November 3rd, 2003

Mount McKinley

I just got back from a show at Plush, the club famous in our house for its multi-colored sign, a favorite of three-year-old Skylar. There were several occasions when I was able to get Skylar over a trauma -- usually her mother's departure, naturally -- by driving down to 4th Avenue and 6th Street to show her the sign. Anyway, I'll always think of the club fondly for that reason. It's pretty cool anyway, with lots of low-slung seating, red lights, and those illuminated pictures of waterfalls that you used to see in beer ads, only without the ad part.

I went to see Denali, a band on Jade Tree that I was recently turned onto by a former student -- Brad, who works at the ZIA on Oracle -- and whose new album I am now, as a consequence, slated to review. They would be just another good-but-not-great indie rock band in the Sonic Youth or And You Will Know Us By The Trail of Dead mode -- both great bands in my estimation, especially the former -- except for the fact that their singer is a woman with a tremendous voice who also plays guitar and keyboards and is pretty good looking to boot.

Going to a show is a delicate thing for me. It's very hard for me to get in the sort of groove where I can tune everything out and just focus on the music. Since I didn't know Denali that well, however, I wasn't keen on zoning out. Sean couldn't go with me, since he's still recovering from surgery. So I went alone.

Once there, I ran into another former student, Brittany, who seems to show up at most of the "cool" concerts in Tucson. I like Brittany. She's smart, silly, and a little too on edge to fit into the dullness that defines the U of A. I might have enjoyed the show a little bit more had I not run into her, but that's not her fault.

Anyway, talking to her helped to fill in the between-acts gap. She had recently returned from San Francisco, where she was visiting her boyfriend. It was her first time in the City. "I always told my friend Sally that I'd go there with her the first time and that we'd do the performance poetry scene together," Brittany said at one point.

Coupled with the fact that she had turned in a paper on Thom Gunn's poetry for her class with me and Eric this past spring and talks about poetry the way Annalee used to when I was dating her, this admission was kind of eery. It's so strange to think that there are college students these days whose fondest dream is to live the life that my poetry friends at Berkeley were living in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

I told Brittany stories about sitting in on Gunn's 143 class when Annalee was taking it and my decision to write a bunch of poems the day before the application deadline in order to get into his 143 myself two years later. And I told her the story about Kim's negative experience with Gunn when, upon asking him why she hadn't been admitted to his 143 class -- could it have been the same semester that Annalee and Priscilla took it? -- he said, of her poetry, "Terribly melodramatic, don't you think? Unless, of course, you've lived that way."

Of course, Kim had lived that way, I told Brittany, explaining that Robert Pinsky had liked Kim's poetry precisely for the reasons that Gunn did not.

"Pinksy is a better poet," Brittany replied, "He's not as polished at one form as Gunn is, but he tries a lot more different things."

I'm inclined to agree. But I have a hard time getting Gunn's beautiful voice out of my head. In truth, I only wanted to get into his class in order to hear him read aloud something I'd written.

During the Denali set, Brittany alternated between greeting various male friends -- gay ones, she told me -- and sitting next to me writing in her journal, then passing it to me for comment. It was distracting, but I'd rather be distracted by someone writing notes or even the draft of a poem than by someone chatting in my ear.

The Denali performance itself was excellent, just like on their two recordings. But that's also a bit of a problem, since I'd rather see a band come unmoored from the official versions of their songs.

To be honest, I wouldn't mind the opportunity to come unmoored myself at a concert. For better or worse, though, the chances of that happening so long as I'm in Tucson are remote. Back when Mudhoney came to Club Congress in January of 2001 -- their penultimate show with the original lineup -- I got closer and closer to the pit and finally joined in during "Touch Me, I'm Sick". It was cathartic, especially since I was only then feeling truly recovered from my November pneumonia. But even at that point, I was acutely aware that the Department's front-desk assistant Allison was in the crowd and had seen me.

Now I can't help but see a former student or two or three or, more often, ten when I go to a show. It makes me feel more public than I like, but there's no remedy for it so long as I'm teaching at the U of A.

It's one of the things I was thinking about while talking earlier in the day to another friend who is an assistant professor. You just don't realize what the pressures of that sort of position are going to be until you're in it. For me, the hardest part is the sense of scrutiny I feel wherever I am in Tucson. I feel extraordinarily self-conscious when I'm out shopping in my gym ware. I worry whether the people who see me at a particular movie are going to reflect on my being there. I even avoid particular locations because I know that they are frequented by students.

