Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Graham Parkes as Social Philosopher (Working Paper)

This paper was presented during the Comparative Continental Philosophy Circle at the University of Hawai'i on April 12, 2008.

“What, if anything does Graham Parkes have to say about sociality?”

An immediate answer comes in understanding the word itself: according to OED, sociality first entered the English language in 1649, “Socialitie becometh the person of the gravest man, soe as he neglect not the due consideration of time, place, and persons.” We certainly see this to be the case with Parkes as he may be best known for his eloquent (maybe even intimidating) explications of the works of Nietzsche. Or perhaps his ground-breaking work in introducing what the East has been (and could be) saying about the West by discussing at length the Kyoto School, also the harmonies between Classical Chinese philosophies and Heidegger or Nietzsche. His most recent works have held at its heart the implications of place, with his discussions of rocks and crumbling nineteenth century Parisian arcades. To understand Parkes’ oeuvre, then, is to understand a hyperbolic sociality, freed from anthropocentric primacy. So we can see this movement: from specifically one person, Nietzsche, wherein Parkes’ grasp of the power of language (it’s proximity) leaves the reader believing that Nietzsche himself has just sung; to then comparisons between one person and an entire philosophical history (as in his works Nietzsche and Asian Thought and Heidegger and Asian Thought); and then his films recreating wandering Benjamin’s arcades, or conveying the health benefits of living with rocks. In order to address this I would like to do something interesting, to borrow a key concept in Parkes’ work – I’d like to talk about music. I’d like ask if the album Night Ripper by the musician Greg Gillis, better known as Girl Talk, can in any way help us understand better some arguments presented to Parkes by Stella Sandford and Robert Morrison. This discussion seeks to share in the spirit of Parkes’ statement that, “comparative philosophy [is] generally more enlightening between unconnected philosophies.”[1]

It’s difficult to understand how important Night Ripper may be until reading the minutes from the Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet. Representative Doyle of Pennsylvania provides a succinct introduction to Girl Talk:

Mr. Chairman, I want to tell you a story of a local guy done good. His

name is Greg Gillis and by day he is a biomedical engineer in Pittsburgh.

At night, he DJs under the name Girl Talk. His latest mash-up record

made the top 2006 albums list from Rolling Stone, Pitchfork and Spin

Magazine amongst others. His shtick as the Chicago Tribune wrote about

him is "based on the notion that some sampling of copyrighted material, especially when manipulated and recontextualized into a new art form is

legit and deserves to be heard." In one example, Mr. Chairman, he blended

Elton John, Notorious B-I-G, and Destiny's Child all in the span of 30 seconds. And, while the legal indie-music download site eMusic.com took

his stuff down due to possible copyright violation, he's now flying all over

the world to open concerts and remix for artists like Beck.[2]

Please keep in mind that this album was released less than six months before Congress had to then discuss the implications of said album. In the ongoing war between the entertainment industry and their consumers, Girl Talk has become a cause celebre, leading Lawrence Lessig to announce, “Girl Talk is not a crime!” At the heart of these Congressional talks is a fascinating debate: what is the nature of culture, can it be controlled; if so, by whom? If ever there were a topic for so-called Comparative Philosophers, here it is. In order to better recognize the philosophies present in Girl Talk’s album some framing will need to occur, as intelligent as Greg Gillis (Mr. Girl Talk) may be, his interviews have yet to provide as coherent a grounding as his colleague, Paul D. Miller, more popularly known as DJ Spooky that Subliminal Kid, and occasional Baudrillard associate.

Paul Miller is a rare sort, trained in French Literature, he pursues a career as an avant-garde musician, when not teaching at the European Graduate School, he tours the United States, recently with a video remix of the epic racist film Birth of a Nation, of course titled Rebirth of a Nation.[3] In his book Rhythm Science, Miller provocatively absorbs much of the language of contemporary continental theory and applies it to hip hop, DJ culture, and coins the titular phrase stating, “Rhythm Science uses an endless recontextualizing as a core compositional strategy….”[4] In this absorbing and re-encoding of what is in the world we are presented with a sense of self very similar to that discussed by Parkes. One of the immediate points of contact in the comparison between Miller and Parkes is their willingness to explore new mediums for expressing their ideas. Both have been academics, musicians, and film makers and in so doing both have played the role, implicitly or explicitly, as critics, but their position as critics is also remarkably similar, “By DJing, making art, and writing simultaneously, I tried to bypass the notion of ‘critic’ as an ‘authority’ who controls narrative, and to create a new role that’s resonant….”[5] Miller here is making a fine distinction very much central to understanding Parkes’ work, between being an authority and being authoritative.

