Archive | March, 2014

April Fool’s Day 2014

24 Mar

1


April 1st, 2014 is approaching. May I still hold onto the hope that our president will come forth and tell his people that his plan is all an April Fool’s joke?


The government scoops a portion of the worker’s wages out of his hands with the assurance that, in return, immaterial rewards like ‘safety,’ ‘liberty,’ and ‘right to property’ will be granted to him. To survive, The State made it impossible for man to live without his labor-wages. How does the state—a symbolic structure which doesn’t provide any temporal goods—survive? By taking a portion of the earnings of the workers and capitalizing on the temporal goods of others. Taxed for earning. How vulgarly simple the newest state solution is! How come nobody thought of it before? Tax people for labor? No. Tax people for merely existing!


It’s quite simple. Who suffers? Those who have the fortune of existing and are in the position of being Americans. If you are an American, and you exist, you must pay the premium or be charged for your very existence.


What is being offered for these premiums? ‘Medical insurance’—in other words, that to be in the company of men and women who may or may not be able to cure your disease, patch up your wound or locate the physical solution to your mistake will not cost as much as it could in the future. A metaphysical state of grace, guarding all against the threat of harm—protection from future occurrences.


What happens to one who does not or cannot pay for these future occurrences? One is charged for every moment one exists without coverage. If one doesn’t pay the charges? It goes to collections. It damages one’s ‘credit’—‘good credit’ being a fictive stamp of capitalistic approval born out of the needs of big businesses to guard themselves against the dangers of future occurrences. Damage to one’s ‘credit’ prevents one’s ability to maintain or own property—a capitalistic Mark of Cain. Who, then, is on trial? People who do not have money. How will they be punished? By being pushed into the financial hole of ‘debt.’ ‘Debt’ in a world operating on ‘credit’ is just as much a fiction as the latter, even if the weight and resulting anxiety of that debt are real. The real punishment? Anxiety. Stress. The crushing of one’s spirit.


We’ve been invited into a logical circle. The relationship between the causes of commodity and the effects of fetishism has caused us to assume, as individuals, a relationship with the government that presupposes the discourse of ‘debt’ and many inherited gestures and thoughts that have been doubling up and adding to our psychic baggage for thousands upon thousands of years, reaching into pre-history. We are only beginning, as a whole, to ask those questions that all of society was built on—the question put forth by the debtor. ‘To whom does my debt belong and why am I in his debt?’ Ancient man, who had no kings or rulers, began with this question when dealing with personal transactions that benefited him temporally.


Capital is so built on this relationship between debt and the debtor that we often forget the very vehicle by which this debt was stressed—guilt; a sense of anxiety by which one party could remind the other of the ‘value’ at stake in failing to fulfill a contract. Because those in power have, for countless millennia, enforced punitive measures on those who have failed to fulfill debts—whether that debt be that of one party steeling something for which others would be required to pay or that of one who has caused irreversible damage—guilt has grown many limbs and taken on a terrible life of its own in the cultural psyche. It has grown so large that it has become a punishment itself. Where men of power in pre-history merely carried through with their contracts until the blood of the weaker party soiled the ground, men of power today merely remind us that because they are powerful, they require our constant debt to keep them powerful—thus the illusion of our security—and when the mere sensation of debt is refused, we are then guilty of not paying reverence to the sovereignty of power itself.


Systems that capitalize on a lack or complete negation of money are, in the long run, merely punitive.

2


Health, though a necessity (but never a right) belongs to the domain (that is to say, the limits) of science. Where the state has a hand in the domain of science, it has produced weapons strong enough to kill millions and strike fear into the rest. It has widened the divide between social classes by forcing workers to be agents of production for the well oiled state machine to continue running smoothly. We may deplore the crimes of the industrial age now. We may cast our eyes away from a history filled with millions of lives snuffed out by war like candle-flames before a fan, but we cannot afford to continue to believe—and if not to believe, then frivolously accept—this fiction perpetually peddled by our statesmen: that they own the scientists and have, therefore, traced the perimeters of the material world. I distrust any man who tells me that he owns the truth because he understands nature. Today’s ‘natural truth’ is tomorrow’s forced vaccination.


A rule of approximation
It matters little if a conspiracy theory is true or not. If a man of power puts something into effect that even has the bad appearance of confirming the public’s ominous suspicions, it speaks badly of his discursive propriety. In a world where the masses rule, where the loudest truth is the truest and the most violent expression is the one that creates history, mere ‘bad appearances’ will cause nations to sink into the ground like the walls of Jericho. In other words, if we owe billions of dollars to a foreign country, it is in bad taste to charge everyone arbitrarily for insurance that we should, with good conscience, be able to pay for of our own volition. At least make it difficult for our suspicions!


