Black Helicopters

Franco Moretti, among others, ought to be ashamed of me.

I have 90-100 books (novels, criticism, sociology) to read in the next four months, in preparation for a major oral exam, and what do I use my Christmas-gifted Amazon (ugh) gift card, in part, to buy? Well, naturally:

Power Pop Pop-Pop would be proud, anyway…


“while I’m down here…”

Two of my most favorite people in the entire world last night decided what I (like to tell myself I) knew all along: that they’re in it for the looooong haul.

Ann and Brian, I love you more than I can say, and am so happy for you.

(photo taken at Casa Hagendorf, Christmas 2010)

January 5, 2012, 6:34 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

two narratives: groundwork, or erosion.

at times, the starkness of the choice obviates the need for any fancy interpretive work, or that is at least what i’m telling myself: either you build, or you grind yourself down, teeth to toenails, scorching anyone and anything through whom or which might have come some beauty, wisdom, peace. the yawning gaps between posts (themselves rather fucking thematically disjointed to begin with) on this site suggest its author’s been opting to play (a word-choice equal parts ironic [ugh] and cruel) out the latter narrative. and this, a contemptible choice leading to little more than murk, atrophy, dissolution. all in the name of some skewed notion of necessity: a compulsive attachment to things that un-make life because how can i do otherwise?, an attachment–this is the innocuous word for it–to things that obliterate those conditions that would make even the most tenuous and fitful projects even remotely possible in the first place. a wallace line from one of the scariest episodes of infinite jest, about a character “living in quick vectors” of the self-sabotaging activity of an addict…in the ten years it’s been in my head, that line still cuts, well, to the quick.   and the story’s had legs; in june of 2002, i wrote (in prose no less hackneyed than this here, but phooey to all that) that “the vices of my world are self-saboteurs”, and while that’s a syntactic and stylistic clusterfuck, i often find it remains no less true. but after a while–after, say, the better part of ten years, it’s a tired and boring story to tell. and in terms of submitting it to the work of interpretation, it’s beneath contempt. or, to be a tiny bit more generous, not worth the modest effort such interpretation would seem  to demand in the first place.

if this thing moves forward (i’ve been taught a lot recently about–well, about a lot, more than i’ve yet realized–but about the purposelessness of declaratives, their deceptive and illusory ‘comfort’, so will duly avoid them), the theme ought to be groundwork. accretion. discovery. slow and steady, as we’ve all heard–but the point not being the race, let alone winning, but the process, the experience, the things learned along the way. my oh my, how platitudinous. again, phooey. so be it–time to rediscover simplicity and slowness as the gifts they are, the rewards they bring, gained through the sort of work that (now frustratingly, now frighteningly, now blissfully) never ends. and, to avoid a wheel-spinning internal emotional narrative–a welcome and entirely justified aesthetic criticism one might level, however kindly, against this here thing–posts deserve stories. so there will be stories. shit–a declarative!

so. back to work.

but for now, and in the spirit of becoming unstuck, something to (at least occasionally) get one moving. rapid-fire assembled and tracked. purposive ‘cept when it’s not.

track listing

ted leo/pharmacists – 2nd ave, 11am

big star – mod lang (studio rehearsal, hempstead, ny, march 1974alex’s “i broke a pick…’ at the end of the track is what makes this one magic.)

electrelane – bells

the beatles – dig a pony

king crimson – red (couldn’t help but channel this guy here, though i’ve heard he tends to favor early KC)

beat happening – down at the sea

CAN – nineteen century man

the casual dots – momma’s gonna make us a cake

grass widow – tuesday

brian eno – i’ll come running

creedence clearwater revival – ramble tamble

josephine foster and the supposed – (you are worth) a million dollars

wipers – let’s go away

“If any man really needs a beating, it’s Bill Graham.”–Sterling Morrison
October 18, 2009, 5:30 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Bill Graham was responsible for promoting the careers of some of the most reprehensible names in “rock history”: the Jefferson Airplane, the Grateful Dead, Big Brother and the Holding Company, the Mothers of Invention.  (I always feel a pang of guilt when mentioning this last group, considering Frank Zappa’s later defense of Dead Kennedys and others facing the onslaught of the Parents’ Music Resource Center in the 1980s; this ought not, however, obscure the fact that the Mothers of Invention, ultimately, are bullshit.)  The Velvet Underground, in Up-tight, this interview, and elsewhere, make no attempt to hide their animosity towards Graham, who apparently found nothing of merit in VU music–during their first West Coast tour in 1966, which included stops at Graham venues in L.A. and San Francisco, they, unfathomably, were the opening act for Zappa’s group and Jefferson Airplane–and Graham forbade them from playing the third of three dates in S.F., where they were booed by “open-minded”, “progressive” rock audiences throughout their sets.

