Saturday, November 25, 2017

a belated link about how in terms of the music industry it's hip-hop that dominates sales, a lookback at how at the dawn of the baroque era fans of renaissance art regarded early baroque composers as no talent hack dilletantes because string a bucnh of words together over drones took no talent

It’s Official – Hip-Hop Dominates Music

and ...

and ... if we go back to 2009 it seems ...

I'm still not the biggest fan of hip-hop but I don't look at it as crap the way I did twenty years ago.  But then I would also suggest that, now that I've read a bit on the history of the emergent art known as opera that many of the criticisms leveled at opera by advocates of the Renaissance ars perfecta don't come off as "that" different from contemporary condemnations of rap. Not being much of a fan of opera recitative I admit that I don't care for it still and that rap seems less irritating in some ways than opera recitative and yet ... both could be said to aspire to a naturalistic approach to the rhythms of spoken word as a musical art form. 

the bottom of the genres, last there was reporting on that, got listed as jazz and classical music, with classical music slightly above jazz if memory serves. 

I don't think there's much use in the predictable bromides about how jazz and classical are art and hip-hope is non-musical garbage.  It's not that I'm exactly into rap or hip-hop or R&B from the last fifteen years or so because I'm middle-aged enough I just don't know that there's been much on the R&B side that's stuck with me since .... Lauryn Hill, perhaps?  I remember liking her album from a decade back.  Last non-classical albums I remember getting were Portishead's 3rd and Johnny Cash's American V.  Oh ... wait ... the Fargo recordings Ellington did count, as would Jack of Diamonds by John Lee Hooker.  So I'm getting non-classical music I just haven't invested a whole ton in more recent popular musical styles. 

But I'm thinking back to how a reaction I had to rap and hip hop in the early 1990s was to regard it as requiring no musical skill.  Decades later I'm still not exactly a huge fan of the styles but thanks to a certain book on the Baroque era I've got a different perspective on what can be considered unmusical and on what bases.

Copyright 1947 by W. W. Norton & Company
ISBN 0-393-09745-5
location 228 if you've got the Kindle edition

... From the point of view of renaissance composers, nothing was easier than the composition of a recitative since it required only a most superficial familiarity with musical technique. It is symptomatic that the leading spirits of the Camerata, Bardi and Corsi, were, indeed, aristocratic amateurs who tried their hands at composition. Amateurs are less likely to be hidebound by tradition, and less likely to be hampered by facts in the pursuit of new ideas. The influence of the dilettanti was as decisive a factor in the formation of baroque music as in that of the classic style in the days of the Bach sons. 

Amateurish, then, was the assertion of the Camerata that renaissance music was unable to imitate the affection of the words; and renaissance theorists were quick to deny this claim. The reason why the advocates of the old and new schools could not settle their issue and were unable to understand each other can be easily seen. When the baroque composer spoke about affections, he referred to the extreme and violent ones, considered improper by the renaissance composer; so the whole argument was carried out on two levels that did not even touch each other.

So for those of us who at one point concluded that there was no musical talent required for rap beyond just saying a bunch of words in a rhythmically discernible pattern, there are people who resemble us from a few centuries ago, advocates of the Renaissance ars perfecta who considered the recitative and dance idioms of the nascent baroque era to be full of no-talent text blathering on the one hand and motoric machine music on the other.

Meanwhile, as only far back as 2015, the least popular musical genre in terms of sales?
Has jazz become America’s least-popular genre?

According to Nielsen‘s 2014 Year-End Report, jazz is continuing to fall out of favor with American listeners and has tied with classical music as the least-consumed music in the U.S., after children’s music.

Both jazz and classical represent just 1.4% of total U.S. music consumption a piece. However, Classical album sales were higher for 2014, which puts Jazz at the bottom of the barrel.

This continues an alarming trend that has seen more and more listeners move away from jazz every year.

If jazz and classical alike are more or less at the bottom of the barrel for sales it would seem like they might want to interact more, its people, I mean.  The more I have immersed myself in Baroque music, and by this I don't mean just the late/high Baroque but music from the early and middle Baroque phases, the more it seems that what jazz reintroduced into Western concert music (and let's recall that Baroque music in its time had both popular appeal (opera) and social contexts (dance)) a concept roughly like figured bass.  Whereas a work by Schutz would be written out in figured bass conventions a jazz standard is charted out in what we could call figured treble but the basic flexibility and skeletal nature of the score doesn't seem inherently dissimilar to me.  Yes, there's a world of difference in terms of time and place and style but it isn't surprising to me that the composers of classical music who have been most interested in and have occasionally even been successful at fusions of classical and jazz idioms have not been the ones who were steeped in 19th century romanticism of the "long 19th century"; they've tended to be the musicians who have soaked up the jazz tradition on the one hand and dug into the possibilities in the Baroque period on the other. 

I have been getting the impression over the last twenty years that what jazz and classical music alike have struggled to do, rather the people attempting to continue these idioms don't seem to have pulled off, is retaining a connection to music you might hear on the street.  I know that sounds kinda weird to put it like that.  If the highbrow art is too disconnected from lowbrow art it can only be music that can be appreciated by an elite and while jazz and classical partisans can certainly look at each other as elitist workaday people might get the impression that both sets of fans are pretty elitist in pretty much equal measure.  There can be a common impression that people who think they're into real art music have a loathing of what might be termed the music of the street.  That music of the street could be blues or country or hip hop or pop or whatever is formulaic and churned out by street musicians who may or may not succeed in entertaining you.

Well, I've been thinking over the years about how there'sa common thread in the biographies of composers I've admired in my life, whether it's Shostakovich or Villa-Lobos or Haydn or even Hindemith in a rather different way--these were musicians who had a musical life that accounted for amateurs and/or accounted for music at the street level.  Haydn quite literally played in street bands in his younger years, as did Villa-Lobos.  Shostakovich played music in movie theaters if memory serves.  While Bach was constantly making church music and court music he was not disconnected from vernacular music in the sense that, as anyone who has studied Bach at all knows, there were hymns.   Monk or Minghus had their unusual aspects but their work signals in a variety of ways that they knew their church music.  I haven't gotten to this particular work of his but Ted Gioia has written that too few people have appreciated the significance that church music played in the development of earlier jazz styles.  I might not have time to get to everything I hope to read.  Such as life.

But I trust the idea is coming across, that there is room for as ostensibly highbrow an idiom as classical music or jazz being attuned to street level music.  I just don't see any reason you can't admire the music of Hank Williams Sr (but not Jr.!) and also admire Haydn's piano trios, too.  It's easily possible to admire the music of Ellington and Xenakis, though I enjoy Ellington more consistently than I enjoy Xenakis I can say I find it fun to listen to them both. 

Now one of the more persistent complaints I've seen made about popular and vernacular styles of music is that they lack musical "argument".  If you don't already grasp entirely what someone could possibly mean by that I don't blame you.  What this sort of argument attempts to make is to say that the reason popular and vernacular music is street music that isn't substantial is because it has clunky junky material that cannot be realized into more complex macrostructural forms and processes like sonata or fugue, i.e. some kind of axiomatically "classical" way of ordering, developing and expanding the material.  This is an idea that sounds like it's entirely reasonable to the sorts of people who like to make that kind of argument, but they're wrong.  There isn't any reason, in principle, or even at the bluntly physical level, that you couldn't compose a fugue using slide guitar riffs inspired by Don Helms.  The way this can often get put in music classes is to say that form follows function and that a form such as sonata has a certain function and that dance styles like ragtime are not really suited to the form a sonata takes.

I've always disagreed with that and now that I've had twenty years of study and experimentation and reading to think about it I would say that syntactics are a key reason that it's possible to transpose the cellular development of vernacular riffs on the guitar or ragtime elements into sonata forms.  When you understand the syntactics of how material gets developed in a more or less tonal idiom in Bach, Haydn, Mendelssohn, Brahms, Lizst, and then Debussy, Bartok, Stravinsky, Hindemith, and Messiaen with a bit of Penderecki thrown in it's ... not actually that difficult to start thinking of how you could take a lick that sounds like it would fit into a Hank Williams Sr. number and compose a fugue out of that. 

And for conservative musical traditionalists on the classical music side of things the counterintuitive thing here is that someone who said that you have to extrapolate the nature of the form from the foundational nature of the preliminary material was ... Adorno.  Sure, Adorno was advocating for the abandonment and exhaustion of traditional tonality and all that, but his point remains useful, you don't try to abstract form past the point where it has any connection to what you're working with.  To attempt to use an architectural metaphor, it hardly matters if you have the most perfect schematic for the purest possible structure of a building, you're still beholden to the real-world limitations of the bricks and the mortar and the support beams and the wiring you would be putting into that on-paper pure form.  Someone like J. S. Bach tailored each and every fugue to what he regarded as the most satisfying practical and theoretical possibilities for what he could do with his fugue subjects, not some abstracted and idealized notion of what a fugue ought to sound like. 

