Friday, February 26, 2021

Augustine's defined music as "the science of mensurating well", but he also built social and cultural context into his definition of music

On Music
The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation (Volume 4)
Augustine, translated by Robert Catesby Taliaferro
Copyright © 1947 by Ludwig Schopp
ISBN-10 : 0-8132-1319-3
ISBN-13 : 978-0813213194

On Music
Page 172
M. Music is the science of mensurating well. Doesn’t it seem so to you?
D. It might seem so, if it were clear to me what mensuration is.
Page 173
M. Don’t let this disturb you, that, as you just said, in all things made, music included, measure must be observed, and yet that this is called mensuration in music.   …
M. For you to understand that mensuration can regard music alone, while measure, from which the word is derived, can also be in other things. In the same way diction is properly attributed to orators, although anyone who speaks says something, and diction gets its name from saying.  …
Page 174
M. Then, mensuration is not improperly called a certain skill in moving, or at any rate that by which something is made to move well. For we can’t say anything moves well unless it keeps its measure.
Pages 175-176
M. Music is the science of moving well. But that is because whatever moves and keeps harmoniously the measuring of times and intervals can already be said to move well.  For it is already pleasing, and for this reason is already properly called mensuration. Yet it is possible for this harmony and measuring to please when they shouldn’t.  For example, if one should sing sweetly and dance gracefully, wishing there-by to be gay when the occasion demanded gravity, such a person would in no way be using harmonious mensuration well. In other words, that person uses ill or improperly the motion at one time called good because of its harmony. And so it is one thing to mensurate, and another to mensurate well. [emphasis added]
Ever since I read Ted Gioia's Music: A Subversive History I have been reminded of how there are people who have felt obliged to sound off on Augustine's treatise.  Paul Hindemith, at least, summarized what was actually in De Musica in the lectures that became Hindemith's book A Composer's World: Horizons and Limitations, but even his summary was a bit idiosyncratic.  Hindemith may have misunderstood aspects of Augustine's treatise but he didn't foundationally misrepresent what was going on in the book.  Gioa's bid at a history of music has reminded me that when it comes to popular level descriptions of what Augustine did and didn't say about music there are much worse historical and historiographical takes on Augustine than Hindemith's, Gioia's being most prominent. 

Crawford Gribben has new book on emergence of new forms of Christian Reconstructionism in the Pacific Northwest

It looks like it will feature Doug Wilson pretty prominently.  Wilson admirers can seem to keep Wilson's variations of his ideas pretty distinct from the versions of the ideas about men, masculinity and gender roles that Mark Driscoll made use of, at least since 2014, but Mark Driscoll wasn't so creative as to get his ideas about gender roles out of thin air.  It was known across Mars Hill circa 2000 to 2009 that Wilsonian ideals about men and marriage were guidelines within Mars Hill--it's not hard to see how Wilson's ideas were like a person who was taken to the gym, put on steroids and blood-doping, and then sent off to win a couple of bike races but the conceptual connections were there and not hard to spot in even, say, "Pussified Nation".  So an academic monograph that deals with the influence of Doug Wilson and Pacific Northwestern variations of Christian reconstructionism may potentially be of interest to anyone wanting to do a longer-form historical survey of the socio-political conditions pertinent to the emergence of the former Mars Hill.  

Whether Doug Wilson and associates even talk about Mark Driscoll is a bit hard to assess.  He's moved on to other topics and opportunities.  If readers (however many I have by now) read the Gribben book and have feedback the moderated comments box is available. 

Saturday, February 20, 2021

Ravi Zacharias coverage, more disclosures about abuses--some thoughts on how vicariously living through favorite teachers, preachers and artists is probably how "we" let "them" keep harming people

The problems and corruptions as they are getting revealed seem to be board level and institution-wide.  

Kevin H at Phoenix Preacher had a piece recently called "How They Get Away With It… "
Ravi Zacharias.  James MacDonald.  Carl Lentz.  Bob Coy.  Mark Driscoll.  Bill Hybels.  Tullian Tchividjian.  Bill Gothard.  The list goes on and on, and these are names from only the past few years.  These are all Christian leaders who abused power for purposes of their own gains and desires, leaving a wake of countless broken and victimized souls in their self-indulgent trails.  These are only the ones who finally experienced some manner of fall from grace after the exposure of their sinful deeds became too staggeringly extensive such that they could no longer vanquish them all.  Who knows how many more cases are still successfully under wraps?
I have been thinking for years, particularly since the demise of Mars Hill, that Americans mediate their concept of religious life through their celebrities.  For some the celebrity might be Mark Driscoll, whose scandals became cumulatively enough to catalyze his resignation from Mars Hill and the dissolution of the corporation known as Mars Hill Fellowship/Mars Hill Church.  For others their Christian celebrity hero might be Karl Barth.  Jim West had some choice words for Americans who "recently" discovered Karl Barth had a lengthy affair with Charlotte von Kirschbaum:

Julie Roys with a roundtable on the evangelical industrial complex

The term evangelical industrial complex is very niche but there's a transcript so you can read or listen, whichever is faster for you.  I mention this separately because I think there's a larger theme than just Christian popular level culture industry patterns but to springboard past that it won't hurt to mention this.  

Julia Duin has a lengthy piece at Politico on charismatic/Pentecostal prophets and how prophets in those movements fed into fantasies that Trump won 2020

As I've blogged in the past I am ex-Pentecostal for a whole lot of reasons but here, half a century after Hal Lindsey's The Late, Great Planet Earth, ridiculous unfulfilled dispensationalist-futurist derived prophecy is one of the big ones. Of course no one who graduated from Dallas Theological Seminary was likely to be a charismatic/Pentecostal!  But as with spiritual warfare so with End Times timelines, fundamentalists and Pentecostals and charismatics could often overlap on those issues despite seriously dividing on applied pneumatology.   I heard about how we were living in the End Times for years and in my teens I felt some anxiety that if Jesus was coming back so soon what was the point of going to college and getting a degree or getting married?  Wouldn't there be no marriage in the age to come, anyway? Then if that would be upon us soon by way of the Rapture dating and getting married was the biggest possible waste of time.

That was not how someone in my life wanted me to interpret End Times timeline stuff, to put it delicately. :)  

But when I saw so-called prophecies claiming the European Union was where The Beast was going to rise and I looked into the absurdities of the EU not enforcing its own green laws on ecological issues and its historically dependent relationship to us (U.S.) in terms of, say, a nuclear umbrella, it seemed way, way more likely that the United States would be where the big old Antichrist would come from.  That, too, was not where Pentecostal, evangelical, fundamentalist and charismatic categories of thought went.  I became an amillenial partial preterist and the rest should probably bore you so I won't mention more.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

a lookback on something I wrote about Joss Whedon in 2017: revisiting the one-trick quippy pony in 2021 as having a rep parasitically dependent on actresses who were better than the lines he wrote for them decades ago
Whedon's really gone much farther on the good graces of actresses better than the dialogue he writes for them than he may have deserved.
A less delicate way I put it around Whedon's pivot to the MCU was I told a friend that Whedon's a one-trick pony whose gimmicks are played out, who foisted waif-fu on us more than anyone else in the last twenty years and whose reputation has depended on women who are better at playing with his lines than he is at writing them.

