for not being a good artist when her vocal talent is undeniable but celebrate an artist like Miley Cyrus whos vocals are completely dependent on a computer.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

celine has nothing to prove...

Let's all try to remember that Celine was discovered as a musical prodigy in her early teenage years. All she's ever known is the recording industry and singing has been entire life for as long as she can remember. After almost 30 years in the industry she has nothing to prove to nay sayers. Celine has a huge fan base that will always support her and she knows from them that her music has a positive influence on people's lives. In a recent article (I have to site by memory because I could not find the hard copy) I am reminded of a quote in response to the criticism of her music. She said something along the lines that her music wasn't necessarily for everyone but she has had many fans come up to her simply to say that her music has helped them get through a death, a divorce, an illness- a tough time in their lives. This is all that Celine needs to hear. Celine Dion is an extremely gifted person who is fortunate enough to support charities all over the world. You don't have to like Celine's music and maybe you think she's crazy and cannot appreciate her public persona but nothing Celine has ever done or said (that I've seen) has come off as inauthentic or veiled with hidden intentions.

How are we able to hate a performer who only does good in our world? Furthermore what does this say about our culture and our views on gender? Celine Dion is everything that embodies the stereotypical female- emotional, caring, considerate, maternal etc. (remember back to our list)...are these bad qualities for women to have in today's society? Would Celine Dion be criticized differently prior to feminist theory?

not everyone hates Celine Dion

This is just for everyone's viewing pleasure:

Rags to Riches

So we all know that every American loves a rags to riches story. The American dream etc... where if you work hard enough you can get 2.5 kids, a good looking spouse, and two cars in the garage of your brand new house on the cul-de-sac.

Celine is certainly one of the most successful rags to riches story of our generation, so why is it that she is so hated almost as if she is a spoiled socialite (The White House State Dinner crashers anyone?) Is it because, as Wilson suggests in chapter 6, she appears so narcissistic and does not "hold back" or is it a different reason? Is it because her singing is so generic and lifeless? Why is Celine Dion a pariah and not a success story?


The Good, The Bad, and The Crazy

I figured I'd link us to some of the key multimedia artifacts that Carl Wilson discusses in the first half of Let's Talk About Love. Might want to break out the earplugs:

Celine Dion Goes Crazy

Most Wanted Song

Most Unwanted Song

Saturday, November 28, 2009

What is your "Taste Biography"?

Carl Wilson touches a lot on the origin of tastes, or in the words of Paul Valéry,

"Tastes are composed of a thousand distastes"

So in the words of Carl Wilson, what is your taste biography? What are the distastes that create your tastes? Where do these distastes come from? After all, it takes a lot to dislike Dolly Parton. Moving away from Celine Dion for a second, I'm posting two videos below.

The first video below is Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" which depending on who you ask is one of the best songs of the 20th century or one of the gaudiest songs in the history of music


This video, on the other hand, is the cast of the popular fox show "Glee" singing the same song


Same song, different performers and style, which one better fits your "Taste Biography"?

This is your brain on Celine Dion

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I hope you're all having a good "break." I just wanted to share this with you guys to consider as you do the Wilson reading. While reading chapter 7, "Lets Talk About Taste," I thought of this old chart I found a few months ago that sort of relates. The study is based on what music good students and poorer students listen to, and it's interesting to look at and assess where you may end up on the chart. Who knows how legitimate it actually is, but I just thought it would be an interesting to share nonetheless.

http://www.noiseaddicts.com/2009/03/music-makes-you-dumb-intelligent/

Also notice that one of my favorite artists, Sufjan Stevens, is right up there with Beethoven, thank you very much.

See you all next week!

Friday, November 27, 2009

For while you read

The music video for "My Heart Will Go On"
SPOILER ALERT: The ship sinks at the end

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A new world?

I thought that this Huffington Post blog might spark your interests in application to our gender discussion today....what if in fact we don't have so much a "new man", but a "new world" as the author contends?

Thoughts?

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/marcus-buckingham/why-men-are-becoming-more_b_360349.html

Monday, November 16, 2009

That Thing

First of all, I think The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill should be canonized as one of the classic feminist texts. Secondly, this song is what I thought of when I read this dry paragraph in "Exhibiting Masculinity" by Sean Nixon:

"Individuals are positioned within particular discourses, then, as an effect of power upon them. This might work, for example, through the intensification of pleasures of the body, its posture and movements and the solidifying of certain practices. This is a productive relation, with power constituting the fabric of the individual and the individual's conduct."

Maybe it's just because Sean Nixon doesn't address the reader as "baby girl," but this just seems like another example of theory not packing the punch that art can.

Anyway, do you think that by examining our subjectivization, we can free at least some of ourselves from power and live better lives? Is that even what Lauryn Hill is talking about?

Friday, November 13, 2009

Porn... Not for women?


I bring your attention to Wendy McElroy's book, XXX: A Woman's Right to Pornography. When the sexual revolution hit, and many women turned to porn for jobs there was an outrage. Porn was not following the social norms of the role of a woman. So I guess this helps us tie into Foucault's piece that we read earlier in the week about society's created so-called "normalcy." Even now, I think men are always looked as being a lot more accepted in anything in the sex industry while women are looked down upon. But why do you think there is such a difference? When a girl sleeps with a two guys in a night she's a slut but if a guy does, he's patted on the back and congragulated. Is that fair? Does it really even matter? Should men and woman be regarded differently because they are different sexes or no?

Take a look at the book. The website below has the whole book and its really interesting. How do you think this ties into the flaws of our society in the past and present? Have we created a social norm for both sexes that might be progressing faster for the male sex? Do you think woman in pornography are still regarded in the way that McElroy says they were in the past? Thoughts?????

The All-Too Familiar Feeling ...























