Saturday, July 21, 2018

Leo Brouwer Fuga No. 1 for guitar, a somewhat detailed discussion of fugal technique in a fugue that has no middle entries but a series of beautiful episodes and a glorious grand stretto on the first half of its subject

One of the simpler observations that has been made about fugal subjects over the centuries is that you're going to have an easier time of things if your subject, generally, does not exceed the range of an octave. 

In traditional tonal music a subject based on a rising fourth will often be thought of as having the second interval being the tonic.  But ... with a modal subject that's not necessarily how things work, and there are linear ways to offset a rising perfect fourth as being defined only as an implicit or explicit V-I linear/harmonic move.

I mention that because that's exactly what Brouwer avoids doing with this fugue subject. He is using a natural minor scale but uses sequence in measure 2 to have his fourth-leap go from F natural to B flat before dropping down to A natural.  One of the things that makes his use of sequence so effective is that he gets to the F natural by way of C natural. Chains of ascending fourths might seem bad for vocal contrapuntal writing but for the guitar, come on, for the guitar chains of ascending fourths are just a few open-string level gestures. 

Now measure 3 and 4 are simple oscillations between the fourth and fifth degree. If you're watching along in the video because you don't have your own copy o fthe score we're not looking at accidentals. Those are left hand indications about which fingers on the left hand are advised for playing the notes.  We'll be getting to accidentals in system two, as you'll see, but we're not there yet in the first few measures of the subject, the first 14 seconds of this performance.

The subject appears at the dominant like we'd expect it to at 0:14 in a lower voice.  There isn't exactly a countersubject in this fugue but the treble material introduces a dorian element that offsets or plays against the natural minor mode of the subject.

Almost straight out the gate on this answer we'll have to address a point that pedantic approaches to counterpoint will highlight.  Doesn't Brouwer almost immediately have parallel fifths in beat two of the FIRST MEASURE in which his subject gets an answer.  Well, yet.  This is on the first half of beat two but in metrical terms beat two is a weak or often unaccented beat and, further, the parallel fifth is a function lf retaining the melodic contour of the subject which, as we can hear and see, drops very quickly down to B flat.  In other words, the parallel fifth does happen but it's excusable by way of happening on a weak beat and by being skipped past quickly in favor of a sixth.  Parallel fifths are bad in counterpoint if you keep landing on them on strong, accented beats but if you're landing on them as you're passing through unaccented beats you have wiggle room.  Brouwer obviously knew this and with a bit of help from a video-score we can talk about that. 

There's clearly been plenty of good contrapuntal music for solo guitar and not nearly enough discusion of how it works, whether it's 19th or 20th or 21st century counterpoint for guitar.  We can try to fix that.

The third voice, in the treble strins and the soprano to the alto and tenor that respectively initiated this exposition, arrives at 0:28.  The dorian modality that took over in the answer is retained in this new entry of the subject.  While the dorian mode doesn't have a lot of "forward motion" as traditionally understood to inhere in major keys on account of the activetones of the leading tone and the fourth, it has an advantage for a guitar fugue, namely that the dorian mode is a symmetrical scale.  The intervallic relationships are the same going up or down and if you try to invert the scale the interval relationships don't chnage.

D E F G A B C D (all natural)
That's the archetypal dorian mode on the piano or the guitar. 

Given how demanding counterpoint in three voices for solo guitar is always going to be having a dorian mode cast to the subject in its third presentation shows that Brouwer is willing to adjust the subject modally as playability requires.  It also just sounds more fun than being stringent about what mode the subject is supposed to be. 

By 0:40 the exposition is over and we're at the section of the score marked "piu mosso"  In this case the tempo picks up and the music becomes very agitated.  Brouwer hammers away in the two upper voices with a harmonic major second (G and A natural) above the lowermost E natural (open string 6).  This, sure enough, sets up a presentation of the subject in E dorian as the beginning of the episodes/middle entries realm of the fugue. 

Something George Oldroyd and others have pointed out is that just because you have three voices in a fugue doesn't mean those three voices have to constantly be identifiably variant.  In other words, you can have two voices in a dependent relationship in musical textural terms while one of the three voices takes all of the spotlight.  For a guitar this point is all the more crucial because it's better to subordinate two voices as support or ornament for your actual hook (i.e. often your subject) than trying to going for the most complex texture you think you can play at the expense of the polyphonic aspect of polyphony.  Your polyphony is about having good tunes first, and secondarily about having those voices generally being independent.  You won't hear total independence of the three voices in Bach's Fugue in C minor from WTC Book 1, will you?

So Brouwer races along with the subject starting on E and it rises as expected to A but as the subject rushes along  it is turned into a running bass line that loses its association with the subject while the seconds pulsating in the trebles become pulsating thirds. We're briefly in, if you will, E minor but this turns out to have been an episode and not a middle entry (i.e. a complete presentation of the subject.  By 0:49 we have the subject appearing in the bass strings but, once again, it's just the first half and it dissolves into a flurry of rising scale runs that lead to a measure of 12/16 where, finally, we start getting some transformation of the second half of the subject as episodic material. 

We're going to see that Brouwer consistently blurs the lines between what could be called a middle entry or an episode.  At 1:03 we get a presentation of the first part of the first half of the subject but it leads abruptly into a curtailed form of the second half of the subject.  The subject rises with its signature fourth leap but it's only here that it has the "expected" fifth-to-tonic implication we would expect it to have in a tonal fugue. Here the dorian element of the subject is really audible.  Like I was writing earlier, making the subject a minor key tune that could be shifted at will from natural minor to dorian was a very good move on Brouwer's part, it's one of the things that makes him a great composer for the guitar. 

This new first half of the first half and first half of the second half of the subject is sequenced at about 1:07 where the counterpoint is "flipped" and the subject appears in the upper voice whereas previously the pulsating pedal tone was in the upper voice above the subject.  At 1:10 we get another motoric iteration of the second half of the subject but here we get a nice rippling, cascading call-and-response texture.  Obviously when you're playing scale-work this fast on the guitar you thin the textures out to two rather than three voices.  Even Bach didn't keep all the voices introduced in an exposition in constant motion throughout a fugue.  If there's a grave misunderstanding guitarists can have about counterpoint in general and counterpoint for their own instrument in particular it would be this, mistakenly thinking that once you have your third voice in a piece you have to keep all the voices active and never let one or two voices drop out. 

So, where was I?  Right, the call-and-response runs based on the second half of the subject at 1:10.  At this point fully homophonic/harmonic writing is in play.  Brouwer starts to slow down and vamps on minor third gestures in widely spaced triads.  He's clearly winding down and laying back on the counterpoint because he's building up to something ambitious.  If you have heard this piece or read along with the score you can already see what he has in mind.  He's going to go for a grand stretto.

At 1:19 the grand stretto arrives. It is, of course, only on the first half of the subject but it's a pretty grand stretto! Remember what I wrote earlier about how chains of ascending fourths is a gloriously idiomatic thing to compose for the guitar?  THAT is what Brouwer employs for this grand stretto.  He knew that his subject could be taken on open strings in a grand stretto passage so that there's technically no voice crossing.  The stretto also allows him to strategiclaly stagger the entries in the stretto so that as each new voice enters the other voices are taking up material that can be assigned to open strings in a modal texture so that the voices that are no longer actively carrying the subject can get lines that can be subordinated to the newest entry of the subject.  This can be done in terms of walking-bass lines and open strings as you can see in the score via video. 

At 1:28 Brouwer has another stretto on the first half of the subject.  This time the alto and tenor enter at G and C respectively and at beats 1 and 2.  It's a blink-and-you-missed it moment but as contrapuntal writing for solo guitar goes it's one of the more glorious passages in the literature I've seen so far. 

Then Brouwer chokes up, on purpose.  He begins to stagger and interrupt the flow of the fugue.  After a full measure pause the subject appears in the trebles with the material in the answer from the exposition (1:40), which is presented as the could-have-been countersubject that it functionally wasn't in the fugue up to this point.  The subject isn't presented in its entirety but is instead sequenced against the countersubject line. At this point the first half of the subject has been run through enough stretto sections that Brouwer is winding down for the fugue but prepares to wind up for a rambunctious finish.  By the time you reach the coda of a fugue you have an option to cast off polyphonic constraints and go for a bravura toccata style texture.

Any guesses what Brouwer does?  I admittedly gave it away.

1:50ish we get some ornate toccata textures in sixteenth notes, full of agitation, soaring over a series of low E pedal points.  You should be able to hear and see how even thse riffs are all derived from embellishing the second half of the subject.  Brouwer has set aside the first half of the subject because he developed it extensively and is using free-form derivations of the second half of his subject as the foundation for the coda that will complete this fugue. He even uses that second half of the subject material as the basis for a short quasi-grand stretto section for that material at 2:09.  By now the pounding away on the E pedal point suggests that our closing cadence is going to be A rather than D and so we do have a final cadence on A ratehr than D.

