Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Vectors and Starbucks: A Cartoon Demonstrating, Via Quantum Computational Analysis, One's Relative Distance from Any Given Starbuck's

Letter to the Young Physicist, Michael Franco


I wonder, are you at all interested in computational chemistry, or are you only looking at physics? Classical physics? Quantum? Linus Pauling's 1920's publications on the hydrogen molecule in connection to his ideas about quantum theory (in physics) have contributed to what has been happening for twenty years in chemistry: the complete breakdown of all our high school assumptions about how molecular chemistry works.

old 'stick figure' model of water molecules

The old 'ball and stick' models of molecular structure that we all remember from high school is a frozen, clunky fiction that doesn't account for the truly dynamic nature of molecular orbits, interactions and bonds. Remember our conversation about that a few months ago—all matter at every level is in a high state of 'agitation', vibrating, and seems quantum rather than fixed? Computational chemistry tries to account for this uncomfortable reality and it uses quantum mechanics (from your discipline, physics) to account for the complexity of a more real
more real model of carbon!
model of molecular structure--a model that is predictive and even synthetic, yet accounts for the radical non deterministic nature of quantum events and quantum structure!

traditional vector calculation
Classical (or at least high school) chemistry pretends that the predictive power of synthetic and experimental breaking and forming of chemical bonds is based on a fixed structure in molecular reality. You physicists are so pleased with the predictive power and even synthesizing ability of classical computational physics, using computers to predict the future outcomes and experimental outcomes of coherent systems of arbitrary organization with great precision--like magic. You guys can project the future evolution of spiral galaxies and apparent momentum of objects like supernovae in deep field observations; you can track red and blue shifting bodies in distant orbital masses to precision at decimal places--such as vector physics (separations between two moving bodies, rocket arcs, orbital mechanics and so on, such as the basic vector equation: < r2 := (d + (t - T) b Vo) ex + (t - T) c Vo ey - ^"^ 9 ez > to calculate distances between two bodies at time "t", the bodies being whatever, it doesn't matter--the point being that simple equations like this can be used predictively. I got a lot of this from Enns and McGuire, "Computer Algebra Recipes for Classical Mechanics" (Birkhauser, Berlin, 2003). Is it the weak force, electromagnetism, and gravity that lead to this high degree of predictive power in classical physics?

one-dimensional quantum vectors
Quantum systems are by contrast radically indeterministic, according to Heisenberg, looking at the strong force, the nuclear force at the most fundamental levels (the dual particle/wave function of matter and energy). Here, your physics remains grossly predictive (Einstein’s equations that make the predictability of nuclear fusion and fission very predictable) but less and less predictive as smaller and smaller scales moving toward the Planck Length (an infinitely disappearing and receding distance that one can never cross)—yeah, all that. That stuff is basic to modern physics, but here’s what I’m asking you: doesn’t quantum mechanics, just like classical Newtonian physics described a time evolution of physical systems using a mathematical structure, the wave function? If so, the wave function is BOTH a certainty (Newtonian) AND a probability (Heisenberg) that the system will be found in a given state at a given time? But that scaling down, this probability grows more and more non determinable? And if that’s true, you then have to start predicting the effect on a system of the act of measuring the system? (‘the act of measuring destroys the measure’?) Thus, the uncertainty principle, and Schrödinger’s cat, and all that----

the dynamism of quantum bonds!
Okay, now here is my REAL question: since superconductivity and the introduction of computational theory, aren’t we seeing more and more that even though you physicists couldn’t drive classical predictive power from the macro level down into the sub micro level, that predictive power is now creeping up from micro to macro levels? Computational chemistry is using quantum theory to describe, predict, and even to synthesize outcomes of atomic orbitals, and angular momentum in CHEMICAL BONDS. Why is this happening, because computational chemistry is showing that even at the macro level (the molecular level) the bonds are not fixed, but are displaying a wave-particle sort of duality. The 'ball and stick' model of molecular bonds is in reaity far less fixed or predictable. The reality is vast collections, constantly changing, of nuclei surrounded by both circulating AND shifting, phasing, and vibrating clouds of electrons! Highly accurate predictions of chemical bonding behavior that we all learned in high school chemistry and that work very well, were to a great extent derived from experimentation and the observable results of experiments, not necessarily from computation. Since applying quantum principles to molecular theory (as opposed to experimental certainty) chemists have been able to create new, exotic, unpredicted bonds and thus new molecules that could not have been anticipated by classical chemistry. Or am I wrong?

Monday, October 17, 2011

This is the Opening Gambit

“Truth, crushed to earth, shall rise again;
Th' eternal years of God are hers;
But Error, wounded, writhes in pain,
And dies among his worshippers.”
-William Cullen Bryant

Damn. Only Gil Scott Heron could have foreseen it: dumb ass FACEBOOK has been revealed to actually have value and a purpose--it is a stage for the opening gambit of the first phase of the global revolution started by young people across the earth to be finished by their grandchildren in due time. Just as it is amazing that profound truth could have issued from the mouth of so old and crusty a poet as William Cullen Bryant, one never knows where truth, justice, and where The Angel Revolution will enter, which portal She shall enter through--only that She is coming, only that She is here.
The opening gambit may fail, may collapse, may fall under the heel of police violence or even worse it ...might fall under the heel of mediocrity and the supremacy of BIG MACS and FRIES and SHAMROCK SHAKES but that won't matter, it won't matter because this OCCUPY shit is only the opening gambit, you see, and once the opening gambit begins, NOTHING, NOTHING will ever be the same again, because this is the opening gambit, and only Gil Scott Heron could have known that it would be be told on FACEBOOK and TWITTER and TWITFACE and YOU-AND-ME TUBE and Barney GOOGLE and Snuffy Smith.

As I have long foretold in classrooms across this country, the younger generation has now awakened, The sleeper has awakened, MUAD' DIB has awakened, PAUL ATREIDES has climbed atop the worm, and the storm is coming. It's on, now. Violence may come, but violence won't stop this. Don't think it can't turn violent old folks, it can turn violent for our children, but we old folks have got to let them go, have got to send them out there into the streets anyway, knowing that our children are shaking the pillars, waking the monster that hurt US all so, and yes they can use violence to stop our children--they can use flash bangs and media black outs and sonic projectors and skin irritants, and tear gas, and truncheons and tanks to take a crack at killing some of the children eventually if these children don't shut up and get the hell away from the doorstep of the real wolf--CITIBANK--like they have been doing, spreading this PARIS COMMUNE they have established in lower Manhattan farther and farther outward from the steps of the facade of the wolf's little bitch (WALL STREET) to the inner doorsteps of the wolf's outposts, THE WOLF's doorstep (check out THE 1970 OHIO STATE MASSACRE in three part harmony).

But oh shit, too late, CITIBANK, too late RICK ROSS you thug in thug's clothing, too late, RICK PERRY you redneck bastard, too late, REVLON you maker of young women into raccoons, too late, Chinese human hair salons selling Black women somebody else’s hair to crown their self-hatred with, too late, EXXON, BLACKWATER, WHITE CASTLE, too late to get the children back in line at WENDY'S--they are awake now. The children are awake now. Tell tell tell tell tell tell tell tell tell tell tell tell tell tell tell tell the truth, children of the earth! I have never been prouder of my students. For fifteen years I have made a point of teaching students how to make Molotov cocktails with kitchen ingredients, in preparation. They are nonviolent, and good for them, they are stronger than we were that way, but sooner or later, the violence will come because they are making the wolf VERY AFRAID.

No matter. Violence will not stop this from being what it is, what Gil Scott foretold, IT'S THE OPENING GAMBIT to take back our planet. If only Gil had lived to see the redemption of his life and his suffering in this historical moment. History is a motherfucker, and She's coming for the wealthy and we are riding on Her back, under Her protection, even if they kill us. She is coming for the petty and the cowardly and the liars and the thieves who've befouled the temple, and coming for the cooperationists and the fools. She is coming for the wealthy and we are going to eat them, WE ARE GOING TO EAT THEM. I'll have a thigh....And you?

Sunday, June 05, 2011

"Angry Bunny": An Idea for a Pedagogical Graphics Text

I have an idea for a pedagogical classroom tool in the form of a graphics text.

To be called, "Angry Bunny", this text will be a tool for discussion in the university classroom, for use as a counter-trope in the attempt to respond to the cynicism of commercial and popular culture. That cynicism is robbing young college students (undergraduates) of the traits they most need to possess if they are to engage with, analyze, and respond to literary texts, music, film, art, and if they are to successfully understand political and economic realities manifest in popular culture. Those traits are compassion, self expression, and empathy. I find these traits tragically lacking in many undergraduate students.

