Saturday, October 10, 2009

Pitchfork's Pitch

Today, I was looking over the top 200 albums of the decade, as voted by the editors of Pitchfork Media, the online commentary on the state of contemporary music. Pitchfork might well be thought of as fulfilling a role corresponding to that filled by Rolling Stone in its early days, namely being cutting edge enough to be liked by those of "counter-culture" inclinations (more on this later) but of wide enough distribution to bring these same bands from the fringe to the limelight, as well as being self-concerned enough to develop a fairly consistent image.

In general, I like Pitchfork. Its reviews can tend towards hyperbole, both in laud and disdain, but it does some cool things, and I hardly think it's a bad thing that Fleet Foxes have them to thank for being known well beyond Seattle. But the past month or so has turned me sour towards them as regards the latter part of the last paragraph, namely in terms of their need for instant canonization. There are a few odd things about their system. Firstly, they choose some of the oddest candidates, particularly in their list of the top 500 songs of the decade, not really seeming in touch with the rest of the world so much as with their own presuppositions. Secondly, even they fall prey to the trap of all forms of canonization (I've yet encountered, anyway,) namely thinking (apparent) influence to be interchangable with value. This has bothered me a lot (more so in music, but literature and film too) in the past few years, mainly because I was one of those people who preferred old music because it was more important. The opposite is equally probelematic, as turning your back on the past and thinking we've reached some heretofore unrparalleled height in anything is arrogant.

It raises interesting questions though. Regardless of their view now, what will the new Pitchfork stand-in think of this list in ten, twenty, thirty years? Or, more interesting to me, what philosophical trends will our kids disband as bloated bogus? Particularly in thinking about the various lives I consider for my future, whether that of the academic, writer, teacher, pastor and/or artist, one is essentially laying him/herself on the chopping block for the next round to counterexamine. What things that seem so cohesive and remedial now will be dogmatic and oppressive soon? And when they do, how will I respond?

This relates to something endemic of a broader tendency I found in an article released by Adbusters on the Hipster phenomenon (deemed by them "The Dead End of Western Civilization,"). I think of these two together because (if not merely for the primal hipster/pitchfork association,) the same desire for instant canonization seems tied to that of excessive global connectiveness. In short, the article argues that, in contrast to the various trans-national youth/student movements of the last sixty years, that of the hipster is self-conscious and inbred to the point of utter meaninglessness and self-destruction (unlike hippies, punks, mods/rockers, or grunge(rs?), all of whom defined themselves boldly and fought for their right to party, as it were, hipsters speak with disdain. I haven't read the whole article, but a part that felt of particular relevance was that concerning the mode of communication of this generation, i.e. blogs and forums, by which persons discover the newest video/scandal/source of irony and send it to all their friends, neither claiming nor denying credit.

So as to bypass any comments of the sort that say "So Nate is basically saying, 'I'm not a hipster?' Isn't that what all the hipsters say?" (quoted nigh directly from a response to the aforementioned article,) I can't debt that I have a lot of the fashionable factors, such as a fixed-gear bicycle, a love for foreign films, an impractical course of undergraduate study, and a distaste for analytic philosophy. I don't know if I'm a hipster; I'll just say that I hope I'm not, at least in the terminology described in the article. (Parenthetically, neither is Adbusters, as their persistantly legitimate activism, for all its occasional ridiculousness, is light years away from the apathy that characterizes the pseudo-activism of many in our generation.) I hope that my desire for these things stems not from a desire to mimic the "always-already" canon but rather from a sincere enoyment (or as nearly so as possible.) It reminds me of Mr. Layton, my high school English teacher (almost undoubtedly the reason I'm studying literature now,) who taught things not for their so-called lasting literary value but rather for their relevance to his students' lives, while never degrading into show-and-tell literary discussion. I hope that if I teach, I can manage that; I guess that's the response to shifting climates of thought and preference I hope for.

