Saturday, August 14, 2021

Learning How to Work GSP’s Design-Your-Own Internship by Chelsea DeBarros

 



My first day of Composition class as a college freshman was unforgettable. I walked into the classroom, saw the desks arranged in a circle, sat down, and realized I could see everyone and everyone could see me. My preference for sitting behind another person and remaining invisible was challenged. "This class is not for the weak or the half-steppers! You must develop people skills, learn to participate, share your thoughts, edit each other's work and take charge of our discussions. If it's not for you, drop this class and add a different section. That way, you won't hold up the rest of us," Kirpal Gordon said. I was so taken aback that I questioned if college was for me.
 
After deciding to not let fear choose my destiny, I stayed in the class. However, I wondered if I had made the right decision after receiving the grade for my first essay. The assignment was to interview my designated partner and write about their value to our class. It seemed self-explanatory and not too demanding. I interviewed my partner outside of class, got all of the intricate details on their life, and wrote what I thought was an A-worthy paper. I got back a C. How could I do this badly? What did I do wrong? Why didn't I bolt out the door like some of the others? The grade drove me mad, and I had to address KP.


I made an appointment to meet with him to review my paper. I was nervous but stood my ground that my paper deserved a better grade. I read it aloud, and we discussed my content and strategy. I started to see his perspective and what my writing lacked. Instead of reciting facts about my classmate, I should have recorded what made them unique and an asset to me. I had not included my own experience of my interviewee, which was a missed opportunity. I needed to break free from my high-school way of writing as reportage and get in tune with writing as a persuasive discourse. Per KP's suggestion, I decided to utilize the writing center.


I worked with tutors for other essays and walked away with something new from each session. By the end of the semester, I had gained in-depth skills in outlining and drafting, editing, formulating thoughts and ideas, and using proper grammar and punctuation. In addition, the multiple revisions of my work that I brought to the writing center started paying off. In all of my classes, my essay grades improved, and to this day, I have not received a C back in any of my college papers.


KP noticed an improvement in my writing. When the semester ended, he invited me to bring my essay, "Equal Opportunity: This Campus Was Made for You and Me," to the writing center. After many discussions and iterations of the work, I was finally happy with it. Once it was published at the Taking Giant Steps Press blog, the essay opened numerous doors for me. I became a proud member of the Commuter Student Association and have continued to be a commuter peer mentor for the last two years. Moreover, I had found my writing voice.

source: https://www.britannica.com/place/Guyana


In my sophomore year, I interviewed a Guyanese family in my community for my research project in Anthropology class. After leaving Guyana for different reasons, the family has been living with undocumented status in the United States for over 15 years. As I spoke with them, I was amazed at how much the stories they were telling me were similar to the lessons I learned in the American history books like self-reliance, independence, ingenuity, and fortitude. To make matters more interesting, one of the couples had an American-born child. We discussed the identity struggles that she battles with, being the family member furthest from her ancestors in India and Africa and her parent's homeland of Guyana. I was so heavily impacted by this family that I asked to share their story. With their permission to write a book on their experiences, I met with KP in the hallway of the writing center and gave him a quick rundown of what occurred with this family. Then, I asked him if he thought I could use my research to develop a non-fiction book. Without hesitation, KP suggested Giant Steps Press and offered to assist me in writing the book.


 
I was nervous and second-guessed myself. However, my doubts subsided after KP slowly introduced me to the world of book writing. First, he showed me how to shape a rough outline into a three-act narrative. Then he shared with me how writers pitch their projects in a one-sentence summary, one-paragraph summary, and one-page summary. Like with my essays in the writing center, KP and I discussed my pitches until I was satisfied. Then we moved on to filling in the outline, creating character profiles, and fine-tuning the plot. Meanwhile, I read manuscripts that were in development at Giant Steps Press. I saw how they improved from one version to another.


KP invited me to extend my research and to contact scholars whose work could help inform my story. My confidence grew. Our conversations now included post-colonialism in the Caribbean, the works of V.S. Naipaul, the emergence of Little Guyana in South Queens, and the challenges my generation faced with dual identities. I began to see my book project as a way to build community and my future career. He mentioned the value of incorporating social media and introduced me to Emily Rivera, a Hofstra graduate building her career through her internship with GSP. She is currently the public relations consultant to the press and helped me create and curate Backtrack Journeys, my blog that celebrates my writing adventure on the undocumented Guyanese in Little Guyana. A skilled photographer and copywriter, Emily showed me how to use text and images to create a post that intrigues and informs. She had also been apprenticing with Steve Hirsch, a technical wizard at GSP, and had just learned how to format an index and an appendix. I will need to use these two elements in my book, and Emily offered to train me in these skills.

Kaieteur-Falls-Guyana
source: https://www.britannica.com/place/Guyana


Since my internship is something that I am creating, I choose the things that I want to do. This freedom has allowed me to continue thriving in other parts of my life. As a full-time student at Hofstra University majoring in Criminology and Sociology with an Anthropology minor, I get to adjust the workload based on my schedule. I am grateful for this because I don't have to make sacrifices to my work that will impact my education.


