Each sex has a relation to madness. Every desire has a relation to madness. But it would seem that one desire has been taken as wisdom, moderation, truth, leaving to the other sex the weight of a madness that cannot be acknowledged or accommodated.” – Luce Irigaray (pictured right)

I have considered myself a feminist for a few years now. It is a label that is misunderstood and often met with harsh stereotypes and rolling eyes. Unfortunately, despite all the incredible work the feminist movement has done in the past hundred years, Rush Limbaugh’s depiction of “Femi-nazis” seems to be burned onto the culture’s collective retina. I find this disturbing for several reasons (beyond the association with Nazis, which of course has no historical basis whatsoever):

  • Though feminist extremists are certainly the loudest of the group, they are by no means the majority. Throughout my studies in college, in fact, I have not read one feminist critic I would describe as “extreme”.
  • Stereotypes of feminists have caused a cultural backlash in the past twenty years that has in many ways stalled progress de facto.
  • The term reduces feminism to a movement of die-hard, short-haired, lesbian Amazons when in reality the movement has been pushed forward by highly-educated scholars and… *gasp* even some men.
  • Most importantly, people like Mr. Limbaugh refuse to address extreme masculinity (Guns, war, Ultimate Fighting, body building, loud trucks) and would never think of labeling it some witty, offensive name.
In reality, I assume that many of the people who choose to demonize feminism have never actually read feminist criticism of any kind (some crazy, loud, left-wing activist appearing on Fox News doesn’t count).
I am not suggesting that upon reading these critics everyone would instantly be enlightened– I’m sure they wouldn’t. But my main concern here is an oppressive cultural system that scoffs at political correctness without stopping to note the driving emphasis behind it: love for the other. We live in a society where opinions are often driven by reaction (I am guilty of this more than any one else), and it is a sad day when an entertainer like Glenn Beck feels driven to call our first African American president a racist in front of millions of viewers. Maybe he felt disgusted by an excess of affirmative action… maybe he is just a lunatic. But either way, we must be aware, as a society and individuals, when we are being driven by reaction and not by intellectual passion.
–Scott steps off the soap box, lowers the megaphone and continues in a soft voice–
I am currently taking a Women’s History course at SPU. The class consists of only five students (which is sad and quite telling) and I am the only male (which was expected). Though only four weeks in, it has been one of the most fascinating classes I have taken in my three and some odd years at the university.
On the first day we discussed the political and economic spheres that almost all history courses cover– spheres that coincidentally lacked any feminine presence for the majority of American history. The class would take a different perspective on U.S. history, one that concerned the social relations between the sexes. Needless to say it has been an interesting study up to this point. We have discussed gender roles coming out of the American Revolution, read the diary of a post-war midwife, and are now head first into the 19th century middle/upper class feminine ideal.
The most interesting/disturbing factor of this social history is the way gender oppression has been justified through religious and biological (often one and the same) means. Women were thought of as “naturally” inferior to men. There is an order to the universe, implemented by the wisdom of God, that intended women to be housekeepers. To mess with this standard by thinking politically or by questioning a man’s authority was to mess with the “order of the Universe”.
Now, I consider myself a Christian. So by no means am I attempting to disparage Christianity. I am just fascinated (note the sarcasm) by the way people of the time (and now) justify oppression through claiming some sort of inherent knowledge of the way the universe is arranged. Similar arguments (if not exact arguments) were used to justify slavery.
I will most likely post more on this topic when I have more time, because I have a lot to say.
Advertisements

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Thoughts on Roberto Bolaño

Since Christmas I have been only reading –besides one failed attempt otherwise– the great Chilean author Roberto Bolaño. I finished his 900 page epic, 2666, a few months ago and have since torn through his smaller novels, Nazi Literature in the Americas, By Night in Chile, and Amulet. It’s just one of those reading sprees where you cannot –and I repeat, emphatically– cannot read anything but your current author. It is so bad that I made it through 500 pages of The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing before putting it down in favor of another Bolaño novella. What is wrong with me?
So on my way over to Fremont Coffee (where I am right now), I decided it was time to put Bolaño behind me. I have read through all of his currently published novels (he died in 2003 at the age of 50, and not all of his work has been translated), and needed to peel myself away, it just isn’t okay to ignore the myriad of perfectly entertaining/capable authors out there. But when you get on a role, there is just no other capable voice out there…
So I walk into one of Fremont’s local bookshops, and my eyes immediately catch a familiar font on a displayed hardcover book.
“The Skating Rink” it said, and I slowly–with a mixture of excitement and horror–lowered my eyes to the author’s name:

