Time for another a Pete’s controversial aesthetic opinions tweeted from the bath. Here’s an important fork in the aesthetic road encapsulate by a choice between two things: which is better, Led Zeppelin or Black Sabbath. For me, it’s Sabbath every time.
To qualify, I only really count the Ozzy era here. I don’t care all that much for the Dio era, or that much for Ozzy’s solo work. But those first four albums are the real origin of heavy metal, stoner rock, and much else besides, and their aesthetic experimentation is glorious.
Most people I know think I’m mad. But I’d even go so far as to say that out of the two, Sabbath are the better blues band, because they’re clearly still in the era where rock was defining itself through its rearticulation of blues.
Here’s my key point: Led Zeppelin are obviously more technical musicians, and much more compositionally complex, and as a prog rock nerd I appreciate these things. But Black Sabbath exemplify the virtue of (sincere) simplicity, both in lyrical seriousness and musical play.
No one is ever going to accuse Ozzy of being a lyrical genius. As a good friend pointed out to me, he’s happy to rhyme a word with itself (‘masses’). Yet War Pigs has more direct poetic power in its lines than any Zeppelin ballad: the rich make the poor fight their wars. Simple.
Tony Iommi is not the master of the solo that Jimmy Page is. He’s a few fingers short. But he sold those fingers to Satan for the riff to Iron Man. Sabbath had incredible, chugging, distorted riffs like nothing before them. The musical apotheosis of Brummy industrial noise.
If you don’t believe me that Sabbath are a blues band, let alone the better one, listen to The Wizard, which I’d pick over every note of musical ode to Gandalf in Zeppelin’s catalogue, as much as I enjoy them. Playful, yet simple. Direct, yet innovative. Electro blues.
There’s a heady aesthetic mix of influences and ideas in Sabbath, from the sonic palette of the industrial working class, and the synthesis of the emotional tones of blues and horror cinema, to the narcotic appropriation of fantasy/sci-fi images stripped back to the bone.
I’m a prog rock fan at heart, as much if not more than a teenage metal head, but Sabbath manage more naive conceptual experimentation in those first few albums than most bands ever do. Enough to supply material for a multiplicity of ongoing aesthetic research programs.
To briefly list a couple of the highlights of the genres spawned by Sabbath, I’d suggest Iron Maiden (only with Bruce), Pantera (over Slayer), Kyuss (Welcome to Sky Valley), Earth (The Bees Made the Honey...), and Sleep’s epic monument to the holy weed: Dopesmoker/Jerusalem.
The mythic sorrow of the Delta somehow passes through the noisy filter of blessed Brum and returns as ritual worship, an epic journey into the sacred heart of depressive vice:
Music is undoubtedly the most directly emotional medium that I experience. It is capable of compressing and communicating the concrete failures of the will (rather than its abstract triumphs) in ways that integrate poetic expression and rhythmic vibe. When it cuts, it cuts deep.
This integrated experience is one of the first things that falls apart when I hit a depressive episode. I slowly lose the emotional resonance in songs I know I love; that I know *why* I love. It’s genuinely horrifying. The dissonance makes me avoid music entirely in such states.
The great paradox here is that depression is so culturally connected to sadness and its many melancholic modes that to be unable to *feel* that emotional richness when one is utterly, bluntly miserable is a nothing so much as a brute absurdity. Epic (cognitive) fail.
I’ve been able to revisit so much richly and diversely sorrowful music in the last few months, having both returned from cognitive exile and finally committed to a Spotify subscription, that it feels like the rest of my brain is finally on good terms with my limbic system again:
I explore these tapestries of association and emotion and I find images of my younger self in various states, suited to their myriad sonic moods. Often, it’s sitting with friends in dirty band t-shirts, long haired and frayed, inhaling smoke and song as if they were the same. 🖖

