The Idea of North (1967) and The Latecomers (1969)

Lately I’ve been listening to the work of Glenn Gould (when am I ever not these days?). I was impressed to discover that Spotify has his Radio work. In this post I will reflect upon Gould’s CBC production of ‘The Idea of North’ (1967) and ‘The Latecomers’ (1969).

The Idea of North

I’ve talked about this documentary in the past so I will be more brief. The pianist Glenn Gould was offered to commission some radio work and came up with what has now been referred to as the Solitude Trilogy. Putting things together in a moniker is very fashionable these days, but I must say that there is a distinct sense of continuity to call it a trilogy that is concerned with a single theme (of solitude).

The Idea of North examines and debunks the romantic notions of living in a wilderness, the rosy eyed idea of being away from it all is to be replaced by living in a barren land of scarcity and survival. Being in such strong elements does make one think whether we are in the mid-late 20th Century in this documentary, or if we are still in the age of Captain Scott. Living in a city as I do things move very fast and for many that is also a downside as well as a positive. Being away from it also shows the downsides and upsides.

Racial themes are explored, economic factors and personal stories of isolation and changed perspectives. One of the interesting techniques of the documentary is the fugue like way that different vox pops are interlaced with each other all at once. We hear multiple voices telling their individual stories and it is played at once.

It made me think of the fugue in terms of as a listener. As a listener to contrapunctal music do you focus on one subject and hear how the others resonate with said subject? Or do you focus one one and sound out the others? Or, as a good music listener ideally should: listen to them all, in the same way that a good Organist sight reads their 6-stave music with panache.

The Latecomers

The Latecomers is a piece about inhabitants of Newfoundland. Again the fugal technique is used but not annoyingly over used. Perhaps Gould took his own advice to never be clever for the sake of being clever. I was astounded to hear how political themes were discussed in this documentary. One inhabitant of Newfoundland pointed out how there is not much sight of the police because not many crimes happen when people know one another and when there are so few people. Likewise the politicians and civil servants only appeared to introduce a new lighthouse or during election time and never any other time. There was a distinct individualist
bent to the life of isolation.

I wonder if the Hobbesian state of nature of a life without a state would more be like Newfoundland than a world of chaos. There was a decidedly political bent to the notion of how big government hardly interferes and has no place in such a community, perhaps because their involvement in such isolated communities are so minimal, that people live as if the state did not exist.

Of particular interest was the view of one woman who spoke of the gendered dimension of living in such an isolated place. Flirting and casual sex almost did not exist in a community where few people were around because they knew each other so well and the sense of familiarity between few people did not allow for much fun interaction, but that was suggested by the woman to change as more men appeared and people became more strangers to each other in a community. It is here that Gould has a Goffman-like edge to his documentary in capturing the micro of social interactions.

One particularly interesting point made in the documentary was on how living on the fringes shows you a perspective of society that is much wider than being in the mainstream. One of the speakers referred to Thoreau’s ‘Walden’ living on the edge of society having the most eloquent overview of 19th Century life. This panders to another sociological insight, from Becker, that sociology should be the study of the underdogs, losers and outsiders of society, for they tell us the most about what our society is about.

On reflection there might be interpreted as a moralistic tale to these Solitude documentaries. The life of solitude has a distinct moralistic dimension, that is to say, of a kind of life that affects our character and perspective on life and other agents or even our environment at large. It seems fairly evident that the world Gould portrays is of his native Canada, and reflecting on other perspectives of the solitude that he valued so much in his life. These documentaries serve not just as an interesting historical insight into the 20th Century at its fringes, but also as a way of interpreting the pianistic work of Glenn Gould.

Gould himself is a character who wished to be on the fringes and outside of the gladiatorial concert stage and the world of music tours. Gould’s playing style is a result of his own solitary practicing and lifestyle and the insular sound-world created by his playing. I am also fascinated at how a pianist could also make their life as a broadcaster as well and by being both it confuses the clear roles people seem to impose upon being in front or or behind the microphone.

