Monday, December 24, 2012

This Is Ourselves

All apologies for the largely inactive blog. Among the resolutions for next month are some kind of redesign and posts a-plenty. I mean it, I think.
But before the year concludes, I'd like to thank everyone who purchased copies of Howard Thurman and James Baldwin's work for my students in the Tennessee Prison for Women. They were awfully appreciative, and it was a deep pleasure to tell each of them that the books came from folks on "the outside" who'd heard what we were up to and wanted to get involved. I wouldn't have guessed that so many people I have yet to meet personally would respond so quickly to my summons. Color me moved and deeply gratified.
In other news, this past semester was the busiest and most enlivening yet in all my years of attempting to involve myself in the work of education. Six classes, three universities, one hundred and twenty-two students. Four of the classes were at Belmont where I was asked to contribute a short meditation for their Advent Calendar. I drop it upon you now one day late.

Psalms 80, 146, 147
Isaiah 29.13-24
Luke 1.39-56
Revelation 21.22-22.5

Standing outside a Middle Tennessee Best Buy having braved the crowd to secure some items on a very well-publicized, Here-Comes-Christmas sale day, I watched a woman approach the entrance with a tired look of determination. “Gotta get in the spirit,” I heard her whisper to herself. I wished her well in my heart and wondered how she might respond if I was to ask her to name and specifically describe the spirit to which she referred. If it was indeed the spirit of Christmas she hoped to summon to her aid, how had it come to this? Would her beleaguered vision of the season be at all recognizable to its ancient sources? Might some within the Jesus movement view this particular spirit as alarmingly unclean?

In a manner befitting the mindset of the weary and heavy-laden among us who feel as though we’ve shopped until we’ve dropped, our Advent reading very helpfully includes oft-repeated prayers for restoration and salvation (Psalm 80). And while we’re exactly right to envision God’s affectionate purposes to include a deep compassion for us in the specifics of our distracted mindsets, we’re nevertheless directed to situate our visions of God’s deliverance squarely among the people who dwell on the less cheery end of the supply chain that occasions our everyday low prices. Ever attentive to the facts on the ground, Isaiah keeps it explicit: “The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord, and the neediest people shall exult in the Holy one of Israel” (29:19).

The goodness of this news, an inescapably social goodness not to be spiritualized or privatized away, can get to feeling very far away as we expend mental energies worrying over whether our phones have been recharged or the package will arrive on time. Mother Mary, lyrical reactionary, only makes things worse: “He has brought the powerful down from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly…and sent the rich empty away” (Luke 1:52-53) How might we get on the right side of this gospel and not be among the self-justifying proud who find themselves hopelessly “scattered in the imagination of their hearts” (51) by these tidings of comfort and joy? We might begin to do so by allowing ourselves to be made uncomfortable by the ways in which the coming kingdom made known in these texts crosses the lines we’ve drawn and questions the economies we sustain. May our spirits be enlivened and sobered by God’s good news.

Thursday, August 02, 2012

Follicle Stimulation & the Multiverse

There is much with which to contend at the Bank Gallery this Saturday evening. I of course refer to the fact that the space is playing host to one Fritz Hats who, for all his labors in other areas, has yet to exhibit artistically. And in spite of the fact of this event and the support of his peers, it should perhaps be noted that Hats still refuses to consider himself an artist in the traditional sense. "All art can do—and all it is supposed to do--is point out the juxtaposition between superficiality and infinity," he recently observed over water, soup, and a burrito. "I've always been interested in the seemingly extreme paradox, the paradox so extreme that we no longer view it as paradox." While eschewing the title of artist, Hats admits he feels comfortable being described as a fundamentalist Christian and a quantum physicist.

PPIF: Why Follicle Stimulation & the Multiverse?

FH: Because the phenomenon of follicle stimulation as an industry (the literal stimulation of hair, hair re-growth, hair grafting) and our investment in it illustrates the pretty solid scientific theory concerning the existence of other realities, something akin to what Einstein calls "spooky action at a distance." It's all around us.

PPIF: Are these realities observable?

FH: (laughs) The observer can only ride one reality at a time, but this doesn’t mean that a person can’t traverse the multiverse and somehow spiritually evolve. I'd say it's what we all desire, but many of us spend years doing it very badly.

PPIF: Our immortality projects.

FH: Exactly--wait--I mean...Exactamundo.

PPIF: How does the universality of this desire show up in our craving for technology?

