Friday, June 22, 2018

a little critical analysis of the new Brad Bird film is up at Mbird

Criticism as a literary art and discipline is a great deal of fun for me. I write about stuff at this blog, of course, and kicked off this month with a lengthy discussion of Jessica Johnson's book Biblical Porn.

https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/06/prelude-and-review-of-jessica-johnsons.html

and wrote a little bit about Raymond Knapp's Making Light: Haydn, musical camp, and the long shadow of German idealism

https://wenatcheethehatchet.blogspot.com/2018/06/raymond-knapps-making-light-haydn.html

because I'm too much a fan of Haydn to not give the book a shot. 

Some regulars may notice I haven't written any new posts in the long-form analysis of Nikita Koshkin's 24 preludes and fugues for solo guitar in a while.  I really do plan to get back to those posts and do more work on that but there's enough stuff going on in offline life I have to set that aside.  You can probably guess from the first two links I have been doing the kind of reading and writing and listening that isn't guitar focused.

Plus ... regulars have to know at this point that you can't have a new Brad Bird film out there in theaters that goes unwatched, let alone unexamined.  So ...

http://www.mbird.com/2018/06/the-real-battle-lines-in-the-incredibles-2/

as these things go there are spoilers-for-the-whole-film and callbacks to the first film like usual.  Given how readily blue-state urban film critics in some circles have tried to read Brad Bird as some Randian objectivist it seemed about time to layout the case for why Bird's humanistic liberalism is as easily observed as any random sidewalk if you're not trying to analyze his movies through the goggles of assuming animated films aimed at children can't deal seriously with the human condition or the nature of technocratic or political concerns. 

Who among those who saw The Incredibles could forget Wallace Shawm's cold-blooded bottom-line insurance management bureaucrat who fires Bob Parr (with cause, for assault!) but who also complains to Bob Parr that his customers have inexplicable knowledge of Insuricare's bureaucracy, able to get coverage and help that the system is designed to keep them from getting.  That's why insurance was such a life-sucking line of work for Mr. Incredible.  He went from saving people's lives to working in a field where the baseline expectation is that he use every pretext possible to deny coverage to people seeking to use their insurance to deal with problems in life. That Bob and Helen Parr are superheroes who do battle with callous authoritarian technocrats isn't just the primary plot line of narrative, it permeates the subplots and even the tossed off comedic interludes ...

Norman Lebrecht on the corruption permeating music competitions where teachers on juries reward each others students

Norman Lebrecht has an article about the corruption of you scratch my back that permeates a lot of  music competitions

https://www.spectator.co.uk/2018/06/you-vote-for-my-pupil-ill-vote-for-yours-the-truth-about-music-competitions/

which kind of seems in keeping with a theme we've looked at this last week about academic musicology having a self-reinforcing caste dynamic even if the job prospects in real-world terms for advanced degrees in music study are ... slim.  Perhaps that can explain why within the realm of pedagogy there's a simple, understandable desire for teachers to ensure their students can do well even if those who may engage in jury-rigging on behalf of their students don't entirely grasp the long-term significance of such practices. 

With stories like Lebrecht's it seems as though the idea that critics, criticism and pedagogy being a self-perpetuating priesthood is hard to ignore.  What can often be passed off as "anti-intellectualism" may partly be a reflection of some allegedly mass disdain for complex ideas and scholarship but couldn't that be the reflexive assumption of a taste-making caste that hasn't examined its history?  It's just as possible in our day and age that what is called "anti-intellectualism" could be a legitimate grievance against graft and insularity in academic and critical establishments.  The idea that a liberal arts degree makes the world a better place and gives you a richer and more meaningful life just doesn't seem like it can honestly be squared with the sheer amounts of student debt that has accumulated in the last generatio nor two. 

But arts teachers and arts critics are probably all too loathe to recognize that they have shown themselves to be a self-reinforcing set of ruling castes. Sure, if they compare themselves to the proverbial "one percent" they'll feel better but to take up the verbiage of Richard Reeves, the top twenty percent tends to assume it is more with "the ninety-nine" than the upper twenty percent. 

Caspar Salmon proposes that "everyone" needs film critics at The Guardian

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2018/jun/20/who-needs-film-critics-diversity-hollywood-oceans-8-wrinkle-in-time

The rebuttal to the charge that film critics aren't necessary is to the reactions that have proposed that some badly reviewed films like A Wrinkle in Time and Oceans 8 have gotten bad reviews because white male critics are too dominant in the critical establishment. I vaguely recall that claims that misogyny was to blame for the Ghostbusters remake not doing as well as hoped was bandied about a couple of years ago.  Mercenary sequel-churning from a studio doesn't seem like it can be ignored in the case of the Ghostbusters gambit.  Coverage from the time that attempted to present it as a woman-led action comedy seemed to just skip blithely past the success of the Underworld and Resident Evil franchises.  The idea that the Ghostbusters film had anything unusual to commend it simply because the female-team was supposedly unusual had to forget that two long-running action-horror genre franchises were headlined by Milla Jovovich and Kate Beckinsale (unless film critics want to seriously claim that everyone was watching the Underworld movies for Scott Speedman)

There are points Salmon raises about how inaccurate review aggregation at a site like Rotten Tomatoes is about what critical consensus even is.  That's worth noting.  A film could do well despite being labeled "rotten" at Rotten Tomatoes.  Salmon proposes that if female film-makers are given more projects and responsibility (which we could interpret as creative control) within production that they will have opportunities to make more films; by contrast, having more female film critics is not going to make things any more than indirectly better for women in film.  As stated the argument seems very nearly unassailable.  Let Patty Jenkins make another Wonder Woman movie and if it does well then whether or not white male film critics can bring themselves to take superhero films seriously is less significant.

But the concluding argument has me completely unconvinced by Solomon's overall case that film critics are somehow "necessary".  It's not that I can't appreciate the value of a review written by someone who would suggest you spare yourself the twenty you have to spend these days to see a movie that may eat up a couple of hours of your life. One of the many reasons I read criticism is because in many cases I'd rather read about a film more than I care to see a film.

But I just finished reading Jacques Ellul's The Empire of Non-Sense, out in an English translation since 2014. His last chapter addresses critical establishment from a late 1970s early 1980s moment in history in the West, and he points out that critics had by then largely sloughed off the recognition of how the emergence of the critic and critical tradition was inextricably tied to the bourgeois.  He wrote that just as bankers and businessmen have brokers so arts consumers have critics who tell them via reviews and critical traditions and expectations what product is worth buying.  Ellul pointed out that the critical tradition as we've come to recognize it in scholastic and literary terms was not an aristocratic tradition. The aristocrats who paid artists and musicians had no need of a critic to tell them what to invest in because the aristocrats already had the leisure, money and education to decide what they would and would not pay for. 

