Two songs of loss

By: | Post date: March 20, 2019 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Greece, Music, Personal

I have had occasion to think, in recent times, on two songs of loss. I’ve cried to them before the loss, and I’ve thought of them ruefully after the loss, when I had no tears left. I will analyse them and discourse on them in The Other Place; and I’ll have fun doing it; and that will take the sting out of them. Here, let them stand as they are. This is where I get to cry.

A song of lost love. Τα βεγγαλικά σου μάτια. Your firework eyes. 1995. Lyrics: Michalis Bourboulis. Music: Stamos Semsis. Sung by Giorgos Dalaras:

I lit all the lights. I put on a show.
When love dies, it knows no resurrection.

Your firework eyes shine like phosphorus,
like ships passing through the Bosphorus at night.

You switched off the lights and left, you became invisible.
Mist that the wind took away, in an automated town.

Your firework eyes are a bonfire
and loneliness drips like rain onto the floor.

I am trapped now in your perfume, in your name,
and in your eyes, yes, your cold firework eyes.

Your firework eyes shine like phosphorus,
like ships passing through the Bosphorus at night.

A song of lost friendship. Πεθαμένες καλησπέρες. 1995. Dead Good Evenings. Lyrics & music: Miltiadis Paschalidis. Sung by Dimitris Mitropanos:

We met in the evenings
with sad songs
and with caresses exhausted
by the scars of the day.
Our cigarettes were shared,
the guitar was borrowed.
Our dreams were painted,
in a black and white life.
Now the songs have stopped,
the colours have faded.
Streets and old town squares
have changed their names.

And should I see a friend
I’m terrified he might recognise me.
I don’t feel like hearing
any dead Good Evenings.

You told me everything changes,
scared, and speaking softly,
that what we love the most
hurts us all the more.
You told me everything changes,
it just needs something to set it off.
But your two eyes look like lanterns
in a barren zone.

The Age of Iron

By: | Post date: March 13, 2019 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Poetry

Silence is golden. Gold peals where you walk,
intuited and whole, in silent clamour.
It slips beside its own: no need for talk,
no weighing down with words. Mere joy and glamour.

Not so with us. This river’s dammed with rock,
and damned with talk, pleading aloud for grammar.
The age of iron follows gold. It’s blocks
and grooves with us. Not sapphire, but the hammer.

We are cast out. Yet iron serves us well.
We cast this iron as a citadel
that shields us, perched, as we discourse the spheres.

We cast this iron into files and gauges
with which we tame our gold, to last the ages.
This too is grace, which clamps; yet also steers.

The revival of bagpipes in Crete

By: | Post date: February 12, 2019 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Greece, Music

I have written on this blog ten years ago on my discovery of the changes in the traditions around Cretan folk music this past century. These changes have taken me by surprise: if you are immersed in an (albeit commercialised) folk music tradition, you assume it was ever thus. In fact, Cretan music used to be a lot more diverse a century ago than it is now, with a lot more instruments, and a lot more distinct musical traditions at play: these have been consolidated now into a single tradition of lyra and laouto.

One of the instruments that has passed from the contemporary tradition is the askomadoura, the bagpipe (literally “bag-pipe”: the mandoura is a single reed pipe, which also used to figure more prominently in Cretan music than it does now.)

I have been intrigued to hear of recent attempts to revive the bagpipe tradition in Crete. I have finally had the opportunity to hear recordings by such a performer, Alexandros Papadakis. What intrigued me most about hearing Cretan music on the bagpipe (which I’m so used to hearing on the knee-fiddle), is that it sounded pretty much the same, and that it made sense for it to sound the same. The modern repertoire of the lyra combines Western violin tunes (with a wide range), and Central originally lyra tunes. The lyra before the 1920s (the lyraki “wee lyra”) had a limited range: just a sixth, with tunes played on the left or right string. The middle string was a drone. And the lyra rendering of folk tunes continues to have a lot of ornament and trilling.

Sounds tailor made for the bagpipe.

In fact, it sounds so tailor made as to make one suspicious. The lyra was only introduced in Crete in the 14th century; the bagpipe, one might well surmise, was around longer. The Celtic fiddle tradition also has a lot of ornamentation and trillings—cranning—which is believed to have been derived directly from the earlier bagpipe tradition. And of course, the notion of drone strings on a stringed instrument is unusual for contemporary bowed instruments (though admittedly not for earlier instruments like the hurdy-gurdy). The notion that the original lyraki sounded like it did because it drew from bagpipes is not the most daft idea in the world.

I’ve also had recent occasion to listen to folk music from the Dodecanese, particularly from the next islands along from Crete, Kasos and Karpathos. The music sounds like missing links to the development of Cretan music; in fact, I heard a dance from Rhodes with the same tune as a well known Cretan pidikhtos dance (the one Kostas Mountakis made popular, on the new tuning of the lyra—which makes much more sense on the violin)—and then continued it with a new tune I’d never heard before.

Now these are amateur observations. A little while ago, I happened upon the blog “Karpathian Diaries” of Pericles Schinas, one of the quality commenters on Nikos Sarantakos’ blog. Pericles is not an amateur observer: he has a doctorate in musicology, on Greek bagpipes.

The latest article on Pericles’ blog is “The askomandoura in Crete: tradition and revival”, a paper he gave in the First “Musics of Crete” conference in 2014. The conference proceedings were never published (pity, because the paper after his confirms what I’d thought about the bagpipe/lyra nexus), so the text is available only on his blog. I learned a lot from his paper, and I thought everyone else should as well. Translation mine.

A terminological clarification: Pericles discusses the tsambouna, which is the Aegean/Pontic bagpipes; the gaida, the bagpipes played in Thrace and Macedonia (and throughout the Balkans) are better known in Greece, but are not mentioned in the article. I have chosen to translate tsambouna as “bagpipes” throughout in this article, for the sake of familiarity, but properly speaking both the tsambouna and the gaida are bagpipes, and Pericles would have translated it as just tsambouna. The gaida has a chanter pipe and a separate drone pipe; the tsambouna (Italian zampogna) has two parallel pipes yoked together, the melodic pipe with more holes, the bass pipe with less. Pericles does not consider them to be the same instrument, and the tsambouna does not properly have a drone, the way the gaida does (which is why Pericles is less impressed with the parallel with the drone string of the lyraki).

The following is a map of the villages mentioned in the article. The villages are coloured by province: Agios Vasilios in blue, Mylopotamos in green, Apano Riza in purple, Lasithi Plateau in red. (Gavalokhori, not traditionally bagpipe territory, is in grey; I have also added Olympos in the neighbouring island of Karpathos.)


The askomandoura or askobandoura is the Cretan name of the tsambouna, a wind instrument proper to the tradition of many Aegean islands and other regions of Greece, which is also found in the same or related forms among other peoples. Greek tsambounas have some basic characteristics in common: two parallel pipes of the same length with single reeds, one always with five holes, and the other with one, three or five; a yoke (a railed foundation for the pipes) ending in a bell, and a bag made from a whole animal hide. The details of construction vary, generating a variety of versions of the instrument, so that almost each island has its own bagpipe.1 Some of these minor differences influence the sound of each variant of the bagpipe, while others only impact its appearance.

In the same way, the bagpipe repertoire has some basic common characteristics which run through all local traditions (even those that were geographically isolated, like Pontic), but which are realised so differently in each locale that each local repertoire can be recognised as an autonomous whole.

