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MUNA: Lay Down Your Weapon

MUNA: Lay Down Your Weapon

The young are lucky in so many ways. They haven’t seen too many expressions of youth. They haven’t passed through the labyrinth yet, looked back on their younger years, looked back on it again and again. If they try — better yet, if they don’t — they can be who they are, who they really are inside, without being crushed by the world and the idea that it’s all be done before. It has. Kinda. But not really. It hasn’t until they’ve spoken. Until they’ve sung. Year after year, it’s always new for the young. For another generation to take its turn falling through, running through, walking through the labyrinth.

But for some young people, it’s not just the usual obstacles. It’s breaking free of societal constraints, of stupidly absurd and arbitrary constraints, above and beyond the usual stupidly absurd and arbitrary constraints hurled at the young by the old at heart. For reasons that defy all reason, and all true “morality,” which is really nothing more than kindness in the flesh, flesh and blood kindness to all humans, to all of Nature, and to the future. True morality is just that: kindness, generosity of spirit, compassion, sympathy, empathy, and when we toss those aside, we’re “immoral,” even if our texts tell us we must. Because the old — or the old at heart — wrote those texts, the ones that impose those arbitrary, patently cruel constraints on others, and it’s immoral to continue doing so. It’s a thousand times unkind. Let them be.

Let them be who they are. Be moral. Be kind. And just listen.

MUNA – I Know A Place

More From the Grand Hotel Abyss

More From the Grand Hotel Abyss

Some quick comments upon further reading . . .

Franz Kafka

The author brings in Kafka’s own battle with his father, as I thought he would, discussing both his famous letter to his father and his short story, The Judgment. And he makes the connection work well between this and the family dramas of the rest of the Frankfurt school. But he adds a fascinating twist. Jeffries talks about Eric Fromm’s interest in Bachofen:

“As an adult, Fromm became steeped in the work of the nineteenth-century Swiss Lutheran jurist Johan Jacob Bachofen, whose 1861 book Mother Right and the Origins of Religion provided the first challenge to the prevailing orthodoxy that patriarchal society represented a natural state of affairs, and thereby validated capitalism, oppression and male hegemony, as Fromm’s biographer Lawrence Friedman argues. Reading Bachofen also encouraged Fromm to reflect that the mother-child bond was the root of social life and that in a matriarchal society there was no strife, conflict or even private property, reflections that were decisive for his developing socialist humanism. In Bachofen’s description of matriarchal societies they functioned as what Fromm called ‘primitive socialist democracies,’ in which sociability, generosity, tenderness, religiosity and egalitarianism prevailed.”


Moving from Bachofen to Max Weber, the author adds the Protestant Work Ethic to the mix, and from there poses an opposition of unconditional motherly love to conditional fatherly acceptance — and the matriarchal versus the patriarchal. The latter is at the heart of capitalism and the cause of the rebellion against the fathers.

To achieve that fatherly acceptance at that time meant continuing the previous generation’s business success, or at least the attainment of some other kind of widespread recognition. The father of the household almost merging with capitalism itself. The rejection of capitalism being a rejection of the father and so on. Which leads to this thought, not yet suggested in the book: What would have happened if women had led socialist revolutions instead of men? While it’s essentialist to believe yin and yang are that clear cut, and there are too many cases to count where gender lines blur, back and forth, both on the micro and macro levels, it’s at least interesting in a speculative sense to ponder the what ifs. Would the revolutions of 1789, 1830, 1848, 1871, 1917 and 1918 have turned out differently if women ran the show?

To be honest, I can’t see how they wouldn’t have, and, I’m guessing radically and for the better. But we’ll never be able to answer that, tragically.

More musings on the book to follow . . .




Grand Hotel Abyss: by Stuart Jeffries

Grand Hotel Abyss: by Stuart Jeffries

Stuart Jeffries. 2016

Just beginning this already fascinating group biography of the Frankfurt School. The author, Stuart Jeffries, is sketching out the foundation for this group portrait, primarily through a concentration on one generation’s battle with the previous generation — mostly set in Berlin. I imagine that further reading will see this expand greatly, and that he won’t remain there, in “anxiety of influence” territory. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it would be reductive to base the amazing work of Walter Benjamin, Theodor Adorno, Max Horkheimer and the rest of the critical theorists in this “school” solely on the clash of values between fathers and sons. I don’t think that’s what Jeffries is trying to do, and that he’s really just setting the context for more detailed exploration, but some authors might be seduced into such a formula. 

(BTW, I respect Bloom’s work greatly, so this is no knock on his scholarship. I’m a fan.)

