Trump’s tweets about Mika Bzrezinski and his earlier utterance about Megyn Kelly don’t prove he has a weak, childlike ego, or is a psychopath. Nor do his remarks about “dating” his daughter indicate that he’s incapable of sublimation according to the first Oedipal commandment, against incest. They prove something else—that he’s a fascist, pure and simple. To my mind, this diagnosis is more disturbing than the others.
When the tweets surfaced last Thursday, I reached for Klaus Theweleit’s Male Fantasies (1977, trans. 1987-89) a massive 2-volume study of the Freikorps—the freelance German regiments assembled in 1918 to fight working-class insurrection wherever it appeared in Central and Eastern Europe—and its fascist progeny. (The Freikorps supplied the Nazis with a surprisingly large proportion of leaders and officers.)
I suppose I was dimly remembering how Theweleit had enlisted Foucault, Deleuze, and Guattari to fundamentally revise Freud’s theories of the unconscious, repression, sexuality, psychosis, and, on that basis, to explain fascism as a highly specific mode of producing reality.
In their terms, fascism is to be understood not as a form of government or a social system or a psychological deviation or a personality disorder, but as the production of a reality in which females represent a red flood of blood that must be staunched—for that flood carries with it every contaminant of modern-industrial life, including communism, and every threat to traditional, inherited hierarchies, including sexual freedom as defined by women themselves. The subtitle of Volume 1 is Women, Floods, Bodies, History.
Fascists, so conceived, are not men who can be treated for their symptoms and “restored” to rationality in the sense that the analyst makes them aware of their repressed and therefore unconscious fears, desires, wishes, and anxieties (or in the sense that they can be disabused of their fantasies by facing the facts). The return of the repressed to consciousness has no meaning for the fascist—for Donald Trump— because his “unconscious” has no interiorized content born of repression: his ego is not born of the renunciations we attribute to the resolution of the Oedipus complex (the incest taboo, to begin with).
The fascist’s fears of castration, of menstruation, of penetration, of the dissolution of ego boundaries, and so forth, aren’t buried deep within a psyche huddled against the external world. In fact, Trump speaks freely and frequently of these fears: his “unconscious” is already social, not a once-private state that, when made public, cancels his fantasies and returns him to rationality. For the fascist, there are no private states. How could there be?
Trump denies he has a small penis, he insults a journalist by insinuating that her unwanted questions flow from a menstrual source, he insists that neither Muslims nor Mexicans will pass through the barriers he imposes, and that China has had its way with us—has “taken advantage of us”—for too long. And now he insults another female journalist for, what else, bleeding. “Bodily fluids bother him,” his biographer says.
Here’s Theweleit, at the hinge of the argument in Volume 1.
“On the other hand, it would also be wrong simply to define these men [the Freikorps officers and their literary minions] as ‘psychotics.’ They do not, in fact, seem to possess the Oedipal ‘ego,’ and yet they are not, for that reason, in any way, ‘unadapted to reality,’ nor do they have ‘weak egos’ or any other such disorder. After all, they were triumphantly effective in founding their very own empire [their very own reality] in the future. In many respects, they were extremely successful; their mode of writing is controlled, in a manner which ‘psychotics’ would hardly be capable of . . . By what type of ego, if it is not the Oedipal, do these men stabilize and control themselves?” (1: 209-10)
That is the question: what type of ego does the fascist manifest, if not the Oedipal ego steeped in guilt and animated by fears of incest and castration? Here Freud’s late insights into masochism become indispensable, because the fascist is first and foremost the man who revels in his own suffering at the hands of the women who flood the world with their unruly desires and treacherous lies. The masochist loves the violence done to his body, literally and figuratively, because the perturbation, the dissolution, that follows puts his ego and his object choices in motion, all at once—he’s suddenly free of the past, returned to the (pubescent) state before the familiar Oedipal renunciations made him an adult.
Certainly the chronicles of the Freikorps suggest as much. So do Trump’s otherwise inexplicable responses to female journalists, going back to Gail Collins (see NYT 7/1/2017): his tweets read like obscene notes passed around in grade school.
But how does it work, this perturbation, this dissolution? As always, Freud put it in terms of gendered identity. “In the case of the girl what was originally a masochistic (passive) situation is transformed into a sadistic one by means of repression, and its sexual quality is almost effaced. In the case of the boy, the situation remains masochistic.” Why? The boy “evades his homosexuality by repressing and remodeling his unconscious phantasy [of being beaten], and the remarkable thing about his later conscious phantasy is that it has for its content a feminine [passive] attitude without a homosexual object-choice.”
