Friday, December 23, 2005

Like a Feather on the Breath of God

Woke up last night around 4 am and, unable to get back to sleep, stumbled into living room and hit play on the cd player. I'd qued up, earlier in the day, Hildegard of Bingen's 'Like a Feather on the Breath of God" (recorded on Hyperion in1983 or so). But at 4 am I'd basically forgotten what I had in the player so when I sat down to just stare blankly out the window and will myself back to sleep, the music didn't hit me as familiar even though this is one of the first cd's I ever bought -- at least 15 years ago -- and one that I've listened to probably hundreds of times over the years.
In my half-conscious state I just let my thoughts and impressions of the music lead me where they might. What was really interesting was how the female voices created a sense of both etheriality and earthiness.

While I was listening I was watching these clouds of smoke drifting out of the Detroit Public Library whose rooftop I can see clearly from my 6th floor apt. The smokecloud would waft, at times, horizontally across the nighttime cityscape, and then it would wisp up vertically into the stars. I've spent a lot of time contemplating this smoky drifting, it looks very beautiful especially against the very gray backdrop of the city in winter. (At least I think so).

This particular night the billowing clouds were strikingly similar to how the the choral voices on the cd seemed to work and move in and across sonic space. The architecture of the voices, singly and in combination at times seemed to blend horizontally (this is literally what I was thinking, examining) and when the solo parts came in they seemed to lift up out of that horizon, but never entirely away from it. One could really hear how this was about musical embodiment -- spirit made flesh.

When I finally got up to check what the heck I was listening to I first felt sheepish that I hadn't recognized it, so I switched on the lamp to read the liner notes. I have a biography of Hildegard of Bingen that I've read a few times over the years and which I totally love, but I don't recall ever reading these notes. It seems that most of the pieces were written as homages to varios founders of abbeys and churches in medieval Germany (men and women who Hildegard honored as forefathers and mothers of her own important role as a founding abbess). One of the main metaphors is that of the cornerstone, rock or edifice upon which the sounds are built. That is, the lyrics often refer to the architecture and spatial significance of belief. In some way this changes (or at least contributes to) my sense of what belief might mean.

Or perhaps the medieval notion of it is far more "grounded" than later metaphysical developments.

Music as a physical, material, spatial, reality shouldn't be news to anyone, it's just that the delight of its history was a palpable epiphany at 4 am .

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

this is for shashi (and all youother crazy grad students me included)

From The Onion:

Grad Student Deconstructs Take-Out Menu

July 24, 2002 | Issue 38•26

CAMBRIDGE, MA—Jon Rosenblatt, 27, a Harvard University English graduate student specializing in modern and postmodern critical theory, deconstructed the take-out menu of a local Mexican restaurant "out of sheer force of habit" Monday.

Enlarge ImageGrad Student

Jon Rosenblatt with the menu in question.

"What's wrong with me?" Rosenblatt asked fellow graduate student Amanda Kiefer following the incident. "Am I completely losing my mind? I just wanted to order some food from Burrito Bandito. Next thing I know, I'm analyzing the menu's content as a text, or 'text,' subjecting it to a rigorous critical reevaluation informed by Derrida, De Man, etc., as a construct, or 'construct,' made up of multi-varied and, in fact, often self-contradictory messages, or 'meanings,' derived from the cultural signifiers evoked by the menu, or 'menu,' and the resultant assumptions within not only the mind of the menu's 'authors' and 'readers,' but also within the larger context of our current postmodern media environment. Man, I've got to finish my dissertation before I end up in a rubber room."

At approximately 2 a.m., Rosenblatt was finishing a particularly difficult course-pack reading on the impact of feminism, post-feminism, and current 'queer' theory on received notions of gender and sexual preference/identity. Realizing he hadn't eaten since lunch, the Ph.D candidate picked up the Burrito Bandito menu. Before he could decide on an order, he instinctively reduced the flyer to a set of shifting, mutable interpretations informed by the set of ideological biases—cultural, racial, economic, and political—that infect all ethnographic and commercial "histories."

"Seeing this long list of traditional Mexican foods—burritos, tacos, tamales—with a price attached to each caused me to reflect on the means by which capitalist society consumes and subsumes ethnicity, turning tradition into mass-marketable 'product' bleached of its original 'authentic' identity," Rosenblatt said. "And yet, it is still marketed and sold by the dominant power structure in society as 'authentic' experience, informed by racist myths and projections of 'otherness' onto the blank canvas of the alien culture."

Added Rosenblatt: "Then, of course, I realized that this statement was problematically narrow, since I was assigning an inherent 'actual' meaning to the Ethnicity Content of the take-out menu. Which was, in itself, contradictory to one of the primary theses of deconstruction, i.e., that it's impossible for an 'impartially' observing arbiter to establish any ultimate or secure meaning in a text. I'd just begun to make a mental note of the cartoon anthropomorphic burrito on the front of the menu as a signifier of such arbitrary 'otherness' when I yelled, 'What the hell am I doing?'"

