Wednesday, June 30, 2021

Graffiti and flowers, both ephemeral

Three Parties I Have Known

I'm boosting this once more, on general principal, but also with specific intent.

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I'm this time of the coronavirus I'm bumping this to the top of the queue just to remind everyone that fun is real!
If you’ve ever been to a really good party, or a happening nightclub scene, you know what I’m talking about. And I’m not even a party person. But I know a good time when one’s swirling about my legs and crawling up my spine.

Yes I do!

But writing about parties, as I’m about to do, is tricky business, especially if the parties you are writing about happened half a life-time ago and have left few memories which you can recount in appropriate detail. Without the detail, what is there, but the...feeling is not the word, nor ambience, perhaps residue, Benjamin’s aura? Somewhere in there.

I HAVE known some good parties. Some of the best are those where I’ve performed as a musician. But I was not a musician at these parties, though I helped organize the third. These are the parties that stick in my mind as (among) the best I have known.

1960s at Johns Hopkins

I was an undergraduate and then a graduate student (master’s program). I don’t recall whether this party happened during my undergraduate or graduate years. Not that it matters.

It was in the Hopkins gym on the north end of the Homewood campus. So the room was large and the ceiling high. The music was rock, with a bit of a psychedelic vibe. There was a light show, colored oils floating in water in shallow dish atop an overhead projector – do they still exist, overhead projects, or have they been completely replaced by digital projects of various kinds? The light show required a certain ambient darkness which it could then illuminate.

But I forget just where the light show was being projected. One wall, the ceiling, both? Don’t know.

Nor do I recall the music, not in the sense that I can bring it up in my mind’s ear. Though who knows what could come bubbling forth under hypnosis. The band was a trio, guitar, bass, and drums. And I have a vague sense that they were spread apart a bit on the floor rather than being tightly grouped.

It was the guitarist that caught my ear, his expertise with the wa wa. Sounded like Zappa. I told him so during a break and we had a nice chat. Zappa at Hopkins. What fun.

Somehow it was all magic. The world melted away and we all melted into the party.

1970s at UB

That’s the State University of New York at Buffalo, known as UB (it used to be a private school, the University of Buffalo). This party just happened. No one planned it. It just grew up out of the ground one afternoon.

At that time the English Department was housed in two long, low buildings that had been erected at the north end of the Main Street campus as temporary structures. Somehow they became all but permanent. The buildings ran parallel to one another about, say, 20 or 30 feet apart, with enclosed walkways between them and one or two points. This little complex was surrounded by grass of some useful extent.

It was Spring, of 1977 or 1978, and by then the grass had come back, the leaves were on the trees, and the temperature was comfortable. For some reason, somehow, the faculty decided to throw a party that afternoon, for the graduate students, for the undergraduate majors, for themselves, and, as a practical matter, for anyone who came by. They set up a temporary bar outside on the lawn and started serving drinks.

Where did the tables come from? I don’t know. And the booze? Don’t know that either. Someone had an idea and someone did this and that, and things happened. Word spread and a party was on.

We drank and talked and many of us got pleasantly tipsy, though some, I recall vaguely, drank to the point of nausea and throwing up.

Somehow it was all magic. Some people kissed people they’d hardly even talked to before, even me, though I forget the woman’s name. We had one date after the party, and that was that.

1980s at Grafton, NY

I was on the faculty at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York. My friend Al and I rented a small house on the top of a hill in Grafton, about 15 miles outside of Troy. You could see into Massachusetts from our second floor.

We decided to throw a Halloween party. We sent out invitations – just how, I forget, but this was before email and I don’t recall stuffing a lot of envelopes. We hired some undergraduates to form a jazz band and set them up in a largish downstairs room. One of them wrapped himself in toilet paper so he became a mummy.

I forget what I did for a costume, but Al managed some kind of penguin costume.

A couple of hours before things began Al was cutting veggies for hors d’oeuvres when he managed to slice into the meat of his hand (I forget which one–all this forgetting) down to the bone. The party was set to begin in two hours and I had to drive Al to the emergency room–keep calm. Which I did, and left him there. Someone else would pick him up and bring him to the party.

I returned to Grafton, finished whatever needed to be finished. People began arriving and, by the time our little house was packed, Al had returned from the hospital and was in fine spirits. The joint was rockin’.

I remember one woman, a faculty wife, had costumed herself as an upside-down person: pants pulled on over her arms, some silly head hanging between her legs, which had shirt pulled over them so they could pretend to be arms as her hands pretended to be feet. Ridiculous. Fun. I mean, when talking to her, where do you direct your voice, to her pretend head (down there) or to her pretend crotch (in your face)?

Somehow it was all magic. The mundane world was gone and the cosmos filled our house.

Calling Henry! Calling Henry Lau! Pinchas Zuckerman just made made an ass of himself saying Asians don't make music with enough emotion

Javier C. Hernández, Violinist Apologizes for ‘Culturally Insensitive’ Remarks About Asians, The New York Times, June 28, 2021.

...Zukerman angered many of the roughly 100 students and teachers in the class on Friday when he invoked racist stereotypes about Asians, leading Juilliard to decide not to share a video of his master class afterward with participants, as it had initially intended.

At one point, Zukerman told a pair of students of Asian descent that their playing was too perfect and that they needed to add soy sauce, according to two participants in the class. At another point, in trying to encourage the students to play more lyrically, he said he understood that people in Korea and Japan do not sing, participants said. His comments were reported earlier by, a music site.

Whoops! And now he digs in:

He made the remarks on Friday while offering feedback to a pair of sisters of Japanese descent.

After the sisters played a duet, Zukerman told them they should try bringing more of a singing quality to their playing, according to participants in the class. When he said that he knew Koreans did not sing, one of the sisters interrupted to say that they were not Korean, adding that they were partly of Japanese descent. Zukerman replied by saying that people in Japan did not sing either, according to participants.

He knows WHAT? Is that why K-Pop is taking the world by a storm, because Koreans don't sing?

I think he needs to take lessons from some of the young genius musicians Henry Lau has been working with. And then he needs to do penance by going on TwoSetViolin and successfully completing ALL the Ling Ling challenges. Word of advice: Dude, take your head out of your ass before you pick up the fiddle.

And, Mr. Zukerman, while you're at it, listen to some non-singing Koreans:

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If you scroll down through the comments you'll see that I've left a link to this whole master class.

Who'd've thought, the extraterrestrials speak English, or want to learn it [annals of anxiety]

Tuesday, June 29, 2021

South Korean Vinyl Nuggets: 70s & 80s Korean Jazz Selections

The range of music gathered together under the rubric of "jazz" is rather expansive and a bit strange, at least to someone raised in the USA and used to USA categories. Is this how Koreans think of jazz? The term seems to cover music that's not Western Classical, it's not traditional Korean music, it's not rock and roll, it's not really pop, it's not one or three other things, but it IS something called "jazz." There IS music in there that I'd call jazz, various styles including swing and modal, and a few flavors of lite jazz. There's also lounge music, bossa nova, and a bit of free jazz. And a bunch of other stuff.

From Mystic Moods.

South Korean Vinyl Nuggets: 70s & 80s Korean Jazz Selections (1/3)

Strong Gato Barbieri influence at about 35 minutes.

지숙 Bossanova Medley (1981)
정성조 - 지하실 (Late 1970s)
길옥윤 - 별들에게 물어봐 (1975)
김준 - 낙엽 (고엽) (1972)
류복성 봉고오케스트라 - 혼자 걷는 명동길 (Late 1970s)
Sang Hee Lim - This Girl In Love With You (1971)
최병걸 - 오후 (1975)
류복상 - 타향살이 (1987)
이판근과 코리안째즈퀸텟 - 아리랑 (1978)

South Korean Vinyl Nuggets: 70s & 80s Korean Jazz Selections (2/3)

The opening cut begins sounding like a Coltrane anthem. Then we get a vocal and big band over a funk beat. Very interesting use of Duke Ellington's "Come Sunday" to frame an arrangement, 38:00-43:03.

