The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World
by J. P. Mallory
Oxford University Press (Amazon)
Basel in the Age of Burckhardt: A Study in Unseasonable Ideas
by Lionel Gossman
Princeton University Press (Amazon)
by Claude Levi-Strauss (Amazon)
If I had to hold the American higher education answerable for a single sin, it would be the proliferation of academic specialization in the "social sciences." First of all, "social sciences" ain't science. Nobel Prize winning physicist Richard Fenyman once said of "social sciences", "When I want to say something about physics I go to my lab, come up with ways to test my ideas, then have those ideas reviewed according to universally accepted standards (i.e. "the scientific method") It's not like that with social science, where they just say "Well I say it's so because I say so."
The bottom line is that all social sciences is more or less the discipline of "history." You can parse it up however you want but it's all dealing with the same idea system. I think it's important to traverse those lines of academic discipline, since those walls/divisions are essentially bullshit designed to support the institution of tenure in universities.
After reading Doinger's The Hindus: An Alternative History (Amazon) and the much, much older book by MacDonnell about Sanskrit literature (Amazon)(Doinger's book was published this year, MacDonnel's book in 1900) I really wanted to learn more about the links between Sanskrit/Greek/Latin/German/Spanish/English/Hindi (they all come from the same language called "proto-indo-european.) It's an area of study that is full of crack pots (like Adolf Hitler ha ha!) so I wanted something that was as sober as possible. I ended up shelling out $50 for the very-imposing Oxford text-book on the subject.
When it showed up the "The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World" looked as imposing as the title sounds. Plain green cover, about six hundred pages plus. But my doubts were allayed by what is just objectively interesting material. In a lot of ways, linguistics delivers the kind of insight that other "modern" social-sciences disciplines like history and anthropology can only hope to match. So it turned out that this linguistic text book was actually the most interesting book I've read in several years. I mean, we're talking about the language spoken by 7 of the top 10 languages in the world. Including English, Spanish, French, German, Latin, Greek, Russian, Hindi, Urdu. Think about that for a second. About the world. All these people speak a language derived from one distinct culture that existed a little more then 5000 years ago, either in south east europe or central asia/Caucasus. You're talking about the ancient myths of the Norse, the Romans, Ancient Greece, Ancient Sanskrit. That's pretty much all of it.
It's mind blowing material, but the sober, sober, sober presentation takes you down from the edge of madness.
Moving from the beginning of time to 19th century Switzerland, Lionel Gossman's "Basel in the Age of Burckhardt: A Study in Unseasonable Ideas" is a recent fairly straight-forward intellectual history of the Swiss/German-speaking city of Basel, Switzerland. Although the title only references the historian Jacob Burckhardt, the book also focuses on Johann Jacob Bachofen (who actually is the focus of the book) and a philosopher you might have heard of... Friedrich Nietzsche? All three taught at the University of Basel- the first two were older the Nietzsche, and both were more/less "forgotten" as supposed to Nietzsche, who is read by every idiot in the whole wide world. Both Burckhardt and Bachofen wrote about the Ancient World (Greece and Rome) and both articulated a profound critique of "modern culture." Burckhardt is, in many ways, the founder of what we now call "art history" He pretty much "invented" the idea of the Renaissance as we understand it today. Bachofen was the progenitor of the "mother right" theory which postulates that originally matriarchal cultures were replaced by patriarchy. This fact is little known in the west, since little of his work was even translated into english until the 1960s. The theory itself has been discredited and to a certain extent rehabilitated, often without even referencing Bachofen.
But Unseasonable Ideas does a profound job of contextualizing their writing as well as linking both to Nietzsche. Like Oxford's Proto Indo European book, I felt like Unseasonable Ideas was first rate intellectual history and well worth the effort.
