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Archive for the ‘crisis’ Category

yeats and the imf, harry potter brutalism, apple store art museums: aesthetics via the wsj 19/11/10

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In addition to my IHT, I like a financial paper every day, as the “business section” is the only section where the actual news happens. I used to read the Financial Times until, at MSA 2008, I saw Frederic Jameson carrying around a copy to match mine (we’d probably both walked to the Borders down the road as there was nowhere else to buy such a thing in Nashville) and realized at that moment that this FT shit had, as they say, jumped the shark. So now I kick it old school with a subscription to the Wall Street Journal – European Edition, which is cheaper by miles anyway.

(a joke, btw – in case it’s not clear. maybe a joke. i dunno)

Anyway from yesterday’s WSJ, a strange melange of aesthetics / politics / commercialism that gives us the present state of play in snippets. First, from an article on Ireland’s debt crisis / IMF intervention:

It (an editorial in The Irish Times) went on: “There is the shame of it all. Having obtained our political independence from Britain to be the masters of our own affairs, we have now surrendered our sovereignty to the European Commission, the European Central Bank, and the International Monetary Fund.” In Ireland’s parliament, a deputy recited the stanza of Yeats from which the editorial takes its title, an elegy for the dead of an earlier, failed, revolution.

Let a billion quasi-leftist grad seminar papers bloom. Folks have been – at times very cheaply and with a tinge of, dunno, residual and deeply perverse ethnocentrism – using Ireland and its literature as a way to be a “post-colonialist” without dealing with, you know, black people. This would seem to me to be the wet dream via Naomi Klein version of this…. The quotation in question, as another article in the WSJ indicates, was from ‘September 1913’:

Was it for this the wild geese spread

The grey wing upon every tide;

For this that all that blood was shed,

For this Edward Fitzgerald died,

And Robert Emmet and Wolfe Tone,

All that delirium of the brave?

Romantic Ireland’s dead and gone,

It’s with O’Leary in the grave.

Funny thing is that there are better bits from that poem to cite on this occasion, namely the first stanza (“What need you, being come to sense / But fumble in a greasy till / And add the halfpence to the pence” etc). If I were one of those erstwhile hibernian pocoists, that’s where I’d go with my deconstructively angled paper…  Alternately, if I were still attending “mass” on weekend evenings at the Boston Arms in Tufnell Park, I’d ask and receive, I’m sure, incredibly fascinating analyses of this poetry-cum-or-anti-economics issue from the (sometimes) friendly and strangely erudite pensioners who go there to receive liquified communion.

And then there’s this from an article about the CGI in the new Harry Potter film(s):

Leavesden (Studios) is also home to the fictional Ministry of Magic, which is supposed to sit beneath a real street in the London government district of Whitehall. To create the ministry, which first appeared in “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix” in 2007, Mr. Craig studied underground structures such as the London and Moscow subway stations.

For the new film, Mr. Craig added a towering monument to the ministry’s atrium. The Soviet-style sculpture shows wizards crushing cowering muggles—people without magic powers—and bears an engraving that says “Magic Is Might.” The totalitarian aesthetic, Mr. Craig says, highlights the theme of a world dominated by evil. He used seemingly long, winding corridors to give the ministry a Kafkaesque feel. As the characters explore the building, including an upstairs office and a basement courtroom, viewers soon feel as if they know their way around the place.

Leaving aside the sublation of the Red Menace into noseless (syphlitic?) baddy magicians, that final phrase is a bit bizarre: “viewers soon feel as if they know their way around the place.” Location, Location, Location real estate imaginineering meets Kafkaesque Unheimlichkeit in some sort of illogical and unholy union, no? Perhaps that, my friends, is the definition of the uncanniness of our times: bureaucratic befuddlement that somehow you feel cozy in, that you want to take out a variable-rate mortgage in order to buy-to-let, even though there are no mortgages to be had…

Finally, and winning today’s Rem-Koolhaas-Was-So-Right prize, is this on forthcoming renovation of the Mauritshuis Museum in the Hague:

“You can think of a cross between the Apple store in New York and the Louvre,” is how Mauritshuis Director Emilie Gordenker describes the museum’s hopes for the extension and renovation. “We’re going to open up the gates. Then you come in and you end up in a very large, spacious and light-filled foyer.”