00:00 류복성 - 혼자 걷는 명동길 (1992)
04:27 정성조 - 깊고 푸른밤 Bossa Nova Theme (1985)
06:18 Sang Hee Kim - Little Green Apple (1971) [vocal in English]
09:34 맹원식고 그의 재즈밴드 - 성불사의 밤 (1973)
17:33 최병걸 - 사랑의 바람 (1978)
21:07 이판근과 코리안 째즈 퀸텟 - 가시리 (1978)
27:34 맹원식과 그의 째즈 오케스트라 - 낙엽 (1973)
30:25 유복성과 신호등 - 째즈의 혼이여 내게로 (1978)
35:25 최병걸 - 미소 (1977)
38:03 맹원식고 그의 재즈밴드 - 고향생각 (1973)

South Korean Vinyl Nuggets: 70s & 80s Korean Jazz Selections (3/3)

At 01:42 I hear some Cab Calloway style call and response. At 20:36 there's a strange little instrumental with twiddly sounds over a steady thumping beat with drum punctuations. Starting at 21:43 we hear McCoy Tyner style piano and a strange sounding soprano sax (maybe it's something else?) and then an Art Ensemble of Chicago funk beat at 22:43.

오성이 - 신농부가 (1976)
최병걸 - 건널수 없는강 (1978)
맹원식과 그 스윙밴드 - 아리랑 목동 (1973)
임희숙 - 그래도 설마하고 (1992)
최병걸 - 달려서가네 (1979)
맹원식과 그의 재즈밴드 - 동심초 (1973)
류복성 - 혼자 걷는 명동길 (1978)
정성조 - 달려서가네 (경음악)
류복성 - 마슬사의 여인
류복성 - 슈퍼맨
맹원식 - 야래향
정성조 - Road Work (뛰어라) (1980)
정성조 - 겨울여자 주제음악 (H) (1977)
정성조 - Title Back (1980)

Floral dialectic

Jarasum Jazz Festival in Korea found a young audience in 2016 and is still going strong

Michelle Mercer, How A Korean Jazz Festival Found A Huge Young Audience, A Blog Supreme from NPR Jazz, January 12, 2016.

It was like discovering a parallel reality.

After completing a sponsored trip to South Korea for music professionals in October, I stayed in the country, striking out on my own. I grabbed a train to the Jarasum International Jazz Festival, a couple hours from Seoul, and arrived in the middle of a set by the international power pairing of Paolo Fresu, Omar Sosa and Trilok Gurtu.

I did a double take — and then a triple take. A huge audience of mostly twentysomethings was smiling and dancing, showing big love for the music. I looked around for a plausible explanation. Was a K-pop video being projected on a screen near the jazz trio? No, a festival volunteer explained — the crowd's enthusiasm was all for the improvising trumpeter, pianist and percussionist onstage. Younger people, he said: They like jazz.

"Stepping onstage at the Jarasum Jazz Festival is like stumbling into an alternate universe where jazz is suddenly young, hip, sexy and cool," says Joshua Redman, the celebrated American saxophonist.

After Redman performed at Jarasum a few years ago, festival director In Jae-jin remembers the saxophonist saying he wanted to take half of the audience home to the U.S. In has gotten used to hearing that sort of thing.

"Actually, so many international guests are so surprised to see the young audience in Korea, especially for this festival," In says. "Wherever you attend jazz festivals, normally the audience is over 50 or even 60, but at my festival they are in their 20s and 30s."

Now in its 12th year, the Jarasum Jazz Festival regularly draws between 200,000 and 250,000 people over three days. Jarasum estimates that 88 percent of its 2015 audience was under age 40. To put this demographic in perspective, the numbers are basically flipped at the Newport Jazz Festival, where a 2012 survey found that 82 percent of its audience is over age 45.

The art of jazz is flourishing, we know, with young musicians developing the music all over the world. But the business of jazz sees much hand-wringing over the music's aging audience, its sea of gray hair. And nowhere in the world have I seen a jazz audience as young as at Jarasum: The crowd felt anachronistic, like a 21st-century resurrection of jazz's swing-era popularity.

From the web page for the 2020 festival:

In 2004, when the first festival was held, there was no other music festival that massive audience participated, thus most people were wondered why. However, the festival's focus has been only jazz for 17 years. Jazz includes various subcategories such as swings, fusion, bossa nova, bebop, and world music. The fact that Jarasum Jazz introduces different types of music under name jazz is the major role of the festival. Moreover, through ‘Jarasum International Jazz Concurs,’ ‘Jarasum Creative Music Camp,’ and ‘Korea Jazz Showcase, the festival tries to find talented jazz musicians. Jarasum Jazz created new leisure culture like never before: 'festival like a picnic that you do not need to know the music.' Jarasum Jazz does not compromise the music, but by delivering enjoyable experience, the festival contributes on publicizing jazz.

I wonder how things are going now for Jarasum?

Lee Mergner, Jarasum International Jazz Festival Reviewed, Jazz Times, April 25, 2019.

I was recently invited to the Jarasum International Jazz Festival, which is like a Korean jazz version of Bonnaroo-a large music festival attended by over 100,000 people and held over three days in a park and campground about 60 km northeast of Seoul, near a small town called Gapyeong. The word Jarasum translates basically to Turtle Island, because the park area is in a valley surrounded by small mountains that are said to resemble a turtle. The park is a popular tourist destination for native Koreans during the non-winter time and features beautiful mountain views and all sorts of water sports. The camping grounds of the park were filled all three days with every kind of tent and camper. They even pitched tents on the same fields where the audience listened to the performances, which took place on 10 different stages, as well as at venues in the nearby town.

The audience was composed almost entirely of younger people, but also included lots of young families, a site not often seen at jazz festivals in the U.S. The festival felt like more like an annual outing for family recreation, much like a 4th of July picnic in America. And, yes, there were fireworks on at least two of the nights, which, given the topography of the site, made for sensational views. I’m guessing that for many, the bucolic camping and picnic experience combined with the fireworks and overall see-and-be-seen vibe made it a worthwhile trip no matter who the headliner was.

My sense was that the audience was not really a jazz audience and wasn’t necessarily there just for the music, though they are very respectful and attentive in a way that American audiences rarely are. No shushing or angry backward looks toward people talking loudly during the music were necessary here. Even the most run of the mill local acts got a quiet and receptive audience, but if they didn’t produce as performers they got that same silent treatment at the end of their set. No polite golf claps. Conversely, when talented performers played with intensity and verve, the audience responded in kind. I had heard from various American jazz artists such as Kenny Barron and John Scofield, who have played the festival in the past, that the size and responsiveness of the audience made for a special experience. “I felt like a rock star there,” Barron told me before my visit.

The music at the festival fell under the wide umbrella of jazz with nary a K-pop artist to be found onstage. Perhaps there were some in the audience like at the Seoul Jazz Festival this past May when Chanyeol from EXO made a very public appearance at a Jamie Cullum set. However, since so many of the young people dressed like K-pop stars, I wouldn’t have known the real thing if I stepped on his or her white-shoe-clad foot. The headliners for this year’s festival included Oregon, Lucky Peterson, Manu Katché, the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, Bugge Wesseltoft and Caetano Veloso. Every year the festival spotlights a country and this year it was France (next year will be Israel) and besides a mainstage appearance by Katché, there were sets from Henri Texier, the Airelle Besson Quartet and La Caravane Passe. Most of the acts, however, were Korea-based and reflected the wide diversity of styles that could be called jazz-from swinging big bands playing standards to more experimental acoustic music to funky neo soul and good old hard-driving postbop.

