Going Meta: Actively Reading Marc-Alexandre Gagnon

What follows is my annotations on a blogpost by Marc-Alexandre Gagnon (aka Alex Gagnon, Zoetica, JonasThanatos, etc.). I’m having fun and it sounds like Alex does too.

To recap:

  • Been following Alex’s Posterous blog for a little while. Not sure how we “met” but it probably had something to do with Twitter.
  • Alex had a blogpost about quality content: the Web, culture, art, and beauty. For diverse reasons others might guess, I just couldn’t leave it alone. Especially since I’ve been giving some thoughts to what Alex, it turns out, calls “the Search Society” (YouTube)
  • When I tried to post a comment on Alex’s “Google Paradox” blogpost, I had a technical problem and my comment wouldn’t go through. It stalled at “submitting,” probably because of some issue with the way Posterous handles these things (it’s a bit like Intense Debate).
  • I decided to make my comments into my own blogpost. I took the opportunity to add a few links along with a bunch of categories and tags, but the comment itself was left intact.
  • Alex and I interacted through Twitter. Sounds like Alex will Storify that interaction, in which we actually talked about how “meta” it was to respond to responses across diverse media.
  • Alex then followed the conversation through a new blogpost, in which he honours me by focusing on specific points I had made.
  • In the interest of playing even more with these different media, but also as something I like to do, I decided to use Diigo to annotate Alex’s new blogpost with direct comments. Reminds me of some email conversations I used to have, with “interlinear replies.”
  • Via Ping.fm, I posted the link to my annotated version of Alex’s blogpost.
  • What follows is the content of these annotations.
  • I’m assuming Alex and I will follow this up with a face-to-face conversation in a café, so there might be something on Foursquare.
  • I might also edit this blogpost later, to add metadata.
  • 😉

Without further ado (about nothing):

