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8.28.2013

Modernism and Postmodernism

In Kenneth J. Gergen’s The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life, the author does a fine job of outlining and delineating an understanding of the various historical, artistic, and philosophical periods that populate the spectrum of western humanities. I read the text in a history course last term and was thankful to have done so, as a decade outside of the classroom as a graduate student had blurred the hallmarks that seem to define these eras. Teaching so many composition classes tends to create a little bit of atrophy when it comes to discussing these frameworks, so I was happy to see the opportunity for our class to touch base with these ideas again as we work toward our collective Wikipedia project.

I really appreciate Gergen’s approach to thinking about modernism. The second chapter of his text, titled “From the Romantic to the Modern Vision of Self,” positions modernism as a philosophical view of life “in which reason and observation are the central ingredients of human functioning” (19). Gergen situates modernism as the natural response to romanticism. He views the movement as the rational delineation from a focus on the “deep interior,” or the romantic idea that “the material world of the senses is far less significant than the immaterial and unseen” (Gergen 26). Instead, the focus of modernism is predicated on measurable phenomena and realistic presentations of truth.  

At the end of the nineteenth century, such elements as industrial mass production and global conflict repositioned thinking away from the introspection of the romantic era and into the practical purview of modernism. Gergen points to progress in the sciences as the foundation for modernism, citing improvements in medicine, sanitation, and working conditions as catalysts for a western view of culture that moved away from artifice and style and toward practicality and sincerity. Indeed, Gergen refers often to the qualifiers “utilitarian” and “earnest” when he discusses how modernism differs from both romanticism and the postmodern condition.

As support, he discusses music, architecture, dance, and literature. He states:

In the domain of dance, classical ballet was scorned for its decorative formalisms, and the interpretive dance of the romantics seemed self-indulgent. Dance turned “modern” when, in one critic’s words, it aimed to “externalize personal, authentic experience.” (31)

I must pause here to provide full disclosure. Gergen’s text champions the emotional and artistic attributes of the romantic tradition, and he deeply admires the qualities of practicality and sincerity that he views are the hallmarks of modernism. Indeed, his text and its discussion of shifting personal identity views postmodernism as a cultural threat that might “extinguish the validity of both the romantic and modern realities” (19).

There are elaborate, methodical definitions for what we commonly call postmodernism, and there are also some simplistic views:
Somewhere in the middle, as is often the case, lies the truth. I think of postmodernism as a direct reaction to the relatively staid tradition of modernism that preceded it. It is exemplified by experimentation, reconstitution (what some scholars have come to think of as remix culture), and adaptation. In his text The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology, and the Arts, theorist Richard Lanham provides an example that capably illustrates these traits.  Lanham discusses technology as the great facilitator of postmodernism. Like Gergen, he views “clarity” and “authenticity” as the defining characteristics of modernism (25). He then proceeds to discuss Marcel Duchamp’s mustachioed Mona Lisa (one of the artist’s “readymade” artifacts), making the argument that Duchamp’s postmodern artistic efforts destabilize the aristocratic limits of modernism:

What will emerge finally is a new rhetoric of the arts, an unblushing and unfiltered attempt to plot all the ranges of formal expressivity now possible, however realized and created by whom (or what-) ever. This rhetoric will make no invidious distinctions between high and low culture, commercial and pure usage, talented or chance creation, visual or auditory stimulus, iconic or alphabetic information. (Lanham 24)

Lanham views postmodernism positively, as an expressive and philosophical movement of the masses. Postmodernism, in his view, levels the critical playing field and allows greater participation via the various conduits of technology.

For visual purposes, I can delineate between the movements by comparing the prairie-style architecture of prominent Jacksonville, Florida, creator John Henry Klutho (a disciple of Frank Lloyd Wright, the father of organic architecture) with that of noted postmodern architect Robert Venturi.

To further illustrate the point, consider the following portraits. Richard Barsam uses these paintings in a discussion of form and content in his excellent text Looking at Movies, but I think the lesson is applicable here as well. The Matisse portrait illustrates the transition between Fauvism and Modernism, and the latter is well represented by Edward Hopper’s work. The third work, a populist, minimalist piece, shows the human figure as I imagine a postmodernist would view it.


