tom moody

Archive for the ‘theory’ Category

Notes for a Daniel Albright bio

Notes for a biographical sketch on the late Daniel Albright, literary critic, musicologist, and theorist of historical Modernism. Albright's Wikipedia entry has a short bio and publication list. Below is a capsule discussion of his career highlights, from web and printed sources. Some additional documentation is still needed.

Yeats Scholar

Albright's advisor at Yale [needs source] was Richard Ellmann, author of Yeats, The Man and the Masks (1948), a pivotal Yeats biography [New York Times], and The Identity of Yeats (1953), a book-length analysis of the poet's style and themes. Albright wrote of Ellman: "A conversation about a poem of Yeats' with Richard Ellmann was like a stroll through a forest with an agreeable companion who not only knows the names of every bird, bush, lichen, and bug, but also hears sounds usually audible only to bats." [W. B. Yeats, The Poems (J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd, 1990), page lxx] Albright's scholarship continues Ellmann's biographical reading of Yeats, a complex endeavor since Yeats reflected on his life very indirectly in his poems, through symbols and personae.

Albright's first book The Myth against Myth: A Study of Yeats's Imagination in Old Age (Oxford University Press, 1972), for example, discusses how Yeats' later "realist" poems such as "News for the Delphic Oracle" and "The Circus Animals' Desertion" re-interpret themes and images of earlier, more self-consciously mythic works such as "The Wanderings of Oisin." Quibbling with some of the book's readings, Frank Kinahan's review in Modern Philology concludes with strong praise: "Albright is a close and sensitive reader of poetry, and there are exegeses here leaving you nodding Yes till your neck aches." Kinahan concludes: "The years to come will show us that Yeats in his twenties and thirties was always on the verge of becoming the realist that an older Yeats became. And it is work like Albright's that is helping to bring that realization about." [Modern Philology, November 1975, p. 214 -- JSTOR.]

In 1985, Albright published a review in The New York Review of Books (subscription-only) of the Richard Finneran-edited Collected Poems of W. B. Yeats, a comprehensive 1983 volume based on the Macmillan edition. Echoing criticisms of Yeats scholar A. Norman Jeffares, Albright took Finneran to task for preserving Macmillan's ordering of the poems, in particular placing that long but seminal early poem "The Wanderings of Oisin" at the end of the book. This was originally done by Macmillan in the 1930s for commercial reasons: the publisher felt that prospective buyers, browsing in bookstores, might be put off by a long poem at the beginning. Albright made the case for a pure chronological ordering of the poems, especially since Oisin's themes reverberate throughout the later work.

Albright also criticized Finneran's reluctance to use biographical interpretations in his scholarly glosses:

[T]he chief curiosity of the commentary of the new edition is its omission of biography. I doubt that any annotator on earth besides Professor Finneran would consider it irrelevant that “Upon a Dying Lady” (1912–1914), a poem rich in circumstantial detail, is about a real woman, Mabel Beardsley, the sister of the artist Aubrey; but her name is omitted from the gloss, which instead talks about Petronius Arbiter and a warrior mentioned in the Rubáiyát. World history, literature, orthography are real to Professor Finneran; individual lives are not.

From this background eventually emerged Albright's own definitive Yeats edition, The Poems, published in 1990 in the Everyman's Library series (J. M. Dent & Sons, Ltd.). The book restores the chronological ordering of the verse, and contains several hundred pages of critical analysis, including biographical references lacking in the Finneran edition. As noted on Albright's website, The Poems was "edited with a view to presenting a close approximation to the 'sacred book' Yeats hoped to bequeath to the world" [Panaesthetics] -- that is, more like the essential volume under discussion during Yeats' lifetime, before those marketing considerations intervened during the Depression and became codified in subsequent editions. Harvard professor Philip Fisher described The Poems as "[one] part Yeats, [one] part line-by-line commentary with wonderful mini-essays by Dan Albright on every topic in Yeats." [YouTube of Albright memorial]. Fisher laments that the book disappeared from the shelves but that's only true for the American paperback edition: Dent still offers it in hardback in the UK.

