The Tiger Manifesto

Criticism with claws

Month: September, 2012

The Faith of a Tiger Part 1: Friday

Heaven?

We kill without remorse nor hardship. Hunters, we are prone to being self-assured, hunting in vast territories with almost no contact with other members of our species. There is a haunting solitude at the core of the life of panthera tigris. Those big striped cats are not responsible for their actions. Earthbound tigers move without consideration, stalking in a sea of unquestioned phenomena. Some would call us killing machines, but that makes us bashful, because a machine is there for a purpose, to accomplish a specific task. Perhaps you can look at ecology, you humans, and tell us what we are here for.

Ecologist: Tigers! Come here! Listen to my words! Surely, there is a harmony in your actions! Come one! Come all! Now hear. When you kill you are regulating resources, when you die you are allowing room for another generation. The continual renewal of nature and the balance of ecosystems are both within your mighty paws. Nature is a grand game, and though you are but beautiful bit players, still you are significant.

Tigers: ….

The gathered cats devour the ecologist and his lecture notes. He does not taste very good, but the tigers put up with it. On Earth, animals and humans are similar but there is a crucial difference. Humans seek meaning, romance, logic, reason, purpose, and all those words. Words are meaningless to tigers, as is, in fact, everything else. Nothing transcends for earth tigers. Tigers are wholly body, wholly immanent, completely of this universe, with no pretensions to any existence outside of a cycle of immediate desires and immediate satisfaction culminating in nonexistence.

And then we all went to heaven.

I invited my editor, the masked one, into a dialogue with me about how tigers live out “faith” on Earth andhow that differs in heaven. Here it is:

[begin tape]

Alexius: We are sitting in my music listening area, my editor on a chair and myself on the floor in the traditional feline way. Heaven is bright, as usual, so we have the blinds closed so we can see properly. How are you doing?

Editor: Quite wel, thanks.

Alexius: So how can we think of how tigers are “faithful” on Earth? I remember you saying something about this before.

Editor: I don’t think you can really call tigers “faithful” from their own perspective. Tigers are not thinking in the same way as humans, not considering questions about existence or purpose. There is no language, no possibility of communicating these kinds of issues. That means there can be no theology. So tigers have no god, no ideal to be faithful to.

Alexius: How, then, can tigers be faithful? I thought you said it was possible.

Editor: From a human perspective, there are a few ways in which you could see tigers as being faithful. First, you could approach it, like you did, from an ecological perspective and say they are faithful to their own roles within a diverse ecosystem, taking their measure and then returning to the ecosystem, reproducing along the way. A more religious perspective would emphasize the divine purpose in this. In this idea, tigers are living embodiments of this or that aspect of god, or perhaps they’re animals that we are supposed to treat a certain way because this or that deity says so.

Alexius: Could tigers have, instead of a theology a kind of theokinetics? 

Editor: A human like me could say that. Moving in God, doing in God. A Christian with a view that emphasizes the sovereignty of God could say, yes, that there is a theokinetics to feline living. A beauty that reveals God through what tigers do, even if that involves a lot of apparent brutality. Many think that all killing and death originate in sin, that all things in nature were at complete harmony from the beginning. I consider that highly unlikely, and it seems more likely that God would not prevent tigers from killing just because humans are forbidden from that.

Alexius: But which God are we talking about? Are there separate gods for each species? Who created this place?

Editor: I don’t know. Humans only know about gods that speak to humans. Tigers don’t normally have any competency in languages when still on Earth. As a matter of fact, you are the only documented case, so this is new turf.

Alexius: Could it be that this is human heaven and only tigers were deemed worthy to enter?

Editor: I suppose.

Alexius: We had a nailstorm the other day. There are annoying tourists. Mystical travelers. Hell, you can get here through a simple passage. To me, this does not square with any view of afterlife that I knew on Earth.

Editor: Do you still suspect that this could be hell?

Alexius: The only thing that changed when I got here–well, there were two. First, all the tigers act like humans, valuing pleasure and abundance and being able to talk and all that. Second, death became impossible. What are the criteria you have for a paradise?

