Thoughts on Hamilton and Film

Tonight I listened to the Hamilton Soundtrack for the first time in almost a year. It has been ruined for me by two awful people. The memories of us jamming out to it were so powerful that any time it came to mind I hurt with anxiety. But tonight I gave it a shot again and it’s as joyful and perfect as I remembered. It also got me thinking about a different memory related to the show that I feel like writing about.

The memory was a friend and mentor of mine walking with me to a talk on campus. We were professing our love for the show, it’s cleverness, it’s complexity, it’s deep knowledge of American musical and political history. Eventually, the question of race came up for some reason. I say it that way because of course the conversation has touched on race before, but here it was regarding the ethics of casting a play with this race bending. It was likely that I was referring to a conversation I had with my father on the subject. He seemed incapable of seeing any of the political or artistic reasonings for the choice. To him, they were white in reality so how is it right to cast them otherwise; you wouldn’t do cast a white guy as Martin Luther King Jr. I tried every explanation I knew but nothing ever worked.

When this came up with my friend I think I expressed my reservations about how the play could work as a film. I was saying the play is so theatrically specific, so good at being theatre in the highest sense, that it wouldn’t work well on film. The verisimilitude would never hold the unreality of the concept. A film audience will see these black people in roles they remember should be white and reject the film’s world.

The thought I had on my walk tonight was that I missed something, something strange and overwhelming in this question. Why is it any more jarring to see black people in those rolls than to see white actors rapping in those roles? Do I really believe that the former is harder than the latter for people to believe? No, not at all. And this gave me hope for a cinematic adaptation. The idea of white actors in those roles is so jarring that an enticing possibility for the actual adaptation springs to mind.

With a great filmmaker behind the camera you can see some really Nolan-esque propulsion driving the audience through the world elegantly, making moments of conflict debilitatingly intense. Some of the songs seem perfectly suited to larger productions. I still think the adaptation will be messy, but if done right it could be absolutely amazing.

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Manic-Depression, Bi-Polarity, and Falling in Love with Chantal Akerman

I like the term manic-depression, I feel it most accurately describes the processes by which my neuroses appear. Bipolar is a better description of my consciousness though. I feel like a Freudian nightmare, with my id and superego having more autonomy in my consciousness than my ego does. I can be manic, I can be lucid, and I can be depressed, but what is truly scary is when I become depressed in mania or manically depressed (which are two different states believe it or not). I feel I need to put these states into words at some point, maybe as a set of papers or possibly even a book. But what I’ll need to do first is read, a lot. And I’ll need to continue watching a lot. I can imagine a project now that looks something like the following.

1. Introduction: An Archive of Feelings, Thoughts, and Memory
This would draw greatly from Derrida and Ann Cvetkovich among many others who have written on ways to conceive of archives outside of dusty shelves of manuscripts and objects.

2. Depression
Also drawing heavily from Cvetkovich (she did write the book after all) but also from Freud and many other theorists who have tried to understand grief, mourning, melancholy, and depression. This is the ontological state of depression, which I define differently from the following.

3. Mania
Here’s where my new research really would need to begin. I have not seen much writing about mania and psychosis though I’m sure it exists out there. This is another ontological state, an embodied affect that feels completely normal until it is noticed, until it is read by me on to my body.

4. Depressed Mania
Here we’re going to have go really deep because the idea is that this is a cognitive state mapped onto an ontological one. I think there’s an intersection between my bodily states and my cognitive states that while related can be provoked separate of each other. If I map my depression and my mania first in bodily terms and then in cognitive terms it becomes necessary to ask the question of what happens when my depressed cognition meets my manic body, and vice versa.

5. Manic Depression
This is that vice versa. Distinguishing it from the previous state I hope will grant me some peace in understanding it.

6. Lucidity (an Epigraph)
What scares me about starting such a project is how easy it would be for me to get to the end of it and not be able to describe “me” anymore. If all of my memories become archived between the four categories, what happens to the real me? Perhaps I will have finally integrated the disparate parts of me into a whole, allowing me to live finally. Or perhaps in losing myself in my writing I will have to go on some soul searching journey to “find myself” and start again.

Now, why is Chantal Akerman in the title of this piece? Well, because I don’t know if I can go one this journey without her. I feel like Je, Tu, Il, Elle embodies mania in a language I have rarely been able to muster myself, and I feel like sections of Jeanne Dielman comfort me precisely because I recognize the cognition of my depression laced therein. Akerman was an artist I feel imminently connected too, and I will be watching more of her films to try and find out why.