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Schenker and counter-Schenker, coverage and counter-coverage

We've waded a teensy bit into Schenker in the past and I will say up front I'm not a Schenkerian and am grateful that I didn't go to grad school in music in the U.S. (didn't do the grad school path in music) and so was spared having to spend any time on Schenkerian analysis.  I've been interested in the last twenty or more years in fusions of ragtime, jazz, blues, country and American vernacular styles with late Baroque and galant era practices; in other words I've been wanting to write sonata forms based on ragtime strains and fugues based on riffs that could fit into songs by Muddy Waters or Thelonious Monk songs.  I like J. S. Bach and Haydn, Stravinsky, Messiaen, Hindemith (yes),, and contemporary guitar music from central and eastern European composers.  So let me admit up front I haven't been and don't plan to be a Schenkerian.  I have also written about how even the conservative philosopher on the aesthetics of music Roger Scruton (who died last year) concluded that Schenkerian visual analysis was simply not as cogent or useful as its advocates advertised.

Julia Duin comments on the predictable labeling by some clergy of VP Harris as "Jezebel" and usage variables of the term

To no one's surprise "Jezebel" means something different coming from clergy than taken as the name of an online magazine.  The propensity in the US to wear insults as badges of honor doesn't mean what Jezebel is recorded as having done in the Samuel-Kings literature is praiseworthy. Framing someone on false charges of blasphemy against god and king so as to procure a vineyard so the king can get a vegetable garden is eventually punished by Yahweh later by way of the prophets of Ahab being deceived by a lying spirit to go to his death in battle, despite being warned by a prophet that this was going to happen.  In other words, within Jewish and Christian literature Jezebel's misuse of royal power "could" be compared to figures like Nixon and other presidents but not necessarily (yet) to someone who only recently got sworn in as VP.  

As Duin expounds in her piece what Baptists and Pentecostals mean by "Jezebel" or "Jezebel spirit" won't always be the same but there's no version of it that is "positive" which is why some clergy have publicly rebuked the use of the term to describe VP Harris, which is a big chunk of Duin's piece. 

Alex Ross on the Wagnerian legacy of ... Fred Rogers (aka Mr. Rogers)

As in Ross has already figured that an updated or revised edition of his recent book Wagnerism needs to now include a reference to Mr. Rogers.

... Tiarks writes: "Although his ego was at the opposite end of the spectrum compared to Richard Wagner’s, Rogers took Wagner’s Gesamtkunstwerk approach, writing all the scripts, as well as the lyrics and music for the more than 200 songs performed on [the show]." I will see if I can incorporate that provocative insight into a revised version of Wagnerism. Years ago, Jim Smith told me Rogers enjoyed reading my New Yorker columns; it's the best compliment I've ever received.

To say that Fred Rogers ego was at the opposite end of the spectrum compared to Richard Wagner's might be an understatement of a year.  What's the Wagnerian connection? The total work of art, the way Rogers could compose music and write stories and develop characters. We don't have to like Richard Wagner as a person or enjoy his music to appreciate that without Richard Wagner's operatic legacy Scott Joplin might not have aspired to composing Treemonisha. Michael Jackson could arguably embody in his whole persona the Wagnerian ideal of the total-work-of-art and popular level defenses of Jackson's legacy zero in on the fact that Jackson wrote songs, could sing, and also dance, in other words, whether Jackson's advocates know it or not they are explicitly arguing for the creative significance of Michael Jackson on Wagnerian terms of the synthesis of arts.

Ethan Iverson notes the passing of Chick Corea and mentions the jazz pianist's conversion to Scientology, (early) Corea admirer Terry Mattingly at GetReligion notes how few obits have much to say on that topioc


A lot of what Chick Corea played came directly from McCoy Tyner, but his approach had a freshness and a lightness that was distinctive and seductive. There was some kind of basic and intuitive grasp of uptempo clave that sparkled like nobody else. Corea also had serious knowledge of modernist classical music. Indeed, of all the top-tier jazz pianists, Corea may have been the best “student,” someone who checked out and assimilated countless genres from Brazilian to Bartók to the blues on a deep level. On “The Brain”– especially with DeJohnette large and in charge — the balancing act is simply beautiful.

The style on “The Brain” could have been one of the next steps in the music, but other factors intruded. All four of these musicians would be on Bitches Brew later the same year; eventually Corea would be a high-profile Scientologist. (In 2016 Corea completed Scientology’s highest auditing level, Operating Thetan Level 8, for the second time, apparently a rare “feat.”) Chick Corea’s life and music deserves a historian/critic willing to make some tough calls.

Terry Mattingly has noticed that obits mention the Scientology but without little explanation as to what Scientology is or how obit authors think it influenced Corea's music.
... What puzzled me, of course, was this statement: “Corea converted to Scientology, and the religion’s teachings informed much of his music from then on. …”

The word “informed” is interesting. However, my journalism question, in this case, was practical, rather than philosophical.

Hear me out. If the science fiction of Hubbard and the religious teachings and methods of Scientology played such a major role in Corea’s art, maybe the Times team could have included a sentence or two explaining that? Maybe a few practical examples or, perhaps, a quote from Corea (or Hubbard) demonstrating what this influenced looked like, in practice?

These religious teachings shaped “much” of his music? That implied some pieces composed by Corea were influenced by these teachings more than others (as opposed to J.S. Bach signing “Soli Deo Gloria” at the end of every piece — from, logically enough, sacred choral music to solo organ masterworks).

This was, apparently, an important force in the life of a great artist. Maybe it was worth a few sentences?


So, throwing that out for consideration.

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Crawford Gribben at The Critic on why conservatives should not rush to shift to Gab from other social media--Gab founder into Rushdoony and Evola

While the article clearly has a tie in, as such articles often can, to the author's forthcoming book, there's a case that conservatives should not migrate from Facebook or Twitter to Gab because the Gab founder positively references Julius Evola

Friday, February 12, 2021

Augustine's De Musica, Book VI--the necessity of having followed the tedium of Books I-V to understand why all those numbers are significant in terms of human cognition

Now we can finally get to the more famous final book of Augustine's treatise, having seen at least some of what books I-V were discussing.  Someone like Ted Gioia can get hung up on the mere fact that numeri show up in Augustine's treatise without, it seems, remembering why Augustine had his master and disciple discuss where those numbers were perceived and how that is significant.  It's no surprise that a post-Pythagorean and post-Platonic thinker like Augustine would turn toward number but we can see, from what I quoted earlier from the first five books, that Augustine's interest was in things like mobile and immobile meters and in the last book we get to the matter of the minds that are able to perceive the numbers in the flow of a poetic or musical rhythm.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

excerpts from Augustine's De Musica (Books I-V), his never-finished treatise on music--proposing that Augustine's discourse on poetic rhythm could correspond to "flow" in hiphop if music historians stop using him as a punching bag (hint, Ted Gioia)

The single most important problem with Ted Gioia's Music: A Subversive History with respect to Augustine of Hippo is he never quotes Augustine. He also never mentions that  Augustine's treatise on music was never finished. Augustine is merely collapsed into Gioia's patently pejorative take on Pythagoras and the entirety of all Pythagorean and quasi-Pythagorean or neo-Pythagorean conceptions of music as Gioia takes them to be over the last 2,500 years.  Well, let's at least quote Augustine and associated scholarship to give people a chance to decide what they think.  Just because we might not endorse a post-Pythagorean neo-Platonic cosmology in which the divinely ordered cosmos is full of musical resonance that can be replicated or imitated in human music doesn't mean we can't at least disagree with Augustine for what he says rather than by way of some person telling us what to think about Augustine without ever quoting him.  