Musicologist

Albright was a literature professor at the University of Virginia when he published his third book, Representation and the Imagination: Beckett, Kafka, Nabokov and Schoenberg (1980). The Schoenberg chapter prompted an unsolicited offer [needs source] to teach at the University of Rochester, with Albright acting as a kind of liaison between the department of English and the Eastman School of Music. [Wikipedia] At Rochester, Albright published Untwisting the Serpent: Modernism in Music, Literature, and Other Arts (University of Chicago, 2000), recently described by Adam Parkes as "an astoundingly original rewriting of Lessing's Laocoön (1766) in Modernist terms":

Lessing famously divided spatial from temporal arts. Albright, however, conjectured that the division of the arts might be restated "not as a tension between the temporal arts and the spatial, but as a tension between arts that try to retain the propriety, the apartness, of their private media, and arts that try to lose themselves in some panaesthetic whole." To illustrate the latter, Albright examined the "aesthetic hybrids and chimeras" that resulted from artistic collaborations involving significant musical experiments in different media. While he recognized the value of attempts by various artists and critics to separate the arts, Albright's preference for the panaesthetic was clear...

Untwisting relied on analysis of specific historical collaborations among artists (Cocteau, Picasso, and Satie in Parade; Gertrude Stein and Virgil Thompson in Four Saints in Three Acts; Antheil, Léger, and Murphy in Ballet Mécanique, and many others) to show how the respective media in those pieces clicked or clashed. Discussing these components required stepping outside the usual province of the literary critic; that is, Albright had to be just as adept and informed in making judgments about music and art as he was in evaluating writing. As it turned out, his talent for close reading of poems extended to scores and timbres sufficiently to dazzle musical solons, despite a few complaints about his assumptions and definitions.

"What the author refers to variously as fixed figures, fixed elements, ostinati, and pattern units -- all musical motives that repeat -- leap to the foreground of almost every analysis in this book," Ruth Longobardi wrote in Current Musicology, no. 74 (Fall 2002), pages 212-213, "and yet Albright never explicitly explains how to tell the difference between repeating motives that are dissonant and those that are consonant, or between those that are mimetic and those that are abstract." Nevertheless, she writes, "his inquiry into different types of artistic collaboration is extremely valuable to musicology, since what it offers that field, frequently insulated from other disciplines, is a new path by which to enter an interdisciplinary consideration of Modernist music dramas."

In Kurt Weill Newsletter (Vol 19, No. 1, p. 18 - PDF), David Drew wrote: "Albright well understands that 'paying attention to the text' is a discipline whose exactions are multiplied in proportion to the complexity of the interdisciplinary context. And yet: 'this book tries to please by holding up to the light the fugitive but powerful creatures born from particular unions of music and the other arts.' It does please; or when it doesn't, it stirs things up, which is just as good."

Several reviewers were intrigued by Albright's discussion of surrealism in music, and his identification of Francis Poulenc as a key figure. "Before the recent publication of ... Untwisting the Serpent," writes Jonathan D. Kramer in his book Postmodern Music, Postmodern Listening (Bloomsbury, 2016), "there was little serious discussion of surrealism in music (although informally calling certain music surreal is certainly common enough). Music has been assumed not to have gone through much of a surrealist stage." Kramer admires Albright's cross-disciplinary consideration of surrealism in musical theater, but believes Untwisting is "most useful....is in [its] discussions of Poulenc’s specifically musical surrealism." He quotes these words of Albright's from Untwisting (page 287):

I understand Poulenc’s manner of quotation -- and he was a music thief of amazing flagrancy -- not as a technique for making pointed semantic allusions, but as a technique for disabling the normal semantic procedures of music. … Poulenc is a composer of surrealizing misquotations.

