Monday, November 12, 2018

Stan Lee, writer and pioneer of Marvel Comics and associated characters, dead at 95--Spider-man as a chronicle of inadvertent generational alienation, a kind of Fathers and Sons for the superhero genre

It was just a few months ago that Steve Ditko died (which, as a lifelong Spider-man fan, had to be noted here) and today Stan Lee has died.

There is a lot that could be said about what Stan Lee did as a writer to revolutionize the superhero genre but the clearest, simplest to describe what he did for the superhero genre might also gall fans of the genre--Stan Lee managed to inject into the superhero genre the relational and emotional characterizations of the soap opera to make superheroes more emotionally plausible.

The science was no more plausible in Marvel Comics than it was for DC.  Radiation doesn't give people super powers, it kills them, many times it kills them unless carefully used.  Peter Parker has superpowers, of course, but he has money problems first and foremost.  Then he has worries about the health of his elderly aunt.  Supposedly he has had problems with girls even though, as Steven Grant so bluntly noted, all of Parker's closest relationships have been with women and his girlfriends all look like models. 

That so many writers, editors and fans think that Peter Parker has troubles relating to women is part of a mythology about the character that doesn't really hold up all that well if you go back and read the comics. It might be more accurate to say that once Stan Lee stopped writing Gwen Stacy Parer's troubles with women were imposed upon him by Conway and others, or it might be said that Parker had problems connecting to women he found sexually desirable and who often did not reciprocate the attraction.  But well past the point that Ditko was drawing the character Peter Parker looked like a male model himself.  Not too shocking there if you know anything about what sort of comics Gil Kane for instance, drew when he wasn't known for Drawing superhero stories.  What Stan Lee wrote in the Spider-man stories was both more and less nuanced than he often gets credit for.  Parker's relationships were believable in terms of the highs and lows and the good and bad. 

But I confess that having been a fan of Spider-man more or less all my life, Stan Lee's writing showed that within the flagship character he had a penchant for reducing women to three general categories.  There's the vapid party girl (do I even have to name her?), the weepy clinger (do I have to name them?) and the old biddie.  Stan Lee could knowingly play this for laughs when he introduced a story in a Spider-man comic by claiming the story was so exciting and he was so confident that they would enjoy it that he was going to start the story with Aunt May.   It didn't seem quite so funny a joke to me as a younger boy as it has seemed since and partly it's because there's an expectation in action comics aimed at boys that the action starts up front--Lee riffed on that expectation to joke that the fight that would eventually arrive would be worth having the story begin with old women talking to each other. 

It's true that Stan Lee and his collaborators came up with superheroes who are women, people of color, not the routine white males and goddess females (i.e. Wonder Woman) that DC was known for by the Silver Age.    Stan Lee created a lot of fun and durable characters.  There's no disputing that.  What's interesting to consider the day of his death is how little that work was taken seriously over the last forty to fifty years.  You can revolutionize an art form but if the art form is regarded as trash altogether then the revolution isn't much of a thing respectable people will care about. 

Although I'm a lifelong Batman fan if I had to pick a superhero comics run that I think is the greatest iteration of the genre across the baord I would not hesitate to pick Stan Lee's run on Spider-man from the origin of the character up to Captain Stacy's death. 

I don't think that Stan Lee introduced that much emotional complexity into the superhero genre.  I can see ambivalence in Clark Kent's relationship to Lois Lane as Clark Kent and as Superman in the earliest Superman stories.  There's also a lot of humor.  I might say that given how much was lost or changed in DC comics in reaction to things like the Comics Code or industry shifts Stan Lee did not so much introduce emotional complexity or nuance into the superhero genre as re-introduce it.  That may seem impossible to take seriously given how much mythologizing people have done with Stan Lee's reputation but that's my impression of Lee's legacy.

But I will clarify that what Lee introduced was not so much emotional complexity in terms of a range of feelings, it might be more accurate to say that Lee and his collaborators refined an inescapable relational ambivalence into the superhero genre.  I get that writers and readers think of that as emotionally complex or more mature but I don't know if many would say that about the soap operas that were accomplishing ambivalent and complex webs of relationships.  Though I wasn't exactly drawn to soap operas I realized my mom watched them steadily, or at least one, Days of Our Lives.  Stephano could die and then turn out to not really have died about as often as Norman Osborne would seem to ... or the Green Goblin was a mere amateur at seeming dead by comparison. 

Norma's a good case in point of what Lee managed to achieve.  Norman Osborne is an older man who in the earlier comics had respect for Parker and Parker respected him.  Norman's son Harry felt slighted by comparison to his friend Peter.  As the Green Goblin Norman wants Spider-man to die and sees in Spider-man a way to prove his superior physical and intellectual abilities.  But in the earlier stories Norman has suffered enough brain damage from failed experimental work in which he stole the ideas of others that he doesn't realize he's the Green Goblin.  Why was Norman so eager to try things out?  Since his wife died he began to lose his emotional stability, became obsessed with work, and threw himself into doing all he could to support his son Harry financially even if it was at the expense of becoming emotionally remote and unscrupulous in his business practices. 

It was more important that Norman Osborne was the kind of bad father you might actually have to live with in real life, who means well and rarely ever does as well as he means, that made Spider-man comics so riveting in the Stan Lee/Steve Ditko years.  Unlike a Superman or Batman who could send the criminals to jail and then forget about them until the next time they broke out of jail, Peter Parker could never have a battle with the Green Goblin without considering that if the battle went sideways and Norman died, that he'd be responsible, or held responsible, for the death of the father of his best friend, Harry.  Winning in one realm of life nearly always meant losing in another realm of life. 

It can seem as though the "life lesson" that could be learned from that is a life lesson that many people resolve never to accept, that if a fanciful superhero can't "have it all" then we most assuredly can't either.

It's the kind of bitter humor that could remind a person of Ecclesiastes and all of its bleak humor about how a man can have everything you'd think would be needed for a good life and yet has no ability to enjoy any of it.  That could be a Norman Osborne, someone who had everything but in losing his wife lost the one good that anchored his moral compass and his ability to relate to people.  How do we know this?  We don't know it in the sense that we ever really got stories about Norman's wife ... but Lee's tales let it be implicit and explicit through Parker's sympathetic cross-examination of the Green Goblin's self-made origin/legend, that the Green Goblin was a man who had a good life, lost his wife, and began to spiral down into corruption before performing an experiment that damaged him so badly it reduced him to a deranged criminal when he was in costume. 

What Lee managed to accomplish in the classic Spider-man run was present a young man who was thoroughly alienated from his peer group but was respected and trust by father figures, or the men who would be part of his father's generation had Parker's father and mother not died.   In that sense the supervillains that have stood the test of time in Spider-man comics are arguably those father figures who reject Spider-man as a representation of all that Peter Parker "can" do or "could" do.  The most iconic of these supervillains, whether the Green Goblin or the Lizard or Doctor Octopus are not always against Peter.  Norman and Curt Connors both genuinely like Peter Parker and Connors trusts Spider-man, but when their villainous alter egos take over both Norman and Curt want Parker dead. 

Which is a long way of saying that of all the Marvel comics Spider-man may resonate most with people who might not otherwise get into comics because, i suggest, the subtext of the superheroics and supervillainy is generational alienation.  Stan Lee, through Spider-man, managed to distill a story about a young man who wants to find a place in the world, in the society he lives in, yet finds himself alienated from the generation from whom and to whom he looks for some sense of what he can do.

That is why the most moving death in the comics, for me, has never been Gwen's death.  Conway has said for the record he thought Gwen Stacy was too perfect and a bad fit for Parker and that Gwen was based conspicuously on Stan Lee's wife anyway.  The death of Gwen Stacy was a stunt to spike readership and while it worked at the time the stuntness of the moment shows and I think it stunted Spider-man storytelling moving forward in ways that can't be repaired.  That's just my take. 

What made the death of Captain Stacy potent for me was Captain Stacy was the man from that generation that Peter looked up to who was willing to be the father figure Peter lost.  Stacy knew perfectly well Parker was Spider-man but didn't punish him for it.  Furthermore, his dying words were asking Peter to take care of Gwen and letting Parker know that he would regard his future son-in-law (implied more than stated) would be a good man for his daughter to build a life with.

