2013 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

The concert hall at the Sydney Opera House holds 2,700 people. This blog was viewed about 16,000 times in 2013. If it were a concert at Sydney Opera House, it would take about 6 sold-out performances for that many people to see it.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Congratulations Doctor Bateman

One reader of the blog (probably the only reader), Chris Bateman has managed to pass through his viva for his doctorate by publication. Bravo for the amazing accomplishment.

Bateman often mentions about being a philosopher/intellectual outside of the conventional establishment. I think that historically most of the more interesting philosophers had been out of the establishment, which owed much to the uniqueness of their thoughts. Schopenhauer for example, who was massively influential to Romantic and 20th century composers, was a Kantian of sorts, but also outside of the university establishment during his more creative periods. Nietzsche was never strictly a philosopher by the terms of his own time, but he was more in his profession and educational background, more akin to a classicist. Then of course there are the cliche examples of Descartes’ opposing his Jesuit educated Aristotelianism, the establishment mentality of his day; and of course Spinoza, who was exiled from various communities yet kept a community of correspondents which was extremely varied – from Boyle to Leibniz!

Sometimes we find interesting thoughts and profound in unusual places. I’ve recently read a couple of philosophical profiles of two distinctly non-establishment philosophers, Tommaso Campanella, and Bernardino Telesio. Both were empiricists in a time when Aristotelian and overly rationalist thinking was so ubiquitous that we might not have even thought such empiricism could exist as a movement when there are so few. There is a certain amount of boldness to have interesting thoughts outside of the establishment.

Michael

Lately I have been… (June-July 2013)

Things have been busy. I really hate saying that, it sounds like a cliche. I have been too busy to physically and mentally do any blogging for Noumenal Realm, or do much philosophical work of my own lately. My next essay on Adorno’s Wagner is still being written and not yet ready for putting up. I might just say what’s keeping me busy lately.

Community Garden/Volunteering

Last month was the ‘Open Garden Squares’ weekend, in which Tooting Community Garden recieved 85 visitors during the sunday in which we were open to the public. One particular activity was a storytelling feature by the amazing Emily Duizend.

Later on in the month of June (or last weekend), Emily was part of a fundraising storytelling afternoon, also hosted at the garden. More details about that on the Transition Town Tooting blog. Along with Emily was her brother playing the Sitar (a wonderful and alluring instrument!), Christian at the guitar and another storyteller, Vanessa, told an amusing story in which a spray of water formed an interesting prop on a hot afternoon. Lots of garden type things taking my attention over the past few months. Over next month and possibly August, I will be taking part in some Challenge Network activities. Apparently, where ‘community leaders’ support youth volunteers with community projects. So apparently I’m a community leader? I feel more like Citizen Khan.

There’s lots more exciting things coming up at the garden in coming months as well.

Performing

I also found out last month, that my old music teacher, Robert Rathbone, also the music director of Sacred Heart church, Wimbledon, is retiring. A few of us have gotten together to host a shindig and I will be performing as a pianist (soloist), I am apparently second to last on the roster, and I will be performing alongside Rathbone’s old guard alumni from all the years he’s been teaching. I feel very proud both to have studied under Rathbone, whose musical education, instruction and his wise quips and ability to dig into extended digressions about music have been deeply influential to me. I wouldn’t be writing about Adorno if it wasn’t for that man. I have been preparing my piano solo over the past few days and I’ll be focussing a lot of my efforts into preparing my performance in under two weeks time. I will be performing (I think) Christian Sinding’s Rustle of Spring. I wish that two of my friends who are also Rathbone alumnus would be able to come and perform with me as an ensemble. However they are out of the country and I will have to be representing the 2004 crop of Rathbone’s musical soldiers on my own. A little bit daunting. Even though I performed last year to a crowd, it was not in a concert/staged environment. This will be the first time in a very long time since I’ve performed on my own. It is both excitng and worrying!

Philosophising

This week I finally went to visit the Philosophy club just establishing itself in Tooting. Dave Darby who has this website which is interesting on its own accord (funny enough I knew of the site before I actually met him or knew he made it), has hosted the very second philosophy club meeting based in London. I understand that Darby has run a similar group when in Buckinghamshire. The question was ‘what does it mean to be human?’ and it brought a lot of questions, perspectives and focii from all of the people taking part. Thanks to Dave and Amrit for hosting us all, and all of the participants for such interesting discussion. I find it interesting to talk about philosophical issues, as I rarely actually do it. I mostly have email correspondences with my other Noumenal Realm team (or more like Skype calls/messages). I am also  still reading Chris Bateman’s ‘Chaos Ethics’. I have been in some correspondence with Bateman about writing related feedback, although I am rearing up to write a critique of Bateman’s work when the book is finally published, which will be in the near future.