Though Ellul didn't give more specific examples the Esterhazy dynasty had no need of a music critic to tell them to hire Haydn, for instance.  The counts and dukes who commissioned Beethoven to compose music for them already knew Beethoven was good at what he did.  But as classical music became a middle-class proposition, as published sheet music became a popular and profitable means of sharing and promoting musical culture the 19th century polarity of profound Beethoven vs puerile Rossini kicked into high gear among critics and musicians. The arbiters of such a narrative were, historically speaking, critics.  Writers like Scott Timberg can lament that arts critics and writers can hardly get work these days but given the trajectory of post-industrial economics and globalism in the last forty years who could have expected things to turn out differently? 

To put it another way, if the middle class is dwindling then it's a matter of course that the middle-class tradition of arts criticism in connection to arts pedagogy is going to fade.  Ellul's polemic from 1980 was that art had devolved to the point where in a post-Barthes critical Western scene the critic was at the peak of the arts hierarchy by being able to decide what X or Y means for the consuming and commissioning social worlds.  The problem, as Ellul formulated it, was that arts critics wielded power at cocktail parties and social gatherings which was where artistic careers were really made rather than on the basis of looking at works as works.  Critics had been established as the priesthood that decided what was really art to begin with and therefore worth discussing but all without this priesthood coming to terms with its own inherently bourgeois nature amidst highbrow theorizing that Ellul believed served more to entrench a self-perpetuating critical aristocracy than the interests of art, an art that Ellul thought had devolved into theory-heavy jaunts into what might be dorm-level weekend pranks rationalized as art theory and art-as-politics rather than as anything like a traditional art discipline.  It's a cranky book, one I may have to write about later but it's an interesting book.  But then regular readers know I've been going through a few Ellul books in the last few years. 

If we can think of arts critics as priests who pronounce "clean" and "unclean" then it may be all the more salient why we "need" critics.  I'm all in favor of criticism as an artistic discipline and literary tradition, actually, but what I'm more skeptical about as I get older is how often criticism seems to not examine its own ... class distinctives.  It seems more and more as I get older and see the bromides about critical crisis that the bros may not recognize the privilege and ease with which they can dedicate their lives to writing about entertainment as if it is the Bible and they are exegetes who get to decide what is and isn't canonical. 

at CJR a discussion of proposed changes to copyright law and precedent in the EU with pre-emptive than post-facto takedown

at the Columbia Journalism Review, there's a proposed change in copyright law in the European Union some are concerned could have a chilling effect on internet journalism.

https://www.cjr.org/the_new_gatekeepers/eu-copyright-law.php
...
The European market currently follows a “notice and takedown” copyright system, in much the same way that the US does. In the US, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act gives platforms and content providers a certain amount of immunity (known as “safe harbor”) for hosting content that might infringe on copyright, provided they act immediately to remove it if infringement is brought to their attention. The proposed EU law would replace notice and takedown with a requirement to remove any infringement before it ever goes online.


One risk of this approach is that service providers will remove content that doesn’t infringe because they are afraid of contravening the law. So, for example, they might block a “meme” that uses a copyrighted image to make fun of something, even though that kind of use is typically allowed under “fair use” rules (known as “fair dealing” in the UK and a number of other countries). The signatories of the letter also argue that the cost of this new filtering approach will hit smaller internet services harder, since larger platforms like Google and Facebook will have more than enough resources to comply.


The filtering/censorship risk isn’t the only downside of the proposed law. It also includes a “link tax,” which would give copyright holders to ability to charge online platforms or providers for using even short snippets of text from a work such as a news article. Germany and several other countries have been working on variations of this idea as a way of charging Google and Facebook for taking their content, but critics of the law say its real impact could be a crippling of the internet’s inherent power to link to original source material.
 
...

It's been interesting to see how precipitously traffic from EU nations has dropped to this bog post just in the last few weeks. 

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

in keeping with a theme this week, a report in the UK says just one in three arts students think their arts degree is good value for th expense


Just one in three arts students think degree is good value for money over in the UK, it seems
https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2018/just-one-three-arts-students-think-degree-good-value-money/
https://studentsunionresearch.files.wordpress.com/2018/03/value-for-money-the-student-perspective-final-final-final.pdf

If the rents keep going up then London will become too expensive for artists to stick around
https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/mar/17/london-losing-creative-eminence-high-studio-rents-force-artists-out

The head of a leading arts organisation has warned that London’s status as a world-class creative city is at risk because artists are being forced out of the capital.

Anna Harding, the chief executive of Space studios, which provides premises for nearly 800 artists including three Turner prize winners, blamed rising property prices and shrinking studios for dramatically squeezing the time and space available for creative activity. Artists now face a choice between working full time to pay the rent and fitting in a few hours in their studios at weekends, or giving up entirely, she said.

Harding’s stark warning comes in a book, Artists in the City: SPACE in ’68 and Beyond, which celebrates the 50th anniversary of the organisation set up by Bridget Riley and Peter Sedgley, leading proponents of Op art, who were frustrated that London’s artists had to work in cramped garden studios. The pair renovated a warehouse in St Katharine Docks which allowed them and others to create art on a much larger scale. Space now operates 17 studios in London and Colchester, a model used by similar organisations like Acme and Bow Arts. Tenants include the Turner prize winners Laure Prouvost, Mark Leckey and Tomma Abts, as well as Heather Phillipson whose work will occupy the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square in 2020.
...
Put in these sorts of terms an attempt to say there's some kind of inherent value to liberal arts as a study is to make a foundationally religious argument ... which you would think nobody would try to make these days.  The "intrinsic value" argument is a religious argument.

https://www.chronicle.com/article/Stop-Trying-to-Sell-the/243643

Art as religion would seem like a throwback to a 19th century approach if it's not simply a transubstantiation of religious study being a foundation for traditional humanism which, again, sure seems like precisely the opposite of the kinds of arguments people would prefer to make in academic contexts these days.  But if the entry costs of joining the priesthood of arts and letters keeps going up with less and less chance that said priesthood will lead to gainful employment then why would it be shocking if a new kind of Protestant reformation for the art-religion of the West might emerge?  What might the priesthood of all believers in art religion look or sound like?  Well ... hiphop, maybe? Videos on youtube?  Blogs?  These are things you can take up without having to go tens of thousands in debt to get a certification that won't get you a job.

Monday, June 18, 2018

a few pieces from The Stage about how arts degrees are a bad earnings investment but "enrich lives"

When I was in college decades ago I loved studying the liberal arts.  But I settled on a journalism degree thinking that, at least compared to literature or music composition or biblical studies that journalism, of all the ostensibly useless fields of study that intrigued me in college, might have been most likely to land me a job. 

