Monday, 23 February 2015

Causal narratives

The outlook of a classicist aesthete is that all events in a work of literature must be causally determined. They would also argue further by saying that literature must also follow the same spatial and temporal laws as the real world. Any divagation from these spatial, temporal and causal laws is a divagation from literature itself. You have not produced a novel or a story in the true sense of the word - you have produced a Frankenstein monster.

Should this really be the case? First of all, we don't even perceive reality in a logical way. We are, in the Kantian sense, limited by our 'possible experience.' We have to limit ourselves to what we know. If a writer were to depict 'the thing in itself' - i.e. direct experience - he is actually being disingenuous. All exercises in naturalism are failures. You cannot methodically recreate the entire of reality. As thinking subjects, we experience bits and pieces of reality. Our impression (or 'phenomenon') of reality is coloured by our idiosyncrasies and our own personality. When I perceive reality, I don't see all causal changes in space taking place. Literature should therefore focus on the subjective perception of reality - the individual perceiving space in time. Even efforts at naturalism end up producing the same thing as it is impossible to recreate a total impression of reality or even society.

Literature, then, should not follow this classical assumption. It can assiduously break these assumptions. Works of literature can even follow different spatial, temporal and casual laws of the real world. Objects can move randomly across different points in space; there can be temporal ellipses; events can occur without being causally determined.

Dreams aren't narratives. They are just random images which we later later construe as narratives once we are awake and lucid. Can't novels replicate the kind of irrational processes experienced in dreams? In dreams, all of these classicist laws are broken. Dreams have always appealed to writers since antiquity. Whilst in texts from antiquity dreams appear to be divine interventions, in modernist literature they heighten the sense of subjective consciousness and 'apperception' ('individual experience').

There can be other frameworks. For instance, in Juan Rulfo's Pedro Páramo, all the characters in the novel are dead. As a result, a universal clock which determines time is lost. All we have are vestiges of memory which appear. These aren't causally determined - events from different epochs appear at different points of the narrative. The novel is like wandering through the ghost town of the book - as you roam about, different ghosts seize you and divulge their past experiences.

The novel I have started (and which I really hope to dig my teeth into once term is over), Planet Zhelanie, also has a different framework. All spatial and temporal laws are determined by the consciousness and memories of the individual. Moments which appear evanescent in fact last for millennia. Events are either sequential or circular. They are rooted in time rather than space. It is a vindication of Berkelian idealism.

Causal narratives, then, should be rejected. The most stimulating thing about literature - especially novels - is that anything is possible and that anything can happen.

Monday, 16 February 2015

Business fundamentalists

Business is the bed-rock of any economy. I grant that, by all means. However, what we find now is a certain type of what I call business fundamentalist who goes further. A business fundamentalist would say that business dictates the economy. The role of the state should be minimised to its most basic core - to restore law/order, policing and to protect the country from foreign attack. States do not determine anything. On the contrary, markets control the economy.

What we are increasingly finding with this creed is that they want to apply business strategies to all practices and discourses. Now, I understand that if you have a company you might want to use strategies to sell clocks, furniture, food, etc. etc. What I think should not happen is what currently takes place - the marketisation of public services. In addition to this, many public services (the railways, the postal services) get privatised and become another competitor in the market.

Although the NHS is a public institution, it does very much feel like a private enterprise. If I want to book an appointment (I seldom do because I have a chronic fear of doctors, but that's beside the point), I have to ring up before 9am in the morning and no later. A public service like the NHS should be open at all times to take on all inquiries. Although it is a public service, it very much feel like it works under free market lines. Although it is free, the way appointments are scheduled and the way rotas work, it is organised like a business.

The same applies to education. Students are taught to pass exams so as to boost the rankings of the school. Teachers are encouraged to follow the curriculum and to divagate as little as possible from it. Higher education is in an even sorrier state. Universities are effectively shopping centres. They charge astronomical fees - the current fee is £9,000 - and is now effectively private. Despite these fees, they often deliver courses that are substandard. They seem to have clubs and dance halls than libraries stocking books. (To be honest, I find it mind-boggling why a university needs a club or a dance hall - try to telling that to the next guy you see here.) Universities should be imparting wisdom and knowledge. Instead in their little course descriptions, they write about all these 'skills' you will acquire for the workplace. A presentation in a seminar is less about the creative inquiry and discussion than a grooming for your next pep talk at your first business. There are more and more business courses at universities - I would insist that they have no place on a university campus. Instead of teaching classics and grounding you in critical thinking, universities principally drill you with all these business strategies and 'skills'.