As Bukofzer put it in his aforementioned monograph, no two fugues were ever really the same and yet 19th century pedagogy was committed to laying down rules as to what a fugue was supposed to have.  This can play itself out in otherwise inscrutable rules such as that a fugue has at least three voices while an invention has two.  Right,, so when Bach wrote two and three-part inventions ... well, if we propose that inventions are governed by canon as imitation rather than imitation at the fifth or some other interval ... but ... never mind about that.  

Actually ... in Philosophy of New Music Adorno argued that the mistake made in contrapuntal instruction is to prescribe it and misuse it as a formula for getting line upon line in harmonious motion.  But that's not what we observe Bach doing in his fugues.  In Bach a subject and a countersubject and any other countersubjects are not composed simply to "fit together" in a way so that another voice could theoretically be added.  Every line within the texture has a part to play and the other lines are composed so as to develop a synergistic array of developmental possibilities that inform everything about how the material is subsequently developed throughout the fugue.  A theory teacher once said that expositions are easy but that middle entries and episodes are hard.  I find I can't and don't separate these so distinctly because I find every exposition is always hard and yet that by the time I have worked out an exposition I like (and for the most part I don't consider my fugue expositions truly "done" until I've worked out what I can and want to do with the contrapuntal strands in middle entries) the middle entries and episodes all pretty much take care of themselves, so to speak.

But that's because, as I've realized in reading how Adorno describes what Bach did vs what counterpoint teachers tend to say he did, that I make a point of defining everything in any one of my fugues by the subject and countersubjects.  There's nothing in the expositions that doesn't guide, at every level, what happens later.  There's no need to resort to new "free material" except in codas and closing passages, for the most part.  But there's also reason to not compose middle entries in which the subject and countersubjects are subjected to inversion or retrogression because, hey, twelve-tone music did happen. 

And for me what has opened up possibilities for continuing experimentation in counterpoint is to take blues riffs and ragtime ideas and find ways to manipulate the syntactic parameters of their development into counterpoint and flexibly approached sonata forms.

So I keep beating that drum.  What I'm trying to get at in a weekend post is that the advocates of highbrow seem to find it too easy to fixate on the culminations and the apotheoses as though these didn't develop from the ground up as high-end explorations of the most abstract and esoterically realized formal possibilities of music that began, to be deliberately polemical about it, on the street.  Bach was known to start students not on fugues with triple counterpoint or works in crab canon but with four-part chorales. 

Were Adorno alive I'm not sure he'd want to read someone using his philosophy of music and abstruse theoretical musings on the nature of art and aesthetics as a springboard for composing ragtime sonatas for plucked string instruments.  Well, maybe, or maybe he would grant that the popular music he didn't like half a century ago had some merits.  Otherwise I'd say "On Jazz" is one of the most widely reviled pieces written about jazz with cause.  Still, I'd venture to propose that writers like Adorno are not unlike writers like Francis Schaeffer, they can have absurdly doom-and-gloom narratives that even I, dour Calvinist and pessimist that I am, find ludicrous, but their struggle to articulate where they thought art could go can still be a useful springboard even if I think both of them were trapped in a bunker mentality in terms of aesthetics to the proverbial long 19th century.  Adorno advocated for atonality because he wanted art to embrace a difficulty of form and content that would completely resist the reifying tendencies of the culture industry.  The trouble was he was in all sorts of ways too beholden to the thought processes of enlightenment and modernity, to put it another way, he was like a Renaissance era advocate of ars perfecta ticked off about the incompetency and clunkiness of the Camerata of popular styles he didn't like.  The historical journey from a Monteverdi to a J. S. Bach took at least a century and a half. 

What Adorno and Schaeffer may have had in common was a belief that the decline of a kind of 19th century ars perfecta had to either herald a recovery or a deliberate abjection and yet what we see in the Baroque era was a polystylistic paradigm where the old style was retained as the new style developed and they informed each other as practitioners played with both styles.  Adorno was too much a bourgeois German romantic to appreciate that there was plenty of dialectic going on in the entire Baroque era, both with the preceding Renaissance style and the variety of styles that were newly developing in the Baroque era.  The idea that German music somehow is only bracketed by J. S. Bach through Schoenberg seems ludicrous.  Schutz wrote a lot of fine music.  Schutz had to deal with the ravages of the Thirty Years War and miserable shortages of musical resources. 

At this stage in my life I just don't see that there couldn't one day be a fusion of contrapuntal music derived from Baroque traditions with hip hop.  There are already aspects of polyphonic music all over black American music in the work of James Brown, Stevie Wonder and others.  I love the ars perfectas of earlier eras of Western music but one of those ars perfectas might actually be what we now call classic rock.  The people who can't and won't believe that the music of the street can take a few centuries to rise to the level of an ars perfecta are probably the people who are convinced and committed regarding what they regard their ars perfecta credentials as being.

I mean, there are still all kinds of reasons I'm not into hip-hop to do with lyrics that seem to be vulgar, demeaning to women, celebrating violence and so forth but it's not like I stopped finding Led Zeppelin lyrics awful for pretty much the same set of reasons.

the authors of Runaway Species on why beautiy is not universal, which is mainly just going through a list of potential aesthetic ideals and demonstrating how each is not universal