FH: I'd say I'm fully convinced that modern technology (a smart phone, for instance) is a singularity device. And it's becoming obvious to everyone that the desire to stay in constant contact reveals our deep desire to live eternally. It might be a Tower of Babel, but the desire isn't anything to be ashamed of. When we come clean with it, we might even crave less crazily, learn to joke about it even. When we can't joke, we're pretty well done for.

PPIF: One thing I love about talking to you is the way you casually refuse the popular distinctions between religion and science. It's like you don't even know you're doing it. Could you comment on that?

FH: Faith and science are closer than any brothers, no mutual exclusivity between them, they fulfill one another. Science came not to abolish faith but to fulfill it.

Follicle Stimulation & the Multiverse will occur as part of the Art Crawl this Saturday night at the Bank Gallery which is located at 226 Third Avenue North in downtown Nashville. At 10:00, the band most commonly referred to as Bulb will perform preceded by one Will Marsh.

Monday, July 23, 2012

We Built This City...

There are folks in our world who've let me know how their feelings are hurt over the fact that we've blogged almost nothing over the last few months. This here is a mere beginning at rectifying the situation, the first of some tiny reports and a request for assistance. Among the courses I'm teaching this summer is a Wednesday night class called "Literature of the Civil Rights Era," and it meets in the Tennessee Prison for Women. We've had a very rich time so far in our conversations involving the likes of Toni Cade Bambara, James Lawson, Angela Davis. Will Campbell, Malcolm X, Anne Moody, Bernard Lafayettte, Daniel Berrigan, and Richard Goode to name a few. I know that much of the lively back-and-forth of online interaction that used to occur on blogs seems to happen via Facebook and Twitter mostly these days, but I wanted offer anyone who might seize it a chance to weigh in with an opinion, an appreciative word, or a provocative question on the subject(s) of our course. I'll dutifully take whatever anyone has to say, ask, or wonder over to the class and report back. I'm also wondering if anyone might enjoy entering the fray by buying our class a copy (or copies) of a couple of titles. Once we have twenty-eight copies of James Baldwin's The Fire Next Time and Howard Thurman's Jesus and the Disinherited, we'll be all set. Used copies are welcome, and I went ahead and made a "wish list" should anyone like to render us the kindness via Amazon. And if anybody wants to make a contribution to the Life Program (through which all of this is happening), the link should get you through to the necessaries. If it doesn't, just shoot me an E. That's about it for now. But I'll throw in that I do, at long last, have full-time employment for the Fall. More on this anon.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Inner-View: 5 Minutes. One Question.

Travel correspondent, Peter Dark, interviewed mini-van driver, David Dark, while on his way to Detroit City for this month's post. As will happen on an eight hour journey north, J.R.R Tolkien came up.

PD: So who is "The Lord of The Ring" anyway?

DD: No one. You don't have power, power has you.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

First We Take Brentwood

Apologies for the short notice. Sarah performs in Brentwood this evening at 7:30 at the Contemporary Music Center. Here's how you get there. It's free.

Saturday, March 03, 2012

Nobody's Nothing

The escalating interestingness that is Nashville continues tonight with Julie Lee's new CD release party at the Station Inn, but before making your way over there, you are advised to appear at the Twist art gallery to receive the witness of Cary Gibson in the form of NOBODY'S NOTHING which opens tonight and remains on display till the end of the month. I now hand the mic to Cary (or her artist's statement):

Art is an invitation to see, in a world in which we are so often invited, asked, or made not to see. We are told, and we often believe, that not seeing is vital to our own comfort, identity, and freedom. This work asks if this is true.

The installation emerged from, and reflects, my unease as someone for whom others are detained. The word “detention” is about restraint, but the fact of detention is also about removing people and their circumstances even from view so that they do not detain us. The installation seeks to respond to a particular kind of indefinite detention, but the invisible and forgotten are also in our midst, isolated by their lack of place in our imaginations.

The title of this work refers to a line from Morrisey’s 1994 track, “Lifeguard Sleeping, Girl Drowning”:

Please don’t worry
There’ll be no fuss
She was nobody’s nothing.

