M. Dery (mark-dery) Sun 13 May 12 19:53
Re: #19 (JonL): >>Perhaps zombies are fascists? Always tempted to draw parallels between the global fascist rumblings in the first half of the 20th century, and the post-millennial slide to the right (along a well-lubricated slippery slope). However the world feels more complex and diverse... and crowded. The shadowy cloud of civilization's potential decline seems to have spawned a tornado or two, but are we truly in an apocalyptic era?<< Fascinating, prickly question, Jon. I'll be picking the cockleburrs out of my brain for days. In _The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium: American Culture on the Brink_, I lean heavily on Harold Bloom's _Omens of Millennium_ and even more so on Hillel Schwarz's _Century's End_ to make sense of the notion that societies are, as Baudrillard would say, "always already" apocalyptic, meaning: people have invoked the whorls and loops of societal turbulence as proof positive that the End of Days is upon us since the *beginning* of time, virtually, or at least since the beginning of recorded history. As a card-carrying postmodernist---make that *post*-postmodernist---not to mention a born-again atheist, I'm deeply suspicious of teleologies: historical narratives that culminate in an End of Days, whether it's the religious right's rapture or the Marxist world revolution of the proletariat or even Martin Luther King's arrow of history bending toward justice. Darwinian evolution, not to mention materialism, argue that history is a random walk. That point being readily granted, I *do* think we live in times of chaos and complexity, when society is "far from equilibrium," as scientists who study dynamical systems like to say. Steven Pinker's claim, in _The Better Angels of Our Nature_, that violence is on the decline notwithstanding, most peoples' experience of the wider world---which is to say, as a funhouse-mirror reflection in the media---seems to be as a growingly out-of-control place. Ideological extremism and lockstep partisanship are monkeywrenching the American political system---an article by Ezra Klein in the March 19 _New Yorker_ notes that ideological "rigidity has made American democracy much more difficult to manage"; the culture wars are reaching a boiling point, ginned up by backroom dealmakers like the Koch brothers, whose real agenda is simply to create the most deregulated, tax-free landscape in which to Do the Lord's Work; and Angry White Guys are stockpiling guns and training their crosshairs on scapegoats, post-traumatically stressed by a black man in the Oval Office, the demographic rise of the nonwhite population, the sea change in households where women earn more than men, and the econopocalypse. But if you're shopping for apocalypses, the rough beast right around the bend is Envirogeddon. Come of the middle of the 21st century, we---at least, those of us who can't afford a climate-controlled biosphere lush with hydroponic greenery and an artesian well guarded by a private army---are going to be living in one of Ballard's disaster novels. Global Weirding, as climate scientists call it, is *the* pressing issue of the near future, and I have every confidence my friends on the right will bury their heads in the sand, on that issue, until the sand superheats and turns to glass.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 14 May 12 05:11
I suspect that the apocalyptic imagination is fed by the sooner or later, usually later, realization of mortality: if we die as individuals, why wouldn't we die collectively, as a species? And as elders become germophobic, a collectively aging species is increasingly aware of apocalyptic omens. If you're an evangelical Christian, climate meltdown is not a crisis to be avoided, but part of the inevitable End of Days, therefore a reality to embrace. Prophets of apocalypse famously, in cartoon culture, were lone lunatics standing on street corners wearing white sheets and long beards and holding signs saying "The end is near!" Now they have churches, television programs, websites... I caught one on television yesterday, in a relatively mainstream church broadcast following ABC's "This Week." We will all be leaving soon on the Rapture Express. Or will we? Word is that, when the rapture comes, the righteous will disappear from the earth and only the wicked and corrupt will remain. The rapture could occur this morning, and no one would notice... perhaps a handful of scattered "missing persons" reports...
Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 14 May 12 05:57
I'm not sure why we pay so much attention to idiotic thought. Jon gets right to the heart of what's wrong with apocalyptic thinking... in any camp. Which brings us back to square one. Mark, what I have really appreciated in your essays, all humor and subcultural drive-bys aside, is the scalpel you take to areas where our collective unconscious has wandered from clear reason and what we knew to be true from the get go. It's always good to have an iconoclast in the room; especially in the daze of spin and branding. How do you keep your edge? Who are and were your influencers? (Along with those you've already mentioned.) And how do you keep an editor:) You use so many adjectives and adverbs I don't know how a decision can be made on what to cut or how to rephrase. Great rants.