I have taught creative writing at several universities over many years (Cornell University, Wayne State University, The University of Miami, Florida International University, Barry University, Miami-Dade College, and Macomb College) and it has been a labor of love: I care about literature and art. I’ve also taught at an art school (The College for Creative Studies, in Detroit). Teaching allows me to know and work with very gifted young poets, fiction writers, painters, sculptors, photographers and design artists. I could be making the B$G BUCK$, using my fancy ivy league degrees (shout out to Cornell U!) to profess logic courses to law students, pre-med majors, and business majors, as I have in the past, but such was a boring endeavor. I can influence the next generation of artists and influence the future of the arts as a teacher, which is far more desirable to me than influencing the next generation of lawyer, doctors, and finance capitalists.

When I teach I am surprised to notice sarcasm, morbidity, and cynicism among young artists; being young, they shouldn’t already be forming such a veneer of negative defenses. Of course, young people are like this only because old people are. The economy and the dominant, cutthroat commercial culture that old people have created convince young artists they will have to submit like slaves to commerce, and cash in their dreams to support themselves. This is what I say to students:

Society possesses an emotional 'environment' (noosphere) and has resources just like a physical, natural environment, resources such as empathy and compassion. Artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians, all creative people, are society’s major defense against the polluted atmosphere caused by anger, hatred, bigotry, and pain. These are rifts in the noosphere (‘noosphere’: the ‘sphere of human consciousness’ that is the next stage of evolutionary development, affirming the importance of human relationships, of the sublime and the beautiful, and the importance of love and compassion. The idea is found in the writings of Vladimir Vernadsky and Teilhard de Chardi).

"Angry Bunny" Sample
 I envision a graphic comic, a teaching tool, a text for the classroom. This graphic comic's purpose is to explore the evolution of a cynic. Cynicism, a dominant social mindset, is destructive; on its surface it seems to offer emotional rewards (it offers a pose of 'sophistication' as a defense against emotional harm and emotional disappointment). Actually, however, cynicism as a defense offers drastically diminishing returns. It withers our capacity to experience vulnerability and lessens compassion in society--it is thus an environmental threat. It interferes with the pedagogical process of developing critical faculties and analytical tools, and it interferes with the ability of students to take responsibility for the necessity that thinking critically and creatively require them to engage passionately with texts (no matter whether that text be a book, a painting, a film, or a photograph).

"Angry Bunny," a graphic arts text that will be structured as a comic series. I will use black humor to show the evolution of a young, modern cynic, Ashton Bunny, a former art student and advertising executive who happens to be a rabbit. There will be a series of comic illustrations of Ashton delivering episodic monologues, against changing, symbolic backgrounds. These episodes will comprise a narrative progression, character development, a plot leading to a climax, and a resolution reinforcing the text's major theme: that cynicism is corrosive, anti-human, a threat to the noosphere and even to the cynic.

The text will consist of approximately 72 panels (six panels per episode) for a total 12 episodes. Original art will be executed in large format (16 by 20), with ink line and ink wash media on illustration board (some of which will be autographed, numbered, for later sale). The finished books will be approximately 6 by 9, in landscape format. Key episodes will utilize color. Ultimately, I will print and then distribute the finished project. The book will be available to students (and everybody else) in bookstores, museum shops, and online.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

QUESTIONS OF VISUAL TRUTH Part I: Black Fascism and Visual Truth in Reading Beyonce Knowles' Nazi Anthem, "Run the World"

It is always necessary to distinguish between the material transformation of the economic conditions of production, which can be determined with the precision of natural science, and the legal, political, religious, artistic or philosophic – in short, ideological forms in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out.
                         -Marx, Preface to the Critique of Political Economy (1859)

If the popular music arts have anything to teach us (besides the sad reality that fewer and fewer popular musicians know how to read music, know music theory, or can play musical instruments), they certainly can teach us at least that ideology is triumphant. While the age of mass production of steel and furniture and radios is waning, the post modern age of mass production of ideology is shifting into its own apex of significance. It is as necessary to be able to read the text of a Beyonce Knowles video or of a Quentin Tarentino film as it was once necessary to be able to read a daily newspaper article (back when there used to be newspapers and Americans could read). We know, with the clarity of the eye of the Western Enlightenment, with all the rational sanity Enlightenment technologies and philosophies gave us in enabling scientific vision, we know that it is necessary to read.

It is crucial to be able to read, because surrounding us are texts, and those texts, whatever else they may be, are codes for the relations of power and coercion that we live under and that either liberate or constrain us. Marx would point out that while the strictly material forms of the conditions of production clearly mitigate (transform) reality in precisely measurable ways (making the material realm the realm of 'The Base' in Marxian terms), the artistic forms are, by contrast, the realm of the 'The Superstructure' and this is a realm in many ways seemingly invisible. Thus, it is necessary to be literate, to be able to read, if one is to become conscious of these forms, of these forces, of that realm. Assuming that there is in fact conflict between the forces of power that coerce, and the masses who are the victims of coercion, the ability to read is the ability to become aware of that conflict and to thus protect one's self, or to perhaps even engage in battle. Or as Marx says, to become aware of the ideological realm is to confront the forms "in which men become conscious of this conflict and fight it out."

Art, therefore, is one of the forms that ideology takes, most especially popular art and popular art forms, such as music videos. songs, books, paintings, The Symphony, The Cinema, television, theater, The Operas, dance, commercials and other forms of advertising, sartorial style and fashion in general, landscaping, the coif, architecture, news videos, song videos, all and more than this, are texts, and can be, must be read. They inevitably defend, reinforce, reflect, resist, oppose, or attack, the status quo. To not read is a failure to be borne at one's own risk.

I remember how perplexed I was years ago by something my best friend, a professor at the arts academy, pointed out to me in 1991 at CalArts: he told me that Black students at that institution, where he was then a professor of humanities and theory, were influenced by fascism. I was out on the west coast to do a lecture at the prestigious art school in Valencia, California. My friend showed me some of the artworks of young Black students and noted the elements of fascist thought implicit in the visual semiotics of their paintings.

I could see it as he described it to me, but the idea of Black people being 'fascist' was still a very new idea to me then, and if he hadn't expressly pointed the visual and design elements out to me and explained it to me in terms of POWER and IDENTITY, I would not have seen it. Even though I'd had an exceptionally good liberal arts education as an undergrad at Wayne State University in Detroit (lots of humanities, music, and art history, sociology, and philosophy), and was conversant in the principles, history, and forms of classical and modern visual art, and in fact had published some marginally competent  art criticism, I was still relatively naive about visual truth, and very visually illiterate when it came to early twentieth century modernism and psychoanalysis. I may have been in a state of mind that one might assume to be more formally educated than a typical Beyonce Knowles fan, and certainly more so than Beyonce Knowles herself takes her own fans to be, but I was as yet unable to immediately perceive and articulate the more complex issues of power, identity, representation, and 'truth' that arise in all visual art forms and all visual information technologies. Those issues are complex, and require a drastically greater ratiocination than American popular culture will admit or wishes to engage in. 

Author, Julianne Newton, writing about the mediation of reality that the visual image can and does enact in modernity, approaches the concept of 'truth' and the image from the American photojournalist's point of view in her book, "The Burden of Visual Truth," in which she points out that "the heart of a good photojournalist also is like the mind of a good critical theorist who constantly searches to expose the inadequacies of the status quo." The relationship between journalism (supposedly a 'realist' profession) and visual art (taken to be a 'creative' profession) is exactly the problematic that needs to be taken seriously if cultural/racial/ideological 'truth' is our concern. A news photo (or news video) may be 'real' but this does not make it 'true', since the photographer does not simply 'record' what is real, but selects, edits, manipulates, and represents reality (as does the filmmaker, the painter, and the sculptor). Likewise, the artist does not simply 'create' reality but in fact, is capable of 'recording' what is real in a far more profound and subtle way than can be accounted for with the word, 'creativity'.

And it is not really possible to disentangle this intuitive dissonance; nor should we wish to. In the frisson of this confusion lies greater insight into what it is both photographers and painters do, as well as greater insight into how profound the mediative powers of visual representation are. The artist can record, or can represent; in fact, she can abstract, and wholly create, reality. The photographer likewise can wholly create, abstract, or represent, or can simply record, reality. The so-called 'objective' photographer and the so-called 'subjective' painter can be seen as two poles on the same continuum, moving toward one another, meeting, passing one another, and at some point reversing their original, assume positions on the continuum. I will say more about this in the second part of this post on 'Visual Truth', taking up the issue of the artistic movement known as 'photorealism,' taking the modern American painter, Andrew Wyatt as an example.

