Just announced, very good news from the station. Local icon Mick Collins will launch a Saturday evening show called "Night Train" on June 3rd. Collins led the great '90s band The Gories and currently fronts the best Detroit band in the biz, The Dirtbombs. His show will likely be necessarily listening and, thanks to the online stream, will surely attract worldwide attention. Story at WDET's website.
- dead kennedys, "holiday in cambodia" (fresh fruit for rotting vegetables)
- black nasty, "party on 4th street, pt. 1" (funky funky detroit compilation)
- ice cube, "it was a good day" (the predator)
- big mama thorton, "hound dog" (the peacock recordings)
- pavement, "in the mouth a desert" (slanted and enchanted)
- jay-z, "hola holvito" (the blueprint)
- clap your hands say yeah, "let the cool goddess rust away" (cyhsy)
- new pornographers, "twin cinema" (twin cinema)
- neil young, "cripple creek" (after the goldrush)
- big mama thorton, "stop a-hoppin' on me" (the peacock recordings)
- gram parsons, "i can't dance" (grievous angel)
- etta james, "can't turn you loose" (etta james)
- dee edwards, "i can deal with that" (searching for soul compilation)
In theory classes back in grad school, Tom Miller used to emphasize the imperative to find alternative archives--texts, traditions, bodies of knowledge--that we can use to transform a particular rhetoric into a social praxis. For Miller, that transormation toward praxis involves avoiding the tendency to canonize as well as the tendency to vilify. So I took from Miller a vocabulary and methodology centered on locating usable pasts. The history of open-access education became a usable past for thinking through remediation and working-class encounters in higher ed. This summer, as I dig through the archives down at the Reuther, in the back of my mind: the words "usable past."
So I was struck tonight by the convergence. Speakers at the CCG event spoke about the need to make use rhetorically of the "usable past" of the Catholic social justice tradition, notably papal encyclicals like "Rerum Novarum," the influential 1891 letter in which Leo XIII critiqued the effects of the Industrial Revolution on the working classes (I'm using excerpts from this as well as John Paul II's early 1980s "Laborem Exercens," aka "On Human Work," in my honors working-class studies course in the fall).
Much of this corpus/archive/rhetorical tradition centers on the theological notion of the 'common good': civic duty, the sum total of all social conditions which allow all members of society to access resources that reach economic and social fulfillment.
So, how to turn this tradition into a usable past for defeating, for example, the Michigan Civil Rights Initiative, the euphemistically named anti-affirmative action bill in our state. How to turn this tradition into a usable past for slowing down the radical cuts in state expenditures to higher education in the state (since 2000, $226 million fewer public dollars to Michigan colleges and universities). How to turn this tradition into a usable past for resisting English-only and anti-immigration initiatives. Regarding the latter, we looked at John XXIII's Pacem in Terris tonight. Here's an excerpt:
every human being...must be permitted to emigrate to other countries and take up residence there. The fact that he is a citizen of a particular State does not deprive him of membership in the human family, nor of citizenship in that universal society, the common, world-wide fellowship of men.Sounds an awful lot like a usable tradition.
What a ridiculous query. A classic (and, sadly, enduring) question for junior high language arts reading comprehension tests. I had forgotten about this testing nugget until yesterday when my twelve-year-old nephew critiqued the question's validity. What does this question ask for? Basically my opinion about what make an interesting title for some three-paragraph short story. I wanted to advise him to write in his own answer, something smarmy like "On Test-Takers Who Are Smarter Than Tests," or maybe "I Don't Know of Any Instances of Quality Fiction Whose Titles Are Perfect Plot Summaries."
I wonder if the writers of these tests came up with Snakes on a Plane.
Wallace's project is odd and, heck, I dig odd stuff. He really 'takes on the field,' a la Steve North back in the day, suggesting we haven't recognized the "limits of our subjectivities" or made "understanding systemic difference a foundational part of our scholarly and pedagogical practice." This, Wallace says, despite our theoretical allegiance to difference issues. He looks at three volumes worth of CEs and finds little explicit, authorial identification (beyond "shallow identification") with specific race, class, religious, sexual identity, etc. groups. Likewise, Wallace finds "spotty" references to those same identity issues in the subject matter of articles.
Wallace's project is quantitative, and he actually counts references to sex, race, class, etc. (an average of 4.26 references per page, for those keeping score at home). Here, too, coverage of difference issues is "shallow," in Wallace's analysis.
My concern is that Wallace subscribes so enthusiastically to the existence, stability, and usefulness of familiar identity markers. No mention of post-identity theories. Likewise, little attention to intersectional analysis as a critical lens. Wallace ends up with a thesis (because of both the materiality of privelege and the limitations of subjectivity, compositionists "need" to transcend normativity by attending to identity in our representations of self and others) that says DO MORE. More identity.