Wednesday, February 10, 2021

Ted Gioia's history of music as Europe vs. Africa traffics in an artificial binary--exploring the Native Hawaiian ancestry of slide guitar and Anton Reicha's advocacy of microtonal melodic ornament in 1814

… No matter what the political structure one advocates, the wrong music can apparently send it toppling. Perhaps the strongest aspect of this evolution is its reversal of the ancients’ philosophical dichotomy. The guitar, a kind of modern lyre, is now the dangerous source of disorder, while the flute is seen as a prim, subdued instrument evoking respectability and orderliness.  This is one of the most striking examples of the dialectic at play in music history in which things turn into their opposites.

 This is not mere happenstance. The guitar shook things up in the twentieth century because it was the focal point for the African diaspora’s attack on the Pythagorean paradigm that had dominated Western music since 500 BC. As blues guitar techniques entered the mainstream, they validated the use of bent notes and introduced sounds outside conventional scales. This assault on Pythagorean notions of playing in tune—which for centuries had required musicians to keep within the boundaries of carefully delineated scales and maintain a proper tone—threatened to overturn all the hierarchies of established music, both social and aural. [emphasis added]

 … This African counter-paradigm represented the most forceful attack in more than two millennia on the codification of music into a system of discrete notes. The knife could bend a guitar note in a way that a hand or finger could not. With a weapon in hand, the subversive performer could rediscover music’s origins in unconstrained sound. As such, the modern guitar represents the exact danger that Plato had perceived in the flute more than two millennia before: an untuning of the universe. Music: A Subversive History, page 106

 The rise of the blues may offer the most powerful test case we could devise for assessing a key thesis of my book, namely, the assertion that musical innovation comes from the underclass. This hypothesis, if it could be proven, would show how different music is from other art forms.  Innovation in painting and sculpture, for example, has almost always happened in close proximity to rich patrons—even today, a couple hundred affluent collectors set the tone for the visual arts economy. The rise of the novel drew momentum from the wealth-creating enterprises of the Industrial Revolution. The new artistic mediums of today—video games, virtual reality, and probably whatever is coming next—appear inextricably connected to profit-generating businesses in Silicon Valley. Only music plays by different rules, almost defiantly so. Music: A Subversive History, pages 335-336

Being a guitarist I’m flattered that Gioia thinks the guitar has been so revolutionary in music in the last century. I’m tempted to agree but …   is Ted Gioia imagining that all post-Pythagorean bids at tuning system represent repressive norms?  Did blue notes really defy the established order by not obeying “the rules”, whatever those are of “properly” ordered scales and notes?  Are we talking about the rules of sixteenth and seventh century species counterpoint grounded in the performing traditions of acapella vocal music? Those rules emerged for some practical as well as theoretical reasons. 

Or is Ted Gioia trying to say that blues riffs with notes a quarter-tone away from the notes E flat or A natural on a keyboard is subversive?  String players who perform Haydn string quartets already know that E flat and D sharp are not the same pitch, which was why when Haydn went to the trouble of saying to play a passage scored in E flat starting from the pitch of D sharp that was because he felt he needed to. 

Ted Gioia's Music: A Subversive History has a theory of Pythagoras that got debunked by Kyle Gann's history of tuning systems more than a month before Gioia's book came out

Music: A Subversive History

Ted Gioia

Basic Books, Hachette Book Group

Copyright © 2019 by Ted Gioia

ISBNs: 978-1-5416-4436-6 (hardcover), 978-1-5416-1797-1 (ebook)

At a certain point in Western history, music became a quasi-science. Or, to be more precise, those who theorized about music managed to impose a scientific and mathematical framework that would marginalize all other approaches to the subject. We can even assign a name, a location, and a rough date to this revolution. The alleged innovator was Pythagoras of Samos, born around the year 570 BC. The impact of the Pythagorean revolution on the later course of music is still insufficiently understood and appreciated. I believe he is the most important person in the history of music—although his `innovation’ has perhaps done as much harm as good—and I will make a case for that bold claim in the pages ahead. Yet he is often treated as little more than a colorful footnote in cultural history, a charming figure who appears in anecdotes and asides, but not the mainstream narrative of cultural history.…

Pythagoras’s attempt to define and constrain musical sounds by the use of numbers and ratios continues to shape how we conceptualize and perform songs in the current day, and even now we distinguish between melody and noise. Music, as it is taught in every university and conservatory in the world today, is explicitly Pythagorean in its methods and assumptions. And even when musical styles emerged from the African diaspora that challenged this paradigm, threatening to topple it with notes that didn’t belong to scales and rhythms that defied conventional metric thinking, the algorithmic mindset prevailed, somehow managing to codify non-Pythagorean performance styles that would seem to resist codification. [emphasis added] Even today, I see the Pythagorean spirit as the implicit philosophy undergirding the advances of digital music—the ultimate reduction of song to mathematics—and technologies such as synthesizers, drum machines, Auto-Tune, and the dynamic range compression of current-day recordings. From pages 48-49

Gioia's would-be subversive history of music was a fun read in terms of breezy style but exasperating in terms of its history. Gioia has a pejorative take on Pythagoras and anyone and anything he has bracketed into the category of Pythagorean. 

Monday, February 08, 2021

Atanas Ourkouzounov: Toccatchenitsa (video with score)

This piece is fun and a good introduction, for those who have never heard of Atanas Ourkouzounov, to what he does.  From page one we can hear and see an interest in non-metered musical ideas that make use of extended techniques and riffs and grooves in which timbre, melody and harmony are inextricably bound to what is physically possible on the instrument. If you're a guitarist as skilled as Ourkouzounov this means there's few things that can't be done that aren't impossible on the instrument to begin with.

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Mere Orthodoxy has a review up of Ted Gioia's Music: A Subversive History that contests his pejorative take on Pythagoras and Augustine

The review has a deliberately narrow focus, contesting Gioia's pejorative take on Pythagoras and the Pythagorean legacy in Western music by way of pointing out that Pythagorean cosmology was abandoned as far back as the sixteenth through seventeenth centuries and referencing Roger Scruton and Daniel Chua's work as evidence. The other focus of the review is on Gioia's even more pejorative take on Augustine's never-finished treatise De Musica.  

