Sunday, January 23, 2011

E-lite elites

Two recent articles take on this question of 'What is elitism?' or 'Who are the elites?', stemming from an unmistakable swell of anti-intellectualism in political, social, and aesthetic discourse. Is there a real disconnect? What happened to the "power elite?" Who is actually dictating and public taste and defining social/commercial attitudes? Scholars? critics? or big budget marketers?

NY Times: Defy the Elite! Wait, Which Elite? -by A.O. Scott

n+1: Revolt of the Elites -from the editors of n+1

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The times they are a-changin'

A talk by Charles Bernstein given at Simon Fraser University, Jan. 8, 2010: "Sound Tools for Sound Listening" (mp3): contains three essays: "Making Audio Visible," "Hearing Voices," and "The Bound Listener," as well as some Q&A.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The thinging of things

"Read what Heidegger has to say about the thinging of things, that is, the gathering and uniting—or as the German says so directly and strongly, das Verweilen, the letting-while or letting-dwell—by which the world is stayed, in virtually every sense of 'stay,' and you will begin to re-collect in your own thinking a basic human grasp of the meaning of things, which will open up afresh a basic human relationship to them... As over against the modern concept of the thing which sees it primarily in its relation to human understanding as an object of representation and in its relation to human will as matter or product of a process or production or self-imposition—a concept, then, not of the thing in its own thingness, but of the thing in its subservience to human preoccupations—Heidegger finds in language the thought of the thing as thing, that is, as gathering and staying a world in its own special way. Hence he is able to use 'thing' as a verb and, by this new coining and recoining of the ancient word and its meaning, to think recallingly and responsively the being of the thing as man has authentically lived with things from the beginning.
Call this primitivism, if you will; it can also be called a recalling to origins, a reversion to the primeval... It represents a movement away from the thin abstractions of representational thinking and the stratospheric constructions of scientific theorizing, and toward the full concreteness, the onefoldness of the manifold, of actual life-experience." -Albert Hofstadter, Introduction to Martin Heidegger's Poetry, Language, Thought

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Criticism matters (but all of it?)

Today the NY Times Book Review featured a forum on "Why Criticism Matters," which is nevertheless worth the read if you want to hear where (some of) the general concerns lie for/about the genre of literary criticism. I recommend the contributions by Pankaj Mishra, Sam Anderson, and Elif Batuman. However, Tim Yu provides a more complete scope about the gimmicks and (often paradoxical) concerns of professional, as opposed to academic and to amateur, criticism in his post: "Does (Paid) Criticism Matter?" He notes that it is a classic example of one-upmanship by the self-marketing, quasi-insular, honorific (bourgeois?) literary scene that wishes to appear as the specialized-though-not-too-specialized arbiters between the potentially misunderstood artist and the ignorant public. As if to appose specialized "esoteric" prose and a terrestrial, "commonsense" content (or, if you like, a time-consuming, tediously prepared meal and the quick, packaged, healthy supplement meal in a candy bar), and ask: Which would you prefer? Yu notes: "Fading into irrelevance themselves, paid critics shore up their position by pointing to the even greater irrelevance of the academic writer." This does seem to be the editors' point, but it is also to advertise, to re-romanticize the life of the paid writer; the very sort of aphoristic tragedy that works to dignify MFA programs (which they discourage ostensibly) as a dying breed. The point is, isn't it rather insulting to lament the wavering interest of the "common reader" (a construct) with a hopeful tone that concessions can be made. 'You may resemble dumb, ungrateful animals, but we can win you back!' Although Anderson's piece makes the case that Criticism plays a vital role in the intertextual production (and play) of meaning, the feature's title "Why Criticism Matters" is pure genre-pandering. The question begged, 'Does it matter?' suggests an unconscious opinion poll. Yu makes it clear: this is an ad campaign for the major reviewing venues. Paid-criticism presents a more palatable alternative for the reader. To me, this seems a greater sin than (arguably, over-)specialized criticism, which doesn't take the reader for an impossibly limited beast. The question is: do paid-critics feel threatened? Does the web's increased access to free content pose a danger to the print/subscription-limited reading industry? Have they failed to build an insurmountable hedge around their commercial production of homogeneous Taste?

Also, we mustn't forget, as Yu reminds the NYT: "The range of books reviewed has become narrower; readers of poetry in particular know that the major book reviews abandoned us long ago."