Saturday, January 13, 2018

probable incubation/down time for part of the year (probably just a week or so)

I haven't forgotten all that stuff I said I waned to tackle for 2018.

That's still on the to-get-to list.  There's still other stuff incubating for another venue, too.

But sometimes it's good to take a break and tackle things in the offline world, too and do some reading, or a lot of reading, about a few topics.  There will be a discussion of Justin Dean's PR book, for instance, later this year.  It's actually informative in a number of ways, though perhaps not entirely in ways Dean intended, about the nature of the informational culture of MH.    But we'll save those thoughts for later this year, ideally.

So seeing as traffic has spiked down even more than usual at the start of the year it might not be so bad to take advantage of the fact that so few people are reading compared to four years ago.  :)

Eboo Patel at Inside Higher Ed writes about identity politics at colleges touching on every variable except for class and being able to attend an elite institution

Of course one of my recurring threads of thought here has been that academia as a culture tends to see itself as distinct from high finance and "the one percent", and it certainly is at many levels.  But as people from within academia fret that a post Trump era of belligerent populism reveals how anti-intellectual America has always been that seems to need some pushback.  People who work in and for or at universities can fail to recognize that we may not be looking at "anti-intellectualism" as the only way to understand this.  Colleges are expensive and exclusive so there is, you know, a class based basis for resentment that can come into play. 

So, in mentioning these things I want to make sure it's easily demonstrated that within academia there are plenty of people who can observe that to be within academia itself, whether as a worker or as a student, is quite a privilege.

There is an interesting exchange in Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind in which Haidt describes being criticized by a graduate student for speaking about the positive social impacts of religious identity. “But religions are all exclusive,” the graduate student exclaimed, citing the dynamics of the Roman Catholic Church in particular.

When Haidt pointed out that his graduate program rejected almost all of its applicants, the graduate student asking the question (who had likely won a place in a department because others had been rejected) seemed to think that this was part of the natural order of things, and not at all like the exclusive dimensions of religious identity.

As an American Muslim who runs an interfaith organization that works in higher education, I speak on about 25 college campuses a year, frequently filling the diversity slot. I have noticed something similar to what Haidt points to in his example: people on campuses rarely speak of being a college student as an identity.

Moreover, at least in my experience, the more elite the college, the more likely students are to be assertive on the politics of race, gender and sexuality, but the less likely they are to mention the implications of being at a top-25 college. It appears to me that there is much talk about race, gender and sexuality privilege during first-year orientation at Ivy League colleges, but not that much conversation about Ivy League privilege. [emphasis added]

This omission surprises me because the advantages associated with attending college, especially an elite college, are both clear and significant. In his book Our Kids, Robert Putnam observes that the American socioeconomic order can be neatly sorted into three categories. Those who have a high school education or less occupy the lower third, those with some college the middle third, and those who have completed college the upper third. A host of other quality-of-life indicators -- occupation, income, health, social status, self-identity -- are quite straightforwardly predicted by level of education.

This data includes people with any kind of college degree. If you are at a selective name-brand institution, your chances of success in the knowledge economy are significantly higher on average than the individual who goes to a second-tier state school.

Consider this: there are just over 2,500 residential nonprofit four-year institutions of higher education in the United States, what most people reading this publication normally think of as “college” (I am not counting the several thousand for-profit institutions). If you attend a top-250 institution, you are in the top 10 percent; if you attend a top-25 institution, well, you are surely smart enough to do the math in your head.

If the selectivity of these schools maps in any way to success in the current economy, you have just positioned yourself in the upper reaches of the top third of American society.

If you are at an elite college, you probably know this, at least intuitively, which is why you went to the trouble of positioning yourself to be admitted to such an institution in the first place.

I recently made this point in a heated discussion about identity politics at a highly selective liberal arts school and was met with the “merit” argument. It goes something like this: yes, there are significant privileges that accrue to being a graduate of a selective college, but that is an earned identity, very much unlike being white, male or straight.

As somebody who attended a flagship state university and an elite graduate school, I have a fondness for this line of argument. After all, it bestows virtue on a dimension of my identity. But then I remember that just as race, gender and sexuality are identities that are given meaning by their socially constructed contexts, so is education level.

I've managed to quote the majority of the piece by now so you can read the rest if you like but the salient point has been made, that within academia the very nature of the privilege of being in academia can be too easily ignored amidst discussions of the other modes of privilege.  Those modes of privilege are, actually, significant because they have and can often predict how easily you may be granted access to the privilege of participating in the ruling class that is academia.  Of course it doesn't feel like a ruling class when you're not in the top twenty percent but if you can remember what it felt like to be a kid whose fate could be determined by the pass or fail grade doled out by a teacher you can remember, easily, that if you're a teacher you are, in fact, part of a ruling class. 

That doesn't necessarily make you the "bad guy" anymore than it makes you the "good guy".  But as non-Americans sometimes point out, part of the difficulty of discussing a concept like class conflict or class obligation or class anything is that in the United States people either avoid discussing class or they may be reluctant to identify themselves within a class structure.  Another way to put it is that as I've read academics I've seen that there's a tacit assumption more often than an explicit statement that "if" there were a class war the academic would be on the side of light for being against capitalism or being for X, Y or Z traditional values without considering that if there were really some kind of class war they'd be on the same side intellectuals and academics have tended to be in those kinds of class wars for the last century or so, on the side that gets purged in nation states that have enough resources to be considered major players in the global scene.  There's a colloquial way of describing those nation states that do not have the resources to be major influences on the global scene in which a class revolution wouldn't lead to the liquidation of intellectuals because of their general absence as a large subculture ... but the colloquialism is hardly complimentary. 

John Halle linked to an interview with Adolph Reed and Ta-Nehisi Coates regarding, among other things, reparations

