Thursday, May 18, 2023

The Romantic agony in a cocktail lounge lady’s room



I searched my heart, the street, my ex-‘s habits, my family

I searched them all for opportune  neuroses

That I could jot down for my poetry

And calm my nerves and hide the focus


Five fathoms deep in  something posy sounding.

For after all, don’t I claim to be

Some seashell bard, some grounding

Mama, some prophet of the salty sea


Minus the albatross around my neck

(come to tell you all)?

-          No?  I’m here to sample wreck

I’m here to smear the large and small


Until disproportion proposes

That we go for a little walk, you and I,

A little walk with pretty poses.

A little truism, a little lie,


Logos burning a hole  in my pocket

“Like her fair eyes, dude,  the day was fair”  

I was going up like a rocket

A perfect movement in the down and dirty  air


And heard myself gibbering like a bat

while the air grew ever more blind

and thick with those who  flew, shrieked and shat

panting for the breath we’d left behind



until at last I found the perfect  line,  filled with blood

and sucked it all dry and fell and understood.

-Karen Chamisso













Monday, May 15, 2023

What's next? A nostalgic look at 2007 bullshit, and where we are now (in the ongoing catastrophe)


In 2007, Prospect Magazine, always looking for hits, did a survey of big thinkers. Here’s the way they phrased their question:

“We asked 100 writers and thinkers to answer the following question: Left and right defined the 20th century. What's next? The pessimism of their responses is striking: almost nobody expects the world to get better in the coming decades, and many think it will get worse.”


Admittedly, the thinkers they asked seemed somewhat random. David Brooks gets his say, and Joe Boyd, a music producer, gets his, and apparently what qualifies one to have a view of the next one hundred years best is to work for a bank or business or write an opinion column. There were no H.G. Wells, that’s for sure, and few seemed to disagree with the premise of the question.

Well 16 years on, the answers seem all too predicably concentrated on what the 00s held to be the most important issue since some peasant invented bread: terrorism.

Nobody, oddly, questioned the premise. Left and right did not define the twentieth century. The century was defined, in our view, by two things: first, the treadmill of production – that system which is falsely defined as capitalist because one of its surface characteristics is the market system – which emerged in Europe in the 17th and 18th century, followed out its logic in all systems (communist, fascist, liberal capitalist) on a world wide basis, having laid the foundations in the 19th century (the development, for instance, of the terror famine in Ireland and India by the British  surely provided  models for Stalin's agricultural policy) and collapsed the agriculture-based culture that humans had lived under for the past 12,000 years. That was surely the most significant thing that happened in the 20th century, and no ideology led it, no ideology opposed it, and no ideology even envisioned it.

The anxiety naturally attendant on the end of civilization – which happened at speed in the early 20th century - created a macro feature, which I’d call the dialectic of vulnerability – basically, that process by which populations, feeling ever more vulnerable even as they became ever more affluent developed systems meant to render them invulnerable – that is, an ever more threatening war culture, with an ever greater destructive reach – which, of course, rendered them ever more vulnerable, an irony that was not rhetorical, but systematic. When we think back on that 9/11, which we do less and less, it  was so critical, in part, because it was a moment in which the nakedness of the system was revealed – a system that could, theoretically, respond to ICBMs traveling over the poles, couldn’t respond to 19 half educated men with box cutters and homemade bombs. And… of course it couldn’t.

Defense is a collective fiction, which is its function – being a fiction, there is never a limit on the amount of money one can spend on it. It is, theoretically, inifinitely expensive, while its payoff, as a defense system against all threats, is nearly zero – it will never defend against all threats. That’s ever, with a big fucking E.

The intersection between the treadmill of production and the war culture shaped the 20th century. The division between the right and the left were epiphenomena of that dynamic. It is, of course, impossible to predict the next five years … but in a sense it is probably easier to predict the next 100, since prediction here isn’t about particulars but long, long trends. H.G. Wells was so great because he had a novelist’s instinct for the life of those trends. LI doesn’t – in 1985, when we entered Grad school, we would never have predicted the cultural triumph of Reaganism, for instance. It would have seemed utterly implausible that the combination of endebtedness, meanness, and libertarian logic that flew in the face of reality would ever survive the end of the Gipper. From our inability to see what was in front of our nose, we took a lesson: never underestimate the Death Wish of a culture. It struck us in the 00S  as, frankly, insane to frame the next hundred years in terms of terrorism or the “battle of civilizations” between Islam and the west. For one thing, among threatening issues, terrorism ranks way below, I don’t know, highway safety as a real issue. And definitely, in America, below mass shootings. The instinct to make mass shootings terrorism – the terrorism of rebels without a cause – aligns them, I think, with a mission that provides a last second justification for what is really an act of despair. I’d align them with the rise in suicides and overdoses, and take the apotheosis of the gun, in American culture, as a gesture that points to the dead end of the treadmill of production – we can produce everything but a reason to live. And if you have no reason to live, others either don’t or, more enragingly, do.

The early 00s were a time where, in the States, there was a felt  need to feed the war culture; terrorism is an invention that has no enemies – it is a win win for all participants, giving an excuse to the war culture’s governors to continue doing what they want to continue doing anyway, and thus guaranteeing that a little place will always be set aside for terrorists – sort of like in the movie Network, where the tv network discovers the audience pull of terrorism, and puts the unorganized groups of guerillas on a business basis. As for Islam, again, the use value of Islam is not in Islam per se, but the way it operates as a wonderful two-fer – dark skins that aren’t Christian! Is there a more perfect enemy? Really, Milosovic should be hailed as a prophet – his ideology has now become standard on the Right, and will no doubt be more and more embedded in the policy of the American state as we drift from disaster to disaster.  

Yet the argument that wasn’t had in the 00s was decisively won by those who think America should spend in all around 800 billion a year on the military. For those who want to trace the consequences of that, look at Biden’s foreign policy – or in general the foreign policy of the US since the golden days of Bush.

Nobody, in 2007, had discovered that delightful distraction, AI, which is now the hottest thing ever to argue about as the climate goes seriously crazy. And as the inequality in wealth has become institutionalized to an extent that talk about democracy almost anywhere is absolutely hollow.

Never have the nabobs of the opinion racket been as bad at their business as they are today. As for me, I have taken stern measures not to believe what seems to be happening right before our eyes as a matter of spiritual health.I can’t believe the NYT is so bad, I can’t believe Twitter still exists, I can’t believe that, after all the bullshit, we are watching the rights of women to corporal sovereignty just go down the toilet, I can’t believe that peeps outside of France don’t understand that you don’t let the government destroy the more than half century legacy of social democracy because otherwise, you are heading towards serfdom.

Willed belief. I try to live like I’m reading a novel – instead of being in one.


Southern California Death Trip

    “He was kind but he changed and I killed him,” reads the caption of the photo of a woman in an old tabloid. She was headed to ...