Monday, April 21, 2008

You know what other trope sucks? Too many parentheticals.

This may be the equivalent of reviewing a Black Crowes album for a certain men's magazine without actually hearing it, as I've never attended the EMP Pop Conference. But since my bread-and-butter seems to be criticism of criticism, I figured what the hell? My perusal through the blogosphere of the wrap-ups of this year's conference has annoyed me, as the common trope this year seems to be about the Great Divide between journalists (yay!) and academics (boo!). Having straddled this divide for quite some time (although, at this point "Academic" has most definitely won out), I find this disconcerting and I want to tease out what the problem is. Isn't it time we all got along?

The main argument seems to be that the academic papers are awash in meaningless jargon, while the journalists' papers are written and argued better. As one rundown notes, "I never want to hear about "praxis," "teleological," and "heteronormative valences" in my presence again." Well, you know what? I never want to hear about "rockist" tendencies, "shambolic guitars" or "angular grooves." These are the "teleological" and "praxis" of the rock-crit trade. Clear writing exists in academia and in music criticism, and maybe the two can learn from each other. I know that in my own experience I've had editors called my record reviews "academic" while some of my academic work has been suggested to be more "magazine-like." These may be (not-so) veiled insults, but I take them to mean that my criticism exists in a frustrating, liminal space. This liminality (uh-oh, academic jargon!) creates a tension that forces a reader to consider the arguments without the formal limitations. If I argue that baseball is a civil religion, should it matter whether that argument is in Sports Illustrated or in a religious studies journal? Shouldn't both arguments be compelling and well researched to be published? I know this is a utopian ideal--a ton of crappy writing and rhetoric gets published in all kinds of places, but if the problem is that the ideas are buried under meaningless words, the criticism goes both ways.

The "academics can't write/present" argument might be one of frustration. Are "we" (nerds!) encroaching on "their" (rock-crit) turf? As more critics make their way to academia, as Carl Wilson notes, does that increase the tension? Is this the actual "conflict and change" that should have been explored at this year's meeting? Again, these are questions I ask from the outside looking in. My perspective is that of an interested outsider. (Full disclosure: I have submitted proposals to the conference a number of times, but have not had a paper accepted.)

This divide is one that has made the EMP a frustrating conference. It seems to want it both ways, as a place where music criticism is given an air of legitimacy, but without any of the rigors of many academic conferences. This year there were many more first-time presenters, which is one step in the right direction. I would really love to see what would happen if for just one year, the conference organizers implemented a blind review process for abstracts. If there is such a concern about "hearing new voices," then why not place everyone on equal footing? Let the ideas be judged, not the connections. Strip out the jargon from both worlds and see what ideas really shine. (As long as it's not guitar sounds. Seriously, sounds cannot shimmer. As a friend once wrote over IM, "THERE ARE NO RAYS OF LIGHT SHOOTING OUT OF GUITARS.")

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Thursday, May 17, 2007

dear lord, this is what i do for a living

I hardly ever read The Onion anymore, but one of this week's stories nailed it. This is going around several of my academic dork communities/mailing lists, so I of course need to share it:

"By drawing parallels between things and other, entirely different things, I not only further my own studies, but also encourage young minds to develop this comparative methodology in their own work," said Windham, holding his left hand up to represent one thing, then holding his right hand up to represent a separate thing, then bringing his hands together in simulation of a hypothetical synthesis of the two things.

I think from now on, whenever anyone asks me what I do, I'll point them toward this article.

Professor Sees Parallels Between Things, Other Things [The Onion]


Tuesday, March 27, 2007

i read it in delillo like they'd written it to me

I finally broke down and bought your book, Nelson. You'll make your way to bestseller #281,119 yet! It's winging its way to me via the joys of Amazon Prime, along with Then We Came to the End, which fascinates me because of the discussion of it being a retread of DeLillo's Americana, which is one of my favorite novels.

And yes, I really don't have time to read anything that isn't baseball- or Boston-related right now. (Just ask the copy of Underworld that's been sitting on my shelf for months.) My theory is that by reading anything in book form, I'll get my ass in gear.

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Wednesday, March 07, 2007

"What Iím going to write will have less and less chance of being understood, but thatís my problem.Ē - Jean Baudrillard, 1929-2007. (I'm not linking to the French obit to be pretentious, I just love that photo.)

Reading Baudrillard's Simulacra and Simulation in my master's program helped me decide to continue in graduate school. Of course, I'm still not sure I understand it. (And, according to the man himself, neither did the creators of The Matrix.)

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