Daily Archives: May 16, 2010

Django Reinhardt


On this date the legendary gypsy jazz guitarist, Django Reinhardt, died (1910 – 1953).

Reinhardt could only play with the first two fingers on his left hand, the other two having been crippled in a fire.  And yet, as you’ll see and hear in the clip above, he could do more with those two fingers than most people can do with all four.

Frye Alert: “The Modern Construction of Myth”


Andrew Von Hendy’s The Modern Construction of Myth (Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2003) includes an interesting section on Frye (you can read it here). Hendy has an impressive knowledge of modern theories of myth, and he certainly sees real strengths in Frye’s approach. His treatment, however, is restricted to the Anatomy and, perhaps because of this, he is dissatisfied with Frye’s understanding of the social context of literature. His position is that Frye’s view of the transformational power of literature is ultimately “romantic”–a purely personal projection that exalts the individual self over society. (This is neither a fair construction of Frye or, for that matter, of romantic writers like Shelley and Blake.) Thus Frye’s emphasis on the hypothetical and disinterested condition of literature is understood as a failure to address myth’s relationship to immediate social concerns and the concrete reality of history.

This is a typical criticism of Frye’s work. As he himself recognized, one of the unfortunate outcomes of the Anatomy’s enormous celebrity and influence is that it overshadowed Frye’s later elaborations and refinements of the myriad concepts it introduced, in particular his dynamic understanding of the role of both literature and literary criticism in society. Bad faith and vested interests being what they are, the crude assessment of Frye as an aloof and disengaged formalist is now a shibboleth for many, most of whom have never read the Anatomy.

Hendy is not one of them; he is in good faith and has certainly read the Anatomy carefully. His treatment is far from dismissive. His analysis is worth reading.

What’s Wrong with the New York Times? (3)

david-brooks3 Thomas_Friedman

Sigh.  David Brooks and Tom Friedman.

I confess I cannot write extensively about either because I can no longer stand to read them.  Brooks is a highfalutin reformulator of the conventional wisdom, a perennial apologist for the powers that be.  (He’s supposed to be the thinking liberal’s conservative, but for my money the person who matches that description is Andrew Sullivan.)  As for Friedman, it’s hard to imagine another serious columnist so undeserving to be taken seriously.  He talks and talks and talks and talks.  He says almost nothing worth hearing.  He’s the Ross Douthat of “liberalism”, proving that, for the privileged, there’s apparently no greater privilege than watching the privileged enjoy their privileges.

But if I can’t rise to the occasion beyond ad hominem characterizations of professional hackery, I can at least leave it to someone who is very very good at it, and reads both closely enough to write extensive uproarious takedowns of their pretensions and considerable intellectual shortcomings — Matt Taibbi.

Taibbi holds Hunter S. Thompson‘s old position at Rolling Stone as chief political correspondent.   Like Thompson, he’s as profane as he is articulate, and openly contemptuous of those who abuse their power.  He’s also an old school journalist who does the legwork, gets the facts, and provides reportage that is not just cold-filtered polemic (take note, Maureen Dowd).  Taibbi is the only high-profile, mass-circulation journalist to take on Goldman Sachs.  Last year he produced a notorious article that had them running scared and included this often repeated formulation: “The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.” Here’s a little taste from a post (“Let Them Eat Work“) that encapsulates Taibbi’s estimation of David Brooks:

Would I rather clean army latrines with my tongue, or would I rather do what Brooks does for a living, working as a professional groveler and flatterer who three times a week has to come up with new ways to elucidate for his rich readers how cosmically just their lifestyles are? If sucking up to upper-crust yabos was my actual job and I had to do it to keep the electricity on in my house, then yes, I might look at that as work.

But it strikes me that David Brooks actually enjoys his chosen profession. In fact, he strikes me as the kind of person who even in his spare time would pay a Leona Helmsley lookalike a thousand dollars to take a shit on his back. And here he is saying that the reason the poor and the middle classes are struggling is because they don’t work hard enough. Is this guy the best, or what? Does it get any better than this?

Now, that’s speaking truth to power.  (More Taibbi on Brooks here and here.)

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