In between all the cracks upon the wall

31 08 2011

Coupla’ thoughts:

1. I know I am not the first to take up the issue of the twilight of labor (or, to put it less poetically, of the replacement of the value of labor with that of productivity)—this gent Marx may have had a thing or two to say on this subject, or so I hear—but it seems to be crucially not simply an economic matter but a political one, that is, that the question of value is not simply an economic matter but a political one.

Fred Clark at Slacktivist has covered this issue ( start here, then click on the “class warfare” category at the bottom for more) and ThinkProgress does a pretty good job highlighting the contempt for working people among politicians and some pundits, so I don’t know that I need to repeat their efforts (or those of the Economic Policy Institute, The Nation, and other usual suspects) in documenting this contempt.

Still, because this seems to me to be a crucial political issue, I do feel the need to work through this issue myself. Is this contempt new? When did it begin? How did it manifest itself previously? What kind of pushback was there? Does the contempt arise mainly from the right, or are the politics of it more complicated? Is contempt even the best way to describe the attitude toward labor? What kind of variation is there across different forms of labor? And, perhaps most urgently, how to respond to the replacement of labor with productivity, that is, to the erasure of labor itself?

This might be a way for me to approach this subject without having to take an econometric approach. I’ve held back on getting into this both because I lack training in economics and because econometrics won’t necessarily get to what really matters about this issue. In other words, I want to consider this as a political matter, not an economic one.

And it is a political matter, a deeply political matter. We Americans have managed historically to suppress and mollify labor in turn, but in the last thirty years the grudging acceptance of labor has turned into a grudge, full stop, and labor consciousness itself  has been dissolved. Why this matters, politically, well, that’s what I’m going to have to figure out.

2. I snarked the other day at TNC’s joint that libertarianism is not a real political philosophy, but didn’t say much beyond that. Later, prior to reading Isaiah Berlin’s “Two Concept of Liberty”, I wrote that as a

general matter, I dismiss libertarianism as a serious theory of governance, not least b/c it appears to have contempt even for the notion of government, that is, as a form of organization over and above civil society. Instead, I posit, its chief use is as a critique or as a leavening agent to various legitimate political theories. In short, I question its ability to provide any sort of overriding guidance to those charged w/governing, its applicability to any sort of society beyond a small, like-minded group (i.e., fails test of pluralism – this charge of anti-pluralism requires particular care), or its ability to last beyond a generation or two w/o dissolution or degenerating into authoritarianism.

All find and good; there’s something for me to work with, here, But then I realized:

Okay, but what of the critique of Marxism as lacking a serious theory of government? Could not the same charged [sic] be lodged against it – that it works as a critique or adjunct to Liberal theories, but that it, too, exhibits its own kind of contempt for govt? Gramsci might offer one kind of response, but even there. . . .

I then headed into a dead end, backed out, and wondered

Perhaps, then, the question of whether libertarianism or Marxism offers its own theory of democratic (understood broadly) governance? And it not, why do I take Marxism seriously in a way I don’t take libertarianism?

I’m fine going after libertarianism, not least because its noxious fumes are currently polluting the political air, but for my own sake, I gotta take up at some point that question of what would a socialist government look like.

3. Those candidates who insist that nothing good comes from government need to be forced to explain how they will govern. Cut cut cut ought not be accepted as a governing philosophy, and opponents to these anti-government politicians should hammer them on what they will do, besides less-than-nothing.

4. I really was not able to put together a coherent post tonight, but I thought if I didn’t get these thoughts out, I wouldn’t get these thoughts out.





Modern thought(less): In which I discuss the margins of modernity, multiplicity, and epistemological nihilism. . .

30 08 2011

I have not abandoned medieval thought.

Okay, yes, I have been skipping from the 16th century to the 4th century to the 21st century and now, the 19th (Weber) and 20th (Berlin) centuries.

There’s a purpose in all this hopscotching, there is. Somewhere.

