josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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9 Feb '05 03:37:48 AM

The 2004 Pazz & Jop Results are out. For idle amusement I checked the placement of the records on my ballot. They are listed below; the numbers are the ranking on my ballot / the final ranking / the number of other ballots, not including mine, on which the record appeared.

1/41/27: Junior Boys
2/37/39: Sonic Youth
3/11/85: Madvillain
4/55/25: De La Soul
5/261/6: Mouse on Mars
6/291/3: Pan Sonic
7/469/2: Kompakt 100
8/117/9: The Ex
9/50/30: Ted Leo + The Pharmacists
10/32/45: Ghostface

Likewise with my singles:

1/514/0: Xzibit
2/24/31: Fabolous
3/56/11: R. Kelly
4/3/120: Usher feat. Lil Jon and Ludacris
5/135/4: Petey Pablo
6/35/21: Alicia Keys
7/299/1: Memphis Bleek feat. Freeway
8/2/134: Jay-Z
9/514/0: Houston feat. Chingy, I-20 and Nate Dogg
10/64/10: Ted Leo & The Pharmacists

It seems the worst an album could do was tie for 1776th place by scoring 5 points from a single critic. The worst a single could do (there is no minimum point requirement as for albums, but fewer critics submit singles ballots) is tie for 514th from a single mention. This has the interesting (to me, anyway) consequence that records that only a handful of people rate at least well enough to stay on a ballot (with 5 points) will do better than scores of higher-rated records that were voted for by a single person. Of course, this isn't very informative. Most of the places in the hundreds are massive ties.

But, for contrast, look at Ethan's ballot. If it weren't for the eight other people who voted for 'Slow Motion', his cohort of voters in agreement with him about anything at all would have contained exactly zero people. Mine has 603.

5 Feb '05 07:17:15 AM

'River Deep, Mountain High': I keep turning it up, and it's never loud enough.

'Body and Soul': this take, the one that appeared on Monk's Dream in 1962, is Monk playing alone, dissonantly rather than with the jovial slash corny slash lovable stride inflections that he often adopts solo, as on Solo Monk. Imagine the gently disturbed resolutions of 'This Is My Story, This Is My Song' from Straight, No Chaser, only, knotting the entire span of the song - one that at the moment still leaves me inclined to say 'difficult' and mean it.

'Hot Love': until I heard the extended 'la la la' outro of the T. Rex original I guess I just figured Justus Köhncke picked this song to mash into (not up with) 'Frei' because of the provocative lyrics, especially receptive to being camped up.

'Tush': the production is less glossy than I first thought, and the beat less clubby, and the plays on 'ush' more clever, so now it barely sticks out at all on The Pretty Toney Album. I think I might intermingle the time where Ghost says 'push push push' here, talking about fucking, with the time somewhere else where he's talking about childbirth. But I think only good comes of it.

'99 Luftballons': tell me when you can ever hear something so massive and gutsy now. That synth, not even the sole virtue of the song, is obnoxious and perfect.

'Heart Problems': if the songs on Tyrrany of Distance were obviously in some ways of the past, it at least felt like a past that Ted Leo had breathed in, lived in, even if only by listening to records, which anyone who listens to records knows is enough to make it real; on Shake the Sheets the tense rigidity of the song structures, the relative austerity of the musical materials, and the uneasily punchy, single-surface production also come across as historical, but I'm more tempted to call it atavism this time, even if there are some records somewhere that Leo has lived just as much with: it sounds too defensive. I lose the thread somewhere in the middle of this, after the striking opening line, and then wake up most at the catalogue of prescription drugs at the close; this little detail strikes me as one of Leo's favorite touches, the important-sounding detail that doesn't fit with a surface non-reading of his lyrics (so it at least feels meaningful) but comes back massively once you use it as a handhold with which to climb back through the song. This came on the new indie-styled NPR rock outlet this weekend and I momentarily forgot about my griping about the station's playlist.

