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  #1  
Unread 07-05-2019, 04:31 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Default Julius Eastman controversy

It was Nemo’s poem ‘To His Landlord’, which I love, that introduced me to his friend, the composer Julius Eastman. I've found the man’s story and music fascinating, and equally uplifting and tragic, since first hearing about him. Googling him yesterday, I came across this article. Now, I know I’ve rattled on before about these kind of identity politics-inspired language controversies and the lengthy public apologies that inevitably follow (e.g. the recent poem in The Nation). And yes, though the article itself seems completely free of any 'culture war' hysteria, I suspect the website from which this comes has a fairly conservative, or anti-PC at least, agenda. And yet…and yet...this story is insane! And what happened to the woman who gave the talk, the musician Mary Jane Leach who edited the book about Eastman, Gay Guerilla: Julius Eastman and his music, is disturbing and totally shameful. Isn't it?


https://quillette.com/2019/06/27/pub...n-by-its-name/
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  #2  
Unread 07-05-2019, 05:09 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hmm. One wonders what Eastman would have thought of that decision. It seems like they had wanted to promote his art.

Cheers,
John
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Unread 07-05-2019, 06:46 AM
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R. Nemo Hill R. Nemo Hill is offline
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Julius's whole life was a response, in advance, to this preposterously egregious incident. I have an essay in the book Mary Jane co-edited that addresses many of the issues involved. The fact that they programmed the music at all, with the historical record as clear as it is, and then acted so shocked, is unfathomable. Julius had exactly the same problem in the seventies, with the venue he was presenting the pieces at protesting, and he was eloquent and utterly unrepentant in his response. All these years later to find the whole situation repeated might call for a less elegantly measured response, and I trust Mary Jane might be brooding over one.

On another level all this absurdity will only continue to cement Julius's reputation. He had been long forgotten, having died homeless on the street years ago, until Mary Jane began a project to unearth any existing scores and tapes of his music (much of which had been hauled away by city marshals when he was evicted from his East Village apartment in Manhattan). Since then, as a result of her Herculean efforts, he has entered the classical music canon with great fanfare, and will I trust remain there now (you know how the art establishment likes their more recalcitrant members: dead, and thus unable to confront them directly, ha!). His music is being performed all over the world, and his biography is fast becoming legend. The legend often does not fit the reality of how I knew him, but in another few decades, when all of us who knew and loved him are dead as well, the legend-makers will be able to continue to re-create him according to their own visions. Ah well, that's just how cultural history works—. But there is now no doubt that his music will survive long after these petty squabbler's and clueless administrator's mouths are stuffed with earth.

Nemo
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Unread 07-05-2019, 07:20 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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I'd wondered if you knew about this, Nemo, and guessed you probably did. I hope you don't mind my highlighting this incident, concerning, as it does, someone you were personally close to (and Mary Jane Leach, of course). The beginning of your second paragraph is the positive to be salvaged from the whole sorry affair, at least.

Best

Mark
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Unread 07-05-2019, 01:32 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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The story is crazy because it's clear the venue was aware the titles would cause a controversy and so deliberately didn't print them. Printing Eastman's titles would let people know if they wanted to go or not--not printing them was cowardly. Not talking with Leach about their very clear discomfort about the titles is also a problem: you ask her to come talk about works and then set her up, in many ways, for failure. The titles should have obviously been a point of conversation right from the beginning.

Regarding Quillette, Mark, it is surely right of center and is for "free speech." It's a strange little publication. Still, I'd argue that, contra the idea that "the article itself seems completely free of any 'culture war' hysteria," it too wears its biases on its sleeve:
"The OBEY Convention—at least this year, the first time I had attended—very much wore its politics on its sleeve. Performances began with a statement regarding the indigenous people who had previously occupied the land. Acts represented not just a range of musical tastes but a range of racial, cultural and gender identities and sexual orientations."
The idea that having a racially and sexually diverse group of people is, by default, "liberal," for instance, strikes me as problematic. So, too, is the suggestion that recognizing the actual history of the land is liberal. Both highlight a writer and venue deliberately playing into the culture wars for clicks, and doing it decisively from a "white cishet is the cultural norm" POV.
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Unread 07-05-2019, 07:00 PM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Hi Andrew,

Directly after that bit you quoted, the writer goes on to say:

"The decision to cancel Leach’s concert was, more than clearly, made out of respect for people of colour and for the oppression they’ve experienced and continue to experience.