I believe the generalizations outlined in the textual and visual examples above have come to manifest themselves (to a material extent) in our present rhetorical situation. Obfuscation and artifice seem more in line with the argumentative and persuasive impulses of our politicized, postmodern present, while I personally cleave to the more authentic, sincere ethic that Gergen associates with modernism. Where modernism seems a movement born out of practical necessity, postmodernism seems more a product of “play,” a concept Lanham delves into with great precision in his text. There is room for both within the modern rhetorical tradition, of course, but the modern view strikes me as more useful in a philosophical consideration of reality. 

Works Cited

Gergen, Kenneth J. The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life. New York: Basic, 1991. Print.

Lanham, Richard. The Electronic Word: Democracy, Technology, and the Word. Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1993. Print.


   

8.19.2013

Sweaty Swamp Hobos Drinking Miller High Life and Eating Mudbugs...



The first time I watched Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012), I was taken with the stylish framing and the intriguing mythology of the aurochs. After watching it again yesterday with my daughter, it left me with much stronger feelings about the things it chooses to show and say.

My daughter asked me why Hushpuppy isn't in school, and telling her that life in the bathtub was like perpetual summer just didn't seem like a reasonable response. The lack of access to a formal education is just one of the many abuses this poor girl must suffer--some physical, some emotional, and some mental.

The more we watched, the more the trope of the noble savage emerged so explicitly. I did a little checking around and found some good scholarship that pretty much mirrors my most recent reaction to the film. Would Hushpuppy choose this life for herself if she knew what life was like on the other side of the levy?

I doubt it, but filmmaker Benh Zeitlin sure seemed comfortable romanticizing a bunch of swaying drunkards living in filthy shanties. At one point, Hushpuppy's father, Wink, decries the people getting their food in grocery stores.

Really?

That scene where he shouts at Hushpuppy to "beast it" when she shatters the crab and slurps it down is the film's most memorable anti-mainstream culture moment. It's effective, in the sense that it can definitely be taken as a father attempting a real teaching moment with his daughter as he lurches toward his death. But it's also the most overt denial of the things his little girl needs most: access to decent food, a clean environment, healthcare, and schooling. 

I still like the movie, generally. It's visually very pretty to look at, and I liked the way it was shot (both technically, and with the collective efforts of the filmmakers). For a first feature, Zeitlin did a nice job. But the way he depicts the "Southern Wild" was more than deplorable on second look. These people were slack-jawed yokels.

Here's to hoping that Hushpuppy found a way off that water-drenched levy after they sent Wink to the great beyond and that she found a set of clean clothes and a desk in a school that will allow her a better chance to capitalize on that imagination and vocabulary of hers...   

8.12.2013

Patience with Blaine Gabbert...



Everybody calling for Blaine's head needs to chill out. First off, he didn't look good in the preseason game last week, but that pick was not his fault. If the ball hits the back in the hands, as it did in the game against Miami, that needs to be a catch.

Blaine needs to get Maurice, Blackmon, and Cecil Shorts back. They need to protect him (he had the ball out of his hands in 2.1 seconds on Friday!) and give him time. 

Of course his results have been disappointing. Of course we have expected more from him. But he has the physical tools and we've seen him make all the throws. He really needs things to click for ten or twelve quarters in a row--get that confidence way up--and he'll be fine. If he has a very good four-game stretch, he'll save his career.

Our options in town aren't great, but give Blaine some time. Here's hoping he surprises us... 

8.07.2013

The All-Time Oregon Football Squad: The Offense




I've been following U of O football since coming of age as a sports fan in John Day, Oregon (middle 1980s). When Coach Brooks got the Ducks into the Rose Bowl in 1995, that feat was really a turning point in the modern era of Ducks football. By that time, I was reading about Oregon in the Eastern Oregonian every evening. This was back in Pendleton, Oregon.

Ah, the good ol' days of daily news delivered in the evening!

With the exception of a downer 2006 campaign, these last fifteen years have witnessed the Ducks' ascendance to a place of national prominence. With back-to-back BCS wins (including the 2012 Rose Bowl over Russell Wilson and a game Wisconsin Squad), unprecedented alumni support, a push to expand Autzen Stadium (where rain has yet to actually fall during actual game time), an exciting roster of young athletes, and a new coaching philosophy that has been engineered by an Oregon native, excitement has never reached this level in all the years I've been watching. Oregon is built around speed, and with Thomas Tyner and the Robinson twins joining the team this fall, the future looks even brighter at Oregon.