Have you ever found yourself running late for class/work/ any daily obligation just because you couldn't resist the obligatory stop into Starbucks for a latte? If so, you know about "Running Latte," the state of being late for something because of the noble pursuit of a latte. Running latte is a great way to let your professors know that you care more about sipping pumpkin spice than taking notes on that first slide... and also one of the easiest ways to show your employers that you shirk responsibility at the first sight of that alluring green mermaid logo.

Ever been there? Well then you can relate! And consider that the term running latte is completely made up-- but works better than just simply "running late" or "getting a latte" to signify this honorable condition.

A Proper Renaming

At home in the land of the queer...






















































Returning to yesterday's discussion in class-- We were saying that since the words "male" and "female" describe a state of being that is at once self-contradictory, perhaps definitions themselves are something fluid. This of course brings up a great paradox-- Can a definition be fluid? Isn't the point of defining something with a word to endow it a constant, distinguishable quality that will illicit a universally "signified" image?

These are a few very strange images that are not only haunting if stared at for too long, but also put one at a loss for words. My question to you is, do we use existing words to describe these new images, as in "lion with a full head of human hair and a strangely human expression" or "face comprised entirely of mouths" OR is it best to develop entirely new words and categories for these images because they are unable to be placed in any existing category of meaning. Developing a "third" word might be the best way to understand this type of absurdity. The face made of mouths could be a Fouth. The human looking lion could be a Hulion. Or a Liman. And then of course there could be Chickarettes. So what do you all think? Are there some things that are just too strange, that in order to even comprehend require a third word from the realm of the "queer?"

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Roomie Lovin'

Here is a great example of what we discussed in class today. These girls have a more platonic relationship than Seth and Evan do in Superbad (not to say that they had a sexually charged relationship, but there was, as Nick said, a "bromance"), but they still treat each other with absurd affection. Although this is a gross exaggeration of how best friends actually act, there certainly is an element of truth to it...

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Playground

I would like to invite you all to read this poem by Katha Pollitt:

Playground

In the hygienic sand
of the new municipal sandbox,
toddlers with names from the soaps,
Brandon and Samantha,
fill and empty, fill and empty
their bright plastic buckets
alongside children with names
from obscure books of the Bible.
We are all mothers here,
friendly and polite.
We are teaching our children to share.

A man could slice his way
through us like a pirate!
And why not? Didn't we open
our bodies recklessly
to any star, say, Little one,
whoever you are, come in?
But the men are busy elsewhere.
Broad-hipped in fashionable sweatpants,
we discuss the day--a tabloid
murder, does cold cream work,
those students in China--

and as we talk
not one of us isn't thinking
Mama! Was it like this?
Did I do this to you?
But Mama too is busy,
she is dead, or in Florida,
or taking up new interests,
and the children want apple juice
and Cheerios, diapers and naps.
We have no one to ask but each other.
But we do not ask each other.


This poem centers on a depression that seems distanced by irony and fueled by the inability of this woman to connect to the others who so clearly share her situation. Aside from its commentary on gender relations, I posted it because I think it contains valuable elements of many of our recent discussions: "otherness", self-awareness, social norms, progress...

What do you take from it?

Face Time


We discussed yesterday the evolution of the modern syllabus... In the same sense we could look at this Dentyne Ad through a Foucaultian lens. Do you think that the expression of love or companionship has also evolved over time as a function of technology and that changing conventions have given way to new ways to deviate from the norm?

Love it or Hate it: Modern Art



This sort of streamlines what we were talking about in class yesterday. Someone mentioned that she is drawn to modern art because it depicts an "emotional state," while others of us cannot seem to find a basis to appreciate those certain kinds of artistic renderings that look, frankly, as though they were drawn with crayon. It's always interesting to look at an issue in terms of an equation that outlines the opposing forces within the social discourse. This one strikes me as wildly accurate.

Reductive Resistance

First off, I'm digging this conversation about Angela's post. Nice work, folks!

Secondly, my argument for the day is admittedly reductive and concrete, but it's hump day, so I'm begging for a little slack. Upon listening to M83's Before the Dawn Heals Us last night (and BTW, Dawn is the messiest post-shoegaze masterpiece out there, so pick it up promptly), after our class met, I was reminded of this Pitchfork article that calls attention to Anthony Gonzalez's own brand of resistance to power. It was probably a dumb move on his part, which is why he eventually apologized. Regardless, we now have some hump day fodder. Which leads me to all of these points:

After yesterday's conversation, I wanted to call all of your attention to some of the examples that I can conjure which suggest that heterosexual relationships--that frequently normalize heterosexual, childbearing sex--are still at the center of contemporary representations of romance. It's also fitting to note that many of these representations emerge from "reality" and "family" television, so make of that what you will.

Let's start with the uber-example.

Then there's this one . . .

and this one . . .

and this one . . .

and we can't forget about this one, no matter how "secret" these lives are . . .

and this one . . . (How perfect would it be if Casey and Cappie get together?!?!? I mean, their names rhyme! How cute!!!!) . . .

and this one . . .

and we'd be remiss if we didn't look here--no matter how horrifying--too . . .

and here . . .

and here, to be thorough about all of this . . .

and here, at least.

So I ask again, progress anyone?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Reform or Punishment?

Foucault is constantly referring to the term "power." It is a main part of his argument in Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. But what are your thoughts on the object of power in prisons? Do we think prisons hold too much of it, too little, or just the right amount? Who do you think should hold power in prisons? He argues that Mettray looked to the idea of reform which in turn reformed the image of the "power" of society over the individual. Instead of condemning individuals for their crimes, they looked to induce morals and normality to those imprisoned. This, Foucault argues, has altered society's focus from an individual's body to their mind and soul and is ultimately where the prison fails, causing more criminal activity rather than the reform these authorities hoped for. What are your thoughts? Do you think reform is the answer? Do you think prisons should be educating and inducing morals on individuals instead of punishing them for their crimes or do you think the role of the prison is to induce power over criminals who have earned their stay there?