Rosenblatt's inadvertent outburst nearly led to an altercation.

Enlarge ImageGrad Student Jump

Rosenblatt's analysis of the Burrito Bandito menu.

"I totally woke up my neighbor in the room across the hall," Rosenblatt said. "He looked like he might hit me, so I tried reasoning with him, but it came out all wrong. Instead, I found myself saying that the multiplicities and contingencies of human experience necessarily pose a threat to the tendency of any arbitrary power or 'authority' to dictate oppressive hierarchical social structures or centralize power. Ergo, any attempt to establish hierarchies and centralized power according to arbitrary dichotomies of 'right' and 'wrong' behaviors was therefore not only morally and philosophically, but also politically problematic, and, in fact, oppressive. Man, did that ever not work."

According to friends, Rosenblatt has been under a great deal of stress in recent months due to the financial strain of student-loan debts, his part-time tutoring job, and a heavy academic courseload.

"Lacking proper sleep and struggling to keep up in the intensely competitive crucible that is Harvard grad school, Jon is starting to lose it," said roommate Rob Carroll, 26. "He has become so steeped in the complex jargon of critical theory that he's unable to resist the urge to deconstruct even the most mundane things."

This is not his first time Rosenblatt has deconstructed a random item out of habit.

"The other day, we passed a bus stop with a poster for Disney's The Country Bears," said friend Karen Pilson, 26. "I heard him mumble something about the incorporation of previously received notions concerning wildlife and our ecological environment into a reassuring, behavior-validating consumer commodity in the form of aggressively infantilized computer-animated pseudohumans that talk and play country music. Before I even had a chance to react, he went off the deep end and started throwing out terms like 'prenotional,' 'prolegomena,' 'gynocritical,' and 'logocentrism.' I was just stunned."

Added Pilson: "I told him he was worrying me and recommended a good psychiatrist. Bad move, because that prompted him to launch into a whole discussion of Foucault's 'Male Gaze' as it applies to mother/child pair-bonding in Lacanian psychoanalysis."

In spite of his friends' concern, Rosenblatt seems unable to restrain his reflexive impulse to deconstruct.

"I can't help it," Rosenblatt said. "Even when I close my eyes at night, I feel myself deconstructing things in my dreams—random stuff like that two-hour Dukes Of Hazzard reunion special or the Andy Warhol postage stamp or commercials for that new squeezable gel deodorant. I'd say I'm going crazy, but that presupposes an artificial barrier between societally preexisting concepts of 'sanity' and 'insanity' which themselves represent another false dichotomy maintained for the preservation of certain entrenched elements of the status quo and... Oh, God. I'm doing it again."

Rosenblatt is considering taking a leave of absence from his graduate studies to spend several months living in his mother's basement in Elmira, NY.

Asked for comment, Professor Derek Nystrom of Skidmore College, an expert on deconstructivist thought, said that the Burrito Bandito take-out menu is open to many interpretations.

"The menu can be viewed an infinite number of ways, depending on viewer perspective," Nystrom said. "None of these differing views would be any more or less 'correct.' However, the menu's Pancho Villa-style burrito caricature, complete with bandoliers, six-guns, gaucho moustache, and sombrero, would be considered problematic by most scholars."

Added Nystrom: "To paraphrase: 'What is a take-out menu not, anyway? Everything, of course. What is a take-out menu? Nothing, of course.'"

Monday, December 12, 2005

Her Muse

Beginnings of my argument on women and noise/music:

Her Noise: "why are there so few female activists in the electronic music scene?" - each one of us has heard this question a thousand times... here is the answer: it's not our number, it's about how and if we are recognized!

From female composers like Delia Derbyshire, Wendy Carlos, "deep listening" pioneer Pauline Oliveros, to sound sculptor Maryann Amacher, to Sonic Youth co-founder Kim Gordon, and noise artists like Lindsay Karty and Jessica Rylan, the influence of women on experimental and popular forms of music, while serious and profound, continues to skate on the margins of sonic cultural awareness. This paper will attempt to describe and locate the multifarious genres and musical developments that have been pioneered by women in contemporary times. If Jacques Attali’s premise that music is an important auger for change at the economic, political and culturally representative levels is true then one may fairly ask how gender plays a part in its development and force. One might also productively explore ways in which the relation between gender and music might change the narrative Attali writes. This paper will explore how the eliding of gender from discussions about music as a force for cultural change needs to be addressed. The hope is that by exploring the impact and importance of innovative music by women one might disrupt and/or contribute to the narrative of musics culturally dynamic role as a whole.