I thought, in light of all the success the Ducks have enjoyed in the last two decades, it would be fun to take a crack at compiling an all-time squad. I thought it would be interesting to see how the guys I came up watching (Philyaw, Musgrave, Akili, Loville, McCullough, O'Neil, Howry, J. Stew) stacked up against the all-timers (Renfro, Moore, Fouts).

What follows is one Duck fan's subjective opinion, of course. My caveats are that I wasn't alive to see many of the great Oregon athletes of the past play, but I can make sense of their contributions through looking at Oregon's comprehensive media guide.

Feel free to offer a dissenting opinion in the comments section. I love talking Oregon football!

To begin, let's get a look at the quarterback position.
 

Best: My heart wants to go with Dan Fouts, but my brain insists on Bill Musgrave. Oregon's all-time leader in passing and total offense was also the most important catalyst of the big turn in program fortunes.

My Favorite: I've always enjoyed the play of Kellen Clemens. Part of my love stems from the circumstance of another Eastern Oregonian making good, but the majority of it was Kellen's all-around game. He could pass and run with the best of them, and he had a knack for making big plays when the game situations called for them. Marcus Mariota has some of those same qualities, but he seems to be more athletic and have a stronger overall skill set. In time (and if he stays two more years at Oregon), I see Marcus taking this slot, as I really enjoyed watching his play last year. He seems to have the size and smarts to make his mark in the NFL when it's all said and done.

Fan Favorite: I still think Joey Harrington is the all-time fan favorite. That's saying a lot for a team with so many quarterbacks that have gone on to play in the NFL. Fouts, Miller, O'Neil, Graziani, Musgrave, Clemens, Smith, Feeley, Dixon...sheesh, that's a lot of accomplishment. Joey was personable and athletic. He's a really smart guy and a native Oregonian, now living in Portland and doing some good things in the state. His NFL career didn't pan out the way we all would have expected, but he played on some terrible Detroit teams. In light of those rosters around him, he actually didn't have horrible NFL stats.

Running Back

Best: LaMichael James. In just three years as a starter at Oregon, he put his mark at #14 all-time in the list of top NCAA rushers. LaMichael has the best burst I've ever seen in college football, and his lateral quickness and ability to cut in tiny spaces is jaw dropping. He worked hard in his last two years at Oregon to become a better pass catcher, and I think he'll do a lot of good work in that facet of the game in the NFL. He's driven, and he's a good person that has represented the U of O well nationally (he finished third in the 2010 Heisman race, and attended the ceremony in New York) while coming back to Oregon often. 

My Favorite: It's LaMike for me as well, though just by a hair. Back when we were lucky to get the Ducks games on television out in Eastern Oregon, I remember watching Saladin McCullough tearing up the Pac-10. I have soft spots in my heart for J-Stew, Jeremiah Johnson, Derek Loville, and Maurice Morris. I know Bobby Moore was the goods before he changed his name and dominated in the NFL.

Fan Favorite: Again, it's LaMichael. He might be the most popular Duck of all time. He's certainly in that discussion with Moore, Fouts, and Harrington.

Wide Receivers

Best: I'm picking three here, just because I'm not going to add a true fullback in this analysis. The Ducks play such a hybrid offense (they ran two h-backs against Auburn in 2011) that finding a lot of commonality among the various generations is kind of difficult.

WR1: Bobby Moore put up great numbers as both a running back and a pass receiver. He did a little bit of everything for Oregon and caught 131 passes in an era that featured fewer plays than what these teams are doing now. He's an iconic Duck and former All American who had good success in the NFL. With his versatility, he'd flourish in a modern college offense like the one Oregon is deploying on Saturdays.

WR2: Jeff Maehl is tied with Samie Parker for the all-time lead in catches at Oregon (178). Samie could electrify the yard and break a game wide open, but he also put some balls on the turf. Jeff was the opposite. Even though he did run away from the secondary from time to time, he was always more of a possession receiver. He went over the middle and caught everything. His hands were so sticky, and I think he's the most clutch receiver the Ducks have had since...

WR3: Keenan Howry was so much fun to watch. 173 catches in his career, and more than 4,000 all-purpose yards. He always played well in big games. That punt return for a touchdown in the 2001 Civil War is one of the great Ducks plays of all time. Played on Sundays for a few years in Minnesota, but boy was he a playmaker in Eugene.

