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this week on the avant guardian \/\/ tighten up

March 8, 2010
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this week on the avant guardian \/\/ tighten up

Archie Bell and the Drells’ 1968 hit “Tighten Up” is one of a long line of American popular songs built around a dance. There are few lyrics beyond Bell’s cajoling the band and the dancers (you!).  He does claim at the beginning of the song that “we dance just about as good as we walk,” which is a pretty transporting possibility when you think about it. Apparently, Bell fought in Vietnam while the song was climbing the charts, and could only come back to tour with the band after having been shot in the leg. That’s some rich irony to live, and sing. In these “tough economic times,” we need his simple, easy-to-follow advice… and all the better if it comes with some heavy Texas soul music… Bon appetite…

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salt lick \/\/ branding wounds

February 25, 2010
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salt lick \/\/ branding wounds

The German literary critic Walter Benjamin, as much an avant guardian as anyone yet mentioned in these pages, once saw the revolution in an advertisement for this salt. Bullrich’s. He tells the story in his unfinished Arcades Project, his massive collage of historical ephemera drawn from nineteenth century Parisian street life. Benjamin left his manuscript of the Arcades Project in the hands of Georges Bataille, then a librarian at the Bibliotheque Nationale, while he attempted to escape Nazi persecution in America. He ended up committing suicide on the Spanish-French border, despairing this endeavor. His masterpiece languished in tantalizing obscurity for many years until it was published in German in the 1970′s and translated into English at the turn of the millenium.  In the meantime, his work slowly attracted considerable interest among artists and radicals the world over. The story’s a bit longish, but has stuck with me for many years, so I’d like to pass it along to you. Here goes: “Many years ago, on a streetcar, I saw a poster that, if things had their due in this world, would have found its admirers, historians, exegetes and copyists just as surely as any great poem or painting. And, in fact, [...]

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loas to haiti \/\/ and its convulsive beauty

January 14, 2010
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loas to haiti \/\/ and its convulsive beauty

“…and no race possesses the monopoly of beauty, of intelligence, of force, and there is a place for all at the rendezvous of victory.” – Aimé Césaire, Cahier d’un retour au pays natal Thinking of the Caribbean this week, for obvious reasons. One of the happy aspects of surrealism most people don’t think of was that it opened the door to a number of poets and artists from the Third World. And not just because surrealism was about the “exotic.” Breton’s slanted idea of beauty confirmed what people of African descent suspected: that Western aesthetic ideals were incomplete and exclusive. Years in Louisiana, Florida, and NYC have given me a sense of identity with the Caribbean. But in the inevitable global paroxysm of sympathy after a disaster like this, and what will inevitably be its rapid fading from the awareness of the 24-hour news cycle, I get conflicted. Is there anything beyond a few friends and the coincidences of place (“spots of time”?) that have drawn my allegiance to Haiti and its neighbors? Artists of Negritude saw that “convulsive beauty” is appropriate to the Caribbean, with its precarious islands, diasporic cultural confusions, and political unrest. Likewise it is to postmodern America– [...]

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art-destruction as holiday gift \/\/ warhol stocking stuffer

November 26, 2009
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art-destruction as holiday gift \/\/ warhol stocking stuffer

Books make great holiday gifts. They’re not usually very big or expensive, though they can be both. And they can signal a regard for the receiver’s interests, intelligence, and aesthetic sense.  This sort of multi-level communication is very much in vogue these days. The Philosophy of Andy Warhol from A to B and Back Again (1975) is maybe the easiest book to give, at least in my library. Everyone loves it.  So many people that it almost cuts down on the specialness of the book as a gift.  Except for that it is an incredibly intimate piece of writing.  Not exactly in the sense offered by the latest Kitty Kelley biography, which imagines the uncovering of salacious gossip as some kind of final or conclusive knowledge about its protagonist.  And Warhol loved every porny detail, don’t get me wrong. The thing is this is a “philosophy”: a warm, funny, charismatic, and full view of the world, its workings and its workers. The chapters alternate between a transcript of a telephone dialogue between “A” and “B,” and loose collections of anecdotes and aphorisms. Both genres are longtime staples of philosophical writing: Plato and Rousseau wrote dialogues, Pascal and Nietzsche wrote aphorisms. In [...]

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