I came across this article while reading on Foucault on the Internet. It touches on other prisons as well as Mettray. It's a little lengthy but please do try to skim through because its actually pretty interesting. Thoughts pertaining to this article and what I said above????
http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?_r=3&res=9C01E1DB1239EF34BC4D51DFBE668388669FDE&oref=slogin&oref=slogin

And Some More . . .

Another brick, another wall.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Not to derail the conversation about race...

but doesn't the beginning of this scene in Wet Hot American Summer smack of Derrida? I'm so glad I went to college so that I can make these kinds of connections.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

It's Black and It's White

I just came across this article that definitely relates to the most recent racially fueled discussions we've had in class... in a unique way.   How would Baker or Gates react to this incident?

The roots of Blackface are arguably discriminatory by today's standards.  Why is this? Does society frown upon imitating other cultures?  Is the racial climate too unstable to find any source of comedy in relation to it?  I think this incident is fascinating mostly because I can't help but wonder what the outcome would be if African American students dressed in whiteface and paraded around the GWU campus.  I'm almost certain it would be given very little attention– if any at all.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Anzaldua and Borderlands

In our class yesterday, it seemed that many of us had a bone to pick with Anzaldua and her essay on the new mestiza. Particularly, there were many thoughts on Anzaldua, perhaps, writing from a rather defensive (perhaps embittered) position. If you think that Anzaldua is writing in this manner, how does it affect your reading of the essay? Is credibility lost by way of an overly passionate prose or is the passion refreshing and effective? See the passage below as an example of her bluntness:

"The dominant white culture is killing us slowly with its ignorance. By taking away our self-determination, it has made us weak and empty. As a people we have resisted and we have taken expedient positions, but we have never been allowed to develop unencumbered --we have never been allowed to be fully ourselves. The whites in power want us people of color to barricade ourselves behind our separate tribal walls so they can pick us off one at a time with their hidden weapons; so they can whitewash and distort history" (2219)

Pardon the Interruption

I just can't help it, folks. This link is just too darn funny. Just know that I know that you now know that this link exists. I'll be watching come research paper time, heh, heh, heh.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Richard Wright, "Black Boy"

While reading Gates, and during our discussion on Tuesday, I found myself thinking about the black writer Richard Wright. Wright, who grew up in the Jim Crow South, chronicles his youth and adolescence in "Black Boy," detailing the hardships of his life as he maneuvers through a series of jobs and emotional traumas. Although these aspects certainly contribute to the powerful nature of his story, it is the theme of literature that Wright often employs that I found myself thinking about in regard to the above theorists.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. writes "The Afro-American literary tradition was generated as a response to allegations that its authors did not, and could not create literature, considered the signal measure of a race's innate "humanity." (Gates 2427) In this way, Gates goes on to say that merely adopting the modes of western literature is not enough; African Americans need to go beyond this and "develop a coherent criticism to communicate the complexities of our culture." (Gates 2430)

Consider the following excerpt from Wright's "Black Boy," in view of the above statements:

"The plots and stories in the novels did not interest me so much as the point of view revealed. I gave myself over to each novel without trying to criticize it; it was enough for me to see and feel something different. And for me, everything was something different. Reading was like a drug, a dope. The novels created moods in which I lived for days. But I could not conquer my sense of guilty, my feeling that the white men around me knew that I was changing, that I had begun to regard them differently." (Wright 250)

In my view, this excerpt stands at odds with Gates. The works that Wright describes are all of western literature (Mark Twain, Thomas Hardy, Bernard Shaw, T.S. Eliot, Nietzsche, etc). I think that Gates would argue that, as a black man, Wright should not look toward such writers to groom his intelligence but look for those "language (s) [in which] black people ... represent their critical or ideological positions." (Gates 2431) Would you agree with this? Do you think one's blackness requires them to purposefully search for works that illuminate black complexities? Or, can a man such as Wright retain his blackness and still develop his own literature persona and tastes through these western writers?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Interesting article...

Hey all, I thought this article might add another layer to our discussion last class and therein pique your interests, enjoy :D


http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/04/opinion/04whitehead.html

And we were just getting to know each other . . .

Claude Levi-Strauss has died.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Stereotypes - good or bad?

According to Representation, "Stereotyping reduces people to a few simple, essential characteristics, which are represented as fixed by Nature." We apparently make sense of our world by classifying and categorizing everything, including people. Stereotyping, I feel, is a huge factor that leads into racism. When we stereotype people based on their race, it leads to prejudices, and that opens the door to a racial society. If we were to live in a post-racial society, do you think stereotypes would still exist, and to what degree? How can we prevent the linking of stereotypes with race, ethnicity, and gender in a negative sense? Will our society ever develop that far?

I feel the way we stereotype people is influenced by how and where we were brought up. For example, for someone who has lived in a majority Caucasian society their entire lives, and then if they were brought to my home town of Fairfax, VA, I'm sure they would be in for a huge shock because of the cultural diversity. The way they would respond to it, however, could be in one of two ways: 1) embracing the change and accepting others, or 2) decide how to approach different people while subconsciously thinking about the stereotypes they have for different people in their minds. As our country diversifies, I hope more people will be leaning towards the first scenario, and hopefully we can get future generations' minds to think not in color, but in character.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Minority Becoming Majority

After reading about "the other" Chapter 4 from Representations, I was reminded of a discussion our class had in an AP Government class back in high school. Today's society is constantly in flux, and as America becomes more of a melting pot and immigrants continue to enter, it is likely that soon the minority ethnicities together will become the majority. Previously, we tended to look at the minority as "the other", while Caucasian values and traditions remained dominant in society. Now, however, times are changing. What does this mean for future generations' perception of "the other"? Bringing in The Abolition of the English Department, what will this mean for future English classes? If the minority becomes Caucasian culture, will this put pressure on schools to focus on literature that has been created worldwide? Or will the "cannon" still be in use despite its outdated, less relevant, and (possibly then) more unrelatable context?