Team Predator (going to Reading Mall)

I may or may not have talked about this on the blog. One of the things I rarely do but always think about is airsoft. Airsoft is a game (some consider it a sport) which involves playing in various tactical situations and games akin to paintball, but with BB guns and often replica weapons. I am aware it’s not a thing for everyone especially as it’s very injury invoking (I have a permanent knee injury from airsoft) and it is intensely physical.

 

Among my group of friends we have got a unit. We call ourselves Team Predator. I have lately been organising an airsoft day – guised as a stag party at the Reading Mall this coming sunday. I am very much looking forward to playing on that site. Apparently it was once a shopping centre called ‘Friars Walk’ which closed down and is now used for airsoft and occasionally they have a George Romero style Zombie airsoft simulation game.

 

There are various elements that I love about airsoft. I love coming across all sorts of people. You get the teenaged kids with their dads, who basically used to be us 10 years ago. Then there are the airsofters who are a bit hardened, some are ex military, some are current military and others are extremely into it. I would say that Team Predator is somewhere between those two extremes.

 

I love the role play of airsoft. I get to use leadership and tactical skills that I don’t use in my ordinary life or (that much) at work. I love the opportunity to be seen in a different way, or not be seen at all wearing a mask. In the mask you are genderless yet distinct. I have kitted myself out for airsoft and my team are similarly excited about this.

 

Another aspect of airsoft that I often overlook is…the fear. The prospect of having a gun shot at you and grenades flown about is very scary. Injuries are very real in the game (I am a testament to that) and even though it is role playing and fantasy, the adrenaline and the perception of fear and acting under pressure is most definitely not.

 

I remember the last time I played airsoft that the fear was so intense that I didn’t push as hard as I used to when I played before. The sense of fear brings with it a real authenticity. The people who talk a lot about playing may not be the ones making the crucial plays and doing the crucial actions. The sense of fear and how to act in a fast paced situation is the real judge of a good airsofter and not the size of your gun or how expensive your equipment is.

Watching Michael Bay’s Transformers films

I am quite a fan of the film critic Mark Kermode. One of the things I enjoy about his criticism is the way in which Kermode places a film in a context of the state of the industry or how it may fit into our culture. Kermode is well known for hating Michael Bay’s films. Recently, Bay’s ‘Transformers: Age of Extinction’ came out in the UK and it is part of the cultural milleu (along with all the Marvel films) that represents how as I facetiously tweeted: Nerds are here to stay.

 

I’d still like Transformers and comics even if these films didn’t come out. Although now that these kinds of films have come out I have no curiousity of ‘what if’. After seeing Vin Diesel jump over a bridge to save Michelle Rodriguez in Furious 6 last year, I think anything’s possible in cinema. Including the continued success of the action film.

 

I have an admission to make, although I wouldn’t call the latest Transformers film ‘good’ in any stretch of the word, I would probably still go and see a Transformers 5 and 6. I’m reminded of the Richard Dawson character in The Running Man who describes his show as: we give them what they want.

 

There are sometimes films where instead of a director prescribing a view and asking an audience to assent to it, the film appeals to a base nature that covers bases which are sufficiently general: sexuality, action, crude humour or an opportunity to plus action figures and novelty t-shirts after watching the film to highlight where your cultural sensibilities lay. I’ve often said: if you can summarise your views on a t-shirt slogan then your sentiments are utterly pecuniary and hardly engaging to the wider project of a critical perspective to the world – try putting that on a t-shirt.

 

The success of Michael Bay’s films remind me much of the success of the Canadian band Nickelback. Many people love to hate them, but also they are highly successful and it is a testament to having a finger on the pulse.

 

I think the project of criticism should be about how people may see culture decades and centuries from now, and who will be remembered in a larger pantheon of culture to be mentioned alongside say, Riefenstahl or Hitchcock. The reality of course is that there is a lot of culture that is very immanentist (or, ‘of the now’) and successfully reproduces and transmit that way, if we were to think in say, mimetic terms.

