Monthly Archives: March 2015

Blame It On The Name

Pseudo hipster that I am, I recently discovered the band Viet Cong on Pitchfork. Their eponymous second album is a blistering cascade of art-noise. These four lads from Calgary have been destroying my iPod the last five days.

Two weeks ago the band released a statement regarding their controversial moniker. It turns out the promoter for their March 14 show at Oberlin College found “Viet Cong” offensive to Vietnamese and Vietnamese-Americans. (No mention of Vietnamese-Canadians). In the name of tolerance, the show was canceled.

Liberals once again castigating liberals for hurting marginalized groups with words!

Viet Cong don’t write political songs. As Ian Cohen notes, they don’t even write love songs. They don’t endorse the policies or tactics of the actual Viet Cong, which dissolved in 1976.

When someone associated with Oberlin College, a private liberal arts school known for its progressive values, cancels a concert by a band whose members, it’s safe to assume, don’t agree with any of the nonsense conservative numbskulls like Ted Cruz spew—only liberals get hurt.

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Filed under Politics, Rock And Roll

Father Knows Jest

Three Parables, As Told By My Father:

A psychiatrist encounters a second psychiatrist, his colleague and friend.

“Hello,” says the first shrink.

“Hello,” says the second, walking in the opposite direction.

I wonder what he meant by that, thinks the first.

I wonder what he meant by that, thinks the second.

***

Bob picks up his friend Phil at the train station. Phil has traveled a long way.

“Are you OK,” Bob asks, “you look ill.”

“It was terrible. I had to ride backwards the whole trip.”

“Why didn’t you just ask the person across from you to switch seats?”

“I would’ve,” says Phil, “but there was nobody there.”

***

Moe the cab driver has finally done it. He’s first in line outside the arrivals terminal.

Positioned for a big-time customer or two.

A businessman, excited to see his loving wife and kids again, gets in Moe’s cab.

“236 Maple Street, please.”

“Are you serious? Take your fare? And lose this prime spot?”

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Destined To Be Free

“We do not know what we want, and yet we are responsible for what we are.” –Sartre

“Freedom of choice
Is what you’ve got
Freedom from choice
Is what you want”
—Devo

A brief sketch of Sartre’s basic assumptions regarding human reality, as found in Ashley Woodward’s Nihilism in Postmodernity (Aurora: The Davies Group, 2009):

We are each of us lack. The fact that we desire proves that human reality is lack.

We create existential projects in an attempt to overcome this lack.

We want security and freedom. We want to be free to make choices, but we also want to be a secure foundation for those choices.

“God is a self-consciousness and the necessary foundation of himself.” We, however, did not create our being.

Man is that being whose project is to be God. Man fundamentally is the desire to be God.

But the desire to be God is futile; it cannot be realized.

Thus all of our projects are futile: “It amounts to the same thing whether one gets drunk alone or is a leader of nations.”

A possible path to overcoming nihilism: Sartre’s outline of “existential psychoanalysis.”

Human beings are motivated by the desire to be God when they are in unreflective or impure reflective states of consciousness.

At some point, in an unreflective or impure reflective state, we each make a choice regarding our specific project—but this choice is essentially the desire to be God and is thus futile.

We must create our own values, and freedom is the criterion that guides the creation of values. There is no God. There is no human nature. There is you choosing your life for yourself on your own terms.

Nihilism must be confronted in the personal life of the individual.

To be free, to be authentic, is to act, not simply think. Freedom is freedom only when it is exercised.

***

What interests me here is Sartre’s concept of the specific project. What is my specific project? As a child I wanted to be like my father, a high school English teacher. But I can’t handle the thought of teaching high school, mostly due to my severe depression and anxiety. My father was depressed. Did he teach me to be depressed? Was I bound to inherit my illness and thus not as free as Sartre imagines?

If I set out to be a teacher and then got sick, does this mean that my depression prevailed over the pursuit of my specific project? Can I create a new project? Is my life somehow doubly futile because I feel incapable of fulfilling my original futile project?

Is my project simply thinking about my project, the role of human suffering, the indifference of the universe, the fullness of my Lack? Am I not destined to write, to wonder, to philosophize?

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Filed under Life, Philosophy

Private Eyes

In 1983 Sophie Calle published Suite venitienne, a “true” account of her adventures following a man named Henri B. for two weeks in Venice. Sophie barely knows Henri. She’s not attracted to him. But she’s fascinated with the idea of tracing his steps. Donning a blond wig, Sophie photographs Henri moving about the city, keeping her distance. Diary entries accompany photos resembling the work of a private investigator.

It’s the pursuit that interests Sophie. There’s no desire for contact; sex would kill the mood. In following a stranger, Sophie disappears. She relinquishes her responsibilities, giving into the ecstasy of the chase. And Henri is, in a way, relieved of the burden of tending to his life all alone. When he finally catches Sophie, he blames her eyes for exposing her. But he’s not upset.

Consider this: Rather than simply striking up a conversation, taking in the sights and then departing (as the book describes), Henri and Sophie rent a room and get down to business. Instead of pure seduction, banal fornication. Perhaps Henri leaves his wife for her. How easy! How predictable! How unhealthy, this constant urge to speak “I love you.”

Or consider this: Sophie encounters Henri at a party, Googles him and unearths every intimate detail of his life. She’s bored or appalled, maybe both. Here’s his Tinder. Here’s his blog. No mystery, no shadow to seduce. Sophie sees right through him. And Henri walks alone.

Today we project our lives upon the world-as-screen. We come to Twitter to be followed, Facebook to be strangers. Constantly watched, obsessively watching—we are objects in mirrors, closer than our profiles appear.

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Filed under Philosophy

Bound In The USA

American Sniper and Fifty Shades of Grey have captivated American moviegoers. Military prowess and sexual prowess—one and the same? Both films glorify power (of the white male variety). Chris Kyle kills. Christian Grey thrills.

But it’s their impotence that fascinates us. Kyle needs to shoot his toys. Grey needs his toys to shoot. To each his conquests, to each his violence. In the name of freedom we submit.

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Filed under Culture, Politics