Say what you will about the state’s propensity to glue words together, and not even with their proper compound word dash in between! Combining your last name with the word ‘care’ to denote a political entity is not only cute but also quite ingenuous. Everyone likes to be ‘cared for.’ Can we not continue this trend? Refer to war as ‘Bushwhacking.’ Refer to office sex as ‘Clinternizing.’ It is unfortunate, though, that words do not ennoble names when attached to them. It is the name that ennobles or cheapens the word.


What should I say to those who think that voting is duplicitous? That petitions are paltry? That protests are obnoxious and township rebellions are only invitations for tighter leashes? It is, perhaps, not for everyone to act. There are, of course, those who will not suffer from forced premiums. There are those who have much more to lose by way of ‘bad credit’ and ‘debt’ even if the disaffected no longer believe in those metaphysical, economic nouns. Perhaps it is not even for me to act. Could I justifiably call for others to willingly dive headlong into the anxiety of bad credit? Debt? Prison? Where does this state of discursive damnation, this ‘debt,’ not sink into with its talons? What fabric of life does it not now affect in some remote way? When things arrive at their worst, people will say, ‘If only we’d paid more attention earlier on!’ ‘If only we would have voted!’ Or even, ‘If only we would have met the state’s requirements!’ But suppose that a necessary change could not have come about through any other means. Suppose that an all out collapse in the modern value of ‘credit’ and ‘debt’ were to occur—for, realistically, it could only ever be a collapse in our concept of ‘value,’ as Marx was keen to show us. With more and more people having to exist and having to find some sort of vague contentment or mere will to go on, will our threshold for anxiety not be widened? Will we not be able to undergo more and more psychological hardship wrought by the metaphysics of this whole political bad faith? It will be at the expense of our comfort that we will finally have to appropriate and practice those gestures that we were warned we must start adopting long ago when all of this was merely a philosophical problem … Suddenly Heidegger’s ‘overcoming of metaphysics’ and ‘retrieval of being’ will have meaning beyond their use in dusty classrooms. Heinrich Heine will suddenly ring as true to us as he did to war-torn Europe in the twentieth century, an age he prophesied. Those ideas which for far too long only had strength as concepts in classrooms will suddenly reveal most of today’s mechanisms of control as mere concepts as well, thus revealing their weakness.

3


It is imperative that the state perpetually reevaluate its ability to give, otherwise it is merely a tyranny, like most states in the world. If the state wants to continue to exist and enjoy the temporal support of its people, it must recognize itself as nothing more than a clever fiction—The state must develop the ability to laugh at itself.


But then, can we really choose to see it this way, if we wish? That the state is nothing but a brutish, bumbling warrior who takes what he wills by strength and has no mind for managing the world beyond his own comfort, but that with a little learning and wisdom he might better learn how to take care of his people? I’m sorry, but it’s all quite a bit more sinister than that. The prices will always rise when there is war being had on many fronts.


Our leaders are quick to pay praise and respect to those men and women who risk and sacrifice their lives for us in wars. They are not brave enough to talk of the sacrifice that the common man must put up with when portions of his wage and most of his livelihood fund those wars. It is no longer sacrifice but forced debt. Of course, the state is unwilling to release information on just how much of the common man’s money is used for funding wars, just as the state is unable to release information on just how much money is used on making your society ‘safer’ and rife with ‘better education.’


When there is a war, all premiums and raises in price are immediately suspect.


Though Marx diagnosed the problem with capitalism, his solution was all too similar to the coming mandate of April 1st. Marx’s solution was little less than cutting out the cumbersome business of currency, and by doing so, he made human utility the currency. So his solution could be seen as an extreme opposite to the mandate of April 1st. Where his solution made humans into money, April 1st, merely supposes that it will make humans into commodities by which the state might make money.


My examples may be of the crudest sort, and perhaps they may say very little about the mechanics of the whole political dynamic involved in the conversation, but is this not what the subject has reduced us to? The marginalization of various classes of people, various types of people, all in favor of a set of dead ideals? That something could be for the sake of social welfare and rob precisely the people who need it most? What we are dealing with is not ‘social healthcare’ as it has often been referred to, but a mere capitalistic imitation of it. It is no kind of radical democracy, as it would greatly like to fashion itself, but a means of widening the gap between rich and poor.