A more pedantic approach to a fugue would insist that we have to end on the key in which we started.  That's what I prefer to do at a personal level.  Leo Brouwer is Leo Brouwer and he shows that there are other ways to get a fugue for solo guitar to work.  The closing A cadence is effective. 
Now some of you may have noticed that I have not described any episodes that would be understood as episodes in traditional pedagogy.  I have also not described there being any middle entries in the fugue either.  There aren't any.  Brouwer only completes his presentations of the subject in the exposition.    So some of you may understandably ask, "Well, if Leo Brouwer doesn't have any middle entries for his subject and doesn't have anything but a series of episodes using parts of his subject then how is this a fugue?"

That's a good question.  Depending on how you answer we could say that Fuga No. 1 is either not a "real" fugue and must be a fughetta or some fugue-like textural study.  Or we can propose that it IS a fugue but then go back to observations made by Manfred Bukofzer and others about how in the 19th century there really was no such thing as a fugal form and that everything about any given fugue depended on the exigencies of the fugal material on the one hand and what was idiomatically reasonable to execute for the musical forces specified for the material on the other.  In that broader and more "old school" and less doctrinaire approach to defining what a fugue is, Brouwer's Fuga No. 1 is a fantastic fugue, fantastic for the level of development he gives to his subject and also fantastic for the way in which he does so working with the idiomatic strengths and weaknesses of the six-string guitar.

If there were a book about counterpoint for solo guitar I would say this is a work that has to be in such a book.
Even though the fugue is just barely more than two minutes I've managed to write at least 2,300 words about it.  That's how fugues tend to be as literary subjects.  You can write thousands of words simply describing what happens even if you're not trying to mine the depths of the emotional content that this or that writer might here in the work.  Since I love fugues, love writing them, and enjoy writing about them Brouwer's Fuga No. 1 was on my list of thing I wanted to blog about for a while but I didn't get to it until today.  I am going to try to get back to Koshkin's cycle, of course, but you'll understand how hugely demanding that project is.  I hope you listened to the fugue and read along with the score (either because you watched the video or, even better, own a copy of the score yourself!) and enjoyed the work. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Ferdinand Rebay: Guitar Sonata in D minor with read-along manuscript to go with audio

played by Nicholas Gohl on the guitar

You know ... I don't think I've written about this one before.  I'll have to fix that.  I wrote abou the D minor sonata Rebay wrote for clarinet and guitar

but not the solo guitar sonatas ... which feels a little bit inexcusable at one level because I've had the scores for years ... but ...

at another level, long-time readers of this blog may recall that for quite a few years I was blogging in a lot of detail about a former regional brand that was known as Mars Hill.  There's been a LOT of music I wanted to blog about over the years where I just didn't have the mental focus and energy left over from having a full time day job (or looking for one, for a while); chronicling the life and times of the now-former Mars Hill; composing music of myown and writing stuff on other topics; and then finally after all THAT having time left over to blog about scores in a lot of detail.

I hope to change that a bit these days and moving forward.  But, again, regular readers may have some idea of the level of complexity of the scores I tend to be drawn to.  I was just thinking of blogging about Leo Brouwer's Fuga No. 1, for instance, but I'd need to spend some time thinking about how to explain whether any number of things are best explained with appeals to conventional academic fugal nomenclature or not and there's such a thing as having some modicum of a social life.

Samuel Adler's Into the Radiant Boundaries of Light for viola and guitar

I have the score for this one, actually, and it's a modern piece (i.e. not sounding too traditional for harmony or melody) but I like this one.  I have thought about blogging about this one over the years but it's not a score that lends itself to very simple descriptions or explanations.  

Mountain Music Duo plays The Widow, the Orphan, and the Immigrant by Andrew Halladay for oboe (and then English horn) and guitar

I may have linked to this in the past but it's worth linking to again.

If memory serves the work was inspired by the book of Ruth.  It's a nice piece for the instruments and I think it might be fun if the composer wrote a sequel work for this piece.

I haven't written about oboe and guitar music in quite some time.  I know it might be a kind of lazy thing to do with the internet being what it is but I might just do a compilation of posts that just link to performances of chamber works for the guitar in which it's paired up with any other non-guitar instrument that comes to mind.  The idea being there'd be a link to a flute/guitar duo; an oboe/guitar duo; an English horn/guitar duo; a viola and guitar duo and on down the line.  Some combinations might be hard to find something for but I suppose there's a bass clarinet and guitar duet out there somewhere. 

For the time being, an oboe/English horn and guitar duet.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Fredrik Deboer's "the ground floor" has me wondering a little

The term “socialism” refers to an economic system in which human goods are removed from the market mechanism and currency exchange and are instead distributed based on need. To socialize an industry means to remove its products (whether medicine, education, housing, etc) from the market model and instead establish some means through which need is assessed and filled without the expectation of reciprocity. Socialism does not change who pays for necessary social services but replaces the very system of exchanging currency for goods entirely. A socialist viewpoint recognizes the impossibility of moral reform from within capitalism.

Removing products of an industry from the market model doesn't exactly remove the exchange.  Even granting the impossibility of moral reform from within capitalism the extent to which Western socialists have no true Scotsman'd other real world cases of socialism off the table makes it hard to be certain that 1) socialism has ever existed or 2) can ever exist in the real world.  It may be that there's a continuum between theoretical socialism and theoretical capitalism (and lately it seems that neither of these seems to have ever existed in the real world as its ideological partisans seem to have defined it) and that we have to find some rickety balance between extremities that is doomed to failure.  But my impression is there is probably some other way to define socialism beyond this one. 

Who pays for necessary social services hinges on a lot of definitions.  Where does the money come from?  Thatcher's quip about how you eventually run out of other people's money seems to run aground on the question of what money even is.  I'm not entirely sure these days that when theories of the market were being formulated that an entirely data manipulated method of defining currency was what any of those people had in mind. 

Just because mercantilism or contemporary capitalism manage to enslave people doesn't mean other systems don't have slave systems.  Slavery seems to emerge regardless of the official economic labeling.  I am inclined to agree with Ellul when he wrote that there will never be a collective ownership of the means of production.  That premise is pure fiction. It hasn't happened and it will never happen. 

Deboer makes an interesting assertion about how Marxism and communism are not anti-Enlightenment but the apotheosis of Enlightenment thought.  Since the Marxist approach to history seems just as postmillennialist in its overall philosophy of history as, well, postmillennialist theonomistic dominionism, it's never clear to me these days why Marxists would think their view doesn't constitute a theological view just because they replace the eschatological apocalyptic revelation of a new world and dynamic of human relations with dialectical materialism rather than messianism in Isaianic terms.  I suppose it's because I just finished reading George Steiner's In Bluebird's Castle but he pointed out that without the Abrahamic religious legacy of Jewish legal traditions, Christian ethical imperatives and the Judaic influence in socialist thought there's a whole strand of Western thought that vanishes.  Steiner's case with respect to the Holocaust as a historical fulcrum, as best I can probably meagerly summarize it, was that the Holocaust was a predictable outworking of a tension between a previously pagan/polytheistic West and the inability of some ideologues within that Western tradition to reconcile themselves to the hybridized nature of what the West had become due to the influence of Abrahamic religious thought.  Wiping out the Jews was a literalizing form of rejecting what some in the West viewed as the negative influence of Abrahamic religion.  Now I'm sure there are plenty of people who reject Steiner's thesis or have alternatives.

But the older I get the more it seems that a weak point in Marxist thought has been the inability of Marxist  thought to grapple with the necessarily religious debt it has to religion and not just any kind of religion, Abrahamic religion in particular.  Even the atheistic streak is, potentially, indebted to a post-Abrahamic capacity of thought, to reject across the board the principalities and powers that claim divinity. 

If capitalism is the human capacity to commodify itself that can never be eliminated without the end of the human race as we know it.  The Soviet Union's history makes it hard for me to think that the way to explain all of that history is through a no true Scotsman claim that some of the Frankfurt school thinkers seemed to run with that that just wasn't real communism or socialism. 

I have my doubts that capitalism and socialism can ever exist in the real world the way its advocates have been defining it. 

Monday, July 16, 2018

Alois Haba: String Quartet No. 3

Some of my listening lately has been Native American music (HT to Bryan Townshend, who linked to some recordings Ida Halpern did of PNW tribal songs). Given the microtonal inflections in PNW Native American song I've been thinking probably the only plausible way to emulate those kinds of vocal inflections in instrumental technique (I'm a guitarist) would be using bottleneck technique, which is neither here nor there for the listening part itself.

And some of my listening lately has been to Alois Haba, who was mentioned by Ben Johnston as one of the forerunners in microtonality alongside Ivan Wyschnegradsky and some others. 

This is Haba's Third String Quartet.

I don't think I'll probably ever actually compose microtonal music myself but I'm intrigued by it.  Part of the interest is related to having an interest in music by composers from central and eastern Europe, which Western musical pedagogy has .... let's just be mean and say that Western pedagogy tends to stink covering the East because the West sees itself as the be all end all of everything good about humanity in the history of ever.  There's cool stuff.  I adore the music of Haydn and I have regard for the writings of Edmund Burke.  But it's possible to appreciate things in Western culture while noting that that's still, what, a quarter of the whole planet? 

