Sunday, March 29, 2009

On Becoming a Real Adult

I think I now understand what the expression "to drink like a 20 year old" means. As I notice the first thin streaks of grey weaving in and out of my hair, I console myself to the fact that I'll turn grey fairly early with the likelihood that I'll be Ian McKellen silver, which is really the best grey to be. However, my most recent wanderings through Hess Village, Hamilton's equivalent of George street in St John's, have left me feeling rather alienated. When my friend Rob was in town a month ago, he ended up taking a swimsuit model home (actually to our mutual friend Johnny's home) almost effortlessly from the burrito bar Ché on Hess street.

I wandered from bar to bar this past Friday surrounded by the utterly indifferent. I think the only thing I actually do miss sometimes about drinking in St John's was the fact that the bartenders treated me as a human being. Here, I was a paycheck and an irritant. Any activity that caused a pause in the flow of money behind the bar is cause for ejection. Though this isn't really a difference between St John's and Ontario. There were bars like that all along George street; I just never went inside them.

The bars I did frequent were more relaxed places, either where you could see good music, or just have a few congenial drinks in a friendly atmosphere. There are places in Hamilton like that. Where I used to go to Roxxy's, CBTG's, and The Ship for music, I now have 33 Hess and The Casbah. Where I used to go to Roxxy's and The Spur (may it rest in peace) for friendly liver destruction, I now have The Winking Judge and the other spots on Augusta street. It's a bit farther from my house, but still entirely worth the fifteen minute walk. A person can always find the places that are welcoming to them if they look.

In fact, I never liked the meat market, customer-as-commodity style bars. Whenever I went to them, no matter what city I was in, I always had an awful time. So I suppose I never drank like a 20-year-old, even when I was 20. When I was 17 years old, I looked like I was 25. Now that I'm in my mid-20s, my hair is slowly starting to turn silver. Perhaps I'm finally growing into the character I always have been, after a fashion, a sardonically happy writer drinking pints of beer in a bar that's not too loud and where everyone comes to know my name. There are some places where I've never been comfortable. I just need to stay away from those places.

Posts about my continuing voyage into Marcel Proust (pretension, check!), my thoughts on the Watchmen film, and the Wittgenstein biography will be forthcoming, especially now as my term's work is starting to smooth itself out.
I have become positively addicted to this song, a perfect cadence of rhythm and regret. A song that's a couple of years old from an outfit called Beirut. They mostly do instrumentals with instrumentation and melody inspired by European folk song, but song structures closer in style to contemporary rock.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Many Falling Men and Women

Every week or so, I read through the New York Times obituary section to see who has died, and if any of them are interesting to me. I discovered a few days ago, the death of Ernest Trova, described in the headline as "Falling Man artist." I was immediately intrigued, though even more fascinated to discover that this was a completely different person from the Falling Man that I first thought they were talking about.

You can see a picture of Trova's statue at the linked obituary, and I was fascinated when I found out this existed. I think it makes an intriguing parallel for what I think was a transformative moment in world history. The intellectual movements that dominated the twentieth century shared a yearning for perfect rationality, societal unison in accordance with a master plan. The fascist and communist political movements, Le Corbusier-influence architecture of segmented machine-like functionality, the uniformity of mass production systems. I could go on, but I won't. Also, I should qualify that there was rebellion against these ideas that had equally powerful affects on humanity: the explosion of democracy and its freedom-encouraging offshoots. But these democratic ideas articulated themselves as rebellions and reactions to the totalitarian conformist ideas. Without the power of totalitarian structures in human society in the twentieth century, I don't think the democratic movements would have developed in so many diverse ways as they have.

Here's what this has to do with Trova's Falling Man. This is a sleek, perfectly crafted image, symmetrical along many axes, and implying a spherical perfection. Trova's sculpture is crafted in strict conformity to a very simple set of rules. Man is made into an abstract, sterile shape. Now contrast that with this image, Eric Fischl's Tumbling Woman. It's visceral, bumpy, irregular, asymmetrical, disturbing, and violent. This is an image of death that was so frightening to people that it was quickly hidden after its initial display. We stare in awe and quiet contemplation in Trova's Falling Man, and are made physically ill by Fischl's Tumbling Woman.

Not everyone I know takes Sept 11 seriously. I had one friend who said her strongest reaction on the day was being happy she got the day off school. I have yet to be able to explain this moment better than Don DeLillo did in his essay, "In the Ruins of the Future."

"[Sept 11] was bright and totalizing and some of us said it was unreal. When we say a thing is unreal, we mean it is too real, a phenomenon so unaccountable and yet so bound to the power of objective fact that we can’t tilt it to the slant of our perceptions."

It's hard to find a better symbol for the totalitarian conformity to the simple idea than the architecture of the World Trade Centre, two giant rectangular prisms reaching high into the atmosphere. Their destruction was a moment of chaos, blood splattering, fire exploding, shards of glass flying jagged, dust hideous and liquid choking and invading every orifice. This constituted a kind of final proof that the totalitarian perfection of the 'modernist' idea was a sham, a dream that only made those who held it laughable. Only idiots still hold onto this dream after its final shattering.
An internet update: I am now tweeting. So far, nothing from my phone, because that shit costs money. But when I'm in my house or at a computer, I'll be telling you exactly what I'm doing. I might not go so far as some do with their twitter accounts, but more of my minor brainfarts will be on the internet for all to ignore.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Trials of Busyness and Performance Anxiety

All two or three of you who read my blog regularly may have noticed that I haven't been updating as frequently as even I would have liked. Part of my mission statement for Canadians Lost in Canada was to blog somewhat less frequently, but make the posts higher quality. Not necessarily longer, but punchier, more thorough, and a better read overall. Anne Hathaway post aside, I think I've succeeded in this regard.