San Francisco’s Fillmore Auditorium, “historic” only to those whose history is that of the victors, is, unsurprisingly, a tribute to this philistine.  I spent the early part of my time there tonight thinking about the direct link between Graham and the $25 I had paid to see the Jesus Lizard, whose David Yow managed to quash any of the discomfort generated by their recent unexpected reunion by saying, essentially, “this is weird and fucked up, thanks for coming,” telling some plainly awful jokes, and putting on a mesmerizing show as one of the greatest frontmen in the history of music .  At one point, when the sheer genius of the band was grating against my thoughts of how much they were getting paid for the show–again, Bill Graham, this all somehow comes back to you, you progenitor of corporate rock–Denison and Sims began interminable pickscrapes, Mac brutalized his rack and floor toms, a terminally-drunk Yow gave a “shout out” to his “peeps” Helios and Damon, and the Jesus Lizard tore into an unfuckingbelievable cover of Chrome’s “TV As Eyes”–leading me to reflect, somehow for the first time, that Chrome were indeed a San Francisco band.

The best band right now, in San Francisco or anywhere else–in case you were wondering–are Mi Ami.  If you don’t think so, you are wrong.


This history.  It has, once again, reared up–and this time we’re ready.

“Conflux of voices rising to meet, and fall/empty, divided, other…”

In a piece posted on Counterpunch, Vijay Prashad makes a point that hits on something that had been irritating me, vaguely yet persistently, about the (internet-based) response of many “progressive” Americans to the popular unrest that followed recent elections in Iran.  Iranian politics and the arrayal and interaction of social formations in Iran were transformed, seemingly overnight, from subjects of which Americans’ collective knowledge was at best dubious, to ones on which would-be experts now abound.  What Prashad is responding to should be more or less obvious: the steady flow of liberal opinionating righteously denouncing the Iranian theocracy, the Facebook-facilitated displays of solidarity, the green-filtered Twitter avatars, reaction to the Neda Agha Soltan tragedy (her given name coming to act synecdochically for the entirety of recent weeks’ events), etc.  Yet not only do these phenomena betray a lingering ignorance (at worst) or fundamental misunderstanding (at best) of what is really at work in Iran (and, perhaps more importantly, what is not)–they quite effectively undermine any of the support that such displays have as their putative end:

Equally unimpressive is the hasty drawing of dogmatic lines among progressives in the United States, many throwing their lot in with the “Green Revolution,” others holding fast to Ahmadinejad. When yesterday the details of Iranian politics were alien, today everyone has a cemented opinion. To blindly back something that one does not fully understand is hardly the stuff of international solidarity. Iran is a divided society, with social forces arrayed against each other in a debate that has old roots. Our Facebook updates and Twitter squeals do not contribute to their debate. And since both sides (if there are indeed only two) are fairly equally distributed, it is not a situation where a defenseless minority is being persecuted (a situation that does call for immediate outrage). I believe that it is correct to demand that the State refrain from use of force against the protestors, and that there be a political dialogue to find a way to deal with what appears likely to have been election fraud. But that is not the same as making all kinds of maximalist demands (such as, calling for the end of the Islamic Republic) which are not on the lips of many of those on the streets in Tehran and which those on the streets are incapable of delivering in the short-term.

Interesting to me about what Prashad sees as a general lack of meaningful contribution to debate in and about Iran–what amounts, essentially, to so much noise–is what I can help but think is the assumption (or perhaps even the certainty), particularly among young Americans of voting age, that such actions pass, in an American political age dominated by Obama, as precisely the stuff of “international solidarity.”  The (il)logic goes, perhaps, something like this: just as presidential elections can be won largely in the internet ether, so, too, can wars, occupations, and injustices be ended, or even prevented, not in the streets, but on our computers.  Myspace, Friendster, and other “social networking” services that can be designated as “pre-Obama” (i.e., whose popularity peaked prior to the 2008 election season) were never really used for anything resembling political action.  By the time Obama had all but won election, on the other hand, it had already come to seem natural that Facebook and Twitter could and would be used as means of fostering public discourse, garnering political support, and so on.  This speaks volumes about how complete the mediation of our collective political engagements by corporate media and the internet has become in the Obama era–Obama, after all, being both corporate media and internet darling during both his campaign and his presidency to date.  A friend points out that the notion of the internet as a site for “doing” politics arguably grew out of the–different, but contemporaneous–efforts of Howard Dean and, and that this all generates questions about where we might now locate the public sphere in America: whether this is coterminous with the internet, or is largely dominated by it, or whether the internet can really be or function as the public sphere; as well as whether or not the kind of understanding (between the populaces of the US and Iran, for example) that Prashad sees as lacking can really be achieved through the internet.