So much for that.  I managed to find work but much of the work I landed in the last twenty years was not really directly or even indirectly connected to studying journalism.  Certainly I put the journalism degree to something I considered a good use, chronicling the peak and decline of Mars Hill while the mainstream and even independent press seemed to more or less fail to do that job. 

Yet I'm glad I studied journalism and didn't attempt to make my degree more officially liberal arts.  The more I read about the academic job market and the more I read about the longitudinal studies that show what a bad return on investment liberal arts degrees are for the job market relative to expense the less bad I feel I couldn't get into more advanced degrees.  There's a lot in the age of the internet you can learn by sharing ideas with people in person and online.  There's a lot of resources that are public domain that you can study. 

So it's not a surprise to see that there's a recognition that arts degrees offer the worst earning potential ...

https://www.thestage.co.uk/news/2018/arts-degrees-offer-worst-earning-potential-institute-of-fiscal-studies/

Nor, however, is it a surprise to see defenses of advanced degrees in liberal arts defended on the basis of what amounts to a purely ideological bid.
 
 
 
by Lyn Gardner - Jun 18, 2018
 
News that creative arts graduates earn 15% less than the average university leaver five years after graduation – and so may expect to have considerably lower earnings over an entire career – will not surprise many who work in theatre.
 
The report, carried out by the Institute for Fiscal Studies on behalf of the Department for Education, points out that, while earnings of an Imperial College maths graduate were double the average, those graduating from Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts or Guildhall were as much as 50% below average.
 
Quelle surprise. I don’t think the IFS needed to be funded to tell us bankers earn more than set designers. Just like artists, of course, nurses and teachers also know that pay is not linked to value. As Edward Bond once asked: who is the more valuable? The chauffeured or the driver?
 
Rather than being scandalised by the fact that those who are most creative – and the most creative thinkers – are likely to be paid less, the IFS draws the conclusion that students should consider later-life earnings when picking their subjects at GCSE and A level. This will allow them to access degree courses with a greater financial return. I guess that’s what happens when you turn higher education into a market-place and sell the old canard that the purpose of a degree is to boost earnings.
 
If the state is paying for the education does the state have no interest in wanting some kind of career return on investment?  This reminds me of a friend I made in high school who was from Germany who said that what the government did (this was ... about thirty years ago ish) was work out where you tested best, steered you into that vocational path, and then you had the opportunity to pursue other hobbies on the side.  One of his hobbies was playing violin and singing but it wasn't the career path he was taking. 

What we should be scandalized by is more the assumption that liberal arts devotees should be considered "most creative".  I refuse to assume that a sculptor, painter or novelist is more creative than a stay-at-home parent.  It just does not follow that people with the leisure time to learn how to write novelsor poetry are in any way demonstrably more creative than people who work in trades or are parents at home.  It may be peopleeducated in the arts want to believe they are the most creative but when critics complain about how many movies all seem to blur together year after year and how "Hollywood has run out of ideas" this betrays ignorance of how Hollywood never had its own ideas on the one hand and how it gives the lie to he idea that people in the arts, merely by dint of being in the arts, could be considered "most creative" or "most creative thinkers".

...
 
Up to 40% of current jobs may become automated, but a robot cannot replace an artist
  
In any case, when increasing numbers of jobs are becoming automated, including those such as accountancy that were considered solid jobs for life, it may turn out that running away to join the circus rather than joining a bank could be the better long-term career option.Particularly in the 21st century, when cultural and technological shifts are bringing about undreamed-of disruptions in our everyday lives – from how we shop and earn a living to what we do with our leisure time and how we interact with each other. It has been estimated that up to 40% of current jobs may become automated in the coming decades. But a robot cannot replace an artist.

It's not that there cannot be an argument formulated as to "why" this should be so but that the assertion is, well, simply asserted.

If the education bubble is as bad as some are saying is it necessarily "bad" that people of color are less represented in academic or less represented by way of earning advanced degrees in an era of what some consider scandalous degrees of student debt?

https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2018/06/the-college-graduation-problem-all-states-have/562973/

If people are getting educated that's wonderful so long as they aren't crushed by debt that functionally renders them some kind of wage slave for their rest of their adult lives.

But why should someone get a liberal arts degree to learn how to write music?  Why should someone even necessarily have to learn music in school?  To be clear a lot of people learn music in school. I learned about music in school but it wasn't always where people learned music, not school in the more modern sense of the term. 

if I had tried to go the academic music study route I have no clear idea that I would have been encouraged to go in the direction of studying contrapuntal cycles composed for solo guitar, for instance.  Nor, for that matter, would I suspect I would have been much encouraged to take a historical survey of the evolution of sonata forms in solo guitar literature from early 19th century guitar sonatas.  Neither would I imagine musicology as it has played out in the last fifteen to twenty years would have had much use for theoretical explorations of the ways in which the syntactic scripts of sonata forms from 18th century literature could be used to refract the melodic, rhythmic and harmonic vocabulary of ragtime or blues.  There's almost no truer truism than the canards that blues and Afro-American music "doesn't follow the rules" of classical music even if you have a tonic, a subdominant and a dominant chord and even if the twelve-bar blues can be mapped out in such a way as to demonstrate adherence to the golden ratio! 

But academic musicology probably doesn't not want to hear the suggest that it is, as an entire field, the most probable enemy of a fusion of "Eurological" and "Afrological" idioms to the extent that we even "should" pretend to ourselves that these taxonomies are as real as academics want to believe they are.  It's not clear in the realm of practical and practicing musicians that these boundaries have to be so clearcut. 

Meanwhile, the idea that arts study enriches the world ... eh ... I wonder more and more if that' s just an ideological gambit. 

a little piece at Slate on the three major forms of surveillance Facebook does

 
Facebook is the most pervasive surveillance system in the history of the world. More than 2 billion people and millions of organizations, companies, and political movements offer up detailed accounts of passions, preferences, predilections, and plans to one commercial service. In addition, Facebook tracks all of the connections and interactions among these people and groups, predicting future connections and guiding future interactions. It even compiles contact information on those who do not have a Facebook account.
 

Facebook exposes us to three major forms of surveillance. We might think of them as three perches or viewpoints. Commercial and political entities are able to exploit the targeting and predictive power of Facebook through its advertising system. Through what we reveal on our profiles, other Facebook users can watch and track us as we build or break relationships with others, move around, recommend and comment on various posts, and express our opinions and preferences. And governments use Facebook to spy on citizens or anyone they consider suspicious, either by establishing Facebook accounts that appear to be those of friends or allies or by breaking through Facebook security to gather data directly.
Facebook itself conducts commercial surveillance of its users on behalf of its advertising clients. Facebook has no incentive to offer any third-party access to the data that it uses to drive user-generated posts and direct advertisements. The commercial value of Facebook lies in its complete control of this priceless account of human behavior. But the interface that Facebook provides to both advertisers and those who run Facebook pages allows them to learn significant amounts about their audiences in general and track the level of response their posts and advertisements generate. To profile users for precise targeting, Facebook uses much of the data that users offer: biographical data, records of interactions with others, the text of their posts, location (through Facebook apps on mobile phones equipped with GPS features), and the “social graph”—a map of the relationships among items on Facebook (photos, videos, news stories, advertisements, groups, pages, and the profiles of its 2.2 billion users).
 
