Monday, February 11, 2008

The Commentator Strikes Back (never first!)

Topics Covered:
Words of hope for all of you melancholy word-lookin' folks,
A Brief Q and a long, involved A
(including exactly one Lil' Wayne citation),
A defense of Existentialism as a defense for criticism


Dear Reader,

Don't worry, I have already found the perfect Pablo Neruda poem to express the rollercoaster of emotions you have undoubtedly been experiencing in that long, anxious void between my last post and this, my triumphant return:

I like you when you are quiet because it is as though you are absent,
and you hear me from far away, and my voice does not touch you.
It looks as though your eyes had flown away
and it looks as if a kiss had sealed your mouth.

Like all things are full of my soul
You emerge from the things, full of my soul.
Dream butterfly, you look like my soul,
and you look like a melancoly word.

I like you when you are quiet and it is as though you are distant.
It is as though you are complaining, butterfly in lullaby.
And you hear me from far away, and my voice does not reach you:
let me fall quiet with your own silence.

Let me also speak to you with your silence
Clear like a lamp, simple like a ring.
You are like the night, quiet and constellated.
Your silence is of a star, so far away and solitary.

I like you when you are quiet because it is as though you are absent.
Distant and painful as if you had died.

A word then, a smile is enough.

And I am happy, happy that it is not true.

It ain't true. And you're welcome. Now, back to business.

When we left off so long ago you were in deep suspense about what our interviewee, Brad Troemel, would ask the interviewer, me, when the power of question and commentary was shifted his way. The result, terse though it may have been, prompted the following manifesto/mission statement. I hope it will give y'all a better sense of who I am and what I'm trying to accomplish with this, one blog in an endless sea of artistic/social commentary available on the internet.

BT: tell me about yourself. you're no joke, man. you're from kentucky? did you go to college?

Dan: Though I don't think I'll end up staying here forever, Kentucky actually kind of rules in its own way. It's beautiful, it has a monopoly on the production of bourbon/champion racehorses, and it is now home to a 27 million dollar Creation Museum (that's a museum funded mostly by private donations the sole purpose of which is to disprove evolution.) There's also this weird confluence of Southern tradition and hip, super-motivated, creativity in its major cities. For example, Kevin Schnieder of Apples in Stereo lives in Lexington and Will Oldham (a.k.a. Bonnie "Prince" Billy) is from Lousiville. In general, you do have to put up with a lot of social crap in order to live here, but, given the proper level of personal remove, that crap can be kind of awesome. Go to any flea market and you will find the most amazing ideological merchandise possibly in the entire world:


As for me, I'm currently double majoring in Literature and Japanese Language/Culture at Miami University in southern Ohio. As an institution of learning it's incredible (and very demanding; I spend about 10-12 hours a week outside of class working on Japanese alone, thus my prolonged absence), but as a social environment it ranks up there with the crowd at an Ann Coulter book-signing. The majority of the student body consists of rich, white, hyper-conservative kids with an astoundingly large sense of entitlement. Plus we're basically in the middle of corn fields. I guess you could say my "life of the mind" has benefited as a result, I mean, I practically started this blog as a way of keeping myself sane until the end of this, my final semester before graduation.

Photobucket Photobucket
From Brad Troemel's Zero's Heroes Series
Not such a far cry from the average Miami Student

As far as art, I tend to gravitate more towards "high/conceptual" (or what might be deemed "hipster-ish") stuff just because it's already been placed in a context which invites analysis and commentary by insisting on its own "artistic-ness" so to speak (as opposed to "low/genre" stuff which, when interpreted, often leads to the accusation that one is "reading too much into it.") However, I'm also pretty much disgusted by the shallowness of the culture and criticism it produces. The majority of music blogs, "hip" magazines, etc operate from the assumption that whatever they like is good and therefore all they need to do is sort of point it out, relate it to another obscure work, and take all the credit for establishing their subject's career. Even interviews, which should be at least mostly about the person they're talking to, tend to look more like private conversations whose only purpose is to demonstrate how the interviewer is "totally bros" with the interviewee. I on the other hand, to quote Lil Wayne (best rapper alive, sorry Kanye), strive to "break a bitch down like Tanya Harding".

I don't think my ideas or tastes are the best for anyone but me, but I really try to respect the artist and their work by engaging them/it seriously, extrapolating some of the valuable ideas, and placing them in a broader context to demonstrate their relevance to other art and the world in general. The whole point of art criticism and appreciation to me comes across well in Sartre's famous Existentialism is a Humanism essay:

"Now, for the existentialist there is really no love other than one which manifests itself in a person's being in love. There is no genius other than one which is expressed in works of art; the genius of Proust is the sum of Proust's works; the genius of Racine is his series of tragedies. Outside of that, there is nothing. Why say that Racine could have written another tragedy, when he didn't write it? A man is involved in life, leaves his impress on it, and outside of that there is nothing. To be sure, this may seem a harsh thought to someone whose life hasn't been a success. But, on the other hand, it prompts people to understand that reality alone is what counts, that dreams, expectations, and hopes warrant no more than to define a man as a disappointed dream, as miscarried hopes, as vain expectations. In other words, to define him negatively and not positively."

In other words: "great art" does not exist objectively, rather it is dependent on the work of humans (the artist and the audience) to extract its value through creation and active interpretation. I write about stuff because I care about the ideas it represents since its often something I've experienced myself. I'm aware that even the most well-reasoned criticism can never be totally objective and at least part of the fun of reading an essay or review is getting a specific, inherently limited viewpoint. On the other hand, I don't want to be like the commentator from Nabokov's Pale Fire and praise the work of others mostly to make myself look good by association.

As a sidenote: I'm generally not a very serious person. I mean, I jam ABBA and Prince way more often than Gang of Four or This Heat, but I sometimes worry that I come off as pretentious or exclusive just because I'm used to writing research papers for strict grammarians. That's not my intent. I'm just trying to communicate in the most efficient manner I know.

That'll be all for now. Enjoy the jams and look forward to another post this week on the hyperreality of Japanese reality television!

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