Judging the locals:

Along with the Korean jazz pianist Ji Young Lee and bassist Kim Changhyun, as well as Denis Le Bas from the Jazz Sous Les Pommiers festival in Normandy, France, I was asked to judge a competition called Jazz Concours, in which four young Korean jazz artists performed 20-minute sets and were rated according to their technical mastery, creativity and presence/showmanship, with the winner receiving cash and a gig on the mainstage at next year’s festival. I enjoyed all four about equally and had a rough time choosing a favorite in all the categories, although in my view they all rated poorly in the showmanship criterion, a common problem among young jazz musicians.

Stage presence aside, the playing was on a high level commensurate with their jazz and music schooling in both Korea and the U.S. (Berklee is a particular favorite of young Koreans). The pianist Kyumin Shim was a student of Jason Moran and it showed in his mastery of a range of styles from stride to bop to post-modernism. I think the winner, saxophonist Sunjae Lee, stood out particularly to the Korean judges in large part because his composition “Breathe” dealt with the plight of the young victims of the ferry accident in 2014, an incident that has been seared into modern Korean culture and is still unresolved today as protests abound about the government’s handling of the tragedy. Lee’s melancholy rendition seemed to have a visceral impact on the audience and both Lee and Kim mentioned how important it is for the country’s jazz artists to have a social or political message to their music.

In addition to attending the festival, I also spent a week in Seoul attending the Performing Arts Market Seoul (like a Korean APAP) and exploring the city’s jazz and music scene. Along with my daughter, who lives in Seoul, and the pianist John Chin and his girlfriend Mara Stepe, we made the rounds of jazz clubs in Seoul, including the funky Club Evans in the uber-youthful Hongdae neighborhood (think a Korean Williamsburg), where we saw an energetic set by the Singapore-based jazz funk group the Steve McQueens, who had also performed at Jarasum. Later in the week we stopped by the Dizzy’s-like All That Jazz in the more Western neighborhood of Itaewon for a performance by my fellow competition judge-the bassist Kim Changhyeon and his trio, heavily influenced by Keith Jarrett’s Standards Trio. On another night, John checked out Once in a Blue Moon in the Gangnam area, while I visited a little hotel club in the Insadong arts district, which featured a young trio of Gi Won Shin (piano), Jae Wan Mun (bass) and Du Yong Song (drums), with cameos from saxophonist Yong Su Kim. We were able to hear live jazz virtually every night and it seemed that each venue featured not only the usual jazz photos and posters, but also shelves of vintage jazz vinyl. Indeed, at those clubs and some others, vinyl listening parties are all the rage.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Ancient cities – "Instead of a small focal point, cities spread over 100 sq km."

From the linked article:

Amazingly, however, far from being compact, we now know that even in the most well-known of Maya centres, like Copán and Tikal, the population was relatively dispersed. Instead of having fields outside and politics inside, fields were located throughout the urban infrastructure and residences. And instead of a small focal point, cities spread over 100 sq km. Recent studies of Tikal have shown a network of moats, dwellings, reservoirs and pyramid clusters that extend out from a single hill for up to 200 sq km into the surrounding landscape.

Innovative aerial surveys have now made similar findings across the Maya world. In almost all instances, instead of isolated urban buds, scientists have found vast landscapes of small and large centres connected by dispersed agrarian landscapes, residential areas, causeways and a complex, interlinking system of dams, reservoirs, sinkholes, channels and swamps that supported growing populations through even the driest of seasons. As leading Mayanist Prof Lisa Lucero, of the University of Illinois, puts it, “the Classic Maya knew the importance of water and of fertile agricultural soils, the latter dispersed in variously sized pockets, mirrored by a dispersed agricultural settlement. This low-density approach to cities was a logical, innovative solution.”

The Classic Maya also had far more diverse and sophisticated economies than has often been appreciated. Alongside the key crops, archaeobotanists have shown that the planting of avocados, pineapples, sunflowers, tomatoes and manioc added to a dispersed settlement and lifestyle. The Classic Maya are also known to have penned, fed and fattened wild turkeys and deer for their key protein sources.

Scientists have found evidence that diverse “forest gardens” sustained these cities. Based on ethnographic study of, and testaments from, Maya communities today, this type of cultivation, called milpa (or kol in the local Yukatek language), involves the use of multiple crops, and the movement of fields, allowing different parts of the forest to grow back and patches of soil to rest and restock before planting begins in a locality again. We also know that instead of indiscriminately planting in soils of all types, the Classic Maya actually followed rich veins of particularly productive soils, giving their field systems a winding appearance that snaked along rivers and up slopes. They even added special plants, like water lilies, to reservoirs. These plants are incredibly sensitive to water quality, only growing under clean conditions, and allowed people to monitor the buildup of stagnant water and thus guard against disease.

As a comparison you might want to check out:

Sunrise serenade [corny, I know]

Using novels to predict the future conflicts

Philip Oltermann, ‘At first I thought, this is crazy’: the real-life plan to use novels to predict the next war, The Guardian, 26 June 2021.

The name of the initiative was Project Cassandra: for the next two years, university researchers would use their expertise to help the German defence ministry predict the future.

The academics weren’t AI specialists, or scientists, or political analysts. Instead, the people the colonels had sought out in a stuffy top-floor room were a small team of literary scholars led by Jürgen Wertheimer, a professor of comparative literature with wild curls and a penchant for black roll-necks.

After the officers had left, the atmosphere among Wertheimer’s team remained tense. A greeting gift of camouflage-patterned running tops and military green nail varnish had helped break the ice, but there was outstanding cause for concern. “We’d been unsure about whether to go public over the project,” recalls Isabelle Holz, Wertheimer’s assistant. The university had declined the opportunity to be formally involved with the defence ministry, which is why the initiative was run through the Global Ethic Institute, a faculty-independent institution set up by the late dissident Catholic, Hans Küng. “We thought our offices might get paint-bombed or something.”

They needn’t have worried. “Cassandra reaches for her Walther PPK” ran the headline in the local press after the project was announced, a sarcastic reference to James Bond’s weapon of choice. The idea that literature could be used by the defence ministry to identify civil wars and humanitarian disasters ahead of time, wrote the Neckar-Chronik newspaper, was as charming as it was hopelessly naive. “You have to ask yourself why the military is financing something that is going to be of no value whatsoever.” Advertisement

In the end, the launch of Project Cassandra saw neither paint bombs nor sit-ins. The public, Holz says, “simply didn’t take us seriously. They just thought we were mad.”

Sensory talent, a literary seismograph:

But Wertheimer says great writers have a “sensory talent”. Literature, he reasons, has a tendency to channel social trends, moods and especially conflicts that politicians prefer to remain undiscussed until they break out into the open.

“Writers represent reality in such a way that their readers can instantly visualise a world and recognise themselves inside it. They operate on a plane that is both objective and subjective, creating inventories of the emotional interiors of individual lives throughout history.”

His favourite example of literature’s ability to identify a social mood and cast it into the future is a retelling of the Cassandra myth by the East German novelist Christa Wolf. Kassandra, published in 1983, casts Troy as a state not unlike the late-stage German Democratic Republic, succumbing to the paranoia of a Stasi-like secret police as it veers towards a not-so-cold war. Kassandra, cursed with the gift of prophecy, is also a cipher for the author’s own predicament: she foresees the decline her society is heading for, but her warnings are ignored by the military patriarchy.