. (wickett) Mon 14 May 12 08:53
Rants that excellently slice through fog and mush indeed. Yet, I wonder about your appeal to any in cloud cuckoo land. Do you have readers or commenters or critics there?
david gault (dgault) Mon 14 May 12 08:55
I'm wondering what <tcn> wonders. How do you keep your edge? And what's your brand of coffee? And here's a link to a PDF from Ramparts April 67 discussing Hitler as AdMan #1: http://www.unz.org/Pub/Ramparts-1967apr-00005a02
Roy Christopher (jonl) Mon 14 May 12 11:33
Submitted by Roy Christopher: As much as I agree with your (and Tricia Rose's) assessment of the ills of Hip-hop, I find those things to be its least interesting aspects. Hip-hop's adaptation and appropriation of pieces of the past is still a fertile cultural practice. Fueled now by digital tools and distribution, Hip-hop has rounded the corner of its postmodern turn. Moreover, the lyricism is just bananas. Allusions and signifiers fly by at light speed, calling for an evermore refined Hip-hop literacy. I understand the turning away, but I think the things you once found so mind-blowing there are still there. It takes some digging, but Hip-hop is still a hotbed of cultural epiphanies.
M. Dery (mark-dery) Mon 14 May 12 13:02
Re: #27 (JonL): >>I suspect that the apocalyptic imagination is fed by the sooner or later, usually later, realization of mortality: if we die as individuals, why wouldn't we die collectively, as a species? [A]...collectively aging species is increasingly aware of apocalyptic omens.<< Too metaphysical for this unreconstructed materialist and recovering Marxist. Then, too, this argument performs a dialectical move I've always been reflexively wary of, namely, de-emphasizing social dynamics or economic factors in favor of individual psychology or personal morality (codeword: "responsibility"), probably because such arguments are so congenial to the Judaeo-Christian emphasis on pilgrim's progress over social change, and to Ayn Rand-ian free-market fundamentalism, with its touching faith in the Level Playing Field and the Self-Made Man and its social-Darwinian, winner-take-all contempt for society's losers (because, here in the land of peppy can-do, everyone loves a winner and nobody likes a loser). I realize you're the furthest thing from either the evangelical right or the neo-liberal true believers, so I hope I don't sound as if I'm tarring you with either brush. I'll grant your premise that Homo sap (as Burroughs put it) is a solipsistic animal who refuses to be disabused of the self-serving fiction that Man is the Measure of All Things; there's surely more than a grain of truth in your suggestion that the lengthening shadow of mortality makes those of us with receding hairlines see omens of endtimes everywhere. But at the risk of replaying my argument from an earlier post (not to mention the thesis of _The Pyrotechnic Insanitarium_, which at the risk of immodesty is beginning to look almost prescient!), I will say that American society is further from equilibrium than I've ever seen it: the middle class really has been pushed to the brink of extinction (and you can't have a healthy democracy without a healthy middle class, just as you can't have a dynamic mass-market economy without a mass of consumers); income inequality really is setting in stark relief the fundamental contradictions between democracy and capitalism, which in its radically deregulated Reaganite mutation is gnawing away the foundations on which our fair republic was built; Angry White Guys who've lost their jobs and their homes, Angry White Guys clutching their guns as the only talismans of empowerment they have left (however hollow), Angry White Guys clinging with white-knuckled desperation to the only explanatory myths they know---reassuring fictions about God and country and the American Dream---yet desperate for a master narrative that will explain why those consoling fictions are beginning to feel so threadbare, so full of social holes that no amount of self-delusion can patch, Angry White Guys like that really *are* fertile soil for the toadstools of fascism. >>If you're an evangelical Christian, climate meltdown is not a crisis to be avoided, but part of the inevitable End of Days, therefore a reality to embrace.<< Right, but we should concede that progressive Christians, such as the _Soujourners_ demographic, take the biblical notion of environmental "stewardship" seriously. Like any zealous atheist, I thrill to YouTube debate videos of Hitchens and Dawkins handing god-botherers their heads, but the New Atheism's anthropological illiteracy regarding the progressive wing of Christianity offends the subcultural scholar in me. It's the merest ignorance. Worse yet, it colludes, however unwittingly, with the mainstream media in its tendency to turn a blind eye on an admittedly few few islets of green, social-justice Christianity in order to portray Christianity in America as a right-wing franchise. It may be an impediment to human progress, overall, but to deny the role played by People of Faith, to use the evangelical term of art, in bending history's arc toward justice is willful blindness. And I say this, mind you, as a sworn foe of religion and all its works and ways. >>Prophets of apocalypse famously, in cartoon culture, were lone lunatics standing on street corners ...Now they have churches, television programs, websites... << As it happens, millenarian fist-shakers, prophets of doom, and moral crusaders have made shrewd use of the media since the birth of the biblical tract, early in childhood of the nation, as I note in my _Bad Thoughts_ essay on the hairy eyed, John-Bircher tracts of far-right Christian pamphleteer Jack Chick.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 14 May 12 13:27
One issue you I both have, I realize, is our tendency to view the world through the increasingly muddy lens of media, mass and social. I nod agreement when you say that the American middle class is riding a rough road to probable extinction, but I don't have a clear set of facts to support that contention; it's conjecture based, not on my own experience, but on the sad parade of facts marching through the various media channels for "news" and "information." I've lost all confidence in my own ability to interpret the cultural weather. I have to argue with your first point in the last post, that I've made a metaphysical argument. To me it's clear that the collective is a collection of individuals, and common experience will tend to create collective response. For those of us who were part of the postwar "boomer" population surge, mortality is no longer deferred, we can't avoid thinking about it, and this is bound to have an impact on our collective sense of reality. Either Marx, Karl or Groucho, could clearly see this point, so as an unspecified Marxist, I'm sure you can agree, no?
