Mar 14

the shock of the library: oasis versus all of art and culture

FT31 comments • 7,290 views

george-harrison-wonderwall-music“Unless we can somehow recycle the concept of the great artist so that it supports Chuck Berry as well as it does Marcel Proust, we might as well trash it altogether” — Robert Christgau

“But rock criticism does something even more interesting, changing not just our idea of who gets to be an artist but of who gets to be a thinker. And not just who gets to be a thinker, but which part of our life gets to be considered ‘thought’. Say that – using rockers like Chuck and Elvis as intellectual models – young Christgau, Meltzer, Bangs, Marcus et al. grow up to understand that rock ’n’ roll isn’t just what you write about, it’s what you do. It’s your mode of thought. And if you do words on the page, then your behavior on the page doesn’t follow standard academic or journalistic practice, and is baffling for those who expect it to.” –Frank Kogan (responding to Xgau; update: see Frank’s comments below for link to complete piece, or go here)

“People who write and read and review books are fucking putting themselves a tiny little bit above the rest of us who fucking make records and write pathetic little songs for a living.”Noel Gallagher

Some time in the late 80s or early 90s, I heard a story that may not be true, or anyway may not be fair. I remember it because it’s quite funny, and seemed at the time telling (though I think not in the way I then felt it was). It was told of one-time Kirkaldy-born art-punker turned model turned TV presenter turned film-maker Richard Jobson, and it came to me via two writers very much self-taught as readers and intellectuals, both from more or less working-class backgrounds, both bookish even by my standards (and both unnamed, as I don’t entirely trust my memory for gossip over 25 years, and I don’t want to get them into bother). As Writer2 told it, Writer1 was interviewing Jobson in his home. Making some point about working class cultural heritage and self-education — and his own hungry autodidact fascination with, for example, the War Poets — Jobson had pointed to a large bookcase, full of books: Write1 asked how many he’d actually read. “Well,” said Jobson, “I’ve definitely made sure to read the first page of every one.”

I say 25 years — but I’m not quite sure when this interview took place: The Skids dissolved in 1983; Jobson’s second band, The Armoury Show, lasted until about 1988; not long after it folded, Jobson was riding high as a cultural gatekeeper on TV, a presenter and tastemaker. Certainly it was during this last phase that I *heard* the story — when I took it to be a tale against the kind of television Jobson was involved in; fast-food magazine shows in which everything (fiction, film, art, politics) was self-regardingly skimmed, and converted into this week’s glamourbot accessory. Nothing was ever mastered.

But there was always also a kind of carnival naughtiness about them. What had punk’s original promise been, after all? Let’s start over! Say that everyone’s equal and begin from there! Set all the cultural value-meters back to zero and re-run the entire race, starting now! Here was a return to its energy and levelling allure: here was all culture, and here we all were, barrelling through it all, to enthuse and explore and play and pretend; to learn as well as to gurn; to take what we found and use it as we pleased. And this pleasure of course included playing pranks on the swots of this world, and how they imagine they grasp the world better. There’s a punkily disarming cheek about Jobson’s admission — or boast, or performance, or whatever it is. And an urchin challenge too: I’m a Gemini, not George Steiner, I haven’t read all my books either, maybe more than one page each, but even if we ignore the ones I haven’t quite er begun yet, how much more than one is acceptable, when it isn’t all (and a stiff exam passed). On what page does the authentic cultural capital kick in? I very much trust my boredom.

This idea of the year-zero reset was as adolescent and as silly as it was intoxicating, of course: and as intoxicating as it was old-school. The 1913 Armory Show had been a reset: the New York exhibition that announcing the arrival of the new “modern” art in the USA, a flamboyantly new creative language and attitude. And here was a more or less hitless 80s new wave group — minor league by most accounting — snaffling this legendary name: at once a blatant appeal to high-art authority via fancy reference, and a insolent snook-cocking upturning of same: we name ourselves thus because we are EXACTLY AS IMPORTANT. And even as they rolled their eyes at such an absurd — not to say pretentious — spectacle, all kinds of commentators caught up in punk’s aftermath (“flamboyantly new creative language and attitude”) had placed themselves at the exact same oedipal fork: of course they too want to be urchins running through museums, but there’s also the urge to seek employment as enthusiastic ushers, showing one and all how exactly this (old-school) radical art ought to be understood and used.

And so there was always already a schoolyard-type squabble who gets to be a consider a “thinker”. Rock was always a dramatisation of growing up in public; less a refusal of the demands and changes and skills that school might produce than a theatre of the confused hope of an alternative: combination NO and YES. And we all have to start somewhere: and sometimes you need the goofy and even the deluded elements to help you open up cultural space for what maybe might matter (if only to you): the schoolyard play-acting and grandstanding.

And sometimes it’s a help to have missed the fights on the day, to grasp better where they’re really coming from. I’d left The Wire in early 1994, and really didn’t pay attention to pop for several years — Britpop’s distant alarums were very distant indeed for me; I didn’t engage; I also didn’t get bored; I was teaching myself ancient music history, pretty much. So there’s this cartoon of Be Here Now as mere lout-culture frenzy, driving down all possibility from wider pop of the art of the weird, the queer, the clever, the political, the experimental, the art-school (as Weej more or less puts it on a Popular thread): but coming back at it with a skewed ear, and probably more burnt out on the institutionalised complacency of experiment and avant-garde rebel pose, that’s not really what I hear.

These exhausting seven-minute drone epics all set about with clouds of FX, the the oddly delicate seagulls of reverse-tape guitar: someone should do a compare-and-contrast with Band of Susans! Is Liam’s singing really any less placemarker than Sonic Youth’s? What happens when you recognise the vocals as a basically instrumental elements? Pedal-point noise-roar against quiet integument-backdrops of musique concrete; the deliberately evasive Burroughsian cut-ups in the words: Oasis couldn’t pass an exam on the lineage of any of this — but the mark-grubbing parading of approved non-pop forebears are the problem they intuitively set themselves against. A Gallagher would never hint that he admired any school-approved non-pop mode of aesthetic sensibility — because in that moment he’d see himself become a kind of Manc Momus, the usher of culture stamping on a self-taught council-estate urchin face forever. But of course there are garden-variety avant-gardists also, of a lineage pre-redeemed by chart-topping sales — and plastered with Lennon’s (rather than Yoko’s) face. The clutching at the (dad)rock canon isn’t simply truculent and disastrous, it’s actively misleading. In clinch with the swotty twerp Albarn — well, let’s just say the clash often pushed both sides out towards the worst of themselves. The oddities at the edges of Oasis arrangements seem designed to be drowned out by the dominant lout-stomp; to be treated as ornament. You really have to listen against the main lairy bellow of the sound for the (very) masked musicianly detail. Even a decade later, with their 2008 return-and-farewell Dig Out Your Soul, when you could finally recognise a miniaturist’s mannerist sensibility, a still small connoisseur’s mutter, it’s still mostly framed in maximalist grind, Liam’s chant upfront. Who you never need to listen to twice, to catch anything you didn’t get the first time: a triumphant coarsened framing context from which the arty stuff peeks, in hopeful wait for the aesthetic respect it never quite gets…

Look back at the quote up top, Noel G’s pronouncements about books. It’s natural to see them as anti-book and anti-reading. But look past the anxiety and the aggression, and he isn’t even (quite) saying he’s anti-fiction; he’s saying he’s pro-music-making. To speak in very unGallagherly mode, he’s arguing that the dominant critical hierarchy exalts fiction-making (and those who enjoy the results) over music-making (and those who ditto ditto); but that he (relevantly a music-maker) does not. [Update: as Frank pointed out in comments, my reasoning seemed a bit opaque here — I had in mind a section on the GQ interview I’d forgotten I hadn’t quoted, Noel G contrasting his taste in books with his wife’s: “I only read factual books. I can’t think of… I mean, novels are just a waste of f***ing time. I can’t suspend belief in reality… I just end up thinking, ‘This isn’t f***ing true.’ I like reading about things that have actually happened. I’m reading this book at the minute – The Kennedy Tapes. It’s all about the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis – I can get into that.”]