But the delays in my blogging lately have come from simply being busy as all get out. My philosophical work is rather intense, with a paper on extended mind theory of which I have to write at least a first draft before next Thursday, when I am inundated with essays for my first year course for which I'm a tutor. As well, my survey course on Gilles Deleuze requires some fairly intense reading and quick bursts of writing that occasionally become exercises in stream of consciousness philosophy. These seem to be working, but I don't yet know why or how. I also have a conference at which I'm presenting a paper on flaws in philosophies of language that privilege reference as an essential source of meaning. This is in just over a week, in Windsor.

Simultaneously, and at the same time, I've begun working for the Graduate Student Association here at McMaster, fully aware of the irony involved. Earlier in my university career, I worked for The Muse, which at the time (2001-4) had one of the most antagonistic relationships imaginable with the undergraduate student union. It is an antagonism I still hold for the Canadian Federation of Students. One of the reasons I enjoy my work with the McMaster GSA is because despite being members of the CFS, my colleagues share my antipathy for our national affiliate. Once our current organizational overhauls are complete, I hope to do some actual lobbying of the university administration, which seems willfully incompetent and inattentive to students' needs.

I also have a book to finish. My novel, A Small Man's Town, is in the final stages of writing, with only one major sequence of about 30-35 pages left unwritten, and my second-last sequence almost complete. Depending on how things work out this summer with Deidre, my unbelievably enthusiastic illustrator, I should have a publishable text within a few months, and a manuscript by sometime in April. Soon I'll have to commence a task that is far more gargantuanly difficult than actually writing the book: finding an agent and getting a publisher. This is more of a summer project, but the preparatory stages have to be done over the next month or so.

Among my other summer projects will be gaining an encyclopedic and critical knowledge of every major debate in contemporary environmental philosophy, possibly relating it to my current course work on extended mind, or as I like to call it, world-integrating cognition. Also, I hope to write several short stories I've sketched over the past year, as well as a paper critiquing the law of identity. Somewhere in all this, I hope to foster some kind of functioning personal life beyond work.

But one nagging difficulty when it comes to blogging is performance anxiety, especially when I compare my own writing to the living, breathing work of hallucinogenic theatre, Joe Rogan.

I remember Joe Rogan most fondly from the classic 1990s sitcom Newsradio. His personality in real life is exactly the same. His work on Fear Factor, which consisted of goading people into humiliating themselves with pain and risk of exposure to deadly disease for moderate amounts of money, was not his artistic high point. His blog, which I've linked above, is a masterwork of the freest of free thought. One of my longest of long term goals in philosophy is to work out how to make all these kinds of ideas make sense to sane people.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Perhaps a Lady Really Can Love a Robot

So the AV Club has a column called The Hater, and they recently did a walkthrough of the newest Jamie Foxx single, "Blame It," concluding that "there ain't no party like a Ron Howard party because a Ron Howard party don't stop." This is one of those phrases George Carlin talked about in one of his routines which you just can't conceive hearing or reading, ever. This is because a phrase like that line about a Ron Howard party is so discordant with all our presumptions about how reality works that even though it makes grammatical and semantic sense, it's difficult to understand.

This isn't a post on my worries about Jamie Foxx, who seems to be following the J-Lo path to personal and professional insanity. Foxx toiled in relative obscurity as a comedian, aside from a run on In Living Colour, until his acting career took off thanks to films with Oliver Stone, Will Smith, Tom Cruise, and finally his Oscar-winning performance as Ray Charles. But now that his music career is taking off, he's in danger of becoming a ludicrous, laughable parody of an R&B singer. But I'll let Jamie Foxx control his own destiny. The Soloist looks schmaltzy but good, and next year's Law Abiding Citizen seems promising.

Now watch this video and tell me if you notice anything weird. I mean, aside from Ron Howard monopolizing all the white girls at the party, while all Jake Gyllenhaal can do is talk to the one girl everyone else is ignoring, asking if she's ever seen Donnie Darko.

Jamie Foxx, in terms of his voice in this song, is indistinguishable from T-Pain. They're both so heavily autotuned that they no longer have human voices. They speak as the machine. This is one step above MC Stephen Hawking, and I think this is fascinating. Here we have an R&B ode to drunkenly fooling around with random men and women, sung with the voice of a robot. This is the genre that, more than almost any other theme, focusses on sex, love, articulated with a smooth, organic, human voice. There's something cyberpunky and beautiful about this image of an R&B singer removing all the organic qualities from his own voice. A blood red lighting scheme evokes the visceral, the organic. Sex drips from every scene and movement of the camera – even from Ron Howard. Jamie Foxx is shot in constant closeup, the proximity itself erotic. And he sings with the voice of a machine. This is cybernetic sex, cybernetic liquor, cybernetic R&B, cybernetic Ron Howard.

If you haven't noticed, I still find the Ron Howard thing a little weird.

Think about the traditional boundaries between human and android that this voice breaks down. Whole new vistas of sexuality are spreading open before us, as silicon and carbon unite to create something entirely new. I get the feeling that this has already been done in at least a hundred Japanese animé films, but it's still an intriguing idea.

Although – Ron Howard?