Archive for the Reviews Category

Nanostories and the Hyper-massification of Culture

Posted in Literature, Reviews, Useful with tags , , , , on August 22, 2009 by xugro

There is no culture where there is no acceptance of certain final intellectual positions to which a dispute may be referred. There is no culture where economic relations are not subject to a regulating principle to protect interests involved. There is no culture where aesthetic controversy does not recognize the necessity of justifying the work of art. When all these things are lacking there is no culture; there is in the strictest sense of the word, barbarism.    –Ortega y Gasset

For a while now, I’ve been wondering about the consequences of our the Internet’s sheer multiplication of narratives and the radical democratization of cultural production that the web, along with powerful and ever-cheaper technology,  has engendered. What are the consequences for culture if everyone, potentially, can produce it? I can record high-quality music on my computer at home, just like millions of other would-be musicians, then distribute it around the globe through MySpace or a host of other sites–or distribute it on my own website, like the amazing band Deep Sea Summit. I can produce videos and send them to YouTube and, with a great deal of self-promotion and luck, reach an audience of millions. I can blog forever, alongside the legions of fellow bloggers. Yet the curmudgeon in me wonders whether the millions of bloggers in the world working on millions of laptops will ever produce a Hamlet. Or if a Citizen Kane could appear from the ashes of so many YouTube shorts. Or if a Goldberg Variations could be assembled from the collective effort of MySpace bands. Or if Wikipedia could ever be as all-encompassing as St. Isidore’s Etymologies or Pliny the Elder’s Natural History–it’s certainly as flawed.

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Meshuggah, or the Art of Alienation

Posted in Reviews, Useful with tags , , , , , , on March 30, 2009 by xugro

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.

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Supporting Caste

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 27, 2009 by xugro

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. (. . .)

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A Gloss on Beck’s “Loser”

Posted in Glosses, Literature, poetry, Reviews, Useful with tags , , , on March 26, 2009 by xugro

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

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Blaeu’s Atlas Maior

Posted in Reviews, Useful with tags , , on March 11, 2009 by xugro

Joan (Johannes) Blaeu was a Dutch cartographer that produced one of the most beautiful atlases of the Baroque, the Atlas Maior. There were several editions of the atlas–the one I have, published by Taschen, dates from 1665. What’s interesting about mapmaking in the 17th century was the veritable explosion of geographical knowledge that fueled competition among mapmakers and printing presses. The one-upmanship and rampant copying and repackaging of plates from other atlases into a new one (like the Mercator atlas) is akin to a much more laborious and expensive Baroque version of blogging. Blaeu, for example, added Martini’s Atlas Sinensis [Atlas of China] as the sixth part of his own Atlas. The rate of map production and consumption was staggering:

One hundred years after the first modern atlas in history–Ortelius’ Theatrum with its 53 maps–the publication of volumes comprising maps and text had caught on to such an extent that a gigantic 12-part series including approximately 600 maps could become a commercial success. (Peter van der Krogt, “Introduction” 38-39)

Below are a few images from Blaeu’s atlas that I used in my dissertation defense.

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Pardon My Spanglish!

Posted in Literature, Reviews with tags , , , , on March 11, 2009 by xugro

Pardon My Spanglish (website) is a new book by Bill Santiago, a hilarious comedian based in the US. (Check out his videos on YouTube). The book is a wonderful and informative exploration of everything Spanglish–and full of irreverent jibes at both Spanish and English purists. As Santiago himself says, Spanglish has “twice the vocabulary, and half the grammar.”

I had the pleasure to work for Quirk Books and served as a consultant editor to the volume. If you don’t know Quirk, it’s a small press based in Philly founded by the guy who co-wrote the well known worst case scenario survival guides. They publish quite a few excellent books and coined the term “irreference”–irreverent, funny books that are still informative.

The best part about Pardon My Spanglish is that it’s actually written in Spanglish with some English and Spanish thrown in for good measure. Take this example:

Sounds wacky, pero funciona. Faking it, estar pretending, puede ser un powerful tool para self-mejoramiento. Behave como si ya fueras un Spanglish speaker, and you become the Spanglish speaker que tanto deseas ser.

It gives you the rules of Spanglish and identifies several types of Spanglish. One of these you may know already is gringo Spanglish, like when someone says “That’s good guac.” Santiago loves all kinds of Spanglish and includes loads of examples overheard in real life.

The book’s most important contribution–besides its humor, of course–is its attempt to teach an appreciation of the contributions and creativity of Spanglish as a hybrid language with its own rules. It’s not just a random amalgamation of Spanish and English–it’s using words from one language in the other that have untranslatable or powerful meanings (like using pow pow in Spanish when threatening a child or caderas in English as opposed to the monosyllabic ‘hips’).

This book is definitely worth the $10 price on Amazon. Check out Santiago’s videos and, if you have the chance, go see him live!

Review: TJ’s Wasabi Tempura Seaweed Snacks

Posted in Reviews with tags , , , , , , on March 10, 2009 by xugro

Look: Comes in plastic package. Individual snacks look like waffle-cut seaweed fries.
Pour: Light brown with green overtones.
Nose: Hints of clay, sea breeze, elderflower, tobacco, and chocolate.
Mouthfeel: Fried battery taste at first, easing into pleasurable horseradish spice. Aftertaste of seaweed and bitterness.
Drinkability: Good to medium. Blends well with plain yogurt.
Serve with: fish, chicken, more seaweed, and pasta.

I was told that once a bag of these snacks was opened, it was impossible to not finish it in one sitting. That assessment, I can easily inform you, was not a little flawed. These are good snacks but tend to fill you up more than may have been desired. What if I just want 7 chips? Or 2 mini sushis? These snacks would not be a suitable replacement as they fill you up too much and the bitterness makes you simultaneously more hungry and full. They tend to cross the ever-so-delicate line between snacks and side dishes. Not in a good way, either.

This recipe I found does not seem too appetizing.

Overall: B-