Standing alone as a sentence, the two words of the title also express a haunted statement of faith. The work’s provocation is the fact of human dignity.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Concerning Bulb

UPDATE! The Bulb show has been outwitted by Tornado warnings. Tune in for a new date dang soon.
To celebrate their twentieth album, Anthony Doling, Randall Lancaster, Todd Greene, and Sarah Masen of Bulb have agreed to host their own tribute show. Upon request, they can probably be persuaded to perform their songs personally, but the idea behind the situation on Friday is to afford others the opportunity to perform songs themselves. And if a lead vocal is all you imagine you can manage, Bulb will back you in every way they can. Does this make sense? I trust it does.
If you need your memory jogged OR you have yet to partake of the pleasures of Bulb, they have seen fit to open the vault. This isn't to say that every Bulb song is on offer, but 79 had been made available the last time I checked. Everyone is seriously welcome. Bulb are not snobs. Some songs have already been claimed, so you might want to check with me if you're determined to be completely original. And if you'd be most comfortable practicing the song with Bulb beforehand, you can drop by the venue on Thursday evening to do so. Should you choose this route, let me know and I'll give you the number of an individual who can let you in.
This is all.
Postscript: Here's a Bulb video.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

It Is Happening Again

Where to begin? She isn't doing showcases or seeking out a deal or networking or anything, but she keeps right on making a vineyard of the curse with a framing of a verse. This, we understand, has never stopped. The communal function of song does not cease in the life of Sarah Masen. She shows up and plays when asked, and the latest is a return visit to the Green Wood Coffee House. There's also a Bulb covers show next Friday, but, as perusual, it's so underground that I have nowhere to point you on the Internets. I believe they're up to twenty albums now, and they'll personally back anyone who wants to take a stab at singing one of their songs. I'll be doing so myself. Let me know if you'd like the coordinates.
Oh, and here's an interview with Sarah.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

"I wanted him to be kidding, but he wasn’t."

The place I had in mind was gone, but there was another one just like it down the block. Apparently people still ate sandwiches. I broke the inquisitor’s fifty-dollar bill on a ten-dollar heap of bread and mayonnaise and a three-dollar cup of soda, and when the cash register opened up for my money, it performed a little burst of orchestral music that lasted until the drawer was shut again. The guy behind the counter smiled like it was the most natural thing in the world. I wanted to smile back but the smile wouldn’t come.

“I suppose your jukebox makes change,” I said.

The guy frowned like he didn’t understand. He took a little mechanical box out of his pocket and spoke into a microphone grille on the side of it. “That thing about the jukebox just now,” he said.

“Just a joke,” said a voice from the box.

“Oh, yeah,” the guy said, and he looked at me and laughed.

I wanted him to be kidding, but he wasn’t.

The above scene with it's prognosticatory riff on the social possibilities that exit the picture when something like the iPhone's Siri appears among us is from way back in 1994 when Jonathan Lethem's first novel, Gun, With Occasional Music, arrived on the scene. It's an undisclosed future era that owes as much to Raymond Chandler as it does to Philip K. Dick. He gives us cyborg slavebots, mammals evolved to human intelligence levels, the outlawing of the written word, and a culture in which out-loud recognition of someone else's electronic appliance is considered impolite. I'm a little ashamed to have arrived in Lethem land so late in the game, but none of my sources have talked him up (C'mon sources!). Let the record show that I am now drinking his Kool-Aid, but I'll have to pace myself. Raised on a sense of comic book continuity, I find I have to start at the beginning and work my way up. It's how I roll. Two words: Amnesia Moon.

Friday, February 10, 2012

It's Daniel Johnston.

Sisters and brothers, pay attention. Today's what we might call Daniel Johnston Day at Lipscomb. The man's art will be on display on campus for the next few weeks, and he'll be on hand for a performance this evening at 8:00.
While one of the narrators in the documentary, The Devil and Daniel Johnston, almost captured a sliver of something in describing Johnston's people as a kind of fundamentalist Glass family in the Salinger vein, his role as a practitioner of--what shall we call it?--the biblical imagination has gone largely unremarked upon, except in the most dismissive sense, and his place as a pilgrim within and without "Church of Christ" culture, a peculiar inheritance he shares with Roy Orbison, is mostly visible to those who share such attachments. At noon today, this situation will begin to change as Gregory Alan Thornbury offers a provocative word concerning Johnston's witness entitled "Does Daniel Johnston Believe More Bible Than You?" I'm set to moderate discussion and offer a response. I read the whole thing aloud to Sarah this morning and we were simply amazed. I know his offering will be available in published form at some point in the near future, but you can partake of the conversation personally if you can make it to Lipscomb within the next hour and a half. Exit your cubicle now.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Budweiser Sells Sanctuary

