A Wednesday Night Jam Session

I was in Belgium last month, and was all set to go to Day Three of the always-pleasant Ghent Jazz Festival.  Circumstances intervened — a long, involved story whose upshot is me stranded in Leuven with my car locked in a parking garage that closed inexplicably early — and I simply couldn’t make it over there. Oh, but what, pray tell, did I miss? Only a thirty minute jam session that broke out spontaneously and that pulled in performers from earlier that night (including Vijay Iyer) and even subsequent nights!

I didn’t actually learn of this until I happened across a review of the festival last night, and was positively thrilled when I found decent video footage of the madness that played out on stage. This is stuff you hear about happening in smokey jazz clubs, but it’s very rare for it to break out at such controlled environments like big-budget jazz festivals. And, yes, nearly impossible for it to happen when you actually attend — it’s always something you hear about later. Of course. Continue reading “A Wednesday Night Jam Session”

AUFS’s failure of branding

In the comments to Mikhail’s send-up of SpecReal/OOP/OOO, I came across this very compelling post by Kvond that characterizes SpecReal/OOP/OOO as a kind of philosophical “speculative bubble.” Not being very conversant with Graham Harman’s work or the details of Levi Bryant’s “onticology,” I can’t vouch for the accuracy of Kvond’s analysis — but it does seem like his description of “philosophy as Ponzi scheme” is something that could actually happen:

These packaging movements [of OOO] meet squarely it seems with Harman’s own Great Idea concept of philosophical significance, the thinking that all the Great Philosophers were really exaggerators that some how fooled the public long enough to get their ideas off the ground. Once enough people “buy into” the intial debt of explanation it is passed off onto the whole group, the bad mortgage is cut into tiny Madoff pieces and distributed everywhere. Philosophy as Ponzi scheme.

This brings me to the point of this post: how can AUFS brand itself so as to reap the benefits of such dynamics? So far, we don’t have the workings of a coherent brand: we’re ecologically-minded quasi-internal critics of the Christian tradition who also read novels? Half the time we don’t even approve of our own ideas, much less advocate others join in the fun!

Obviously we need to streamline here, so what’s our Big Idea? (And no, “being rude to commenters” isn’t enough.) We can collaborate on the explanation later — right now, we just need something that can really reach out to MA students and the underemployed, because they’re at the forefront of blogging. Then we can work on how we divide out the labor of “declaiming from on high” and “responding to everyone who writes about [insert brand] ideas in 1000-plus-word blog posts.” I’d like to think I would get the former job, but my relatively hyper-active blogging would likely saddle me with the latter — Brad would probably thrive best in the declaiming department. Seriously, though, we can hash that out later. We just need a Big Idea, fast.

Spiritual warfare and citizenship

I just finished reading Kevin Lewis O’Neill’s excellent ethnographic study City of God: Christian Citizenship in Postwar Guatemala, which I will be using in my Global Christianity course. His overall argument is that Guatemalan Neo-Pentecostals understand their religious practices to be the way they exercise their citizenship, the way they can take responsibility for the future of their country. They pray, fast, speak in tongues, undertake “spiritual warfare” (including drawing literal maps of where demonic powers are strongest and the paths they travel) — all the while downplaying more straightforward paths of action. For instance, one of O’Neill’s informants tells him that he should be praying more to get rid of all the bars in his area, and when O’Neill suggests that he could also talk to the bar owner, the guy tells him that’s just a waste of time. The whole outlook is radically individualistic: if they can change their own hearts and induce others to change theirs, they will eventually add up to a better nation.

I’m not convinced that these people have chosen the most effective route to help their country — though Guatemala is in such bad shape I’ll admit that I don’t know what would be effective — and I suspect that at least some of my students will be skeptical as well. Partway through the book, though, I had an epiphany. My own practice of citizenship consists, aside from voting every couple years, of reading a lot of stuff so that I can stay informed, then forming opinions about public policy and arguing with people on the internet about it. Like the Guatemalan strategy, this approach is premised on individualism: if the debates have a point, it is to change people’s opinions, one by one, so that they will then vote the right way.

When I look at things that way, I wonder if maybe prayer and fasting is the way to go.