Archive for the 'philosophy and theory' Category

The Week

The week in review

This weekend saw the first Vanguard Festival here in Copenhagen. A bold step up from long-time hip hop booker Peter “Soul Kitchen” and his team, it spread over two days divided between indie rock (Friday) and hip hop (Saturday). Surely a risk, it seems to have paid off — at least judging by attendance on Saturday. The lineup was stellar, if somewhat retrograde — what one might call ‘your dad’s favorite hip hop’: Pharoahe Monche, DOOM, De La Soul, and the Wu-Tang Clan (on their 20th anniversary tour), as well as some quality Nordic acts, with Loop Troop Rockers and Malk de Koijn being the most notable.

While among the best in hip hop of the past twenty plus years, the list carried some risk: DOOM is infamously languorous on stage, De La have long been past their (astonishing) prime, the the Wu-Tang are notorious wild cards as a live act. And while DOOM was just as boring as always, and De La gave a lacklustre performance loaded up with time-filler and frustrating wheel-ups, the festival overall was a fantastic live experience. Loop Troop ripped it with their reliably energetic show; Malk is always solid: Pharoahe, backed up by Mela Machinko and DJ Boogie Blind, was reliably amazing, his vocal stylings and content crisp on the mic; and Wu-Tang brought the blast.

When I last heard them perform live, in 2008 — in the wake of their partly public row over royalties and creative decisions — morale was clearly fraying and their show was erratic. Five years later, and twenty years after Enter the Wu-Tang, the Clan was evidently more closely knit, even if Ghostface still seems reluctant to participate — I don’t think he spat more than four or five verses total — and any Wu-Tang show without a prominent Ghost is a less than optimal one. Good that Meth remains the fabulous entertainer he is, that U-God and GZA (the usual weak links live) performed above average, that Dek remains rock solid, and that the RZA retains his enthusiasm. Also crucial was the crowd, psyched to witness the entire clan on stage for the first time in Denmark, sending much love their way. The interaction, spiked when RZA invited two kids on stage to rock out to “4th Chamber”, was nothing less than wonderful and made for a magical finish to a great festival that I hope we will see return many a time in the future.

UPDATE: for Danish readers, peep the Rapspot coverage by Svensker-Martin (Ponyblod, Loop Troop, DOOM, Wu-Tang) and Toobs (Marvelous Mosell, Pharoahe Monche, De La Soul, Malk de Koijn), and here are Kenneth Nguyen’s photos.

OK, here are some links:

  • A major piece of reportage this week was Glenn Greenwald and The Guardian‘s exposure of the NSA XKeystroke surveillance programme. If you didn’t take the time to look at it already, I urge you to do so. Like so much of what the US Government gets up to internationally, this affects us all. Related: John Cassidy and Ben Wizner had useful commentary on the Bradley Manning verdict.
  • Ahmed Akkari interviewed on Danish TV. Akkari was one of the group of Danish Muslim representatives who travelled around the Arab countries in the wake of Jyllands-Posten‘s publication of the infamous Muhammad cartoons, fanning the flames of what was at that point still mostly a local conflict. Since that went down, he’s matured and done some soul searching and now comes forward to denounce his actions in public. Anyone interested in the affair should watch this fascinating interview conducted with reliable acuity by Martin Krasnik. Unfortunately it is in non-captioned Danish. I don’t know whether there’s a transcript out there.
  • The Frankfurt School. Excellent web resource presenting central texts by Frankfurt school thinkers. Great for reference, as well as general edification.
  • Photo: Ghostface Killa by Paw Ager for the Vanguard Festival. More here.

