Saturday, November 16, 2019

personalism and the left: Morales and the coup

If we look at the Left from the the perspective of a 120 years, one anomaly really stands out: the curious case of personalism.

I’ve been thinking of the “cult of personality”since Evo Morales fled Bolivia. Of course, what the right is doing in Bolivia is a coup. There’s no doubt that the right has long sought to make Morales, a democratically elected president, into a ‘dictator” figure, something that is then pawned off on a compliant press in the U.S. and Europe.

What was “dictatorial” was Morales attempt to more justly distribute economic gains. Bolivia, unlike other primary products countries, has had a remarkable growth trajectory over the past 14 years, since he has been in office. His record is in shining contrast with his privatizing predecessors.
However, the real mark of political success, that is, the emplacement of a party that can robustly represent the interests of the workers, is structural. Here, Morales, like so many leftist leaders (one thinks of Castro and Chavez) has miserably failed. When he went into exile in Mexico, it was a loss for the Left. However, it wasn’t a loss for the programs he had nurtured. That loss, politically, came about because his vice president, Álvaro García Linera,  also resigned. In fact, all those in Morales’ party who were in line to become president resigned, thus leaving the post to a far right Christian,  Jeanine Anez.

A question has been lost in the reports about this coup-ish transition of power: why did the officials from the Movement toward Socialism party – the MAS – resign?

My opinion is: they resigned because Morales fled. They were more loyal to Morales than to Bolivia. This is what personalism is about.

Of course, it is an old story. When Lenin came to power in 1918, there was already abundant evidences of a cult. Lenin himself was an adroit politician, and surely thought of the cult as a tactic for imposing Bolshevik rule on Russia. It is, though, a dangerous tactic, with a tendency to take over the program entirely. When Lenin died, there was, briefly, an interval in which the party seemed to retract from the total monopolization of the political space – but this moment quickly ended. It was a moment attached, in true personalist style, to Trotsky, who lost to Stalin. Stalin’s personality cult was modeled on Lenin’s and Trotsky’s.

The more Bolivia descends, predictably, into a chaos that brings out the army and a decade of rightwing repression, the more one should think about the costs of personalism – and resist it. Because it sacrifices real advances for the working class to romanticism and a rather skewed individualism, with the individual being the leader.

Monday, November 11, 2019

autofiction and the prime of Muriel Spark

Write what you know is the advice of the writing class. Write about who you know is the mantra of the gossip column. Surely these two maxims are meant to meet – and the meet will be cute.
The name for it now is “auto-fiction”. Its great predecessor, always wheeled out to impress the rubes, is Proust. And who can deny that the Marcel of In Search of Past Time bears a striking similarity to that man in the cork lined room at the end of the line, caught in his web of words?
There’s an amusing story in the New York Times about the autofiction feuds of Norway. Norway is the featured country at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year, and this has produced a thin stream of stories surveying the literary scene in that country of 5 and a half million people. Not a lot of people up there, clustered around the fjords, but there are many writers, including international star Knausgaard, the king of auto-fiction if there is one. The story is, thank God, not another warm-over of the Knausgaard story, but instead features a  bookish shootout going on between two sisters, one of whom wrote an auto-fiction about growing up with an abusive father and the other of whom responded with a novel about growing up with an abusive drunk for a sister. In other words, look who’s talking.

One year after the publication of her novel “Will and Testament,” the Norwegian author Vigdis Hjorth was at home with her two daughters when she received a surprising email. Hjorth’s widely read 2016 book, which tells the story of an Oslo woman who accuses her father of sexually assaulting her as a child, and which was seemingly inspired by elements of Hjorth’s own life, had spurred a debate in Norway about the ethics of adapting real events into fiction.
The email informed her that her younger sister, Helga Hjorth, was publishing a novel of her own. The sister’s book focused on a woman whose life was upended by the release of a dishonest sibling’s autobiographical novel, and seemed to be an answer to “Will and Testament.”
“The older sister in that novel is an awful human being, very cruel, narcissistic, alcoholic, psychopathic,” Vigdis Hjorth, 60, said in a recent interview. “And, you know, as bad as she was, I thought, ‘This is good for me.’”
This is good for me – that’s the spirit! All of this is extremely pleasing to my current mood. I’ve just finished Loitering with Intent, a Muriel Spark novel that skates circles around the auto-fiction device before it even wore that name. It is, if you will, a meta-auto-fiction, a tendril from the great root of Don Quixote, in which, as is well known, Don Quixote has to struggle with the fake Don Quixote conjured up by some other author after Cervantes had published the first volume of the work. That characters walk abroad in this world is no news to novelists, but is a perpetual surprise to journalists. While she was writing the novel, Spark said in an interview that it “sort of sums up my life”. She didn’t say it was autobiographical however: the summing up of a life comes in different disguises, as every tax accountant knows.
I’d put Loitering with Intent on the shelf with At Swim-Two-Birds – they form incongruent counterparts, like the left and right hand. 