Miller’s is a call for a re-sounding (in the nautical sense, plumbing the depths) of the individual-as-performer, very much a Deleuzean rhizomatic self, where the constant unraveling of the layers of who we think we are reveals no core self, only a constellation of relations. If this attempt at bypassing control (or creation) of the narrative others experience is to work Miller’s rhythm science requires the understanding that, “Music like hip-hop and electronica is theatre – it’s about how people live the sounds they hear.”[6] The theatre in which people live these sounds is, of course, this world.

What does it mean to be a DJ, what does comparative philosophy have in common with DJ culture? Firstly, that comparative philosophy has this prefix, if closely scrutinized, is problematic; it invites a negative identification with the suffix. If it is philosophy, call it such. Otherwise the prefix provides just enough ground for, surely, such smart folks as Stella Sandford (of the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy and Middlesex University) to take unfortunate readings. But the same applies in the DJ world right now as Greg Gillis (Girl Talk) seeks to be understood not as simply someone who plays other people’s music (like at a prom, or on a Clear Channel radio station), but as someone creating music from an inheritance of music and as someone who is performing. Form matters, as Parkes has written, “in philosophy, the form of what is presented constitutes the content.”[7]

Is it naïve to discuss Nietzsche and hip hop culture?

What does it mean when Miller states, “Sampling, DJ culture, and the hip-hop zone are founded on ancestor worship, and the best rhythm scientists are constantly expanding the pantheon. The music itself is far more dynamic than many of the people who make it.” And then he has the temerity to go on with the following, “This statement is not contradictory: DJ-ing is writing, writing is DJ-ing. Writing is music, I cannot explain it any other way.”[8] Miller says this unself-consciously because it has been said before, by Nietzsche in his preface to The Birth of Tragedy, “This book should have sung.” But this is what a good DJ is about – reading the crowd for the right tune to play next, the right context in which to insert another influence, and this is what a good philosopher does. And, of course, this kind of responsiveness is not possible without an extreme degree of consideration of who we are, fundamentally; quoting DJ Spooky, “By creating an analogical structure of sounds based on collage, with myself as the only common denominator, the sounds comes to represent me.” Without the help of Graham Parkes, this becomes irreconcilably opaque; fortunately, for this paper, we have the following from Parkes:

“When the lyrist says (or sings) ‘I,’ the word actually issues from a deeper source…” he says, quoting Nietzsche, ‘The I of the lyrist resounds out of the abyss of Being,’” and in a footnote stresses the transpersonal origin of this “I.” The self of the lyrist is then an artistic composition of images projected from a deeper self….[The] personal nature of the lyrist is, as it were, a mask of a deeper personality, something that both conceals and reveals the real ‘I’ behind or beneath it.”[9]

Is it not appropriate to think of the DJ, musician, whathaveyou, as this very same masked self? The entire thrust of Parkes’ ethics, be it for human beings, trees, or rocks, depends upon the affirmation of this hyperbolic sense of responsibility. Indeed, this affirmation will be held as sacred primarily as a recipe for overcoming nihilism; it’s remedy seen in the creative response – from Paul Miller, “Creativity rests, for the most part, in how you recontextualize the previous expression of others…” By extension this becomes the entire thrust of philosophy at large; it is the ultimate response to nihilism after the death of God.

The self-overcoming of nihilism may make the most sense in DJ culture, because a good DJ understands that playing the same track over (and over) or simply going through what has been deemed au courant and again is just as crushing to the party as Parkes has pointed out in Nishitani’s work:

It is because things do not pass, but rather persist or recur, that nihilism

was not merely a transient phase in the milieu of post-war Japan….one

comes to appreciate more and more the point of translating [Nishitani’s]

discourses on nihilism....[the] point is the same as the one to be made by

each individual self on its own – itself something attained only through

the persistent practice of letting nihilism overcome itself

To write about Parkes’ work necessarily entails having a significant amount of fear ribboned into each paragraph, not only because he is a consummate reader, but by extension he is a consummate wordsmith; so there is a great degree of trepidation, for fear of taking out of context and without due concern for the gestures of the original authors.

Where Girl Talk’s album is successful is in taking this lesson to heart, and running with it: thirty years of pop music is presented in less than an hour in a manner that can only be understood as delirious, but in a manner Parkes has addressed in his video, Flânerie.