But back to today's topic: Beyonce Knowles, Black fascism, and visual truth.

I was not very alert to the elements of fascism in Black thought when I was befuddled at CalArts, however, nowadays, after many more years of teaching (I was a grad student and professor-in-training at Cornell in 1991), and also many more years of studying visual semiotics, studying the films of Sergei Eisenstein, studying the dynamics of videorgraphy, the nature of ideology, and reading Black filmmaker Andre Seewood's critical writing about African American visual ideology, as well as writing journalism and critical academic analysis, I am more literate. I can read visual culture more deliberately, taking it more seriously than I used to when I was younger. It doesn't hurt also, that I've gotten a lot more reading in Freud under my belt, and a lot more of a sense of how to read, understand, and apply psychoanalytic discourse.

I can see more readily now, the abundant evidence of Black fascist thought in post Black Power culture. The end of Black Power and the end of civil rights as culturally dominant models of Black popular thought and the rise of nihilism among the American masses in general and among the Black masses in particular, has ushered in a new identity politics grown after Reagan and grown, as if on the nourishment of fluorescent light, under the sunless regimes of America's mass media, advertising industry, and entertainment industries. Young African Americans who either share no affinity whatsoever with the self-empowered imagery of Blues culture, of Black power and liberation Politics, or even of the original hip hop aesthetic, do indeed over-identify with the American fascist cinematic and visual projects of Capitalism (paterocentrism and universalized masculinity, Laura Mulvey has called, 'scopophilia', and the generalized dominance of pornographic visual techniques). And I will go so far as to say that the extremely over determination of African American cultures fetishizing of these visual projects is particularly dominant, even indeed strident among the scions of the Black petty bourgeoisie).

Using Beyonce Knowles merely as an example of this complex cultural paradigm shift, this shift from self reflexivity to a sort of self unconsciousness among young people born only twenty years ago, I have been saying and lecturing in the academy for years now that Black youths (not wholly of their own volition, of course) have been seduced by mass media and an new aesthetic of nihilistic consumption and have thus been convinced to reject their own roots culture.

Cornel West's, article, "Nihilism in Black America," (which also serves as the first chapter of his book, "Race Matters") argues that Nihilism is a “lived experience of coping with a life of horrifying meaninglessness, hopelessness, and (most important) lovelessness.” One reason for this common experience among Black youths of 'lovelessness' is the triumphalism currently being indulged by American Capitalism and by corporate cultures of consumption, a triumphalism that is wholly unjustified, since Capitalism is in the process of the final stages of collapse, but nevertheless a triumphalism that has managed to co opt major cultural institutions such as public education, The Church, The Family, colloquial language, music and film, and most important to our discussion, visual culture. The arrogant twenty year victory lap of Capitalism, though a pretense meant to act as anodyne to its own defeat at the hands of historical forces, is nevertheless a jog that has pulled us all along for the ride.

It so happens, however, that those in their twenties are unaware of the extent to which it is all bogus, this victory lap (with all the attendant, fevered consumption of cell phones, poorly constructed automobiles, and sneakers and baggy denim pants sold at inflated prices, the venality and shallow poseury). The flip side of American triumphalism, which is the slow motion catastrophism that is simultaneously unfolding, entailing the collapse of economies of scale and of production, the death of literacy, and the loss of global power and influence for America, is easier, I suppose, for old people like me to see. As the proliferation to insane excess of automobile commercials super fetishize the automobile, I cannot help but notice the glaring lack of workmanship and rigor in their construction. I can't help but notice the lack even of legitimate bumper (instead, they bear plasticine-like shells that fold and crumple under pressure rather than resisting or deflecting force) on those modern automobiles so seductively displayed in fetishistic TV commercials. They are regarded as 'looking' good, yet cannot survive slight fender benders that will cost nearly a thousand dollars per shell to repair.

The obnoxiously obvious planned obsolescence of manufactured goods; the spread of the maquiladora from third world to first world; the fall of the dollar and the waning of American military might both projected and real, these are the glaring realities that Youth shows no sign of recognizing, having been taken in, hoodwinked, and bamboozled; but anyone who remembers 99 cent gasoline and beef that was free of mad cow's disease, knows better than to cheer the bum that is Capitalism as it limps round the track leering its toothless smile and talking smack.

Beonce Knowles, so universally hailed as a 'singer', as 'beautiful,' an as 'talented,' is the dog on the track; she is a no-talent poseur of the rank, three-card molly type, an easy to spot con game that offers no content, no talent, no expertise, no chops, no ability ro improvise, and thus no soul, no African American identity to speak of whatsoever, except for the blind loyalty of the young, the naive, the tasteless. There ain't no corn on that cob. What is 'the corn' that is missing in the lives and in the imaginations of these contemporary, rich, over-produced, mostly talentless mas media models and strip club dancers such as Beyonce, masquerading  as singers? Again, the words of Cornel West:

Our culture of consumption has promoted an addiction to stimulation — one that puts a premium on packaged and commodified stimulation. The market does this to convince us that our consumption keeps oiling the economy for it to reproduce itself. But the effect of this addiction to stimulation is an undermining, a waning of our ability for qualitatively rich relationships

The responses I get from young people  (die Widerstände) when I make this incredibly obvious, incredibly mundane critique of vapid pop culture are quite often very much out of proportion to the importance and the value of the object of critique: their reaction is disproportionately defensive, angry, outraged, and hostile--signs that my critique must indeed be touching upon submerged, neurotic formations in the psyches of those who hear me and who for very definite reasons, don't like what I'm saying about their fetishized icons. I have 'struck a nerve' as Freud argues will always be the involuntary response when neurosis is teased at by illumination and by critical analysis. It is in fact an aching emptiness that is being protected from exposure to the conscious American mind, which in late capitalims is not unlike a corn cob with no corn left to speak of. The 'corn' that is missing from the 'cob' of contemporary American culture is identity, and by that I mean primal identitya true cultural identity hinted at in the films of Mel Brooks, of Woody Allen, of Spike Lee, and hinted at in the books of Toni Morrison and Norman Mailer; an identity rooted in history, rooted in ethnic self knowledge, an ethinic core which is ironically the very essence of hetero ethnic, miscegentated America in all its 'native' cultural forms and expressions. This is the thing denied yet is also the thing that forms American identity and that has traditionally formed the love that can only arise from ethnic self knowledge as a rich, complex, and non-commodifiable trait. Everyone in America possesses a roots culture that is essentially repressed in the classic Freudian sense, by Capitalism. Ah, but not just repressed for it is far more macabre a process than that. Ethnic self knowledge is repressed but then brought forward again, in deaf and blind commodified form, in chains, into a matrix called the marketplace, to be sold as chattel into enslavement under market values. The missing corn on the cob are the cultures' now amputated humanist folk values ('folk' becomes 'volk').

Contemporary Capitalist culture as well as contemporary political ideology in America necessitate this repression of identity--Irish, Italian, Appalachian, Polish, Yiddish, Gaulish, Latino/Latina, Indio, Aztec, Amerindian, Asian, Iberian, the Wikang Pambansâ of Tagalog, Russo-Scandian, Hebrew, etc...

To go directly to Freudian theory then, in order to clarify a psychosociology of this, I will note that Freud discovered the phenomenon of 'resistance' common to the neurotic psyche and made it a cornerstone of his basic theory of the unconscious and his technique for freeing the subject from the illnesses of the unconscious through the psychoanalytic routine (essentially a Socratic routine of questioning--the so-called 'talking cure'). He writes that,
There is, however, another point of view which you may take up in order to understand the psychoanalytic method. The discovery of the unconscious and the introduction of it into consciousness is performed in the face of a continuous resistance (Widerstände) on the part of the patient. The process of bringing this unconscious material to light is associated with pain (Unlust), and because of this pain the patient again and again rejects it  (Freud, "Freud's Psychoanalytic Procedure", London 1959)
He says further that
It is for you then to interpose in this conflict in the patient's mental life. If you succeed in persuading him to accept, by virtue of a better understanding, something that up to now, in consequence of this automatic regulation by pain, he has rejected (repressed), you will then have accomplished something towards his education... Psychoanalytic treatment may in general be conceived of as such a re-education in overcoming internal resistances. (ibid.)
And so those among we Americans who have been conditioned by the mass media and by capitalism to see our roots cultures as ugly, awkward, knappy, funky, foolish, awkward, 'ignorant' and unsophisticated, particularly those who are politically and economically dis-empowered, politically marginalized even if culturally represented in the relatively trivial sense of pop culture representation, (as is the case always with strong, supple, healthy, attractive, but unknowing, naive, disposable, exploitable, politically abject youth) those very ones look in turn upon transhumanist, post humanist, cyborg-plastic, empty, commercial and mass media images as seductively 'beautiful' (as being 'cool'), as new and desirable models to emulate. Such ones are trained daily under saturation advertising techniques (see "The Father of Spin: Edward L. Bernays and The Birth of Public Relations" by Larry Tye) to think this way and to think that their thoughts are their own (see 'Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media," by Noam Chomsky), when in reality their thoughts are mere memes, mass produced as inevitably in the intellectual sense as badly made, automobiles, dangerously fragile but imbued with a surface sheen, are mass produced and paradoxically fetishized and desired under late Capitalism's advanced senility.

