That's it! The only ism I want to come out of your mouths is jism. Overacademic Bullshit Must Die.

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THE PRESENTATION OF SELF IN EVERYDAY LIFE:
Democratizing the Intellect
by Frank Kogan

*Unless we can somehow recycle the concept of the great artist so that it supports Chuck Berry as well as it does Marcel Proust, we might as well trash it altogether.* - Robert Christgau

But rock criticism does something even more interesting, changing not just our idea of who gets to be an artist but of who gets to be a thinker. And not just who gets to be a thinker, but which part of our life gets to be considered "thought."

Say that - using rockers like Chuck and Elvis as intellectual models -young Christgau, Meltzer, Bangs, Marcus et al. grow up to understand that rock 'n' roll isn't just what you write about, it's what you do. It's your mode of thought. And if you do words on the page, then your behavior on the page doesn't follow standard academic or journalistic practice, and is baffling for those who expect it to.

To explain this new behavior, and the bafflement it causes, I use "school" as my metaphor for the psyche, and I say that school tries to enforce a split between classroom and hallway. The split tells us that to be intellectual we have to live in the classroom and to obey the classroom rule, which is to talk not to and about other people but just about some third thing, "the subject matter." It says that to talk to and about each other, as we do in the hallway, isn't to think but to merely live our lives.

And so - the split claims - either we can use our intellect or we can live our lives, but we can't do both at once. And living our lives (as the hallway narrowly construes this) becomes "visceral" by default, since our lives have been ejected from the "intellect." And the hallway's vengeance on the classroom is to say, "You may be smart, but I'm *real*, and you're not." But this is an impoverished realness, since it expels anything that the classroom defines as "mental," and forbids our putting something off at a distance and reflecting on it.

Good rock critics, by and large, don't honor the boundary between classroom and hallway. This puts us at odds with most editors-in-chief, department heads, and those horrible people the readers. The rules have no intellectual validity; we're not following them; and the reader who wants reassurance through us that he's smart isn't going to get it from us in the standard way, and the reader who wants reassurance from us that he's real isn't going to get it either.

Simon Frith points out that most magazines now "edit every contributor into a house style expressing house opinions." This is in order to match taste with publication, publication with reader. Even those "intellectual" magazines that wouldn't think of editing someone's opinions will nonetheless choose writers whose styles fit the magazine's brand. "Intellectual" is itself a style, a brand.

There are arguments to be made in favor of imposing a uniform style, maybe the best arguments being analogous to the ones for school uniforms: suppressing personal characteristics also suppresses social and class characteristics and therefore suppresses social conflict and gang warfare, thereby allowing the school to get on with its business. But no one claims that school uniforms are somehow more *intellectual* than regular clothes. Yet academia and journalism do try to claim that the enforced style is more
intellectual or "objective" than any other.

I first came up with the "classroom-hallway" metaphor 12 years ago, in this passage:

"'A fifteen-year-old's relationship to a pop song also puts her in relation to other fifteen-year-olds and to *their* relationship to the pop song and to other fifteen-year-olds etc.' Yes, and believe me, all fifteen-year-olds know this. But the sad thing is that the fifteen-year-old who writes empty truisms like 'a fifteen-year-old's relationship to a pop song also puts her...' etc. and shows it to the teacher gets an A-plus, whereas a fifteen-year-old who writes something that actually puts her in relation to other fifteen-year-olds knows better than to give it to the teacher, knows
that it's not welcome. E.g., from recent *Smash Hits* (Australia):

"'Calling all gorgeous guys on Earth who are 14 or older. We are two 15 year old chicks who are absolutely in love with Guns N' Roses, Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi, Poison, and stax more! Interested?'

"'I'm sick of it! Once again I was game enough to wear my Bon Jovi badge to school and what do I get for it? A black eye. I'm sick of people always saying that Jon Bon Jovi has AIDS, they know it's not true but they say it just to shit people up the wall. So to all you terrorists out there, I think you're jealous because you're not as good looking or popular as him!'"

