Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Uses of Intelligence and Sense: News and Notes

In a web article for Filmmaker magazine (February 25, 2009), Nick Dawson writes about film director Astra Taylor, whose her first film was Žižek!, about Slavoj Žižek, following her sharing duties for other film productions: "With her sophomore feature, Examined Life, Taylor once again brings together her two main passions: film and philosophy. The title is derived from a quote by Socrates (who deemed that 'the unexamined life is not worth living'), and over the course of the film Taylor introduces us to eight contemporary philosophers who delve into the issues and problems of the modern world. Though Cornel West talks to Taylor as they drive around New York, the other seven participants – Avital Ronell, Peter Singer, Kwame Anthony Appiah, Martha Nussbaum, Michael Hardt, Judith Butler, Sunaura Taylor and Žižek – hold forth on foot, as Taylor conceived the film as 'philosophers on walks.' Going against the norm of 'serious' documentaries tending to be depressing, Taylor here creates a film of substance that is nevertheless light on its feet." I am pleased to see that the film director has included such a varied group of thinkers; and it is encouraging to have one more avenue for the introduction of significant contemplations. The Filmmaker piece includes an interview with director Astra Taylor, in which she says, "The thing that attracts me most about philosophy and filmmaking is that both those disciplines are concerned with shifting perception, shifting the way you see a problem when you have a new theory – it's illuminating, you suddenly see the world in a new way. And going to a really good documentary film can have the same effect: your whole sense of the world is different."

"A dynamic new school of thought is emerging that wants to kick down the walls of recent philosophy and place experimentation back at its centre. It has a name to delight an advertising executive: x-phi. It has blogs and books devoted to it, and boasts an expanding body of researchers in elite universities. It even has an icon: an armchair in flames. If philosophy ever can be, x-phi is trendy. But, increasingly, it is also attracting hostility," announce David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton of Prospect magazine (March 2009).

I love to hear news that Americans are recognizing and responding to other cultures, as I think that is not only intellectually stimulating, but politically necessary: it is easy to despise what you do not understand and harder to hate what you do. And there is such good news from Washington: "From the Arabian Gulf to the Levant to North Africa—this region of the world is the birthplace of human civilization and features extraordinary diversity in geography, traditions, landscape, religion, and contemporary aesthetics," according to the web site of the Kennedy Center, which is presenting an Arab arts festival, "Arabesque: Arts of the Arab World," February 23 through March 15, 2009, in Washington, the District of Columbia. The notice continues, "In cooperation with the League of Arab States, the three-week festival brings together artists, many of whom are making their U.S. debut, in performances of music, dance, and theater, as well as exhibitions featuring art installations, fashion, a soundscape, cuisine, a marketplace, and much more." The literature portions of the program are scheduled to discuss audience, language use, fantasy, gender, and national politics.

It is especially important to remember the diversity and riches of the world in difficult times, and in places in which the culture most available may be too simple. I have been enjoying the beautiful, soothing music of Ancient Future (Planet Passion), Matthew Montfort (Seven Serenades), and Mariah Parker (Sangria), world music produced by Records.

Christian John Wikane writes for about Diana Ross’s early solo work: "Despite their historic significance, Everything Is Everything and Surrender have been widely unavailable for nearly 40 years, though each album made a very brief appearance on CD in the mid-’80s. Hip-O Select has lovingly dusted off the masters, dug through the vaults, and re-released the albums in stunning expanded and re-mastered editions. These albums offer a wealth of undiscovered gems in the sorely underappreciated Motown catalog of Diana Ross" (Feb. 26).

Carl Wilson at his blog Zoilus has declared, "I've put together a quick (well, not so quick) cultural history on how musicians have tried to transform human speech into music through the ages (but particularly, often thanks to technology, in the 20th century)," and that history is interesting reading (they are part of a February 19 posting).

There a great Picasso exhibit at London’s National Gallery, and an exhibit of Cezanne, whom Picasso and many others admired, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, reports The Yves Saint-Laurent/Pierre Berge art and antiques auction has broken sales records, yielding a little more than $483 million, according to the Art Newspaper. Meanwhile, the High Museum of Art is cutting staff and salaries (Atlanta Business Chronicle), and the Walters Art Museum is eliminating staff as well (Baltimore Sun).

Chris Edwards of the Cato Institute, worrying about the increase in federal spending and government size, claims there’s a gap between Obama’s rhetoric and policy, but the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities' writers Iris Lav and Nicholas Johnson state that if states refuse the funds the federal budget is making available that refusal could undermine economic recovery. (Comments are available online, at the organizations' sites.)

Apparently even the well-known conservative David Brooks did not like Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal’s Tuesday night response to President Obama’s policies, reportedly calling it stale and insane. Others have piled on. "How many Americans know that Jindal boasted of participating in an exorcism that purged the spirit of Satan from a college girlfriend?" wonders Max Blumenthal of The Daily Beast, Feb. 25.

In an article on the New Orleans CityBusiness blog titled "Council Plan Seen as Racist," Deon Roberts writes about a mayor-council conflict involving Mayor Ray Nagin, "Nagin, early in his administration, created a panel that involved a public representative to award the contracts, which total $150,000 or more. On Feb 5, the council decided it wanted the awarding process to be totally open to the public, and it adopted an ordinance to make the process adhere to the state’s open meetings law. Nagin vetoed the ordinance. Now, the public is waiting to see what the council will do now"(Feb. 26). Some people think the council is trying to sabotage the mayor's authority.

Frank B. Wilderson, III, a professor of African American studies and drama at the University of California, Irvine, has received the 2008 American Book Award for Incognegro: A Memoir of Exile and Apartheid, and has announced a forthcoming writing project, Red, White and Black: Cinema and the Structure of US Antagonisms.

The stock of the New York Times is now considered junk by investors. The Washington Post fourth quarter profits plummeted 77 percent, reports Associated Press. These publications have been important, and are not now without their uses or influence, but how many of us care as much now about the fate of these elite institutions when there are so many exciting alternatives, as we cared before when many waited for their public recognition and support, these elite media institutions that for so long were indifferent to our ambitions, concerns, and needs? We are alive, feeling and thinking and working, in a world of changed possibilities, of new resources and unexpected obsolescence.