Looking back on the day I met KP, I am glad to not have left his class in favor of an "easy-A" class because I experienced the benefits of persistence and hard work, which led me to develop my writing voice. And once I used my writing voice to publish my first essay, opportunities welcomed me. All those moments led up to today, where I find myself as a senior in a spot I didn't know was possible. I am authoring a book that celebrates my own heritage. 

 


Sunday, August 1, 2021

Viewing Russia and Turkey through the Lens of Post-Imperial Trauma by Helen Izbor

photo by Helen Izbor


            Two centuries ago, no more than a dozen of European governments practically owned the entire globe. In 1648, the Thirty Years' War ended with the Peace of Westphalia, a benchmark juncture that heralded the genesis of a state-centric international system. The imperialist rule that continued to dictate the global political configuration throughout the second millennium started to fade away in the face of national sovereignty. Eventually, a metamorphosis from the archaic feudal attributes of imperialism was construed as a normative conversion under conditions of progressive historical development. Nation-states and empires came to be seen as polarities of political regimes, with one of them inherently doomed to come off stage.

             Nonetheless, when the sun finally set on the last empire with a collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, an insinuation of a post-imperial syndrome, or trauma, was triggered. The phenomenon of such phantom pains was experienced by most absolutist hegemonies, including the UK and France, but their adjustment to a new position in the world order was delicate and subtle. Nonetheless, some countries never bounced back from an attack on their imperial mentality, cultivating a philosophy of ressentiment and nostalgia over a vanished regal magnificence. In this analysis, I will address Russia and Turkey as primary contemporary examples of an unsettled inferiority complex that stems from a former status as metropoles, followed by an unwillingness to forsake this role. For these societies, an inability to restore the erstwhile might is misconstrued as a national tragedy, which serves as a useful populist tool for political actors in achieving their objectives.

            In his postulate On the Genealogy of Morality, Friedrich Nietzsche describes how master morality is turned upside down by an uprising of the suppressed. Replacing strong and authoritative with abused and helpless in the system of coordinates, slave morality is aimed at the denigration of the oppressors. Philosophy of the weak is ingrained in the notion of ressentiment: a sublimation in an attempt to escape vengeful feelings of feebleness and frustration. However, for such persons who are incapable of actual responsive action, they reward themselves with a fantasy of revenge. Construction of an enemy image, whom a subject considers being the cause of his failures and thus feels hostile to, is a key factor: “the 'foul fiend, ‘the Evil one,’ as his fundamental concept, proceeding from which he now conceives also a complementary image and counterpart, a ‘Good one’ himself!” (Nietzsche, 1987, 39)

Over time, ressentiment derives a political connotation in the light of unprecedented violence in the conflicts of the twentieth century, with its most extreme example — the Weimar Republic at the end of WWI. The former empire never accepted neither its defeat nor its justification and historical inevitability, accumulating to massive revanchist demand and the rise of Hitler (Miller, 1997, 355).

            Since the 1990s, a diagnosis of the “Weimar Syndrome” is almost invariably given only to Russian Federation. In the twentieth century, a bygone hegemon lost its empire twice: in 1917 and in 1991. The country’s suffering from a setback in the Cold War, followed by an inflicted influence of the West in the form of G-8, is compared to a “softer version of the Treaty of Versailles” that was forced on defeated Germany (Cohen, 2014). The stain of resemblance with a Nazi regime stems from the exhibition of ressentiment in both of these cases. To substantiate this claim, let us recall the words of George Kennan, the author of the containment doctrine. In his Long Telegram, he contended that Soviet aggressiveness was induced by powerless envy producing paralytic rancor:

“At the bottom of Kremlin's neurotic view of world affairs is traditional and instinctive Russian sense of insecurity… as Russia came into contact with economically advanced West, fear of more competent, more powerful, more highly organized societies.” (Kennan, 1946)       

 

photo of Lenin's statue by Helen Izbor

            Here, it is important to take a moment to reiterate the role that emotions play in the formation and maintenance of national identities. Rooted in the sense of a shared collective, national identity is the product of imagination that exists in people’s hearts and minds. To illustrate, Anderson regards nations as imagined communities, socially constructed bodies, members of which retain a mental image of their communion without direct contact or even knowledge of each others existence (Anderson, 1983, 22). Given the weight of affections in a national identity construct, exploitation of a post-imperial syndrome is an effective means of gaining political support. Vehemently articulating victimhood and humiliation claims, populist politicians engraft otherwise abstract notions of enmity into a stylized narrative, with an acute emphasis on past national excellence (Homolar and Löfflman, 2021, 1-8). Consequently, the blame for loss of mythologized greatness is projected onto the other,” which coincides with assumptions of ressentiment. Needless to say, taken together, passionate, emotional appeals of such kind perform as excellent agitation tools.