Finally I read "Tristes Tropiques" by Claude Levi Strauss. I randomly bought this book at a thrift store in Lemon Grove because it was a dollar and looked like something I should probably have available. I know about Levi-Strauss in a vague way- that he is associated with something called "structural anthropology." I lucked out, because as I found out later, alot of his stuff in ponderous french theory a la Derrida et al- and I hate that crap. But Tristes Tropiques is his first book and it has a breezy, anecdotal tone- sort of. The style, frankly, reminded me of Foucault. Levi Strauss is comfortable with making broad generalizations. To call his methods "anthropology" is to deprive the term of any scientific meaning, but he also packs observational and explanatory punch in his writing. Levi Strauss also inserts some chapters based on this experience teaching/travelling in India/Pakistan to fully explicate the title/thesis of the book "Tristes Tropiques" or "sad tropics."
To me, the essential point of this book is that the whole idea of the "noble savage" "state of nature" "natural law" is total bullshit. Even with the most primitive peoples, you find highly developed spiritual and religious ideas as well as complex cultural organization consistent with "civilization" in a broad sense. By working on this more broadly inclusive analytical level, Levi Strauss links his work (written in the 1950s) with writers like Rousseau, Voltaire, Burckhardt, Bachofen, Nietzche, Marx, Hegel, etc. That broadly expansive tone was carried forward by writers like Habermas and, to a lesser degree, Foucault.
So I doubt I'll EVER read Levi-Strauss again- who has the time for theory, you know? But Tristes Tropiques is an easy enough book to read (hint: skip the first eight chapters!) once you get to the "field work." I imagine Levi-Strauss, cigarette in hand, muttering to himself in french about the dreadfulness of the mosquitos. I think alot of people interpret this book as being "anti-modern" or in some way being a precursor of "politically correct" thought, but I think such observations are meritless. He's more a theorist then an anthropologist.
This is all to say that you can hop between these so-called "disciplines"- like linguistics, anthropology and european history/intellectual history, and follow the same stream of thought- which more or less originates in the work of Hegel and the 18th century French philosphes and moves forward through the rise of the university of Berlin, through Basel and then continuing into Paris and Frankfurt in modern times. Then there is a separate anglo/american tradition- and that is what focuses so much on dividing books into different "specialities." And it's ridiculous- it's much easier to follow the European stuff, because it holds onto the philosophy/history roots and eschews the hyper-technical psuedo-scientific bullshit that plagues American "social scientists."
Dedicated to classics and hits.
Saturday, May 30, 2009
The Oxford Introduction to Proto-Indo-European and the Proto-Indo-European World
Friday, May 29, 2009
Defining "Blog Love"
One of the oft-observed phenomenons of the Pitchfork model of the music industry is the relationship between amateur music enthusiasts and personal computing technology. Certainly, consumers of popular music have been enthusiasts since before the emergence of the modern "music industry": For example, salons in ancien regime europe. However, the expansion of the music industry via recorded music has created more enthusiasts. Some sub-groups include: archivists, artist specific "super fans," those who produce recorded music for consumption outside of the "music industry" proper, people who write about music for mass and niche audiences. It's hard to imagine a "zine" of the classical period. Likewise, the idea of a group of people who enjoy historical recorded music is unthinkable without recorded music itself.
Thus when looking at "blog love" you are talking about three aspects: 1. popularization of non-"music industry" sponsored artists to a niche audience of fellow amateur music enthusiasts. 2. Proliferation and duplication of recordings outside the monetary cycle of the "music industry." 3. Impact of amateur music enthusiast selection on the promotion of acts to "music industry" involved status.
The rise of blogs as always involved the active participation of industry professionals.. This relationship is one that is fraught with conflict, particularly within the blogging community itself. However, any rational analysis of any facts at any stage of history shows that the overlap between amateur music enthusiasts and music industry professionals can be expressed in the simple statement that "people don't get jobs in the music industry without first being fans of music." It's the same way that ushers in a theater tend to be fans of theater.
You can also observe this phenomenon at a surface level as venues for amateur music enthusiasm become incorporated into the music industry proper. Such is already the case for many "first tier" properties. Of course, such a relationship is neither an infiltration nor a perversion, but rather the "point" of the enterprise existing in its current form.