But who then is rich and who is poor? Is the poor man the one asking for food on the corner of the street or is it last year’s millionaire who’s electricity is about to be shut off? Perhaps there will come a time when it is not the gap between the rich and the poor that is widened, but the gap between the anxious and the vigorous. Debt may crush the spirit the same as food deficiency. In America, there is not yet a famine, and this is the final summit of the problem. Where there is no famine, there is no true annihilating, violent poverty. The poverty of America is a poverty of desperation, not a poverty of death. Desperation may earn one food, but so may cunning and persistence (not exclusive from desperation but not married to it). You mustn’t be afraid when you are cast into the margins and the abysses of society. Most of the weapons formed against you simply do battle with your mind.

Advertisements

Blurred Lines – Matters of Fiction and Nonfiction

9 Mar

1
Everyone has an idea about the way a bookstore should be arranged in a perfect world. To some, we would be better off if there was only one fiction genre, to be called ‘Fiction.’ That would probably work, though I’m loathe to imagine what it would be like if those customers were ever correct in the grammar of their questions who came into the bookstore of my employment asking, ‘Where is the nonfiction section?’

There is a brand of novelist who detests the distinction between a Western novel and a Science Fiction novel to such a degree that one would think he was battling something he considered tantamount to racism. This brand of impartiality is usually espoused by writers of fiction embarrassed by the very corners of the bookstore to which their publishers have cast them or by writers who, due to contract or mere niche, are unable to easily switch genres in mid-career, causing them much professional resentment. Once in a while, an intellectual like Samuel Delany comes along with a direct interest in and rigorous dedication to the problem of genre and just what makes it what it is. The summit of Delany’s discourse on genre goes something like this: Genres, though they cannot be said to have no basis, are over-determined. Genre is not so much a way of writing as it is a way of reading.

In other words, when one enters a bookstore and opens a book titled Nova by a Samuel R. Delany and sees that its cover art portrays planets, stars and spaceships, one can put a safe bet that concurrent imagery will be featured, at least in part, in the text lying behind the binding. But for over-determined reasons, if the reader is familiar at all with the tradition or simply in touch with the way that markets cater to expectations, he knows that the book is not going to be a book set in space but which quickly isolates itself to a room in which nothing but Jane Austen types of plots and resolutions take place over tea and dances. He knows that the drama will somehow involve the characters in a spaceship, headed toward one of those planets and various technological, cultural, and biological malfunctions. The existence of the genre—and its marketability—depend on this kind of faith that the reader will approach the text with a set of presuppositions that will tell her what kind of attention to give the text.

This is just the same with different kinds of texts lumped together rather clumsily as ‘Nonfiction.’ The difference is that writers of Nonfiction are less willing to admit it. All but the shrewdest of biographers of Marilyn Monroe are doomed to deny that the very word ‘biography’ doesn’t automatically denote a sense of truth concerning the life of their subject and that their account is just as susceptible to the lies and prejudices of the great many people by whom information about the subject came about. Even less are those but the shrewdest of biographers willing to admit that their own tacit prejudices and presuppositions about the subject’s life may have seeped through the text.
If one portrayer of one subject can marginalize the story to such a localized degree, imagine what an entire tradition of thought, what an entire culture can do to history itself. Thus, we arrive in the section of the bookstore that deals with Art Criticism, World War Two, History of the Romani People, Mythology, or any number of sections formed out of genres. We approach these texts with faith that the authors conveyed this information in such a way that the narrative does not compromise the actual events (dates, places, births and deaths). If we were to believe—or if we were told—that the narrative compromised these things, we would be dealing with fiction.

2
Sometimes the distinctions within one piece of text are clearer in intention than others, and we might find ourselves reading something that would count as a hybrid between Fiction and Nonfiction. We’re not talking about alternate history per se. We’re talking about a text that alternates between what is believed to be real by the wider society and what is completely intended as artificial. Some books do a good job of cluing the reader in on when the book is committing the crime of fiction and when it is eliciting an act of truth. Others intersperse so many different kinds of genres in such short space that the reader feels she is forced to stand back and look at the whole as though it were a completely unique genre to itself.

Roberto Calasso is one such writer. Even though the blurbs on the back of The Ruin of Kasch will tell people right up front what is happening in the book, the reader is forced to experience a page in which every piece of text is broken up the same way. The aphorisms don’t look any different from the fictive paragraph about Goethe’s birthday, nor does this look any different from the anecdotes and mini essays on art, culture, numbers, Marxism and sacrifice. Such books cause wars in bookstores concerning where they belong on the shelves. Because a large portion of Kasch deals with Tallyrand, many bookstores categorized it with French History. The blurbs within claim it as a novel in disguise. It is probably better to go with its author’s description of it when he was interviewed by The Paris Review—that it was, simply, a ‘narrative.’

