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Terence Dick
Writer, editor

January 04, 2017

Terence Dick is the editor of Akimblog. His annual Hit List covers those things outside of the visual art world that inform his take on the visual art scene throughout the year. The past twelve months have been politically tumultuous and culturally adrift, but he has found solace looking further into history to provide some guidance for 2017.

1. George Michael & Run the Jewels

On Boxing Day, my sister-in-law and I performed a spontaneous tribute to George Michael in her Ottawa kitchen and I recited the entirety of Wham!’s Wham Rap! from memory, much to the discomfort of our children and much to my own amazement since I probably hadn’t heard the song in the last couple decades. In addition to being a demonstration of the resilience of memory (and the questionable material I retain in my brain), it also elicited the realization that my formative experience of hip-hop might just have originated with this song during a trip to visit grandparents in Germany in the summer of 1983. This is probably the least cool way for anyone to establish their hip-hop credentials, but the truth is you can’t choose your past.

Fast forward to 2016 and, after a hiatus that began with Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, I spent more time listening to rap this year than ever before. Part of what I love about the music is its respect for history and its political engagement. Not everyone feels that way, but the middle-aged men in Run the Jewels hold the torch high. Their third record came out last week and I’ve been using it as a bolster for the daunting year to come.

2. Teaching Plato in Palestine

This slim book
by McGill University philosophy prof Carlos Fraenkel came out in 2015, but I didn’t read it until last month and I’ve been singing its praises ever since. Fraenkel’s stories about running philosophy workshops at a Palestinian university, a Brazilian high school, a community meeting in a Mohawk Nation territory, and a covert reading group of Hasidic Jews in New York City are all entertaining and illuminating. His big sell is that the philosophical tradition rooted in Ancient Greece can help us deal with a lot of the seemingly insurmountable problems of the modern, post-colonial, globalised, disenfranchised, de-sacralised, etc. world. As a philosophy teacher myself, I am rooting for Fraenkel and his pitch, but I think the real story is found in what he reveals about the value of history. By tracing the influence of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, et al through the scholarship of Medieval Jewish and Arabic thinkers and then back to Europe, he makes a strong case for a shared past despite our divided present. And by looking back, we can figure out who we are, how we got here, and what to do about the mess we’re in.

3. January 20, 2017

On that last note, the future is a big terrifying question mark and nothing will be resolved by Trump’s inauguration in a couple weeks, but that’s when things will get real. Ever since he got elected, I’ve tried to convince myself it won’t be that bad, but every time I get close to relaxing he does something to confirm it will be worse. While some friends tell me Hilary and Obama are just as bad and others are hunkering down for the battle, I keep wondering what all those voters were thinking and how distant their worldview is from my own. I don’t think they’re stupid or crazy. I do think they’re angry and misinformed. And I can’t help but think the way forward includes paying more attention to the people we disagree with.

4. Listening

We have two words for what the ears do: hearing and listening, and the distinction between the two modes of attention is a blessing when you want to emphasize the latter. It’s not the same as seeing and watching for the eyes. Listening suggests making yourself open; you become a receiver and relinquish the speaker’s position for a while. When I saw the first notice on John Berger’s death barely two days into 2017, that first tribute called him first a listener and fifth a seer (which isn’t the same as either one who sees or one who watches). It made me plan for two things this year: one, to read more Berger (and spend quality time searching his wise words out on YouTube), and two, to listen more (particularly before I speak).

5. LandMarks 2017/Reperes 2017

As for art, one thing I’m excited to hear about (since my travel habits make it highly unlikely I’ll get to see any of the works in this exhibition) is also something bound to history and hopeful for the future. Coinciding with Canada’s colonial sesquicentennial, LandMarks 2017/Repères 2017 brings together ten artists to do their things at or near National Parks and Historic Sites this June. This country is a big place and 150+ years is a long time, so I have a feeling that this project is doomed to fail, but I’m optimistic that it will be an instructive failure. That’s the most I hope for these days and I find it serves me well as we move inexorably from past to present.



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