'20th Century Boy': you want it to come back as huge as that first roar of guitar, but I suppose if it did you wouldn't want so much through the rest of the song.

'Sorry for Laughing': 'there's too much happening'.

'Donna Lee': I keep feeling obliged to throw at least one jazz song on the playlists I cobble together, and then am disappointed by how they never seem to fit. The Parker less so than the others. I think that's because I'm still leading with the mental story I have, that I've picked up from elsewhere, about his radicality. But it takes concentration and familiarity both to always be able to hear that, in every track. Apart from the frequent lack of the former on my part, this is one of the many cuts from the Dial and Savoy sessions that I've only had since the fall and hardly absorbed yet.

'Sixty Minute Man': the second time through they should've doubled up the hits after 'blowin' my top', and held them back that extra-exciting syncopated half a count. Oh well. It's still loping and warm-bodied.

'Where Were You?': I don't know what it means, but by the sound of the guitar I expect it to.

'West Coast Mentality': what does it say if I don't want to represent my town? I mean, I do, some, but sometimes, er.

'Mote': I think it's never loud enough, and keep turning it up, but I always forget that soon Lee's singing ends and the part comes where the guitars genuinely impair my ability to do more than one thing at once. (Though the galumphing bass is sort of comforting - should it be?)

4 Feb '05 05:49:15 AM


3 Feb '05 05:44:01 AM

(Some of the talk about mimesis that I had in mind - BAD TALK - shows up in this okay - I guess - survey.)

3 Feb '05 01:42:06 AM

The introduction (I'm not sure if it's all of it) to the Cambridge Companion to Adorno seems astute, more than I have come to expect from that series. This could just be because all that is required to appear astute in this case is to have actually read a substantial enough portion of Adorno's three big books and thought about them carefully. Nevertheless. Astute.

(I came across this when looking for people commenting on Adorno and mimesis, because I'm at least well enough acquainted with Aesthetic Theory to know that mimesis is given an important role in it, and I was excited to find myself yet one more step closer to Adorno, closer to being invested enough in similar concerns to be able to make the struggle with him worth it, when the other day I suddenly found myself writing down notes about things that I wrote 'mimesis' under, things that bore a probably not totally coincidental similarity to various ways of talking about the nonconceptual, or nonidentical. There was no reason that sentence needed to be that long. But: so I sez, wait, mimesis, that doesn't sound like mimesis, referring it in my head to dumb representing- or copying-nature concepts I must have picked up in a dirty bathroom in a department of analytic philosophers somewhere - but, I sez, it does sound like Adorno - I wonder if that has something to do with where he's like mimesis mimesis all the time? Well.)

(A respected and trusted teacher of mine, also the only one I've ever been taught any Adorno by, not that I understood it at the time, asked a couple of years ago whether I had checked out Aesthetic Theory yet, when I tried to explain my long-term projects to him. Every time I get led back to Adorno by something else I'm doing, that question weighs heavier and heavier.)

2 Feb '05 09:54:44 PM

'We remarked earlier that most people would call Gulliver's Travels fiction but not a novel. It must then be another form of fiction, as it certainly has a form, and we feel that we are turning from the novel to this form, whatever it is, when we turn from Rousseau's Emile to Voltaire's Candide, or from Butler's The Way of All Flesh to the Erewhon books, or from Huxley's Point Counterpoint to Brave New World. The form thus has its own traditions, and, as the examples of Butler and Huxley show, has preserved some integrity even under the ascendancy of the novel. Its existence is easy enough to demonstrate, and no one will challenge the statement that the literary ancestry of Gulliver's Travels and Candide runs through Rabelais and Erasmus to Lucian. But while much has been said about the style and thought of Rabelais, Swift, and Voltaire, very little has been made of them as craftsmen working in a specific medium, a point no one dealing with a novelist would ignore. Another great writer in this tradition, Huxley's master Peacock, has fared even worse, for, his form not being understood, a general impression has grown up that his status in the development of prose fiction is that of a slapdash eccentric. Actually, he is as exquisite and precise an artist in his medium as Jane Austen is in hers.