"The Cult!" Stu and I exclaim almost simultaneously. And just as we realize it's a mashup underway Dory weighs in to assure us it's Flo Rida's "Good Feeling" that's going on. I'll bet this exchange is happening in millions of households; that it's all, in fact, calbrated. I make a mental note to educate Dory sometime soon concerning what 1985's "She Sells Sanctuary" once did for a sixteen-year-old Nashvillian on his way to marching band practice.
   Just this morning, I was trying to give an account of how weirdly moved I was by the whole thing when Sarah chimed in to help me out: "It only worked on an emotional level?" Yes, sort of. "Trick-motional?" I suppose so. There's the admonition to love the life that we're living, the sound of a man of color asserting he'll be the President one day interspersed with the hope of walking on water, prevailing in a lion's den, and being possessed of a brand new spirit with all these loving interactions between people of differing class and ethnicity in historic scenes that definitely didn't actually go that way. And as my heart goes back to the teenage feeling, I see a white headbanger--I knew quite a few back then--being crowd-surfed in a bar and held up to a window where he exchanges an affectionate glance of celebratory solidarity with a brown-skinned woman across the street. This is as I'm still processing the white woman getting all free doing the robot which evokes, for me, the video for "Planet Rock" by Afrika Bambaataa & Soul Sonic force. I got weepy just trying to talk about it. Sarah listened and watched as I held the laptop in the bathroom but was largely unmoved. I guess that's what I get for being born in the sixties. I'd very much like to have a conversation with the Don Draper who conjured the thing.
   Sarah listens, and she's happy for any and everyone's creative breakthroughs. But she generally views these expensive productions as a waste of perfectly good emotion. "Who broke through to what?" she'll likely ask. She bristles, prophetically I'd say, over the fact that the image of Martin Luther King Jr., for instance, could be sold to Apple to sell products cobbled together by people crushed by death-dealing working conditions. I don't have a "But..." to follow or qualify this sense of dis-ease except to register a few readings/findings/thoughts that have arisen in the days following.
   I once asked my Comp II class to write out an account of an instance in which they believe they heard their own voice in someone else's. It could be something someone said, but it could also be a song, a film, a book, a visual, or a performance in which someone said what they wanted to say but differently or better or in a way that somehow uniquely got through to them. The prompt is usually preceded by a presentation of Bob Dylan's "Last Thoughts on Woody Guthrie." We all have a Woody Guthrie of one kind or another, I tell them. When I deliver this particular assignment again, I believe I'll follow it up somehow with this from Robert Pinsky's Democracy, Culture and the Voice of Poetry: “What makes us all one—and what makes us all different—seems deeply involved with a voice: a voice that is both imagined and actual; both inner and social; both mine and someone else’s; that separates me and includes me. It will not do to sentimentalize this voice.”
   I believe Sarah's often more alive than I am to the dangers--the cruelty even--of such sentimentalization. I see so many of my own hopes and dreams reflected back to me in this dadgum beer commercial, but there's a difference between getting choked up over scenes of racial/class harmony and giving--or receiving--a voice. Fantasy or lived relationship. Hyped-up, momentary feel-good versus actually paying attention to a living someone. One can pass a lifetime mistaking the two. It will not do to sentimentalize.
   And this might be a completely ridiculous stretch, but Pinsky ends his book with Edward Arlington Robinson's "Eros Turannos" whose cadence--if you can believe it--slightly resembles that of Flo Rida's "Good Feeling." I don't know what this says about the way I process things, but I think it got through to me all the more thanks to the commercial. As I read it alongside Flo Rida, the one somehow enriches the other, but Robinson's offering is so sad; revivifyingly so, after a Super Bowl.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Reality Distortion Field

Machina ex deus. How else to explain their popularity despite the fact that they actually come from places that do not make us better people for owning them, the factories in China where more than a dozen young workers have committed suicide, some by jumping; where workers must now sign a pledge stating that they will not try to kill themselves but if they do, their families will not seek damages; where three people died and fifteen were injured when dust exploded; where 137 people exposed to a toxic chemical suffered nerve damage; where Apple offers injured workers no recompense; where workers, some as young as thirteen, according to an article in The New York Times, typically put in seventy-two-hour weeks, sometimes more, with minimal compensation, few breaks, and little food, to satisfy the overwhelming demand generated by the theatrics, the marketing, the packaging, the consummate engineering, and the herd instinct; and where, it goes without saying, the people who make all this cannot afford to buy it?
"Who Was Steve Jobs?" - Sue Halpern, New York Review of Books
Update: A glimmer of hope on the question of supply chain transparency here (w/ thanks to Geoff Lovett)