What becomes immediately obvious once one brushes past the cultural obscurity of women’s roles in the production and experimentation of musical forms is that women have been instrumental (excuse the pun) not just in performing music (the role they have typically been assigned), but in developing and expanding its sonic perameters. Of crucial significance is the technological adeptness of many pioneering women composers and instrumentalists. I want to focus in particular on the development of complex and sophisticated (as well as beautiful and challenging) electronic and acoustic assemblages and instruments invented by women over the past 50 or so years. By working with electronic tape, making their own synthesizers, adapting acoustic instruments or delving into the range of hearing/listening possibilities inherent in everyday objects, women have been capably manipulating what has often been deemed a "man's world."

I use the term "man's world in a doubly exclusive sense. What I mean by doubly is that, first of all, music itself has traditionally been deemed as excusively within the purview of men. Music, particularly at the level of composition, production, and distribution (as is the case with most levels of culture no doubt) has circulated through patriarchalized systems of power. In addition, at the level of understanding music as a purely aesthetic form, as an intellectualized, disembodied, and trascendant entity, music takes on a further significance. In Laocoon Lessing emphasized the separation of artistic practices into the simultaneous and the successive. The plastic arts were described as simultaneous in that they could be perceived spatially or all at once i.e., a painting is a bounded, framed object of perception. Music, on the other hand is seen as succcessive in that it unfolds over time. The division between the spatial and temporal arts and the privileging of the temporal/musical can then be attributed to the baseness or materiality of visual forms of art. Music was deemed the highest form of aesthetic practice and registered as the "upper limit" of asthetic form since, in effect, it was invisible/nonmaterial. The plastic arts and even poetry could only attempt to reach this limit, their materiality prevented them from ascending to the immaterial level. This hierarchizing of aesthetic forms was, according to WJT Mitchell, gendered at its core. Femaleness was ascribed to the base level of material, embodied form, maleness to the realm of disembodied transcendant thought. This supposedly natural division between the arts served as "proof" of the inherent division between the sexes. Music as such, as both a thing in itself and as a cultural practice, has thus been deemed to be produced and to exist outside the inherent nature and capabilities of women; its hierarchized placement within aesthetic discourse has further served to ideologically reinforce their subordinate role.

For the most part then, women have engaged at the margins of musical composition. It is not that they have been entirely excluded from exploring music's formal boundaries -- boundaries that lie within the harmonic scales and modes that reinforce its immateriality and transcendence -- rather, they have been excluded from inheriting the mantleship of musical authority and creative authorship both within traditional compositional fields and from outside its boundaries. The history of musical innovation, particularly though not exculsively within dominant forms of musical authorship, has thus excluded women from being known as and considering themselves as musical innovators or pioneers in a practical creative sense, and it has excluded them from the realm of music in an inherent, essentializing sense. [It is interesting to note the history of myths about music originating within ancient cultures and the role of the female muse. Briefly, I would argue that mythic female figures --the Pleaides for example-- were never equated with the actual social and intellectual abilities of women as they actually existed in those socieites in there everyday habits and practices. (Go here for background.) Womanhood or femininity has served as a guide for artistic impulses while remaining a subordinating attribute in historical, lived experiences. In fact, the whole notion of the muse as servant to the artist functions as an inherently subordinating procedure. See Rachel Blau du Plessis's essay "Marble Paper: Toward a Feminist 'History of Poetry'" for a compelling examination of the ideological role of the muse in the development of lyric poetry.]

Sunday, December 11, 2005


Eugene McCarthy died yesterday. RIP.

Isn't this a terrific pic?

I'm too young to recall the '68 campaign, but I do remember my parents speaking very respectfully of McCarthy. In the same tones, Adlai Stevenson's name was often mentioned. I distinctly remember (I couldn't have been more than 7 or 8) wacthing my mom take a bath while she told me about hearing Stevenson deliver a speech on the radio that changed her life. She not only admired what he said, she admired his intelligence, sophistication, his calmness. An uneducated little housewife from Detroit... My whole family (aunts uncles cousins) campaigned vigorously for McGovern in '72. What ever happened to the working class liberal? Do they still exist?

[If you ever want to get a fresh and hilarious perspective of the impact of that campaign year and its aftermath in '72 I highly recommend Hunter S Thomson's Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail of '72.]

This morning Meet the Press aired a segment in which McCarthy addressed the youth vote-- thier coming into political consciousness and the impact it was having on mainstream structures of power. I was struck by the _lack_ of an equivalent consciousness in our own times. I'm sure the absence of the draft has a lot to do with this, and the intervening cyncism of the last 25 years or so, but it is still disheartening to note. I don't want a "return" to the 60's, I want a debate or a coherent and persuasive (extended) discussion that could influence the average American mindset. That doesn't seem to be happening anywhere. Trying to discuss the war in my classroom was like trying to move a hibernating bear. Students are (for the most part) ignorant and anesthetized. That denial of the present is striking when one compares it to the level of awareness during Vietnam, I think. Interestingly, in the MTP segment, McCarthy comments on 1968 as a turning point in terms of the politicization of the young. It was a year with global dimensions of awareness that doesn't just come down to retrospective wishful thinking. I find that extremely interesting.