The chief danger from the Facebook commercial surveillance system lies in the concentration of power. No other company in the world—with the possible exception of Google—can even consider building a set of personalized dossiers as rich as Facebook’s. These data reinforce Facebook’s commercial dominance in the advertising business (again, mostly shared with Google, which has different ways of tracking and targeting content and advertising but generates many of the same risks and problems). The very fact that we cannot expect another digital media company to generate that much data from that many people and that many interactions means that—barring strong regulation—serious competitors to Facebook will be rare or nonexistent in the near future.

But there are other dangers that come with Facebook having and holding all of this information on us. They come from the two other surveillance positions: peers and states. Many common behaviors of Facebook friends sever our images or information from our control, regardless of how careful any individual is with privacy settings. Other Facebook users can act maliciously, especially when relationships degrade. And other Facebook users might be more promiscuous in their habits of tagging photographs of people who would rather not be identified beyond a tight circle of known friends.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

on "Afrological" and "Eurological" musical paradigms and why I'm not entirely sure I'm on board with the terms

 
Of all the diverse forms that popular music takes, hip-hop poses the greatest challenge to the Western classical habitus. Hip-hop is rapped rather than sung; it is cyclical rather than linear; it is produced rather than performed; it uses samples and other forms of intertextuality rather than valuing the “original” expression of a lone composer; it is improvisational rather than score-driven; and it originates in marginalized minority communities of low socioeconomic status rather than among aristocratic or academic elites
...

Any would-be music educator who brings popular music expertise to a university will have a challenging time getting accepted. Koza (2009) describes the way that audition requirements of her university’s music education program only permit Eurological music. “Stringent and restrictive notions of what constitutes musical competence, together with narrow definitions of legitimate musical knowledge, shut out potential teachers from already underrepresented culture groups and are tying the hands of teacher educators at a time when greater diversity, both perspectival and corporeal, is needed in the music teaching pool” (85). Some popular musicians, including me, find their way into higher music education via sideways routes like music technology, where our skill sets are valued and needed. Others are musically “bilingual,” with a mastery of multiple musical codes. Those people are admirable, but it is unreasonable and unrealistic to expect all music educators to be proficient in both Eurological and Afrological idioms.

..
 
I'm cautious about the terms Afrological and Eurological for a simple reason, I am not convinced that these are avoiding foundationally racial and racist assumptions about the way sound can be organized.  There's a variety of other potential terms to delineate differences in cognitive approaches t perceiving and interpreting music as well as to composing and organizing music than stereotyped appeals to Eurological and Afrological idioms. 
 
Suppose we say that Afrological music is characterized by recurring loops that catalyze improvisational rather than strictly written-out composition?  Okay, well, figured bass from the Baroque era had this, too.  Compositional idioms in which improvisation over a set of formulaic popular bass lines and dance patterns is said to be characteristic of popular music or Afrological idioms.  Yes, but that's also true of early and middle Baroque music from the European tradition.  It's not that surprising to me that the classical music musicians (for want of a better term) who can be more open-minded about fusions with popular styles or with jazz can seem to be more steeped in Baroque music than repertoire from "the long 19th century" or steeped in German idealism. 
 
The thing that has me cautious about Afrological and Eurological is that I'm not convinced that some of the shorthand definitions about what makes Afrological music different from Eurological music is actually the case.  Early and middle Baroque music had not yet formalized the major/minor tonal distinctions of what is sometimes called the common practice period in Western literate music.  Thanks to biases in European and American musical pedagogy the odds that music students would ever get to go through a treatise on figured bass/thorough bass by Mattheson as an undergrad is zero or very close to zero.  It may even be that one of the reasons European musical pedagogy is more open to fusions with popular/vernacular styles could be because they have institutional traditions that preserved the improvisation-over-popular-ground-bass literature of the Baroque era in such a way that they can see that jazz and popular musics have revived idioms that fell out of favor in the long 19th century; American musical pedagogy, striving to catch up with or participate in 19th century ideals of European high art music, never had that body of literature to rediscover because there's no equivalent of a Mattheson treatise on figured bass in Anglo-American musical pedagogy, perhaps. 
 
Even on the matter of sampling and intertextuality these are not necessarily concepts that are alien to Baroque music.  If sampling is thought of as accessing ready-made well-known fragments or whole melodies existing within local musical culture than sampling in the Baroque era could be observed in something like the chorale fugue.  Intertextuality could be a fantasy on a well-known hymn in which understanding the traditional text and tune of a hymn would be important to understanding the intended affect of the work.  Fusions of disparate styles into a cohesive whole was also a known and admired approach in Baroque aesthetics. 
 
All of which is to suggest that the beauty of American Afrological music is Afrological in whatever ways someone like Hein might suggest, but that if you look at what the long 19th century gutted from Eurological theory and practice in music that in some way is vital to the Afrological vernacular idioms, one of the appeals for European and some American audiences steeped in Baroque idioms is that African American popular compositional approaches did not so much invent their respective elements of improvisation over loops (as if whites or blacks could be thought of as having sole credit for inventing a range of techniques and ideas the others couldn't) as reintroduced them into Western contexts after a century of pedagogical high culture attempted to expunge these practices and theories from formal musical pedagogy, so to speak. 
 
When Adorno lambasted Stravinsky's approach to composition in Philosophy of New Music he asserted that there are two polarities within music in the Western idiom. There's a linear-dynamic tradition and a spatial-rhythm tradition.  One derives from song and the other derives from dance and while the "best" music in the Western tradition from Bach to Mahler had some dynamic balance between one mode of compositional activity and the other, Stravinsky went all in for the pulse-pounding mob-governing dance-based beat of the spatial-rhythmic approach to music, music that was designed to obliterate a subjective sense of self in some kind of mob activity that reached back to a kind of prehistoric identity obliterating groove.  Adorno wasn't even addressing music by black musicians from American in making such a polemic but he argued that music anchored entirely in the spatial-rhythmic paradigm with no referent to the linear-dynamic paradigm was capitulating to fascist impulses, mob activity and the subject-erasing paradigm of the culture industry that churned out song after song.
 
