On Friday, scholar and cultural critic Marjorie Garber participated in a roundtable discussion that the university's American Cultures Colloquium sponsored and moderated. (She had delivered a stirring talk on Othello, Othello and popular culture the prior evening.) When I was an undergraduate, Garber's renown resided primarily in her Shakespeare scholarship, but she has since written persuasively on a range of other topics, including the history of cross-dressing, bisexuality, the human love affair with architecture and in particular homes, the institutions of higher education, and the future of the humanities. At this forum, she focused primarily on the humanities and talked about some of the arguments in her brand new book, A Manifesto for Literary Studies (University of Washington, 20o6), a short, lambent little treatise rich with ideas that each could fill a volume. One of the most interesting moments for me arose when she spoke about serving as the chair of Harvard's Department of Visual and Environmental Studies (VES), the traditional home for the undergraduate and graduate studio arts at that institution. VES was for a very long time badly treated and misunderstood by Harvard, and its faculty especially felt marginalized; Garber spoke about her work in revitalizing the department, which involved listening to and incorporating the needs of its faculty and students, while also taking them seriously, and then she went on to pose the question of the placement of artists in the academy (the subject of a forthcoming book from Princeton), and to consider what the experience of creative writers might be in such a department, since at Harvard, as at the university and many other research institutions we tend to be housed in English and American literature departments (rather than, as at Columbia, in a larger school of the arts or as at Brown, as a separate entity altogether). This fed into her discussion of the humanities and in particular of collaboration, which is one of the current buzzwords I hear a lot; the call for collaboration is constant, but the reality of the situation, I think, is somewhat different, especially given how most institutions, both academic and nonacademic, reward individual work in the arts (not counting architecture, film and some aspects of dramatic work, of course) and humanities, since there is a institutional and cultural investment in existing modes, structures, practices and conventions. Would an American literature scholar who co-wrote her first scholarly text with an American music scholar be positioned in her field in the same way as a colleague who wrote her first book all by herself, the scholarly merits of both works being equal? Would either of the first two figures be likely to receive tenure based on a jointly written work? Would musical scholars easily accept scholarship by an literature scholar and vice versa? In the arts the stakes are different, but questions of authorship, genre and so on remain salient. At any rate, Garber got me thinking about quite a few things, some of which I hope to incorporate in future creative projects.
Yesterday, I dropped by Cafe 719 on Chicago's South Side to catch comics artist and novelist Michael-Christopher reading and discussing his new novel, From Top to Bottom (MC Books, 2006). Adodi Chicago sponsored the event, which drew a packed room full of people eager to hear the writer and artist and explore the central themes of his book. As the title suggests, the novel focuses on sexual politics and the politics of sexual desire, particularly sexual norms and expectations, masculinities and gender roles, within the framework of various kinds of relationships that a group of adult Black men in Washington, DC establish over the span of the narrative. I haven't the book, but the snippet Michael-Christopher read was provocative, and the conversation was lively, in part because people wanted him to complicate what seemed to be somewhat static notions of "tops," "bottoms" and "versatiles." He pointed out that the issue had preoccupied him for a while, and that it was a hot topic in DC, more so than in New York, where he'd lived previously. I did buy a copy, though, and will get to it when I have a free reading moment. (I also finally met another Chicago area blogger, The Professor GQ, Wadi G, which was great.)
Today I dropped by the new version of Second Sun, a wonderful, laid-back, community-based arts salon that Krista Franklin, Emily Evans and Toni Asante Lightfoot have resurrected after a hiatus in Chicago. Today's event was at the naïeveté studios, an artist coop on North Ravenswood, one of the streets housing the city's most exciting, grass-roots arts institutions. (naïeveté has available workspace, supplies and general space for creative folks based in Chicago or who want to spend a little time here, so definitely drop by their website if you have any interest.) Second Sun(day) usually features an artist presenting her or his work, and today's presenter was the multimedia artist Niz, a Peruvian native and current Florida resident, who is in Chicago for a short residency. Niz talked about her background, her process and materials, and her relationship to skateboard and graffiti cultures and arts. Krista and Emily also were exhibiting their art, and next door, storybox and poster-maker Hugh Spector had a number of his pieces, which are like exquisite, three-dimensional political commentaries, on display. I'll post some photos tomorrow.
Krista Franklin in front of one of her collages-in-progress
RIP: Tamara Dobson (1947-2006), who certainly cut an "imposing figure in films"
RIP: Buck O'Neil (1911-2006), a hero in multiple ways, in his own words
I am at a loss to add anything substantial or interesting to the swarm of commentary surrounding Foleygate, the sex scandal and subsequent cover up, which continues to infect the GOP like a virus. The best meme I've come across is that this scandal, one of so many now embroiling the Republicans, is emblematic and symbolic of their larger six-year failure of governance, their incompetence, their arrogance, their hypocrisy, their corruption, and their impotence in the face of the ever aggrandizing, power-hungry "unitary executive," neo-fascist president and White House. Democrats should repeat this every day on every airwave until the election, though some of the ones I've seen so far are unfortunately resorting to their usual caution and timidity. Still, I check the blogs every day to find out what new Foleygate information has been revealed; today (this evening), it was that Arizona Representative Jim Kolbe, the only out gay Republican Congressperson, is now stating that he discussed explicit electronic messages sent by his colleague, Republican Mark Foley, to a page back in 2000. He allegedly "confronted" Foley about the messages, with little longterm effect, it seems. The Washington Post article also noted that Kolbe has also maintained a close relationship with a number of pages, going so far as to let them stay in his house when he was away, etc. It certainly doesn't look good for the GOP at all; their attempts to blame each other, to blame it on the pages, to blame it on Democrats and liberal groups, to label Foley a Democrat (as well as Republican Dan Crane of Illinois, who had to resign when he was confronted about his sexual relationship with a female page back in 1983), and so on, don't appear to be working. The incoherent oaf Dennis Hastert should have resigned immediately, as should have Tom Reynolds, John Shimkus, and John Boehner. But instead, they are hanging around for their political hanging, which, unless DieVote (Diebold) has its way, is sure to occur this upcoming November.
Meanwhile, North Korea has just successfully staged its first nuclear weapons test....
Recently, I've been listening to Ed Motta, whom Donald A. turned me onto through some YouTube spots. Some of his non-videoed songs, like "Vendável" or "Colombina" trip me out because they sound like they could easily be 1970s or 1980s soul or R&B, until Motta's lush voice breaks into Portuguese. I've also been listening to TV on the Radio, enjoying them quite a bit while also trying to figure out what's going on with their music, and I've part of waves of people that have fallen hard for Corinne Bailey Rae and Amos Lee. I could listen to Bailey Rae over and over, and have been doing so, juxtaposing her songs with Liz Wright's. (After hearing Fergie's irritating "London Bridge" every five minutes when C was here last weekend, now all I seem to find on the radio is Justin Timberlake's infectious "Sexy Back." So that's in the mix too.)
Top 10 Rotation
Ed Motta - Vendável
TV on the Radio - The Wrong Way
Amos Lee - Keep It Loose, Keep It Tight
Corinne Bailey Rae - Like a Star
Dr. Lectroluv/Drexciya - Black Sea
Radiohead - There There
Le Tigre - TKO
Seu Jorge - Funk Baby
Tego Calderón - Los Maté
Dead Prez - Hip Hop