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Showing posts from December 18, 2011

the forest and the address

Yes I'm lonely wanna die About the time Rousseau was meditating on the original men in the forest of St. Germane, in the 1750s, the French government was beginning to assign numbers to buildings in various cities. This was a two-fold process. According to David Garrioch, it was not only about assigning a number, but also about a great loss of names: the names of houses. For before the number address, houses were found by their name on the street: “In the cities of early modern Europe the houses and shops almost all had names and signs. There were red lions and golden suns; names of ships, trees and plants; figures of history and myth; every conceivable saint.” Garrioch questions a history that sees these names solely in terms of identifying marks. Firstly, the names could be, and were, changed; secondly, there was no system to the marks. There was no succession   of suns, for example. While they may have played a role in identifying the house or shop, the name or sig

file under revolution

Joseph Stiglitz’s article in the Vanity Fair about the current Big Slump has been picked up and argued about by certain economists – Brad Delong and Nick Rowe for instance – in terms of whether it deviates from neo-Keynesianism or not. I'd argue that the more applicable background disagreement is that between Keynes and Marx. Stiglitz's argument, I think, is that the ‘economy’ or the international system of production is very well able to produce goods and services – but its increasing efficiency means that it can’t produce employment or higher wages for work. This is a sectoral dysfunction – it happened with agriculture in the 20s and 30s, and with manufacturing post 70s (that is, in the U.S.). The increasing efficiency over time thus works both to narrow the ability of other entrants in the field - it shrinks competitiveness - and it diminishes the need for labor. In other words, there is an asymmetry between this capacity for production and the ability of the populati

Orwell and Hitchens

Hitchens made no bones about idolizing George Orwell. The result of that infatuation is that the names Orwell and Hitchens came together enough times that – as quantity turns into quality in the black magic of the press – it became a cliché that Hitchens was like Orwell. That he was our Orwell, or something. You don’t have to read very much in the works of either writer to find that Hitchens is not at all like Orwell. Hitchens would have been incapable of writing Down and Out in Paris and London because he would have been incapable of being down and out in Paris or London. Orwell’s strength came from not only being able to imagine the “common people”, but being, existentially, as close to them as a Public School graduate can get – whereas Hitchens had no sense whatsoever for the common people. Hitchens’s sensorium was hooked up to the Byzantine elite, whether to despise them or to raise an elbow with them, depending on the various stages of his career. Last night I went and