I feel like this project has to be approached cinematically because cinema is in many ways my memory. This is a scary project, but also one I feel will be as essential to my life as my attempts to theorize ethics and violence.

Adventures in Grad School: Episode 1 – Nietzsche and Adorno

One of my course right now is on Theodor Adorno, and my professor assigned both texts by Adorno and the philosophical grounding on which they were written. Last week we read the first chapter of Dialectic of Enlightenment, preceded by Kant’s “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?” and Marcel Mauss’s A General Theory of Magic. This was an incredibly useful exercise, as without it reading Adorno often feels like hearing one-half of a conversation in a different language. At least now, only translation is required.

This week he assigned the first Excursis of Dialectic preceded by the preface and first essay of Nietzsche’s On the Genealogy of Morals.

Academic reading is often laborious, but Nietzsche is not that. He writes in aphorism and polemic (two words I did not know the definition of until very recently) and will switch between highly scholarly etymological examination and seemingly spiteful anger. There are sections in the first essay that read like contemporary SJW etymological arguments. He approaches the genealogy of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ from the point of language, identifying that words associated with nobility and high class are always etymologically related to the words for ‘good’ while those words associated with the common folk or lower classes are always linked to ‘bad.’

As someone who has written extensively about political correctness and language like the ‘man-bun,’ this was FASCINATING. He was using an approach that I had always felt drawn towards to make a similar argument that which I was making, or so I thought.

I think there’s something odd about translated texts. My favourite example is the word ‘consequence.’ In French that word carries no moral connotation. In English it is a term referring to the bad results of an action. The connotation changes, and so does the meaning if one is not careful.

Reading Nietzsche’s etymology of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ felt like the preface to saying this etymology created meanings that were unfounded in an objective moral position. But then in the seventh section he says the following,

“All that has been done on earth against “the noble’ “the powerful,” “the masters,” “the rulers:’ fades into nothing compared with what the Jews have done against them; the Jews, that priestly people, who in opposing their enemies and conquerors were ultimately satisfied with nothing less than a radical revaluation of their enemies’ values, that is to say, an act of the most spiritual revenge.” 

Here, just as the earlier sections seemed to have a clear moral connotation, only it seems reversed and undeniably anti-semitic. He continues on about Christianity and the “slave morality”

“And could spiritual subtlety imagine any more dangerou~ bait than this? Anything to equal the enticing, intoxicating, overwhelming and undermining power of that symbol of the “holy cross,” that ghastly paradox of a “God on the cross,” that mystery of an unimaginable ultimate cruelty and self-crucifixion of God for the salvation of
man?”

Reading this felt wrong, and yet his language (or at least the translation of his language) is so crisp and clear, so polemical and angry, that it’s hard not to want to read more. And that aesthetic impulse is further driven by an ethical one: how could someone so obviously brilliant write such awful things? I had a responsibility to continue reading, not just to fulfill the requirements set by my professor, but because there had to be something more.

Strangely enough, in a footnote I found exactly the trail I was looking for.

“Having said things that can easily be misconstrued as grist to the mill of the German anti·Semites, Nietzsche goes out of his way, as usual, to express his admiration for the Jews and his disdain for the Germans.”

I don’t read every footnote in a text because, for the most part, the elaboration is just that. Here though, the editor is pointing something out that seems essential to reading the text. Nietzsche’s language is not clear, at least not its moral connotations (a hilarious point given the subject matter). And if one is to fall in love with work of this magnitude, it will require more effort to do so. So I went back through the earlier footnotes and found this:

“No other German writer of comparable stature has been a more extreme critic of German nationalism than Nietzsche.”

Nietzsche knew of anti-Semitism and of nationalism and wrote in this way anyways. Why? That’s what I want to know.

So I went to a bookstore today and bought this book (I had previously read from an excerpt) and Beyond Good and Evil as well as two essays of Schopenhauer and the Confessions of Augustine. Grad school is getting me to read more, read more deeply, fall in love with authors who died long ago even when I disagree with them vehemently. That’s the moment I knew I was in the right place.