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

cancelling excitement culture

I have lately been feeling pity for the word “excite”. The origin of the word is respectable, and even stuffy – from cite, or move, come forth. Cite appears in English first, as a legal term: a summons. Excite is a summoning too, but one that was connotatively associated with the body. When I learned French in high school, one of the things we were told that made us giggle is not to use “excite” in French, since it was vaguely sexual – a summoning of the libido.

To me, as an American, exciting is associated with more innocent things, or at least libidinously compensatory activities. “Isn’t this exciting” was inevitably ironic, for high schoolers. It was the type of thing the Sunday School teacher said about some dreary game meant to amuse us and edify us biblically.

Exciting still carried that whiff of the bogus, that eyeroll quotation marks, into the eighties. But at some point – perhaps when business schools overtook the humanities as the degree of choice – exciting was revived, a gadget for the new age of Babbitry. It was not only revived, but it started its march towards omnipresence. You could not announce you were taking a dump without saying that you were “very excited by the opportunity to take this dump.” If you were freelancing, and you have, as you must, a twitter account, you must always announce your feeblest initiative by saying how excited you were by it. Trevor Noah, for instance, wants you to know that he is “excited to announce my new 2020 tour dates!” Just to announce the dates! As a tv personality, you would think that he would be a bit blasé, but not Trevor. Bill Gates is “excited” about everything: about Boston Mills new “innovations” in steel production, about technology to “fix” flaws in photosynthesis (a big agro-business moneymaker that is “exciting” because it will, of course, help “poor people”), he’s excited all over the place about innovation. Anybody who has anything to announce nowadays – that they are taking a job or quitting a job, that they are going to school or just that they are one degree above comatose – must be “excited” to announce it. They are never sad, or indifferent; they are never simply announcing, telling, whispering, purring, etc. No, they are always excited. We live in a population that is carbonated on excitement, with bubbles of excitement entering their blood stream every second. You can hardly nail us down – so much are we jumping for joy.

All this excitement leads to a curious letdown feeling, in actuality. It is as if we have exhausted surprise itself, and nothing is exciting, since everything is. I do not deal in predictions, since I am so bad at them, but still, I’m excited to announce that I think excitement is about to take a turn for the less frequent. In the future, people will not be excited to announce anything. They will be, perhaps, ecstatic, orgasmic, or on the edge of their chairs; they will be cool, they will be beady eyed, they will be stoic, they will be anything but excited. This might seem impossible. It might seem like excitement and excited are set in stone, and that the seven habits of highly excitable people will follow us to the flooding of the coastal cities and beyond. But change is possible!
And I’m so excited about it!

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Prizes and prophets: against all prizes in the arts and sciences

