“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

"Never for money/always for love" - The Talking Heads

Monday, November 13, 2006

Further adventures at the Mailer conference.

Well, LI’s headache got a better offer from a better head, one with a Pacific coast view, the sauna, the cable tv, a lot more sex to at least vicariously control, and so it moved away.

So now I will say one more thing about the Mailer conference.
I didn’t catch most of the conference, which started last Thursday. This is because I have had work – work! – due to my name being spread by former clients like IT, Lei and Silja. If this keeps up, I might be able to afford to get a new boom box to replace my recently deceased stereo. So the one conference panel I did observe was the last one. Three academics spoke, and the MC was Morris Dickstein, who looked like the Gates of Eden was a long time ago.

So okay. Question time. One question about Mailer’s technophobia. This was mulled around by the panel without any theme emerging. Then the eager guy sitting next to me – Robert Boyer, the editor of Salmagundi – made the comment that though Mailer criticized technology, he benefited from it enormously: tv, the paperback revolution, etc. He sat down with a smile on his face and all the other academics smiled too. Oh, it was lovely, an academic gotcha moment. And on that note the conference dissolved.

And that would have been cool, except: Boyer’s comment was entirely dumb. Mailer’s technophobia was not just a longing for arts and crafts, but wound into the politics of his entire oeuvre. And the point of it was dialectical. The point of it was that WWII had shown the world just how vulnerable all the modern systems were – and the following global Cold War system responded to that by a double movement – on the one hand, the system‘s polar powers tried to trump their vulnerability by threatening ever greater destruction, embodied by ever more missiles, aimed at each other – and on the other hand, within the system, the attempt was made to lessen individual vulnerability – whether due to race, sex or economic status. Technology was the common element shared by both ends of this double movement, which is how entrenched power - the system's beneficiaries - could promise invulnerability while producing, at the extreme of the system, ever greater vulnerability – vulnerability on a planet-wide scale. That was the demonic pact – in Mailer’s terms. Mailer’s conservativism consists in maintaining the badness of the devil and the goodness of God. LI would reverse that – the Cold War system, in which we still live, is one of white magic, with the devil being the joker and the only way out of the contradiction that Nobodaddy generated, and that now threaten to destroy it.

In any case, the point isn’t that technology is bad, but that it exists as part of a system and as a promoter of attitudes. The great hope of liberal society is that individuals, freed from the contingent vulnerabilities of scarcity and history, will use that freedom to risk their existences on a higher level. That, in fact, one can create a society that makes possible human generosity. Gives everyone their own movie music and large gestures. The great social fact of the sixties and seventies, however, is that mass adventurousness scares the shit out of the governing class, which then does everything it can to suppress it: drug laws, massive increases in prison building, the creation of an institutional architecture, an educational system that instills the message that one’s life is about, ultimately, making money. The system, Mailer was correct to feel, was slowly destroying other areas of life beyond the prudential – undermining and demonizing the adventurous moment, the moment of chosen risks, the moment of beauty. And this was at the heart of Mailer’s notion that the tool that created tools – technology – was making life less vulnerable by making life less honorable.

Of course, the backlash that started in 1980 was about making life within the system more risky for some and at the same time embedding in more areas of life the economic connection between the destructive technology at the periphery of the system and life within the system. The present administration, trying to both destroy social security and create a long, expensive, vague war, is following that logic to the letter. At the same time, the environment that has borne the cost of the technological system – absorbed the infinite wastes of it, as though those wastes were not a cost – is finally reaching a point of comparative no return. The gamble of creating nations that are armed to the point that they could, theoretically, eliminate humanity has produced a mindset in which the planet’s life is carelessly pissed away so that we can buy the kids the Hummer for the graduation present. Never has such a large disaster come about through such puissant motives.

But while this happens, we can sit around and find Mailer’s gotcha moment – that paperback revolution! tv! jerking off the Black Hole until it finally responds – and that response won’t be pretty.

12 comments:

new york pervert said...

Boyer's comment sounds more like the kind of rehearsed bullshit you hear on Washington Week in Review--it's so old hat and has been used so many times I'm sure Mailer just thought 'Oh Jesus God, not that old Susan Sontag dick-poking thing again..'

Everybody is totally hypocritical and I agree with the ruling class that not everybody should be able to get to do things. How else explain why we use technology and yet have reason to deplore it? We can't keep the balance unless we keep people in their place, and we all know that since they fixed the Diebold machines that there is all the meritocracy in the world in the goddam Land of Opportunity.