Ironically Captain Stacy died trying to save a life as Spider-man did battle with Doctor Octopus.  The irony, within the kid-aimed narratives of the superhero genre, couldn't have been much more bitter.  Parker became Spider-man in the heroic sense after realizing that his selfishness was why his Uncle Ben died.  Now near the end of the Stan Lee run on Spider-man Parker discovers that his best efforts as Spider-man can't keep Captain Stacy from dying in the line of duty as a police officer. 

Spider-man comics, at their best, shared stories about how you can deeply love someone who never quite stops making your life miserable, often while making a shipwreck of their own lives and the people they really love.  Even if what you do is the best that can be done there's often just no changing teh weakness of people.  Sometimes people give into their lesser selves and become demons, monsters who derive pleasure from the harm they can inflict on other people.  They see the power they wield as some kind of divine birthright or something they've earned the right to use because of their abilities in their professional domain.  Those first ninety some issues of Spider-man and even a good thirty to forty onward from Captain Stacy's death, were comics aimed at boys and teens, but they had stories that let us see Parker could discover as victim and perpetrator that sometimes the bitter disappointments you can encounter in life can't be avoided.  Success in one realm can lead to failure in another, some of the worst ways people let each other down are inadvertent. 

Stan Lee managed to create a superhero Charlie Brown and given the constraints of the superhero genre in what's known as the Silver Age that was no small feat. 

I haven't bothered to read Marvel comics in decades, though.  The Big Two have made so much dreck I don't want to spend too much money on superhero comics in their actual comics form most of the time.  A lot of the most vital storytelling shifted away from comics into animation in the last thirty years. 

One of the paradoxes of why Lee's stories matter is because they didn't have to matter.  The endless cycle of world-changing universe-changing "event" stories in Marvel and DC had not emerged in the Silver Age, when so many of the really classic superhero runs were going on. 

Lee and his collaborators made characters whose relational plights were as believable as possible within the milieu that Lee worked in.  In the case of Spider-man what made Lee's cumulative story-telling paradoxically blunt, lazy and yet also complex and nuanced was he managed to show that there was an often impassable generational rift in which young and old could not understand each other or connect and were finding themselves at odds but that this was not necessarily because of outright malice. 

That Parker could find sympathetic mentors in Reed Richards (him, of all people!) or Curt Connors, or other men in his father's generation suggested that the breach was not total, that enough good will and persistence on both sides could lead to some kind of connection.  That was what Captain Stacy embodied most distinctly in the early Spider-man comics and that is the emotional and social backdrop against which his death, far more than his daughter's, packs a substantial punch.  It's not just that Gwen was the woman Parker would have married, everyone who's read the comics worked that out, it's not just that she died, it's that she died after her father George basically gave Peter his blessing as a dying man who was convinced that Parker would be a fine son-in-law that George Stacy knew he couldn't live to see marry his child.  Gwen's death has the weight it has in the Spider-man comics because even she doesn't survive to fulfill the hopes that George Stacy had for Peter Parker and Gwen to build a happy life together.  On each side of a generational that divide that was being repaired death erased what men of two different generations hoped could happen. 

In Spider-man issues 1 to 90 Stan Lee may have, I don't know, proven himself the pulpiest Turgenev that the superhero genre could have had, maybe?

Saturday, November 10, 2018

Nikolai Kapustin's Piano Concerto No. 4 (1989), and a proposal that musicology may not be about rockist and poptimist battles as much as a battle between purists and fusionists

The recorded performance is presented with a read-along full score that lets you see the orchestral writing and the piano part.  The tempi are pretty brisk through a majority of the work so if you're not a relatively fluent sight-reader you could get lost early on but it's pretty easy to read along if you're accustomed to the geography of a concerto score format.  Even though I'm a guitarist I had enough choral singing experience I got used to learning how to read for a Tenor II or Baritone part amidst a bunch of other interlocking parts.

Kapustin's piano concerti are not as well-represented in commercially available recordings as his piano sonatas, his etudes, or even his gigantic cycle of preludes and fugues for solo piano have been in the last twenty years.  So this may, for the time being, be your only shot at hearing this work, the online video.

The work is broken up into fast, slow, fast, cadenza, fast but at a macro-structural level you can think of it as a single-movement 22 minute sonata allegro form.  There's a lot of Gershwin, Tatum and Peterson you can hear in this.  It's jazzy, flashy, and fizzy.  I know for folks who lean more Beethoven and Brahms and Wagner this is going to be soda pop music.  Okay, so it's soda pop music but I enjoy myself a Mountain Dew throwback every so often and if you're going to drink soda drinking one with cane sugar is a pleasant experience if you don't overdo it.  Stretching a metaphor a bit, I suppose ...

The year 1989 is of interest because I have not, so far, seen what I consider a persuasive case that the end of the Cold War really ushered in any meaningful shift in music in the East or West.  It "could" have but not to the point where I'd feel in a rush to buy a book premised on the idea that a tectonic/seismic shift happened (which is why I'm not in a rush to get Rutherford-Johnson's Music After the Fall.

If anything I'm more inclined to consider an observation Jacques Ellul made in The Empire of Non-Sense.  In that 1980 work Ellul noted that Soviet art managed to go through parallel revolutions in avant garde terms to what happened in the West in the 19th century.  After 1960 there were shifts happening in Soviet art that were not all that different from what was going on in the West.  As a musician and a composer several examples have sprung to mind.  Kapustin distills one of the shifts.  There were serious and energetic efforts to develop a fusion of classical forms and traditions with jazz as the definitive American popular music going on as far back as the 1950s.  The 1950s ... in the Soviet Union.  In the book Composing the Party Line we can read about how Polish intellectuals urged that Soviet musicians be open to jazz within a mere year or so of Stalin's death.  Kapustin himself has given interviews to Western scholars and doctoral candidates in which he explained that within the confines of Soviet ideological reactions to jazz the main prohibition was not against melody or harmony or even rhythm, it was against improvisation.  So long as you meticulously notated everything in the score that was to be played without leaving room for improvisational episodes you were fine.  The Soviet authorities might always like what you did but you officially kept the rules, so to speak, and so you were good to go.

This seems to have been true even before 1989.

While in Western musical history the emergence of eclecticism or polystylism in classical music could be traced to someone like, maybe, Luciano Berio, and definitely in American contexts to George Rochberg, stylistic mash-ups and juxtapositions were happening in the Soviet bloc.  Penderecki's work shows some eclecticist tendencies and he's arguably the more staid and conservative sort than, say, Lutoslawski.  Alfred Schnittke's not really my thing but he introduced polystylism within the Soviet bloc in the later 1960s.  Someone whose work I enjoy a bit more is Rodion Shchedrin, who wrote a cycle of preludes and fugues in the 1960s and has said that in the wake of Stalin's death the Thaw really opened up the possibilities musicians could explore and he thought it would be fun to explore what he could.

All of which is to suggest, in a deliberately polemical way, that the idea that artists could try out anything because we have the freedom to do so here in the West is a self-deceiving canard.  It doesn't mean I want to live somewhere besides the United States, it means I'm suggesting that there are mythologies that artists and art historians and art critics like to run with, such as that "real freedom" exists for artists in the West in a way that isn't the case for composers and artists who have been in the Soviet bloc countries.  Perhaps a better way to recalibrate or reformulate the intended idea is that artists who make a living as artists are ... theoretically ... allowed to monetize and become famous for a wider variety of arts in the West than the Soviet system or some other form of totalitarian/authoritarian system might provide.

Except ... notice Kapustin's Piano Concerto No. 4 in the video.

Instead of running with a dubious mythology that claims the democratic West and the authoritarian East had different options for vocational artists in which the East was more confining, we could do something more fun and potentially interesting by exploring efforts toward fusions of high and low arts in the last century over against the stratifying preferences and tendencies of partisans for high and low in both the West and the East.  This is not to say that we have any reason to be sure the music of Nikolai Kapustin will "stand the test of time".  The point I've been making over and over again here is that if experiments in a high-low fusion of classical and jazz was going on for generations inside the Soviet bloc then we might want to consider this fusionist quest to be something that can be looked at as a historical pattern in the art of the East as well as the West.  Whether it's Nikolai Kapustin from within the East or Claude Bolling in the West I'm not suggesting anybody has to like this probably not-quite Third Stream current of music (I'm not sure these composers would even think of themselves as "Third Stream")--it seems that what can be said is the existence of a push to develop jazz/classical fusions across the Iron Curtain even during what were high points of tension during the Cold War should invite us to reconsider whether the political mythologies of the Cold War and of "liberla democracy" or "authoritarian state" are necessarily reliable or accurate indicators of what was going on in the arts of the East and West.

