Thanksgiving Is Ruined

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September 13, 2015


Why does NGRTD, the title of rapper Youssoupha's  most recent album, contain no vowels?

Has he become an Oulipan?  

Not exactly.

In an recent interview, we understand him to explain:

I had to replace the original title, Négritude, with NGRTD after having received a letter from a lawyer informing me that I had no legal right to use the term "négritude."  A businessman, who in all likelihood had nothing to do with Aimé Césaire and his comrades in struggle, has hijacked this historic term and turned it into a registered trademark. 

Original text here.  

In another interview, hereYoussoupha adds that, after he started promoting the new album, he got hit with a series of legal notices and warning letters from the lawyer representing someone who had trademarked the name for certain "commercial and artistic activities." 

Is this for real?  

Verily, international trademark research sites confirm that a business   registered the name "negritude" in 2006. The operation does not seem to show any signs of activity during at least the past several years, and so appears to be a "dead wood" trademark.  

Nevertheless, some descriptions of the concern's proposed operations live on. TiR's favorite of these is here:

Goods and Services (ABANDONED) . . .  G & S: Clothing, footwear, headgear, shirts; leather or imitation leather clothing; belts (clothing); furs (clothing); gloves (clothing); scarves; neckties; hosiery; socks; slippers; beach, ski or sports footwear; babies' napkins of textile; underwear.

This description demonstrates the double injustice behind this business's inactivity, but for its production of lawyers' letters.  Once, in that Youssoupha is deprived of a meaningful album title. Twice, in that TiR is deprived of the possibility of owning a pair of Negritude underwear.

As Césaire aptly put it in one of his poems, translated in this volume: "let all the plots thicken in vain . . . . The law is naked."  Or in another: "but the law carries the day  --  or anxiety does." 

TiR at the moment would single out NGRTD's track "Black Out" as the album's most arresting, both sonically and lyrically; for example, we don't know of any other hip-hop that namechecks  Amílcar Cabral.  Then again, TiR lives a very sheltered life.

Aimé Césaire himself has a momentary, pre-recorded, spoken "feat." on the album, within the track "Négritude." Youssoupha affirms that he's "rendering unto Césaire what belongs to Césaire."  This lyric is so clever that, yes, it became a hashtag for about a minute this summer.

The beautiful excerpt used, on the interconnection within humans between the universal and the particular, we see is traceable to some remarks originally   published in 1997 by Unesco.   We are unsurprised but charmed to discover that the founding parent of négritude, in uttering them, in turn namechecked Hegel:

I think it was in a passage in Hegel that we found this idea about specificity. He points out that the particular and the universal are not to be seen as opposites, that the universal is not the negation of the particular but is reached by a deeper exploration of the particular.

As rendered here.

We think that Césaire is giving a gloss on passages in Hegel like this one:

The notion is concrete out and out: because the negative unity with itself, as characterisation pure and entire, which is individuality, is just what constitutes its self-relation, its universality. The functions or ‘moments’ of the notion are to this extent indissoluble. The categories of ‘reflection’ are expected to be severally apprehended and separately accepted as current, apart from their opposites. But in the notion, where their identity is expressly assumed, each of its functions can be immediately apprehended only from and with the rest.

The above, taken from Part One of Hegel's Encyclopedia of Philosophical Sciences: The LogicThird SubdivisionIX, on The Notion, § 164.

TiR likes Césaire's version better.

September 06, 2015

The Paint Rag

Priced at five cents, published to raise money for the Gloucester Society of Artists, and dated August 5, 1925, this wonderful publication contained the following poem (pg. 3):

A Gloucester Limerick

There was an old lady in Gloucester
Who asked what a picture would cost her.
When they told her the news,
She let out some mews,
And said 'Oh, you naughty imposter.'

TiR remembers a similar incident happening to us in Chelsea.  

Or was it Soho?  

Or was it at Frieze?  Or was it Basel?  

Or Miami? Or Dubai?  Or Taipei?  Or New Delhi?  Or Hong Kong?  Or Dakar? Or Venice?  Or Kassel

We can't remember.

The Paint Rag we found last year behind the glass of a vitrine in this fine exhibition devoted to the great Theresa Bernstein and to a lesser extent to her husband William Meyerowitz.  

TiR jotted notes about the Rag in the margins of a magazine we were carrying, which we buried in our endless stacks of crap and forgot about, until recently excavating and reading the last of it.

The Bernstein exhibition has a robust virtual counterpart, here, encompassing personal documents from her life.  

