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macroeconomic microfictions

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From a piece in the IHT about the effects of the crisis to Dubai:

With Dubai’s economy in free fall, newspapers have reported that more than 3,000 cars sit abandoned in the parking lot at the Dubai Airport, left by fleeing, debt-ridden foreigners (who could in fact be imprisoned if they failed to pay their bills). Some are said to have maxed-out credit cards inside and notes of apology taped to the windshield.

I’ve done a bit of digging around, and it looks like that number may be a wee bit high. (The total capacity of the lots at the airport is only 6,000 cars so, um, IHT wtf with the reporting?) Still, cars are being abandoned, and probably for the reasons mentioned in the article.

I’m wondering tonight why stories like this are so appealling to me. My attention is captured by events and circumstances that render macroeconomic events, trends, and circumstances visible. The cars serve as self-organizing isotypes, with the airport parking lot as a sort of living Gesellschafts- und Wirtschafts-Museum.

But there’s more to it than just that. The other thing that I love about articles like this one in the IHT has to do with the relationship between the aggregated image of the abandoned cars and the little journalistically-mandatory emblematic story about an individual caught up in the gears in her own generic but personal way. Here’s the start of the article I’ve linked to:

Sofia, a 34-year-old Frenchwoman, moved here a year ago to take a job in advertising, so confident about Dubai’s fast-growing economy that she bought an apartment for almost $300,000 with a 15-year mortgage.

Now, like many of the foreign workers who make up 90 percent of the population here, she has been laid off and faces the prospect of being forced to leave this Gulf city — or worse.

“I’m really scared of what could happen, because I bought property here,” said Sofia, who asked that her last name be withheld because she is still hunting for a new job. “If I can’t pay it off, I was told I could end up in debtors’ prison.”

Now, the gut stirring (not saying in an emotional sense, god, in a literarily appreciative sense, dare I even say secularly epiphanic sense) thing that happens is the wafting sense of there being a Sofia-story, almost the same, just a tiny bit different in each case, behind every one of these 3,000 (or however many, really) abandoned cars.

Someone told me recently that I shouldn’t write fiction about myself, people like myself, or even project myself in to characters based on people similar enough to me, like my father or my grandfather. They are right, totally right. What I want to do instead is to write something that approximates the macro / micro crosscut that I’ve just described. You might well want to say, “Sure Ads, that’s just realism!” But it’s not really. Realism, classically conceived and actualized, does no such thing, as it’s too wedded to the character, her/his individuality, and later his/her interiority to really achieve the effect I am talking about.

Perhaps I’ll make a post soon that talks about a few attempts at aggregated fiction. If you have suggestions for me to read, I’d love to hear them obviously.

I love / hate it when there’s a word that I want that doesn’t quite exist. (For instance, was thinking the other day that I want a word for “possession” or “possessiveness” from which the economic register has been surgically excised… But there is no such word…) I’d like a word that stands for something like the uncanny, except instead of the stuck dialectic of the familiar and the unfamiliar, my new word handle the stuck dialectic of the single and the aggregate. (Agamben’s whatever doesn’t quite cut it, though it’s close… Maybe it’s better in Italian, but in English it has that stupid Valley shrug and eyeroll to it… And that’s not the only problem…)

But basically the effect that I’d like to get to would be a smooth and subtle version of something like this: I’d like to tell the story of Sofia’s last day in Dubai, packing her suitcase and stuffing it into the back of her 3 series Beemer, dropping the keys to her overly-expensive flat in the mail slot of the building’s superintendent, driving to the airport and abandonning her car in the parking lot but then, through the magic of form, somehow push the story though some sort of calculator that converts it all to TIMES 3000, NOT QUITE BUT MORE OR LESS THE SAME.

In other words, and sure, in a continuation of many modernist narrative projects with which I am intimately, oh so intimately familiar, I’d like to work out a subtle, non-ostentatious form for the embodied generic, the lived aggregatation, the soft-spread typical.

Think after critical project X and critical project Y, and any actual fiction in between, the next one will be on just this.

Written by adswithoutproducts

February 13, 2009 at 11:48 pm

12 Responses

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  1. form of what kind? omniscient narrator epilogue (…yawn). not sure how to do the multiplication. how about a final sentence or paragraph like:

    “As she walked into the airport, she took a last look at her car. The first car she spotted – it looked like hers, but after a few moments there was another that looked just the same, and she couldn’t be sure. The lot was full, full of cars that could be hers, the all looked the same, sitting in the lot unattended, waiting for their owners to return.”