The choices the captive populations of American mass media and mass consumption make are thus NOT their own 'individual choices' but merely the bric-a-brac tossed compusively into a shoppers' cart of ideas, opinions, assumptions and fantasies for sale, in the mechanical, commercial sense (see Walter Benjamin's book, "The Work of The Arts in the Epoch of Mechanical Reproduction"--title roughly translated, since my German, where book titles are concerned, is often weak).

Amusingly, Bernays himself wrote and said several things that lead one to suspect that he was either a liar or a fool, where the issue of mass psychology and advertising are concerned, particularly in light of the fate of Walter Benjamin, who, pursued by the Nazis and thinking they were about to capture him, committed suicide in Sept 1940). Bernays wrote for instance, in "Manipulating Public Opinion", in the American Journal of Sociology number 33, in May of 1928, that:

This is an age of mass production. In the mass production of materials a broad technique has been developed and applied to their distribution. In this age, too, there must be a technique for the mass distribution of ideas.
Yet, in "Biography of an Idea: Memoirs of Public Relations Counsel" in 1965, he also said, when confronted by the clearly fascist implications and even eventual fascist outcomes of his theories in the hands of less sanguine men than he:

Goebbels was using my book, "Crystallizing Public Opinion" as a basis for his destructive campaign against the Jews of Germany. This shocked me. (ibid.)

Really. REALLY? Not to say that Bernays should or could be plausibly blamed for fascism. Not even the rhetorical agitations nor the will toward proto-fascist idealism of the very nearly insane Neitsche, in his der Wille zur Macht ("The Will to Power"), can reasonably be blamed for the rise of a literal, material, fascist state (see Louis Althusser's "Ideology and Idealogical State Apparatuses: Notes Toward an Investigation"). Still, Bernays' striking lack of insight and foresight, as well as his apparent inability to be critical or cognizant of the obvious  misuse  of his ideas by real politik suggests the tragic discontinuity possible between the cultural production of ideas, language, and imagery promulgated by corporate power, and the literal industrial production of bombs, tanks, guns, bullets, and Zyklon B gas. 
Thus, contemporary Black American youth culture (popular youth culture that is) aggressively assimilates and disseminates the mind set, perception, and values of commercialized, commodities culture under an imperialist positivism much like the German cultural positivism of late Weimar Republic Germany, just before the rise of the Nazi Regime (see "They Thought They Were Free: The Germans, 1933-45", by Milton Mayer).

A very (refeshingly) penetrating analysis by a psychologist, which is not a psychoanalysis per se, arises from my friend and colleague, professor and psychologist, Dr. James Nadell, who teaches and practices clinical psychology in Miami, Florida. In a correspondence with me about popular culture and the economic/psychological effects of 'branding' on youths, particularly Black youths, Dr. Nadell wrote,
[Beyonce's] cultural productions [are] not an expressive or artistic end in and of themselves, but a vehicle by which to further evolve and grow her brand, toward profit maximization. What is it to be branded? It is to be thingified,or self-objectified, if I can reference Fanon. It's bad enough when your oppressor inflicts this on you without your willing participation, in part because you don't have the means or tools to protect yourself from it. It becomes corrupt and counterrevolutionary when an artist not only allows this to be done to them, but when they consciously and purposefully participate in and initiate this branding process themselves. A brand is also a marketing calling card that precedes you, with a purpose of conditioning a consumer to internalize you as a product rather than to identify with you as a human being because you speak to their yearnings, struggles, and sufferings via your cultural productions. At a more disturbing level, you'll recall that slaves were branded in order to indicate ownership of them as commodities by their slave whip wielding masters in the event that they escaped the plantation. The unconscious underpinnings of tattoo fetishism I observe in black as well as other youth cultures may be an index of a pathological desire to be branded and enslaved, but this is a hypothesis and the phenomena is probably more complex than that.

     The sad fact is that I have heard Beyonce perform material that reveals talent and soul, especially her cover of Etta James' "I Hear The Bells Ringing." But otherwise, her material is lightweight, fluff, psuedo soul that may look pretty and sexed up, but ultimately lacks in pathos or strong connection to organic, dynamic, blues culture that is the root of black American musical culture. Don't mistake what I'm saying. I want new cultural motifs that are not a reproduction of what has come before. But the deeper structures of the music, the pain, the suffering,the desire, the resistance, the humor, the beauty, the loss, the sorrow, the rage, the tenderness, the love, the striving, the unity, the loneliness, and the funk must be in the mix for it to really resonate and speak to the human condition of black people in particular, and of all people more generally.

     Beyonce is in a weird way the anti-matter world version of Janis Joplin. Janis was considered homely by traditional beauty standards; Beyonce is beautiful. Janis is vulnerable yet tough. Beyonce projects almost no vulnerability while her music is lacking in muscle and punch. Janis is white but transgresses against dominant white culture by tapping the culture of the oppressed and injecting her individual struggles. Beyonce, who is black, reinforces stereotypes of black women as oversexed and mindless, and offers no transgression, only recapitulation of contemporary capitalist culture. Janis sings from her base of experiences, whereas I sense no personal experience or phenomenology in Beyonce's work, which comes across as formulaic and calculated.

Janis Joplin

Ronnie Spector
     Beyonce may be an economic success and the beneficiary of fame and accolades provided by the dominant capitalist culture. For some, these are measures of greatness. I would remind these people that Billie Holliday died with a net worth of about what was in her pocketbook. Jimi Hendrix, the highest paid artist of his day (upwards of 100k per performance), died with only the proceeds of his last three shows to his name, desperately trying to break the grips of his mafia/MI6 management. These are two artists for the ages who will resonate for generations to come, exemplars of black national culture who speak to the universal human condition. Beyonce, if she remains on her present vector, will be an afterthought, disposable and lightweight, much like a porn star who will long be forgotten (no offense to porn stars). There is always the chance she will become critical in her thinking and tap her potential, but there are few if any signs that this will occur. [Certainly] by conventional, narrow minded standards, Janis was considered an unattractive woman physically. Not by my standards. She was a beautiful person who sublimated her pain and made the world a more humane and empathic place to live. Beyonce may be beautiful on the outside by contemporary (read capitalist, marketing) aesthetic values, but I don't see much beneath the veneer. I think Ronnie Spector in her heyday was much more aesthetically appealing, radiating a wholesome sexuality without all the fascist and synthetic trappings. The general decay of black national culture in America is directly tied to the overall decline of American culture, both of which are in part a function of the economic hollowing out of the country in service of the financial sector and ruling class.

And so, cognizant of the crucial nature, in fact the the human necessity of what Dr. Nadell calls "the deeper structure," I have for years done lectures on the rise of ugly, militarist, and capitalist images used in advertising and in White supremacist ideology. White supremacist ideology, in fact has little to do with 'Whiteness" (since 'race' is a myth, as Roland Barthes assures us, and since that myth, we know from reading "From Columbus to Castro" by Eric Williams was invented in the 1500's as a tool to rationalize the trans Atlantic Corporate Slave Trade). Rather, it is useful, now that orthodox slavery has ended, for selling commodities (such as the commodity of racial identity). These militarist, capitalist images are adopted both by Blacks and Whites in America, in other words by target consumer populations (such as young Black people) as self-identification! A horrific development in global culture, not just in America. The 'deep structure' of a living folk and mass culture, the structure that was intact during the Weimar Republic, is exactly what is missing from Nazi culture (Jewish, Socialist, Marxist, Anarchist, Futurist, Surrealist elements--the elements of Modernism that Nazism abhorred and wanted to kill in a partly metonymic gesture by killing every Jew the Nazis saw as the source of 'degenerate culture, art, and science'). Deep structure is what the right wing cultural forces now mobilized and active in America, is what the Republican Party seeks to root out and kill (Gays, Lesbians, women, Blacks, The Poor, The Elderly, etc.). Specifically, Dr. Nadell says, again, "...the deeper structures of the music, the pain, the suffering,the desire, the resistance, the humor, the beauty, the loss, the sorrow, the rage, the tenderness, the love, the striving, the unity, the loneliness, and the funk must be in the mix for it to really resonate and speak to the human condition..." It is this deep structure that is the meat and matter of all the arts; it is what makes a national culture a legitimate expression of the lives and humanity of the masses, rather than a commodified imposition upon them by triumphal Capitalism.