M. Dery (mark-dery) Mon 14 May 12 13:29
Re: #31 (Roy Christopher): I'm enthralled. Would you be willing to throw together an off-the-cuff Top 10 List of Highly Allusive, Lightspeed-Signifying Hip-Hop? Because the Kristal-fetishizing, noxiously misogynistic, playfully homophobic stuff booming out of my car radio makes a man want to weep into his copy of Horkheimer and Adorno's _Culture Industry_. But I'm ready to answer the altar call and get religion, Brother Christopher; may the scales fall from my eyes! Also, I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on the effects of the copyright crackdown on the Hip-Hop-as-Postmodern-Bricolage phenomenon, epitomized, back in the day, by Hank Shocklee's Bomb Squad and De La Soul and, more recently, by DJ Krush and DJ Shadow. A thousand flowers may be blooming in the cracks of consumer culture, but I can't imagine you'd argue the aesthetic fallout of the war on copyfighters.
M. Dery (mark-dery) Mon 14 May 12 13:39
Re: #33 (JonL): You'll get no quarrel from me on the point that the graying of the baby boom puts America---or, at least, the boomers who cast a long shadow across its mass-market myths---in pensive mood, sighing theatrically about its impending mortality and, on occasion, inclined to confuse the baby boom's shuffle into its AARP Years with the decline of civilization generally. As for reading cultural signs, specifically regarding the middle class's move onto the endangered species list, we can agree that there's no such thing as a monolithic mainstream anymore, and that universal consensuses on anything are hard to come by, yet still accept the avalanche of hard evidence showing that 30 years of Reaganomics has carved the epitaph of the working class. The utter falsity of trickledown, laissez-faire policies is abundantly evidenced, it seems to me.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 14 May 12 14:01
"The utter falsity of trickledown, laissez-faire policies is abundantly evidenced, it seems to me." I don't disagree. Yet they persist, and those most damaged support them. Or perhaps they don't, it's hard to tell, the narrative is out of joint.
Susan Sarandon, tractors, etc. (rocket) Mon 14 May 12 14:30
At the risk of sounding rude, you sound quite silly with your circa 1992 take on hip-hop. It's pretty obvious you've never actually listened to it, which is a dangerous position to cast stones from ("I hate that stuff that, ah, I've never heard more than a few fragments of!") Check into these and get back to us or stand down on this point, sir: 'Aquemini,' by OutKast 'Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers),' by Wu-Tang Clan 'De La Soul Is Dead,' by De La Soul 'Only Built for Cuban Linx,' by Raekwon 'Raising Hell,' by Run-DMC 'Midnight Marauders,' by A Tribe Called Quest 'Paul's Boutique,' by Beastie Boys Now here we go dropping science dropping it all over Like bumping around the town like when you're driving a Range Rover Expanding the horizons and expanding the parameters Expanding the rhymes of sucker M.C. amateurs Naugels, Isaac Newton Scientific E.Z. Ben Franklin with the kite getting over with the key Rock shocking the mic as many times times the times tables Rock well to tell dispel all of the old fables I've been dropping the new science and kicking the new knowledge An M.C. to a degree that you can't get in college The dregs of the earth and the eggs that I eat I've got pegs through my hands and one through my feet Shea Stadium the Radium E M D squared Got kicked out of the Palladium you think that I cared It's the sound of science Challenge #1: If you've ever written anything that good, I'd like to see it. Challenge #2 Hip-hop is a coded art form, which you probably don't understand. I'm guessing you don't even understand what's going on in that verse. I would find it highly amusing to read your take, though.