Still another way to describe different paradigms within the allegedly Eurological approach is George Rochberg's distinction between a time-space and a space-time.  The time-space is more suited to a "narrative" or a "drama" in which a linear developmental-formal process brackets out identifiable themes and their development.  Space-time can be thought of more as characteristic of soundscapes by Xenakis or Varese in which time is relative to the perceptual existence of sonic elements in a kind of three-dimensional sonic world that can be perceived by an audience member listening to a soundscape.  Rhythm and sonority as distinct, identifiable elements without respect to a "narrative" becomes more prominent in this kind of listening experience and some conservatives and traditionalists of the Western musical pedagogy scene won't even grant that this approach can even be called music.  I'm not that kind of sort myself. 
 
Whether in Adorno's polemics against Stravinsky or Rochberg's attempt to distinguish between a Varese soundscape and a Beethoven string quartet the demarcation of "time space" from "space time"; the linear-dynamic from the spatial-rhythmic in strictly intra-"Eurological" polemics in 20th century European score-based music makes it seem difficult to treat the Afrological and Eurological distinctions as being all that firm or clear even just from within the ostensibly Eurological side of the would-be nomenclature.  
 
Nor, for that matter, can an honest musical historiography take altogether seriously the proposal that improvisation, circular/cyclical grooves, reliance on dance, or inter-textual re-appropriation of known existing musical material is not in the "Eurological" musical history any less than what would be described as "Afrological" music-making.  It would seem that these approaches to composition, musical philosophy and aesthetics exist across segments of the ostensibly Eurological and Afrological paradigms.  It's one of a variety of reasons why I'm not sure these terms are historically or culturally useful beyond a possible race-baiting narrative that I don't think we need.  As someone who's legacy is a combination of Native American and white parentage I'm just not seeing that the reductive narrative of white and black is necessarily where we want to go here.  I live on the West Coast so even in terms of spatialist paradigms where would a Takemitsu or a Liu Tianhua fit into the mix? 
 
Just because American pedagogues in a university system don't make a habit of discussing a Stevie Wonder song at the same theoretical level or with the theoretical terms with which one might discuss a Scriabin or a Beethoven piano sonata does not mean the thing can't be done.  The idea that pedagogues somehow can't or won't take the time to be "bilingual" seems plausible to people who are already entrenched within academics, perhaps, but for musicians themselves there's not really a compelling reason to be stuck in that trench.  I don't have to worry about feeling like a long-form analysis of early 19th century guitar sonatas with an emphasis on sonata forms has to be at odds with discussing what makes "Living for the City" so brilliant and amazing.
 
 
My concern is that people who are trying to break the stranglehold that 19th century European pedagogy and American anxieties about the legacy of such pedagogy have had that Americans feel unable to measure up to within critical-productive establishments have a worthy, admirable goal, but my concern is that the rhetoric and alternative master narratives used to combat the old master narratives are ultimately just as racist as the old master narrative about white colonialist Euro-centric art--what makes it all the more daft is that that master narrative of the best white people have to offer from the 19th century purged a lot of wonderful music from the ninth through eighteenth centuries as if that was all in some sense a millennium without a bath. 
 
So in the larger history of Western musical idioms spanning the late medieval period through to the present it's not really the least bit certain that hip hop presents the biggest challenge to an ostensibly Eurological pedagogy.  Advocates of late Renaissance ars perfecta could charge that the early Baroque era composers and performers were just talking gibberish and wailing and panting and wheezing and that figured bass wasn't even really composing music, just a bunch of stupid charts for formulaic non-music ... and yet those idioms cumulatively catalyzed opera and evolved into the middle and late Baroque periods. 
 
For those of us whose musical interests in the Western traditions skew more Baroque (and 20th century!) than Romantic the proposal that hip hop somehow most conflicts with Western European "Eurological" musical thought seems ... tendentious. 
 
Now maybe if you read through a Heinrich Schutz piece from Little Sacred Concert pieces it looks like a vocal line over a figured bass that doesn't tell you a whole lot and that would be puzzling.  In a similar way you could look at any standard from the jazz repertoire by the great Thelonious Monk and wonder if a bare melody over a chord chart is going to be music but for someone who is a fan of Heinrich Schutz AND Thelonious Monk it's not hard to see and hear how both approaches lead to some beautiful music.  Let's say that jazz introduced a new and gorgeous era of "figured treble" where in the Baroque era there was an era of "figured bass" but both traditions have a lot of beautiful music in it.
 
Now if we could just agree that what we're trying to do is shake music pedagogy in the United States free of the stranglehold of German Idealism and a long 19th century then, sure, totally on board with that. If "that" is the Western "Eurological" pedagogy against which the existence of hip hop and popular styles (white as well as black) present problems then, yeah, that seems like a statement that's easy to agree with.  Pedagogues of 19th century art music ideals have no more ease describing the appeal of a Hank Williams Sr. song than a hip hop number because the ideals of 19th century European art music were predicated not on the song or the chant but on instrumental music, music considered able to convey "interiority" and a "striving for the infinite".  But jamming on a popular bass line was something pretty normal in the Baroque era, and having idioms in which the line between improvisation and composition was a bit nominal was also known to happen in the Baroque era.
 
The trouble is that the temptation to formulate master narratives never seems to go away and formulating a contrast between allegedly "Eurological" and "Afrological" aesthetic and methodological paradigms needs to be formulated carefully if it's going to be useful or even historically accurate.  And, to get a bit personal, I'm concerned that American journalistic and scholarly discourse can get a bit white-and-black at the expense of other groups and groups of relations between groups.  Let's say that someone says the shape note tradition is basically "white", well where would the Native American Thomas Commuck fit into that kind of master narrative?  We could say that blues is "black" music but there's been some reasonable scholarly consensus that Charley Patton was black but that he was partly Native American.  Does that invite the possibility that blues could be thought of as a working class musical style that could be taken up by working class people with working class challenges, perhaps?  Or does a narrative of blackness preclude that?  That's one of many issues that can emerge in which it's more than just possible that academics could create rather than ameliorate historical and historiographical problems. 
 

links for the weekend

...
 
1. Rags to riches – a steady rise from bad to good fortune
 
2. Riches to rags – a fall from good to bad, a tragedy
 
3. Icarus – a rise then a fall in fortune
 
4. Oedipus – a fall, a rise then a fall again
 
5. Cinderella – rise, fall, rise
 
6. Man in a hole – fall, rise
 
 ...
 
According to Olga Khazan a reason to worry about declining birth rates is connected to a rise in populist sentiments ... ?
 
 
Discussion about the great American baby bust often seems meant to induce fear. The concern is that with fewer babies, economic growth will plummet, and too-few workers will have to shoulder the burden of an aging population. But if I’m being honest, the latest news about the drop in American births did not raise my blood pressure much.
 
Maybe it’s because I, myself, am kind of “eh” on kids in general. Maybe I’ve just been watching too many men beseech women to do their feminine duties on Handmaid’s Tale. So American women are opting out of parenting? Good for them! More time for Netflix, making money, reading my articles—to name just three very pleasurable activities that don’t cause stretch marks.

