Month: October 2017

Whose “Free Speech?” A Ruckus at Columbia

Conservatism is not just naked nastiness. It flourishes sometimes by appealing to instincts and interests, but often too by successfully presenting narrow agendas as vaunted universal ideals. Our contemporary free speech wars are an excellent case study. Free speech was once a demand pitted against repressive power, against the incarceration of dissenters and the suppression of pamphleteers. Prison walls prevented heroes and villains alike from organising against the powerful. Now with just a little cunning and duplicity the American right has transformed free speech into a means to advance suppression, not undermine it. By changing the demand from a...

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A History of Globalization

I read Susan Sontag’s Regarding the Pain of Others last week.  For some reason, Sontag has always loomed on the fringes of my cultural radar, but I had never read anything by her, other than a few essays or excerpts over the years.  In some ways, I found her glib and in others, profound.  But I also found her presentist. At the start of the second chapter, she quotes Gustave Moynier, who in 1899, wrote that “We know what happens every day throughout the whole world,” as he goes onto discuss the news of war and calamity and chaos in the newspapers of the day.  Sontag takes issue with this: “[I]t was obviously an exaggeration, in 1899, to say that one knew what happened ‘every day throughout the whole world.’” We like to think globalization is a new phenomenon, that it was invented in the past 30 years or so and sped up with the advent of the internet and, especially social media, as we began to wear clothes made in China, rather than the US or Canada or Europe.  Balderdash.  Globalization has been underway since approximately forever.  Europeans in the Ancient World had a fascination with the Far East, and trade goods slowly made their way across the Eurasian landmass from China to Italy and Greece.  Similarly, the Chinese knew vaguely of the faraway Europeans.  In the Americas, archaeological...

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J. Roddy Walston & The Business: Destroyers of the Soft Life

Roddy Walston & The Business Destroyers of the Soft Life (ATO Records, 2017) I saw J. Roddy Walston & The Business in a small room in Chattanooga this summer. It was hotter than hot that night, and the venue, while heavily air-conditioned, was putridly sweaty. In other words, it was the perfect night for some Southern rock’n’roll. Walston & The Business have made their name with their live show. Walston himself is a nutter on stage, swirling around, long rock’n’roll hair flying, as he pounds on his piano and screams into the microphone. At Track 29 that night, Mama...

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Days of Future Past in Blade Runner 2049

Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner is an epochal film. Its arrival in 1982 marked a rupture in cinematic and literary science fiction narratives, and spoke simultaneously to the transnational consumer culture of the Age of Reagan and to the burgeoning punk-inflected spirit of anti-globalism. William Gibson sat in a dark movie theater that summer, about a third of the way through the manuscript of his first novel Neuromancer, watching Harrison Ford’s Rick Deckard navigate through the lo-glow in the rainsoaked streets of 2019 Los Angeles, his senses assaulted by holographic come-ons, in search of something that might have been humanity. It was...

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Tied to the Mast

I went to Montana last weekend, to address the Montana Education Association courtesy of James Bruggeman, and, outside of my official duties, I spent a lot of time with Jim on the road, in a big old red Toyota truck that seemed one story high, but with just enough horsepower to get us past the tractor trailers that crowded the passes, as he called them, those crevices in the mountains where you might sneak through to the other side. They’re actually named for the people who found them, and used them, God knows how or why. Now Jim is...

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