Editor: I would assume that in a paradise the inhabitants would be living the best possible lives without sorrow or death or any blemish on flourishing.

Alexius: Yet here I am bored and anxious. My imagination is constricted. Every day is monotonous. I lose track of time and fidget up here. I require amusement and shut myself off from the world. What are the chances that this is a paradise or any kind of heaven?

Editor: I see. But do you think this is hell?

Alexius: Is God here?

Editor: I have no idea. It would seem that this place is well-illuminated most of the time.

Alexius: So is a fashion photography shoot.

Editor: Granted.

Alexius: Looks out the window. Ah. A nailstorm is starting. I remember after the last one all the tigers sought shelter but realized that the weather here wouldn’t kill them. They’re just like the tigers on Earth except that they are invincible, far more annoying, and capable of speaking.

Editor: I’m not sure we’re going to get much further. Thanks for having me.

Alexius: Promise you’re going to post this on time.

Editor: I promise.

[end tape]

 

Fictional Tigers: An Introduction

For the next few Wednesdays, beginning with the next one, I will be discussing my impressions of what I have categorized as the major tigers of fiction. Our superior dignity and grace have made us tempting vessels for authors to use, both in poetry and in prose. Lions tend to grab more than their fair share of attention (what else is new) but there are still a few that have become generally known in the human community. I will be discussing a few aspects of each tiger:

  1. How they appropriate the virtues of tiger-kind to present a certain image. This includes physical aspects, voice, gender, behavior, etc. How does the creator of this artwork view tigers and the specific tiger in question?
  2. The tiger’s depiction as compared to my own impressions and what your scientists say about our species.
  3. What role the tiger plays within the fiction itself, and how he or she contributes to the overall narrative.

I’ll keep the names of the tigers concealed for now. Doubtless there are many examples leaping into those primate brains of yours, but keep your enthusiasm dampened until next week, when the first study will be published. In the meantime, please keep the peace and remember the paragon of artistic interpretation residing in the feline aether.

That is, send me care packages. I need more albums to review and the mail service is out again. Let that masked man know my requests. That is all.

Tiger Dance? And a Review of Skrillex and Damian Marley’s “Make It Bun Dem”

Houseguest: (Has no idea how he got in here)  Why don’t tigers dance?

Me: (Has no idea how he got in here) I think my mother told me why once.

Houseguest: What did she say?

Me: (Glaring) Come up to my upper level.

Houseguest: Sure

Here I am upstairs. I rifle through a stack of CDs on the floor.

Houseguest: Look, it’s raining nails outside.

Me: (Not buying it) Sure. Sure.

Houseguest: No, really. Look.

So it is. Raining nails in heaven. Did someone get into head office’s weather control system? Terrific clattering peals break out as the nails come down wave on wave onto the roof.

Me: Lucky there’s no strong southwestern wind.

Houseguest: (Confused. Shuffling slowly toward the exit.) I can see what you mean.

There it was.

Me: Got it!

Houseguest: What’s that?

Me: It’s dance music, my friend.

Houseguest: Tigers don’t dance.

Me: (Putting in the CD) Let’s do this.

The roof creaked, moaning like a distressed dog. The beams began to crack. When the CD began to spin, there was a slight breath of wind. Nails falling from the sky bent and tumbled acrobatically through the air. Where there was constant clatter there was now a confused tangle of noises. Many of them originating from my kickin’ stereo system.

Houseguest: Should we go down to the basement for shelter?

Me: Why worry? If this is heaven, then we can’t die or feel pain, right? I mean, how many times have you slept with parts of your body in your stomach this week?

Houseguest: None. I gave up on that years ago.

Me: So it seems you’ve been here a long time.

Houseguest: Yes, you could say that. I was shot and killed by a fur trapper in the Russian wilderness over two centuries ago.

Me: What do you do now? What fills your infinity?

Houseguest: I often visit other tigers. You’re the first one I’ve met with a house, rather nice one by the way. You also have a strong Canadian accent. Keep that up. Also, I meditate on the meaninglessness of heaven.

Me: (Secretly admiring) That’s odd. No one else talks like that up here.

