I was dreading today because I have to turn in my dissertation. I defended it over a month ago and wanted to give myself time to revise it and format according to my university’s arcane and bizarre requirements. First and foremost is the fact that it is to be “published” on microfilm. I have to pay a $100 fee for this privilege. Have you ever used a microfilm? I have a few times, but only to read old newspapers from the 19th century, certain rare books, and so on. As if academia weren’t obsolescent enough already. At least I don’t have to do an index.
Archive for March, 2009
The Swedish metal band Meshuggah takes their name for the Yiddish word meaning “crazy.” That’s likely the first thing you’ll think when you hear one of their songs. Their music enacts a dystopian future built upon agony and alienation.
In my last post, I talked about how I dislike music reviews. So you might wonder why I’m writing about music again. As before, I’m more interested in Meshuggah’s music as art and a philosophical intervention than as music itself. Don’t get me wrong–I love the music. Yet it’s the combination of both the group’s music and alienating, rootless lyrics and sound that are of interest to me. If Propagandhi saw some light at the end of the tunnel, then Meshuggah glimpses naught but the blinking red LED of a robot overlord.
I hate music reviews. They usually don’t tell you anything about the music. Rather, they’re more interested in onanistic and often obscure comparisons that are more about the reviewer than the album. There’s always a line like “think Van Halen and Billy Corgan’s illegitimate lovechild screaming alongside pre-No Doubt Gwen Stefani combined with the drumming of late Sleater Kinney with Kid A‘s shifty synths played by Fujiya and Miyagi thrown in for good measure.” What does that really tell you about the sound of the album? Jack squat.
So why am I writing a music review? Well, I’m actually not reviewing Propagandhi’s Supporting Caste (March 2009) as an album but as a work of art. I’ll let you read other reviews for descriptions of the sound. Let’s just say it rocks and the musicianship is flawless. I’m more interested in the intersection of the sound with the lyrics and themes of the album. Propagandhi takes on more than politics and fascism on this album; they take on the problem of humanity itself. (. . .)
In the time of chimpanzees, I was a monkey
In the beginning, we were all nonhuman primates. And in that blessed age, I was not as great as the apes. I was smaller, less attractive, and thus less prone to mating. So I turned to drugs, but was not as financially fortunate as others. I was resentful of their success and access to higher-grade controlled substances, while I was stuck with inhalants. That’s why there is
butane in my veins so I’m out to cut the junkie with the plastic eyeballs
Moreover, I coveted their everlasting supply of high-quality organic nutrients culled from local forests. One night, I had an idea: I’d get back at them with with the very dope they had forced me to use. I decided to
spray paint the vegetables
Fast forward to the present. After terrible millenia of evolution, things are not much different for us beta males. The alphas are still in power, but do not feed their pets well; further, they are prone to transvestism. In fact, it’s not uncommon to find
Dog food skulls with the beefcake pantyhose
Sometimes I like the feeling of emptiness after a long day. I’ll drive around at night with the windows closed and tune the radio to white noise. If I chance upon a stretch that’s abandoned enough, I
kill the headlights, and put it in neutral
and imagine myself as a race car driver. Such fantasies ultimately backfire and end with me aflame,
Stock car blazing with the loser in the cruise control
An Introduction to Ramon Llull (1232-1316)
Ramon Llull, known as Raimundo Lulio, Raymond Lully or Lull, was one of the most complex and original thinkers of the Middle Ages, yet he is also one of the most misunderstood and underappreciated. Llull’s production covers nearly every genre of the time in three languages: Latin, Catalan and Arabic. His output includes mystical works such as the Book of the Ascent and Descent of the Intellect in Latin and the Book of Contemplation in Arabic. Llull likewise published philosophical texts such as the Tree of Knowledge, scientific treatises like the New Geometry, and tractates on liberal arts such as logic and rhetoric. Finally, his output includes literary texts: novels like Blanquerna, an autobiography, and poetry. Exhaustive catalogues of his works list approximately 300 authentic ones, as well as dozens of apocrypha related to Cabbalism and Alchemy. Due to such a monstrous output—incredible for someone who started writing around forty years of age—it is often difficult to approach Llull or to categorize his thought into a coherent system, earning him appellations such as “perplexing” and “confusing.” Adding to such confusion, Llull often feuded with his better-known Scholastic contemporaries in French universities because of methodological differences. In spite of his idiosyncrasies, however, Llull is still unique to the point of being one of the most important thinkers of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.