The youth of the world are effected by this 'triumphal' Capitalism and its attendant power and identity politics expressed culturally through mass media (though certainly I am not claiming this about 'the youth' in majority numbers, since we know that anti-imperialist movements such as the anti-nuke, anti-globalist, and anti-crusades movements, are all very strong right now among European, Asian, African, and Latin American youth!)

Still, the prospects seem dim here in America where growing numbers of Black youths are concerned. Let's therefore get to the major experiment of this essay: an exercise in the fascistic overtones of Capitalist-produced Black bourgeois youth culture under the auspice of the mainstream entertainment industry. This exercise might work best if you go to YOUTUBE, open TWO TABS, one for the Nazi video, the other for the Beyonce video, or you might perhaps be able to open both videos at once here on this blog page. Either way, follow directions in my comments below, related to the Beyonce video. It's an experiment in a phenomenon called "The Dialectical Happenstance." Look past the creepy simultaneity of it to see more deeply into the implications of cultural truth in the visual matrix created dialectically by simple juxtaposition. This is a type of visual/conceptual experiment that as far as I know was invented bywriter and cultural theorist,  Kofi Natambu, who would often have a television set on when I would visit his home, but very often with the sound deactivated. In eeiry silence, decoupled from the glib rationalizations of the narrative element of Capitalism (dialogue, narration, and other such facile dramatic poseury) the television would display simply an amazingly fecund, effusive stream, an eruption of signs pouring up from the cultural unconscious all visually exposed for what they were. This steady stream of alarmingly articulate, ghostly, disturbing, horrific, comic, even revelatory cultural imagery without the sound, displayed the image alone, which comprised in a sense, unmediated, signs 'freed from their signifiers', to crib Saussure (see Ferdinand de Saussure, Roman Jacobson, and Noam Chomsky, although Chomsky is said to have rendered Saussure 'obsolete' I believe all three theorists set a good ground upon which to understand the profound work of semiotician Roland Barthes' idea of disembodied Signs--the 'floating signifyer). Kofi's TV would expose semiotics and meanings that would alarmingly communicate racist, sexist, classist, and metaphysically ugly themes, sub themes, relationships, and fetishes that would otherwise have been mitigated or even elided by the sound element (narrative, voice over, and the naturalizing element of sound effect).

What I have done below is a form of this conceptual experiment, which rests on the dialectic of juxtaposition. Resist the muddle-headed popular programming we suffer from in current society that pushes us to see every aspect of enlightenment critiques as an indication of supernatural 'Illuminati' phenomena, but instead look upon this apparent simultaneity as an opportunity to apply RATIONAL thought to just one single bit of evidence that the Black petty bourgeoisie is fascist.

Directions, then:

Begin the Beyonce video from time code 0:08 WITH THE SOUND OFF, only AFTER you have begun the "Nazi German Anthem video, from exactly 0:10 time code, SOUND ON. You will now WATCH the silent Beyonce video with the Nazi soundtrack playing. The Nazi video provides the sound, song, and music for the Beyonce video. Now do the experiment:

Again, it's eye opening, ISN'T it?

The truly SAD thing here is that this Beyonce video was probably conceived as a hypocritical, half-assed, lowbrow attempt at saying something 'revolutionary' and feminist (yikes!). This is feminism as interpreted by a Black adolescent who has grown up on too many reruns of "Good Times"; too much fetishizing of costume as political action, too many Johnson hair product ads in Ebony Magazine--not enough literacy to speak of. Witness the video's title, which is a typically ambiguous and garbled, contemporary Black pop cultural attempt at progressive thought ("Rule the World-Girls"). But these no-reading-a-book, fashion show actors, singers, producers, and no-music-reading musicians can only think about history, struggle, and revolution as a Revlon commercial.

It’s as if American youth, Black and Anglo alike, hyped as they are on too much BET, MTV, car commercial rhetoric, 'Final Destination' sequels, Taco Bell, and mishigas television fantasy in general, were to attempt to front a ‘progressive’ video. The  result is what we have here: a cynical, visually confused and narratively venal trompe l'oeil ("Narrative's Vice," to quote Detroit educator, poet, and critic, Chris Tysh). Perhaps the creative spirit was on some level willing, but the corpus and the mente are is woefully unable to control or even conceptualize the cinematic elements and visual semiotics they are playing with and presenting, such as mise-en-scene, dramatic irony, crash montage, psychosexual tropology, id and ego drama, social decosntruction, political critique, action editing, and dialectical/materialist thematics. Such are the elements of TRUE progressive cinema.

Why are they unable to manipulate these simple tools in any sort of progressive or even politically coherent way? Because they don’t know what any of that is, at least not in the progressive sense--the sense they seem to be signifying without actually carrying it out ('Girls' is a term, in lieu of 'Women', that pseudo feminist discourse habitually uses in betrayal of its own hypocrisy; likewise, the haphazard flashing of 'progressive' and 'revolutionary' visual canards, such as the raised fist, military step, and combat iconography, are completely defused by the far more deliberate, more aggressive presentation of  a repressive as opposed to rebellious, military chic: boots, goose stepping, marching, bondage clothing. What we have actually are merely 'revolutionary' assemblages in the context of a naive, almost comical drag queen chutzpah akin to the sad maundering of end-of-the-Wiemar caberet culture, complete wth the Weimar conceit of a sequence substituting hyenas (!?) on leashes, for fascist doberman pincers).

Fritz Lang is Crying in His Grave!
To put it simply, if this were truly meant to make a 'feminist' statement, Judith Jamison could have choreographed some powerful dance charts; Bell Hooks could have taken all these lame young people into a room out behind the studio in Burbank where some of this was no doubt filmed, or even into a plush studio conference room and done a seminar
for them on real Black feminism, which might have then trickled down to express itself in actual, creative feminist choreography and a feminist hyper-narrative. If this were anything more than a gesture of creative expression, Hype Williams or Spike Lee could have really DONE something cinematically with this lame shite. But for all the slobbering Anglo critics at the NEW YORKER MAGAZINE who are lately so on about how he is a hip hop ‘genius’, impresario, Jay-Z ain’t that serious: he ain’t about to call up Spike to direct, or hire Ntozake Shange to write a real video script for Jay-Z’s invidious ass.

Now, I know what you are going to say, or at least what some of you are saying; that pop music ain't that serious in the first place--and I acknowledge the fact that the profit motive is not served by artistic pretentiousness. But on the other hand, even in the commercial  sector, you don't get more artistic, more sophisticated than Lerner and Lowe, George and Ira Gershwin, Eubie Blake, Lola Falana, and Stevie Wonder. It doesn't get more technically sophistiated than Fats Waller, Sammy Davis, or, closer to the here and now, Kanye West when he's focused, or how about Mos Def even on a bad day? What about the Godfather of House Music, Darryl Pandy (rest in peace, Darryl), and Darryl's artstic cousin, Biz Markey? These are all profit motivated artists who in fact created wealth and influence in the middlebrow and lowbrow entertainment industry, yet each one solidly derserving of the accolades they've earned as 'artists'.

And then there is this to consider: if a sleazy, late Weimar strip-tease and burlesque with "Revlon does Sadomasochism" around the edges was what the mobbed-up corporate R&B  zombies who produced this tripe really intended, then why the pretense of implying a feminist statement? Why are the undigested gestures of Black Power and Feminist and revolutionary movements used as a veneer? Why not just call it "Strip for the World--Girls." and be honest about it? Well, I think we know why. So here we have the result: a piece depicting rank, blonde-wigged, longerie tweaked dancefraus reifying strip club chic; a cryptofascist Hollywood cliché in the primary psychosexual hues of Reichminister Joseph Goebbels’ propaganda mill (Herr Jay Z, in this case). Eine kleine nachtnegger, jahwol?