If states could learn to read novels as a kind of literary seismograph, Wertheimer argues, they could perhaps identify which conflicts are on the verge of exploding into violence, and intervene to save maybe millions of lives.

Ask Watson:

Germany, which had contributed to the Afghan war in only a modest capacity and stayed out of Iraq, has invested some £43m into figuring out if it can use data tools to predict international conflicts. It has set aside a further £2.6bn to expand the approach until 2025. The centrepiece of its attempt at geopolitical clairvoyance is a megadata management platform developed at Munich’s University of the German Federal Armed Forces. It is called Preview – a forced acronym for “Prediction, Visualisation, Early Warning” – overseen by Carlo Masala, a professor of international politics. Preview sucks up information that could give a hint about where on the planet a crisis is about to erupt: RSS feeds of news websites, data banks tracking military conflicts, civil protests or car bombs going off. Broader structural clues are thrown into the mix: GDP per capita, regional educational structures, climate change data. Advertisement

All this raw information is fed into Watson, IBM’s artificial intelligence platform, which helps convert it into maps highlighting potential trouble spots: green indicates stability, orange highlights instability, red warns of a conflict on the verge of escalation. One German official says the AI prediction system had already given Angela Merkel’s government a few months’ warning of the rebel insurgency in Mozambique’s northern Cabo Delgado province, where security forces are battling with militants trying to set up an Islamic state. But the early warning system is still in development: the aim is to eventually be able to predict conflicts 12-18 months in advance.

Germany remains more wary than other nations of outsourcing strategic assessments to algorithms...

Literary infrastructure:

The group decided instead to focus on what it calls “literary infrastructure”: what happens around the text? How is it being received? “We became interested in what hit a nerve,” Rogge says. “Was a book heaped with awards and state prizes? Or was it banned and the author had to leave the country?” Kuwait, for example, saw a rise of novels about the situation of the stateless Bidoon minority after 2010. Many of them were censored or banned shortly after their publication, prefiguring the crackdown on Bidoon protesters in 2019.

Reading books in translation proved an inefficient way to pick up such trends. Rogge says he ended up skim-reading no more than 30 novels over the course of the project. Instead, Wertheimer’s team reached out to writers and literary critics in regions they were interested in. The response was surprisingly enthusiastic. The novelist Wole Soyinka sent links to articles in the Nigerian press and supplied contacts to other writers. Kosovar writer Beqë Cufaj organised a colloquium at his country’s embassy in Berlin. Hearings in Paris and Madrid were attended by novelists from Algeria, Morocco, Egypt, Israel and France, most of whom volunteered to pay for their attendance out of their own pockets.

In 2018, weeks after the Bundeswehr officers had travelled to Tübingen, Wertheimer presented his initial findings at the defence ministry in Berlin. He drew attention to a literary scandal around Jovan Radulović’s 1983 play Dove Hole, about an Ustashe massacre against their Serbian neighbours, and the expulsion of non-Serbian writers from the Serbian Writers’ Association in 1986. In the years that followed, he showed, there was an absence of tales about Albanian-Serbian friendships or love stories, and a rise in revisionist historical novels. Literature and literary institutions, he told the military men, had “paved the way for war” a good decade before the start of the bloodshed of the Kosovo war in 1998.

Carlo Masala was at the presentation. “At the beginning, I thought: this is crazy shit,” he recalls. “It won’t fly.” But Masala, who had spent a part of his academic career studying the conflict in Bosnia, remembered how the hardening tensions in the regions had been preceded by a decline in interfaith marriages. “In Kosovo, it seemed, you could detect similar early warning signs in the literary scene.”

They got funding for further research. They focused on Algeria:

The researchers developed a risk score system with nine indicators for each book: thematic reach, censorship of the text, censorship of the author, media response, scandals around the text, scandals around the author, literary awards for the author, literary awards for the the text, and narrative strategy. In each category, the book was assigned a score between –1 and +3: the higher the score, the more “dangerous” the text.

In some cases, negative scores were necessary. A book told from several perspectives, such as from two opposing enemy camps, was assigned zero or –1 points in the narrative strategy category. Zoltán Danyi’s 2015 novel The Carcass Remover, for example, scored only 12 points, mainly because it reflected on the Yugoslav wars without using black-and-white depictions of heroes or villains. “We realised that literature can also help solve or lessen conflicts,” Schlicht says. “Not every book divides opinion.”

Dystopian fiction from Algeria scored much higher. Body Writing by Mustapha Benfodil, a 2018 collage novel made up of the diaries and scribbles of a fictional astrophysicist killed in a mysterious car accident on the day of the presidential election, spoke of the desire to create order out of the chaotic memories of the Algerian civil war in the 90s, expressing a yearning for democratic change. Twenty points, the Project Cassandra researchers decided.

Had the book had more impact, it would have scored higher: La Faille by Mohamed-Chérif Lachichi, a 2018 thriller portraying violence in Algerian prisons, a corrupt legal system and a growing protest movement, scored 22 points because it represented a case of a well-known and widely reviewed author questioning the status quo. The highest-scoring work in the project’s 300-book data bank was Sansal’s 2084: Wertheimer’s team assigned it 25 points.


But the literary seismograph’s instincts proved reliable. In February 2019, two years after Wertheimer’s team had identified Algeria as a region of interest, civil protests broke out in Algiers and several other cities, culminating in the resignation of President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. When Wertheimer handed over his team’s findings in the summer of 2020, they met the defence ministry’s formal requirements for taking their methodology to the next level. Project Cassandra had established a tangible link between literature and empirical historical events. Plus the cancellation of trips and seminars because of the pandemic meant the study had come in almost £34,000 under budget.

The project was defunded in the winter of 2020.

The power of music: 6 year old girl who is blind and autistic plays guitar for the first time [Born to Groove]

TenK Cliff
6.45K subscribers

A 6-year-old girl who is blind and autistic plays guitar for the first time Lacie is blind and autistic, when she hears the sound of the music coming from Grimsby busker TenkCliff she is drawn to the music, and her Grandmother seeing her excitement wheels her over to where the busker is playing.

For licensing / permission to use: Contact -

I met this beautiful little girl while I was out busking on Friday in Freshney Place Grimsby Lacie is Blind but for me, she had eyes that could see. She is also Autistic and sat in a wheelchair...

Her Grandma said she could hear the music and got excited and so her Grandma let her stop and listen, she told me that she was blind but for me, I didn't see that. She said she is Autistic but again I saw a very intelligent little 7-year-old girl.

Honestly her voice was just beautiful, I said to her give me a high five took her hand and bounced my hand of hers, when the time came for her to leave I said High five and she hit my hand with a high five no hesitation and was right on target.

I was super Blessed that day.... that is the power of music and a connection right there... Thank you, Lacie, for the beautiful connection :)

Saturday, June 26, 2021

What we've learned from computational criticism [read the whole thread on Twitter]

Flowers in grayscale

Summer Ramble 6.26.21: Literary Studies, Mind Models, Seinfeld, Joyful Nature

First I list the projects currently at the top of my to-do list. Then I discuss them by subject area.

Specific projects on deck

Three working papers in late stages of development:

The road to Xanadu led to Mars: I went one way, you all went another: I figure out how it is that structuralism led me through cognitive science and computation to a new approach to literary studies.

Crisis Among HUMANITIES DISCIPLINES in the Twenty-First Century: Built around the book, Permanent Crisis: The Humanities in a Disenchanted Age, in which Paul Reitter and Chad Wellmon argue that the institutional culture of the humanities is grounded in discord and discontent that follows from 19th debates about the nature of the university.

To Model the Mind: Speculative Engineering as Philosophy: Built around the book, Models of the Mind: How physics, engineering and mathematics have changed out understanding of the brain, by Grace Lindsey. I’m interested in an engineering approach to understanding both the human mind and AIs.

