Saturday, November 25, 2006

What's It All About, Mr. Monk?

Not too long ago a co-worker of mine was explaining to me what a "blog" was and mentioned that he had one himself. To the extent that I understood the explanation, and in spite of the fact that I liked and respected him, I could not understand why he would have a blog. I was happy to listen to him hold forth in my office, and at a party no doubt he would be a pleasant partner in conversation. But what on earth, I thought, could he have to say that would ever convince people unknown to him to spend their precious time logging in to his blog and reading his words of wisdom? That perplexed thought set me off on a journey which meandered through Technorati and Blogwise and MediaBistro and the present illustrious site, through blogs of the rich and famous and those of the poor and nameless (an opposition I owe to fellow folk musician Mark Levy), and finally to the realization that, like Moliere's doctor-in-spite-of-himself, I have always been a blogger and didn't even know it! Recording and expounding my daily thoughts on things has been an ever-present urge, fulfilled in notebooks galore, computer files, and the ears of not-always-appreciative companions. At times I thought this was a defect of my personality, the need to comment and analyze everything. Then along came the Blogosphere, to give succor and (more importantly) templates to these narcissistic impulses! So here I am starting yet another pursuit to add to the list at the left (at least it's at the left if I chose the right template...)
Before starting my more topical posts (tomorrow's always another day, as blogging goes) I would like to say a little about about my conception of this blog. But rather than continue this in soliloquy mode, I am inclined to turn it into a dialogue - er, with myself, that is. So here, for posterity and possibly the last time, is an official H.A. Monk self-interview:

Self: So, Mr. Monk, what is this blog going to be concerned with?
HAM: Culture, the arts, sports, technology, philosophy, the body politic, and anything related. Which is to say, everything. But seriously, I hope to explore things from a certain angle - first of all, from my perch in the heart of one of the cultural capitals of the world. Second, I tend to move, in good philosophical fashion, from the details on the street below to higher ground - they don't call me the "winged blogger" for nothing. (I know I'm going to hear it from the owl of Minerva for that one.) Third, a lot of what I will write about will be at the intersection of art or culture and public life - meaning anything from film violence and reality tv to the aesthetic impact of a new piece of architecture, the sociopolitical foibles of the recent world championship chess match to the economic demise of a dance studio or art gallery, our fetish for "period instrument" performances to the impact of money on the game of baseball.
Self: Okay, but where are you getting all this material from? I mean, you can't be doing some cultural activity every night!
HAM: Right, I can't. Damn. In fact I am constantly flagellating myself for missing so much cool stuff that's right under my nose. Yesterday I logged into a concert tour web site and discovered that a band I have wanted to see for about 20 years played in Manhattan just three nights ago! I had never even heard about it. Not too long ago I had every intention of trotting up to Lincoln Center for a free, outdoor gig by one of the jazz legends, Sonny Rollins. But it was raining all day, I tried and failed to get cancellation information from the not-always-helpful 311 line, and at the last minute decided that it would either be canceled or very uncomfortable, and went to see The Illusionist instead. Of course, when I came out of the theater it was dry and pleasant outside and I was ready to kick myself. (Not that I didn't enjoy the film; it was a decent consolation prize, but not a one-of-a-kind performance.) But that says a lot; in NYC it is always a choice of what is best to do, and your limitations are time and money and availability of tickets. Besides, if you want to experience the arts in NYC, you look out your window at the latest Frank Gehry building or stop for the mimes or break dancers or the Russian Gypsy violinist on a subway mezzanine. But having said all that, I will probably get a lot of background stuff and some main themes from The New York Times and other local newspapers. In other words, my reports will often respond directly to my experiences as an arts observer in NYC, but there is a lot to say that comes more from the general experience of a person immersed in a sea of culture, politics and money.
Self: Boy, you are rather wordy for a blogger. Is this going to be your usual style?
HAM: Sorry, I was born that way. I expect my main posts will be somewhat longer than the average blog post. I expect that I will often supplement these with shorter thoughts on various timely subjects.
Self: That sidebar on your many interests and occupations...
HAM: Sorry, I forgot a few... poet, skier, hiker, vegetarian chef...
Self: Thanks, that'll do. But which of these do you really do seriously?
HAM: My fulltime job, though not necessarily my passion, is in computers. I have taught college courses in Philosophy for eight years. Over the last couple of decades I've performed as a classical, rock and folk musician, recorded a CD of original music and written various compositions. My undergraduate degree is in music, Ph.D. in Philosophy. When I was a bit younger I studied photography; my main influences were my uncle Harold Roth, who was a semi-professional photographer associated with the New York photorealist school, and instructors in various workshops. I've written a fair amount of poetry but never published any. From high school until I was in my late thirties I occasionally did some film criticism, political commentary and other journalistic stuff for small newspapers. In philosophy I write about the philosophy of art, ethics, and a fairly influential guy named Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Self: Why don't you join a philosophy group blog?
HAM: The ones I have seen have very little to do with what I want to do here. They get into arcane discussions that don't really have any relevance or interest for most people. I don't mind getting into an arcane discussion in a journal; there you know you are talking to sixteen people worldwide who understand the jargon of poststructuralist aesthetics or Husserlian phenomenology or analytic philosophy of language. That's not what web logs are for, to my mind. Besides,
as informal discussions, these kinds of subjects wear thin quickly, and you see the blogs going dead for months at a time.
Self: Do you have a particular philosophical perspective you are going to try to promote, or is it going to be more like an off-the-top-of-your-head thing?
HAM: Squawk! I mean, yes, I have some philosophical views and theories and such, but I am not going to "promote" anything here. I will use them to the extent they help me organize my thoughts. Trained philosophers or really obsessive readers will eventually be able to back out some of my philosophical ideas from what I write, but I am much more interested in being relevant, entertaining, informative and thoughtful than in lining up people behind a program.
Self: What about your political views?
HAM: There are some shamelessly reactionary political blogs that get a lot of attention, for reasons I can't fathom, and if I manage to place a feather or two on the other side of the scale
I will be perfectly happy. Given the results of the recent election it would appear that liberals are no longer an endangered species. Then again, I'm not exactly a liberal. So what am I? Well, no time to play twenty questions here, but the best way to get a good view of a parrot in most habitats is to do a little bushwhacking. Anyway, birds of a feather must stick together, and since the storm clouds in this country usually seem to blow towards the right, I usually stick with those who are flying against the prevailing winds.
Self: Speaking of birds...
HAM: Endangered birds! Someone is poaching our nests!
Self: ...where did you get this name, "The Parrot's Lamppost"?
HAM: I'd love for some Internet sleuth to figure that out. It would probably take all of five minutes. But I will say what I like about it. I like the idea of the aerial perspective, which befits a somewhat philosophical blog, and the parrot, which fits anything that talks, and also its colorful plumes, a good symbol for the arts. And the fact that its perch is itself an urban symbol, the lamppost, which again combines the concept of light, so long associated with the philosopher (think of Plato's cave and Diogenes' lantern), and that of the "post" which is here a double entendre. And finally as a sometime poet I appreciate how the initial letter of the first word turns into the central double letter of the next, mirroring back to the double letter in the first word...
Self: Jeez! It must have taken you a while to think of all that. Whoever said "what's in a name" didn't know you, obviously!
HAM: Wish I knew him. Truth is, it's one of the reasons I didn't start this blog on 11/1, which was my goal. Took a while to get a name I could live with. I probably would have settled for "Parrothead" if a certain seafaring singer-songwriter from the South hadn't surreptitiously siphoned it off.
Self: Thanks for the alliteration, but all the same, I think we're running low on ink, so let's move on. Is "H.A. Monk" your real name, and if not, do you have a story to tell about that too?
HAM: No and yes. And no. I have one, but I'm going to leave that to the Internet sleuth. But I will say one more thing about parrots: the name started to gel shortly after I sat in my apartment looking at one. And the bird was not in my apartment.
Self: Okay....
So how often will you post?
HAM: Not sure, but I will initially try to do a main post at least a couple of times a week, and perhaps some shorter blurbs almost every day.

Self: Do you have any other blogs?
HAM: I'm planning to start another one shortly, on technology and ethics. There is a lot on the Net on this subject, but I think I have something to say and a good background in both areas. I'll be sure to announce it here.
Self: This was exhausting. Anything we didn't hit?
HAM: Got any crackers?

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