Especially after binge-reading almost half a dozen Adorno books I wonder if a more fruitful avenue of historical or musicological exploration could be to bracket out the last century and a quarter as one of ... because we have master narratives we end up using across the board in spite of ourselves ... a battle between stratifiers and fusionists.  The stratifiers are committed to their favor "high" or "low" music that embodies the "authenticity" of whatever real music is supposed to be.  While for a poptimist or a fan of popular music the primary perpetrators of stratifying would be classical music teachers and critics that would be to misunderstand the full nature of the problem.  Raymond Knapp wrote in his book Making Light on Haydn and camp that in rock and jazz criticism what we can see in the work done on African American popular music and rock is that its advocates essentially replicated the criteria of authenticity using race and musical style as indicators, thereby reproducing a kind of photo negative of teh German idealist sacralization of art and artist and "the folk".   The musical styles that were lionized by white establishment rock and jazz criticism was music that fit a range of "authenticity" criteria based on race (black or at least not-white) and class (working class black music rather than music that aspired to respectability and prestige)

Knapp doesn't devle into this at all but it might be instructive to consider that Scott Joplin aspired to be taken seriously as a composer in a way that would not have fit the authenticity criteria of standard issue rock criticism.  As it is, ragtime is now thoroughly canonical in classical music but is probably considered in many quarters to be the lightest and most trivial piano repertoire compared to sonatas and concerti.  A large chunk of ragtime would be considered novelty piano music from the early 20th century, for instance.

Since the evolution of ragtime involved ragging the classics, playfully transforming warhorses from the classical piano canon into new popular-level works to amuse players and listeners ragtime might be a useful genre of piano literature to keep in mind for its blurring of boundaries even if Joplin, in particular, aspired for ragtime to be taken seriously as art music. 

But the rockist and poptimist delineations of the battle lines in musicology and historiography don't strike me as being interested in fusion so much as turf wars about what stuff should be regarded as fit for study.  It's a critical and academic debate that risks sidestepping the interests of musicians, whether performers or composers.   I don't see that there's any reason I can't adore the music of Haydn and Stevie Wonder in essentially equal measures.

Of course I realize there's an irony in coining terms like "fusionist" and "stratifier" because that invites academic taxonomy (not that I'm actually an academic myself), but I do think it's a potentially more useful direction for nomenclature than the "poptimist" and "rockist" jargon.  Why?  Because as Michael Markham managed to show so well at the LA Review of Books a few years back, you can have rockists and poptimists within the "classical" musical world and you can have rockist and poptimists within the realm of popular music criticism, journalism and historiography.  So it seems that these terms rockist and poptimist are not all that helpful at delineating the real attitudes and agendas at stake if you can have a rockist/poptimist divide within the classical music scenes and also have a rockist/poptimist divide within the strictly popular music scene at the same time!   Raymond Knapp has some ideas that move toward a potentially useful alternative when he suggested there's a kind of German idealism/seriousness vs a knowing camp aesthetic in both classical music and popular music but I think that's a partial aid.

I've settled on the idea that there are stratifiers and fusionists to suggest that the battle lines within the "high" and "low" musical traditions, between the rockists and poptimists within classical and popular musicology, are reflections of a more basic disposition that seeks to defend the purity codes and authenticity signals of styles A and B and those who are interested in demonstrating through both practice and theory (composition and analysis) all of the ways in which the boundaries that ostensibly separate musics in critical, journalistic and historiographical taxonomies are far more permeable than stratifiers can successfully defend. I admire the music of J. S. Bach and Haydn and a lot of Beethoven and while I appreciate the beauty of that musical canon and want it and the traditions it distills to continue; and while I also love pre-World War II blues and mid-20th century jazz and regard those as the most appealing distillations of blues and jazz of the last century; though in a phrase I appreciate a lot of music in the canons of high and low that have been praised by classicists of blues, jazz, rock, country and classical music ... my compositional analytic disposition is what I would call fusionist. 
I think it's possible to respect the historic boundaries and conventions that define a style in a way that allows it to be synthesized with other styles or idioms on a basis of working toward points in common.

After a century and a half of revolutions I think there's more work and harder work to be done in consolidating the revolutions of the last century and a half than trying to consolidate and stratify those revolutions in ostensibly "new" directions.  For this reason the New Complexity seems like a semi-admirable but ultimately boring dead end.  I didn't hear anything in the Lachenmann guitar duet that I hadn't heard in more enjoyable forms in early blues recordings.  It's not that I don't want Lachenmann to have a career, that's fine that he's got one, it's that I consider that continental European avant garde a dead end.

I could make this point in a more pointed and vitriolic way.  Stratifiers are segregationists of style and form.  They an be set on a criterion of authenticity in which "real" and "pure" music can be whit or black but its the purity code they are working by that defines what is in or out.  In that sense someone committed to a narrative of whites stealing music from blacks is just as racist in the end as a white who insists that black musical styles are not competent or not "real" music.  The racism is in the purity code that establishes authenticity on the basis of extra-musical cultural narratives and norms.  The irony that I'm seeing in the polemics of stratifiers is that whether it's in advocacy for the purity of the black or white musical art the narrative that posits a polarity ends up being just as racist and employing more or less comparable standards of purity that Knapp described as reflecting a kind of German idealism--thus within the rockist canon.

To keep putting this in a polemical way, a stratifier could insist that "real" music is either John Lee Hooker playing the blues or Haydn's string quartets and that the other music is excluded from being "real" music.  A stratifier within Anglo-American popular music might insist that The Beatles are "real" rock and roll or really legitimate pop music as art and that Kylie Minogue isn't.  A stratifier within classical music might say that Beethoven is serious while Offenbach is not.  Knapp's proposal that Haydn is less "serious" to musicologists than Mozart or Beethoven because Haydn's knowing manipulation of conventions to entertain audiences who are always kept in on the joke is explicable as "camp" might be a useful way to get at this point, partly.

But to try to put this in a way that is more respectful to what I think the stratifiers are trying to do, the battle lines in musicology across the popular and art music divide seems to be a battle between purists and fusionists, those who want to defend, uphold and continue the purity of the styles they regard as serious art on the one hand and, on the other hand, those who may be okay with all sorts of standards of purity and canons in respective musical styles but who, ultimately, believe the present and future of music depends upon restoring and retaining a synergistic relationship between the high and low art forms to keep them from calcifying into the spent-force genres the purists so often make them to be in terms of scholarship, advocacy and historiography.  I am unapologetically a fusionist rather than a purist in my temperament and sympathies, despite the realization that I arrived at my fusionist convictions out of  steeping myself in the canons of the various musical styles I love as taught by a panoply of purist. I believe we need the purists to establish the canons that the fusionists then play with fusing.  I'm not attempting to set up a binary so much as attempting to take seriously what the purists and fusionists want to preserve and conserve and promote and yet to do so in a way where I put my cards on the table.

Much that has been written about rockism and poptimism, or about pop music versus art music, has tended to focus on defenses or attacks on the canons and conventions of the one compared to the other.  I'm not really interested in that and I find it frustrating that turf wars within academia or surrounding academia seem to keep gravitating toward that kind of nonsense.  What i am more interested in, by far, is scholarship that could open up pathways for what I regard as a fusionist direction.  So I don't really have any longterm use for Susan McClary not because I think she's wrong to point out that the European avant garde traditions have rendered themselves moot consolidating directions in music that render them irrelevant to ever being connected to a pop music saturated culture.  I think she made a good point in saying that music is full of conventions and that without conventions our capacity to understand music is limited.  But Leonard Meyer and others made that point earlier and McClary's legacy in musicology seems mixed in as much as it traffics too much, for my interests and sympathies, in the us vs them turf wars about high and low.  I grew up with a musical life where there didn't have to be any battle lines drawn or trenches dug as to whether Bach's cantatas or Michael Jackson's Thriller had to be on one side of art and the other cast out.