I mentioned oh-so-long ago that I was going back in an attempt to make sense of now, back to the end of the last great (European) ontological moment for clues on what might be the end of the current, modern moment. I noted that I had become increasingly dubious of the notion of the post-modern, and thought that perhaps we might be simply be at the fraying ends of modernity.

Now I’m not even so sure about the “fraying ends”; that we may be at the far side of modernity does not yet mean we have reached the limits of this territory. There may be margins we can approach, but “ends” or “afters”? No, I don’t think so.

There are multiple modernities, just as there were multiple medievalisms; such multiplicity within (as opposed to, alongside) modernity creates problems which did not exist for medieval thinkers: unlike medieval thinkers, who worked toward unity, modern thinkers have tended to presuppose a unity in both method and outlook. Such unity has been long questioned—most obviously by Hume and Nietzsche—but it seemed that only in the latter half of the 20th century that skepticism about modernity’s (modernities’?) presuppositions came to the fore, a skepticism which is often called “post-modernism”.

But this skepticism, even undermining of the presuppositions seems itself to emerge from modernity and to be obsessed with questions of modernity, and it is not at all clear to me that laying bare the complexities and contradictions of the various modernities is in any way post-modern.

Well, in any way save one: the shattering of epistemological unity (again, which cracks long predate the 20th c) irreversibly breaches one of the boundaries of modernity, and it is here, and only here, that any thinkers, in grappling with such nihilism, may be said to advancing beyond modernity.

That matters. A lot. But even the shattering of such epistemological unity does not itself obliterate the methods which rested unconcerned above it. In other words, measurement, observation, reduction, generalization, and, of course, reason, are still powerful tools for dismantling and reassembling the world, even if they are no longer all-powerful.

The foundation crumbles, but the world still stands, and it’s not at all clear to me that scattering of foundational certainties necessarily leads to the dissolution of modernity; it may, in fact, simply have revealed the plurality of modernities which were, as the saying goes, always already there.





Dum-de-dum-dum DUM!

27 08 2011

I am an idiot.

No, not for riding to Brighton Beach with C. to check out the storm. It didn’t rain and then it rained a little and then a lot and then it stopped and, anyway, this is what we saw:

We did see some waves:

What, you couldn’t see it? Here, this might help:

Yep. That was it, as of 3:00 Saturday afternoon.

There were some number of us behind the yellow tape (keeping us off the boardwalk), and nobody seemed particularly panicked.

Or disappointed that there was nothing much to see. Yeah, C. and I wanted crashing waves and, y’know, something interesting, but we agreed that we had to look, and if nothing else, we got in a wee workout on our bike down.

This is where the I-am-an-idiot piece comes in:

Can I blame this on the storm?

Yes, I got a flat.

That’s not the idiot-making part, however. No, it was my EXPLICIT decision to bring NEITHER my patch kit NOR my pump on the ride.

Oh, hey, it’s just down to Brighton. Not that far. I just fixed a flat; what are the chances I’d get another? Anyway, it’s not like we’re going to the Rockaways.

Dumb dumb dumb.

C. was great. I checked with one SUV cab for a ride back home, but he declined. At her suggestion, we decided to walk while looking for another SUV cab, and ended up walking the whole way back.

It was raining, but not too hard and it wasn’t windy, so we just chatted. About her novel. About the point of education. About homeschooling. About whatever. It took awhile, but it didn’t feel like it took long at all.

I don’t know if I’d have bothered to go without C.’s enthusiastic decision to accompany me, and it would have been a fucking miserable walk back alone.

With her, it was all good.

(Okay, I got a coupla’ blisters, but, really, I can get those wearing the wrong shoes to my local take-out joint.)

Anyway, mindful of  how my disregard for the “better-safe-than-sorry” adage screwed me over, I decided to be proactive for the rest of the weekend:

Honestly, not really hungry for either (and the Oreos really do need to be frozen), but, again, “be prepared”. . . .

As for other essentials, well, I already had those:

Trickster agrees!