    “And then Martha walked in to the airport, and took a long last glance backwards. Her husband didn’t bother – staring straight ahead with a blank face made by gallons of effort – but the man behind him – tall, slim, suited, and wearing a hat – teared up a bit while he hustled to the counter. They keep streaming in, all of them, catching flights to Chicago via Brussels or Budapest or St. Louis via Paris and New York, one after another, keeping emotions hidden and leaving behind small pieces of their lives, returning home or leaving it for good, abandoning boyfriends or hurrying home to kiss them with burdens relieved. There was nothing left to do here but abandon the before-things, have identifications checked and tickets torn, to turn away slowly or quickly from things loved or tolerated on the way to the next. Economies make constant demands.”

    [both of the above are off the cuff, over-sentimental, and in need of a good edit – to say nothing of written under the influence – but you get the idea. in spite of this, perhaps these can suggest formal means of dealing with the multiplication problem]


    February 14, 2009 at 1:38 am

    • Dave,

      Mmm… Yes. I wonder… Actually let me post on this. Jesus – can’t stop.


      February 16, 2009 at 11:39 pm

  2. Isn’t the reason those empty cars are so appeaing that it’s just like The Rapture when the elect are sucked out of their vehicles and off to heaven, leaving behind the dereliction of the failed world? Except that here one is not saved, just busted — and the end times turn out to be played by systemic crisis? By which I mean, it’s beautiful because it’s the verdict of materialism against spiritualism. Or, “Capitalism as a Religion.”


    February 14, 2009 at 2:54 am

  3. Sounds like a pretty nOulipian task to me…


    February 14, 2009 at 4:56 am

  4. I told my dinner companions that Dubai story last night, possibly even embellishing it a little (‘they basically had to spend all the money they could before driving to the airport to escape before they got put in debtor’s prison…some of them left little notes inside the abandoned cars saying sorry next to piles of used-up credit cards’). Apocalyptic relish primes the appetite for yet more crashes, economic or aeronautical…

    I think one could easily put the Sofia story through the quantitative narrative maximiser, as you suggest. I think Ehrenburg’s ‘Life of the Automobile’ does this kind of thing in parts (I would quote it, but I left my copy at work after my Vertov class). I also think ‘aggregated fiction’ is a rather good term for this project – if I were to attempt such a thing, I’d start with the macro, flooding the system with pathos, before hinting at the merest whisper of character at the micro-level. But perhaps that’s why I spend more time reading political theory than novels…and far too much time of late reading Fourier. If I had time to write a novel, it’d be a tribute to Fourier-Feuerbach-Firestone and so full of the generic it’d make you weep. It’d be a comic yet heartfelt response to the ‘would you really feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving forever’ question. Urgh, actually that sounds awful. Scrap that.

    infinite thought

    February 14, 2009 at 10:39 am

    • Finally ordered the Ehrenburg, just now, IT! We will talk about the pathos flooding, obviously!


      February 16, 2009 at 11:29 pm

  5. CR, have you ever read _Dictee_? Very modernist in a way, though by a Korean-American woman in the 80s (and who happened to be raped and murdered coincidentally shortly after that, ugh).

    Anyways, besides having lots of sliced-up stream-of-consciousness narratives all palimpsested together and whatnot, a lot of the stories (there’s not really a plot) are told through immigration forms, citizenship questions, and language learning exercises. Just the questions, not the answers. It might sorta get at what you’re looking for.


    February 15, 2009 at 12:22 am

    • Mmmm. Just put it on the list for library pickup! Thanks S!


      February 16, 2009 at 11:27 pm

  6. ARBluth

    April 6, 2009 at 4:52 am

  7. If I recall correctly, Jameson’s introduction to vol. 1 of Peter Weiss’s Aesthetics of Resistance deals with very similar issues–though here he’s discussing the near impossibility of writing worthwhile historical fiction, since who’s the subject, where’s the agency, etc.?

    That Weiss book is fantastic, anyway; but the essay can be found in The Modernist Papers as well, I think.


    July 8, 2009 at 1:30 am

  8. Will look at that immediately – very good call. I have to review The Modernist Papers this month, actually, but now I’m intrigued about the Weiss, which I own but haven’t ever looked at…


    July 8, 2009 at 6:18 am

  9. […] See Ads with­out Prod­ucts for more on the nar­ra­tive pos­si­bil­i­ties of “macroeconomic microfictions.” No Comments, Comment or Ping […]

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