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Showing posts from March 25, 2018

Marx's hope - or mine

The hardest thing to recover from the wrecks of history is the horizon of expectation that the actors presupposed. Those expectations, that imagined future, all black on black, was intrinsic to the routines and habits that made it the case that people accepted x and came to reject y. The historian can make it easier on him or herself by simply borrowing the economist’s toolkit. It doesn’t really explain expectation, but it gives you a nice labels that you can paste over the gaps – for instance, you can talk about marginal disutility and make a graph. A more sophisticated stab at the mystery was made by Marx, who assumed class conflict. By assuming an intrinsic violence that exceeded exchange, he opened up history to ethnography. His followers often have a hard time with this – they have a tendency to revert to the economic models of the neo-classicals, with the difference that, for the Marxists, profit is a dirty word, and for the neo-classicals it isn’t. This kind of Marxist wil

on writing novels - joys thereof, and the torments of style

Writing a novel is one of the world’s best occupations, I think. It is what I have spent the last four years doing. And now that my novel, Made a Few Mistakes, is finished (and I am in the true hell of trying to find an agent), my days are brightened by the prospect of writing another novel – in fact, I’ve embarked. I sit here in the ideal circumstances: the quiet of an apartment in Paris, the sun shining in the little ruelle outside our terrace, a coffee cup (natch) on the table, and my fingers a little worn with the hundreds of thousands of letters they’ve run through still playing their old tune, like some band of ancient geezers kicking it up on my laptop keyboard. What’s not to like? Of course, this isn’t an opinion that is endorsed by all the best and brightest. Flaubert, whose letters are unsurpassable when it comes to all around bitching, generally viewed writing as a form of crucifixion, with himself playing the role of nail-er and nail-ee. Here, at random, is Fla

the rude French waiter

The rude French waiter is as much of an enduring stereotype as the American cowboy and the English aristocrat. However, in the age of neo-liberalism, rudeness in the service industry is being replaced by the service with a smile ethos. In 1981, when I first came to France, the rude waiter was everywhere. But now, in 2018, in Paris, this species is a definite minority. This, you might think, is one of the more pleasant effects of globalization. From a French perspective, it might be thought of as "Americanization". Yet the rude waiter phenomenon was not confined to France. Just look at the famous breakfast scene in Five Easy Pieces (1970). The waitress, in this scene, makes no effort to please the customer - an attitude that no longer holds sway even at Waffle House. Arlie Hochschild, in the 80s, shrewdly saw what was happening and coined the term emotional labor. Or I think it was her. In any case, the wind blew from the U.S., and all over the world you seem much more se

mussolini laughs

"The ones who don't enjoy themselves Even when they laugh oh yeah In 1939, the advertising campaign for Ninotchka consisted of the phrase: “Garbo laughs”. The gag was not an in-joke: even the lowest form of film goer knew that Greta Garbo was supposed to be classy and solemn, an actress for the superior, MGM parts. It is interesting to think about another advertising campaign, which had come about in 1934-5, and could have been called: Mussolini laughs. In the twenties, Mussolini’s government made a conscious effort to distance fascism from laughter. Marie-Anne Matard-Bonucci, in an essay entitled Rire sans eclat – laughing discretely. The fascist regime was officially serious. They were serious down to the small details. For instance, a memo was sent to the newspapers in 1936 that, after some deliberation, it was decreed that the schedule for theaters would henceforth be anno teatrale instead of anno comico – comico being a word that meant not only comedy,