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Our English Department

We had an interesting discussion in class yesterday discussing, off of The Abolition of the English Department, how the works English departments address don't always speak to the true cultural identity of those they educate. I got the sense that a lot of us felt that though fluency in the Classics is important, traditional English departments could be more inclusive and realistic in consideration of students' life experience in the works that they teach. If you were in a focus group for the GWU English Department spearheading an effort in this direction, what suggestions would you have? Or do you think such an effort is unnecessary, that the presented cannon should remain as it is and that there are no cultural consequences for its focus, or unrealistic, that the tradition is too embedded to change?
We also spoke about how steps towards a more culturally comprehensive and realistic cannon have occurred of late to positive results. What would you suggest for furthering these efforts?
Think back to reading Freud and Marx, but look forward to reading Henry Louis Gates and reflect on the recently approached bell hooks, and chew on that for a bit....

Monday, October 26, 2009

Fairy Tales

In her work Kochinnenako in Academe: Three Approaches to Interpreting a Keres Indian Tale. Paula Gunn Allen illustrates how a Native American tale reveals much about its culture of origin, its gender relations especially, and those of cultures that become its audience. I believe the fairy, tall, etc. tales of a culture have unique and meaningful interactions with the actual lives of people in that culture. For example, when I was a young girl my brother and mother told me jokingly about how there's a leprechaun with a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The next time I saw a rainbow, fearless me took it upon myself to follow that rainbow (in where I could interpret its end was). So, dear readers, can you think of instances where the fantasy of our culture's tales interacted with the reality of your lives? What does this say about how fantasy is constructed through real experiences, or how conversely fantasy may shape actual events? Or are they all just kiddie stories that we've outgrown?

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Flying Backward


Yesterday Professor Fisher asked us to wrap our heads around the question: Why are we doing this? Why even read the Norton Anthology? Why criticize literature? 


If progress does not exist, what are we doing here? 


"Our great human adventure is the evolution of consciousness. We are in this life to enlarge the soul, liberate the spirit, and light up the brain." 

Tom Robbins (Wild Ducks Flying Backward)


Might the "evolution of consciousness" over time, regardless of what it evolves into, be progress in itself? Is it possible that the building of human ideas over time represents a type of progress by default? 

Friday, October 16, 2009

The Hollywood "Image"

As we talked about in class, Laura Mulvey dealt with the notion of a patriarchal Hollywood. She address that fact that back in the 50s and 60s, women were seen as objects and judged on their to-be-looked-at-ness. She also states that women functioned as either an erotic object for the characters within the story or for the spectator. Here are some classic images from the 50s and 60s that really express what Mulvey was talking about. While these women both had leading roles they were still portrayed as objects to be looked at.



Now after seeing these images I would like to pose a question. Has Hollywood changed, or is it still the patriarchal society praising women on their to-be-looked-at-ness, rather than their talent. While women are being cast for more than just a pretty face it is still apparent that they are being used for their looks just as much as they were back in the 50s and 60s. Do you believe this to be true, or do you feel Hollywood really has changed its ways.




Thursday, October 15, 2009

Language of Man

"...rendering of the frustration experienced under the phallocentric order. It gets us nearer to the root of our oppression, it brings closer an articulation of the problem, it faces us with the ultimate challenge: how to fight the unconscious structure like a language (formed critically at the moment of arrival of language) while still caught within the language of the patriarchy?"
Does this quote from Laura Mulvey's "Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema" remind anyone of anything...The discussion of earlier days about language and how it became a way to change and influence and affect more simple cultures. Although those talks spoke to the written language, think about what it means in this context of male and female form and impression. We have a language, a language that was developed many years ago and has continued to change since that time. Who has shaped that language? Who has shaped the connotations of the words of the language? Simply, man.
Not at all difficult to conclude, however, it can be bothersome, we say man meaning the human race. Why doesn't the word woman imply the human race? It's just a word that is part of the language. Is 'woman' less than 'man?' Today we say no, but what do we practice and what do we truly see? In some other languages (obviously not all since I have no knowledge of every single language in the world), like French, for example, passive objects have a feminine structure. Not strange, it's just a language, but why are not a majority of the passive objects with a masculine structure? This does not mean anything...does it?
What are you thoughts? Does language, its structure, its usage, its connotations help shape the views of its users? Is language the language of men (patriarchal)? Why do you think so?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Stream of Consciousness

Id, ego, and superego. The three words most associated with Sigmund Freud and his theories on human nature and human psychology. Although the reading does not include specific works on this theory, it is always something a reader thinks of when speaking of Freud.
Why is it we can't ever read something for what it is without taking knowledge of the outside world and putting it into the thought process? Why is it that some people are incapable of making decisions that are good for all, rather than just themselves? Why is it that some people appear to disregard human emotions when choosing one path over another? The reading barely touches on Freud's theories of the id, ego, and superego, yet my thoughts, when reading those two sentences in "Fetishism" got my mind wandering to what his other works spoke of and how they are being implied in this one.
I invite members and readers of this blog to take the following quiz. It isn't scientific, obviously, but it appears to have a good grasp of what it means to be "ruled" more by your id, ego, or superego and how that affects your decision making. The answer that appears, what do you think? Do you agree? Tying it back to this blog, how do you think the more dominant part of you affects your critical analysis of readings? Does being more in tune with your superego make you more of a structuralist critical reader or does being more in tune with you id make you disregard the authors intentions and replace them with your own?