Oasis came up entirely in post-punk time, in age and as industry backdrop: they never had to tussle with prog or whiteblues R&B, or even punk, really. But yes, they too confronted the oedipal fork: for all that it resolves itself in the Oasis-Blur wars — each combatant assigned a clear role — you look a bit harder and it’s right there in the interviews, that patented Gallagher performance, structured as much as anything round a self-loathing sibling rivalry: which brother is the least deluded; which best retains the pap-art [update: POP-art] faith…

A pitch to reassert music-making as a value is everywhere taken — masked as it is in a dogmatic rockcanon doggedness — as an assault on everything other kind of cultural value; the Gallaghers themselves make exactly this mistake. So the Gallaghers may loudly and proudly scorn actually existing higher art; and may insist that rock is properly anti-school, and that are they are properly and heroically anti-intellectual. But this is only true if the “mode of thought” of musicians is cast out from the ordinary understanding of intellect. Somehow, in the 70s, in the 80s, music-as-an-art-in-itself had became cut off from the ordinary trust the rest of the arts still somewhat received. I think it’s right to resist this, and — however inchoately — I think resentment at it is what drives Oasis. Their Oasis — their hubristic triumph, its as-swift collapse into a stupid shadow of itself — was a symptom of this curious situation.

mesconsumer There was never a golden age of countercultural comity of course — at most what there was, within rock, was a brief imagined utopia of progressive quilted fusion (discussed here): punk broke into useless pieces prog’s programme of radical inclusivity (all modes of sound-practice gathered into one stream) and furiously dispersed the fragments; post-punk was the various fragments unblurring and emerging seeminfgly whole in themselves, against a miasmatic background of ambition and doubt (explored somewhat cryptically here). It was at once almost hysterically out-facing (can we not attitudinally master and absorb anything now? from football to fashion to radical politics to avant-garde performance art?) and pervasively jittery with anxiety at the problem of cohesion. Before punk, a kind of anyone-can-do-it hard rock blues sound (guitar and vocal styling) had functioned as the thing “we all” agreed on — the notionally shared tongue, the element that made it all “rock” — into which could be poured anything from country to raga, the music-college swagger and self-belief of prog with the New Deal/Civil Rights/anti-war movement vagueness of hippie politics… After punk, a futile subcultural precession trooped the audition catwalk for the role of countercultural centre: two-tone, goth, rockabilly, afropop and electropop, besuited jazz, revenant psychedelia, post-no wave artnoise… And week after week in the NME, popstars of all kinds sketched out their own individual pan-cultural gallimaufry: Portrait of the Artist as a Consumer.

The post-punk break-up had seemed an amazing liberation — and it surely helped that so many from the unexpected sides of the tracks were emboldened to let themselves loose among all this high cultural stuff. But (as is often the way of amazing liberations, perhaps) it had quickly clotted into a landscape of jealously embattled fiefdoms and fandoms…

Plight (extrait) from Véronique Mouysset on Vimeo.

beuys-hareWhich isn’t the only way. Here’s another story, from 1986, about who gets to be a thinker. The BBC’s Arena was shooting a documentary about a Joseph Beuys installation at the Anthony D’Offay Gallery, Plight: in effect a cave fashioned of rolls of one of Beuys’ signature materials, felt, containing a grand piano, some sheet music with nothing written on it, and some thermometers. (You can see it here and in the top four images here).) It was only just months after the 1984-85 strike ended, and Beuys had expressed an interest in meeting Arthur Scargill, president of the National Union of Mineworkers. Unfortunately, Beuys died shortly after filming began, so the meeting never took place — but, their interest piqued, the documentary-makers decided to follow through (“We liked the idea of bringing together two charismatic figures from completely different worlds and had no idea what the outcome would be,” director Christopher Swayne told me), and invited Scargill to the gallery to comment on the work. He “was terrific,” Swayne continues: ” (…) more sensitive and suggestive than I would have imagined, and the seemingly incongruous conjunction between Bond Street art and a trade union leader gave us a rather surreal scene.” Like Yoko Ono, Beuys was a member of the fluxus group, part-prankster, part-primitivist — and of course (in the UK especially), trawling for responses from voices outside the usual relevant circle of art-savvy suspects can be a risky tactic. There’s suspicion, a stand-off of knowing or philistine scorn — when you’re not sure you know enough to comment, sometimes you lash out; and sometimes when what you know is merely dismissed, you lash back. Overcompensation on either side, and the conversation devolves into mutually spiteful misrepresentations and contempt (“jealously embattled fiefdoms”).

Beuys talks about the installation here, but famous as he was for explaining pictures to a dead hare, it’s not a very good discussion. This interviewer doesn’t get the right conversation from him; can’t seem to focus on the interesting Beuys does begin to say; perhaps fails even to spot them as such. I can’t find the Arena documentary on the internet, unfortunately: to get a sense of Scargill’s responses I’ve used these three pages, scanned from a book that discusses it (from Theatre and Everyday Life: An Ethics of Performance by Alan Read, pp172-3, publisher Routledge):




Muffled a little by somewhat unfortunate writing, the author nevertheless gives a sense of what also excited the documentary-makers: the fact that this comes across as a cross-exploration of different realms of expertise, Scargill taking the project perfectly seriously, going out of his way to put engaged thought into his response, digging deep into his own adult experience as a miner. In conversation with the art if not the artist, Scargill brings his own knowledge and belief and passion to an an encounter of equals, and a blend of confidence and curiosity. There’s no sense that he feels he isn’t equipped or entitled to be talking about it. We’ve stepped fully out of urchin-time.

“I only listen to music derived or from the 60s. I’m not interested in jazz or hip-hop or whatever’s going round at the minute; indie shit. I don’t loathe it but I don’t listen to it. My education as a songwriter was from listening to the Kinks and the Who and the Beatles. I don’t listen to avant-garde landscapes and think, ‘I could do that.’ I’m not a fan of Brian Eno. It’s Ray Davies, John Lennon and Pete Townshend for me.Noel Gallagher

“Because our time tends to work with a kind of ideology, they call those things sculpture and paintings visual art. But I think that vision plays only one role and there are twelve other senses at least implied in looking at an artwork (…) If people are training and are really interested in art they could develop more senses. So this is now related to the senses of touching and surely also to seeing. This remains. I am not against vision because it’s one of the most important senses. You have a kind of acoustic effect, because everything is muffled down. Then there is the effect of warmness. As soon as there are more than twenty people in the room the temperature will rise immediately. Then there is the sound as an element muffling away the noise and the sound (…) So I try principally to do this thing further on over the threshold where modern art ends into an area where anthropological art has to start — in all fields of discussion, not only in the art world, be it in medicine, be it in miners’ problems, be it in the information of state and constitution, be it in the money system.”Joseph Beuys, 1985 (quote reordered to amplify a point)

It would take all the magic out of it to break down ‘I Am the Walrus’ to its basic components. I listen to it and go, ‘It’s fucking amazing; why is it amazing? I don’t know, it just is.’ That’s why I find journalists such joyless fucking idiots. They have to break music down and pull it apart until there’s nothing left, until they know it all; they analyse it down until it’s bland nonsense. They don’t listen to music like the rest of us.” Noel Gallagher

“I think it’s a bit unfair to erase the contribution of morons to British pop music – Sabbath, Troggs, Animals, Damned etc… Sometimes you need a Lemmy or Lonnie Donegan or John Fogerty figure to stop the intellectuals getting out of hand” — @dsquareddigest (Daniel Davies) on twitter

Step back again. What I’m trying to describe is a choppy and changeable sea of shifting layers, of the sense of authority within the assumed cultural hierarchy — complex in the sense that a lot of moving parts were moving a lot, in very different ways at very different levels, for quite a long time. And to push a little back against the melodramatic attempts of everyone involved (not least the Gallaghers) to simplify it.

