Friday, December 24, 2010

Science Friday: Jonathon Keats and "Virtual Words"

"Do you ever 'tweet?' Does your texting vocabulary include the ultra-brief, but oh-so-useful, 'k?' In this segment, we'll talk with Jonathon Keats, author of the book 'Virtual Words.' Keats, a conceptual artist, also pens Wired's 'Jargon Watch' column. We'll talk about how the rapid pace of technology is creating new words and how new ideas drive new language."

Jonathon Keats
Author, Wired magazine's "Jargon Watch"
Virtual Words (Oxford University Press, 2010)
Conceptual Artist
San Francisco, California

download mp3:

Monday, December 20, 2010

On Language and Living

A scene from Godard's "Vivre Sa Vie."

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

NY Times: John Cage's Piece 4' 33"

December 14, 2010, 12:06 PM

Just in Time for the Holidays: Cage Against the Machine

The musicians crowded into a London studio, dozens of them, to record a song for charity. Waiting for their cue, they held guitars and drumsticks, and stood at attention by the microphones. Then the producer gave the count: “Quiet in the studio: one, two …”
And then silence. Exactly 4 minutes and 33 seconds of it.
The musicians, including British pop stars like Billy Bragg, the electronic act Orbital and the band Enter Shikari, were there to perform John Cage’s famous tribute to nothingness, “4’ 33”,” as part of a project cheekily called Cage Against the Machine whose goal is to send an unlikely song to the top of the British pop chart at Christmas.
Last year a Facebook campaign helped the anarchist American rock band Rage Against the Machine reach No. 1 with “Killing in the Name,” and now another Web effort is behind Cage Against the Machine. A single is available on iTunes (you can even buy an EP with seven “remixes” of studio chatter and other random sounds), with proceeds going to five British charities.
“Music is made up of more than just formal notes and arrangements,” Julie Hilliard, one of the organizers, told the musicians as they prepared for their silent take. “Here today we are doing something special. We are stopping and appreciating the space between things, the unintentional sounds that make up our world.”
A video of the recording sessions can be seen above or here on YouTube.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Poetry and Philosophy at the Crossroads

Perfect Language

I just remembered there was a quote I read that reminded me of our class. I don't remember who said the quote or exactly how it went, I think it was Peter Benchly - author of Jaws. Anyway whoever it was, they were talking about language and they said something to the effect of the following:

I have terrific understanding of language and its power and so I say nothing...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Alex's Dream

This is something that I made a while ago. It's an interpretation of what he said about his dream.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Discovering one's own language: another throught

From "The Clouds Should Know Me by Now" (the Buddhist poet monks of China from the past 700 years)

...Maybe we're in a position now to see that this is what's so compelling in 1500 years of Ch'an poetry. The best poems push no doctrine or dogma, there's no jingo, no proselytizing. The Buddhism is carefully hidden away in tight five- and seven-syllable lines. (This metric pattern, according to Yunte Huang, "is intimately related to the translations from the Sanskrit Buddhist texts. It was the encounter with an alphabetical language--Sanskrit--that made the Chines realize for the first time that a Chinese character was pronounced by a combination of vowel and consonant.")

This came back to me from having recently read it, after Alex told of finding Sicilian to be a written language--his own language, complete.

Ch'i chi (864-937 C.E.)

Don't dye it, don't pull it out,
let it grow all over your head.
No medicine can stop the whiteness,
the blackness won't last out the fall.
Lay your head on a quiet pillow, hear the cicadas,
idly incline it to watch the waters flow--
The reason we can't rise to this broader view of life
is because, white hair, you grieve us so!

So much of the poetry takes me to a deeper tranquil and very awake place. But this one shows the abiding sense of humor that surfaces in many of the poets' work. Wanted to share.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Def Poetry Jam - Alicia Keys - POW

I have been a fan of Def Jam poetry for awhile. I can't help but think of what Alex did on Wednesday and it ties into what Alicia Keys says in this session of Def Jam Poetry. Here is Alex, trying to go above and beyond language just as our earlier readings have suggested. Here is Alicia, speaking of the prisoner she is to words as well. But as Alex, at least, makes the effort to rise above the convention and restrictions we are flooded with, Alicia speaks of a character that finds defeat through the standard and norms of society. This character does not want to offend, does not want to turn anyone away, but in doing so she builds the bars that make her a prisoner. Alex, though some of us may not understand how it all works, does not build any bars or forge any chains. Alex is a guerrilla in the revolution...

