This week in radio

Over the past 6-7 days, I’ve found that there has been a quite spectacular selection of radio programmes available for podcast, here are the highlights

1. In Our Time, BBC: The Logical Positivists.

In Our Time is always a staple favourite for its broad yet expertly chosen topics.Melvyn Bragg always expresses some reservations on air when doing a programme about philosophy, especially when it comes to the more technical, inaccessible and unfriendly issues. This issue was one of the best in the whole programme. The Logical positivists were one of the most important movements in philosophy, particularly in how they have shaped the contemporary landscape of philosophy. Barry Stocker and Mary Carwright were the expert commentators, particularly notable ones at that.

Something that Bragg insinuated but did not explicate very much was the fact that the three experts come from very different camps and perspectives. The Logical Positivists can be a divisive issue in philosophy. It is continental philosophy par excellence, and yet, the Vienna (and earlier Berliner philosophers for that matter) are ignored the most by ‘european tradition’ ( as opposed to the anglo-american analytic) philosophy. The Logical Positivists do not talk much about normative philosophy in the way that applied ethicists or contemporary social thinkers do, but have a somewhat nuanced relationship with value theory (viz, the trajectory of Error Theory or Emotivism).

Even my own interest in 18thC philosophy puts me in a postion where I must stand in relation to the the Vienna philosophers: am I to accept their critique of Kant, for instance? What was rightly noted in the programme is that this is not a very simple question: the vienna philosophers were not an intellectually homogeneous group; as they composed of members from different disciplines and focii. Schlick was one of the first philosophers who actually understood the modern physics of Einstein with much rigor. Neurath was a sociologist who had aspirations for the social status the academy as part of a social ideal of academics of all stripes working together, a notion which, though perhaps desired and desirable, is so very far from the truth.

A lot of Scholarship is dedicted towas the early history and origins of analytic philosophy. I’ve found it particularly interesting in the increase of interest that links Carnap to Kant (Friedman, Chigwell). The vienna philosophers were living in both wonderful and horrific times. Einstein was a mature physicist and the icon of the generation, but also, Austria and Modern Germany were under the Nationalist-Socialist reign.

Their further reading looks particularly nice


2. BBC Analysis: Thought Experiments

Various studies have demonstrated that by slightly different appraisals or wordings of questions concerning moral considerations,we exhibit different reactions or responses. Theres a moral significance to these studies, particularly concerning issues like whether we attribute intention to actions, responsibility,or how our actions line up with our propositional beliefs.

A lot more needs to be said of this issue. The standpoint of the anti- x-phi’s goes something like this (and I suppose this would be my view): so we have these studies that give us insights that go against our normal moral theories and insights. That’s fine, what else can you tell us? Interesting it may be, although the armchair-burning gesturing is quite purposefully and unnecessarily polemical. As if to say all philosophy except theirs is ‘armchair theory’. While philosophy does not normally rely on empirical measues, it is far from being pie in the sky idea-mongering, the sort of associations had with those having pot-fuelled thoughts on the world. That said, the current generation of philosophy often has an eye towards work that has instant gratification or generating departments which are “paper-mills”. The old focus of exegesis, comprehensiveness and the labours of criticism are not as strong as they used to be. The studies, in terms of social science methodology are quite interesting nontheless.

3. The Spirit of Grunge (BBC Radio 4)

This program marks 15 years (I think) of when Kurt Cobain had killed himself. This was a survey of Grunge and in particular, its place in mainstream UK youth culture. In the UK’s pop music history, the late 80s began to grow tired of the new wave optimism and hit factories which hardly met the aspirations and pessimism of Thatherite 1980s. The emerence of acid hose and fusion groups like the Stone Roses exploded and disappeared from the scene just as quickly. Along comes grunge.

Grunge, according to the journalists of the programme, captured something in the social consciousness. It’s lo-fi and authentic roots could no longer be sustained as the genuine grunge movement became a victim of its own success, most signficantly marked by Cobain’s death. I think it was really nicely captured when one of the commentators described it thus: the outsider music genre becomes popular. The jocks begin to listen music that the bullied nerds and loners had made, and in that respect, the genre could no longer be viable.

Some other subthemes include: inauthentic grunge and authentic grunge: Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Smashing Pumpkins should hardly be considered to be grunge: Pearl Jam was a rock and roll band which had a twist, Smashing Pumpkins had more prog-elements to it. Also noted was how hugely unlikely Cobain’s success was: a boy from a broken family, living at one point in a trailer park in an area of great poverty and substance abuse. Popularity normally has a clean and friendly face and it was unlikely to be his.  The tragedy of grunge was in how the alternative becomes mainstream and commercial.

This narrative often is to be had: music which starts out as par of the fringe, polemical, challenging and ideologically opposed to the mainstream becomes homogenised and neutralised. ‘Nirvana’ is no longer a symbol of grunge, but a shirt in HMV that costs £13.99. It’s for that reason that I think its uncool to say that one likes Nirvana.

The potted history of UK music follows grunge with a reaction against it: britpop, locally made, self-indulgent, singer-artist archtypal and less ideological. Oasis is noted as a band which embraces its own success, with songs purposefully trying to be anthems, trying to be legendary, trying to appease for the masses.

Michael

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One thought on “This week in radio

  1. I am uncool. It was as a 12 year old English girl living in the US for a year, I discovered Nirvana, as well as Cocteau Twins, Butthole Surfers, Sonic Youth, the Offspring, Smashing Pumpkins and Pearl Jam. On the way towards those gems I was waylaid by AC/DC, Black Sabbath and the Eagles! The variety and availability of radio stations in America in the early nineties was beyond anything I had access to coming from the UK, where you could hear constantly: Sister Sledge on Classic Gold, Take That on Radio 1, or Gregorian Chant on Radio 3. The Howard Stern show was something of a revelation in terms of sexual innuendo and brazen profanity.
    I immediately identified with the lyrics and melodies of disaffected, disenchanted Kurt and his band. It resonated with the isolation I felt being in a foreign place, far from my friends, having left behind the tattered wreckage of a so-called stable family life, going through the confusion of pubescent lust and body transformation. The music of Nirvana seemed to encapsulate the dirtiness, anger and despair of all I was feeling. Six months after I discovered Nirvana, and pinned on Kurt the status of sole kindred spirit, he was found dead. This further served to convince me as to life’s utter devastating shitness.
    Sad to say this period of existential funk (as in depression, not Isaac Hayes) continued over the next four years until I discovered britpop and the free parties, trance, techno, hardcore and all the rest of those serotonin bouncing genres that make up our proud UK dance scene. Suffice to say I discovered life beyond Kurt, yet I still listen to Nirvana on occasion, respectful and grateful for the solace it gave at a time when crunching feedback and agonised screams were about the sum of my emotional vibe.

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