Tag Archives: twitter

kanye vs. kant

Today I’m going to write about Kanye West.

No, I’m not going to review his new album The Life of Pablo; I won’t talk about his problematic, sometimes misogynistic lyrics (something that I struggle to reconcile with enjoying his music); and I’m not gonna discuss that horrible “BILL COSBY IS INNOCENT” tweet. Again, problematic, and something that others can do a much better job expounding on than I can.

Instead, I’m going to write about Kanye West and taste.

Kanye’s return to Twitter has been one hell of a ride. He’s no longer going on about being responsible for empty water bottles left on planes, nor bemoaning the lack of cherub imagery on his Persian rugs, nor getting emotional over fonts.

But now he tweets about his music, clothing line and debt; creativity and inspiration; his reverence of Will Ferrell; and critiquing his critics.

At first glance, particularly for someone who doesn’t follow the man on Twitter, Kanye’s tweets about the Grammys seem to be the rants of a self-obsessed man with such a pathetic take on losing that he downs too much Hennessy and then, once properly hammered, takes to Twitter to enact a clumsy revenge.

But peek between the lines, Dear Reader, and you’ll see something else.

“Everybody with any form of taste.” The implication? Taste is something objectively good. You and I don’t get to decide what is tasteful on with our personal opinions.

And that’s when I thought, “Well, shit. Am I reading Kanye or Kant? It’s KANTYE.” (Please clap.)

See, the work of Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher from the 1700s, has more in common with the Twitter account of Kanye West than one might expect. In his Critique of Judgment, he talks about something called sensus communis, or a common understanding of what constitutes “good” art.

But here’s where it gets tricky: Kant says we determine what is good art by using reason, the highest human faculty. Kanye … well, that’s not exactly his perspective. Or it doesn’t seem to be.

Again, taste. But this time Kanye implies something else: “cultural relevance.” Part of the reason the Grammys are not a valid awards show, Kanye insinuates, is because Grammy voters are out of touch with culture.

So here we wade into more complicated territory. Taste is something both objectively good and culturally relevant. That’s where Kanye and Kant diverge (feel free to argue; I haven’t studied Kant in depth for three years).

But if something that is Good is determined by a common consensus exclusively from those who are in touch with pop culture, then doesn’t that exclude or devalue the opinions of people who aren’t in touch? Why does Kanye assign different standards of taste depending on who listens to March Madness? And if only those people who are culturally relevant can have taste, then can taste truly be objective?

Maybe I got it wrong. Maybe Kanye’s understanding of art falls into what Kant would label the tier of art below the Good, which is the beautiful, or that which pleases. “In all judgements by which we describe anything as beautiful, we allow no one to be of another opinion,” wrote Kant.

But I get the feeling that Kanye thinks that art occupies more of a transcendental plane than merely a pleasurable one.

Hell, maybe Kanye’s tweets have more to do with class, race and power instead of art and taste. I’ll get to that too (probably). But for now, I’m thinking out loud here (and trying to remember how to blog instead of write journalistically), which means that I’m going to leave this post open-ended. If you have thoughts, I’d love to read them.

(Here’s the A$AP Rocky music video, by the way. I’d say “You decide whether it’s any good,” but, you know, we just discussed that.)


how to define “barbarian”: a case study on ISIS

A few days ago, I retweeted this from a fellow Mizzou journalist (ignore the fact that he’s a national correspondent a the L.A. Times and I’m a first-semester grad student–we’re essentially colleagues):

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Oh boy, this got people talking. “As if they have to be mutually exclusive” responded one Twitterer. “Tech savvy barbarians are still barbarians,” said another. One girl asked, “I’m just curious, what would you deem ‘barbaric’? if beheading with a knife isn’t such an act.”

I’ve got a bit of a long-winded answer to that, Ms. @bileej897.* Here’s the thing about words: they don’t exist as entities by themselves. They’ve got no “true meaning” separate from interpretation. I’m going to take a page–well, a passage–out of linguist S.I. Hayakawa’s book Language, Thought, and Action on how dictionaries are written. It’s

a task of one’s recording, to the best of one’s ability, what various words have meant to authors in the distant or immediate past. The writer of a dictionary is a historian, not a lawgiver. (original emphasis)

So let’s imagine that we are dictionary writers, and we’ve gotten through our As. “Authentic” was difficult to define, but we finally did it, and after celebrating with champagne and balloons, it’s time to define “barbarian.” First question we need to ask: how has this word been used in the past?

We start with the Bible. In Corinthians, we find a passage, “I would they were Barbarians..not Romans.” Okay, so a barbarian is anyone who’s not Roman. …We look at each other skeptically. Are you and I Romans? No. Does that mean we’re barbarians? Of course not! We smile and tell our friend, “Wow, orange is definitely your color!” when that tangerine dress looks hideous on her. A barbarian would never have such great manners. But, hey. This version of the Bible was published in 1607, and it’s dealing with a historical time period thousands of years before. Phew. Moving on.