Haba's quarters are not the easiest listening, which is fun for me, because I admit I don't necessarily always do easy listening. 

After so much music from eastern European composers, though, I'm going to have to get back to more Western stuff for links. 

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Dusan Bogdanovic Guitar Sonata I

I'm planning on blogging about the Bogdanovic guitar sonatas this year or ... perhaps more realistically NEXT year.  But someone has videos of performances of these sonatas.  In lieu of blogging about them I can post videos while I compile materials I want to discuss.

The Bogdanovic sonatas are a good example of the applicability of Hepokoski and Darcy's paradigm of "rotation".  The idea is that themes appear in a particular order across two or three "rotations" and that Theme 1 is followed by Theme 2 is followed by Theme 3 for each rotation in a large-scale sonata form, or a small scale.

The idea is useful because if you're stable on the rotation side of things you can be more playful on tonality.  So a Schubert, for instance, could maintain a stricter approach to rotation and presentation of themes in the Wanderer Fantasy, perhaps, and that will compensate for reprising themes in D flat or E rather than C or G in relationship to an exposition verses recapitulation section of a movement.

Bogdanovic presents themes in what could be called rotation and this offsets the fact that none of this themes map easily onto what might be thought of as traditional major or minor tonalities.

Another guitar composer who has been good at deploying what Hepokoski and Darcy call "rotation" as a formal approach in lieu of clear-cut tonic-dominant tonal architecture is Angelo Gilardino.  I really, really want to get around to blogging about his guitar sonatas, too, but offline life happens and sometimes I end up tabling stuff.  Like I wrote years ago, I was starting to blog about Matiegka's guitar sonatas and what I liked about them in late 2011 and I THOUGHT I was going to blog in more detail about that stuff in 2012 but ... I ended up blogging voluminously about another range of topics.

So, anyway, if you're a Bogdanovic fan I promise I will try to get to blogging about the numbered guitar sonatas at some point and think of these recent posts as a kind of "down payment" in blogging terms that shows I've kept this in mind enough to post a few videos to performances of his work.

Dusan Bogdanovic Guitar Sonata II

Dusan Bogdanovic Guitar Sonata II

I think I love this one best of the three if I have to pick one.  Fortunately I don't actually have to pick one.  :)

Dusan Bogdanovic Guitar Sonata III

The raised F scordatura for the sixth string is a unique feature for this sonata.  I love all of these sonatas and so it's important to me to eventually get to discussing these works but as I noted in another post these posts are more like a "down payment" than the kind of analytical score studying blog posts I'd like to do.

The Koshkin cycle is still the higher priority for me this year and I realize I am BADLY overdue to get into blogging about that cycle again. 

Frank Campo: Two Studies for Trumpet and Guitar

Someone has posted a recording of a performance of this piece, which I have admired for years.

I want to eventually blog about it at a more analytical level because I DO have the score for this one, finally (!), but that's going to take some time.  Meanwhile, if you have any sympathy for slightly avant garde chamber music involving guitar and brass instruments I sincerely hope you'll enjoy this piece. 

since the 20th anniversary of The Last Days of Disco was this year ..

Will you talk about the philosophy behind the Lady and the Tramp scene and how that ties into what Des (Chris Eigeman) says about “to thine own self be true“?

I think they’re similar kind of scenes, but I think they’re separate in their content and their implications. Lady and the Tramp is pretty specific to the sort of myth in literature, theater and film of opposites attracting.

So opposites attract I have a lot of problems with because it seems cool but actually, generally, it’s not a good idea. Generally, Tramp is going to revert to type at some point, as I’ve observed in human relations. It’s rare. Usually, change is a kind of come to Jesus thing. It’s a little bit like an alcoholic giving up alcohol or a licentious person becoming religious. They really have to transform themselves if they’re going to get away from being Tramp. It’s a big, big thing. It’s not just falling in love with Lady and getting along with her owners. And so I think that’s one message. And “to thine own self be true” is a different thing. You’re right that they’re very parallel as far as taking something we know about and applying it to the lives of the characters in the film.

I saw The Last Days of Disco a couple of years back and thought it was funny. Now I know some people say it's impossible for over-earnest ambitious 20-somethings to talk the way Whit Stillman characters talk but when the debate about Lady and the Tramp happened in the film I couldn't help laughing.  That such a serious debate with a subtext of character as destiny with respect to sexual and relational fidelity could be sparked off by watching an animated Disney film that's kind of my wheelhouse anyway.  I did, after all, write tens of thousands of words about Batman cartoons. :)

But the other reason I found it funny was that I was vividly reminded of Midrash debates on the members-only version of Midrash from my days at Mars Hill, particularly the 2002-2006 period when courtship became such an idiotic fad and a host of guys who I didn't think were all that serious about courtship were pretending to themselves and anyone who might be watching that they took it seriously because a couple of high profile members of the church and Driscoll were selling the idea of courtship.  Were it not for a beautiful six-foot blonde who I won't name because almost anyone who went to Mars Hill in the 2002-2006 period probably recognized her, the courtship fad wouldn't have been what it was.  

I've seen comments to the effect that if ever there were a movie made about Mars Hill it should be directed by someone like Tarantino.  No.  Whit Stillman makes more sense because anyone who can have characters deliver jokes about Cathar beliefs or about the different enumerations of the Decalogue across Catholic and Protestant interpretation is better suited to make a film about Mars Hill.

And since Sterling Archer is two thirds of the way to a Mark Driscoll person, "if" someone were going to play Mark Driscoll it should be someone like H. Jon Benjamin.

But, of course, he's got vastly better things to do with his time.

But those guys in Disco, they reminded me of a number of Midrash debates on the Covenant forum ... .
If I were to write a book about Mars Hill I'd probably have to write about the ridiculous courtship fad.

The blonde and her husband have said that if I do that I can write about them.  Still not sure if I would manage to write a book as it is but ... anyway.

Saturday, July 14, 2018

another Atlantic piece "Find Your Passion" is disastrous advice

Perhaps in keeping with a theme this weekend, now that we've looked earlier at student debt as a nexus of crises related to economic and social life by way of higher education, here's another piece that discusses how a generation or two of students has been admonished to "find your passion".
Carol Dweck, a psychology professor at Stanford University, remembers asking an undergraduate seminar recently, “How many of you are waiting to find your passion?”

“Almost all of them raised their hand and got dreamy looks in their eyes,” she told me. They talked about it “like a tidal wave would sweep over them,” he said. Sploosh. Huzzah! It’s accounting!

Would they have unlimited motivation for their passion? They nodded solemnly.
“I hate to burst your balloon,” she said, “but it doesn’t usually happen that way.”

What Dweck asked her students is a common refrain in American society. The term “Follow your passion” has increased ninefold in English books since 1990. “Find something you love to do and you’ll never have to work a day in your life” is another college-counseling standby of unknown provenance.

But according to Dweck and others, that advice is steering people wrong.

“What are the consequences of that?” asked Paul O’Keefe, an assistant professor of psychology at Yale University. “That means that if you do something that feels like work, it means you don’t love it.” He gave me the example of a student who jumps from lab to lab, trying to find one whose research topic feels like her passion. “It’s this idea that if I’m not completely overwhelmed by emotion when I walk into a lab, then it won’t be my passion or my interest.” [emphasis added]

That’s why he and two co-authors—Dweck and Greg Walton of Stanford—recently performed a study that suggests it might be time to change the way we think about our interests. Passions aren’t “found,” they argue. They’re developed.

A passion that is developed is also not necessarily indicative of gainful employment. Some of my cultivated passions have involved early 19th century guitar sonatas and cycles of polyphonic music for classical guitar.  Another cultivated passion is Batman cartoons. I can tell you that while one of those passions helped me pay the rent it wasn't the highbrow stuff!  It was writing about Batman cartoons that helped me pay rent one month back when I was looking for full time work! 

Having a passion isn't the same as having a passion that can be translated into a job market skillset.Had I not been flexible enough in my approach to adapt to where I was at, if fitfully, even that might not have come up.  That's a bit of a lame transition into the following, a discussion of how there's a difference between who define their passions as a fixed range of interests and those who have a more flexible way of defining what their passions are in relationship to methodologies.  This may be a transition into a study of such a tiny sample that the methodology may be moot, as seems so often the case in social science ... since social science is still the only term that can probably be used. 

In a paper that is forthcoming in Psychological Science, the authors delineate the difference between the two mind-sets. One is a “fixed theory of interests”—the idea that core interests are there from birth, just waiting to be discovered—and the other is a “growth theory,” the idea that interests are something anyone can cultivate over time.

To examine how these different mind-sets affect our pursuit of different topics, the authors performed a series of studies on college students—a group that’s frequently advised to find their passion in the form of a major or career path.