Oliver Charles Edward Smith's treatise on Poulenc in Cogent quotes liberally from Untwisting as a "comprehensive study of surrealism in music" (while noting that Adorno was the first to apply the "ism" musically). Both Smith and Kramer favorably cite Albright's explanation of the apparent conservatism of musical surrealism in comparison to surrealism in the other arts, noting these passages from Untwisting (pages 289-90) [Kramer's ellipses]:

Surrealism is a phenomenon of semantic dislocation and fissure. It is impossible to disorient unless some principle of orientation has been established in the first place. … In other words, you can’t provide music that means wrong unless you provide music that means something. … The surrealism of Poulenc and his fellows didn’t try to create a new language of music -- it simply tilted the semantic planes of the old language of music. Just as surrealist paintings often have a horizon line and a highly developed sense of perspective, in order that the falseness of the space and the errors of scale among the painted entities can register their various outrages to normal decorum, so surrealist music provides an intelligible context of familiar sounds in order to develop a system of meanings that can assault or discredit other systems of meanings.

Multi-Disciplinarian

Untwisting the Serpent limited its cross-disciplinary analysis to specific examples where musicians, artists, and writers collaborated. In Albright's 2014 book Panaesthetics: On the Unity and Diversity of the Arts, he  "developed a more expansive and philosophical version of his arguments by ranging across the entire history of the arts." [Adam Parkes] In his last book, Putting Modernism Together (2016), Albright renewed his pursuit of specifically Modernist forms of aesthetic hybridity. [Ibid.] But whereas Untwisting deliberately cut across what Albright called the "various isms that both organize and perplex the history of twentieth-century art," the final book "confront[ed] those isms head-on, and recalibrate[d] the earlier account accordingly." [Ibid.]

Additional Reading

Panaesthetics website -- site for Albright's next-to-last published book, Panaesthetics, serves as his personal site, posthumously maintained

Harvard Crimson obituary -- "whimsical English and music teacher" seems like faint praise for an influential thinker.

Remembrance of Albright by Andrew Goldstone, author of the book Fictions of Autonomy, in particular, how Albright inspired Goldstone's research.

- tom moody

August 24th, 2017 at 9:01 am

Posted in books, theory

overcoming "our" disillusionment

Geert Lovink's latest anti-social media rant starts out well with amusing quips:

“Artificial intelligence is not the answer to organized stupidity”—Johan Sjerpstra.
“Please don’t email me unless you’re going to pay me”—Molly Soda.
“Late capitalism is like your love life: it looks a lot less bleak through an Instagram filter”—Laurie Penny.
“Wonder how many people going on about the necessity of free speech and rational debate have blocked and muted trolls?”—Nick Srnicek.
“Post-truth is to digital capitalism what pollution is to fossil capitalism—a by-product of operations”— Evgeny Morozov.
“I have seen the troll army and it is us”—Erin Gün Sirer.

But then Lovink switches to first person plural causing me to vomit on the keyboard:

Our disenchantment with the internet is a fact. Yet again, enlightenment does not bring us liberation but depression. The once fabulous aura that surrounded our beloved apps, blogs, and social media has deflated. Swiping, sharing, and liking have begun to feel like soulless routines, empty gestures. We’ve started to unfriend and unfollow, yet we can’t afford to delete our accounts, as this implies social suicide. If “truth is whatever produces most eyeballs,” as Evgeny Morozov states, a general click strike seems like the only option left. But since this is not happening, we feel trapped and console ourselves with memes.

As the old '60s joke goes, "What do you mean we, kemosabe?" Some people didn't sign up for Facebook in 2007 -- because it smelled like a racket. Some people don't carry surveillance devices in their pockets just because everyone else does. Some people have made a good-faith look for alternatives to swiping and sharing, shy of a "general click strike."

Lovink's article appears in e-flux, which recently tried and failed to acquire the .art domain, speaking of the need for general click strikes. A Facebook for art, controlled by well-intentioned do-gooders, was narrowly avoided.

The rest of Lovink's article discusses positive uses of memes, or something. I haven't read it all. It was hard to get past that first paragraph. Will update if there is anything worth passing along.