    Picks of the Week

    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Eagleton on Hobsbawn on Marxism. Three-in-one. What’s not to like?
  • Kirb Your Enthusiasm. HiLowbrow is currently running a relay series on Jack Kirby, with 24 writers, artists and critics each writing about one panel of choice from The King. Good contributions from Gary Panter, Ann Nocenti, and Greg Rowland. Bonus: 4cp is running a suitably fetishistic series of 70s panels concurrently.
  • James Romberger on Jules et Jim. Excellent analysis of Truffaut’s masterpiece as a political film.
  • Picks of the Week


    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • Rowan Williams and Terry Eagleton on “The New Atheism”. The Archbishop of Canterbury and the distinguished cultural critic met on Friday night here in Cambridge to discuss the resurgent, anti-religious strand of atheism (Dawkins, Hitchins, Harris, Dennet, etc.) so prevalent these days. Unsurprisingly it was an erudite, but also a lucid discussion, which can be listened to in its entirety here.
  • ‘Mindless Ones’ on Alan Moore and Bill Sienkiewicz’ Big Numbers and Eddie Campbell’s How to Be an Artist. Excellent essay on how Moore’s great fractal torso of a work became the underpinning of Campbell’s disillusioned, fractured dissertation on the emergence and fall of the graphic novel.
  • Blaise Larmée on abstraction in comics. Interesting essay on how we look at and read comics. Good discussion in comments too.
  • Charlest Hatfield on Alternative Comics. The week before last, I mentioned that we had a roundtable on Hooded Utilitarian devoted to said book. Hatfield provided a number of thoughtful responses, both at HU and at his own site.
  • ‘Don’t Try’: The People’s Laundry

    The inimitable ‘Li Se’, in whose “extended network” I find myself, has finally opened the floodgates and is committing to writing the kind of intellectual effluvium that people in said network have come to appreciate in conversation over the years. Written on the principle, appropriated from Charles Bukowski, of ‘not trying’, it is blogging as laxative and the ongoing discharge is invariably original, inspiring and entertaining. Catch insights, amongst many other things, on contemporary China, the vagaries of contemporary theory, and eccentric music. Tune in before the trying starts.

    Picks of the Week

    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • The New York Times: “The Making of an Iran Policy”. Roger Cohen on the Obama administration’s Iran policy, its major players and the challenges they face. A fascinating look behind the scenes by an informed observer.
  • Writings of Perry Anderson. I was only vaguely aware of the distinguished historian and sociologist before Jeet Heer recently called attention to some of his writings. Extremely well-informed and widely read, his dissections of modern European history from a leftist point of view carries both epic sweep and richness of detail. Check out, for example, this analysis of the development of German society, politics and economy over the last decade or so, or this compelling and depressing flaying of the Italian left. More can be found at the New Left Review, The Nation and the London Review of Books.
  • The Shat at his Peak. And finally, to offset the frivolity of this post, here’s William Shatner. Surely a reason why the internet was created. Here’s the source material by the way. (Thanks, Richard!)
  • Picks of the Week

    “Obama’s victory is a sign of history in the triple Kantian sense of signum rememorativum, demonstrativum, prognosticum. A sign in which the memory of the long past of slavery and the struggle for its abolition reverberates; an event which now demonstrates a change; a hope for future achievements. The scepticism displayed behind closed doors even by many worried progressives – what if, in the privacy of the voting booth, the publicly disavowed racism will re-emerge? – was proved wrong. One of the interesting things about Henry Kissinger, the ultimate cynical Realpolitiker, is how utterly wrong most of his predictions were. When news reached the West of the 1991 anti-Gorbachev military coup, for example, Kissinger immediately accepted the new regime as a fact. It collapsed ignominiously three days later. The paradigmatic cynic tells you confidentially: ‘But don’t you see that it is all really about money/power/sex, that professions of principle or value are just empty phrases which count for nothing?’ What the cynics don’t see is their own naivety, the naivety of their cynical wisdom which ignores the power of illusions.”