A: Begin with Noel’s very hostile response to the way a writer might want to think about music — more as a spur for writing, for telling good (meaning sellable?) stories, than to reflect the needs of the musician. Noel can’t possibly mean that he never pulled apart his own songs, to get at what made them work — to see if they can’t be better. He might mean that such public analysis this is bad practice for a musician — who may well trust instinct and intuition, without ever having the words to explain what he hears or he wants to any non-musician outsider. Straight away it’s difficult to determine what’s punching up and what’s punching down. decision might be acutely hard to make. As much as anything, an official education is the elaboration of a shareable jargon of discussion and exploration between experts; someone talented but untrained may well be acutely aware that the extant jargons aren’t pinpointing or naming or describing precisely what they’re hearing and valuing. Hence: you clam up and trust only yourself and your pals.

B: The root of all “up” and “down”, punching-wise, is class, of course. And however much training and expertise can be a route upo and out, a smart working class kid will always be conscious of the middle class kids round them, with more time and space and money for extra tuition, with connected parents in the same field, with better means to game the system. And not unrelatedly, the line in the UK between the fine and the applied arts has always boiled with resentment (up) and snobbery (down). Routinely, historically, despite movements and revolts to counter it, in most eras it’s never quite enough to be an artisan, a professional craftsperson, a technician — the higher layers of creative respect will remain shut for you. (The genderline in pop is policed by exactly this prejudice.)

C: Age. Post-war, youth had seemed to have a much amplified power to reverse matters. Suddenly only the young had sex, grasped politics, understood the direction the future was arriving from… a position of seeming weakness had become one of saleable (exploitable) pseudo-strength. By the 90s, this had gone stringy and tangled. The potent founding tokens of youth culture were all old or dead; to insist on their continued value was to impose merely parental mores (or worse, the icons and ideations of bad cultural studies). Always there are be new names and pretty teenage faces, sure, but the counter to dadrock can quite soon just be a kind of dizzy, headachey flicker.

D: Back to Beuys for a moment: he’s saying that there are two further hierarchies. The first (which folds back into B and C) is a heirarchy of genre, which is why his work only reaches the top galleries, to make it as respectable art, once it’s been de-fanged and renamed: “sculpture”. The second is a hierarchy of the senses (saying there are 12 of these, rather than the canonic five). The categories of art history and critical theory tend to be highly conservative in effect; even theory that explores and celebrates the revolutionary moment is just stiff with cousins of the “original intent” movement in US constitutional theory. And this second harks back to A: the serried layers of sensual response, in which the visual has pre-eminence, with sound — and powers over it — always assigned a subaltern role.

(Because in the original bookshelf anecdote, right up top, what isn’t anywhere discussed is the large collection of records that was very surely standing quite near Jobson’s bookshelves. Because one of the things that successful musicians have likely done, at quite an early point in life, is to prioritise which archive exactly they’re going to devoting their time to, and learning from. We are all time-poor: this above all was something that punk dramatised — the leisure to mastery as a mark of privilege. But for a period — a period we may or may not yet have moved out of — the self-constructed private archive from out of a vast pool of LPs and 45s (CDs? mp3s?) was at once enormously more accessible and unregimented than gallery art or cinema or even book-learning. The freedom to do it all WRONG — which musical self-education via 45 and 33 very much allowed — was a central element in the sense of liberation that rock had once seemed to offer, and the curious topsy-turvy authority it at first gathered to itself.

E: and finally, very quickly, there’s all the ins and outs and shifting fashions and facts of what functions at any moment as the cultural “outside”. But this is rough notes towards a map and not at all the map itself — even a brief attempt to sketch how jazz or rock, born in black-created sound in a Jim Crow world, operated and evolved once borrowed or replicated elsewhere is going to end up a very long attempt. Because it’s quite complicated.

At any point, the verticality is unlikely to be clear or fixed; anything but. Move just a little and dimensions can reverse, distances can balloon or shrink, perspective can turn itself inside out. And let’s not beat about the bush: Oasis had no clear analytical grasp of all this or any of it, their responses very often purely reactive. It’s what we turn to art or music for — descriptions of ambivalence and complexity — but of course they only trusted themselves, and scorned the tools or even the desire to analyse same. And in this refusal, could never avail themselves of a refreshed context of self-awareness or experiment or outside input — as Lennon did with Yoko Ono.

Arthur Scargill’s argument about art — that there’s an artist in everyone, that something like the strike can bring a fruitful curiosity out in anyone — invokes the confidence that derives from a challenge faced and a fight sustained against odds: if you didn’t see yourself as an equal at some point, you’d always dodge away from fights. And sustained conversations are only possible between equals. The strike failed because the miners were defeated — and surely a loss of the relevant kind of confidence followed this, with all kinds of consequences in education; who it’s for and how. The social upheavals that allowed the rock generation to feel equals and more — even the late odd echoes that set the young siblings of punk against their older brothers and sisters — were not so much the kinds of upheaval that can be defeated or reversed. But of course they were vulnerable to time’s passing and the conflicted precession of generations. Even as late as the 80s, working class kids like Jobson (or less ambiguously, Mark E. Smith) could wage autodidact play-battle with echoes of the counterculture, and foray far beyond the the expectations of their own upbringing, on their own terms. But with the stutterstep of doubt introduced into musicianship as a shared value, and the surrender implied by the sourcing of authority extrinsically to music (in any written school of criticism or theory, for example), the options for similarly confident play couldn’t last beyond the early thrash of joyful contrarian noisemaking for Oasis. Semi-occluded semi-avant-garde musicianly grace notes hidden behind a defensively coarsened pretorian guard of bellow and bar-chord: this is — at worst and best — the hypocrisy-as-tribute that vice pays virtue.


  1. 1
    Andrew Farrell on 25 Mar 2014 #

    One of the differences between Arthur Scargill and Noel Gallagher looking at Beuys (if you superpose an image of Noel Gallagher looking thoughtful on a frame of Scargill in the installation – though I’m curious about whether Noel Gallagher’s (imagined) reaction to it would change if he saw Scargill watching it, or Scargill watching him watching it) is that Scargill isn’t an artist – does he have anything to lose by connecting (or not connecting) with art, is the capacity to make this connection a part of his political toolkit so to speak?

    (and now we cut to Michael Gove reverently dropping the needle on a Chap-hop LP)

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    tm on 26 Mar 2014 #

    Furthermore Noel’s distain for analysis prevented him from recapturing the magic that once came to him in flashes of youthful inspiration once the fire went out.