- tom moody

June 21st, 2017 at 9:43 am

Posted in around the web, theory

a purpose for collecting

Robert Nickas, from his essay on the Affidavit website titled "A 12-Step Program for 'Collectors'":

To collect is to draw things towards ourselves over time, to study and learn from them, to see what they elicit, one from another, not to engage in a continuous and expedient dispersal.

Well said. The essay is a collection of Benjamin Franklin wisdom or Tom Paine common sense aimed at flippers of artwork. None of it should need to be said except this is the era of a $2.9 million Peter Doig (a terrible painter) and a $110.5 million Basquiat that, according to Nickas, "may not be among Basquiat’s very best."

- tom moody

June 6th, 2017 at 5:48 am

drawing, from daniel albright memorial

albrightmemorial

Just learned that one of my favorite teachers, Daniel Albright, died a couple of years ago.
A memorial with readings, music, and reminiscences was posted: [YouTube]
The drawing comes from a series of pictures projected on the auditorium screen, interpreting a passage from one of Albright's books. (It reminds me a bit of Erika Somogyi's work)
I'll have more to say about him -- I just ordered a few of his tomes that I hadn't read yet. I've plugged him a few times on the blahg over the years.
Several of the reminiscers describe him as a genius and there's really no other word. When he lectured he held you spellbound -- you could feel your brain expanding.
In his younger years (when I had him as an undergrad advisor and my brain was still expanding) he primarily focused on English lit. He was in his mid-20s when he wrote a book on "Yeats' creative imagination in old age." That's one I ordered -- I've always been curious about it but never found it in a library or bookstore.
Gradually he broadened his criticism to include music and painting. At the end of his life his focus was interdisciplinary studies. His pursuits took him from Virginia to Rochester to (after 2003) Harvard, whether I gather his courses were popular.
I like his writing on poetry and music and modernist theory in general. I don't really care much about the interrelationships of the arts but appreciated that he would also take the flip side of the argument, explaining why and when it was good for a discipline to remain entrenched in its area of competence (to use a phrase of Greenberg's, a critic he admired but didn't agree with).
An astute Am*zon commenter said, regarding Albright's last book Putting Modernism Together: "A great project but this original and talented thinker is finally unable to let go of the canon." You could do a lot worse having someone to explain the canon to you, but the frustration isn't with Albright's conservatism so much as it is selfishly wanting to see that brilliant mind probing outside the established greats.

- tom moody

April 9th, 2017 at 8:11 am

Posted in art - others, books, theory

internet aware gift shop

roflcopter

yesterday's bad art theory is today's great gift shop

- tom moody

April 6th, 2017 at 7:38 pm

more greed architecture

The small cylindrical building in the lower left was a PATH train entrance that stood alone in a vacant lot for years. Then, the awkward parabuilding on the right was added, using the cylinder as a support for a multi-story hotel (Marriott Residence Inn). "Parabuilding" was New York Times architecture critic's Herbert Muschamp's euphemism for what could also be called "the architecture of greed," where squeezing every last nickel of rent takes precedence over style. Note how the sleek futuristic columns attempt to distract from the silliness of the design.

badarchitecture1

The hotel exploits monetizable floor area on the opposite side, too -- its wraparound floors nudge into the space of the adjacent building, a la the infamous shot of George Bush trying to squeeze past Bill Clinton in a public doorway:

badarchitecture2

Here's an image that a tourist bureau might like, where everything appears neat and symmetrical. Photos can lie.

badarchitecture3

- tom moody

April 6th, 2017 at 7:25 pm

Posted in photo 3, theory

new-ish vimeos

Have been neglecting my Vimeo account, mainly because I hate video and think there's too much of it in our world. Yesterday I posted a couple of laid-back efforts from late 2014 I had been sitting on:

Ambient Bro Environment

Walk to Liberty

Was sort of briefly interested in the idea of home movies as art -- taking that trope of ultimate boredom and elevating it to festival material, as a form of protest or Dada or what have you. I even went as far as to submit Idyllic Bike Ride to the festival "Migrating Forms" (where it was rejected). What happened was, I get a lot of press releases going back to my years as a pundit. Some are welcome and some go to spam. Migrating Forms sent me an announcement with a call for entries. It took about five minutes to submit Idyllic Bike Ride -- I thought a dude's bike ride might be an amusing break or palate cleanser in several hours of heavy identity exploration. It was rejected, and also lessened my spam traffic because I stopped receiving Migrating Forms announcements! Unlike moi, they do not hate video.

