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This Week’s Article

In David Foster Wallace,Matt,Tuesday's Article on January 4, 2011 by Two Barbers Tagged: , , , , , , , ,

Thoughts on David Foster Wallace-10th Installment

Discussing Suicide Part 3

I wouldn’t venture into the forest of trying to synthesize some meaning for suicide (or Wallace’s suicide, in particular, either) out of Wallace’s fiction and essays (we’ll leave interviews out of this for now, for reasons that will become more obvious in a bit) if it didn’t seem like a necessary, albeit trapdoor fraught, step, and won’t do so without first establishing caveats. Both concerns, fortunately, can be handled nicely by this quote from an episode of Charlie Rose, from May 17th, 1996.

“I think part of the fun for me was being part of some kind of exchange between consciousnesses; a way for human beings to talk to each other about stuff that we normally can’t talk about…like we’re sure not going to be able to talk about this stuff here…” 

Which also should reveal why interviews will be disregarded. Wallace said it in during the show’s second half segment, that was a panel discussion on the purpose of fiction among which included two other authors, Mark Leyner and Jonathan Franzen.

Now despite the overall attempt to view suicide with a new, less sanctimonious and horrified lens, the word ‘fun’ is not a word that’s ever going to come anywhere near it. But if you can isolate the idea of fun from the rest of the quote (it may even be a good idea to go one step further and treat ‘fun’ here as a circumstantial term, exchangeable with words like ‘rewarding’, ‘cathartic’, or even ‘satiating’, or ‘invigorating’, none of which really fit well with suicide either, but are at least more thoughtful than ‘fun’…perhaps ‘moving’ or ‘compelling’ would be closer…) and focus on ‘a way for human beings to talk to each other about stuff that we normally can’t talk about’, you should be able to understand why it’s more than just a good idea but practically necessary to look at DFW’s fiction, as well as, to a lesser, more discriminating extent, his essays (Wallace claimed he was a little foggy on the definition of this writing form in his Introduction to The Best American Essays: 2007Deciderization 2007-a Special Report, stating “I think I personally prefer the term ‘literary nonfiction’). In order to fully understand why you have to be somewhat familiar with Wallace’s life (which, since you’re reading this, you most likely are), important details of which will be included, or somehow or other gotten to, further on. For right now, its important to make sure, as we go ahead and look into his writing, to be aware of the influence of his major depressive disorder and suicide, with which he had his first serous struggle in college (at least in a way that can be attributed to a time line), before any of his fiction was published.

It feels as though I’m now actually beginning to talk about suicide.

-Matt

PS

Here’s a video of the entire May 17th episode of Charlie Rose in 1996, in case you’re interested in getting a better feel for the conversation and time.

Read past blogs on David Foster Wallace here which you can also get by scrolling to the bottom, where all of our recurring topics are listed and linked.

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This Week’s Article

In David Foster Wallace,Matt,Tuesday's Article on December 29, 2010 by Two Barbers Tagged: , , , , ,

Thoughts on David Foster Wallace-9th Installment

St. George

Yeah, so the idea of rifling back through Wallace’s stories, essays, and interviews for a kind of composite, total expression of his experience with suicide and then, out of which, some complete explanation of suicide itself, is just a little too sentimental. It fits too easily into this narrative template that, stripped down, goes more or less like ‘all that exists of a person after he/she is gone are what he/she left behind’, which is useful in its own right and could work in many circumstances, but in this case is just too small and simple, and the opposite of robust. Applied here, it would be like being given the answer to a riddle or like an android version of true meaning.

Here’s relevant a quote from Everything & More, in which the specifics are not carbon copies of DFW’s, but it is obvious how they correspond-

“The cases of great mathematicians with mental illness have enormous resonance for modern pop writers and filmmakers. This has to do mostly with the writers’/directors’ own prejudices and receptivities, which in turn are functions of what you could call our era’s particular archetypal template. It goes without saying that these templates change over time. The Mentally Ill Mathematician seems now in some ways to be what the Knight Errant, Mortified Saint, Tortured Artist, and Mad Scientist have been for other eras: sort of our Prometheus, the one who goes to forbidden places and returns with gifts we all can use but he alone pays for. That’s probably a bit overblown, at least in most cases.”

And there’s a footnote that comes later in the paragraph that is not attached to anything in this quote, but expands on the concept and is essential to the point I want to make-

“In modern medical terms, it’s fairly clear that G.F.L.P. Cantor [who is the ‘mathematician’ of concern in the quote above and whom Everything & More is about] suffered from manic-depressive illness at a time when nobody knew what this was, and that his polar cycles were aggravated by professional stresses and disappointments, of which Cantor had more than his share. Of course, this makes for less interesting flap copy than Genius Driven Mad By Attempts To Grapple With ∞…Saying that ∞ drove Cantor mad is sort of like mourning St. George’s loss to the dragon: it’s not only wrong but insulting.”

This is taken out of context, somewhat, since the statement was tangential to the text, included for the sake of setting boundaries for the reader. The point was about how a to look carefully at a person’s biography and what the reader is able and unable to learn from it; how, embedded in this vehicle, are untruths married to truths like conjoined twins. But if I’m wrong about what DFW meant by it, or have myself twisted its meaning, you at least now know without having to have read the book. To say that Wallace is the sum of what you can quote from him is not only wrong…it’s insulting.

(aside: Can you insult someone who is not present to receive the insult and be affected by it, and could never possibly be in a position to receive or be affected by it? is a metaphysical question so I’ll just leave it at, it certainly feels like it will insult someone; and wrongly too.)

-Matt

Read previous blogs on David Foster Wallace here.

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Tuesday’s Article (12-21-10)

In Music,Rich,Tuesday's Article on December 21, 2010 by Two Barbers Tagged: , , , , , ,

All Grown Up release new E.P. “I’m Over Here”

Springsteen Sting, the third track off of All Grown Up‘s new E.P. “I’m Over Here” starts off with one of my favorite lyrics I’ve heard in a while:

“I woke up bleeding from my hands again, I guess I’m working in my sleep.”

This line epitomizes the decade plus DIY career of this family.  I say family rather than band because All Grown Up has become so much more than just four guys playing music.  The “AGUnit” is a group of friends that have become the foundation on which All Grown Up stands, and the band is fully aware and appreciative of this.  Anybody who has seen the way they offer every ounce of themselves onstage would be able to support that statement with unwavering certainty.

Since the first AGU show I checked out in 2004, between my various bands playing shows with them and just going as a fan, I’ve probably seen All Grown Up 30 or 40 times.  Usually that would put me in fanboy territory, but the truth is it still leaves me a lightweight in terms of their fan-base.  Yes, I’ve seen over a hundred people come out to see them and they’re reputation is spreading everyday, but no matter if it’s Gramercy Theatre or Mr. Beery’s in Bethpage, you can count on the same 40 or so friends being in the front of the audience singing every word to every song.  This is where the family aspect comes in.

We aren’t talking Jonas Brothers fans here, we’re talking the friends the band grew up with and all the stragglers (such as myself) that they picked up along the way.  These are the same guys and girls that the AGU crew Beer-B-Q’s with in the summer and closes down the bar with every weekend all year-long.  It’s a crew that invented Friendship Friday as an excuse to have a good time together, and that I’ve seen the majority of at every Minus The Bear Show since 2005.  They’re great people who support the hell out of their friends, and I consider it an honor to count a lot of them among my own.

I sat down to write about the new E.P., but I don’t think I could have without the article digressing into what the All Grown Up family is all about.  At the end of the day “I’m Over Here” is five raw, emotive punk influenced tracks that exemplify every good friendship.  Every track is a house party in MP3 format, but also touches on those conversation topics everyone in their 20’s have had with their best friend at some point.  This is a really tough thing to accomplish and very few bands (The Get Up Kids, Jimmy Eat World, The June Spirit) have been able to accomplish it with any sort of sincerity in the past few decades, All Grown Up is among them.  Then again, when you get a band who are as talented as these guys are, and who’s biggest influence is legitimately their friends and family, it’s really not that surprising.