Big intellectual project on deck: To Model the Mind: A Primer on Attractor-Nets: It’s time to dust off the notes on Attractor-Nets which I made in the mid-2000s and get something in a form that other people can understand. Why? Because those notes speak to current debates in artificial intelligence about artificial neural-nets and symbolic computing.

Book project: Playing for Peace: Reclaiming our Human Nature, which is Volume 3 in the peace series I’ve been working on with Charlie Keil: Local Paths to Peace Today. This consists of various papers, by Charlie, me, and others, on the importance of music and play in life.

Seinfeld working paper: A working paper based on my current series of analyses of bits from his book, Is This Anything?

Literary criticism and the academy

While Crisis Among HUMANITIES DISCIPLINES is about the humanities in general, I concentrate on literary criticism because that’s the discipline I know the best. It turns out that much of the discussion centers on the difficulties I have had defining my relationship to a discipline that has, in effect, rejected me. The road to Xanadu led to Mars is about ideas, how mine evolved from structuralism, while the profession ultimately was unable to accommodate structuralist insights and was forced to deconstruction and post-structuralism (which doesn’t go beyond structuralism, but rejects it). Here’s a short chronology that encompasses events mentioned in both working paper:

1972: Finish my master’s thesis on “Kubla Khan” – The thesis was structuralist in conception and spirit, but moved to structuralism’s farthest edge and sent me toward computation and cognitive science. Central to Xanadu/Mars.

1976: Publish my article “Cognitive Science and Literary Semantics” in MLN’s Centennial Issue in 1976. I’ve now gone beyond the boundaries of literary criticism as those boundaries would evolve into the 1980s, but that wasn’t obvious at the time. At the time those boundaries were fluid. Central to Xanadu/Mars.

1985: I was denied tenure at RPI and unable to secure another academic post. Sometime in the wake of that I negotiate (with myself) a Socratic bargain with the profession. That bargain is modeled on The Crito. I discuss this extensively in Crisis.

1995: I begin reconsidering the nature of my intellectual enterprise in relation to literary criticism as critics become interest in cognitive science, but not the cognitive science that informed my work. I decide that I had all along been interested in form. I discuss this extensively in Xanadu/Mars

2001: I begin corresponding with Mary Douglas. She gets me interested in ring-form composition. In 2003 I send her a long post about ring-form in “The Nutcracker Suite” episode of Fantasia. Relevant to Xanadu/Mars

2010: I renegotiate the Socratic bargain. I am no longer loyal to the profession, but simply to the free and unfettered pursuit of truth in an international community of scholars. Again, central to Crisis.

2021: Make sense of it all: Crisis and Xanadu/Mars.

Modeling the mind

Finishing the working paper, To Model the Mind: Speculative Engineering as Philosophy, should be relatively straightforward, though tricky. The main task to be accomplished is to talk in a meaningful way about all the kinds of mind-like entities, artificial, real, and hybrid, that we are currently dealing with. I’m not talking about a thorough discussion, just an indication of the range along with some sense of the kinds of issues involved.

The attractor net primer is perhaps the most important item on my current agenda. I’m guessing the primer is going to run 40 to 50 pages or more and will have lots of diagrams. I have to get it into the current arena of discussion about AI and the mind.

Joyous nature book

I’m currently editing Playing for Peace: Reclaiming our Human Nature. I need to write an introduction, finish the guide-to-contents, and tell Charlie (Keil) what help I need from him to finish it up.

Working Paper on Jerry Seinfeld

Provisional title of the working paper: Seinfeld’s Comedy: Jokes are Intricately Crafted Machines. I need to do analyses of three more bits, two of which I’ve already done, though in another form, and write an introduction.

Anthony Braxton podcast with Phil freeman

The Battle to Build the Big Apple's Little Island

The B1M
1.78M subscribers

New York City’s waterfront just got a radical addition. This is Little Island - a public park over the water financed by a billionaire. For more by The B1M subscribe now -

Full story here -

Executive Producer and Narrator - Fred Mills
Producer - Jaden Urbi
Video Editing and Graphics - James Durkin

Special thanks to Heatherwick Studio, Thomas Heatherwick, Professor Sharon Zukin and The Dronalist.

Additional footage and images courtesy of The New York Public Library, MNLA, Arup, Little Island, Timothy Schenck, Harry McFann, Michael Grimm, David Shankbone, Diana Robinson, Chelsea Piers, Fred George, James Corner Field Operations and Hudson River Park Trust.

Friday, June 25, 2021

Friday Fotos: Big boats on the Hudson

Jim Keller talks about processor design

Dr. Ian Cutress, An AnandTech Interview with Jim Keller: 'The Laziest Person at Tesla',

I've spoken about Jim Keller many times on AnandTech. In the world of semiconductor design, his name draws attention, simply by the number of large successful projects he has worked on, or led, that have created billions of dollars of revenue for those respective companies. His career spans DEC, AMD, SiByte, Broadcom, PA Semi, Apple, AMD (again), Tesla, Intel, and now he is at Tenstorrent as CTO, developing the next generation of scalable AI hardware. Jim's work ethic has often been described as 'enjoying a challenge', and over the years when I've spoken to him, he always wants to make sure that what he is doing is both that challenge, but also important for who he is working for. More recently that means working on the most exciting semiconductor direction of the day, either high-performance compute, self-driving, or AI.

Note: This interview is intended for an audience with technical expertise in chip design. If, like me, you lack such expertise, you just have to let if flow and be content with a mere flavor for what's going on.

Matrices, graphs, and vectors

IC: I think you said before that going beyond the sort of matrix, you end up with massive graph structures, especially for AI and ML, and the whole point about Tenstorrent, it’s a graph compiler and a graph compute engine, not just a simple matrix multiply.

JK: From old math, and I'm not a mathematician, so mathematicians are going to cringe a little bit, but there was scalar math, like A = B + C x D. When you had a small number of transistors, that's the math you could do. Now we have more transistors you could say ‘I can do a vector of those’, like an equation properly in a step. Then we got more transistors, we could do a matrix multiply. Then as we got more transistors, you wanted to take those big operations and break them up, because if you make your matrix multiplier too big, the power of just getting across the unit is a waste of energy.

So you find you want to build this optimal size block that’s not too small, like a thread in a GPU, but it's not too big, like covering the whole chip with one matrix multiplier. That would be a really dumb idea from a power perspective. So then you get this array of medium size processors, where medium is something like four TOPs. That is still hilarious to me, because I remember when that was a really big number. Once you break that up, now you have to take the big operations and map them to the array of processors and AI looks like a graph of very big operations. It’s still a graph, and then the big operations are factored down into smaller graphs. Now you have to lay that out on a chip with lots of processors, and have the data flow around it.

This is a very different kind of computing than running a vector or a matrix program. So we sometimes call it a scalar vector matrix. Raja used to call it spatial compute, which would probably be a better word.

IC: Alongside the Tensix cores, Tenstorrent is also adding in vector engines into your cores for the next generation? How does that fit in?

JK: Remember the general-purpose CPUs that have vector engines on them – it turns out that when you're running AI programs, there is some general-purpose computing you just want to have. There are also some times in the graph where you want to run a C program on the result of an AI operation, and so having that compute be tightly coupled is nice. [By keeping] it on the same chip, the latency is super low, and the power to get back and forth is reasonable. So yeah, we're working on an interesting roadmap for that. That's a little computer architectural research area, like, what's the right mix with accelerated computing and total purpose computing and how are people using it. Then how do you build it in a way programmers can actually use it? That's the trick, which we're working on. [...]