TiR was overjoyed to find among them a scan of the entire Paint Rag, uploaded here (.pdf)

The Paint Rag states that it had a staff of four persons, including one B. B. McPhooff as Editor in Chief, and L. U. Mullenpop as Assistant Editor.   

Oddly, we are unable to find record of any other publications on which these skilled editors worked.  It's almost as if the staff's names are listed in large part so that an irreverent acrostic could be hidden in their initials  . . . B - L - A - H . . . B - U - N - K . . . Nah, couldn't be.

In addition, the publication's back page features the advertisement of a local Gloucester artistStuart Davis, offering "private instruction" in "Ultra-Modern Painting Method" which "is likely to increase the power of your work."

What might Davis's "ultra-modern" painting method have looked like in 1925? 

Some images of his very cool paintings from that year (the year of his first solo exhibition, at the Newark Museum) can be found herehere and here.

August 27, 2015

too  much   Johnson   Ray J.    Zimmy

TiR recently finished fine-toothed combing a sizeable stack of Brit music criticism spanning Dylan's entire career.

What did we learn?

One: the pleasure of re/discovering some pretty enjoyable tho sometimes   obscure   little (or longer)   treasures

Two: That the most stereotypically overblown and awful 70s rock writer language in the whole packet had to have been Ray Coleman's July 1, 1978 NME paean to Bobby's June '78 Earl's Court performances:

Musically, this night was special for many reasons different from those which made every concert remarkable . . . it's worth mentioning here that Dylan's below his best is still incomparably superior to his nearest competition . . . Never, if ever, has the song ["Just Like a Woman"] been so brilliantly blown apart and knitted together to make a beautiful, meaningful tapestry or words . . . his harmonica solo was a riveting joy, bringing the ecstatic crowd to its feet with a mighty roar . . . the world's most important rock artist clinched it impeccably.  Here were no ordinary occasions: A seer of the 60s . . . emerged not just unscathed, but with a greater reputation . . . A mind-blowing week it had been.

. . . which tempts one to ask "was it 'trans-plendent'?" and "Did it achieve total heavy-ocity?"

Coleman notes that while in town, Timmy took in at Dingwall's a set by post-Exiles in Babylon album-era reggae band Merger.  A terrific late summer '78 clip from ITV's short lived "Revolver" series of the group doing a live version of their "Biko" (not the Peter Gabriel tune, which it predates by 2 years) is here.

On subsequent reexaminations, the Coleman piece reads not so fawningly, but rather as drawn from profound wellsprings of affection, gratitude and remembrance of how thoroughly Terry had set the UK cultural scene on its ear in the previous decade. 

Hence, third:  the joy of reading R.J.'s responses to NME's regular "Life Lines" questionnaire of May 21, 1965, with questions like "favorite food" and "pets."  Previous 1965 respondents to the "Life Lines" series had included  Val Doonican, Del Shannon, The Ivy League, The Moody Blues, The Seekers, Donovan, Them, Marianne Faithfull. and Tom Jones.

The headline this time: "Dylan Wrote This on Our Life-Line Pro Forma."  Ray's daffy, inscrutable, inspired and random answers in full are transcribed here

Answers include, for "Other discs in best-sellers": "I Lost My Love In San Francisco But She Appeared Again In Honduras And We Took A Trip To Hong Kong And Stayed A While In Reno But I Lost Her Again In Oklahoma." 

Early May 1965 was of course the UK tour, footage from which "Don't Look Back" was created.

Best of all might be the NME's editorial commentary here: "When a poet fills in a form, you can expect anything!" 

In that comment hides perhaps some admirably liberating literary theory, sneaked into the pop music press, like a stealth teenage encapsulation of Riding and Graves's A Survey of Modernist Poetry (1927), with its book-length reply to the tradition-minded "plain reader," which said in part:

Perhaps more than anything else characteristic modernist poetry is a declaration of the independence of the poem . . . freeing the poem of stringent nursery rules and, instead of telling it exactly what to do, is encouraging it to do things, even queer things, by itself.

This during a post-war cultural era when, for example,  brilliant British surrealist poet of the 1930s David Gascoyne languished in semi-obscurity, as he would for decades.

The full table of contents and some summary of that May 21, 1965 NME is on-line here, thanks to the remarkable 60s British pop and rock archive compiled by the heroic Prof. Gordon Thompson of the Skidmore College Dept. of Music. The ToC enables us to ask:

Q.: What does the "Singles Reviewed" list in that issue teach us?

A.: That spring 1965 was a freakin' fabulous moment for B-sides in the UK. 