Other stuff

I’ve also been involved with just general life things. I am keeping an eye out for the London performance of a show later this month, where I have (under an alias) composed two songs. I have been jamming musically with my ensemble (two of which can’t join me for Rathbone’s retirement gathering). I’ve also started working at a new place, which is very exciting, but also requires adjustments. Lately I’ve been keeping a lot more active than I used to. I love keeping up with gardening activities, both as a social occurence and a community activity. I love keeping in touch with my musical side, which includes playing with my friends and the boring tedious pedagogical practice methods that I have developed. I’ve been hitting the gym pretty hard when I can as well. Last week I uttered the thought to myself: damn, only 8 hours of training this week? The week before I did 11, I’m competitive with myself when it comes to hitting it hard and working at something.

Getting busy living/dying

I’m turning 27 next week. I’m kind of dreading it. 27 is the year one loses any sense of youth culture credibility. I’ve been musing on the ’27 club’ idea lately as well. I wonder to myself if I died tomorrow, or next month, what would people say of my life? I would like people to consider me by my achievements, although unfortunately I suspect people will remember me as a person, which I would place less emphasis on personally. Newton after all was a great achiever, but an abhorrent personality. I guess one of the things I have been reflecting on lately about aging is not just the lost of hair, gaining of wrinkles and slower metabolic rate that slows down my gains while weight training, but also refleting on whether I have achieved enough in my life. I have spent the past few months (with composing, gardening, blogging, writing, socialising, playing musical instruments) with that thought in mind: if I die what will I have achieved. I kind of feel that lately I am living with that goal – trying to be immortalised in some way by some achievement. I do feel I have much to achieve. However, lately, writing more on my Wagner commentary is not one of the things.

Michael

Remembering Roger Ebert, (or the importance of a critic)

On the 4th April 2013, Roger Ebert died. Ebert was known to me through the pairings of ‘Siskel & Ebert’, and later ‘Ebert & Roeper’. Ebert through these pairings and as I understand, in his later blog work engaged in the noble art of criticism for the medium of film.

 

Critics are great. We sometimes love them, sometimes we hate their judgments. It’s a bit lazy to say as many people do, that Critics are ‘those that can’t do, so criticise’. There’s an interview in the late 80s with Dave Mustaine from Megadeth panning the critics of his time, saying how they must feel very small to judge music that they are unable to perform. Often I can understand this audacity. I am sympathetic to the audacity of criticising people’s work in a way that takes such little effort when the work we critique involved so much.

 

Critics have an important role. When they are wrong, they can be really wrong, and their judgments are immortalised in print. But then again, they can also be the basis of informed dispute. An example of a controversial critical appraisal in music is the infamous description of Rachmaninov in an earlier description of the Grove’s musical dictionary that the Russian composer’s work is monotonous and that the success he has enjoyed is unlikely to last. When I first heard about this anecdote, I laughed and thought this kind of criticism is the most unfair thing I’ve ever heard (at the time I was a massive Rachmaninov fan). In my later maturity my interest in Rachmaninov has simmered, just this week I was listening to a recording of the Second Piano concerto (performed by Helene Grimaud) and I thought to myself: I feel sick of this overly emotional tripe!

 

There is a time for Rachmaninov’s luxurious Chromaticism and the slow waking hours of the day are not it. I was also convinced that Rachmaninov’s Romantic leanings well into the 20thC are actually quite conservative, musically speaking. At a time when there were bold composers like Berg and Stravinski’s Rite of Spring, many of Rachmaninov’s works seem like an echo of a stylistic and historic yesteryear that is no longer relevant.

 

Sometimes critics do a very important thing and take a step back. In the medium of film, there are many aspects of the physical watching of film that make it fully immersive: in the cinema it is dark and everyone sits on church like pews, their booklets replaced by popcorn and overpriced soft drinks. The screen is the centre of attention and there is something deeply submissive and obedient about staring at a darkened screen and given a world that you are forced to accept, with characters in an ontology and a tacit acceptance of the moral order that it depicts. Films can give us our values, sometimes in ways we would not realise they do. Critics take a step back and call out if these values are unconvincing or if they are things we should reject. On the other hand, the ability to delve into morally and ontologically different worlds is something that is a dimension of making a film engaging, by enacting the faculty of imagination. Again, this is an object of criticism.

 

One thing that I found interesting is how some commentators have pointed out the gender dimensions within Ebert’s film reviews. Whether we like a film or not can be immaterial to the critical distance in which we engage with the material. I often quite like film reviewers. Currently I follow a lot of Mark Kermode and Richard Roeper’s reviews. One thing that Kermode does is address bigger cultural and industry themes to express his cynicism about films. Film critics often have a rationale for their judgment of a film, and it is this which is sometimes more interesting than the film itself to me. Sometimes it is a rationale that is informed and insightful, and even if I disagree with the conclusion, it is something that I feel rationally obliged to take seriously. I think this is the case for anyone who I might find prima facie disagreeable but may be otherwise insightful.

