“Smoke where you want, drink what you want, whenever you want. Get the age of consent down. Legalize drugs. Kill all the people who like grunge music. Kill all surfboarders. Melt the snow. Anybody who wears a cowboy hat should get the electric chair”
Noel Gallagher, in top form (via “Oasis 20 years on: the two brothers at the birth of lad culture”)
Few things transport me back to my youth as swiftly and as pleasingly as the Gallagher brothers. Any mid-’90s time capsule would be incomplete without mention of their incomparable personalities and their blowhard antics. They owned that moment. Give me “Cigarettes and Alcohol” or give me death.
Clip #3 from the BBC documentary about Camus touches on his time in the French Resistance and, yet again, his sundry affairs. One of the defining features of Camus’ life was his heroic engagement with the world. Whether as a dogged journalist shining light on injustices in rural Algeria or an anti-fascist resister during WWII or a voice for peaceful moderation amidst the Algerian War, Camus chose to participate in history - often at great personal risk - rather than simply allow it to happen to him. He was a moralist meets man-of-action (though not a self-glorifying, immodest one). In this regard, and many others, he stands as a model intellectual.
Also, I must draw attention to the footage of Camus playacting as a matador. It’s incredible. So humanizing. Anything that chips away at the false but very prevalent high school-nurtured version of Camus - deadly earnest, grimly navel-gazing, basically a walking existentialist quote machine - is a positive.
The reigning style of music criticism today is called “poptimism,” or “popism,” and it comes complete with a series of trap doors through which the unsuspecting skeptic may tumble. Prefer Queens of the Stone Age to Rihanna? Perhaps you are a “rockist,” still salivating over your old Led Zeppelin records and insisting that no musical performer not equipped with a serious case of self-seriousness and, probably, a guitar, bass and drums is worthy of consideration. Find Lady Gaga’s bargain basement David Bowie routine a snooze? You, my friend, are fatally out of touch with the mainstream, with the pop idols of the present. You are, in short, an old person. Contemporary music criticism is a minefield rife with nasty, ad hominem attacks, and the most popular target, in recent years, has been those professing inadequate fealty to pop.
Poptimism now not only demands devotion to pop idols; it has instigated an increasingly shrill shouting match with those who might not be equally enamored of pop music. Disliking Taylor Swift or Beyoncé is not just to proffer a musical opinion, but to reveal potential proof of bias. Hardly a week goes by in music-critic land without such accusations flying to and fro. In one particularly ugly contretemps a few years back, led by prominent critics, the indie hero Stephin Merritt of the Magnetic Fields was accused of being a racist for expressing his appreciation for the song “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah,” from the (actually racist) Disney musical “Song of the South,” and his general dislike of hip-hop.
- Saul Austerlitz, “The Pernicious Rise of Poptimism”
I appreciate the spirt of Austerlitz’s critique. When a quasi-ideology like poptimism becomes entrenched among the culture’s leading tastemakers, pushback is natural and often salutary. But is the portrait of contemporary music criticism that Austerlitz paints actually rooted in reality? Does there really exist such sweeping antipathy toward anything that a rockist might embrace or call his/her own? I detect more than a few strawmen here. Just look at the coverage on high-traffic sites like Pitchfork, Stereogum, The A.V. Club, CoS, Paste, Tiny Mix Tapes, and others. These aren’t outlets that actively shun guitar-rock or spotlight Rihanna over QotSA in knee-jerk fashion or swoon over all things Taylor Swift or avoid “knottier music that might require some effort to appreciate” (which encompasses wide swaths of indie rock). Not even close, in fact. It seems that Austerlitz installed some of poptimism’s more belligerent voices and lesser moments as a proxy for the movement as a whole and raised the pitch of his rhetoric accordingly. The outcome: an argument that’s well intentioned but too broad and too defensive. Again, I just don’t think the climate is as heated and punitive as Austerlitz imagines. Oh, and I’m sorry, the music/film/literature comparison holds no water. What goes into each and what each aims for and the experience of each are all completely different. Thus, separate rules of criticism apply.
But we should also recognize that the kind of moral calculus about killing that just war theory recommends and exemplifies — especially when it comes to the decision to initiate military action (ius ad bellum) — has no plausible connection to the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
Christ taught us to love our neighbors — and nowhere does he indicate or imply, as Biggar (following Augustine) claims, that it’s possible to express that love in the act of killing them. Christ also taught us to turn the other cheek, to forgive our enemies for their transgressions against us, and to refrain from responding to an attack by taking a perfectly proportional “eye for an eye.”