Roberto Bolaño

Damnit. This book wasn’t supposed to be released until September, and here it is right in front of my face just as I am attempting to escape the icy claws of Chile’s finest novelist.
A cool 24 dollars later I stumbled out of the shop, defeated. I am an addict. I cannot resist Roberto.
For the record I rarely buy new books, let alone hardbacks! They are usually overpriced, but alas I cannot put a price on Bolaño.
Also for the record, I carried The Skating Rink around the store for a few minutes while browsing other Latin American authors. But fate had it that there was no (?) Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who is probably the only one that could rip me away from Bolaño.


When asked of my (undeniable) obsession, I struggle to describe my facination with his writings. My sister Becky introduced me to him in 2007 when she bought me his critically acclaimed, The Savage Detectives (which Amber is currently reading…she is next…)–a complex, fragmented narrative that follows two young Mexican poets and their travels throughout the world, all from the perspective of their friends and acquaintances. Needless to say I was hooked after this. The only way I can describe his writing is alive, it just breathes life. His stories are unique, unusual, and humorous, but underneath it all is an overwhelming sorrow for the current state of Latin America–Mexico especially. From Amulet (p. 13):

The dark night of the soul advances through the streets of Mexico City sweeping all before it. And now it is rare to hear singing, where once everything was a song. The dust cloud reduces everything to dust. First the poets, then love, then, when it seems to be sated and about to disperse, the cloud returns to hang high over your city or your mind, with a mysterious air that means it has no intention of moving.

His writing carries this heavy burden throughout, yet also rejoices in the spirit of Latin America and its youth’s naivety and freedom.

So anyways, I am excited to start my new Bolaño book, juts as soon as I finish Amulet (which is amazing). And I apologize for my gushing, its not something I am proud of.

[Edit: Actually “The Skating Rink” was supposed to be released in August 2009…how convenient!]

5 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Revolution #9: The Digital Transformation of the Music Industry

I wish to write about music and its transformation in the digital age. Not just about the fact we can now download songs, but more importantly: musical criticism has been turned on its head. Music blogs have incredible critical power now, rivaling publications (like Rolling Stone) that have been around for decades. Websites like Pitchfork or Stereogum can make or break up-start bands. Underneath these larger websites are swarms of smaller music blogs like i guess im floating, that also carry quite a few readers.
How influential are these websites? Lets look at few examples:

Vampire Weekend, a band from New York, released their debut self-titled album last year. They

pretty much came out of no where, but following a high 8.8/10 rating from pitchfork, their

popularity sky

rocketed, resulting in over 340,000 album sales in 2008 alone.

You probably have seen their album at Starbucks, or on Time magazine’s year-end list (#5 album of the year). And many would say this success is a direct result of pitchfork.

Or how about Fleet Foxes? The local Seattle band was picked up by the blogosphere in the winter of 2007, and by spring of 2008 were on display, once again, at your local Starbucks. How does this happen so quickly? Well, we could start with Pitchfork’s review of their Sun Giant EP, or their full length. Fleet Foxes went from no-name to peaking at number 3 in

the UK and number 36 in the US. By the end of the year, Fleet Foxes were at the top of most album-of-the-year lists (#1 on Pitchfork, Billboard.com, Under the Radar, No Ripcord, Mojo, and The Times).


Or Grizzly Bear (one of my favorite bands), whose 2009 album, Veckatimest garnered huge hype on the blogs, getting a 9.0/10 on pitchfork and debuting at #8 on U.S. charts. What is even more incredible is that their album leaked 3 months prior to its official release. Despite all the inevitable illegal album downloads, it still did remarkably well for an indie band.

Or Animal Collective? Their 2009 album, Merriweather Post Pavillion, had incredible popularity on the blogs, and received an (incredible!) 9.6/10 on Pitchfork. The album went on to peak at #13 on the U.S. charts.