There's a type of glib Western scholarship and journalism in our era that has no easy answers except for the assertion that there are no easy answers.  I'm not sure I'm even going to finish A. O. Scott's Better Living Through Criticism precisely because he seems to be trafficking so heavily in this sort of bromide.  It can be hard to feel much sympathy for the creative class these days.  This has nothing to do with not being a musician or composer or a writer since I do all that stuff and at one point I worked in visual media before a couple of things happened to make working in visual media seem like a really improbable long-term activity. 
I talked with another music student decades ago about whether aesthetic absolutes or ideals existed and his thought on that was that they do, in fact, exist, but that they are numerous.  There's more than one aesthetic ideal you can observe in art, music, literature and the rest across the span of human history. Simply because different cultures prize different aesthetic ideals doesn't mean these ideals don't exist.  A Christian might propose that what this suggests is that the manifold beauty of the world in general and the nature of the mysterious way in which humanity bears the image of God is such that whatever ideals of beauty there may be we can't exhaust them.  Our minds may have been, if you will, made just large enough to grasp at and for the infinite but unable to comprehend it.  There's a few passages from Ecclesiastes that come to mind but I'm not trying to shift everything into a discourse on Ecclesiastes just now.
Well, in contemporary Western writing the tendency is to take the diversity of aesthetic ideals as more or less prima facie evidence that the ideals just don't exist. 
So visual art is not doomed to follow any prescriptions. In fact, once Smets concluded her experiments, she asked participants which images they preferred. There she found no consensus. A larger brain response to 20 percent complexity did not predict anything about her subjects’ aesthetic preferences, which were distributed across the spectrum. When it comes to judging visual beauty, there are no hard-and-fast biological rules.
In fact, the environment we live in can change the way we see.  In the Müller-Lyer illusion (below), segment a is perceived as shorter than segment b, even though they are exactly the same length. For many years, scientists assumed this was a universal feature of human visual perception.
However, cross-cultural studies revealed something surprising: perception of the illusion varies widely—and Westerners are outliers. When scientists measured how different the segments appeared to different groups of people, they found that Westerners saw the greatest distortion. The Zulu, Fang, and Ijaw people of Africa observed half as much. The San foragers of the Kalahari didn’t perceive the illusion at all: they recognized right away that a and b were the same length. People raised in Western countries literally don’t see things the same way as the foragers of the Kalahari. Your experience of the world changes what you take to be true, and vision is no exception.
What about music? Isn’t that often referred to as a universal language? The music we hear daily seems to follow consistent norms. But a survey of indigenous music from around the world reveals great diversity in what we listen to and how we listen, ranging far beyond familiar Western practice. When Western parents want their baby to fall asleep they sing a soothing lullaby, gradually subsiding into a whisper—but Aka Pygmies sing louder, while patting their child on the neck. In Western classical music playing in tune is considered beautiful, but in traditional Javanese music, detuning is considered attractive. In the music of some indigenous cultures, everyone plays at his own speed; in others, such as Mongolian throat singing, the music has no recognizable melody; in others still, the music is played on unusual instruments, such as the water drummers of the Vanuatu Islands who beat rhythms on the waves. Western meters tend to emphasize every second, third, or fourth beat, but Bulgarian rhythms incorporate metric patterns of seven, 11, 13, and 15 beats, and there are Indian rhythmic cycles of more than 100 beats. Western-tempered tuning divides the octave into 12 equally spaced tones, while classical Indian music divides the octave into 22 tones that are unequally spaced. Western ears hear pitch as high and low, but even that turns out to be enculturated: to the Roma people of Serbia, pitches are “large” and “small;” to the Obaya-Menza tribe they are “fathers” and “sons;” and to the Shona people of Zimbabwe, they are “crocodiles” and “people who chase after crocodiles.”
Despite these differences, are there underlying ties in music? What about a biological preference for how sounds are combined? Scientists proposed that we are all born loving consonance, so this was put to the test in infants. Because four- to six-month-olds can’t tell us what they’re thinking, one has to look for clues in their behavior. A research team set up a room with loudspeakers on either side. They played a Mozart minuet out of one speaker. Then they turned that speaker off and out of the other, they played a distorted version of the same minuet, in which Mozart’s music was turned into a parade of grating dissonances. In the center of the room a baby sat on the parent’s lap, and the researchers tracked how long the infant listened to each piece of music before turning away. The results? The babies paid attention for longer to the original Mozart than to the dissonant version. It seemed like compelling evidence that a preference for consonance is innate.
But then experts in music cognition began to question this conclusion. For one thing, some indigenous music, such as Bulgarian folk singing, is characterized by pervasive dissonance. Even within mainstream Western culture the sounds that are considered pleasing have changed over time: the simple consonant harmonies of Mozart’s minuet would have startled a medieval monk.
So cognitive scientists Sandra Trehub and Judy Plantinga revisited the head-turning experiment. They found a surprising result: The babies listened longer to whichever sample they heard first. If the dissonant version led off, that held their attention just as well as if the consonant version had precedence. Their conclusion was that we are not born with an innate preference for consonance. As with visual beauty, the sounds we appreciate aren’t locked in at birth.
Scientists have struggled to find universals that permanently link our species. Although we come to the table with biological predispositions, a million years of bending, breaking and blending have diversified our species’ preferences. We are the products not only of biological evolution but also of cultural evolution. Although the idea of universal beauty is appealing, it doesn’t capture the multiplicity of creation across place and time. Beauty is not genetically preordained. As we explore creatively, we expand aesthetically: everything new that we view as beautiful adds to the word’s definition. That is why we sometimes look at great works of the past and find them unappealing, while we find splendor in objects that previous generations wouldn’t have accepted. What characterizes us as a species is not a particular aesthetic preference, but the multiple, meandering paths of creativity itself 
And to this it's possible to say, "blah blah blah".  Xenakis highlighted that conventions of aesthetics are conventional and thus modifiable decades ago.  Ben Johnston has written about how the unequally spaced intervals in non-Western scales can be observed to be natural derivations of the overtone series, which doesn't hold across the board for all scales the world over but does at least suggest that one of the problems with glib Western writing these days is a propensity to know just enough to be dangerous and not enough to know that a glib aesthetic relativism that is predicated on "well in this country they do X" is not the same as digging into the traditional and philosophical and practical reasons why A does X while B does Y.  If people keep rolling out individual ideals that have guided aesthetics and just say "Look, here's a culture that doesn't use that ideal so that ideal must not be universal" that doesn't even necessarily establish that there's no such thing as an aesthetic ideal at the most basic level, more that there are enough ideals that, as the axiom has it, one person's meat is another person's poison. 
A more cogent question would not be about the nature of aesthetics as though an aesthetic value were a fixed entity but about cognitive processes.  Aesthetic ideals may be gestalts or summations of cognitive processes in how brains think.  We can grant brain plasticitiy and hemisphere replication means there's a lot wwe don't know about how the brain works but to suggest that there is no universal beauty would ultimately have to depend on an assertion that humans are sufficiently different at the level of brain functionality to be not quite in the same species.  It's not that there's no melody in throat singing it's that you have to know what you're listening for when you want to hear those melodies.  Stop paying attention only to the fundamental and listen to the partials and overtones and the melodies are fairly easy to pick out. 

The example of Bulgarian music is another one that I admit rankles me.  Yes, you're apt to run into 13/16 in Bulgarian music but the concept of large and small beats within metrical patterns is not at all hard to understand.  Just because it tests the limits of Western notational conventions doesn't mean that, when you hear it, it isn't fairly easy to pick up.  Now I suppose I might be strongly biased because I admire the music of Atanas Ourkouzounov, Dusan Bogdanovic, Stepan Rak, and Bartok.  My admiration for music by central and eastern European composers since I got out of high school means I'm probably more primed than average to appreciate that odd meters are just normal.  That said, complexity in one realm of musical activity is very often offset by drastically simplified means in some other realm.  Bulgarian music can be rhythmically very wild but the melodic turns and phrases tend to be smaller and more predictable in cellular terms.  There's less apt to be some German/French/English tendency to start all low and brooding and soar up to soulful heights.

 Which is to suggest that whether you grant aesthetic ideals exist you can consider the possibility that there's a balance of ingredients and that complexity in one area may be offset by a corresponding simplicity in other aspects of an art work.  There is, to put it plainly, a strong likelihood that the brain can only handle things up to a nebulous cognitive threshold and that art that has a shelf life tends to find a balance in which all potential cognitive parameters are not maxed out all the time.  The way Leonard B Meyer put it was to say that art forms that stick with us have a certain level of redundancy built in so if we missed something earlier we know enough of the cognitive rules of the guessing game to get back in the game if we missed a few things. 

Now in a way I get why writers would want to say there are no absolutes defining beauty.  I still find this bromide stupid because the more materialistic we get on the nature of the human condition the less plausible the idea that there are no aesthetic ideals seems to me.  Is there no ideal for a properly functioning heart, lung, eye, ear, kidney or liver?  Is there no such thing as a healthy brain?  I've read attempts to argue that no one person hears music or perceives art in precisely the same way.  To this the question that arises is why anyone bothers to make art at all if there were, according to the conventional aims such rhetoric often has, no way to know for certain that what you're attempting to do is perceived, understood or appreciated?

There are two possibilities, at least, for this scenario.  One is that if you don't try you have no chance of success in making an art work that communicates something.  There's a point at which Americans in the arts who want to invoke how no two human brains are alike are doing a fairly routine, American thing by tacitly or explicitly invoking a kind of cultural American exceptionalism.  To restate this in deliberately combative terms, what's the point of invoking how many exceptions there are to cognition and the arts unless you're planning to assume that you and your friends are the exceptions?  The American rule is, so to speak, that the whole point of the rules is so that the special American with a destiny doesn't have to be constrained by them. 

A sideways rebuttal to this transcendentalist approach to artistic experience was articulated by Leonard B. Meyer half a century ago, in Music, the Arts and Ideas:

page 216
... The transcendentalist may not violate the world, but neither can he understand it, save perhaps through mystical experience--and then he cannot communicate it to anyone else.

If your brain is not like other brains you can be cool with this provided you keep in mind that only you may think or feel that your art means or conveys what it does.  Yet the sorts of writers about the arts who want to invoke an argument to the effect that no two brains are exactly alike keep publishing books.  It's the weekend so we'll just call that paradoxical.

A second possibility, if no two brains are alike and yet artists keep making art, is that the arts are themselves but catalysts.  It's not about, as Meyer put it, understanding the world or communicating it, it's about providing an occasion through the arts to incite discussion and this through criticism. 

This seems to be pretty much what we got with the critical reception of mother!, Maybe we can even put it another way, so long as the artist has made art and it gets debated in some context that's the main thing.  I've alluded to this kind of thing earlier this year as a kind of meta-art religion.  It doesn't really matter to film critics what mother! is actually about, the point is that the film got made, got a theatrical release, and catalyzed a cycle of critical and meta-critical reflection. What an Adorno in an earlier era would have called a bourgeois art religion can in our era be more meta, a bourgeois art religion of arts criticism, which of course still needs the arts but has somewhat inverted the potential relationship between art and criticism.  As Noah Berlatsky has tried putting it, without the critics to recognize and either acknowledge or attack art works the art works themselves can just vanish into the ether of having never been noticed for the record. 