    A ex-colleague of mine, physics prof, turned film maker, turned schoolteacher, reckoned artists who die young are those who destroy themselves in dismay once The Magic deserts them and that those who persevere eventually learn that it was never magic but a series of moves they can learn to control, producing some of their best work in middle age.

    Oasis were clearly never going to do the Dionysian burnout thing, even Liam and I can’t see Noel ever thinking ‘let’s sit down and figure out how this thing works’ but you wonder whether he’ll get so bored he will find himself striving to write another Live Forever or Fade Away.

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    Tom on 26 Mar 2014 #

    Some of the stuff in this about autodidacts and how working class relationships with art are framed is very central to how the Manics presented themselves and what they wrote about – or more specifically what Nicky Wire wrote about. “A Design For Life” is a really key reference point in this whole conversation I think – a song whose success was broadly made possible by Oasis, but is also a very strong intervention against anti-literacy and mourning the decline of the autodidacy, which intervention was written for someone else to sing, or, this being a Manics lyric, to puzzle out a way to sing, which brings in the whole question of craft and instinct in musicians that TM is talking about.

  4. 4

    The only Manics LP I know well is Generation Terrorists, which is probably a bit too early to be quite relevant, but my sense of the tension between their music and what they say about it is that it flips the tension somewhat — Oasis music really does contain these odd pockets of ornament which conflict (a little) with their aggressively defensive narrowcast populism, and port them (momentarily) into quite different territory. The Manics are verbally (and in interview) much more militantly learned and pro-learning — with the music rather more of a rock ordinaire sugar-coating, reasonably effective riffs and solos, but little poking through the sound actually to surprise you.

    (Is this fair? I’m really not at all a Manics expert, probably because I find Nicky Wire entirely uninvolving as a singer: I’d much rather actually listen to GnR or Nazareth or Budgie whoever…)

    (Adding: even if this is fair, yes, even as counterexamples the Manics are certainly important to the argument I think I’m making, which is as much as anything about a generational shift in confidence and sense of access and right to access and involvement… Also possibly significant: the fact that metal might as well not exist in Oasis-world.)

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    Tom on 26 Mar 2014 #

    Yeah, the point about the Manics I think is that the source of surprise in the sound IS the learning – specifically the distortion of scansion the learning forces the singer into. The working method (as I understand it) is basically ELTON STYLE – Richey and Nicky would write ultra-dense or knotty lyrics which James Dean Bradfield (singer) would have to work out how to fit into the (very ordinary) music. So despite having a very basic rock voice he is forced to make quite unusual choices as a vocalist about where stresses lie and when to emphasise meaning and where to basically abandon it and leave listeners to the lyric sheet.

    The full Taupinization isn’t quite as dramatic on Generation Terrorists, where all of the band are still keen on the idea of writing metal anthems, so “Motorcycle Emptiness” (say) is fairly legible. (As is “A Design For Life” actually, at the other end, Nicky Wire is deliberately toning down the density there). Something like “Faster” off The Holy Bible is probably the best example of it coming off.

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    Tom on 26 Mar 2014 #

    (Off Generation Terrorists maybe “Little Baby Nothing” – their very own Candle In The Wind! – is a good example, except IIRC some of the toughest scansion there is given to Traci Lords to sing, and Bradfield is still taking quite a brute force approach to the lines he gets.)

    This is drifting off topic, as tends to be the case whenever these perennial haunters of the FT comment boxes rear up….

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    (oops, yes, by “nicky wire” in my post i of course meant “james dean bradfield”: proof if proof be need be that i am not an expert i guess hem hem)

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    glue_factory on 26 Mar 2014 #

    It took me ages to work out what “un-der-ne-on-lone-li-ness” was.

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    Ed on 26 Mar 2014 #

    David Bowie’s Top 100 books: http://www.davidbowie.com/news/bowie-s-top-100-books-complete-list-52061

    I miss the days when pop stars came with reading lists.

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    Ed on 26 Mar 2014 #

    Not unrelated, the Howard League is calling attention to a scandalously mean-spirited and vindictive innovation in UK penal policy from the Coalition government: http://www.howardleague.org/books_in_prisons/

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    koganbot on 26 Mar 2014 #

    Here’s the hallway-classroom essay of mine (courtesy Jess Harvell on ilX) that Mark was quoting:

    The Presentation Of Self In Everyday Life

    By “don’t honor the boundary between classroom and hallway” I meant that (at least in my dreams) rockcrits will go full-bore into the hallway i.e. into interpersonal maneuverings and actings-out while simultaneously going full-bore into the classroom i.e. analyzing a subject matter including sometimes analyzing what’s going on in their everyday maneuverings and actings-out.

    I’d originally stated the hallway-classroom metaphor in a letter to Xgau circa 1990 or 1991 where I was opposing an idea that he kept returning to, that the paradox of rock criticism was that rock is fun, is considered a party, whereas criticism usually isn’t considered a party (“Or is it?” he asks) — which is a dichotomy that Xgau didn’t buy into but kept thinking was at issue. Whereas I was arguing that the hallway-classroom metaphor is a much more potent dichotomy not to buy into, and explains a lot more, since it’s a dichotomy that most people do invest in. I first came up with the metaphor, prior to writing Xgau and without the words “hallway” and “classroom,” in a brief aside in Issue 6 of my fanzine Why Music Sucks (a title that I was briefly abandoning for “Chelsea Bailey’s House Of Fun”) and first tried to explicate it in Issue 7. But over the years my presentation of the hallway has always tended to over-emphasize what I call (favorably) “hairstyle” and “acting-out,” the flirting and fighting and joking and gossiping, the basic mess and brawl, and doesn’t emphasize enough of everyday life’s basic sociability and civility and leaves out too much of the ever-present discussion of subject matters in the hallway, the convos regarding sports and music and the weather and “How ya doin’?” and so on, a subject matter often being on a conversation’s main screen, so to speak, while between the lines people are doing the social work of presenting one’s style and attitudes and getting to know and trust or distrust one another. So I need to write a “Hallway-Classroom Revisited,” to detail this; none of which will change my basic thesis, which isn’t that this is how we always act in actual hallways and classrooms, but that these are the habitual splits that the modern-day psyche (at least in my haunts) tends to enforce on itself about what’s compatible and what’s acceptable in various settings — splits that I find destructive to genuine thinking.

    To forestall a common misreading, I’m definitely not saying that in the hallway people express their feelings while in the classroom they express their ideas. They do plenty of both in both venues, and “feeling” versus “thought” isn’t the grid that I was seeing, though the hallway-classroom split does inspire people to project that grid, even though the grid is wrong and is not what’s going on.

    Also, I’ve listened to very little Oasis and to almost none of the Manics.

    Also, I’m not sure why Mark jumps from the phrase “anti-book” to the phrase “anti-fiction,” since Noel G’s target seems to be written analysis, the word “review” right next to the word “books.” Also note that, to bolster Mark’s view that Noel G isn’t as onboard with the apparent anti-intellectualism of his statement as he seems to be, and despite what Noel says in that quote, Oasis didn’t create songs that were only “little,” in fact were willing to challenge pop radio’s preference for the short over the long. He’s still a dumbass for not reading more books, or more difficult books, or whatever it is he’s implying (but not stating, so maybe the implication is wrong, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t know the implication is there and isn’t responsible for its being there) that he’s proud of not doing.