When I was in the second grade, a now dim tidelet of a memory, a weak link over the cholesterol and the neural network, the teacher gave us all a challenge. We were supposed to write down every book we read. At the end of the school year, the person with the most books on the list would get a prize. I can’t remember what the prize was – a pencil sharpener? A gold star? Whatever.
Well, at the end of the year I had the most books. So I won the prize. And was congratulated by my parents, too. But what I still remember was how sheepish I felt. Because many of the books I wrote on my list were only half read. I was being, in a word that I didn’t know back then, “aspirational”.
Perhaps it was that experience that soured me on the whole prize biz. Although perhaps it is because I am not a prize winner. I haven’t won a prize since second grade – it has been a prizeless life. And I have long been puzzled by the whole prize economy. Like, here’s my questions: what is a prize, how did it come lumbering into this here Western Culture, why do we want to “win” them, and particularly why have the arts and sciences centered prizes so much?
First off, lets start with some wild bourgeois speculation. I can, actually, understand how prize mania starts. Prizes are so part of the warp-n-woofery of childhood that it would be hard for American 21st century parents to find a substitute if, through some magic wand, we abolished prize giving. Baby is always being given treats for good behavior. And as baby grows into pre-schooler and then schooler, the treats keep coming at a Pavlovian pace. When the child is bad, you can threaten to take away dessert, or something, thus making dessert a prize. And when you want your child to be good, you often promise a prize – go to the dentist with a minimum of screaming and afterwards you get the ice cream. At the same time, school work and prizes go together like that there ice cream goes with some chocolate sauce. Prizes produce the kind of emulation, or are supposed to, that we want to hatch in our hominids: compete, God damn it!
Competition and prizes go way back in this here Western Culture. Among the Greeks, the very gods competed. It was a beauty competition between Hera, Aphrodite and Athena, judged by Paris, that became the root cause of the Trojan war. The Greeks even marked time with Olympic competitions, where prizes were rewarded – and they rewarded prizes to poets, too. Poor Sappho committed suicide, prizeless and in love, according to legend, while Sophocles won the first place prize for his plays 24 times at the Dionysia, a festival that included play competitions. For the athletes, prizes were ritual objects, crowns, corona, of myrtle or olive. The Romans had a custom of awarding soldiers corona obsidionalis, made of wild flowers. These crowns signified a connection between the divine and the profane world, but one should beware of the Victorian view of the Romans and Greeks as gentlemen competing with no commercial reward – as Moehle points out, the Greek cities gave monetary rewards to victors, even if the judges strictly awarded crowns.  Ancient Greek has many words related to “geras” – the common term for honor. Emile Beneviste devotes a whole chapter to the semantic field of geras in Le Vocabulaire Des Institutions Indo-Europennes, showing that it covers the ground between a particular prize that is contended for an the spirit of honor of, say, a household.
I should note here that etymologists group together prize (or prix) with price and praise, deriving them from the Latin pretium, with further connotations of honor. We still retain that tie with honor in honorarium. The Greeks, however, could very well separate price or gain from prize or honor. Aristotle in the Nichomachaen Ethics writes:
“Now the greatest external good we should assume to be the thing which we offer as a tribute to the gods, and which is most coveted by men of high station, and is the prize awarded for the noblest deeds; and such a thing is honour, for honour is clearly the greatest of external goods.”
The strange economy of the prize is expressed in the strange logic of Aristotle’s sentence – that the thing that is offered to the gods is the same as the prize that is awarded for the noblest deeds. It is as if the nobleman diverts from the gods a certain sacrifice – not materially, but abstractly. It is an odd interception of currency, which is validated by being offered to the Gods – thus, a divine currency – and that consists of the greatest of external goods: honour. That it is external – that it requires an other to recognize it – and that it is given to the gods, but is somehow annexed by the men of the highest station, make it a strange kind of tribute, or currency.

Read the rest at Willetts. Here.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Nixon and Trump compared