The form used by these authors is the Menippean satire, also more rarely called the Varronian satire, allegedly invented by a Greek cynic named Menippus. His works are lost, but he had two great disciples, the Greek Lucian and the Roman Varro, and the tradition of Varro, who has not survived either except in fragments, was carried on by Petronius and Apuleius. The Menippean satire appears to have developed out of verse satire through the practice of adding prose interludes, but we know it only as a prose form, though one of its recurrent features (seen in Peacock) is the use of incidental verse.

The Menippean satire deals less with people as such than with mental attitudes. Pedants, bigots, cranks, parvenus, virtuosi, enthusiasts, rapacious and incompetent professional men of all kinds, are handled in terms of their occupational approach to life as distinct from their social behavior. The Menippean satire thus resembles the confession in its ability to handle abstract ideas and theories, and differs from the novel in its characterization, which is stylized rather than naturalistic, and presents people as the mouthpieces of the ideas they represent. Here again no sharp boundary lines can or should be drawn, but if we compare a character in Jane Austen with a similar character in Peacock we can immediately feel the difference between the two forms. Squire Western belongs to the novel, but Thwackum and Square have Menippean blood in them. A constant theme in the tradition is the ridicule of the philosophus gloriosus, already discussed. The novelist sees evil and folly as social diseases, but the Menippean satirist sees them as diseases of the intellect, as a kind of maddened pedantry which the philosophus gloriosus at once symbolizes and defines.

Petronius, Apuleius, Rabelais, Swift, and Voltaire all use a loose-jointed narrative form often confused with the romance. It differs from the romance, however (though there is a strong admixture of romance in Rabelais), as it is not primarily concerned with the exploits of heroes, but relies on the free play of intellectual fancy and the kind of humorous observation that produces caricature. It differs also from the picaresque form, which has the novel's interest in the actual structure of society. At its most concentrated the Menippean satire presents us with a vision of the world in terms of a single intellectual pattern. The intellectual structure built up from the story makes for violent dislocations in the customary logic of narrative, though the appearance of carelessness that results reflects only the carelessness of the reader or his tendency to judge by a novel-centered conception of fiction.

The word "satire," in Roman and Renaissance times, meant either of two specific literary forms of that name, one (this one) prose and the other verse. Now it means a structural principle or attitude, what we have called a mythos. In the Menippean satires we have been discussing, the name of the form also applies to the attitude. As the name of an attitude, satire is, we have seen, a combination of fantasy and morality. But as the name of a form, the term satire, though confined to literature (for as a mythos it may appear in any art, a cartoon, for example), is more flexible, and can be either entirely fantastic or entirely moral. The Menippean adventure story may thus be pure fantasy, as it is in the literary fairy tale. The Alice books are perfect Menippean satires, and so is The Water-Babies, which has been influenced by Rabelais. The purely moral type is a serious vision of society as a single intellectual pattern, in other words a Utopia.

The short form of the Menippean satire is usually a dialogue or colloquy, in which the dramatic interest is in a conflict of ideas rather than of character. This is the favorite form of Erasmus, and is common in Voltaire. here again the form is not invariably satiric in attitude, but shades off into more purely fanciful or moral discussions, like the Imaginary Conversations of Landor or the "dialogue of the dead." Sometimes this form extends to full length, and more than two speakers are used: the setting then is usually a cena or symposium, like the one that loom so large in Petronius. Plato, though much earlier in the field than Menippus, is a strong influence on this type, which stretches in an unbroken tradition down through those urbane and leisurely conversations which define the ideal courtier in Castiglione or the doctrine and discipline of angling in Walton. A modern development produces the country-house weekends in Peacock, Huxley, and their imitators in which the opinions and ideas and cultural interests expressed are as important as the love-making.