First, students answered a survey that would categorize them as either “techy”—slang for interested in math and science—or “fuzzy,” meaning interested in the arts or humanities. They also filled out a survey determining how much they agreed with the idea that peoples’ core interests don’t change over time. They then read an article that mismatched their interests—a piece on the future of algorithms for the fuzzies, and a piece on Derrida for the techies. The more the participants endorsed a “fixed” theory of interests, the less interested they were in the article that mismatched their aforementioned identity as a techy or fuzzy.

The authors then repeated a similar procedure, but they had students read first about either the fixed theory of interests or the growth theory. Again, those who learned that interests are fixed throughout a person’s life were less captivated by an article that mismatched their interests.
The authors believe this could mean that students who have fixed theories of interest might forgo interesting lectures or opportunities because they don’t align with their previously stated passions. Or that they might overlook ways that other disciplines can intersect with their own.
“If passions are things found fully formed, and your job is to look around the world for your passion—it’s a crazy thought,” Walton told me. “It doesn’t reflect the way I or my students experience school, where you go to a class and have a lecture or a conversation, and you think, That’s interesting. It’s through a process of investment and development that you develop an abiding passion in a field.”
Dweck, one of the paper’s authors, has previously studied different types of mind-sets as they relate to intelligence. People who have a growth mind-set about their own intelligence tend to be less afraid of failure, according to her research, because they believe smarts are cultivated, not inherent. Interests are related to, but distinct from, abilities, the study authors told me: You can be interested in something but not very good at it. “I’ve been playing guitar for 25 years, but I can’t say that my abilities have gotten that much better in the past 10 years,” O’Keefe said.

Dweck told me that “Find your passion” has a laudable history. “Before that, people were saying, ‘Find your genius,’ and that was so intimidating. It implied that only people who were really brilliant at something could succeed,” she said. “‘Find your passion’ felt more democratic. Everybody can have an interest.” But this study suggests that even the idea of finding your “true” interest can intimidate people and keep them from digging further into a field.

That gets me thinking about how there are people who say that a shift happened on defining what "genius" meant from the last few centuries.  "Find your genius" sounds positively old school compared to a post-Romantic way of saying that someone IS a genius. Because we may still have a post-Romantic notion of passion and genius we can be taught that if you find your passion you'll find your genius, so to speak.  I am not convinced that "find your passion" isn't ultimately the same basic premise as "find your genius". 

There's writers who claim that we need to look at whether or not "genius" came about in part due to bitter rivalries and whether or not genius has something to do with copycats.  Leonard B. Meyer proposed that the difference between a "genius" and a "crackpot" probably had much less to do with basic experimental or avant garde work than on the discovery of a solution to a problem that was regarded as a problem worth solving by the public at large.  To describe it another way, the genius was the person who created a replicable solution or paradigm for a solution to something that was widely regarded as a problem or challenge that needed to be addressed.

Which I think would be another way of saying that whatever a "genius" is they have some sense of social responsibility regarding the potential theoretical and practical significance of their problem-solving.  But I am not sure that that in any way connects to "find your passion". 

The authors also had students learn about either fixed or growth theory and then exposed them to a new interest: Astronomy. First, they had them watch a video made by The Guardian for a general audience about Stephen Hawking’s ideas. It was easy to understand, and entertaining. Then the authors had the students read a highly technical, challenging article in the academic journal Science about black holes. Despite saying just moments ago, after viewing the video, that they were fascinated by black holes, the students who were exposed to the fixed theory of interests said they were no longer interested in black holes after reading the difficult Science article. In other words, when you’re told that your interests are somehow ingrained, you give up on new interests as soon as the going gets tough.

This study was a preregistered replication, meaning the authors stated at the outset what their hypothesis and methods would be. This process is meant to prevent p-hacking, a shady data practice that has cast a shadow over many psychology studies in recent years.

K. Ann Renninger, a professor at Swarthmore College who was not involved with the study, has researched the development of interests and said that “neuroscience has confirmed that interests can be supported to develop.” In other words, with the right help, most people can get interested in almost anything. Before the age of 8, she said, kids will try anything. Between the ages of 8 and 12, they start to compare themselves with others and become insecure if they’re not as good as their peers at something. That’s when educators have to start to find new ways to keep them interested in certain subjects.

Though the authors didn’t examine adults, they told me their findings could apply to an older population as well. For example, people’s interest in parenthood tends to escalate rapidly once they have a real, crying baby in their house. “You could not know the first thing about cancer, but if your mother gets cancer, you’re going to be an expert in it pretty darn quick,” O’Keefe said.

A different study done on adults’ views toward passions suggests that people who think passions are found tend to pick jobs that fit them well from the outset. They prioritize enjoyment over good pay. People who think passions are developed, meanwhile, prioritize other goals over immediate enjoyment at work, and they “grow to fit their vocations better over time,” the authors of that study write. “In conclusion,” they add, “people who have not found their perfect fit in a career can take heart—there is more than one way to attain passion for work.”

How to cultivate a “growth” mind-set in the young, future-psychology-experiment subjects of America? If you’re a parent, you can avoid dropping new hobbies as soon as they become difficult. (Your kids might take note if you do, O’Keefe said.)

Beyond that, there’s not a clear way to develop a growth mind-set about interests, other than knowing that it’s a valid way to think, and that your passion might still be around the corner.

“We’re just trying to pull the veil back on the hidden implications of things like, Find your passion,’” Walton said. “Is that really how things work? A little bit of knowledge is power.”

The right kind of a little bit of knowledge may be power but on the whole I haven't found that I'm convinced that knowledge is power is all that true.  It used to be said that it's not what you know but who you know.  A relative told me that over the years when I was job hunting and I told him that it seems to be the "new" job market of the last twenty years is more a double whammy of not just who you know but also what you know, too.  If you don't hit the jackpot across both criteria your job prospects can really stink.

The relative shared that in the domain of computer service and tech support it was seeming over the last twenty-some years that employers wanted you to have a master's in computer science and be willing to work fifty hours a week so that they could give you $11 or $12 an hour with maybe zero medical benefits.

Sometimes my Generation X cohorts may post something about how the jobs were better back in the Clinton era and forgetting that back then we were 20-somethings in an seemingly endless cycle of what was not yet called the gig economy, shuffling from temp job to temp job with no medical coverage of any kind and unstable income. 

Some of the most useless career counseling I got over the years had to do with "find your passion".  I wanted a job I could do that wouldn't ransack my body (let's just say that some of the hotter job-peddlers in the last twenty years could end up having warehouse packing work that could wreck a person's wrists). 

A generation or two sold on "find your passion" might need to be told that this advice plays well to educational institutions who benefit from you trying to find your passion for four to five years in an institution of higher education.  Never mind if your passion is for something for which there's no actual job market. Never mind if you may get a PhD in a field of study for which there may not even been work. 

I try to be slightly upbeat about the basic value of education as a discipline of the mind and toward scholarship but ... like I've been blogging this weekend I have a friend or two who has confided that it feels like higher education has been a bill of goods in job market terms.  Generation X has had to deal with this first but in journalistic terms the appeal is probably still going to be Millenials.  I went from firmly believing in the necessity and value of higher education to imploring my friends who were in their 20s in this new century to NOT go to college unless the work they wanted to do could not be done without it.  Among friends and family I'm happy to lend books that people may want to read on a subject.  There have to be ways among neighbors to share knowledge in a way that doesn't involve getting people on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars worth of debt. 

Passions can be cultivated and particularly for the arts I'm feeling lately that it's the amateurs rather than the professionals that make a regional arts culture what it is, though professionals obviously play an important part.

I couldn't justify, for instance, going to a seminary just because I felt and thought I had a passion for theology and church history stuff.  I didn't have as much a passion for that as I probably thought I did because I shifted to music and because I felt no sense of obligation to serve in ministry and couldn't justify dumping who knew how much money into going to a seminary just to line the pockets of an institution to learn stuff I could learn as a layperson by simply attending a decent church. 

American arts administration, a small study indicates the majority of arts administrators are white and women but the sample size is small and skews very heavily southwest and west with 575 responses so ... tiny sample issue

According to an American for the Arts study cited in a GIA study on arts workplace diversity authored by Antonio Cuyler:

"Americans for the Arts (2013) studied the salaries of arts managers who work in local arts agencies (N = 753). Approximately, 86 percent of the full-time respondents self-identified as white, and 72 percent as female."

As increasing numbers of new hires in the field have graduated from an arts administration program, that imbalance is likely to continue for the foreseeable future as women far outnumber men enrolled in university arts administration programs.  According to a report on the feminization of the field authored by Erica Weyer Ittner:

"In 2010, 70 percent of the individuals attending arts administration programs in colleges and universities were women (Gaskell).  As women become the primary jobholder in a particular field it is deemed feminized, or gendered."

The feminization of a field has often been accompanied by it being patronizingly regarded as less important than a male dominated area.  Indeed, public funding for the arts may be negatively impacted because elected decision makers regard it, and its nonprofit status, as simply inferior to the private sector and not the equal in terms of value as male dominated enterprises.  Women, and the arts field, have had to confront that kind of prejudice for a long time.

But any endeavor dominated by specific demographic groups faces the challenge that's its institutional memory and its organizational perspective is thereby compromise and limited, and, as a result, it decision making apparatus lacks perspective and depth.