As the Watergate scandal started to kick into high gear in the spring of 1973, the Village Voice published a story about Nixon on the run with his friend, Bebe Rebozo, in Miami during a vacation. They spent almost two days at Grand Key island, which was owned by Nixon friend Robert Alplanalp, the inventor of the aerosol valve – every time you spray something from a bottle, you can thank Nixon’s buddy.
The VV story by Craig Karpel speculated that “he is said … to have built some sort of orgone box on Grand Key, an accumulator which gathers the particularly rich geomagnetic energy of the zone which abuts the Gulf Stream and focuses it, like a laser beam, on him. It was word of the power of this concentrated geomagnetic flux, transmitted by the Lucayan and Arawak aboriginal inhabitants of the islands to those of Cuba, which reached Don Juan Ponce de Leon in garbled form as bruit of a “River Jordan”, immersion in which conferred eternal youth.”
Ah, the early seventies, when Hunter Thompson was considered a bit on the drag side for a journalist. Another Village Voice article about Watergate meditated on the spiritual reality of that name, viz the waters of life being locked up from the people, and the key to unlocking the gate promising to drown us all in Aquarius.
I’ve been thinking about Watergate and its drama in contrast with Trump and his reality show. Trump really does share certain personality traits with Nixon – certainly the overmastering ressentiment – but doesn’t have the dark glamour. There was something in Nixon’s depths, while Trump’s dad had his depths surgically removed when Trump was seven, along with the tonsils. Yet it is much easier to think of Trump spending time in an orgone box. He is definitely using the White House as an accumulator of rich geomagnetic energy, although since Trump is ever the materialist, he wants to see that energy monetized and he wants it now.
I was around 15 when Watergate became TV. I was brought up in a conservative Republican household and considered myself a very conservative little chirp, so much so that Nixon’s trip to China made me think he was a bad man – China was communist! I hadn’t yet shucked all of that bullshit, although by the end of my teen years I was a Marxist – so there you go. I was helped on the way, though, by Watergate. The President (back then, it was in Capitals that I thought of the mook) had so obviously and painfully lied, lied, lied – and I swallowed the press narrative that this was the worst crime a President could commit.
Later, however, I began to see that there was, to say the least, some disproportionality here. The lie that the president told that resulted in the secret bombing of Cambodia and the horrific spread of the war was skipped over nimbly by the press. The lean towards Pakistan that encouraged a genocidal civil war in which a million were killed in Bangladesh was also as nothing. It was the coverup of the break-in to the Dem headquarters (and not, say, the eternal spying and placing of agents provocateurs with the Socialist Workers Party, which, as Noam Chomsky pointed out back then, was simply considered normal and unscandalous by the press) that undid him. Undid him for months and months of wonderful worldtheater.
History, like all cold cases, depends a lot on trivia. As I grew into your average paranoid loser leftist, I began to get this. I also began to get that conspiracy theory might not be true, but it was a great vehicle for spotlighting the weirdness of ordinary life among the American elite – and even among the American lumpen. Whether Oswald was or was not a lone assassin is one thing – but the very social possibility that was inhabited by his friend, the hairless David Ferrie, was a more important other, at least as far as the American circus was concerned. The Watergate scandal was absolutely full of kooks and eccentrics and wheeler dealers. As well, it ultimately made no sense.

Just as, really, Trump shaking down Ukraine for info makes no sense. I mean, he really needs facts, suddenly, to jam up Biden with his vile son? Has Trump ever needed facts to do anything? Just make shit up. I thought that was the motto.
Nixon, who came to prominence as a conspiracy theory politician – getting Alger Hiss with papers improbably hidden in a pumpkin patch, and going on against the great Communist conspiracy for years and years – was himself a natural conspirator. Trump is too, but unlike Nixon, he isn’t a very good one.

What he is best at – what made him president – was firing people on a reality show. The psychopathologically cruel boss – his core group loves this. Because they want all the black people and the uppity bitches fired. The moment of firing gives them goosebumps. The American psyche can be divided neatly into two halves – the one half that longs to fire, and the other half that longs to quit. Nixon sprang from a more complex and deeper psychosis. He was an American Manichee. He might not have called upon our better angels, but his career was definitely in converse with the spirits, whether orgonally charged or not.

Trump on the other hand is just the kind of dismal loser/boss that the fire groupies love. His impeachment is turning out to be much simpler, but also, alas, much less fun.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