There's something bizarre about being a very minor local "celebrity" solely because you teach.

If I only I could return to 1991 or 1992 or 1993. . .

Maybe I should drive up to Phoenix by myself once a month, so I can lose myself in the music without reservation.

Top Dog

My friend Steven drew my attention to this political test you should take.

This two-axis model -- one for "left" to "right," one for authoritarian to libertarian -- is one I was first exposed to while eating delicious Bockwurst after delicious Bockwurst at Top Dog, a Berkeley institution since 1966. From the beginning, Top Dog has been papered with articles, charts, and comics intended to promote a libertarian point of view. At one point, it must have seemed really conservative by Berkeley standards. Now I'm not so sure.

Anyway, here is an analysis of the chart the test produces, with important personages neatly graphed. (Do you suppose they all took the test, even the dead ones?)

And here are my results and Steven's results.

That means that I'm a little more of a "communist" than Steven is, but he's quite a bit more "libertarian" than I am. But we're both in the same quadrant, as is only fitting for comrades like us.

Good to know that we're closest to Nelson Mandela and the Dali Lama.

BTW, in Dungeons and Dragons our scores would place us squarely in the category of "Chaotic Good" characters. . . presuming of course, that the Right is bad, as we must presume, being on the Left.

Now if I could only scare up a Bockwurst with that Beaver spicy Russian mustard right now. . .
  • Current Music
    silence

Meeting My Quotä

In this exciting new feature of my already too cumbersome weblog/journal I will periodically, perhaps even daily, post a quote from the reading I'm presently doing for work or play. If I'm feeling chipper, I might append a commentary on the quote as well.

Today's comes from Jean-François Lyotard's piece "The Sublime and the Avant-Garde," initially presented in Germany in 1983, translated into English for Art Forum #22 in April, 1984 and included in the collection The Inhuman (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1991):
When it comes to the sublime, major obstacles get in the way of a regular exposition of rhetorical or poetic principles. There is, for example, wrote Longinus, a sublimity of thought sometimes recognizable in speech by its extreme simplicity of turn of phrase, at the precise point where the high character of the speaker makes one expect greater solemnity. It sometimes even takes the form of outright silence. I don't mind if this simplicity, this silence, is taken to be yet another rhetorical figure. But it must be granted that it constitutes the most indeterminate of figures. What can remain of rhetoric (or of poetics) when the rhetorician in Boileau's translation announces that to attain the sublime effect "there is no better figure of speech than one which is completely hidden, that which we do not even recognize as a figure of speech?" Must we admit that there are techniques for hiding figures, that there are figures for the erasure of figures? How do we distinguish between a hidden figure and what is not a figure? And what is it, if it isn't a figure? And what about this, which seems to be a major blow to didactics: when it is sublime, discourse accommodates defects, lack of taste, and formal imperfections. Plato's style, for example, is full of bombast and bloated strained comparisons. Plato, in short, is a mannerist, or a baroque writer compared to a Lysias, and so is Sophocles compared to an Ion, or Pindar compared to a Bacchylides. The fact remains that, like those first named, he is sublime, whereas the second ones are merely perfect. Shortcomings in technique are therefore trifling matters if they are the price to be paid for 'true grandeur'. Grandeur in speech is true when it bears witness to the incommensurability between thought and the real world
I'm doing lots of reading in the history of aesthetics for my book project on punk and my subsequent and, with luck, more sublime project on taste in general. What interests me about Lyotard's parsing of the tradition here is that it clarifies one of the ways in which the do-it-yourself ethos of punk might be perceived as getting closer to sublimity than, say, prog rock. Imperfections in technique are just what the doctored order if you wish to show how Lily Briscoe can never really capture her vision on paper.

This train of thought brings me to the Hauptbahnhof, where I will transfer to another one concerning modern education. I don't think much has been written about what the punk attitude towards craft, or the lack thereof, might tell us about the viability of Rousseaudian pedagogical ideals in a postmodern world. But something certainly should be written on that subject. The idea that it is better to do something yourself instead of entrusting the task to those with the proper training converges in interesting ways with the sort of educational reform that gave us unstructured art and music exploration for pre-schoolers on up as a cornerstone of personal growth. The fact that the American educational system -- systems, really -- has swung so violently back towards tradition and standards in recent years at the K-12 level shouldn't blind us to the fact that a great many parents are still comfortable with the idea that pre-school is a great place to "be creative" without worrying about mastering a specific body of knowledge.
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