The 'business fundamentalist' is getting away with a lot and he knows it. I am not an admirer of Miliband, but I think he has every right to take on vested interests. It's mind-boggling when Miliband castigates corporations for dodging tax that the Labour is branded as 'anti-business.' Since when have the Labour party taken such a stand? It is not acceptable for business conglomerates to base their premises in Luxemborg and not to pay tax. It is even less acceptable for Conservative politicians like Lord Fink, and other protegees surrounding Cameron, to keep bank accounts in Switzerland and avoid tax. Miliband has every right to take on these vested interests. By doing so, he is not being 'anti-business.' He is only  labelled as such because papers like The Times and The Daily Telegraph support the Conservatives. It sounds like its heresy when he is pointing out the obvious. It is mind-boggling how everyone bears the brunt of austerity whilst major corporations and major politicians open up these Swiss bank accounts to avoid tax.

As I said before, a thriving business is the bed-rock of any economy. It should stop there. Business surreptitiously poisons anything else. I find that the marketisation of the arts is also having a malign effect. (Compare this with publicly funded art and see where the difference lies.) A businessman knows nothing about engineering, so why should he pontificate to an engineer about the design of something. It is almost as the businessman thinks that everything is within his means. Everything is being debased for the contemptible need to amass more and more capital.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

Delta blues

I love razor-sharp, rough-hewn blues. I especially like Delta blues. It often has tinges of gospel and country. A lot of astonishing music emerged in the 1920/30s black America. Jazz became a recognised musical form. What I find especially touching and stimulating about the blues musicians of this era is that it is totally sincere. They were burdened economically, spurned by a racist and bigoted society and they were pariahs. When they sing about being rejected by a woman or not been able to eat, they really mean it. This is completely opposed to the later stylings of blithe white rock. These people come from privileged backgrounds. When they sing about love and loss, it sounds insincere. The blues singers were idiosyncratic. They had their own style on the guitar - they ranged from the rudimentary to the virtuosic - and their voices were gravelly and rough. This is so because they weren't making music so as to sell it and make money. They made music because they had to, or to entertain their community.  They often killed people to survive. They really experienced a lot of catharsis. This is totally unlike mainstream rock music (especially the hideous subgenre called 'indie') , who are from middle-class backgrounds and are who are not even steeped in any literature or introspection. The burgeoning underground rap/grime scenes have a lot more vitality than a lot of mainstream rock for the same reason that the delta players had vitality.

Spoonful Blues - Charley Patton

Patton apparently was the progenitor of slide guitar, when he decided to slide his knife over the fretboards. His songs are about fistfights, murders and abuse. This song is apparently about cocaine. It brims with passion!

Death Letter Blues - Son House

Son House was the pastor of a church. There is often a sense of being communal in his songs (i.e. songs like 'Grinnin' on your Face'). His songs were often sang a capella. His style on the guitar is unique - it is very rhythmic and he uses his hands to tap on it. His voice is unique.

Jesus Make up my Dying Bed - Blind Willie Johnson

Blind Willie Johnson has become one of my favourite musicans - from any genre. He was blinded after his mother threw acid at his face aged seven. Out of these four players, he is the most accomplished on the guitar, dexterously sliding from note to note, chord to chord.. He sang gospel songs. He was always tormented by guilt and regretted not being a committed believer. When NASA sent a satellite containing a record of music on earth, they included BWJ song (alongside Bach, Beethoven, etc.). When the sun burns out and this planet is no more, I find it incredibly comforting that his song 'Dark was the Night' will still be orbiting the galaxies.

Gallis Pole - Leadbelly

This song is about the fear of being hanged. Leadbelly cries out about being 'hanged on the gallows pole.' These were every day realities for many impoverished blacks. Leadbelly strums on his guitar and produces a gnarled knot of notes. Leadbelly's songs are often closer to country. It was subsequently ripped off by Led Zeppelin