If we’re not going with the Bible, why not make a 180 degree turn and take a look at Darwin. How did he use the word barbarian in An Origin of Species, published in 1869? “Geologists believe that barbarian man existed at an enormously remote period.” Looks like he’s talking about people who have yet to discover reading, tacos, Breaking Bad: you know, uncivilized.

And let’s please not forget that Joseph Conrad text, a staple of every English major’s education, Heart of Darkness (1899). How does the British Charles Marlow describe the so-called barbarians he sees in Africa?

It was unearthly, and the men were—No, they were not inhuman. Well, you know, that was the worst of it—the suspicion of their not being inhuman. It would come slowly to one. They howled and leaped, and spun, and made horrid faces; but what thrilled you was just the thought of their humanity—like yours—the thought of your remote kinship with this wild and passionate uproar. Ugly.

So we’ve discovered that the word “barbarian” has come to mean a wild, savage person–no, not even a person, an animal who seems human-like. Colonialism has framed it this way, that ol’ classic Us vs. Them, Domestic vs. Foreign, or in this case, Civilized vs. Barbarians. When Europeans viewed Africans, Arabs and Asians as barbarians, it became much easier to take over their livelihoods and artificially split up their lands. It became the Europeans’ moral duty to tame the beasts and evangelize.

You might protest: “No, no, not all foreigners are barbarians. You’re talking 100 years ago, but we know better now! Barbarians are people who are cruel, who are murderers.”

But even those connotations come out of a history of colonialism, dehumanizing the Other. We cannot separate words from their historical contexts. With regard to Matt’s tweet, it’s not simply that the words are “old.” They are vestiges from the violent language of imperialism.

This response gets it right:

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Language has the ability to flatten people. If we consider ISIS monsters, barbarians, savages, demons, we risk losing any understanding behind their motivations. I’m not in any way defending ISIS. The group is responsible some of the most horrific murders and ethnic cleansing in memory, not to mention the severe subjugation of women among other atrocious acts. They need to be stopped, somehow.

But calling ISIS barbarians isn’t going explain their extreme religious devotion which has caused them to force ethnic minorities to choose to convert or suffer beheading. Calling them monsters can’t explain the cyclical oppressed-becomes-oppressor pattern that history can’t seem to shake.  Indeed, using the language of imperialism to define the Islamic State certainly won’t stop them from becoming their own brand of 21-century imperialists in Syria and Iraq. That’s irony, my friends.


ISIS. Photo Credit: Reuters

*Twitter handle has been changed, slightly.

**Note: Definitions of “barbarian” from the Bible and Origin of Species from the Oxford English Dictionary. And I wanted to dig out my copy of Heart of Darkness to find a passage where he actually uses the word “barbarian,” but my books are stacked in piles on my floor. Looking for that book is a lot more physical labor than I’m willing to do for Joseph Conrad’s sake. So I found this quote on GoodReads.


“The idea that we will never have to be alone is shaping a new way of being.”

Several busy, busy days in a row (until Sunday) mean that publishing substantive posts with original writing are close to impossible. Apologies.

Instead, here’s a video I found on The Atlantic’s website called “The Innovation of Loneliness.” It draws upon theories from evolutionary psychology, which I recently studied in my senior capstone class at William Jewell with Dr. Staal, so finding this video was timely. I’ve also had conversations with friends about this sort of thing. A couple of weeks ago, for instance, my friends Jillian, Mary and I were discussing the increasingly artificial nature of photographs, in which people take pictures of social situations because they feel obligated to post them to Instagram or Facebook as the event is happening, rather than enjoying themselves and then maybe capturing genuine, candid photos in the meantime.

But I also think that condemning social media as a reason for fundamentally changing the way that humans interact as a species and claiming that “loneliness has  become the most common ailment of the modern world” is a pretty ambitious claim. I am always weary of these totalizing statements (the whole of humanity?), particularly because a four-minute video hardly contains enough research to back it up, nor does it address any competing theories. It’s an interesting watch, nonetheless.

I’d like to write more, but I have things to do, people! Ciao, until tomorrow.

constructing a narrative of self on the internet

The generally accepted theory goes like this: the Internet allows people to construct and mold their own story, their own narrative; further, the Internet is a space of creation in which people are not hindered by the restrictions of regular life, such as polite society, government, our jobs, or big business.

My Twitter and my blog serve a purpose beyond social media in the sense of communication with friends; what I choose to write is intentional. I share stories and write about topics about that legitimately interest me, of course, but I also mean to write in a way that opens conversation and perhaps even incites people to reconsider how they perceive a given issue. Ultimately, I am aware of what I post and completely conscious that I am trying to create a brand for myself–create a persona for Kasia Kovacs, writer. 