Such activity has also spawned secondary and tertiary lairs of purely amateur bloggers- lying outside major media centers and having no professional relationship with music. Such sources are considered targets of criticism by first tier blogs. In a social grouping sense, it is analgous to the relationship between first and second wave student radicals during the anti-vietnam war movement. First wave leaders were mostly east coast elite white males who were already tracked for "government" work; second wave leaders tended do be more diverse both in terms of class, gender and geographic location. (Todd Gitlin)
In terms of quantifying it numerically, you just identify your categories (bands, artists, labels) and count recurrences. Every source of "blog love" can be quantified in terms of repetition, just as "radio spins" are used as the criteria for certain music industry charts. Thus any act can can be assigned a number, and those numbers can be compared. Most acts are at "0" as an absolute, i.e. they have no blog love. Many acts get to "one" or "two" in that they are mentioned by one blog but not "picked up" by others. As acts rise in recurrence, they are more likely to be influence by music industry professionals. While there is a strong correlation between "blog love" and music industry involvement (both inside and outside the "blog world") there is a weaker to non-existent correlation between blog love and general public interest. Thus, many successful artists receive little or zero "blog love" but are popular with the general public due either to savvy music industry involvement.
Wednesday, May 27, 2009
Music Of Indonesia 12:
Gongs And Vocal Music From Sumatra
I was thinking "Sheesh where do I start?" about accessing music from the "east"- not China. Then I was like "Indonesia": huge, diverse, melding of different religions/indigenous cultures over time. The Smithsonian Folkways "Music of Indonesia" series has at least 18 entries: Vol. 18 "Sulawesi -- Festivals, Funerals, Work." I knew I wanted to stay away from vocals and that I like gongs/percussion so I settled on Music of Indonesia 12: Gongs and Vocal Music From Sumatra.
The album is presented with three different ethnic groups represented. The first and third groups feature predominantly gongs/percussion, while the middle group, the Gayo from Aceh, have more tedious vocal based arrangements. I don't want to be a hater on Indonesian/West Sumatran vocals but I've heard enough Native American chanting to last a life time, thank you.
The best tracks on Music of Indonesia 12 have an almost techno-y or even drum and bass feel to them. The BPM rate is hard and the percussion is complex and interesting. The deeper gongs are used as a kind of sonic punctuation. While I originally expected to view this record as a novelty, I find that the more complex percussion driven tracks are as interesting as the latest Gui Buratto tracks, so to speak.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Junior Metro (ex-Fifty on Their Heels) has a new band and it's called Sunday Times. Sunday Times was the focal point of a mixed local bill at the Soda Bar on Friday night, and I wanted to make some observations.
Soda Bar: Hard to argue with the sound system, management or the crowd. Friday night's gathering was mixed-hipster, "tough guy" with a smattering of normal folks who cleared out early. Later on in the night the bar area was dominated by mixed guy/girl groups and a large tough guy group w/ at least one member who might have actually done some real prison time. The physical layout of the stage splits the crowd into two groups- which is different for sure.
Pizza!: They used to be called "The New Motherfuckers" in a past life. They were/are a cool group that sound like "early talking heads." They also produce- for example Tyler did the new Abe Vigoda EP. They played a good set and the crowd was into it. They are always fun to have around.
Roxy Jones: This is Peter Graves (booker of Soda Bar band)- he sings and plays guitar. I had expected it would be soft indie type stuff but it was instead fairly raw, angry rock-flavored indie- hints of the Replacements or Bob Mould. That kind of style. Roxy is dropping a 7" sooner or later this year so that's something to watch out for.
Sunday Times: This is the new Junior Metro project. They'd played a couple of times around town but I'd held off so as to give them more time to form up the sound. Sunday Times sounds... more clash-y and less buzzcock-y but if you dug Fifty on Their Heels you'll like Sunday Times, too. On the other hand, if you hated Fifty on Their Heels, this is also not going to be something you like.
Northern Town: Opening band; showed up 20 minutes late ("We were recording") played a spirited set that sounded like they listen to a lot of the Clash (Who doesn't?) and reminded me quite literally of So So Glos with so cal Ska bros instead of Brooklyn hipsters. They had some fans out. They left after their set.
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