 

 

Disputes in Leftist Assumptions and Activism: Part 1

Since November 8th, an incessant desire emerged among the internet intelligentsia to “break out of our media bubbles.” Apparently, on all sides of the political spectrum, echo chambers have emerged where people are only being exposed to ideas they already agree with. I disagree, and the title of this series is an attempt to explain why. In my experience, the left is consistently debating and interrogating itself

In my experience, the left is consistently debating and interrogating itself, trying to come to better understandings of political ideas that only emerged from the recesses of chat rooms and academic journals in the past ten years. Different priorities in leftist activisms come into conflict with one another and debates centre around both principles and ethics. Often times, these debates are actually based in the conflict between principles and ethics, how we can make broad political/ideological statements that fall apart under scrutiny.

This post is not going to examine any of these in particular. However, here I want to list out some of the topics that I will be covering on my own and invite anyone else who wants to contribute to do so (either here on this blog or elsewhere and would let me direct people to them). Here’s the list that I’ve been developing recently based on conversations I’ve had or witnessed online.

  • Vegan Activism vs. Anti-Colonialism vs. Anti-Poverty
  • Sexual Orientation Essentialism vs. Socialization
  • Trans Identity Essentialism vs. Historical Construction and Re-Construction of Gender
  • Rape Culture vs. Masculinity vs. Mental Illness
  • Labour Movement vs. Post-Vocational Workforce
  • Pro-Choice Freedoms vs. Ethical Parenting
  • Representation on screen vs. Representation in industry
  • Gentrification vs. Urban Development Theory
  • Rape Culture vs. Drinking Culture vs. Casual Sex Culture
  • Anarchism/Revolution vs. Safety and Justice

These are just the initial ideas, I’m sure more will hit the brain as I actually start writing.

Social Justice Language and Free Speech

Language matters. This is a value that comes right near the top of my list of most important values in how I live in the world. The words I use have impacts and I want my words to reflect my desires, beliefs, and intentions as much as I can muster. To do this I have to acknowledge not only the context in which I am speaking but the contexts in which I have lived and spoken. I am a white queer settler Canadian and I have, without any doubt in my heart, contributed to settler colonialism, institutionalized racism, and hetero-normative misogyny numerous times in my life through speech I knew was wrong, should have known was wrong, and could have known was wrong.

“Why the confession?” you may be asking. Well, it has to do with the hoopla around the “appropriation prize” controversy that emerged last week. Specifically, I want to quote Jonathan Kay’s editorial in the National Post and explain why he completely misses the point of the language social justice warriors (like myself) use in regards to social justice and equity issues.

“What I (and other Canadian writers and editors) am angry about is the effort by TWUC and its Equity Task Force (which released its own statement) to shame Niedzviecki, and to suggest that his liberal approach to speech is somehow outside the bounds of respectable discourse. TWUC’s over-the-top apology describes the “pain” that the article allegedly caused. It’s part of what may be described as the medicalization of the marketplace of ideas: It is no longer enough to say that you merely disagree with something. Rather, the author must be stigmatized as a sort of dangerous thought criminal. Indeed, the Equity Task Force situates Niedzviecki as an apologist for “cultural genocide,” and accuses him of peddling “a long-debunked false universalism.” The Task Force also claims that the publication of his article is a symptom of “structural racism,” or possibly even “brazen malice.”

This is extraordinary language coming from an organization that represents the interests of “professionally published book authors.” Their mandate should be to seek the broadest possible range of opportunities for their constituents—not act as a chorus for the most restrictive views on acceptable speech.”

What he calls extraordinary language is not extraordinary at all. In fact, it is the most common and daily language among people who work for social justice. You’ll note above that I used some of that language in reference to myself and yet I call myself a social justice warrior and ally to lots of groups of which I am not a part. I am a part of social justice networks and communities that accept me and, more importantly, hold me accountable. I have worked hard to raise myself not only to the base level of common decency to the human beings I share these spaces with, but to actively work for their liberation where I can. And I fail all the time. I can list many moments in the past year where I had reactions that were undeniably racist. I still have a lot of work to do to overcome that deeply cultural training I have been living with my whole life, and I will very likely never overcome it.

When someone calls me out for saying something racist, they are not shaming me or calling me a member of the klan who intrinsically and intentionally desires the elimination of entire cultures. They are holding me accountable for my words and actions and how those contribute to systems that I do not have control over. At their most stringent they are calling me tacitly complicit in those systems that do see the elimination of entire cultures. That’s because I don’t have the power to stop settler colonialism or any form of racist imperialism on my own. And yet it is incredibly easy for me to contribute to the narratives and policies and make them stronger and when I do that there is no way for me to take that momentum back. I don’t get kicked out of those spaces or communities when I slip up. Maybe I’m told to take a back seat and shut up for a while, but literally every group that has a set of rules governing debate has a way to temporarily censure a member. In these cases I feel bad, because I should feel bad; but I don’t hold on to those bad feelings and make the slip up about me. I reflect, change, and move on to do better.