So what does all this mean, exactly? Well. A bunch of people sitting around typing on their laptops are determining the course of the music industry. With the dawn of the digital age, the record companies have failed to adjust, attempting to pursue lawsuits instead of adapting to the new internet culture. But us young’ns have adapted quite well. And what is interesting is the fact is starting to leak into the mainstream culture/media:

  • Pitchfork now has a regular segment with Charles Gibson on ABC where they discuss the new up and coming bands.
  • Pitchfork has also teamed up with NPR to bring online Video/Audio content from live concerts.
  • Large companies, like Apple, heavily advertise on Pitchfork and even smaller home-grown music blogs.
  • Bands that have little to no fame outside of the blogosphere are beginning to chart high around the world.

So is this a musical revolution? For sure. At this rate, record companies will become all but irrelevant (if they aren’t already), and GOOD/CREATIVE music will return to mainstream success–which we arguably haven’t seen since The Beatles.
But what is most fascinating to me is the fact that the musical laymen, not record company executives or dumbass magazines (Rolling Stone, cough) are determining what is popular. It is the music of the people, so to speak.
So much so that there is somewhat of an internal policing when these blogs start to become too popular. There is resentment among the smaller blogs towards Pitchfork, who they see as power-hungry and purposefully controversial (in order to gain more readers). One can merely look at a blog like “i guess im floating” who place the link to pitchfork under “The Machine” category, along with a bunch of websites the average person has never heard of. And this alone is your clue that this music blog culture is consistently rolling over on itself in order to remain invulnerable to any sort of hyper-capitalist structure. This is socialism, folks. Money is dead in the blogosphere. The only mention of any sort of transaction is when they encourage readers to purchase albums from loved bands. And when a site like Pitchfork becomes a brand, and begins to market itself, there is a backlash.
So will this sort of digital anti-capitalist model be limited to the music industry, or could we see other industries embrace a people-centered web (get it?) of ideas that are no longer deluded by money-grubbing executives?

To conclude, I would like to describe this “blogosphere” as, in the words of literary theorists Deleuze and Guattari, a rhizomatic book, in the sense that it is an endless plauteau without beginning or end. They write, “the rhizome is an acentered, nonhierarchical, nonsignifying system without a General and without an organizing memory or central automaton, defined soley by a circulation of states” (from the essay “A Thousand Plateaus” [1980]). What I take this to mean, in application here, is that the nature of the internet provides the means for millions of voices and ideas, unhindered by the traditional power-structures of our society/media (more money=louder voice), resulting in a “book”, so to speak, without a cover–a book that can forever be edited, adjusted, disputed, etc. It is a dynamic system that makes no attempt to close itself off to dialogue (think wikipedia?). It will be interesting to see the results/consequences of such a system on the music industry (and surely other industries) in the near future. Hopefully it will be a change for the better, as it has been so far.

Either way, it is exciting to follow this underworld of art and creativity (for the sake of art and creativity…finally)

EDIT: Here is a link to a good article from WIRED about the Pitchfork’s influence on the music industry (circa 2006)

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Colleen

Well I am sitting here on the porch of Fremont Coffee listening to Belle & Sebastian, which is fantastic summer music, awaiting my friend Brandon to get off work. We will probably hop over to Norm’s and watch the M’s game over a beer. When he called earlier he said, “We could go watch the game”, which I assumed was actually “going” to the game. I responded somewhat dryly due to my poverty and having already been to four games this year. Of course, Brandon did not intend to suggest going to a game (they are in Detroit, after all) and I felt pretty stupid.