 

When I watched the film I took the character of Optimus Prime seriously. I considered how his character is different to the first three films. Prime kills other robots with inpugnity yet initially said how he would not harm humans (and by implication, sentient life in general). One could interpret this in two ways: an abandonment of the idea of what Optimus Prime represents as a character in favour of a film which is a naked vehicle (excuse the pun) to get bums on seats in cinemas, boost DVD sales and sell £70 transforming truck action figures. The other view is that if we took Bay’s Transformer worlds seriously it has become a darker place and so dark that even the most iconic and idealised of heroes has become more of an anti-hero. I am kind of committed to both notions of Optimus.

 

Earlier this month, comedian John Oliver in his US programme said that the problem with FIFA is that despite all its problems (and he makes a long list), he is still very excited about the 2014 World Cup, that Football has such a ubiquitous place in culture that we ignore the criticisms of the institutions around it. Michael Bay’s films are likewise. Bay’s films represent all that is potentially and in actuality wrong with 3D films (I do think there are good ways to do 3D). There are obvious creepy male gaze overtones and racialisation of robots which seems complicit in continuing the lazy and damaging tropes underlying stereotyping. There’s a bit in Pain and Gain which I have pondered on for a while, where a priest makes sexual advances to Dwayne Johnson’s ‘Paul’ character. Pain and Gain is based on (as absurd as it seems) a true story, with certain flourishes and changes to the plot. The homoerotic priest character is placed there simply to be ‘funny’ in the way that he uses the a biblical passage (Matthew 11:28) to make a sexual suggestion. It is added in a way as if to say: this bit is obviously supposed to be funny. If we laugh to this kind of scene, or the gag in which the two robots who speak in ebonics say they cannot read is similarly funny because it tags along to a boring trope; then Michael Bay reflects what is worst about us as a culture. If that is the case, then we truly do live in the world of The Running Man.

 

And like John Oliver said about Fifa: despite all of the problematic things about his films, I’m still looking forward to Transformers 5, I must say I enjoy the fact that I can fall asleep during a film and wake up not having missed any part of the plot – because there literally is no plot.

Apps as ‘extended mind’

I am a sucker for startups and upcoming apps. I am a user of the site ‘Erlibird’ which screens ideas for effective life hacks or similar fun things for the modern 2010s person (not that I am such a person). I love trying out new ideas or new ways of representing or conceptualising things. However I do find that after giving something a try, I either adopt it, or I drop it.

 

I’ve dropped a lot of the ‘early adopter’ apps and services after I tried it. I found it wasn’t useful for me, or its usefulness is not currently applicable to me (for example I’m not much of a regular restaurant visitor or eater during the working week). I did really like the Jots.me service, which is supposedly a very dressed down ode to project management services like Trello.

 

Organising my time and my life is important to me because I want to take in new experiences and revolutionary changes, while not being so muddled in novelty that I don’t know who I am or change my hairstyle (figuratively speaking) more than I can actually grow it. I love reading blogs and magazines, but I hardly have time. I use Readability on the tube because it doesn’t need a 3g or wifi connection to read articles. Having said that, nowadays the tube has wifi — I have to say that blows my mind!

 

My life is organised by a few apps. These apps have become so routine I am reminded of Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rain Man whose stabilities in a changing and confusing world are moderated by the various rituals he has (such as watching Judge Wopner or wearing clothes from K-Mart).

 

A couple of years ago (or was it last year?), Google Reader closed down. I kind of felt a bit lost when that announcement came up. But then Feedly took the space in my heart left by GReader. My life is oddly construed and organised by technology and I am always weary whether I am working for the systems I put into place or whether these systems work for me.

 

What I would say (being normative) is that one should use apps and techniques and systems and tools that make life easier, however we can have so many tools that it becomes work to maintain them, and maintaining them can end up being our be all and end all. I used to idealise the notion of living minimally, but even that too is an idea, and I would say, a culturally constructed narrative.

 

Apps are inescapable now; even if we don’t use smartphones, we still have some form of extended mind. It’s a way of imposed thinking and imposed behaviour that is supposed to help us and make life more efficient. But it’s easy to forget that original intent. The way I see these apps is that it is a way of ‘outsourcing’ my brain to not do so much of the boring stuff and I can focus on the stuff that’s important, like working and playing; living and loving. The ideal of my use of ‘extended mind’ tools is to enlarge the time I have for things I love to do.