If the field's attention to identity politics has been weak (and I agree with Wallace: it has), why not look at identity differently? I'm puzzled by the argument (especially an argument about difference!) that says DO MORE instead of DO IT DIFFERENTLY. Let's look more at materiality. Let's look at how the familiar markers have failed us in various ways. Let's look at intersections (more on this if I ever finish that essay on Detroit). Let's look at venues, texts, and practices that suggest identity is not only socially constructed but socially obsolete and socially/materially ineffectual.
These reactions to Wallace's article are all pretty half-baked--just thinking out loud. Again, this is not to dismiss Wallace's article, which was interesting and useful.
Also accounting for the blues, the overwhelming sense that my 22-year-old van may finally be reaching the end of the line. The inner core of the ignition has collapsed, which means the key (which Nicole somehow managed to jam in) must stay in the ignition at all times. This on top of all its other ailments. Gambling man that I am, on my research days I've been parking the car down at Wayne with the key in it. So far, no takers. If you have seen the van, you will not be at all surprised by this.
In less bluesy business, met my sociologist pal Paul down at Cass Cafe for lunch yesterday and enjoyed CC's signature lentil and walnut burger. Paul and I talked about putting together a proposal for a course we'd like to co-teach at Dearborn on Work & Identity. Paul is working on an ethnography of heroin addicts in the city, among other important projects. A great colleague.
My alma mater, a place that can't seem to retain a compositionist, is hiring for the umpteenth time and an old friend there asked me why I didn't apply and, while the romantic-nostalgic side of me would love to be back there, I didn't have much trouble answering her question. Dearborn is not a perfect place but the teaching I do here genuinely excites me and I wrote more in the past year than I've done in any single year since graduate school. So I think I'll stick around.
I came across that in the archives today and the quote is not at all anomalous. One of the things I'm finding is that instructors, administrators, reps from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and the WPA (the college was a New Deal program), and most especially students all felt that one of the great services of the program was keeping the unemployed busy and out of trouble. Today my research centered on student evaluations of the program, and words like loafing, idleness, wastefulness and even unuseful and unhealthy pasttimes kept popping up on the evals, referencing what students would be doing were it not for the freshman college.
Sociologist Burton Clark later called this the "cooling out" function of education in working-class communities, a trend Ira Shor has written extensively about. What I find striking, though, is the extent to which this rhetoric was rehearsed by the students themselves. Not a top-down mandate, but rather a trope that students relied upon to represent their relationship to higher education.
Back to the Reuther tomorrow a.m.!
Oftentimes, bands like The Hard Lessons that become known for their high-energy live performances put out lackluster releases that reveal lots of showmanship but less musical prowess. Not so The Hard Lessons. "Wise Up" boasts tight performances from all three members, with Ko Ko Louise's organ sounding especially vivid. The two ballads, "It Bleeds" and "Move to California," are highlights, both spinning heartbreak yarns--stories populated by round, real characters. The latter is a great example of The Hard Lessons' characteristic, male-female duets, with vocal duties vollying between Ko Ko Louise and Augie the guitarist. Well worth a listen, and if you're in the Detroit area, check them out at Flint's Local 432 on May 27 or Ferndale's Magic Bag on June 10.
Interestingly, all commentary on this rhetorical moment seems markedly simplistic. The Vatican's position--the novel and film are full of "lies"--of course demonstrates a bizarre lack of genre awareness. What, after all, does it mean to say a work of fiction is untrue? Few in mainstream society are taking the Vatican's calls for a boycott seriously, but the response--hey, it's just a book--is equally devoid of much analysis. And the academic world, of course, won't touch DaVinci Code for fear of being associated with such a low-brow text. (About three years ago I immediately went and got DaVinci Code from the library and read--and also enjoyed--it in a single weekend after I overheard colleagues at a department meeting at my former institution chatting about how they'd never get caught reading the crap their students read.)
DaVinci Code is a work of fiction, a narrative that plugs into the culture's optimistic and mythic hope that state apparatuses indoctrinate us through grand conspiracies, not through everyday practices. And speaking as a lifelong Catholic, the narrative also plugs into frustration with the persistence of the hierarchical, patriarchal structure of the Catholic church. The novel's success stems in part from the irony that Jesus spent his lifetime engaged in a ruthless but kind critique of religious hierarchy and then had his name attached to an even more vast and dominant hierarchy.
Archbishop Amato has recently said:
Christians should be more willing "to reject lies and gratuitous defamation."
He said that if "such lies and errors had been directed at the Koran or the Holocaust they would have justly provoked a world uprising."