I've been thinking of posting excerpts from De Musica here at Wenatchee The Hatchet for a while.  I was telling some friends of mine who are hip hop fans that having read Augustine's unfinished treatise dealing with the rhythm and meter of poetry that if we wanted to try seeing how Augustine's actual writings might be relevant to contemporary music that Augustine's self-admittedly tedious and pedantic discourse on poetic rhythm and meter and pulse best corresponds to the concept of "flow" in hip hop.  

We don't have to agree with everything Augustine wrote about music, or anything for that matter, but if we're going to do any kind of history or historiography on Augustine on the subject of music we need to accurately present what Augustine did and didn't say; that's something Ted Gioia completely failed to do in Music: A Subversive History.

The review, by the way, doesn't just make a case for why Gioia's book has problems by way of Pythagoras and Augustine, it also commends Kyle Gann's The Arithmetic of Listening, which debunked Gioia's myths and misrepresentations regarding the Pythagorean legacy in Western music and is a great read on the history of tuning systems ... and which was also published five weeks before Gioia's book.  Gann's book is magnificent and you should go read it!  I do enjoy reading Gioia but I enjoy reading Gioia even when I think he's completely wrong!  But if you have to pick just one book between Gioia's and Gann's go for Gann's, especially if you want to learn anything at all accurate about the ancient Greeks and their debates about tuning.  The Gann book really is wonderful.

Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Julie Roys: The Prosperous Lifestyle of America’s Anti-Prosperity Gospel Preacher [John MacArthur for those who don't already know the name]

For decades, John MacArthur has railed on prosperity preachers, likening them to  “greed mongerers” who led First Century cults. 

Recently, he’s also taken aim at scandal-plagued evangelical leaders, like the late apologist Ravi Zacharias and former Hillsong Pastor Carl Lentz, saying these celebrities were in ministry only for the money. That’s why “liars and frauds and false teachers” are in business, MacArthur said in a recent sermon. “False teachers always do it for the same reason—filthy lucre, money.” 

Yet according to financial statements and tax forms obtained by The Roys Report, John MacArthur and his family preside over a religious media and educational empire that has over $130 million in assets and generates more than $70 million a year in tax-free revenue.

So ... more than Joel Osteen, apparently.

Monday, February 01, 2021

from The Atlantic--"Superstar Cities Are in Trouble" reminded me of The Stranger's 2004 op-ed "The Urban Archipelago"

Pandemics unsurprisingly "shake things up" and just as unsurprisingly shake things up in ways that "change things". Whether the prediction that the superstar cities are likely to take a downward turn as remote workplace customs potentially become a new normal, or whether people in the post-pandemic world go back to work-at-work rather than-work-at-home is impossible to really guess.  Still, given the vitriol of The Stranger editorial staff in 2004 it's hard not to think of their 2004 claims in light of articles such as Derek Thompson's, which is bluntly titled "Superstar Cities Are in Trouble".

Saturday, January 30, 2021

links for the weekend: bits on free speech questions in the age of social media, quotes about journalism (or postjournalism?), a Schenker-related lawsuit? and some links that show how the right and left can paradoxically overlap on "plandemic" class theories, maybe

At Los Angeles Review of Books Stephen Rohde reviews books that are, broadly speaking, for and against "free speech" in light of social media dynamics 

Alan Jacobs has three quotes on journalism.  The last quote topic of "post-journalism" 

In the last year conservative friends have taken to talking about the "plandemic" and how it is, though they never use the term, a kind of elite class war against normal Americans.  Postmillenial Reformed types may really just never read outside their bubbles because if they did they might find out how leftist/socialist they sound if they, say, read Leila Mechoui's and Alexander Davidson's riff on the pandemic as class warfare at The Bellows.  Along the theme, there's also Alex Gutentag's "The Great Covid Class War".

There's ... actually litigation going on over the Philip Ewell presentation that sparked controversy about Schenkerian analysis?   Having neither studied Schenkerian analysis nor felt any need to ever study it but having read Roger Scruton's criticism of it, it's a surreal thing to see that there's actual litigation going on in connection to it now.  I suggested a while back that if even conservative philosopher and author on the aesthetics of music Roger Scruton concluded that we'd be better off not bothering with Schenkerian theory that granting it's not the "only game in town" would be easy.  But this would be the point at which I concede I never got into academic music theory or musicology (and the two fields aren't really the same, as I have seen stated in conversations online in the last few years).  So, uh, anyway, that's something that may keep making headlines. 

1-30-2021 4:26pm
Throwing this one in

Kyle Gann's "Make Way for the Guitar Era" still seems relevant.  As a guitarist, of course, I readily admit my bias!  Not that I'm gonna stop reading Doug Shadle on symphonies, for instance, but just about any North American guitarist could point out that American music has probably always been an era defined by the guitar more than by the symphony. 

John McWhorter as "organic black conservative" (?)

Ta-nehisi Coates has written in the past about what described as the organic black conservative tradition, and his case study at the time (2008) was Bill Cosby.  Now, obviously, Cosby is hardly a spokesperson for a political philosophy among African Americans.  Coates has written in the past about social conservatism among blacks as distinct from think tank conservatism, As years go by I wonder if, maybe, John McWhorter might fit Coates' idea of the organic black conservative.

Friday, January 29, 2021

a substack take on Sanders having won the ideological war to tilt the DNC left with an abject failure to create a functional movement

Substack is sort of popular as a niche among writers who were more mainstream journalists and sometimes there's stuff that catches my eye.  Doug Shadle's substack is undergoing some kind of reboot and it will be interesting to see where he goes next with his writing projects.

This is someone I hadn't heard of until recently via Socratic Gadfly, who described this as a fair to middling take on the Sanders movement.

at The Gospel Coalition, Michael Horton on the cult of Christian Trumpism

I don't usually link to TGC for reasons long-time readers might already understand but ... every once in a while ... 

Regular readers may not need a reminder that I have a negative view of American civil religion more generally, whether in its red state or blue state forms.  Nostalgia for Camelot or Reagan would fit within that general rubric. I've floated a question in the past about whether there might be a thread like millenarianism (premillenial or postmillenial eschatology rather than amillenialism) that unites this specific variation of American civil religion but that's something for scholars to debate.

via Crosscut, articles on PNW tribal news--a tribe dealing with covid-19 and tribes litigating to keep records of tribes (recognized and not) within the PNW

Two articles by Manola Secaira.
First, on how the Quinault Nation has been handling the pandemic.

Second, tribes have joined a lawsuit to keep National Archives in Seattle

Mere Orthodoxy book reviews on white masculinity in U.S. evangelicalism and a review of Robert P Jones' White Too Long

Mere Orthodoxy has three reviews of Kristin Kobes du Mez’s Jesus and John Wayne
Now I've got the book and plan to get to it but a progressive acquaintance of mine mentioned that she regretted reading it because, if I may paraphrase a bit, Jesus and John Wayne turned out to be not as much of a history as a project in nutpicking that functionally scapegoats white evangelicals more than it situates their activities in ways that can be understood whether we agree with them or not.