            Without a doubt, Vladimir Putin’s political machine excels in the appropriation of these strategies as means of manipulating the masses. The accession of the ex-KGB agent to power marked catalysis in the usage of post-imperial rhetoric. The Kremlin leader is tenacious in his quotations of Russia’s glorious past — legacy dating back to the Czarist Empire and into the period of Soviet rule. For example, in his 2005 address to the Federal Assembly—the state’s legislative body—the president referred to the dissolution of the USSR as “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century” (Sinyakov, 2005). The demise of the Soviet gory regime is portrayed as a great tragedy when Russia was "forced to its knees.” On top of that, a short period of relative freedom and fragile democratization in 1991-1999 under the presidency of Boris Yeltsin also represents a time of profound humiliation for Mr. Putin, especially Yeltsins attempts to forge Russian-American prolonged adversarial relationship and build an alliance with Bill Clintons administration under a shared goal of preventing revanche in Moscows security state. Vladimir Putins vision of this flourishing partnership was highly negative, with a perception that the former superpower had now become a client state to Western subjection (Crowley, 2016).

            To understand what Putin means, it is imperative to revise the Western account of Soviet heritage as an evil empire” (Ronald Reagans branding). This perspective is radically different from the one appropriated domestically. The Bolsheviks who seized power in 1917 devised a monstrous and cynical experiment, intending to extend their delusional ideas to the whole world. Flooding the country with blood, they managed to turn the majority of the population into slaves, dexterously manipulating idiosyncratic national features, mainly aversion to individualism. Under the humanist ideological wrapping of a struggle for freedom of the oppressed, red communist tumors crawled across borders. Absorbing other states but kept reserved, communism was doomed to perish at a deadlock of capitalist alternative.

            Subsequently, Russia’s downfall from the leading status internationally is painted as a persecutory event that brought humiliation on the nation. This chosen trauma incites fictions of external oppression and injustice, allowing for victimization rhetoric to emerge on the part of the establishment. Invocation of chosen traumas is a potent populist apparatus: “It sparks entitlement ideologies of restoration and revenge, weaponizes the emotion of nostalgia, and aggravates postcolonial melancholia” (Homolar and Löfflman, 2021, 5). With implantation of such dogma in the national identity construct, the mere apperception of an empire as an undemocratic but omnipotent government that dominates over other peoples is a product that is easy to sell. And what is a primary ambition of any empire if not the acquisition of territory and influence? Illuminating the postcolonial energy, the premise of Russian foreign policy in the twenty-first century is an expansion of external domination, camouflaged under the banner of pacifism. The authorities have nothing to offer the population, except for involvement in the myth of greatness, testing it on the bridgeheads of Syria, Georgia, Chechnya.

            Finally, Russia’s unclosed imperial gestalt exploded with the invasion of Ukraine in 2014, the independence of which was perceived as a misunderstanding for all of its 23-year-old history. Kyiv dared to disobey its older brother in the 2004 Orange Revolution: it tried to get out of the paternalistic paradigm and set on the path of the bourgeois-democratic revolution and European development. For Putin, Ukrainian aspirations to break free were threats to both his authority and perseverance of his pet project, the Russian World: “Moscow viewed Ukraine not only as a key element of its former empire but also as the historical and ethnic heart of modern Russia, inseparable from the body of the country as a whole” (Plokhy and Sarotte, 2020). The return to armed historical revisionism demonstrated during the annexation of Crimea is an expression of ressentiment in its purest form. First, the authorities cannot change Russia’s role in the international arena with the help of soft power. Next, the overwhelming majority of the population remains locked up within the class system restored by Putin, unable to go beyond the boundaries of state paternalism and social parasitism, the syndrome of learned helplessness. Symbolic compensation was the creation of a fictitious enemy in the face of Ukraine and fictitious victories — annexation of Crimea and creation of pirate republics in Donetsk and Lugansk.

photo of Turkey's coast by Svetlana Kurekhina


            When formulated as a political doctrine and capturing the masses, ressentiment constitutes a threat to free societies simply because freedom implies taking responsibility for oneself and does not allow for reversal of guilt for own failures onto an imaginary enemy. Clearly, a post-imperial resentment is not only a Russian problem. Many European countries have gone through it, building a nation-state. And this is also true of Turkey, whose president rejects a century-long history of building a secular republic and is trying to restore a semblance of the Ottoman Empire. Critics of Recep Tayyip Erdoğans political career accuse him of adopting populist victimhood-centric rhetoric and aspirations to create a hybrid of the Ottoman Empire and the Great Turan. Even so, the ideological apparatus employed by the Turkish leader resembles sentiments of his voter constituency, paving a route to political success (Tokdogan, 2020, 393). Obtainment of the emotional attachment of the populace is a compounding ingredient in triumphs of populist narratives founded on national trauma claims. Despite the political entrepreneurs’ ability to twist underlying collective experiences as they please, evoking palettes of communal affections that translate into voter support, “their mass appeal in the long term depends on their resonance with individuals” (Lerner, 2020, 69). In a Turkish scenario, victimhood discourse assigns blame to Western influence and imposed modernization, which the conservative state never truly wished for. There is the bureaucratic center and the Islamist periphery at the center of confrontation, emanating as "the struggle between Kemalist power and Islamist opposition" (Yilmas, 2017, 488).