And then there’s Christ’s willing acceptance of conviction, torture, crucifixion, and death — a chilling indictment of the horrible deficiencies of the worldly order of things and the injustice that so often prevails within it.
By and large, I think Linker’s right. Only by twisting and mangling Christ’s teachings beyond recognition could you arrive at a Christological rationale for war. As a general rule, the Son of God and statecraft do not belong in the same conversation. The disconnect couldn’t be more stark: one operates through self-sacrificial love, and the other through coercion. One is a Lamb, the other a lion. One is the Cross, the other a sword. But, for a Christian, does it then follow that all armed hostilities must be viewed as illegitimate and immoral? I couldn’t make that jump with much confidence, and I’d cite the Romans 13 defense. Paul writes that governments exist for a reason: to maintain law and order (“for he does not bear the sword in vain”). It’s a necessary function in this broken world of ours. However, returning to the original point, that doesn’t mean it’s holy. That doesn’t mean it’s Christ-like. A vexing and tangled subject.
The second installment of Camus-on-YouTube that I’ll highlight is entitled “Camus’ Death and Lovers.” I wasn’t sure at first what to make of the dual subject. It seemed misplaced, even tacky, to sequence together some rather striking footage of Camus’ funeral with voiceovers of various affectionate letters that Camus wrote to his mistresses, as well as later interviews with some of them. But I think that was my puritanical American mind at work. Camus wasn’t really ashamed of his affairs, and, accordingly, the clip addresses this aspect of his life in a matter-of-fact tone. Several of his lovers attended the funeral, as did his wife of course. No scandal; that’s just what happened. It also occurred to me that those who were intimately acquainted/in love with Camus are precisely the kind of people you’d want to interview about his death. Their recollections and emotions - “I screamed”, “I’m still mourning him” - tell a powerful story.
To my fellow Camus disciples: on YouTube, there are a handful of mini BBC documentaries (or it’s just one documentary chopped up) about the great French-Algerian that I’d urge you to watch. Lots of old footage and revealing interviews with people who knew Camus personally. The one above centers on Camus winning the Nobel Prize and, relatedly, the Algerian question. I didn’t realize that the honor was a source of such dismay for Camus, who felt the French writer Andre Malraux would’ve been a more deserving and appropriately aged recipient. Indeed, the younger Camus apparently bristled at the fading-career implications that some attached to the Prize. He believed that his most important literary contributions were as-of-yet unwritten. Also, I will forever be irked by the criticism that Camus was “behind history” on the matter of Algerian independence. His vision of a peaceful federation did not prevail, and it may have always been folly. But what does it mean to be “behind history” when that same “history” would soon bless free Algeria with decades of civil war, sectarianism, and authoritarian rule? This was not capital H “History” as capital P “Progress.” So often it isn’t. If anything, I think it’d be more fitting to say that Camus was “ahead of history,” a prophetic voice against the dangerous designs of revolutionary (that is, violent) justice.
Have you ever decided to go record shopping after work and, upon reaching your destination, you spot a gentleman - clearly a racist, probably some sort of closet Maoist to boot - triumphantly toting around a used vinyl copy of Ziggy Stardust, a hard-to-find classic that you desperately want and that, not even a week prior, you had cited to your friends Roundy and Big Bear as one of only two records that you (burningly, achingly, all-is-lost-ly) regretted passing up when you last saw it (don’t ask), and then, reeling from the defeat, you recede into that stormy headspace where you try to make sense of how everything went so terribly, terribly wrong and you also consider how you might have won the day had you played your cards differently, and then you remember that, instead of immediately leaving work for the record shop, you sat in your car … and read the Bible for a solid half hour because you’re trying to form more disciplined habits with the Good Book and your morning Scripture session had got bumped in favor of making a mixed berry smoothie that only graded out a few notches above meh, and then it takes all of the strength in your being to not cry out “Why, why, why?” and “For what, for what, for what?” with regards to your spiritual strivings and aspirational piety, or declare “I want the kingdom now, and let it be Bowie’s kingdom”, or think dismissively of Psalm 29 (the text you read while that walking black hole of respectability and virtue was proceeding with his aim of hogging all the Bowie for himself and ruining your life) and its appropriation of Canaanite praise motifs (eat it, Baal!), or question the Psalmist’s proclamation that “the voice of the Lord is powerful” and “majestic” and it “breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon” because, really, REALLY, how can this be so when it has failed to deliver The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars into these quaking, needy, pruned-from-bitterness hands of mine? [End of question]
I jest, but still. My vanquisher has probably never even heard of Psalm 29.