So, Freud was fascinated by male masochism for a good reason. Two consequences follow from this subjection of oneself to humiliation as accompanied or enforced or explained by the endurance of violence at the hands of the unworthy—the female, to be sure, but also the larger, ignorant mass. First, an emotional solidarity of men is created: they become a category, a class-action set of victims who have succumbed to feminine wiles and to feminism as such. Second, “morality becomes sexualized once more [and] the Oedipus complex is revived.” In other words, the abjection experienced in masochism permits a revision of the ego determined by the normal resolutions of the Oedipus complex. That revision reanimates gender identities that might have been fixed without the revisit.
So what? Many if not most of the comrades suggest that these tweets are epiphenomenal, superficial manifestations of a problematic personality—to pay attention to Trump’s idiocy at this level of utterance is to distract us from the real economic issues at hand, on the Congressional terrain where class warfare has been declared in the form of “debate” on health care.
To which I say: bullshit. These tweets are the heart of the matter. As Angela Nagle’s new book, Kill the Normies, demonstrates in nauseating detail—it is very hard, but essential, to read this book—the alt-right that brought Trump to power is unified by one thing, and one thing only: misogyny on a scale that is hard to believe.
So, if we think with Theweleit, we concentrate on what the comrades assume is epiphenomenal—the consistent extremity and the eager idiocy of Trump’s “throwaway” lines. We think, accordingly, that his constituents aren’t psychopathic, or lacking strong egos, or curable by therapy, or correctable by “facts.” We think that they’re nonetheless dangerous, and treat them as the enemy.
Last night we hosted a send-off for Bruce Robbins, who leaves for the Peloponnese tomorrow. July 4th kind of thing, burgers, hotdogs, rivers of ketchup, residual streams of mustard, buns without purpose, food without end. And there we we were on the rooftop, staring downtown at spastic fireworks and every spire in sight, asking ourselves, where are we?
The question we addressed when off the rooftop was more simple but more painful--OK, it was the same question, posed differently. Why do we write? One of the participants was a an award-winning playwright, and he had some strong opinions. He insisted that "changing the world" through words was a fool's errand. The rest of us disagreed, respectfully but vehemently, saying that we wouldn't even try if we didn't think we'd be making a difference. That changing ourselves by writing could be the first stage of the impulse, but beyond that, we want to believe our words are tools, devices, material leverage against--what?--power.
And then what? When power makes a fool of itself, what is the function of truth? That is, of writing?
Twitter epiphany: Greg Tepper, the managing editor for FoxSportsSW out of Dallas, tweets: "This is a really, really good read." He means my Aeon piece, "Fuck Work," now being promoted by @Longreads. Wait'll he gets to The Baffler! The Zeitgeist, it are a changin' . . .
Here's my bleary-eyed take on "Flaked," the Netflix series that pits the local brotherhood of AA against the global, gentrifying forces of neo-whatever. it gives me both pause and pleasure to watch, speaking of work, because the question it raises is: Do I need something to do--like, a real job--or someone to love?
"Robocalypse Now," I like that. Central bankers and economists gather in Sintra, Portugal, to ponder the end of work and its implications. Here are the key grafs in the NYT story plus my comments in brackets. Then the link to the article.
"Since the beginning of the industrial age, almost every major technological innovation has led to dire predictions that humans were being permanently replaced by machines. While some kinds of jobs were lost forever, greater efficiency led to more affordable goods and other industries soaked up the excess workers."
[Yeah, labor-saving machinery displaced workers in the consumer goods industries, starting in earnest in the 1840s-50s (I periodize according to the American example). But somebody had to build the machinery, so demand for labor kept increasing; the capital goods industries grew faster than the consumer goods industries, ca. 1850s-1920s. Then technological innovation became CAPITAL-saving as well as labor-saving, and demand for labor stagnated accordingly. The Great Depression was the result. Since then, we have approximated "full employment" only because public spending has displaced private investment as the driving force of growth. But "full employment" does not and cannot reconfigure income distribution, as witness our current situation.]
. . . .
"There are other explanations for stagnant wages besides technology. [Well, duh. But what follows immediately below is not an explanation of anything; it merely notes the persistence of the "global savings glut," as Ben Bernanke, a participant in this conference, used to call it.]
"Companies in Japan, the United States and Europe are sitting on hoards of cash, doling out the money to shareholders rather than investing in new buildings, equipment or innovative products. Just why is another topic of debate.
[Actually, no, there is no debate: see “global savings glut” as above. Growth has happened absent private investment (or changes in income distribution) because the costs of doing business have plummeted, in accordance with that capital-saving trend that begins in the 1920s.]
"Hal Varian, the chief economist at Google — whose self-driving technology may someday make taxi drivers unnecessary — said that the plunging cost of information technology 'has virtually eliminated the fixed cost of entering a business.' Companies can rent software and computing power over the internet."