As Prashad writes, “the best solidarity from afar is to be analytical, not emotional, about what is occurring.”  The wishy-washy, amnesiac, selective, interventionist politics of liberal America, particularly when it comes to anything foreign policy-related, has little to offer by way of response to such a complex and dynamic set of circumstances as those obtaining in Iran.  One person who seems to understand this quite well is Ron Paul, who offered the sole vote against a House resolution condemning the Iranian government and siding with the democracy activists.  “While I never condone violence, much less the violence that governments are only too willing to mete out to their own citizens,” he said,

I am always very cautious about “condemning” the actions of governments overseas. As an elected member of the United States House of Representatives, I have always questioned our constitutional authority to sit in judgment of the actions of foreign governments of which we are not representatives…we know very little beyond limited press reports about what is happening in Iran…when is the last time we condemned Saudi Arabia or Egypt or the many other countries where unlike in Iran there is no opportunity to exercise any substantial vote on political leadership? It seems our criticism is selective and applied when there are political points to be made.


The same friend  also reminds me, crucially, that all this links up to ideas recently put forth by Régis Debray about the predominance of what he calls the “videosphere” in modern politics.  Debray traces a history of the printed word in relation to the spread of progressive (namely, socialist) ideas from the mid-19th to mid-20th centuries, and writes about the lengths gone to to protect those ideas from the information-systems of a homogenizing bourgeois culture, all the while working to spread those ideas from within that culture.  Methods of organization such as the radical political party and the circulated pamphlet served vital roles within counter-hegemonic movements.  The advent of the televisual age, Debray writes, destroyed both party and pamphlet, and had a particularly devastating effect on the spread of ideas through the printed word: the visual image came to dominate.  Just as, following McLuhan, Kennedy defeated Nixon on TV, so is the entire Obama phenomenon (better word: spectacle) impossible without the internet.  From “graphosphere” we moved to “videosphere,” following Debray.  The society of the videosphere is that of the spectacle, to be certain, as well as of the consumer.

Following Debray, we tend nowadays to want to individualize, and then to broadcast (or to “network”) our experiences: of the books we are reading; of the sporting events we attend; of our daily lives.  Or, of popular upheavals in countries our knowledge of which has been severely mediated.  And this is where a larger neo-liberal interventionist foreign policy trickles down to the individual level.  We intervene, online, in a debate whose terms have been packaged and handed to us, and which we choose largely not to question.  Nevermind the baldfaced hypocrisy of paying lip service to “the will of the Iranian people” (who have not requested that we do so in the first place), when we refuse to do the same to the citizens of Iraq, or Afghanistan, or Palestine, or Venezuela.  Nevermind the fact that the sort of intervention that really matters goes without even passing comment.  What will get people paying attention, as ever, is the spectacular event, which these days tends more and more to take the form of the YouTube video.  The murder of Neda Agha Soltan–a tragic and inexcusable act of repressive state violence for sure–has generated numerous examples of the individualizing tendency mentioned above, which often has emotional or affective registers as well.  Yet such an event plays a particularly potent role in leaving the media narrative of events in Iran (large-scale democratic activism from within an “opppressive” society vs. a neo-totalitarian/theocratic regime) bolstered and undisturbed.  And so we publicly hope that Neda’s death was not in vain, wonder what she would have made of events in the days following her death, imagine what she would have felt.  But any conflation of these sorts of statements or declarations with actual political activity–that is, with the sort of action that can have ramifications in the realm of politics–is dubious.  (I get the distinct impression that I am flattening out this notion of “political activity”; whether this is for expediency or out of a more general laziness is unclear.)  Are Facebook and Twitter–or the personal blog, for that matter–indeed sites for political engagement?  Can they be?  Ought they be?  Much (most?) of what’s been transmitted on the internet in the wake of events in Iran–in the way of commentary, or of so-called statements of support–leaves one something akin to disheartened.

To come down decidedly on the side of “the Iranian people” against “the Ahmedinejad regime” or “the theocracy” may be palliative, but it is hypocrisy, bad politics, and demonstrative of facile historical understanding.  There is Sometimes the point seems to be, yes, to intervene–superficially–but to so to show others that one has done so, and to encourage others to do the same, at least until the next hyper-mediated event grabs our ever more fleeting attention.