Another progressive acquaintence of mine mentioned this book which as yet has a review at Mere Orthodoxy, Robert P Jones White Too Long.

Monday, January 25, 2021

At Hyperallergic, Noah Fischer makes an argument that the art world needs a non-pejorative definition of populism but that since Trump's election populism has been cast in strictly negative terms

In short, these have been victorious years for anti-populists, who maintained their economic status quo while successfully rebranding exclusive cities, companies, and cultural institutions as the frontlines of progressive struggle.  But what is populism, anyway?

Just about four years ago, President Obama said: “I’m not prepared to concede the notion that some of the rhetoric that’s been popping up is populist.” He was referring to Trump’s racial-bullhorn campaign rallies, and still believed the term to be contested — that it could mean standing with the people in their struggle against financial elites — the rhetoric he’d employed in his 2008 campaign.  But after the 2016 election, US populism has been pulled into line with Europe’s decades-long use of the term to mean basically, nativism — and the hazardous and cynical manipulation of an ignorant populace by authoritarian leaders.

This negative framing of populism isn’t new to contemporary art. While major museums have long tipped their hats to popular tastes with exhibitions on Star Wars or motorcycles, skepticism of the general populace is embedded not just in the art world’s proximity to the one percent of one percent, but arguably in the socially vulnerable nature of the avant-garde. In the late ‘90s, for example, NYC mayor Rudy Giuliani deemed the YBA “Sensation” show which had travelled to the Brooklyn Museum, “sick stuff,” focusing on Chris Ofili’s “Holy Virgin Mary” (1996) painting as an offence worthy of defunding the museum.


One of the points I've made here at Wenatchee The Hatchet since Trump got elected is that it's been troubling to see arts journalism define populism in strictly pejorative terms.  Since Trump's election it has been easy for well-established critics at venerable journalistic institutions to come up with patently idiotic appraisal of the most boilerplate liberal messages in mainstream popular level films.  Take Richard Brody's claim that Brad Bird promoted authoritarian populism in The Incredibles 2, for instance. This was the same Brody who claimed that Lady Susan Vernon didn't break any of the "important" rules of ethical behavior in Whit Stillman's Jane Austen adaptation Love & Friendship, which anyone who has even passing familiarity with Austen's writings knows is not the case. The possibility that something can be popular and have a populist aim without being "authoritarian" has seemed difficult for arts journalists, whether fine arts or performing arts, to even consider.

Fischer added:
In his short book What is Populism, German political philosopher and Princeton professor Jan-Werner Müller calls populism “the permanent shadow of representative politics.” His book argues that populism wherever it is found, is based on narrowly defining “the people,” so that populists always oppose pluralism. And yet, anti-populism conveniently justifies the rule of a benevolent elite, tasked to defend the nation against the uncouth, messy, and dangerous impulses of its masses. The book was assigned for the incoming Princeton class of 2021—an appropriate first instruction for a stratum preparing to helm the nation’s top institutions.

In a representative democracy, elites do, to some extent, have to contend with the voice of the street. Anti-populism therefore depends on incorporating popular imagery and language —even including the language of uprising— into the walls of their impenetrable institutions. The instruments of art, academia, and public relations/advertising are called on to perform this incorporation. Georgetown philosophy professor Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò explains how the concept of “elite capture” can be used to describe, “how political projects can be hijacked — in principle or in effect — by the well positioned and resourced.”  ...

This being an article at Hyperallergic the end goal is a left populism for the author but the points are worth considering across the spectrum of political and economic theories--why did it become so easy for arts institutions to cast all forms of populism as revanchist nativism?  Does a focus on representation within arts production make things better for Americans who are not working in the arts?  

Personally I don't have any problem writing about Wenzel Matiegka's guitar sonatas and Nikita Koshkin's 24 Preludes and Fugues for solo guitar on the one hand and then turning around and writing about Batman: the animated series on the other. I wrote years ago that it's one thing for film critics to complain that Hollywood keeps recycling the same old franchises and another thing to provide some feasible explanation for why this happens, and I proposed that if we actually look at which franchises keep coming back or staying around there's a pattern--that the franchises that stick around in Hollywood tend to be utopian or dystopian touchstones of pop culture in the JFK/LBJ "Camelot" era of the American civil religions or the Reagan era.  Thus "Nostalgia and the Anxieties of Empire: Toward a unified theory of American sci-fi movie nostalgia

Pointing out that the sci-franchises America keeps recycling cluster around the Camelot and Reagan era political mythologies is at least a theory as to why Hollywood is not merely "running out of ideas" but why they keep drawing from Star Trek, Star Wars, Planet of the Apes or trying to riff on Robocop.  The theory could even potentially explain why some reboot attempts keep failing to gain momentum a la Charlie's Angels.  None of which is to say that The Exorcist can't come back in some form, I was playing more with the basic idea that we should move beyond the critical bromide that "Hollywood has run out of ideas" to see if we can find any patterns in what franchises keep coming back.  If you factor in the 1980s and how G. I. Joe and Transformers were toy lines then you have to consider that the playtime kids had with those toys is  inextricably bound up with the films. 

Even Richard Brody could claim he enjoyed moments in the Bay-formers movies for replicating the experience of being a kid dumping all the toys out of the box to play some chaotic scene with them.  Right, Brody's still wrong to claim George Miller doesn't give or have as much fun as Michael Bay but if Brody can "get" the idea that he brings his memory of his own playing with toys as a kid to cut Michael Bay any slack as a film-maker he's at least tried to think about why anyone would greenlight the Bayformers films.  But then Brody could turn around and describe Brad Bird's Incredibles 2 as "authoritarian populism".

If the only kinds of populism that can exist are the kinds that American arts journalists and musicians the Western world over think will just vote for Trump then that cedes the whole concept of any kind of populism in the arts (and politics) to people like Trump and I would think that liberals, progressives and leftists would want to question why that has to be the case.  The article I've quoted from Hyperallergic clearly shows a writing who identifies with the left asking why this conflation of "populism" with "reactionary" has been so easily embraced in the arts.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

theme with variations: 1-6-2021 and would-be spectrum-spanning survey on social media tech oligarchy being how much of what happened has been mediated to us

Because I think the United States is past its shelf life as a viable global hyper-power I am probably not the person to ask whether or not something like this is over the top because I think Americans are generally incurably over-the-top and because we have been so, basically, since the start.

I am reminded of something that John Murray wrote in The Imputation of Adam's Sin about how many modern Westerners who claim they don't get how "we" could be held responsible at a symbolic or also meaningful level for the sins of one person.  Murrays' rejoinder was to point out that imputing comprehensive guilt to nations and political parties happens in American politics all the time and no one bats an eyelash about it but if it's a theme transposed into systematic theology then, well, suddenly people raise objections.  