CPU Instruction Sets: Arm vs x86 vs RISC-V

IC: You’ve spoken about CPU instruction sets in the past, and one of the biggest requests for this interview I got was around your opinion about CPU instruction sets. Specifically questions came in about how we should deal with fundamental limits on them, how we pivot to better ones, and what your skin in the game is in terms of ARM versus x86 versus RISC V. I think at one point, you said most compute happens on a couple of dozen op-codes. Am I remembering that correctly?

JK: [Arguing about instruction sets] is a very sad story. It's not even a couple of dozen [op-codes] - 80% of core execution is only six instructions - you know, load, store, add, subtract, compare and branch. With those you have pretty much covered it. If you're writing in Perl or something, maybe call and return are more important than compare and branch. But instruction sets only matter a little bit - you can lose 10%, or 20%, [of performance] because you're missing instructions.

For a while we thought variable-length instructions were really hard to decode. But we keep figuring out how to do that. You basically predict where all the instructions are in tables, and once you have good predictors, you can predict that stuff well enough. So fixed-length instructions seem really nice when you're building little baby computers, but if you're building a really big computer, to predict or to figure out where all the instructions are, it isn't dominating the die. So it doesn't matter that much.

When RISC first came out, x86 was half microcode. So if you look at the die, half the chip is a ROM, or maybe a third or something. And the RISC guys could say that there is no ROM on a RISC chip, so we get more performance. But now the ROM is so small, you can't find it. Actually, the adder is so small, you can hardly find it? What limits computer performance today is predictability, and the two big ones are instruction/branch predictability, and data locality.

Now the new predictors are really good at that. They're big - two predictors are way bigger than the adder. That's where you get into the CPU versus GPU (or AI engine) debate. The GPU guys will say ‘look there's no branch predictor because we do everything in parallel’. So the chip has way more adders and subtractors, and that's true if that's the problem you have. But they're crap at running C programs.

GPUs were built to run shader programs on pixels, so if you're given 8 million pixels, and the big GPUs now have 6000 threads, you can cover all the pixels with each one of them running 1000 programs per frame. But it's sort of like an army of ants carrying around grains of sand, whereas big AI computers, they have really big matrix multipliers. They like a much smaller number of threads that do a lot more math because the problem is inherently big. Whereas the shader problem was that the problems were inherently small because there are so many pixels.

There are genuinely three different kinds of computers: CPUs, GPUs, and AI. NVIDIA is kind of doing the ‘inbetweener’ thing where they're using a GPU to run AI, and they're trying to enhance it. Some of that is obviously working pretty well, and some of it is obviously fairly complicated. What's interesting, and this happens a lot, is that general-purpose CPUs when they saw the vector performance of GPUs, added vector units. Sometimes that was great, because you only had a little bit of vector computing to do, but if you had a lot, a GPU might be a better solution. [...]

Some "Zen" hip-hop, the outro to episode 23 of Samurai Champloo


[Parked here for reference. Watch it on YouTube. Better yet, get the whole series and watch it at the end of episode 23.]

This is a low fps (10 fps) screen capture from the ending credits of the Baseball Blues episode from Samurai Champloo (with english translated subtitles) and the album version of the song Fly -by- Tsutchie instead of the trimmed version from the episode.

I posted this in case someone is interested in the translated lyrics.

Here is a better version of the same video but with the original audio from the episode instead of the full song:

And here is the full episode on Funimations youtube account:

Thursday, June 24, 2021

I'm not even sure I know where that is. Some place in Brooklyn as seen from Liberty State Park?

Permanent crisis among the humanities @ 3 Quarks Daily [Afterthoughts on an essay-review]

I’ve got a new piece up at 3 Quarks Daily:

A perverse sense of intellectual honor is driving humanities scholars to disciplinary seppuku: Some personal reflections on the book, Permanent Crisis: The Humanities in a Disenchanted Age,

* * * * *

There is the standard book review, which is generally a relatively short piece, less than, say, 2000 words, but often less than 1000, in which the reviewer concentrates entirely on the book they’re reviewing. Then there is the essay-review, which is generally longer, even much longer. The form allows the reviewer to offer their own thoughts about the subject in the book. In some cases the writer will spend the first half or even two-thirds of the piece giving their own ideas and then tack the review on at the end, almost as an afterthought.

My piece is long enough to be an essay-review, almost 5500 words, but at least I do the authors, Paul Reitter and Chad Wellmon, the courtesy of discussing their book before I offer up my 2000¢ worth of ideas. However, I definitely failed them in one respect, especially so as this is a prepublication review. I failed to provide a single compact statement of praise that could be used in publicity.

A blurb

So here it is:

In Permanent Crisis, Reitter and Wellmon have provided a timely account of the nineteenth century debates that shaped the structural armature of the modern research university. In demonstrating that discord and discontent are inherent in the institutional culture of the humanities, so that humanists are exquisitely tuned to see attacks coming at them on all fronts, they have provided essential reading for anyone charged with guiding their institution through the turmoil currently engulfing higher education in America.

I know, there’s more to the humanities than literary studies

The review has five parts, with the last being a relatively short conclusion. The last half of the first, most of the second, and the entirety of third and fourth sections are devoted to my elaborations on the argument Reitter and Wellmon have given. In offering those elaborations I concentrated on literary studies, which is hardly the entirely of the humanities, though literary scholars often forget that in the context of discussions such as this one. I failed to state that explicitly in the review. I should have done that. I here apologize for that failing. I concentrated on literary studies for an obvious reason: that’s what I know best.

And with that, let’s get on with it.

The overall rhetorical structure of the piece

Though I didn’t have this consciously in mind when writing the review, it’s clear that my general strategy was to validate their argument by pointing some of the contemporary consequences of the discordant humanities institutional culture.

Thus, once I’ve given a highly compressed and abstracted version of their argument at the beginning of the first section (Beyond divinity), I follow it with remarks from literary agent John Brockman, who argues that scientists are coming to displace humanists in the public sphere by offering synthesizing overviews of and reflecting on the general implications of their work. In doing so they are stepping outside the role assigned to them within the institutional structure of the modern research university. They are operating beyond the boundaries of the social contract Reitter and Wellmon are investigating.

This public-facing work does not count when evaluating their work for promotion within the university. These scholars usually write these books after they have gotten tenure. Of course, just between you and me, if this work does become widely known, as in the case of, say, Steven Pinker (who also keeps up a program of specialized research), of course they get rewarded for it in some fashion. Universities appreciate good publicity. And why not?

I open the next section (The same old story, love and glory, as time goes by) with a long quote in which Reitter and Wellmon state their general argument. I follow that with several relatively recent statements in which the late J. Hillis Miller, a distinguished literary scholar (I took courses with him when I was at Johns Hopkins) talks about the discipline of English literature and the current state of the humanities. The fourth and last of those passages opens with Miller mentioning how the New York State University at Albany had recently been forced to shutter four humanities programs. My remarks were confined to the recommendations he made – regroup around media studies – but I said nothing about the fact that here was a threat that had become real.

Could it be that the humanities are in fact under threat? Well, yes, at times and places they are, and increasingly so in recent years. You mean humanists aren’t paranoid? That’s not at all what I mean. Paranoia makes it difficult or impossible to distinguish between real and imagined threats. And it cripples humanists in dealing with the real ones.

So in the third section (Take to the internet) I mention several obvious things literature departments could do that would make them more appealing to students and increase their engagement with the public. They could have taken these steps over a decade ago, but, so far as I know, did not. Why? Because they involve the Internet. Many humanists responded to the Internet with variations on how it is rotting the minds of our students and will rot our minds too if we’re not careful.

That response comes straight out of the nineteenth century playbook in which technology is regarded as somewhere between suspect and evil. Institutional culture blinded humanists to an opportunity that new technology made available. That’s why that culture is so dangerous.

