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5 Things with Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei, Co-director, punctum books

Published onOct 13, 2020
5 Things with Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei, Co-director, punctum books
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When I was asked to prepare the already illustrious 5T3A monthly newsletter, I found it impossible to prepare anything in advance. Procrastinating, as we all do (and the shaming of which is nothing but a neoliberal superego doing its superego thing), I finally composed this selection after the deadline on a dreary, grey, rainy morning in the Netherlands, when opening a single news front page is guaranteed to decrease your lifespan by a couple of years. So, the theme running through this collection is a notion of care: care for ourselves and care for others – despite the ridiculous obstacles we're forced to face each day.

1: John Coltrane

"Peace on Earth," Coltrane live at Sankei Hall, Tokyo, Japan (1966)

John Coltrane - Peace on Earth - Live in Japan


"I dislike war. Period. So therefore, as far as I'm concerned, it should stop." – Coltrane in Nagasaki, July 14, 1966

Coltrane in Nagasaki 7/14/66

If music can be a salve for the soul, this is it. And the all-mighty Spaghetti Monster knows we could all use some serious soul-salving now. Where does one find the audacity to call a composition "Peace on Earth"? Only when there is a true belief, a total conviction, that music is essential for peace. And listening to this performance – imagine being in the crowd when he played this in Nagasaki – I can barely fathom the enormous love and dedication that speaks from it.

2: Pirate Care

I have met the people around Pirate Care in multiple lives: through the Balkans, through political art, through open source development projects, through friends. In our times, in which a global pandemic is met with staggering indifference, democratic forms are eviscerated by an extraction of the public domain by private trillion-dollar corporations, and our planet's ecosystem rapidly transforms into an inhospitable space for most extant forms of life, both the notions of piracy and care deserve our full attention. The pirates behind Pirate Care are not only formulating new methods and tools to provide minimal, and possibly insufficient, resistance against the neoliberal onslaught of destruction. Nevertheless, their commitment to openness and public access knowledge ought to be an example for anyone striving to enlarge and enhance our commons.

3: Cory Arcangel, "Arnold Schoenberg, op. 11 – I – Cute Kittens"

Cory Arcangel - Arnold Schoenberg, op. 11 - I - Cute Kittens

The title says it all. Multimedia artist Cory Arcangel painstakingly collected videos of cats playing piano, then spliced them all together in a rendering of Schoenberg's Drei Klavierstücke (op. 11), which is generally seen as his first complete departure from the Western tonal tradition into atonality. To recreate this piece with cats subverts and appropriates the frequent criticism of atonal music as "it's just noise" and "my cat can do better." The cute kittens in Arcangel's video certainly give the piece a completely refreshing makeover, and, moreover, they are cute kittens.

4: Emily Wilson, "Ah, How Miserable!" London Review of Books

If you have not read the new translation of the Odyssey by Emily Wilson, do yourself a favor and do so now. I was stunned, surprised, moved all over again when I reread Homer's epic some decades after I read it for my high school Greek class. It's fresh, it sparkles, it's a wonderful delight. In her scathing review of three new translations (all by white men) of Aeschylus's Oresteia (I must confess I've read and reread the little pocket Loeb edition dozens of times), she makes a passionate plea for translations of classical works by non-white, non-cis, non-het, non-tenured, non-men to be published (I added a few adjectives), while basically unmasking the three translations under review as a regurgitation of everything that makes current classical studies (and academia) so toxic. I can't wait for her translation of the Iliad.

5: The Tshikona ceremonial dance by the Venda

I have always been engaged with non-Western musical traditions (as well as Western ones – ok I am obsessed with music/sound/noise), whether it be Balinese gamelan gong kebyar, timbila music from Mozambique, or the extraordinary polyphony of Aka pygmies. It was only recently that I discovered the musical tradition of the Venda people from South Africa, through a book of John Blacking, How Musical Is Man, which breaks down the particularly Western myth that only "musically gifted" people can play an instrument with any merit. Like language, all humans are gifted with a faculty for music, and it is only our social conventions that impose otherwise. A case in point are the Venda, where music is an integral part of all social and cultural life, culminating in their most important ceremonial piece, the Tshikona. I was utterly overwhelmed and moved to tears when I heard this amazing work for the first time (and still am), which sounds like a Japanese gagaku orchestra on acid, putting the best work of Aphex Twin and Olivier Messiaen to shame. This is music as a form of communal care.

—Vincent W.J. van Gerven Oei
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