  12. 13

    Yes, sorry, the passage about fiction comes a little before the passage I quoted: “I only read factual books. I can’t think of… I mean, novels are just a waste of f***ing time. I can’t suspend belief in reality… I just end up thinking, ‘This isn’t f***ing true.’ I like reading about things that have actually happened. I’m reading this book at the minute – The Kennedy Tapes. It’s all about the Cold War, the Cuban Missile Crisis – I can get into that.”

    (and i need to change the link up top to this fuller version, rather than the guardian piece which only partially quotes it)

  13. 14
    koganbot on 26 Mar 2014 #

    [Wrote this in late May 2012, meaning to post it either on my livejournal or on a Cure For Bedbugs comment thread. Didn’t finish it, which is why it was never posted. I’ve just now tweaked it a little (e.g., closed a parenthesis, gave Jess’s last name) and added explanatory bits in brackets. I’m dividing this post into at least two, the second for the original footnotes plus further bracketed additions. The “it” is probably Meltzer’s “I would write like Bo Diddley rather than about him.”]

    Found it! Several of it! This is what I said in Real Punks Don’t Wear Black [in commentary I’d added to “The Presentation Of Self In Everyday Life”]:

    Here’s an idea, I don’t know how good: The hallway-classroom split is actually a lot more pervasive than it was pre WWII, because school is a lot more ubiquitous and because the subject-oriented classroom is more of an ideal now than in other times and places. More people are likely to feel the behavioral split within themselves, because more people are likely to be subject to it. So we’re more likely than our predecessors to be inculcated with classroom values and hallway counter values, and more likely to want to invent an intellectual alternative to the hallway and classroom. We have to, otherwise we have no niche. In any event, whether or not what I just said holds water, we seem to be a lot more extreme in all directions than Otis Ferguson and crew. Ferguson would occasionally launch himself into parodies, he was perfectly capable of asking why and what he was loving, and he was carrying on a low-level style war against his colleagues at The New Republic. But I can’t imagine him leaping head first into cut-ups and social brawls à la Meltzer or Lester or going anywhere close to the heavy philosophizing of The Aesthetics of Rock. Imagine John Dewey clowning and brawling like Ring Lardner, and Ring Lardner addressing John Dewey’s subject matter. That’s where rock critics are (or were thirty years ago, anyway, before the Big Clampdown). Had Lardner heard Bo Diddley, he might have said to himself, as Meltzer subsequently did, “I’d write like Bo Diddley rather than about him,” but — unlike Meltzer — he wouldn’t have believed that the future of art and philosophy was at stake, I don’t think. And Dewey would never have written like Bo Diddley.
    Real Punks Don’t Wear Black, pp 195-196.*

    This passage was 2004, so “thirty years ago” was 1974 (and Meltzer’s Aesthetics of Rock was written mostly from 1965–1968). [Otis Ferguson was The New Republic’s movie reviewer from the mid 1930s to the early 1940s, also wrote about jazz and other popular musics.]

    “That’s where rock critics are.” Really? It’s where Meltzer and Tosches tried to go, sort of**, and me at times, but this passage overrates rock criticism as a whole (which I’ve been excoriating for failing altogether at intellectual follow-through). What it doesn’t overrate is rock criticism’s ambitions, which were great, and worthy, the potential it allowed itself.***

    Here’s the Gulcher quote (1972):

    For some reason people still read books and mags that don’t have pictures. The structure they’ve been fed of late has tended towards the delineation of youth culture as meaning-laden and quality-oriented. This is indeed strange for a culture whose cutting edge had begun and ended with rock and roll, crucial for its collapse of such dichotomies as the trivial and the awesome, the relevant and the irrelevant, the interesting and the boring, the topical and the eternal, the polar and the continuous, the _______ and the ______.

    [Meltzer doesn’t quite know what he means by “meaning-laden,” and he tends to conflate “Socially significant as my junior high social studies teacher would think of it” and “Meaning of a statement as a positivist would define it, as ‘description of the world’ or ‘representations in the mind’ or something,” so Meltzer makes the posty mistake of thinking that by taking down the second he’s dealt with the first.]

    And here is the Meltzer passage itself, “Richard Meltzer Interview,” by Adny Shernoff, Punk #7, Feb. 1977, pp 14-15 (ellipsis dots are in the original, presumably meaning a pause, not a deletion):

    In a lot of ways I feel that I helped develop the concept of the record review. And I’d say the first twenty reviews were positive reviews about records I truly liked. But how long can you go before you get sick of the whole format? That’s when I started experimenting with what I could get away with it. You know — writing reviews upside down, writing reviews backwards or in French ’cause it just wasn’t fun anymore. I figured I wrote over 700 reviews. And that’s a lot of reviews. I mean, how many times can you say the same thing… Even to yourself. But I think most of my reviews were more in the spirit of rock and roll than the Landau type shit where he sits down and does a cut-by-cut breakdown and figures out how Bo Diddley fits in… I would write like Bo Diddley rather than about him.”

    (“I would” rather than “I’d.”)

    [The reason I’d left all this unposted was that there were two things I needed to add: (1) An explanation of why Meltzer was actually misrepresenting himself when he wrote “I would write like Bo Diddley rather than about him” (reason being that Meltzer doesn’t buy into that dichotomy; I believe he thinks that if you don’t write like Bo Diddley you’re writing insufficiently about him as well) and (2) an explanation of why you need someone to write like Bo Diddley rather than merely play guitar and write songs and sing like Bo Diddley, which Bo Diddley has already done very well, thank you (explanation would have two parts, both claiming that writing can be more of a social risk than music is: (i) writing can go where pop and rock ‘n’ roll can’t, can penetrate academia, for instance, and therefore foregoes the protection of being “merely pop” and (ii) prose can make points so clearly and inescapably that the reader will have a hard time ducking them.)]

  14. 15
    koganbot on 26 Mar 2014 #

    *Jess Harvell once typed my “initial” (i.e., truncated [because my word limit had been cut in half]) “Presentation Of Self In Everyday Life” essay into ilX (first appeared in the Xgau festschrift Don’t Stop ’til You Get Enough — Sinker to thread to denounce the apostrophe before “til” — under the title “Democratizing The Intellect,” which had been my subtitle). My guess is that I wrote it in 2000 or 2001, though from the copyright date I gather that the book didn’t actually get pages and binding and stuff until 2002. Here’s a definatory para. “This new behavior” means “the behavior of rock critics,” and I was arguing that good rock critics, by and large, don’t honor the boundary between classroom and hallway.

    To explain this new behavior, and the bafflement it causes, I use “school” as my metaphor for the psyche, and I say that school tries to enforce a split between classroom and hallway. The split tells us that to be intellectual we have to live in the classroom and to obey the classroom rule, which is to talk not to and about other people but just about some third thing, “the subject matter.” It says that to talk to and about each other, as we do in the hallway, isn’t to think but to merely live our lives. And so — the split claims — either we can use our intellect or we can live our lives, but we can’t do both at once. And living our lives (as the hallway narrowly construes this) becomes “visceral” by default, since our lives have been ejected from the “intellect.” And the hallway’s vengeance on the classroom is to say, “You may be smart, but I’m real, and you’re not.” But this is an impoverished realness, since it expels anything that the classroom defines as “mental,” and forbids our putting something off at a distance and reflecting on it.

    **Dewey was in that passage because he was on my mind, not necessarily Meltzer’s or Tosches’ (though presumably someone like Meltzer, who dug Hegel and Aristotle, would also have responded well to Dewey).

