Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Old Pretender

So, I've been re-reading The Wings of the Dove after finishing all my real work for the semester.

Then I had to spend an hour sitting around with nothing to do.

So I wrote the following sentence:

"After all, she felt, in her inner self, that she left rather a lot out, on the whole, when it came to pleasing others, so that she was positively obliged, insofar as she considered her general attitude a failure of the ideal, to make up for the absence as much as possible in those simple cases wherein the effort should be, thankfully, not quite too much to bear - and if she was unavoidably conscious of the fact that others - particularly those who, while always serving as attentive and sympathetic auditors of her complaints, were perhaps somewhat removed from or oblivious to the waves more typically spreading from the pebble dropped by her standard inconsistent treatment of her social relations - tended to see her as erring on the side of doing nothing else but too much, as far as her kindnesses were concerned, she rather suspected that no one would be able to sound the abyss of cynicism she knew to lie behind the gilded mask of her compassionate veneer better than she herself could."

I am rather proud of myself.

If nothing else, I think this provides strong evidence for the contention I used to make back in my Henry James and Flaubert course in graduate school (which had something of an unfortunate tendency to turn into a Henry James versus Flaubert course) that the prose style of Henry James - yes, even the late Henry James! - does a better job of representing my own experience of thought than the prose style of Flaubert!

Constructive criticism is welcome! Writing like late Henry James is interesting - it's much more like writing poetry than writing most prose (although this may be simply because when I'm not going for pastiche I don't bother sufficiently about style when writing prose).

Thursday, October 14, 2010

The Workers Move to the Suburbs

Belle & Sebastian's new album is apparently out now, not that I'm going to hear it for a while yet, and they produced a video in order to promote it. The video is a slightly odd one; about half of it is promotional material for the album, with performances of a few songs, songs running over photo and video clips, fans asking the band questions and having the band answer - and then another half of it is about the future of the music business, with a parody of a marketing executive (who, as a fierce Scottish man in business attire talking about media relations, reminds me awkwardly of Malcolm Tucker from In the Loop, such that I kept on waiting for him to curse more), questions in the interview about what young aspiring musicians should do, a whole conversation between members of various different about the changes that the industry is undergoing. The parody of the marketing executive even involves the mention of making a promotional video (which is on a list of things that will completely fail to help sell the album).

Although it did strike me as an odd topic for your promotional video to cover, I suppose that Belle & Sebastian were interested in discussing because as successful recording artists it's certainly something they must think about with at least moderate frequency - and something, I suppose, that all fans of music might legitimately be interested in. It's interesting for me at least in part because I've also been reading news and commentary lately about the future of the academic humanities - musicians are worried about their future, so are humanities scholars. The rhetoric on both topics even has a certain amount of similarity between it - take a look at the similarities between Mick Jagger's comments here and the point (which I can't seem to find a citation for now, but which I promise you I have seen today) that the academic study of modern languages is in fact a relatively new phenomenon in itself.

It makes me wonder what it's like to be old - to have more experience. There are aspects of the way things are that are so new that they've arisen within my own lifetime; I know that it's only very recently that it ever would have occurred to me to have a blog. But some things, like recorded music and academic humanities, have been around since well before I was born and seem pretty standard and normal. Thus, it's weird to think of them as relatively recent and ephemeral. I wonder if this is a fallacy that one ever grows out of, or if it's something that remains, no matter how old you get - well, I suppose it probably wouldn't remain if you were magical and consequently significantly longer-lived than non-magical people, but this doesn't really seem like a salient qualification ;-). I also wonder if there was always an issue. I have my own stereotype of the very normalization of rapid change in society and technology as being a relatively recent phenomenon, especially as a global phenomenon. And I think this is a very standard stereotype. But even if quantitatively this is true, I wonder about how my own ancestors, dating back for tens of thousands of years, actually experienced their lives - whether had a core sense of stability that I really don't possess thanks to being raised with a different set of expectations, or whether even when technological change was much slower than it is today, there was still a sense of the basic instability of society, because cultural changes that would seem minuscule to us seemed far more significant to them.

One thing I love about myself is the way I am nearly always able to find an extremely apt title for a blog post. Thank you, self!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Both of You Dance Like You Want to Win

Why do I say indie-pop, not indie rock? I don't know. It's just a habit I picked up, but to the extent that there's a conscious motivation, I think it's because of the way all the bands I like turn out to have some relationship with dance music. The odd thing is that this happens regardless of whether or not the songs that get me into the band are like that. So. . . let's go through bands I like:

-Pulp: Dance-y from the first, I think. "Common People" sounds dance-y to me. What's more, this is a band that has a compilation CD named "Goes to the Disco" and actually recorded a song that is pretty straightforward house music.

-Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts - Well, this isn't even indie to begin with ;-). "Cosmic Dare" is kind of dance-y nonetheless, but it's hardly typical.

-Franz Ferdinand - "Music that girls [such as myself] could dance to." 'Nuff said.

-Belle & Sebastian - Okay, I first got into B&S thanks to "Get Me Away from Here, I'm Dying" and "Judy and the Dream of Horses." Not dance-y at all, right? So how could I expect when I first heard those songs that I was also falling in love with the band that put out "Your Cover's Blown"?!?

