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Interchange – The Masks of Democracy: A Conversation with Nick Xenos


In a piece called “Jazz Democracy,” a Slate review of The Complete Columbia Studio Recordings of the Miles Davis Quintet, January 1965-June 1968, Adam Shatz writes:

It’s a commonplace that jazz is the musical expression of American democracy. The unfortunate truth is that jazz more often resembles the daytime talk show: Everyone gets his or her say before the floor passes to the next soloist. The Davis quintet was the rare exception, a luminous example of participatory democracy in jazz.

Our music sets the stage: On “Nefertiti,” off of the 1968 album of the same name by the Miles Davis Quintet, the horn section repeats the melody numerous times without individual solos while the rhythm section improvises underneath, reversing the traditional role of a rhythm section. It’s been called a paradox. It ought to seem boringly repetitive, but even though the head is just repeated over and over it’s really never played exactly the same twice, especially by the rhythm section. The dynamics and the “attitude” are constantly shifting, ebbing and flowing, rising and falling. The theme is never presented the same way twice.

Democracy, never presented the same way twice, is our topic and joining us live via Skype is Nicholas Xenos.

Our primary task for this 90-minute Interchange, and it seems a kind of irony, is to find a way to define Democracy away from our current conceptions. And in so doing we’ll also try to understand where it is we might come into contact with democracy–how we come to know what it is. To this end we’ll take a look at teaching and political science in theory and practice. We begin with Sheldon Wolin’s concepts of “managed democracy,” “inverted totalitarianism,” and “fugitive democracy.”

DISCUSSED (Essays by Nick Xenos)
“Civic nationalism: Oxymoron?”
“Liberalism and the Postulate of Scarcity”
“Individual Character and Political Ethics”
“The Austere Life”

Selling Democracy: Part One of The Way of Neoliberalism (Wendy Brown on Undoing the Demos)

Nicholas Xenos is Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the Director of the Amherst Program in Critical Theory. He is author of Cloaked in Virtue: Unveiling Leo Strauss and the Rhetoric of American Foreign Policy and Scarcity and Modernity, and has contributed essays and reviews to The Nation, Grand Street, The London Review of Books, and other periodicals. His most recent book is an edited volume of Sheldon Wolin’s essays, Fugitive Democracy, just out from Princeton University Press.

All by The Miles Davis Quintet
“Nefertiti” (Nefertiti)
“Petis machins” (Filles de Kilimanjaro)
“Circle” (Miles Smiles)
“Agitation” (E.S.P.)
“Riot” (Nefertiti)
“Masqualero” (Sorcerer)
“Black Comedy” (Miles in the Sky)

Producer & Host: Doug Storm
Assistant Producer: Rob Schoon
Board Engineer: Jennifer Brooks
Executive Producer: Joe Crawford

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