My dissent from a more Roger Kimball/Roger Scruton position is my belief that they are so set on defending art music canons that they, ironically like an Adorno, close off the possibility of fusion and they can end up seeming to defend the ars perfecta of a Renaissance peak that has given way to a new chaotic array of early Baroque styles.  If we're going to discovered what some so-called style of the future of music is going to be, whether high or low, it seems more fun if we don't consolidate the checklist too soon.

One of Adorno's more memorable assertions in Philosophy of New Music was to declare that there was a polarity of listening/cognitive approaches to music.  Stravinsky's crime, if you will, was to land entirely on the side of spatial-rhythmic music.  Stravinsky's work abandoned the high German "argument" of presentation, continuation, development, recapitulation and so on in favor of a mind-numbing mass guiding "groove".  Not that Adorno cast his argument in terms of "argument" and "groove".  No, he put it in a more ... Adornian way.  Italics are original, bold emphases are added:

Theodore Adorno
Copyright (c)2006 by the Regents of the Univesrity of Minnesota
translated by Robert Hullot-Kentor
ISBN-13: 978-0-8166-3666-2
ISBN-10: 0-8166-3666-4

page 141
... Spatialization becomes absolute. ... 

pages 142-143
... in Stravnisky--music casts itself as the arbiter temporis and prompts listeners to forget the experience of time and deliver themselves over to its spatialiazation. Music glories in the disappearance of life as if its objectivation were the music's achievement. In return it reaps revenge immediately. One trick defines every manipulation of form in Stravinsky and is soon used to exhaustion. Time is suspended, as if in a circus scene, and complexes of time are presented as if they were spatial.  ...

By renouncing what temporal relations might achieve--transition; crescendo; the distinction between spheres of tension and resolution, of exposition and sequel, of question and answer--all artistic means are condemned except for his one clever trick. The result is a retrograde development that is legitimated by the literary-regressive intention but turns fatal the moment the absolute claim to music is raised.  The weakness of Stravinsky's work, gradually recognized over the past twenty-five years and remarked by even the most obtuse ears, is not compositional exhaustion on the composer's part but the result of the compositional approach itself, which degrades music to a parasite of painting.  This weakness, this nonintrinsic aspect of Stravinsky's musical complexion, is the price that he must pay for the limitation of music to dance, which once seemed to him to be a guarantee of order and objectivity.  From the beginning, it demanded the servitude of the composition, demanded that it renounce autonomy. Real dance, in contradistinction to mature music, is a temporally static art, a turning in circles, movement without progression. It was in consciousness of this that the sonata form transcended the dance form, at once conserving and abolishing it; throughout the entire history of modern music, with the exception of Beethoven, the minuets and scherzos were almost always more modest and of a secondary rank in relation to the first movement of the sonata and the adagio.  Dance falls this side of the subjective dynamic, not beyond it. 

pages 144-145
Just as his music appeals to all those who would like to be free of their own egos--because in the total system of the regimented collectivity their egos stand in the way of their own self-interest--so this music is intended for a spatial-regressive listener. Two types can be discerned, not as given by nature but rather as historical constitutions with which prevailing character syndromes can respectively be associated.  They are the expressive-dynamic and the rhythmical-spatial listening types. The former has its source in singing; it aims at surmounting time through its fulfillment and, in its supreme manifestations, inverts the heterogenous movement of time as a force of the musical process.  The other type obeys the beat of the drum, intent on the articulation of time through its division into equal quantities that virtually abrogate and spatialize time. ... The idea of great music consisted in a reciprocal interpenetration of these two types of listening and the compositional categories that conformed to them. The unity of rigor and freedom was conceived in the sonata. From dance it received a patterned unity, the intention of achieving the whole; from song it received the opposing, negative impulse, in turn producing the whole by its own rigor. ... 

These two ways of experiencing music have today separated from each other entirely and, torn from the other, have become untruth. This untruth, prettified in art music, becomes apparent in light music; its shameless inconsistency disavows what in higher music occurs under the mask of taste, routine, and surprise. Light music is polarized into schmaltz--expression that is both arbitrary and standardized, torn away from any objective temporal organization--and the mechanical, that tootling whose ironic imitation schooled Stravinsky's style. The new that he introduced into music is not the spatial-mathematical type of music as such but its apotheosis, a parody of Beethoven's apotheosis of the dance. ...

Adorno may well have been right to say that the two ways of experiencing music separated completely from each other and, torn from the other, became untruth.  The problem is that, if Adorno was right, the last century of musicology devolved into turf wars in which advocates of the "argument" and "groove" camps were busy fighting over the criteria of legitimacy for "argument" and "groove" based musical canons that had developed apart from the other.  To press Adorno's polemic further, the once the expressive-dynamic and spatial-rhythmic paradigms fractured the resultant music fractured in two different trajectories.  Think of "expressive-dynamic" as linear-dynamic and it becomes simple enough to conceive of Adorno as trying to describe how music in the 20th century stopped being three-dimensional and stratified into two separate realms of two-dimensional musicality--the first was the exhausted "high" traditions of Western art music and the second was the exhausted "low" paradigm of spatial-rhythmic music distilled by Stravinsky but also observable in the mass-produced musical opiate that Adorno took popular music to be. 

Adorno might have been proposing that in the fusion of the expressive-dynamic and the spatial-rhythmic that great music in the Western tradition was three-dimensional but that as the rupture between the expressive-dynamic and spatial-rhythmic approaches to music began (and for Adorno one of the key perpetrators of this crime was Stravinsky, who shoved music altogether into the realm of mind-blunting "groove") the resultant canons became two-dimensional rather than three-dimensional.  Attempts to continue the "argument" tradition within the context of traditional tonality that had been "exploded" were doomed to dishonesty because with only "height" and "length" there was no third dimension for the subject to express or to know.  Attempts to treat the newly separated spatial-rhythmic paradigm were doomed to dishonesty because, as Adorno kept putting it so vitriolically, pop music was doomed to working with predigested materials that hear "for" the listener and are endless variations of what is always the same.  The proliferation of I-V-vi-IV ballad choruses didn't exactly prove Adorno wrong there.  

Now I think that Adorno's mistake was to, perhaps, assume that a fusion of these two paradigms of listening (which are, by extension, paradigms of compositional theory and practice as well as performance traditions) could not be restored.  What has proliferated in musicology and debates about canons in the last century seems, and I admit I'm writing as someone who is not a formal academic, to have been an absurd trench war between advocates of this or that style of music and a lot of ink has been spilled praising or damning music from a "groove" aesthetic on the basis of an "argument" aesthetic that is largely irrelevant to the concerns of musicians and fans who like groove-based music.  I say let them formulate a theory that explains what makes for a good groove.  

I understand that those who swear by musical "argument" don't think good music can be written without a good "argument".  I get that, I really do.  But surely if the Baroque era had first and second practice then music pedagogy could develop a "groove" pedagogical canon as well as an "argument' pedagogical canon.  If the fusionist goals that I personally have in mind are ever to be successfully attained at a larger level I think the groove fans should have a chance to formulate a theoretical set of foundations for how their works "work".  If a restoration of a balance of argument and groove is going to happen in what's conventionally known as Western art music then there needs to be at least "some" theorizing that can account for that.  By now I suspect that there's no shortage of "argument" pedagogy and theory thanks to German musicology as a legacy in the Western world.  We don't need to get rid of any of that.  

I think Adorno was, on the whole, wrong if he thought that these paradigms of listening could never be brought back into some kind of interactive balance.  The last century and a half was tumultuous enough that fracturing was just part of what happened.  I can take Adorno's arguments and assertions seriously and still propose that if he was right to claim that the two paradigms of listening had completely separated that what musicians can work toward doing is restoring an interplay and synergy between those two paradigms of listening through the work of composition and historiography and theoretical analysis.  One of the modest goals of a fusionist approach could be to re-establish an interplay between Adorno's two paradigms of listening, assuming Adorno was right to say the two paradigms had completely separated.  If they didn't or haven't then, well, a whole lot of time could be wasted.  But I'm inclined to guess from the polemics of poptimists and rockists on either side of the "high" and "low" divide that Adorno was probably right, for the most part, in diagnosing the nature of the problem even if he went in a counterproductive direction with respect to what real-world solutions ought to be implemented.   The answer wouldn't necessarily be twelve-tone as a self-contained system ... I think it would be more likely to take the linear-dynamic possibilities of twelve-tone and refract them through blues.  

