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Showing posts from December 10, 2017

I've got rhythm

Karl Bücher is a not very well remembered economist. His ghost comes up, faintly, in the literature about Karl Polanyi. He was an economist of the ‘historical school’ back in the early twentieth century. The ‘historical school’ and the marginalists were pitted against each other, and each also pitted itself against Marx. Institutional economics owes the historical school – although it is commonly thought that the historicists were creamed when the marginalists began to produce groovy, mathematical models.  Bücher’s ghost also sometimes haunts … musicology. Of all things. This is because of a little book entitled Work and Rhythm. We all know about Taylor, and the making of work efficiency – at least those of us who remember the way the Soviet Union in Stalin’s time fell in love with Taylorism. Bücher, in 1894, worked along other lines. He listened to labor with that German metaphysician’s ear. He listened to the sound made by the shovel going into a sandpile. He listened to the smith

why I hate writerly writerly stuff

I've mostly liked Jennifer Senior's time at the Book desk at the NYT - it is definitely not her fault that the editors have decided that books are passe and not worth a really quality section any more. Newspapers are run by the mostly illiterate country club set, who own the papers, and they think the way back to relevance is to diss reading and up the coverage of celebrities - which ignores the fact that reading is the act that the newspapers are selling. If you don't have a  strong book culture, you don't have newspapers. But hey, go ahead and cut your throats and call it relevance. See if I care. However, Senior's farewell NYT piece is sorta what I don't like about writer-talk. It makes the writer out to be a special species, the cuddly curmudgeon, and so on. Myself, I like to think of the writer as an intellectual worker, on par with workers in the sphere of plumbing or asphalting. I've copped my view from the Soviet 20s attitude. Rodchenko, be my

on filler in narratives

The first appearance in print of the word “filler”, according to the OED, was in a pamphlet by Robert Greene on lowlife, published in 1591. It was a term of art among a certain kind of crooked merchants of coal in London, who bought coal in sacks that contained four or five bushels and transferred them to narrower sacks that took two and a half, which they claimed contained the standard amount. “Tush, yet this were somewhat to be borne withal, although the gain is monstrous, but this sufficeth not, for they fill not these sacks full by far, but put into them some two bushels & a half, laying in the mouth of the sack certain great coals, which they call fillers, to make the sack show fair, although the rest be small willow coals and half dross.” Thus, filler enters the world as the child of conmen, and it carries that air of the spurious with it to this day, even though filler is now used in dozens of more or less honest ways, particularly in packaging and in admixtures to buil

Robinson Crusoe and Figaro walk into a bar... official and unofficial culture

When I was a little boy I learned about American history as a parade of heros in colorful situations: George Washington stoicking it out at Valley Forge, Benjamin Franklin and the kite, Abe Lincoln walking twenty miles to return a borrowed book while his Mamma wilted away with the mysterious “milk sickness”. No women save for Betsy Ross, and no African-Americans down to the very name. It was all so long ago, but this version of America runs like muzak in the veins of heartland patriots, so there is that. In the meantime, history got sexy: there was the civil rights movement, there was feminism, there was Foucault, there was deconstruction, there was the new historicists, chorus chorus chorus. This has revised our view of the American Revolution by broadening it, for one. It is not in the context of a number of Atlantic Revolutions – the French, the aborted Irish, the Haitian – and it is now something much greater than the sum of battles the Yankees fought with the redcoats. Among ot