May 28, 2011

Summer at a glance

At the end of the winter semester, I was treacherously close to returning to my old summer job: that perilous occupation known as treeplanting. My summer schedule was looking rather irregular and, with all the commuting I knew I'd be doing--back and forth between Manitoba and Alberta--I realized it would be hard to find a job for the summer. Instead of treeplanting, I've spent the last two weeks working at a construction-type job in my hometown. It wasn't hell, but given the fact that I had little to no down-time, it was incredibly draining. Even with the holiday this past week, I ended up at over a hundred hours. Waking up at 6am and driving home after 10pm was pretty typical. My longest day was 15 hours, but there were occasional lulls in which we stood around and ate peanuts (we didn't actually take breaks--although I got a half hour for lunch at 3pm). Our project consisted of building a massive steel booth to be used for painting farming machinery. It was the perfect job for my wild summer schedule (short!), it gave me a taste of the sort of manual labour I'd been dreaming about throughout last semester, and it provided me a chance to redeem myself (my last construction job didn't go so well); not only that, I have now made an exceptional contribution to Winkler's booming economy. Let's just say, Winkler's industrial sector makes for a pretty awkward bike ride.

I'll be spending the rest of the summer months working on my French (off to Laval in Quebec City for July), doing research preparation for my thesis (I'm visiting the Newberry Library in Chicago, which is home to a fantastic John Milton collection), and attending weddings (it seems that I'm running out of single friends).

Originally, I wanted to time my trip to Chicago so that it would coincide with the Pitchfork Music Festival. Although this didn't work out, there are so many festivals in the city over the summer, I should be able to make one of them work. For a $5.00 donation, I can attend the Green Music Fest in late June and see Yo La Tengo, the Thermals, and Les Savy Fav.

I've also assembled a list of preliminary readings that should get me in the right headspace for the next school year. Most of them offer accounts of political and religious turmoil in England during the latter half of the of seventeenth century. In particular, I'm interested in the work of the celebrated (but highly contested) Marxist historian, Christopher Hill. Part of my task for the summer is to position Milton's writing not only in relation to the political philosophies of his time (namely, those of Hobbes and Locke), but in relation to emerging groups of religious radicals and the consolidation of an English middle-class.

May 11, 2011

New Music: Wye Oak, Chad VanGaalen

Of all the stuff I've been listening to over the last month it was Wye Oak's new album Civilian, in particular, that carried me through to the end of the semester. It's a soothing, satisfying record: cohesive and gentle, but incredibly cathartic and uncompromising at the same time. It's the kind of record, in other words, that you'll want to listen to all the way through. This is going to sound like the worst kind of cliche, but for me, Wye Oak have found a paradoxical balance, the fullest expression of which can be found in the alt-rock of the early 90s (I have no problem admitting that the closer an album comes to mapping fragility and aggression simultaneously--like, say, Siamese Dream or Rid of Me--the more likely I am to embrace it). So it's a little creepy how much this album seems suited to my tastes.  Wye Oak's second proper LP highlights a stunning vocalist (Jenn Wasner), ample feedback, grungy breakdowns and lyrics with vaguely religious themes. For instance, there seems to be an ongoing dialectic between Creation and Evolution in Wasner's lyrics that's oddly compelling. Musically, things appear relatively stripped down (the band performs as a two-piece), but every so often Wye Oak's sound becomes incredibly expansive. I've posted my favourite track ("Dog Eyes") below. It rocks pretty hard.

 I've also been enjoying Chad VanGaalen's latest (fourth, I guess) album, Diaper Island. It appears to be tied together by themes of domestic life, but no worries: there's still plenty of weird stuff going on. Musically, however, it's significantly more well-behaved than his previous albums. That's not necessarily a bad thing, especially for those of us who loved Women's Public Strain (produced by Chad last year). Most of the press surrounding the album has emphasized its straight forward rock aesthetic, but Chad's been toeing that line as long as he's been putting out records. He's reported to have submitted over three albums worth of post-Soft Airplane material to Sub Pop for this album, so we'll have plenty of b-sides to look forward to. The record is out May 17, and is currently available for streaming via Paste. I've devoted a lot of time to Chad's previous records, so I'm not going to get ahead of myself and call this his best; then again, I'm not going to pretend that Diaper Island isn't awesome, and I'm sure I'll be posting on it again. The song below is a real stunner. This ain't Bob Dylan's "Sara."

I should probably also mention some of the big guns.

Yes, Panda Bear's Tomboy makes good on the hype, and, personally, I think it betters 2007's Person Pitch. While we're speaking of albums that improve on their predecessors, I've also been enjoying the latest effort from Seattle's Fleet Foxes (Helplessness Blues) and tUnEyArDs' (yes, the mixed cases are intentional) second album, w h o k i l l. In the coming weeks, I'll be looking forward to new music from the Antlers, Wild Beasts, and Gang Gang Dance.

May 7, 2011

the end of coursework

Yesterday I submitted the last assignment required for my MA coursework. I guess that means I'm half-way done my degree. I'll be spending the summer working on my French and preparing for my thesis. Over the past semester, I've been posting excerpts from paper proposals, and I thought it might be worth linking to them here as a way of wrapping things up.

I wrote two essays that dealt extensively with the work of Walter Benjamin. This research strategy ended up saving me a lot of time and effort. One essay focused on Benjamin's methodology of historical materialism in order to engage questions of cultural memory--raised by poststructuralism (most notably in Derrida's Archive Fever and Foucault's Archaeology of Knowledge)--summed up in the figure of the archive; the other essay was an attempt to convince my deluded professor that there was more to recover from Benjamin's discussion of literature than its "inherent" power to "defamiliarize" readers. See related posts here and here.

My third and final essay developed out of a class on Shakespeare that brought his early modern representations of class into conversation with the return of the commons we're witnessing in contemporary theory. My paper drew on Cesare Casarino's discussion of the common, as well as Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri's redefinition of love (as a force of ontological becoming witnessed in the collective solidarity of the poor) from their 2010 book Commonwealth, in order to address the apparent class transitions that occur in King Lear  and Timon of Athens. See related post here.

I'm not sure whether these papers ended up being successful, but the readings they allowed me to do were absolutely worthwhile.