I work at Seattle Pacific University collecting recycling from the offices five days a week (so exciting). There are very few aspects of this job that inspire me, but there is one that has been a daily source of joy for me. A woman named Colleen, who is fairly old but has the mental capacity of a young child is dropped off Tuesday through Friday at around 10 am outside the campus bank. Here she sets up a table with a student helper and sells candy to anyone and everyone that passes by. Her voice is recognizable from hundreds of yards away, “Buy candy?” she yells across the street every time I pass with my red hand truck. “Maybe later,” I always yell back–but I never end up buying any. My reasoning for this is a concoction of laziness, health, lack of change, and a relentless desire for remaining socially comfortable. The sad thing is I usually steer clear of Colleen’s table throughout the day. She is hard to understand, and many of our conversations are awkward and consist entirely of me translating her words and then commenting with short phrases like, “very cool” or “that’s awesome!”–such a pathetic showing on my part that I would rather avoid it. But every day she is there with a HUGE smile. During lunch she shows me her new earrings or her Hannah Montana lunch box. Last week it was a Jonas Brothers folder.
And I never know what to say.
Last week I found myself again approached by Colleen at lunch.
“Buy Candy?” she asks in her familiar tone.
I hesitated, but for whatever reason replied, “Yes. I will buy some candy later today.” No maybe this time–I was on the hook. She caught her smile, and with a business-like straight face she pointed in the general direction of her candy stand. “Over der,” she mumbled.
“Your selling it over there?” I repeated. She nodded emphatically and quickly turned around and walked off.
About an hour later, after a few pickups, I had a break and slowly made my way toward Colleen’s table. I was preparing myself for a quick, awkward encounter. An exchange with surely little value for her or me. I remember thinking: what is a dollar going to do for her? She sits there four days a week for as long as I’ve been here (3 years), and probably even longer.

She saw me coming a block away and frantically began preparing her table–straightening her hand-drawn “Candy For Sale” sign, arranging the vast array of bars, skittles, and packages, fixing her gray-tinged hair. I couldn’t hold back my smile. She was so beautiful at that moment.
I approached the table much faster than I expected and was caught off guard.
“Uhm, so how much does this all cost?” I blabbed, immediately regretting such an impersonal greeting. Colleen was speechless, so her helper chimed in: “All the bars are a dollar, and the packages are a dollar-twenty five”. I scanned the table. “Well then I’ll take one of these,” I said while grabbing a small snickers bar (I never really liked snickers–must have been nervous). Colleen took my dollar, still speechless (but all smiles).
“What do you say, Colleen?” asked her helper.
“Dank You”.
“You are very welcome. Good luck!” I said as I walked away.
I felt weird how she thanked me.

I know it sounds cliche and cheezy to say that we can learn so much from someone like Colleen, but I cant deny it. Amber wants to meet her, and I know they would get along.
Anyways, I don’t have anything insightful or inspirational to say about it all. I just thought I should write these things down.

Download a few Belle & Sebastian songs, on me.
The Fox in the Snow :: Belle & Sebastian
Get Me Away From Here, I’m Dying :: Belle & Sebastian

both songs from their “If You’re Feeling Sinister” LP (1996).

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

thoughts on the fountainhead and the community

“Man’s ego is the fountainhead of human progress”
“I am man, hear me ROARK!”

Last night I half watched/half slept through the old 1948 film version of The Fountainhead. The original novel was written by Ayn Rand and has collected a cult following essentially since it was published. The story follows an eccentric architect, Howard Roark (Gary Cooper in the film), who sets out to design unique, nontraditional buildings and is met with the ire of the architectural community. His utter refusal to conform to the common “classical” style building leads him down a path of poverty and rejection. He never, however, gives in to the pressure for conformity. He is a talented man, and it is made clear that if he designed buildings that the “public” approved of he would become a wealthy man. But oh no, Mr. Roark refuses and by the end of the film is the symbol of human progress–the archetypal hyper-masculine figure (muscles bulging, hands on waist, standing on the top of the tallest [phallic] building in the world [see above photo from the film]).
And I feel like this is seriously messed up.
Rand utilizes her rhetorical skills to the fullest, establishing the likable heroic characters as the self-centered, egocentric (yet honorable) individualists, while the villains relentlessly call for conformity. By the end of the novel (which I read several years ago), I found myself hopelessly attracted to Rand’s philosophy (see, Objectivism). BUT OH! She is a sneaky one. I seem to remember about two weeks after I finished the book feeling somewhat manipulated–and I was.
Rand’s philosophy is the perfect example of what I would call “reactionary extremism”. She grew up in Russia and was twelve at the time of the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917. Her family was middle class and was treated poorly by the soviets, culminating in her expulsion from college due to her views. She then immigrated to America in 1926 and took up screenwriting in Hollywood. And guess what she wrote about? How sucky communism was. Sometimes it scares me how often our beliefs (even those we would die for) are all too clearly influenced by our experiences.
Anyways, the Fountainhead is full of these creativity/conformity, individual/collective dualities. And while I certainly don’t advocate blind conformity in any way, I believe Rand’s individualism is extremely dangerous and actually counter intuitive to human progress. Sure, maybe it works for buildings, but how do we really want to measure human progress? As I suggested in my last post, selflessness (a weak trait, according to Rand) is the highest value we could aim for. I question what Rand’s ideal world would look like? I am certainly no idealist (utopianist?) but my ideal society would be one where care for the poor and helpless would be on the top of the list. Which is why I have a soft spot in me for socialism (as a theory, not necessarily in any of its historically manifested forms)–because it emphasizes the good of the community (not collective) above the good of the individual. Sure, pulling ourselves up from our bootstraps is honorable and respectable, but isn’t pulling someone else up even more righteous? Now I understand the United States will never be anything close to socialist, and that is a good thing because it probably wouldn’t work. But this manic individualism is destructive. Have we lost the concept of community? I think so. The closest America comes to it is the “nuclear family”, which I personally believe is valuable (if you are lucky enough to have one), yet falls short because of its introverted nature (and the fact that there are millions who fall through the cracks).
And Church communities? Also valuable, but flawed for the same reasons. We humans run in packs and are blind to those stranded on the side.
As I read back I realize I am being extremely idealistic. I understand this community-emphasis is unlikely to emerge in this life. I suppose I am writing mostly to challenge the notion that individualism should be valued higher than the collective.
Any thoughts?

