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What Makes a Dog a Dog, Socratic Civility, and Kpop

Is it time to take Kpop seriously? Jonathan M. S. Davis thinks so [1]: “Every pop culture form reaches a point where the product attains sufficient depth and complexity to merit serious critical attention, as opposed to sociological analysis or entertainment business history chronicling. For western pop, that moment came in 1967, with the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. For Kpop, that time is now. This is Kpop’s Sgt. Pepper moment.”

I just listened to a handful of the most popular Kpop’s songs from last year, and they all sound the same to me, but Davis would say that’s my problem. I’m looking for originality, authenticity, and I shouldn’t be. He writes that the genre “could exemplify Adorno’s nightmare, its repetitiveness pummeling the listener into infantilism. Yet closer investigation of Kpop’s social dimension reveals a more complex picture.” Ah, yes, the old “social dimension” pivot. Kpop, at its best (Psy), strikes me as a parody genre. Should we take it seriously? Does it take itself seriously? Are bands like BTS addressing “weighty” themes because they care about them or because they know doing so will help sell the songs?

For his part, Davis doesn’t hang his hat on BTS or other popular groups. He argues that we should evaluate Kpop by its best artists—those associated with the Loona project. Here’s what he says: “From the teen crush motifs of the videos there emerge organically questions that matter as much to 60 year olds as to school age fans, puzzles equally important to the monogamous and the polyamorous, the heterosexual and the queer. How do the passions of love relate to the affections of friendship? What sort of self acceptance must precede engagement with others? Is love an illusion, or the deepest insight of which we are capable?”

But it seems to me that these groups aren’t doing anything particularly interesting or risky here. We all know the “right” answer to at least the first question without even thinking, don’t we? “Yes,” our Ibsen-lite culture tells us, we must “accept” ourselves before we give ourselves to others. The second, of course, is more complex but hardly new.

Modern civility, Agnes Callard  writes in The Point, is like a potluck. “If you bring your arguments to the table, and I bring mine, each of us stands to find something of value on offer. Even if no one’s mind is changed, the encounter passes enjoyably enough: no one tries to shove anything down anyone’s throat; everyone is correspondingly polite about what she turns down: ‘No aspic for me, thanks!’ The great thing about ideas is that I don’t lose what you take from me, so the more sharing the better.” Not so in Socrates. “Socrates’s efforts to bend you to his argumentative will come off as downright violent. For instance, consider what happens when Protagoras tries to avoid saying whether he thinks justice is pious: ‘What’s the difference? If you want, we’ll let justice be pious and piety just.’ Socrates has none of it: ‘Don’t do that to me! It’s not this “if you want” or “if you agree” business I want to test. It’s you and me I want to put on the line, and I think the argument will be tested best if we take the “if” out.’” Which one is better? [2]

Venice is beautiful but dead [3], Addison Del Mastro writes after a recent trip to Italy: “On our last night, we saw an opera and had a late dinner at a fancy canal-side restaurant. By the time we left, it was after midnight. The waiter hopped on a boat home, and we walked the 20 minutes or so back to our hotel. In any city I have ever been—New York, D.C., cities in China, other Italian cities—there would have been people on the streets. Some might have been drunks, a few might have been criminals, most would be just regular people. Yet as we took our nighttime stroll, we went minutes at a time without seeing a single other person. Entire streets were ghostly, and even the main boulevards held only a few stragglers. Almost every business had packed it in.” Naples, however, is dirty and alive.

This is a fascinating set of charts [4] from Marginal Revolution depicting the frequency of the phrase “social justice” and other trendy terms, like “diversity” and “inclusion,” in The New York Times. Turns out the paper got woke fast. (HT: Hunter Baker)

Thought you might like to know that the grape Savagnin Blanc has remained unchanged for over 900 years [5]: “In a medieval cesspit in central France, archaeologists dug up a small, hard grape seed. They believed it to be 900 years old, based on the artifacts found nearby. When geneticists crushed up the grape seed, extracted its DNA, and compared it with modern grapes, they found a perfect genetic match in Savagnin Blanc—a grape still grown, still picked, and still made into wine in Europe today . . . The 900-year-old Savagnin Blanc—not to be confused with the more famous variety Sauvignon Blanc—is also notable because it is related to and probably even the parent of many modern varieties: Pinot Noir, Riesling Bleu, Verdejo, Sylvaner, Trousseau, and so on. ‘Savagnin, which to the general wine drinker is a very obscure minor grape, has this really important genetic history, and now we can take it back 1,000 years and put it in the middle of France,’ says Jon Bonné, a wine writer and the author of the forthcoming The New French Wine. He likens the variety to the ‘Johnny Appleseed of all these other varieties.’”

A study supposedly shows that the proximity of writers in 18th and 19th century in London made them more prolific [6]. Maybe…

Speaking of rubbing shoulders with writers, Hugh Linehan writes in The Irish Times that author events are becoming more and more popular [7]. Why? “On the face of it, many of these spoken-word events just look like extensions of the traditional book trade, which these days works its authors to the bone at festivals, seminars, public interviews and signings. But Borris’s designation as a festival of writing and ideas rather than of books seems apt; at many of these events, the book is a launchpad rather than an endpoint. And there are more and more of them because there appears to be a growing number of people who want to hear discussion and debate in the flesh, in a public place and definitely not on a screen.”

Essay of the Day:

We have two German short-haired pointers, so naturally I was interested to read this piece about wild dogs, why we hate them, and why we shouldn’t. Here’s a snippet [8]:

“‘I don’t understand why everyone hates coyotes so much,’ Songsasen said. The rancour seems particularly enigmatic since coyotes are so closely genetically related to our pet dogs that they – as well as all species of wolves and jackals  can even interbreed.

“Why is it that, even in the US, where Americans spend millions of dollars a year on pet dogs, their endangered, wild relatives are the objects of such breathtaking hatred and violence?

“Wild dogs might be hated not in spite of but because they are so similar to the pets we cherish. The characteristics most loathed in wild dogs, and those most valued in Canis familiaris, are virtually identical – but in ways we often fail to recognise.”

* * *

“Typically weighing less than 40 pounds, dholes can’t kill their food by a single bite to the neck like a 400-pound tiger. Such is the case with all the large wild dogs. Smaller canids, such as foxes, specialise in catching rodents and other little animals. They typically don’t live in groups. But canids who hunt larger game can’t subdue their prey alone; they can kill it only with the help of others – usually in a way similar to the dholes.

Because they must get their food this way, dholes and their relatives – such as wolves, African Cape Hunting Dogs, and dingoes – depend on the social relationships in their tight-knit group to survive.

“These pack-hunting species, and not the foxes, are the closest genetic relatives of Canis familiaris. And it’s this very same adaptation for hunting prey so much larger than themselves – prey that they then must consume alive – that makes the domestic dog man’s best friend.

“‘What makes a dog a dog?’ McConnell asks rhetorically. To her, and to many others who study them, the answer is obvious: ‘The major part of a dog is being social,’ she points out. ‘What’s more important to them than that? They are hypersocial – and we, of course, treasure that social need and nature of dogs, and use it to our advantage.’

“Many other animals, of course, are social. Horses herd. Birds flock. Wild pigs live in family groups called sounders. Humans have domesticated many of these species. But no animal has become more integral or intimate a companion to our kind than the dog – in large part, because our values, and our ways of life, are so much the same.”

Read the rest. [8]

Photo: Basel [9]

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