The same holds for playing techniques and the rendering of tunes: each islands plays in its own way, so that some islands have a distinctive way of playing which others reject as erroneous, so that the sound of the bagpipe in each island is recognisable. Yet the particular characteristics of each local style are a choice among a relatively limited set of options common to all islands.

Finally, the role of the bagpipes and its music in the community, the circumstances when it is played, the social profile of those who play and listen to it, and even the changes in its popularity (retreat in the second half of the 20th century, resurgence since) also follow a common Greek-wide pattern which varies from place to place but not essentially.

So whatever happens with the askomandoura in Crete is the local version of a Greek-wide reality.

***

The general impression is that the askomandoura used to be played throughout Crete. But we only have specific testimony for a few regions, all of them in the Rethymnon prefecture or further east. There are four places where the bagpipes were definitely played until recently, or still are, according to what we currently know: the Mylopotamos2 and Agios Vasilios provinces of Rethymon, Apano Riza with the valley of Messara (as a single region) in Iraklio, and the Lasithi Plateau together with the semi-mountainous regions to its north.3 There is testimony that in the living memory of now elderly Cretans, Zaros (Apano Riza) and the surrounding region had some hundred bagpipers,4, while in some villages of the Lasithi Plateau, the bagpipes were the only instrument in use.5 It is safe to conclude that at least in some regions, the instrument was quite widespread, particularly among shepherds, who would have played it to while away the loneliness of grazing (cf. the Greek-wide stereotype of the shepherd playing the flute), but also for recreation in family or other narrow circles, and occasionally in serenades or larger feasts, such as weddings or Carnival. The bagpipes were not played by self-defined musicians: it was a hobbyist instrument, which only occasionally surfaced in public life.

It seems that its popularity receded rapidly around the middle of the 20th century. World War II, with the German Occupation and the Greek Civil War, may be considered the milestone after which noone new picked up the instrument, with very few exceptions. In the Agios Vasilios province of Rethymnon bagpipes must have already fallen silent in the 1960s. Elsewhere there were still bagpipers even up to this century—some are still living; but their numbers have long ceased to be replenished. The last place which produced new bagpipers after the war must have been Anogia.

So throughout the second half of the 20th century, bagpipers were a closed community who aged and died off without being replaced. The same path towards disappearance held for the circumstances when the instrument would be heard, and its repertoire. Everyone who withdrew from the art or died took his knowledge with him, never to come back. With the exception of “Baxes” (Manolis Faragoulitakis, 1923–2004) from Voriza in Apano Riza, who tried to keep the bagpipes in public view and made some recordings, only a few fragments of the collective knowledge of the bagpipes have been recorded.

In the beginnings of the 21st century, a little before the instrument died out forever, four new instrumentalists appeared: Kostis Mouzourakis (1975–) from Gergeri in Apano Riza; Giannis Robogiannakis (1979–) from neighbouring Zaros, Alexandros Papadakis (1977–) from Ardakhtos of Agios Vasilios province, and Manolis Fronimakis (1968–) from Gavalokhori of Apokoronas province, in Chania.6 The involvement of all four with the bagpipes began between 2000 and 2003. Mouzourakis was the only player who got to hear bagpipers play in his village, which means that there was never a gap in transmission in Gergeri. The other three first heard the instrument through recordings. Robogiannakis had access in the village to his uncle, Antonis Stefanakis, who did not play the askomandoura any more (for health reasons, probably while he was living overseas), but who still had relevant experience, and still played the mandoura (pipe), as he continues to do. Papadakis in his village and the surrounding area only had access to old people who remembered the last bagpipers several decades prior, while Fronimakis is from a region that as far as we know never had bagpipes.

All four developed a passion for the askomandoura, and they started seeking traces of its tradition wherever they could. At least the first three (we do not know about Fronimakis) contacted Baxes in Voriza, and they agree that he helped them as much as he could. Papadakis’ research also brought him to the island of Karpathos. Naturally, the four soon became acquainted. They started promoting the instrument, playing it whenever they could. Generally they were encouraged to do so, although there were some exceptions. Robogiannakis and Papadakis were already professional musicians (percussion and lyra respectively), and they started incorporating the askomandoura, in small doses, in the repertoire they would play during weddings and festivals. The other two do not play professionally, but only among friends and in informal parties.

The next decisive step in the revival of interest was the Gergeri meetups, which all four have taken part in, one only once, others more regularly or each time. Since 2006 Gergeri is the headquarters of “Piping Shepherds”, an annual event dedicated to Cretan folk wind instruments (not just the askomandoura, although it does figure prominently), but also to becoming familiar with other local traditions in Greece based on old folk wind instruments, and with the possibility of fertile cross-pollination. “Piping Shepherds” was an initiative of Giorgis Langadinos and the then mayor of Gergeri, Fanouris Ikonomakis. Since 2011, when the Kallikratis administrative reform, combined with the general social, political and financial crisis in Greece suddenly terminated the formal arrangements, the inhabitants of Gergeri have taken it on themselves and continue to run it, if on a smaller scale, to this day.

The structure of the event (both the formal and informal proceedings), particularly in the first year which set the pattern for the rest, impressed the bagpipes on participants as the main instrument of the event, and especially the spontaneous jam sessions following every year, which made quite an impression on the village with their explosive, emotive ethos.

Through the recording issued in 2007 of the first meetup, the Gergeri events started to become known throughout Crete. So a groundswell gradually built up behind the askomandoura. In various parts of Crete, whether they used to have a corresponding tradition (Agia Varvara, Gergeri, Anogia) or not, young people and children started taking an interest in learning the bagpipes, and lessons were organised.7 Gergeri appears to be the centre of the entire movement. The new bagpipers promote the instrument, and an audience has started to develop which wants to hear it. This modern movement, which is connected to the old tradition with a thread, is Crete-wide and not local, although each musician is obviously influenced by their local music.

This narrative has equivalences in the bagpipe traditions of other islands, which showed the same pattern independently of Crete: a popular and widespread instrument until the middle of the 20th century, then a tendency for the continuity of the tradition to be broken, a retreat until 2000, a sudden new interest in the new century by isolated passionate new musicians who ended up becoming researchers, then organising collective musical events, and finally revival of general interest, new bagpipers, lessons, new opportunities for playing, a new enthusiastic audience. All these local currents have merged for the past few years into a unitary movement to revive the bagpipes.

Currently there are a few dozen bagpipers in Crete under 40 who are learning or actively playing, and the disappearance of the instrument has been averted for at least the next half century. They are all in essence followers of the first four.

***

Those four musicians were confronted by many problems in their first steps, the solution of which demanded much patience, time, effort and persistence; it forced them to become researchers. They started off without knowing where they would find any instruments, how to play it or who would show them how to play it, without being able to follow any custom of how to combine the bagpipes with other instruments (as no such practice existed), and without an audience. They opened up a path in all these domains, which is now much easier to navigate for those following in their footsteps. But they faced an additional problem, which it is interesting to see how they dealt with: what to play.

The bagpipes can’t play everything. Bagpipes have a limited gamut of six notes (usually G–E, though they may be other absolute pitches, but with the same range); so they can only play tunes with notes within that range. That might seem a very narrow constraint, but there is a wide repertoire that fits within it: many islands of the Cyclades and the Dodecanese have enough matching tunes for the bagpipes to cover every function of social life formerly (weddings, carols, Carnival, parting, celebrations, serenades, etc.), as well as the contemporary demands of dances. Even in Crete, “for example, a bagpiper can play around 30 syrtos tunes, which is no small number” (Manolis Fronimakis), and “it has a limited scale, but that scale is used for many tunes of Crete” (Giannis Robogiannakis).8

But range is not the only criterion. The bagpipes, in the generations and centuries its tradition was cultivated, had set their own criteria of what it could play. It has its own repertoire which varies from place to place, but has some general constants throughout.