Here is “discussed” the “colpartage phenomenon of space,” the fundamental experience of the flâneur. Parkes uses Baudelaire to describe the perfect flâneur, “[who] is like a mirror as vast as the crowd itself, or a kaleidoscope endowed with consciousness, which with each one of its movements represents the multiplicity of life and the dynamic grace of all life’s elements.”[10] As such, we experience through his film overlap and superimposition of all that has happened in this place, all at once. The effect is a delirium of being human as humanity. Flavoring Parkes exploration of the flâneur most certainly is a call-and-responce (to use a Jazz term) with Japanese Buddhist philosopher Kukai, particularly the latter’s understanding of Dainichi, the Cosmic Buddha:

Dainichi is, for Kukai, an “emanation throughout creation”; but his

non-identity with, or difference from, sentient beings would not

consist in his ‘remaining in himself.’ To the extent that he is the

dharmakaya, which is the ‘beginningless and endless,’ he would

transcend the totality of all things that are currently present – but he

would not transcend the totality of all things that have been, will be,

and could be. [11]

Benjamin’s arcades become sentient in Parkes’ film because he can understand how to listen to the stones and the iron used to build them. If the world is seen as a vast web of energies, as Classical Daoist thought has it, then the phenomena of the world can also be understood as lying on a spectrum of condensation: breath on one end and rocks as a much more condensed version of that same energy. In this phenomenology rocks, then, are simply slower unfoldings of time.[12] Throughout the works of Graham Parkes is the notion that all “things” bear witness to the passing of events, and all are willing to corroborate the story if only we would pay attention.[13]

Things seem to be getting out of control here; a quote collage (no matter how interesting it may seem to the author) is no substitute for good reading.

It is hoped that what is becoming clear here is an answer (though Parkes can defend himself more than adequately) to Robert C. Morrison’s response to Parkes’ review of his book.

As the great Muslim mystic, Rumi, once wrote, in a very Nietzschean manner, “We should be thankful for our harsh teachers,” and it is hoped that Morrison has heard this by now. Those of you not familiar, Graham Parkes wrote a, perhaps astringent, review of Robert C. Morrison’s Nietzsche and Buddhism; a review that began with discussing a book of the same title and citations written nearly twenty years earlier by a philosopher that died prematurely and who was barely mentioned in Morrison’s newer book of the same name. Parkes writes:

Surely, if someone has already done the research, presented the material,

and made the arguments, you say so in your dissertation – and then take

it from there and do something new, or different, with that material. Or,

if the earlier work is unsatisfactory, you say so and explain why. What

you don’t do is just say the same things over again in your own words,

as if they hadn’t already been said – even if then go on, as Morrison

does, to develop a few ideas of your own.[14]

The review does not get prettier as it proceeds, but a pivotal question for this essay is asked by Morrison (albeit implicitly). Parkes notes the first sentence of the book begins with an error going so far as to state that it becomes, “emblematic of the work as a whole.” Morrison considers this to be a, “very odd [and] biased logic.”[15] Of course it is not so biased nor odd: Graham Parkes employees a recursive logic and an exploration of the logic of this is a stimulating and affirming experience, granted not if this were the only exchange one had with him. He does go on to point out (as Rumi would) that to read carefully and fully someone’s work is anything but disdain. What Parkes is advocating is not simply that we all cite our sources, or be sure to use spell checks, but also that we recognize that publishing a book requires a large amount of energy on the part of not only the author. Indeed, follow this recursive patterning out and we see, just as the DJ, just as the flâneur, as Kukai, as Nietzsche, as rocks, who we are is forever in active participation with much more than just an essentialist notion of the individual. There is great responsibility in being a scholar and in engaging scholarly activities (if for no other reason than someone’s got to cut down those trees that are being used to promote dreck). This sensitivity to making sure that meaningful work is being published seems at the heart of Stella Sandford’s critiuq of the comparative project.

Plainly, Parkes can defend himself, but it is worth noting at this conference, that we must be ever vigilant and clear in our communication to the academy about the function and aims of the comparative project, lest we validate the following from Sandford,:

“…in failing to address the extent to which Heidegger locates the problem and the task of philosophy, and the form of existence adequate to it, in a radically reduced German nationalist idea of Europe, the comparative literature overlooks what is actually foundational to its own project: the construction of a history of Western philosophy in a determining opposition to the East….Despite the best intentions of the comparative literature on Heidegger, it cannot avoid a paradoxical collusion with this kind of history of Western philosophy, a history which has, indeed, been the condition of possibility for the field of East-West comparative philosophy…. This is a familiar tactic in many apologetic discussions of the racist or sexist or misogynist ‘opinions’ of various philosophers….”[16]

We certainly should be concerned to make sure that the above is burned brightly into the minds of all those that would dare to attempt the philosophical project as embodied in the works of Parkes. We would, of course be more worried, except that Parkes himself wrote an essay anticipating this very topic 6 years earlier :

“The neo-Marxist revisionism that has been sweeping (at least a corner of) the field of Japanology threatens to suppress open discussion of some important ideas – and thereby risks falling, with sad irony, into a ‘fascism of the left’.” (305)

“The point is not to condone Japanese aggression during the period in question, nor to absolve the Kyoto School philosophers who supported it, but rather to emphasize the complexity of the historical and political context and the qualified nature of the philosophers’ support of their government.” (309-10)[17]

It can be, is, and should be argued to all those of Sandford’s opinion that it is exactly the sensitivity to context of the originating text in the (not only comparative) project that is the simple basis of all academic work. Perhaps, if nowhere else in the academy, this is the place of the comparative project. But it is also the very point upon which Parkes, Girl Talk and DJ Spooky all agree in considering their projects.