One of my semi-regular/regular commenters mentioned Adolph Reed in connection to a post I made where I expressed, to put it nicely, reservations about the viability of Ta-Nehisi Coates' case for reparations.  The short version is that the Coates argument depends on what I consider to be so literally as well as metaphorically a black and white conception of racist that groups like Asian Americans or, more particularly, Native Americans, don't even rate in his symbolic universe.  Yet if reparations of the sort Coates wants were going to work couldn't we start with the American Indians who nearly wiped out?  There's not likely to be a Spokane Indian Renaissance of a sort to correspond to a Harlem Renaissance.  Peculiarities about the history of things as mundane as probate might have played a small role in some of that, but in any case, there's no contesting the emotional power of the appeal to rectify an injustice but I questioned whether reparations based on race didn't create a double bind in which the State paid blood money to make guilt go away or whether the State paying reparations wouldn't implement a cure predicated on a racial account that continued the nature of the problem.
Which, it turns out, might not be anything more than a less articulate version of ideas that had been better stated by Adolph Reed (with a hat tip to commenter chris e for mentioning him, and since Halle (whose blog I read consistently enough to have found this) has mentioned Adolph Reed's critique of Coates ... :
DH: I’m not Ta-Nehisi Coates but I imagine he and others favoring reparations would respond by saying that it’s meant to address wounds that were specifically racial in their origin.
AR: The logic fails on its own terms. If you grant for the sake of argument that the injuries were highly and explicitly racialized, it does not follow from that that the remedy needs to be of the same coin. [emphasis added] And I have not seen Coates or others who make that assertion actually argue for it-i.e. give a concrete and pragmatic explanation of how (the remedy is supposed to) work. That is to say, what the response, or atonement, I suppose, for past harms would look like and what they imagine the response would actually be.
Coates makes this stuff up as he goes along: by his own account, he read Baldwin and wanted to write like Baldwin and his editor would check him and say “Look, you’re writing these passages which don’t mean anything whatsoever” since he was so focussed on wanting to write like Baldwin absent having anything in particular to say.
So the first question for me has always been how can you imagine putting together a political alliance that would be capable of prevailing on this issue. And what you get in response is a lot of “What black people deserve” because of the harms that have been done to them. I just think it’s fundamentally unserious politically.
But I’ll say this and I’ll say this as a Sanders supporter-I’ll come clean on that. The idea that Bernie Sanders becomes the target of race-line activists now, and not Hillary Clinton, is just beyond me and it smells. It smells to high heaven.
You might say, well, she’s not the one who pushed through NAFTA or signed the omnibus crime bill, or ended the federal government’s commitment to direct provision of income support or housing that her husband did. But she supported all that stuff then. My mind is blown by the understanding of politics that undergirds this perspective that people like Coates and proud TFA alum Deray McKesson and holy roller Marissa Johnson and all those others embrace. It’s fundamentally anti-left. The only thing you can say is that this is a class program. That this is a program that expresses and connects with the interests, or the world view, if not interests-although they do come together-of an aspiring or upwardly mobile stratum of the black and other colored PMC (professional managerial class) that scoffs and sneers at programs of material redistribution.
DH: One of the points you made in your Progressive piece back in 2002 was that whenever universal class based politics rears its head, the reparations call pops up. One doesn’t want to get too conspiratorial about this but what were you thinking of?
AR: I was out of the country for a while back then and hadn’t paid much attention and the reparations thing had blown way up while I was away-there were conferences all over C-Span-Ron Karenga, Kimberly Crenshaw and Charles Ogletree. Because it’s the kind of thing that lawyers dine on. I was bemused-I couldn’t figure out what was going on. When (James) Foreman and the Black Manifesto group raised the reparations issue back in the 60s, it was connected with something like the freedom budget and what Whitney Young had described as a Marshall Plan for the ghetto, so in that sense reparations were a hook which expressed Forman’s cleverness and engagement with the soap box nationalists up in Harlem who had been talking about that stuff for a long time.
It seemed to me that clearly was a response or an alternative to the possibility that a more universally, class based redistributive agenda would gain currency. Part of the problem, and I think this is a big chunk of the appeal of reparations since 1965 and into the 1970s, is that it appeals to people whose political commitments is to maintain the centrality of a racial interpretation of every form of inequality or injustice that affects black people. So the commitment is to a race politics. And so the race politics could be challenged by what they imagine to be post-racial politics (which nobody other than them has ever talked about, anyway) and by a class politics. [emphasis added]
What the race discourse does is it forces a racial interpretation onto any manifestation of inequality or injustice to be associated with black people on the receiving end. So in that sense, the demands aren’t even that important. The discussion of the program isn’t even that important. The real objective is to maintain the dominance of the racialist interpretive frame of reference and that goes back to my contention that this is a class program because part of the material foundation of the class has been, since the class began to take shape at the end of the 19th century, a claim to be representatives of the aspirations of and of the voice of black people writ large.
Halle has blogged in other contexts about how as the post-Weinstein moment has unfolded a handful of "Bernie bros" have been implicated but that for the most part the men implicated have tended to be men associated with backing Clinton, which has had Halle suspicious about the integrity and seriousness of journalists who during 2016 were talking about the misogyny and abusiveness of "Bernie bros".  Remembering how twenty years ago a Democratic defense of Bill Clinton was to say that how a man behaves in his personal life should have no bearing, however unpleasant his conduct may have been, on his ability to execute public office in a governmental role makes it hard for me to take mainstream/Clinton-backing objections to Trump's moral compass for the simple reason that it's not possible to condemn Trump for being a bad person at the level of personal conduct when it was precisely this sort of objection that defense of Bill Clinton dispensed with twenty years ago.  Which is to say that I take the old left more seriously than the new left or neoliberal/center on this stuff because whether or not I always agree with everything I've read from these or any other part of the political spectrum, a guy like Chomsky seems to have been consistent in objecting to a Clintonian approach. 
Not that I would tend to think of myself as very left but as I read stuff from the liberal/left side and compare notes with what's been written on the right it seems that to the extent that I can empathize with a stratum of the left it's more the old left than the new left, and for the fairly simple reason that people who want to keep the New Deal solvent for as long as possible and want things improved for working class people across the board without necessarily conflating those concerns with narratives of race that are literally and figuratively black and white make sense to me.  If there's a possibility of doing something across the board to help working class people that sounds better than Coates' case for reparations for blacks because, per Reed, it seems counterproductive to reduce all the inequalities that blacks and other people of color and working class whites or poor whites run into as being entirely the result of systemic racism.  Not that that hasn't been a variable.  Italians weren't even necessarily considered white all the time.  Or take Gal Gadot, the actress/model who's playing Wonder Woman.  She tends to get described as white now but would she have "read" as white fifty years ago?  Not necessarily. 
One of my American Indian relatives told me decades ago that American Indians didn't have a figure who managed to formulate a narrative of Pan-American Indian identity or cohesion.  So while for whites and blacks there are tropes of cohesion that belie histories of conflict between English and Irish or between Russians and Ukrainians, in America there's some useful fiction that a mere white or black narrative trope satisfies a sense of social identity derived from historical practices. 
But that isn't necessarily applicable to an American Indian context where, say, a Hopi friend of one of my siblings found Dances with Wolves impossible to get into because, as he put it, "How can I root for this tribe in this movie?  They kept trying to kill my people and enslave us.  They aren't the good guys to me."  But for a noble savage/righteous Indian trope into which a white character can join, hey, who needs to know stuff like that? 
Now speaking in Christian terms I would think that "there is none that is righteous, not even one" could tell us that there's no "team" that is innocent of an atrocity that needs to be repented of but that's apparently the point at which a Coatesian narrative may differ.  Threading the needle of appreciating the positive things and the noble ideals that have been betrayed by actual conduct in history while not neglecting the reality of the myriad ways in which men and women and children have acted and spoken in ways that betrayed the ostensible ideals is a lifelong discipline. 
For people from a Judeo-Christian milieu this is why, in a phrase, a book like the Book of Judges is in the Bible and why we should soak ourselves in it and reflect upon it.  In an era such as ours the conviction that if we embrace the right ideological position or endorse the right narrative in mythological or historical terms that we get moral licensing on the set of some cosmic ethics equivalent of a carbon offset is very probably how we got to the point of  a "post-Weinstein" moment in the entertainment industry, a moment that, it would seem, isn't even close to happening in the Christian industrial complex in the United States. 
That's not to praise Hollywood for finally deciding that a guy famous for backing the Clintons can be cut loose now that Hillary Clinton's campaign has been shown to be a failure a second time (first against Obama and secondly and more humiliatingly against Trump)--The Democratic party machine is not exactly known for giving failures second chances at such a high level. 
If anything the post-Weinstein moment makes it seem that Hollywood can keep making a Spotlight or two about a culture other than itself and feel pretty good about itself.   We can get a movie like The Post which is about the aristocracy of the mid-20th century American press struggling about things brought to light about friends who throw fancy parties.  It's Spielberg so it's expertly made and I was convinced by the pleasure of hanging out with old friends to catch it but I felt that this feel-good, cute movie that celebrated the power of an adversarial press could have been conceived around Ellsberg and Bagdikian and would have been far more interesting to me.  But journalists at the writerly level may not be as easy a sell for one aristocracy in making a film about how one aristocracy did battle with another aristocracy and prevailed.  I mean, I like Batman stories so I don't mind this sort of set up on principle.  :) But in a film like The Post the story is cast as journalists and publishers and editors against the Nixon administration as if the former set of people is in some way fundamentally not part of an aristocratic caste.  Per Jacques Ellul on the classes of propagandists, his observation was that these people are functionally an aristocratic class.  Coates is among their number, for that matter.  Anyone who can write Black Panther comics and have a few books published and be able to be told personally by Obama that it's not clear that there's been a case where reparations has worked is part of a ruling class.  It's just that in the last decade or so, as I've written a bit over the last year and a half, there's a temptation for those in the upper 20 percent to think of themselves more by dint of not being in the top one percent than in terms of being in the top 20 percent. 

