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inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #51 of 114: Alan L. Chamberlain (axon) Thu 18 Dec 03 08:32
    

>She is part of the death of discrimination. Barry Manilow and 
>Christoph Eschenbach are all the same to her.  It's all good, 
>as they say.  But good for what?  It's all good for commodity.  
>Finally Fresh Air like any commercial program is about product 
>and marketing.

To a certain extent, I agree with Curt here.  Fresh Air is just
another brand of dog food.  On the tic-tac-toe board of relative market
value, it fits in the Premium square; higher priced, narrower market
segment, higher perceived value.  But at the end of the day its still
bone meal and offal and scraps that can't be sold as human food, shot
full of hormones, and dressed up with some emulsifiers so that it makes
its own sauce.   Okay, maybe the metaphor fails at this level.

Fresh Air is an expensive program.  Member stations pay many thousands
of dollars that they have to raise with tin-cupathons, and amplify
with underwriter dollars that increasingly commercialize public radio. 
And it must be said that it serves an explicitly commercial purpose in
the pimping of books, records, movies, plays, and other creative
*products*.  In that sense, it's really not distinguished from Jimmy
Kimmel.

But where it *is* distinguished is in its role for pimping *ideas*.  I
am an avid reader of Tom Friedman, who I think is writing perhaps the
most insightful commentary about the Middle East extant.  I was
introduced to him by Terry Gross.  I have encountered many thinkers and
artists and writers I would otherwise have missed because of her
program.  To the extent that I fulfill my part in the economic food
chain by patronizing these content providers, Fresh Air is a subsidiary
of the Purina Corporation.  To the extent that my own thinking about
current events, music, literature, cinema, etc., is enriched by this
exposure, however, it catalyzes the critique that Curt exhorts as the
*remedy* to commodity.

If Gross' listeners accepted everything she broadcasts uncritically, I
think Curt's objections would be valid.  But I don't think they do; I
think for the most part her listeners tune out guests that do not
interest them, investigate further those ideas that intrigue them, and
ultimately engage their discrimination and iagination in a process of
analysis and synthesis that *confounds* the putative Middle Mind.

Gross does not need to articulate distinctions; that is the duty of
her listeners.  She serves as a vehicle for ideation, not its arbiter. 
Well, that and the dog food thing.
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #52 of 114: Dan Mitchell (mitchell) Thu 18 Dec 03 08:44
    
The theory that Fresh Air is part of the media problem is way off
base, except in one respect: she *does* emphasize the personal and
sensational too much when talking to musicians, witers, etc.  But she
does have guests, and she does address topics, that mainstream media
ignores in favor of pablum, and she's a darned good interviewer. What
the hell do you want?
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #53 of 114: Alan L. Chamberlain (axon) Thu 18 Dec 03 08:53
    <scribbled by axon Thu 18 Dec 03 11:04>
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #54 of 114: David Gans (tnf) Thu 18 Dec 03 09:20
    
Back off, axon.
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #55 of 114: Alan L. Chamberlain (axon) Thu 18 Dec 03 09:44
    

No.
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #56 of 114: Angie Coiro (coiro) Thu 18 Dec 03 09:51
    
For god's sake, is it too much to ask that we treat a guest with due
courtesy? It's not just empty symbolism to do so; it guarantees a
better, more enjoyable, more productive discussion for all of us. 

Disagreement, sure. Roasting a guest over the coals while he's barely
gotten a word out of his mouth shifts the focus to the roasters and the
roasting. 

I'm not playing topic cop. I'm expressing dismay as a contributor of
this discussion.
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #57 of 114: virtual community or butter? (bumbaugh) Thu 18 Dec 03 09:53
    
Meanwhile, back at the conversation:

Yeah, that's been Pacifica's thing for a long time -- and Pacifica has
been experiencing dramatic changes.

Myself, I once had high hopes for public access cable. And some good
has come of it, to be sure. More recently, I've had high hopes for the
Web. And some good has come of it.

Do you have any thoughts about what technology's role(s) might be in
all this, Curtis? Do new technologies have something genuinely new to
offer for the sorts of creative thinking you're talking about, or is
that recurring impulse ("yeah, radio's here, now everything will be
great", "okay radio didn't do it, but CATV is going to make all the
difference," etc.) itself a drag on the social imagination?
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #58 of 114: Alan L. Chamberlain (axon) Thu 18 Dec 03 10:00
    <scribbled by axon Thu 18 Dec 03 11:04>
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #59 of 114: Uncle Jax, the Nicest Asshole on the Well (jax) Thu 18 Dec 03 10:29
    
Brother <axon>, inquiring into the motivation of a content creator is
in order. The snide stigmatization ad personam accompanying it, to
wit, "catapult an otherwise obscure author to prominence is not lost
on the guest of honor", is not in order.