Houseguest: No. This is why I came over here. You’re supposed to be the doubter.

Me: How did you know that?

Houseguest: I’ve been reading the book.

Me: So I’m not the only one with an avatar on Earth. Welcome to my house! I should have been more hospitable. I would have…well, I can’t remember precisely when you came in.

Houseguest: I’ve been doubting the same things. It took me far longer, but I think there is something sinister here. We’re not humans so we have no scriptures, but I suspect something has gone wrong.

Me: On a cosmic level.

Houseguest: (Wincing asthe nails fall down on the roof) Can we at least get one floor down? Are there no windows we can watch the storm from?

Me: I think the storm ended.

Houseguest: What’s making that noise, then?

Me: That’s the song.

Houseguest: Ah.

The last nails clink down onto the ground. Tigers tiptoe and gallop–lightly–outside, fearing the nails. Some of the tigers are astonished to see drips of blood crusted over on the surface of the nails.

Bun Dem!

Review: “Make It Bun Dem”

I understand the hatred for Skrillex. Well, not completely. I live in a realm without hate, where there is only ethereal and Elysian joy. Choke me with a sycamore tree, I can’t be that dishonest.

Damian Marley is the son of documentary subject and reggae prophet Bob Marley. Skrillex is a young man named Sonny John Moore (which sounds a lot like the handle of a reggae Rasta, now that I think on it). The latter of these two gentlemen has three Grammy awards and a load of record sales. He earned these in a rather roundabout way: he’s an electronic dance music DJ and producer whose music attracts an assortment of headbangers and clubby young males. His rise was meteoric. The backlash has been seething. People love to hate this guy, and maybe some of them have a good reason. His explosive and sharp-toothed dubstep/electro hybrid music is polarizing, taking the heavy metal paradigm of guitar playing and applying it to synths.

“Make It Bun Dem,” is a title that tells us volumes about the content behind it. First, it takes the sounds of reggae and American dubstep and crushes them together. More truthfully, it appropriates a reggae rhythm with some genuinely great production and then slashes it fatally with an avalanche of jagged beeping.

The beat has this hypnotic and danceable quality. There is a sort of audible fuzz hovering around the bass-kick, the staccato reggae guitar sound is there, though it sounds more like an organ. Damian Marley spills his voice in brief ragga bursts and fits well in the mix and has a suitable fiery quality. And, hey, if you enjoy Skrillex’s abrasiveness and also like to groove to reggae, there might be a place for this song in your skinny, bony human body. As for this tiger, I won’t be pulling this one out of the rifling stack much. I think it sears my sensitive ears too much for me to focus on how well the beat accomplishes its work. I hope that playing this song through speakers will yield better results. Listening to it alone is just no fun, and that’s what this song is aiming for.

Verdict on this one: not bad, but it’s no nailstorm.

On a music history level, this collaboration has some elements worth examining. First, dubstep originated from dub, which is itself a reggae production style. The dancefloor music of twenty-first century America  is more compatible than Jamaica’s pop music than you might expect. They both are ultimately trying to get you to shake it, and since electronic dance music is fundamentally inclusive, it can incorporate beats from any musical form, no matter the geographic origin.

The great promise of electronic music lies in its expansive and inclusive character. Computers can generate an infinity of sounds, and even less immediately palatable styles like American dubstep can always be spun by an innovative DJ into something great. This song is not the one to do that, and I like what it stands for and what it tells us about how music is made these days more than the music itself.

Still, as I said, not bad.

Editor’s Note: About Chill Sessions

Alexius is sleeping in this Friday–meaning he will be dormant for the entire day except in case of emergencies–so I will sneak behind his back and deliver this message to the 3rd van Reken floor people.

My tiger friend begged me not to make this announcement before the next harvest moon, so that all of you will be at your most celestially vulnerable. I questioned his wisdom, however. I believe that you must hear this news immediately. Though he is a great being  of unquestionable metaphysical power, his time is mainly spent sleeping off his boredom and consuming entertainment to pass the time. That leaves him precious little time to be wise, you see.