Susan Sarandon, tractors, etc. (rocket) Mon 14 May 12 14:35
And before you go all "I listened to The Message in 1983!" again, consider the folly of analyzing the state of rock music in 1981 by listening to Herman's Hermits. Not very helpful.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Mon 14 May 12 14:42
<rocket>: But what do you really think?
Susan Sarandon, tractors, etc. (rocket) Mon 14 May 12 14:46
Heh. I'm sure our esteemed guest will be right back with information that isn't 20 years old (Copyright wars? Seriously? Allow me to point you to Biz Markie's "All Samples Cleared" -- released on June 2, 1993.)
M. Dery (mark-dery) Mon 14 May 12 14:57
#28 of 32: Ted Newcomb (tcn) Mon 14 May 2012 (05:57 AM): >>How do you keep your edge? Who are and were your influencers? (Along with those you've already mentioned.) And how do you keep an editor:) You use so many adjectives and adverbs, I don't know how a decision can be made on what to cut or how to rephrase.<< #29 of 32: . (wickett) Mon 14 May 2012 (08:53 AM) >>I wonder about your appeal to any in cloud cuckoo land. Do you have readers or commenters or critics there?<< #30 of 32: david gault (dgault) Mon 14 May 2012 (08:55 AM) >>How do you keep your edge? And what's your brand of coffee? And here's a link to a PDF from Ramparts April 67 discussing Hitler as AdMan #1...<< Thanks, all, for your lavish praise, which brings a blush to my wizened, reptilian cheek. Thanks, too, for the RAMPARTS article; fascinating stuff. And the answers are: I keep my edge by returning again and again to acidulous wits like Gore Vidal (_United States_, his ginormous doorstopper of an essay collection, is a must for every library), Hitchens (whose neocon cheerleading I predictably deplore, but whose Oxfordian cut-and-thrust is a thing of beauty, worthy of study for every aspiring stylist), Bierce (_The Devil's Dictionary_), Burroughs (whom I read as a savage Swiftian satirist, a mantle he himself often claimed), H.L. Mencken, The Incomparable Oscar (Wilde, of course---a gimlet-eyed social commentator behind his Aesthete pose), Twain (one of our most mordant observers of the American scene), J.G. Ballard (pathologist of the postnodern, as I call him in the book's dedication), Joan Didion, and Luc Sante (whose blurb I am proud to say adorns the book's back over), to name just a few of the whetstones I use in an increasingly vain effort to keep the aging mind keen and the pen sharp enough to draw blood. How do I keep an editor? I presume you mean magazine editors, as opposed to my book editors, who are chained to their oars, poor dears? Regarding the tightly dovetailed nature of my writing, you're very intuitive, because I *have* been told by editors that the joinery of my sentences is so tight it squeaks, which makes it fiendishly difficult to trim "widows"---hackspeak for that extra word dangling on a line of its own, at the end of a laid-out paragraph, which art directors usually insist must be cut. I *will* respectfully demur regarding my allegedly reckless use of adjectives and adverbs. I *do* carry the battle standard for a more Wildean prose style that stands foursquare against the beige, PowerPoint prose of our age. The Gladwellian style of our times is anathema to me; I find it colorless, and yet more evidence of creeping corporatism. But that doesn't mean my prose wears velvet knee-breeches and swans around with a nosegay in one pale, long-fingered hand. (Adjective alert! And one of them a compound modifier at that!) How do I keep an audience? Well, *you're* here, aren't you? But seriously: we can't *all* be Malcolm Gladwell. What would the overcrowded fishbowl of American Letters be without its minnows? To be sure, I'd be delighted to seduce the million, sell more books than God, and retire to a little Pacific atoll all my own, to shuck the clams out of their shells and wear my trousers rolled. But not at the cost of performing an icepick lobotomy on my thought, or sanding all the idiosyncracies off my style. If that means I'll never play Wembley, well, we'll always have each other, won't we? I'd rather have star billing in an egghead's idea of CBGB's than headline an arena packed with _Tipping Point_ fans. And I mean that from the bottom of my heart, what there is of it.
david gault (dgault) Mon 14 May 12 18:17
Glad to hear you're a fan of Gore Vidal's history of the US. I came to it only in the last 4 or 5 years, except for Burr which I read in 92 and immediately gave to a friend who was inventing the myth of the independence of the internet. We've been a global empire (here in the US) since Teddy Roosevelt's time, by choice. I like Vidal's telling of that story because it lets me off the hook; this shit didn't start with Vietnam or the Dominican Republic, or Cuba. Oh wait, it did start with Cuba. In 1898.
