Friday, 31 August 2007

'The liberals can be just as bad...'

Another quote plucked from the (electronic) lips of Ms. E.A. Black, and just something that's struck me as true lately. Or, in some cases, it might be more apt to say that the conservatives can be just as bad. It all depends upon what quadrant of the political compass the status quo lies really.

First case in point.

Wheen makes a lot of good points about political beaurocracy, purposefully opaque intellectual posturing and pseudo-scientific mysticism. Unfortunately chapter after chapter is crammed with abominable non-sequiturs, offering his Mail-reading fanbase a chance to dismiss anything that is difficult to understand by tarring it with the same bullshit brush waved at much easier targets, such as astrology.

Let's just say there is a lot of intellectual foul-play on Wheen's (and his peers') part at hand. One of the most dishonest critical, intellectual, even scientific practices is to take the exception and hold it up as the rule - or to take the extreme and present it as the commonplace. So critical theory takes a bashing by way of some daft excesses in the field of feminist theory (Luce Irigaray's notorious criticism of E=mc2 as a 'sexed equation' because it values the speed of light over other equally necessary forces is just one example of her barminess) and linguistics (the otherwise groundbreaking Saussure, who equates the 'erectile organ' to the square root of minus one). Writers such as Wheen and Dawkins, and no doubt many more, have followed this with some kind of withering reference to 'trendy French philosophers', usually namechecking Foucault or Deleuze/Guattari. And just like that, in a breath, the whole French tradition has been swept under the rug. Barthes' accessible, emotionally frank and at times moving works, gone. Foucault's extensive histories of sexuality, dismissed.

Second case in point. (Be sure to read the liner notes at the bottom of the page.)

Critical and cultural theory is a much maligned field of academic study, and the embarassing truth is that a lot of it is dismissed simply because it is goddamned hard. Derrida is infamously capricious in his thinking, and certainly not one I would put forward as an ambassador for the the utility of cultural studies, but even this trickster offers a wonderful glimpse into the way we order the world, if persevered with.

A lot of it is also dismissed, however, as part of a trend (sometimes) mistakenly labelled as 'postmodernism', misconstrued as a kind of 'anything goes' philosophy where everything is relative and there is no truth. There are thinkers like this, but again, they are not representative. This is what I meant in the opening paragraph. The liberals can be terrible for all sorts of reasons - I'm applying it to something of specific interest to me here - but mainly because they can be too easily lost in theory. The conservatives are too wary of theory, often describing what is essentially their own worldview, with its peaks and troughs of knowledge about that world, as 'common sense' or 'the real world' (the latter will grate particularly on graduate students!).

Why does cultural theory come in for such a hard time? So much political writing is dross, and yet we count it as an essential part of human intellectual endeavour. English Literature is an outdated institution (especially the way it is currently taught) and yet we cling to it and defend it, even if a degree in English Literature is as relevant - or, I would suggest, less relevant - than a degree in Cultural Studies. There is one reason I would dare to suggest, and it is this: Cultural Studies is new, which means that (a) it is treated with hostility and derision, because it does not carry the historical distinction of better aquainted academic studies, (b) it is simply less understood. There is a lot of crap written under the banner of Cultural Studies, like there is for any of the Humanities. And yet, as I have only very briefly pointed towards, it already carries a rich history of its own, in danger of being ignorantly washed away under the tidal wave of 'anti-postmodernist' rhetoric.

Never has the baby been thrown out for the sake of so little bathwater.

Wednesday, 1 August 2007

Sound & Vision

Mark Ronson plays Phil Spector for the day. No wait! It's good. There's no trumpets or anything... I think. Candie Payne has a wonderful voice, it's a shame she wasn't in the Pipettes, and that the Pipettes didn't have more good songs.

This is a song that was included on that actually-quite-good NME cover CD, Canadian Blast. Reminds me of Radiohead's 'How To Disappear Completely' a little bit, especially the bassline that sort of starts to meander its way into it, as if it were drifting itself do you see.

This band are amazing and I'm just gutted it took me so long to find them.

Ditto. This even has guitars in it. Distorted ones. Rar.

This is quite similar to the Weakerthans, but equally brilliant. Ellen probably now regrets texting me about three months ago saying, 'I've found this band I think you'll like,' because every time I went round to her place I put this song on. For a good long while. N.B. Los Campesinos! supported them in Newport too, back in May I think. Probably the most fun gig I've ever been to. I think me and Ellen possibly barn-danced during this.