Diversity is a lofty goal for two principal reasons:  1) the fairness and equity social justice issue - i.e., no group should be excluded from sitting at the decision making tables anywhere.  Society benefits from all demographic groups being represented and having input access, and 2) decision makers, organizations, communities and society itself all benefit from having differing perspectives, differing life experiences represented at the decision making point - including race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age and gender

And so, we must ask whether we have lost or are losing, to some extent, the male perspective in the nonprofit arts -- as fewer males are in, and are coming into, the field?  That may be ultimately unhealthy, in the same ways that any inadequate representation - of whatever demographic category - is.  Having primarily only one gender perspective hamstrings all our decisions and limits us - in way we might not even fully understand or appreciate.  It's simply unhealthy for a female skewed ecosystem to dominate the field, much as it is for a white male dominated cohort to dominate it.  If we are to do a credible job at truly engaging our communities and providing services to the whole of our society, we need to get to an inclusive balance.

575 is not exactly the biggest sample size so we can't be altogether sure this isn't skewed by the sampling bias being so predominantly southwest/west United States.  If more women are still getting advanced degrees than men and a master's degree is the most common level of educational attainment for arts administration workers then it's not a big surprise if women may tend to prevail in arts administration.  Whether these are working at the highest echelons may be a different question across the United States because, again, the sample size seemed small.

Despite the fact that there were 575 responses on most categories there were 555 responses on questions about sexual orientation.  See, that's interesting because one of the first things I thought about reading about this stuff was that sexual orientation is precisely the kind of demographic parameter you shouldn't even be asking about in terms of hiring to begin with because that could be considered discriminatory unless an organization were a non-profit tied specifically to dealing with an issue of sexual health or advocacy with respect to a demographic community.  So I'm not surprised that twenty some respondents opted out on the question of orientation. 

Seventy-seven percent of survey participants are female, and 23 percent are male. Only two participants identified as transgender. The arts management workforce may need to consider ways to recruit more men into the profession. Yet, research has shown that gender negatively affects the careers of women in arts management. Herron et al. (1998) conducted a national study of arts managers in medium-sized dance companies, museums, opera companies, symphonies, and theaters to determine the effect gender has on the career mobility of arts managers. They found that men predominantly held upper-management positions and earned significantly higher salaries than women, and thus they concluded that a glass ceiling exists in arts management for women.

One of my relatives was telling me that  pay gaps between men and women don't always account for things like over-time.  If a study shows that women are seven percent likely to put in more than fifty hours in a week compared to twenty percent of men then at the level of management that might be a variable to consider.  That corporations can take very punitive approaches to parenthood should also be considered. 

I'm surprised at the pittance of response from the Pacific Northwest since it would seem there's actually not a shortage of arts organizations around here. 

Jim West on a fraudulent form of "forgiveness" teaching promoted in contemporary pop Christianity

I don't know if West may have ever seen something like this ...

Or the Mark Driscoll Forgiveness Challenge and associated run-up material.

But he recently wrote this:

“Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins against you, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. “And if he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times in a day returns to you, saying,`I repent,’ you shall forgive him.” (Lk. 17:3-4)

‘Rebuke him…’  ‘If he repents…’  The so called ‘forgiveness’ promoted today isn’t real forgiveness at all because it isn’t the result of correction and it doesn’t stem from real repentance.  The forgiveness promoted today is vapid and empty and meaningless.  Forgiveness without repentance is permission for the other, the unrebuked brother, to continue on in their sin.

The forgiveness promoted today is cruelty because it permits the brother to continue in the sin that destroys him and those around him.  And those who feel pious because they ‘have forgiven’ their enemies while their enemies are neither rebuked nor repentant should in truth feel demonic as they are the enablers of iniquity, not the promoters of righteousness.

I commented somewhere else about how the insistence that you should just forgive because it's the Christian thing to do and the more egregious the offense the quicker the forgiveness should be seems ... dubious ... in an era where a Larry Nassar's predation is revealed.  In an age of a Terry Richardson in fashion photography what would "repentance" look like from a guy like that?  I worked with someone who was (maybe still is) a model and she mentioned that certain photographers are so notorious in the industry that you just avoid working with them or ... being anywhere near them.  It's been one of the pickles of high fashion that some photographers kept getting work.

The celebrity Christian industry seems to have as light resurgence (ahem) of forgiveness teaching that seems to fixate on the necessity of forgiving people who may have "hurt" you (rather than "harmed" you, apparently ... ) and I've written about my concerns about this so-called forgiveness paradigm as espoused by a guy like Mark Driscoll.

Christians should repent and Christians should forgive.  That said, if a person doesn't repent the obligation to forgive them doesn't seem to be drawn from anything Jesus taught.  Yes, I'm aware that Jesus was shown as offering grace to a bandit on a cross but that bandit trusted in Jesus.  And Jesus is the exception case to which you or I can hardly compare ourselves.  When you or I can raise from death any number of friend then the comparison will seem more apt.

No, I've written before that in the hands of a Mark Driscoll admonitions to forgive so that you're not trapped in the prison of demonic torment don't come across as Christian in any historical sense at all, instead it comes across like a kind of sympathetic magic in which if you use the formulaic forgiveness magic in the right way you are delivered from demonic influence.  Any pagan can have that kind of conception of forgiveness and, to be blunt, I don't think even pagans would have such a sympathetic magical view of forgiveness.  That forgiveness-as-magic-talisman-against-demonic influence might be more of a heretical word-faith variant of Christian practice than something derived from biblical texts or continuity of traditions in Christian teaching.  It's not that you can't forgive those who have wronged you unilaterally.  It's that a teaching program that tells you that you should do this so that you have Spirit-power released in your life is selling you something.  Anyone who would sell you that idea is continuing a grisly tradition of conduct and ideas named after Simon Magus, who hoped to buy the power of the Spirit he saw the apostles use to heal people. 

It's too bad that a guy like Driscoll is willing to peddle a form of forgiveness in which, as I noted earlier, there's no trace of relational restoration or reconciliation in the practical outcome of his not-so-new forgiveness teaching.  He had a more or less magical take on forgiveness as a salve against the ordinary demonic of bitterness going back ten years ago, which I've chronicled at such length here I don't want to repeat myself.   This is not a new shtick for Driscoll in particular, but it may be a newly resurgent shtick with some Christians who feel that they should teach a sweeping definition of applied forgiveness in which it hardly matters what was done to you, you need to live Christian forgiveness by being the better person who forgives whether or not a person who harmed you has repented or even confessed. 

It's why in the wake of a Sandunsky or a Nassar the idea of the "new" and allegedly robust take on forgiveness seems not only shallow but actually dangerous.  It's a kind of "forgiveness" that favors the powerful, the aristocratic, abusers who can hide behind a "you should forgive and move on" ethos and praxis.  Maybe there can even be some bromide about how refusing to forgive someone is like you drink the poison and expect the other person to die.  If a person doesn't repent and doesn't even confess to wrong-doing are you still obliged to forgive? 

So I'm not surprised there's enough of a form of forgiveness that skips completely past any questions about confession or repentance out there that Jim West has written something about it.  As a former Mars Hill member and attender I suppose nobody would be surprised to read that I've addressed my skepticism about the credibility and plausibility of such a so-called forgiveness teaching. 

Rod Dreher links to a piece at The Baffler about student debt disasters--some gloomy diffuse musings on how higher education may embody the problems it would purport to solve thanks to its bond with finance

It's a long read, and Dreher's commentary is relatively to the point.

In fact I don't feel any need to really quote from it because it just reminded me of a friend of mine, also from Generation X, who told me years ago that he felt he was sold a bill of goods about college.  He felt like he was sold an idea that if you just go to the right school and get the right degree the whole job thing takes care of itself.

It's obviously not true.

But colleges and higher education more generally depend upon people like you or me or my friend buying into the idea that you can't put a price on a full-bodied education.  You sure as hell can, actually, and the lending industry seems to be aware of just how much money a well-rounded education can cost, just as administrators and bureaucrats who decide how many core courses you have to take before you're even allowed to graduate with a degree in a field of study that you initially wanted to pursue to begin with certainly seem to know.

One of my friends inc ollege graduated a year or so later than I did and he called me one day to say he was furious when he realized that the school we both went to went from describing itself as a four-year institution to having a "five-year" degree for undergraduates.  They just blithely went from saying it would take four years to five years and for the tuition rates we were paying that was no small amount of money!

I opted to stop at a B.A. in a useless field of study in job market terms.  My journalism degree didn't help me land a whole lot of jobs.  It was clearly a lot of value for time and money spent  when I got around to chronicling the peak and ruin of Mars Hill. 