Friday, December 3, 2010

Productive Questions/Assignments

Part 1: Essay
Due by noon on December 13
Write about at least 3 specific works by Alex Caldiero (at least one each from the performance, the film, and the book) in the context of at least 3 specific works we read and discussed in the sections called "the shape of the shapeless: undermining the limits of language" and “the first casualty of war is language” – at least one work from each section.  About 6-7 pages.
Draw on notes you have taken during discussions of the texts in class, read the authors’ works closely and carefully, and think rigorously and creatively about the questions you are answering. Don’t write personally about the questions. Don’t simply associate other things with what you read. Instead, use passages from the texts to establish patterns of ideas. What is the author saying in these passages and how do they relate to passages from other texts and authors? That’s your most basic task, to lay out what the text means. Do not stop with paraphrase. If you do, you’re just repeating. Your job is to analyze what you find/what you read, to make sense of the ideas, to find patterns in the texts that you can show to have meaning related to the meanings of other texts.
Part 2: Prepare your Notes and Scraps for evaluation.
On the same day, December 13, hand in your notes/scraps. Include:
1.  All the notes you have taken in the second half of the class, notes you have made about (on) each of the texts we have read and discussed, notes you have written to others about this material, all other notes taken or written or drawn for or about this class.
2. All the scraps you have collected, references to the various topics, complementary materials, essays, articles, etchings, clippings and so on related to language in general and specifically, in short: the rich collection of materials you have made in response to our readings and discussions. If you have posted to the Languagescraps blog, note what you have posted.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Helen Keller and Language...

One of Alex's performances tonight, the one where Alex was feeling his face and making sounds, actually reminded me of Helen Keller - and I mean this as no disrespect to Alex or Helen Keller.

I am really shocked that I haven't ever made the connection between Helen Keller and our class yet... She is one of the most extreme and perfect examples of language. She became blind and deaf while she was a baby and from that point on was at odds with language in all forms. Imagine what an incredible breakthrough it must have been for her to finally be able to communicate - "water" was the word that unlocked language for Helen Keller. At that moment she was on the verge of discovering the entire realm that is language.

Being at that moment when she was on the verge of communication is what struck me about Alex's performance. It seemed, to me at least, that that specific piece was about being on the verge of language - it was something that was working its way from within, trying to make its way out. It is a pivotal place and so frequently we teeter on that pinnacle waiting to fall to one side or the other and I think Alex's piece was trying to demonstrate that.

Now if you'll excuse me, it is time for the raffle now...

The Dream

I wanted to share an experience I had when I was younger. I've never really been able to talk about it because, well, I've never understood it. Regardless, I was reminded of this while watching Alex play with sound in the film.

All my life I have been an extremely light sleeper. When I say light, I mean if someone so much as touched the doorknob to my room I would wake. It's so bad that I've developed the habit of sleeping with a fan so as to drown out minor sounds that would otherwise wake me during the night.

When I was about thirteen years old I had a recurring nightmare. It was just me, in a dark room, where there was complete and utter silence except for the very quiet and static sound of what I can only describe as a leaky faucet. I would try and run away, scream and talk but I would run and go nowhere; I would try and speak but no sound would come out. I was enveloped in silence and the single static sound. This dream instilled a fear in me that I have never felt before. I would wake up screaming and drenched in sweat. Specifically, there was one night that was unlike any other. That night I was literally so scared I slept walked as an attempt to escape my horrific nightmare. Not a very common action for someone who wakes up at the drop of a pin. However, I didn't just sleep walk around my house no, I literally slept walked down the street, around three in the morning, to my grandma's house. I woke up on her doorstep.

How is it that a mere sound petrified me to such an extent that I slept walked? It could only be the shapeless.

Healthy Decadence: With a drawing by Alex as the Prime Example

Published by the Salt Lake Art Center as an insert to Catalyst Magazine

Healthy Decadence? Utah Art Through a German Lens

25 May 1998

A century-old barge rides at permanent anchor at the edge of the Danube just outside Belgrade. My friend Zarko Radakovic and I find a table in the sun. Most of the guests on the barge are drinking Jelen Pivo, “Stag Beer,” brewed in Yugoslavia since 1756. The shoulders of the brown bottles are rubbed white with hundreds of recyclings.

A middle-aged man docks a motorboat next to the barge and joins us at our table. His name is Vuk and he and Zarko have known each other since grade school.

“Two years ago,” Vuk tells us at one point in the desultory conversation, “short of money, I agreed to make a campaign film for Mira Markovic’s political party. She’s Slobodan Miloševic’s wife. It was kitsch, pure kitsch, and very effective. I had a whole sequence with neon lights that shot the word PROGRESS across the screen: PROGRESS . . . PROGRESS . . . PROGRESS.
It was a brilliant piece of propaganda. Since then I’ve called myself Vuk Riefenstahl. I learned everything from Leni Riefenstahl’s films Triumph of the Will and Olympia. She was a genius at making the people so small and the great leader so large. I don’t worry about having done the job. I needed the money and the country is absolute chaos anyway. It doesn’t matter what you do or don’t do, it doesn’t change anything anyway. Absolute chaos, and so I just made the film and now can keep my boat running.”

 26 March, 1999
While bombs are falling today in Serbia, I remember last year’s discussion with the cynical film maker and ask myself several questions: What kinds of art please the powers that be? What kinds of art do rulers fear? What kinds of rhetoric do governing bodies use to suppress art that makes them uncomfortable? What is propaganda? And what kinds of art serve us best as citizens of a diverse, precarious, and changing world?         [the rest of the article here]