             The people of Turkey owe the fact that the country followed the European path of development and did not remain a medieval sultan to Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. The revolutionist steered the Turkish Nationalist Movement in the wake of WWI and the annihilation of the Ottoman Empire. As the founder and first president of the Turkish Republic of 1923, Atatürk embarked the state on a series of modernizing reforms. Known as Kemalism, his doctrine became the official ideology of the state, incorporated in the 1937 Constitution by the Republican Peoples Party, or CHP. Its cornerstones—enumerated as Six Arrows—represented the republics break from the imperial shadow. With the abolition of religious laws of sultanate and caliphate, Turkey was set for a radical transition towards an all-encompassing Westernization. Kemalism persisted as the principal trajectory of Turkish development at least until the AKP consolidated its power substantially under Erdogan.

            Within a contemporary populist dialogue, political actors make a solid distinction between “us” vs. “them.” Thus, a highly romanticized group of “true people” is antagonized with “corrupt elites” who prioritize outside interests and betray their fellow citizens (Homolar and Löfflman, 2021, 3). Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has a tendency to invoke the idea of the millet — the authentic Turkish people who built the country in the first place (Koru, 2018). The idealization of the voter population serves a more significant pursuit than simply exceeding a threshold value or gaining a majority. It fosters a national identity image by introducing a vision of an outside enemy through appeals to the “other.” The West, correspondingly, is contagious and dangerous: “It may contaminate the naive and pure essence of the nation, or has already done so (Tokdogan, 2020, 397). Moreover, Erdogan’s rhetoric illustrates Westernization as “symbolic castration” in the minds of those who opposed it (Tokdogan, 2020, 395). Blame attribution claims are assigned to the Western world starting with the initiation of Turkish modernization in the Tanzimat era that attacked Muslim minorities and ultimately caused a loss of imperial status. Perhaps one of the reasons of cultivated victimhood rhetoric in regards to this period could be explained by Necip Fazıl Kısakürek’s—whom Erdogan appraises—books that are centered around the topic of Muslim marginalization: “He reversed the official ideology and transformed the republican struggle for progress in the face of religious reaction into a righteous struggle against secular authoritarianism” (Yilmaz, 2017, 487). Resultantly, it is possible to draw a conclusion that Turkish ressentiment is vented in subjects related to Westernization and modernization, during which the state lost its imperial splendor and endured suppression of its Muslim population.

photo of Turkey's countryside by Elizaveta Sazonova


            If the Turkish state considers the aforementioned factors as the main roots of its decline in power and public humiliation, its modern political machinery is targeting the sources of its imperial traumas at full speed. The current geopolitical program of the country’s ruling party—the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, that came to power in 2002—is often referred to as Neo-Ottomanism. In aggregate, it is an unofficial foreign policy doctrine geared to expand the Turkish sphere of influence to adjacent territories through "soft power”: by means of economy, humanitarian influence, and supranational spirit (Rahimova, 2018, 15). The approach implies an extricable link between modern Turkey and the historical heritage of the Ottoman Empire. Furthermore, there is a growing discussion of its inclination toward the return of the Ottoman past. Neo-Ottomanism is targeted as an imperial mentality of the modern type promoting moderate Islam, Turkish Eurasianism, Pan-Turkism, and Pan-Islamism (Rahimova, 2018, 15). As the AKP secured its control of the government, it started rewriting legislature to suit own needs.

            A notion of civilization is at the core of the Justice and Development Partys ideology. In the first years after taking control of the government, the AKP pursued the democratization of Turkey through the process of obtaining a status of the EU membership, as well as advertised Western integration as an alliance of civilizations” (Duran, 2013, 93). However, the party never intended to take up the role of charting a course of politics that would install bonds between Western and Islamic worlds. Thanks to the ambiguity of the civilizational approach, it allowed the establishment to fulfill its dubious ambitions. Incorporating such language as civilizational consciousness” and alluding to the Ottoman past, Erdogan builds an image of Turkey as a great nation and affiliates the Kurds together with the Turks (Duran, 2013, 94). To add to the AKP's flexibility in conforming to popular sentiment, Erdogan himself has a history of putting on different masks when he has to. For example, the politician has a criminal record in the form of incitement to violence and religious or racial hatred that prevented him from taking a parliamentary seat. But when the legislation was amended to remove his disqualification, Erdogan disavowed the hardline Islamic views of his past and was trying to recast himself as a pro-Western conservative” (BBC, 2002). It took years for the Turkish ruler to start playing the Islamic card, betting on it in much the same way that Mustafa Kemal bet on nationalism, secularism, and Westernization. The final departure from Kemalism was formalized by the 2014 transition from a parliamentary republic to a presidential system, after which Erdogan began to be called a sultan of the twenty-first century.