My Favorite: In order, I'm a fan of Howry first, then Maehl, and then Demetrius Williams. Not sure why Williams didn't shake out in Baltimore in the NFL (or here in Jacksonville, where he had a brief stop last year), but he was nails as a Duck. He was football fast and caught everything close. I always enjoyed watching him work. A close runner-up is his media guide neighbor, Cristin McLemore. McLemore was exciting and dependable, and player that did some great things when the Ducks were ramping up toward respectability.

Fan Favorites: Moore, Howry, and De'Anthony Thomas. DAT is probably the best pure athlete the Ducks have ever put on the field. A sprinter who ran a 10.08 100m dash in high school, he now runs for the perennially championship-contending Oregon track team. He has explosion like LaMichael (maybe more explosive, though LaMike could hit a seam and be gone) and is a really fine receiver (after he put his first game behind him, of course). DAT could ultimately re-write the records in a few categories. I think he's hard to classify as a true wideout because of how Oregon uses him, but he needs to be on here somewhere and I think of him more as a useful wideout than a primary ball carrier.

Tight End

Best: The Ducks have enjoyed an embarrassment of riches at this position over the last few decades, if the number of Ducks that have played in the NFL is any indication. I think one has to give it to Ed Dickson in this case, even though he made his mark in such a pass-happy environment. Guys like Weaver and Peelle and Wilcox were great all-around ends (read, blocking), but Dickson made the greatest impact on the games. It'll be interesting to see his numbers this year in the NFL with Dennis Pitta out for the season. Between 2008 and 2009 he had three 100-yard receiving games. He caught more than 100 passes in his time at Oregon, in addition to 12 touchdowns.

My Favorite: I loved the deceptively athletic George Wrighster. I remember heading down to the stadium here in Jacksonville when he was playing for the Jags. He caught a pass in the flat and made a quick move up field and then hurdled a guy the way LaGarrette always used to. Really soft, sticky hands and a pretty good run blocker. 

Fan Favorite: Probably Dickson, though I'd love to hear from some Peelle, Rosario, or Wilcox fans.

Offensive Line

I won't pretend to know the intricacies of this highly technical (and probably most important) component of the offense. Nor do I have the all-22 tapes on any of these guys, so I can only go on proximity and name recognition here. In this case, I'm taking Gary Zimmerman, Mark Asper, Geoff Schwartz, Max Unger, and Hronis Grasu. 

So there you have it. One Duck fan's look at the all-time offense. If it seems heavily weighted toward recent athletes, I'll just refer you back to my brief introduction: Oregon has been to four consecutive BCS games. This program wasn't always this good, folks...

Any thoughts on the Ducks are always welcome here in the comments section!

8.06.2013

Read The Silver Coast and Other Stories for free...


Preface
The stories in this collection span roughly two years of creative production—from late 2009 until just before Christmas of 2011.
I can’t pinpoint a unifying motif in these tales. The literature students I work with at the college often arrive at our first session operating under the assumption that there’s this secret tribe of writers and scholars that possess the keys to understanding what a story really “means” (whether Sigmund Freud said it or not, sometimes a cigar is just a cigar, and that saying holds true for stories as well).
The way I see it, stories should move readers. That statement is pretty broad, of course, but for my tastes, I like to be entertained. I like a story with artistic sensibilities, and I like to learn new things. If a story does any of these things (or, in the best cases, all three), then that’s a win in my book.
And just as there’s no magic bullet for gleaning meaning from fiction, there’s no special explanation for where the stories come from.
That’s not to say that there isn’t excitement in the act of sitting down to write a new tale. Certainly, that moment of inspiration that sparks the creative process is a thrill. As I mention in the story notes at the conclusion of this collection, I’ve had to drop everything and get to a word processor on more than a few occasions.
But writing is also hard work. You just…well, you just sit down and chip away at it, I suppose.
Tim O’Brien describes it this way: “If you want to be a writer, you’ve got to learn to be an eagle soaring up above and a mule who keeps climbing and climbing.”
That’s about it, really. You’ll have good days at the word processor, and you’ll have days where the dam just won’t break and you’re better off mowing the lawn.
It’s all part of the deal.
But if you commit to telling a story and you give it an honest run, you’ll probably create some fine narratives.
How about writer’s block?
I’m often asked about that as well, and I think thriller author Joe Konrath has a pretty fine answer for that one. Farmers don’t get farmers’ block, and doctors don’t get doctors’ block. When a student asks me about writer’s block, I don’t have a solution any more profound than write something else.
And now, on to The Silver Coast and Other Stories. These tales are speculative in nature. They take place in familiar locales and worlds very different than our own. Thanks very much for giving them a look—I hope, as always, that they provide you with an entertaining escape.
~ Jacksonville, Florida
January, 2012

You can download a free Amazon Kindle copy of this collection for the next four days. Please leave a review of the collection--good, bad, or indifferent--if you have time...