And things finally head full-circle. The Apple Store aesthetic, stolen from what I can tell (or remember) out of certain now-lost Soho (NYC) sleek coffeehouses, which in turn had stolen their look out of the galleries that were just then on their way out, returns to garnish the place where they keep Vermeer’s “Girl With a Pearl Earring.” What is the next turn of the screw to come in our frenetically static cultural world, the palpating infrastructure built atop an ever self-renewing base? Apple Stores shaped like Aeroflot terminals? Childish pre-sex fantasies (wtf?) cast in the light of Allende-ite democratic socialism? Ezra Pound cantos about usury and the Jews recited on the House floor?

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November 20, 2010 at 8:56 am

the new new normal

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Just spent the morning banging out a piece centred on this, from the NYT:

The “new normal,” as it has come to be called on Wall Street, academia and CNBC, envisions an economy in which growth is too slow to bring down the unemployment rate, while the government is forced to intervene ever more forcefully in a struggling private sector. Stocks and bonds yield paltry returns, with better opportunities available for investors overseas.

Didn’t we just have a “new normal,” only slightly different from this one, a few years ago? Anyway, hope someone takes the piece… We’ll see. Again, wish I could link to it from here if it goes. Soon enough, if things go right….

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August 11, 2010 at 12:10 pm

Posted in crisis, economics

“the world is leaking”: a new temporality of disaster for a new decade

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True to his word, Giovanni Tiso has written an excellent post on the disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Definitely go take a look…

I’m fascinated by the oil spill cam too, and like Giovanni said in my comments, there’s something mesmerizing about it, hypnotic. The Icelandic volcano seemed bent on introducing us to a new temporality of disaster for a new decade, replacing the shock and awe of telegenic terror attacks and rapidly escalating infection rates and (again telegenic) bombing raids, the tsunamis and earthquakes and hurricanes, that characterized the aughts with the awful banality of destructive persistence. But the gusher in the Gulf adjusts this new apocalyptic rhythm to the right physical scale.

Rather than the top of a mountain blowing off and then, surprisingly, causing real problems when it simply continues to smolder, we have a relatively small pipe at the bottom of the sea per-houring and per-minuting the Gulf toward total environmental collapse – and who knows what else.

I’m pretty immune to prophetic anthropomorphism, reading the palm lines of the image, and pathetic fallacy in general. I seriously mistrust Jamesonian acolytes for their tendency to just this sort of thing. (And that’s not the only faulty move I’m making in this post… Who gives a shit about “decades,” right?) There’s no Spielburgian divinity or Weltgeist storyboarding these things out to tell us something that we should already know… (Thankfully, really – we’ve got enough real problems to deal with without waking up to find a burning bush in the back garden etc) Being in England is only encouraging any I refute it thus-ism that was latently present in my makeup.

But on the other hand, it’s really, really hard not to read the whole world into and out of this one, hard not to take it as a sign of some sort that times have changed, and in particular not to anticipate lots more bad plumbing in the years to come….

(I should note – and not just here, but in an email to someone that I’m way overdue on – that Jonathan Lethem’s still newish Chronic City does a pretty good job of capturing this “new” temporality of disaster in narrative form…. I’ll try to say more about this when I’ve got more time, which has to happen sooner or later, right?)

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June 1, 2010 at 12:49 am

wall street 2

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A Hollywood stuck in an endless circle of remakes, unable to conceive of novel characters or situations, meets and is mangled up with a world stuck in what promises to be perpetual economic crisis, ceaselessly recycling its heroes into vilains and back again.

The only way, it seems, that you can tell that time is passing at all is by the size and shape of the mobile phones.