Just as Kasch used Tallyrand as its rhetorical launch-pad, Callasso’s La Folie de Baudelaire uses the poet of its title. The book’s being put in the poetry section of the bookstore is misleading. The book is not necessarily about poetry, but about the very subject of modernity and how Baudelaire’s thought acted as its template. Just as artful and narrative as it is theoretical, we smell the streets of Paris and feel the sheets in the brothels and we hear the chatter in cafes and see the windows blinking on and off at night, all while Baudelaire haunts some place among it all, acting as a double agent between God and Satan.

Embellishments of real life, like Henry Miller’s writings, might serve to interest a reader looking for something with a narrative resembling fiction but which launches into all kinds of philosophical abstractions, anecdotes and asides. Some of the works of Geoff Dyer alternate quite clearly between fiction and nonfiction, as do the works of William Vollmann, especially in his book Atlas.

The works that interest me most now are those which seem to contain an unironic internal narrative rupture. I say unironic because the works in question are a little older and woollier, when the novel form wasn’t quite as rigid or bound by as many aesthetic laws as it seems to be today. One work that comes to mind is The Sorrows of Young Werther. The tormented main character’s personal diaries meet a friend’s removed account, so that we can logically witness the tragic end. While one could argue that this sort of unconscious use of narrative rupture is manipulative—merely a means to tug on the reader’s heartstrings—I would argue that more recent works of ‘experimental’ fiction, often lumped in as ‘postmodern,’ employ many of these same techniques but for reasons that compromise the internal integrity of the text. Whether a Robert Coover or a John Barth tries to play metafictional games with the readers to teach them about the act of reading by simply reminding them that they are reading, or whether a David Foster Wallace tries to invert these very tactics for some lofty moral purpose by using almost identical narrative ruptures, we are dealing with a kind of fiction that seeks to arrive at some point outside of itself—that tries to transcend itself. But to what purpose?

We may fall endlessly back into arguments between art-for-art’s sake and art that is socially utilitarian, but nothing can convince me that Nabokov’s Pale Fire is not the summit of this sort of narrative gamesmanship that his American academician successors aped every chance they had. Yet at the same time, in Pale Fire, when I read John Shade’s poem, I don’t feel as though I am being tricked into thinking outside of the book. When I read Charles Kinbote’s forward and commentary on that poem which comprise the novel, I feel invited back to a different, personalized interpretation of that poem to serve a narrative rupture—though perhaps ‘rupture’ is not the best word, for it is more like a sort of narrative flowering. Pale Fire does not talk down to the reader and it does not wink or offer transcendence if only you would recognize that it is a fake product. It works off of its own energy and locates all of its meaning only in the world of the book.
Rilke’s The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge probably has more in common with the works of Henry Miller, Hunter S. Thompson and Charles Bukowski than fans of any of them would care to admit. I name them all together for, with the exception of Henry Miller, they all wrote highly fictionalized accounts of their own lives using distinct alter-egos. Rilke’s narrator, however close to Rilke he might be, is not Rilke. The highly transient, listless Rilke was always embellishing his distant blood link to a reputable aristocracy, as though believing himself to be a lost prince from some older world (a real life Charles Kinbote?) while his Brigge is able to tell us precisely who his relatives are and just how distant he is from them. On a much simpler level, Rilke’s Notebooks is a novel narrated by a struggling writer, as are the others mentioned above. But in this book, few are the adventures and episodes of this struggling writer as would happen in a Factotum or a Post Office. Rather, in this book, Brigge can develop some of his most frightening conclusions about the world where the real life Rilke might have only flirted with them in his poems and more so in his letters. It is Brigge who concludes his accounts with his final, lonely views on love by turning the tale of The Prodigal Son inside out—that it was the son who needed to forgive his family for loving him.

If Henry Miller developed an alter-ego, he didn’t bother to change that alter-ego’s name. Rather, he changed the name of his second wife and a few of his friends. God knows how much of it was real; given the way that his books are filled with passages in which friends, acquaintances and lovers compare him to Jesus, speak incessantly about his genius and pretty much seem addicted to his personality altogether, I would suspect, precious little.

If only as a nice break, I’m drawn to books that follow the sort of path laid out by the works listed above. They are fictions that do not seem like fictions and real events that couldn’t possibly be real.