Or at least, so I thought. I recently came across something that’s made me sit up and pay attention to fertility rates: There is research linking falling fertility to rising populism.
Definitions of populism vary, but it’s often thought to be a political philosophy in which “the people” are pitted against elites and outsiders in a struggle for domination. The rhetoric of President Trump is often considered to be populist.

...

The problems typically associated with falling fertility are a struggle to pay for Social Security and Medicare in the long run. Fewer babies today means fewer workers in the future, which means less money in the Social-Security pot.

These might seem like relatively manageable threats: We could simply raise immigration quotas to boost the number of “missing” workers, for example. But it’s the very arrival of these immigrants that might fuel populist sentiment. The way this would work, as my colleague Derek Thompson has explained, is in a sort of doom loop: Population plummets, immigration increases, people get scared by the influx of newcomers, they become more xenophobic, and thus more inclined to support nationalist parties.

“There is a growing body of evidence that as rich majority-white countries admit more foreign-born people, far-right parties thrive by politicizing the perceived threat of the foreign-born to national culture,” Thompson writes.

...

This being an article by Khazan at The Atlantic the societal self-imposed double bind of native women (as distinct from immigrants) foregoing childbirth and childrearing plays a part in the decline of births of those who could contribute to the future welfare network and be perceived by reactionary sentiment as a sign of decline that has to be averted by increasing the birth rate.  The doom loop doesn't seem like something that can be averted if the native birth rate goes up. 

But what a blue-state approach can often forget is that many immigrants can be more socially conservative than the bleu state mainstream may wish them to be.  Anyone remember that Trump got ANY votes from the Latino demographic or the African American demographic?  The DNC assumption that people of color have or will automatically vote their way could be a strategic mistake over the next twenty-five years.  It's not that people of color necessarily have reasons to just go vote for Republicans so much as the sheer assumption that they never would seems like it could have played a role in 2016 being what it was, however small that role might have been compared to stuff like gerrymandering.

https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/05/trump-europe-iran-bush/561401/

...

But there are also some important differences between the Trump and Bush eras. The current round of anti-Americanism is taking place at a moment of anxiety about the fate of the U.S.-led world order and the relative decline of American power. Anti-American sentiments in Europe have often been linked to fears about expanding U.S. military power, economic clout, or the pervasiveness of American culture. These days, by contrast, Europeans seem less concerned about an unrestrained “hyperpower” flexing its muscles around the world, and more worried about an America withdrawing from the transatlantic relationship.

After World War II, Washington exerted its outsize power on the world stage to build that relationship. In 1947, the British writer and politician Harold Laski said that “America bestrides the world like a colossus; neither Rome at the height of its power nor Great Britain in the period of economic supremacy enjoyed an influence so direct, so profound, or so pervasive.” A year later, the United States would launch the Marshall Plan and work with its European allies to shape the liberal world order. Of course, even during the Cold War, there were rifts between the America and its European allies: the 1956 Suez crisis, the Vietnam War, and the debate over deploying intermediate-range missiles in Germany during the Reagan presidency. But the Soviet threat offered a terrifying incentive for the nations of the Western alliance to get over their differences.
Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, U.S. power was essentially unrivaled, and after 9/11 the extraordinary reach of U.S. military might worried many Europeans. There was widespread opposition to the Iraq War, plus a widely shared view that the Bush administration was pursuing the broader war on terror unilaterally. Majorities in most of the European countries polled by Pew during the Bush years believed that the United States was looking out for its own interests and not taking into account the interests of other nations. Back then, America’s poor global standing was linked to fears of unconstrained U.S. power and its disregard for international norms or multilateral cooperation.

Obama was much more popular in Europe than Bush, but even his administration occasionally bred fear and resentment. His increased use of drone strikes against terrorists in places like Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia was widely unpopular. Meanwhile, Edward Snowden’s revelations about U.S. surveillance around the world highlighted what many saw as a troubling new dimension of American power: the capacity to reach through cyberspace and monitor the communications of almost anyone, anywhere. And the Snowden story had serious effects on American soft power. Pew surveys found that the share of the public who believed the U.S. government respected personal liberty declined in many nations following the disclosures. This issue was particularly important in Germany, where the United States reportedly eavesdropped on Merkel.

In contrast, Trump-era European anxieties are driven less by fears of unchecked American power, and more by a sense that the United States is stepping back from the world order it helped design.

The fate of that order has been the subject of considerable debate since Brexit and Trump’s election. Facing external pressure from the rise of China and other emerging powers, and internal stress from surging populism, the Western nations that shaped the international system for seven decades appear wobbly. And many Europeans believe the hegemon of the U.S.-led order is in decline. Pluralities of those Pew surveyed last year in France, Germany, and Britain, said China—not America—is the world’s leading economic power. A less-powerful America means uncertainty for the international system that has brought relative peace and prosperity to Europe for seven decades
...
Not that I'm particularly happy about Trump but for those who are, and can be more articulate than commentaries to the effect of MAGA hats, one of the things they have said in the last few years is that a key element in Trump's rhetoric has been to say that that world order the United States has helped design, or more probably bankrolled, is no longer worth bankrolling; the Atlantic-based coalition that played its part in the Cold War could be seen by those who back Trump with their votes as having reached and even passed its shelf life.  If the powers of Europe are taking this seriously it's no wonder they don't care for Trump because Trump's approach (if it could even be described as consistent, which plenty don't grant) has been to say that the shelf-life of the Euro-American coalition has passed and that American interests would involve brokering some new kind of deal. 

Actually ... as geopolitical trends go it's interesting that the cartoon The Miraculous Adventures of Ladybug and Cat Noir features a superheroine, Marinette, who is French-Chinese in lineage by way of a French-Chinese marriage.  The superpowers are derived from kwamis kept in the safekeeping of a Chinese master.  So it's not that hard to find in even the pulpiest lowest brow cartoons a reflection within French animation of the above-mentioned geopolitical shift, if you want to go with a Walter Benjamin style reading of lowbrow popular culture as an indicator of socio-economic and political alignment changes. 

From The Baffler, how puff piece journalism transformed into the power ... puff piece, title narrowly avoids one of my favorite pop cultural artifacts from the later 1990s ...

https://thebaffler.com/latest/power-piece-puff-piece-Roberts
...

But one hundred years after the puff piece floated into our consciousness, it is being swept aside by a new kind of celebrity profile, developed within a newly engaged culture. It may be no less calculating than its predecessor, but its purpose is the opposite. Rather than meaning nothing, it means everything. The power piece positions itself as the celebrity profile as activism, and sometimes it even succeeds.
 