Nobody has said anything important since Hegel came up with the Unhappy Consciousness. Everybody is always (I refuse to do that 'always already' bullshit another time in my entire life) doing nothing but the Unhappy Consciousness and so now we can relax an Learn to Stop Worrying, Kill Bin laden and Love the
Becoming-Robot Diet.

In the meantime, I highly recommend 'Babel,' which I saw Saturday at Sheepshead Bay UA Cinemas. It's a masterpiece, and I am celebrating my new understanding of the Other by making a Dutch/Indonesian Beef Curry. East and West's twain ought to meet by this e'ne'rin'.

roger said...

Mr. NYP, I resent that about nobody saying anything since Hegel! I said something clever two weeks ago, I think, or three, on this very blog. I can't remember what it was, but it was killer.

Yeah, the Boyer moment was so... why I got out of academia. I don't mind honest dumbness, or naivete, or crudity, or crackpotism, but I can't stand that gotcha smartness that is deeply shallow. A killer of poetry, an impresser of undergrads, a locust infestation in the intellectual life. To be that guarded against anything unexpected, anything you can't understand, depresses me.

Careful with that Beef curry. That stuff is wicked hot.

Brian Miller said...

An interesting argument-that not everybody should get to do everything. Still-why should we listen to the traditional "ruling classes" acting as Deciders? (I/m probably very much misunderstanding your argument, Mr. P!)

On a completely unrelated note: I'm concerned that J. Alva Scruggs has disappeared from the electronic blogsphere. Not that he owes us fleeting electronic acquaintenances anything, but....any word?

new york pervert said...

He does too owe us. We've paid attention to him even when he didn't deserve it. And the rest of the time, he wishes to taunt us, and is merciless about it.

Anyway, Roger, I've very much enjoyed your Mailer notes. He's one of the few that will sell out when he appears at the YMHA, and I have thus far missed him, and I have done a good bit of that authors' readings stuff in the last few years. I think I will Google and try to see when he is going to appear somewhere.

That goddam curry was a LOT hotter than any I ever had in a restaurant. I wrote my sister I was going to send my sister a can of it for her birthday, but now I can't, because too fiery. No wonder Thai people have so much need for heroin. That's all that kinda people are up to, ya know...

new york pervert said...

'Still-why should we listen to the traditional "ruling classes" acting as Deciders? (I/m probably very much misunderstanding your argument, Mr. P!)/'

Brian, you half were and half weren't. I've given believing that the ruling class doesn't know just as much as the lower classes. If they both exist, then they both know all sorts of different things. I personally belong to both classes (and am finally beginning to master the middle classes a bit better so as to conform and not be put in prison), but I usually don't tell anybody about it, because they think I'm a bipolar--but I'm not, because I don't take Prozac.

new york pervert said...

'given believing' should be 'given up believing'

new york pervert said...

Oh, well, I better put a disclaimer on my racist things about Thai people. I don't think any such thing (I know too little about Thai people), and I forget you can't say things just because I read that Borat says them. In 1987 I read James Mills book on heroin in SE Asia, so I was just doing a little cheap free-associate business. But unEnquiring minds might read this...

roger said...

On this subject, if you've never read Charles Nicholl delightful book about traveling in Thailand looking for heroin in the seventies, Borderlines, I recommend it. Very funny. Same Nicholl who wrote that great book about poor Kit Marlow, The Reckoning.

Brian Miller said...

I have to admit I really enjoyed the "trashy" police-noir novels written by an Ex-Brit Hong Kong Expat. Bangkok 8 is the first one.

roger said...

Brian, thanks! I'm a noir procedural fan too. I'll check out Bangkok 8 - when I have time.

Amerigo Sciurofascista said...

"He does too owe us. We've paid attention to him even when he didn't deserve it. And the rest of the time, he wishes to taunt us, and is merciless about it."

I'm grateful, believe me, and I find the argument persuasive, even if you do consistently reject the wisdom of the squirrel dialectics. It's also possible that I should have picked a better rodent, or more significant mammal, to make my point. Still, you work with the critters you have. Not the ones you might want, or wish to have at a later date.

new york pervert said...

Oh, I love those badgers, they are truly beautiful things. I guess hyenas are...useful... I also like skunks and constantly accuse a friend of mine that he looks like a skunk and wrinkles up his nose when he is mad that his anal scent glands had to be removed so he could make it in sass-i-ety...