Tuesday, 29 March 2016

University unions

'BUY. PARTY. SELL. HAVE FUN.'

Those words. They are hardly words that you would associate with a union, but they are roughly the words that my university union brandish outside their premises.

I do really find it rather ridiculous. A university union should be able to intervene when students are treated badly either by academics, business people of one stripe or another or extortionate landlords. If you an academic won't grade your paper or treats you unfairly, there's nothing that they can do. That's what they are meant to be there for. If the university is charging too much for rented accommodation, again, there's nothing that they can do or willing to do. They are supine and powerless.

And why is a union associated with a club? When I went to see the winners of the union elections, it was held at a club. Every time they would announce a winner, they would have intermittent blasts of pop music and the winners would dance around. What does the union say? WE CAN'T HELP YOU AT ALL WITH ANY TYPE OF INJUSTICE BUT, YOU KNOW WHAT, LET'S PARTY!!!!!!

What the union is ultimately there for is propping up careerists. Aspiring Conservative or Labour politicians run to further their nascent careers. It looks impressive on their CV. Even Conservative people, who do not even believe in the very idea of unions, die to control them.

Universities should be a hot-bed for discussion and free debate. Yet it really irks me how anodyne they are in this respect. Rather than allowing free debate, they promote a lot of PC stuff like LGBT awareness and anti-rape propaganda. Whilst rights for the LGBT rights are fine enough cause to espouse and rape is clearly abominable, this does not contribute to discussion or even any tangible change. They are just platitudes that make you look good.

It really does make me sick.

Tuesday, 8 March 2016

Sell yourself

Our society is becoming increasingly commercialised. Commercialisation has not even impacted public services such as hospitals and schools. It has impacted the individual. Every act is now effectively a commercial act. All behaviour is commercial.

Let me explain why I think this. We all have our profiles on social media. I am not exempt from this. As a matter of fact, my blog is not exempt from this. In this blog I have listed my preferences. This in itself is a form of self-commodification. It becomes capital. I project an image of myself online – I sell myself online – and people consume a projection of my individuality. This is the same with social media. People list their favourite books, films and music.

It becomes paranoid and neurotic. All types of behaviour become commodified. People constantly self-monitor themselves on such media. People become consumers of their own minutia. If I go out and I make an idiot of myself, I am neurotic the next day because the incident might become currency on social media. Meaningful communication becomes redundant because we are all performing as an idealised version of what we think we are. Only idealisations sell.

This trivialises politics. By becoming members of groups, it becomes more of a statement of yourself rather than a meaningful statement on affairs. Being a Marxist is edgy, as is being an Anarchist. People brandish t-shirts of Marx, making a mockery of what he stood for. Clothes are an important currency. By being a Goth, or an emo or a hipster – or whatever – you have to dress appropriately. Just walking across the street, every individual is a walking advertisement for a certain lifestyle. A lot of these subcultures don't propound theories about the state of affairs. They are simply profiting from zeitgeists.

The notion of having a public service funded by taxpayers is an anachronism. Even these remaining services are sold to us with garish pamphlets and the like. People are forgetting about this. All that matters is that you should have a good time. Don't foget to buy a cappuccino while you’re at it.

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Desert island discs

I started thinking about my choices for this program recently. I recall that I did the exact same post a number of years ago, but I have changed my choices since then. This is a very indulgent thing to do - but this is my blog, where anything goes, so who cares?

The premise of this program is that you choose eight pieces of music, one book and one luxury item to take with you to a desert island.

1. Ich Ruf zu dir Herr Jesu Christ (Piano Version) - J. S. Bach

Bach has now become my favourite composer. I like his music very much because 1) It has a mystical quality that's very similar to a lot of religious art - i.e. cathedrals and Renaissance painting - where your senses are disoriented and you feel overcome by something larger than yourself. 2) The counterpoint, where several layers of music play at the same time, is especially interesting to listen to. It's fascinating to listen how the musical voices interact with one another and how they are resolved. 3) The seemingly endless treasures you encounter the further you dig into his body of work. He was an extremely prolific composer, yet very little of what he wrote is uninteresting to me.

Bach never wrote music for the piano - it didn't exist during his lifetime. He wrote for the harpsichord instead. I especially like the way a lot of his pieces sound on the piano. My favourite of these arrangements would be 'Ich Ruf zu dir Herr Jesu Christ.' I like the performance by Alfred Brendel, a brilliant pianist, the most.