Of course, the fifteen-year-old's relationship to the *teacher* puts her in relation to other fifteen-year-olds too, so I'm not claiming that she's failing to live her life when she's writing down teacher-pleasing generalizations. And I'm not saying the *Smash Hits* letter style is in all circumstances *better* than the vague social generalization, especially given that this piece itself is full of such generalizations. If you lean
towards generalizations you'll go for the "classroom" prose; if you lean towards analogies you'll lean towards the "hallway." My point is that when she's out in the hallway, amidst the flirting and fighting, she's sure as hell thinking. She's working out her relations to others; she's working out who she is. And if a big deal of her caring about music is that it helps her do so, she might wonder - in the event that this caring leads her to becoming a rock critic - why she's not allowed to continue using the music
on the magazine pages as she always had in her life. What's the rule that says you should stop being a person when you become a writer, and what do the rules of journalism have to do with being a writer in the first place, or being a thinker?

Of course, the glam-metal chicks and the black-eyed battler are *in* the magazine, but they're safely off in the penpal section and the letters pages, where they're business-as-usual. Put them doing the same thing on the main pages, though, and they're suddenly wild things, gonzos, transgressors, a threat to... well, what *are* they a threat to, and why? And, if we assume that what's on the main pages has something to do with what the readers want there, the crucial question is why do they want to keep this prose style, this part of themselves, off the main pages? Are they trying to protect this
part, by keeping it off the main screen? Are they trying to protect the main screen from their lives?

I'll give an answer that I never would have imagined giving 20 or 30 years ago: In today's culture, print is a more potent medium than music, at least for presentation of self - more potent, and therefore has to be kept under more control.

Rock critics do the same thing that an Elvis or Jagger or Eminem does: they put themselves at issue, their personalities, their social stances, and in so doing force the readers into an attitude towards *them*.

When rock 'n' roll first hit, it had the effect of calling social status into question. But such a thing can be disconcerting, even for those whose status is low. After a while it's hard to continually lose one's sense of place, even if you don't have much of a place to begin with. Fact is, though, rock criticism barely has a place anymore. That's because it doesn't match up with the world's grid. There's this pseudo-equilibrium right now, in its prose style, semi-casual, somewhat jokey, moderately snide, tastefully feisty, not too over-"analytic," not too "wild," and still fundamentally subservient to the supposed subject matter. This is nothingness, not balance. You don't need to strike a balance between thinking and living, since one doesn't detract from the other. Real rock critics do both in their prose, and it's always too much for someone. Marcus
gets attacked for being too academic, Meltzer gets attacked for being too undisciplined, but it's really the same attack, the hallway-classroom split trying to reassert itself from one side or the other. I've heard Marcus's prose attacked for being too dry. Compared to what, the Great Flood?

Whether the style is wild, academic, or a casual balance, once a magazine or a profession imposes a uniform writing style, it's forcing the writer to suppress his own social characteristics in favor of the magazine's or the profession's. And once some writers get away with defying the dominant style, then another writer's conformity to it becomes a personal characteristic anyway; there's just no escaping the personal; it's so tied to the social. And social relations get called into question, and the self gets called into question, and the reader gets uneasy.

But that's where ideas arise, from this uneasiness. Because that's one of the things that critics do, whether they want to or not: they call social relations into question.

Robert Christgau: "[Chuck Berry] was one of the ones who made us understand that the greatest thing about art is the way it happens between people." And music makes us understand that *ideas* happen between people too, but we need the page and critics to drive this point home.

jess (dubplatestyle), Friday, 23 May 2003 15:45 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

zing!

James Blount (James Blount), Friday, 23 May 2003 15:55 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

wow, great piece

Yanc3y (ystrickler), Friday, 23 May 2003 16:03 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

(i hope frank doesn't get mad at me for posting that - since i'm pretty sure it hasnt been published...if you want me to delete it frank, just say so.)

jess (dubplatestyle), Friday, 23 May 2003 16:06 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

where'd you get it then? did he send it to you?

Yanc3y (ystrickler), Friday, 23 May 2003 16:09 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Jess actually is Frank.

Ally (mlescaut), Friday, 23 May 2003 16:09 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

as if!

James Blount (James Blount), Friday, 23 May 2003 16:11 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

someone post that matrix picture

jess (dubplatestyle), Friday, 23 May 2003 16:12 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

James Blount (James Blount), Friday, 23 May 2003 16:16 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

actually, i'm wrong it was published in that book of essays put together for xgau's birthday a year or two ago.

jess (dubplatestyle), Friday, 23 May 2003 16:18 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

this thread has been redeemed!