Again, my students, representatives of urban African American youth culture par excellence, respond to such a critique in a variety of pre-formed, limited ways, the 'variety' being merely the individuality of their ultimately restricted range of conceptual possibilities of thought. They thus cannot think for themselves in responding but display the voice of the culture essentially speaking through them (as educator and cultural critic, Robert Burgoyne would put it). Some of the common responses are, that I, in doing a critical analysis of the fascism of Beyonce Knowles am being personalist (though they do not know this term from philosophy and theory and express a very complex problematic by using the naive expression, "You must not like her", saying that I am 'attacking' the actual woman, Beyonce, that I am 'hating' on her.

Beyonce Tribe Crony, Rhianna Plays With Guns
Other responses include their commercially trained suggestions that my 'message' is weakened by a 'negative attitude' (betraying their tendency to see the realities of social critique and even of social interaction in terms of a ubiquitous and pernicious public relations model). They instinctually privilege the concept of "Spin" in assessing
the intellectual legitimacy, or rather, the essential legitimacy of intellectual propositions. If you can convince large numbers of people of your 'opinion' of Beyonce, they suggest, then that 'opinion' becomes true. Cultural and visual truth then, are to them, a numbers game, a kind of popularity test. Consensus equals reality, equals truth, this notion implies. I often respond by paraphrasing Frank Kermode, that if the value of an opinion, the legitimacy of an idea, or the truth of a claim, is to be tested only by its success in the world, then the propositions of dementia can become as valuable as any ther fictions, and the claims of insanity can enjoy just as much legitimacy as the claims of rationality; that the validity of one's opinion of the Jews, as Kermode warns, "Can be proved by killing six million Jews."

The salience of Kermode's sentiment, as deft and archly persuasive to me as one of Hamlet's witty asides about Polonius, is usually lost on students, many of whom lack the intensity of feeling about The Holocaust that I was inculcated with as a youth in the public education system and that I have carried like an essential touchstone for all my adult life. A blinkered association with historicity is a common trait amongst American youths, though by no means could one say all of them are lacking historical knowledge. Many are quite well aware of history and its lessons. It is not of them I speak.

Of course I point out to students who insist that I need to not be 'negative' so a to 'get my message' more easily 'sold', that I’m not writing commercials, not trying to ‘convince’ anyone of anything, and that my purpose as an intellectual is not to make anything acceptable or clear to the obdurate audience (if it isn’t already clear as a bell, then the reader needs to read quite a bit more before trying to read me, I suggest to them). As for the charge of personalism, the petty level of thought that regards only 'personality'(see the Black rock group, Living Color's "Cult of Personality")is the problem in the first place, and just doesn't apply to a thoroughgoing critical analysis, which I am seeking to do.

Nor does such trivia as whether or not one 'likes' an artist negate the responsibility we all have, to THINK, about things and to think historically, think politically, particularly with regard to visual truth (at which point I will suggest to them that they check out Andre Seewood's book, "SLAVE CINEMA: THE CRISIS OF THE AFRICAN AMERICAN IN FILM"--available on a good analysis of issues of POWER and REPRESENTATION in the context of African American cinema and identity). Above all, I will suggest to my students that they realize how important it is to READ in order to know what is happening in the world around one, in a matrix OUTSIDE of the limited one given to us all by the primary institutions responsible for producing ideology: The Church, The family, and the Educational System.

The implication is not just nihilist, not just PAGAN (the Beyonce video is full of snake and viper imagery reflecting the fall of contemporary Black American Christianity into a strange cult of satanic fetishism) but MISANTHROPIC. My former student, Mike Franco, who is one of the 'youths' I am always trying to instruct, one whose alacrity has far surpassed my tutelage now (he teaches me as much now as I ever taught him when he was younger, and was my student) focuses on the detail of that nihilism; he calls the popular visual style of music industry videos a form of 'intoxication'. When you look at the word, "intoxication", I've pointed out to Mike, it has two meanings at its Greek/Latin roots: to be inebriated, but also to be poisoned. I bow to his analysis, as far as it goes. He points out that what Beyonce is saying is, "I'm beautiful, I'm rich and powerful, don't you want to be me." Mike adds that she's thus showing out in a Freudian sense, within a cult of ego (i.e., Opra Winfrey): 'I'm showing my capacity for either beneficence or tyranny; I have all this going on, I'm famous, you're not, you're beneath my boot. I'm part of an empire.' Of course, where the masses of Black people (and the masses of Latin people) are concerned, this is simply what Freud would call wish fulfillment.
On the surface then, the stuff represented in Beyonce Knowles' videos is simply nihilism, which is terrifying enough, but, ultimately, I argue that it goes even deeper, it's misanthropy. To see this requires visual literacy, and remembering not just Hitlerism's visual seduction, but Peronism in Argentina for instance, which turned Evita Peron into an idol PRIMARILY through visual style and representation. In Peru, the struggle of the revolutionaries of Shining Path and of Tupac Amaru against Alberto Fujimori was in part a fight against identity as cultural truth. All those Latin women in south America with bottle blond hair, like Beyonce's wig in the video. Of course, it is not just Beyonce and the satyr, Jay Z. we are talking about--that would be scapegoating Beyonce, which I am not trying to do here, that would be uninformative, a waste of critical energy. It's an ENTIRE CULT of visual semiotics that I indict here, that has 'intoxicated' African American and also Anglo American youth.

Fascist State Chic?

What I was driving at earlier about Freud, in fact, is how The Doctor goes further in his writings, the ones about abnormal psychology and the Id. Misanthropy is more than wish fulfillment gone awry (Ego); it's more clearly the realm of the Id. Freud writes that the Id "knows no judgments of value: no good and evil, no morality. [it is]

instinctual cathexes seeking discharge." It's the response of the abused (such as Germany after the Treaty of Versailles and the destruction of German economy, culture and the destruction of their very humanity beneath the boot of the allied powers), it's the ATTITUDE of the abused towards the abuser--which often is to mimic the values and actions of the abuser (as Dr. James Nadell alludes to in his comments above).

The visual elements of this cathexis, whether German, Latin, Russian, or African American, adolescent, Christian, Israeli, 'patriotic', faux feminist, or whatever, are the same.

Fascism is a dialectic, as I said.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Letter to a Young Intellectual

For your age, you are far superior to your contemporaries in critical skills and in thinking skills. That's no small thing, it's admirable, for it reflects the fact that you have discipline, and have done years worth of something fewer and fewer people, including so-called 'professional intellectuals' care to do anymore: reading.

You can correctly presume that the professional programs and the sciences are somewhat less or even far less subject to the ongoing dilution of stricture in the classroom. Less subject, that is, than the humanities. Physics, engineering, economics, psychiatry, biology, law, and chemistry professors still must, to greater
or lesser degree, read journals, technical manuals, and the frequent publications and books recording advances in their fields. As a professor of English, humanities, history, music, philosophy, and political science (the subjects I've taught in three states and and at eleven colleges and universities over my 20 year career), I can tell you that I have noticed a qualitative difference in the acuity of intellect among my colleagues in the sciences, generally speaking.

The difference is one of superior preparation and intensity of knowledge among faculty as much as intensity of classroom pedagogy. One can only presume further that while colleges and universities care relatively little whether members of their faculties misrepresent the function of the oboe cadenza in Beethoven's body of symphonic works, or misinform students regarding the historical causes of the Hunan Province of China having so uniquely and stubbornly resisted industrialization since the 1990's, they care quite a bit more deeply that faculty be able to articulate and teach the Krebs tricarboxylic acid cycle and the Krebs Cycle's importance to both prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells and how evolutionary biology might explain the prokaryotic cycle taking place in the cytoplasm of the cell, while the eukaryotic cycle takes place in the mitochondria; that they care deeply that faculty keep up with reading on technical specifications of the tensile strength of carbonized architectural support elements. For, turning out graduates who cannot scan a John Keats poem or recognize the similarities and crucial differences between Kant's description of the syllogism in his "Critique of Pure Reason" and Aristotle's definition of the syllogism in his "Prior Analytics" has rather less severe ramifications, after all, than turning out graduates who don't know what to do when a vascular clamp fails during a thoracic surgical procedure.

