Archive for August 2008
Nothing better, especially when the drink is out of reach for the night, than to have a nice intense talk about the estate tax, what it means to come from nothing and what it means to come from the ones who came from nothing, the “unfairness” of progressive taxation, rising inequality, working class roots, and elite, parentally-provisioned, university education, with your fucking dad right after Obama’s DNC speech. This is especially true when you can hear the ocean rustling in the mid-distance just beyond the window.
One feels like shreiking (in a little boy’s shriek, the shriek of a three-year old deprived of a goddamned cookie or action figure or something) that yes, one knows, one thinks about this shit all of the fucking time! No kidding! Basically this stuff we’re getting upset about, it’s my life, it’s my job, it’s my vocation, it’s what I eat instead of breakfast and the chaser that follows my nighttime drinks!
Instead, instead, you try to sound like an adult male, and yell something like But dad, there is no more welfare in this country of ours! Clinton took it all away! No black woman is going to get cable tv with your hard earned and “double taxed” dollars. I promise! Obama didn’t mention the reinstitution of social welfare during his speech – believe me, if he had, I woulda heard it!
I think I slipped an ideological disc just now.
Imma see how angry I can get this blog till it fucking breaks.
People keep telling me they like my angry posts. Of course it’s dawned on me that they might be telling me this to keep me from being angry at them. Or even writing an angry post about them. Or perhaps they simply pity me, bathed as I am in pathetic anger, or maybe they all get together sometimes to laugh at what a bad blogger am I.
Did I mention I’m back in the States. That should be explanation enough, I think. Angryish notes on my travels so far:
Strange to learn today that there are currently no privatized airports in the US. Stewart International in the Hudson Valley was privatized only to be returned to the Port Authority of NY/NJ, and it looks like Midway in Chicago will go private very soon. This is especially interesting to learn once you’ve spent some time living in the UK, where basically they’ve all been privatized, and redesigned to suit their new purpose, profit-generation. I probably should do this in an independent post, but Heathrow’s terminal 4 (which I flew out of) is perfect materialization of the microtortures of everyday life in an evermore privatized world. Long story short: I think we’re all becoming fairly familiar with these terminals that are basically just shopping malls with little doors hidden amongst the shitty shops where at some point, swooning from all your duty-free deals, you stumble onto your plane. That’s no surprise. It’s no surprise, the whole elimination of seating so that passenger-consumers are basically forced to wander around buying things rather than oh-so-unproductively sitting and waiting for their flight.
But Heathrow’s terminal 4, in a subtle way, exposes just how far we’ve gone, and gives a experiental sample of where things are headed. There are a few seats scattered around the terminal. A rough estimate suggests that there are enough seats to accomodate maybe one-twentieth of the total passenger load on a moderately busy day. But what is a bit surprising, even mildly shocking, is a cynical step that the designers have taken that rubs in just how bad things have gotten. In short: there are a few seats, and there are a few screens where you can see what gate you’re supposed to use when they finally, as late as possible, let you know where your plane will be boarding. (In most cases, from what I can tell, they know which gate it will be long before it’s called – these are long-haul flights, the airlines seem to rent the spots. Continental to Newark probably always uses the same gate, etc etc etc). The cynical, disgusting step that they’ve taken is that under no circumstances, in no instance, are the departure boards visible from a single seat anywhere in the terminal. I know this is true because I was bored and had an hour to kill so I checked. You can sit, but if you sit, you’ll eventually have to get up. And probably more than once. It would be very easy in many cases to position the screens so that the passengers can see them from where they’re sitting. The planners have deliberately made this impossible. Even if you’re lucky enough to find a chair, you will soon enough have to give it up to check. You will then lose your seat, and thus be forced to wander the mall again until your gate is called.
This, to me, is an emblem of just what life is like, and promises to be ever more like, as finance capital swallows the last bits of the public and the useful. Life will continue to move from capital’s provisioning of a wonderful set of opportunities toward a stunstick on your ass, keeping you moving as you negotiate the space that once was collectively yours.