Yanc3y (ystrickler), Friday, 23 May 2003 16:19 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

If I'd read that article three years ago, my reaction would've been, "Christ Almighty! What am I doing? I need to be a rock critic!" -- because I was constantly looking for a way of merging the classroom and the hallway. (My senior thesis in college basically mixed lit-crit and autobiography, and my then-plan was to take my wild new style to academia, because you know, anything goes in English depts. these days.)

Not that I don't have that reaction now. (In fact, probably more so after hanging out with you folks for the last few months.) But one thing that I am more inclined to think about now is the idea of "obligation" to one's readership. Kogan discusses how writing in a hallway-style is more similar to actual readers' lives. On principle, I'd agree. But shit, I tried reading that "Disco-Tex" essay and had no fucking clue what Kogan was talking about. Even though I generally think criticism would we wise to admit more personal/anecdotal content and more conversational style, I worry that this can be taken to an extreme and thus rendered not useful. (I also allow for the possibility that I gave up too easily, wasn't willing to meet Kogan on his own terms, etc.)

jaymc (jaymc), Friday, 23 May 2003 16:20 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

"would we wise"="would be wise"

jaymc (jaymc), Friday, 23 May 2003 16:21 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

the disco tex article

(since it's published on my website and all)

mark s (mark s), Friday, 23 May 2003 16:35 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

along with lots of superbly non-comprehensible writing by ME!

(jamie conway's Big Second-hand Theory of Theory is more interesting for the nine tenths it leaves out)

"a clear idea is a little idea"

mark s (mark s), Friday, 23 May 2003 16:43 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Clear idea != clear writing

jaymc (jaymc), Friday, 23 May 2003 17:14 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

(Meaning: Complex ideas are more than welcome, but it takes a good writer to express them clearly.)

jaymc (jaymc), Friday, 23 May 2003 17:15 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

i mainly throw that burke quote around bcz
a. it strikes as funny (given the way i write)
b. it's a very clear idea clearly expressed!! (hence presumably "little" in burke's eyes so WHY DOES HE THINK IT'S IMPORTANT))

Miccio's basic (ie "little"-as-in-core) idea — that good writing is better than bad writing — makes obvious well-duh sense, and actually *no one* here is seriously arguing against it (there's argument about what automatically constitutes bad writing, but even there there's cavetas being thrown around).

So here is my argument against it: occasionally people who are bad (as in unconfident?) writers happen on a *good* new idea about something — or let's say the door through to a good new idea — which they then lose hold of, and they squish the life from it as they try and turn what they're saying into someone else's conception of good/clear writing (sort of the same as lots of rock bands get more ordinary the "better" they get at what they do). Intuitions w/o showing the working aren't intrinsically an anti-communicative idea (in fact I suspect "showing the working" generally needs difft kinds of expressive skills to "bold state the intuition", tho some are good at both, obv).

mark s (mark s), Friday, 23 May 2003 17:37 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

the purpose of language is making other ppl do something: communication is generally a part of that, but not always

mark s (mark s), Friday, 23 May 2003 17:41 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Girls Aloud are on top of the pops! YAY!

jel -- (jel), Friday, 23 May 2003 17:47 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

So here is my argument against it: occasionally people who are bad (as in unconfident?) writers happen on a *good* new idea about something ? or let's say the door through to a good new idea ? which they then lose hold of, and they squish the life from it as they try and turn what they're saying into someone else's conception of good/clear writing (sort of the same as lots of rock bands get more ordinary the "better" they get at what they do).

Fucking hell, I live inside that paragraph.

s woods (s woods), Friday, 23 May 2003 17:59 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

but ppl who try and it turn it into someone else's conception of good writing usually instead turn it into 'their' conception of someone else's conception etc so why worry

dave q, Friday, 23 May 2003 18:06 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

adding crap to the pile

jess (dubplatestyle), Friday, 23 May 2003 18:11 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

but if more people wrote really wilfully unclearly then the gap between conceptions and conceptions of conceptions would grow and grow obv, vastly increasing the range of ideas "out there", and with this the chances that the ideas were good (unclearly expressed but good)

besides, if it's a BAD idea unclearly expressed you can always misread it yrself, and enjoy the better idea yr actually projecting onto it!!

it's win-win!!

mark s (mark s), Friday, 23 May 2003 18:19 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

(incidentally the above is the key and core of my theory abt why music is a socially valuable thing above and beyond being fun blah blah: it consists of ideas "wilfully unclearly expressed" — viz in music not in language. this non-communication is received as it's communication, which produces fitful (or frantic) attempts by the listener-brain to "decode" it, which translate as the rest of the listener's mind joins in into ideas — or activities — which are new to listener AS WELL AS never envisaged by the musician

trans. = "osmotic alien tongue pressure")