 

Perhaps it is disagreement that I find the most interesting thing about a critic. When Siskel and Ebert looked at films, they were quite open about the points of disagreement they had between each other. They may have overall agreement about each other’s conclusions about whether a film was good or bad, enjoyable or dull; but the way in which they reasoned about it, highlighting different aspects of the film, is interesting.

 

To close, I thought we’d go through some of the reviews of films we love on Noumenal Realm, and see how Ebert considered them.

 

 

Sinistre

(anti)Heroes of our time: Cyclops and Wolverine (a year-end post)

So, the year 2012 is ending. This is normally the kind of time when we review what was eventful about the year. To be honest, this year has seemed the same as last, and almost the same as 2010. The headlines seem often the same, either there’s a scandal about someone’s personal affairs which becomes political, or a political scandal that is personalised to specific individuals.

I’m a believer in the notion that our culture reflects our times. Often nostalgia for the year passing focusses on entertainment news or things that have happened in culture. At least in the UK, culturally we seem to live in two worlds. There is the discourse of aspiration and the reality of its improbability. Television shows offer fame and stardom, give us things we wish to aspire to: lovely food, great homes, interior decoration or the spiritual gin of a cheap thrill through comedy and music. I am just as guilty as anyone else in buying in to this irreverence. I am reminded of Robert K. Merton’s notion of strain theory in criminology: the idea that criminality and deviance directly relates to the dissonance between the ideals of what people are told to aspire to against its inherent difficulty due to current social times.

Perhaps one way to sum up the year for me, is through a Comicbook storyline and the way in which it has concluded. Marvel’s ‘Avengers Vs. X-Men’ (AvX) was a story about two teams of heroes who were forced to fight because of a difference of opinion. This difference of opinion was based on the significance of a very powerful supernatural force known as the Phoenix, which enters a physical body and imbues them with special powers. The Phoenix was destined for one particular character, Hope Summers, but as it happened, by an accident the Phoenix entered five different people who it was not supposed to.

(spoiler warnings)

Cyclops and Wolverine

The conclusion of this story was that one of the most archetypal characters representing the moral good has turned into a villain, namely, the X-Man, Cyclops/Scott Summers. Cyclops in his depiction in Marvel Comics has always been a morally upright citizen, the one who always holds the line of decency and has a commitment to the values of Xavier’s ideology of mutant equality.

Perhaps the most notable turn of events for me was the ‘transition’ from hero to villain of Cyclop’s character in the 5 issue short: AvX: Consequences. Cyclops, imbued with vast amounts of power had the ability to change the world, at first it looked like he was acting out of good. Many of Cyclops and the other Phoenix hosts moved to create a better world, some of their acts included things such as improving ecological conditions and solving the fundamental problem of the scarcity gap to end hunger and global energy needs. Quite a poignant use of superhero powers if such people ever lived in the real world. However the vast power of the Phoenix emphasised the nobility of their hosts, but eventually their darker sides were also emphasised, which eventually led to the moral corruption of the Phoenix five.

After the Phoenix ordeal, Cyclops is put in a prison. In a conversation with his former team-mate Wolverine, the latter says: you were always the man I wanted to be. Wolverine references Cyclops’ idealism and his commitment to moral good, incorruptible nature and his courage. Cyclops is, or was, as traditionally heroic as heroes get. Cyclops’ fall was notable in this regard. Eventually Cyclops’ is sprung out of prison and it looks like he has become part of a villainous ‘X-Men’ group including Magneto. One of the most notable acts of Cyclops when  he was empowered by the Phoenix force was that he killed his mentor, Charles Xavier, who is the most important character in the X-men series, since he founded the team.

After killing his mentor and murdering a prisoner out of vengeance, Cyclops realised he has changed and accepts this new moral character emerging from his actions. Summers leaves a note at the prison for Wolverine after he escapes, which says to the effect: I realise that I have to be the hero you once saw me to be, because that hero has now become you. Wolverine, as it has been acknowledged throughout comic law, and by himself, is hardly the most traditionally heroic. Wolverine has killed in cold blood, believes in a vigilante form of justice and embodies rage in many occaisions. Wolverine as an X-man, and a role model realises that his behaviour has implications for those who have looked up to him and this has made him more mindful of his behaviour.

I think that the transition of the hero mantle from Cyclops to Wolverine reflects a change in the cultural sensibilities of our time. Idealism seems no longer relevant, idealism seems sour in an age of austerity and hardship. Our heroes are often the reluctant ones. The heroes of our time are more like Aeneas: brooding, strained, unwilling, encumbered by duty. Charlie Brooker has written a piece a few days ago to this effect pointing out how James Bond and Batman, characters of two blockbuster films this year; are essentially the same character. That Cyclops has become a villain hit home to me the cultural sensibilities of today, and how different this decade was in relation to the last. The bubble has broken and we are in a wet spot. Anti-heroes are our heroes, and idealism is replaced by cynicism and regret.

Michael

P.S. Happy New Year from the Noumenal Realm team 🙂