The real in (and out of) realism

If things are in the saddle and ride mankind, as Emerson said, then let us imagine that things take a break every now and then and let words ride.  It is a 30 – 70 split, perhaps, is what I am getting at. This being so, it is foolish to argue with a word once it has established a claim on mankind.
In fact, this is just the kind of foolishness that philosophers – who at one time acknowledged themselves to be half-fool, although now they more often consider themselves to be half-scientist, a half and half creature that to me is still fool – like to engage in. Thus, I, in my half a fool robes, have always had a steady dislike for the word “real” and its court favorite, “realism”.
Here’s my reasoning. If real is meant to refer to the constitution of reality, then, in my opinion, it can’t go picking out some bits of reality and discarding others. It must be wholly promiscuous, rather than half chaste. It must include magic, dreams, mirages and perceptions as well as carpenters crowns, heaps and pi. In other words, I take real to make the widest of ontological claims. However, in actual use, real has been turned into an ontological grift, setting itself up as something ontologicallly direct as opposed to all those soft ontologically indirect objects. In this way, the real becomes a metaphysical con man, a dealer of three card monte.  The dream, the magic, the realist wants to say, are dependent on  a subjective privilege that takes us out of the real and into the ideal, or the fantastic, or the superstitious – they aren’t “validated” by Science, an institution that is suddenly thrust upon us as our commission of the real.
Here we spot everyday dualism, doing its silent work. And everyday dualism has its advantages, or it wouldn’t hang around. But those advantages, which prime it for everyday distinctions, don’t prime it for metaphysical argument. There, it forgets its place. It rubs up against its own original quantitative claim – that reality is all, whereas non-reality is nothing – and  can only help itself out of its dilemma by silently inserting assumption into the discussion that , indeed, must be discussed before we can have the discussion.
In my opinion, realism is only plausibility writ large: it is a view on what is possible and important that gains its justification from a certain class background. The real itself shouldn’t generate an ideology, an ism, any more than the toe does. Like the toe, the real is simply there, the very thereness of there. But this view of the real, which genuflects to its ontological capaciousness, doesn’t correspond to its social meaning – which is always pulled into the dualism between the human and everything else. Aristotle, in the Topics, speaks of endoxa – credible opinions – that are “accepted by everyone or by the majority or by the wise”. This is the filter through which reality becomes realism. The privileged point of view is given us by the class system in the regime in which that point of view is expressed. The reputable class bears various names, depending on the regime we are talking about, whether it is the middle class in America, or public opinion, or most scientists, or – more commonly – an implied everybody who counts that lurks behind a passive construction (“as is well known,” “as is generally agreed”, etc.). Realism’s affiliation with plausibility, rather than reality, is the secret of why the term seems so indeterminate, when you come to close quarters with it.
This is not simply a matter of aesthetics. It is a matter of ordinary problems. To say that insanity is “real” is one thing, to say that insane ideations are “real” is another thing. This is the whole pragmatics of real, as opposed to its semantic promise – which would leave distinctions of what is natural, plausible, objective, communally accessible, all that, to other words and phases of society and perspectives. The whole discipline of psychology is folded over this problem, with one side contending that “talk therapy” – however that is filled out – doesn’t treat mental problems as “real”, that is, based on the neurochemistry of the brain, which is supposed to be a realer real than talk about our relations, say, in families, in sex, etc. It is not clear why the family is less real than the neuron – the idea is, probably, that the mental problem would express itself in some person regardless of whether that person grew up in family x or y – although, confusingly, the same scientific ideology hold in high regard the gene, which brings us back to social realities that mediate any sex act. It is very hard to understand how a neurochemical problem in the human brain, which evolved in a social animal – as opposed to, say, an aardvark – would articulate itself at all without having strong social links, having ties to sensemaking as the natural activity of the human animal.
The same bend, but with other variables, is found in physics, with the realists versus the Copenhagen interpretation, and may the best physicist win (that is, get the contract to write a pop sci book agented by John Brockman).
The rest is at Willetts.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