Through Greece the bagpipes repertoire is divided into two main branches, melodic and piping [“tsambounisto“, Schinas’ coinage], which roughly correspond to songs and instrumentals, respectively. The melodic repertoire consists of songs which would be recognised whatever instrument they were played on, since the composition is identified with the tune; they are characterised by melodic unfolding and periodic structure. The piping repertoire includes compositions based more on the particular characteristics of the bagpipes than on melody proper, and they are characterised by motival development and a chain structure.9 The piping repertoire usually includes fast dances like the ballos, the sousta, and various pidikhtos dances; one can observe the consistent phenomenon of the same dance on the same island having a different tune when played on the bagpipes, and when played on the lyra or violin. In Crete, too, the Anogia pidikhtos for example has different turns on the lyra and on the askomandoura, and indeed a different rhythm: whoever knows only one of them would not automatically recognise the other as the same dance.

In Crete the melodic repertoire is mainly represented by syrtos dances, and the piping repertoire by various local variants of instrumental pidikhtos dances (Anogia pidikhtos, Gergiani pidikhtos, Maleviziotis etc.) There is also a significant category of the repertoire in between the melodic and the piping, kondilies: simple tunes in four-bar phrases which are chained together but which may also be sung. Freestyle chains of couplets are sung to kondilies, which often end up as verse dialogues and conversations, and which may also be danced to as a siganos or other dances.

A typical festival nowadays, both in the regions where bagpipes are played and elsewhere in Crete, is dominated by syrtos dances. Since this was already the case before the askomandoura reappeared, the new bagpipers adjusted to it, and in order to develop a repertoire they sought out, among the huge number of available syrtos tunes, those that would fit in the six notes of the askomandoura. The pidikhtos dances each have a unique melody: there is just one Maleviziotis or Anogia pidikhtos tune, in contrast to the hundreds of syrtos tunes; so they do not encourage variety. Kondilies tunes also vary, though not as much as the syrtos, and the time dedicated to kondilies during a festival is a fraction of the time dedicated to the syrtos.10

But it seems things were quite different in the old bagpipes tradition. In particular, askomandouras never played the syrtos, just kondilies and pidikhtos dances. There is no irrefutable proof of this, but the indications are strong. There are no syrtos dances in the few recordings of old bagpipers (with one exception, in Anogia, which will not be discussed here for lack of space; see footnote 14). Baxes is said never to have played the syrtos on the bagpipes, or indeed anything other than what he has recorded;11 not because he did not know the tunes—on the contrary, he played many syrtos tunes on his other instrument, the sfyrokhambiolo (recorder). Moreover, the syrtos is not native to any of the regions with an attested bagpipe tradition: it comes from Chania, where it was and still is played on the violin, the main instrument there. The syrtos spread eastward to the rest of Crete gradually through much of the 20th century, where it was adopted by lyra players and other instrumentalists, became popular with the public, and took root.12 The spread of the syrtos was one of the steps that led to the formation of what is nowadays known as “Cretan music”, a Crete-wide idiom which shows some homogeneity despite local variation; this is very different to the older state of affairs, when there seem to have been clearly distinct local traditions on the island. (This does not mean that Crete-wide music has fully displaced local traditions.)

The hypothesis that the bagpipers, in contrast to other instrumentalists, resisted the innovations of Crete-wide music and stayed faithful longer to their local traditions—in other words, that they refused to play the syrtos—raises some questions. Why would they be more conservative than lyra players?13 How could a tradition survive if its repertoire incorporated everything but its main modern component, the syrtos? And why does that now seem to be impossible, with bagpipers violating the narrow traditional connection of the instrument with its particular repertoire (something valid throughout Greece and not just Crete), in seeking out syrtos tunes?

There is a general and a specific explanation for the conservatism of bagpipers. The general explanation is that the bagpipes are a typical product of pre-modern times, when people covered their own needs to the extent they could. A bagpiper builds his own bagpipes using materials from their immediate environment, and uses it to produce the music they and their friends or community need, be it for entertainment or for functional reasons—not to stand opposite an audience as a transmitter monologuing towards them as receivers. This was a quite normal process for communities who also produced their own food, clothes, tools, houses, and knowledge. But as modernisation leads to specialisation and consumerism, people who normally turn to shops, tradespeople, professionals etc. for their every need will also do so for music, and will demand that musicians play for them to listen to. The collective experience of the bagpipers through the generations had not prepared them for such a role. The violin, the laouto, the mandolin, the modern form of the lyra are instruments with much broader musical capability, created by specialist instrument makers, and they are played not by any random shepherd—that is, any member of the community; but by the few who have cultivated their talent for music, and are more readily equipped for consumerist listening. The bagpipes, both in Crete and elsewhere, could not fit into the new circumstances. It remained, where and when it could, a survival of premodern times. The natural consequence was that it was played by fewer people more infrequently, up to the point where it would completely disappear.

The specific explanation is that, when the syrtos started becoming established in the regions where the askomandoura was still played, the bagpipes tradition was already declining: the few elderly players could barely preserve what they had inherited from oblivion. It was beyond them to work out how to make use of the new developments through the limited abilities of their instrument.14 Their starting point was very different from the bagpipe revivalists of our time, who have succeeded in finding those new pathways, despite great difficulty.

The explanation for the second question also lies in the connection of the askomandoura with premodernity. Without the syrtos, askomandoura music is limited and monotonous. But that is only a problem for the audience, and in premodern circumstances there was no audience. For example, a verse conversation through improvised couplets, which an entire assembly takes part in as creators, may be accompanied for hours by the same kondilies tunes; indeed, variety would compromise the functionality of the music, if the experience of the music distracted the participants from what they were doing to the accompaniment of the music. Even now, when a musical evening takes that form for a group of people, often only a few or even a single kondilia tune is repeated constantly, without anyone becoming annoyed. (I have repeatedly experienced this in Gergeri.) This holds when music is a vehicle for speech, and speech constitutes an action; it also holds when music is a vehicle for other actions, through dance or other more specialised functions. On the contrary, when music is only produced by musicians and is addressed to an audience without that audience participating in its creation, all attention is directed to the sound of music, which therefore needs to be more rich, varied, and able to maintain the receiver’s attention on its own.

The answer to the third answer is related. The new bagpipers who emerged at the start of this century took on this premodern survival, but were not themselves premodern. Even those who got to hear a living askomandoura tradition (Anogia, Gergeri) are modern people, bred on Cretan music in its modern form, which is primarily as something listened to. (After all, the same applies to their audience.) In modern circumstances for playing music, e.g. in an organised festival with musicians on a stage with microphones, and the audience below listening while they eat, drink, dance and are entertained, the traditional repertoire of the askomandoura, limited and repetitive—only kondilies and pidikhtos dances—would not only be monotonous and tedious, but would diverge so greatly from the established practices of musicians and audience that it was not even contemplated: it was inconceivable. That also applies to the very sound of the askomandoura, which was traditionally played on its own in some places, and in others accompanied by a drum and occasionally a lyra—whereas nowadays a bass plucked instrument such as a laouto or at minimum a guitar is considered essential in a Cretan orchestra, as an accompaniment to the main instrument.