In September, Graydon Carter announced that he was stepping down as editor-in-chief of Vanity Fair. The moment the sexagenarian actually left the building, however, arrived months later. The March 2018 issue of the magazine featured a cover story on Jennifer Lawrence, who, it stated, “is imbued with insatiable curiosity, professionalism, a work ethic, and extraordinary natural talent.” Thousands of words long with virtually no content, the profile relied on bromides to bolster the twenty-seven-year-old actress’s already well-established Girl Next Door brand. “I have read a lot of painfully banal celebrity profiles but this new VF one on Jennifer Lawrence,” tweeted Petersen, “it’s like toothache-magnitude-painful levels of banality.” In an untimely retrograde affair, Lawrence modeled gowns on a twenty-four-acre farm and cooked—“I can’t work on a diet. I’m hungry.”—for interviewer Krista Smith, Vanity Fair’s executive west coast editor and, according to the site, “de facto ambassador to Hollywood.” As the New York Post pointed out, the cover was unsettlingly similar to Lawrence’s Hollywood Reporter cover from December, a coarse metaphor for the interchangeability of the form.

The nature of the puffery may slightly change but the puffery is still about power and status.

Elsewhere, Conor Friedersdorf has a riff on the problem of any academic, but one in particular, making a case that there's a reason to hate men in general.

 
...
 
Still, the core question warrants a dispassionate, substantive answer.
 
“Is it really so illogical to hate men?”
 
Yes, it is.
 
It is always illogical to hate an entire group of people for behavior perpetrated by a subset of its members and actively opposed or renounced by literally millions of them. It is every bit as easy, and more just, to assign collective rhetorical blame to groups that deserve it, like “murderers” or “rapists” or “domestic abusers” or “sexists.”
 
Fortunately a certain Richard Nixon of preachers has fallen in brand a bit but a Friedersdorf could argue that certain kinds of professorial bromides about the bros can paradoxically play into the hands of bros like Mark Driscoll. 





from The Music Salon blog, on the extremely low odds that you'll be a career soloist musician


 
I used to do a lot of concerts with a very fine flute-player. He was working hard at orchestral excerpts, preparing himself for an audition for an orchestral position. He mentioned to me that around two hundred flute-players applied for every opening. He did eventually win the principal flute position in the local orchestra and he has been there ever since (about twenty-five years). The best musicians, who also persevere, for years if necessary, do often win orchestral positions, but if you just review the numbers you will see that the vast majority simply will not. There are too many aspiring musicians graduating from music schools and too few orchestras to absorb them. There is, in other words, a permanent disparity between jobs and those who want them.

What keeps this Ferris Wheel turning is the passion that attracts people to music. Music is a transcendental art form that rises above all the trials and tribulations in this world. It is a perennial comfort and inspiration. But it is also a particularly difficult career to pursue and one that for most people, will inevitably end in failure. Young musicians really deserve the respect of being told the odds. If you are a flute-player the odds of your winning any one audition might be 200 to 1. But even if you reconcile yourself to doing 200 auditions, this is still no guarantee that you will win a position.

If your career choice involves being a soloist, then the odds are much worse!
For example, my career choice was basically "international guitar virtuoso" and while I did pretty well--few guitarists get multiple opportunities for nation-wide broadcasts of their performances of major concertos with well-known orchestras--the reality was and is that there are perhaps five guitarists in the world at any given time who have prosperous careers as soloists. All the rest eke out a living by teaching. [emphases added]



And THAT gets at Paul Hindemith's stern rebuke to American musical education from A Composer's World: Horizons and Limitations. Now I know plenty of people don't like Hindemith's music if they even know who he is, and plenty of people who do know who he is don't like him for various other reasons, but in terms of his critique of American musical educational culture it seems that the last half century has borne out at least the possibility that he had a point.  If we have had an educational system that favored music education in terms of creating teachers who make teachers or music education in terms of advocating that the people who study do so in order to become vocationally employed in the realm of study then maybe ... maybe that's a problem.  I don't think Hindemith was wrong to argue that we should educate as many people as possible in music so that amateur music-making can create musical cultures. 

As irascible and cranky as the commentary brigade at the site can be Slipped Disc seems good at highlighting strange things such as ...

http://slippedisc.com/2018/06/190-flutes-applied-for-audition-50-played-and-none-was-hired/

If 190 flutists applied for audition, a mere fifty of those played and not a single one of them was hired then shouldn't this be front and center to actual and prospective music students in the higher education systems of the West?

It's the thing, looking back, that literally never came up when I was studying music coursework, there was not a discussion of how these people actually paid their bills. 

from HyperAllergic--majority of visual artists make less than 30k a yea raccording to study drawn upon responses from 1016 artists

Why lead with the number of responses?  Because if Daniel Kahneman's writing is still worth consulting the sampling bias alone means we can't trust this study to be worth a whole lot. Just barely over 1k from 50 different countries is probably worthless in study terms.  "Maybe" 1,016 artists drawn from a single county might be more informative.  But ... it's not necessarily a concern in arts reporting across the board.  So ...
 


 
The majority of visual artists working today make less than $30,000 per year, according to a study released this week. Conducted by the Creative Independent, a publication affiliated with Kickstarter, the study draws on responses from 1,016 artists working in the US, UK, Canada, France, and nearly 50 other countries in hopes of demystifying the economics of being an artist.

While some of the study’s findings are not particularly surprising — like that artists’ satisfaction with their work increases in direct proportion to the amount of time they spend in the studio — others are quite illuminating, especially where the economics of being an artist are involved. For instance, only 12% of respondents said that gallery sales of their work have been helpful in sustaining their practices, and grants ranked similarly low; the majority (61%) said that freelance and contract work was the most significant economic factor supporting their art. Among responding artists, only 17% are making three quarters or more of their income from their art; nearly half said they make between 0–10% of their income from their art.

“Because of this myth of the ‘pure’ artist who is able to afford to live off of gallery sales, through grants, or some other mysterious way, we see many artists who feel like failures or sell-outs simply because they have to have a day job, take corporate work, or wait tables,” Willa K√∂erner, the Creative Content Director at the Creative Independent, told Hyperallergic. “If only art schools would better prepare artists for the business aspects of being a visual artist — including preparing them to overcome the debt they’re accruing from that very school — so many artists would be in better shape, and would stop being so hard on themselves when it’s really the system that’s failing them. ‘Trial and error’ is not really a great strategy for becoming financially stable, but that’s currently the most-employed strategy by visual artists. That needs to change.”
 
The full study on the financial situation of visual artists today is available from the Creative Independent.
 
If we want to imagine where and how the myth of the pure artist gets promoted and disseminated I wonder where and how that myth could be promulgated. 
 