            A delay in the emergence of post-imperial rhetoric on the part of Turkey’s official actors sheds light on the nature of ressentiment. The experience of humiliation and insecurity will inevitably produce a fountain of various anti-sentiments, no matter how long it is kept inside by the establishment or the masses. Simultaneously, let us note that post-imperial trauma can originate instantly, as it happened in post-Soviet Russia. In spite of these timely distributions of suppressed anger and envy, I would still attribute ressentiment’s symbolic compensation to the charismatic leaders who employ it in their rhetoric (Ershov, 2019; Karapetyan, 2018). Both Erdogan and Putin display personal aspirations to go down in history. Therefore, is the rise of a post-imperial narrative and behavior the result of the personal characteristics of these presidents, along with undemocratic features of their regimes? The psychological chain of inferiority-resentment-hatred-aggression-concession to a force can temporarily lead to a relaxation of tension. But, in the end, it only enhances the emotion of resentment. Ressentiment is internalized for the time being, but at any moment, it can break out with even more powerful aggression. Accordingly, it is almost impossible to return the subject of ressentiment to normal. The choice of policy in such cases is between the lesser of evils: appeasement, which only encourages aggression, or endless coercive containment. There is no third. The first option was applied by the West to Hitler and led to war. The second approach was used in the case of the USSR and ended with the collapse of the latter.

author Helen Izbor


References

Andeson, Benedict.  1983.  Imagined Communities: Reflections On the Origin and Spread of Nationalism.  London: Verso.

 

Cohen, Roger.  2014.  Russias Weimar Syndrome.” The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/02/opinion/cohen-russias-weimar-syndrome.html.  Visited April 17, 2021.

 

Crowley, Michael.  2016.  “Putins Revenge.” Politico Magazine. https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2016/12/russia-putin-hack-dnc-clinton-election-2016-cold-war-214532.  Visited April 28, 2021.

 

Duran, Burhanettin.  2013.  “Understanding The AK Party's Identity Politics: a Civilizational Discourse And Its Limitations.” Insight Turkey, 15:1 (Winter), 91-109.

 

Ershov, Philipp.  2019.  “Father and Followers: Putins Rhetoric as an Evolutionary-Psychological Leadership Tool.” The London School of Economics and Political Science. https://eprints.lse.ac.uk/101346/1/Ershov_father_and_followers.pdf.  Visited May 4, 2021.

 

Homolar, Alexandra and Löfllmann, Georg.  2021.  “Populism and the Affective Politics of Humiliation Narratives.” Global Studies Quarterly, 1:1 (March), 1-11.

 

Ingrassia, Paul.  2015.  “After Midnight In The Library, Putin Sets Out His World View.” Reuters. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-russia-putin-idUSKBN0P00JG20150620. Visted April 9, 2021.

 

Karaganov, Sergei A.  2014.  “The Watershed Year: Interim Results.” Russia In Global Affairs. https://eng.globalaffairs.ru/articles/the-watershed-year-interim-results/.  Visited April 17, 2021.

 

Karapetyan, Anahit.  2018.  “The Charismatic Leader of Turkey.” The Enlight. https://enlightngo.org/language/en/post/10629.  Visited May 4, 2021.

 

Kennan, George.  1946.  “Excerpts of Kennan's 1946 `Long Telegram.’” Chicago Tribune. https://www.chicagotribune.com/news/ct-xpm-2005-03-20-0503200516-story.html.  Visited April 25, 2021.

 

Koru, Selim.  2018.  “How Nietzsche Explains Turkey.” The Atlantic. https://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2018/06/turkey-erdogan-election-kurds/563240/.  Visited May 4, 2021.

 

Lerner, Adam B.  2020.  “The Uses And Abuses of Victimhood Nationalism In International Politics.” European Journal of International Relations, 26:1, 62-87.

 

Miller, Stuart.  1997.  “The Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler 1919–39” in Mastering Modern European History.  London:  Red Globe Press.

 

Nietzsche, Friedrich W.  1897.  A Genealogy of Morals.  Macmillan.

 

Plokhy, Serhii and Sarotte, M.E.  2020.  “The Shoals of Ukraine.” Foreign Affairs. https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/united-states/2019-11-22/shoals-ukraine. Visited May 1, 2021.

 

Rahimova, Goychak.  2018.  Turkish Influence On Israel-Azerbaijan Relations.” Ministry of Education of The Azerbaijan Republic Khazar University. http://dspace.khazar.org/bitstream/20.500.12323/3796/1/Turkish%20influence%20on%20Israel-Azerbaijan%20relations.pdf.  Visited May 2, 2021.

 

Sinyakov, Denis.  2015.  Putin: Soviet Collapse a 'Genuine Tragedy.’” NBC News. https://www.nbcnews.com/id/wbna7632057.  Visited April 17, 2021.

 

Tokdogan, Nagehan.  2020.  “Reading Politics Through Emotions: Ontological Ressentiment As The Emotional Basis Of Current Politics In Turkey.” Nations & Nationalism, 26:2 (April), 388-406.

 

“Turkey's Charismatic Pro-Islamic Leader.” BBC. http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/2270642.stm.  Visited May 4, 2021.

 

Yilmaz, Zafer.  2017.  “The AKP And The Spirit of The NewTurkey: Imagined Victim, Reactionary Mood, And Resentful Sovereign.” Turkish Studies, 18:3, 482-513.