(*Thanks to Matt Peterson for comments, suggestions, and overall editing.  Visit Matt here and here.  In fact, I am going to go ahead and quote him, encouraging me to make more connections: “Also, the ‘loud’ non-revolution in Iran, vs. the ‘quiet’ overthrow of the gov in Honduras. All these issues are infinite.“)

Origins and Primitives

Following the long-awaited example of a close friend (a nod to you, Allison Gray), I’m trying to make something more of this enterprise.  A largely-pathetic combination of things leads me to keep myself from this sort of writing.  To begin with the most banal and late-capitalist of these: poor time management.  But also indifference; self-obtuseness (“writer’s block”); lack of some “event” to narrate (the most tired conceit in the book); pretentious disdain (“Beckett would never have blogged”), and so on.    Recently, Lauren Berlant construed her own process of post-writing in terms of the post being the tracking of a moment in the process of thinking about, of approaching, a particular problem.   She begins:

My posts take forever to write, because they are trying to–my fingers want to type “to survive a genre,” but I meant to say “to invent one,” and that says it all about where I live. But the long duration also comes from the ways that a “post” is a mnemonic genre of its own, a recording of an instance in the pursuit of a problem. What would I need to understand to shift around this thing?

I would make the claim that Berlant, through her research blog, is indeed inventing a genre, or making a signal contribution to such an invention, but what I really like her is her impulse to type about surviving a genre.  What she gets up to at Supervalent Thought constantly pushes against the banality, the self-serving-ness, the plain egocentric idiocy of the new genre  Put more simply: her ideas are too big for a blog, and the blog forum almost serves to cheapen them.  Berlant’s explorations are typically the purview of the academic book or journal (and, indeed, the blog functions as a device for tracking Berlant’s composition of her next book, Detachment Theory):  They don’t belong here!

These (social networking sites, on-the-spot updates as to whereabouts and engagements, vehicles of “self-publication”) are the spaces in which we inexcusably indulge ourselves, “express” ourselves (shoot me in the face), and monitor ourselves and our fellows in a way that seems not-so-vaguely of a piece with totalitarian systems of control.  (Not to mention what undergirds all this: the tacit assumption that anyone else does, or ought to, give one iota of a shit.)  Kraftwerk’s Ralf Hütter compellingly picks up on this last point in a recent interview with the Guardian:

Has he been liberated by the advent of caller ID, or email, or SMS? Do those things make him more communicative?

“Yes, but it hasn’t changed my general attitude. You know these situations: you’re talking to somebody, and everybody’s on different platforms all the time, so nobody’s really concentrating.”

What he says next is probably not intended as his verdict on Twitter – a Kraftwerkian development, if ever there was one – but it may as well be. “Everybody is becoming like … ” – he pauses – “a Stasi agent, constantly observing himself or his friends.”

What makes Berlant’s blog so successful, so vital, such a pleasure and a challenge to read–as well as such a radical departure from blogging as such–is also what renders it a dialectical exercise: its persistently auto-critical mode, its unceasing investigation into its own conditions of possibility, its fluidity and its fidelity to both conjecture and conjuncture, the hazard of an initial inquiry, the fleeting encounter or witnessing or casual observation that begins an investigation (be it philosophical, ethical-moral, political, or otherwise) and the longer duration that is the sustained act of thinking itself.   And so I think that Berlant’s initial impulse, to write something about survival, is a pivotal one.  I’m trying not to think of it as banal to ponder blogging-as-genre as something to remain ahead of, in excess of; something, perhaps, to be invented and survived simultaneously.


In intergalactic news, the Psychic Paramount absolutely fucking killed it in a post-1 a.m. set at Santo’s Party House last Wednesday night.  The heaviest parts of This Heat’s Peel Sessions tapes (see the second clip below) cranked to exhilarating, hemorrhage-inducing volume.  The comparison PP fetches to This Heat is really the only appropriate one, and it is, in certain important respects, lacking:  for example, PP generate far more anxiety than dread through the sheer volume at which they perform, and they have virtually no “quiet” parts in any of their songs (some notable exceptions are to be found on the collection of guitarist Drew St. Ivany’s four-track recordings, released on No Quarter as Origins and Primitives Volumes I+II).  But in terms of three people being in absolutely perfect, if punishing, communication with one another, This Heat is the only precursor that comes to mind.  The Psychic Parmount are, in many ways, the best band in New York.   A day or so after the show, I remarked to a friend my desire to see them play once a day, though to do so would quickly cause serious aural damage.  And part of the excitement they generate in me has to do with the paucity of live shows they put on.   But, these days, it’s become lamentably rare for me to see a band whose live show does not, in some way, smack of artifice or laziness or pastiche.  (The greatest exception to this is and will remain Lungfish, though it’s doubtful I’ll ever see them again.  Another, from just this past weekend, is Richard Bishop.)  The Psychic Paramount deliver an experience that is sublime in a Burkean sense: borne out of a sense of terror, “productive of the strongest emotion which the mind is capable of feeling,” etc.

35 Years
September 11, 2008, 5:28 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Victor Jara and the Blops – Progressive Chile 1971