That is not to say it is not the case that many or even most humanities professors take teaching the development of three point perspective in the evolution of fresco design in the Renaissance seriously, and that those professors don't dedicate themselves to constant sharpening and growth of their knowledge as a means of passing on all they can to their students. Many do, and at some universities most do. I have been at faculty events and in meetings where the science and the humanities faculty were equally skilled and serious. The broader paradigm however, and the fundamental model of higher education that once expected and demanded this level of intellectualism of professors, is shifting. The ramifications suffered by a history professor who doesn't read but is skilled at teaching the chapters of a department imposed textbook and administering true or false and multiple choice exams objectively and efficiently, are fewer than they used to be; far fewer. That is unfortunate for students. Reading with comprehension and insight, not passing standardized tests, is the essence of achieving a useful education and therefore achieving true freedom; there is no freedom without freedom of thought. There is no freedom of thought without having something inside your head to think. Getting something in there is achieved through reading. Reading, that is to say, taking in the accumulated history of ideas, thought, theories, the life works, and the biographies of all who have come before you, is the only legitimate way to take up membership in a global community of thinkers and to claim your heritage as part of a new generation of those thinkers. These thinkers are the community we belong to as intellectuals (Kofi Natambu exhorts us to not be ashamed to call ourselves that, 'intellectuals'--those, says Emma Goldman, 'who choose to think') and it is their shoulders upon which we stand every day, even if some among us happen to be too obtuse to know this, too dishonest to admit this, or too unduly and uncritically influenced by a superficial valorization of the works of Friedrich Nietzsche, claiming to be reinventing wheels all on their own.

As you have discovered in undergraduate school, those 'professional intellectuals' as I call them above (professors, teachers, journalists, critics, editors, and so-called 'pundits' or 'TV news commentators'), can leave much to be desired when it comes to intellectual weight and girth: they might have the positions they enjoy not because of what they know but because of their associations, wealth, skin color, gender, or even photogenics. This sad truism definitely includes university professors, and that's what you've discovered. You've found many of your professors lacking in preparation, depth of knowledge, critical skills, and even the basic legitimacy of familiarity with the subjects they teach. Needless to say, you have far surpassed the requirements of your undergraduate education, and have often found yourself feeling as if you had read more than your professors. In some cases, I can assure you, you have.

Sadly, humanities professors do not read nearly as much as they once were required to and cared to. Fewer and fewer universities have the vision of a Columbia. Columbia University's visionary and controversial "Core Curriculum" pedagogy, which demands that Columbia undergraduates master a "pantheon" of skills, subject matter, disciplines, and requirements, regardless of major--a 'common curriculum' that provides 'communal learning' in their words, is as much a religion now as a rationale for educational practice, and it flies in the face of the false populism that claims students should not have to master a set of core academic and intellectual skills, should not have to be conditioned to value, specifically, a Western pantheon of reading. One notes that Columbia, being an Ivy League school with a large endowment, being wealthy, and being much in demand for undergrad and grad education, can afford to impose its conception of rigorous education. For many other universities, increasingly so for state universities and schools with small endowments and fluctuating tax support, the 'core curriculum' is growing more difficult to enforce in the face of creeping commercialization of education. Reading makes for a competent professor, while performance skills, popularity with undergraduates, ease of course content, and the ability to entertain and patronize students' tendency toward boredom and short attention span, makes for a successful professor. Tenure is under assault, pedagogy is growing lax, and the credo of 'publish or perish' is declining in relevance as corporate infiltration of university life and culture increases and the new credo is coming to be something like, "inflate grades so you'll be popular with students."

Because universities are undergoing a paradigm shift away from intellectual rigor and toward a business model that pressures us to see students as 'customers' who ought to be patronized rather than challenged, younger professors are being trained both implicitly and explicitly to see themselves as selling a service within a service industry, while students, who can smell the coffee and can tell that its being brewed for love of their dollars, not for love of The Pantheon,' are seeing themselves as 'consumers' seeking 'value' for their dollar, and value is somewhat stupidly being defined as 'getting an "A" in each of their courses. Like public schools before them, at least in the humanities (English, history, social science, psychology, music, fine art, and humanities) colleges and universities are stripping the semester units of curricular course sequences (many are eliminating humanities departments altogether) of the likelihood--in some cases even the possibility--of student failure. A student who pays tuition expects to pass, and even expects to achieve an "A" if he or she has fulfilled the mere modicum of stated requirements in a course. Student formal challenges to final grades are at record highs at many universities, choking the grade appeals process with a barrage of cases, each one of which must be heard and adjudicated individually once it is passed from paper to the evaluation procedure. I have served twice as a faculty representative on grade appeal committees, and both cases were not only specious but sadly unwarranted on their face.

None of this is a recipe for a system that encourages reading at any true depth, or with variety and diversity.

Having said that, I have something a bit harsh to say to you: it's time for you to get serious, because you have the potential to do something better than pass courses, collect an empty Bachelor's degree, and chase a dead end, service industry job, or at the high end, become a public school teacher hoping your job will survive conversion to private, charter school identity or coming deep cuts in public funding of education. You are at the point now of publishing (maybe you've already published a few journalistic pieces, maybe some poetry, maybe even some fiction and some op ed pieces here and there). So its time now to think about graduate school. I recommend you apply to several, both a few good state schools and some private schools as well, and don't hesitate to send out at least two Ivy League applications (Cornell and Columbia are top qualitatively distinguished schools with profoundly good faculty, and offer the Ivy League imprimatur without the same level of detached elitism you get from Harvard and Princeton, both of which will take applicants for granted, and will take you for granted even after having admitted you). Look for a legitimate university that has a grad program with a history, a decent faculty in your area of major and concentration, an emphasis on research, a grad faculty that publishes widely and frequently, and a strong fellowship program so that you can acquire a decent fellowship and scholarship to live on and an assistantship to get some college level teaching under your belt. You might decide to keep teaching, and you might decide that public school teaching, though it can offer more benefits and more job security, is not worth the virtual slave labor model and lack of social respect the job security is founded on.

Needless to say, you want to completely avoid patronizing that thing shaming American higher education more than all else now: the wandering stellar killer magnetar orbiting the conventional university system and sucking specific gravity out of it, weakening its attractive force; those pseudo-collegiate "University of Phoenix" type charlatans, I mean, that masquerade as universities. These wastrels and vagrants suck money out of communities while giving nothing back, least of all education or training, despite their mindless claims of emphasis upon 'training' rather than education, and with TV commercials and two-color glossy brochures that babble about 'getting a job'. See one of the other blogs offered by this host for tips on truck driving school. Nothing against it; I was a truck driver for five years, and I'm proud of it. I just don't aim here to advise you to be an industrial worker.

In the end, of course, you really need only the basic amenities: if not fine arts, film, or music, if not a pre-law course of study or engineering, medicine, or architecture (the professions), then you'll want a good solid liberal arts program of study in English, Humanities, Psychology, History, and Philosophy (you might want to consider being a history major for your MA, but notice how I have said not a word about Business Administration? To major business it would be best to have an economy in the country in which you are planning to live upon completion of study, something--an economy I mean--that of course no longr exists in the United States).

You cannot call yourself a serious intellectual unless you take some steps now to continue to grow and develop as all intellectuals do--you'll simply be a Sophist (like too many journalists and like too many film and book critics), and that is whack. Debate, rhetoric, and intellectualism as performance art or as adolescent hobbyism is bull: read up on the Sophists of ancient Athens, and why Plato denounced them and their belittling of intellect and philosophy by performing word games in public, teaching the children of the wealthy and powerful just for the money (Ouch! Yale and Harvard in the house!), and performing feats of deductive logic as if performing magic tricks.

At this point the gaps in your reading and your knowledge are glaring (as is always the case for any undergrad finishing a BA, even a gifted one like you) and the gaps are showing in your arguments, your discourse, your over-emphasis upon the sophistry of 'debate' rather than critical analysis, and it is showing in your work--your writing. You shouldn't stop at the thresh hold of deeper intellectual legitimacy and sit on the tools you've acquired so far (sophomoric tools). Instead, as you wait to start grad school, you can do a bit of preparatory reading, mostly the foundational reading you missed due to an incomplete high school education (is there any other kind now?) and due to what might have been an adequate but weak course of study for your BA work as an undergrad. I have some suggestions for a broad reading program, not too specific, since you will hopefully be going into grad program soon anyway. Until you do, the reading below can keep you fresh, sharp, and introduce you to the deeper level of reading you will encounter in grad school.