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

a piece at New Music Box advocating for polychromatic music becomes a reminder of something Leonard B. Meyer wrote about the low probability of genuinely new "rules" for writing music since the 20th century

It's been a while since I've linked to something at NewMusicBox.  It's not that I don't read it anymore, I still do.  But I have begun to notice something about contributions there that aren't interviews with established composers and musicians, and that's that there's often an advocacy for a type of music.  That's fine, too, really, but the new music or new-music scene is chock full of advocacy for this or that new thing that the artist believes can be a new path forward.  I'm hardly against that, either ...

and yet I tend to be skeptical of the idea that we're going to suddenly start doing microtonality and extended just intonation across the board even if I love the string quartets of Ben Johnston.  A lot of the newer ideas that have been proposed in new classical music, or post-classical music seem to me, as someone who grew up steeped in classical music but also getting exposed at a young age to jazz, blues, rock and some country, to be ideas that stopped being normative in Western art music practice since roughly the time of Beethoven and the Romantic era--most of what the classical avant garde wants to bring in or bring back is stuff that never went away from vernacular music.  Ben Johnston, certainly, gets this, and he's written about how microtonally adjusted chords and solos are all over jazz recordings.  But we'll get back to Ben Johnston's music after a few detours.
One way of understanding and distinguishing our contemporary musical terminology of xenharmonic, polychromatic, and microtonal is by a rudimentary differentiation of philosophy, system, and method:
Xenharmonic refers to a philosophy which regards the infinite pitch scale division methods applied to the pitch continuum as equally valuable. Also, it expresses an aesthetic of freedom and openness toward any and all methods of pitch scale division and the exploration of their melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, timbral, etc. implications in new musical compositions.
We have no words for many perceptual aspects of hearing.
The polychromatic system is an intuitive, unifying conceptual framework for exploring any conceivable pitch division method. Our language is grounded in visual concepts: we have no words for many perceptual aspects of hearing: imagery, visualization, dimension, space, etc. As a result, we are faced with communicating auditory concepts in analogy or metaphor. My perspective is to link visual and auditory perceptual concepts into an idea of ‘pitch-color’. The visual basis here is the color spectrum: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. From this intuitive basis, we can move from a vague flat/sharp conception of pitch to more refined and distinct conceptual ‘pitch-color’ anchors. So, with yellow as a basis of reference, orange and red would be progressively flatter, and green, blue, violet would be progressively sharper. Using a color spectrum with integrated visual/audible associations on a scale from (infra/flat)red to (ultra/sharp)violet. The distinctions of flat and sharp become an increasingly refined spectrum relative to the chromatic (macro)pitch division method, i.e. C, Db, C# etc.
The polychromatic system uses the chromatic language as a common point of departure. In this context, the chromatic language is characterized by the use of letters as pitch names, and by the representation of musical intervals numerically (and modally:  C-B as a major 7th rather that an 12th). Also, since the pitch-colors of the system are relatively defined (by the method of pitch division), it creates an intuitive bridge between differing microtonal scale derivation methods.
Microtonality consists of the various, exclusive, and divergent methods of pitch division, notation, and theory. Without a unifying conceptual framework, these methods remain mutually exclusive and excessively difficult to assimilate in a unifying and complementary manner.
A point of clarification: with respect to an integrated philosophy-system-method perspective of music, the chromatic musical language is a system, while the various temperament derivations (meantone, well, just, equal, etc.) are methods (of pitch definition).
The above categories are generalized for preliminary understanding. I see polychromatic music primarily as a system, and secondarily as an aesthetic. For me, this aesthetic involves evolving reflections on humanism in an era of increasing technology. And this is why I devote the effort to physically learn and perform my compositions: to create not only demonstrations of new musical possibilities within the polychromatic framework, but also examples of the human musician utilizing technology in a creatively assistive fashion vs. the human musician creatively assisting (editing, compositing) increasingly sophisticated technological processes.

I couldn't resist a broadly spectrum-spanning quote for the New Music Box piece.  Associating sound and color has a long history.

Briefly, with the caveat that I've got nothing against the music of this composer at all, which I haven't heard, what interests me about New Music Box pieces is that many a contributor attempts to lay out the basis for what is proposed as a new way to conceptualize music.  Not everyone, certainly not Kyle Gann, who is pretty up front about his creative influences and debts and was the one who introduced me by way of a blog post he wrote to Leonard B Meyer.

Being by disposition and custom fairly anti-Romantic in my sympathies and thoughts, I found Meyer's writing about the Romantic era to be revelatory.  He (and Charles Rosen) together laid bare for me why I felt Romantic era music was long-winded and substituted bigness for interest.  It wasn't that there are no Romantic era composers I can admire.  I respect the music of Mendelssohn and Chopin, for instance,,  I even like a decent chunk of Chopin.  Lizst ... eh ... in small doses.  Wagner .... eh.  Schubert, no.  I don't even tend to think of Beethoven as Romantic so much as really late Classical, or if he is Romantic then so is Haydn, in which case I'd say I enjoy "proto-Romantic" composers like Haydn and Beethoven, or even Clementi or Matiegka.

But, anyway, Meyer wrote something about how the likelihood that genuinely new rules or constraints would be formulated in the realm of music in the West seemed pretty unlikely.

Leonard B. Meyer
Copyright (c) 1967. 1994 by The University of Chicago 
ISBN 0-226-52143-5

page 343

In the ideology of Romanticism greatness was linked not only to magnitude but to the prizing of genius; and genius was, in turn, bound to the creation of innovation. This coupling occurred because the Idea of Progress made innovaton an important value and there needed to be causal agents of change. Geniuses were believed to be such agents. But if the future is unknowable and chancy, and if change per se ceases to be a desideratum, then the creation of categorical novelty (for example, the devising of new musical constraints) becomes less important, even pointless, because there is no assurance that innovation will "advance" musical style or lead anywhere--that is, be part of a coherent, predictable pattern. For these reasons, few "hats-off" geniuses will be hailed in the coming years, and creativity will involve not the devising of new constraints (for instance, serialism or statistical techniques) but the inventive permutation and combination of existing contraint-modes, especially as manifested in stylistic eclecticism. 

page 344

The theoretical problem of pastiche eclecticism in the arts has to do with what, if any, is the rationale for the interrelationships, both proximate and remote, among excerpts and styles within compositions: a problem that has scarcely been dealt with, let alone solved.  

I don't want to go overboard with an already mostly-quotes post as it is, so I won't quote Meyer on formalists and stylistic fusion from the aforementioned book.  Instead I'm going to shift over to another one of his books.  Meyer proposed in a later book that musicology and music history prized innovation at the expense of examining choice.  He got more specific, writing that innovative originality at the level of rules tended to trump the study of other forms of artistic activity:

ISBN 0-226-52152-4

page 31
...The distinction between rules and strategies helps, I think, to clarify the concept of originality, as well as its correlative, creativity. For it suggests that two somewhat different forms of originality need to be recognized. The first involves the invention of new rules. Whoever invented the limerick was original and creative in this sense, and Schoenberg's invention of the twelve-tone method also involved this sort of originality. The second sort of originality, ,on the level of strategy, does not involve changing the rules but discerning new strategies for realizing the rules. A Bach or Haydn, devising new ways of moving within established rules--or an Indian sitar player improvising according to existing canons on an age-old rag--is original and creative in this way. "It is surprising to note," observes Josephine Miles,

that the so-called great poets as we recognize them are not really the innovators; but if you stop and think about it, they shouldn't be. Rather they are the sustainers, the most deeply immersed in tradition, the most fully capable of making use of the current language available to them. When they do innovate, it is within a change begun by others, already taking place. ["Values in Language", p 11, Critical Enquiry 3, No.1 1976 pages 1-13]

And the same seems true in music. For though some composers have both invented new rules and devised new means for their realization--Schoenberg is surely the exemplary instance--most of the acknowledged great masters (Bach and Handel, Haydn and Mozart, and even Beethoven) have been incomparable strategists. 