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More from @deontologistics

22 Feb
Here's a final thought for this evening. I often give a hard time to Marxists talking about the 'contradictions' inherent in capitalism, usually because this is methodology turned metaphysical bombast. But there are concrete absurdities around us that bear the weight of history.
Much like Lakatosian research programs, societies accrue anomalies/exceptions that can be handled in more or less progressive ways. Ad hoc solutions beget ad hoc solutions, and the result is ramifying technical debt: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Technical…
These accrued debts to future generations can persist long enough that they seem like pillars of the world, rather than failures of administration. There are many such debts in the post-industrial West, addicted as we are to avoiding infrastructural investment of every kind.
Read 33 tweets
22 Feb
Funny story: I once bumped into a professional AI Ethicist queueing for a Russian visa in London. I told him I had objections to utilitarianism and he looked at me like he'd found a Flat Earther. Such people like utilitarianism because it's about automating ethics, not autonomy.
Here are the serious ethical questions regarding AI:

1) How do we deploy these systems in social institutions without simply diffusing responsibility, e.g., encoding explicit prejudice, laundering implicit bias, or automating brute incompetence? (deontologistics.co/2019/11/04/tfe…)
2) How do we integrate these systems into our own cognitive architecture in ways that enhance our autonomy, rather than diminishing it, e.g., imaginative prostheses, cognitive extensions, exo-selves?()
Read 9 tweets
21 Feb
While I’m experimenting with sincerity in the bath, it’s worth trying to say something sincerely nice about a thinker whose influence I spend a lot of time lambasting: Aristotle, the first to truly betray Plato, the one true Judas of the Socratic tradition.
First and foremost, after spending enough time talking to @benedict, amongst other things, I’ve come to the opinion that betrayal is an integral part of a well functioning intellectual ecosystem. There are many examples of betrayals and counter betrayals through the tradition.
The abstract logic of evolution through determination becomes computationally concrete in the form not simply of anti-thetical theories but systematic rivalries with various degrees of institutional structure, from competing individuals to warring research programs and beyond.
Read 17 tweets
20 Feb
If you're really serious about talking about the problem of 'cancel culture', rather than either spewing talking points or denying that the term refers to anything, then the first step is to acknowledge that the relevant social dynamics are hardly a new thing.
The piece that I always return to is Jo Freeman's essay 'Trashing: The Dark Side of Sisterhood' (jofreeman.com/joreen/trashin…), and the example that always saddens me the most is Shulamith Firestone (newyorker.com/magazine/2013/…).
The most extreme historical example that is often brought up by the opponents of 'cancel culture', which should always be born in mind precisely because of its extremity, is the Red Guards and the Cultural Revolution in Mao's China (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cultural_…).
Read 10 tweets
20 Feb
My morning thought. I think what's most incompatible about the way I think and the journal article format as a means of capturing and validating thought is that I have a completely different sense of the relation between tentativeness, rigor, and informatic compression.
The characteristic Pete thought is: wait a minute, this whole area is dominated by an assumption that no one seems to be questioning, and I've got two options to express that: i) outline the logic of the issue in a quick and compressed way, ii) write a small book with references.
The discipline seems to want something in between these poles every single time, and this makes me extremely anxious because I feel (with good reason) like any partially referential engagement with the issue will get instantly torpedoed by anyone outside its referential remit.
Read 14 tweets
19 Feb
Here's another dose of philosophical-political sole searching for the morning. People often tell me to apply for things: jobs, postdocs, competitions, blind submissions of various kinds, and my default answer these days is 'no' unless there's a very compelling case for it. Why?
It seems like a perfectly reasonable request. I also thoroughly believe in my mother's maxim that 'shy bairns get no sweets', i.e., that one has to go out and ask for things, because they won't just come to you. However, most bairns don't have to fill out sweet application forms.
I spent 6 years applying for everything in sight, both in the philosophy world, and in the regular world, just trying to find part time work to get by on. I even tried setting myself up on sites like Upwork to get editing gigs, because this is one thing I have experience in.
Read 62 tweets

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