START: with the fundamentals of Western discourse:
1. Plato (particularly The Republic, but also the elements of open discourse--'the Socratic method' that animate Socrates' dialogs with Plato),

2. Socrates (his 'Socratic method' and his influence on Caliphatic Arab thought, and in turn the influence of Arabic thought on early Christianity and on Catholic scholasticism (remember my lecturing about this at times in class and pissing off the lame, southern baptist Christians in class?). For example, The fourth Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslims, Mizar Tahoe Ahmad, argues in Revelation, Rationality, Knowledge & Truth that Socrates was not just a philosopher but a prophet. Never mind what he argued about Herodotus that they never taught you in undergrad. Socrates actually did meet the bill for being a prophet of some sort when you consider that he constantly made references to the 'sanctity of the ancient world' (HIS ancient--which you could see as being Afrika, but that's a different discussion) and to the oracle and its importance for 'revelatory' guidance. Socrates is also very easily slipped or folded into the Christian, and later the Scholastic tradition of Christianity, and on an odd note his original words (recorded by Plato) in the Greek refer to "God" as singular rather than to "The gods" as plural. It is as if he were a monotheist--at least linguistically. Scholars point out that Socrates rejected the Greek pantheon of Gods and Goddesses except to refer to them as examples of FALSE THOUGHT, FALSE LOGIC. Plato was quite another matter in that regard, he didn't reject the gods or tradition.

3. Aristotle (especially his writing on theater, dramaturgy, and fundamental physics). Aristotelian logic is fundamental to the evolution of western rational thought as it is, in these modern times. His full importance also to fundamental Christian thought and the FLAWS in christian thought, (mainly exposed through the weaknesses of scholasticism) are crucial:

"Aristotle had a profound influence on philosophical and theological thinking in the Islamic and Jewish traditions in the Middle Ages, and it continues to influence Christian theology, especially the scholastic tradition of the Catholic Church. His ethics, though always influential, gained renewed interest with the modern advent of virtue ethics. All aspects of Aristotle's philosophy continue to be the object of active academic study today. Though Aristotle wrote many elegant treatises and dialogs (Cicero described his literary style as "a river of gold"), it is thought that the majority of his writings are now lost and only about one-third of the original works have survived."

4. Herodotus (the fundamentals of African thought transposed to the Western world!) though you will need to read VERY carefully (read Chaikh Anta Diop, and Chancellor Williams and Martin Bernal) to really learn who Herodotus was--an African).

5. The European scholastic philosophers (particularly Abelard and Thomas Aquinas) who sought to reconcile the natural science of Aristotle and of neo-platonics with the spiritual belief structure of Christianity, The basis of Catholic intellectualism, either Jesuit or Franciscan) is found in scholasticism, and so you can more easily and readily get to the essence of Catholic (and even mainstream liberal) arguments by understanding where their major ideational assumptions came from.

6. Then there are the FUNDAMENTAL thinkers that led to Marxism-Leninism, namely (but not limited to) the French idealism of Abelard and Hypolite and Rousseau and the German Idealism of Fiche, Schelling, Hegel, and Schopenhauer, which arose out of the rationalism and analytic philosophy of Kant (his 1762 essay, The False Subtlety of the Four Syllogistic Figures (Die falsche Spitzfindigkeit der vier syllogistischen Figuren) is a VERY important one for you to read because it addresses one aspect of a weakness in your thinking and your reasoning skills, along with understanding the flaws of sophistry among the ancient Greeks.)

7. Hegel. You CANNOT understand ANYTHING about Marx, Engels, or even Freud or Darwin without reading your Feuerbach and your Hegel (Georg Wilhelm Freidrich Hegel), especially "Pheonmenologie der Geist" -- 1807 (Phenomenology of Spirit) and Weissenchaft der logik" ("The Science of Logic") and Phenomenology of Mind (I can't remember the German title).

8. Next comes Marx and Engels. Skip a lot of the stuff you'll read soon enough in a good graduate program and for now read Das Kapital and "THE GERMAN IDEOLOGY" along with his critique of Hegel as a purely non material philosopher. MATERIALISM is what you get from Marx, not "Communism" which is fairly uninteresting, really, and I think merely a footnote on the true complexity of Marx's thought. Also read The "Grundreisse" and "The Poverty of Philosophy."

9. Now you will have your hands full with POST Marxist thought. Start with Terry Eagleton if you want to stay Marxist, or with Existentialism (Simon DeBouvier and Sartre and Camus--with a little Kierkegaard and Nietzsche as a chaser) if you want to leave Marx a bit behind. This leads directly to POST MODERNISM.

10. Reading in postmodernism can begin for you with getting a little Frederic Jameson under your belt ("Postmodernism or the Logic of Late Capitalism"), while Post Structuralism can be traced through the works of, among others, Jacques Derrida, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and Julia Kristeva. Deconstruction is traced through the post Heideggerian and post Habermas works of Derrida and Foucault and Roland Barthes (though quite rightly, grad students reading this blog at Cornell who are as galvanized and influenced now by Professor Jonathan Culler as I was when I was at Cornell climbing Leib Slope in the morning up to Goldwin Smith Hall to sit, blessed and ecstatic, in Jonathan's classes will be grunting, 'Barthes is a structuralist!' Yeah, but he was just so post structural about being structuralist. Ask Satya Mohanty what I mean by that).

I'll stop there because there is also the Frankfurt School, and then the surrealists, situationists, and the psychoanalytic school, and DaDa as well as the many people of color who belong to the roots of western politcal theory way back in the 1700's in Europe and the 1800's and into the 1900's in America (WEB DuBois) and the American positivists, and the Russian school that followed Marx and Stalinism that lead to Voloshinov (techically a Marxist ideologist, and structuralist, but some of his work serves the evolution of post structuralism), and the film and theater philosophies such as Eisenstein and Russian formalism (Stanislavsky and language theory) and then also all the literature you will be studying in grad school as well as film art, music, dance, and the dialectis of how all these things relate to each other when you are doing analytic critiques and critical deconstruction in your writing.

First, don't be intimidated by the scope of these suggestions. Be intimidated instead, by the gaps that are not even metioned here--because many of these writers and works can be totally rversed conceptually so as to place them in drastically contradictory catagories in relation to the categories I suggest here
(orthodox categorization and taxonomy), Also, some of these people influenced each other positively, while others are connected to one another chiefly by one REJECTING the prior (Hegel is crucial to Marx in how Marx critiques Hegelian thought, yet, Marxism contains Hegelianism in it's very core ways of undrstanding social and political reality---therefore we can trace many of the failures and weaknesses of Marxian thought right back to the idealism of Hegel--such as Marxism's (and a typical unreconstructed Marxist's) fatal flaw of assuming its own trans-historicism and its attraction to the dogma of structural absolutism).

Likewise, so-called "Post Modernism" (Postmodernism) is largely a carrying forward of modernist thinking, "AFTER" Modernism's failure, while post structuralism is, in a profound way that makes for its danger, its ideological threat to stati quo of all kinds, a complete break with structuralist thought. Anarchism, a late 1800's political theory can arguably be related to the irruption of post structualism in the 1970's! French modern analytical thought arises in a strong sense out of Descartes, but must be understood in terms also of the huge effect of psychoanalytic theory upon Cartesian precursors, and so Julia Kristeva is indespinsable to understanding modern French thought; but important also is the political effectiveness in French society and politics of French feminsim (Helene Cixous), in ways that American feminism failed to penetrate the dense Calvinism of American folk thinking and American electoral politics. Likewise, it is important to take into account American women, Blacks, and radicals (Susan Sontag, Richard Wright, and Kofi Natambu and Leroi Jones/Amiri Baraka and Angela Davis) if you are going to be able to handle Post modern and late capitalist revolutionary thought in America and its relation to Jazz aesthetics, cinema, and what I call 'the Tao of Marlon Brando' (see Rayfield Waller's "Viva Brando!"--Old School Blog, Saturday, July 17, 2004).

There is a whole discourse of radical Latin American writers, cultural critics, and revolutionaries (from Regis Debray--who is actually a Frenchman in Latin America--to Che Guevara, Jose Marti, Nicholas Guillen, etc.

In other words, the reading you need to do is dense, broad, and will entail decisions you will make about what you will focus on and what conentration you will choose for grad school, for your papers, and for you dissertation (Masters and PhD). Most daunting of all, is the ceaseless nature of it. Your obligation to read--to grow and to develop your mind, your beliefs, your assumptios, your thought, never ends. It is a commitment for your lifetime.

As Jonathan Culler has written in his book, Literary Theory,

Theory is intimidating. One of the most dismaying features of theory today is that it is endless. It is not something that you could ever master. Not a particular group of texts you could learn so as to "know theory". (Culler, 15)