A critique should be a delicate medical probe, but you have chosen the
buzzsaw and the meat cleaver! :-)
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #60 of 114: David Gans (tnf) Thu 18 Dec 03 10:32
    
Let's talk about the book, please.
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #61 of 114: Dan Mitchell (mitchell) Thu 18 Dec 03 10:48
    
I mostly disagree with White's assessment of Fresh Air, but it's a
legitimate criticism, and without some evidence other than the voices
in my head I wouldn't think of insulting him by insinuating that he
came to it insincerely. 
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #62 of 114: Alan L. Chamberlain (axon) Thu 18 Dec 03 11:11
    

Although I still believe it's a valid avenue of inquiry, I did not
intend to provoke a metathrash over protocol (nor did it occur to me
that it might), so I've scribbled my remarks.  Carry on.

>insinuating that he came to it insincerely

I don't believe he came by it insincerely; it clearly bugs him.  Chris
Matthews bugs me, too, but I don't think skewering him would sell a
lot of magazines, much less lead to a book deal.  But whatever.  I'll
stick to the content under review, which offers abundant opportunities
for criticism.
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #63 of 114: Curtis White (curtiswhite) Thu 18 Dec 03 12:28
    
My interest in what Gross does on Fresh Air (or Charlie Rose for that
matter) is useful only as an example of more general tendencies.  If
the culture is about the refusal to make distinctions, Fresh Air
participates in that.  Especially in its involvement in the arts.  As
Mitchell points out, it doesn't stop with a refusal to make
discriminations.  The kinds of questions she asks of artists indicate
no understanding of what art does in a culture.  Like, none.  Because
she always reduces the art to the sensational and the autobiographical.
 As if all artists were secretly about writing or making memoirs that
are only a veil for some personal and tragic or sensational personal
experience.  What should we want to know about art?  What kinds of
questions should she ask?  Well, how about questions that relate to two
things a) the relation of the work to a tradition of artistic making
(whether in the cinema or painting or novel or poetry or whatever) and
b) the relation of the work to the social.  Talking to Barry Manilow
about his relation to culture can have no meaning because he is an
example of only the most banal and COMPLICIT music making.  (See my
discussion of Adorno and Radiohead in the book re. the politics of the
conventional and the avant garde.) To then talk to Eschenbach and ask
only about his traumas growing up in bombed out Europe as opposed to
asking him about, say, the role classical music can have in the
present, how classical music can save itself from the irrelevance of
the museum, what have classical art's interests in politics been?  Does
he see any political aspect in his own work?  etc. that's the sort of
thing a thoughtful interviewer could ask.  Maybe Eschenbach would only
provide the most predictable junk about "appreciation" and "beauty." 
Won't know till you ask him.  But look at the recent book of
conversations between Daniel Barenboim and Edward Said to see what
musicians are really capable of.  A lot more than Terry Gross is
capable of, unhappily for us.

But again, there's no point in turning this into an is she or isn't
she question about Terry Gross.  She's finally not the point.  If you
agree with my general critique, substitute your own favorite irritants.
 The general problem is what is merely commercial passing for the
thoughtful.  In this way the thoughtful is managed if not outright
denied.

In a recent interview, Andre Schiffrin of the New Press said there
were two pre-eminent ways to market a book in the US: Oprah and Fresh
Air.  By their acts ye shall know them.
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #64 of 114: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Thu 18 Dec 03 13:01
    
I'm reminded of a Douglas Adams joke:

The History of every major Galactic Civilization tends to pass through
three distinct and recognizable phases, those of Survival, Inquiry and
Sophistication, otherwise known as the How, Why and Where phases.  For
instance, the first phase is characterized by the question, "How can
we eat?" the second by the question "Why do we eat?" and the third by
the question "Where shall we have lunch?"

It sounds like your criticism has something to do with the media's
over-emphasis on question 3.  Which art should I be interested in? 
Rather than, what is art about?

But does philosophy make good radio?  Do artists make good
philosophers?
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #65 of 114: Alan L. Chamberlain (axon) Thu 18 Dec 03 13:05
    
>how about questions that relate to two things a) the 
>relation of the work to a tradition of artistic making 
>(whether in the cinema or painting or novel or poetry 
>or whatever) and b) the relation of the work to the social

What if hardly anyone listening is interested in the answers to those
questions?  I'm not sure which is the chicken and which is the egg, but
I suspect most folks tuning into Fresh Air are less concerned with
either the process or the relevance than they are fascinated with the
personality of the creator.

