July 30, 2010

zizek, the cartoon

This video was recently posted at an und fur sich. Nothing new or notable from Zizek, but I'm completely floored by the animation. It's helpful and entertaining . . . and so on . . . and so on.

July 26, 2010

more reasons to love cokemachineglow

It's summer, and that means that a good many people have places to go and music festivals to attend. These days it seems like the internet's favourite festival belongs to Pitchfork (at least, according to websites I frequent). Believe it or not, a couple years ago, I almost decided to go; but then I realized I had now real way to get there or money to spend on a frivolous trip to Chicago. It's a shame that I stumbled on this a week late, but cokemachineglow has done the shut-ins of the world a great service: CMG's Guide to Not Attending the Pitchfork Music Festival.
Funds, day job, infant, IBS; whatever the reason, you won’t be there, unable to observe a hoard of perilously cute early-20s scenesters, unable to disdain them by being older and thicker in the waist and, because you’ve started caring about your health, closer to death. Who will you stare at with thinly veiled contempt? Your cat? 
Having recently attended the Winnipeg Folk Festival, I felt a strong connection with the second point on their guide, which is probably the best reason to stay away from large music festivals: where a nasty amount of heat and an even nastier amount of substance abuse have joined forces to make your trips to the portapotties feel like some obscene punishment.
2. Poop in a real toilet. Though my uncle once told me that sitting over an uncovered john for too long could predicate some serious colon trouble (bacteria gets in there too easily?—he didn’t specify), now’s the chance to really enjoy the cold safety of well-cleaned porcelain against your unthreatened behind while the festival throngs stand in line waiting to make in a fetid pile. In fact, why not spend a whole set on the toilet? Bring the laptop in the bathroom with you; if Kevin Drew [of Broken Social Scene] only knew you were laying cable while watching him sing…
Oh, and they also have a regular Guide to the Pitchfork Music Festival, which is just as entertaining.

July 25, 2010

Love's Excess: Reflections on Dante's Purgatorio

Purgatory is a curious place in Dante's Divine Comedy, perhaps because its description as a place (rather than a process of preparation and purification for heaven) is a relatively recent idea.  I imagine Dante's poetic rendering of the afterlife (and this also works for the other locations of the Divine Comedy) has a fair bit to do with the fact that most of us think about heaven, hell, and purgatory in spatial terms.  This isn't a bad place for the imagination to start, but it seems to me that most of us choose to settle there (and choosing to settle, or rest, is the great temptation for those making Purgatorio's uphill climb). Dante's writing demands more than most contemporary readers are wont to give a text. In fact, Dante claims to have written Pugatorio with an express concern for the spiritual lives of its readers: it's purpose is "to make the living pray better."

As a reader who comes from a Protestant background (with little or no exposure to the doctrine of purgatory), I came to this text with significantly less anticipation than I had for the Inferno. But Purgatorio may turn out to be my favourite book in the Divine Comedy. Here, the majority (I say "majority" because it is quite rare for souls to go straight to heaven) of heaven-bound souls ascend a multi-levelled mountain (which, like Hell, is broken up into levels based on each of the seven fatal sins) in order to purify and refine themselves from those sins that they could not surmount during their lives. Its important to bear in mind that, as with the Inferno, Dante's God is not some abstract judge who arbitrarily imposes the distinction between sin and salvation on humanity; rather, such categories are the product of human actions. These souls are in purgatory because they still feel the effects of their sins. In other words, sin is a real, material problem, and purgatory is a necessary passage for one on her way to paradise. Often portrayed popular culture as an uneventful nowhere-land, purgatory is actually the only location of the Divine Comedy in which all events happen in real time; or to put it a bit differently, time must pass for change to happen. All souls found in purgatory have been saved and have no cause for fear; it is hope that keeps them in ascent, it is hope that gives them momentum.

In good Aristotelian fashion, Dante construes human freedom as the right ordering of one's inner state (comprised of the intellect, the emotional appetites and the vegetative powers), which corresponds to the proper use/direction of desire. As Virgil explains to Dante,
"Neither Creator nor His creature, my dear son,
was ever without love, whether natural
or of the mind," he began, "and this you know.

"The natural is always without error
but the other may err in its chosen goal
or through excessive or deficient vigor.

"While it is directed to the primal good,
knowing moderation in its lesser goals,
it cannot be the cause of wrongful pleasure.

"But when it bends to evil or pursues the good
with more or less concern than needed,
then the creature works against his Maker.

"From this you surely understand that love
must be the seed in you of every virtue
and of every deed that merits punishment." (XVII.91-105)
Purgatorio can thus be characterized as the place in which human souls work out (and struggle through) their desires. Inferno, in contrast, is a tour of all the various ways humans are enslaved to their desires. The fires of refinement are not found in hell (where it is cold, windy and stagnant) but in purgatory.