 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Music Next by Marty Khan

 


Reprinted from Practice Magazine

 

As a management strategist and project developer for over 45 years, it has always been my methodology to plan for both a best-case and worst-case scenario, knowing that reality will fall somewhere in between.  With that approach in mind regarding our current Covid-inflicted crisis, I believe that we have to be prepared for the possibility that we may not emerge from under its scourge. If we do, great, but if we don’t … we need to be ready for that reality. And what are some of the worst-case scenarios we may be facing? In simplest terms that in the foreseeable future:

  • Music may not be performed in front of live audiences. 
  • Earning money through live musical performance may not be possible.
  • Getting together with groups of musicians in person may no longer be viable. 

I’m not writing this to establish a definitive position. To do so this essay would need to be far longer to support and explain everything I’m saying. Rather, my purpose is to stimulate consideration and discourse as we all struggle to come to terms with a dilemma that twelve months ago was inconceivable. That said…

As we all confront variations on the theme of WTF now? – let’s pause, pull back, and take a wide-angle view to consider the inception of our personal journeys in the pursuit of music. What is it that brings a musician to that decision – and even more than that, what is their ultimate goal? 

To help answer this difficult question, let’s pose other questions. Why does one practice yoga? Or meditate; watch a meaningful film; read an impactful book; study an interesting subject; work out at the gym … and so on and so on? The common answer to all of these things is the pursuit of self-improvement and personal growth. In some cases, there is a simple goal – lose weight, build muscle, equip oneself with the knowledge to interact with someone or something that means something to you. But on the higher level, the goal is to pursue transcendence and the profound … to uplift the soul and improve one’s being in pursuit of the miraculous. 

So who the hell decided that a primary purpose of pursuing music is to make money?

Since the development of artists’ careers and opportunities has been the focus of my professional work for well over 40 years, let’s just accept that purpose as a given – for the moment.

I read a very perceptive comment a few years back by someone who suggested that rather than lament the fact that people aren’t paying for music any longer, we should appreciate how fortunate we were to get away with it for almost 100 years, because prior to that nobody ever paid for music. While that is not entirely accurate, and he was primarily referring to sale of product, the statement is meaningful in a more general way.

Prior to its commercialization, music was generally heard in parks, town squares, royal courts, places of worship, and so on. I don’t know how much it cost to go to concerts, but considering what I was paying when I came up in the ‘60s and well into the ‘70s, it couldn’t have cost too much. Part of this was due to the exploitation of the artists, and I did my part to level the playing field in the ‘80s while still keeping the costs to the consumers quite reasonable. Our policy was always whatever the market will bear. But then came the Reagan years and what I generally have referred to ever since then as The Republicanization of the Performing Arts, leading to an artificial economy that would inevitably collapse.  However, that’s a different piece for another time.

In truth, the business of jazz has been disintegrating steadily for at least thirty years. Since my focus here is particularly upon the jazz form – the butt end of the arts economy – it would seem that there wasn’t a lot of room for things to get much worse, but they really did. I’ve written extensively about the economic plummet for over twenty years – the monolithic institutions, joined at the hip to the misguided invasion of the performing arts funding world; the emergence of the promoter/venue as star; the anointment of “influential” artists by institutions rather than emerging organically from the artists themselves; the post-Reagan perversion of the profit concept – have all led to a dysfunctional economy with a polarization of fees parallel to the same 1% vs. 99% imbalance that is crippling our society. 

A simple question: is the Covid crisis essentially a disastrous disruption of a viable business for the jazz artist? Let’s consider what I wrote to all my clients and many colleagues early last year…

… we should view the current reality not as a stumbling block to overcome in order to get back into the antiquated, ineffective and user-unfriendly realm that has now been shut off, but rather as an opportunity for a more viable, productive, and rewarding new reality that may now be within our reach.  

Think of this: prior to the crisis, how many artists were even close to supporting themselves through performing – either live or through recorded product? And then, how much work is entailed in doing a small tour, or even a solitary gig, where the primary goal is often just to not lose money. Consider the work that goes into:

  • Getting the interest of a presenter (or agent)
  • Securing the gig
  • Making sure it can be viable (support gigs, overhead, etc.)
  • Locking in the personnel
  • Rehearsing the group
  • Getting there and back
  • Making sure you get your money

It’s an exhausting process … is it really worth it? And is the real fulfillment in playing the music, or is it the response of the audience? And in all honesty, are either of those two goals achieved to a really satisfactory level. In any case, an important consideration: can you achieve the purpose of expression without an audience response? If you can, that would eliminate five of the seven bullet points above. It would also mean that making the music as an ensemble would be done for the love of it. And if you have the spiritual substance for it within yourselves – in the pursuit of Transcendence. If you don’t, then in pursuit of joy. You can still share it with an audience, just not in real time. Considering the array of challenges that real-time music-sharing can pose … would that really be such a bad thing?

 

After all, we all do things that are deeply meaningful and essential to us without the added element of doing it for commercial purposes. Can’t music fall into that same domain?

Which brings us back to the yoga comparison, along with the added element of how musicians actually make their living – outside the somewhat questionable, but not terribly uncommon, approach of having your life partner work to support your artistry.