It's easy for me to remember that certain people have been bloviating bullhorns no matter what side of the blue or red they're on, such as Frank Schaeffer's gently nuanced and subtle  "AS A FORMER EVANGELICAL LEADER I BLAME THE WHITE EVANGELICAL VOTER FOR EVERY SINGLE MASS SHOOTING"  

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Will Classical Music see a Renaissance? Bryan Townsend asks and it's a topic I've thought about for a while .... it depends on what we mean by classical music

Like many of you  I've been watching some of the streaming concerts from Europe and North America and I've started to wonder what the classical music world will look like after this pandemic crisis is over. And when will it be over? These are questions that are difficult if not impossible to answer at present, but we can do a little speculating.

I have read in a few places that perhaps 30% of professional musicians have simply left the business as there was no work for them. If the current crisis lasts another year or a good part of the year as it seems it might, then wouldn't it be likely that another 30% or more might leave the business?

We might also ask ourselves which musicians in particular are least likely to survive the crisis? It seems obvious that it would be the ones that are most vulnerable: the part-time musicians, the players in the smaller regional orchestras, the musicians that were already struggling to start or sustain a solo career, and most of all, the local musicians.


Reading, say, ArtsJournal or SlippedDisc on a weekly basis it could be easy to get a sense that classical music as we've known it has been in peril for some time.  Yet there was last year's debate about Philip Ewell's comments about the white racial frame of music theory in United States music theory, too. 

In comments at The Music Salon it got mentioned that album sales are dipping, even in the realm of digital download albums.  That got me thinking about how a musician friend of mine tried putting together a program for an album and discovered the licensing costs were more than he could tackle for the repertoire he wanted to record.  That, right there, might account for why there is a more robust indie rock scene than an indie classical scene in terms of recorded music.  At the risk of putting it too simply and briskly, what's the Bandcamp scene for new chamber music for string quartet compared to someone with a guitar and a band?  

One of the things that seems to be the default assumption in questions about the future of classical music is its future as a profession, the future of classical music as a form of cultural and participatory activity that people get paid to make.  The idea that classical music might continue in an avocational or amateur form doesn't seem to come up in "serious" conversations about "serious" music yet it seems as though, despite or in having to deal with the reality of arts funding and cultural policies in the United States, for instance, that's something we might want to keep in mind.  "a renaissance for classical music means a renaissance for humanity" wouldn't require that renaissance to be one of jobs in classical music.

But as Ted Gioia put it in Music: A Subversive History, the powers that be (they, etc) have pivoted from classical music to pop music in the last sixty odd years. The elites may have favored classical music a century ago but since the Jazz Age and the emergence of rock `n roll the elites have favored American popular styles. There are, of course, some folks who have felt that classical music must be allowed to die at spots like NewMusicBox but there's an element of bad faith to that proclamation inasmuch as the call was to contemporary composers and musicians to create alternative communities who would not be bound by established conventions ... and that's just the Romantics and Wagner all over again and, as Charles Rosen has put it, breaking free of the real or perceived strictures of "tradition" is as much a part of how traditions get renewed as the ostensibly "rigid" aspects of traditions.  

To put this aphoristically, every new generation has a temptation to think that we have seen things clearly in a way that nobody before us has and there's always a seed of accuracy to it along with some significant delusions of grandeur.

But, as is also so often said, it's easy to imagine things have always been getting worse when they're staying the same. I am skeptical about that approach to things now, too, because I find much wrong with Gioia's parade of dualisms to the effect that music history has "always" been about cycles of dualisms that can never be reconciled since before there even was music history as anyone can functionally know it. Adorno was right to snipe that the more modern the sensibility the more ancient it insists on being--the Enlightenment built on the Renaissance; the Romantics looked back to medieval eras for cohesion and then the ancient Greeks and Romans; and via Stravinsky's Rite of Spring ancient or pre-historic humanity became the new reference point. Gioia distills that general trend by going all the way back to a "rupture" allegedly caused by Pythagoras (and Confucius, too, even if the latter is basically only useful as a reference point for the kind of top-down totalitarianism in cultural norms that was more indicative of "our" era than many an earlier era).  Things can get worse in real world terms because if they weren't nobody would be worried about whether orchestras can survive the era of covid-19 if concert life is gutted via medical restrictions over the next two or three years.

Maury's comment at The Music Salon about how music has been devolving to an individual rather than a social activity is a fair concern. I hope that doesn't mean that a whole bunch of musicians are going to be home studio types who turn into Jacob Colliers!  On the other hand, perhaps that's not something that should surprise us if that's something that does happen.  

Owing to the curious history in the United States of post Cold War arts policies (or lack thereof) and the persistence of our military adventures abroad I have floated a theory that in the United States the arts might have something like a Thirty Years War situation in which arts policy wasn't and isn't a concern where "highbrow" is concerned.  I mention the Thirty Years War as a Heinrich Schutz fan to suggest that like Schutz composers and musicians might want to take as given the reduced possibilities and resources and compose for the resources we have rather than the ones we wish we had.  

It's why, in a nutshell, this guitarist composer hobbyist composes primarily for guitar now.  I like the idea of a cycle of chamber sonata pairing the guitar up with woodwinds, strings and brass, for instance, but in the era of covid-19 finding chamber musicians able and willing to tackle chamber music is challenging and people may find you rather than you finding them.  Whereas in the era of lockdown you can find out what you can do just you and your guitar.  The irony of that being cosmetically similar to the lone Romantic solitary art-bro-genius is not lost on me and I find it loathesome!  But we may find this to be the situation we're stuck with in classical music or postclassic music in the second decade of the 21st century. These don't promise to be another Roaring Twenties like the Roaring Twenties that featured the creation of so much music I admire form the last century.

I was reading Composing Capital by Marianna Ritchie in the last few months and although reading about gentrification and theories about neoliberalism and fumbling attempts to imagine musical life apart from capitalism was, well, sort of interesting it was also sort of predictable and I have noticed that within the confines of classical music criticism and scholarship right alongside popular music criticism and scholarship there's a tendency to stay in one's lane.  The possibility that what could revitalize the ruts that both classical music and popular music have lapsed into since, let me just make this polemical point unavoidably clear, the rise of the commercial music industries is a synergistic interaction of the classical and pop traditions is not something that tends to come up among academics, perhaps for reasons so obvious they don't even need to be written out on the page.  

I agree with Richard Taruskin's observation that since Rachmaninoff's time there has been an increasing gap between the academic canon in classical music and the repertoire canon, a gap between what scholars say you have to study and what concertgoers pay money to hear because they want to hear X in a concert. Yet the gap between the repertoire canon and the academic canon is probably not as wide as the gap between the repertoire canon and the pop musical canon even though the repertoire canon of classical music can overlap with the pop musical canon in pops concerts.  I have heard, for instance, The Pink Panther theme at pops concerts and why not? It's a fun theme.  Just because I listen to choral music by Xenakis or Messiaen or Tallis or Byrd doesn't mean I can't turn around and enjoy what Shirley Walker did composing soundtracks for Batman: the animated series or notice the probable influence of Theolonious Monk on musical cues in Blue's Clues.

