Tag Archives: Life

Where’s the Felix Culpa?

The United States of America is a beautifully abstract idea. It’s composed of fifty different democratic experiments, none of which know exactly what they’re doing. Beyond language they share very little in common. It is for this reason I have no inherit distaste for partisan journalism. It can easily spark debate between a multitude of voices competing in the “market place of ideas”. At it’s best it encourages civil engagement. At its worse, civil paralysis; closed worlds composed of different locals, different heroes against different villains, and different newspapers to legitimize all of it. While our beliefs may seriously differ we often fail to recognize the nuances between the officials we tend to elect are about as clear as those between Coke and Pepsi.

I’d be hesitant to suggest we’re in political paralysis, but certainly the moral and political imagination of my generation is starved. Both sides seem more content battling out cultural ideologies inherited from fifty years ago than participating in a contemporary dialectic .  One side of the isle has constructed a sweepingly moronic chimera that effectively blocks any chance of conversation; the agenda of “liberal media .” I must ask, Who  composes this cadre?  When did it start?  How can someone like William F. Buckley emerge from such structure? Are we talking the local news affiliates? Books? Movies? The whole lot working together? The idea that there is a central superstructure shaping the values of  America as a whole not only seems paranoid, but reads like an Marxist evaluation of the media, and this is coming from the Right? Whose the Marxist now? Of course, “the media” do, as a whole, rely on audiences, they need to appeal to a mass. ABC,NBC, and CBS  squirm under this commercial duress, while the likes of Fox and CNN profit exactly because they pander to one side.

This system makes someone like Christpher Hitchins so interesting to me . Hitchins is a tours de force. He has written for  Vanity Fair, Slate and The Atlantic. His articles provide basic information and a range of insights into Bellow, Borges, Byron, Churchill, Darwin,  Thomas Jefferson, James Joyce, Proust and a couple hundred others. His articles and essays have argued that the Cold War was an imperial pissing contest; Vietnam a horrific mistake; The New Deal saved democracy; progressive taxation entirely necessary;  but he’s also supported the war in Iraq (he likened it to having the foresight to stop the Khmer Rouge, an argument that I think works if he was talking Desert Storm ); considers abortion murder and went into the habit of baiting, ridiculing and often slandering  some of the most popular Leftist thinkers (including everyone’s favorite anti-capitalist Naomi Klein) . Many of his victims had at one time considered Hitchins a friend. Christopher Hitchins,  the man that told Bill Maher’s audience they were no smarter than George W. Bush. Christopher Hitchins, the man that pleaded with The Nation‘s readers to abandon the “isolation” of America’s left-wing in exchange for Republican’s “willingness to risk  dangerous confrontation with an untenable and indefensible status quo”.  I can think of  few other individuals who can enrage the Left as much as Hitchins’ can.

So why is it when Hitch shows up on the Rights  central  nervous system is there such animus to his arguments ? There are a wealth of issues going on here (let us not forget that Hitchins is something of show-man. he’s in the business of selling his polemics); but  a very simple answer could be that Hitchins does not easily fit  into the immediate news cycle of  the inherited “Us vs. Them”. To understand how Hitchins can support  the idea of preemptive strikes on Iran but does not believe in Christmas takes time and attention. It also requires people to reassess what exactly they believe in. It seems like neither side really wants him, but neither side can really ignore him. Isn’t that exactly what we should be reaching for in a public figure?

Democracies are  fragile devices that require constant participation and negotiation. After being the second president of the United States, John Adams warned “democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide”. So much of what of what I read, and hear today is constraining our political ambitions. Public engagement collapsing will bring with it the private and political sectors of this nation. We cannot continue to exist in our isolated worlds, ignoring information because it is part of some “agenda”. Nor can we only show up at the one anthers door  to let them know we don’t agree with what they’re doing.

Our Politics should be based on pursuing realities… not chasing ancient phantoms

– I wrote this article yesterday while the Massachusetts elections were still unraveling. Brown ran a better campaign. I understand why he was elected, but I’m also pretty sure I tasted a little hemlock  in my coffee this morning.

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Like Most Things in My Life, it Started with Facebook

I’ve been concerned with my writing for a while now. I always considered myself above average in my ability to articulate abstract thoughts, but I’ve been increasingly concerned I was lacking that step to the “next level”. More alarming was a creeping notion that I had actually lost some of my capacity for the craft. It was a notion that became glaringly obvious yesterday when a close friend of mine simply changed her Facebook status to “Life altering music recommendations, anyone? My pod is beginning to age need some new blood”.