Again, Dante's theological and philosophical project resists the abstract character of modern thought. There is no gap between the reality of salvation and the experience Dante recounts; nor is there what now seems like an inevitable separation between reason, ethics, and faith from the competing desires that constitute human nature. Here, the human subject always functions as a desiring creature. Following Augustine, for Dante, it is not question of whether to desire or not (a point most pietists get wrong), but of how and what we desire.

In classical theology, desire is not a choice but an ontological condition: it is the very substance of our Being; and as such, Being is dynamic and diverse. Virgil tells Dante that "since no being can conceive of itself / as severed, self-existing, from its Author, / each creature is cut off from hating Him" (XVII.109-111). For me, these few lines from Dante do good job of summing up the "secular" mentality of Milton's Satan (i.e., "A mind not to be chang'd by Place or Time").

July 22, 2010

why i love cokemachineglow

There is a profound lack of feeling in much of this music, bone-deep, one that makes Beyonce’s most “independent” statements seem embarrassingly vulnerable. Being crazy in love, or wanting a ring put on “it”—the paradox of the brassy delivery may not make strict logical sense, but the basic emotions are universal, just as effective when warbled by Antony as when backed up by Jay-Z. On the other hand, M.I.A.’s emotional palette is at most concerned with a kind of distant empowerment of the idea of the oppressed, reminiscent more than anything of Ivan’s empathy in The Brothers Karamazov, of a sullen, isolated love for the idea of people more than for, y’know, actual people. 
-Chris Molnar, Review of /\/\ /\ Y /\ by M.I.A.

Another review, also recently posted on cokemachineglow, responds to the unprecidented backlash against M.I.A. with a fairly weak defense (i.e. that we're losing sight of what she's doing: she's playing with our expectations and testing our "predetermined prejudices"). To some degree, I can appreciate the reviewer's point (when it comes to M.I.A.'s music, though, most of /\/\ /\ Y /\ still sounds annoyingly self-indulgent to me), but there's no debate when it comes to the album cover. It's just awful. You can't tell me it's not awful. And as someone who only mildly liked Kala, I'm really not that disappointed with /\/\ /\ Y /\; besides, I have a hard time disagreeing with a pop music review that does such a good job of referencing a novel by Dostoevsky.

July 20, 2010

game time

The World Cup is over and the NHL's regular season doesn't get underway until the end of September. For those of us starved of competition and (mostly) apathetic about sports, pop-culture lists and rankings are soothing supplement for the ego. Most of the time these lists don't amount to much; there are no medals or ribbons or bouquets the getting top spot; but every so often, a list emerges where there's actually something at stake. Yes, I'm talking about the Polaris Prize (winner announced September 20) and the Mercury Prize (winner announced September 7) short lists.

It's time, I think, for some speculation.

The Polaris Prize shortlist:
The Besnard Lakes - The Besnard Lakes Are the Roaring Night
Broken Social Scene - Forgiveness Rock Record
Caribou - Swim
Karkwa - Les Chemins de Verre
Dan Mangan - Nice, Nice, Very Nice
Owen Pallett - Heartland
Radio Radio - Belmundo Regal
The Sadies - Darker Circles
Shad - TSOL
Tegan and Sara - Sainthood

Who am I rooting for here? Well, the only albums I've really concentrated on here are Owen Pallet's Heartland, Caribou's Swim, and a bit of Broken Social Scene's Forgiveness Rock Record. I've liked what I've heard from Karkwa and was moderately pleased with The Besnard Lakes Are The Roaring Night (it's not quite up their with ...Are The Dark Horse). Both Pallet and Caribou's Snaith have already picked up this award, so I'd have to go with Karkwa, or Dan Mangan because of all the Kurt Vonnegut quotes in his liner notes. But I expect this to go to Broken Social Scene and I sort of hope it doesn't.

The Mercury Prize shortlist:
The xx - xx
Wild Beasts - Two Dancers
Mumford & Sons - Sigh No More
Foals - Total Life Forever
Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can
Corinne Bailey Rae - The Sea
I Am Kloot - Sky At Night
Paul Weller - Wake Up The Nation
Dizzee Rascal - Tongue N' Cheek
Kit Downes Trio - Golden
Biffy Clyro - Only Revolutions
Villagers - Becoming A Jackal

Obviously, I'm rooting for Wild Beasts. Two Dancers was my favourite album of 2009 and I think they're the most interesting act on this list. However, it'll be a shocker if The xx fail to take it. I enjoyed their debut as well, but thought it a bit overhyped. I've recently become a fan of the artist least likely to win (Villagers) and had an opportunity to review Becoming a Jackal for Stylus. It's been getting mixed reviews but I think it deserves it's place on the list. I'll be posting my review here in the near future.
I'm sure there'll be more speculation to come. I love sports.

+ + +

Finally, to all who've been intrigued by my excessive posting about Menomena's new album, Mines, but for some reason or another have not been able to hear it, you have a limited opportunity to stream the album in its entirity from NPR. No piracy-related guilt - just pure awesome.