The novelist shows his exuberance either by an exhaustive analysis of human relationships, as in Henry James, or of social phenomena, as in Tolstoy. The Menippean satirist, dealing with intellectual themes and attitudes, shows his exuberance in intellectual ways, by piling up an enormous mass of erudition about his theme or in overwhelming his pedantic targets with an avalanche of their own jargon. A species, or rather sub-species, of the form is the kind of encyclopedic farrago represented by Athenaeus' Deipnosophists and Macrobius' Saturnalia, where people sit at a banquet and pour out a vast mass of erudition on every subject that might conceivably come up in a conversation. The display of erudition had probably been associated with the Menippean tradition by Varro, who was enough of a polymath to make Quintillian, if not stare and gasp, at any rate call him vir Romanorum eruditissimus. The tendency to expand into an encyclopaedic farrago is clearly marked in Rabelais, notably in the great catalogues of torcheculs and epithets of codpieces and methods of divination. The encyclopaedic compilations produced in the line of duty by Erasmsus and Voltaire suggest that a magpie instinct to collect facts is not unrelated to the type of ability that has made them famous as artists. Flaubert's encyclopaedic approach to the construction of Bouvard et Pecuchet is quite comprehensible if we explain it as marking an affinity with the Menippean tradition.

This creative treatment of exhausitve erudition is the organizing principle of the greatest Menippean satire in English before Swift, Burton's Anatomy of Melancholy. Here human society is studied in terms of the intellectual pattern provided by the conception of melancholy, a symposium of books replaces dialogue, and the result is the most comprehensive survey of human life in one book that English literature had seen since Chaucer, one of Burton's favorite authors. We may note in passing the Utopia in his introduction and his "digressions," which when examined turn out to be scholarly distillations of Menippean forms: the digression of air, of the marvelous journey; the digression of spirits, of the ironic use of erudition; the digression of the miseries of scholars, of the satire on the philosophus gloriosus. The word "anatomy" in Burton's title means a dissection or analysis, and expresses very accurately the intellectualized approach of his form. We may as well adopt it as a convenient name to replace the cumbersome and in modern times rather misleading "Menippean satire."

The anatomy, of course, eventually begins to merge with the novel, producing various hybrids including the roman à these and novels in which the characters are symbols of social or other ideas, like the proletarian novels of the thirties in this century. It was Sterne, however, the disciple of Burton and Rabelais, who combined them with greatest success. Tristram Shandy may be, as was said at the beginning, a novel, but the digressing narrative, the catalogues, the stylizing of character along "humor" lines, the marvellous journey of the great nose, the symposium discussions, and the constant ridicule of philosophers and pedantic critics are all features that belong to the anatomy.

A clearer understanding of the form and traditions of the anatomy would make a good many elements of the history of literature come into focus. Boethius' Consolation of Philosophy, with its dialogue form, its verse interludes and its pervading tone of contemplative irony, is a pure anatomy, a fact of considerable importance for understanding its vast influence. The Compleat Angler is an anatomy because of its mixture of prose and verse, its rural cena setting, its dialogue form, its deipnosophistical interest in food, and its gentle Menippean raillery of a society which considers everything more important than fishing and yet has discovered very few better things to do. In nearly every period of literature there are many romances, confessions, and anatomies that are neglected only because the categories to which they belong are unrecognized. In the period between Sterne and Peacock, for example, we have, among romances, Melmoth the Wanderer; among confessions, Hogg's Confessions of a Justified Sinner; among anatomies, Southey's Doctor, Amory's John Buncle, and the Noctes Ambrosianae.'

2 Feb '05 09:05:04 PM

K. Silem Mohammad's Language Poetry Dossier.

2 Feb '05 06:20:56 AM

I have begun keeping a for real on paper this is what I ate and this is who I slept with diary. I've never done that before. So far it is both satisfying and tiring. I'm waiting to see if one of those wins out, but I'm rooting for the former. I want to look back in eleven months and be able to fan the pages open and be impressed at all the ink. I hope I don't have to change the color before then. If so then all my fun with being impressed could be ruined.

2 Feb '05 06:14:23 AM

'watchin' the sun go behind a tree'