    ***Btw I hope it doesn’t undercut my excoriations to point out that I think rock etc. criticism old and new is a Good Thing, and it’s undergoing a reasonably good period; better than 1995 anyway, which I consider the nadir. [But so as to further not undercut my excoriations, I’ll add that rock criticism, including Freaky Trigger, almost entirely capitulated to the hallway, has never ever got out from under it, with only occasional exceptions.]

  15. 16
    koganbot on 26 Mar 2014 #

    (Mark, that’s what I get for not clicking links.)

  16. 17

    no, you were kinda right — it’s not actually AT the link i included, you have to go to that one and click another one, which is me getting muddled when i was tidying up just before i posted — plus i should actually have included the quote in the piece

  17. 18

    since frank is quoting large chunks of himself off the rest of the internet SO SHALL I!! (in this case, several “mark s” items from the comments thread to his piece, skipping the intervening comments of others, despite some of them being GREBT, as we used to say) (but also pure hallway)

    mark s:
    “a clear idea is a little idea”
    [this is me blind-quoting burke not quite accurately, bcz this little claim fascinates and annoys me]

    mark s:
    i mainly throw that burke quote around bcz
    a. it strikes as funny (given the way i write)
    b. it’s a very clear idea clearly expressed!! (hence presumably “little” in burke’s eyes so WHY DOES HE THINK IT’S IMPORTANT))

    Miccio’s basic (ie “little”-as-in-core) idea — that good writing is better than bad writing — makes obvious well-duh sense, and actually *no one* here is seriously arguing against it (there’s argument about what automatically constitutes bad writing, but even there there’s caveats being thrown around).

    mark s:
    the purpose of language is making other ppl do something: communication is generally a part of that, but not always

    mark s:
    So here is my argument against it [ie against Miccio, I assume]: occasionally people who are bad (as in unconfident?) writers happen on a *good* new idea about something — or let’s say the door through to a good new idea — which they then lose hold of, and they squish the life from it as they try and turn what they’re saying into someone else’s conception of good/clear writing (sort of the same as lots of rock bands get more ordinary the “better” they get at what they do). Intuitions w/o showing the working aren’t intrinsically an anti-communicative idea (in fact I suspect “showing the working” generally needs difft kinds of expressive skills to “boldly state the intuition”, tho some are good at both, obv).

    mark s:
    but if more people wrote really wilfully unclearly then the gap between conceptions and conceptions of conceptions would grow and grow obv, vastly increasing the range of ideas “out there”, and with this the chances that the ideas were good (unclearly expressed but good)

    besides, if it’s a BAD idea unclearly expressed you can always misread it yrself, and enjoy the better idea yr actually projecting onto it!!

    it’s win-win!!

    [^^^this is AT BEST only sorta-kinda a serious argument: ie i’m trolling]

    mark s:
    (incidentally the above is the key and core of my theory abt why music is a socially valuable thing above and beyond being fun blah blah: it consists of ideas “wilfully unclearly expressed” — viz in music not in language. this non-communication is received as if it’s communication, which produces fitful (or frantic) attempts by the listener-brain to “decode” it, which translate as the rest of the listener’s mind joins in into ideas — or activities — which are new to listener AS WELL AS never envisaged by the musician

    trans. = “osmotic alien tongue pressure”)

    [^^^but the final point no longer trolling exactly — and also relevant to something oasis are pushing towards and inchoately defending???: “oasismotic intermittently-alien tongue pressure]

  18. 19
    tm on 30 Mar 2014 #

    Noel Gallagher (who is reportedly dyslexic) is probably further along the autism spectrum than he realises. His crime is in going from the Bash Street Kid being brilliant despite his outsiderdom to pop’s Pol Pot using his newfound power to crush the intellectualism he fears.

  19. 20
    punctum on 30 Mar 2014 #

    And what exactly does that have to do with autism?

  20. 21

    […] essay for FT on art, class and autodidacts: featuring Oasis, Joseph Beuys, Arthur Scargill and Richard Jobson, among others. Tom Ewing and […]

  21. 22
    tm on 30 Mar 2014 #

    Punctum #20; sorry that was a very poorly constructed post: I was flitting from one point to another and not intending to conflate NG’s monomania and anti-intellectualism with austitic traits though I realise now the post does read that way.

    Some of NG’s quotes about how he interacts with art or makes music do seem consistent in a superficial way with my (somewhat limited) personal and professional experience of high functioning ASD but I’m not an expert and I accept that this may be too important a subject for this kind of pop-psychological speculation.

    My second point about pop’s plucky outsiders turned despot kings is far from unique to Oasis; it’s all too easy a slide from ‘ooh, this sounds different, thrillingly ‘wrong’ even’ to ‘shit, now they’re telling everyone to do it that way.

    Hope that articulates a little better what I clumsily crammed into too few words before.

  22. 23

    Returning to Andrew’s comment up top:

    As Tom is currently “beating the Carmodic Tashdrum” on Popular right now (as he put it to me in email), let’s revisit Robin Carmody’s critical framework, which begins from the assumption that pop and politics and economics are (at any given moment) perfect maps of one another (I’ll look at the problems with this assumption further down this post).

    In the Carmodic framework, consequently, there are cultural territories which are perfectly safe for Scargill to venture into, and territories which are perilous. Politically, he’s a warrior, obviously; and very unusually, for a union leader, he’s not a defensive warrior (or rather, he wasn’t in the years of his political salience: look up the Battle of Saltley Gate to follow through on this). On my read of this, “nothing to lose” is not really part of Scargill’s political toolkit: “something to risk and win” is/was his default mode. Beuys is of course well outside of chartpop, and the workings of Carmodism as best adjusted will have to acknowledge this; but what documentary-maker Chris Swayne called “Bond Street art” is self-evidently NOT outside economics. So I’d argue that Scargill regards this (politically) as winnable enemy territory; but territory winnable by charm and intellectual seriousness and breadth; winnable, that is, by surprise, especially if we start from hostile mainstream portraits of him.

    (The piece has been linked to a exchange on twitter between some viewers who remember the original broadcast, one of them, @nickstew_art, commenting, “can remember thinking it was a tad patronising. Scargill was like an animal in the (art) zoo” — I think this perhaps states the risk for him among supporters; but as I say, I read this as a surprise move into enemy territory… and to repeat myself, I haven’t seen the documentary, and have nothing yet to say about this subtler dimension of the reading.)

    Of course, the problem with the Carmodic Framework is one that Frank K identified some years ago on LJ: by what actual mechanism do these maps — culture on one hand, politics/economics on the other — so exactly match that we can so confidently set them side by side, and read off the insights?

    My tentative counter-argument at the time (which I *think* Robin approved: I really ought to locate the actual thread…) was that the maps should be considered less as a social linkage to be explored and sociological explained, more as a kind of critical forensic device — a speculation that produces insights and unexpected readings; a strong way to dig down into the social tensions and drives within any give pop (or cultural) artefact. But I’ve been following Robin’s work long enough (14 years!) to know that he changes his mind in his Carmodic readings, perhaps less in terms of relevant connections than in terms of what they indicate about polltical flow and force. An effective politician is after all someone who recognises that social situations (including cultural events) are never static or fixed, but, as well as being surfed, can (sometimes) be nudged or captured or; politics is about seizing or making or remaking the moment, and transformations in the present retroactively shift meanings in the past; as will transformations in the future. (Walter Benjamin’s messianic conception of revolution was that it was the event that redeemed everything; made right EVERY past crime and injustice…) (which is a big ask obviously, but important to bear in mind as a kind of imaginative limit point…)

    [translator’s note: quite apart from being part of my own internet sigil, “Tash” functions as an ancient ILX joke about unintended invocations and conjurings, based on an episode from C.S.Lewis’s The Last Battle: “A terrible figure was coming towards them… It had a vulture’s head and four arms. Its beak was open and its eyes blazed. A croaking voice came from its beak: ‘Thou hast called me into Narnia, Rishda Tarkaan. Here I am. What hast thou to say?’”]

