Monday, May 31, 2010 

Even more delayed than normal

I mean, I have very good reasons for not being able to update here, the death of an old friend (and going home for the funeral and to reconnect with other old friends) being chief among them. Rest assured, if I'm still clutching these names after toting them around in my email after a week or too, there's good stuff inside:

- I'm an Asker, and column explains a hell of a lot. I, too, am skeptical of anything that goes "there are two kinds of people..." but this one seems very on point.

- I desperately need to find the time to write up two shows I saw recently, but PopMatters has my report on the excellent Horse Feathers show I caught a few weeks ago.

- I fucking love Grant Morrison and will continue to link any and all good interviews with him.

- Adam Gopnik's "What Did Jesus Do?" starts off like it's going to be another tedious "see, religious people are gullible!" exercise (I'm not religious, and I still can't stand that stuff), but it's a hell of a lot more balanced and interesting than that. The subtitle puts it fairly well: "Reading and unreading the Gospels."

- Pronouns; they're kind of weird, if you think about it. I read this for work and loved it.

- My buddy Mark got interviewed by the friggin' New York Times for their story on growing tomatoes and other plants upside-down. Pretty cool; my housemate is trying it and swears she already sees results.

- Like the anti-Grant Morrison, I will happily post whenever someone takes a good solid shot at the odious Ayn Rand, and this is a prime example. A very good overview, although it never gets quite as justly scathing as the opening: "St. Petersburg in revolt gave us Vladimir Nabokov, Isaiah Berlin and Ayn Rand. The first was a novelist, the second a philosopher. The third was neither but thought she was both."

- The ever-brilliant Andrew Unterberger has been taking requests, and he took mine. Insightful, throught provoking and funny in equal measure, as always.

- Next time you're bored, take a beer mug with walls kind of like this (but no middle lamp thingy), a darkened room, and a tea light. Put the tealight in the beer mug, make sure it's flickering, and stare at the wall for a while.

Monday, May 24, 2010 

Whatever happened, happened

Dear anyone who found the finale of Lost somehow unsatisfactory and would like to bitch about the finale, the show, unanswered questions, and so on: Please take it elsewhere. As far as I'm concerned that was a thing of uncommon beauty first and anything else second.

Thursday, May 20, 2010 

Drink your souvenirs and go your way

Feel good hits of the 20th of May, 2010 (special Timbaland edition):

The Delgados - Pull the Wires From the Wall
Caribou - Odessa
Sparklehorse - King of Nails
The Mountain Goats - Blues in Dallas
Kitchens of Distinction - What Happens Now?

The Radio Dept. - Liebling
Iron & Wine - Free Until They Cut Me Down
The Stars - Ageless Beauty
Hefner - I Stole a Bride
Underworld - Mo Move

Vampire Weekend - Taxi Cab
Low - Sunflower
Rival Schools - Used for Glue
Pyramids with Nadja - Another War
Radiohead - Lift

Guided By Voices - Drinker's Peace
Neil Finn - Sinner
The New Pornographers - Sing Me Spanish Techno
Andrew Bird - Darkmatter
Primal Scream - Rise

I'm actually really impressed that I could find the album versions of 19 of these songs. Thank all the people putting homemade videos, or even just still images plus music, up on YouTube.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010 

"Some dreams are bad dreams"

Not only is Rachel Maddow's address to Smith College one of the very best commencement speeches I have ever heard, it's also one of the best concise arguments for why one might want to be a "liberal" (and a stinging rebuke to the excessive end of traditional American rugged individualism to boot).

Monday, May 17, 2010 

Weirdly admirable

I haven't heard a ton of Amanda Palmer's music, but I've read chunks of her blog and I like her, especially after this post. Perversely enough, it makes me want to be either a touring musician or just someone who works on the equivalent of Team Chaos. I don't know if I can articulate what's oddly appealing about what she talks about, but maybe (given the disasterous state of my personal inbox) it's just having your email be part of your job, instead of something you have to deal with outside of it.

Friday, May 14, 2010 

You wanna know why I'm not in grad school right now?