Now we can get back to Ben Johnston.  Johnston has made no secret he studied with John Cage and also with Harry Partsch.  he didn't introduce new "rules", and within the American avant garde tradition in which Johnston has worked nobody would necessarily say they were trying to make something "new".  Even Partsch, in his way, was moving more in a direction of recovering for or within Western music-making contexts ideas and ideals that had gone out of style since equal temperament began the norm.

Johnston, for his part, has done a fine job of articulating a strategy for notating microtonal, just intonation and extended just intonation music within the parameters of Western musical notation.  Particularly now that I'm more familiar with Johnston's work, Andrew Durkin's Decomposition seems more off bass than I thought it was the year I read it. If Johnston can use traditional Western notation with a few modifications to delineate the difference between one note and another note that is three cents higher than that earlier pitch, the problem with Western musical notation not being "accurate" or "clear" about pitch is arguably a rhetorical flourish of the sort we don't have to take at face value.  Yeah, there are all kinds of shortfalls in Western musical notation and a lot of them have to do with rhythmic values.  There are issues with pitch, too, but those challenges do not necessarily mean that we "can't" notate all the gorgeous things John Lee Hooker plays in a song like "Boogie Chillin'".  It might be more accurate to say that the detail needed to properly "score" a John Lee Hooker performance in standard Western notation is so much work that people from within the blues side of things wouldn't want to spend the time doing so and people from the classical tradition who may only know of blues idioms through the shorthands and conventions ins coring that are used at a popular level will do what they too often do, delude themselves into thinking it's all simple four on the floor 4/4 when so much of it is really very limber 12/8.

And Kyle Gann has blogged about how he's told students that mastering a vernacular/popular musical idiom like barbershop or ragtime or blues can make far more physical and mental demands on them as musicians than a lot of the post-tonal atonal avant garde stuff.  If you play a few bum notes in a Brian Ferneyhough piece the composer will notice and devotees of the style but "normal" people won't.  By contrast, if you butcher Scott Joplin's The Entertainer just about anyone in America who's ever had an ice cream truck drive by their home will know you've screwed up the piece.

Now composers who have in the past written music I can enjoy have done the color and sound association thing.  Scriabin certainly did it and while he's not my all-time favorite his piano sonatas are kinda cool.  Messiaen did this kind of thing and I like him quite a bit more.  But color-sound association is only worth something based on the sounding result.  I have for a personal reason or two never been in a rush to equate color with sound.  It's not my deal.  Other people can do it and if it works for them, great.  I prefer to deal with sound as sound as much as possible.  When I break out colors and spatial reasoning it's because I've written a theoretical musing upon the possibility of syntactic correspondence between ragtime and sonata forms like I did last year, but that's got to do with time-space/space-time distinctions of the sort that a George Rochberg would write about.

Which is to say that I like to read New Music Box from time to time but I feel that as a cubicle drone sort of person who can't afford to get instruments that allow for microtonality it's not going to be my thing.  It's great if someone like a Ben Johnston or someone into microtonality plays with that, but I feel that Taruskin' has been right to say that the chasm between the academic canon of music and the repertoire canon of music has gotten too big.  I think that dissolving the class distinctions between the syntactic parameters of 18th century art music forms and procedures on the one hand and the vitality of vernacular, folk and even popular gestural styles on the other is worth exploring.  If Haydn could get that to work in his era then we have at least one composer who can demonstrate, per Charles Rosen's observations, that a fusion of popular and academic musical idioms is possible.

We don't need to invent or discover new "rules" to create a set of new styles in Western music.  I don't think we need to import non-Western scale approaches in place of Western idioms.  Ben Johnston has written about that, too, and advised that we want to revitalize the musical languages we have and that simply importing scalar and harmonic idioms from Asia might more often lead us to botching Asian music than to revitalizing Western music, though if you're genuinely into Asian music have at it.

In a similar way to Johnston's comments on that topic, I think that those of us who only own instruments tuned to equal temperament have to figure out ow to work with the constraints we have.  So for me it seems much easier (which is not to say this is easy) to figure out how to revitalize developmental processes liek sonata and fugue with blues riffs, ragtime and jazz by steeping myself in that music on the guitar while also steeping myself in the classical guitar traditions, too.  That doesn't jsut mean Sor, Giuliani or Tarrega, fun as they are.  it also means Gilardino, Matiegka, even some Diabelli and Coste or Legnani.  And a lot, I mean a lot of Haydn.  We guitarists too often don't absorb enough music beyond our istrument's literature.  That's been so eloquently discussed by the late Matanya Ophee I don't want to reference that beyond a nod to "Repertoire Issues'.

People who invent new rules for a new form of the game are going to do that anyway.  I'm more partial to cultivating the approach of being a flexible strategist.  I want to figure out stuff such as how to start off with something like an homage to Brahms that transforms into an invocation of Don Helms by the tie the piece is done.

Dissolving the conceptual and class boundaries across styles seems like a more urgent and pressing artistic goal than trying to invent new sets of rules that revolutionize things.  It's not that nobody could revolutionize music in the next century or so, I'm sure some people will.  I just personally feel that amalgamating vernacular and popular idioms into what's colloquially known as art music or classical music is tragicomically overdue.  All sorts of microtonality can play a role because microtonal adjustment of music mid-performance has always been part of music-making.  We're in a unique position less for the reality of this long-standing behavior than because since Anton Reicha speculated about quarter-tone divisions and got that ball rolling for Lizst and eventually composers like Wyschnegradsky or Partsch or Johnston, etc, we have managed to have a notational nomenclature that allows us to specify those things in scores in a way that wasn't the norm in Western scoring conventions earlier. 

a riff on "The Reviewer's Fallacy" at Slate, about how and why critics may praise a film that goes over like a lead balloon with audiences

Orwell and Hardwick present the “gross” overpraise as calculated; I think it usually is not. As a friend of mine suggests, critics fall prey to a sort of hermeneutic Stockholm syndrome. They experience so much bad work that they get inured to it. They are so thankful for originality, or for a creator’s having good or arguably interesting intentions, or for technical proficiency, or for a something that’s crap but not crap in quite the usual way, that they give these things undue credit. You see this in reactions to Coen brothers films, whose inside-baseball intricacies and references and sometimes distended cynicism set some critics’ hearts aflutter. [emphasis added] Inside Llewyn Davis got 93 from the critics and 74 from the public on Rotten Tomatoes. For the brothers’ latest offering, Hail, Caesar!, the ratio is 85 to 44. (I loved the film. Go figure.)
A sign that the Reviewer’s Fallacy is in effect is copious attention to acting and cinematography (in a movie) or the quality of sentences (in a novel). Manohla Dargis’s blurb for A Quiet Passion says it’s “exquisitely directed … with delicacy and transporting camera movements”; A.O. Scott’s says it has “poetic compression and musical grace.” There’s of course nothing wrong with those things, but for most potential consumers they’re not very high on the wish list. And what’s above them? The answer wildly differs for different people (a big reason why it’s so hard to be a good critic), but in our own way we’re all seeking what the Latin poet Horace termed “delight.” In books, films, and TV, that often comes down to a story to which we gratefully suspend our disbelief and that carries us along like a well-tuned sports car. In pop music, the distinction is between words (easy to write about and find merit in) and music (the straw that really stirs the drink). When a reviewer goes on about a brilliant performance, or cleverly transgressive lyrics, I think of Paul Reiser’s bit about a friend who shows him a picture of his extraordinarily ugly baby. Reiser finds there is nothing he can say except, “Nice wallet!”
Here’s the heart of the problem: The set of critics’ and audiences’ interests do not perfectly overlap but rather form a Venn diagram. In the audience circle, the pressing question is, “Should I spend some number of the dollars I have to my name and the hours I have left on Earth on this thing?” Critics get in for free and by definition have to read or watch or listen to whatever’s next up. So their circle is filled with relativistic questions about craft and originality and wallet quality and the often unhelpfully general “Is it good?” (Some of them even have an idea of what they mean by “good”; the rest are winging it.)