Doesn’t teaching – privately or institutionally – occupy a lot of that terrain? For some of you, that is a calling. For others, it is a necessary application to allow you to pursue the music of your heart’s desire. For many, it may be both. Why are you teaching? Is it to produce more professionals to further glut an already overburdened economic environment? Or is it more for the love of music and the positive growth and development of the student?

So … consider the yoga industry. How many facilities, teachers, and students are involved in that pursuit? Isn’t there a common purpose – a set of values that every student essentially shares? Isn’t it also clear that the private teacher and/or institution is motivated by the combined purpose of enhancing the student’s experience and making money while doing it? 

Get where I’m going here? Not fully? OK, I understand. 

Music isn’t yoga. It can’t be done by anyone with a mat and the proper apparel. Who says? Music can be done by anyone with a voice, a bucket and stick, or lips that can whistle. With a minimal investment, it can be a harmonica, a recorder or a cheap electronic keyboard. But will it be of a worthwhile quality? It’s probably best for me not to offer an opinion about what is or isn’t good music here … and that really isn’t the point.

Let’s just go with this: Music in its highest form is a spiritual quest, which if achieved successfully is an incredibly enriching, life-affirming and profound contribution to the world and every individual in it. While yoga is … well … pretty much the same, no?  And it might make sense to check in with a true yogi about that, as I assume that there may be a good deal more of them than musicians who can properly claim that same level of mastery. 

Some of the most transcendent music I’ve ever heard has been made without commercial intent and where an audience was somewhat incidental: a shehnai player with drummers at a Sufi shrine in India; Pygmy music; Gospel choirs; a Senufo trumpet choir. I often enjoyed a trombone choir that used to play in midtown NYC – they were spectacular! One day during a break I spoke to the leader and told him that I would like to bring a certain record exec with a very open mind to hear them. He thanked me but said that this wasn’t why they played music … it was just for God. 

So … imagine a world in which you have a large number of minds and souls who can benefit by exposure to your teaching and who can be connected to the incredible legacy of the music’s past immortals; where you can create music with like-minded artists for the sheer pursuit of the miraculous (or on a less ambitious level, for a delightfully good time). Where your own pursuit of mastery is for the perfection of your own being rather than a competition for the meager rewards that await most professional musicians – or the lottery of becoming one of the anointed and/or a recipient of the occasional grant or one of the bigger (and highly arbitrary) awards.

Who loses by this shift in emphasis? 

  • The world of absurdly priced higher education that sells students on a six-figure investment that is highly unlikely to ever be recouped as a professional
  • Bloated monolithic institutions with ridiculous overheads fueled by millions of dollars of squandered contributions 
  • Self-important presenters who consider themselves stars of equal magnitude to the artists upon whom they bestow the rare gig
  • Arts funding professionals whose bloated salaries far outweigh the artist recipients as they foster trickle-down economics and combat self-empowerment in order to remain the new plantation
  • Instrument companies charging incredibly high prices for their products while thousands upon thousands of instruments remain locked up in the storerooms of public schools all over the country

This all may seem a bit simplistic, but it’s all in the quest for a certain brevity. There’s far more to say … and I will. That includes an answer to those who may say that I can’t address this because I’m not a musician. 

I’ll wrap this up by re-stating something I say above: We should view the current reality not as a stumbling block to overcome in order to get back into the antiquated, ineffective, and user-unfriendly realm that has now been shut off, but rather as an opportunity for a more viable, productive, and rewarding new reality that may now be within our reach.

Peace & A Love Supreme!

Marty Khan, arts management consultant, strategist, producer. problem solver, writer, educator and more than occasional pain in the ass to fools.
Executive Director of Outward Visions. Inc. www.outwardvisions.com



Friday, June 4, 2021

GSP William Seaton Reads on Zoom June 12th

For Immediate Release - for further information contact Phillip X  Levine (845)246-8565 or email:  phillip@woodstockpoetry.com


Woodstock Poetry Society (www.woodstockpoetry.com) is sponsoring the following poetry event as part of the Woodstock "Second Saturdays" Art Events.


Due to the ongoing pandemic - for now, all meetings will be held virtually via Zoom

The Zoom app can be downloaded here: Zoom Download Center


To attend: contact phillip@woodstockpoetry.com to receive Zoom info.

If attending, please indicate if you would like to be on the open mike. Thank you.


Poets Elizabethanne Spiotta and William Seaton will be featured, followed by an open mike when the Woodstock Poetry Society meets virtually via Zoom on Saturday, June 12th at 2pm.


Note: WPS&F meetings are held the 2nd Saturday of every month.


The readings will be hosted by Woodstock area poet Phillip X Levine. All meetings are free, open to the public, and include an open mike.


Features:


Elizabethanne Spiotta - Elizabethanne Spiotta is a poet mother widow chaplain who often wonders if she is will ever get her head out of the clouds. She is living the good life on the water in the country of upstate NY.

Elizabethanne Spiotta

Elizabethanne Spiotta


Taking Ownership.


I just asked the bus driver to drop me off

straight away in Mountainville

where I will hide behind one of your barns until after dark

for you to come

and find me.

On the last of the crunchy dry leaves,

we can disturb the young onion grass

and show our teeth to the stars.


