AMS annual meeting blog post, the “I’m not going” edition

It turns out that I’m not going to AMS Vancouver. My leg is healing, but not miraculously, and while I might be able to handle the actual travel to Vancouver — it would be fun to be one of those people who gets to ride around on those little airport cars —  I would have to spend most of my time in my hotel room with my leg up on a pillow, which somewhat defeats the purpose of going on the trip in the first place. My surgeon looked at me like I was nuts when I asked him if he thought I could go. Such is my devotion to musicology that I even contemplated it …

So I’m staying put. What will I do with my time? Well, I’m reading a lot, as you might imagine. A few books I have on the go right now:

  1. David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous — a terrific and thoughtful book on the style of magical thought proper to so-called animist cultures. It touches on a lot of my favorite topics, including magical thinking (obviously), orality and literacy, abstraction and immediate experience, etc.
  2. Sohrab Ahmari, The New Philistines. One of the things that has long bugged me is the seeming inability of educated moderns to think of art in any but the most crassly utilitarian ways, whether that means reducing art and music to a useful preparation for taking standardized tests or judging artworks solely in terms of how well they serve the current goals of progressive politics.* The New Philistines is a short polemic against the latter.
  3. Edwin Haislet, Boxing. Jack Slack calls it the “bible of striking.” I started boxing this year, and one of the things I hate most about my broken leg is that I can’t train for months. Reading is a poor substitute, but it’ll have to do. Those who were offended by no. 2 (above) will no doubt find a sinister coherence in my enthusiasms for aesthetic autonomy (i.e., letting art be art) and ritualized combat.
  4. Joyce Carol Oates, On Boxing. Possibly the best essays on boxing ever written, and that is saying something. Boxing has a literature unrivalled by any other sport.
  5. The Daniel Clowes Reader, a typically excellent Fantagraphics anthology that my friend David Brent Johnson gave me.
  6. Volume 2 of Ernest Newman’s 4-volume biography of Richard Wagner. A long read, this. Those offended by nos. 2, 3, and 4 (above) will doubtless find yet more sinister connections between my fondness for aesthetic autonomy, ritualized combat, and Hitler’s Favorite Composer.
  7. Oswald Spengler, The Decline of the West. I just started this, but I don’t know if I have the stamina to read the whole thing. Teutonic longeurs abound. What’s interesting to me about it is that it is, in Ramsey Dukes’s terms, a magical theory of human history. A lot of heavyweight German intellectuals from Spengler’s day (including the music theorist Heinrich Schenker) created vast wissenschaftlicher theorien that are actually a lot more magisch than their authors and adherents would probably want to admit. I, of course, am not saying that like it’s a bad thing. It occurs to me that Spengler has a bit of a reputation for being a German reactionary. Oh dear. The sinister coherencies are piling up, aren’t they?
  8. Speaking of Ramsey Dukes, I’ve been revisiting a lot of his stuff lately as well. This morning I enjoyed re-reading a passage in which he addresses the common accusation that magic is a selfish pursuit of those who only want money, sex, power, and similarly low-rent and profane things. Dukes acknowledges that a lot of people start out this way, but suggests that sustained practice leads them away from their starting-point. Quoth Dukes:**
  1. I wish to be rich, powerful, successful!
  2. Hey, there’s this thing called “magic” that promises to make me rich, powerful, and successful!
  3. Great, all I have to do is to make myself perfect!
  4. How will I know when I’m perfect?
  5. Answer: when I no longer wish to be rich, powerful, and successful.


It’s Step no. 6, “oh shit,” that I particularly like. The regular utterance of that phrase is one of the ways that magic can be reliably differentiated from religion, it seems to me.

I’ve been sitting on that GIF for a while now. Perhaps this whole post was just an elaborate pretext for deploying it. In my weakened state, though, I am not clever enough to think of set-ups for a few other GIFs I’ve been hoarding. Perhaps I could have written a post on the perennial appearance of the “death of classical music” trope,*** a death notable for having been going on for 800 years, with no end in sight …


… which would have allowed me to post this GIF, taken from a video of a ball endlessly falling down a Penrose staircase.


Classical music: always going, never gone

Now let’s see, what else do I have lying around …


That’s a young Eugene Levy in an SCTV commercial for “Poochare,” the New Wave dog food. Strutting his stuff. On two fully functional legs. The way I would if I were able to go to AMS, which I’m not.

But let us not succumb to self-pity! Let us instead return to the happier subject of boxing and watch a GIF showing Daniel Geale in the glorious moment of landing a punch on Gennady Golovkin, just before GGG counters him into the next time zone.


Which could be a visual metaphor for all sorts of things that might happen at the AMS annual meeting in Vancouver.

Have fun without me.

*Writes Freddie De Boer, “I do think that we have seen a wide scale, passionate embrace of art criticism that presumes the purpose of criticism is to adjudicate whether and how well art fulfills the functions of contemporary social liberalism. In the era of Takes, there is an entire wing of criticism – a large and growing concern – that asks to what degree any given work of art confirms the kind of vague intersectional race, gender, and sexual politics that have become the default language of our culture industry. That art is considered well crafted which best dramatizes the stories that this form of social liberalism tells about the world. This type of Takes criticism also judges how well a given work practices socially liberal principles through diversity, either the diversity of its perspective or the diversity of its creators. Both of these are laudable goals, though Takes criticism has an uninspiring track record when it comes to fairly and consistently sorting what failure or success looks like in this regard.”

**The fuller version of this argument can be found in Dukes’s essay “Blast Your Way to Megabuck$ with My Secret Sex-Power Formula,” which is the best essay title of all time.

***Musicologist Will Robin wrote a great piece about this a couple of years ago, quoting Charles Rosen’s great line, “The death of classical music is perhaps its oldest continuing tradition.” 

About Phil Ford

Chairman of the Committee for the Memorial to the Victims of Modernism
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1 Response to AMS annual meeting blog post, the “I’m not going” edition

  1. “Spell of the Sensuous” is pretty good, offers some interesting insights, and at least presents animism in such a way that it’s a coherent and reasonable way of looking at the world, rather than simply some kind of primitive superstition.
    Still, it suffers from the compulsive tendency that Western intellectuals have, that forces them to translate the beliefs and cosmologies of others into some form that won’t offend the naive materialist mindset, and relies on phenomenology and Heidegger to get there. This leads to some blind spots, particularly in terms of the account of sorcery, spirits, and the role of imagination and perception of nonphysical realms. His treatment of magic is, in my opinion, misleading at best, if not downright dishonest.
    For me, the narratives, poetic passages, and stories were far more successful than the attempts to provide philosophical justification for animism by using the tools of twentieth century philosophy, which I see as being rather misguided.

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