To this end I find the reviewers and film critics who frustrate me are those who refuse to spoil the entire film.  My own approach to film criticism is that if you're not spoiling most of the important, salient features of the narrative and characters you're not even really doing your job as a film critic.  If you've written about a movie in an effective way you should be able to convey something to a reader that allows him or her to decide whether or not they will ever bother to watch what you're writing about, or to write in such a way that he or she finds some benefit or interest in reading about a film that they in fact never intend to see

At the risk of giving examples from my own work, if someone were to read a few of the essays from Batman: The Agony of Loss and the Madness of Desire, the reader doesn't have to have seen a single episode of Batman; the animated series.  It would help if a reader has seen the episodes, of course, just as it might help a reader of those essays to have some familiarity with G. K. Chesterton, Solzhenitsyn, Roy Baumeister, C. S. Lewis, Adolf Schlatter, the Bible, and a few other things.  Knowing about all those writings will, I think, make reading the essays more fruitful.  But even if you don't know any of those authors I hoe that taking their work and referencing it in relationship to the character of Batman as depicted in the classic animated show will be interesting reading whether you watch the show or not.  Now I would submit as a matter of personal conviction and taste that the essays are much, much more fun if you have seen the cartoon and/or also read the authors.  But the signal aim of criticism as a literary art form is, to me, that you convey information about art and artists and literature in such a way that whether your reader has ever been exposed to any of that stuff or not, but especially if not, he or she can in some way benefit from what you wrote.  You wrote about the subject or artwork ina way that conveys crucial information that the reader did not previously have by which to assess wehther or not to give what you're writing about a shot. 

Richard Taruskin's polemical point, one among many, is that in the last fifty years a disturbingly large gap has come to exist between the academic canon and the repertoire canon in concert music.  Academics might say you should know Babbitt and Carter while audiences pay for Shostakovich.  The gap between the expectations of the highbrow and middlebrow and the lowbrow has expanded.  Or you can say the gap between the highbrow over against the middlebrow and lowbrow has expanded and what this can mean, pertinent to Yagoda's writing, is that critics almost by definition have the role of a highbrow even if they're constantly writing about lowbrow art.  The entry fee by way of accumulated knowledge gets bigger and bigger. 

What criticism can do, if a critic is doing his or her job, is give a reader a window into something he or she is not sure is worth the time or trouble but that she or he would like, in some way, to understand.  Critics may not always appreciate, at least the critics who criticize films and television or what-have-you for a living, that in a fundamental way the point of their writing is to convey something about the art so that the on-the-fence person can decide to not bother.  That sounds terrible to put it that way but your job in writing criticism, speaking strictly as an amateur, is to give people a reason to read first and foremost, not necessarily to go watch the movie or the film or listen to the music.  Yes, yes, the reader won't fully appreciate what you've written about without going to expose themselves to whatever you're writing about and that's usually going to be true.  But if the art of literary criticism is going to be anything other than parasitically dependent on the things consumed about which reviewers and critics write their pieces we need more than that.  A review just tells you whether the reviewer liked the movie enough to say whether or not you, too, should go see it.  criticism does something else, it uses the art in question as a pretext or, perhaps a better way of putting this, a portal or gateway through which to explore ideas that, ideally ,are in some way actually in the work under examination.

But that's hardly to say that merely because an author can explore how the concept of the bound will might relate to Batman villains is hardly to say that any such writing is making a "theological" point or attributing theological content to Batman cartoons ... but that's probably some other topic for some other time. 

I like the phrase that describes film reviewers as having a kind of Stockholm syndrome.  It kind of reminds me of an observation I've had about how film critics and reviewers in general may simply be consuming too much and that if they consumed less they'd be less apt to feel like this or that art is "dying". 

What can happen ... and this is also probably grist for an altogether different post, is that film reviewers and professional critics often end up at loggerheads with audience reception because the halo effect has a negative as well as a positive mode.  Plenty of film critics who hate the very idea of watching superhero films might be all for Call Me By Your Name, even if the script for a coming out story or a discovering-your-sexuality narrative can have so many overlaps with a superhero story as to render the alleged differences mere formalities.  Bryan Singer's work would seem like a case in point but ... again .. probably a post for some other occasion.  A negative halo effect is the negative counterpart to a critical overpraise of this or that film.  You might find that Get Out was a fun genre romp that maybe didn't feel as profound as critics said it was, but it's been dubbed the most important 2017 film by a few people.  Some are upset that it got considered as a comedy, as if comedies aren't capable of plumbing the most profound and vulnerable aspects of the human condition ... . 

Atlantic Monthly piece--The False Promises of Worker Retraining--or how retraining all the non-college attenders in new skill sets for jobs that don't necessarily exist doesn't quite work

Worker retraining is a classic chicken-or-egg dilemma. Employers don’t want to expand or relocate without the availability of an already-skilled workforce. Workers who have been laid off through corporate downsizing or because their jobs were shipped to a foreign country don’t want to dedicate the time and effort needed to go through retraining without the pledge of a sure-fire job with the same or a better paycheck.
So when you plug real people into the easy fixes designed by policy wonks, the situation suddenly becomes more complicated: Older workers who haven’t seen the inside of a classroom for decades are frightened by going back to school. Men don’t want to train for the jobs that are left in town, particularly in health care, because of the stigma of being employed in occupations traditionally filled by women—a phenomena that Lawrence Katz, a Harvard University labor economist, has frequently called an “identity mismatch,” rather than a skills mismatch. And in a country founded by people on the move, unemployed workers are unwilling to relocate to find work.
For many dislocated workers—or employees who were terminated and are unlikely to return to that job or even that industry—it’s often easier to collect unemployment or other cash benefits that come along with training and then either remain jobless or patch together work that doesn’t require learning a new skill or acquiring a college degree. But that’s not a recipe for sustainable careers or even long-term work. As a result of the 2008 recession, the U.S. shed 1.6 million manufacturing jobs requiring just a high-school diploma; only 200,000 returned.
The fastest-growing jobs in the country require training and education beyond high school. Between now and 2024, according to Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce, the United States will be home to some 16 million openings for middle-skill jobs—those that require more education than a high-school diploma but typically not a bachelor’s degree. Some 40 percent of them pay more than $55,000 a year; another 14 percent pay more than $80,000. The National Skills Coalition has found that these jobs in sectors such as computer technology, health care, construction, and high-skill manufacturing account for 53 percent of the labor market, but only 43 percent of middle-skill workers are sufficiently trained.
“The U.S. faces a serious skills gap,” said Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta in June when announcing the administration’s executive actions to expand training opportunities, mostly through apprenticeships. Referring to the discrepancy between what employers need and what skills workers have, he pointed out that the U.S. has 6 million jobs—1 million in the health-care sector alone—the most since the Labor Department started keeping track since last decade.