Regardless, it is important to note how pervasive and spontaneous this was, especially for many Jewish intellectuals at the time — late 19th through the early 20th century, until the rise of Hitler. Much of Kafka’s work falls into this deep and desperate rebellion against the father, and against that father’s “values.” In most cases, it was a rebellion for a second or third generation of assimilated Jews, who thought their parents had assimilated a bit too much. That they had chosen wealth and prosperity through business over other possible ways of life, be it keeping faith with their faith, or faith in the Arts. And this seemed to be primarily a phenomenon of Mittel Europa overall, not just Germany. Austria, Bohemia and much of the Austro-Hungarian empire, though as Jeffries reminds us, there were divisions here as well. It was common, for instance, for some Jews in Mittel Europa to see Jewish exiles from Eastern Europe as “the Other.” Joseph Roth, in my pantheon of greatest novelists, was one of the most astute chroniclers of this divide.

What makes this rebellion, this break with the fathers especially interesting, even profound, is that they took their critique beyond the individual actions themselves. It became the foundation for a much larger critique of the entire capitalist system, which is something novelists like Kafka only hinted at, indirectly. The men of the Frankfurt School were interested in showing how the economic system in place created mass conformity, compliance, and commodified human beings. So their criticism went far beyond a revolt against their parents’ assimilation as Jews. One’s religion, ethnicity, gender or any other group identity wasn’t really the issue for them. It was the power of the capitalist system to seduce, make people forget, make people lose their individuality in a mass culture without realizing this had happened to them.

Am looking forward to the rest of this study, which is presented (mostly) in chronological order. I’m just under way in Part I: 1900-1920.




Classic Contrapuntal: Panic at the Disco

Classic Contrapuntal: Panic at the Disco

Some songs follow a course that makes sense, mathematically. As if someone raises a hand, lowers it, raises it higher again, and forms a pattern you can count on, anticipicate. You basically can hear the next movement in your head before it happens, but that’s not a bad thing, or a boring thing, if the music can match emotion with the math.

Panic at the Disco, a Vegas band I had not bumped into until this year, does that with their song, “Death of a Bachelor,” from their new album by the same name. Though it might not be accurate to call “them” a band any longer. This album appears to be the work of its lone original member (from its inception in 2004), vocalist Brendon Urie, though one could say the band’s lineup is still in flux. Regardless, the new album is basically his baby, and the man can sang it!

In a 2015 interview with Alt 98.7, Urie said “It’s going to be a little bit different, it’s this mix between Sinatra and Queen, if that makes any sense.” It does. Speaking on the day of its release, Urie paid homage to Sinatra: “His music has been a major player in the soundtrack of my life. So it’s only right that I return the favor and/or pay it forward. I wrote a new album this year and even in the few songs that don’t sound remotely similar to any of his music I still felt his influence in the writing and the need to relate so personally to each song. “Death Of A Bachelor” is very important to me. It expresses the bittersweet (but mostly sweet) end of an era. A look back at a part of my life now deceased. An “It’s A Wonderful Life”-esque look into a possibly different future. But mostly an appreciation for the present.”

It’s a solid reminder that great music is never dated, or too old for the young to love, or anyone young at heart.




Jaded Poems

Jaded Poems

Rock Shadows2

Jaded Aesthetic Hand-Wringing too Soon



The difference between Nature and nature
I think is like Woods and woods
Rivers and rivers
Rocks and rocks

It’s like the sun shining down on the green     
And making it more green not less

Or the river looking back at you in sorrow or joy
As if it’s given up and the day has not
Begun yet

Or it seems proud of its depth and its clarity
Of thought and feeling

Proud of its command of that route
Between here and there

Loire Valley. Photo by Douglas Pinson. 2007







Strangely enough
Strangely it seems that humans
Can affect this difference

By doing their part with good brushes
And good ideas of composition and angles
And diametrics

They can do their part by not
Screwing up the good stuff
The rolling hills and the mountains
In the distance
With beat up old buildings
Falling apart and cars falling apart

And roads slowly collapsing
    Like the confidence
Of deer on busy highways

I don’t want to talk about fragility
    Not yet
Not yet at least until the new tawdry moon
Or the second mortgage

But it is a factor
It just is



Jaded Aesthetics: Part II

Rock Shadows3


Then the sun comes back out and changes
That thought that vantage point

Changes my thoughts about lesser
And lesser

The rains and the bleakness of the
Last few days gave rise
To this idea of rented
Nature vs. when

She owns it outright
When She owns the originality of her
Greens and Browns and Blues
Vs. just seeing them on loan
And downgraded by too much trade

Too much resale too much withering away
Of some vital compelling interest

The mountains I can’t see
The rivers I can’t follow
The hills I can’t find

Because they’re covered in grayness
Dull listless shabby dull
Rented gray of the kind
Found only in worldwide depressions
And in bad anger-management classes