On Truth and Beauty and Other Things part I – Marc-Alexandre Gagnon

  • riposting
    • I guess my blogpost may have sounded like a salvo.
  • a harangue on High Culture and Low Culture, or High Art and Lowly art
    • It could bring us closer to Adorno and the rest of the Frankfurt dudes.
  • no general theory of culture with principles that apply to all cultures.
    • We’re getting closer to agreeing, here. Which is ok.
  • I see culture as an artist, as a creator of cultural artefacts
    • Quite so. And this is where there might be a tension. On one hand, you associate your craft with the more restrictive notions of culture. But, on the other, you perceive something interesting in cultures. They’re not incompatible, but they create a kind of tension, as with consonance/dissonance.
  • I am not a cultural anthropologist.
    • And you don’t have to be one. Sorry if my claims about notions of culture made it sound like cultural anthropologists hold the key. The opposite is more accurate: cultural anthropologists spend hours on end arguing about the more than 300 definitions of culture which have been enumerated since 1871… (Tylor’s “Complex Whole” definition, followed by a catalogue of definitions…)
  • I can’t say that I really spend all that much time taking a theoretical standpoint on the phenomenon of human culture
    • You really don’t have to. There’s a division of labour, here. But there’s some fluidity involved in that division. You’re allowed to delve into cultural theory as I’m allowed to spend time in “cultural industries.”
  • fluent in a great number of cultures,
    • Which can get us to cultural awareness…
  • I create works of art, there are specific requirements I must fill, very strict guidelines
    • This one is a bit surprising. Or it represents the major point of disjunction. Perhaps because of my Jazz training, I see guidelines and requirements as emergent, fluid, negotiated, conversational.
  • thrilled that you took the time to write
    • All the thrill is mine. I felt an impulse to do something like this.
  • I have a problem with the idea that we can infer the intention one has to convey a certain meaning,
    • So do I. In fact, that’s the major insight people seem to have gained from Barthes’s Mort de l’auteur, and I find it very useful as a starting point.
  • I love semiotics and it’s something I need to consider often when painting or writing music, but to me it’s merely a means to an end, and end which is analytical
    • Agreed. And I was just talking about the fact that I prefer not to be too analytical about things I enjoy, for instance in literature. That’s partly why my comments are usually not about analysis of specific works but about broader ideas. As an ethical hedonist, I don’t want to destroy enjoyment.
  • But analysis is secondary.
    • In more ways than one.
    • Oh! Will have to read this! Especially since I’ve been trying to imagine the post-Web Internet. I understand it’s not just about what’s online, in your case. But I like the notion that there can be multiple worlds involved and the online one is, though real instead of “virtual,” but one of these worlds.
  • information foraging,
    • Very anthropological a concept.
  • I’m not  just singling out Google
    • Some things are still specific to Google. Especially those related to their ethos. In this case, “algorithm or nothing” is very Googley.
  • mise-en-abŷme,
    • We’re back to meta.
  • Quality as a social construct.
    • It was originally my key point, in response to your post. Because of my background, I feel the need to make sure we’re on the same page about this. Sounds like we are, though we’re reading this page in different ways. Perfect for me.
  • Concepts are tools for understanding things, levers for our own sensemaking in the world.
    • Sig!
  • qualities can be defined by the possession in an object of objective traits which make it “beautiful” or “qualitatively of higher grade”
    • Thanks. That’s what I needed. I just don’t conceive of things in this way, but I fully respect your approach. To me, quality is an interplay between “(human) subjects and (art) objects.” Contrary to Molino (and then Nattiez),, I don’t think there’s really a “neutral level” associated with the object itself. I prefer Schutz’s social phenomenology to the version Dujka Smoje tried to push in her musical æsthetics course, back in the day.
  • I have no problem with aesthetic judgments.
    • Fair enough.
  • I have no problem with telling you why such and such a work fits the universally accepted criteria of Truth and Beauty.
    • I do. It might be a matter of «déformation professionnelle» but I do take issue with claims of universality. Nothing personal about people who make such claims but, as a culturalist, I find some deep problems with the claims themselves and, as a person, I just don’t think this way.
  • I’m just a working man, working at his craft,
    • Again, fair enough. And I wouldn’t have said anything about your perspective on quality if you hadn’t opened the door. I’m not attacking your views or claiming that you’re a snob. In fact, I was mostly thinking about the Adornos of this world.
  • my blog called Beautiful Signals,
    • Added to my Google Reader.
  • made much more sense in the 1980s,
    • We’re probably in agreement, here. To me, though, we’re currently going through a significant transition. All these “post-” things are about a shift which has been “waiting to happen” since “Late Modernism.” It’s already happened in anthropology, architecture, and art. It can still happen in xenophobia and zoology.
  • All that is solid melts into air..
    • That works. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that we get a Sisyphus/Buddhist cycle, The same matter may go through gas and solid phases, but there’s a point at which we may get a different compound.
  • I have a lot to say about Marx,
    • Sounds like fun. He’s so misunderstood…
  • I don’t think it’s a bad thing for some people to have authority,
    • Neither do I: as you may guess, I don’t believe in absolute bad or good things.
  • anarchism would ensue,
    • «Je suis anarchiste au point de toujours traverser dans les clous afin de n’avoir pas à discuter avec la maréchaussée.» [Georges Brassens]
  • Some structures are necessary.
    • This is probably where we disagree the most. But it’s ok.
  • It depends on what you are trying to do.
    • And this is where we probably agree the most. But that’s ok.
  • immanent feature of the art object”
    • That quality comes from the object itself, in the abstract, and transcends it. I find it very close to essentialism. Because existentialism had a deep impact on me since adolescence, I have some difficulty with this notion. It just doesn’t jive with the rest of my world.
  • I think most people misunderstand the role of an artist in society, and that hasn’t changed since the beginning of civilization.
    • If you haven’t, I’d encourage you to read Attali’s Bruits, especially the part about the birth of the artist as a figure. There’s been a tremendous shift between Bach and Rembrandt. But I agree that there’s not much of a shift between Rembrandt and Lady Gaga.
  • the plague called Modernism,
    • See, I wouldn’t call modernism a plague. It was ok, at the time. And it still dominates contemporary discourse on all sorts of things (like political science and engineering). It’s just that we’re going somewhere else, which fits more with our current conditions as a species. In other words, modernism wasn’t wrong. It’s just tired.
  • Beauty is what it is regardless of judgments.
    • This is what I mean by “immanence.”
  • take you up on that coffee date
    • You probably know where to find me.
  • I’m working on what I call Nouveau Kitsch,
    • Sounds like something I might enjoy, especially with the context provided by your blogposts.
  • What do you want us to do, abandon language altogether?
    • Coming from a linguistic anthropologist? Very unlikely. 😉
  • logocentrism
    • Overemphasis on discourse.
  • Our thoughts are logocentric
    • That’s where Russell and Wim Wenders agree with Radiolab. It’s also where Davidson may have hit something. When I play music, I’m not thinking through language. Given the complex relationships between music and language (per Feld, instead of Kristeva, Pinker, or Lerdahl), I can’t just subsume musical thinking to language-based cognition. Also, as bilinguals, don’t we both notice times when we’re not thinking in a language?
  • We signal.
    • There’s a significant difference between signals and language. And, yes, I use “significant” in a specific way.
  • Cultures are at war with one another in a global marketplace.
    • Wow. Where did that come from? I, I’m… Where to start… Ok, let’s just say we’ll bring that one up later.
  • techno-ethnography”
    • It’s also something I do and it does connect to the ethnography of communication in neat ways. But there are differences. Yes, “significant” differences.
  • anthropology of the senses”,
    • aka “sensory anthropology,” covering everything which has to do with what Howes called “the varieties of sensory experience.” Deemphasizing the visual/aural emphasis in Euro-American (“Western”) contexts. Paying more attention to olfaction, flavours, and tactile sensations, among many other things. They probably have someone working on proprioception but I get the impression that the focus on the “five senses.”
  • Evolutionary Aesthetics.
    • Let’s not go there. A major advantage of that EO episode is that they only talked about this for a few minutes so I didn’t cringe that much. I still had a hard time listening to it, but at least it wasn’t “for crying out loud” impossible.

2 thoughts on “Going Meta: Actively Reading Marc-Alexandre Gagnon”

  1. re: “If you haven’t, I’d encourage you to read Attali’s Bruits, especially the part about the birth of the artist as a figure. There’s been a tremendous shift between Bach and Rembrandt. But I agree that there’s not much of a shift between Rembrandt and Lady Gaga.”

    Il y aurait tout un billet de blogue à écrire là dessus!

    1. Don’t get me started! 😉

      There sure is a lot of material to cover. So little time, so many blogposts!
      Basically, we can take Bach as a key figure in craftsmanship. While he “branded” himself to the point of doing a whole piece on B-A-C-H and did a whole advertising campaign for equal temperament, his work was more of a craft than that of the “struggling (and miaunderstood) artist” which has been so prominent more recently. (Of course, Bach is much more complex than this, but he’s convenient as a pedagogical example.)
      According to Attali, Rembrandt is one of the key figures in the shift to the artist as the prominent part of the art. Rembrandt’s business model was quite different from Bach’s and given the impact of the industrial revolution happening in between these two, that shouldn’t be surprising.
      Lady Gaga, like Justin Bieber and Paris Hilton, would represent more of an evolution from the Rembrandt model. Celebrity and fame, since the late 20th Century, have intensified. But the model is still centred on the “artisssssst.” Maybe not struggling and misunderstood. But taken away from her/his social context.


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