Zounds. We have the Hollies' relatively blistering "You Know He Did," Ian Whitcomb's anthem for the 99% "Poor But Honest," the Teen Queens' swinging "Just Goofed" (a rerelease of a 1956 original) and Wake Up My Mind” by the Ugly's.

The last B-side listed above, TiR supposes, we could safely say is a "protest" song.  Though it comes across today as a very well-behaved one.  

Its world is one in which Barry McGuire's "Eve of Destruction" (which we see peaked at # 3 on the UK charts on the week of All Saint's Day, 1965)  would appear to be a minor earthquake, and something like "Desolation Row" (from an album reviewed in the UK music papers in October, 1965) would register as an extinction level event. The reverberations of it would still vividly be remembered by some in, say, 1978.

August 18, 2015

a "problem in search of a solution"

So who invented the phrase?

TiR has no idea.  As usual.

However, we are delighted that the earliest use we can find of it is from the late, great information scientist, and once dean of the University of Chicago's Graduate Library School, Dr. Donald R. Swanson.  

The phrase appears in Swanson's "Library Goals and the Role of Automation," taken from the minutes of the 60th Meeting of the Association of Research Libraries, held in Miami Beach, on June 16, 1962:

Too often, automation is regarded as an end in itself, and the question of what can be done is confused with what needs to be done.  A pushbutton library with large high speed memory, electronic searching device, and desk-side console with television display, is frequently pictured for the future. . . . as a point of beginning it unfortunately spotlights equipment to the extent of obscuring purposes and requirements. It is a solution in search of a problem. . . . 

[T]he mechanized system has yet to be conceived whose end product or functional capability could not also be achieved more conventionally. . . . [C]uriously enough our society greatly esteems machines that think but seems to regard people who do so with considerable suspicion. 

Yes, the "pushbutton library" described above sounds an awful lot like the modern internet.

[. . . but yes, except without spam, "sponsored content," interruption marketing, banner ads, overlay / floater / interstitials, expandables, pre-rolls, mid-rolls, post-rolls, pop-ups, pop-unders, CTR calculators, PPCs, SEM, IAB units, the entire SEO industry, etc. etc.] 

The above excerpt is taken from Dr. Swanson's formal remarks at the 1962 meeting.  The minutes otherwise advise us that "his witty and provocative interpolations are unfortunately not preserved."

In 1962, Swanson was a manager at the major ICBM defense contractor Thompson Ramo Wooldridge Inc., later to become TRW.  Dr. Christine A. Montgomery contributes some fascinating memories, complete with allusions to Russian linguistics and Chomsky, from her time in the early '60s when she worked there with Swanson in the department he managed and named "Synthetic Intelligence" (to distinguish it from "artificial intelligence"), in the volume Early Years in Machine Translation.  Swanson also earns an appropriate mention, albeit briefly in a footnote, in Nicholson Baker's Double Fold: Libraries and the Assault on Paper

[How many degrees of separation exist between Swanson's work and the development of DARPA?  TiR does not know.  We would be surprised if there were many. However, we do know (thanks to Baker) that there are zero degrees of separation between Swanson and one of those sometimes credited with coming up with the whole idea of "six degrees of separation,"  Dr. Manfred Kochen.  Swanson and Kochen worked together with others on the multi-year study released in 1963, Automation and the Library of Congress.]

In the nineties, the phrase "problem in search of a solution" seemed mainly to show up in scientific, technical or military contexts, then in the following decade more in computing literature.  Now it seems to be breaking out more widely in the realms of poly-sci, law, economics, public policy and business journalism.  One sees it appear a lot in discussions of net neutrality, following statements last year from US Congressperson Fred Upton

However TiR believes that the oddest use of the phrase that we have seen yet is by Edward Wallerstein.   See if you dare his final paragraph here.

July 05, 2015

sound and columns

Valerie Scroggins of the mighty ESG once explained the band's approach, a kind of zoom-in-then-expand,  as follows:

My drumming is really influenced by those breakdown parts in James Brown songs. I’d take that part and stretch it out for a whole song.

In reminiscent terms, Brian Duguid of once described the symphonies of ESG's 99 Records label-mate, Glenn Branca:

The earlier symphonies were broadly consistent in their aim to reach a state of climax as quickly as possible, and stay there as long as possible, and a positive, blissful state frequently resulted. 

Branca's Ensemble today can and does do something at least a bit like what Duguid described, as briefly captured on fresh video here


It is to Glenn Branca Ensemble guitarist Reg Bloor that TiR owes perhaps its favorite music-related quote of the month:

 Why is music so much more conservative than other art forms?  Look at the modes.  Ionian, Dorian?  That’s ancient Greek.  I.M. Pei doesn’t put Doric columns on his buildings.  Why do musicians still play these things?