Caveat: I'm in a foul mood today, having pulled something in my back and being quite restricted in my mobility and in an a fair amount of pain.

But I think even if I were having a great day, this article would bug the shit out of me. Sometimes when people ask me about philosophy, to explain what I studied I have to get into the difference between continental and analytic philosophy, which most people aren't aware of (I know I wasn't when I got to university). And when I'd say I tended to gravitate to the continental side, people would ask why. This kind of language is probably a good snappy answer:

"The soul has been a dead end in philosophy ever since the positivists unmasked its empty referential center. Scientific philosophy has shown us that there's no there there."

Leaving aside the extremely fucking aggravating fact that claiming that the soul is a dead end in "philosophy" is a bit like the Left Behind douchebags claiming their source is the "Bible" (they certainly think it's true, but it's very misleading at best), the very idea of "scientific philosophy" ought to set any self-respecting philosopher's teeth to grinding (much the same way I would expect scientists to get upset if I suggested that they start doing "philosophical science"). I like interdisciplinary stuff, I think it's tremendously important, but I also think that all disciplines involved should retain what makes them important and valuable. To engage in what Asma calls "scientific philosophy" is to give up on the project of philosophy.

I'm not a big proponent of the soul or anything; honestly, part of the reason the article irks me so much is that it's clear that Asma extends this kind of thinking to, well, just about anything that can't be measured. Somehow he manages to reconcile this:

"But more important, [expressions about the soul] are not really propositions about the world."

With this:

"'This song has soul' means: This music restores us, this music has integrity, there's something authentic and natural in its style, this music contains strong emotion, the repetition is hypnotic or ecstatic, there are elements of the African-American experience in this music and these lyrics, this song draws on gospel and R&B genres, this song is so funky you can smell it, and so on."

I am aware that "propositions about the world" is being used in a technical sense, but if the latter statements are not as real and true and meaningful, if they do not refer to things that exist in as real a fashion as the referents of Asma's example of "the cat is on the mat," then the world is a sad and impoverished place.

Honestly, I don't even really have a problem with what this kind of philosophy does. What I have a problem with is the people who assume that philosophy of language or epistemology somehow does away with metaphysics, which makes about as much sense as claiming that religion precludes science (or vice versa). Showing that something like the soul (which, again, I'm not that interested in defending; like Asma and Spinoza, I certainly don't think that anything approaching personality or memory lives on after death) does not exist in a scientifically relevent way is interesting and useful, but it is not the end of the conversation, and I feel sorry for people who think it is.

Bonus round: what's worse about the following quotation, Asma's lukewarm, "everyone has something right!" stance, or his condescension?

"Many atheists, like Richard Dawkins, will criticize soul believers as dimwits. And that is not my position. Everybody makes category mistakes, and everybody confuses subjective yearning and hope with objective matters of fact. Even the phrase 'He is a dimwit' is just an expressive claim masquerading as a descriptive claim."

Tuesday, May 11, 2010 

Take it too far

You know, for a cultishly adored indie sensation, the National are pretty fucking unfashionable right now. The video for "Bloodbuzz Ohio," which is very funny and at times oddly touching (as opposed to the band's music, which is oddly touching and at times very funny) ought to have plenty of ammunition for, basically, people like this. In any case, I recommend watching it in full screen mode, it's a pretty nice looking video.

I also remember there being some angry words thrown around when Boxer came out accusing the band and it's fans of white privilege or something. Which in one sense is fair enough, I doubt the National are going to deny that they lead privileged lives any more than I would; but surely we get to write songs about our experiences too? I mean, if it's problematic for me to love the National AND it's problematic (in entirely different ways) for me to love Ghostface Killah, what am I left with?

(NB. of course, the title and sentiments of this post do not refer to people like my friend Jenny; I always have time for intelligent, passionate dissent, as opposed to people going "boring white dudes" or "lol old" or "you're racist for listening to that")

Monday, May 10, 2010 

The Manhatten valleys of the dead

My lengthy review of the very fine (in my opinion) new record by the National is up today at PopMatters. But while I'm happy with it, I have to admit that I think the review that went up today at Pitchfork, by the always-sharp Andrew Gaerig, is slightly better.