La Fontaine and the poetry of the hidden transcript

Literature we may say is what goes on all the time history is what goes on from time to time… Gertrude Stein
The Oxford Guide to Literature in English Translation devotes a whole page to La Fontaine’s Fables. It covers a good part, but not all, of the gamut, from John Dennis’s first essay and assay in 1693 – two years before La Fontaine’s death, and a year before the 1694 edition, with Book XII in it, appeared – to the complete translations by Norman Schapiro in 1985.
Yet La Fontaine’s status in the Angophone world reflects a certain literary-political decision about fables: that they are always, in some way, infantile. Which in turn inflects, if unconsciously, his translators, with their tendency to didly-o language, in tonal contrast to La Fontaine’s highly adroit use of multiple idioms, his parodying, his lyricism.  Although fables and allegories as genres are popular in the curriculum of middle and high schools, they are not accorded the admiration that the critics give the higher works of art, from epic poetry to realistic novels. They don’t have the difficulty, they don’t resolve aesthetic problems, so the thinking goes, that, say, we can see and feel in one of Nabokov’s novels. They allow English high school teachers to talk easily about symbols and avoid the hard kernel of literature and its difference. The Fables seem to lack the referential difficulty of Pound’s Cantos, being, on the surface, so genial, and referentially domesticated: all that pagan mythology. When Paul Valéry wrote about La Fontaine, he chose Adonis – a great early poem. And not, say, The Pig, the Goat and the Sheep, from book 8 of the Fables.
In contrast to the English and American critics, critics and poets in France have remarked on the rise in  La Fontaine’s prestige, and in general his place in French culture, over the last 30 – 50 years. Partly this is due to the fact that one of the great scholars of the 17th century, Marc Fumoreli, has made a strong case for La Fontaine being an essential counterbalance to the classical literature of the French court under Louis XIV. Fumaroli’s book, The Poet and the King, is constructed around the opposition between Parnassus – the dream of the republic of letters, where power is constructed out of friendship and poesis, presided over by an aristocracy of benign patrons – and Olympus, which represents the dread institutionalization of literature as the arm of the state – or in our age, the arm of the corporation, with its statist power. One immediately sees how useful this is, how it brings out a thematic that is buried in the contrast between the baroque and the classical. A great scissoring mind is necessary to cut up and put back together a work of art to show how it works, but that is only half the story. The other half is surrender – the sinking into the work, the inner touch, the tour, as it were, of the reserves of tacit knowledge it contains, to which one cannot be superior.  Empathy and the cutting edge – the conjunction of these two things is a rarity. Fumaroli has it, can make the old mandarin passes and still understand how the poem is more than a vehicle for tour-de-force verbal play – how the poem is passionate and plugged in. His way of seizing on and elevating the terms “Parnassas” and “Olympus”, which a lesser critic might dismiss as old and routine rhetorical devices, is, I must admit, brilliant.  There is a charge in them, a cultural politics hidden by them, which is tied not just to 17th century rhetoric, but to a recurring situation: the opposition between the poet and the autocrat. From that opposition comes, ultimately, the fever dreams of modernism, when autocracy under many guises has a tendency to seize society and lead it to disaster.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Karen Chamisso poem
Panic Attack No. 5
… what was it I was saying?
I know my bill of rights, thank you very much.
I know the tape is running. I know the camera’s on.
I know the lord of dark corners and the third degree
Knows all my disappointments and my little fun
You say, we’re done here. We’re done.
The prowler is parked a block from the shattered glass
He’s here for the order, girls, forget about the law.
The always wrong the shadowless the sucker and the goof
Can forget about proving jack, he always has the proof
Of their little disappointments and their little fun
You say, we’re done here, we’re done.
No, the sentence before that one, what did I say?
I’ve always had the money not to have to see
I go to the opening nights, always have a place to pee.
In the cold dark corners they are lighting matches what the hell
My little disappointments… my little fun …
You say, we’re done here, we’re done.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

The old dispute: Obama and the depression

At one point, in the history of this blog, I decided not to write too much about the headlines. I got sick of talking about politics. Instead, I decided I'd write about economics, philosophy, literature, whatever - just not the news.
Well, my readership plummeted, naturally, but I saved a little of that soiled rag I like to call my "soul". So fuck it.
But I did keep writing about headlines elsewhere.
I just read Ezra Klein's mushmouthed defense of the Obama regime, which seeks to shift the blame for its problems to Congress. This rewrites history in such a transparent way that  I went back to Facebook, where I have confined my political screams generally, and looked at what I wrote on Nov. 5, 2010 about the Dems losing Congress.
Here's the Ezra Klein piece.

And here is my response, from 2010:

It is easy to see why the Dems were shellacked this election. And, as with all things easy to see, the elite opinion-makers – the pundits who got all frothy about bringin’ democracy to Iraq in 2003 – are doing their best not to see it.

The two cases are similar in that what one has to avoid seeing -what makes the pundit the pundit, his peculiar blindness - is the numbers.

In the case of Iraq, the numbers were: amount of troops needed for an occupation to have a chance of success and amount of money necessary to support that invasion. The invasion was morally doomed from the outset, being the cretinous child of the retro-imperialist party; however, that doesn’t mean it was doomed to materially fail. The latter failure was in the refusal of the U.S. government to actually fund and man the war. Now, that funding and manning would, likely, have significantly lowered support for the war, which was presented as a sort of picnic for virtuous americans in the press. A picnic in which we could righteously drink the blood of evil brown skinned villains – why, it was Hollywood!

In order to make the invasion politically possible, the warmongers burdened the invasion with insuperable difficulties, the legacy of which can be heard and seen in the streets of any major Iraqi city to this day.

What, then, of the numbers for this election? For those with the eyes to see, the most comprehensive roundup of what happened is presented on Nate Silver’s blog, hosted by the NYT.

The link is here: What happened in this election is simple. The preference of those who voted was equally divided between McCain and Obama voters. If we viewed this as a referendum on Obama, as Silver says, then he lost the seven percent advantage he had won in the election. In other words, Obama voters – like me – stayed home.