But once that attitude of respect is acknowledged, how should the festival’s decision be viewed? Canceling Leach’s appearance was meant to support the festival’s claim that Leach was in the wrong for calling the compositions by their titles. But canceling the concert also was a direct act of recourse against a 70-year-old composer who, one can only assume, has been marginalized over the course of her career by virtue of her gender. To say that this action was sexist and/or ageist strikes me as far less a leap in logic than to say that Leach is racist for speaking the title of a composition."


In other words describing the festival's diverse make-up is relevant, as a way in to making a larger point about the illogic of a festival which clearly promotes the idea of diversity and then makes the decision to appease one marginalised group by silencing another. He doesn't use the word 'liberal' once, nor does the tone seem disparaging. I never really know what is meant by 'problematic', but I think most people would be happy to acknowledge his rationale for this shorthand description of a liberal festival bill/audience. I think to describe the writer as 'deliberately playing into the culture war for clicks' is reading something into the article that just isn't there. How would you have the writer cover the story differently? Or don't you think it should have been covered at all? I really don't care about the politics of the website the article appears in. I think that what happened here stinks, frankly, and trying to pick through the article for evidence of 'white cishet' bias doesn't make it stink any less.

Here's a quote from the start of the subsequent 1,700 word apology on the festival's website:

Quote:
On Sunday, June 2nd, 2019, as part of our 12th annual festival, we hosted an event called Gay Guerilla: Julius Eastman, featuring the work of the late artist Julius Eastman, a queer, black composer based primarily in downtown New York City until his passing in 1991. This event was lead by Mary Jane Leach, a composer, researcher and friend of Julius Eastman and was facilitated by Nivie from We Are Missing, a collaborative community project that aims to create QTBIPOC programming in K’jipuktuk.
This event caused direct harm to those involved, those in attendance and to the broader communities surrounding our organization, particularly QTBIPOC folks. We recognize and name this as an instance of anti-black racism. We accept full responsibility for this harm and intend to take measures of accountability and transparency moving forward, in hopes of honoring those who experienced violence as a result of our negligence.
Do you know who I think was actually most likely to suffer violence as a result of all this? Mary Jane Leach. Because if I'd have driven for 13 hours only to have my performance cancelled and to be basically labelled as a racist, I think I'd have been so upset and stressed that I'd have crashed my car on the way back.
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Unread 07-05-2019, 08:27 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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Mark,

My whole first paragraph was devoted to explaining why I think what happened to Mary Jane Leach was a problem and how I think it the venue could have done better and done right by both Eastman and Leach and the audience members who were clearly surprised (though if they had done basic research perhaps they should not be).

I only took issue--and still do--with you suggestion that the piece was "completely free" of culture war. I think the quote I provided shows it does, and what it says after does nothing to undo what I pointed out. Certainly the situation should be covered. Knowing the source, though, would help you to see the larger agenda they are pushing, and how and why I know--and their readership knows--what those "politics" are, and why they are "bad" and why they are trying diversity to it.
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Unread 07-06-2019, 05:54 AM
Mark McDonnell Mark McDonnell is offline
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Andrew,

You engaged with the actual incident briefly, yes, though only about how it might have been avoided. Not with any of the more interesting questions it raises about art and censorship, or about whether these ideas below, detailed in the apology, have merit enough to have justified the cancellation of Leach's evening performance:

"Following Leach’s presentation, Nivie began unpacking some of the complications inherent in Leach’s research and her position as a white person telling the story of a queer, black person’s life. Through pointed questions by the facilitator and feedback from several attendees, Leach’s use of language and handling of Eastman’s life and legacy were called into question and identified as problematic and an example of colonial oppression."

