Matthew T Grant

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Tall Guy. Glasses.

Rush at the Garden: Why couldn’t they have been more like Liberace?

liberace1I went to see Rush at the Garden last night. It was good, but it wasn’t sublime.

Here’s the thing. I’ve liked Rush since I was a kid and in fact still listen to their music with an, for some, alarming frequency (my favorite album being Fly by Night). However, I never really explored their catalog, which I otherwise celebrate, beyond Moving Pictures, the mega-hit which sold over 4 million copies worldwide and put them on the classic rock map for good.

If I think of things from the standpoint of Geddy, Alex, and Neil, I realize that for them, Rush is everything they have done since they started playing together in something like 1968. In fact, early on in the show Geddy Lee joked that they had “400 songs” that they could play for us.

Unfortunately, for many of my generation—I recently turned 47—Rush actually boils down to the 4 or 5 songs (“Tom Sawyer,” “Limelight,” etc.) that we’ve heard a thousand times and, if you are a semi-fan like me, choice cuts from the preceding albums (“Xanadu” from A Farewell to Kings or “The Necromancer” from Caress of Steel). Aside from “Subdivisions” off Signals, I couldn’t really name a Rush song recorded after 1980.

It was for this reason, and a couple others, that the first lengthy set Rush played was a bit of the hard slog. Kicking things off with a very corny, though highly produced, film clip that set up the “time machine” theme of the evening, the band launched into one of their biggest hits, “Spirit of the Radio,” and it was exhilarating. When you hear a band play a song that has been kicking around your ears for thirty years it is undeniably powerful and I was, for about 4 minutes and 50 seconds, transported. Read the rest of this entry »

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Be Your Self

14517722_6bbc8e79c8_mHad He willed they would not have been idolators. -  Sura 6, “The Cattle”

The existence of evil, or, more banally, base disobedience of God’s word by the vast multitude of human beings, must in some ways be explained by monotheism. If God is all-powerful, in fact, singular in His omnipotence, how do you explain the existence of evil without admitting that it too, like all else above and below, was created by God?

Similarly, since God has sent down his Word and therewith his Law via sundry emissaries, how is it that so many, indeed the majority of humanity, either fail to heed it or denounce it as false (adhering instead to their own regional or familial creeds)?

The idea that God created evil (the Devil, drives, temptation) and then bestowed Free Will upon Man in order to test his fidelity seems far-fetched. Why would an all-powerful Being operate in such a neurotic (or, really, passive aggressive) fashion?

The alternative (if you are not going to jettison monotheism altogether and retreat into a polytheism that does not suffer this conundrum) is to state forthrightly that God created Evil and, moreover, that God determines who will obey and who will not.

Hence the Calvinist doctrine of pre-destination, for example, or, a thousand years before it, the words of the Holy Quran where we find in Sura 7, “The Wall Between Heaven and Hell,” Aya 178: He alone is guided whom God shows the way; and whom He leads astray is surely lost. (This is echoed later, in Aya 186, “Whosoever God allows to go astray has none to show him the way, for He leaves them to wander perplexed in their wickedness.” and indeed repeated throughout the Quran.)

“Whom He leads astray….” How many can get to that and appreciate and worship a God who willfully leads some astray? Of course, Islam aside, how else are we to understand the monotheism espoused my Judaism or Christianity (or Zoroastrianism, if you want to get technical)?

And have many considered that, when we look out over the vast sweep of history, broadly speaking, or burrow into the unique experiences of every individual who has ever lived, we would not be able, following the model of monotheism offered in the verses cited above, to distinguish a reality created by God from a reality which has unfolded in His absence?

In other words, truly consistent monotheism and atheism, from the standpoint of observable reality, are indistinguishable.

Which brings us to the preeminent secular commandment: “Be Yourself” – a notion emanating from Emerson and Nietzsche, sacralized in the Sixties (not to mention countless movies, sitcoms, and television dramas), and now central to the concept of authenticity that the social media gurus of today wield like an iron hammer.

You are as God wills you to be. Thus, when you are “yourself,” you are submitting to the will of God, as is proper. However, when you are not yourself, then you are also obeying the will of God, since you could only not be yourself if He willed it to be so.

We can no more escape ourselves than we can act against the will of God. You are always already yourself, even when you are not. If God wills you to not be yourself, than “not being yourself” is how you are.

And therefore, I believe, the insistence on “being yourself” is really driven by the frustration and disappointment associated with the fact that this is, in fact, impossible.

Image source: mrmystery.

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Taylor Swift and Jacques Lacan

taylor-swift-new-york-times-photos“Can’t you see that I’m the one who understands you?”

When my oldest son was 3 or maybe 4, he picked up a copy of Jacques Lacan’s Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis, opened it and, looking intently at the pages (he could not read at the time), started shouting, “I knew it! I knew it!” This perfectly illustrates my own relationship to the work of this seductively abstruse thinker.

One thesis of the aforementioned well-worn paperback is that the gaze is an object of desire. We want to be seen. This yearning is rooted in us at an existential level and finds expression throughout our culture. Why else, I ask you, would  spiritual union, intimacy, and intense personal commitment be expressed simply as, “I see you,” in the film Avatar?

Of course, the idea that people seek out “the gaze of the other” doesn’t really sound that profound considering that everywhere we look advertisements abound promising methods to improve our appearance in order to make ourselves more attractive. For his part, Lacan makes his idea stranger than obvious by insisting that the gaze is an actual object (captured, for example, in Holbein’s anamorphotic skull), and not just the fact that someone casts a longing glance our way.

In her finely crafted hit, “You Belong With Me,” Taylor Swift emphasizes that the “gaze” as object of desire is actually a placeholder for something even more potent and abstract: knowledge. That is, rather than merely being seen, we want to be known. To put it another way, what we want the other to see in us is our understanding of them.

The protagonist of the song, well-aware of the visual allure of her high-heeled, short-skirted sexual rival, goes out of her way to convince the object of her desire (“you in your worn out jeans”) that what she has to offer is something to be more highly prized. Certainly, she says, the toned legs and prominent ass buttocks of a cheerleader are undeniably appealing, but what is more elusive and valuable, in fact, what you yourself lack, is the satisfaction that comes from clear-sighted self-knowledge, which I alone, as the one who gets your humor and knows your story, can provide.

The irony, and tragedy, I suppose, is that visual immediacy can so easily trump this intimate knowing, however desirable the latter may in the end be. I believe that this is amply illustrated by the video for “You Belong with Me.” The fact that Taylor Swift is herself physically attractive not only makes the narrative unbelievable, at least as told from her perspective, but also highlights the challenge of becoming an object of desire through primarily subjective (“I know you”) means.

At least that’s what I got out of it.

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