  23. 24
    weej on 1 Apr 2014 #

    I feel very lucky to be namechecked in such a great piece, but feel I have to clarify what I was saying in the linked thread. I don’t know if I subscribe at all to the notion that Oasis themselves embody “lout culture” or that they were its witting instigators, or even if it’s to be found embodied in their music. What I do think is that their success set a standard – and that standard would be the template for what followed. Their model was dominant enough to make everything else seem like yesterday’s news – especially in the music press, I’m afraid to say. It seemed like the message was “the public has spoken, this is what they want.” This might be the reality of commercial media these days, but real opinions are better than focus-group ones any day, and the writers subsequently never managed to sell this shift to me in any sense, though christ knows I read enough about it. This makes it seem like they never believed it themselves, which matches what you were saying about John Harris on that thread. The world of music writing may be fairly insular and (especially at this time) parochial but for some reason I expected better than that. Whether they could’ve successfully fought against the tide is something I really don’t know.

    I think I’m probably not alone in being the child of working-class parents who found pretty much all art and culture open and inviting (though often difficult or disturbing) and was able to use them as gatekeepers to that same world. It was horrible to see that gate closed to the working class (and most of the middle class too) by what felt like a wave of anti-intellectualism and suspicion of anything “artsy-fartsy” – and whether that is more down to shifts in social mobility or the marketisation of the media or any other reason, Oasis certainly weren’t helping, and (even if they had nothing but honest intentions) I can’t forgive them for that.

  24. 25
    koganbot on 3 Apr 2014 #

    Haven’t had a chance to reread the essay to see the overarching form of Mark’s ideas/journeys (and I still barely know diddly about Oasis). My question for Mark would be, since he began by quoting me (“changing not just our idea of who gets to be an artist but of who gets to be a thinker. And not just who gets to be a thinker, but which part of our life gets to be considered ‘thought’”), how he thinks that quotation plays in his piece. Another question would be how he thinks it plays in my piece.

    To answer that second question crudely, my idea, which I barely had room to hint at much less state, was that in acting out in various ways musicians and their fans were, quite literally, interacting with other people (by playing notes, getting into fights, sending out personal ads, and so on): “My point is that when she’s out in the hallway, amidst the flirting and fighting, she’s sure as hell thinking. She’s working out her relations to others; she’s working out who she is.” My hope (since I was at the word limit) was that a reader would be able to extrapolate that back to Elvis and to Xgau: that in what those two do and say they’re working out their relations to others, and doing so counts as thinking as much as what they say about pink Cadillacs or about comparing Chuck Berry to Marcel Proust. But that doesn’t mean it’s a better form of thinking; rather, just that the “classroom” part of the brain isn’t making itself more intellectual by trying to turn off such thinking.

    (Of course, musicians and fans may also be thinking about what notes work together and what’ll be good to dance to and what’s fun to hum and so forth.)

    Whereas I think Mark wants to add something to my idea, wants to add to it the idea of music provoking thought via its inarticulateness, or semantic recalcitrance, or some such. Which I don’t buy into. At least, I’m 98% not buying into it. Almost all misreadings take the form of projecting onto something what you expect will be there; which means you don’t learn anything via those misreadings, but rather fend off any new or challenging content. Or if you do project challenging content that isn’t there, it’s nonetheless content that you’re already challenging yourself with anyway. As far as writing for deliberate confusion: well, using difficult vocabulary or an unexpected metaphor can be a signal to the reader, “Wait! Don’t assume you understand this right off.” But that’s not really writing for confusion. And rather than writing mud, or running evocative rings around the reader, you also have the choice of writing as clearly and emphatically as possible, and saying, “Don’t assume you understand this right off,” and saying “Don’t assimilate this to familiar ideas A, B, and C. And the available vocabulary may not express this exactly, so, although I’m using word D, think of D as standing a little off to the left and at an angle from where it usually stands.” And on like that. A genuinely new conception will almost always run counter to some long-standing well-grounded beliefs, but if you’re not clear in stating the new conception (including being clear about where it needs work and where it potentially contradicts itself) no one will notice that the tried and true are under challenge.

    (I don’t know. Sometimes in actual classrooms teachers try not to say too much, assuming that that the student will learn better what she figures out for herself. But the teacher has to take give the student enough.)

  25. 26
    Tom on 3 Apr 2014 #

    There’s a difference between a private misreading and a communicated one, surely – a private misreading might be, as you say, projection instead of challenge and something the misreader learns nothing new from. But the audience of the misreader might learn something new in the process of adjusting their existing (mis)reading to cope with their exposure to the new misreading.

    (On the other hand I think it’s possible to SAY “Don’t assimilate this to familiar ideas A, B and C.” and I think that has an equivalent meaning to “Tides, don’t come in this time.” – it’s potentially useful to highlight the process of assimilation in meaning-making but I doubt you or anyone can pause it.)

  26. 27
    koganbot on 11 Apr 2014 #

    Tom, while your first point is hypothetically correct, and nonhypothetically witty, it relies on the audience not misreading the misreadings in their own personally conventional ways and on the original misreading being new to the audience, both of which are possible but not likely. In any event, while misreadings most definitely can be creative, they almost never actually are.

    Not at all sure what your final point is: if new idea D does assimilate to standard ideas A, B, and C, it’s probably not all that new as an idea (though a new idea can sometimes pull together standard ideas A, B, and C that hadn’t gotten along previously, e.g. Newton’s laws of motion showing, among other things, how it was possible for Kepler’s planetary motions to be compatible with physics; but then, Newton had to invent new physics to do it, so while he kept B the same, he had to alter A and invent a new D). But if new idea E is genuinely new and fundamentally right, or on the right track, it can only assimilate to standard ideas A, B, and C if the standard ideas change — in which case they’re no longer standard ideas A, B, and C, but rather new ideas A2, B2, and C2. And this is assimilation that we want. Whereas, what we don’t want (at least what I don’t want, especially when new idea E is mine) is for people to misread E to make it more conventional and more compatible with old ideas A, B, and C, which they then don’t notice are under challenge. And my contention — aimed at Mark and maybe Burke, if the latter was thinking that a clear idea was not only a little idea but a conventional idea — is that if you, i.e. Mark, present a new idea of yours in an unclear way, you’ve most likely made the idea invisible to your readers, especially its newness. And I’m challenging the belief (or concern or whatever) that a new idea — which, if genuinely new, very likely will give words meanings they hadn’t had before and may even require new vocabulary — will necessarily seem unclear to old readers who haven’t yet converted to the new meanings and vocabulary. If you explain it well enough, it won’t be unclear.