I'm reminded of Paul Hindemith's rant against American music education as being devoted to teaching that produces teachers who produce teachers, and his complaint was that music education in America was emphatically not devoted to general music appreciation and participation at an amateur level.  The false promise was that any kid who worked hard enough could be a next Beethoven or Heifetz as if the world could have more than maybe a dozen such people.  What I doubt is likely to happen is that academics would concede they can play the role of the villain deceiving students as to how, whether, or most especially if, art students can actually make a living in the arts. 

Fredrik Deboerr part 2: on intra-left purity contests crippling the likelihood that an American left will ever get anything done

Default blue, red emphasis added.
 
 
 
Why does the left find itself so consistenly [sic] overtaken by in-group squabbles that sap enthusiasm, steal energy, turn off potential allies, and prevent the possibility of true solidarity?


What must be understood is that powerlessness itself creates the condition for further powerlessness. Powerlessness is both effect and cause. It’s counterintuitive but true: power is frightening to this who have never had it. Power has consequences. Powerlessness is a comfortable place to hide; if you have no ability to effect change in the world, you cannot really fail. Your ideas never make contact with reality and so there is no chance that they will be put to the test. And power, once taken, must be held, so that work leads only to more work. Far easier and safer is to luxuriate in powerlessness. [emphasis added]


Armed with powerlessness in the material plane, practitioners of this brand of politics concentrate almost all of their energies into the types of interpersonal politics that, for many, characterize left activism. You may not be able to slow global warming, but you can ruin the reputation of someone else in your bloc. You may not be able to fight imperialism, but you can fight amongst yourselves. When fighting capitalism, you feel useless; when hurting an individual person you may feel a certain rush. [emphasis added] You may combine this with the natural human tendency to exclude others, the way that we define who’s in through reference to who’s out. The result is a toxic tendency to denounce rather than to include.


Left politics is about structures, not people, and we have developed a vocabulary to match – white supremacy, patriarchy, imperialism. But we do not have a structural focus in our internal debates; we have the opposite.


The specific mechanisms of unhealthy intra-movement politics have traditionally been multiple, typically involving splinter groups, secret meetings, deliberately obstructionist proceduralism, redbaiting, adoption of consensus-based decision making, and similar. I have lived through all of these in one form or another. Today, I find that the particular mechanism involves making accusations that a comrade is guilty of racism, sexism, homophobia, nationalism, ableism, or similar. This tactic is particularly prevalent because of a quirk in how we discuss those topics today: in the day-to-day scrum of real-world argument, many on the left act as if they must treat any claim of offense as legitimate in order to believe that such claims are ever legitimate.


Typically undertaken in a spirit of self-defense, this attitude treats all claims of a specific type of offense (whether racism, sexism, etc) as equally strong. This means that accusations of racism or sexism or similar are pursued even in those instances where the evidence of such offense is scant or nonexistent. And precisely because the world is indeed full of bigotry, and because the left must oppose it, these claims take on remarkable destructive power when wielded carelessly or in the pursuit of organizational power. Such accusations will often be correct, after all, considering the world we live in.


But there is also no doubt that the power of these accusations is often wielded cynically and recklessly. The left cannot abandon its commitment to fighting racism, sexism, homophobia, and other bigotries, or else it deserves to lose; it cannot entertain every cynical, exploitative accusation of these bigotries, or else it cannot possibly win. That there is wide righteous middle ground between these options is obvious; we could zealously oppose bigotry and reject false claims of bigotry at the same time. That there is currently no mechanism within the left that can steer us into that middle ground is obvious too.


The best fix for these issues is to go offline, as the online space imposes zero cost on making frivolous accusations in a self-interested way. There is a certain accountability and authenticity inherent to the face-to-face world. I have always valued the political uses of presence. But I have also seen far too many IRL left groups devolve into horrific infighting to believe that the real world is immune to these problems.


The left has had power in the past, in many places and at many times. We could have power again. The 20th century saw dozens of left movements take real material power, sometimes with smaller numbers than the American socialist left employs today. But times have changed. In particular, armed struggle is no longer a viable option. The state’s violent potential is far greater than it once was, relative to that of any realistic insurgency movement. Havana can no longer be taken with rifles and a dream. So the left can turn only to people power. There is no alternative path to power. And if we are to attract the masses, current inter-left dynamics cannot endure. Fair or unfair, for good or bad, there is no alternative to fixing what’s broken in the way the left communicates with itself. A true mass movement cannot possibly emerge from a constantly bubbling cauldron of invective, paranoia, and incrimination.

Until then, begin your analysis by recognizing that many people on the left want to lose. And so they will.

Of course one of the most common axioms I've seen in internet writing about an American left is that there is no real American left.  That may even be true, though a lot depends on how people define the what is left with connection to America.  Are we talking new left, old left? Progressive? Liberal?  For people who think of themselves as on the right this is all collapsed lazily into "cultural Marxism" by the kinds of people who (excepting guys like Roger Scruton) have probably never even read a single book by a single author of the Frankfurt school.  But then I increasingly have doubts that 20-somethings who say they're interested in critical theory have read even three paragraphs of what Adorno had to say about jazz, any given three ghastly paragraphs of what he had to say about jazz. 

One of the things, as a moderately conservative sort, I've seen in the last twenty years is that Anglo-American left advocates have done something that an older guy I knew in college decades ago said was the bane of American political life, that radicals and reactionaries had hijacked political discourse in a way that moved the boundaries for a negotiable center off of the field.  If radicals and reactionaries revise history so as to say that even JFK was a warmongering hawk (which, frankly, he was if we're going to get specific and, no, I don't think fantasies that he was going to pull us out of Vietnam matter since he did get assassinated) and if conservatives can lambast Reagan for having acceded to talk with Gorbachev then that's just a few small for-instances of ways that people on some strand of the left and right can redefine the left or right in such a way that nobody fits the bill. 

An unfortunate side effect of contemporary intra-left polemic can be that people who self-identify as progressive forget that if we turn the clock back a century progressives could be every bit as racist and brutal as Republicans are thought to be now.  For that matter the legacy of slavery tends to be so defined in white and black terms that slavery in literally all other global, ethnic, social, political and economic terms doesn't get discussed.  Couldn't we say the entire American academic system runs on a slavery system if we factor in the sheer enormity of student debt, lending systems, and the way work gets distributed?  Would American academics concede they are part of a gigantic and callously indifferent slave system?  That seems doubtful, though polemics about how neoliberalism has corrupted the university system are certainly out there. 

There's more than one way to have a master/slave dynamic and if within the left/progressive scene people imagine they are not part of an elite despite having gone to elite schools and gotten elite degrees and having any formal education beyond high school simply because they didn't vote for Trump then this might get at another aspect of why a self-identifying left fails, or even at why some left writers say there isn't even really a "left" in American political life.

And in that sense intra-left battles over who is genuinely left and who has an unexamined role participating in a cultural elite/culture industry can't go away because it's the nature of human beings in the United States.