Born in Palma de Mallorca, Llull lived in a time when the Catalan Mediterranean Empire was at its apex. At the time, it included the kingdoms of Catalonia, Aragon, Valencia as well as the outlying zones of Naples, Sicily, Athens, and Sardinia. The island of Mallorca itself, conquered in 1229 by the Aragonese king James I, represented a crucible of cultures. On Mallorca, the three monotheistic religions interacted on a daily basis, a fact that undoubtedly influenced Llull’s formation and wish for dialogue between religions, a desire not shared by many of his contemporaries in Paris. Mallorca, and the Balearic islands in general, served as an economic crossroads between Europe and Africa as well as a jumping-off point for pilgrimages to Jerusalem or Rome. Unlike the later Habsburg Empire in Spain, which absorbed the Catalan empire upon the marriage of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1479, the Catalan “emporium,” to use one scholar’s term, focused more on commerce and economic control than on territorial or imperial conquest. It is no coincidence that this empire produces a key figure such as Llull at its very peak, in a manner similar to Cervantes or Virgil in the cases of Spain and Rome. After his conversion, Llull traveled incessantly within Spanish and Catalan lands (Santiago, Barcelona, Naples, Mallorca); made several visits to Italy, taught in Paris and Montpelier, and made three missionary trips to North Africa. Llull’s travels form a crucial context for understanding his life and project.
Nine years after his first conversion experience, Llull (now aged 42) experienced another theophany on Mount Randa on Mallorca in which the “form and method” of his great Art (the Ars magna) was revealed to him. Due to this divine inspiration, Llull would champion the Art throughout his life despite significant setbacks to its teaching in Paris and elsewhere due to its highly complex, technical and idiosyncratic nature; the divine nature of the Art would also allow Llull to claim authority. One of the problems with the first versions of the Art, states one scholar, “was that Llull was trying to translate the theological language of his Muslim and Jewish contemporaries into Latin and Catalan.” Llull, moreover, had little formal education. Yet in part because of these setbacks and in part due to its natural development throughout Llull’s life, the Art became a lifelong project in a manner similar to Whitman’s Leaves of Grass.
The universal quality of Llull’s Art enabled him to overcome several obstacles: scholastic logic, interreligious dialogue, and dependence upon ancient authors. As one scholar notes, the science of the Art, for Llull, was “the perfect vehicle for breaking through the intellectual boundaries between Christians, Jews, and Muslims. The Art’s function was to provide members of the three faiths with tools for true dialogue based on a terminology acceptable to all.” This approach avoided the pitfalls of the interpretation of sacred texts such as the Qur’an, since debaters could argue about these specific texts and thus retreat into a specific tradition or approach. Such a step, in fact, is more radical than it seems: Llull puts aside not only established authorities like St. Augustine, but also sacred texts themselves. Instead, he relies on rational argumentation rather than discipline-specific jargon. Llull’s system, then, must be wholly original in order to stymie text or tradition-specific approaches to theology, texts and interpretation. The upshot of the system detailed in the Art is a ladder that uses specific attributes and sets of questions to aid the mystic in her process of ascent and descent.
Llull’s attempt to create a universal language, while ultimately ineffective as a tool for religious conversion, was an impressive achievement and incredibly forward-looking for a 14th-century religious scholar. His invention of computational logic in the Art would entrance philosophers like Leibniz centuries after his death. His pioneering approaches to computational logic earned Llull the somewhat dubious title as the founder of computer science. The Catalan language is greatly indebted to his literary accomplishments as well: according to one account, Catalan is a “language created by a philosopher—to which it owes its precision—who, in addition to a philosopher, was also a poet—to which it owes its beauty.” Despite his importance during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, little of Llull’s work is available in English translation. One hopes that work on Llull will continue, for he stands out as one of the most modern medieval writers.
Occasional verse on dish washing
Ballad of the Dish Bitch, Caput II
From whence doth come that awful sound,
that screeches in my ear?
an angst-rid’n cry for miles around
is what one deaf could hear.
I travell’d up into a house
that had a bar of Oake;
a young chap cringed upon the porch:
his spirit burnt and broke.
“Lo!” I cried, as old men do,
“what causes this dismay?”
“I woke up from the night before,
and I’m ‘DISH BITCH’ today!”
“How now, you dog,” I then cried forth,
can such a thing be you?”
“I’ve not been ‘dish bitch’ for a week,
and now the worst is true.
“We draw our lots and time draws near
we lose us in her folds;
but when the hour for dishes comes
our incense turns to mold.”
“My God, young man, is it so bad,
that you appear as such?”
“Kind sir, the truth is I’ve seen worse,
and this is not so much.
Our weeks slashed by that fateful day
we’re fain to ‘void its pangs;
for whene’er it comes our way
we’re übercharged with angst.
The ‘bitch’ then wept a bitter tear,
and spoke a fiendish speech.
I know not whether to print it here
or keep it far from reach.
The danger of his words is such
that young ones should not hear;
such agèd wisdom in their minds
would turn their bliss to fear.