The fourth section (On the personal value of two ancient texts) is tricky. I seem to step entirely outside the argument I have been developing by discussing the value that two venerable texts, Plato’s The Crito and Goethe’s Faust, have had in my life. That is, I am discussing texts, not humanities, though I did in fact encounter both of these texts in my freshman year at Johns Hopkins.

The Crito is a classic text in the literature of civil disobedience. I was put it to use in that capacity when, faced with the certain prospect of being drafted into the military (thus was 1969, during the Vietnam War), I declared myself a Conscientious Objector to war. I go on to discuss how I used The Crito as a way of, at first, remaining loyal to the academy after I’d been denied tenure and found myself unable to secure another academic post. I am quite certain that that failure was at least partially related to the fact that I violated the anti-technology clause of the traditional humanist social contract. My degree was in English literature, but I had gone deeply into cognitive science and computational linguistics. In so doing I had, in effect, taken myself out of the humanities. Later on, when it had become clear that I would never have a university post, I dropped any sense of loyalty to the academy and shifted it to a diverse international community of thinkers.

That is, I used The Crito as a way to lever my way outside the institution in which I had gotten my education and done my initial research. I had used the humanities against the humanities, something any deconstructive post-modern humanist would understand. But, and this is crucial, that demodern humanist would expect praise from their colleagues for pointing out that the humanities can be used against the humanities while one is still gainfully employed as a card-carrying humanist.

Then, after I’d told the story of how I had ceased to be a humanist, then and only then I talked about Goethe’s Faust. What did I say about Faust? That he’d started his adult life searching for the secrets of the universe and ended up in real estate development (reclaiming land from the sea). Faust may be a classic text studied by humanists, but Faust himself, to be sure, an imaginary man, was no humanist. But then neither was Goethe. His career began and ended before humanist institutional culture had been forged. He was a man of letters, a man of science, and a man of practical affairs.

Take THAT as a commentary on institutional humanities culture.

In the fifth and final section (What about the future of the humanities?) I prove unable to produce a favorable prognosis for the contemporary humanities. And I point out that much of most interesting current work is being done in the so-called “digital humanities” and that, of course is being given short shrift by traditional humanists, not for any of its short comings, but on general principle. It involves technology and therefore is evil.

The problem of intellectual unity

The need for intellectual unity is one of the themes that keeps recurring throughout the book. I would like to have said more about it, as it interests me a great deal. Here’s the problem: Just what IS intellectual unity, not as an abstract ideal, but as something you can find in the library, construct in prose, or construct through laboratory experimentation? I think it’s mostly a chimera, an attractive chimera, but a chimera nonetheless.

Here’s a passage from the first chapter: The Modern University and the Dream of Intellectual Unity (p. 45):

At the same time, Schleiermacher consistently invoked the unity-of-knowledge ideal but in a different and more nuanced manner than Schiller, Fichte, and Schelling. “In the area of knowledge,” he writes, “everything is so interdependent and so interconnected that we might as well say: the more something is presented in isolation, the more incomprehensible and confused it will seem.”

That makes some kind of sense, for it suggests and idea that E.O. Wilson, the evolutionary biologist, has been pedaling under the rubric of consilience (I can do without the word, however).

Investigations in various disciplines should be mutually coherent along the edges (whatever that means). I believe that and work toward it in my own work. I also doubt that it can be achieved across the whole range of human knowledge, which is fine. But as an idea it’s more coherent than some idea of an single discourse that both covers everything and is intelligible in full by real individual human beings. That’s bonkers. I’m not sure anyone actually meant something like that. But, if not that, then just what did they have in mind? Anything? 

Yes, I can understand how, having read Goethe’s Faust, you might aspire to something called intellectual unity. The range of that text is vast, and it implies everything else. But Faust is fiction and poetry, great poetry. It’s not an intellectual program or a curriculum. Beware of pursuing unicorns in the real world.

I’ll leave you with a few more passages on unity, all from the first third of the book. Make of them what you will:

p. 24:

To be sure, the dream of the unity of knowledge isn’t an exclusively German phenomenon. It stretches back at least as far as the pre-Socratic Greek philosopher Thales of Miletus and the emergence of the first monotheistic religions.

p. 29:

The unity-of-knowledge ideal elevated the pedant to a priest and the student to a scholar by endowing learning with a systematic, almost holy end: the promise of coherence and a higher calling.

p. 52:

As we trace the emergence of the modern humanities throughout the chapters that follow, the relationship between unity and specialization is a crucial point, one often lost, both in nineteenth-century Germany and today, amid apologies for the humanities based on the assumption that specialization undid some presupposed prior unity and value of the humanities. It is a refrain that courses through the laments of the melancholy mandarins from 1830s German intellectuals to twenty-first-century American English professors. But the modern humanities were not a casualty of the modern university and specialization—they were a product of them. The humanities never recovered, reconciled, or reconstituted some unity of knowledge undone by specialization. As a moral and rhetorical project, however, the humanities succeeded in obscuring the distinctions and divisions the modern university did introduce and thus succeeded in generating the false hope of a unified knowledge.

p. 79:

More specifically, despite all the persistent features of the melancholy mandarins’ lament and the historical insight they can provide, one important point has largely been lost—an awareness of the limits of universities.

Yes. Amen to that.

* * * * *

By all means, read the review. Beyond that, read the book. It will be released in August.

Shiki No Uta, by Nujabes, from Samurai Champloo

Reflections on Weehawken Cove [sunk assets]

NYC mayoral candidates in the recent primary failed to use tried and true ranked-choice tactics

And of course, since NYC is a Democratic city, the Democratic primary effectively is the election. Ryan Heath tells us "How NYC messed up its mayoral election," Politico Nightly, 6.22.21. Thus:

When Nightly contacted each of the top candidates, not one of them had a plan for telling their voters how to rank the rest of the candidates on their ballots. [...]

That’s Election 101 stuff in Australia, my home country and the global capital of ranked choice voting, where the system is used in all elections from college campuses to federal elections.

When running under a ranked choice system, you make deals:

In a ranked choice system, self-interest dictates that a candidate should make deals with rivals and communicate those deals with voters. But admitting you need voters who think you’re only second-best is the antithesis of New York toughness.

The lowest-ranked candidates could have formed a coalition to take on the big shots, while the more left-wing candidates such as Maya Wiley, Scott Stringer and Dianne Morales could have worked together to blunt the moderates at the top of opinion polls.

Instead it was moderate Kathryn Garcia who did most to explore preference deals, and even that was half-hearted. She failed to return the favor when Yang recommended her as his second choice.

Australia’s experience with ranked choice voting shows that deals among candidates can affect the results. Australian candidates have won ranked choice elections with as little as 0.2 percent of first choice votes. Senator Ricky Muir won a Senate seat in 2013 after starting with 0.5 percent of the vote: He vacuumed up another half million or so votes from voters who ranked him second or lower, closing a 400,000 vote gap. (Muir is an exception, though. The main outcome the system has led to in the Australian Senate, where eight parties are represented, is diversity without gridlock.)

More common are “Anyone But X” campaigns. In San Francisco, mayoral candidates Jane Kim and Mark Leno formed a tactical alliance against Mayor London Breed, getting within 2,500 votes of unseating her in 2018.

I wonder if anyone has used game theory to analyze campaign tactics in ranked choice voting systems? This would be a multiplayer game situation, which I understand can be technically challenging.

Science and technology have become less disruptive in recent decades. Does that mean progress is slowing down?

Wednesday, June 23, 2021

Rails-to-trails and the Bergen Arches

Secret messages on a post

The failure of structuralism and linguistics: Why did academic literary criticism turn its back on intellectual opportunity in the mid-1970s? [and why did I ignore the profession?]