-Elizabethanne Spiotta


*

William Seaton - William Seaton is a poet, translator, and critic, the author of Spoor of Desire: Selected Poems and Dada Poetry: An Introduction. Active in poetry performance since sixties happenings, he was a member of the San Francisco Cloud House group in the seventies and produced the Poetry on the Loose series in the Hudson Valley for twenty-one years. Seaton maintains a largely literary blog offering “a blend of thought available nowhere else” at williamseaton.blogspot.com.

William Seaton


William Seaton


See the glyph on th’enameled beetle’s back!

while in the sky the birds pursue their destiny,

quite innocent of thought, their route inscribed

in every cell. They may have lice but rarely doubt.

Each thought a blue shaft like a glacier’s heart,

piercing the gusty land of air with small and similar strokes.

Selflessness like one inside a car caroming,

overturning, yet to hit the final ground.


-William Seaton


***


Developing WPS 2021 Schedule - all readings held via Zoom

All of 2021 Events: Events


Due to the ongoing pandemic - for now, all meetings will be held virtually via Zoom

The Zoom app can be downloaded here: Zoom Download Center


To attend: contact phillip@woodstockpoetry.com

If attending, please indicate if you would like to be on the open mike following the featured readers. Thank you.


01/January 9th - Canceled

02/February 13th - Canceled

03/March 13th - Guy Reed; Victoria Sullivan via Zoom

04/April 10th - Judith Kerman; Leslie Gerber via Zoom

05/May 8th - Judith Saunders; Raphael Kosek via Zoom

06/June 12th - Elizabethanne Spiotta; William Seaton via Zoom

07/July 10th - Barbara Ungar; Lucia Cherciu via Zoom

08/August 14th - Irene Sipos; Perry S. Nicholas via Zoom

09/September 11th - Nine-Eleven 20 years later via Zoom

                                          To present during this event - email: phillip@woodstockpoetry.com

10/October 9th - Philip Pardi; TBA via Zoom

11/November 13th - Elizabeth Cohen; Mary Leonard via Zoom

12/December 11th - Amy Ouzoonian; Anique Taylor and Annual Business Meeting via Zoom


Also, why not become a 2021 Member or donate to the Woodstock Poetry Society?

Membership is $20 a year. (To join or donate, send your check to the Woodstock Poetry Society, P.O. Box 531, Woodstock, NY 12498. Include your email address as well as your mailing address and phone number. Or join online at: www.woodstockpoetry.com/become.html). Your membership helps pay for our upgraded Zoom account, post-office-box rental, the WPS website, and costs associated with publicizing the monthly events. One benefit of membership is the opportunity to have a brief biography and several of your poems appear on this website.

Thursday, June 3, 2021

Warren I. Smith Reflects on Barbra Streisand in his soon-to-be-released memoir by GSP, Crossing Borders & Playing with Pioneers: My Life in Music








When the chemistry is right, people remember. In 1964 I subbed now and then on Funny Girl, a Broadway show starring Barbra Streisand as Fanny Brice. It was her first big break, and she tore the house down night after night. When she quit the show a year later, she called me to play percussion on a national tour. Three years later, she broke into her acting career, winning a Best Actress Oscar for the film version of Funny Girl. I watched her skyrocket. That three-octave range—she had it all. And the chutzpah to cross borders and break new ground. 

A few months later, I got a call. I said yes to the tour. Her limousine driver picked me up and dropped me off at a small airport in New Jersey where her private jet awaited her and the band. Two seats to an aisle and a private bar. Just six musicians. She used local orchestras in each city. 

Along for the tour was her husband, actor Elliot Gould. Show business couples can go through a lot of changes, and I had the feeling they had played all the changes in their wedding song. Maybe his jet was in the repair shop, but he was not handling her success so well. I think he was used to getting a lot more attention. Actors have it tough. He couldn’t give up the jackass role he had cast himself in. 

We arrived in Florida, played a concert with a standing ovation and repaired to a first-class hotel. Barbra knew how to travel. Next day we’re back in her private jet headed for New Orleans. It was my first time in the city that started it all. Touring can be a grind and a half with missed transportation connections and accommodations or troubles with the venue. All that was nowhere to be seen. I had never been in a situation that was so luxurious in my life. 

Audiences loved Barbra. She was a fantastic musician and a model of dependable leadership. She was always on time, took everything seriously and it showed. It did not surprise me that she went in to garner awards for her film acting, writing and directing. Nor that she would succeed in film with such ballsy topics. As for her music, she outgrew the cabaret and show tunes of her early years and crossed over into rock and pop. She kept stretching. She brought that same intensity to her philanthropy work. Like the other greats I have worked with, Barbra always found a way to get it done. 






AFH. The Andrew Freedman Home, 2020, https://andrewfreedmanhome.org/events/.

Eng, Matthew. "The Greatest Star: How Barbra Streisand Broke Out Her Own Way in FUNNY GIRL." Tribeca, 4 Nov. 2020, https://tribecafilm.com/news/the-greatest-star-barbra-streisand-funny-girl-star-persona