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kulturpolitik, wednesday edition

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tired but pleased

{ Now playing: Pens vs. Isles
Recent movies: Godzilla vs. Megaguiras*****; Godzilla, Mothra, and King Ghidorah: Giant Monsters All-Out Attack*****; Return of the King*****; Duel to the Death**; Demon City Shinjuku**; Emperor's Shadow*****;
Recent books: I Kings; Dirlik, Anarchism in the Chinese Revolution; Dante, Paradise (Sayers trans.);

I made all my notes on this last night, but was resting my back and reading away from reach of ethernet. But Tuesday's supposed to be the day... Disclaimer: Lots of links snarfed from!

The half-baked theme for this week's cultural politics whatnot is 'things that do and don't exist'. Lately I've been reading about things that do, and they're simple complex things: kings, blood, wisdom, the invisible God, terza rima... And this time there's a lot of cultural ephemera being talked about; happily, even criticized in some places.

There's an Independent review of a rather interesting-sounding book on music history. The author, Ivan Hewett, covers quite a lot of ground, but does come right into the the present day, the era of world music and sampling. Higher in fibrous granola crunchness, and chock full of acid joy, there's a screed inspired by the Oscar nominations, but which gets to not only the vacuousness of the "awards", but the films themselves. And, more tellingly, about us, the audience. An early sample (it keeps getting better, too):

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World is the best of the lot, a big ol' Boy Scout adventure that would have knocked my socks off when I was ten. Rousing PG-rated fun. Then there's Seabiscuit, a horse-racing biopic that has as much to do with the sport of kings as a can of Alpo has in common with Secretariat. It surely must have earned its nomination on the basis of the nostalgia factor, since it's almost indistinguishable from every other pile of heartwarming underdog slop we've had poured into our bowls since Rocky staggered up off the deck and clobbered Apollo Creed. It's comfort food of a particularly nutritionless variety. An inspirational sermonette expanded to two hours, brought to you courtesy of Cheez Whiz and the good folks over at the Republican National Committee.
Aww yeah. Link courtesy of the kindness of chesh.

Equally empty, another review sez, are memoirs, whose authors "launched a confessional arms race. Tales of unhappy childhoods were blown away by stories of physical abuse, which in turn were vaporized by accounts of incest." The literary recollections of Susan Shapiro, reviewer Zane argues, are less sensational, but just as unbelievable. The literary license given to "memory" deserves a closer look.

Of course, then there's philosophers. The reviewed book of interviews with Habermas and Derrida does absolutely nothing to impress me with either philosopher. Carlin Romano, the reviewer, is (based on the excerpts given) entirely too kind when saying, "These interviews and lucid commentaries by Borradori - who keeps asking good, precise questions of her subjects despite receiving circuitous answers - reflect almost all her interviewees' familiar tics. They demonstrate that while the duo offer some ideas worth attention in the ongoing debate about terrorism and the shape of the post-Cold War world, both remain too burdened by chronic philosopher's ailments (such as a numbingly didactic tone) to be effective real-world players in that debate." Both philosophers' ideas bear little resemblance to matters on the ground; unreality dances naked in the background the talking-heads closeup of the earnest "thinkers". People snark at theologians, but their readers tend to corner them and ask how their works are going to affect the suicidal and sick back home in the parish -- does anyone ask Derrida about anyone personally affected by his work? (I hope not...)

Speaking of "theory", the CS Monitor has a naked-emperor recap that focuses not on Derrida, but Terry Eagleton's sort of contemporary Retractiones for "theory". For the cheerleaders to admit that all their stuff was done with smoke, mirrors, pushup bras, and airbrushing, well, that's a nice thing. Worth a read -- there's some there there, where the naked emperor proclaimed he wasn't leaving any marks on the throne...

With all this nothing happening in people's heads, sometimes it's nice to see what empty-headedness looks like applied to the real world. My outrage knows practically no limits. "If you think you're cynical enough -- you're not cynical enough." Don't miss a chance to be astounded!

Some good things. Two, in fact, to end on an up note.

First, a terrific 'dialogue' from Paul Berman called "A Friendly Drink in a Time of War". (You may have seen it already, it's spread wide now.) It's a conversation, a friendly one over a drink, between liberals, over Iraqkrieg. The author begins on the defensive, though he doesn't remain there:

A friend leaned across a bar and said, "You call the war in Iraq an antifascist war. You even call it a left-wing war-a war of liberation. That language of yours! And yet, on the left, not too many people agree with you."
Berman replies to his friend with six thump points which I feel I ought to memorize and learn to use, praising Berman all the while. Not to be overlooked.

Last, a look at snobbery, courtesy of (again!) The Telegraph: "Snobbery didn't disappear after the 1960s: it just changed direction. The people whom society once revered - toffs, intellectuals, the respectable middle-classes - suddenly found themselves the objects of derision, while working-class culture was venerated above all else." The opinion piece, "In defence of snobbery", points to some of the dangerous side effects of the reversal, and to Britain's lead (surely not insurmountable!) in the burgeoning field which the author identifies. Read the Telegraph piece, and be sure to follow the link to the indispensable ChavScum site. And yes, these are the people I'm always going on about, even here in the US of A...

All for now! Happy kulturing (unless the ChavScum bring you down...)!

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