The result was that the new bagpipers have mostly taken up the askomandoura as a mere instrument, as a means for producing musical sounds which, stripped from its traditional role and context, is used like any other instrument—that is (since this is after all Crete) as a variant of the lyra.15 This can be seen in the composition of bagpipe groups, which always include a laouto and generally follow the model of lyra groups (two laoutos, laouto and guitar, two laoutos and percussion etc.) Some players are aware enough to admit as much:

I play lyra-style […] I started on the askomandoura on my own, quite blindly, and I mostly translate from the lyra. I don’t think in terms of the bagpipes, see? […] There was no continuity of the bagpipes in Crete. What Robogiannakis and I and some others are doing is a revival. It’s not like Olympos [bagpiping village in Karpathos], where young people learn from old people and there is no loss of colour (Al. Papadakis16).

Note that the “translation from the lyra” is not just musical—repertoire, aesthetic choices in developing tunes, etc.; it mainly has to do with the very role and character of the instrument.

[For bibliography, see original post.]

“What’s Wrong with being sexy?” “No, sex*ist*”

By: | Post date: November 11, 2017 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Australia

Those of my vintage will recall these two scenes from This Is Spinal Tap:

There was something of a reenactment of that on The Project last night.

The Project, as Australians know and others don’t, is a talk show hosted by Australian Muslim public intellectual Waleed Aly, along with some people who aren’t Muslim or public intellectuals.

Waleed (who I see has now finally gotten his PhD) has been asked whether he thought he was slumming it by being on a commercial TV talk show. His response was that broadcasting on an ABC radio show was no less dumbing things down—broadcast media is not an academic monograph, no matter how high end it is supposed to be.

Still, you will occasionally note a flurry of consternation across his brow during The Project, typically at the comedian sidekicks trying to be funny. Although Waleed is a thoroughly modern and hip Australian (he played guitar in a Pink Floyd cover band for an industry award ceremony), you will occasionally see some cultural disconnects, other than his refusal to drink alcohol.

Last night, The Project featured the fuss around Honey Birdette. Honey Birdette is a lingerie store operating in suburban shopping malls. Honey Birdette uses provocative imagery in its shop windows, such as women in lingerie in a party with men in suits:

—and a petition has circulated that the imagery should not appear in shopping malls, where mums and dads have to explain “why are those ladies not wearing any clothes” to their seven-year-olds.

The obligatory child psychologist was interviewed, and then Waleed chatted briefly with his two comedian sidekicks, Meshel and Lehmo. Meshel concurred that she should not have to explain to her daughter the imagery as being illustrative of the evils of patriarchy, and flaunting the power imbalance between the lingerie-clad women and the suit-clad men.

A familiar flurry of consternation came across Waleed’s brow. “But… surely that’s not the point. Surely the point is that there shouldn’t be hypersexualised imagery in a shopping mall at all.”

Oh no, Meshel and Lehmo nonchalantly answered. If the guys were in Speedos, that would have been quite alright.

And co-host Natarsha Belling quickly threw to an ad break, as Waleed’s features contorted into a Study in Whisky-Tango-Foxtrot…

University presses as rentiers

By: | Post date: November 11, 2017 | Comments: 6 Comments
Posted in categories: Academia

In days of yore, before computers, books were how knowledge was disseminated. And a knowledge economy had developed in the humanities, that went like this:

  • A humanities scholar got tenure in a university by producing one or more published monographs.
  • Because published monographs are still goods, there had to be suppliers and consumers of the monographs.
  • The consumers were university libraries, which were budgeted to buy monographs.
  • The providers were university presses, which were budgeted to produce monographs.
  • The point of the published monographs was to circulate contributions to knowledge. It was not to satisfy market demand, which would prioritise only certain kinds of knowledge.
  • So this was not a laissez-faire economy of knowledge production, with commercially competitive presses and competing libraries. This was a natural monopoly, and a command economy. The limited print runs involved kept monographs out of the purchasing capability of mere mortals (they cost hundreds of dollars), but the system was considered fit for purpose.
  • As an incidental benefit, the scarcity of the published resources required some gatekeeping from the universities themselves, to guarantee that what was being published was not crap.

Like so much, this economy has been disrupted by electronic media. So while XKCD has just discovered that libraries are the best way of preserving knowledge

—university libraries have gotten out of the buying books business. Their funders (the universities themselves), enthralled by the shininess of digital resources, don’t see the point of funding the purchase of dead trees.

Since there is no longer a natural consumer for print monographs, the providers of print monographs have lost their market. Therefore, they will now only print monographs if they can be guaranteed a market for the monograph outside the vanished university library purchasers: the monographs have to be sellable to the general public. Which means they have to be commercially viable.

Hence the lamentation from an erstwhile assistant at Oxford University Press in the Chronicle of Higher Education, that academics cannot write a book proposal to save themselves, and that they write in unreadable convoluted jargon that the general public would not want to buy.

Ah, but she can help, by helping junior academics write good book proposals and more legible prose.

Now, I will concede that academics do have a responsibility to communicate their research to the public; the dearth of the public intellectual is an indictment on Anglosphere academia in particular.

And I will concede that academic prose can be needlessly obfuscatory. Chomsky is notorious for this in linguistics, but only because linguists don’t suffer from that malady as badly as other disciplines in the humanities. (Partly because linguists don’t regard themselves as being in the humanities to begin with.)

But Toor’s article is the plea of a rentier, and it profiteers from the noxious survival of an expired arrangement.

(And to think people actually say that academia.edu is the problem.)

The point of the ecosystem in days of yore was not to make money for Oxford University Press. The point was to disseminate knowledge produced at Oxford University, or any number of other Universities. And it was to disseminate any knowledge—not just the knowledge that was currently in fashion or that was crowd-pleasing and telling people what they want to hear (which is what the market is going to favour).

If that ecosystem is disrupted, then the universities have the responsibility to come up with an ecosystem which still satisfies its ground requirement—the dissemination of knowledge.

Which can be met by PDFs, on academia.edu, or if you prefer on an institutional repository.

If they want the gatekeeper function for quality, fine, put that on the institutional repository.

But my god, don’t go telling academics that the only way they should earn promotion is by writing a sexy book proposal. The point of academic promotion is not to make rentiers a profit.

Of course, the academic enterprise is compromised to begin with: you don’t get a competitive research grant unless you are researching something sexy and popular (as judged by your peers), and you don’t get a job as an academic unless you are researching something sexy and popular (as judged by your peers). The university presses aren’t selling to the command economies of university libraries any more, but they are selling to your peers. So in fact the current state of affairs is more of the same. And universities, as ossified and self-serving institutions (like all human institutions) are not going to be agile enough to see through the flaw in the knowledge ecosystem: they’re still expecting a dead tree published by a university press.

That doesn’t make it justified. The fact that the peers mostly used to act in collusion with the State, and often now act to critique the State, doesn’t make it justified, either.

And it doesn’t make me have any affection for Toor’s argument. Particularly as she compares the lean times of university presses to the lean times of the Houston real estate market—as if laissez faire capitalism benefiting university presses should always be the metric by which academic promotion should be established.

But the argument that academic promotion should not be conditional on a sexy book proposal is hardly the argument that a rentier is going to make, is it.

I’m filled with misanthropy from this. This species really does deserve a Carrington Event.

Nick vs the Dean of Law, UNSW

By: | Post date: October 29, 2017 | Comments: No Comments
Posted in categories: Australia

On the day of the High Court decision upholding the strict interpretation of Section 44i, I posted on the Facebooks:

Why am I surrounded in this country by dolts?