The more materialistic we become the more it would seem aesthetic ideals, as manifestations of what the cognitive possibilities and limitations of the brain are, would seem to be cemented rather than dismantled.  But I'm not sure that sells.  In an era in which so much popular music can be designated via algorhythm it may be morally appealing to try to say there are no aesthetic absolutes or ideals, and that there's no way to account for or define what is considered beautiful in the arts despite the reality that the entertainment industry has been set on selling us more and more of things whose formulae are easier and easier to pin down and describe.

If we were really living in an era in which we're more acutely aware that you can't walk through the same river twice because it isn't the same river and you aren't the same you then it becomes all the more poignant why critics who write about the arts should ever complain that all the popular songs and blockbuster movies start seeming to be so much the same.  That has plenty to do with what the distributors want on the market and are willing to put out there to be monetized. Zappa's complaint was that half a century ago the recorded music industry was willing to try out anything and everything because they hadn't worked out the formulas of what would certainly sell yet and that, by and by and year after year, they began to winnow down what they were willing to promote based on what they were sure would be likely to be a hit. 

Western liberal traditions aspire to articulate what is considered to be universal ideals of human dignity and freedom and beauty.  Yet at the same time we've got a long history of people resenting how bad and terrible a lot of what passes for art is.  It can seem as though we have writers and thinkers who love the ideal of the universal ideal of beauty in art but then resent the actual sea of sameness out there.  It's like a line from Dostoevsky's Zossima about how there are men who profess a love for humanity as a whole yet hate every single person they know. 

The problem with universals as imagined in Western art is that what we regard as universal values may not be that universal.  Or perhaps the universals held up as ideals in Western traditions are universal as a set of possible universals but over millennia have been refined to a poin twhere they're too easy to predict.  Some ideas about the beauty and sovereignty of the individual are so easy to anticipate that there are a lot of films I don't bother watching because I can work out the intended bromide of the film just from the trailer.   This all kinda reminds me of a short exchange in Whit Stillman's The Last Days of Disco where an editor casually drawls out the bullet points of what it takes to have a best-selling book and when one staffer complains about how formulaic it all is another staffer indignantly replies, "Of course it's formulaic. That's why they call it a formula." 

One of those formulas, these days, may be to declare that there are no formulas, which sometimes seems to be the most formulaic thing a writer can write.

Friday, November 24, 2017

Throckmorton has also picked up the false credentials background of Ravi Zacharias this week

I mentioned this in a blog post earlier ...

and Warren Throckmorton has just picked up on it, too, which is handy.
Steve Baughman, writing at the League of Ordinary Gentleman, updated his 2015 work earlier this month by noting how protective of Zacharias the “Christian Industrial Complex” has been. Patrick Henry College had Zacharias as a commencement speaker even though they knew he had once embellished his credentials. In short, Baughman’s update resonates with what I have found over and over again. When deception among Christian leaders is exposed, the default position is to close ranks and deny there is any problem.
There's that, yes, but also a propensity to roll out the claim that "David was an adulterer and God didn't remove him from being king, so ... ."
But in the case of fake it until you make it the problem is that making it in academic contexts is supposed to mean you provably did the work.  I don't have the time, patience or resources to necessarily go through the range of potential Christian diploma mills out there.  Someone else might be better positioned to tackle that. 
Having recently finished Justin Dean's book on how your church really needs PR and probably can't make it in today's world without it, it was interesting how much he blasted bloggers on the one hand while telling church leaders they can't afford to not have a blog or social media presence on the other.  That isn't a contradiction so much as a double standard but the double standard is predicated on something that probably needs to be explained. 
What's the difference between some proverbial blogger with  no institutional affiliation and a church blog?  Driscoll used to say and write that these bloggers don't necessarily have any observable affiliation with a church or a school of thought or a theological tradition and so you can't be sure these guys aren't wingnuts without any accountability system in place.  The irony of that double standard is breathtaking enough all by itself but since Driscoll's Richard Nixon moment he's taken to saying things like guys wearing T- shirts of dead theologians is like some kind of expression of daddy issues.  Right ... so naming your sons after Calvin and Pascal would indicate MAJOR daddy issues if Driscoll applied that kind of simplistic shibboleth to himself but not applying it to yourself might be the whole point of such a shibboleth.
On the subject of whether merely being able to say you have a degree proves competency, this reminds me of something I looked at a couple of years back.  I looked at how Driscoll kept insisting across decades that the "navel" in Song of Songs of the beloved lady had to be the vagina and not the navel.  Yet any cursory examination of the Hebrew usage for the word that has traditionally been translated "navel" reveals that the word shows up in contexts where "if" Driscoll's insistence were correct he'd have to explain how it is that the cutting of the "navel" isn't the "plain meaning" of a passage in an oracle of Ezekiel.  Still crazier would be the use of "navel" as a synecdoche for for core strength in Proverbs 3 when the compiler of the Proverbs is addressing his son.  We discussed that in some detail over here.
You would think that for a guy who boasted in his master's in exegetical theology that Driscoll would demonstrate that he .... ever actually learned any biblical Hebrew at all.  Merely cherry-picking the secondary literature to insist that his interpretation that the Hebrew word commonly translated as "navel" has to mean "vagina" but only in this one case and nowhere else where the Hebrew root and associates get used is the kidn of slipshod asserting that could make a person doubt that a guy like Driscoll ever even actually studied biblical Hebrew, let alone Aramaic or even koine Greek.  Back when I was considering NT studies a guy named William Lane advised that if you were going to pursue doctoral level study you would need reading fluency in biblical Greek, biblical Hebrew, Aramaic, French, Latin and German before attempting to start advanced scholarly work.  When he saw how that scared somebody he then smiled and said reassuring, "Oh, you don't have to be able to speak them, just read them. ... Old Testament scholars have to learn those six and fifteen others besides.  We New Testament scholars actually have it pretty easy."  Hope you'll forgive a paraphrase of a twenty-four year old conversation but I hope you get the idea.  Nobody has really pressed Driscoll all that much on whether he's demonstrated he can responsibly engage in exegetical work with a knowledge of Hebrew and this is for a degree he can say he earned. 
But the point that has been made about the Christian Industrial Complex is that it's becoming clearer you don't even need to have the actual credentials so long as you can talk in a way that makes it sound like you have them and promotional activity can apparently do the rest.
This has been reminding me of something I've been thinking about in the years since Driscoll became the Dick Nixon of megachurch preachers, he scoffed early on at formal credentials and education until he managed to secure a few for himself and then it was as though he couldn't help dropping his credentials into blog posts, particularly the blog posts where he decided to go head first into some controversy like being invited to speak at Liberty University or starting a ruckus on the internet about gender roles and then transforming what progressives might have foolishly thought was going to be an occasion to apologize into a promotional teaser for Pastor Mark TV and Real Marriage back in 2011. 
Perhaps Christian celebrities and promoters and supporters of celebrities don't like what the internet can be used for because in this era digging around into whether or not this credential was earned rather than honorary; and whether that set of positions was ever a real academic role or just a paper show is getting easier and easier to establish.  I've written about how some of my favorite academics, one of them in musicology, has complained about the prestige racket of academia.  It may be a sign of what the prestige racket does that Christians want to buy in to that so they look like they have the credentials even if they don't so as to hit the speaking circuit. 
To bring it back to that Justin Dean riff in his book about bloggers that are bad if they're individual but blogs that are necessary for institutions, that's the thing, institutions have prestige and credibility of a sort that people don't feel automatically entitled to question, unless the very nature of the institution makes them intellectual lepers (i.e. how secularists tend to view all religious thought on the internet these days). 
In journalistic terms one of the challenges a journalist faces is that you have to quote sources that are vetted and considered credible, yet these sources can use the formality of credibility and institutional backing to lie to you and you may not know it at first statement.  But individuals speak for themselves unless there's some basis for them to have credibility.  In other words, the brass tacks of all that is you are only as good as your reputation and that's only as credible as how you treat people and how reliably you report and document what you've studied and observed.  A paradox in a Christian blogging scene is that the kinds of people who may distrust institutions traffic in the same notion themselves that they have all the credibility they need by just knowing what the facts are.  To put it another way, an anti-Driscoll blogger or commenter isn't any different from a Mark Driscoll in tone or conduct simply for being the self-designated opposite number.  A Mark Driscoll and a Rachel Held Evans are ultimately pretty much the same.
Why do either of these sorts of celebrity Christians have any credibility whatsoever?  What they're selling is a type of authenticity that might be a topic for some other post if I felt like writing that.  For now let's just say that the vibe of authenticity and of daring vulnerability is one of the easier things to sell these days.  Take Dana Stevens' confession/good-bye/review of Louis C. K.'s I Love You, Daddy. There's something sexy about presenting vulnerabilities these days, even if it mayturn out that selling that vulnerability can go hand in hand with using and abusing power and prestige behind the scenes.  It doesn't have to be in precisely the way C. K. did it.  We've documented how that kind of culture of misusing leveraged status can happen without any reference to sex at all, in a way, here at this blog for years.
But then this gets back to the Zacharias case.  Christians in particular, as well as people more generally, can find that if leveraging real prestige and credentials is too much work that a simulation will do.  It's seeming that if you can't jump through all the hoops that would be involved in earning the academic credentials you can go an honorary route and find a way to market that.  You don't need the light of learning itself through official channels if you can sport the halo, and if you have the halo you can be tempted to sound off on things you shouldn't.
Take something from a year ago, for instance. Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted something stupid about how if sex were unpleasant for a species it would die out and then someone can point out how cats have, nonetheless, kept breeding for millennia. 
What may be going on in the celebrity Christian circuit is that we've got a raft of what in secular internet activity and speaking would turn into a Tyson moment that won't because, as an author has argued lately, the Christian Industrial Complex would rather circle the wagons than concede that the prestige racket is something they're not immune to. 