Any number of the "fastest growing cities" are expensive to live in, expensive to move to, and have niche markets that can fizzle by the time any number of people have moved there.  I don't even really remember the dot com boom being a boom I could really participate in much.  I'm not exactly counting the month or so I spent in a warehouse packing thousands of items into small boxes.  That was worse than season after season of work in unionized vegetable canneries because there was no stability to it and the pay wasn't that great.  It was for a company that was considered one of the "it" start-ups but it was mainly a lame two months and trundling off to L&I. 

But the prospect of continuing education or worker retraining was generally also a dead end.  There are any number of reasons for that, I suppose, but some of it was that I got one of those communications degrees (journalism) that was already a gutted job market.  Had I tried to get a degree in biblical studies it would have been worse, or if I'd done an English major probably.  I'm not what I'd call the best interview in job-seeking terms.  Though I perhaps have a capacity for politesse I'm not sure I could say it's characteristic of me.  In the old days when I had a certain church affiliation I got told that I could be brutally confrontational in online interaction.  I didn't feel like I was being an especially cold-blooded sort but it's never just about how you perceive yourself.  At any rate, my acquired pessimism about the obscene level of debt college students get for liberal arts degrees on the one hand and the dead end of the job market if you don't happen to have translatable skills is what it is.  The old axiom that "it's not what you know, it's who you know" never seemed true.  It's never just what you know or who you know.  It's what you know and who you know in exactly the right, mysterious combination that works for the right people or you just don't land a job that's something to write home about. 

If someone were to make overtures of generating or restoring or reclaiming the kinds of jobs that have been lost in the contemporary economy, regardless of whether or not that person would be capable of doing so, or with the help of this or that set of people in a cabinet or advisory role, you might think that people might give that candidate a shot, even if maybe it's not the greatest idea.


at American Affairs Justin Stover writes "There is No Case for the Humanities"--the crisis in the humanities is not of relevance but of the intellectual caste that preserves them, and of the social order to which humanities are put in service (... duh)

Stover's piece, with a suitably contentious and controversial title that bespeaks clickbait, has a nonetheless interesting introduction.   The case is that there has not merely been some "crisis" in the liberal arts, the liberal arts are very nearly dead on arrival right now.  Rather than attempt to blame one scapegoat class like conservative politicians or identitarian politics advocates on the newer left, Stover proposes that all of "that" fighting has been done in the wake of a more basic crisis of why anyone would be studying those subjects to begin with.  Another point made along the way in Stover's introduction is to point out that neither from the left nor the right are things as clear as op ed pieces make the subject--the left may have cogent defenses of the "need" for otherwise useless fields of academic enquiry ... and yet it's arguably been religious traditionalists and conservatives who have done the most to develop the traditional humanities in schools (Western civilization, et al) despite the fact that conservative politicians tend to want to cut arts funding.  Thus ... :

The humanities are not just dying. By some measures, they are almost dead. In Scotland, the ancient Chairs in Humanity (which is to say, Latin) have almost disappeared in the last few decades: abolished, left vacant, or merged into chairs of classics. So too in the same period, the University of Oxford revised its famed Literae Humaniores course, “Greats,” into something resembling a technical classics degree. Both of these were long survivors, throwbacks to an era in which Latin in particular played the central, organizing role in the constellation of disciplines that we call the humanities. The loss of these “vestigial structures” reveals a long and slow realignment, in which the humanities have become a loosely defined collection of technical disciplines, with some genealogical connection to the old arts curriculum and the humanistic curriculum of the new universities of the Renaissance.

The result of this is deep conceptual confusion about what the humanities are and the reason for studying them in the first place. I do not intend to address the former question here, nor the related question about whether there can indeed by any coherent description of the humanities without Literae Humaniores, nor the question about which specific current academic disciplines are included. After all, most of us know the humanities when we see them.

Instead I wish to address the other question: the reason for studying them in the first place. That question has assumed a paramount importance in the current academic context—in which university officials, deans, provosts, and presidents all are far more likely to know how to construct an HBS case study than to parse a Greek verb, more familiar with flowcharts than syllogisms, more conversant in management speak than the riches of the English language. Hence, the oft-repeated call “to make the case for the humanities.”

Such an endeavor is fraught with ambiguities and contraindications. There is certainly some connection with current political divides, but it is not quite so simple as its critics often allege. Vulgar conservative critiques of the humanities are usually given the greatest exposure, and yet at the same time, it is often political (and religious) conservatives who have labored the most mightily to foster traditional humanistic disciplines in schools. Left defenders of the humanities have defended their value in the face of an increasingly corporate and crudely economic world, and yet they have also worked to gut some of the core areas of humanistic enquiry—“Western civ and all that”—as indelibly tainted by patriarchy, racism, and colonialism. So the humanities have both Left and Right defenders, Left and Right critics. The Left defenders of the humanities are notoriously bad at coming up with a coherent defense which might actually have some effective purchase, but they have been far more consistent in defending the “useless” disciplines against politically (and economically) charged attacks. The Right defenders of the humanities have sometimes put forward a strong and cogent defense of their value, but they have had very little sway when it comes to confronting actual attacks on the humanities by Republican and conservative politicians. The sad truth is that instead of forging some kind of trans-ideological apology for humanistic pursuits, this ambiguity has led to the disciplines being squeezed on both sides.

Indeed, both sides enable the humanities’ adversaries. Conservatives who seek to use the coercive and financial power of the state to correct what they see as ideological abuses within the professoriate are complicit in the destruction of the old-fashioned and timeless scholarship they supposedly are defending. It is self-defeating to make common cause with corporate interests looking to co-opt the university and its public subsidy to outsource their job training and research, just for the sake of punishing the political sins of liberal professors. Progressives who want to turn the humanities into a laboratory for social change, a catalyst for cultural revolution, a training camp for activists, are guilty of the same instrumentalization. When they impose de facto ideological litmus tests for scholars working in every field, they betray their conviction that the humanities exist only to serve a contemporary political and social end. ...

Stover moves along through a few standard criticisms of the contemporary university.  The counter-proposal is that the university, since its inception in the West, has always been a place in which absurdly arcane scholarly projects led to an overabundance of publishing works that nobody generally reads and that nobody will be reading, and that the university was never really intended to be what we would now consider the bastion of teaching for the sake of teaching rather than teaching as a side effect of scholarly study and debate.

Stover boils things down in this paragrah:

The cure proposed for the crisis of the humanities is worse than the disease: it seeks to save the humanities by destroying the conditions under which they thrive. If scholars in the humanities stopped researching arcane topics, stopped publishing them in obscure journals nobody reads, and spent all their time teaching instead, the university itself would cease to exist. We would just have high schools, perhaps good high schools, but high schools nonetheless.