8.05.2013

Coast to Coast Climate...

Whew!

Just stepped off the course after squeezing in eighteen holes in two hours (41-39 w/two missed short putts). Holy cow, the sun felt like it was thirty feet above my head. With 61% humidity, weather.com puts the "feels like" at 98 degrees

What a difference it is from the Oregon coast, where we enjoyed a great vacation two weeks ago. We flew back to Portland and drove down to Lincoln City for three days with my family before heading north to Oceanside for three days with Jeanne's. We attended a great wedding and took Lyla to McMinnville to show her where mommy and daddy met all those years before (about sixteen--not all that long ago, really).

The first night in town, the whole family tried to go down to the beach. Our little Florida baby (who loves to brag to any kid at school that will listen that she has Oregon blood in her veins) began to cry. 

"It's too cold!" she said. "It's so cold the birds aren't even landing on the sand! It's not the beach! It's not the beach!"

Sheesh. You'd a thought they'd just thawed that little gal after an extended stay in the ol' carbon vapor.

She adjusted over the week and came to really enjoy the time at the coast. But the temperatures never peeked much over 60 degrees, and the wind whipping off the ocean made it a lot cooler than that. 

I enjoyed some great long runs and walks, and we were able to see a lot of country. Here are a few pics that we snapped from Cape Meares, Boiler Bay, the octopus tree, Tillamook, and Oceanside.




Check out these cheesy dorks! 

It was a really refreshing vacation, and just so restorative to be with family. I love Florida, and I really enjoy days like today, when the weather is insufferable for a time, but then the sun heads west and a dinner of fresh seafood and cold beer hits just the perfect spot.

But there's nothing like being near family, and so I have to give the climate nod to Oregon...

8.04.2013

The Conjuring


From the opening credits, The Conjuring attempts to hearken back to the R-rated horror films of yesteryear. Even the stylized title, with it's ornate, sickly yellow font, conjures (ba-dum-dum!) images of The Exorcist and Rosemary's Baby. The kinship extends to the Mise en scene; The Conjuring simply feels like a film from that era, which is a good thing given the time period in which this one is situated.

It's pretty creepy. James Wan gives us a really subtle first act, and I might have enjoyed it a bit more if the jackasses in the theater weren't whispering and talking throughout many of the early quiet parts. Note to jackasses: As Ed Warren notes in one of his lectures on possession, one of the first signs of demonic infestation is whispering. You jackasses are all infested--with an utter lack of tact. It's a public theater, people, and a horror movie to boot! Many of these films take their affect from the juxtaposition of quiet and loud sound. Stay home and chat about your b.s. when it's out on DVD, but don't ruin a film for those of us that want to watch it in peace.

Thankfully, they all shut up around the midpoint of the film.

Back to the film. Wan engineers a really captivating perspective shot when one of the young daughters peers under her bed, then back up at our presence, hiding in the corner of the room. I also enjoyed the angle that precedes that little bit of style as Wan really captures the epitome of innocence: a sleeping child. Things actually move really rapidly from that scene forward, as the presence has revealed itself fully and things are now racing toward that pulse-pounding third act.

I would have enjoyed a bit more in the way of showing just how the Perrons made the decision to attend one of the Warrens' lectures. I'm always interested in those moments in which seemingly skeptical characters take a leap of faith, and here it's completely brushed under the rug. 

I would have also enjoyed a bit more character development on the Warrens. Wilson and Farmiga are good (I liked her turn a tad more; that fall she takes is heartbreaking), and I really liked Ron Livingston's portrayal of Roger Perron. Watching Lili Taylor's Carolyn Perron descend into possession is moving. Overall, this cast did a fine job.

I'd give it a solid 'B' mark, and I think that will improve for me with time and additional viewings. It certainly raised some sincere yelps from the audience, and I've already looked into the backstory of Annabelle the doll (really creepy opening sequence!), so it left a pretty good impression on me.