Thursday, November 23, 2017

two books on Pacific Northwest aboriginal slavery--a short reflection on slavery in the PNW tribes; on how Southern tribes allied with the Confederacy; and on how tribes voluntarily phased out or abolished slavery without having civil wars about the issue
Indian Slavery in the Pacific Northwest (Northwest Historical Series XVII)
Robert H Ruby and John A Brown
The Arthur H Clark Company, Spokane, Washington
copyright (c) 1993 by Robert H. Ruby and John A. Brown
ISBN 0-87062-225-0
This book by Ruby and Brown is not a particularly eloquent read and is hindered by the admitted shortage of primary source materials on the subject.  If you're inclined to be a completist on this subject, however, you'll want this book in your library.  If you live in the Puget Sound area, though, it will be good to know this book is in the Seattle City Library system for check out.

But it's this second book that is the significantly more interesting read, by a scholar who did work on African slavery before turning his attention to Northwestern Native slavery practices.
Aboriginal Slavery on the Northwest Coast of North America
Leland Donald (Author)
Hardcover, 375 pages
ISBN: 9780520206168
August 1997

If you want a review of the book in case you're not sure this is your idea of fun holiday reading ...

Given the shortage of primary sources on this subject, and given the unavoidable problems of bias or spin within even those primary sources, the most that might be confidently said is that the existence of slavery across all of the Pacific Northwest tribes presents a glaring exception to a commonplace that hunter gatherer societies would not develop slave systems.  That might be true in geographic regions where resource scarcities might provide external pressures on people groups to let everyone participate in an egalitarian way toward resource collection and distribution, but that wouldn't necessarily apply in a resource-rich region like the Pacific Northwest. 

These books, with their respective flaws, necessarily bound to the problems of source materials, may ideally stand as starting points for future research. 

On a Thanksgiving day we can be thankful for all sorts of things.  The lack of a formally sanctioned slave culture within Northwest aboriginal cultures can be one of them.  If there's a pervasive flaw in contemporary discussion of slavery in American academic discourse for someone with American Indian lineage it's that the subject of slavery has been made so literally as well as metaphorically black and white that the pervasiveness of slavery within the Native American tribes tends to get sidelined or dismissed by way of saying "yes, they all did it but not in the way of the racist ideology that motivated white ownership of blacks in the American South."  Well, sure, but does this make the Native American slavery "better", more understandable or morally more excusable?  I always thought Rousseau's idea of a noble savage unstained by Western civilization to be a patently idiotic idea.  Bias fully stated there.  And reading about the PNW slavery practices, even if there's room for scholarly and historical debate about the scope and reliability of what can be established about that, the pervasiveness of slavery in the hunter-gatherer tribes of the Pacific Northwest should give us reason to doubt the idea that a noble savage in touch with nature would not be capable of developing a complex of property codes or a slave class. 

Of course being a Presbyterian/Reformed sort one of the things that comes to mind is that there are guys (white guys probably to a man) who will say that these kinds of books "upset the narrative" about the pure undefiled non-white people.  Sure, but since American Indians can and do reject that stupid mythology this doesn't mean that R. L. Dabney wasn't a contemptibly racist jerk.  Just because I advise people to consider that pervasiveness of slavery in the Pacific Northwest aboriginal tribes doesn't mean I'm going to start taking guys like Douglas Wilson seriously about the American Civil War, because my American Indian relatives told me that that war was where white racists in the North fought white racists in the South over the subject of how to treat black people and then when that matter was settled they all agreed to go back and kill Indians.  It's possible for someone to be hugely progressive regarding one skin color and not the other.  It was easily possible for those who could campaign for abolition on behalf of the black man to still subscribe to some variation of the idea that the only good Indian was a dead Indian. 

One of the things that probably can't be explored much at a scholarly level that comes across in the Ruby/Brown monograph is that slavery was made illegal, and it was made illegal across the board.  Tribes in what is now the American South.  That's not the whole of the matter, though.  It's buried in a footnote in the book on page 35 but ...

Indian Slavery in the Pacific Northwest

from footnote at the bottom of page 35
In early October 1861, at the beginning of the war, part of the Osages, Seminoles, Shawnees and Quapaws signed treaties with the Confederacy as did the Cherokees on October 7, 1861. William G. McLoughlin writes that all southern tribes practiced slavery and, that they allied with the Confederacy, and "seeking desperately to maintain a social status above that of Negroes, had rapidly developed the same attitude toward them as [did] ... white[s]." The United States, which had provided protection of Cherokees, Choctaws, Chicasaws and Creeks, withdrew its troops. Few tribesman retained their loyalties to the Union, most having espoused the Confederate cause. Yet, influenced by the Emancipation Proclamation (January 1, 18863) the Cherokee Nation severed ties with the Confederacy and abolished slavery.  The subsequent 13th Amendment, which prohibited slavery in the United States, included persons of African and American and mixed descent.  "The Choctaw Slave Burning: A Crisis in Mission Work Among The Indians," 124-126; Cohen, Handbook of Federal Indian Law, 181-182.

So if the Cherokee cut their ties to the Confederacy and voluntarily abolished slavery in response to the Emancipation Proclamation it would be a little tough to insist that the Proclamation didn't have any impact on Native American situations.  Turns out it did.  Some would-be defenders of the Confederacy have tried to argue that slavery would have been phased out eventually.  We'll come back to that in just a moment.

There's something else mentioned in the Ruby/Brown monograph that's worth mentioning, which is how the practice of slavery ended in the Pacific Northwestern tribes.  In contrast to the martial and legal battles over white and black slavery the Pacific Northwestern tribes, as could best be discerned, figured out the moral disapproval of slavery as a practice was becoming pervasive and basically stopped doing it.

Indian Slavery in the Pacific Northwest
page 299
Chapter 12., Demise and Delivery

Despite futile efforts to end the Pacific Northwestern native slave trade through treaties and injection of moralist counteractions, it was actually the introduction of capitalistic merchandising at contact by Euro-Americans that eventually brought the system to its knees following a period of expansion.  The aboriginal economic system supporting an aristocracy gave way to a free enterprise social leveling which rendered the holding of potlatches impossible in the usual and customary fashion.

Missionaries and others sought to eliminate slavery. Americans sought to force its abolition among coastal tribes through treaties even prior to the manumission of blacks in the American South. The clergy, and fur traders in an abating enterprise, sought to emancipate native slaves and abolish slavery in the waning years of the 19th century. Yet, slavery did not end through their efforts, but of its own weight under a trade system in a changing social-economic environment which no longer supported that practice. The last of the slaves disappeared by attrition.

So it seems that Native American tribes in the Pacific Northwest did not give up slavery in response to attempts to outlaw the practice and treaty it out of existence--as it became clear that it was being outlawed and as free trade and increased social interaction with other groups took place, it looks like the Native American tribes phased out the slavery system on their own end.  It didn't require a Civil War.

I mean, sure, an author could say capitalistic free trade had something to do with it but an early 1990s book might be informed by the recent end of the Cold War as a defense or rationale of capitalism in a way that might have put more weight than strictly necessary on the Cold War battle of ideologies regarding economic organization at a state level.  There's also room to suggest that the Native Americans chose to phase out slavery, too. 