Roy Christopher (jonl) Mon 14 May 12 21:32
From Roy Christopher: A top ten... Hmmmm: Hail Mary Mallon 'Are You Going to Eat That?' (Rhymesayers Entertainment, 2011) El-P 'I'll Sleep When You're Dead' (Def Jux, 2007) and 'Cancer for Cure' (Fat Possum, 2012) Action Bronson 'Dr. Lector' (Fine Fabric Delegates, 2011) Tyler, The Creator 'Goblin' (XL, 2011) Antipop Consortium 'Fluorescent Black' (Big Dada, 2009) Aesop Rock 'None Shall Pass' (Def Jux, 2007) and 'Skelethon' (Rhymesayers Entertainment, forthcoming [July, 2012]) Death Grips 'Exmilitary' (Third Worlds, 2011) and 'The Money Store' (Epic, 2012) Odd Future 'Odd Future Tape' and OFWGKTA 'Radical' (both self-released, 2008) New Flesh 'Understanding' (Big Dada, 2002) and 'Universally Dirty' (Big Dada, 2006) The futile and feudal crusade of the "copyfighters" is only forcing the sampling artists to get more creative. No more obvious interpolations or outright ganked grooves allowed (without hefty fees beforehand or fines after). I'm not saying it's a good thing, but sometimes it makes for music made with more effort.
Susan Sarandon, tractors, etc. (rocket) Tue 15 May 12 07:02
That's a good list of recent releases, but it is hard for me to imagine our guest coming to grips with Odd Future! He clearly has a lot of catching up to do before he can handle that. (Hence my list of mostly time-tested hip-hop classics.) I think even the most calcified mind probably can understand this one, though: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1hzHoSpGkjM Goodie Mob - Soul Food Make sure you listen at least to the chorus, where some nice gospel vocals are waiting for you. Also fun: careful observers will spot members of OutKast -- that was before they blew up -- and of course this is Cee-Lo's old band (not that our guest knows who Cee-Lo is; that black man is impossibly lowbrow). ... Just so we are all clear here, I didn't feel any need to get involved in this conversation at all until I saw this, in response to a very polite inquiry from Roy Christopher: "But I'm ready to answer the altar call and get religion, Brother Christopher; may the scales fall from my eyes!" That's amazingly condescending stuff, unless, of course, our guest is actually going to listen to the selections named above in response. I eagerly wait for that analysis, unless it's beneath a guy who writes about zombies in pop culture. More broadly, anyone branding themselves as a "cultural critic with a fringe sensibility and strong cyberculture roots" who isn't listening to hip-hop at least with one ear is out of touch, by definition, and not to be trusted. Hence the challenges, which will very likely go unanswered. But if you style yourself a "cultural critic" ...
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 15 May 12 09:10
What's cool about living in the digital age: I just created a Spotify Playlist with most of those albums (it's called Hip Hip Hop, if you happen to be on Spotify).
From Roy Christopher (captward) Tue 15 May 12 09:16
Via e-mail: RE: #44: Chill, we're friends.
David Wilson (dlwilson) Tue 15 May 12 09:35
re: <45> Could you give me a more exact way of accessing that playlist on Spotify <jonl>? I couldn't find it. I'd like to listen to it to be able to evaluate the issues that <rocket> is raising. I'm going to wait for Mark to respond before I comment.
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 15 May 12 09:42
Admittedly culture wars can be interesting, but Roy has a good point - we're friends here. This conversation does raise a question for Mark as culture critic. A critic takes strong positions, but culture is fluid, malleable, and open to interpretation. A culture critic will inevitably be challenged. Is this a pain in the ass? Or is it stimulating?
Jon Lebkowsky (jonl) Tue 15 May 12 09:43
<dlwilson>, this should help: http://open.spotify.com/user/weblogsky/playlist/0TgFNSuyAAgRZYx71zpn57
Mark De (mark-dery) Tue 15 May 12 09:51
<scribbled by jonl Tue 15 May 12 11:48>
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