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

autumn webs

a web does not let
you go anywhere at will
but from thread to thread

those caught in a web
who then struggle to escape
entangle themselves

each thread upon thread,
possible paths of escape,
the bonds of a trap

was there any thread
of the web you could touch that
permits an escape?

the droplets of dew
cold on autumn's morning threads
headstones of the lost

webs embrace treasures
for those willing to weave them
those willing to wait

for those who don't weave
webs can be either a trap
or a small nuisance

the web glistens
with gnomic condescension
and spluttering fury

an artistic sunset in the UK

symbols of empire,
and never the cake

Monday, November 05, 2018

Doug Wilson and Randy Booth's A Justice Prime has ... come out in a second edition

The first edition was rescinded after a blogger, one Rachel Miller, documented a case that notably large chunks of the book were plagiarized.  That gets acknowledged in the new introduction for the new edition.

Apparently Wilson and company felt strongly enough about the merits of the book to do a second edition.

But that the first edition of the book was retracted over plagiarism that was documented by a blogger is now ... kind of inseparable from the ... uh ... reception history of a second edition.

Since I was considering picking up a copy of the first edition within a week or so of the first edition being retracted over the plagiarism issue then ... yay?  I get to pick up a copy of the second edition to see if Kevin DeYoung's glowing remarks about the book pre-plagiarism incident could seem to be ... merited?

Douglas Wilson and Randy Booth, A Justice Primer (Canon Press, 2015). I thought this was a book on social justice, economics, and big picture politics. It’s actually a book about how the Bible would have us judge each other (or not) in the mad, mad world of blog warriors and internet vigilantes. This book is full of refreshing wisdom. I hope it reaches a wide audience. And if you already know that Doug Wilson is a good-for-nothing scoundrel (and I don’t know him personally and do strongly disagree with him at times), then that’s an indication that you really need this book. [UPDATE: It seems that portions of the book were plagiarized, which, while not changing the nature of the content, cannot help but affect one’s opinion of the book. I hope Wilson and Booth will respond to the evidence presented in the link above. NEXT UPDATE: The book has been discontinued by Canon Press because of “negligence and gross incompetence” resulting in plagiarism and improper citation.]

Well, now that there's a second edition out since ... August this year, it looks like Wilson and Booth believe enough in what they published the first time around there's a second edition.  Unlike someone else who was a big name preacher/author in the Pacific Northwest region, the second edition looks like it admits to plagiarism happening in the first edition of a book, with an apology, and discussing that changes got made.  But somewhat like the other author ... there can be some questions as to why the book was written ... there's a lingering irony that if the book, as Kevin DeYoung understood it, was addressing what justice means in the mad, mad world of blog warriors and internet vigilantes, that its second edition should have come about because of ... possibly ... a blog warrior or internet vigilance however one might want to define those. 

Sunday, November 04, 2018

more reports on traditional orchestral instruments in danger of never being played again in the UK because kids would rather play ukulele than French horn

... shows that some orchestral instruments are in danger of becoming extinct, due to young people’s lack of interest. YouGov research, commissioned by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO) to find the most popular instruments among schoolchildren, has revealed the increasing popularity of the ukulele, with one in eight expressing a desire to learn, making it the highest ranked instrument behind the typical rock-band grouping of guitar, piano, keyboards, drums and bass guitar.
But younger generations’ interest in “more sophisticated instruments”, as the Times sniffed, is waning, with the three least popular being the French horn (also known as The Wolf, in Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf), the double bass (Peter) and the trombone (not a major player).

Those last two instruments don't seem to have a huge problem getting at least some representation in American music and ... I wonder if jazz may have provided those instruments with more things to do or something (sarcasm alert, just in case).

If kids want to play the ukulele and the guitar then why don't you write for the ukulele and guitar?   It's not that I don't love me some French horn music or the trombone.  I find both instruments to be as wonderful as other instruments like the viola, oboe, tuba, and clarinet.  But reading these sorts of headlines does make it seem as though those who would like to advocate for a revival of classical music as they understand may want to step back and think a bit about what it is they are eager to revive.  Is the goal to preserve and continue ways of thinking about the art of composition in its most esoteric and comprehensive disciplines (complex forms, counterpoint, and theory in musical practice)?  Or is the goal to preserve a body of performance literature that is considered the apotheosis of such disciplines in the last few centuries because that's simply not the same thing. 

If a tectonic shift has occurred in the last century in which plucked string instruments are more popular than brass instruments then insisting on writing for the instruments that are on the way out, if the reports are true, might be like insisting that, oh, kids these days should really take up the serpent and the lute!

Which ... hey ... it's serpent and oud but here you go.

My own hunch has been that it will be more likely to get the kids who learn guitar and ukulele to play classical music, for want of a better word, if you write for the instruments they're actually playing than if you try to get them to play for the instruments they won't be learning to play at school or at home because of budget constraints.   One of the things one of my music instructors taught me was that you learn to write music for the resources you actually have, not the ones you wish you had.   I'm hardly against encouraging a new generation f musicians to take up the French horn and the tuba and the double bass.  It's just that as an American I get the sense that with help from bands and the jazz tradition these instruments may not be as imperiled in the United States as they may be in not quite as jolly old England .. or so recent reports seem to have it.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

Alastair Roberts making a comment in passing on the UK teetering on the possibility of no longer having a "blue water navy"

Immigration is definitely an important part of the American psyche, much like the Frontier. However, just like the Frontier, there are great dangers in allowing such symbols, myths, and principles to metastasize in a way that can end up proving destructive. The mindset produced by the Frontier has encouraged unhealthy forms of American expansionism, much as an unhealthy form of British identity was once forged upon the anvil of the Empire (and we are still boisterously singing about ruling the waves, even though we are teetering on the brink of ceasing to be a blue-water navy). Sometimes we need radically to reassess such things and move into new stages of national life.

Getting over the myths of historical immigration—and like the Frontier, American immigration has no shortage of self-aggrandizing myths—is a necessary part of maturation as a nation, of shedding certain of the pretensions of American exceptionalism. Emma Lazarus’s poetry is just another brand of flattering American exceptionalist fiction—the mother of an eschatological people, standing at the ‘sunset gates’ of the ‘golden door’, over against all of the ‘ancient lands’, laden down with their history. Much like the fiction that drove the Western expansion of the nation, it was never really strictly true and still isn’t. Any exploration of the history of America’s immigration and naturalization policies and its chequered record of assimilating and integrating people groups should make this amply apparent, but it does make a certain type of American feel proud.

Getting over some of the myths about the Frontier in American historical terms might involve coming to terms with the ways in which several of the more dubious myths about the American expansion into the West were consolidated and calcified by Hollywood through film in the mid-20th century, for instance.  Some of the American myths are of a relatively recent vintage.

And a few of the American myths are, I would suggest, merely appropriations or supplements to rule Brittania.  The idea that the United Kingdom and France were the good guys in World War I and then World War II because German colonial bids involved conquering white people instead of non-whites seems a bit much to ask. 

But the possibility that the UK will cease to be a "blue water navy" power has been a reminde rof a point I've been making for a few years at this blog, that Western European Atlanticist powers have been on a downward slide for a while and that American imperialism and colonialism allowed Europe to imagine it had a higher level of prestige than perhaps it really has.  The decline of Europe is not necessarily a decline of "culture" to an American or simply a non-European. 

American self-aggrandizement is pernicious ... but no more pernicious than British self-aggrandizement ever was or Chinese self-aggrandizement or German self-aggrandizement.  What makes American self-aggrandizement lame in its unique flavor is our capacity to use technology and mas media to sell our mythology faster and more relentlessly than others across the world.  Many a mythology has not had the benefit of technocratic distribution methods. 

The straightforward claim that Bill Clinton could ever represent "the left" would have seemed laughable to me twenty years ago even as a conservative and as a bit of a conservative willing to read leftists now (and even Marxists like Adorno) I find the idea that Bill Clinton represents any variant of "left" to be wildly implausible. 