The High Court passed down the banhammer on the pollies. (Fun fact: turns out I’m as British as Xenophon is.) [False alarm.] The commentators get wheeled out on Channel 9. “We’re a country of immigrants, it’s a 100 year old regulation, we should change it.” Does the fool who said that realise that needs a referendum? And that Australians don’t pass referendums at the best of times? And that Australians would be itching to use it as an excuse to punish politicians?

It would seem I have just called Prof George Williams AO, dean of law at the University of New South Wales, a dolt:

Two ways forward now that the High Court has ruled on citizenship of MPs

The second option is to recognise that section 44 of the Constitution is ill-suited to modern times and should be amended. This part of the Constitution was drafted in the 1890s when dual citizenship was rare, and Australia more isolated and inward-looking. Today, the section runs counter to Australia’s national interests. It is not consistent with our sovereignty to permit the eligibility of our parliamentarians to be determined by the citizenship laws of foreign nations.

There’s rich irony in the same issue of The Age, carrying Wiliams’ comment, also carrying this article claiming that Australian universities are funding researchers collaborating with the People’s Liberation Army of China, and working to undermine the technological primacy of the American military.

… Which one could argue is also counter to Australia’s national interests, and is a context where dual citizenship does get to be looked at askance.

So. Am I comfortable to call Williams a dolt?

On the basis of that editorial, sure.

To some extent, because of the principle of it. The High Court is still satisfied by reasonable steps taken to renounce foreign citizenship (I think); so the fear that we are at the mercy of foreign countries undermining our parliament through citizenship law changes is unfounded (and was anticipated the last time this issue went to court, thanks to Phil Cleary). It does impose vigilance on would-be parliamentarians, to check for changes to their ancestral countries’ citizenship law—and inasmuch as those changes could still lead to conflicts of interest, it is right to. Saying probity is old-fashioned because multiculturalism is no argument, especially when a renunciation of dual citizenship is both already a routine matter for the Labor party, and a reasonable undertaking to do one’s job as an Australian legislator, purer than Caesar’s Wife. And “probity is old-fashioned because multiculturalism” is certainly not an argument of law, in which Williams is more expert than me.

To a much greater extent, because of the sheer impracticality of it. Constitutional amendments to address the indigenous people of Australia are repeatedly floundering—most recently this very week. Politicians aren’t convinced the Australian people will vote in a referendum to remedy the injuries done to indigenous Australians in the past, because it will be seen as overreach. Yet Williams assumes Australians will happily vote in a referendum to make things easier on political parties to dodge probity checks? Really?

Williams’ address to the National Press Club a few months back, inevitably, is rather more nuanced than his editorial today. It’s still politically naive though. He says that we used to vote on constitutional referenda all the time up until the Republic referendum of 1999; and then we lost our ticker for constitutional reform.

You know what else the Australian people lost in the last two decades? All remaining respect for the political class, and all inclination to make things easier for them. As witnessed by the upsurge in third party votes. Does Williams really think that politicians losing the ticker for constitutional reform is unrelated to the crisis of confidence in politicians?

Wherein I am not a British Overseas Citizen

By: | Post date: October 28, 2017 | Comments: 4 Comments
Posted in categories: Australia

So, we’ve had a little constitutional crisis here. The Australian Constitution disqualifies people from running for parliament if they have allegiance to another country, as part of its eligibility conditions.

44. Any person who –

(i.) Is under any acknowledgement of allegiance, obedience, or adherence to a foreign power, or is a subject or a citizen or entitled to the rights or privileges of a subject or citizen of a foreign power: or

(v.) Has any direct or indirect pecuniary interest in any agreement with the Public Service of the Commonwealth otherwise than as a member and in common with the other members of an incorporated company consisting of more than twenty-five persons:
shall be incapable of being chosen or of sitting as a senator or a member of the House of Representatives.

In fact, an MP was in trouble just recently for 44v, having shares in a shopping centre that included a post office.

I have no problem with the probity conditions of the Australian Constitution, or the fact that the High Court ruled on it strictly.

  • An MP is meant to be immune from external influence, pecuniary or governmental.
  • The fact that there are lobbyists now that there weren’t in 1900 does not mean the principle should be diluted.
  • The fact that dual citizenship is much more commonplace now than back then does not mean the principle should be diluted. If you want to run for parliament, you can good and renounce your dual citizenship. Explicitly. On paper. As grown-up parties (Labor, but clearly not the Nationals or the Greens) already insist you do. Like the opinion piece in The Australian said today: this isn’t about “the vibe”, we aren’t meant to be mind-readers about how a pollie feels, when they run for office. And I applaud it for scolding the government it politically aligns with, for trying to subvert the constitution.
  • The fact that a New Zealander or Canadian in 1900 were not subject to 44i in 1900 does not mean the principle should be diluted. In fact, I’m insulted by the suggestion that, if a Greek would be caught by 44i in 1900, a New Zealander should be let off the hook now because he would have been part of the Empire then. I don’t care if the constitution framers would have waved through Fellow Britons and block The Swarthy or The Non-Whites; the principle of foreign influence still holds.
  • The fact that the rest of the Commonwealth isn’t as strict about MPs having allegiance to their country does not mean the principle should be diluted. They want to be slack about it, that’s their problem.
  • The fact that the US doesn’t impose restrictions on dual citizenship on Congress impresses me even less. This is the country that from its inception blocked its citizens from foreign titles, and its own president from being foreign born. If they didn’t extend those restrictions to Congress, that’s an inconsistency, not a model to emulate.

My particular interest, above the fact that this country has even more political turmoil than the recent norm, was piqued by the peculiar status of Nick Xenophon, and the bizarro semi-citizenship he unwittingly acquired from his father Theo Xenophou, as a British Overseas Citizen.

  • This is not a hellenisteukontos post, but I do have to comment on the surname. Cyprus, now as in Arcado-Cypriot days, is renowned for its archaism, and Ancient Greek names and surnames are popular there. So people can be surnamed Xenophon. But they are surnamed Xenophon *in the vernacular*; and in the vernacular, there is no third declension. Surnames formed from proper names in Cyprus are in the genitive: the surname Nicholas in Greek is Nikolaou, a normal second declension genitive. Theo was also surnamed with a normal second declension genitive: Xenophou, not the expected Xenophontos. Of course both Xenophou and Xenophontos would have caused confusion in English, among anyone who had heard of Xenophon. Just as my uncles and father anglicised Nikolaou to Nicholas, Nick anglicised it to the nominative Xenophon.

My understanding was that Nick Xenophon did make steps to try and renounce it in time, and was ignored by the British High Commission. (In which case, thanks a bunch, British High Commission; and I doubt pollies are going to take silence as an answer here in the future. But any answers Xenophon would have gotten from the British High Commission, he would also have gotten from the Wikipedia article.)

However, the High Court ruling didn’t rely on that, so much (pity), as the fact that British Overseas Citizenship is so pointless, it would not act as an incentive for an MP to do anything contrary to the interests of Australia. Wikipedia again:

Because the status of British Overseas Citizen is not associated with the right to live or work anywhere in the world, it is often considered a useless citizenship (unless the holder has no other nationality, in which case he or she may register as a British Citizen). However, there are some minor benefits to having British Overseas Citizenship.

Some of these rights are common to all Commonwealth citizens (i.e. British Overseas Citizens with another form of Commonwealth citizenship already have these rights):

  • Right to vote in the UK if resident in the UK.

Meh.