-The Delays - Actually, their third album was less dance-y than the first two, and I didn't like it nearly as much.

-of Montreal - I think this is the most egregious example. Started out intrigued by hearing "Penelope" on Pandora. Wound up addicted to, I don't know, "Faberge Falls for Shuggie" or something. "Faberge Falls for Shuggie," btw, would be the most hilarious title ever, but "Strawberry Letter 23" is actually probably less funky than "Faberge Falls for Shuggie," which ruins the joke.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

All the Best People Have to Be Ghosts

For a long time now, I have wondered why it is that I like Utena without loving it. On paper, Utena seems like something I should love. I've described Angel Sanctuary as "all these people who don't fully understand each other always hurting each other inadvertently" with Gnostic overtones implying that "the physical world is evil because it separates us, divides us up into these beings that can't touch and careen about and hurt each other" and, of course, weird gender and incest issues. Given this description, there's almost no distinction between AS and Utena. So, given that Utena is obviously the more intellectual of the two, and AS is clearly sillier by far, why is AS the one I adore and Utena the one I coldly admire?

While I was walking around doing nothing for an hour today, I came up, for the first time, with an answer that makes sense - if it is clearly not the content, then it must be the structure! This is slightly hard for me to accept because the structures do seem superficially similar (well, those aspects of the structure that seem relevant - I do not think the reason I don't love Utena is because of the Rose Bride duels). Both of them feature a main plot in the present and a lot of backstory, which is revealed gradually during the course of the main plot, up until the final, most important, extremely Gnostic backstory that gets revealed at the end. However, the difference between the two of them is, I think, in the balance of the backstory and the main story. It's true that in Utena the backstory is the motivation for the entire present story. It's also true that almost every important individual character has his or her own different backstory, and even that the backstories connect (to some degree - Utena's, Saionji's, Touga's, Akio's, and Anthy's obviously do). However, first of all I feel that less time is devoted to backstory in Utena and the focus is more clearly on the present. Even if I'm wrong about this (and I haven't measured it to find out for sure), I think that it's still true in the sense that people in AS spend a huge amount of time talking about the backstory with each other even in the present, whereas although we see a lot of the backstory in Utena, it seems less common for characters to be discussing it with each other in the present, such that it still makes for a time differential. Secondly, the backstory in AS is far more convoluted and interconnected; all of the characters have motivations that stem from the motivations of other characters who are connected to still other characters, whereas the backstory of Utena seems (if you don't mind my saying so) far less incestuous (as for whether or not this is literally true. . . ummm. . . that's a hard one). These two features contribute to my sense that, despite the many similarities between the two works, the backstory plays a more significant role in my experience of AS than my experience of Utena.

And of course it's very likely that this would, in fact, be a reason for me to love one far more than the other. Because I love stories where a lot of the story time is devoted to figuring out what went on in the past - in fact, that's among my favorite things. If you look at the works of art I have fallen in love with, whether it's Hexwood, Lost, Xenogears, PSME, or Hitherby - these are all stories where a lot of the narrative drive and suspense comes from trying to figure out what's already happened rather than momentum forwards. The big climactic moment of Utena isn't finding out the truth about Anthy and Akio, it's Utena's duel with Akio and the aftermath. It's something that happens in the present. But, although it is the end of the series, it would seem odd to say that the big climactic moment of AS is in fact Setsuna killing God; it seems to be more something along the lines of discovering the true relationship between Alexiel, Lucifiel, and Rosiel and the catharsis for Alexiel and Rosiel of Rosiel's death. So the climax is the reveal of the ultimate truth behind the plot; the death of God is more like a necessary afterthought (as part of the climactic reveal is the revelation that God is to blame for EVERYTHING!). This is the kind of story I love, where the whole point is to discover the truth about the past - it's the reason I fell madly in love with Absalom, Absalom! the moment I read it - because it's a book where the entire plot is laid out in the first chapter, and the rest of the book is just characters researching and then making up an explanation for it.

I don't know why this kind of narrative appeals to me more than other structures when the content is so close - but there you have it, it does. And I think that's a very helpful explanation of my heretofore inexplicable reactions.

Yay walking around doing nothing for an hour!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill

Usually, when I think about the kind of music I like, I think it's indie-pop. Which makes sense, given that three of my four favorite bands and most of my other well-liked bands since I started listening to contemporary music as opposed to only classic rock have been indie-pop bands. Apart from indie-pop, I know I like Japanese soundtrack music (whether that's for anime or video games), and my other favorite band was Yoko Kanno and the Seatbelts. So that's another type of music I specifically think of myself as being fond of.

But some of the music I like doesn't quite fit into those categories (I often like to joke about how two songs I really like quite a lot are Enya's "Oronoco Flow" and Laibach's "Tanz mit Laibach," which are very clearly from different genres, neither of which is indie-pop or J-pop). One other genre that I'm clearly fond of is a certain kind of retro standard-esque music. The example that comes to mind here is Jenny Toomey's Tempting. I really like this album, and I suppose it qualifies as indie pop, but it's not at all the kind of indie pop I usually think of when I think of the term. Have a link to "Unionbusting," which isn't only a good song but also has fun lyrics :).