For myself, voting is symbolic rather than practical – since Austin, Texas was gerrymandered out of existence in the 00s, I am represented by a very rightwing Republican whose district looks like a tangled vacuum cleaner tube – which it is, since the line was drawn to mix a number of Dems into a maximum Rep district, thus securing the district for the right.

But if I had lived elsewhere – and when I come back from France, I am probably going to be living officially in Georgia – I would still have stayed home. Obama and the Dem majority congress have been a very large disappointment to me. From the incredible way the administration decided, early on, to resist the shrinking of the financial services sector (a decision that will depress the economy for years, until the sector blows up again, when the economy will just sink) to the milquetoast healthcare reform (not biting the bullet on the Public Option dooms us, again, to a private insurance managed, inefficient, unjust and stupid medical system – a wonderful system for the wealthiest 20 percent of the population, a huge ripoff for the rest) to, of course, a warlike foreign policy annexed to a Pentagon that now gobbles up 700 billion dollars a year  outright, and, it is estimated, another 200 to 300 billion in hidden funding, stuffed into the Energy Department or disguised by financing tricks – Obama has chosen to build on Bush’s America. And the Dem congress has been simply disgraceful. The editorial liberals love to jump on the financing of elections – but this is not the problem. The problem is the way that politicians can get themselves and their family members hired by big businesses – so that office becomes a mere waystation to the big bucks. South Dakota’s former Senator Tom Daschle, Bush’s straight man, is a poster boy for the Republic’s ills – he seemed to have become the go to person (as an “outside counselor”)  for healthcare issues in the Obama administration while, of course, being driven about in the Rolls Royce as Mr. Lobbyist for a variety of healthcare industries. The predators ball has long since sent its rsvps to Congress, and the party line now exists simply as a negotiating ploy – are you a hard to get “liberal”? Why, you can then throw that cultural capital into the pot for mucho sweetness - it is a negotiating ploy! Then, of course, once you are hooked into the gravy train, you can begin your second career as a professional tout. You can  plead for whatever bloodsucker is paying you off. You can lobby for blood diamonds, or for BP, or for cancer causing insecticides - who cares? Sophism never had it so good.

The shadow government is a phylogenic extension of the shadow banking system.

Meanwhile, the structural problems have gotten worse. Here they are: a thirty year decrease in the increase of wages finally peaked, in the 00s, when the income of the medium income didn’t budge. This was at a time of record profits for corporations, but the entire gain from increases in productivity was engrossed by the people in the top 5 percent income bracket. In order  to keep the doggies eating the dog food, for thirty years there has been a parallel liberalization of credit. In essence, easy credit has replaced raises in income. The loose money system resulted in a huge boom in the financial services sector. The boom in fs led to increasingly creative ways to make money on money –thus operating to take money away from investments with longer time horizons. And the finale was the asset boom in housing. Contrary to our modern myth, this was not a problem – it was a solution. The downturn of 2001 would have been indefinitely prolonged without the housing bubble. And of course, the re-fi business, upon which the middle class floated through what could have been a pretty rotten time in 2002-2003.

Politically, there was no party, no individual, who opposed the malign direction taken by  American capitalism in this period. Or, perhaps, a few economists and poets – whose voices occasionally pop up on an op ed page as a proof that  ain’t this a real democracy?

The amount of nominal value taken out of middle class American hides in the last two years aint coming back. The disconnect between the interests of the political elite – in which set I include the Obamacrats and the Tea Party – and the majority of the country widens every day. And the pundits still don’t see the numbers.

My advise – carve the numbers into their fuckin’ foreheads.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