That said, I heard her interview Stanley Tucci about his work
directing and acting in "The Big Night" a few years back, and Tucci
discussed at length his technique (and the traditions whence they were
derived) as well as the the film's larger meaning and social impact. 
So it's not as though these questions are never asked nor answered. 
But, as interesting as I found his discussion of using a single master
shot for the prolonged, dialog-free, denouement, I could almost *hear*
the click of millions of radios being turned off.

The theater is not the academy.  This does not preclude inquiry
invading spectacle, nor amusement intruding into lecture, but it does
seem as though you are arguing that art has a superordinate obligation
to bore its audience.
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #66 of 114: Dan Mitchell (mitchell) Thu 18 Dec 03 13:08
    
I actually like this lack of discrimination. Or, I like the refusal to
distinguish between "high" and "low" culture, but, crucially, with the
necessary distinguishing between banal and insipid culture and its
opposite. In other words, while I don't particularly like Barry
Manilow, I also don't think he's so awful as he's often made out to be.
He's a competent songster, with a fine pop sensibility. So, while I
might not listen to the show, I think he makes a good FA guest. But I
don't think Terry would have, say, Christine Aguilara on, because she
*is* banal and insipid -- and there's really nothing new or different
or interesting about her. And I hate Gene Simmons' guts -- I think he
represents everything that's wrong with the American male. But,
assuming he didn't fart all over the air when he was on (as he did), I
can see why he was invited on the show. Kiss belonged to "low" culture,
but it also has had a major impact, and influenced other musicians,
and represented a turning point in rock and roll (ugly theatrics and
partay-rock). 

I also equate Terry Gross and Charlie Rose, in the approach to the
subject matter, the mix of guests, etc. The crucial difference is that
Terry is a darned good interviewer, and Rose is terrible.

But being either one of these people, or their bookers, in the
postmodern age must be extremely difficult.
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #67 of 114: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) Thu 18 Dec 03 13:11
    
You talk about fashioning tools to "facilitate the revival of the social
imagination".  What are these tools?  Could you give examples?
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #68 of 114: Paul Terry Walhus (terry) Thu 18 Dec 03 13:16
    
Slippage with mitchell, axon, and bslesins.
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #69 of 114: Curtis White (curtiswhite) Fri 19 Dec 03 15:02
    
Actually, my interest in "discriminating" between Manilow and
Eschenbach has nothing to do with high/low.  At least, I hope it
doesn't.  I'm more interested in art/not-art.  

But for that you have to have an aesthetic.  The aesthetic I depend on
for this aspect of the book is from Adorno's Aesthetic Theory. 
(Mostly.)

I've been told that I ought to put more paragraphs in my responses.  

Here's another paragraph.

I'm just kidding around now.

Maybe this is my way of asking, can we talk about something other than
Fresh Air because Terry Gross is starting to feel like a form of
eternal pushishment for me?

For those of you who are interested, you can find a recent essay of
mine at the Village Voice web site for December 3.  It's in the section
called "The Essay."  It's called "Concerning Sotoligarchy" and begins
with a quote from Proust.

Proust was never on Fresh Air that I am aware of.
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #70 of 114: Angie Coiro (coiro) Fri 19 Dec 03 15:05
    
That's 'cause dead air is a bad idea on the radio!
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #71 of 114: Curtis White (curtiswhite) Fri 19 Dec 03 15:10
    
Terry, sorry, almost forgot your question about tools.  In the largest
sense, I can hope that the book becomes a touchstone like Growing Up
Absurd that motivates and provides a way of thinking and arguing.  That
is in one sense an immodest hope, but anyone who does this sort of
criticism should be thinking in thsoe terms or he/she is not serious.  

Also fundamental concepts like this fiction of the Middle Mind or the
idea of the social imagination or the management of the imagination
through the adversaries that I describe or my construct of the New
Censorship.  All of these notions can be tools.  

I hope these tools get used by real people to help describe their
reality and deprive it of some of its power.

When they're bundled as a book they can become weapons.   
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #72 of 114: Curtis White (curtiswhite) Fri 19 Dec 03 15:14
    
Dear Coiro:  I hope you are not implying that Proust is dead! As you
all know, I am not easily riled, but that could get me going in a way
that would be most terrible to witness.
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #73 of 114: Gail Williams (gail) Fri 19 Dec 03 15:15
    
Has anyone used your book in tool or weapon-like ways?  Any field reports or
feedback?
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #74 of 114: Michael C. Berch (mcb) Fri 19 Dec 03 15:35
    
> Talking to Barry Manilow
> about his relation to culture can have no meaning because he is an
> example of only the most banal and COMPLICIT music making.  

Oh, my god!  Barry Manilow is COMPLICIT! 

(Uh... this is critique?)
  
inkwell.vue.203 : Curtis White, THE MIDDLE MIND
permalink #75 of 114: (fom) Sat 20 Dec 03 00:29
    
this is such a tuff room.
  

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