Strolled through St. Peter’s Cemetery today to visit the family plot, great day for a walk #Ptown #Provincetown
A central animating aspect of Shinto is kami. While this is a topic that will be further explored in later posts, this understanding is central to each next Shinto post that follows. So, this post is an effort to establish a sense from which to progress.
Nonetheless, the Western conception of animating energy is deeply tied to a rather inexhaustible and dogmatic conception of God, or Gods, within the Western rubric for understanding such things. This may be symbolically understood as the common preference for thinking about white blued-eyed beings floating on clouds, which queerly reads more like a cheap gay porn set than a vision of anything actually sublime. Yet, this cartoon cum cheap 1970’s gayified fantasy often prevails, therefore obfuscates, the understanding of kami in the Western mind.
As a result, it is not uncommon to encounter the following definition for kami:
ka·mi (ˈkämē), noun: meaning a divine being in the Shinto religion.
Putting aside the problems invoked in the definition through its use of the word “religion,” the operative word for understanding the Western misconception of kami may be sampled via the word “being”. Interestingly, this problematic misconception has been noted before in the American canon—namely by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who in his infamous Divinity School Address to Harvard in 1838–the very address that got him dis-invited from Harvard for some four decades despite his mainstream Lyceum popularity. This fact underscores the perpetual Emersonian argument, if not also makes the primary point of American Transcendentalism, of the tyranny of institutions over individuals. In this address, Emerson pointed out the problem he perceived within those who made too much of the personhood of Christ. Emeron’s point was to call out the limit, if not simply the spiritual flaw, in perceiving Christ as a man that died for us in our time and place.
This kind of usable religion for performative purposes has been routinely featured on the awards stages and athletic fields of our most popular commercial culture–as if a God worth worship would prioritize things like pop songs or athletic performances in a world of hunger and hurt. Yet, this is the logical outcome of the spiritual sickness that stems from adhering too much to the personhood of Christ. Or, for that matter in any God. In the end, these behaviors are more political, commercial, or class based rhetoric than they are anything recognizable as earnest spiritual impulses.
Such self-referential “spiritual” acts have always struck me as being deeply self-serving–for as this Roman Catholic boy was taught, one is more performative than prayerful when public with prayer. The earnest prayer is made in the silent privacy of solitude. Emerson points out the self-referential spiritual error in focusing on the personhood of Christ makes us wholly miss Christ’s mythic power. Emerson’s words were disruptive then, and I cannot imagine how disruptive they would be if popularly voiced now.
Emerson fingers the difference between thinking Christ died in time versus thinking Christ died for our time–as we experience this or that in our lives thereby reducing His mythic power to micronarrative needs. This selfish act crucifies Christ anew as we nail him to our personal needs–ironically much like the Romans did then–instead of . . . well, I will gesture back toward Emerson’s Divinity School Address for an answer that offers far more productivity than anything I can offer in this one post. Emerson asserts: “When the mind opens and reveals the laws which traverse the universe and make things what they are, then shrinks the great world at once into a mere illustration and fable of this mind.”
In this way, Emerson urges us to tap into an Antinomian spirit, which has long productively haunted the American conception of such things. He urges this over the easy, if not also the absurd, institutionalized sense of the personhood of Christ, which uses Christ for self-serving reasons rather than mindfully ponders the universal potential within the crucified body.
This frames a productive place to begin the approach to kami.
Just before the fall term began, I started reading Stuart Nicholson’s biography of Ella Fitzgerald: Ella Fitzgerald: A Biography Of The First Lady Of Jazz. As typically happens once the semester starts, my for pleasure and personal learning reading falls to the wayside. So, I am fearful I will not get much further into this book at the present time.
This would be a shame, for I am very much enjoying reading about Ella’s life and legacy in music. I am also already learning a great deal, particularly when it comes to Ella’s beginnings and her time with the Chick Webb orchestra. I am right now at the part of the book that discusses what Ella did after Webb’s untimely death–can’t wait to read more. I am also already populating my MP3 player with some awesome new-to-me artists and songs: Dolly Dawn’s Marshmallow Moon comes to mind on this point. Also, while I was already familiar with her, the influence of Connee Boswell upon Ella has reignited my listening interest in Boswell. This has also allowed me to think some new thoughts about the fundamental influences that pepper an emerging artist’s formative years.
Nonetheless, I have already read and researched enough to know that Nicholson’s biography is a well-written and researched book that has much to add to the understanding of Ella Fitzgerald as a person and as a substantial figure in the rise of vocal Jazz music.
As I progress through my days, I find myself anxiously thinking about when I can crack the book open again.
MJ’s latest pick is the podcast Pop Rocket. This podcast is being selected as an addition to NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour and Slate’s Culture Gabfest, which I previously featured in the post Two Podcasts for Pop Culture Literacy. As I discussed there, Pop Culture Happy Hour and Gabfest complement one another in terms of style, topics, and the approach to the consideration of popular commercial culture. Pop Rocket adds to this variety in an interesting, energetic, and new way.
Pop Rocket describes itself aptly: “Pop Rocket is a high-octane weekly discussion of the culture we all love to love. Join host Guy Branum and panelists Wynter Mitchell, Oliver Wang, and Margaret Wappler for smart, funny, sometimes sweary chat about everything great in entertainment. Combining comic, journalistic, academic and digital media expertise, the Pop Rocket team will keep you up-to-date on what’s most exciting in pop culture this week.” The key word in this description is expertise, which can be understood in terms of practice—as in practice versus theory. One can talk about popular culture, but one can also produce it.
Pop Rocket’s host, Guy Branum, and panelists Wynter Mitchell, Oliver Wang, and Margaret Wappler are in various ways producers and curators of popular culture. In this way, Pop Rocket contrasts the other pop culture podcasts by providing a practitioner’s, if not also a creator’s, perspective. This pushes the discussion beyond theory and critical discourse into the consideration of actual practice.
Pop Rocket also keeps pace with recent trends in popular culture, e.g., The Daily Show, Real Time with Bill Maher (which will be featured as its own pick soon), and The Colbert Report. These shows have one thing in common: the use of comedy to get at the sober and the serious. Accordingly, Pop Rocket performs entertainment as much as it discusses it.
Between Pop Culture Happy Hour and Culture Gabfest and now Pop Rocket, one can further detect the disruption the internet has wrought upon academia. Once upon a traditional time, the academic conference circuit and the publications it produced were the primary domain for an informed consideration of popular commercial culture, but in our ever-digital age, this discussion has moved and morphed into the more democratic realm of the internet. This portends well for a critically engaged populace to support a mindful consumption of popular commercial culture.
Click on the logo above to find out more about Pop Rocket or search for it in your favorite podcast aggregator. I highly recommend checking it out. And, as with any good podcast pick, there is a meaty backlog of episodes to fall into a fun listening hole. You will emerge educated and entertained.