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May 15, 2010 at 6:57 pm

blame socialism

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What would we do without The New York Times? Without them, how would we ever figure out that what’s ultimately behind the economic crisis in Portugal isn’t bad banking or irresponsible lending or ill-thought-out fiscal policy, but in fact socialist housing law

Portugal’s antiquated tenancy rules, for instance, stem directly from two revolutions that cemented leftist antagonism toward owners and landlords: the first was in 1910, which ended the monarchy, and the second was in 1974, which overthrew a dictatorship and returned Portugal to democracy.

The post-revolution rules helped protect tenants, but also led to a chronic shortage of rental housing. This, in turn, persuaded a new generation of Portuguese to tap recently into low interest rates and buy instead — often in new suburbs — thereby exacerbating the country’s mortgage debt and leaving Portugal with one of Europe’s lowest savings rates, of 7.5 percent.

“This system of controlled rents is a major problem for the Portuguese economy, but we will probably be waiting for a generational change to have room for institutional reform,” said Cristina Casalinho, chief economist of Banco BPI, a Portuguese bank. Beyond fueling housing credit, she added, the system “basically stops flexibility and mobility in the labor market because you can perhaps find a new job in another city but it will then be very difficult to rent a house there.”

So you see how this works? It’s not just that austerity measures have to be inflicted upon the state sectors of Europe. It’s that theses measures ought to be imposed, as the welfare state in fact bears the ultimate responsibility for the crisis, setting up the imbalanced markets that led directly to all the bad loans. Hmmm….

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May 15, 2010 at 1:22 am

Posted in crisis, socialism

the privatization of public wealth: now even faster!

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The Greek crisis is, simply speaking, simply the clearest and most direct illustration of the general tendencies in place for handling the financial crisis. In most cases, states have taken on enormous debt in order to refinance corrupt banks that will only later, when the loans come due, result in dramatic cuts and, you know, closed universities and reduced medical benefits and the like. With the EU / IMF intervention in the Greek economy, both steps involved with the privatization of public wealth under the conditions of crisis, are happening at exactly the same time. From the NYT today:

The government is now committed to whack back the public sector, including pensions and popular social benefits; to raise consumption taxes to record highs; and to promote tax reform, in an effort to shrink the enormous black market, reduce tax evasion and increase government receipts.

[…]

Embedded in the euro and thus no longer in control of its own currency, Greece cannot take the easy way out of its debt by devaluing. So Greece must either cut its spending sharply or default on its loans — which would badly damage German and French banks carrying a lot of Greek debt.

That is considered one reason President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has been so quiet on the Greek crisis, Mr. Fitoussi said. The Greek deal “is an indirect way of bailing out French and German banks,” he said. “The French understood this from the start, but Germany didn’t seem to.”

Katinka Barysch, an economist and deputy director of the Center for European Reform in London, said that that realization had hit home in Germany. “It might be unpopular for the Germans and Europeans to bail out Greece, but it will be even more unpopular for them to bail out the banks that owned Greek bonds,” she said.

The involvement of extra-state institutions, like the EU and the IMF, allow the process in play to be rendered more brutally efficient, faster. The US federal government can’t quite get away with, say, handing the Veterans Administration health services infrastructure to Citigroup, nor the UK government change the direct deposit address of welfare benefits from the urban poor to the Royal Bank of Scotland, but rather have to run up debt that will later be repayed by privatization and disinvestment. With Greece, however, the interim in the middle has been shrunk considerably…

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May 3, 2010 at 7:41 am

Posted in crisis, economics

a spectre, the spectre, haunting Europe and everywhere else

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Is interesting to note where Marx’s spectre thing turns up. For instance, this from the start of a Businessweek article:

April 30 (Bloomberg) — While the specter of Greek contagion haunts southern Europe, corporate Germany is going from strength to industrial strength.

What is especially interesting is the way that the endless permutations on the original always bear – as if spectrally! – a little bit of the root sense of the original utterance. Crisis of capitalism, even when the recyclers of the trope don’t believe that such a thing is possible.

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April 30, 2010 at 1:03 am

Posted in crisis, marx, Uncategorized