Samuel Beckett – Watt

Watt

Samuel BeckettWatt (Olympia Press 1953)


Good Beckett, though I view this as sort of a warm-up for his classics Malloy, Malone Dies and The Unnamable. I say that because substantively this is a little less dense that those later works, but, in form, this is a breakthrough. All the unmistakable traits of Beckett’s writing are firmly in place here. He writes of the human condition in terms of distance, using declarative sentences repeated through every possible permutation in order to emphasize a total lack of common ground or common assumptions. But then, this is Beckett, so he makes all that seem quite absurd. This book would be horrifying if it wasn’t so damn funny.

Tyler Cowen – The Great Stagnation

The Great Stagnation

Tyler CowenThe Great Stagnation: How America Ate All the Low-Hanging Fruit of Modern History, Got Sick, and Will (Eventually) Feel Better (Dutton Adult 2011)


Terrible. That’s about all I can say. Cowen is often described as “apolitical” because he doesn’t explicitly endorses Republican or Democratic policies, but that misses the point entirely. His view — more or less shared by all Republicans and Democrats — is that neoliberal growth-focus is basically “correct” but he breaks bipartisan rank to say that proponents of neoliberalism have made some tactical errors. Anyway, this slim volume is plagued by shoddy research and continual logical flaws. I came to this initially because Cowen discusses patent activity being greatest in the early 20th Century, and I wanted to investigate his research. It would be overly generous to credit Cowen with any “research” in this area, however. He essentially did none. His support was a single (!) article by a person seemingly unfamiliar with patents, who did a cursory electronic search of patent office records that would have taken no more than a few minutes and drew wildly unsupported conclusions (the basic premise of the cited article has been refuted by Robert Post’s “‘Liberalizers’ vs. ‘Scientific Men'” article, among others). And the rest of this book proceeds in a similar fashion. Much like Morris Berman‘s books, he’s clearly backfilling flimsy citations for ideas he’s already formulated and has no intention of rigorously testing — like pawning off the research to an assistant who doesn’t understand the arguments and whose research is correspondingly poor. As to the logical flaws, Cowen’s main thesis seems to be Marx‘s idea that profits tend to decline over time, but Cowen resists that theory…for indiscernible reasons — it isn’t even brought up explicitly. So, we’re back to him being a neoliberal apologist with no interesting arguments whatsoever to counter alternative theories. A great big “pass” on this book.

Jim O’Rourke – Insignificance

Insignificance

Jim O’RourkeInsignificance Drag City dc202cd (2001)


I’m not entirely sure why, but somehow Insignificance seems to be one of the great albums of its age.  As a lyricist O’Rourke may not be Bob Dylan, even if most of the time he’s channeling the same mean spirit that populates “Positively Fourth Street” or Blood on the Tracks.  He’s also probably not anyone’s idea of a charismatic singer.  But pairing the underachieving, utter non-event of the words and vocals with the the nuanced, finely orchestrated — yet still hard driving — instrumentals and arrangements is a masterstroke of genius.  Dylan carried the soul of the Beat generation to someplace new.  O’Rourke carried the angst of alternative and indie rock to its pointedly ironic pinnacle.  This music has an empty sophistication and sense of aimlessness that mark it as something totally representative of its time.  I find the fact that it’s somewhat unnoticed to be all the more a hallmark of the diffuseness of everything it stands for.

Cecil Taylor – The Willisau Concert

The Willisau Concert

Cecil TaylorThe Willisau Concert Intakt Records CD 072 (2002)


Quite possibly the most high-fidelity Cecil Taylor solo piano recording in existence.  It would be hard to find another artist as deserving of such attention to detail.  The performance is quite excellent too.  The speed, percussive force, and density of the music provide an intensity that is very nearly that of Taylor’s monumental 1970s recordings Silent Tongues and Indent, despite his advancing years.  It’s so great to see someone as boldly daring and iconoclastic as Taylor still able to keep making music like this, and for music that has changed so little over the years to still sound so fresh.  It goes to show that with enough conviction the power of statements like this almost never fades.

Cecil Taylor – Cecil Taylor All Stars Featuring Buell Niedlinger

Cecil Taylor All Stars Featuring Buell Neidlinger

Cecil TaylorCecil Taylor All Stars Featuring Buell Niedlinger CBS/Sony SONF01107 (1974)


A grab bag of stuff that doesn’t seem to belong together on one album.  But it’s interesting nonetheless.  “Jumpin’ Punkins” is the most intriguing because it’s a full-on Ellingtonian piece, and Taylor plays strange yet oddly fitting comping.