For the past fourteen years I’ve spent the better part of my life thinking about, writing about and playing music. In college these passions lead me to submit music/cultural columns to my schools paper and a few underground zines. At the same time I developed the lucrative business of providing pricey cognitive labor to friends/associates on any unwanted homework assignments. The price was determined by my knowledge of the subject, page requirement, due date, and interest. When she posted her status I knew I had written some  pieces on music I really loved. The problem was that the bulk of that work had been done on a laptop that crashed a year ago. I combed my external hard drive for any relics that may have been salvaged  (Laur, if you reading, this is why your list is restricted to the 2003-2007 spectrum). As I read through the small sample I came to the conclusion that my writing has absolutely dissolved into academic jargon and flashy syntax. A short article I wrote on Arcade Fire’s sophomore album Neon Bible illuminated the conjectural toxic of my writing.

I offered her the following condensed version of the review (this was a Facebook post… which I knew I was going to catch shit for this length, never mind the whole thing)

I know, I know “Funeral” is the one everyone is supposed to like, it was filled with catchy, cathartic, personal anthems. “Neon Bible” is darker. It’s slow, tense, ominous and foreboding. It’s the sound of a one-time theology student struggling with the world’s addiction to religion and consumption. It was an insider’s take on America from the outside (Win grew up in the States but moved to Montreal for college). The album came out at a time when I felt absolutely betrayed by a country that was descending into Neoliberal rhetoric and fanatically paranoid commentary. But that’s not to suggest its all doom and gloom. If you listen closely , all the wrongs illuminated in “Neon Bible” also serve as a reminder of what it is great, what is worth getting out of your bed each morning.

This is not an ego boost. I don’t think this is great writing, but it addresses the culture/politic binary in a language that is accessible, and maybe, just a little enjoyable? I want to get back to that. So I’ve decided to try and make this the space to do so. It is more for me than for any hopes of developing readership (beyond my beautiful and supportive girlfriend or some confused sports fanatics looking for an article by my dad).
I decided my first effort was to write a reaction to the Neon Bible piece. Not about the music (though we are about due), but my social consciousness of then vs. now.
*****
When I think back to those years there is something of a black cloud. Not because I was struggling with any personal demons, on the contrary I was spending my summers on beautifully delicate (and drunken) island, enjoying the latter half of my college career, and in a combination of business and leisure enjoyed the luxury of traveling to four different continents in a sixteen month period. At the same time I was becoming increasingly aware of the world around me, my role in it, and the many horrors humanity hides in its closet(the extensive travel certainly helped). In particular, those years exposed me to foreign appraisals of the United States under the Bush administration. In Australia, a girl on the bus started talking to me. After the regular small-talk you start with a cute stranger she asked me if all American’s were as crazy as the ones she saw in Texas Chainsaw Massacre. It was a joke, but one that commented on the view of America’s sordid methodology.

The Neon Bible article has a certain vernacular to it. It was clearly written by someone coming to believe the system was seriously dysfunctional.  People become more politically aware as they become more invested in a shared society, essentially as we get older we pay more attention to our surroundings. At the time of writing the Neon Bible review I thought I was making the shift from teenager to adult (I’m still reluctant to use that word to describe myself) in interesting but ruinous times, and my writing showed it. Just about every article at that time had a certain “Rome is burning” feel to it. From my current vantage point I know that’s something of a fallacy. Pick any year over the last half of the century and I bet I could find indications that some end was near. The first oil shocks; inconclusive wars; race riots; polluted air and water; the first and only U.S. presidential resignation. Anyone between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five during any of these moments surely thought “Holy Shit…This is horrible! It was so much easier when I was ten”. But on a grand scale it wasn’t.

This is not to discredit the composition that is Neon Bible. Nor a retract of my album critique. I still believe it perfectly diagnosed many of the anxieties and hopes of the time. Kid A prophetically prepped for the beginning of the decade, Arcade Fire perfectly understood the polarizing politics and exaggerated complaints that would lead us out of the 2000’s. In hindsight, I think celebrities like Oprah had little to do with President Obama’s election , indie bands like Arcade Fire  were voicing the public’s grievances and organizing mobilization long before.

I think I’m content with the above as an intro.

My hope is to make daily writing assignments for myself. Since I’m in the process of writing a thesis; looking for jobs once my contracts end in Feb; trying to have a social life, I’ve posted this to the pubic with the idea that others will help generate conversation and ideas for writing.