Since half my lineage is Native American I would say as I've gone through life the unhealthy expansionist mentality necessarily preceded the mythologies that were used to rationalize it.  Mythologies do not necessarily precede the policies which they are used to justify, and mythologies that oppose those policies tend to follow suit in perpetuating a counter-mythology that may cloud rather than clarify.  I don't think, for instance, that Manifest Destiny is explicable as a result of some residual Calvinism from the Puritans.  Some of the staunchest advocates of Manifest Destiny were Catholic, of whom it would be hard to ever say that even American Catholics could be thought of as Calvinist, much as it would be hard to justify claiming that Methodists were particularly Calvinist. 

Nor, for that matter, should we even take American exceptionalism to even have to have manifest Manifest Destiny to be, so to speak, in the proverbial air that Americans have breathed. Take some correspondence from Asbury.
 We have not any extraordinary displays of the power of God. America is the young child of God and providence, set upon the lap, dandled upon the knees, pressed to the consolating breasts of mercies in ----. But we are not as thankful as we ought to be. The --- of the church I wish to make the cause of---. I stand in such a situation, and relation for the state of the ministry and people. I may have a thousand letters of information in a year, while swiftly moving through the continent every year. 

The time certainly is drawing near when universal peace shall bless the earth: when distracted Europe, superstitious Asia, blind Africa, and America shall more abundantly see the salvation of our God. Oh let us be much in prayer. [emphasis added]

I would say postmillenialism goes much further than Calvinist to explain how on earth a Methodist Episcopal minister could take such a sunny view of American destiny in the 1790s. 

If the United Kingdom stops being a blue water naval power the world probably will not be worse off for it.  If anything the full scope of the miserable legacy of Anglo-American imperialism might, a century or two on from now, be a central plank in a platform of global history.  That will hardly mean that whatever global political and military powers emerge in the wake of an American decline or the decline of European power (which I take as a given) will be in any way better. 

The demise of the British empire or Western Europe as a whole doesn't have to be something to only lament.  If the universal values of the Enlightenment as imagined by advocates for the Enlightenment are as truly universal and plain to Reason as we've been told then the wholesale demise of Europe in economic and military terms isn't really something to shed any tears about.  For that matter I don't feel all that bad that teh Native Americna practice of slavery in the pacific Northwest got phased out.  Sometimes losing a cultural legacy is a good thing.  It may be the case if Britain stops being a blue water naval power for all we know and don't know. 

I admit to being a bit cynical about British and European concerns about the legacy of American imperialism.  We didn't get our capacity for colonialism and imperialism from nowhere, after all.

Friday, November 02, 2018

James MacDonald presents a statement on why 1 Corinthians 6 does not preclude a church suing its critics that ironically invokes exception language for HBC while lamenting the exception language that shows up on divorce teachings in the US?

It still doesn't read like a particularly compelling case for why Harvest Bible Church is exempt from 1 Corinthians 6.  Just invoking what seems to be some kind of 501(c)3 exemption for churches that as groups would not be covered by the biblical text doesn't seem like a real argument.

MacDonald's role as a former part of the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability seems hard to forget in light of all the chronicling done here of the life and times of Mars Hill Church.  If it's acceptable for a church to file a suit as a plaintiff doesn't that establish a potential basis for a church or its officers as being able to be defendants, too?

Now others will no doubt have their own counterarguments about MacDonald's ideas.  There's a particular case study he invokes.


Many of us remember the near unanimous evangelical stance on divorce prior to the 1970s, when most churches held strictly to “no divorce, no remarriage.” Then with the rise in divorce rates and a few high visibility Christian leaders getting divorced, all were pushed back into the Scripture for a view that considered all biblical teaching on the subject.
In just a few years, the prevailing view changed to include “exception language” from the teaching of Jesus (Matt. 19:9) and Paul (1 Cor. 7:15). The Scriptures had not changed, but cultural trends had again caused a more careful study of all biblical passages on divorce, versus the more simplistic “the Lord God … hates divorce” (Mal. 2:16).
...So the best thing to do in light of that example is to invoke exception language for why a church can safely claim to be exempt from the apostolic rebuke regarding going to the law and filing court cases against believers?  Isn't that doing precisely what MacDonald considers so troublesome among Christians with regard to divorce?  Why, then, be a pioneer in introducing exception precedents that exonerate a church as a corporate entity within the United States in a way that could be construed, at a global level, of perpetuating an Americanist take on biblical documents in which Americans can exempt themselves from what might otherwise be regarded as a relatively straightforward reading of a canonical text?

If HBC leaders are troubled by the creep of exception language into church teachings on divorce why would they choose to be a pioneer of sorts in introducing and defending exception language for why a church gets to sue other Christians in spite of 1 Corinthians 6 when individuals might not be afforded a comparable freedom?

POSTSCRIPT 11-4-2018

I had considered making this observation before but am not sure if I have.  James MacDonald was listed as part of the Trump Evangelical Advisory Committee back in 2016.

Since MacDonald was with Mark Driscoll when Driscoll decided to crash The Strange Fire conference and had a part in deciding that T. D. Jakes was some kind of orthodox trinitarian, after all, it's not been clear to me on what basis someone like MacDonald could be evangelical enough to have much of an advisory role to play in connection to the Trump administration.

But MacDonald has had a spot on the evangelical advisory committee, noted by Christianity Today a couple of years back.

When names like Robert Morris and Sealy Yates show up, names that were connected to a story of advising that Driscoll "heal up" for a while and with connections to the use of Result Source to promote Real Marriage in a way that would land it a #1 spot on the NYT bestseller list, it's not clear that people who like this should have much to say to advise Trump.  There's an argument that's been presented that the nature of Trump's advisory committee violates federal law that has been made earlier this year.

Whatever it is thatTrump's advisory committee of preachers and religious activists and televangelists does, it doesn't take up so much time that a member of it can't be involved in litigation against bloggers. 

it's November and that means Christmas music on the radio ...

`tis again the season to recognize
Many a carol that calls for a voice
As rich and creamy as butter just dies
When cooked up by the voice of canola oil

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

an interview that wasn't, The Morning Invasion podcast ends up having an October 17, 2018 podcast on how they ended up not interviewing Mark Driscoll in response to things indicated by a publicist.

The Morning Invasion podcast is also available on iTunes.

The first half hour is what is of interest for this podcast dated October 17, 2018.  The gist seems to be that the hosts were going to have an interview with Mark Driscoll but cancelled it when (according to statements made at roughly minutes 13 and 24 a publicist explained that respectively: 1) there were topics Mark Driscoll indicated he did not want to talk about and 2) he only wanted to talk about his new book.

Under the circumstances it makes some sense to cancel an interview when presented with what would historically be a double bind.  No one who has read Mark Driscoll's earlier books would be able to easily separate Mark Driscoll's accounts of his own life and times and that of his family from his more doctrinal or historical preaching and teaching materials.

One of the hosts said that it doesn't seem like proof of repentance or that reconciliation has happened if there are any questions Mark Driscoll isn't willing to field about his time from Mars Hill.  One of the hosts mentioned having met Driscoll over the years.  Having met not just Mark Driscoll but the other co-founding pastors Mike Gunn and Lief Moi I find it hard to imagine that the way Mars Hill actually ended was the way any of the three wanted it to end.  I do feel obliged to point out that Mark Driscoll's pseudonym was William Wallace II and he described that pseudonym in Confessions of a Reformission Rev as one he used on the old, unmoderated Midrash. I'm not aware of any times in which he used that pseudonym in any context except the Mars Hill Midrash.  So even within Mars Hill insiders it can seem there has been room for misunderstanding what was going on.  It doesn't seem there were any intentional inaccuracies on the part of the host or their guest but those details seemed worth noting.  Compared to any and all citation errors and failures in the first editions of Mark Driscoll's published books across his earlier career such errors, however unfortunate, may be pardonable.  A lot, an awful lot, can happen across a twenty year span and by the 2012-2014 period many of those people who could establish what they saw and heard had already left Mars Hill.