Other rights are specific only to British Overseas Citizens but not to Commonwealth citizens (holders of some other classes of British nationality may also qualify for some of these rights):

  • Acquiring British Citizenship is simpler and cheaper (registration instead of naturalization), although residency requirements are the same as for other nationalities.
  • Indefinite Leave to Remain is valid for life, regardless of time spent outside the United Kingdom.
  • Ability to hold certain jobs and offices in the UK that are restricted to British Nationals (although positions restricted to British Citizens remain off-limits).
  • Ability to benefit from the Youth Mobility Scheme with no quotas.
  • Ability to claim personal exemptions on UK income if considered non-resident for UK tax purposes. (Prior to 6 Apr 2010 this was available to all Commonwealth Citizens).
  • Consular protection from the UK government if outside the UK and travelling on a British passport.
  • Visa-free access to the UK for visits up to 6 months, if travelling on a BOC passport. (Many other nationalities, commonwealth and non-commonwealth, also have this benefit.)

… Meh.

Xenophon’s story is not my own story (as I thought for ten panicked minutes, because goddamnit, I don’t want to be a Pom); but it is in fact the story of at least one of my cousins. It’s the story of the messy conflict between imperial subjecthood, and national citizenship.

So let me share, drawing on Wikipedia: British Subject.

My uncle George came to Australia from Cyprus in 1947. In Cyprus, he was a British subject. When he arrived in Australia, he was a British subject. And so was everybody in Australia. Both were part of the British Empire.

(And if anyone tells you about the brave ANZACs of Gallipoli forging Australian identity, point out to them that the flag they fought under was the Union Jack, as part of the British Army. My high school still had a Union Jack draped over its War Memorial in the 1980s. As I’ve read somewhere, it was much easier to conscript the ANZACs into Australian nation-building mythology, once the actual original ANZACs started dying off.)

In 1949, everybody in Australia became an Australian citizen, as well as a British subject. My uncles and my father left behind in Cyprus became “Citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies (CUKC)” (as well as British subjects), because Cyprus was not a Dominion like Australia, but a Crown colony. (They’ve called those remaining British Overseas Territories since 2002.)

My uncle George was not born in Australia, and as far as I can tell, he remained a CUKC rather than becoming an Australian Citizen.

In 1959, my uncle George had his first child, Nick, in Australia. Nick Xenophon was also born in Australia to a Cypriot father in 1959. Birth in Australia will have conferred to both of them Australian citizenship. Yet as the High Court has confirmed, birth to a Cypriot father also conferred to both of them CUKC status.

In 1960, Cyprus became independent, and my uncles and aunts in Cyprus changed automatically from being British subjects, to being Cypriot citizens. That also applied to my father, who only left Cyprus for Australia in 1966.

But any Cypriots that left for other parts of the British Empire (or the Commonwealth, if you accept that fig leaf) did not change automatically to anything. They left as British subjects to other countries that had British subjects, and they remained British subjects. And that seems to have applied to all my uncle George’s other children, born between 1959 and 1968: “citizens of countries that had become republics, such as India, were grouped as British subjects.”

Australia abolished the notion of British subject in 1987, though it has kept it retrospectively on the electoral roll. In 1981, meanwhile, Britain cleaned up the citizenship status of its former colonials, by splitting up CUKCs into British citizens (e.g. born in Britain or descended from someone who was); British Overseas Territories citizens (if you were still connected to a colony in 1983); and British Overseas citizens.

British Overseas Citizens was a catch-all for everyone else, who hadn’t sought out their newly independent country’s citizenship:

British Overseas citizenship is a residual category of British nationality, in that there is very little provision for the acquisition of British Overseas citizenship after 1983; and with the passage of time the category will become extinct.

As British Overseas citizenship is a “mop-up” category for CUKCs who did not acquire British citizenship or BOTC in 1983, there are many ways in which someone may have acquired that status.

These include:

  • persons holding CUKC by connection with a former colony or protectorate who did not acquire that country’s citizenship on independence. This applied particularly to some former colonies, such as Kenya, that did not grant citizenship to all CUKCs born or naturalised in that colony.
    • So people that became stateless in their own country on independence. Ouch.
  • persons who retained CUKC on independence of their colony based on a connection to another colony which subsequently became independent before 1983
    • So colonials who moved to another colony, so they didn’t get citizenship when either colony became independent. Again, ouch.
  • British subjects born before 1949 who did not acquire citizenship of any Dominion (Australia, Canada, India, Pakistan, Ceylon, South Africa), Ireland or Southern Rhodesia when these countries introduced citizenship laws, and were not connected in any way with India or Pakistan.
    • And I guess at the time, noone was strongly motivated to, because everybody was part of the British Empire. That might have been the case for my uncle George and Nick Xenophon’s dad. Except…
  • minor children who acquired CUKC by registration at the British High Commission in an independent Commonwealth country on or after 28 October 1971
  • persons who were allowed to retain their CUKC statuses even though they acquired the citizenship of a newly independent Commonwealth country (see Penang and Malacca and Cyprus immediately below)… Persons resident in any area of the Commonwealth (excluding Cyprus) immediately before 16 August 1960 retained CUKC even if they acquired Cypriot citizenship.

… Bingo. Even if my uncle George and Theo Xenophou sought out Cypriot citizenship after independence, the UK still made them CUKC (and now British Overseas Citizens), by virtue of them residing elsewhere in the Empire at the time. And in fact, even if Nick Xenophon and my cousin Nick have Australian citizenship, by virtue of being born in Australia—they still got to be British Overseas Citizens, because their fathers were colonials who migrated within the Empire.

George’s other children born after Cypriot independence, Perry, Steve and Mary—seem to have been British subjects under Australian law, regardless. The same would apply to my uncle Chris’ children Nick and Irene, as Chris had moved to Australia in 1953. But they don’t seem to have ended up as British Overseas Citizens. Australia being a Dominion seems to have safeguarded them from acquiring CUKC status as far as Britain was concerned, after 1960. (Had my uncles moved to Mauritius or the Bahamas, on the other hand, their children would still have ended up BOCs.)

It’s messy, but really, the mess is not the fault of those who drew up the British Nationality Act of 1981 (although British Overseas Citizenship really is an insultingly nothing kind of citizenship.) They were doing cleanup after the demise of the Empire, and mopping up the former colonials whose citizenship was up in the air because they were out of town at the time. The mess was inevitable, in transition from an imperial notion of being a British Subject anywhere where the map was coloured in red, to when those parts of the map in red becoming nations of their own.

At any rate, my father was a Cypriot citizen when he got here, so I have no eligibility to being a British Overseas Citizen, and that’s fine by me.

OTOH, it turns out that I am eligible for Cypriot citizenship, through jus sanguinis (mpf): per Acquisition of Citizenship due to Cypriot Origins, application type M123. I’d have thought that eligibility for Cypriot citizenship means I don’t have Cypriot citizenship right now; but if I ever do consider a career in Australian politics, form M130 to renounce Cypriot Citizenship would be something I’d want to look at.

In defence of academia.edu

By: | Post date: October 23, 2017 | Comments: 4 Comments
Posted in categories: Academia

Sarah Bond has published an article on Forbes, titled: Dear Scholars, Delete Your Account At Academia.Edu.

Dear Sarah Bond:

How about—No.

Academia.edu arose as a response to the exclusive distribution of articles by journal publishers—whose money gouging is orders of magnitude more obtrusive, and more obstructive to disseminating scholarship, than academia.edu’s.