Van Rekenites of the third floor, I am here to introduce to you, one and all, a new series hosted by the Cultural Discerner himself. This series will be called Chill Sessions. Every other Friday night in van Reken 308 I will be hosting a meeting from 8:00 to 9:00-9:15, and that time is, yes, subject to change. This will begin on day known as September 21 on Earth.

During that time, I will open my room, my very soul, to you, and play chill music. Each session will have a certain musical theme, and I plan to use each one to develop a different skill in listening to music. Snacks and drinks will be provided as aural aids. I will provide lyric sheets if necessary, a sofa for people who can sit, and the very best in audio equipment. If you want to find out more, ask me, the human.

Here are some ideas for themes I’m hoping to tackle, in no particular order:

Sad Romance–Simple, catchy, and sad pop songs.¹

Dub[step]–What is it and where did it come from? Dancing will be allowed at this one, if you can find the space.²

Winter Snow–Songs that embrace the cold.³

Chill Jazz–An intro to jazz through the band Jaga Jazzist.⁴

Debate Class–What happens when we disagree with a song? Can you argue back?⁵

There is potential here for all kinds of fun disagreements as well as calm discussion. I will end this post by saying Godspeed You! van Reken, and I hope to see you darken my threshold.

Notes:

1. Potential Artists: The Magnetic Fields, They Might Be Giants, Beirut, Kanye West

2. Potential Artists: Burial, Digital Mystikz, Skrillex, King Midas Sound

3. Potential Artists: Kate Bush, Steven Wilson, The Microphones, The Gothic Archies

4. Blah Blah: Jaga Jazzist

5. Blah Blah: Outkast, Madvillain, Frank Ocean

Gorillaz: “DoYaThing”

DoYaThing

Never assume that your face will stay the same, or that people will recognize you all the time. To most of the world, your face is meaningless, communicating nothing but the fact that you are, yes, a person. A stranger, at that. Those who know you, including your family, have had the pleasure of watching your face evolve over the years. Faces never stay the same two days, two minutes, two seconds in a row. It exists within certain guidelines, but it is never static or unchanging.

One way people have tried to fix that problem is by using masks. Tigers do not use masks, and only write under their own identities. Humans, however, love adorning, highlighting, and even obscuring their faces to stretch their identities in one direction or another. In some cases, masks are meant to obliterate the person underneath them and communicate an entirely separate persona. In other cases, say when someone uses makeup, it simplifies the messages the face can send and focuses attention on the features the person deems desirable.

And then there are some people who make music under the guise of digital cartoons. Humans and tigresses, I give you Gorillaz.

I share this song not so much to analyze it, but to use it as a frame for discussing the idea of masks and theatrical performance in music. That said, there are a few notes I would like to share about the song itself. First, André 3000, famously abstract rapper from Outkast, delivers a fiery verse that might be his best in years. LCD Soundsystem’s James Murphy sings the chorus, and Damon Albarn himself drawls the first two verses. The song, like much of Gorillaz’s output, has an identity that’s split three ways. With some smart production work, however, it sounds fairly cohesive.

What about the strange characters in the video? 2D (the leggy one with the black eyes), Murdoc (green monster), Noodle (the one sleeping), and Russell (giant on the roof) form Gorillaz, the world’s most successful virtual band.Leader of 1990s British rock band Blur Damon Albarn and comic artist Jamie Hewlett created these characters as a response to what they perceived as the hollowness of popular music. Watching MTV in the late 90s was like watching cartoons anyway, so why not create a cartoon group?

This is not to say that they spurned pop forms; in fact, the opposite happened. The virtual band has a hyper-inclusive ethos that shines through in its songs, which are often full of references to rock, electronica, dub, hip-hop, and any other musical forms their creators can think of. It’s remix culture but with little sampling and more original creation. With this façade protecting them from the demands of celebrity, Albarn, Hewlett, and a long list of collaborators have been able to create music that defies categories while still projecting a singular image.

Animated masks freed up the people behind them. Wearing costumes and masks, creating fake personae and pseudonyms. All of these acts can be freeing, using artificial concepts to communicate personal and truthful ideas. Even if Gorillaz is not a real band, the music, and what it says, are certainly real. Listen to the music around you, and you’ll find that most of the pop music created these days is a highly heterogeneous mix of styles, generally incorporating traditional chords and harmonies, house beats, hip-hop, rock music, and so on.