One of many reasons I wrote Ragtime and Sonata Forms last year was to show that we have available the theoretical and conceptual tools in music theory and formal analysis to melt down the boundaries that supposedly exist between American popular or vernacular styles and "classical" music. It is possible, and I would argue desirable, to find out how much classical and popular styles can synergistically revitalize each other as compositional and performance traditions. If people want a renaissance of their preferred musical style it's hard to see how that's going to happen during pandemic years but after twenty years of feeling like both the classical and popular sides of Western music have had some ruts I think dispensing with a bunch of counter-productive dualisms is more likely to help things than to stick to them. 

That is why the post-Idealist German art-religious impulse is something I regard as ridiculous and as something that needs to be dispensed with.  I don't view the arts as sacramental, however much I love the arts.  Taruskin has been right to point out that George Steiner was wrong to imagine that the humanities would humanize.  I am, alternatively, skeptical that a renaissance for classical music will mean a renaissance for humanity. I'm too Reformed to take that view seriously.  If sacralizing highbrow art and music keeps people from imagining that it is possible or desirable to compose ragtime sonatas or to write a fugue that could draw inspiration from Wilson Pickett or Thelonious Monk then sacralizing highbrow music has to go, alongside sacralizing musical canons.  I can appreciate what Ethan Hein wrote a few years ago when he said he's not against canons as such but against canonism and by "canonism" I venture a guess that the legacy of German Idealism in which the arts are the new true religion is as good a working definition as any.  

I've been revisiting the Swiss Reformed theologian Emil Brunner's books The Mediator and Man in Conflict (Jim West says Man in Contradiction is a better translation). You don't have to be a neo-orthodox Swiss Reformer theologian to appreciate that Brunner's take-down of how the German Idealists re-engineered religious ideas from Christendom into a kind of panentheistic self-congratulatory cultural project could be a useful reference point for anyone who wants to take the Matthew Arnold style art-religion down a few pegs.  Brunner's work isn't going to be interesting for most, maybe, but I found his description of how liberal white Germans in the 18th and 19th century basically reverse engineered their idea of transcendence to kind of fit themselves to be an interesting polemic.  It might be germane to more recent American scholastic criticisms of the arts that were canonized in the proverbial long 19th century as a theological critique of the metaphysical confidence of European philosophers during the times when Beethoven was transformed into a god.  But that might have to be a post for some other time, maybe in tandem with a discussion of Mark Evan Bonds on The Beethoven Syndrome.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Mark Driscoll and daughter Ashley Chase have published new book Pray Like Jesus

Dale Coulter has an article at Firebrand that is a good overview of the neo-charismatic/New Apostolic Reformation scene that has gained momentum since the Obama and Trump administrations

One of the weirdest things, as someone who has tried to keep track of theological ideas, is that there's been a new branch of charismatic Christianity in the last forty years that retained all of its Pentecostal ancestry on pneumatology but has added a post-Rushdooney post-millenialist cultural mandate, which, for this formerly Pentecostal Presbyterian is what I'd personally describe as the worst of both worlds (the untethered "I have super-powers" pneumatology combined with the post-millenialist entitlement mentality that was an element in Manifest Destiny).  The article can be read at the link below 

it's a good introductory piece on the last forty years of neo-charismatic/New Apostolic Reformation Christianity in the U.S. to read alongside Julia Duin's recent work on how a failure to distinguish between these groups just mentioned and evangelicalism can lead to sloppy reporting on which evangelicals have been backing Trump. wjocj upi cam read be;pw.

Saturday, January 16, 2021

Ethan Hein on Wellerman, sea shanties, and folk idioms gives me an excuse to mention the most famous pirate tune you probably only heard as a shape note hymn

So the sea shanties thing has been happening and Ethan Hein has discussed Wellerman recently.  The ex-choral singer in me can't resist writing a few things that I hope may be of interest about the sea shanty genre.


Harmony is not the only thing that makes this sound like a folk song. The Longest Johns’ untrained singing style contributes to the folkiness too. Their backing vocals use some “bad” counterpoint and voice leading. For example, at the end of the chorus, on “take our leave and gooo,” the four singers all converge on C in octaves rather than spreading themselves out across C, E-flat and G. If I wrote counterpoint like this in graduate tonal theory, I would have flunked. But this tune would not be improved by “correct” voice leading. Classical-style choral arrangements of folk songs like this can sound smoother and prettier, but without the rough edges, the music loses its soul.


To this I can add a few first-hand observations about singing a variety of styles of choral music.

in light of Haynes' dissertation on Mars Hill musical culture, there's a book called Holy Hip Hop in the City of Angels that caught my eye

"Punk Rock Calvinists Who Hate the Modern Worship Movement": Ritual, Power, and

White Masculinity in Mars Hill Church's Worship Music


I finished Maren Haynes' PhD on Mars Hill musical culture and hope to write about that some time in 2021.  I wasn't too surprised, having spent so much time at Mars Hill myself from about 1999 to 2009 and in connection to people there through 2013, that the Mars Hill musical culture defaulted to grunge, indie rock and white hipster bro sounds.  But ...

updated version of the reading list from November 2020 on exorcism, diabology, Jesus as exorcist, spiritual warfare, and associated themes

Updated list, titles in blue are books I've finished

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Ethan Hein on two classic tunes by Thelonious Monk: "Straight, No Chaser" and "Rhythm-a-Ning"

Since I am a Monk fan I could not resist linking to some of Ethan Hein's recent blogging. Since he chose two of my favorite Monk tunes I kinda have to write something. :)  

Alan Jacobs had some posts on types of dualisms where he pit Obama against Kendi but in a way that seems sloppy, a sloppy prelude to a possible future post on the default of spiritual warfare manuals in pop U.S. Christianity to a white racial frame

Barack Obama:

The point I’ve always made to Ta-Nehisi, the point I sometimes make to Michelle, the point I sometimes make to my own kids — the question is, for me, “Can we make things better?”

I used to explain to my staff after we had a long policy debate about anything, and we had to make a decision about X or Y, “Well, if we do this I understand we’re not getting everything we’re hoping for, but is this better?” And they say yes, and I say, “Well, better is good. Nothing wrong with better.”

Ibram X. Kendi:

There’s no saving America’s soul. There’s no restoring the soul. There’s no fighting for the soul of America. There’s no uniting the souls of America. There is only fighting off the other soul of America.

Obama and Trump did not poison the American soul any more than Biden can heal it. Trump battled for the soul of injustice, and the voters sent him home. Soon, President Biden can battle for the soul of justice.

Our past breaths do not bind our future breaths. I can battle for the soul of justice. And so can you. And so can we. Like our ancestors, for our children. We can change the world for Gianna Floyd. We can — once and for all — win the battle between the souls of America.

This morning I’m doing my weekly reading of the news, and I’ve just read these two stories, from the same magazine, back to back. The contrast is illuminating. One sees politics as the hard slow work of improving the world; the other see politics as the movement towards a final confrontation, on the plain of Megiddo I suppose, between the forces of Righteousness and the forces of Evil.