6.25.21: Revised and updated with new material.

I’ve been through this before, I know, but I keep coming back to it. Maybe this time I can get it right, or at least inch beyond were I got the last time. However, I’m not going to take the time to link to specific posts or working papers that are relevant. I’m just going to talk this one straight through.

However, I did update a post where I’ve been keeping track of my thinking on this issue. Here it is:

The profession of literary criticism as I have observed it over the course of 50 years [& related matters],

I will say this, after having drafted this essay, I think I’ve got it right, more or less. This satisfies my curiosity about this matter, though no doubt there are details to be nailed down, etc.

Two Perspectives

We have two perspectives, two aspects to examine: 1) the profession in general, and 2) my history in particular. Let us assume that by my senior year in college, 1968-69 at Johns Hopkins, I had internalized some version of a standard academic approach to literary criticism. The object of criticism was to interpret the text. There was some question as to whether or not interpretations were unique, whether or not they could be objective, at least in principle. This was quite problematic and extensively debated. But there was no doubt that interpretation was the name of the game.

That’s the period when structuralism, not post-structuralism or deconstruction, was getting attention, what with its codes, little diagrams, and formulae. Perhaps, some thought, structuralism will clear up some of the debates about the nature of the text, meaning, and interpretation and, at the same time, open avenues of collaboration with neighboring disciplines. I grabbed ahold of that and had worked my way to computational semantics by early 1974. But the profession tossed structuralism over in favor of Derrida and friends. Why the divergence? And why did it take me so long – roughly two decades, into the mid-1990s – to realize that it had been form that had my attention all along that, in effect?

Lévi-Strauss and the logic of myths

I suppose it was in my sophomore year that I first encountered the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss. It would have been in a class I took with Richard Macksey. He’d assigned the following text as optional reading:

Claude Lévi-Strauss, The Structural Study of Myth, The Journal of American Folklore, Vol. 68 No. 270, Oct-Dec 1955, pp. 428-444.

I read it and was fascinated. I did a paper on Oedipus at Colonus – so it must have been his Idea of the Theatre course – in which I drew a table modeled more or less after something I’d seen in that article. It’s important that I’d internalized the article to the point where I did draw a table.

I forget what kind of table it was. I may still have the paper – I’ve kept some of my undergraduate work (just as Jerry Seinfeld has all his notes back to the first bit he ever performed) – but it would be in storage along with the rest of my library. It might have looked something like this, from the article:

That’s about the logic underlying the Oedipus stories. I sometimes talk of ‘myth logic.’

Then there’s this intriguing diagram:

It looks a bit like a slice through some kind of machine, a myth machine, no? Notice that we’ve got “life” at the upper left and “death” at the lower right. In between we’ve got some linkage between “animal food” and “life destroyed.” What’s going on?

Lévi-Strauss was working out a theory/model whatchamacallit that myths work by resolving binary oppositions. The big one, of course, is life-death. You then substitute mediating terms for each side of the opposition until you reach a point where you’ve got a common term, or something like that. That’s what that horizontal slot is about.

He argued that in myth after myth after myth for several years, until he adopted a somewhat different and more elaborate whatchamacallit in Mythologies, the first volume of which was The Raw and the Cooked, which are mediating terms for nature and culture, respectively.

That’s what caught the attention of the folks who organized and attended the (in)famous structuralism conference at Hopkins in the fall of 1966. Though I was on campus at the time, I didn’t attend any of the sessions, nor would it have done me any good as they we all in French, one of many languages of which I know little to nothing. But I was in Dick Macksey’s orbit, and that was enough. I read that essay, wrote that paper, and was hooked on Lévi-Strauss for the next few years.

But why?

The word illusion and the problem of meaning

When I talk of the word illusion I’m alluding to the fact that when we see words on the page – or for that matter, hear them, but mostly we see them on the page in our work – we think we’re seeing the whole word in the way that we see the whole cat when we look at it. In the case of the cat, of course, we may be looking at it from, say, its left side, but it has a right side that is invisible to us, not to mention the belly and back, as well as its interior organs. But that’s not quite what I have in mind.

We see a word on the page and we know how to spell it, how to pronounce it, how to conjugate it (if it is a verb) and so on. And we know its meaning, or perhaps meanings. We feel that we grasp of that when we see it there on the page. The word.

But the word, the whole word in full, isn’t on the page at all. All that’s on the page is the word form. We hold all the rest of that in our heads. That all the rest of it is somehow inherent in those marks on the page, that’s a perceptual-cognitive illusion. The word illusion. If meaning inhered in the marks, then you could look at a text in a foreign language and grasp the meaning immediately, from the marks. Obviously language doesn’t work like that.

Well, linguists have quite a bit to say about word forms, and about phonology, morphology, and syntax. And the structuralist movement latched on to this domain primarily through the structuralist linguistics Ferdinand de Saussure. He talked of the sign as consisting of a signifier (the word form) and signified (meaning), where the signified was explicitly understood as being different from the referent, the thing (out there) in the world to which the word referred.

It’s easy enough to say all that, and even to believe it. But how do we work with, think about, those signifiers? We can’t get at them directly. They’re not physically present in the speech stream or inscribed on the page with written symbols. They’re in the mind, or brain, but we can’t observe them directly.

We have to get at them indirectly. Obviously they form some kind of system. Perhaps it’s a differential system, like the phonemes, which have binary features. We can work with phonemes directly. Perhaps we can detect the workings of a differential system of meanings in texts. That’s what Lévi-Strauss was doing in his work on myth. He was examining myths, how they unfold through some system of categories, how those categories reflect off one another, and deducing the likely terms in the underlying system of meaning. Those diagrams, those little formulas, they’re all representations of a system of signifiers in the mind, your mind, my mind, every mind. Those representations make the hidden and invisible world of signifiers real and tractable.

That’s what made structuralism so appealing to a generation of scholars who, having entered into the business of interpreting texts, were beginning to fear it to be a somewhat dodgy business.

Well, members of the profession gave it a try from the mid-1960s and into the 1970s. Robert Scholes produced a little book on structuralism. Jonathan Culler produced a somewhat bigger book, Structuralist Poetics, and lectured it across the country in ‘75 or ‘76. But, in a review of Mythologiques in Diacritics at that time, Eugenio Donato said we can set aside the analyst of ethnographic materials; it’s Lévi-Strauss the enigmatic philosopher who interests us, the Lévi-Strauss who believes his analysis of a myth is but another variant of the myth, and so forth. [I had little interest Lévi-Strauss the philosopher.] In the title essay of The Fate of Reading (1975), Geoffrey Hartman pronounced an interdiction on semiotics, linguistics and “technical structuralism” in literary criticism. And behind it all was Derrida’s deconstruction of Lévi-Strauss in “Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences,” the paper he delivered at the 1966 structuralism symposium at Hopkins.

Derrida had won. Structuralism and linguistics lost. But I went with losers. I went beyond them. It was clear to me from my careful study of The Raw and the Cooked, that if there was that much structure there, there must be more. I was going to look for it.

Trees in “Kubla Khan”

But it wasn’t at all obvious in 1968-69 that structuralism and linguistics had lost. What’s when I took a two-semester course in Romantic Literature, taught by Earl Wasserman. He praised my Wordsworth paper as exhibiting a “mature approach” to whatever poem I’d analyzed, I forget which. I’d also done a paper on “Kubla Khan,” and that poem would come to dominate the earliest phase of my career. I was told that that paper prompted Wasserman to ask a question in my name (they did that back in those days, do they still do it?) at some presentation where I wasn’t present. I believe that I’d proposed that the poem achieves completeness by asserting its own completeness and he asked about that.