Thinking about instantly gratified comunication touched home for one of the many reasons I got rid of facebook that I had been thinking about anyway. Namely, I realize that in quitting facebook, I miss people more. But more specifically, I miss them as people, something which is not impossible on facebook, but (for me at least) more difficult. We make ourselves ripe for essentialization on facebook (blogs too, I know...) and think less about each other than the internet medium between us that doesn't really exist. Once again, thinking about the fact that physical limits are a good thing (thanks Nathan.)

I have more thoughts about the whole "us having bodies" thing but I'll save that for later, as well as more on the issues of "newest scandal" and mimicry, for they relate to something I'm reading (I'm looking at you Ben Olsen.)

Saturday, October 3, 2009


I spent most of last week (7:30 A.M. on the 3rd of October till October 6th at 10:30 P.M.) in a beautiful Riga apartment owned by the Hargan family (Kelly, Donna, and son Tyler,) friends of Brent's from Colorado. As part of Josiah Venture, they train youth leaders there, and welcomed the three of us into their home with wonderful food and kindness.

Upon return, it was interesting to compare trips with the others, as theirs were often of the mile-a-minute variety, trying squeeze a lot of material into a short time span, whether in Venice or Paris. Contrastingly, our time was nicely relaxed, though by no means boring. We woke up around 11:00 every morning, ate homemade dinner every night (one night Thai food by our own hands/utensils, as thanks to Donna and Kelly,) did minimal sight-seeing in the focused sense, and had the chance to do some enjoyable reading (Alex read James Bond, I read Ulysses, ahem!) recharging, and conversing.

This was my first time in a country where I not only wasn't a native speaker of the language, but had no knowledge of the language upon entry (both times I was in México, I spoke enough Spanish to converse and listen easily.) This was super fun, as we just learned word-by-word and phrase-by-phrase in a practical way, learning things like street, "I want," please, thank you, hello, good bye, beer, coffee, food, etc. I enjoyed this process, and would love to have the opportunity to really learn a language in this manner, though even more immersively.

One of the few touristy things we did was to visit the museum of Latvia's occupation from 1940-1991. As a whole, the museum was really affecting and arranged well. It's a really interesting building too, being held above ground at the corners so that you can walk under it. After about twenty years of independence, they were retaken by the Soviets (their previous rulers.) A couple years later, the Nazis took them over, breaking their agreement with the Soviets to respect one another's interests in the Baltics.

It turns out that the previous two years of horror (complete with expulsions to gulags, deportations to Russia, torture, disappearances, and more; the usual gamut of Soviet control,) the Nazis were welcomed as liberators. Building on this, the Nazis would proceed to blame the Soviet terror on the Latvian Jews (for to send them to their own camps,) but were generally more supported than the Soviets by the general population it seems, as some even willingly joined the German army to fight the Soviets. In reading about this and considering it later, it's such a horror to think on the fact that at that time, one had to choose which of the two he or she would fight, and which would thereby be supported. It was also so strange and scary to see the ways in which the propaganda shifted as Latvia flipped back and forth between Soviet, Nazi, and back to Soviet control, and just how blithely they were lied to for the worship of an idea.
After this, of course, the Soviets took back over after the war, somehow being allowed highly unlawful control of not just Latvia, but Lithuania and Estonia as well, which they would maintain till their fall in 1991. Really incredible museum, one of my favorites from the whole time.

I will post photos soon, after I've edited them. Or maybe once I get too lazy to edit them.

PS I typed this from a place I've yearned for since I've gotten to Oxford: a loud, talky place to get a legitimate latte and camp out till midnight and work on reading etc. I've had various places that fulfilled one or two of those criteria, but was grossly out of whack on the rest, but I was made aware this afternoon of an ice cream place in south Oxford called G&D's Ice Cream, and I've been working here a couple hours, eating their stellar Bailey's and Cream flavor and a real latte. Ahhhhhhhh.