And ... to rub this point in, they didn't have to fight civil wars about it in a North and South kind of way.  If slavery was going to be phased out in the South as some defenders of the Confederacy have proposed, what was the evidence that this was actually going to happen?  Might not a comparison of the handling of slavery and its aftermath in the American South to the eventual apparently voluntary obsolescence of slavery in the Native American tribes of the Pacific Northwest be instructive?   Yeah, so maybe I'm trolling a little on Thanksgiving day.  There are just some kinds of Confederate sympathizing Reformed white guys who might benefit from learning that the American Indian savages had enough sense to voluntarily phase out slavery within their cultures in a way that the Confederacy was pretty obviously and ostentatiously unwilling to do. 

Happy Thanksgiving

at The New Republic Jedediah Purdy has a piece on what made prehistoric hunter gatherers give away freedom for civilization, one of those ludicrous pseudo-historical bromides that keeps on going

The idea that the path to civilization was the path to enslavement just won't die, will it?  The kind of liberal/progressive agenda that is characteristic of anyone who gets published at The New Republic depends on urban humanity to even dream of realization, but the bromide of trading freedom for security might be too irresistible a dualism.

In any case, here we go:

We pride ourselves today on having overcome such condescending myths. But James C. Scott, an eminent and iconoclastic political scientist, is not so sure that we have. In Against the Grain, Scott argues that we still think of our world as the fruit of a series of undeniable advances: domestication, public order, mass literacy, and prosperity. We chide the ancient Greeks for relying on enslaved labor and the Romans for their imperial wars, but our own story, as we imagine it, still starts with those ancient city-states and their precursors in the Mesopotamian Middle East (basically modern Iraq), when some clever primates first planted rows of seeds, built mud-brick walls, and scratched cuneiform on a crude tablet. In our own minds, we are the descendants of people who couldn’t wait to settle down.

The truth, Scott proposes, may be the opposite. What if early civilization was not a boon to humankind but a disaster: for health and safety, for freedom, and for the natural world? What if the first cities were, above all, vast technologies of exploitation by a small and rapacious elite? If that is where we come from, who are we now? What possibilities might we discover by tracing our origins to a different kind of ancestor?

Sure, why not?  Even though mortality rates have declined those mortality rates being as low as they are may be the biggest problem in the global crisis of overpopulation, food shortages, water supply issues, fossil fuel consumption ... on the whole it might be that Western civilization could end the planet and for what?  To thine own self be true? 

It's just that saying that modern civilization has been a disaster is easy for anyone to proclaim who hasn't had to live with disabilities or who only survived infancy because of medical technology.  The history of white guys proclaiming that civilization is what really enslaves humanity goes back to at least Rousseau, right? 
Scott’s retelling, however, goes deeper than scrambling the chronology and emphasizing the dark side of early institutions. Life in cities, he argues, was probably worse than foraging or herding. City dwellers were vulnerable to epidemics. Their diets were less varied than those of people on the outside. Unless they were in the small ruling class, they had less leisure, because they had to produce food not just for their own survival, but also to support their rulers. Their labor might be called on to build fortresses, monuments, and those ever-looming walls. Outside the walls, by contrast, a fortunate savage or barbarian might be a hunter in the morning, a herder or fisherman in the afternoon, and a bard singing tales around the fire in the evening. To enter the city meant joining the world’s first proletariat.

So why would anyone come into the city? Scott argues, based on reconstruction of ancient soils and climate, that around 5,000 years ago, droughts in the fertile wetlands of Mesopotamia made wild foods critically scarce, which meant that foragers had to rely more and more on grain to feed themselves. Once a system of labor was in place, fresh bodies could be hustled into it by the new sub–ruling class of soldiers, or swept up en masse in slave raids. Enslavement was nothing new, but the tax-grain-surplus regime enabled the new cities’ rulers to scale it up immensely. Once the exploitation machine called civilization was running, it was self-perpetuating.
Except that it often was not, because cities were acutely vulnerable—both more powerful and fragile than the more diverse and dispersed ways of life that preceded them. Besides epidemics, they tended to produce ecological crises, such as gradual salinization of the soil, sediment buildup in canals, and other environmental choke points that degraded grain production. And although urban ruling classes wielded organized military power, they were often sitting ducks for barbarian raiders. Many stories of civilizational flowering end with raiders riding in from the plains or their black sails appearing in the harbor, bringing looting, fire, and the end of days.


We are the only things here, and “here” is a planetary version of the infrastructure state. There really is no more outside. All of this leaves us to ask how far we, on the inside, can overcome the inherited logic of our exploitation machine, and how much of the nonhuman world will be left if we do. Any answers will unavoidably come through political projects to remake this world in gentler and more inclusive forms, so that it can house more kinds of lives. The state got us into this. It is only by using the state for new purposes that we can hope to get ourselves someplace else.

While civilization in the Western sense may be dubbed the greatest social disease in the history of humanity it is apparently also the only legitimate possibility for a cure?  that might suggest that the ideal of Anglo-Americanist global rule is still alive and kicking.

Of course now we can attempt to ensure that that ruling elite is more diverse on matters of sexuality and skin color but the ultimate indisputability of that ruling elite guiding the future of humanity isn't really up for question, is it? 

I've never subscribed to the idea that civilization as we know it was a Genesis 3 narrative reborn.  That strengths are also corresponding weaknesses seems like a pretty simple observation to make about urban life.  Since I've started into Jacques Ellul's The Meaning of the City some of this stuff in the Purdy article is interesting but not stuff Ellul didn't mention about the inherently dehumanizing and commodifying nature of city life decades ago. 

But what makes this kind of thing seem tiresome to me is the assumption that hunter gatherers didn't enslave people.  Maybe in Africa and Europe hunter gatherers didn't necessarily enslave people but it would be a pretty wild misrepresentation of global human history to take that as a universal. 

Especially on a day like Thanksgiving here in the early 21st century the temptation to present the Native Americans as fantastic people who were in touch with nature that were decimated by white colonialists is irresistible.  It's ... partly true, white people decimated the Native American population but the in touch with nature stuff has been skewered by writers like Sherman Alexie for decades.

But there's a simple reason to doubt the legitimacy of the idea that hunter gatherer societies were more egalitarian and less defined by class than urban systems, and that would be the preponderance of ethnographic and anthropological research that has been done on those tribes that spent centuries here in the Pacific Northwest prior to encounters with white settlers. 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

HT Terry Teachout's blog, RIP George Avakian, record producer and ... well, he's too big a name in the history of jazz to not note his passing

George Avakian’s contribution to the history of jazz was significant beyond reckoning. He produced the first true jazz album in 1940, while he was still an undergraduate at Yale. He quarried Columbia Records’ back catalogue to create the first major-label series of jazz reissues, starting with King Louis, a album of classic 78 sides by Louis Armstrong, to whom he eventually became personally close. By the Fifties he had emerged as a record producer of supreme importance, working with such artists as Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Tony Bennett, Dave Brubeck, Paul Desmond, Erroll Garner, Benny Goodman, Gerry Mulligan, and Sonny Rollins.

he links to a few other links

the website Mars Hill Was us has expired, for those who keep track of those things, and an atheist muses upon Ravi Zacharias' credentials being honorary rather than earned as a symptom of the Christian Industrial Complex.

domain expired, etc, etc.

For those who would like to do any historical research or historiography about Mars Hill the online presence of testimonies about the community got a little smaller.  There's still the sprawl of content at, which ideally will be around for as long as somebody keeps it up and here's hoping that the site stays up.

Christian popular publishing and journalism seems to have proceeded more or less as though it's time to "move on".  If that's the actual sentiment then I disagree.  If we don't examine the historical, social, economic and industry dynamics that led to the emergence of a Mars Hill in the first place, to say nothing of the nexus of doctrinal and intellectual currents that informed the movement during its existence and very likely animates the existence of those churches that spun out from Mars Hill in the wake of its implosion, then we won't understand what happened.  It already seems that those committed to celebrity Christianity of the red and blue stripes and a putative left, right or center have been content to use Mars Hill as a springboard for the kinds of thinkpieces chock full of lessons to be learned that are the same damned talking points these groups would have come up with whether or not Mars Hill collapsed. 

The most prominent scandal "then" that has been ignored in the "now" has been the academic integrity of Mark Driscoll's intellectual property. It wasn't uncommon for evangelical and conservative Christians to basically say that, oh, well, copyright isn't even really a Christian concept anyway and it's one of those dubious ideas that purports to lay claim to ownership of ideas.  Well, no, only a moron would seriously attempt to make that kind of case.  Copyright is a legal claim and it's a legal claim regarding labor, specifically whose labor led to what replicable or preservable result. 