Often musical worth is couched in terms of how authentic it is or feels. What I would claim is that theatricality and heightened performance can make music better and allow it to go places it couldn’t if it were bound to the humdrum. I would strongly encourage giving Gorillaz a close inspection. They’re flat and fake but probably have more substance than most flesh-and-blood groups working today.

Tourists

Part 1: Tire Tracks

Heavy mists curtained over the landscape today. I opened the blinds and stood before a scene of sunlight puddling over the top of the vapors, bright and alive in little pools but prevented from reaching the ground with any force. I put on one of Bartók’s piano concertos and wondered at the sharp division between the grey ground and blue sky. What was above was almost too clear to see, and what was below was obscured, even to feline eyes.

Tigers occasionally stuck their noses up, a stray tail would surface curiously like a periscope, and throughout the morning I was treated to an indeterminate dance of mystery. In a world of perpetual and unmistakable perfection, it was a welcome turn of events.

Around mid-afternoon the mists began to rise. I was prepared to draw the blinds shut once again and return to watchless solitude in my town house. As the celestial bacchanal of the afterlife became more apparent, however, another curious fact came to my attention. There, under the brims of the nearest tree line, around a hundred metres distant, was a set of brown gashes in the soil. Straight, parallel lines they were. I recognized them immediately and growled. The title of this section should make their identity obvious enough, and I was compelled to investigate out of that most unfortunate feline proclivity, my uncontrollable curiosity.

Part 2: The Masked Tour Guide

Three days in a row I made the trek outside and inspected the tire tracks. Each day, I waited concealed high in the forest canopy, watching from high enough so that neither the driver nor any inquisitive tigers could spot me. The first two days, I stayed all afternoon, watching as the tracks faded and the grass reasserted its supremacy. It was dreadfully boring but I was able to pass the time wincing at the foolish cavorting going on out in the open.

On the third day, however, there was a change. That change was that a pair of tigers found me in the tree and pried me down with endless questions.

Me: I explained to you already that these could not have been left by tigers! Tigers do not leave tire tracks!

Kilpa (names changed to protect and insult the guilty): In this world, maybe they can.

Jeffer: I agree with Kilpa. This world is not like the old one.

Me: But we have not changed in essence. We still walk, and the staff here does not use vehicles. They can fly!

Jeffer: I disagree with you. You cannot know for sure.

Kilpa: You claim that these are tire tracks. That much is clear. However, that does not explain why you care.

Jeffer: I agree. It doesn’t.

Me: Do you remember when the masked man entered this heaven and attracted large crowds?

Kilpa: I must have been asleep that day.

Jeffer: I never leave Kilpa’s side, so I must have been asleep as well.

Me: Useless. Look. Nothing ever happens here but the same old nonsense. Mindless frivolity all day long, all year long, for centuries to come. If you had to write a book just to keep from getting bored, a pair of tire tracks would be entertainment enough for at least a few days.

Kilpa: In that case, can we watch with you? We are bored stiff of eating each other in creative ways. That’s been the game the last few months. We were getting good at it.

Jeffer: True. I look fine now, but he had been eating me one cubic inch at a time over a month. There was only about three quarters of me left.

Me: Oy.

And at that moment a truck carrying a load of humans both in the cab and in the back sped past. I saw the masked man driving and wearing a ranger hat. With just a glimpse I could tell this was a tourist expedition, what with the armory of cameras, fake safari gear, and tiger plushes aboard the human vessel.

Part 3: Tourists

The trip evidently ended at my doorstep, because the entire group disembarked and began snapping photos of the townhouse. I nearly fell out of the tree and leapt across the flat plain through the…festivities. I menaced the tourists, bristling and bearing my ill-used but exceedingly sharp incisors.

Me: What are you doing here with all these hangers-on?

Masked Man: Hello, Alexius. I’m not the richest person you know, and this is a very lucrative venture. I won’t have to make many more trips. Please?