Uttered in a 2011 interview, here.  

The quote might be a partial swipe at some of the content of musical education foisted upon students at Berklee in the early '90s.   We have no idea if things may still be that way there, if they were.

However, what exactly did I. M. Pei think of columns?  What was their proper place in architecture, in his opinion?  Buildings, after all, have to stay up somehow.  How were columns to be used, to Pei, if use them we must?  What should they look like? Could an architect's attitude towards one element, like a column, contain in microcosm their whole practice?

For example, for a possible case study on Pei here, we have (or sadly no longer have) his pioneering glass-enclosed JFK airport Terminal 6 or Sundrome.  The 16 columns, all interior, enabled the elimination of load-bearing exterior walls, and even hid the pipes that drained rain from the roof, giving a floating, transparent feel.  

Or we could take Pei's Bank of China building in Hong Kong.  Its arrangement of columns was described (by Puy-Peng Hoherein) as "reminiscent of ancient Chinese pagoda forms"; Pei himself said the building was inspired by bamboo.  The reinforced concrete columns are massive but visually unobtrusive, part and parcel of an innovative weight distribution system that allows for a skyscraper both asymmetrical and incredibly stable, record-breakingly tall yet capable of withstanding typhoons and earthquakes.  

Most delightful of all to TiR (because it gave us new webpages pointlessly to visit, our favorite past-time) was the discovery that one of the big controversies of Pei's career involved, one could say, columns -- and music.  

Yes, these would be the columns that flank the stage at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Dallas, TX. 

Pei went head-to-head in an "epic battle" against the acoustical expert on the project, Russell Johnson of Artec Consultants, the man said to have "the best ears on earth."  Johnson insisted that the pillars were architecturally useless and directly detracted from the experience of listening to live music in the hall.  

The press at the time sure did notice those columns.  The Christian Science Monitor described the interior of the Meyerson, in a September 1989 review of the space, thusly: "The wood is purely decorative, as are two huge pillars that serve as a proscenium-like divider between audience and stage space." 

The Washington Post, in January 1990, described the Meyerson as a "whammo room," but attributed to it "a postmodern sort of abstraction in the form of overscaled, fluted, capitalless columns and a giant acoustical canopy hovering above the stage like a strange, hybrid spaceship." 

The New York Times, under the byline of the late Donal Henahan, also brought out the P-word (post-modernism), and  likewise described the Meyerson's ceiling canopy as "rather like an alien space vehicle about to descend and whisk away our children," adding: 

Certain of the Dallas hall's features represent compromises between architect and acoustician: two immense, plaster-coated pillars serve a visual purpose only, framing the stage space for the audience. (They give new meaning to the term post-modernism.) . . . .  Surprisingly candid reservations have cropped up, however, from some members of the Dallas Symphony who report difficulty hearing one another and feel they must work harder to project tones.

The uncritical reader could have walked away with the impression that Pei, as a stereotypically "postmodern" architect, built in a style of glib "pastiche" (as Jameson might have it), in an eclectic jumble or incoherent, relativist mashup of practically any old architectural elements ransacked from any point in history.  "One almost expects," the WaPo wrote, "to see the golden carytids of Vienna's Musikvereinsaal, a 19th-century concert hall."  

One of the world's best-known decorative carytid columns stands in the British Museum, and is taken from the Acropolis.   The Parthenon,  yes, with its Doric columns, is also part of the Acropolis complex.  Thus could Pei in fact have thrown Doric columns somewhere into the Meyerson or any of his other buildings and surprised no one?  

Who knows?  Probably plenty of people would have been surprised,  if they were familiar with the minimalist look or feel of some of Pei's  prior projects.  

[This could lead to a fun debate: Is minimalism just another flavor of postmodernism, or something else entirely, its own thing?  Two contemporary composers debate this a bit, here.  If such labels mean anything in the first place, maybe one's answer connects up with one's attitude about what's too "ancient" to keep versus what's "so square it's cool again," or our method for deciding what parts of the past or various cultures to continue using or to borrow.]

     Though maybe for the purposes of architecture criticism in a daily, mass readership newspaper, you have to caricaturize things a bit, to get across the point of the magnitude of the break being made, or to prepare visitors for how disoriented they might feel when they enter certain new buildings.


Branca and his group do not seem yet to have performed in a space designed by Artec.  We bet that it would sound absolutely amazing.