On the other hand, it’s impossible to describe how dense my feelings are for Newark airport. It’d be soppy to go into just why, but they are. I haven’t been there in years, but was there the other day. And one of the most interesting things about having a consistent, long-term relationship with an airport is that a lot of the history of the place where you’ve lived is fossilized there. I remember when you could park right up at the door of the bottom level, and then, during the early eighties, when they started to push the cars back out from under the airport and road ramps for fear of truck bombs a la Beirut. The security infrastructure, the gate access or lack thereof, the slow then fast dissolve of smoking areas from everywhere to just the bars to nowhere at all… The flapping Budweiser eagle in the parking lot, now on its way to being owned by ImBev, much to the chagrin of the locals…
I could go on and on about EWR, and perhaps will on my way back…
We have lunch everyday at a place by the beach which is entirely stocked with people just like us, well sorta like us anyway: youngish couples with kids visiting parents and in-laws. All the women look exactly the same. My wife and I were talking about it and, elitist twat that I am, I tried to do it in pigFrench so that we will not be understood by the targets of our bile. Elles sont minces, avont les seins tres petits, et les visages pinchees, angulair, carees, et autres choses comme ca qu’on regarde dans les WASPs… That sort of thing. A minute later, I realized that the thin, breast-less, angular faced waspy-looking woman sitting next to us was in fact French. Ah, c’est la vie, right class comrades? All in gest, and it’s inevitable that your mari amarican is a trader of some sort, so I’m sure you’ll have the last laff on us.
Of course the men all look the same too, but even less interestingly so…
Starbucks at the nearby Barnes and Noble isn’t, um, the same as the one on Tottenham Court Road where (as I keep saying) you can find me from 3-5 PM each day tapping away. I’m sure the employees are mistreated and generally exploited at both, but the fucking boss here is breaking in two new employees during my daily thirdspace break. She criticizes every single move they make, and does so while looking at the customers with a “what are you gonna do with these fucking semi-legals, eh? Hard to find good help, even during the recession.” I want to lean into them and call their boss a bitch in spanish, but I don’t have the words. It’s puta, right? Es una puta grande. If you reply with the right phrase (please, no fucking around and giving me like some sort of noxious pickup line – I will def google translate before I try) I’ll give it a shot.
I went to get a new drivers’ license yesterday (and in doing so officially “homesteaded” in Florida… huh?) You should get one while you’re here, wherever you’re visiting from. $25.25 and no questions asked. Only one thing. If you go to the one I do, when it comes time for them to take your money, the woman behind the desk may bizarrely adopt a blackface patois and ask for twenay faaave dollah n’ twenay faave cent. (Hard to understand if you’re not American, but trust me – this was pure Eddie Murphyism she was schticking, not southern belletism. At home, just folks, other shit comes after it – trust me.) It may not help to admit that you’re a democrat (sorta, of course) when she’s filling out your voter registration card. You’ll know you’re at the right counter when you see the placard on her desk that reads Calling an illegal immigrant an undocumented worker is like calling a drug-dealer an unlicensed pharmcist.
I’m not enjoying the DNC on TV. Step away from the superbowlic reversion of everything to Charles Barkleyite profundity for a few months and it all just seems so, you know, unwatchable. But my wife and I both agreed and disagreed about Hillary’s speech last night. I won’t go into the disagreement, but we agree she did tilt a bit left, didn’t she? The promotion of unionism? That’s not a phrase I’ve heard lately from the mouths of the dems or anyone. Just for now: interesting that the tilt to the left can function as an in-your-face parting shot, stirring up discontent in the party faithful, but can’t be allowed to be mobilized during, you know, an actual campaign, where it’s all home invasions at 6 AM and Iran nuking bluster. It’s like a parting shot after a breakup, when you pull out the impossibly good material you’ve not been saying all along, stuff that might not even be true, but now, just as it ends, you fire for effect and it stings.