As these long-form arguments go Stover takes some time, but gets at a proposal that seems pretty straightforward, that defending the university and the scholars who work in it is a defense of a class first and foremost, though defenses of all that stuff academics study shows up secondarily by dint of defending the value of the class.  Along the way there's a sidelong comment about how we can't really expect a university education to be necessary for artists or those working in the arts because there wasn't anything intrinsic to the study of classical Latin or Greek that would make a sculptor a more competent sculptor, just as neither classical Latin nor Greek would automatically confer on, say, an English poet a capacity to write "better" poetry.  Stover frontloads the class distinction of distinguished scholars:

We cannot attribute the present decline to some change in historical circumstance. Writing a commentary on Virgil is just as useless now as it was in the year 450. The reality is that the humanities have always been about courtoisie, a constellation of interests, tastes, and prejudices which marks one as a member of a particular class. That class does not have to be crudely imagined solely in economic terms. Indeed, the humanities have sometimes done a good job of producing a class with some socioeconomic diversity. But it is a class nonetheless. Roman boys (of a certain social background) labored under the grammaticus’s rod because their parents wanted to initiate them into the wide community of Virgil readers—a community which spanned much of the vast Roman world, and which gave the bureaucratic class a certain cohesion it otherwise lacked. [bold emphasis added, italis original] So too in the Middle Ages: it is no accident that what we might think of as the scholastic and the courtly are so often linked. Reading Virgil, commenting on Aristotle, participating in quaestiones disputatae, writing chansons de geste and romances—these made scholars, bachelors, masters, and doctors alike, set apart as an international community embedded in but separate from the international community of the Church, the religious orders, and the waxing national powers.

So too the humanists of the fifteenth and sixteenth century—the ones who helped ease us away from the arts to the studia humanitatis. They formed a certain class marked by a certain set of tastes and interests, entangled with church and state, but notionally with some sense of identity as being part of something else as well. So too the Republic of Letters of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, which put into practice (not always successfully) the idea that membership in this transnational class could even cut across confessional lines.

It remains true today. Deep down, what most humanists value about the humanities is that it gives them participation in a community in which they can share similar tastes in reading, art, food, travel, music, media, and yes, politics. We might talk about academic diversity, but the academy is a tribe, and one with relatively predictable tastes.  [emphasis added] It does not take a particularly sharp observer to guess whether a given humanist might be fond of some new book reviewed favorably in the LRB or some new music discussed enthusiastically on NPR. The guess might not always be right, but if even odds are offered our observer could get away with a tidy sum. If the bet were on political affiliation, the payoff would be almost guaranteed.

As teachers, what humanists want most of all is to initiate their students into that class. Despite occasional conservative paranoia, there is not some sinister academic plot to brainwash students with liberal dogma. Instead, humanists are doing what they have always done, trying to bring students into a class loosely defined around a broad constellation of judgments and tastes. This constellation might include political judgments, but is never reducible to politics. It is also very susceptible to change. [emphasis added] For two hundred years or more, European universities were deeply enmeshed in the pernicious stupidity of Ramism, with Ramist professors installed across Europe in any number of the humanistic disciplines. Eventually the fad dissipated, and today, the celebrated method of Petrus Ramus holds little more than antiquarian interest. We should not assume that the current modes and fashions of the academic class are permanent. But if they are to change, that change will come from the inside.

The mere existence of a class is, however, not a case for its existence in society as a whole. Professors as a class would hardly be the most popular members of society, particularly among some demographics. Telling the state and the people that they should continue to support higher education in order to turn out more people like the professorial class is rather unlikely to generate any enthusiasm. But it goes further: justifying the tastes and prejudices of that class without reference to the internal logic of the arts themselves is impossible. The justification for the humanities only makes sense within a humanistic framework. Outside of it, there is simply no case. [emphases added]

Whatever administrators and legislators might think, the fact that there is no case for the humanities is irrelevant. The humanities do not need to make a case within the university because the humanities are the heart of the university. Golfers do not need to justify the rationale for hitting little white balls to their golf clubs; philatelists do not need to explain what makes them excited about vintage postage at their local stamp collecting society. Lawyers (usually) do not have to make a case for the Constitution when arguing before the Supreme Court, because the Court is an institution established to protect the Constitution. So too humanists: we need to tell deans and legislators—even if they will not listen—that the university can be many things, but without us, a university it will not be.

The conclusion is a bit weak, that scholars should keep being scholars because that's what scholars do.  I mean, sure, people who love to study should keep doing what they love but in the context of a perceived crisis in the humanities and the nature of the university the earlier zinger about how if we all got what education reformers wanted we'd be getting amazing high schools rather than universities.

Which, come to think of it, why shouldn't the conversation be about how to come up with fantastic high schools across the board?  I'm not even going to contest that the university caste system exists to perpetuate its own caste.  One of the things that infuriated me as an undergraduate was that having spent years in public school having to comply with that jack-or-jill-of-all-trades well-rounded education regime I had to spend at least half of my college years getting all those general education requirements.  Why couldn't I skip all that junk and go straight into studying the stuff I was going into debt for to actually study, like journalism or biblical studies or music?  Why did I have to take a statistics class?  It's not that I can't think of a general and genial reason why you have to study that stuff, it's that I was upset to discover that at least half of college was basically just something that felt like two extra years of high school, precisely the kind of they choose your adventure for you approach to learning I was hoping I'd finally be done with.

But I think I differ with the author on how nobody wants to admit that the contemporary university culture generates a kind of aristocracy of the mind, which is another way of saying it generates and sustains an aristocracy.  Everyone who has vented their spleen about how stupid Trump voters are has admitted to being part of that collegiate aristocracy in the last year, whether they want to admit that that spleen-venting indicates their membership in an aristocracy of the mind or not.  I didn't vote for the guy so I understand why people wouldn't want to vote for the guy, but on the other hand, I have written a lot in the last year and a half about how college students don't get to exempt themselves from being part of a cultural elite just because they know who Walter Benjamin is.  Not that you can't benefit in some way from reading The Arcades Project, just to be clear. :) Ditto for reading Edmund Burke's address on the American colonies and taxation.

But something Stover wrote seems pertinent enough to quote, the proposal that in a sense the crisis in the humanities isn't really what the crisis is about, in the end.

... The humanities are no more or less relevant now than they ever were. It is not the humanities that we have lost faith in, but the economic, political, and social order that they have been made to serve. Perhaps we only demand a case for the humanities because we cannot fathom having to make a case for anything else. [emphasis added]

In other words, the crisis in the humanities is merely a symptom of a more general crisis in the legitimacy and longevity of the Western intellectual world in which those studies have traditionally signified class membership. 

Monday, January 08, 2018

Saturday, January 06, 2018

follow up on The Gospel Coalition 2017 article on Acts 29 surviving end of Mars Hill, a cross reference to a Ray Ortlund 2011 post that confirms Scott Thomas (not Driscoll) was president of Acts 29 in the year before Chandler took the reins of A29 presidency

Remember that Gospel Coalition piece about how Acts 29 survived the end of Mars Hill from 2017?


The trouble with the wild west is, it’s wild.

“There was a kind of looseness that led to some real frustrations that needed to be fixed,” Chandler said. The focus had begun to slip; the “young bucks were more apt to gather around and argue about definitive atonement than they were to plant churches.”

Finances were also loose. Mars Hill didn’t ask for money, instead saying that planters could give when they could. But church planters aren’t raking in cash; given the option, they’ll spend their funding elsewhere. That left Mars Hill footing the bill and feeling frustrated.

And authority ran a little like a rubber band, loosening and tightening in seemingly random ways. “There was a lot of mistrust, even when I became president,” Chandler said. “There was a massive amount of skepticism about what was going to be true.”

Driscoll saw the weaknesses, and knew he wasn’t the person to fix them, Chandler said. Driscoll was also starting to attract more controversy, drawing regular fire over his impulsive language and attitude toward women, and apologizing again and again.

So in the spring of 2012, Driscoll met with Chandler and Acts 29 vice president Darrin Patrick. Patrick had his hands full with health concerns and his growing church, but Chandler was splitting lead pastor responsibilities with a team of two other men, and could add the responsibility. So Driscoll handed the network over to Chandler.

“I was anxious about taking it because I thought it would lead to conflict between Mark and I,” Chandler said. “But Mark was adamant that he was for me, that he was supportive of me, and that he would come behind me. And to his credit, he did that every step of the way.”