But I realized while I was still in college there wasn't really a job market for an interest in literature, philosophy, let alone music or music history.  I settled on journalism as the field of interest, amid all my probably "useless" interests in job market terms, as having something close to a market place.  But a few years before I graduated I realized that there was probably not a job out there for me.  On the other hand, the prospect of changing majors three years in was a foolish venture.  All that would have meant was changing the kinds of hoops I'd have to jump through because I'd worked out that despite the claim that all the general rounded education hoops I had to jump through in high school was preparation for focused study in college it turned out the first two years of college were just preparation you had to do before you were allowed to enter a program.  They had you on the hook with general education requirements to stay for basically twice as long as you'd need to actually attend to get the focused study that you would have thought was part of your degree, rather, the core of it.

Finding all of this objectionable, even finding it to be a kind of prestige racket scam, isn't the least bit the same as being anti-intellectual or anti-scholarly.  I'm reading almost half a dozen books by Theodore Adorno because it's fun, for crying out loud.  I finished Richard Taruskin's five volume Oxford History of Western Music.  I'm getting back into his roughly 1,200 page Stravinsky and the Russian Traditions, too.  I've got a pile of Ellul books in the reading list.  Reading a book on Bartok and Hungarian nationalism.  Still early into a book on Poland and East Germany in the Cold War period.  I'm slogging through Joseph Campbell's notorious book.  So I'm reading stuff.  I'm looking at taking up blogging about Koshkin's 24 preludes and fugues for solo guitar.  But I'm temporarily sidelined by other stuff offline and I'm intrigued in taking up some writing about Zaderatsky's 24 preludes and fugues as well as Henry Martin's 24 preludes and fugues.  I'm interested in 20th and 21st century fugal cycles.  When volume 2o f Michelle Gorrell's cycle is finally ready to be published by Boosey & Hawkes I look forward to ordering part 2. 

But I don't regret only getting as far as an undergraduate dgree in journalism.  I can't see that getting a master's degree or a doctorate would help me learn more or be more scholarly.  I feel like I practically wrote a master's thesis on 19th century guitar sonatas as it is.  Now it's not really a thesis level thing as I wrote it, of course.  I'd need to have tackled the extent sonatas of Matiekga and Molitor before I'd feel like I had really made it a master's thesis level length project.  I ... might consider doing that at some point.  Matiegka's worth the trouble to me but life is busy. 

But all that is to say that if I had had to go through the routines and jump through the hoops of grad school I am not altogether sure I'd have had time to tackle this stuff and I am not convinced by what I have been able to see of academic publishing that there's exactly a place for the kind of writing I do and have done about 19th century guitar sonatas.  I am also not sure there's a place in academia as it is for thousands of words theorizing on how ragtime can be synthesized with sonata forms because the prestige racket seems to be in place and because people committed to essentialist narratives about what is supposed to be construed as white or black music seem to have too much at stake in reinforcing the stereotypes that should be getting dismantled within the academy.  It feels like reactionaries are committed to a "universal" set of artistic values that are a stand-in for defending a canon rather than opening the field to applied study of other music on the one hand, and reactions to the reactionary stance may be sincere and well-intentioned but get trapped in the modes of polemic and discourse established by the protocols (or inertia) of academy.  I can tell you (all forty readers, maybe?) that I can write as many thousands of words about why "Living for the City" is a work of musical genius as I can about Matiegka's appropriation of themes from Haydn's piano trios for Grand Sonata II. 

And my polemic point for this post is that I can do all that without actually being in academia. 

But what the Baffler piece skims is that the author in question got married, which strongly indicates the author in question was also dating.  This may tie back to my earlier writing this weekend about how within the confines of a middle class existence there can be a tension between art-self and sex-self.  Statistically if straight people in a relationship have sex for long enough a time babies can result and there's a tension between the understanding of the art-making self and the baby-making self that may be unique in some respects to the middle class.  Some of those tensions go away if you reconcile yourself to the likelihood that a scholarly life is a kind of, well, monastic existence.  But in the last century or so the artist has become a kind of prophet or seer or art-priest but rather than some kind of residual vow of celibacy there might be a tacit or explicit vow of, well, profligacy?  Like artists in the post-Romantic tradition can almost seem as though they have an informal vow to get laid rather than not. 

Years ago The Atlantic had a write-up about various authors who chose not to have children and in the span of the article there was no indication that any of those authors who expounded upon their decision to never have children were people who were celibate.  If you're not having sex then there's no "decision" to not have children because the very possibility of them is generally moot. 

In the years since I turned my attention back toward arts writing and coverage in the wake of the Mars Hill collapse I've been negatively impressed.  It is hard to shake the sense that higher education in the United States is a prestige racket.  People absolutely learn wonderful things and write interesting stuff.  I'm not against any of that, but the educational system seems like a bill of goods, like a cabal dedicated to a priesthood of art religion in the liberal arts that seems like a grotesquely inflated bubble.  That doesn't mean I think the people who are fixated on STEM necessarily have a better or healthier conception of college education.  The idea of free college for everyone sounds like a recipe for disaster.  That's like telling everyone that high school officially gets to last eight or nine or ten years rather than a mere four years and for what?  What jobs are going to be out there that require a liberal arts degree or an engineering degree, even? 

One of my teachers in high school decades ago said that the problem with American education as a whole in comparison to European models was that the baseline assumption was that every student educated could be expected to one day be a senator or a representative or a part of the political gentry or aristocracy and this meant there was functionally no training in the trades and skills that would be more useful in the general economy and society.  A variant (since this guy was German) of a Germanic critique of Anglo-American educational paradigms was penned by Paul Hindemith (which I've already referenced a few times) in which he said that American music education produced music teachers and not rounded amateur musicians.  The educational culture was designed to be self-perpetuating.  The longer I live and read about the various crises that crop up in higher education the harder it is to shake the sense that the rot is in the core conception of American ideals about higher education.  The higher education paradigm seems geared toward a residually aristocratic notion of a well-rounded thought leader/scholar patrician rather than toward useful, gainful employment.  This problem probably cannot be ameliorated merely by shoving everyone into STEM or service oriented training.  The problem of the years-gobbling "general education" requirements will still be there. 

One of the conundrums about all of this is that if you express reservations about the problems in academia as it has developed in the last thirty years the easiest rebuttal someone with an interest in academia could roll out is to say you're anti-intellectual.  Or there can be a comment about the predatory nature of capitalism.  Well, I wonder about whether that predatory nature isn't the way of the world seeing as capitalism is one way that original sin works itself out in one historical context while it works itself out in other ways in other contexts.  Yes, I invoked original sin.  I don't think we live in an era in which it makes sense to assume that inherited and dispositional temptations to evil for personal or in-group gain can be warded off merely by adherence to a dogmatic orthodoxy.  It doesn't mean I don't care about orthodoxy.  I mean, I've said a few times I go to a Presbyterian church.  But what I'm saying as I have over the years is that doctrinal orthodoxy BY ITSELF is no assurance of ethical conduct.  What we've been seeing in the last ten years is that the flags denoting team loyalty are not turning out to be the least bit reliable indicators of how not-abusive a man in power or with influence can turn out to be. 

Particularly as a former Mars Hill member I am dubious abou the idea that merely switching ideological loyalties will cure the cultish mentality that was fostered there.  If someone was a Mars Hill member and is now a blue state voter rather than a red state voter all that has changed is the flag rallied to not the totalitarian cult-like mentality that was observable within the confines of the community online.  I'm not talking about friends I made who were self-identified progressives eight years ago who were at Mars Hill.  I am aware that in popular journalistic imagination there could not have possibly been Christian progressives or anarchists at a place like Mars Hill but there were.  The thing is I've got no truck with the people who were progressive then and have stayed progressive.  We differ on a few points of policy questions but we get along well.  My concern is more about those people who were red state then and have decided to be blue state now.  Or those who decided to MAGA things.  These are people who have transferred what I believe is still foundationally a cultish mentality to the realm of politics.  All blather about "functional savior" in mind, there are people who are set on reverse-engineering for themselves a red  state Jesus and a bleu state Jesus and they do not recognize that these reverse-engineering projects make for an American Jesus that is a false Christ and an antichrist.  It's not a matter of the POTUS being the antichrist merely if the "wrong" person gets the jbo, I say it's the very nature of the job, as it is for any world leader position.

How does that connect to higher education?  Well, to be combative about the point, academia is the priesthood within which the powers that be get defended.  Attempting to reform the canon or create a theoretically post-canonical world will fail because that is to misconstrue what the function of academies has been for as long as there have been academies.  To seek to remove rather than reform a canon is to seek to remove the basis for higher education at its core.  If you don't want a canon then you functionally don't want an academy.  That's why I'm willing to say I think we need an additive, reformist-minded poly-canonic aim in higher education but I can't bring myself to say that we should have a post-canonic higher educational scene.  To argue for that is, I think, able to be sincere and even well-intentioned but unfortunately naïve about the nature of higher education as a whole. 

The Baroque era with its panoply of styles and theories seems like what we should try to conceptually recover as applicable to higher education and the arts, if we're going to try for that.  But I have had my doubts about the health and viability of higher education in American society for a decade or so.  I wanted to be an academic in my twenties and now I'm grateful I didn't manage to become one and it's obvious (I hope!) that this had nothing to do with a loss of love for learning or study. 