To Graham and all of you of the Comparative Continental Circle (and by extension, all of you here at UH-M), thank you for all these good times.

References (incomplete)

Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet The Digital Future of the United States: Part Ii– the Future of Radio Wednesday, March 7, 2007 2007.

George, Edwin. "The Man Who Loves Rock--an Interview with Graham Parkes." Cultivating the Spirit: Ed's Gardens Page (2002), http://clcpages.clcillinois.edu/home/com417/Gardenspage.htm.

Miller, Paul D. Rhythm Science. Edited by Peter Lunenfeld, Media Works Pamphlets. Cambridge Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2004.

Morrison, Robert, and Graham Parkes. "Review of Nietzsche and Early Buddhism / Response to Graham Parkes’ Review / Reply to Robert Morrison." Philosophy East & West 50, no. 2 (2000): 254-67.

Parkes, Graham. "Flânerie." TRANSIT 2, no. 1 (2006).

———, ed. Heidegger and Asian Thought. Honolulu, Hawai'i: University of Hawai'i Press, 1987.

———. "Voices of Mountains, Trees, and Rivers: Kukai, Dogen, and a Deeper Ecology." In Buddhism and Ecology edited by Mary Evelyn Tucker and Duncan Williams. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997.

[1] Graham Parkes, ed., Heidegger and Asian Thought (Honolulu, Hawai'i: University of Hawai'i Press, 1987). 1. It is hoped that this paper also follows Parkes further mandate when engaging in these comparisons that they be done, “in a historically responsible way – in which we try to understand the nature of the problems a thinker takes over from the tradition, what he retains from the answers of his predecessors, and in what ways his responses differ from theirs.” Ibid. 2.

[2] Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet The Digital Future of the United States: Part Ii– the Future of Radio Wednesday, March 7, 2007 2007.

[3] An essay from Miller is available on his site: http://www.djspooky.com/articles/rebirth.html

[4] Paul D. Miller, Rhythm Science, ed. Peter Lunenfeld, Media Works Pamphlets (Cambridge Massachusetts: The MIT Press, 2004). Lunenfeld’s Hypnotext is employed in this essay, available here: http://mitpress.mit.edu/e-books/mediawork/titles/rhythm/rhythm_webtake.html#

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Parkes, ed., Heidegger and Asian Thought. 107.

[8] Miller, Rhythm Science.

[9] Graham Parkes. “Facing the Self with Masks: Perspectives on the Personal from Nietzsche and the Japanese.” in Self and Deception, a Cross-Cultural Philosophical Enquiry. Roger T. Ames and Wimal Dissanayake, eds. Albany, NY: SUNY Press. 1996. Page 291

[10] Graham Parkes, "Flânerie," TRANSIT 2, no. 1 (2006).

[11] ———, "Voices of Mountains, Trees, and Rivers: Kukai, Dogen, and a Deeper Ecology," in Buddhism and Ecology ed. Mary Evelyn Tucker and Duncan Williams (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1997). 115. Even more to the point, Parkes states, “If we devote our full attention to them, streams and mountains can, simply by being themselves, teach us about the nature of existence in general.”

[12] Edwin George, "The Man Who Loves Rock--an Interview with Graham Parkes," Cultivating the Spirit: Ed's Gardens Page 2002 (2002), http://clcpages.clcillinois.edu/home/com417/Gardenspage.htm.

[13] Parkes, "Voices of Mountains, Trees, and Rivers: Kukai, Dogen, and a Deeper Ecology." Gives us the following, “If we devote our full attention to them, streams and mountains can, simply by being themselves, teach us about the nature of existence in general.”

[14] Robert Morrison and Graham Parkes, "Review of Nietzsche and Early Buddhism / Response to Graham Parkes’ Review / Reply to Robert Morrison," Philosophy East & West 50, no. 2 (2000). 258

[15] Ibid. 273. Although to be fair, Parkes also did go on to say that publishing Morrison’s book as it was could also be seen as, “a disservice to the field of comparative philosophy,” and so Morrison’s ego may have not quite recovered from such a thumping.

[16] Stella Sandford. “Going Back, Heidegger, East Asia and ‘the West.’” Radical Philosophy 120. July/August 2003.11-22.

[17] Graham Parkes. “The Putative Fascism of the Kyoto School and the Political Correctness of the Modern Academy.” Philosophy East and West. Volume 47. Number 3. July, 1997. 305

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