New Book - The Gift of Difference: Radical Orthodoxy, Radical Reformation

Winnipeg, MB – CMU PRESS is pleased to announce the publication of The Gift of Difference: Radical Orthodoxy, Radical Reformation edited by Chris K. Huebner and Tripp York. The Gift of Difference is a collection of essays in which theologians such as Craig Hovey, Harry J. Huebner, and D. Stephen Long consider the strengths and weaknesses of Radical Orthodoxy in dialogue with the Radical Reformation tradition. Writers in this volume engage topics such as ecclesiology, martyrdom, worship, oath-taking, peace and violence.

In recent years, Radical Orthodoxy has become an important and influential movement in contemporary theology and philosophy. Spearheaded by John Milbank, Catherine Pickstock and Graham Ward, Radical Orthodoxy enlists the resources of classical theology to engage the current strongholds of secular and religious thought.

Proponents of Radical Orthodoxy argue that the Enlightenment project to remove reason, ethics, politics and economics from a theological framework culminates in the nihilism of postmodern discourse. They suggest that much contemporary theology is idolatrous in nature because it takes the isolation of such disciplines for granted.

In the Foreword, John Milbank writes that “[modern Mennonites] see the Church itself as the true polity and (unlike most of the magisterial Reformation) they see the possibility of ‘living beyond the law’ in terms of a new sort of social and political practice.” What might this concrete expression of Christian discipleship have to suggest to a movement like Radical Orthodoxy? What gifts does Radical Orthodoxy offer academics, ministers and laypeople from Radical Reformation tradition?

“This book explores both common and divergent themes between Anabaptist/Mennonite theologians and their counterparts in the Radical Orthodoxy movement,” says co-editor Chris K. Huebner. “For example, while they jointly reject as false the dualisms characteristic of modernity, the manner in which questions of peace and justice get framed remains an ongoing debate.”

Chris K. Huebner is Associate Professor of Theology and Philosophy at Canadian Mennonite University. He is the author of A Precarious Peace: Yoderian Explorations on Theology, Knowledge, and Identity (Herald Press, 2006) and co-editor, with Peter Dula, of The New Yoder (Wipf & Stock, 2010).

Tripp York is an Instructor of Religious Studies at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky. He is the author of The Purple Crown: The Politics of Martyrdom (Herald Press, 2007) and Living on Hope While Living in Babylon: The Christian Anarchists of the 20th Century (Wipf & Stock, 2009).

July 4, 2010

favourite albums of 2010 (so far)

I was recently asked for my favourites of the year so far. If you're like me, being asked a question like this is easy bait. We're only just past the half-way point and it didn't take long for me to ramble off a smattering of albums I've really been enjoying. Unsurprisingly, I've already written about most of them on this blog.

Balmorhea - Constellations
A strange fusion of familiar sounds, this group of musicians from Texas have produced a stunning album of classically minded instrumental folk-music that is profoundly affective and moving. There's just something about the combination of a banjo, a small orchestra and a kickdrum that ties my stomach up in knots. Constellations may end up being my album of the year. See my review.

Menomena - Mines
I've written of this album extensively. It's not even officially out yet, but already I've listened to and thought about Mines more than anything else released this year. It helps to have a few pals that are as captivated by Menomena's way with composition and melody. It also might have helped that I've been reading Dante's Divine Comedy ("Killemall") and Moby Dick ("BOTE"). See my reviews.

The National - High Violet
The National came alive for me with High Violet. Sure, I was a fan of Boxer and Alligator. But something about Matt Beringer's melancholy seems more realized on the new album. I think it's their best album and you'll be hard-pressed to find a better executed rock record this year (unless it's by Menomena, but, then again, I've got another five months to back up that claim). It probably helped that I had become a huge fan of Mad Men in the mean time. See my review.

Joanna Newsom - Have One On Me
Could this be Newsom's most straight-forward album? It's certainly her most consistent. And when you consider that it's a triple album (!), it's hard not to call it her best. Lyrically, she's still full of wit and an attention to diction that's rarely found in most contemporary songwriters. I love hearing moments borrowed from Joni Mitchell, as well as great accompaniment. Newsom has done something excessive and audacious (arguably moreso than with Ys.) and has once again miraculously avoided falling flat on her face. Lord knows, that's what anyone else would have done.

The above are the cream of the crop, in my opinion. Below is my long list, in no particular order.

Surfer Blood - Astro Coast
These New Puritans - Hidden
Toro Y Moi - Causers of This
Crystal Castles - II
Frog Eyes - Paul's Tomb: A Triumph
Future Islands - In Evening Air
Gorillaz - Plastic Beach
Beach House - Teen Dream
Tara Jane O'Neill - A Ways Away
The Morning Benders - Big Echo
Caribou - Swim
Ariel Pink - Ariel Pink's Haunted Graffitti
Owen Pallett - Heartland
Shearwater - The Golden Archipelago