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Watch | Kate Tempest performing Hold Your Own

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On the 28th  July 2015 the wonderful Kate Tempest took to the stage of the Royal Court Theatre. She appeared entirely alone, not even a microphone to hide behind and for the first time performed her latest collection of poems Hold Your Own in its entirety. It lasted about an hour and it was a phenomenal experience on a par with seeing Saul Williams and John Sinclair. I’m not sure I’ve witnessed a more soul-baring performance, it felt like a privilege to be there. I only recently found out it was recorded and that Kate posted it on her Youtube channel. It’s exhilarating stuff.

Kate Tempest’s first full-length collection for Picador is an ambitious, multi-voiced work based around the mythical figure of Tiresias. This four-part work follows him through his transformations from child, man and woman to blind prophet; through this structure, Tempest holds up a mirror to contemporary life in a direct and provocative way rarely associated with poetry. 

 

Watch | In conversation with Saul Williams

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Saul Williams

 

Seeing Saul Williams on stage with just a microphone, his voice and his poems remains one of the greatest live performances I’ve ever experienced and that doesn’t even include the time he rocked the British Library (yes really) a couple of months ago with cuts from his latest album. The guy is tour de force inspiration and here he’s talking about how he approaches his work interspersed with live performance.

 

His latest album MartyrLoserKing is out now and he’s in London on the 6th March, I’ll be there for sure.

Read | On Friendship

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I’ve read a few things recently on the subject of friendship which also link in with social media and communication, subjects I’m interested in so I thought I’d collate them.

The first few are about aspects of friendship which aren’t much explored; friendship breakups and when friendships change. The second link is a podcast from This American Life and features Ta-Nehisi Coates talking to a friend of his about how things have changed now that he’s well-known.

There’s another article about how friendships change in adulthood. It makes a good point about social media;

If you never see your friends in person, you’re not really sharing experiences so much as just keeping each other updated on your separate lives. It becomes a relationship based on storytelling rather than shared living—not bad, just not the same.

This reminds me of another article about why Facebook is the junk food of socialising.

We need to remind ourselves of our evolutionary history, where we evolved without exposure to realistic representations of people. Back then, if you saw something that looked like a person, by golly it was a person. When you look at a video of a person, most of your brain thinks it’s real—the fusiform face area of your brain area reacts identically whether you’re looking at a real face or a picture of one (in fact, most experiments investigating this part of the brain do not use real faces at all, but photos or videos of them).

The errors we make when we view non-human things as human satisfies our desire to interact with other people without giving us many of the benefits. In the moment, watching TV feels good; it satisfies your desire to be with other people. But it’s the visual equivalent of empty calories—delicious but not nutritious.

There’s also this essay from The Guardian newspaper in the UK on how friendship and the social are being used for good in public health and  social policy. It also describes how friendship and the social is being used for money making purposes, labeled ‘neoliberal socialism’ in the essay.

What we encounter in the current business, media and policy euphoria for being social is what might be called “neoliberal socialism”. Sharing is preferable to selling, so long as it does not interfere with the financial interests of dominant corporations. Appealing to people’s moral and altruistic sense becomes the best way of nudging them into line with agendas that they had no say over. Brands and behaviours can be unleashed as social contagions, without money ever changing hands. Empathy and relationships are celebrated, but only as particular habits that happy individuals have learned to practise. Everything that was once external to economic logic, such as friendship, is quietly brought within it.

The essay also succinctly describes the problem I have with Facebook’s commodification of friendship:

What we witness, in the case of a social media addict, is only the more pathological element of a society that cannot conceive of relationships except in terms of the psychological pleasures that they produce. The person whose fingers twitch to check their Facebook page when they are supposed to be listening to their friend over a meal is a victim of a philosophy in which other people are only there to please, satisfy and affirm an individual ego from one moment to the next. This inevitably leads to vicious circles: once a social bond is stripped down to this impoverished psychological level, it becomes harder and harder to find the satisfaction that one wants. Viewing other people as instruments for one’s own pleasure represents a denial of the core ethical and emotional truths of friendship, love and generosity.