June 21, 2015

"always underlining"

TiR was predisposed to join Thomas Chatterton Williams in admiration of his dad, after reading these parts of the interview linked here:

Q: Your father owned 15,000 books, but says that he has never read for enjoyment. What is the difference between your attitude toward books and your father’s?

A: It’s true, Pappy is in his 70s and to this day he still underlines articles in the newspaper every morning. My father loves to read, but he can’t simply relax with a good book. Reading will always be work for him. He always felt pressure to read for the purpose of obtaining practical knowledge (even from novels). He was born black in the segregated south in the 1930s, and he figured out early on that if he didn’t teach himself what he needed to know through books no one else would. I contrast this with my own view that it’s nice to enjoy literature for purely aesthetic reasons.

. . . 

Q: How does your father feel about Losing My Cool?

A: Since then he’s read the book cover to cover at least three more times, underlining it extensively (always underlining!). 

Williams here generally is discussing his 2011 book, Losing My Cool: Love, Literature, and a Black Man's Escape from the Crowd.

TCW first came to TiR's attention with his Baldwinian take on the Charlie Hebdo tragedy, here.

A great relief it is to search the DSM    IV  [.pdf]  and V  and to find no entries to indicate that an autodidactic insistence on reading texts in hardcopy and underlining them has (yet) come to be considered a disorder.

May 24, 2015

a prophecy a short step closer to being fulfilled?

A year or two back, we had reports of the following prediction from graffiti artist Meres:

Meres also spoke angrily of Jerry Wolkoff's decision to destroy 5 Pointz: "Jerry, I hope you enjoy your legacy that's going to be following you for the rest of your life, and your son's life. No one's going to remember you for any of your real estate ventures, but they will remember you for this. And the bigger the art form gets, the more people will hate you. Enjoy."

Now we have reports of a major exhibition on the other side of an ocean that seems  to be, among other things , remembering.  

In a new magazine interview, rapper Akhenaton, artistic director of the exhibition, says basically the following:

Let's take, for example, this photo of Five Pointz in New York, the global Mecca of graffiti.  People came from all over the planet to see this place, until last August.  Some real estate developers destroyed it, even though for a long time people asked the city to buy it.  That pretty much shows that the world denies the importance of this culture.

Interview in its original text is here

The magazine in which the interview was published has a weekly international circulation of 87,000

The institute in which the exhibition was held gets over one million visitors a year.

May 06, 2015

Meursault, contre-enquête

TiR has no idea if the novel contains "blasphemy." 

However, why does it seem that the most imaginably "blasphemous" passages are also the funniest?  

Or the most bitingly ironical . . . 

Ha ha! I've always wondered to myself: Why such a complicated relationship between this religion and wine?  Why do we demonize this beverage when it's supposed to flow in rivers in Paradise? Why is it forbidden down here, but promised to us up there?  Drunk driving.  Maybe God doesn't want humanity to drink while driving the universe in His place, holding the wheel for both of us. . . OK OK, I admit it, the argument is a bit dodgy.  I love to ramble on, as you're starting to know.(pgs. 61-2)
For me, religion is a form of public transportation which I don't take.  I would rather go to God by foot, if I must do it at all, but not as part of a package tour.(p. 76)
If I may be so bold as to say it, religions horrify me.  All of them!  Because they skew the weight of the world.  I've sometimes wanted . . to scream out: stop your whiny recitation of verses!  Live in the world!  Open your eyes to your own power and dignity!  And stop running after a father who has fled away into the skies and who is never coming back.(p. 79)
What would I do if I had a scheduled appointment to meet God and I passed a motorist on the road who needed me to help him fix his car?  I don't know.  I am that guy who's broken down, not the one who's passing by in search of  holiness.(p. 80)
The story is told of a certain Sadhu Amar Bharati. You've undoubtedly never heard tell of this gentleman.  He is an Indian who insists that he has kept his right arm raised up in the air for thirty eight years.  And as result, his arm is nothing more than a bone wrapped in skin.  It will stay stuck until he dies.  Maybe that's the way it goes for all of us, deep down.  For some, it's arms hugging the void left by the body of a loved one.   For others, it's a hand holding onto a baby that's already grown old,  a leg raised above the brink of a thresh-hold that will never be crossed,  teeth clenched on a word never pronounced, and so on and so on.  The idea keeps me entertained . . . (p. 101-02)
I want to howl out that I am free, that God is a question not an answer, and that I want to meet Him alone, all by myself, as on the day of my birth or my death.(p. 149)

. . . Or the most sorrowful.