You should get the record here.

Then join the AGU family here.

And to top it all off, be here next Thursday.

-Rich

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This Week’s Article

In Matt,Tuesday's Article on December 14, 2010 by Two Barbers Tagged: , , , ,

A Cursory Run Through the History of Chocolate

In 1753, Carl Linnaeus named the tree that provides the essential ingredient for chocolate Theobroma cacao. Theobroma is Greek for ‘food of the gods’ and cacao, a Mayan word with etymology that extends through preceding civilizations as far back as 1000 B.C. Michael D. Coe, the eminent scholar of Mayan cultures, commented “The face-off between the two worlds is nicely illustrated by [this] scientific name…” and writers, and historians writing on the subject seem often to begin around this crux on the historical calendar, despite the fact that it is so far over on one end of the timeline.

It’s probably because chocolate as we know it, as it is defined by governments for food marketing and health regulations, did not really exist until around the time of its addition to Linnaeus’ binomial nomenclature. To be more exacting, it was almost 100 years later in 1828 that a Dutch guy named van Houten patented a machine that enabled production in the bar form that is now conventional. Twenty years later in 1847, another guy named Fry, this time an Englishman, used the machine to manufacture the candy this way, powered by steam engines to mass market them. When Europeans in the 1700s used the word, its denotation was the original bitter liquid that was handed down by the Aztecs and Mayans, albeit with alterations such as sugar, cinnamon, or milk.

Basically, what van Houten’s machine did was press fermented, dried, and ground cacao beans, a.k.a ‘cotyledons’, a.a.k.a ‘nibs’, into fine powder, a.k.a. ‘cocoa’ , dislodging it from much of the fat molecules (‘cocoa butter’) that constituted 55% of its mass while keeping the other molecules intact. van Houten then treated the cocoa with an alkalizing chemical such as potassium carbonate to lower the acidity, taking the edge off the bitter flavor. The cocoa was mixed (this is where Fry comes in) with sugar and additional cocoa butter and then, through an even more elaborate process, made to crystallize in a structure that gave it the smooth, pleasing texture that melts in your mouth.

At the time Linnaeus was applying his playfully reverent, slightly European chauvinist categorization, chocolate was being consumed in pretty much the same fashion as the people of Central America had been consuming it for 3-4,000 years. Evidence for its cultivation and use between 1800-1400 B.C. exist with artifacts that contain traces of theobromine, which is a chemical attributed to cacao and only a few other members of its genus, Theobroma. There are ancient drawings of the tree, connected to gods and legendary heroes, or that depict its traditional preparation, pouring it from one jar into another to work up a layer of foam on top.

It took some time to gain acceptance in Europe. The way the Aztecs took it, it was a bitter, frothy drink usually flavored with intense spices like chili pepper. The conquistadors reacted in pretty much the same way we all did as kids, trying baking chocolate thinking there’d be no difference because chocolate is chocolate; Only I guess they did not experience the same feelings of disappointment. The initial allure for people then was most likely the thrill and mystique they probably felt from sampling a product of a distant culture, as well as incorporating it into their diet. Aided by health claims (a trend that is still common now with antioxidants), its popularity grew steadily to the status of delicacy in Linnaeus’ day; Segway to the innovations of the industrial revolution that have defined it ever since. But whatever movement chocolate made within European culture, it was grounded in Mesoamerica where, for millennia, it was as universal a drink as coffee or Coke is to us.

Today, cultivation of cacao has been spread beyond its native habitat in Central America and the Yucatan Peninsula. It is grown mostly along the west coast of Africa, from where estimated about 70% of the world’s supply comes, but also in South East Asia and even, most recently, in Hawaii.

-Matt

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Monday’s Suggestion

In David Foster Wallace,Matt,Monday's Suggestion on December 13, 2010 by Two Barbers Tagged: , , , , , ,

The David Foster Wallace Audio Project (title is also link to title’s subject)

Picture, and the only one, that is used for the minimalist design of the webpage.

This is debatable, and possibly something that would have bothered him to hear, but David Foster Wallace may have been a better talker than a writer.

(Now, this is hopefully only to make a point about his conversational faculties and not just because I want to tell my little story about seeing him in person.) My first encounter with David Foster Wallace, past his name and contemporary fame, was at a reading in San Fransisco (and I’ll leave it at that as a token of good faith and continue on with the sentence, sort of cramming as much into as few streams of thought as syntax will allow so as to undercut as much suspect self-absorbed mood as is reasonable to expect), during which he dug, and described in his positively lucid phraseology, a basic furrow of differences between reading something and hearing it read. Mainly along the lines of experience: How he experiences them: how they feel; how they impress on him; the finer points of a more complicated engagement with the two different types of perception. I don’t remember him using this phrase at the time, but “how it feels on your nerve endings” is pretty much one of his ways of describing basically the same idea.

I forget most of what he said at that reading, or at least have lost access to a coherent order of the memories of the things he said that would make it possible for me to retrieve or reconstruct the vaguer ones, but I remember this having a huge impact on me that I didn’t fully appreciate until much later on when I became, what is, admittedly, a devoted follower (pathetic, also admittedly), not just of his work but of him.

So, blah, blah, blah, (severing this now in order to just leap fully back into my promise to not become absolutely indulgent in personalizing this blog post) a good place to start with DFW is in hearing him talk about writing, literature, and life. And DFW is someone totally worth getting into. And if you already consider yourself a howling fantod (which, if you do then you know what that phrase means) and do not already know this website, then you will find plenty of new ground to trod.

This is the second week in a row where it seems I’ve given a suggestion that has been lite on the description and heavy on the instruction, drifted even farther toward the instruction. I can’t say that I’m just noticing it now and it was wholly unintentional, but I can add a little adjunct description here on the end. The website basically just comprises a collection of audio recordings divided in four sections: 1. “Interviews & Profiles” 2. “Readings” 3. “Eulogies & Remembrances” 4.”Brief Interviews Staged Readings”.

-Matt

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This Week’s Article

In David Foster Wallace,Matt,Tuesday's Article on November 30, 2010 by Two Barbers Tagged: , , , , , , ,

Thoughts on David Foster Wallace

-8th Installment

Discussing Suicide: Part 2

I don’t know what most people’s experience is, but I’ve repeatedly found that the topic of suicide rarely, if ever, leads anywhere past its own introduction into a conversation. (And if I’ve understood this with any irony stemming from the definition of suicide, it’s been little other than that kind of dead irony, straight out of Hamlet’s Alas! Poor Yorick.) The catalogue of responses which includes, in a nutshell, ‘Such a shame’, ‘It’s a selfish act’, ‘It’s cowardice”, the more promising but ultimately just as ineffectual and disconcerting, ‘How could someone ever take their own life?’, and (not to be overlooked for lack of conformity) seconds of blanket silence, is pretty small and tentative, and about as complete as Hollywood’s depiction of love or Hallmark’s treatment of significance. Then there are people who will get angry nine times out of ten, simply by suicide’s entry into the discussion, and will become surprisingly authoritative (and on other more basic levels, just simply surprising) in the other 10%. But this seems to suggest something like difficulty beyond what we’re accustomed to dealing with, in the normal patterns of our daily interactions and engagement in the world, rather than some unbridgeable gap of meaning.

This last sentence may come off as a little obvious and trite; and it may even be that most people feel the two statements in it really shouldn’t be juxtaposed, but more like one conjugates the other (most likely though not limited to, the people who tend to get angry when suicide is brought up). I just want to make it known that I’m aware of this and what I want to do (what I think there is an opportunity to do in this format) is try to rehash the question of whether or not we actually could go a little further to refine our assumptions and language regarding suicide, in a way that’s ultimately positive and useful, or helpful, to people.

Right off the bat there are trap doors to Wallacean grade paradoxes in this, such as the notion that whatever ways in which we try to discuss suicide must be predetermined as helpful or positive may undermine the earnestness with which the attempt is supposed to be made in order to really qualify as an honest-to-goodness attempt and that, furthermore, the recognition of crevasses like this puts the attempter, again, in no better position to deal with them than all the past attempts from which he is trying to separate himself, but possibly worse. It’s this sort of room filled with mouse traps you automatically enter when talking about it that partially explains the hypersensitivity that seems dream-like or Greek in its ability to fold the tent from the get-go on the whole endeavor. The rest is probably explained by a collection of personal issues, pressure from a Catholic-like sense of responsibility to give the right answers and anxiety over extreme, guilty notions that wrong answers could somehow be extended to personal culpability for past, future, or current suicides happening in the world, outside the realm of what anyone would rationally regard as control, and, finally, the prescient recognition of far off conclusions that feel both inevitable and unacceptable.

In Although Of Course…, Lipsky wrote, in what I imagine is one of the more memorable, quotable, passages of the book, “Suicide is such a powerful end, it reaches back and scrambles the beginning. It has an event gravity: Eventually, every memory and impression gets tugged in its direction.”

That may be true, but it may not be the whole case. You certainly can’t talk about David Foster Wallace now without getting to, or having to put in effort (possibly the amount that would take up six or seven long blogs) to avoid, the subject of suicide. But, still, and this is an unabashedly fan-boy statement to make, there is so much more to talk about in his writing and interviews, and even his apparent approach to living (of which those of us reading and writing about him have had little access except for what has come out since his death. For instance, I did not know he had MD. And I don’t think it’s totally fair when people look back on his writing and say ‘that makes sense’.), that is completely insulated from his suicide; that is life-affirming (which is a term I had used regularly when trying to describe Wallace’s writing before his death, and still do after). Like Galileo’s Paradox about infinity (Wallace’s favorite subject, other than loneliness, but I suspect they were interchangeable), the whole seems to be equal to the part.

-Matt

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This Week’s Article (11-16-10)

In Music,Rich,Tuesday's Article on November 16, 2010 by Two Barbers Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

The Beatles Catalog Released To iTunes: Why It Doesn’t Matter

Up until today the Beatles were the most famous holdout from Apple’s iTunes.  For the seven years the service has existed, the Fab Four have refused to let their music be included.  The reasoning apparently had little to do with them being anti-download service, and more to do with issues of a business nature.  Namely they were unhappy about the payout structures, and were consumed with their ongoing legal disputes over Steve Jobs’ use of the name “Apple” as it’s also the name of the Beatles publishing company.

It’s my opinion that this resolution is of little or no consequence to the legacy of the Beatles or Apple and will have very little effect on either one’s respective industries.

Here’s why…

Why The Beatles Have Nothing To Gain Here

The Beatles are already one of the top-selling acts in history, so it’s not like they need iTunes as a sales avenue.  They just released a critically acclaimed remastering of their entire catalog last year on CD which is largely regarded as the best way to listen to the Beatles on record, period.  So there is little chance of the special iTunes Beatles Box Set with it’s “extended liner notes” and “making of footage” being worth the fortune they will charge for it.  Finally, any sort of mystery that the Beatles kept by not being available digitally is totally lost due to the prevalency of file-sharing and the fact they agreed to do a “Beatles Rock Band” video game.  As a result they’re not doing anything here that will affect their image.

Why Apple Gains Nothing

iTunes is already far and away the biggest name in legal music downloads.  The majority of their sales come from impulsively purchased singles.  They undoubtedly sell more Taylor Swift and Taio Cruz than they do Rolling Stones or The Who.

Classic albums (which I’m pretty sure the Beatles have a few of) are either purchased on CD or Vinyl and dubbed to people’s computer or downloaded from sites like mediafire or zshare.  Obviously there will be resulting sales from this deal, but nothing monumental that would justify the sort of hoopla that is surrounding the situation today.

Conclusion

We are dealing with two titans.  This may bring an almost decade long argument between the biggest name in technology and the biggest name in rock and roll to an end, but it’s an argument that affects very few people.

There is no surprise this deal generated the sort of headlines that it did.  But the bottom line is while it may have generated a lot of attention today, it will have very little effect on anything in either the music of technology industries tomorrow.

-Rich