    – Slavoj Žižek

    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • London Review of Books: Slavoj Žižek on Obama, the Financial Crisis, Capitalism. The rockstar philosopher provides a humane critical perspective on the financial crisis and demonstrates that even hardened leftists with no illusions can weep at the promise, if not the reality, of the recent American election. Must read.
  • Topspin Media. Ian C. Rogers on the music industry and the transition to digital media. If you’re interested in digital media and how they’re going to affect intellectual property, this is a thoughtful — and hopeful — piece. (Thanks Dirk).
  • New York Times: On the Obama campaign’s use of social networking. While we’re at it, let’s combine the subject matter of the two previous links, shall we? This is a fascinating short piece on the Obama campaign that not only goes some way towards explaining its success, but offers interesting perspectives for the future of the democratic process.
  • Tokion: Panter’s Playhouse. Fine interview with artist and cartoonist Gary Panter, conducted by cartoonist CF. Great for its focus on the artist’s creative processes.
  • Superman’s Choice

    “The ’Oratorio’ is nothing less than the Shazam!, the Kimota! for Western Culture and we would do well to remember it in our currently trying times.”

    Grant Morrison, on Pico della Mirandola’s Oratory on the Dignity of Man

    In the marathon Newsarama interview with Grant Morrison on his and Frank Quitely’s newly-finished All-Star Superman series the writer mentions the Renaissance philosopher Pico della Mirandola’s famous Oratio de hominis dignitate, or Oratory on the Dignity of Man (1486) as central to his take on Krypton’s famous son (go read the interview: parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10). He also mentions Leonardo’s even more famous ‘Vitruvian Man’ (c. 1487, detail above) as important to his interpretation of the Superman myth, and as the direct inspiration for this interpretation by Quitely of the character, keeping us all alive by labouring in the heart of the Sun: Continue reading ‘Superman’s Choice’

    Picks of the Week


    The picks of the week from around the web.

  • The Nation. D.D. Guttenplan: “An Inky, Well-Paneled Place” — a thoroughly informed review of recent books on comics by David Hajdu and Douglas Wolk that situates its criticism in the broader context of the cultural history of comics. Why is there still little writing of this calibre in comics criticism?
  • Brother Ali freestyle on Live On B96. Check out this for a stunning rap performance from a freestyle master. What are you waiting for?
  • David Bordwell: “Some Cuts I’ve Known and Loved” and “They’re Looking for Us.” I link to David Bordwell’s amazing blog way too rarely, but seeing that the new, umpteenth revised edition of the his and Kristin Thompson’s excellent textbook Film Art: An Introduction is coming out, I thought I would. Explore the important minutiae of what makes films work through the eyes and mind of a master.
  • Alan Moore: “Magic is Afoot.” Perhaps one of the five best Alan Moore interviews ever published, this one which appeared in the free paper Arthur five years ago has now popped up online again. It’s the most concise, yet substantial presentation of his views on ontology, magic and creativity.
  • The Žižek Show

    trokhimeko_stalin.jpgGot my first Žižek experience yesterday. I was simultaneously impressed and underwhelmed. My only exposure to his work until today had been through the plethora of other authors citing him these days, and through a friend who enthusiastically appreciates his iconoclasm and originality, and also does a killer impression of the man. I have been meaning to read something by him for a while, and will probably get around to it sooner rather than later now.

    Anyway, Slavoj Žižek was lecturing at Birkbeck College in London, as is his wont. The theme was “The Uses and Misuses of Violence”. Basically he was tackling the question of why normal people inflict atrocious violence on others when they, by all accounts, are caring and considerate of their comrades and family. He started with former Maoists turned Zionists and ended with Stalin (one of his favourite subjects), and made many entertaining and often enlightening digressions along the way. The basic idea was that idealists are invariably aware of the imperfection or even downright infamy of the people they idealize, in this case Mao, but revere them even more because of that fact, because it lends their aspirations a kind of empyrean air. Had Mao been a benign ruler, he would not have inspired such zealous idolization, but languished in history book obscurity instead, he argued. Continue reading ‘The Žižek Show’