Thursday, March 01, 2018

In order to write poetry, you must first invent the poet to write it.

Antonio Machado’s epigram goes: “in order to write poetry, you must first invent a poet to write it.” I take this as a general rule that crosses genres, and put it in radical juxtaposition with that debauched child of American transcendentalism: write what you know. The latter has always bugged me, on many counts. How do you know that you know is the epistemologically most basic. There is something imagination squeezing, a certain corseting of energy, that is at stake here. You would not advise a tennis player to play the game that she knows, or the plumber to confine herself to only the known, the expected. You’ll never play excellent tennis or do good plumbing that way. All concern acts that are elaborated in contexts full of unforeseen variables, which you bump into and learn from – for instance, you learn what you don’t know. Every time a car mechanic goes, “come on baby, work”, or a cook go, “it tastes done,” what is expressed is the essential duality of work, the fact that the material has a separate essence from the laborer, one that must be respected, must be persuaded to cooperate. To go at things with too much knowing is to go at them blindly, egotistically. Practical knowing is imagining and conjuring. 
In this sense, what Machado is saying applies to tennis and plumbing as well. Such is the power of the imagination that organizations are instinctively on guard against it. Engels recorded that factories in Northern England forbade their workers from singing – workers culled from an agricultural world in which singing was a basic working trait. I’m sure the factories came up with many a bogus reason, but the real one was fear – fear and the desire for power. A worker crushed into being an animated ball bearing is a worker who will not resist, who has no power over his or her work. The worker who imagines the better worker, the other worker, is on the road to power. Strip them of their imagination first – that is the social cost of doing business in the world of capitalism that Engels was describing. One that is very much with us.

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Letter from Paris

Paris has had a dismal winter. My standard of comparison is, admittedly, skewed. Set next to the simulacrum winters of Santa Monica, which perfectly replicates the pattern of long nights and short days but not the temperatures or the potential for snowfall (snowfall on the beach? No way, dude!) – that is, the storybook winters we get in children’s books, all based on the weather in those countries licked by the Gulf Stream at its Northern end, which are the model even in films made in Hollywood (or, really, Culver City), where Santa Claus never wears jogging shorts even if the actor playing Santa does – by such personal orienting points it was hard. By more normal standards, winter was less dismal than mid-range. It isn’t as if we are plunged into the Little Ice Age here in Europe, as in that period in the 17th century when the Seine regularly iced over at Rouen, and the glaciers crept down those Alpine slopes into Heidi’s bedroom.
Of course, in one model of the disaster we are heading into, Europe will be cut off from the warming brought by the Gulf current and we will be facing something more like a major ice age. But since the current consensus is that our grandchildren can all go extinct as long so long as we can get our tat now, that is something I guess we should not think about. Posterity is def going to be a bitch.
So, with our carbon-fueled nonchalance, we all sortied out into the streets this winter, and kept our mufflers on. Which is always fun – I will probably always stick out as an American in Paris because I cannot achieve that degree of lightness with my echarpe, the ability to wind it around the neck just so, where it is like a perfect nest from which the head emerges. My echarpe always looks like it was wound about my neck by a sloppy hangman. I never claimed to be agile, or good with my hands. And so life has gone on as usual, posing the usual Parisian question, viz., how can all these people afford to be crowding the cafes and restaurants? One passes by the menus posted outside and it seems that the budget for lunch alone would eat a hole into any standard middle class family budget – and yet, here all these people are. Mysteries! Which are of course deepened by the menus posted outside of real estate offices. These menus are always being surveyed by small, shifting groups of people. I cop to being as mesmerized as anyone else. Here’s a bargain, one bedroom, a bathroom with a shower, another half bathroom with toilet, tiny kitchen, small salon, the all wrapped up in 45 m2  for only 600,000 Euros, why it is a steal! The mystery of the price system, the neo-classical economists assure us, is an effect of the market. Which shows the power of superstition among the learned, since the “market” is an amorphous, ill-created explanander, a sort of perpetual motion machine for intellectual wankers.
Myself, I just have my prole awe about it all.
I’ve grown old in the joints, which dream of Florida, so naturally my first inclination when it snows is to watch it coming down from a warm room inside. However, Adam’s is to go out in it and make snowmen, or snowballs. He loves snow. I love the look of it, the pristine white, when it first comes down; and I am properly shocked by the dirtiness of it after a few hours in the streets. I know that dirtiness is an impress of the dirtiness we live in and just don’t see. Just like the cop’s black powder, which sprinkled around reveals fingerprints, snow reveals the fingerprints of our collective pollution. This is the stuff that circulates through our lungs.
It won’t last much longer. The spring avant-garde – Demeter’s spies – sometimes comes out and gives us warm hours. I’ve been walking about in the city, thinking of … well, the place setting for the next novel, which I have started with the vague idea that the settings will be Atlanta Georgia, Paris France, and a few other places. And I have decided that one of my characters must buy an apartment, so I walk down Montorgueil in a happy dream, looking at buildings and trying to peep through opened courtyard doors, imagining living there – or perhaps somewhere else? The thirteen, for instance, near Gobelin? It gives me an interest. Besides which, I have always had an antiquarian interest in how this city came to be – the whole psychogeography spiel. I am not Sebald, nor was meant to be… but these histories are accessible, they still live in the faces of the people in the street.
Things will be harder in Atlanta – a metro area that has an Etch-A-Sketch structure, where pictures are shaken up and out and new ones are added at the touch of a moneyed hand, and who remembers, who remembers?

olivier blanchard and the free lunch: a comedy of errors

  The neolib economist Oliver Blanchard tweeted a very funny comedy bit, in which he played the part of “social democrat”. And he wrote: “As...