In defense of Cancel culture: from the surrealists to twitter

Cancel culture was born on October 18, 1924, when a pamphlet was thrust upon the world entitled: A Cadaver. The subject of the pamphlet was Anatole France, a Nobel prize winning author whose death, on October 12, 1924, was announced on the front page of the New York Times under the headline: Anatole France Great Author dies … Author of “Thais” and “Le Jongleur de Notre Dame” Classed as Leader of Modern Stylists”. The writers of A Cadaver (Andre Breton, Louis Aragon, Paul Eluard, etc.) were having none of this. The pamphlet was a surrealist action of the most violent and definitive kind. Breton classed Anatole France with the “cops”, and wrote: “With Anatole France, a little human servility goes out the door.” Eluard, under the heading, An Old man Like the Others,  wrote mockingly to France: “The harmony, ah, the harmony, the knot of your tie, my dear corpse, your brain on the side, everything arranged beautifully in the coffin and the tears that are so sweet, aren’t they?” But it was Louis Aragon who really ripped poor Anatole France’s corpse another asshole. Under the heading: “Have you ever slapped a dead man?” Aragon attacked the whole idea, the stink and the shallowness of “beautiful writing”, and wrote: “I declare that every admirer of Anatole France is a degraded being.” It is polemic in the highest ranting style:
What flatters you in him, what makes him sacred, please leave me in peace, is not even the talent, which is arguable, but the vileness, which permits the first louse that comes along to exclaim : How is it that I never thought of this before !
And, the peroration:
“Today I am in the center of that mildew, Paris, where the sun is pale, where the wind entrusts its horror and its inertia to the smokestacks. All around me I see a dirty, poor busy-ness, the movement of the universe where all greatness becomes an object of derision. The breath of my interlocutor is poisoned by ignorance. In France, they say, everything ends up as a song. Let he who dies in the heart of the general beatitude go up in smoke in his turn! There is little that remains of a man. It is even more revolting to imagine that one, who was, in any case, a man. On certain days, I dream of an eraser that could wipe out all of this human stain.”
This is how you do cancellation, my droogs.
In this case, the surrealists succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. By 1930, literary lights like Blaise Cendrars were claiming that France was “boring,” and Andre Gide put in the boot by saying that his oeuvre was “not considerable”. Yet when he was alive, Anatole France held a position in the overlapping worlds of literature, culture and politics that was similar to that held by, for instance, Saul Bellow in the U.S. It is hard to imagine Saul Bellow being spit on to this enormous extent when he died…
Except that Bellow did, in a sense, imagine it. Bellow sampled his own heckling by students in 1968 by working up a similar scene in Mr. Sammler’s planet:
“A man in Levi’s, thick-bearded but possibly young, a figure of compact distortion, was standing shouting at him.
“Hey! Old Man!”
In the silence, Mr. Sammler drew down his tinted spectacles, seeing this person with his effective eye.
“Old Man! You quoted Orwell before.”
“You quoted him to say that British radicals were all protected by the Royal Navy? Did Orwell say that British radicals were protected by the Royal Navy?”
“Yes, I believe he did say that.”
“That’s a lot of shit.”
Sammler could not speak.
“Orwell was a fink. He was a sick counterrevolutionary. It’s good he died when he did. And what you are saying is shit.” Turning to the audience, extending violent arms and raising his palms like a Greek dancer, he said, “Why do you listen to this effete old shit? What has he got to tell you? His balls are dry. He’s dead. He can’t come.”
At the time Mr. Sammler’s Planet came out, George Orwell had already assumed a rank at the top of the pantheon of brave “truth-tellers”, so the cancellation of Sammler and of Orwell together in one taunt – such a bearded and testosteroned one too! – was loaded with voltage. Of course, Bellow’s characters are always haunted by a ghost at the heel, taunting them with the idea that they are only ham actors, all of their beautiful thoughts only occasions for various big wig louses to say, how had I never thought of that before! Charley Citrine has Von Humboldt Fleisher, and Herzog of course is in flight from Valentine Gersbach. But in this gallery Sammler is special, since his cancellation moment is so entirely public, and so entirely on terms that Bellow felt were the only real terms – such was Bellow’s problem with women.  
Twitter has become, for the media establishment, what the heavily bearded young man was for Artur Sammler – an emblem of the end of the world in sheer barbarism and blasphemy and insulting of George Orwell. Of course, in the media establishment, it is very hard to get canceled. Noam Chomsky managed to do it by criticizing American foreign policy after the Vietnam war, when the wound was healed and all bien-pensant American “thought leaders” agreed that America had the most adorable and charming plans for the rest of the world (and was only being misunderstood as it spent trillions on the military and put these plans into effect by invading Panama City here, helping the stray Salvadorean death squad there, droning (accidentally!) some Yemeni wedding over in the corner, and so on). Otherwise, you will never find the deck chairs changing very much on the opinion pages of the great dailies, nor will you find Meet the Press or that ilk of tv inviting on anybody ‘foreign” or really anybody except its usual quota of great white male politicos and pundits. Even when a figure, like Mark Halperin, is discovered to be a serial groper and goes down, his media friends have a hard, hard time letting him go – as do his friends in both party establishments – and they keep campaigning to uncancel that pitiful mook.
Read the rest at Willetts!