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

thoughts on dullness and the other

Currently the wonderful (white-boy!) rhythms of Dave Brubeck (pictured left) are gracing my ears. I’m sitting in Fremont Coffee on 36th attempting to salvage another summer day. My job is excruciatingly dull and I constantly find myself pushing for some sort of intellectual (hell, I’d even take athletic) activity to give my life some sort of meaning.
One such activity was playing music with my older sister Becky last night. We’ve been meaning to play for a while now and it was great. I miss harmonizing with others.
*Side Note: Some weirdo barista is blasting screaming hardcore “music” here, and it is interrupting Brubeck! Not okay.*
When I pause to reflect on my life for the past year or so, I find that I’ve become even more introverted (is that even possible?) And I think its about time I got myself involved in helping others. I’m not sure what that will look like yet, but I’m leaning towards shortening my work week to 4 days and taking the extra long weekend to find some sort of volunteer work. What kind of work? I have no idea. Maybe tutoring, or something simpler. While discussing this with my roommate Andrew last night, he asked me what I would normally do with an extra day.
I responded honestly–I would read, blog, clean, write music… Normal things. Good things. Valuable things.
But he reminded me that all of those activities are not geared towards helping others. They are inherently “self centered” (without the negative connotation of the phrase). I argued that they are they type of self centered hobbies that I could turn around for others in the future (e.g. the more I read, the better I could teach when I am older). But Andrew insisted we could (and should) find ways to combine these things we do with the other. Not for the future, but now.
Now I have always had a “theoretical soft spot” for the other. However, in reality I have never been a strong pursuer of selflessness and generosity. It is uncomfortable, and God knows I love to be comfortable. But at the center of my beliefs is the call for selflessness towards others, especially those in need. A contemporary marxist theorist, Slavoj Žižek , on writing of ideologies remarked that one’s beliefs are inseparable from their actions. As a marxist (and a materialist) this makes a lot of sense. But also for someone like myself, these words ring true. You can say whatever you want, or even believe whatever you want. But your ideology is what you do.
The idea of one’s “works” has been (somewhat) demonized in many evangelical christian circles as a reaction to the more liturgical denominations and the dark history of the Catholic Church. We are taught that works do not get us into heaven, only belief in Christ. But I challenge this notion by asking who Christ was? What did Christ teach? Selflessness and love. How did Christ act? Selfless. loving. These are works, these are actions. Christ is not Christ because of what he believed but by what he did. So I am utterly convinced that works play a role (dare I say more important role?) than beliefs. And by works I mean love, and by love I mean selfless actions towards others. Its both the most simple and most complex aspect of being human.
All of this to say that I need to start acting out what i have been studying and believing for the past year. I can’t do this reading books (as much as I would love to do this all day/everyday). So if anyone reads this, and has any suggestions for me that would be appreciated. I will be using this blog to FORCE myself to write. I never write, and I should be writing–so please pardon my relaxed form, it is the internet after all. And also one “shoutout” to my uncle Matthew–his blog has inspired me to rekindle my own.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized