wax banks

second-best since Cantor

Category: 100words500things

Game of Thrones.

‘Realpolitik Tolkien’: A Distant Mirror with dragons. The first three books (the series’s first movement) are major achievements: impeccable hybrids of grand quest-fantasy, court-intrigue whodunit, (anti)war epic, and empathetic social portraiture. Books 4-5, interwoven as one volume, are nearly as good, deepening the series’s historical consciousness, but dangerously slow. If Martin sticks the landing, ASOIAF is its genre’s capstone work. The show is impressive, at times superb (and perfectly cast), but since overrunning Martin’s books, it’s gotten silly, lacking Martin’s social-historical vision and sense of proportion. Read the books instead — then Viriconium.

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Magic.

System(s) of ritual/programmatic antirational worldmaking, way(s) of being-in-the-world resting on a number of ridiculous, factually inaccurate claims, but producing extraordinary results. Our corporate-capitalist unculture’s present interest in psychotropism (microdosing, nootropics, etc.) charts a smooth curve downdowndown from techtopia’s counterculture roots to the Carefully Managed State — SV execs taking meetings at Burning Man, etc. — nothing magical about it. Lost for now for most: enveloping ritual which cleansed the personal of its parochiality (the absolute opposite of ‘myopic’ is ‘cosmic’). The ground of magical practice is the community, the macro-self, the trans-self. No place for that now, no more…eppur si muove.

Cultural studies.

Academic field — the mutant offspring of philosophy, literary studies, and political economy. Once the most interesting thing going in academic humanities, now unsurprisingly shallow in its philosophy, obtuse in its approach to texts, and dogmatic in its politics (and economics!). Online-leftish discourse is deeply indebted to cultural studies, as is identitarian pseudocriticism now standard in e.g. TV reviewing. The field’s dependency/hostility toward sci/tech is its greatest liability at present; or wait, no, I mean its political monoculture. Er, political dogmatism? Status-seeking? Hilariously bad writing across the board? ‘Fun’ research project: how many humanities academics have entirely given up reading for pleasure?

Pratchett.

Wodehouse was funnier (than everyone) but featherlight. Adams was better at jokes, especially long ones, but hopeless at plots. And neither created a living world as Pratchett did. The Discworld (particularly Ankh-Morpork) is a perfect fictional canvas: geographically, culturally, temporally, and generically flexible, functioning neatly as fantasy-paperback parody and — forgive me — canvas for ‘Dickensian’ social satire. Every single Discworld novel I’ve read has brought me to tears, which is down to Pratchett’s greatest strength, his furious humanity. His characters are alive. They are people. He loved them. Even Death! We’re lucky to have had him.

Deadwood.

By some standard the greatest of the Golden Era TV shows, a work of rare genius. Features the best dialogue, grandest lead performance (Ian McShane as Swearengen), deepest ensemble cast, and some of the most subtly brilliant directing in American TV history. Along with The Wire (a polemic), the richest rendering of a living community in that medium. John from Cincinnati is its direct sequel, foregrounding Deadwood‘s magical/spiritual subtext at dramatic cost. Had Deadwood finished its status as TV’s Lear would be unchallenged. I should know better than to get my hopes up about the planned movie.

Alcohol.

Bourbon over ice, dark beer, ruby port, or we’ll need to talk first. A bottle of coconut rum got me into a situation with a redhead once. I had a period of drinking alone in my room, stupidly, bringing no relief from a situation with two brunettes. Threw a half-full bottle of Knob Creek into the sea at an all-night beach party. Summer 2000 I filled most of a thick notebook on two bourbons three (four?) nights a week at a terrible bar on Boylston Street. Now a single whiskey ruins my sleep. But I miss its sweet sting.

Herbie Hancock.

Adapted effortlessly to the Rhodes/synth phase-transition in jazz. Enormous harmonic vocabulary, populist melodism, and an experimental streak best expressed within his Mwandishi collective, one of the essential 70s bands. Only Miles caught deeper groove without sacrificing rich jazz language (and even then…). Their Sextant and Crossings establish terms of ecstatic prototechno beat science. Headhunters would retreat from their deadliest implications and so achieve enormous commercial success. Modern groups like MMW cross those streams without quite equalling Mwandishi’s purity of spiritual intent or Headhunters’ erotic-machinic pinpoint funk. His cameo in Another Kind of Blue is heartbreaking and beautifully true.