Archive for October 2010
she read it on her Blackberry, in New York. The first hundred pages. And then she said
in Swedish. We missed on that one. Because we don’t read Swedish
do you understand how the agent gets paid? Do you understand what a commission is
no not a birthday party. The pub’s birthday party. It’s turning two today
plot-driven narratives. I appreciate beautiful writing, I really do. But on the other hand
the buyer for Waterstones will take it in his hands and say “You think I can charge £7.99 for
handling the archive, even though most of it is out of copyright, still has made that place what
three Martini lunches. But the work is social, it’s about networking. People in my home town
the most beautiful words in the business are “first novel by an eighteen year old.” After all
the jacket listed the wrong characters. I mean had their names wrong, all of them. So I
about the death of publishing, about the end of book stores. But twenty years ago
From Jeffrey Meyers’s Orwell: Wintry Conscience of a Generation:
The Paris-born poet and translator Eduoard Roditi, who met Blair through the Adelphi in 1931, described how his gnawing social conscience prevented them from enjoying a decent meal or a walk through town. When Blair adopted his Jeremiah persona, he became a comically lugubrious companion. As they dined together, Roditi recalled, Blair described, “as if to discourage me from eating, the filthy conditions that he had observed in the kitchens and pantries of so many of the restaurants where he had worked.” After lunch they assiduously avoided the parks and wandered for several hours “in some of the most depressing areas of London.”
Obviously, Orwell didn’t invent this posture (pose?) but he does seem to me to be the trunk-line of its transmission from the slummy wanderings of Dickens and the like in the mid-19th century toward a whole genealogy of descendants, from Ballard through Sinclair and on to Petit, Keillor, Self, and the like. Flaneurerie cut with particularly English class pathology, psychogeography determined in its wandering but the subtle sense that the proles are having more and more gamey fun in the alleys behind their low pubs.
In my continuing efforts to understand London, this is one of those small differences from New York in literary-cultural stance that seems to me softly definitive. While of course I’m sure we can all come up with exceptions, it does seem to me to be the case that this pathologically-tinged practice of literary types has no real analogue in New York. New York writers gentrify, yes, in their real estate decisions and affectual preferences. But despite the fact that I was hanging out in New York with types, who if they were over here, would be likely candidates to drag you out for a walk amidst riverfront wastelands and crumbling council estates, it simply never happened in New York.
There are some practical negative reasons for this, first and foremost perhaps the fact that hipsters hanging out in the open spaces of the Red Hook projects with their digital cameras could well risk coming to an unseemly end. (An unfilmed episode of The Wire – a show which allows us to do our slumming in the safety of our living rooms, and which of course was more intensely loved in the UK than the US….) But it’s probably more than just that. Risking a sloppy generalization here, the difference between the two places does seem to reflect the fundamental psycho-ideological divide between the cultural classes of the two places. On the one hand: the persistent invisibility of class, even for those Americans whose vocation it is to render the invisible visible. On the other hand: the absolutely determinative suffusion of class, which goes well beyond a healthy acknowledgement of its efficacy as a social fiction, and on toward something like an unshakeable belief in its terminal and ineluctable reality…. An unshakeable belief and the distortions and misdirections and parapraxes engendered by such a belief….
From a transcript of Horkheimer and Adorno trying to talk out a new version of the Communist Manifesto published in the new NLR:
ADORNO: How does it come about that work is regarded as an absolute? Work exists to control the hardships of life, to ensure the reprod-uction of mankind. The success of labour stands in a problematic relationship to the effort required. It does not necessarily or certainly reproduce the lives of those who work but only of those who induce others to work for them. In order to persuade human beings to work you have to fob them off with the waffle about work as the thing in itself.
HORKHEIMER: That’s how it is among the bourgeoisie. This was not the attitude of the Greeks. The young worker on the motorbike treats work as his god because he enjoys riding the bike so much.
ADORNO: But even if he really does enjoy it, that subjective happiness still remains ideology.
HORKHEIMER: But if you were to tell him about our idea that it is supposed to be enjoyable, he would find that hard to understand and would rather we left him in peace.
ADORNO: All that is delusion.
HORKHEIMER: Yes and no. It really does call for great effort.
ADORNO: So does riding a motorbike.
HORKHEIMER: That is an objectively measurable effort; he is happy to make it. His true pleasure in motorbike riding is in the anal sounds it emits. We just look foolish if we try to give explanations that are too precise.
Your life and mind like the pane
the wasp interrogates in panic.
Light out there, and your drive for light
but blocked by the inexplicable,
this strangely invisible lucidity.
William James in The Principles of Psychology as cited in this essay by Sianne Ngai:
Millions of items of the outward order are present to my senses which never properly enter into my experience. Why? Because they have no interest for me. My experience is what I agree to attend to. Only those items which I notice shape my mind—without selective interest, experience is utter chaos. Interest alone gives accent and emphasis, light and shade, background and foreground—intelligible perspective, in a word. It varies in every creature, but without it the consciousness of every creature would be a grey chaotic indiscriminateness, impossible for us to even conceive.
Sorry about the prolonged blog absence. I am trying to draw back to a focal point or points after a long strange trip into that “grey chaotic indiscriminateness.” So much to do… So it’s time to start thinking clearly – or just start thinking at all rather than merely reacting – again now.