He added: "Instead, if they are directed against the Church and Christians, they remain unpunished."
Now, that needs some unpacking because, again, the hey, it's just a book response just isn't enough. Amato tries to play the "reverse racism" card, implying that popular culture never disses the Jewish or Muslim faiths. Regarding the latter, check out nearly any Hollywood action film from the 1990s, Archbishop! Remember the scene in "True Lies" where dozens of Arabic Muslims pray over the nuclear warheads as they pack them into crates of priceless art for smuggling purposes? Such a scene became virtually cliche in most Schwartzenegger films from the era. Both Islamaphobia and anti-semitism are still pervasive.
But the chilling part of the quotation is Amato bemoaning that negative representations of Christians go "unpunished." How, exactly, should we "punish"? Who should we "punish"? Of course Amato is likely referring to economic punishment via a boycott, but it's telling that Amato has no qualms about using a violent, bellicose discourse. We should think about the significance of representations of Muslims, Jews, Catholics, and other Christians. Representations matter, whether they appear in non-fiction or fiction venues. But those genres do matter. And historical context also matters. Sorry, Archbishop, an anti-semitic representation has a different kind of weight than what you perceive to be an anti-Catholic representation. But anti-Catholicism *also* has historical weight in the U.S. where the KKK came to prominence in particular cities and regions (like my hometown) precisely to oppress Catholics (like my great-grandparents).See, that's the point. There are lots of "but"s involved here. A complex rhetorical moment, one that I fear humanists will shy away from because they see this novel and film as being too lowbrow to care about. Perhaps the DaVinci Code film might consider cribbing the tagline from Will Ferrell's hysterical Anchorman:"The following story is true. Only the names, locations, and events have been changed."
One of the emerging themes: the aggressive marketing of "special interest" (non-credit-bearing) classes. It's interesting to see in the planning documents the search for rhetorical strategies for decreasing baccalaureate aspirations (changing the name of the institutions to "community colleges" seems to be one such strategy). One leader writes, "The undefined hope for a college degree is characteristic of most high school graduates." There's a whole slew of English and writing classes that fall under this "special interest" rubric--a lot of belletristic stuff, vocational offerings of course, and then also classes with odd names like The Magic of Words. It's going to be fun research.
Favorite quote so far from the director of the program: "Dancing, as such, may not be offered. Any dancing which is a legitimate part of a Health Education class is permissable." (from a memo to teachers)
I don't disagree with this assessment of mainstream news media, but I grow frustrated at the failure (futility?) of the 'critical documentary' genre: get Mark Crispin Miller or Noam Chomsky or Robert McChesney to sit in his office, surrounded by learned books, dressed in tweed, to summarize his latest book in front of the camera. Juxtapose with clips of Respected Journalists From The Past (Murrough works best, but Cronkite will do in a pinch). Add a clip of superficial media coverage of the WTO or Iraq war or UN Sanction protests. Add a clip of Tom Brokaw and his ilk fawning over an army general or CEO. Add a clip of celebrity "news" coverage. Stretch to either 50 or 75 minutes (coincidence that the length of these docs is usually the length of a college class?).
Sorry to sound harsh. Again, I'm on board...but I'm also bored. This genre is as pre-fab as the public relations genres that Miller, McChesney, et al often critique. Look at this "news article" that really just takes sound bites from press releases. How lazy. What a breakdown of objectivity. Presented as if it's legitimate information. More importantly, I'm struck by the genre's ineffectuality.
Anyway, Jack Lessenberry moderated the film and subsequent discussion. Lessenberry professes journalism at Wayne State and writes a weekly column in Detroit's alt weekly. Interesting writer. I've used his columns to teach irony and sarcasm. Lessenberry offered a useful (but again, not terribly original) formulation of the issue of media monopoly, suggesting that "deregulation" is a misnomer for something akin to regulation that benefits corporations instead of public interest. He's an engaging and funny speaker, too, and when one audience member suggested she had given up on countering the sad state of the media, Lessenberry asked why, if that's the case, she wasn't at home watching coverage of Lindsay Lohan.
But Lessenberry seemed completely disinterested in talking about podcasts, blogs, and even independent media. Why? He bemoaned the lack of solutions for the problems of media consolidation, but shut down discussions of new forms of media, giving the usual critique that online venues lack rigor. What about blogs?, an audience member asked. Nothing more than scribbles on a bathroom wall, Lessenberry replied. Now, Lessenberry was clearly reveling in his curmudgeonly persona, but still, I was struck by the lack of imagination, the lack of optimism, and the adherence to a nostalgic vision of media. Mostly I was just bummed.
My favorite part: "Let's review the rules. Here's how it works. The president makes decisions, he’s the decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down."