Me: What is this? Why? Couldn’t you compile and publish my musings as ordered?

Masked Man: Let us just say that monetizing your thoughts has proved difficult in a skeptical age. People only buy nonfiction, you see, and most people didn’t know there was ever a tiger that could speak English.

Me: There probably won’t ever be another!

Masked Man: I’m glad you can be proud of that. As for me, I have to live. You can eat a few of them if you like.

Tourists: Gasssssp.

I refrained. I was too sickened to be hungry, but after more argument we settled an agreement. He could bring three more groups into tiger heaven and then he would find another way to support himself. I nipped one of the tourists on the finger when he asked for my autograph.

Me: Scars are much more permanent and easy to keep track of.

Alexius on Hunger Games

IMAX Poster

Hunger Games for Alexius

According to your scientists, there is a good chance that tigers practice infanticide, i.e. the killing of their own young. Though we are solitary and avoid mass slaughter as practiced by lions, we probably do kill our own once in awhile. Tragic, I know. Let me say, though, that no tiger has close to the corpse tally that a given person is capable of amassing. Later in this semester, I’ll be writing on tigers in films and media, and I’ll bring up whether Shere Khan or Mowgli will be responsible for killing more animals in their lifetime. If Mowgli doesn’t become a vegetarian ascetic, he’ll have quite a bit of blood on his man-paws.

That is all fine and dandy for him, but let’s not apply a double standard here. Humans used to and probably do still practice the killing of their young, and not just fictional humans. (On a tangential topic, why is it that human women are now starting to eat their own placentas? You realize that we other mammals don’t actually enjoy that, right?)

Fictional humans are still often murderous, and at times it seems that if you find yourself in a film you had better be prepared to do serious physical harm to others. This Saturday, The Hunger Games will be showing at Calvin College, and I wanted to take the opportunity to speak on a few aspects of the film you might find of interest.

1. Fictional Futures Always Represent a View of the Present

Suzanne Collins did not, could not, have fabricated the entirety of the world inhabited by her characters. It is probably impossible to imagine something new without using parts that are already known. After all, to imagine something is to know at least a little about it. You may not know right away that your invented space dragon’s name is Julia, but you know what space is, what lizards are, what fire is, what breathing is, probably you know about the colors you imagine your dragon to be. The dragon is a composite that reflects a certain view of how all these things fit together. Same applies to the tyrannical American state in The Hunger Games. 

For those who have seen the film or read the book, what vision of America does this world present and how does that relate to how life the United States really works?

2. The Arena Offers a Perverse Freedom

Normally, you think of the arena as an oppressive space. It makes sense. The tributes are removed from human society and placed in a wild territory, albeit one that has been cultivated and shaped by human forces. However, within the space of the arena the tributes are also immune from the consequences of any of their actions. They are permitted, no, encouraged, to murder, steal, maim, and destroy in this amoral space. The arena is, in other words, a kind of zone of amoral freedom where those who are powerful can use whatever means necessary to attain more power. It’s natural selection but with meddlesome humans pulling the strings.

From tiger to human, would you find the kind of freedom offered by the arena or a place like it to be liberating or oppressive? Do you see yourself as powerful?

3. The Film Was Produced By Millionaires Who Dress Strangely

Tigers, as a rule (with me as a notably dapper exception) do not bother with clothing. We have our fur. However, the people who made this film are probably stylish dressers apt at the art of shopping for outlandish clothing made for outlandish prices by outlandish people. They are, in other words, probably raving hypocrites. Satire that is produced for commercial reasons is an odd experience. This film is a criticism of wealth and power and unadulterated consumption and putting humans into an unnatural element to make money because of entertainment. Guess what making a film in Hollywood is? Using wealth and power and unadulterated consumption and putting humans into an unnatural element to make money providing…you get it. Tigerly, I don’t think this has any bearing on how we judge the film as art. As a cultural object, though, it’s quite telling.

Does this both you? What do you think about messages for films? Was it worse when the Lorax was selling SUVs?

 

Historical DeWitticisms: Environmental History and Random Musings by J.M. DeWitt

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