Don’t walk away EILEEN

27 08 2011

Yeah, I was thinkin’ that I had the song title wrong on the last post. Knew it was a Sam Roberts gig, but couldn’t quite get the right name (and was too lazy to get up and check my cds).

As I was falling asleep last night, the right name came to me.

Roberts is a Montrealer, and I first encountered him, duh, when I lived in Montreal. Saw one of his shows at a bar just east of downtown. Very energetic, very smoky.

This is one of my favorite song of his:

This is the other one:

(And check out his official YouTube site; for some reason, I couldn’t post his  vids—where you can really see his sense of humor—from there.)

What can I say: scruffy stoner Canadian boys with a sense of humor do it for me.





Don’t walk away Irene

26 08 2011

Hurricane Irene is bearing down on New York and I’m. . . thinking of hitting the beach.

C. and I are, in fact, if we can manage it.

No, we don’t plan to be fools—we’d hit Brighton Beach Saturday afternoon, at the latest—but hey, if we can safely bike down and check out the waves, why not? We both like the ocean, we like waves, so here’s a rare chance to see big waves in the ocean!

There were a coupla’ nasty storms in the Boston area when I lived there, but I never made it to the beach (the one on the north side, with the famous lobster roll joint) at the sweet spot of any oncoming storms: close enough to see that, in fact, a storm was coming, but not so close that the water crashing over the breaks on the highway would wash away your car.

No, my only real experience with ocean weather occurred years before, when L. and I road-tripped to Alabama to check out a master’s program for her. After looking at the school in Daphne and poking around Mobile, we set up camp at Gulf Shores State Park in advance of what turned out to be a tropical storm. (Being the good Midwesterners that we both were, we had no clue what that meant.) I don’t recall any rangers telling us it might not be the best time for a couple of small women in a (water-resistant!) nylon tent to kick back on the gulf. We did at least plunk down the tent on the highest ground on the site, joking that the preferred site under the tree could “turn into a big puddle”.

Ha ha.

Anyway, that day was gorgeous. While the campground seemed pretty full (plenty o’ RVs, at which we shook our heads), there weren’t many people at the beach. The sand was white, the beach wide, and the water warm. At one point a water spout formed and we had a good laugh at the panicked look on a woman’s face as she rushed her kids out of the water.

Ha ha.

That night we broke out a bottle of vodka and poured some into our lemonade, then strolled down to the beach to look at the stars and watch all the clouds and thunder way out there across the water. What a show!

We crawled into our tent, looking forward to another day or two at this lovely, lovely park.

You know what happens, of course: That water spout was likely an auger of the storm, that nifty show moved ashore, and yes, it was a very lucky thing that we hadn’t pitched the tent in what was now a pond which waters reached my knees. We had managed to stay relatively dry in the tent, but that highest point was at the far end of the campsite, some distance from the car. We broke down the tent and ran our gear to the car, tossing it in without packing and peeling the hell out of there. There was a nice, solid bathroom nearby, so we took our gear in there and managed to impose some order on our belongings. (There may have been hand-dryers, and we may have tried to dry our gear/ourselves, but I don’t quite remember.)

Then away from the Gulf coast, away from the park, and an early departure for Wisconsin.

Yeah, we were safe and we didn’t lose our gear and it all turned out blah blah, but damn, we coulda used those extra few days at the beach. . . .





Home away home

24 08 2011

That’s my current title for my second novel: Home Away Home. It may change—it’s changed many times before—but I think it fits the tale. And a quick check on B&N and Amazon didn’t reveal any other novels with that name.

Unlike The Unexpected Neighbor, I edited the shit out of Home Away Home (back when it was called Split Lives) and thought, at the end of the process, that I was finished.

Oh no. No no no.

Now, it is in better shape than was The Unexpected Neighbor before I got out the hatchet, but this baby still needs a sharp blade slicing through it, to wit:

    It was Amy’s turn to breathe deeply. ‘You’ve been thinking?’ she enunciated. ‘Really? And when did all this deep thought occur? While you were doodling in your notebook? Out drinking with your friends?’ Her lips flatlined. ‘For chrissakes, Maggie, how can you say you’ve been thinking about this if you haven’t spoken to your dad or me about it?’ Amy watched as her daughter swung her leg against the side of the chair, carefully avoiding her mother’s face. ‘A wonderful education, and you want to throw it away, because you’ve been ‘thinking’. Jesus.’