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Theme

As you all know by now, Freud never looks just at the surface. For him, everything stems from something else or has a deeper meaning. Freud believed that dreams could not be directly translated but that their meaning was buried beneath what we remember. Our mind censors everything so our unconscious must warp and distort the meaning of information to allow us to “view” it in a dream. Because of this, Freud argues we must dig deep and try to extract the meaning underneath the obvious.

Freud also believes that everything stems from our past, our roots. You are who you are today because of how your parents raised you.

The question I pose to you is, do you agree with Freud on this? Are dreams our subconscious fulfilling desires or are they just random bursts of stimuli that our brain weaves into a story? Are we who we are today because of what our parents did, or did we shape our own destiny?

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Bragging rights

I love the way Sharon Olds simultaneously demystifies and heroicizes pregnancy and childbirth in this poem. She is one of my favorite poets, and I think Woolf would have appreciated her.

The Language of the Brag

I have wanted excellence in the knife-throw
I have wanted to use my exceptionally strong and accurate arms
and my straight posture and quick electric muscles
to achieve something at the center of a crowd,
the blade piercing the bark deep,
the haft slowly and heavily vibrating like the cock.

I have wanted some epic use for my excellent body,
some heroism, some American achievement
beyond the ordinary for my extraordinary self,
magnetic and tensile, I have stood by the sandlot
and watched the boys play.

I have wanted courage, I have thought about fire
and the crossing of waterfalls, I have dragged around

my belly big with cowardice and safety,
my stool black with iron pills,
my huge breasts oozing mucus,
my legs swelling, my hands swelling,
my face swelling and darkening, my hair
falling out, my inner sex
stabbed again and again with terrible pain like a knife.
I have lain down.

I have lain down and sweated and shaken
and passed blood and feces and water and slowly alone in the center of a circle I have
passed the new person out
and they have lifted the new person free of the act
and wiped the new person free of that
language of blood like praise all over the body.

I have done what you wanted to do, Walt Whitman,
Allen Ginsburg, I have done this thing,
I and other women this exceptional
act with exceptional heroic body,
this giving birth, this glistening verb,
and I am putting my proud American boast
right here with the others.

Sharon Olds

Ok, I'll stop posting and do actual homework now.

On the English translation of The Second Sex

I was wondering if anyone else noticed this in the Norton: "First published in France as Le Deuxieme Sexe (1949), The Second Sex (1952) was published in the United States in an incomplete and notriously inaccurate translation by a zoologist, H. M. Parshley, whose enthusiasm far exceeded his grasp of either philosophy or feminism."

More on this here: http://www.bookforum.com/inprint/014_01/113

Is it overreacting to conclude that this is proof that even the most popular and influential woman writers and philosophers continue to be neglected by scholars? I tried to find the new translation discussed in the Book Forum article, but it doesn't seem to be on Amazon.

Gender Subversion


I thought of this poster during our class discussion today. I first saw it at my friend's house (it's on her bathroom wall). I wanted to reference it in class, but I didn't have enough of it memorized to do a good job, so I'm glad we have this blog.

I find reading this poster really moving, even cathartic. I think it does a good job of illustrating Woolf's argument about androgyny in contemporary terms. The E-Z-Bake Oven line evokes de Beauvoir's allusion to achieving fulfillment from homemaking-- for boys and for girls, just not for all of them.

I found the poster on CrimethInc., an anarchist website/collective. You can buy a print there, too.

Whose Girls?

Of my hundreds of faithful readers, there are only a few of you who know my feelings about Animal Collective--namely that I can't seem to understand what all the fuss is about. However, that lack of understanding is probably a topic for another day. All I'd like to do right now is to post a sample of the lyrics to "My Girls," one of their more satisfying cuts, followed by an audio clip of the song. Knowing what I know about their left-leaning politics and such, it would seem that the band would try to avoid essentialisms and endorsements of materialism. However, "My Girls," arguably, seems to rely pretty heavily on stock gender stereotypes (the titular girls are their--the masculine vocalists'--girls), and I wonder if it's possible not to care about social status but yet to want a house. Finally, what's up with the romantic conception of "adobe slats"?

Thoughts?

"My Girls":

There isn't much that I feel I need
A solid soul and the blood I bleed
But with a little girl, and by my spouse,
I only want a proper house

I don't care for fancy things
Or to take part in the freshest wave,
But to provide for mine who ask
I will, with heart, on my father's grave

On my father's grave
(On your father's grave)

I don't mean to seem like I care about material things,
Like a social status,
I just want
Four walls and adobe slats
For my girls


My Girls - Animal Collective

Friday, October 2, 2009

Food for Thought

Marx's theory of commodity fetishism is undeniably a bit hard to understand and come to terms with... especially when you consider Marx argues we aren't even aware of our fetishism culture. So it makes me wonder - Do we live for commodities? Why do you think Marx argues that we are able to recognize fetishism in previous cultures, but not in our own? Is this a fair assessment of ourselves? While I do think he has some valid points, his arguments undeniably leave me a bit uneasy.


Below is a link to a short video clip that discusses the Dali Lama, Barbie and commodity fetishism:


http://www.veoh.com/browse/videos/category/news/watch/v17969108QBtzKYGX




In the video, the speaker argues that fetishism is rampant in America. In fact, he argues that in a way, it is a defining characteristic of the "American Dream". Is it? Do we place to much emphasis on commodities? Or is this guy just blurting out useless rhetoric? What does it mean that we send Barbie to China despite all of our ideological differences and anger over human rights issues and such? While it is undoubtably hard to take the speaker serious, it does make me wonder why we are so seemingly willing to place economics over humanity (as the speaker argues in the clip). I guess another question I would ask is this.... Is Marx fair in describing "fetishism" in terms of a religion? Religion seems to imply we have faith in these commodities or that they are some how mystical or powerful, yet are they? Is it fair to talk about this theory of fetishism in terms of religious sentiments? In sending Barbie to China, do we believe that eventually are western ideas and principles will travel with her? Is Barbie, as a commodity, that powerful? Is this just another demonstration of our unwavering faith in commodities?

Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Umbrellas

Reading Marx makes me feel incredibly small. To entertain the thought that material conditions create our consciousness invades so much of what I would like to uphold as true about ourselves as human beings. I take comfort in my own individuality which I tuck neatly away from the outside world, and to sustain the contradiction that it in fact may be the outside world that mediates one's thoughts greatly robs one of a certain power to create his own individuality. It is as if even if you love to create--paint, for example-- the world can only paint on you, and whatever paintings you may produce are only reflections of your surroundings, not reflections of some deep beauty held hidden within. To me, Marx digests a great dream into a solid truth: that we are not the unfettered painters of our lives, rather life paints us in as merely part of some colossal canvas.

Which is why I was surprised to feel oddly lifted after reading "Letter from Friedrich Engels to Joseph Bloch." It seems that in this short letter, Engels wants to communicate something very large about the individual. "History," he says, "is made in such a way that the final result always arises from conflicts between many individual wills, of which each again has been made what it is by a host of particular conditions of life. Thus there are innumerable intersecting forces, an infinite series of paralelograms of forces which give rise to one resultant" (788). At first glance I found this both deeply true and massively disheartening. Is there anything organic about the individual or is everything we are just the product of some other condition? How is it ever possible to feel valuable if we are only a reaction to our world? How would an individual be able to transcend this and make the world react to him?

Engles continues: "For which each individual willed is obstructed by everyone else and what emerges is something that no-one willed" (788). Just when I thought my state of mind could not plummet anymore, I read this line, and felt more inane than ever before. It's as if we are insects, and there is no individual, only what we are as a group, the product of which nobody is directing. Together we could be becoming something unwanted, even dangerous, at this very moment, and we'd have no way of preventing this because we have no way of controlling what together we will be, since nobody wills this process.

"Individual wills do not attain what they want but are merged into a collective mean, a common resultant" (788). It is true that Marxism dismisses the role of the individual in the traditional sense, however; here Engels communicates that the individual does have a role, an important one to boot. What I gathered from the end of the letter is that Engels builds into the conclusion that ultimately we cannot determine that individual wills are worth nothing, because each must be something in order to contribute to a common resultant.

I began to ponder the notion that this really may be quite illuminating. It opens an entirely new possibility: the prospect that individual wills could collect themselves into something beautiful. It may be too idealistic to believe, as I so want to, that individuality is a dominant force. Yet individual wills can still augment history as long as they braid themselves together. Is there a way for individual wills to somehow instinctively direct themselves into an ultimately valuable purpose or something infinitely inspiring? The photo of those umbrellas in Spain certainly affirms the existence of that rare chance... Alone they are but products of the material conditions which created them, but together they achieve some strange transcendence, and if nothing else, attain a permanent grace in their image, captured for eternity.

On a Seven Day Diary

Oh I got up and went to work
and worked and came back home
and ate and talked and went to sleep.
Then I got up and went to work
and worked and came back home
from work and ate and slept.
Then I got up and went to work
and worked and came back home
and ate and fucked and went to sleep.
Then it was Saturday, Saturday, Saturday!
Love must be the reason for the week!
We went shopping! I saw clouds!
The children explained everything!
I could talk about the main thing!
What did I drink on Saturday night
that lost the first, best half of Sunday?
The last half wasn’t worth this “word.”
Then I got up and went to work
and worked and came back home
from work and ate and went to sleep,
refreshed but tired by the weekend.

—Alan Dugan

I thought of this poem when I read the excerpt from Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Marx and Engels write, "the fact that labour is external to the worker, i.e., it does not belong to his essential being; that in his work, therefore, he does not affirm himself but denies himself, does not feel content but unhappy, does not develop freely his physical and mental energy but mortifies his body and ruins his mind" (p. 767 in the Norton). This gets into some complicated territory: the territory of telling people what they feel. We discussed what a generalization this claim is in our last class, and though some persuasive points were made, I think it's easy for all of us to think of people we know whose labor does not belong to their essential being. It's fair, at least, to say that the speaker of this poem's labor doesn't belong to his essential being. It's also fair to say that Barbara Ehrenreich didn't feel affirmed, happy, and physically or mentally stronger after a shift at any of her jobs in Nickel and Dimed. So what is it that makes people so reluctant to take Marx & Engel's critique seriously?

And as for the poem, the speaker hardly has any time to do fulfilling activities. On Saturday he goes shopping, spends time with his family, and drinks too much. Except for the middle one, they aren't what most of us would consider quality time. And one more thing, on Saturday, the speaker finds he can talk about "the main thing!" What is that? What does it mean that he can talk about it only on a free day?

Does Saturday make the rest of the week worth it? Do we need the rest of the week in order to feel the pleasure of Saturday? Are labour hour laws enough, or does the workplace itself have to change in order for us to be fulfilled?

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

You could theorize it, or you could prefer not to

So today in class we began discussing our readings from Marx and Engels, especially the subjugation of the worker and what the meaning of the product created. All of this reminded me of a little story written in 1853 by Herman Melville called "Bartleby, the Scrivener." For those of you who haven't read it, or who have forgotten it, this is how it goes:

The title character, our Bartleby, works in office essentially as a human copy machine. He rewrites important documents so that all his bosses can have copies for meetings, and finds his work less than fulfilling. As the title suggests, Bartleby's occupation identifies him as a person, until he becomes wholly and irrevocably one with his job. He is nothing else except a scrivener. One day he decides he's had enough, but instead of going into work and destroying the office supplies in an empty field (à la Office Space), he simply and civilly refuses to do any work, responding to any order with the words, "I'd prefer not to." Eventually Bartleby loses his job, winds up in prison, and is surrounded by people who think he's insane. At the end of the story, we discover that Bartleby once worked a dead letter office--the place where all lost mail ends up. As readers, we're left wondering if it was Bartleby's redundant, meaningless work that deprived him of his sanity.