“We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that it is nothing less than a miracle that Acts 29 did not go down with Mars Hill,” said Acts 29 CEO Steve Timmis.

Driscoll was not only instrumental in “but also the personality of Acts 29,” Kwon said. So when Driscoll’s controversies started piling up, the board “publicly and internally tried to support and give [Driscoll] the benefit of the doubt,” they stated in 2014.

But “based on the totality of the circumstances, we are now asking you to please step down from ministry for an extended time and seek help,” they wrote. “Consequently, we also feel that we have no alternative but to remove you and Mars Hill from membership in Acts 29.”

The Acts 29 brotherhood was hurt and confused, some by Driscoll’s actions, some by the board’s rejection of him. So leaders opened up town hall meetings, telling the people to ask anything they wanted.

Ah, yes, we had a few things to say about that over at the following blog post

One of the most striking things about the Gospel Coalition piece about Acts 29 surviving and thriving after the collapse of Mars Hill was skimming over how Mark Driscoll wasn't even president for most of the 2007-2012 period of Acts 29 leadership.  Who was?  Well, back in November 2011 Ray Ortlund told the world exactly who was president of Acts 29, Scott Thomas. Despite the above-quoted article in which sources stated that Mark Driscoll's personality defined Acts 29, even within the context of The Gospel Coalition website itself we know perfectly well that Mark Driscoll may have defined Acts 29 by force of personality but neither was he necessarily officially president most of the time between 2007-2012.
I honor Scott Thomas
November 11, 2011  |   Ray Ortlund

Scott is President of Acts 29 and my coach.  There are many reasons to honor him.  But for starters, here is one.

It is clear to me that the church planters in Acts 29 are not cannon fodder for someone else’s war.  To Scott, every man matters.  Scott works hard to make sure our network is healthy and sustainable.  Church planting is costly.  I personally think it is the hardest of all pastoral ministries.  As Mark Driscoll has said, “The body count is high.”  Fully aware of the price these young men are paying to spread the gospel, Scott works tirelessly to care for them.  No one understands the burden he bears.  But I have become somewhat aware of his sacrificial labors on behalf of the A29 planters.  For this, and much more, I honor Scott.

I think of Acts 29 as the bikers of evangelicalism.  Or better, a band of brothers.  I honor all these magnificent young men, and their heroic wives, for giving their lives to advance the gospel in our time and beyond.  It’s a privilege to be among them.

But in early 2012 ..
On February 6, 2012 Driscoll explained that Scott Thomas urged him to resume presidency of Acts29

Dear Acts 29 Members,

This letter is intended to provide some clarity about where we are, and Lord willing, where we are going. I hope you find it encouraging, compelling, and unifying.

Under the leadership of Pastor Scott Thomas we just completed our most amazing year of God’s grace yet. In the US alone we are now over 400 churches! This is a wonderful gift of God. I want to sincerely and personally thank Pastor Scott for juggling so many duties so graciously.
With Pastor Scott’s encouragement and the board approval, this means I am resuming the presidency of Acts 29. I want to invest every resource and relationship at my disposal to serve our church planters. Consider this primarily the “Prophet” board. This board is not closed and other men may join it in years to come. This board will be meeting soon in California, long before our annual retreat, so that we have a clear battle plan for the next season of Acts 29.

Regarding Scott Thomas:

Scott Thomas is taking this transition as a chance to pursue other opportunities he has before him and will not be making the move to Dallas. Scott and I are on very good terms and had dinner just this past weekend, where he informed me of his deep love for you and the network but felt like God has released him from leading Acts 29. He is excited about what God has next for him.
As for Scott Thomas being president, with help from The Wayback Machine we established that he was at least listed president from the 2010 to 2011 period.

Back when I was a journalism student my journalism professor said that often the most important stories are not the ones that 'everyone" is talking about but the ones that "nobody" is talking about for which there are enough leads to write a story.  One of the non-stories in coverage of Mars Hill over the last decade was the abrupt disappearance of Scott Thomas from leadership at both Mars Hill and Acts 29 in a mere two or three month period in early 2012--for those who were at Mars Hill for any number of years it might raise questions about what has happened since, and such as can be documented for the time being.    There were announcements, to be sure, but actual explanations were not so clear.  Much like the 2005 leadership transition in which David Nicholas stopped getting mentioned as a founder of Acts 29 or a board member the disappearance of Scott Thomas is comparably under-explained.  Something happened, obviously, because presidents or founders don't just vanish into the blue for no reason at all, but that the reasons for the change have not even been discussed in an article such as the one that appeared at The Gospel Coalition is just weird.   In a way somewhat comparable to an absence of mention of Scott Thomas the TGC article also doesn't mention Darrin Patrick's removal from Acts 29 or why that happened.

Scott Thomas' role in the EIT and the trials of Bent Meyer and Paul Petry have been so thoroughly documented here and elsewhere there's not much need to do more than tag associations with the content.  Joyful Exiles has a detailed timeline of documents and correspondence related to the Mars Hill trial of Paul Petry, for instance. 

The memo associated with then executive elder Sutton Turner about the financial condition of Mars Hill in earlier 2012 might be the only document shedding any light on behind-the-scenes leadership issues within Mars Hill that might shed more light on what may have been going on.  The Gospel Coalition article did indicate there was some resentment on the part of Mars Hill leadership as a whole that they were footing the bill for Acts 29 to function without necessarily seeing member churches kicking in to help fund organizational activity and overhead. 

Now for those who don't already know, Scott Thomas was one of the men who signed a letter apologizing to Paul Petry and Bent Meyer for the trial/termination proceedings they were subjected to in 2007. About how that trial could be understood as having an educational role within what was becoming an increasingly authoritarian culture you can read stuff I've written elsewhere at this blog

Unfortunately that website is down.  But with help from The Wayback Machine you can read the letter.

which has also been preserved here

Scott Thomas' role in the EIT and the trials of Bent Meyer and Paul Petry have been so thoroughly documented here and elsewhere there's not much need to do more than tag associations with the content.  Joyful Exiles has a detailed timeline of documents and correspondence related to the Mars Hill trial of Paul Petry, for instance. 

The memo associated with then executive elder Sutton Turner about the financial condition of Mars Hill in earlier 2012 might be the only document shedding any light on behind-the-scenes leadership issues within Mars Hill that might shed more light on what may have been going on.  The Gospel Coalition article did indicate there was some resentment on the part of Mars Hill leadership as a whole that they were footing the bill for Acts 29 to function without necessarily seeing member churches kicking in to help fund organizational activity and overhead. 

While at one level I get how everyone would want to forget the past, "move on", and get back to business as usual I would persist in saying that the nature of business as usual was still how we got to the catastrophic meltdown of Mars Hill when, by dint of journalistic and blogging coverage, some things were uncovered that exposed the nature of what "business as usual" entailed.  Recall that when the Mars Hill Board of Advisors and Accountability made a defense of the Result Source Contract gambit to secure a No.1 place on the NYT best seller list for Real Marriage the mea culpa was that it was not unethical or illegal but it was unwise.  Blogging done by Warren Throckmorton later showed that not only Team Driscoll made use of RSI but that other Christian writers used it, too.  Then after a year or so of controversy the hubbub died down and things were back to normal, whatever normal might be.  But it was hard to shake an impression that it was easier for Mark Driscoll to go down for having been caught doing what other celebrity Christians seem to have been able to do before and since Mark Driscoll's own celebrity was at its peak.  To that extent that Anglo-American evangelicalism attempts to treat the Driscoll case as an outlier or exception so as to not regard his rise and fall as potentially emblematic of the nature of the Christian media industries there may be no opportunity to learn any "lessons" about how "we" in evangelicalism got "there" back in 2014.