Dixie wandered into the room, sniffing Maggie’s backpack before jutting her nose beneath Maggie’s overhanging hand. Her tail whisked the floor as Maggie stretched to scratch the long ridge. Dixie shook off her fingers, padding around to the front of the chair and climbing halfway in it. Maggie responded with a full embrace, bending over to rake her fingers through Dixie’s fur. ‘Dix. Gotta get the full treatment, don’t you?’ she mumbled into the dog’s ear.

‘What, you’ll talk to the dog, but not your parents.’ Amy leaned into the corner of the couch. ‘Good thinking.’

Maggie continued scratching Dixie, looking over the dog’s shoulder at her mom. ‘Just because I didn’t say anything to you doesn’t mean I wasn’t thinking about it. I can think for myself, you know.’

‘Oh, really? Like the time you got so drunk your friends had to pour you out of the car on to the lawn? Or when you puked all over the neighbor’s driveway? Or when your dad caught you and Tom half-naked in the car?’

‘What does college have to do with cars?’

‘Don’t get smart with me!’ Amy propelled her body forward. ‘These past few years are not replete with shining examples of your analytical abilities.’ Dixie dropped down on all fours, and looked over to Amy. ‘What about the accident? You didn’t even think—that’s right, there’s that word again—you didn’t even think to wake us up to tell us.’ Amy’s lips again disappeared. ‘And you still have headaches, don’t you?’ Maggie raised her eyebrows and lowered her eyelids, saying nothing. ‘If it weren’t for all the bad decisions you made before that, I’d think that knock on your head was responsible for your faulty reasoning. But no, that’s just another result.’

That ain’t right.

One issue I’ve had in both novels is making my characters too knowing, such that any conversations are a kind of smooth and clear representation of any position one might hold. But that’s now how we are with one another. We hem and haw and circle around and get things wrong and don’t always have the words for our thoughts or feelings and don’t always even know what are out thoughts and feelings. We don’t always represent ourselves well or truly, and to offer dialogue which indicates that we do is to make the characters mouthpieces rather than people.

Did you ever read BF Skinner’s Walden II? Or Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland? Or, goddess forbid, any Ayn Rand? There’s always a “point” to these stories, and the point matters more than anything else.

I’m not opposed to points, but it’s really fucking hard to make a novel with a point. Even Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 suffers from this, but the main set-up, of fire-fighters tasked with burning rather than saving from burning, is marvelous, and the action moves swiftly to its logical conclusion. As a short (very good bad) book it works, but stretched out to a Galtian thousand pages? Unbearable.

Anyway, I’m not interested in making points so much as offering a glimpse into the lives of these people for awhile. Yeah, I guess one possible takeaway is that even after a great rupture in one’s life, life still goes on. People may be changed by events (such as the aforementioned Maggie leaving home for good, and having no contact with her family), but they don’t have to be stopped by them.

That’s a pretty basic point, however, and pretty damned muted. I’d hope that readers could take any number of meanings from this novel—there are any number of dynamics to consider—and that I’d give them enough to find their own relationship to these people.

Yeah, I like control, and want to control my presentation of my characters, but I don’t want to cram myself into my readers’ heads and force them to see these folks through my own eyes. I want to use my control to make the characters separate from me, to make them their own people, with their own stories.

But that ain’t happening with the kind of dialogue I use, above.

Gotta sharpen that blade. . . .





Shake it up baby

23 08 2011

Felt like we just had an earthquake. Went on for some time—45 seconds, maybe?—but more trembly than cracking.

Huh.

*Update* Yup, it was an earthquake, a 5.8  5.9  5.8 out of Virginia.

Glad I wasn’t on a train or in a tower.