I've seen Marxist arguments against the legitimacy of current copyright laws that made sense by arguing that they posit an exploitive relationship between whoever owns the copyright and whoever labored to create the content covered under the copyright, and the sordid history of comic book creators who made fantastically popular characters that were not fairly compensated is easy to consult.  Just look at how the creators of Superman got treated for starters and that's just one of the more famous and easy cases. 

But when evangelicals and conservative Anglo-American Christians argue against copyright they might as well assert that plagiarism isn't significant to them.  If it's not that doesn't mean it hasn't remained significant to secular writers or to those Christians who regard copyright infringement as deceit and a form of theft.

To put things another way, the Driscoll plagiarism controversies surrounding intellectual property and its promotion within the Christian publishing and media scene of the United States could have opened further inquiry into the extent to which allegations of credential inflation and spurious claims to scholarship can be regarded as driving popular Christian apologetics and social activism in the usually narrow range of topics.

The usually narrow range of topics tends to be: sex, political power and influence, social influence that can be used toward either of the aforementioned ends, and ... eh ... whining about the loss of a social and academic prestige we never actually had and very likely never will have because we'll never deserve it. 

If there has been a theme that has pervaded this blog more as subtext than direct address it's that the Christian Industrial Complex across the entire spectrum of the putatively blue and red; the putatively left, right and center in Anglo-American Christianity across this continent, seems so completely riven with graft and incompetence there's no point in hoping that the world will take "us" seriously.  Why should they?  First of all, as I've explicitly written of evangelicalism over the years, we squander what little intellectual capital we have in bewailing our lack of recognized public intellectuals.  But the public intellectual as priestly wonk influencing society in some way was more a Cold War figure and to the extent that such figures guide policy now the sort of post-Cold War neoliberal globalist paradigm that the smart set have been advocating for is too inimical to conventionally evangelical eschatological pessimism to fit those who have most likely been trained in American contexts to embrace a kind of dispensationalist/futurist pessimism. 

Now there are those into theonomy and postmillennialist ideals but those people don't seem to realize that the reason they get pissed off by Marxists is that Marxists aren't really "that" different in embracing a utopian eschatological view.  When people opposed to theocratic postmillennialism broadbrush that group as wanting to create a massive paternalistic totalitarian regime a la The Handmaid's Tale the implausibility of that particular dystopia is irrelevant in real world terms because in a lot of ways people who are afraid of that are afraid of that because they think it's plausible to believe that whether or not the religious right "can" implement such a world the persistence with which they seem to want to create such a world is sufficient grounds to impute that totalitarian paternalistic impulse to them. Perhaps too many Anglo-American sorts who are into Reformed thinkers object to Catholic doctrine without recognizing that once they got political power they, too, were indistinguishable in socio-political terms from that entity they at times identified with the Beast. 

It's unlikely that anybody who was co-founding Mars Hill a bit more than twenty years ago wanted the movement to go down in flames after years of public scandal and controversy over intellectual integrity, questions about fiscal competence, and concerns about a squalid set of double standards put into effect by a leadership culture that seemed more obsessed with appearances in the end than by doing what has been, in traditional Christian doctrinal and ethical teaching, been advocacy that those who lead be the servants of all and lead by their own respective moral examples while teaching the doctrines of the Christian faith. 

What has happened here and there in the wake of the closure of Mars Hill is that people who met and married at Mars Hill have since got divorced.  It's easy for Driscoll to tout numbers, baptisms and marriages.  He doesn't have to go back and answer the question "how many of those baptized people are still Christians today?" or "how many of those people who were married at Mars Hill are still married now?"  Driscoll may never have to answer those questions because the Christian Industrial Complex doesn't really care about those people beyond being statistics, just like the world has no use for them unless they conform to the world. 

Lest it seem that the Christian Industrial Complex is just a "right" thing, it's not as though people who were ostensibly blue/left/progressive had much complaint about Tony Jones' treatment of his ex-wife.  Nor, for that matter, would the plagiarism of Martin Luther King Jr. necessarily lead people to disavow what he stood for but that gets to the question of what the Christian Industrial Complex might think is the potential payoff for overlooking character flaws that, by and large, we are known among American Christianity to allegedly refuse to overlook in others. 

One of the more interesting tossed off anecdotes in Terry Teachout's biography on Duke Ellington was a passage where Duke remarked to an associate that if King had really wanted to help the black community in that area he'd have advised the hearers of the speech to patronize black businesses--big grandstanding "I have a dream" speeches aren't necessarily bad but they can come across as publicity stunts to some.  Teachout's biography has had mixed reception among the jazz community and those who read about jazz.  If even a contemporary of King who was himself a black man could privately  express some skepticism about whether speeches by themselves "change everything" and that speech was given by someone who has a holiday now, how much dubious should people who think that contemporary participants in the Christian Industrial Complex, blue or red, or left, right and center will achieve any change?  Change for what?  What cultural power and influence do we think we'll get by having this apparatus?

Driscoll used to insist that you had to get the young men who would go "upstream" and be the ones who would make culture.  If the objections raised against this kind of thinking are merely that Mark Driscoll should have considered women, too, well .... I'm at a point in my life where I would say you're part of the same problem Driscoll has been part of.  If what you care about is a Tower of Babel legacy then you're working in the same direction Driscoll explicitly said he was working toward, which was to gain the status, privilege and prestige and resources from which to engineer the kind of culture he believed ought to be definitive.  Now maybe circa 2000-2002 he was still vaguely thinking more in terms of a counterculture that could be some kind of haven but by 2002 Driscoll recounted in his 2006 book that he had grown bored with no new mountain to climb and no new dragon to slay so he decided to blow everything up, introduce some strategic chaos, and start things all over again. 

Now if you happen to be a Christian reading this, dear reader, what about that mentality sounds like the heart of a shepherd to you?  By way of contrast with the idiotic "revenge of the beta males" narrative Doug Wilson decided to extract from the dumpster fire decline of Mars Hill Church, Mark Driscoll's whole mentality to ministry from roughly the 2002 period moving forward can be construed not as the work of a shepherd, in the end, but as an experiment in social engineering undertaken by a man whose overall outlook and work can be construed not so much as an actual pastor in any traditionally Christian understanding of the term as that of a propagandist. 

In a way Mark Driscoll's fall might be explicable by proposing that unlike other celebrity Christian propagandists he made the nature of the long-game too explicit in a church social system in which there were not only tech-savvy members who came to regret their role in developing the informational architecture of what can be regarded by many as a cult, he also made the nature of the long-game explicit in a way that invited insiders to ask why that was the nature of the long-game and not the more traditional Christian understanding of pastoral work as shepherding the hearts and souls of believers rather than establishing a cohesive multimedia imperial personal legacy.   It's not that the secular or liberal media somehow magically gained the ability to harm Driscoll's reputation in the 2011-2014 period when the rise of Mars Hill had been meteoric in the preceding decade.  Justin Dean's botched handling of one public relations crisis after another makes more sense than to pin things on hostile secular/liberal media.  No, what makes a bit more sense than even that is to suggest that once the tens of thousands of people were given enough information and context to understand what Mark Driscoll kept telling the leadership culture the nature of the game was, they had the opportunity to demonstrate through withheld donations and rescinded memberships that this was not the game they signed up for and that if that was the real nature of the game, they wouldn't play. 

That's not a lesson that can be summed up in saying that the real good guys won.  No, in my life and the lives of thousands of others a more apt description might be that we had to learn how to repent of what we'd invested ourselves in. 

a long-form piece at the Texas National Security Review on the durable coherence of Pax Anglo-Saxonica despite putative differences between socialists (H G Wells) and imperialists (Kipling)

The pursuit of something called “world order” has been an almost ever-present feature of Western – more specifically, American and British — statecraft for at least 100 years. It is embedded in a discourse about international affairs that can be traced back to the late 19th century, when Britain became increasingly conscious of the fragility of its empire, and the United States began to recognize the full extent of its potential power. Notions of regional or international order date further back than that and have long had a central place in conceptions of European statecraft, since the Treaty of Westphalia at least. But, the pursuit of world order speaks to a higher objective than the pursuit of the national interest or the mere preservation of stability and security in one’s neighborhood.

All versions of world order are, to some extent, aspirational and visionary. They express a wish to guide the international future towards a more desirable destination. This is obviously true of more idealized versions of world order, some of which have gone so far as to envisage a future utopia in which humanity is unified under one law, war is abolished and reason prevails in the governance of man (seen in the work of H.G. Wells, for example). But, it also applies to more avowedly “realist” thinking on world order, which seeks “co-evolution” among nation states or great civilizational blocs as a better means to preserve international harmony, while eschewing “universalism” (in the alternative vision of Henry Kissinger).4 Either way, the historical record suggests that one’s view of world order is inseparable from one’s worldview. It reveals the beholder’s hope for how the world should or could be, rather than simply how it is.