- tom moody

March 23rd, 2017 at 8:10 am

Posted in theory, video - tm

bank lobby semiotics

Photo0042

Citibank has been remodeling its New York branches. In Australia they've stopped accepting cash, and it's clear they'd do that here if they could. Paper deposit and withdrawal slips have been phased out.
Teller lines still exist but ATMs are the future. The first thing the teller requests is a card swipe.
Instead of offices where bankers assist you, they offer long tables with computer monitors, like open plan classrooms, where employees give tutorials on how to do online banking.
Comfy seats for waiting customers are replaced with a bleak, padded bench or two.
A posh seating area can still be found but it's for "Citigold" clients paying a higher tier for wealth management services. This lounge-like environment is clearly set apart from the benches.
Outside, facing the street, they have "Citigold" signs, with gold lettering.

- tom moody

March 2nd, 2017 at 6:18 pm

Posted in theory

network plasticity

From a recent interview:

Angelo Romeo: What does the Internet mean to you today?

Geert Lovink: I got to know computers and computer networks in the late 1980s in my late 20s so I can’t say I grew up with them, even though their arrival was announced in films, magazines and science fiction was announced well before I was born. As an undergrad I was still using IBM punch cards. I would not describe my generation as pioneers. We grew up in the shadow of the Cold War, in the ruins of the industrial revolution. It was not a period of prosperity but one of crisis, decay and unemployment. Doom and gloom: no gentrification but squats. In that environment the internet offered an alternative future that first came to us through cyberpunk sci-fi literature. The 1968 generation had nothing to offer to us, and we became cynical because of their failed idealism and double standards. Armed struggle was bankrupt. It is with a certain ironic ambivalence that we entered the internet realm. Some of my friends did not enter the game, while others did. Younger people jumped on it. Internet indeed offered us an opportunity, to get out of the margins, claim a strategic terrain and move into the unknown, cyberspace. This is pretty much the same, 30 years later. The younger you are, the better. The internet never disappointed me. It is society that steers it architectures and applications. Turned into platform capitalism, filtered by authoritarian regimes, pushed by neo-liberal design of the precarious self, that’s what the internet means to us today. This doesn’t say anything about tomorrow. Luckily, we can still speculate about ‘network plasticity’. Platform is not our destiny.

Am a bit more pessimistic about the resilience of "the network," as in, a world wide web, in view of monopolist challenges to neutrality, on the one hand, and the sheeplike migration of citizens to "platforms," on the other. Even smaller networks that are parasitic to the global Internet will be affected by Balkanization. A small case in point, I've been learning to use a Linux system, and while some of the how-to is handled over IRC chat, much is still dependent on Googling. The Ardour forum moderators tell newbies, in so many words, "don't rely on our in-house search to find if your topic has been covered, use Google, it's much more thorough." If Google searching (or DuckDuckGo, or Bing) becomes deprecated because of post-neutrality slow lanes or "platform" dominance of search, Linux mavericks are screwed.

- tom moody

February 27th, 2017 at 8:57 am

Posted in linux diary, theory

dump.fm memorial, cont'd

notopoulos_dump_tweet

Screenshot of tweet by Katie Notopoulos, a tech and internet writer for Buzzfeed, recommending Joe Milutis' Hyperallergic essay memorializing Dump.fm. It's fun to be an unsung hero -- presumably the other 15% of the current web aesthetic originates with Pepe.

- tom moody

February 25th, 2017 at 9:26 am

Posted in theory