But the sun explodes
Gives that back to us
Gives the Redeemer Her broom
Her blast of constant wind and

Brilliant pixilations jump and shine
– Bow to no one




Jaded Aesthetics: Part III

Tunnel of Trees. France. Photo by Douglas Pinson. 2007


Driving through the heath and the poor health
Of the ground the grass
The trees

Driving through it like sad tunnels and serious
And tunnels leading to the end of tunnels

I could see the effects of blue on green
The sun healing what was gray
Until this afternoon

Until my mind was okay again with the thought
Of what Nature had given me and given
To all of us in the valley of our choice

Sleepwalking behind the wheel for days
Sleepwalking through the bleak entrails
Of weak patterns of faded life and light

I groaned alive and opened my eyes to the sun
To the fire it placed on the ground for me
For my battered withered heart

As if redemption really could be in a strong blade
Of grass a strong trunk of an oak
A fast blue clear cold stream


Mountain Illusions.
Before the Frost Comes

Before the Frost Comes

Eiffel Tower. Photo by Douglas Pinson. 2007

The Realist Struggles With Vacation Brochures


The painter who wanted to sing
And write and travel
And be the incognito ruler of the world
Left his apartment that should have been a house
Or a mansion
In the country not the city
Instead of bleakness
He wanted lush greens and grounds
And stone pools
Shining in the sun

Years were to be filled
With talks and walks
And healing of souls
Through his words or images
The notes coming and going in the Cheyenne
     Over his ponds and
          Flowers in the Prague garden

The horse became a painting or a word
Then a thought
And the beautiful girl was four sounds
     A glad row of trees a root
Clouds hanging across the moon

It was a moon not a goddess
And he fell down and kissed the Earth
She would hear him and commit this image to memory

In Prague Yes or in Cheyenne


Alice Kaplan: Looking for the Stranger

Alice Kaplan: Looking for the Stranger

Looking for The Stranger, by Alice Kaplan. 2016
Looking for The Stranger, by Alice Kaplan. 2016.

Biographies of writers, artists, musicians and the like fill our libraries to the brim. But in recent years, a new kind of bio has emerged: the “life” of a particular work of art. One very fine example of this sub-genre is Alice Kaplan’s Looking for The Stranger.

The book gives us a brief (but continuous) bio of Camus, his birth and early years in Algeria, providing the North African as well as Parisian contexts for his literary output before, during and after WWII. She takes us through the process of his writing, beginning with several early missteps and rejections along the way, and then follows him almost chapter by chapter through the completion of his short but seminal novel of the Absurd. Along the way, we’re introduced to key people in the life of the novel, its gestation and the road to its publication in 1942. Perhaps the most important of these are Jean Grenier, Pascal Pia and André Malraux.

In an epilogue she all but solves a minor mystery from The Stranger, via legwork likely provoked by a more recent novel, The Meursault Investigation, by Kamel Daoud. Daoud’s novel tells the story from a radically different angle and voice: Harun, the brother of Meursault’s victim. In The Stranger, an unnamed Arab is killed by the anti-hero Meursault, and Camus had based parts of this fictional encounter on real-life events. Friends of Camus, Edgar and Raoul Bensoussan, unwittingly provided perhaps the central image for the novel with their knife fight on a beach in Oran. But neither Camus nor his earlier biographers tell us the name of the Arab, fictional or otherwise. In real life, two Arab men had engaged with the Bensoussans on that “European’s only” Algerian beach. Alice Kaplan reveals the human being behind the novel’s cipher.

The Meursault Investigation, by Kamel Daoud. 2014
The Meursault Investigation, by Kamel Daoud. 2014

The epilogue points to deeper ironies and tragedies as well. Most readers likely associate “the stranger” with Meursault, though extending this beyond his orbit isn’t difficult, given the story and Camus’s philosophy of the Absurd. And then there’s the fact of French domination and control of Algeria prior to its independence (1962), the horrors of occupation and civil wars, and the absurdity of the Arab majority’s domination by a colonial power. A minority estranged from the motherland; a majority estranged from self-determination; languages and cultures segregated and estranged from one another and their respective histories. Camus, who bravely championed human rights and non-violent emancipation for the vast majority of his life, had perhaps one fatal (though incredibly ambivalent and complex) blind spot: French rule in Algeria. Did he silence another stranger by leaving the Arab without a name, and why? Was this an indirect comment on the massive injustice of colonialism? Or an unconscious signifier of that injustice? This mystery awaits further investigations.

Kaplan, with her short book, and brief epilogue, trips dozens of wires for readers who care deeply about literature, Camus in particular, and the human condition. Highly readable, accessible and concise, this bio aids in our understanding of one of the most important writers in the Republic of Letters, his world and ours.