About whether what happened to Leach was right in other words, irrespective of what the festival could have done differently in preparation.

Your first paragraph struck me as a prelude to what seemed to be your main point, which was to question the source of the article and my suggestion that it seemed fairly evenhanded. I still think it is. I'd never heard of 'Quillette'; I've checked out more and yes, they clearly have a thing about what they see as the excesses of 'identity politics'. It does seem like they have an agenda and it's all pretty 'one-note'. Some of what I read I could agree with (and much I didn't). Does this make me part of their 'readership' now? Have I planted my flag in the Culture War? Or am I allowed to continue to form opinions about things on an individual basis?
I'd be happy to read another take on what happened here but there seems to be surprisingly little coverage of it. I can't imagine it would change my distaste at the idea of art being received in such a petty, ideologically based, unimaginative way.
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Unread 07-06-2019, 06:33 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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"Through pointed questions by the facilitator and feedback from several attendees, Leach’s use of language and handling of Eastman’s life and legacy were called into question and identified as problematic and an example of colonial oppression."

I am after all compelled to wonder what their agenda was in inviting Leach in the first place, since all of this was pretty patent at the outset. It's nice to assume the invitation was extended in good faith. But it's unclear that was the case.

Cheers,
John

Update: on that note, I don't see myself driving thirteen hours to attend a conference called OBEY in all caps.

Last edited by John Isbell; 07-06-2019 at 06:38 AM.
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  #10  
Unread 07-06-2019, 06:44 AM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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Mark,

You seem very defensive, and I'm not sure why. Who said you were "part of their readership"? Why was that the implication?

My opening paragraph begins by very clearly and directly echoing your own language. You called the situation "insane" and I called it "crazy." We are and were in agreement that what happened was bad.

We may disagree on what the "more interesting questions" are. To me, the whole situation revolves around a cowardly venue unwilling to truly engage with Eastman's work, unwilling to be frank and honest with their audience, and unwilling to discuss with Leach the best way to present an intentionally provocative artist. As Nemo himself said, this has been going on with Eastman since the 1970s--there little surprise to it by itself. What strikes me as interesting more than "censorship" itself is how we navigate the issues inherent in Eastman's work, particularly as white authors and scholars. It's no surprise that the author here tries to simplify it to a discussion of "between the sense of a word and its reference" as if the audience is unaware of that--or if Eastman himself was. He knew the titles were going to make people uncomfortable, and that they would cause problems for white people--or for a white person's non-white audience hearing it.

Now, to Quillette: is it any surprise they took this piece? It's their whole agenda! And is it any surprise that the piece doesn't quote the creative director Andrew Patterson, who said that "beyond the repeated invocation of the racial slur, it is our feeling that Leach did not receive the criticisms and questions posed to her with the honour and respect they deserved." Sounds to me that this isn't just about saying the title of Eastman's works. Perhaps if you were there you might not find the issues around Leach "petty, ideologically based, [and] unimaginative," particularly since the venue has taken the blame themselves as well and has worked to keep open a dialogue with Leach, all of which this piece seems to ignore.

Again, the story Kurt Gottschalk tells makes me feel bad for Leach; because it is in Quillette, I don't trust it, though, and even if it is true it is necessarily an integral party--rather than "completely free--of the culture wars. Just because it may be right doesn't mean this isn't true. An example to make my point: if Stormfront published an entirely accurate exposé of a Jared Kushner that was seemed completely free of anti-Semitism, we would all know it's serving a different agenda. That's what's happening here, even if the story unfolded 100% as Gottschalk says.

Now I apologize for derailing this thread. Eastman's work is fantastic and Leach has worked hard to promote that. The situation--however it unfolded--is unfortunate for all: the venue, Eastman, Leach, and the audience. My only point was that this piece--as much if not more than OBEY--wears its politics on its sleeve, and that publishing in it is itself a foray into the culture wars.
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