I think we should work at restoring or developing a new kind of unskilled labor market.  People who think the problems of the contemporary American job market can be fixed by making college available for everyone are makin ga mistake.  If our whole educational paradigm of the well-rounded jack of all trades scholar was predicated in any way on an aristocratic leadership paradigm then to focus on legacies of white racism or white supremacism without examining the class element is going to make a mistake, a dangerous category mistake because it wasn't as though American Indians didn't have caste systems or slavery themselves. 

I'm worried that American discourse has devolved on race in ways that have come at the expense of class considerations, which is why it's far, far easier for me to take progressives and post-Marxist thinkers seriously than mainstream liberals--mainstream liberalism has finessed the extent to which it is tied to the upper twenty percent.  How many people who would consider themselves loyal blue state voters would nonetheless reject the idea of abolishing legacy admissions for prestigious schools?  Even a Ted Kennedy could sign off on getting the Navy aircraft carriers the Navy didn't even need for the sake of shipyard jobs.  Blue state people need to remember that a nation run by cosmopolitan city-states is not necessarily going to make American life more democratic.  When Clinton ran with "I'm with her" and replied that America already is great there are reasons she lost the electoral vote, some of which "may" have to do with Russian hacking but some of which have to do with comprehensive gerrymandering the DNC didn't seem interested enough in to stop, on the oone hand, and on the other hand, the implicit claim in the America-already-is-great rebuttal to a MAGA slogan invites a question of for whom America is already great? 

Some of the newly aware sentiment of the moment could potentially be a mask.  #TimesUp isn't necessarily a worst cause cause but if there are fewer women directing now than there were a few years ago then what if all we're getting is more STAR women directors and fewer women directors in practice?  That can't really be what we want for the film industry, is it?

That ties somewhat directly to the crises of academia because, as I've said, there's probably no plausible case to be made that academia will ever be post-canonic because that misconstrues what academia has been for millennia.  To put it another way, if you hear Beyoncé songs all over the radio or Katy Perry songs or Taylor Swift songs there's still a corporate culture.  It may look more feminine and be more diverse and it's not even to say the new songs are even necessarily bad, it's that the academia plays a potential role in ameliorating a relationship to power that it mediates without necessarily considering that the alternative isn't likely to be a post-canonical pedagogy, it's going to bee a new canon with a suitably adjusted pedagogy. 

Now maybe letting the proverbial market decide is going to be worse because as highbrows have lamented since millennia ago the stupid masses keep picking stupid stuff.  Ancient Greece had some equivalent to what we might call Michael Bay movies. 

What an academic approach could address is, perhaps, saying that Michael Jackson became the King of Pop in a way that is comparable to how Josef Haydn became "Papa" who inspired Mozart and Beethoven.  I think that poptimists in music and musicology could benefit immensely from going back to Haydn because Haydn and his generation (loosely defined) give us a "classical" music tradition that predates German idealism and the emergence of art religion and its more nefarious elements.  There's always stuff to reject and we should certainly not be in a rush to just say Beethoven shouldn't be studied at all--a bit too much of the polemics against the established Germanic canon seems to forget the Americanist canon that will go up in its place.  We're not going to get a post-canon pedagogy, we'll just eventually get a pedagogy geared toward a new canon.  Perhaps that canon will move away from the literate music tradition in favor of technologically mediated music but that will be a shift from one canon to another.  Sgt. Pepper is not going to just get obliterated from the pop canon just because the literate musical tradition is considered secondary or elite. 

My skepticism about post-canonic arguments isn't with the altruism that its advocates are trying to bring to a more open-ended approach.  I think we need a more additive and open-ended approach to canon but if we step back and think about this stuff this crisis of canon is precipitated by technological advance and archiving capacity.  The crisis is that if we can survey the entirety of Western music in on-page form why can't we do this for recorded music mediated by vinyl records, cassettes, CDs and so on?  It's not that a Richard Taruskin has to write about that in an Oxford History of Western music that explicitly limits its scope to music on the page, it's that the historians and musicologists who could write a comparable history of mechanically recorded and technologically mediated music in the computer/machine sense of the term (as if pen and paper weren't themselves technology) have not gotten the ball rolling to the point where a comparable Oxford-style, ahem, canonical narrative, has been published yet.  That gets at the paradoxical improbability of any post-canonical musical pedagogy. 

Rather than academics or journalists rising to meet this challenge who seems to have the time, leisure and energy to spare for chronicling this stuff?  Fans. 

And the thing about fans, of course, is that none of them have to actually go get a master's degree in a liberal arts program to be able to share their love of something.  What academics can provide, in theory (ahem) is a historical context for how this or that thing developed.  That will keep happening ... but I wonder if it may be better to warn people who are going in for advanced degrees that perhaps they should recognize that they are monastics.  They're not taking a vow of poverty in the old school poor sense, but they should be told they are making a vow of debt slavery given the way college educations get financed and then, like a would be monastic, be given a chance to consider whether that's really what they want to do with their lives.

Because it seems more and more treating higher education like a ticket to being middle class is obviously a lie and it's also not true to say that you "should" go get the degree because in the end you make more money.  Maybe you do but correlation and causation have to be kept in mind. 

Adorno was wrong to assume that what he called the culture industry was incapable of making art.  Thriller holds up as a great pop album, just as Innervisions hold up remarkably, too.  But ... academics who would like this music to be taken seriously and discussed seriously have to step back and consider that there's a gigantic corporate apparatus that made this music possible, what the Soviets regarded as the decadence of Western imperialist capitalism.  Hip hop has become the biggest selling genre in the world in the last few years and how did it become that?  What market forces were at work?  Which empires have produced and distributed hip hop as a popular style?  For leftists and progressives who committed themselves to the literate music tradition (Gann and Halle come to mind) hip hop is a variant of popular music which is the new hegemonic influence.  It's technologically machine-mediated popular culture that is the hegemony against which the Western literate musical traditions can be thought of as constituting a dissident bulwark by musicians in that tradition with green and progressive and socialist sympathies but because within academic contexts that canon is "the" canon, people who would advocate for a post-canon pedagogy are in a paradoxical position of trying to get the most popular styles of music on earth from the last century taken seriously in an academic context. 

Theory has not caught up to practice, which might be a sign that compare to the theory-first approaches of the 20th century that there's a sense in which theory lagging behind popular practice means we've gotten back to a "normal".  If we look at how that "normal" looked over the last fifteen hundred years it might not be so surprising that a lot of that "normal" involved a lot of starkly stratified class and caste systems.   It's not clear to me why academia would now suddenly be the antidote to rather than the embodiment of those historic modes of social stratification. 

#PlaneBae, public figures, social media narratives and responsibilities

A mere four years ago, which seems like a couple of generations in terms of internet reading, Pastor Mark Driscoll sat down and gave a video address in which he said a bunch of stuff.

Mark Driscoll from a video statement July 21, 2014

In addition, I really am blessed to live in a land where the law allows me to have freedom of speech, to have freedom of religion, to have freedom of assembly, freedom of the press. That means we get to assemble, and I get to open the Bible and teach whatever I believe to be true. But it means that others have that same legal opportunity. They have that same freedom, and so, and so others are free to, to say things as well. And being a bit of a public figure I don’t have the same… try to get this right, protection sometimes as a private citizen, because I’ve made myself a public figure.  [emphasis added] So that’s just sort of a blessing and the complexity of the great opportunity that God has given me as a Bible teacher and a pastor, especially in an age of technology, which I praise God for. In addition, we, we can’t respond to everyone but we’re willing to learn from anyone. And this means that even as issues arise or criticisms come, I want you to hear that we do consider those, we pay attention to those, because we want to learn from those. And so while we can’t respond to everyone, we are willing to learn from anyone. We want this to be an increasingly healthy, godly, loving church, and, and anything that helps us to achieve that, we want to receive that as, as a gift ultimately from our senior pastor the Lord Jesus.

As Mark Driscoll has continued to be a celebrity Christian (and, I suppose, also some kind of pastor as he understands that term), he has clarified that because he made himself a bit of a public figure he does not have the same protections that are available to a private citizen because he sought to be a public figure. 

I have had occasional complaints made about this blog for discussing Mark Driscoll at such length over the years.  I have also had comments in other contexts made that, oh, well, see some guy like Driscoll could just lawyer up and then this blog could be shut down.  Well ... no ... it's not quite that simple.  I made a point of discussing things for which Mark Driscoll made an emphatic point of addressing in mass and social media for the record in the United States.  Not all Western style democratic societies have what we know of as the First Amendment, disputed as its meaning and applications can be.  Which is to say that, no, Mark Driscoll didn't really have a legal case to say that I or Warren Throckmorton or other people did not have the legal protection to use our First Amendment rights to comment on things Mark Driscoll has said and done as a self-selected public figure. 

Why bring this up?  Well, #PlaneBae is why.  As Terry Teachout was writing a few years ago, we don't fully appreciate just how recent social media is in publishing platform terms and we are certainly not up to speed on the ethical consequences and implications that such pervasive use of social media can introduce.  That was a few years ago.  The "PlaneBae" situation may simply bring this to the fore for people who, for whatever reasons, had not already been thinking about stuff like whether or not you can or should transform what you see on a passenger plane into a meet-cute social media narrative.