 

Of course, turns out it doesn’t work that way. I haven’t even got time to blog…

Nightwish’s album Once (2004)

Being the summer of 2014, I can’t but help think how much has changed since 2004. A couple of things in particular come to mind. The summer of 2004 was when I did my ‘A’ Levels and I was as far as the law is concerned, a recognised adult. 2004 seems like a long time ago now and although I didn’t turn 18 during the 80s or 90s, I wonder if there was still a bit of naffness about my age.

 

On that related note I was notified that it is the 10 year anniversaries of the album Once, from Finnish heavy metal band Nightwish. I must admit that I did not discover Once until maybe 2005 or early 2006, but it became one of those era-defining albums for me that captured what it meant for me to be living in the 2000s and getting out of the teens.

 

I loved that album and then I then came to know the band Tarot through Nightwish. I think that I’m a bigger Tarot fan and their appeal still endures. However I find something curious about Once. There are moments when I listen to it and I wince. I wince because I find it is a little bit naff and at other points, more than a little bit naff. I’m not a big fan of the direction that Nightwish went into since Once but I still would eagerly follow any next albums or solo projects that the band has. Once in my view was the start of what made them really big. I could argue that it was actually Century Child but that was 2002 and I should have wrote that blog 2 years ago.

 

Lately I’ve had less time to write about philosophy and blog on Noumenal Realm, because I’ve been busy living. Living is not conducive to having particularly deep thoughts. I have realised that while living, the world inevitably changes around me and to a large degree I change around it too. When I reminisce albums like Once I am brought to bear on how much the 2000s changed from the 2010s. The sentiments, the fashions, the philosophies. I used to really love that album Once. I still like it for what it was, but admittedly, my music tastes have moved on significantly since then.

 

Goodbye Camden Crawl

So it has turned out that the Camden Crawl has gone into liquidation. I’m a little sad, although I didn’t go this year, which is perhaps a bit telling.

 

The Camden Crawl has for maybe the past 4-5 years (basically since I started living in London again) been a tradition to visit every year. Do it once and it’s a one-shot activity. Did it twice and it’s a thing that has to be done again. Did it more times and it’s a ritual. I love Camden, for the utterly personal and self indulgent reason that it’s one of the few places this side of the Channel to hear some really neat European metal bands that I like, particularly the black metal side of things. Of course there are lots of other kinds of music and subcultures there.

 

I once referred to Camden semi-jokingly as the place where subcultures go and they don’t die. One of the things I loved about the Camden Crawl (CC as it came to be called in recent years) was that it was in the most sincerest sense, eclectic. I hate using the word eclectic because to me it suggests somebody who thinks they like a wide variety of music for the sake of appearing diverse, and has little familiarity or depth with the things they apparently like – all artifice.

 

When I went to the Camden Crawl I loved how I had no idea who the bands were, what anything meant. If a band was described as shoegaze-dreampop meets DIY Fugazi fem-punk), it was in its purest sense just about the music. I loved how I had no expectations at first and went to see music just on the basis of its name, and talking to other gig-goers about where the hype is.

 

I loved how there were a few established acts who peeked about from time to time. One year I saw Ms. Dynamite [ed. teee-heee!] and another Tinchy Stryder and everybody was having an awesome time. There are the absolutely eccentric moments like the Elvis impersonator who would dance to anything. I loved seeing acts that I never heard about before and then finding out they later got a big amount of recognition. King Charles played Glastonbury this year, I remember seeing them around 2010 (?).

 

The Camden Crawl was fundamentally a hipster pursuit, yeah, I said it! I loved how different and strange much of the music was, some of which would in a couple of years eventually feed into the mainstream, or in one case, a Carlsberg advert! (Alice Gold – fabulous performance in KoKo 2012).

 

In a way I’ll definitely miss the CC. In another way there’s an extent to which I wouldn’t have gone in future festivals anyway.