Considering this in a Marxist context, we can see the idea of labor product equaling laborer in relation to Bartleby's downfall. Considering that his job would eventually be replaced by technological photocopiers in the distant future, in a modern context, we can see his work as inhumane--it is literally the work that can be done by man-made inventions... Bartleby is dehumanized.

Keep in mind the Marxist passages about how "the worker's activity is not his spontaneous activity...it belongs to another; it is the loss of his self. As a result, therefore, man (the worker) no longer feels himself to be freely active in any but his animal functions" (767). In the story, it is as if Bartleby was able to look outside of himself and the meaningless work he was doing, and tries to put an end to the mechanical habits of his job, taking control of his own actions. But when he does this, he winds up crazy and dead.

So one could make a case that Bartleby exemplifies what happens when this assumed law according to Marx is contradicted: an overall downfall.

But also following a main point from today's discussion, does this really matter? Does this theory really apply to literature? And even if it does, how can it function beyond these intangible words from a dead communist?

With that in mind, you could try to apply these theories to real life, or you could just prefer not to.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Is the West trying to keep poor countries poor? - What would Marx and Engels say?

Below is an attempt to apply a marxist critique of international economic relations with specific reference to statements made by the G20 leaders....

The following is an excerpt from the Leaders' Statement from the G20 Summit in London in April 2009.

Ensuring a fair and sustainable recovery for all

25. We are determined not only to restore growth but to lay the foundation for a fair and sustainable world economy. We recognise that the current crisis has a disproportionate impact on the vulnerable in the poorest countries and recognise our collective responsibility to mitigate the social impact of the crisis to minimise long-lasting damage to global potential.

· the actions and decisions we have taken today will provide $50 billion to support social protection, boost trade and safeguard development in low income countries, as part of the significant increase in crisis support for these and other developing countries and emerging markets;

· we are making available resources for social protection for the poorest countries, including through investing in long-term food security and through voluntary bilateral contributions to the World Bank's Vulnerability Framework, including the Infrastructure Crisis Facility, and the Rapid Social Response Fund;

· we have agreed to review the flexibility of the Debt Sustainability Framework and call on the IMF and World Bank to report to the IMFC [International Monetary and Financial Committee] and Development Committee at the Annual Meetings; and

Link to the full article on bbcnews.co.uk

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/7979606.stm

One of Marx's defining critiques of society is found in A Contribution to the Critique of Political Economy where he states

In the social production of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and independent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations of production constitutes the economic structure of society, the real foundation, on which rises a legal and political superstructure and to which correspond definite forms of social and consciousness.

-- pg 775

This is a key element in Marxism… this concept of a base/superstructure, yet it is not limited to the individual Nation State. Rather it can be applied to our global society. Here we can see the tie in with the statements from the G20 leaders. The leaders highlight the uneven distribution of wealth within the global arena and the higher degree of suffering experienced by those countries on the periphery. Industrial countries are the “capitalists” while the poorer, developing countries are the “labours”. A Marxist critique of the current politics of economic relations would highlight the lack of development exhibited in many countries despite numerous years, money and development institutions involvement. Specifically, they might argue that lesser-developed countries develop to the extent that it benefits the developed, industrial nations. For example, it is in the interest of the G20 countries to “recognise [their] collective responsibility to mitigate the social impact of the crisis to minimise long-lasting damage to global potential” because they are most likely worried about the security of the financial system as a whole. Furthermore, while they are offering solutions to debt management through the IMF and WB, these are inherently Western institutions serving Western goals (and western banks needs/desires) and under Western leadership -- ( insert “capitalist” for “western”). Is this "fair" or "sustainable"? Additionally, let us not forgot how successful these institutions have proved in the past when countries have turned to them for help.

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So....Is it reasonable to apply an Marxist analysis to international economic relations? Are the relations between industrial and developing countries similar to those between worker/owner? Are there other elements within the world economy system that support a Marxist critique?

Basically, am I making a valid point or just rambling on about nothing? In my opinion, a Marxist interpretation international political economic relations is not only possible, it can be relevant sometimes!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Rise Above

This is a song by the band Black Flag, from their 1981 album Damaged. Below is an adaptation by the current band Dirty Projectors, from their album Rise Above, which is a re-working of Damaged.

"Jealous cowards try to control
they distort what we say
try to stop what we do
when they can't do it themselves

We are tired of your abuse
try to stop us, but it's no use
Society's arms think they're smart
I find satisfaction in what they're lacking, 'cause

We are born with a chance
and I'm gonna have my chance

Rise above"

Now is it just me, or is this anthem of the hardcore movement taken straight out of The German Ideology? Marx and Engels say, "Men are the producers of their conceptions, ideas, etc... In direct contrast to German philosophy which descends from heaven to earth, here we ascend from earth to heaven" (p. 768 in the Norton). The powers that be compounded with popular belief disempower us, but we are able to accomplish alone or in groups what the system can't. In other words, we can rise above.

You can see and hear the original rendering of the song here. You can hear the beautiful Dirty Projectors cover of it here, on their MySpace page.

On the first day of class, Professor Fisher asked us to question why Marx and Engel's ideas are so fashionable among academics today. My proposal: Marx and Engels are popular right now because they're straight-up inspiring, as is the art which draws from their ideas.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

. . . And You Will Know Us by the Trail of (the) Dead

And so "abstruse theory" has played a hand in killing English departments. Oh merry students of my theory class, have ye any thoughts on the matter? Are ye dead yet?