So what Jonathan Kay was reacting to in the TWUC equity report is a gross mischaracterization of what they were saying. Describing the context of a situation and using the words “colonialism,” “cultural genocide” and “racism” do not equate to shaming Niedzviecki, nor are they some form of extreme hyperbole. They were holding a powerful person responsible for his words, and his words were ignorant, glib, and consequently contributing to settler colonialism and racism. We all know that’s not what he intended, but that doesn’t matter. Niedzviecki wrote what he wrote and people reacted accordingly. That’s how free and open discourse works. Someone says something and other people are allowed and encouraged to respond until the group in question comes to a decision of some kind. If the freedom of speech you are constructing and defending does not allow for criticism of that speech, then you are only defending the freedom to speak and not the open exchange of ideas you also talk about so fervently. So, finally, it is ironic to see Kay, the great defender of free speech in Canada, get so uppity about someone else’s freedom to use the language they see fit to describe a situation. It’s almost like the only free speech he cares about is his own.

P.S.
And finally, since I can already see that some people will call me out for having a double standard about who’s speech deserves to be interpreted graciously, Niedzviecki’s words were interpreted graciously. His words, in every context, contribute to harm the discourse around cultural appropriation by invalidating the concerns of those who care about cultural appropriation. Authors around the internet were not criticizing the message of his piece, except perhaps to say that he was creating a strawman. Rather, they were criticizing the words themselves and how the glib and ignorant use of those words undermined not only the message of his piece, but also the wider discourse around settler colonialism in Canada that that issue of Write Magazine was attempting to address.  The TWUC Equity Task Force’s words on the other hand were not interpreted graciously. People saw the words “racism,” “colonialism,” and “cultural genocide” and assumed that the TWUC’s Equity Task Force was calling Niedzviecki evil and beyond repair.

Thinking About Highschool

After my last exam in high school, I deleted about 95% of my graduating class from facebook. I hated my high school. There were some people I liked, but it was a bad place for me at a bad time and the further I get from it the less I care about it and the people who were there. A few teachers there made a big impact on me and there are a few people whose lasting footprint on my psyche has me reflecting on who I was then.

I was a prick. That might just sound like self-deprecation but I mean it sincerely. Today, the person that haunts me most from high school, someone I hurt deeply and whose presence in my thoughts keeps me up at night, liked a photo of mine on Instagram. Gladly, I’m pretty sure they’re not aware of how I feel in this regard – though, if you are somehow reading this, I am sorry –  but it sent my mind into the same spiral I’ve come to frequently this year.

How do I know I was a prick? Because in this week’s spiral I went back and read through the entirety of my chat history with this person – well, the chat history on my current facebook account. I haven’t decided yet how much of my old account I’m going to read through, but I just downloaded all the data from it so I guess we’ll see. Anyways, looking back at the way I used to talk has me kind of ashamed of who I used to be.  I usually like to say that I don’t believe people can change, but there’s no other way to describe the absolute transformation of my life between then and now. I changed. I’m a different person. I can barely recognize the thought processes of my old me. I used to be so cynical, sarcastic, obviously depressed, and most aggravatingly I was bitter to everyone. Most of the actual memories I have from a lot of these people are positive. And those memories that aren’t, I’m the bad guy because I very much was the bad guy. But those moments still feel like a part of me – these messages are not a part of me anymore. Or at least I hope they aren’t, time will tell I guess.

The therapy I’m doing right now is helping me figure out how those old parts of me do not define the me of today. Going through this, I think it’s working.

Thanks be to God.

Reflections and Confessions

It’s really late right now. I’m awake watching The Americans. I’ve been thinking about confessions and reflections lately. The Americans has a lot of episodes in the second and third seasons about EST which was the 70s answer to a lack of availability of therapy and social. It’s all about honesty and sounds a lot like the stuff I talk to my therapist about. Then I listen to albums like Good Kid M.A.A.D City, or 808s and Heartbreaks which are confessional in their own way. What I’ve realized is that I need to be better at writing out my confessions and reflections. Some of it will be public, like this post. Some of it won’t, because I’m still a coward. Either way, putting it to the world by pen and paper or pixel will help excise the demons I carry with me.