(And the money gouging continues whether you use academia.edu or not, because academic careers still rely on peer reviewed journals overwhelmingly published by commercial publishers.)

Bond’s suggestion of Institutional Repositories as an alternative is cold comfort to independent scholars like me—or like the independent scholar who applauded this article on my Facebook feed. (Is putting up your papers on your personal website so much better then?) Not to mention how having papers scattered to the winds, one repository at a time (or one personal website at a time, for independent scholars), means noone will ever be able to search them in the one place. There have been moves to federate repositories for decades now, and they still won’t deliver the economy of scale that academia.edu has, driven by profit as it is. (Shall I opt out of Google too because they sell ads?)

Other disciplines, in the sciences and medicine, have dealt with this a lot better (arXiv for example). But for the humanities, we’re not there; and until such time as Humanities Commons, which Bond touts, gets there, I have no interest in deleting my academia.edu account. I’m not compromising what little dissemination my work gets, with no institutional backing, in order to prove your point.

Yes, academia.edu profiteers on my labour. So does your university. Yes, academia.edu keeps trying to get me to upgrade. I’m used to it by now. It’s no worse than the model that came before it.

If you want to bring down academia.edu, build a Commons that has its economy of scale and size. Those of you who are employed within academia have better resourcing to do so than I do. Until such time, I’m OK with being monetised by academia.edu.

Or, for that matter, Google.

Dan Andrews, meet Tom Huston

By: | Post date: October 16, 2017 | Comments: 1 Comment
Posted in categories: Culture

Last week, my State Premier Dan Andrews approved the wholesale transfer of drivers licence photos to the Feds, because terrorism. And he also dismissed any concerns about civil liberties as a luxury (a luxury) that he cannot afford as a leader, because terrorism.

Some people have the luxury of being able to have that notional debate. Those of us in positions of leadership do not have that luxury.

Nor of course does leadership have the luxury of actually standing for anything any more. Particularly in the centre-left.

We don’t have many public intellectuals or civil libertarians left in our benighted age, to tell Dan Andrews and all the other leaders how full of it they are. We do at least have Waleed Aly pointing out how expedient this talk is, when the actual imminent crisis that is going to kill a whole lot more people than Tha Muzlims, climate change, raises only a complacent “meh” from leaders of the putative integrity and steely-eyed bravery of Andrews.

I finished reading John Farrell’s biography of Nixon last night. And there was a quote there from the Church Committee hearings, the post-Watergate cleanup of all the Cold War abuses of civil liberties by the US government, that stopped me in my tracks, because it’s a quote we’re going to hear again, when the following forty years of abuses (because terrorism) are called to reckoning. And people will say, Oh, How Could We Have Been So Blind. And those people will not be worth answering, because the evidence of their blindness is all around them right now.

It’s a quote from Tom Huston, the Nixon aide who came up with the Huston Plan. Which he came up with at Nixon’s bequest in 1970, and which would have been implemented in full had it not been blocked by, of all people, J. Edgar Hoover:

Among other things the plan called for domestic burglary, illegal electronic surveillance and opening the mail of domestic “radicals”. At one time it also called for the creation of camps in Western states where anti-war protesters would be detained.

And of course that kind of thing is happening again, without challenge, because terrorism.

When Huston proclaimed his penitence to the Church committee, he said the following. (You can watch the video from C-SPAN if you have the patience to.) It’s as true now as it ever was, because slippery slopes are always real. And people only paid attention to it for what, five years? Ten? Because these lessons keep having to be relearned:

The risk was that you would get people who would be susceptible to political considerations as opposed to national security considerations, or who would construe political considerations to be national security considerations, to move from the kid with the bomb to the kid with the picket sign, and from the kid with the picket sign to the kid with the bumper sticker of the opposing candidate. And you just keep going down the line.

… There’s a reason I can no longer watch House of Cards

In disagreement with Tuvel

By: | Post date: October 13, 2017 | Comments: 5 Comments
Posted in categories: Culture

Following on from my defence of Tuvel:

I’ve read Tuvel’s article, which a lot more than can be said of many who have criticised it.

  • “My friends have been harassed by TERFs because of this specific essay,” for example. Then those TERFs didn’t read the article either: the article takes the right of trans people to determine their own gender identity as axiomatic. And people were using Dolezal as a cudgel to deny trans people their identity a long, long time before Tuvel pondered, based on that cudgeling, whether race and gender are different. The notion that harm is done because people don’t bother to read an article, and therefore the article should never have been written, is no argument. Like Grrrrrobert said: “Yes, our work can be misused by people who want to do evil with it. That’s true. There’s no way to stop that except to stop doing the work.”
  • As a couple of commenters online have mused: it’s not like there’s any shortage of established academics in feminism who dismiss trans identity, and couch womanhood in essentialist terms—something Tuvel has simply not done. To demand Tuvel’s article be retracted, and to say that it inflicts pain on trans people, yet not to venture the same action against anything by Sheila Jeffreys—to use one of the more egregious Australian examples—looks opportunistic. Is it only submissions to Hypatia by junior academics that are to be held to a higher standard, then?

I don’t want to say the article is superficial, because I don’t want to give aid and comfort to censors, who have not advanced any academic argument against the paper other than “did not cite enough trans scholars and scholars of colour”. I think the article is interesting, and well-reasoned, but I also think it is ultimately too simple a view of identity.

I don’t think so because it doesn’t cite enough critical race theory. In fact (and this argument has been raised too) privileging the testimony of those whose identity is contested over any other voice is problematic, because those voices are biased by self-interest, like any interested party’s is.

Yes, so are their opponents’ voices. And that’s where judgement and reasoning is supposed to come in, to make sense of it. Unless you conclude that judgement and reasoning are bankrupt, which in fact the scholars calling for retraction do. That, I’ve spoken about already.

My concern is that this is a paper about identity construction, and it doesn’t seem to be aware of social identity theory, or all the thinking that has come since, on how social identity is constructed. It’s sociology without the sociology.

  • Then again, it is also race theory without the race theory, as its critics said; and Trysh Travis is right: I can’t fault a philosopher for not writing a sociology paper. Winnubst’s response delegitimises analytical philosophy as unrighteous, even when it is is politically informed, as Tuvel’s flavour is; I’m not interested in doing the same.
  • And at least analytical philosophy, with its “ideal theory”, is capable of asking challenging questions, that can help advance understanding. L’affaire Tuvel leaves me skeptical that Continental philosophy is set up to do the same, and to be self-critical as well as other-critical.

In particular, by taking the right of people to define their own identity as an axiom, Tuval makes of identity a primarily individual expression, when it clearly isn’t. Adherence to a group identity is a contract between the individual, the in-group who would recognise the individual as their own, and the out-group they would define themselves against. It’s hard to see how a social identity can ever be constructed divorced from society.

That’s the real problem with Tuvel bringing up the example of conversion to Judaism, as being a matter for the individual and, at most, the rabbi establishing the convert’s bona fides. The question of Who Is A Jew is a much more involved question than that (as Tuvel will know from her own upbringing), and it has a lot more stakeholders. The tribe gets to say a lot about tribal identity; to make one’s creed purely a matter of individual confession with a single religious gatekeeper is… well, it’s very Protestant. It certainly doesn’t sound like any credal identity I’m familiar with from the Balkans. And if you replace Judaism with, say, being Japanese (or any number of other notoriously insular identities), an individual’s desires are not going to count for much with anyone involved in the identity.