 

Listen | Neil Gaiman on stories

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Do stories grow? Pretty obviously — anybody who has ever heard a joke being passed on from one person to another knows that they can grow, they can change. Can stories reproduce? Well, yes. Not spontaneously, obviously — they tend to need people as vectors. We are the media in which they reproduce; we are their petri dishes… Stories grow, sometimes they shrink. And they reproduce — they inspire other stories. And, of course, if they do not change, stories die.

The prolific writer Neil Gaiman is as listenable as he is readable, whether he’s reading his own books or giving talks. Here the author of the classic Sandman comics, Stardust, Neverwhere and most recently The Ocean at the End of the Lane, suggests stories are a life-form obeying the same rules of genesis, reproduction, and propagation that organic matter does. He does so in his characteristically humorous, intellectually informed and engaging manner.

Listen | The Waves by Virginia Woolf

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the waves2

I’m currently on a Virginia Woolf obsession. The last book I read was To The Lighthouse which I found wonderful, I love her creative, descriptive and abstract writing. I also like her short stories, particularly  Street Haunting.

I’m reading Virginia Woolf’s celebrated play poem The Waves at the moment, which is apt because national poetry was just a couple of days ago here in the UK.

I’ve found a old BBC Radio 3 play on Youtube which is quite exciting so enjoy.

 

Listen | Maria Popova, Cartographer of Meaning in a digital world

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This is a wonderful conversation between Maria Popova, creator of the wonderful Brainpickings site, which is frequently referenced on this blog, and Krista Tippett host of the On Being podcasts. I love listening to the On Being podcasts and this is one of the best. It’s an insightful conversation between two hugely generous, compassionate and intelligent people.

In keeping with what On Being is interested in, the conversation covers a range of topics; philosophy and design, physics and poetry, the intellectual and the experiential. As the On Being site puts it, “what it means to live a good life – intellectually, creatively and spiritually.”

Maria Popova on the acquisition of knowledge and meaning:

And I remember, there’s a really beautiful commencement address that Adrienne Rich gave in 1977 in which she said that an education is not something that you get but something that you claim. And I think that’s very much true of knowledge itself. The reason we’re so increasingly intolerant of long articles and why we skim them, why we skip forward even in a short video that reduces a 300-page book into a three-minute animation — even in that we skip forward — is that we’ve been infected with this kind of pathological impatience that makes us want to have the knowledge but not do the work of claiming it. I mean, the true material of knowledge is meaning. And the meaningful is the opposite of the trivial. And the only thing that we should have gleaned by skimming and skipping forward is really trivia. And the only way to glean knowledge is contemplation. And the road to that is time. There’s nothing else. It’s just time.
There is no shortcut for the conquest of meaning. And ultimately, it is meaning that we seek to give to our lives.

 

Read | Fitted

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Fitted – Activity trackers train users to love lives that are all work

by Moira Weigel

 

This is thought-provoking article asks us to consider activity trackers, specifically the Fitbit and what they mean for how we relate to ourselves, other people and our environment. It covers many of the areas you would expect.

Individualism and Productivity – Activity trackers take our focus on the project of the self and individualism and manages to turn a healthy attention on fitness and health into one focused narrowly on industrial capitalist style productivity and potentially unhealthy self consciousness.

Reductionist – Like Facebook and online dating have done for interpersonal relationships, Fitbit reduces fitness to data points without any context whatsoever. The point isn’t improving your quality of life, its increasing your productivity and winning.

Competition – Of course where there’s productivity there is often competition, in this case with ourselves and with others. If you haven’t moved in a while it will even remind you of that fact and encourage you to do so. It also embraces what I think of as misguided attempt at gamification which is widely used, where you can compare yourself to your friends of others with online connectivity and with your past self. It gives you badges when you have achieved certain milestones. This adversarial way of relating to others and yourself has even been extended to meditation. The Headspace mindfulness app has run streak targets and badges for when you achieve 3, 10, 15. 30 etc days meditating in a row.

I think it is interesting that at the same time as we are slowly beginning to realise that it is by co-operation, collaboration and openness that we will overcome a variety of challenges we face on a number of levels from individual communities to the global, that a hyper-individualism, adversarial culture is being advanced. All framed within a positive health and fitness focused, self-improvement guise.

What this means for how we see ourselves is where this piece is most interesting. It brings in the concept of confession and whether it will affect men more than women.

Incidently, the site I found this article on is called thenewinquiry.com. I have yet to fully explore it but it seems ridiculously readable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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