Shubin, Your Inner Fish

A few things are particularly striking to me about Shubin’s Your Inner Fish (besides the pleasant, attractive way the book is written!):

There are actually theological implications to what Shubin is saying, I think. The human being is a remarkable and fascinating creation (to use the word in a winking way), but there’s also a lot about the evolution of the human body that is contingent, ad hoc, maybe even gerry-rigged. It’s double sided. If one wished to hypostatize nature out of Shubin’s analysis (and let’s! at least for the sake of argument), Nature is remarkably parsimonious in creating a wide variety of creatures of complex, fascinating shapes out of some very old (not to say basic) building blocks. There is a definite elegance there, but it is not a picture that tends to build up a belief in human beings as possessing a unique dignity in the natural order, I don’t think.

I like the degree to which Shubin reflects upon the question of the providential arrangement of the human body, the way in which, in a very modest way, he’s in dialogue with the natural theologians of the nineteenth century in particular. (If not more recent thinkers in this vein such as Simon Conway-Morris.)

Even still, I like that there’s a very humane side to the book, that there’s a deep sense of wonder and openness there.

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The Knife, Shaking the Habitual

It’s interesting to hear the Knife experiment a bit more with political criticism in their new album. Musically, the new album is really strong; but politically, it seems… jejune? Banal criticisms of consumerism, a sort of generic European call for collectivism (in A Tooth For An Eye, e.g.), a song about fracking, criticism of Monsanto (in the accompanying manifesto), etc.

This isn’t to say that I’m unsympathetic– I can work with it, let’s say– but neither is it a particularly sophisticated critique. Maybe there’s more there that I’m not seeing, but compared to the queer radicalism of Coil or the intensity of Laibach or even KMFDM, there’s something kind of… warmed-0ver? about the Knife’s new album.

I fall ever more in love with Grimes, and I think Grimes is doing such interesting things in pushing against musical expectations and playing around with representations of gender, and even using her tumblr account to connect at a fairly personal level with her fans; by contrast, the Knife seems sort of vieux jeu– high concept/sophisticated European music that critically bzw. obliquely engages with contemporary politics. I worry at some level that this kind of music is only going to reach those people who are positively disposed towards it.

I don’t know what the appropriate way to create politicized art is, to be honest, or the best way to come at political problems in my own life. But still.

Katy Perry, E.T.

I heard KP’s ET on the radio yesterday. I’m not trying to put forward the idea that KP can stand in for Donna Haraway, but ET is a more interesting, possibly more subversive song than I had originally thought. It’s transparently metaphorical and gendered, but the terms it uses for this gendered relationship are surprisingly negative and ambivalent: poison and sickness are age-old metaphors for love, of course, but the dark musical tone of the song gives these metaphors an edge. More than this, though, I think that the song remains at the metaphorical level, with few concessions to the literal subtext, and is thus a kind of exploration of the metaphorical world of the song. It reminds me to some extent of Marilyn Manson’s Mechanical Animals phase, though probably more interesting and sophisticated than MM.

Characterization in Lost

One thing that’s actually pretty great about Lost is that they are constantly playing around with the characterization of the main characters. In the first season, they lead you to have particular first impressions, then they nuance or contradict these first impressions by giving narratives from a different angle. And when they have these revisionary narratives established, they go back and start messing around with the revised narratives, to sort of bring them in line with the first impressions. (I’m thinking of the way Jin goes from highly unsympathetic, to a stalwart good guy, to a bit of a dick again, without it feeling particularly rushed…) Lost has a lot of problems as a series, but the characterization on the show (especially in the first season or two) is very artfully done.