Saturday, May 08, 2010 

The land of pleasant living

On the one hand, after listening to it again last night I'm ready to say that Clutch's Robot Hive/Exodus is one of the best records I've ever heard, truly muscular and propulsive hard rock (or whatever you want to call it) with surprisingly deep reserves of humour and wisdom; but on the other, the version I listen to on my iPod is minus "Small Upsetters," "Tripping the Alarm" and "Gravel Road" (it does include "Slow Hole to China," though). Normally when I alter stuff for my own consumption (like, say, taking "Crew Filth" off of the end of the otherwise stellar Code: Selfish) it's to remove stuff I don't really consider essential and I still feel comfortable talking about the album, but do I really love Robot Hive/Exodus if I only love it with a little of the fat trimmed off?


Some good advice

I don't know Geeta Dayal, haven't even read her much (although I do want to check out her Brian Eno book), but I suddenly feel a lot of affection for her anyways. Why? This post.

Thursday, May 06, 2010 


Oh god, why can I not find time to write anything anymore?

- Review roundup: I've got a hopefully pretty interesting interview with Sam Amidon up at PopMatters, as well as a review of the Wedding Present in concert.

- I was already pretty sure that The Human Centipede tripped too many of my body horror triggers for me to ever see it (I say that as a guy who doesn't regret seeing Cannibal Holocaust, mind you), and this (safe for work) only confirms my suspicions. And yet, I still feel like Ebert is going a bit overboard here.

- The always-reliable Tom Ewing wrote a really interesting column about the second series of Phonogram; although I think he miscontrues the series slightly (the fact that we never see any techno or rap phonomancers never suggested to me that they don't exist in the world of the books, for example), he's very sharp on why it's both a good and important series.

- I'm just going to go ahead and quote the same bit of this that everyone is: "But this is just a thing, a tickle in my throat that I have when I watch people turn up their nose at paying for things, period, just: paying for things. It’s not so bad to pay for things, if these things are good, and if these things are valuable; even if these things are available to me at no cost up front. For instance, I pay for: collections of stories that are available in other forms, podcasts, radio, service in eating establishments.

I mean here is the hell of it, here is the real fucker of the deal, the thing that in these modern markets I guess is going to separate us from the crayfish or whatever. DO YOU WANT SMART PEOPLE TO CONTINUE TO DO UNUSUAL AND INTERESTING THINGS, OR DO YOU WANT US ALL TO GIVE UP ON THAT? The fricking truth of it is that if you want the former, if you want smart people to do unusual and interesting things, you are maybe going to have to pay for it, so that these people do not lose their minds. No one is forcing you, it turns out."

- Here's a pretty incredible interview from the late 70s with Borges about philosophy and art. Included at the link is the MP3 of the interview. Well worth your 15 minutes.

- And while this review is well worth reading, I'm just going to quote the part that I agree with most strongly: "Struwwelpeter stands or falls on the credo that children can bear to be scared by art and thereby grow.

Sunday, May 02, 2010 

Tremendous destruction

PopMatters: I want to go back to a review you wrote with Lester Bangs about Moondance for Rolling Stone in 1970, and a phrase that stuck out to me: Van Morrison’s "authenticity of spirit." I always get a little suspicious of that kind of talk, but this book seems to elaborate better on that idea.

Greil Marcus: Well, that was Lester’s line. I remember very clearly how that review came about and who wrote what. And over the years, I’ve not just become dubious about the notion of authenticity, I’ve become really angry about it. It’s caused tremendous destruction with people believing that once they were authentic and now they’re not, that there’s some grail you find that’s going to bring back your true spirit, that it’s something objective you can hold in your hand, or that some people are born authentic because of their racial or cultural or class background, and that some people are born to be inauthentic because they’re just walking commodities. It’s not a useful idea, and so I always try to find different words when I’m drawn to the concept that lies behind the word.

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About me

Ian Mathers is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in Stylus, the Village Voice, Resident Advisor, PopMatters, and elsewhere. He does stuff and it magically appears here.

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