I have to go read about affect now.

Friday, December 09, 2005

I feel sick

Perhaps I'll write 6 posts today, all of them disjunctive and inane. That'll be great! Just can't seem to "get to" paper ideas. Spent early morning reading Massumi, especially the chapters on Vision, which are extremely interesting. I just have nothing specific to say about it... yet.

I truly do feel, physically, pretty awful. Something keeps "coming on" but it just won't fully arrive. I'm going home after this and cuddle with sweet Kelvin.(all the while trying not to succumb to urge to re-read Ulysses, which has been on my mind lately). Kelvin missed me so much that the first night I was home he slept for a long while with his little face pressed against my cheek. People who think cats are heartless creatures are insane. (I realize I sound like a crazypathetic Cat Lady, but.... he slept with his face pressed against my cheek!!!).

Before heading home to lounge around in PJ's and drink tea (white tea, my latest comfort drink) I am going to the store to buy a vanilla scented something or other-- candle probably. Don't know why, just in the mood for the scent of vanilla. All of which makes me think of my old house on Hancock. I don't miss it all that much, but the winter weather really makes me feel strange to not be there. It was a very cozy house in winter and partly for that reason all my best times/memories of living there were winter ones.

New dark canvas of my blog perfectly suits my mood. Not depressed, cozy.

To be *from* somewhere

I've always found it difficult to grasp that being from Detroit had such a determinate (determining?) influence on my life-- its habits, choices, modes of perception, values etc. In some important ways where one is from and who one is never quite match up I think. The imaginative spaces one occcupies, particularly if one is an avid bookreader, productively warp lived space. Some deep-rooted form of self-alienation has contributed to feeling of being *in* Detroit but not *of* it. Well, actually, it's more complicated than that. And anyway, what I really wanted to mention was my excitement at meeting Lytle Shaw in Germany and getting to know his work a bit better. His talk at Tubingen was the most exciting for me in that it seemed to crystallize or at least point in a productive direction my own vague notions and the possibilities I might be circling around. I'll try to flesh this out more fully once I've read more of his stuff. For now this is a link to an interview with him in Jacket magazine.

kindly forwarded

I didn't take any of these pics (which may be obvious since I am in one of them). Who knew "dark and blurry" was so flattering? Ms Ruddy is responsible for all our Paris memories. The images on her blog are really lovely too; the purple lips one I especially like -- that was the view outside our hotel window.

Thursday, December 08, 2005


Does anyone else here (wherever *here* is) miss James? Took a too-long nap today and awoke with sensation of lingering dream with James as central figure. Wayne State needs cowboy Jenner.

And I am writing this in lieu of trying to say something profoundclevermeaningful about trip to Paris and Tubingen, of course. Once the exhaustion lifts.... All I can say for now is that I don't think I'll ever be the same. And I wish my mom was around to share it with, in the telling.

Not wanting to end on a sad note --

I have been thinking so much about space, and vision and the localization of site/sight, it makes me dizzymisslizzy. Can't wait to re-read Lytle Shaw's paper on discursive sites, tho I'm not sure inscribing a site disvcursively is equivalent to site specificities materiality. Then again, I don't really know that that is his point.

And I think we all need to buy a poster of Marjorie Welish to hang in our bedrooms and worship. The Ruth Gordon of language poetry (that's a compliment by the way).

I'm sure it's just a matter of time until Michael and Sarah download thier pics for our further enjoyment (hint hint).

Tthe Dada exhibit at the Centre Pompidou was terrific (as was the Pompidou itself: the most amazing panoramic view of Paris imaginable, seriously breathtaking) even if it was a completely overwhelming amount of material. Standing in front of a reproduction of Duchamp's " A Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors (even)" Whoa... But what I think I liked best was all the paperwork-- letters, magazines, sketches. Dada and publication aesthetics has always been very inspiring to me. The pic above is just an example. You can access other images here.

As for Tubingen-- besides all the intellectual stimluation and camaraderie what I recall right now is how the evening lights shone gracefully off the Neckar outside the Holderlinturn the first night. The night of Barrett and Carla's readings. All of a sudden there we were, in Tubingen, in the Holderlinturn, and there was the famous Neckar. ( I have a thing for German rivers since I had to memorize and draw their location for a diplomacy and military power class in undergrad... don't ask.) The "Neckar moment" was sort of contained and re-experienced on our last evening in Stuttgart, where the soft light reflecting off of a duckpond situated between the Suttgart museum and the Opera house entranced me. No wonder the Germans were (are?) such Romantics.