Friday, September 18, 2009

From Work to Beer to Text

Today, I am satisfying the desire of You Made Me Theorize's legions of readers: I am allowing you to be flies on the wall of a class discussion. So here's the big reveal: Yesterday, we talked about The Beer Summit. Oh sure, we also talked quite a bit about representation and social constructionism and discursive power formations. But throughout all of that, The Beer Summit remained a very rich example that brought to light many of those aforementioned concepts.

And so, I come to you today to cite my own sources, as I was inspired to use The Beer Summit as a class example by this esteemed blog, which took its own inspiration from this insightful article. With that, I'll reiterate one of the driving questions that our class has been asking for the past few weeks: Who are the authors, and who are the readers here?

And now more questions: Where are the lines between those groups drawn? Do we think that someone (or some group, more likely) authored this whole Red, Light, and Blue thing, or are the readers--the social critics--just fighting to take control of the significance of this meeting, killing off the authors, so to speak? Discuss below.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

The Ghost of Octobers Past

Dan Shaughnessy at The Boston Globe is optimistic about the Red Sox. Their hugely successful stint in Fenway this past week suggests, as Shaughnessy claims, that their late season woes are finally turning around--just in time for the post-season. We'll see.

What's intriguing to me, if you'll permit me a really concrete distillation of structuralism, is the way that Shaughnessy deploys the trope of a puzzle to contextualize his article. Sure, it's a colloquial metaphor. However, it's interesting to read the team's season against the broader backdrop of a World Series Win--and against the broader backdrop of the recent Red Sox history--and against the even broader backdrop of Red Sox failures in the 20th century. In short, meaning for Shaughnessy absolutely depends on the structure coming together--on the pieces falling into all of the right places. Should the Sox fall short, should their season collapse, should they not win the World Series, than their efforts, if we follow all of this to (at least one) logical conclusion, will be rendered meaningless, as the pieces of their season collapse in fragments around them.

Again, this is sports, and so it's a cliche at best to claim that it only matters if you win. That said, the way that 2008's Rays were romanticized even despite their loss to the Phillies suggests that second place can mean quite a bit--perhaps even more so if you're a Sox fan.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

What would Saussure say . . .

about Lisa Simpson's conversations with the inhabitants of Springfield's Russian District?

Saussure would say that Lisa can't interpret what the "signs" of the outward emotions of the Russian inhabitants and the unfamiliar objects, such as the squid for sale, "signify". This is because she is outside of the Russian culture and therefore isn't versed in its "codes". Get home safely Lisa, but it's all right, that Russian guy screaming at you isn't as scary as he seems!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Popmart Redux

Rob Mitchum over at Pitchfork has written an interesting review of U2's recent concert at Chicago's Soldier Field. In many ways, pointing out U2's shameless acts of self-commodifcation are about as commonplace as, well, hearing "I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For" on the radio. However, what's most striking about the article is the way that it reveals U2's (read: Bono's) politicking as its own kind of commodity. Here, all of Bono's touchstone political statements--comments on AIDS in Africa, comments on Iran, and comments on Obama--all come off as trademarked, the type of stuff that seem to reflect Bono's highly stylized political posturing as opposed to any kind of communal, genuinely active kind of activism. Also, these comments are, at this point, so predictable that they seem more choreographed than, well, the concert itself.

Sure, at the end of the day, the world would probably be a better place if we had more Bonos around and fewer--at least as of right now--Kanye Wests, but, seriously, encouraging the crowd to recreate the Milky Way via cell phone couldn't seem less green--and more shameless:

Friday, September 11, 2009

I've got a fever, and the only prescription is more pharmakon

The following clip is simultaneously moving and deeply, deeply troubling. What you’ll see is a montage of clips, the first third of which depict stock images of Americana—football and such. Then, at roughly the 1:35 mark, you’ll see 9/11 footage of United Airlines Flight 175 crashing into the World Trade Center. All of this is set to the track “A Song for Our Fathers” by the post-rock group Explosions in the Sky.





What’s moving about the clip is that it does a fair job of making a fairly sophisticated political statement about American foreign policy. It also, according to the gloss on youtube, was apparently a class project (grade unknown—to me, at least). In that context, I’d happily give the students credit.

What’s troubling about the clip is that it frames its politics in terms of 9/11—that event is literally and grotesquely the catalyst here—and in doing so soundtracks those politics with EITS’s music. Explosions have been notoriously linked to 9/11 in ways that are flat out wrong. Absolutely wrong. Click here for the poison. And here for the antidote. Sure, the band’s name absolutely demands this type of historicizing, but it’s still unsettling to see how even in an era where nearly open access to media—and the ability to manipulate it—doesn’t always seem to result in increased awareness of what information is actually being manipulated—in short what is true and what isn’t. Certainly there are larger theoretical questions circulating here about the nature of truth and representation, and I’d be happy to see people put pressure on those questions in the comments section. But in this case, the tendency to mythologize EITS as a 9/11 band does them and 9/11 a disservice, I would argue.

What brought all of this up was an attempt to look for a clip of Explosions performing “Catastrophe and the Cure,” a song that presents a dialectical clash between opposite musical dynamics. The title obviously does the same. I intended to place that clip up here as a way of inciting discussion about social and class conflict, and the ways that these issues are at the heart of virtually any discussion of 9/11/01, whether its anniversary remains a day of mourning or a day of service. My general academic interests lie in the ways in which cultural concerns like class conflict weave their way into the sonic fabric of popular music. However, once I typed Explosions’ name into youtube’s search bar, I got a hit for this video, the image of the burning Trade Center ominously gleaming outward from my computer screen.

Despite my initial frustration, I persevered, and I ultimately found the clip for which I was searching. I’ll be curious to hear what people think about it in light of this broader context. Does the song—musically and performatively—provide a corrective to the tensions of the class project clip? Does the band seem particularly political? Does the song seem political? What conflicts—cultural or otherwise—are presented here (if any are)?