I don't use Twitter and find the platform kind of loathsome.  So I haven't actually looked at whatever #PlaneBae is.  But in a way I don't feel like I need to not because the "what" is beneath looking at (though I do feel that way, if anyone is asking); no, the concern I have had is about the "how".  Having written a few thousand words on Mars Hill and its idolization of social media I figure I can just link to those earlier posts.

So ... for those who haven't gotten up to speed


Blair deleted the original #PlaneBae posts earlier this week and apologized for what she said she had come to see as an invasion of the strangers' privacy.

"The last thing I want to do is remove agency and autonomy from another woman," Blair wrote in her apology. "I wish I could communicate the shame I feel in having done this, but I truly feel that at this point my feelings are irrelevant."

While Blair was busy blocking critics on Twitter, many others attempted to shout to the millions of Twitter users the thread had attracted that this wasn’t some meet-cute romance story. Blair, knowing nothing about the two passengers’ personal lives, sexual orientations, or private business, projected a false narrative onto them in order to go viral.
The woman in the thread reached out to Blair directly and gave a statement to the Today show making it clear that the tweets were misleading and that she wanted to be left alone, yet Blair posted a video encouraging her followers to seek out the woman’s personal information.

Somehow, after all of this, fans of the thread still remained adamant that no wrong had been committed. “We do it everyday to celebrities. No difference. Outrage culture is so dumb,” wrote one Instagram user below a BuzzFeed News post on the story. “It was harmless, and it’s over. Seriously,” someone else said. “Why is this such a big deal?” asked another. “It’s not an invasion of privacy.”
But it is an invasion of privacy, and the woman’s statement proves just how harmful such an act can be. Despite the fact that she did everything in her power to remain anonymous from the moment she became aware of the thread, she still had her personal information and address revealed and received so much harassment that she quit social media.
The fact that she made her statement via a lawyer suggests that she may have plans to sue, something many people on Twitter support. Whether she receives compensation for the damage inflicted, her saga offers a lesson about viral fame and consent. Blair issued an apology for her actions on Wednesday. Perhaps users will think twice about sharing a viral-romance Twitter thread again.
Reflecting on the aftermath of the #PlaneBae saga, one man on Twitter wrote, “Nobody told us that our ‘15 Minutes of Fame’ would include shaming, insults, threats, etc. And that we might not have even asked for it.”

There is a difference and the difference is between someone, like a Mark Driscoll, who has actively sought to be a public figure to influence social and economic currents and has more or less said so by dint of decades of literally preaching, and a private citizen who may work (of necessity) in some kind of publicly observable capacity who has not, all the same, sought to be what's identifiable as a public figure.

Legal protections for private citizens are different for those given to public figures.  One of the most important distinctions is in defamation, what are called libel and slander definitions.  The simplest and most amusing distinction for these was articulated by J. K. Simmons as J. Jonah Jameson in Raimi's first Spider-man film:  slander is spoken, in print its libel! 

There have been a few outraged Christian advocates for Mark Driscoll over the years who have claimed this blog was a place for slandering Mark Driscoll.  No, because it's not slander and it's not even libel, either.  If advocates for Mark Driscoll could find even a single sentence published here attributed to Mark Driscoll in a first-print first-published edition that was, as originally published, somehow misrepresented I'm happy to go back and make a correction and issue a statement.  To date no one from Mars Hill has ever indicated that I've ever misquoted Mark Driscoll in any way.  I recall that steve over at Triablogue once wrote to the effect that the easiest way to make Mark Driscoll look bad was to simply quote him accurately and in context and Driscoll torpedoed his own reputation all by himself. 

But, and this point clearly cannot be emphasized enough in the wake of something like #PlaneBae, a person like Mark Driscoll chose to make himself a public figure and sound off on a variety of hot-button issues.  A woman who takes a trip on a plane who is transformed into the basis for a meet cute narrative has never been that kind of person unless she has already become a public figure beforehand.  Celebrity is not something retroactively imputable to a person. 

This is a point which those who make their bread and butter livings by writing online constantly may not be able to fully appreciate.  Sure, if you spend countless hours writing on the internet platforms of mass or social media it might seem like no biggie.  It's arguably because those who have sought out social media or mass media participation are not thinking that the default for a "normal" citizen is to NOT pursue that level of media engagement.  The "normal" person is not seeking to be a celebrity or a public figure in the sense of arriving at a lower and significantly more lax approach to definitions of libel and slander. 

Conversely, there's a flip side.  People like Mark Driscoll discover this over time, that once you pursue addressing hot button issues on mass and social media to the point that you do become a public figure there aren't really any "take backs" for that status once you've reached it.

There's something else I've been thinking about with the passing of Steve Ditko. The press has predictably described him as "a recluse".  Turns out that being "a recluse" means refusing to be photographed and refusing to grant interviews to journalists for fifty years because he believed his work should speak for itself without his having to explain himself or his biography.  If that is what defines a person as a recluse then everyone in the United States who isn't granting interviews to journalists is a "recluse".  As I was writing in the wake of news of Ditko's death I think it's far more accurate to say that he wasn't a recluse but a man who appreciated the significance of having a pre-social media conception of a private life.  Over at Comic Book Resources there's a piece, for those who read CBR, about how Ditko was known to talk freely and comfortably with people in the comics industry and that people could go find where he lived and talk with him.  He wasn't a recluse, just a man who declined to give journalists interviews.  It may say something important about the nature of journalism that the default description of a legendary comics writer and artist who wouldn't grant interviews is that he was a "recluse".

Reminding the internet-reading world that Steve Ditko was not at a recluse is not a minor observation to make in the wake of #PlaneBae, which is a snafu that has come about because of writer.  I love writing, obviously, and I write about things that are important to me and ... maybe ... sometimes important to other people.  Granting preliminary consent is important.  If a source isn't willing to go on record you can't use that source's information in a story, to put it in journalistic terms. 

Now it does not just so happen my journalism professor once advised that what you will find is that just because one source isn't willing to go on record doesn't mean you can't often find the same information in an on the record setting elsewhere.  That simple observation was the foundation of a majority of what I have blogged about the history of Mars Hill. 

What one person declined to discuss as a private citizen it turned out was stuff that Mark Driscoll would talk about from the pulpit or a James and Gina Noriega would talk about to the Seattle P I.  And thus it was that Andrew Lamb's identity as the center of a disciplinary incident at the former Mars Hill was possible to discover on the basis of their own social media usage.  We live in an era in which, people give away the privacy they think they are clinging to by dint of their own social media habits.  If a blogger like Wenatchee The Hatchet could be confused with "doxing" people by people too ignorant of media usage and definitions of public vs private figures it's potentially a sign that, among other things, so many who use social media do so in too exhibitionistic a way to understand what they have sacrificed for the sake of having a Twitter account or a blog in which they reveal who they are as a form of literary authenticity that gives away their roles in a disciplinary incident at a now defunct megachurch.  Among the losses people who went to Mars Hill have experienced, besides ended marriages and careers and reputations, one of the most impossible to measure is the loss of private citizenship in the sense of not being able to be a topic of interest for a blog like, well, this one.  Wenatchee The Hatchet can be a repository of what people who went to Mars Hill blogged and tweeted and posted to publicly accessible social media platforms for the record because the people who did all of those things did not always appreciate the significance of what they were putting out there, for the record, and in principle forever.  Even mark Driscoll himself seemed to only belatedly discover the significance of what he had given up in his quest to be a celebrity Christian.

A world of writers can also be remiss in understanding the significance of what is given up and a story like the fall out of #PlaneBae can be a necessary reminder to those of us who write that the "normal" response of a private citizen is to want to stay a private citizen even if writers might prefer to transform everything around them into "art" as it seems suitable at the time. 

I wrote all the things I wrote about Mars Hill because I was dealing with people who used social and mass media to engage the public sphere; and, of course, I wrote because I believed what that empire of people was doing was something I considered harmful; but I also made a point of trying to be very careful to not dredge up things that were not in social media and mass media.  Scrupulously alert longtime readers will probably even know I sat on a few things or took things down even if, by rights, I could have just left stuff up or run with everything I knew.  But there's sucha thing as having compassion, which is frankly not something I was convicned the leadership culture at Mars Hill had much of.  It's god to show mercy and have compassion even when dealing with what seem ike ruthless brand-focused empires.  The sheer tonnage of leaks that came to Wenatchee The Hatchet by people with access to The City didn't come from nowhere.  But I digress, as usual.

The cautionary tale nature of #PlaneBae is worth considering at some length but I don't want to keep writing more variations on stuff I've already written about.

If anything I might venture to say, with a joke, that in light of a #PlaneBae snafu it makes it all the more salient what people who get liberal arts degrees actually know about distinctions between public and private citizens.  Do you want to go tens of thousands of dollars into debt getting an English degree and after all that not know the private/public citizen distinction and then inadvertently catalyze a #PlaneBae crisis?