Of course, there is the problem of living. I’d love to monetize my online presence, not because I’m looking for riches, but because I prefer eating and sleeping in a relatively safe area under a relatively stable roof. This is easy for some people. They have trust funds or parents with money or whatever (at this point, I’m tired of being jealous). But at the same time that I spend hours every day attempting to build up a writer’s persona and spreading my work online, I also need to work from 8 to 5 to skate by with rent and bills. This ain’t Girls, Lena Dunham. And then there’s the tricky business of writing a version of myself which feels honest, while trying to follow my company’s policy of not posting anything “inappropriate,” insensitive,” or “offensive” online. These words seem incredibly subjective to me; does “inappropriate” include sex or gender fluidity or twerking or satirizing someone who has a love affair with cursing? Who decides? I’m not sure, but I know that today I had to further reconsider what I blog and tweet, and I decided to censor myself in order to not run the risk of getting fired.

I get it now. The notion of being able to assert control over one’s own narrative on the Internet is more complex than this assumption that Wild West of the cyberspace refuses to bend to traditional powers of capitalism and big media. Even online, money talks so others will keep quiet.

good riddance, doma; and, how to have a conversation

My lunch break, thanks to the glorious combination of food and wifi, is my favorite time of day. As self-declared news junkie, I logged onto Twitter yesterday in anticipation of the Supreme Court’s decisions regarding DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act, establishing that the legal benefits of marriage were limited to heterosexual couples) and California’s Proposition 8 fiasco (whether to allow gay marriage to be legal in the Golden State). This was the first tweet that I saw:

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Okay, not so informative. And then I scrolled down to this one.

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I prefer to have my news broken by comedians.

“Wow, crazy news week!” I said to a coworker whom I’ve considered a somewhat-acquaintance for about a month now.

“What? I don’t really follow the news,” responded Somewhat-Acquaintance.

“Oh, you know. On Monday, there was that total non-decision ruling on Affirmative Action, yesterday Wendy Davis filibustered eleven whole hours to stop a bill from effectively shutting down all by five abortion clinics in Texas, and today the Supreme Court overturned DOMA, plus gay marriage is pretty much assured to be legal in California!” I announced, which was promptly followed by an uncomfortable silence on the part of everyone in the room.

Oh, that’s right. Politics is a no-no topic of conversation in the workplace.

Instead, I attempted to share my political thoughts on Twitter, something that I rarely do. A friend once said that the purpose of Twitter is to make fun of Lena Dunham, not to discuss life accomplishments (not that I really have too many) nor serious contentious topics such as religion or politics.

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I do believe that overturning DOMA is incredibly important. It’s ridiculous that we even have disagreements about equal benefits regarding any type of couple. But the fact of the matter is, that DOMA was just a symptom of an invasive and crippling psyche which considers any non-heterosexual behavior to be immoral–and this psyche has very real and very violent consequences. While people are celebrating the institution of marriage in D.C., our nation’s capitol recently cut funding for homeless youth shelters by $700,000 and overall homeless services by $7 million. Why is this important in the LGBT community? Twenty percent of homeless youth are LGBT, 58.7 percent of homeless youth have been sexually victimized, and LGBT homeless youth commit suicide at higher rates (62 percent) than heterosexual homeless youth (29 percent).

Once again, though, homelessness is not the only LGBT issue with which we, as a society, should be concerned. I spent eight years growing up in a small Ozarks town where a quarter of families live below the poverty line. In a poor, Christian town, to be gay was to guarantee a life spent being bullied or kicked out of your home–to be transgender was unheard of. This cultural mindset has a tremendous role in determining elected politicians and, consequently, the political decisions being made. We need to talk about LGBT rights in terms of culture, race, and economics instead of focusing on gay marriage.

Granted, this was all too much to tweet, and most of what I saw on Twitter were jokes by comedians (…and wanna-be-comedians), links to articles, and suburban white teenagers tweeting #equality who still enjoy throwing out the n-word on the Internet every so often for good measure. Twitter has the potential to be used as a forum for discussion, but I wasn’t seeing much rational discussion happen at all.

I couldn’t talk about the Supreme Court decision at work, and my attempt at doing so on Twitter was ignored in favor of retweeting shouts of celebration. Where could I have a critical conversation about these pressing news topics, beyond my friend group who generally agrees on everything political? I missed class discussions at my liberal arts college and during my time at Cambridge, but the thought that these subjects are limited to places of higher education is incredibly disheartening and elitist, as if students and professors want to shield their precious knowledge and critical thought from the plebeians who chose not to pursue a bachelor’s degree. My degree was called “literature and theory,” and I essentially ignored the question asked in my final comprehensive exam and instead argued that theory is useless when suspended in the realm of ideas and prevented from material application.

And then I had a thought.

That’s what the Internet and blogging is for, right? Participate in a forum with the entire world! Cast aside the trolls, and share and debate ideas with everyone!*

The point is this: I wanted to begin this blog as an exercise in storytelling. But I miss college and substantive discussion where people are free to throw out and examine difficult ideas on weighty topics. Well, it’s my blog, and I’ll write whatever I damn well please. Welcome.

*If you can afford access to the Internet, that is. The world isn’t flat.