    And yes there can sometimes be advantages to not noticing that incipient idea E challenges well-grounded ideas A, B, and C prior to E being well enough developed that we can’t turn back. For instance, we may not intend to create a new idea — perhaps we thought we were making a minor adjustment, or simply removing an errant thread, without intending to unravel and remake the whole garment. And we may not want to challenge or alter useful and beloved A, B, and C. So we may simply abandon incipient idea E as soon as we see it running counter to obviously correct A, B, and C. I know all this, which is why I’m only 98 percent against lack of clarity rather than 100. And my own contention — that writing like Bo Diddley might take you places and challenge people in ways that merely playing like or being Bo Diddley won’t — doesn’t mean that people should write like Bo Diddley rather than playing like Bo Diddley. (Why not do both?) And I understand that for some people, if they’re inventing what looks like a shiny, fun new idea, the thought that they might have to subsequently clarify it and develop it and test it and justify it might stop them dead in their tracks (if they’ve never had the experience of new even more interesting gizmos arising from the act of clarifying, developing, testing, and justifying an idea). Etc. I understand and quite like what Mark’s pointing to in the repost above regarding “they squish the life from it as they try and turn what they’re saying into someone else’s conception of good/clear writing” [or even their own bad conception of good/clear writing]. I strongly doubt that either Mark or Tom has thought of a potential disadvantage of clarity or potential advantage of ambiguity and opaqueness that I haven’t also thought of, and my reasons for thinking of them are probably the same reasons they’ve thought of them.

    Also, I’m not clear as to what Mark means by “clear,” since I don’t find our friend Edmund’s statement at all clear. Clarity is contingent. A red light or a stop sign is a clear signal to someone who understands traffic and traffic signals, but not to someone who doesn’t. And I doubt very much that Burke’s claim (“a clear idea is a little idea”) has a practice or mechanism surrounding it that makes it clear, and I doubt that statements like that ever will. It would require that a community have complete consensus as to what constitutes an idea, what constitutes a clear idea, what constitutes a big idea and a little idea, etc. Or at least it requires that we all have the same understanding of Burke’s own special beliefs as to what an idea is and what makes an idea clear, or big, or little, and I doubt that we do, or could, since I doubt that Burke ever had such an understanding himself. (But I only skimmed the piece once, years ago when Mark sent me the link, if it was even to that piece.) Those terms are all contested terms: we use them to disagree as much as to agree, and we use them to get into disagreements about what they mean. This doesn’t mean we can’t use them to communicate, but that to understand each other requires elaboration.

    A final couple of questions for Mark (and don’t forget the ones I asked above):

    (1) Are we off on a tangent regarding clarity, or is it directly germane to the ideas you were presenting in your original post?

    (2) In what ways do Jobson, Gallagher, and Scargill illustrate my idea (or your idea of my idea) of who gets to be a thinker and which part of our life gets to be considered “thought”? My idea isn’t, e.g., “Scargill, a union leader, turns out to be knowledgeable and thoughtful when discussing art, and can even relate it to his experiences as a miner,” but rather, “Elvis, in coming up with new singing and dancing, was also thereby inventing new ways for him to relate to others, who in, following and responding to his moves, were themselves thereby inventing new ways to relate to each other; and these therefore are cognitive as well as aesthetic achievements.”

    (Of course, someone can argue with my contentions regarding the extent of Elvis’s achievement; but I don’t think there’s a good argument against my underlying idea, that this sort of stuff belongs in our idea of what thinking is.)

  27. 28
    xyzzzz__ on 18 Apr 2014 #

    “These exhausting seven-minute drone epics all set about with clouds of FX, the the oddly delicate seagulls of reverse-tape guitar: someone should do a compare-and-contrast with Band of Susans!”

    Basically “Tilt” (where the vocals come in, suppose Noel would think the first min or two as “a fucking waste of time”) is where Oasis sound the most like them:


    Just trying to think what Oasis track this specifically reminds me of..

  28. 29
    xyzzzz__ on 18 Apr 2014 #

    I have to disagree with weej post 24. As someone who has made a map through a lot of “intellectual” culture one of the things that comes out the most is a lot of that world is at war with itself, its all v factional and divisive. It hasn’t spoken a common language like pop did at one time (via a blues-derived model), for about 25 years, say.

    Besides any cultural/political shifts (access to musical education for example) I don’t think it takes a lot for that world to appear closed.

  29. 30
    weej on 18 Apr 2014 #

    Hi Xyzzzz, I’m not sure what you disagree with – sure, “high culture” “art” and so on is always factional and divided, that’s to be expected, but that’s a view from the inside, limited to the established arts, and to creators more than everyone else. What I’m saying is that the gates to all of this were much more open, say, pre-1997 – there seemed to be an appetite for presenting the challenging or odd to everyone and allowing them to make up their own minds, on TV, on the radio, seemingly everywhere – for me it was late night films on the BBC and Channel 4, pop TV that included the experimental and odd without comment, radio that mixed mainstream chart music with poetry and literature, a general feeling that “difficult art” wasn’t an insult and pretentiousness was a first step towards real creation rather than a cardinal sin. I’m not saying that this was the mainstream view, but it was there as an option, at least, even for the working class.

    Already by the early 2000s access to these things and the general cultural attitude towards them seemed to have shifted fundamentally in a wave of anti-intellectualism. Obviously I can’t prove this, but I felt it deeply and have many examples to back it up. Having been mostly out of the UK since 2002 I can’t be sure whether this was a temporary shift or a longer-term one.

  30. 31
    koganbot on 27 Apr 2014 #

    First, I want to apologize to everyone for misspelling “forgoes.”

    Second, I knew in advance that Mark was going to quote Leslie Singer’s misprision “I just wanna rock ‘n’ roll all night/and part of every day” (and there’s my own “If the tune makes you smile/You were born to be wild,” which at age 14 I somehow got out of Steppenwolf’s “Like a true nature’s child…”) but didn’t know what he intended to do with it — assumed he was going to throw at me a whole lot of my and other people’s misreadings that, while not necessarily being more creative than what they displaced, were creative in that via our misunderstandings we were adapting something to our own needs of the moment. Anyway, since he didn’t actually do this, I’ll give the following good examples: Spanish, French, Italian, Romanian; black Christianity and white Christianity and the interplay between them in the New World; hybrid forms such as blues and rock ‘n’ roll. Now, probably not all differences between Latin and its daughter languages were based on mishearings, or those between previous Christian practice and new Christian practice; or between British and African predecessors to the blues and the actual form that arose; etc. That is, someone can consciously go, “We’re given this, but let’s do that.” But presumably a lot of this evolution did follow the lines of a massive game of telephone or gossip, many mutations and mishearings in length.

    But my point isn’t whether I should think it’s 2% of misreadings or 22% of misreadings that are creative, but rather that there’s no justification at all for thinking that mishearings are required for creativity. I simply reject the eithor/or that goes, “The more clarity, the less creativity” and vice versa. Not that Mark is endorsing that particular dichotomy; but I’m not at all sure what he’s doing in raising the issue of clarity here, actually. He seems muddy in his intentions. And to give an example where clarity is necessary: according to Kuhn, Planck’s math slipped (as Boltzmann’s had before him) and in Planck’s derivation of [whatever it was he’d derived; I won’t pretend to understand the physics] in 1900, hv was a restriction only on cell size not on energy levels, so therefore didn’t entail that energy levels were discontinuous. It was Ehrenfest and Einstein in 1906 who separately worked out that Planck’s derivation needed discontinuous energy levels, and Planck didn’t start to come around to this until 1908. In this instance, without physicists pushing through with precision and clarity, there’s no quantum physics. (Yes, and not everything is physics, but so what?)

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