The pursuit of world order has taken many forms in the last 100 years of Anglo-American statecraft, and its terms have been bitterly contested. It has been used as shorthand for a vast range of potential scenarios: from a unified “world state,” governed by a single supranational institution, to a balance of power in which the strongest prevail. Somewhere between these two poles sits the idea of “liberal international order” — the precise terms of which are much contested today. This essay does not seek to establish a typology between these various definitions, or to place them on an idealist-realist spectrum. The fluidity of the foreign policy debate, and the changing positions of those engaged in it, belies any such attempt. Instead, the essay seeks to identify a number of key inflection points in the evolution and metastization of different Anglo-American ideas of “world order” over the last century.
The method adopted is that used by scholars of intellectual history, which has increasingly been applied to the study of international relations in recent years. In the first instance, this stresses the context-specific meaning of key political ideas (such as world order), while also opening up an inquiry into their genesis and lineage.5 This inquiry begins with an analysis of a particular moment in November 1969, when the fundamental assumptions of American foreign policy were being re-examined, and it expands from there. Simply speaking, it demonstrates the enduring power of ideas.

Specifically, the idea that a better world was achievable — through a combination of vision and human ingenuity — has provided a higher cause and unifying philosophy in Anglo-American statecraft. While conceptual purity has been elusive, the commitment to this endeavor has transcended different historical eras. When viewed over the longue durée, the yearning for equilibrium, structure, and order in international affairs provides an explanatory spine to the story of American and British foreign policy over the course of the last century. It also becomes clear that contending ideas of world order have been entwined with existential questions, such as the meaning of history, the survival of Western civilization, and the very future of mankind.


For a fleeting moment, America’s entry into the Great War and Woodrow Wilson’s Fourteen Points re-energized the idea that such a Western-led world order could be built.61 While some of the supporters of the Anglo-American alliance in Britain were imperial survivalists, there were also genuine internationalists in the mould of Wells. The failure of the United States to join the League of Nations in 1920 was a bitter disappointment to the advocates of this new world order. At the same time, quite justifiably, some of the most forthright advocates of American internationalism believed that the project had been corrupted in inception by the failure of the European powers — Britain foremost among them — to abandon their imperial ambitions.62

No sooner, then, had the concept of “world order” been transferred from theorists to statesmen that it became associated with failure. ...

Yet, to return to the fundamental point of this essay, the definition of world order matters much less than the sense in which it has been held out as the ultimate goal of Western statecraft.

As H.G. Wells wrote in 1940, what was really important was not the identity of the people who pursued world order, the timeline on which it was to be achieved or the nature of the utopia they envisaged. He explained:
No man, no group of men, will ever be singled out as its father or founder. For its maker will be not this man nor that man nor any man but Man, that being who is in some measure in every one of us.
Instead, world order would be like most great civilizational achievements, “a social product” and “collective achievement” of many lives. What really mattered was that people in a century scourged by human destruction were now engaged in this collective effort:
A growing miscellany of people are saying — it is getting about — that “World Pax is possible,” a World Pax in which men will be both united and free and creative. It is of no importance at all that nearly every man of fifty and over receives the idea with a pitying smile. Its chief dangers are the dogmatist and the would-be “leader” who will try to suppress every collateral line of work which does not minister to his supremacy. This movement must be, and it must remain, many-headed. … The new order will be incessant; things will never stop happening. …91
The pursuit of world order may indeed be a many-headed monster or the vaguest of aspirations. It is a work of abstract art never complete.  ...

Not just a work of abstract art, you could say, but a vision of a total work of art which has as its subject humanity itself; it's not that difficult to consider the possibility that European avant garde thought and various elements within the traditions of Western liberalism have ultimately had as its goal building a tower in the plains of Shinar, while attempting to obfuscate to itself how obviously this has been the case. 

over at Slipped Disc, a note about how it's Nikolai Kapustin's birthday, so we'll have a short list of recent dissertations on the composer's work.

I first learned of Kapustin's work through ... it was some Boston arts online journal.  The name escapes me but there was an interesting survey of the jazz-influenced piano concerto that mentioned Kapustin's work.  I've given a lot of his piano sonatas a listen and I'm afraid that as charming as they are mid-listen they're pretty in-one-ear-and-out-the-other for me.  I like them while I'm listening to them but they're hard to remember.

The preludes and fugues, on the other hand, those are really good!   It's probably my favorite cycle of preludes and fugues for solo piano since the Shostakovich cycle.  I mean, the Rodion Shchedrin set of preludes and fugues is pretty cool, too, but the Kapustin preludes and fugues are a pretty fine set of pieces.  What I admire about Kapustin's cycle of preludes and fugues is what he doesn't do with them that may be somewhat common among Soviet composers and composers from the former Soviet bloc--which is to say I notice this more with the Shostakovich and Shchedrin and Rekhin cycles--of focusing on cyclical unifying variables to a degree that I frankly don't think is necessary for a set of preludes and fugues.  A cycle of fugues is a grab bag, it should be a reflection of any and every possible variable of stye within a musical epoch or region.  Bach's famous forty-eight don't have a thread of linking motifs across all the subjects and preludes of the sort you might detect in Shchedrin, and there's no recursive formulation of fourth alternations like the Rekhin cycle. 

If Kapustin takes a few liberties in accenting harmonies that, strictly speaking, shouldn't be in a merely three-voiced fugue to establish that he's opening with a subject on a sixth scale degree that can be a little jarring at first but fairly easily forgiven.  Given the expanded harmonic pallete of even the most conservative 20th century music we shouldn't be too surprised by that kind of thing.

Kapustin is probably not the first or only composer to attempt a giant contrapuntal cycle that draws inspiration more from Art Tatum, Oscar Peterson and other early jazz masters than Bach.  Michelle Gorrell's cycle isn't fully published yet but I have liked what I've heard her do with a jazz/classical fusion.  I'm less excited about the Henry Martin cycle but some of the preludes and fugues in that set are really good.  Overall, however, Kapustin's contrapuntal cycle comes closest to making use of jazz vocabularies within a context that would be considered "classical".  That said, however, Kapustin never considers what he composes to be jazz since it's all meticulously written out in his scores what you play and, additionally, there's no improvisation.  As scholars who have discussed Kapustin's work have repeatedly noted, one of the loopholes in Soviet-era bans on jazz had to do with whether or not there was improvisation in the music.  If the vocabulary was otherwise jazz but did not have improvisation of any kind then government censure was relatively unlikely.  Of course you could still end up in the Gulag anyway for all sorts of other reasons like a Zaderatsky or a Weinberg but we're not talking about them today. 

If I have a recurring critique of Kapustin's work it's that he lets his fingers do the talking and they can talk a lot.  His macro-structural approach to form is usually fine but the way Charles Rosen put it, sonata forms are a set of techniques that can be used to put in relief thematic relationships.  So that's the nerdy scholar-invoking way of saying that Kapustin's themes are often fun and listenable but that his capacity for thematic differentiation can be weak in his sonatas.  He never has that problem in his preludes and fugues, which are (at least in my experience and opinion) reliably good across his entire cycle.  If I were to nominate a set of early 21st century preludes and fugues for more detailed scholarly at a doctoral level (not even trying to just drop hints here), Kapustin's set would be the set to dig into.  Thankfully Schott has published volumes 1 and 2 of his cycle as of 2015. 

In case you want to do any further reading on Kapustin's work these doctoral dissertations are all fairly recent and you can probably find open source versions of them if you can[t find them within university library exchange tools of some kind.

Jonathan Edward Mann
Red, White, and Blue Notes: The Symbiotic Music of Nikolai Kapustin
University of Cincinnati

Jonathan Eugene Roberts
Classical Jazz: The Life and Musical Innovations of Nikolai Kapustin
University of Alabama

Tatiana Abramova
The Synthesis of Jazz and Classical Styles in Three Piano Works of Nikolai Kapustin
Temple University

Classical and Jazz Influences in the Music of Nikolai Kapustin: Piano Sonata No. 3, Op. 55 
by Tyulkova, Yana, D.M.A., West Virginia University, 2015, 99; 3702047
Poised between two worlds : Nikolai Kapustin's Piano Sonata No. 1 and the classical and jazz tradition
Kit Loong Yee
Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College