 

For me the Camden Crawl was about meeting up with my friend Phil. Phil is one of my oldest friends and one of those folks that even if you don’t see for years it is like not a day has passed when you see them again. Lately life has gotten in the way of a lot of our free time. Or to put it simply, doing the Crawl was our early-20s thing and I am definitely out of that period of my life. Now we have expanding families, non-overlapping working hours, long distance relationships and all other things that prevent us. This year we couldn’t go, I’ve been working weekends and Phil’s visiting his new little nephew in North America.

 

In a sense the personal memories between myself and Phil are not communicable being a long series of ‘in jokes’ and ‘you had to be there’s. But the one thing I will miss the most about the Camden Crawl is being able to claim some cultural cred and say: I was there. I was there when Ghostpoet was an obscure artist above the Barfly; I was there when Eliza Doolittle did a set and I was more focussed on having a Magners and feeling awkward about someone chatting me up; I was right in the front when Saint Etienne did a set and I happened to be on a roof of the Roundhouse playing obsessing over a gum brand’s promotional freebies (I can’t remember their name) while a certain Dry the River were playing in the background and handing out cards and demo CDs (I really should have bloody kept them).

 

Goodbye Camden Crawl. Thanks for the memories

 

On Hans Jonas’ Environmental Philosophy

A couple of months ago I was reading a book called ‘Hans Jonas’ Ethic of Responsibility’ by Theresa Morris. I was not initially familiar with the work of Jonas but I came to find that Jonas was a highly influential figure in Germany and had the unique distinction of being an intellectual who had public significance.

 

When I was reading through the work I was thinking of objections and issues with Jonas’ overall thesis; Morris wrote the book in a very neat way that anticipated a lot of criticisms, such as the is-ought distinction (I was not convinced of the response but that’s another issue), and the fact that Jonas builds on previous philosophies such as Kant and Spinoza as well as the problems that they had.

 

When I think about Jonas’s overall thesis I find it forgettable. There’s a sense in which it is basically a hodgepodge of Kant and Phenomenology; Spinozist monism and moral responsibility. I understand the project that there is a need for a convincing set of ideas to frame our sense of responsibility towards the fact that consumption of various products given the developed world’s standard of living cannot be sustained for the current population if it were rolled out for everyone, or our infrastructures from using the internet to having a power grid releases a byproduct that does have an harmful impact on the planet.

 

I felt that the book hardly gave what we call in ethics a motivational reason. I think also that it may not be within our internal motivational set to be convinced of the ethics of say, using a car or eating meat. I wonder if these factors are motivationally external, that being, non-internal to our motivational set.

 

I also wonder on another front, when reading the book and reflecting on it, whether it is the assumptions that we make as everyday moral agents that perpetuate an attitude that maintains the ecological status quo. For example, if it is our sense of looking at the individual as our moral agency, instead of say, groups of people, humanity-at-large, or our governments. One discussion that was quite poignant was who counts as responsible in this ecological issue. Jonas seemed to be at the view that it was solely humanity. While I am inclined to agree, I may temper the warning that denying the agency or ethical commitment to non-persons is part of the problem that creates the status quo. We eat animals that we do not consider as people, we disregard our similarities of say, producing offspring or mating because they do not have communicable speech or technology.

 

There was an extent to which Jonas’s philosophy didn’t seem relevant when the starting point was in the western philosophical tradition. Even as someone whose starting point is the western philosophical tradition, I cannot find it easy to be convinced why say, plane travel is immoral, if we start off from moralistic or metaphysical first principles. It’s just not convincing, even if the ‘arguments’ are sound. In a sense I give a concession to the rhetorical politician who often argues from motivating reasons and the kneejerk reactions of our gut feeling as a basis for moral decision making.

 

I thought about this book as a parallel with various conversations I’ve had with recent friend, Dave Darby, who poised the question to me of how people are not shocked that they are eating and consuming their way into oblivion and are doing nothing about it. My answer to that was: they aren’t convinced by your narrative and until they are they won’t act. In that sense, the problem  with Jonas’s environmental philosophy is not particularly a unique one