There's another point made in the podcast by one of the hosts about how what was a tipping point for him was finding out Mars Hill had taken to consulting a public relations firm to handle its roughly 2014 era crises.  It seemed unchurchlike for a church to resort to using a PR firm to manage the crises it was dealing with.   Now Justin Dean's book PR Matters (reviewed here at Wenatchee The Hatchet with two historical preludes) might suggest strongly that a church that isn't engaged in the PR game as it's played these days has somehow already lost ... although it would seem that Mars Hill doesn't exist now and that might be a counter-argument, that those churches that believe their fate stands or falls on public relations could end up dying miserable public deaths.  If you want to get a sense of how Mars Hill's public relations situation went from disaster to disaster of sizes ranging from small to great, here's a non-comprehensive but neverthelesss moderately thorough list.  It won't include campus by campus resignations of elders, deacons or staff, because the turnover was too formidable in the 2011-2014 period to attempt to catalog everyone who was fired or resigned even here at Wenatchee The Hatchet.  For those who weren't keeping track of things at the time Mars Hill was bleeding out leadership at the lower and mid-tier levels for a couple of years.  While officially blogs weren't worth talking about there were a couple of attempts on the part of MH leaders to get in contact, documented in a brief form here.  I stonewalled all of them, because it wasn't a personal thing. I wanted to chronicle things for the record as a journalistic service to the public.  Rather than finding it intimidating (if annoying) getting contacted by MH leaders unilaterally suggested that the leaders were concerned about how much material was showing up at this blog from The City and other inside of Mars Hill sources that, as one friend put it, made the culture look bad.  The friend said that it seemed that instead of asking themselves why they were doing and saying things that made them look bad they seemed worried as to how Wenatchee The Hatchet was getting so much material that seemed to cast the church in an incriminating light.  Which is to say that Mars Hill leadership, if I may propose this, began to spiral into its death spiral because it prized public relations and reputation more than it prized how it was treating people.  This blog has a lot of material on the history of the former church and perhaps I'll eventually have to create a page that indexes as much of this material as possible for the record.

With Driscoll getting some representation from A Larry Ross rather than Justin Dean in the last year he can't help but have gotten more capable, even formidable, public relations help but the hosts of the podcast didn't name any names, they just indicated a publicist or publicist team explained that Driscoll only wanted to talk about his book and that there were topics he didn't want to talk about.  For that, the interview got cancelled.

It does invite a question as to what the basis can be for Mark Driscoll to hold himself now as an example for men to follow on manliness, accountability and legacy if he may prove unwilling to field questions about a roughly twenty year period of his ministry career which constitutes more or less the only pastoral role anyone could possibly remember him for as a matter of public record.  The Trinity Church is, to attempt to put this in a Driscollian parlance, still in diapers.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

in the wake of the release of Mark Driscoll's Spirit-Filled Jesus first Google search result brings up Becky Garrison's review at Warren Throckmorton's website as of this morning

While we haven't gotten around to reading and reviewing Mark Driscoll's Spirit-Filled Jesus yet because listening to Hilary Hahn's new J. S. Bach CD is a higher priority at the moment the plan is to get around to reviewing the book since a copy can be easily acquired.

But while that can happen soon (and it's interesting to note how readily you can get used copies that have "remainder mark" or "overstock" on them, and it's also fascinating to note the ratio of Amazon reviews in which reviewers mention receiving an advance or preview copy, it looks like the first search result you get if you look for a review of Mark Driscoll's Spirit-Filled Jesus in Google is Becky Garrison's review at Warren Throckmorton's website.

and it's not just the case for Google.  You get the same result this morning if you were to use duckduckgo.

it's currently the second result after's listing and associated reviews if you use for your preferred search engine.  A Mark Driscoll level joke about that would be that if you're the sort of yahoo who uses Yahoo as a search engine then, yahoo ... .  

I just got a copy in the mail in the last couple of days and hope to have something written about it in the next week or so.  

Sunday, October 28, 2018

the post-Weinstein #MeToo era as a Donatist controversy for Western art religion

In the wake of allegations made against Harvey Weinstein; in the wake of allegations made against Sherman Alexie; in the wake of allegations made about a variety of other artists and producers of art ... I've been mulling over an old quote from Richard Wagner.

Richard Wagner 
Prose Works, Volume 6
translated by William Ashton Ellis
Second Edition
Kegan Paul, Trench, Trubner & Co., Ltd.

page 213

One might say that where Religion becomes artificial, it is reserved for Art to save the spirit of religion by recognising the figurative value of the mythic symbols which the former would have us believe in their literal sense, and revealing their deep and hidden truth through an ideal presentation. Whilst the priest stakes everything" on the religious allegories being accepted as matters of fact, the artist has no concern at all with such a thing, since he freely and openly gives out his work as his own invention. But Religion has sunk into an artificial life, when she finds herself compelled to keep on adding to the edifice of her dogmatic symbols, and thus conceals the one divinely True in her beneath an ever growing heap of incredibilities commended to belief. Feeling this, she has always sought the aid of Art ; who on her side has remained incapable of higher evolution so long as she must present that alleged reality of the symbol to the senses of the worshipper in form of fetishes and idols,— whereas she could only, fulfil her true vocation when, by an ideal presentment of the allegoric figure, she led to apprehension of its inner kernel, the truth ineffably divine. To see our way clear in this, we should have most carefully to test the origin of religions. These we must certainly deem the more divine, the simpler proves to be their inmost kernel. ...

If in a post Wagnerian conception of Art we could say that Art is the real or true religion then could it be said that what we've witnessed in the post-Weinstein moment or even a pre-Weinstein moment with someone like Woody Allen, what have we been looking at?  

It would make life easier if Woody Allen’s movies were as easy and as right to condemn as his behavior. But that’s not my experience of his movies, and this makes it difficult both to watch and to write about them. In 2014, Allen’s daughter Dylan Farrow wrote an open letter, published in the Times, detailing her claims that Allen sexually molested her, on multiple occasions, when she was a child. Allen has denied wrongdoing. We cannot say for sure what happened. I can say what I believe: I believe Dylan Farrow. With considered queasiness, I have continued to watch Allen’s films as they’re released, including his new one, “Wonder Wheel,” which opens this weekend. It is strange and unpleasant to admit that I have found many of them to be substantial experiences—and that much of their power is inseparable from the accusations that have been made against Allen....

And if Woody Allen's films did not pass muster with Richard Brody as art in the way that a film by Louis C. K. did not pass muster with Brody as art (in the limited sense that Brody claimed no distributor should have picked up the film to begin with even if C. K. had every right to make the sort of film he wanted to make), what would the verdict be?  As Brody put it, "It’s good that the release of the movie has been cancelled—but it’s lamentable that it took the outing of Louis C.K.’s actual misconduct, rather than the movie’s own demerits, to get it off the calendar."

But to declare that the movie's own demerits should have been held against it begs a question at the heart of why a Woody Allen film is sacred and a C. K. film isn't.  

If there has been in the West since Richard Wagner's "Art and Religion" a Western liberal art religion, the controversies that have swirled around filmmakers and comedians or filmmaker comedians seems to be ... some kind of Donatist controversy.  Brody can, with the proverbial wave of a hand, dismiss C. K. as making films that are bereft of art and not worthy of distribution while Woody Allen, about whom Brody is willing to believe the allegations made against Allen, nevertheless has made films with some kind of sacramental power sufficient enough that allegations made about Allen, even if proven true, cannot detract from the artistry of Allen's filmography.

Not that Brody is having a Donatist controversy style moment because, for Brody, the alleged misdeeds of Woody Allen are more or less inseparable from his artistry.  But for those in the entertainment industries who would like artists to actually be good people in addition to making good art there could be a Donatist controversy, a question as to whether the art experience as a sacramental rite is vitiated in some way by the moral failures of heresies of artists.  

Now what I don't think this would necessarily speak to is what some people think is going on, which is that we're somehow being beset by some neo-Puritan ethos or praxis.  The idea that some kind of puritanism is afoot seems improbable because for a man like Louis C. K. to be able to make movies at all would suggest the Puritan legacy has been left far, far behind in the United States.  What's more, it's hard to shake the sense that to even make such a glib accounting of "why" we're at this culture moment in the time after allegations have been made against Harvey Weinstein could just be a residual master narrative about American history as a whole and art history as a subsidiary history within that master narrative--of Americans seeking to divest themselves of the negative impact of Puritanism.  Well, Puritanism isn't as monolithic as it may be presented as being in stories ranging from The Crucible to The Witch.  John Cotton and Roger Williams alone could seem like indicators that there was a spectrum within what we now know of as Puritanism. 