Anyway, off to gotham tomorrow for a long-stretch and all by my lonesome, lucky dog that I am. (Payback for missing the first half of the trip taking care of a cat with a UTI. Yeah…) I’m generally more reverent than angry about NYC when I’m actually there, but I’ll try to scare up some shit from the Southerners at the bar at the (goddamm) Sheraton Midtown for you.
I’ve avoided writing about this because it makes me angry enough to, well, write more angry, stupid blogposts, but Stephen Michelmore does a nice job on the whole Kafka / porn faux shitstorm that’s been circling around the bowl lately. SM’s piece features a rather nice pull from Milan Kundera’s “In the Castrating Shadow of Saint Garta.”
Masterful as they were at analyzing all the strategies of love, nineteenth-century novels left sex and the sexual act hidden. In the first decades of our century, sex emerged from the mists of romantic passion. Kafka was one of the first (certainly along with Joyce) to uncover it in his novels. He unveiled sex … as a commonplace, fundamental reality in everyone’s life. Kafka unveiled the existential aspects of sex: sex in conflict with love; the strangeness of the other as a condition, a requirement, of sex; the ambiguous nature of sex: those aspects that are exciting and simultaneously repugnant.
You spend your life (as I do) trying to develop ever more complicated theories on and renditions of literary modernism, it’s nice to run into a reminder of some of the baseline but massive innovations of the movement. Kundera’s list of ways that sex appears in Kafka and Joyce is right on, I think.
Anyway, beyond all that Michelmore says about James Hawes’s Excavating Kafka, the thing that drives me most nuts about the whole affair is the way that this book and it’s media life seems to act out all of malign impulses that direct academic literary work today. It is driven by:
- big-score research – ridiculous fantasies drawn from A.S. Byatt novels or is it the Da Vinci Code of the, my god, sudden and startling archive find that turns the entire field on its head
- prepackaged media pre-positioning made of easy-to-open scandal n’ intrigue for the dummies at the papers swallow and spew up again
- something approaching utter disdain for the ethics of this work, for the one thing that we should have left in this business of letters after all else is gone, and that is barebones empathy for the human, a sensitivity to what it costs to be human, an appreciation of what it costs, a tolerance for idiosyncrasy, etc etc.
Why does Hawes keep going around saying things like this? How does he sleep at night after saying it?
Even today, the pornography would be “on the top shelf”, Dr Hawes said, noting that his American publisher did not want him to publish it at first. “These are not naughty postcards from the beach. They are undoubtedly porn, pure and simple. Some of it is quite dark, with animals committing fellatio and girl-on-girl action… It’s quite unpleasant.”
Seems fair, given the circumstances, to do a little sniff-test close reading on Hawes’s own words here – I’ll leave you to fill in the dots about the organization of his psychosexual drives. The “girl-on-girl action” bit is too easy. Um, that’s not how you’d say it if you were on the side of the weird angels you’ve aligned yourself with, James. More interesting is the idea of “animals committing fellatio.” Perhaps this is just a US / UK translation issue, but we Americans save the verb “to commit” for sexual acts that imply a moral trangression. One “commits” adultery. One “commits improper actions upon and with myself, father.” One does not, you know, “commit” getting really nicely laid. Or “commit” a blowjob, especially if one likes giving or getting them. The idea of animals “committing” anything – oooo, those horny, sinful little (or big) creatures, always taking the devil’s lowroad toward the wet and nasty, etc etc – is a bit odd, and it’s hard not to imagine a particularly, um, complicated relationship to animals, their sexuality, and their moral status informing that particular construction. Hmmm….
That’s all for now. I’ve really got to get some work in tonight on my monograph, Joseph Conrad Loved to Touch the Asscrack – Isn’t That Fucking Sick?!?!?!!????!.
[NB: James Hawes defends himself in the comments… He’s got some things to say that seem fair enough… So maybe I was being a wee bit harsh here… Still, still, what I saw in the papers was upsetting and we all need to be vigiliant, very vigiliant, when the reporters come calling… Take a look at what he says though….]