The United States of America has long had a two-party political system, but it now has a two-party social system also. The social system is not divided between Republicans and Democrats but rather between Manichaeans and Humanists. The Manichaean Party is headed by Donald Trump. He works in close concert with Ibram X. Kendi, Eric Metaxas, Xavier Becerra, and Rush Limbaugh, but really, the Party wouldn’t exist at all without him. The Humanist Party, by contrast, doesn’t have an obvious leadership structure and doesn’t make a lot of noise; its chief concern is less to enforce an agenda than to make it a little harder for the Manichaeans to enforce theirs.
The Manichaeans say, all together and in a very loud voice, You are wholly with us or wholly against us! Make your decision! I don’t know when I’ve had an easier choice.

Jacobs might feel perfectly comfortable bracketing Metaxas and Kendi into paradoxically being on the same team.  But if Kendi's dualism even "can" be compared to the spiritual warfare mentality of Jericho March types or Eric Metaxas, then Jacobs could more studious about explaining overlapping methodologies in a way that could account for the obviously real differences between someone like Metaxas and someone like Kendi.  Most people can differentiate between ideologues who are "left" and "right" or "progressive" and "reactionary" and one of the problems with Jacobs' hasty taxonomy is that I don't think he can sustain a case that among the ideologues we're looking at people who are functionally totalitarian.  An ideologue might have a litmus test in which anti-racism must manifest in support for reparations, which Kendi has indicated in some writing in the past, but that's not the same as casting doubt on the legitimacy of electoral processes and simultaneously claiming a divine mandate for Trump's victory.  Maybe some Trump supporters THINK Kendi has done that but I haven't sensed that Kendi has!  

But Kendi's language does suggest that there are progressive and conservative voices who have no problem invoking what in traditional theological talk would be known as the language of spiritual warfare.  Kendi has definitely invoked and evoked the idea of a Manichaean struggle between forces of good and evil, I'll grant Jacobs that much.  But whether or not Obama's proceduralism is necessary a healthy alternative to Kendi's activism I am not entirely sure about.

I don't think it's actually wrong, writing as a Christian, to simply state that white supremacist mentalities should be considered demonic strongholds in Western cultural history and that racial supremacist views can and should be considered "doctrines of demons".  There, just put that in print for the record.  I don't have to agree with several specific "how" elements of Kendi's policy recommendations or approach to historiography to agree that the "what" of white supremacist defaults is something that should be combatted.  

Having just slogged through John H Walton and J Harvey Walton's mostly time-wasting book Demons and Spirits in Biblical Theology: Reading the Biblical Text in Its Cultural and Literary Context, one of the things I found annoying about the book, besides the authors' sloppy and vague definition of "conflict theology" and a reticence to just admit their real target is Greg Boyd's open theistic conception of spiritual warfare is that they misrepresent, I think, Jeffrey Burton Russell's five books' project on the history of Abrahamic religious thought about personified evil as though the eruption of functional dualism is, however unbiblical the Waltons think it is, is something that has to be best battled against by exegeting demons out of every proof-text ever used by Jews or Christians with respect to evil spirits.  The irony of such a project is that within ostensibly secular or mainstream progressive, liberal and exvangelical scenes invoking spiritual warfare language has been overt in the liberal/progressive wing of Christianity (a la Greg Boyd) even more so than within evangelical contexts (although not at all that subset of evangelicalism known as Pentecostalism but I'm saving the topics of forty-plus books on spiritual warfare, exorcism, diabology, the Watchers tradition in 2nd Temple Judaism and the like for some other time!)

Take this podcast title "Powers and Principalities".


Powers & Principalities, a new podcast series from Blake about the systems and institutions that propagate white evangelical & Christian nationalist sociopolitical power. Debuting in late August 2020.

Follow along in the Exvangelical feed, or subscribe to the new show directly on Spotify. (The feed is new, and will appear on other platforms soon.)


That's openly using Ephesians 6 language about powers and principalities to describe the systems and institutions that propagate white evangelical Christian nationalist power.  That the white evangelicals were merely aping and aspiring to the power they saw the mainlines have before them seems to not come up so much in discussions of evangelicalism.  If, as is easily done, evangelicals are punchlines about how uncreative they are then do mainlines and progressives think that evangelicals are solely guilty of Manifest Destiny ideas or have evangelicals in the early 21st century become, possibly, a useful scapegoat for still embracing ideas that they parasitically absorbed from the mainlines they were extracting themselves from between the last 100 and 50 years? 

After all, check out the index of episodes.

Now even as a moderately conservative Calvinist I've been bugged by what I'd have to call the default "white racial frame" in pop level spiritual warfare books.  It's a topic I do hope to actually blog about later this year.  I'd add books on the topic of spiritual warfare by African American theologians and am open to recommendations that ... aren't Charisma House or in that orbit.  I've got some articulate and thoughtful books by African pastors and theologians I'm working through right now, actually, and added some Andrei Orlov to my list recently, too.  All that is a tangent with a theme, which is to say that I think American Christians may benefit from perusing through spiritual warfare manuals at the pop and even academic level and thinking about what someone like Merrill Unger was getting at in his dismissive remarks about "ethnic demonology".  

By the way, I am not intending to castigate the Waltons in a categorical way.  I have heard some folks say positive things about John Walton's work but I am reminded of something Jim West blogged a decade ago about how Walton seemed eager to rescue the text from something rather than just exegete it. 

Meanwhile, I refrained from blogging about this stuff last month because I was determined to be on a blogging vacation but this is something I wanted to blog at least something about for a few weeks.  It would be one thing for Jacobs to stake out an overtly and explicitly anti-utopian stance, as Richard Taruskin has done for decades, regardless of where the utopians formally land on a spectrum (I can't forget Taruskin's very sharp-edged observation that it doesn't matter how far "left" or "right" you go in European history seeing as in both extremes somehow people agree that the "solution" is to kill more Jews!).  That reminds me of something my Native American relatives used to tell me about how the American Civil War worked, that there were white racists in the North fighting white racists in the South about how to treat black people and after that sorta ended they agreed that they all wanted to gang up and kill Indians!  

Maybe it's because I gravitated into the realm of the hair-splitting Reformed scene but Jacobs' "two-party system" seemed far too pat.  It doesn't mean I plan to stop reading Jacobs over that, I read people I don't always agree with, I even read people with whom I have vehement disagreements on a semi-regular basis.  

The other thing is, I've read enough progressive and leftist writers to get a sense that using Obama as the example of a counter to Kendi has a flaw in it, which is that the history of injustice can often enough be masked by the appearance of reasonable proceduralism ... the trouble with that being that it's kind of like "witchcraft". Susan R. Garrett, in her book The Demise of the Devil in the Gospel of Luke pointed out something simple and obvious but necessary, that generally witchcraft is less a cohesive, definable set of practices than a polemical accusation.  Alan Jacobs treating Kendi and Metaxas as somehow combined into the second party in a "two party system" seems comparably sloppy.