Tuvel is aware that it takes two to tango when an individual aligns with an identity—the individual and the collective; but she minimises the role of the collective thoroughly, and asserts the primacy of the individual. That perspective does underpin how trans people arrive at their identity; and to question it is repugnant to our sense of individual rights. (Mine and her’s, at any rate.) Yet when time comes for Tuvel to ask, not how Dolezal is different, but how “otherkin”/furries or the transabled are different—why people can’t also just declare allegiance to a different species, or act as if they are disabled when they’re not—it’s only then that she appeals to the collective as necessary to ratify that identity choice.

She also posits the proviso that society can only ratify that choice, when it is feasible for the person to actually experience life as what they identify as. A person can’t really experience life as an amputee unless they amputate; they can’t really experience life as a dog unless they walk on all fours and pee on your leg.

Tuvel thinks that argument draws a clear line between transracialism and furries. I think the clear line is still on the other side of Dolezal, given how overwhelming the social rejection of Dolezal’s construction has been. If the collective gets a say on an individual’s self-definition, you don’t get to put provisos on that say: the collective has made its own decisions. This has the uncomfortable corollary that how race is constructed is contingent on current social consensus and history, rather than true for all time. But social identities are contingent: they are societal constructs. How can they not depend on current social consensus and history?

And there’s the further discomfort, which looks to have animated Tuvel’s questioning to begin with. Do we therefore invalidate trans people’s identity, by saying it too is contingent on current social consensus and history?

There’s the whiff of philosophical pragmatism around that argument: only that is true which is useful; that hundreds of thousands of people who experience gender dysphoria outweigh one person experiencing racial dysphoria. It’s a messy, time-bound, compromised notion, but it is one I accept, precisely because identity is formed in societal contexts. (And I concede the point to Tuvel’s critics that that is indeed how race is constructed, and that how race is constructed is different to how gender is constructed.)

That pragmatic argument leads in turn to an even more scary conclusion, which I’m not as eager to accept: that in societies where people didn’t and don’t have access to permeable constructs of gender, they couldn’t really claim for themselves transition to the other gender, as far as their society understood that gender (or even as they themselves understood it). Tuvel anticipates those arguments, and she does not welcome them. But again, the claim that someone aligns with a gender is culture-specific and only makes sense within that culture. When Native Americans made social sense of gender dysphoria through the notion of two-spirit, and other cultures devised notions of third genders—proposing their own gender constructs—were they being oppressive by denying the possibility of permeability of gender? And how is it useful to say that?

I come back to an exchange I reported on a few months ago.

Gender dysphoria–or at the very least, awareness of gender/sex mismatch—seems to be very old, given the number of attestations of gender-diverse instances in human societies, and of androgynous cultural artefacts.

What is new is the way that society—and individuals within that society—deal with gender dysphoria. That’s not just about veneration vs punishment from the social norm. That’s also about how individuals express a gender identity under dysphoria; what options their culture afforded them. […] The construals and options of gender, as social phenomena, have changed, even if the psychological and biological drivers behind dysphoria are the same.

I made the argument above to my friend Janna, that the dysphoria is old, but the social construals are new. And she made a very insightful point: the social construals have to be new. Because society is dynamic, in a way that biology is not.

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    1. Whether we refer to “each island” or “Greek-wide phaenomena”, what we are actually referring to takes place in the broader region of the Aegean (many of the Dodecanese, most of the Cyclades, Chios, Samos, Fourni, Icaria, Crete), and the communities of Pontians and a few refugees from Western Asia Minor, wherever they have ended up.

    2. I am mainly referring to the the Anogia villages; but during the conference Kostas Panteris [the conference organiser] informed me that the neighbouring village of Gonies, which historically belonged to Mylopotamos and not Malevizi province, also played bagpipes. They were also played in nearby Damasta of Iraklion, as I was informed by the former piper Minas Nikoloudakis (Damasta, 1929–), whom I also met during the conference. (Interview with Haris Sarris and the author, Iraklion 2014–07–08.)

    3. I am indebted for this information to two friends, musicians and researchers: Alexandros Papadakis and Giorgis Langadinos, who have carried out investigations personally (the former in Agios Vasilis, the latter in the other regions), and were kind enough to share their findings with me, for which I am grateful. I had carried out a local investigation myself in Apano Riza, and more generally I have some personal experience with the region because of the Gergeri meetups (see below). The available bibliography and recordings is mainly from Apano Riza (Langadinos 2009) and Anogia (Baud-Bovy [Liavas ed.] 2006 + accompanying record.)

    4. Communication from the former bagpiper Antonis Stefanakis (Zaros, ca. 1935–); interview with the author (Zaros, August 2007)

    5. Oral communication from G. Langadinos, based on his personal research.

    6. My main source concerning the revival is my personal experience. I have known all four instrumentalists personally since 2006, when the first Gergeri meetup took place. I have been attending those meetups since without fail, and I have had extensive discussions on other events I have not witnessed myself with the other participants (mainly the four instrumentalists and the initial organiser G. Langadinos). I have gathered further information from personal interviews with them, as well as published interviews by three of them (except for Papadakis) in Lagoudianakis (2007).

    7. There is a risk of overemphasising how important the “Shepherds” are to musical culture in Crete. It is possible that some new bagpipers started independently of the movement in Gergeri, and without being initially aware of it, as indeed the first four bagpipers did.

    8. Lagoudianakis 2007, p. 91. Note that if a tune can be played on the bagpipes, that is an indication though not proof that it originated on the bagpipes (Baud-Bovy [Liavas ed.] 2006, p. 172; Baud-Bovy 4th ed., 2005, p. 38). In the case of Cretan syrtos dances, for example, the bagpipers are fully aware of the fact.

    9. On melodic embellishment vs motival development and periodic vs chain structure, see Sarris, Kolydas & Tzevelekos 2010, p. 72, and Sarris 2007, p. 268. In my dissertation chapter I argue at length for the need for a specific notion of a piping repertoire, beyond the more general notions of motive-based and chain repertoire.

    10. We should refer, even if in a footnote, to two other popular dances, the sousta and the pentozalis. The sousta consists of kondilies which show all the characteristics of the piping repertoire, but I have never heard a modern or older musician play them on the bagpipes. As for the pentozalis, it has a Crete-wide melody which originates with the violins of Chania, and is motive-based and chained but not piping; and a large number of local tunes, some of them attested on the bagpipes. So the common term pentozalis, pentozali, pentozalakia does not necessary have the same consistent referent.

    11. Confirmed by Al. Papadakis, G. Robogiannakis and G. Langadinos, all three of whom have met him (interviews and conversations with them).

    12. On the history of the spread of the syrtos from Chania to the rest of Crete, beside the general information scattered in many sources, I refer to the conclusions of the research undertaken by Langadinos and by Papadakis (see above, fn. 4).

    13. Or violin players, laouto players, boulgari players, etc. Note that even the sfyrokhambiolo, an instrument just as old as the bagpipes (though musically more flexible), played the syrtos. The case of Baxes is especially noteworthy: he played both instruments with a distinct repertoire on each, and would play the syrtos only on the sfyrokhambiolo.

    14. In the chapter of my dissertation on Crete I discuss the case of Anogia, which formed a consistent exception to this general observation.

    15. The presentation by Ch. Sarris, which was given right after mine in the conference, claimed that in previous stages in the development of Cretan music the reverse was the case: the old lyra was essentially a stringed bagpipe. See Liavas 1986 and Liavas 1994: 149.

    16. Interview with the author, Athens 2006–07–20