Brody could be considered someone who thinks there is such a thing as a Donatist heresy for a Western religion of art.  There are others who regard the works of artists, authors and filmmakers who have been discovered to have been predatory and exploitive to in some way significantly impinge on the credibility or quality of their art, possibly to the point of questioning whether their works should be part of teaching curriculum.  Sherman Alexie's work has already passed into such a controversy, with a teacher suspended for considering using an Alexie book in a teaching setting this year.

What makes it seem improbable that this is a Puritan moment is simply a matter of considering who has been making what sorts of films and books and whether the films produced by Harvey Weinstein or the books of Sherman Alexie would be praised all that much by any contemporary writers, thinkers or pastors who would regard themselves as in some way positively influenced by the Puritans.

I really enjoyed Alexie's short stories but his film was a tedious chore and I say this as someone who admires the Puritan Richard Sibbes.  So, there, just at a personal level I would say there's a reason to question whether what we've been witnessing has much to do with some perceived negative influence on the arts in the early 21st century that's allegedly connected to Puritanism.

I don't get the sense that most of the names attached to #MeToo and #TimesUp are openly espousing what would be considered views in keeping with Jonathan Edwards or John Owen.

If anything, the calls for a new regime seem to be coming from quarters in which men and women are working who openly hope to be that new regime.  In other words, to tie this to a proposal that we're seeing people propose that there can be a Donatist heresy for Western art religion, this moment could be thought of as a kind of intra-ecclesial battle between artists and critics who believe that art-makers should live lives consistent with the ideals they espouse as artists and even more so the lives they live as people, and a kind of old guard, if you will, committed to a more "catholic" conception of post-Wagnerian art religion  in which very bad men and women who make art that is considered great enough get to have that art within the canon of art religion. 

In the case of a Bill Cosby it could be argued that precisely because he publicly set himself up as a moralist it is to the extent that he did that that his art has been vitiated by the judicial finding against him.  When artists set out to make art that explicitly moralizes then it would seem there's a consistent position staked out in, so to speak, erasing Cosby from the art canon.   There may be more room to forgive the mere hypocrite who fails to live up to his or her highest ideals than for the man or woman who traffics in egregious double standards.  To give examples in the realm of music, we can recognize that Johnny Cash and Aretha Franklin may have fallen far short of the ideals they hoped and prayed to live by without necessarily assuming that because they may have failed to live by the ideals of their respective Christian convictions but still take them seriously as people and as artists.  

Can art as a religious experience still be sublime and life-affirming and give you a memorably abreactive experience if you know the art was made by someone who was an alcoholic who was physically abusive?  Can you listen to, say, John Lennon songs and feel moved by their aspirations for love, peace and harmony despite knowing anything about his drinking or temper?  What has been said time and again in the present is that if we judge artists of the past by the scruples of the present there might be no room left for any art.  I.e. if we get rid of all the art made by monsters will any art be left?

Well, that is to formulate the question in so rhetorical a fashion as to highlight why it seems like we're in a moment in which there may be a Donatist controversy about Western art as a religion.   Colloquially the Donatists were those who proposed that there were sins bad enough that a priest committing them could lose the capacity to confer sacraments.  That's a terribly simplified version of what the controversy was and its nature but I'm using Donatism as an analogy for what seems to have been going on in the post-Harvey Weinstein allegations moment we've been in.  
All of that is to say that I don't think you can have a Donatist controversy regarding art and artists if art isn't your religion.  To take things back to Johnny Cash, for instance, there isn't a Donatist controversy style question for Cash because he wasn't exactly an ordained Baptist minister for one, and for another as a layperson he was not administering any sacraments as a Christian would define them, not even when performing songs or reading the Bible for an audio book recording (although ... anyway, let's set that off to one side). 

But for those to whom art is a religion it absolutely can be a controversy and perhaps even SHOULD be a controversy.  It should be controversial that so many men who made art and literature and film that has been canonized as Art turn out to have been moderately bad men to legendarily evil men in their personal relationships.  Perhaps there should be a Donatist controversy about Western art religion so as to establish what makes Art possess sacramental power at all, or to define what you can do or have to do to vitiate the possibly sacramental power art is expected to have.  Why could a Richard Brody say that Woody Allen's films are still substantial art consumption experiences while a film by C. K. isn't?  

It's worth noting that one person's meat is another person's poison, as a saying has it.  Mendelssohn thought highly of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (as did Mozart), whereas Hector Berlioz was not so thrilled with Bach's work.  

Personally, not that anyone is really asking me what I think ... I'm just writing at my own blog here ... art is not a religion and shouldn't be a religion.  Art can be beautiful and valuable and add a great deal to life as we live it, but to sacralize art seems it has gotten us to a point where there's a perceived crisis in whether artists who make what is regarded as good art who are regarded as terrible people that seems like it's a Donatist controversy for art-as-religion.  People who have actual religious convictions in a more traditional sense don't really need to spend quite as much time in hand-wringing anxiety if they hold that art is actually a pretty lower tier consideration compared to, say, Eucharist or baptism.  It's not that you can't have strong convictions about the arts, by any means, it's that for religiously observant people Art isn't a sacrament, let alone "the" sacrament that confers some aura of holiness on the producers or consumers of art in contemporary society.  As Adorno put it so early in Aesthetic Theory, art shorn of all its last vestiges of ties to cultic practice, religious belief and sympathetic magic has faced a crisis in which the very legitimacy of its existence and basis for being cannot be taken as given.  It's not a foregone conclusion that art has a "right" to exist because Western liberal art religion substituted "Art" for what had previously been the God of Catholicism and Christendom.  

But for those who do ardently and emphatically embrace some kind of Wagnerian style Art as religion perhaps there should always be a Donatist controversy. Perhaps we should always have a Tolstoy style advocacy that the artist to be an actually good artist must also in some way be a good human being.  One of Richard Taruskin's many polemics about the idea that art should be formal and autonomous from personal or ethical or political considerations has been to avoid the recognition in scholarly and historical terms how many daring and innovative artists were fascists or racists or totalitarians ... an observation that doesn't settle well with liberal art religion precisely because it would be so much nicer if we could hear Stravinsky's music without remembering he had anti-Semitic comments ... but then John Lennon wasn't beyond anti-Semitic jokes, was he?  

And that may get us to the "will there be any art left?" It hasn't been clear to me that those who have defended art-as-religion have always been very clear about what would make Art a sacred experience or object.  To ask rhetorically that we might have no art left if we got rid of the art of monsters doesn't answer the question as to what makes it "art" compared to not-art.  The mere fact that Theodore Adorno could declare that on ideological grounds the Soviet Union was a society in which art could not happen doesn't mean the string quartets of Shostakovich actually aren't string quartets or "art". Similar things could be said about the string quartets of Weinberg or the piano music of Shchedrin.  Which may get us to an observation against the idea that whatever we're facing in this possibly Donatist controversy about Western art religion that it has to do with puritanism, it has seemed as though the push against the sacrament of Art being valid if administered by the wrong sorts of people has come from a more progressive and even secularist direction.  It's not to say that a neo-puritan couldn't ALSO argue against the validity of a sacrament administered by a reprobate or evil person ... it's just that the puritan narrative seems to be an off-the-shelf trope when used by those who would cast any and all moral crusades against artists with morally questionable lives that seems ... lazy east coast American boilerplate.  I can't think of a more delicate way to put that and I could have put it less delicately, by far.  

I am still in incubation phase ... but I just had to get these thoughts out of my system by way of writing.  It's been on my mind lately that when I see the points and counterpoints about the arts and men behaving badly ... it seemed that over the last thirty years those men-as-artists were often defended as being against puritan moralizing ... and yet we're in a moment in which it seems people want to (with cause!) walk back the idea that as long as the art is fine enough or transcendent enough or sacramental enough as an art-experience that the man or woman who made the art does or says in the not-acting-as-priest-of-art-as-religion can't have any bearing on how we understand or recognize about their art.