(this shd really go on the kuhn thread)

mark s (mark s), Friday, 23 May 2003 18:30 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

mark s, just so you know, i will defend to the death your right to confuse the hell out of me with that Bangs thing on your web-site. that goes for anybody on here. whether you have a good idea to share or are completely full of shit, i'm in your corner.

scott seward, Friday, 23 May 2003 18:32 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

That Kogan piece is interesting, but it really does nothing to dispel anything said on this thread, does it? Like most 'academic' stuff it's descriptive--he lucidly explains things that I already had a instinctual grasp of--and left me with no greater appreciation of criticism.

oops (Oops), Friday, 23 May 2003 20:30 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

That oops post is interesting, but it really does nothing to dispel anything said on this thread, does it? Like most 'academic' stuff it's descriptive--he lucidly explains things that I already had a instinctual grasp of--and left me with no greater appreciation of criticism.

mark s (mark s), Friday, 23 May 2003 20:39 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

well oops if we all had yr. smashing instincts then i suppose we wouldn't need communication after all.

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Friday, 23 May 2003 20:42 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

That mark s post is interesting, but it really does nothing to dispel anything said on this thread, does it? Like most 'academic' stuff it's descriptive--he lucidly explains things that I already had a instinctual grasp of--and left me with no greater appreciation of criticism.

(since I wasn't trying to dispel anything nor leave you w/a greater appreciation of criticism, YOUR criticism is empty and petty)

oops (Oops), Friday, 23 May 2003 20:43 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Sterling, grow the fuck up

oops (Oops), Friday, 23 May 2003 20:44 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

keep it up folks!

Julio Desouza (jdesouza), Friday, 23 May 2003 20:49 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

empty AND petty!!

mark s (mark s), Friday, 23 May 2003 20:53 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Friday, 23 May 2003 20:54 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

critics in not-being-able-to-take-criticism SHOCKAH!

oops (Oops), Friday, 23 May 2003 21:46 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Sterling Clover (s_clover), Friday, 23 May 2003 21:55 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

oops (Oops), Friday, 23 May 2003 21:57 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

(yeah, you're right that's a picture of me. good retort)
/preemptive

oops (Oops), Friday, 23 May 2003 21:58 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

that dude's doing the dirty ostrich!

Yanc3y (ystrickler), Friday, 23 May 2003 22:14 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

it is entirely true that if — like oops — you can lay claim to an infinite "instinctual" pre-knowledge of everything ever, then criticism is entirely pointless

not so for us mere finite lower beings, who wish to find out about stuff we know that we don't know, and are only too humbly aware that we may need to think about things we've never thought about before

does he just hang around with us to LAUGH at us? baffling are the ways of the arching gods to mortals

mark s (mark s), Friday, 23 May 2003 22:41 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

yes, that's exactly what I claimed. you guys are so fucking touchy
What I meant was that he (Kogan) verbalized things that many of us had a sense of anyway.
But continue making false assumptions and asinine responses if it fits your needs.

oops (Oops), Friday, 23 May 2003 23:08 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

i love teasing you oops, you get SO ANGRY SO FAST, and it messes your logic up even worse than normal

mark s (mark s), Friday, 23 May 2003 23:23 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Oooh yeah, I am SO angry. Do you see the smoke coming out of my ears?Mark, grow the fuck up. Do you even see how much of a prick you're being?

oops (Oops), Friday, 23 May 2003 23:28 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Hee hee.

Dan Perry (Dan Perry), Friday, 23 May 2003 23:28 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

"(Look at all the intellectuals squirm!)"

mark s (mark s), Friday, 23 May 2003 23:32 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Zing?

oops (Oops), Friday, 23 May 2003 23:37 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

(they're still squirming)

oops (Oops), Friday, 23 May 2003 23:39 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

"the purpose of language is making other ppl do something: communication is generally a part of that, but not always "

mark s (mark s), Friday, 23 May 2003 23:40 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

Good one. You win!

oops (Oops), Friday, 23 May 2003 23:42 (thirteen years ago) Permalink

:)

night oops (i'm on yr side on the war against boys thread btw)

mark s (mark s), Friday, 23 May 2003 23:44 (thirteen years ago) Permalink


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