Thursday, January 19, 2006

A Guinea Pig is Not a Guinea Pig

Someone in Sound and Fury (a fascinating - albeit not terribly well-made movie - about the rift in the deaf community caused by cochlear implants) said, "a child is not a guinea pig!" And it occurred to me that a guinea pig is not a guinea pig. Know what I mean? The definition of this animal is to be experimented on. Ummm...need more be said?

Monday, January 16, 2006

Short term Immediate Relief (purgatory) vs. Long term Structural Change (Academia)

I've thought about the relative benefits of being part of projects that provide immediate relief and benefits to people (volunteering in soup kitchens, teaching, direct action) vs. working toward long term structural change (working in academia, politics, administration positions, etc). Despite regarding various activists as heroes (Malcolm X, Emma Goldman, Weather Underground, etc), I've always been drawn to long term projects. These long term projects almost invariably remove one from the community of people that you want to support. They are also comfortable and deceiving and often turn a radical activist into an armchair radical. And yet, a life of the short term is somewhat purgatorial. This is the connection I've just made today.
You can run the most amazing soup kitchen in the world and you will help many people and that is above reproach in every way. But for me, I just see the endless number of people that will need to be fed because of the structural elements that cause hunger. I think that people who do what I'm calling "short term" work (and I understand that working in a soup kitchen, for instance, is not necessarily accurately called "short term" - but feeding people is a shorter term goal than ending the causes of hunger) believe that it will be someone else's work to develop structural solutions to the problems that they are addressing in an immediate way. That is right. But I find this personally frustrating. I could teach for the next 25 years (and I might) but that probably won't cause an end to a racist, ableist, classist educational system that supports a social system I think should be dismantled.

I want to be clear in my unequivocal support for teachers, soup kitchens and the like and my unequivocal skepticism of politicians, academics, administrators, etc. However, I think sometimes that I want to attempt to change things so there will be no need for soup kitchens rather than spend a life spooning out food.

I think sometimes that I just want this in order to have an easier job - but I think the "easier" part of it is the possibility that things might change in part because of my work. As a teacher I believe that I contribute to change but I also know that the form of change I'm involved in is the 100 year kind in which I'll never see it myself (except in individual students - perhaps that should be enough).

So far I've taken the balanced road. Teaching is not terribly immediate and it is somewhat comfortable. I do some more immediate activities and I'm also more involved in academia. But this balance leaves less time for the rest of my life. Unless this is the rest of my life. And that's no so bad.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

By Any Means

By Any Means- 1/8/06

While I imagine many people went to this show to hear either Rashied Ali (last drummer for John Coltrane) or Wiliam Parker (the IT bassist in the NYC downtown music scene - and for good reason), I went to see Charles Gayle, a saxophonist who has been around since the inception of free jazz but spent most of his career in complete obscurity, including many years without a home. What I find intriguing about Gayle is that he has historically been a big talker on stage. He was reviled for conservative views on abortion and talking about Christ on stage though he spent quite a bit of time also talking about inequality, homelessness and poverty - or so I've read. This led to his exclusion from the music scene to a large degree and only recently has he started to come back onto the radar.

Gayle is a monster player, part John Coltrane, part Albert Ayler mixed with bop technique, Gayle's music makes for great listening. Live he creates intricate and beautiful lines as well as screaming noises. What's also interesting about him is that he has abandoned free jazz at times in order to play gospel music - something he felt was more appropriate in order to revere God. Thankfully for us he seems to have decided that free jazz is worthy of God. There's much reading to do about Charles Gayle if you Google his name. You can also check him out in a great free jazz documentary called Rising Tones Cross. It was somewhat dissapointing that he said nothing at the show and the group was a little tentative at times. However, when they got going they made quite a beautiful ruckus. And they have a great name.