2. 'Death and the Maiden' String Quartet No. 14  in D Minor by Franz Schubert

I like Schubert for the same reason that many people listen to music - he writes beautiful melodies and his music is very pleasant to listen to. I am especially fond of string quartets as a whole and this is quite likely the most well-known quartet piece ever written. It is a 'programmatic' piece, meaning that it has an accompanying story attached to it.

Schubert was one of the early 'Romantic' composers. To put it simply, the movement in music was largely interested in 'emotion.' This piece does indeed stir the emotions quite a lot. As the piece progresses, it becomes more exalted. Schubert wrote astonishingly beautiful melodies, but it's also very interesting to hear how he harmonises the voices.



3. String Quartet No. 4 by Bela Bartok

Bartok is my favourite composer after Bach. Although his music is very dissonant, it's still melodic and it is tonal - though it does shift across many keys during the course of a single piece. What I like about modern music is that I do hear melody in a lot of it, but it's a lot more angular. There is a lot of strangeness and beauty to that. Bartok drew from Hungarian folk melodies and transformed them into visceral modern classical pieces. In this piece, the five movements 'mirror' each other. The first and fifth movements are related, the second and fourth movments are related and the third movement is a quiet interlude. Like a lot of other modern music, Bartok was interested in ryhthm. In this piece, the melodies are played almost rhythmically.



4. Clocks and Clouds by Gyorgy Ligeti

Post-war music was considerably more abstract than the music that preceded it. Ligeti, another Hungarian, is one of the more approachable ones. His music employed 'micropolyphony,' which involved many individual voices playing simultaneously. This created large tone clusters, a large homegenous sound constituting many individual parts.

This piece is particularly impressive. Unlike a lot of other modern music, it sounds somewhat mellifluent. It is dream-like and strange. It has a disorienting effect, much in the same way that a lot of Bach's music affects my senses. I am fond of getting drunk whilst listening to music - Ligeti is one of my main choices for such occasions, alongside Bach.



5. Autumn's Child by Captain Beefheart & His Magic Band

I have a strong emotional attachment to Beefheart's music. I have been listening to his stuff for twelve years now. This song is more 'straightforward' than a lot of his other stuff. It's somewhat mawkish, even. I still find the 4/4 section very moving - and very evocative. You have Beefheart's vocal about a past encounter, the chorus sings about 'go back four years' ago and finally you have the eerie theremin to boot. This being Beefheart, the more 'striaght' sections get interrupted by unusual time signatures. This really is a truly overpowering song.



6. British Grenadiers - Gross Chapel by The Fall

The Fall are my favourite rock act, alongside Beefheart. Whereas a lot of their output is somewhat blithe, this track is a lot darker. I have always thought that the album this is from, Bend Sinister, is one of their best and very underrated. The Fall are from the post-punk era. This meant that consumers who were not technically proficient realised that they could make music. This led to very unorthodox and interesting results. These bands were listening to a lot of interesting bands, such as Beefheart. Mark E. Smith hardly ever sings; he recites. His lyrics are very abstract and very embittered. On paper, they are baffling, but they are mesmerising on record.



7. Naima by John Coltrane

Jazz is easily one of my favourite genres - it's possibly my favourite genre alongside classical. I fondly remember being a lazy 15-year-old who would sit in his room all day listening to jazz records. I was a terrible student back then!

'Naima' is such a wonderful tune. This tune is just so life-affirming and soothing. I feel infinitely better every time I give it another spin. Coltrane's virtuosic technique takes me to the most wonderful places.



8. Flamenco Sketches by Miles Davis

Everything about the record Kind of Blue is just perfect. Every note is in the right place. There are so many tracks I could choose from Davis' discography, but I would have to go for this one. Again, it's a very soothing and uplifiting piece. I love how Miles' stamp is firmly indented in all of his music, even the cheesy 80s synth stuff.

This is the first jazz record I listened to. It's a record a lot of people start with - it's a great portal. Finally, I'll just end by saying how much I regretted leaving Ornette Coleman's 'Lonely Woman' out from this list.



Book: Fictions - Jorge Luis Borges

I thought that I would chose a book that I can read many times. Borges' stories are something you keep returning to and something that you find surprising every time you re-read. His stories are so intertextual that, in many ways, you are familarising yourself with literature culled from many centuries. So this is more than  one book in many ways.

Luxury item: A typewriter with a lifetime supply of ribbons and paper.

I would want to be able to write in this island. Typewriters are cumbersome, but then computers are too distracting. I prefer to type when writing stuff - I am not a pen-and-paper person.