[In a post-industrial society like ours, information is the most basic, indispensable asset, property, or capacity. How can it be almost free? Only when the original gesture in the development of capitalism—primitive accumulation, Marx called it, whereby land and labor-power became fungible commodities to be bought and sold in markets that were suddenly society-wide—is reversed. I call it “primitive disaccumulation,” but the label doesn’t matter. It signifies the end of capitalism.]
2 more days to go. I only had a decaf coffee today.
Are you going to join us on our get fit for the holiday to burma
Contact me if you're interested
Never try to write for the ages, but always remember that your words could have a lasting effect. Today i was reminded of this maxim of my own invention by an email from Andrew Sloan, a total stranger, who enclosed his father's obituary. Five years ago I wrote at my blog about his father's sermon of July 31st, 2012, in a tiny church in Truro, Mass., where i was on vacation with my girlfriend. Ronald Sloan brought me to tears that day. His son's email had the same effect on me today. Here's a truncated version of what Andrew Sloan found on the Internet--what I wrote about his father, why he wrote me. The long version is still at the blog.
Cape Cod is a vacation resort, pure and simple, which illustrates the perverse recreational imperative of modernity: Those whom the gods would elevate they first lay waste. Build a desert, in other words, and they will come, thinking it’s a beach.
But the Cape is worth thinking about. You could say it’s the beginning and the end of the American Dream, because it’s where the Pilgrims landed—they got as far as Truro in exploring places to establish a permanent settlement, before they decided on Plymouth—and, three centuries later, it’s where we go to escape the Protestant work ethic.
The Cape is all scrub pines and scrawny maples and the voracious ground cover that 19th-century inhabitants called “false heather” or “poverty grass” (Hudsonia Tormentosa). From Eastham to Provincetown, you’re always crowded by these crabbed, man-made woods, no matter what path you’re walking or which state highway you’re driving.
The smell and the sound of pine trees surround your every other sensation. Now when the wind blows hard you won’t hear the fluted slow motion of oak leaves or the speckled, papery flutter of the maples, instead you’ll hear the constant whirring of pine needles, a stirring, breathing murmur like a church organ played with a heavy left hand, so even on a bright hot summer day trudging back from the beach you’ll think of winter, because you’ll remember that in January the other trees are silently moving their bare weathered limbs, and only the tall pines can still make any sound.
Recall what Henry David Thoreau said about the outer Cape after patrolling it in 1849 for any signs of the beautiful or the sublime and coming up empty: “After arranging to lodge at the [Highland] light-house [in Truro, built 1794], we rambled across the Cape to the Bay, over a singularly bleak and barren-looking country. . . . Above the sand, if the surface is subjected to agricultural tests, there is found to be a thin layer of soil gradually diminishing from Barnstable to Truro, where it ceases. . . . The barren aspect of the land would hardly be believed if described.”
I like the part about where the soil ceases, because that’s where I stayed, at the end of this earth, in Truro. Thoreau was quite pointed about the emptiness of the terrain, and he understood that emptiness as the absence of the trees that might have stabilized the barren plain he surveyed: “The trees were, if possible, rarer than the houses, excepting apple-trees.” Those rare trees were huddled against the scouring wind on the lee side of the dunes, like everything else he noticed out here on this pock-marked landscape—he described tiny orchards where the trees were three feet high, spreading to eight or nine feet wide, yielding stunted fruit in unpredictable spurts.
When in 1883 Shebnah Rich came to write his intimate genealogy of Truro—his family settled here in the 17th-century, he was the third generation descendent of sailors and slavers—he paid repeated homage to Thoreau’s earlier account, Cape Cod, which was published in part by Putnam’s Monthly in 1855, and finally issued as a book in 1865. This homage was a daring move for a town father, because Thoreau’s astonished emphasis on the sere waste of the outer Cape had offended its literate residents.
But Rich welcomed that emphasis as an argument for an influx of foreign capital, as if he were the publicist for an underdeveloped country rather than the governor of a Caribbean island overwhelmed by natural disaster. On his own sandy “island,” the principles of political economy would be established insofar as commerce intruded from a world elsewhere, and made modern civilization available—but first, Rich insisted, repair the land, first mend the soil. Plant pine trees.
Shebnah Rich’s family still dominates the landscape of Truro, and not just because his pine trees intrude on every space and all your senses. If you walk through the cemeteries here—there are six in the township, and I know this because the Rich Family Association published a Guide to them—you’ll find that about 10 percent of the markers, mostly stark monoliths bleached white or still black, are engraved with his surname. One whole quarter section of the Old North Cemetery off State Highway 6 was reserved just for Shebnah Rich’s family.
Indeed if you came to this end of the Cape with fresh eyes, no preconceptions, you’d have to conclude that the basic industries here are churches, cemeteries, and beaches: in other words, the re-creation of life in pointless, unproductive enterprise. It wasn’t always so. Once upon a time, there were fisheries and salt works, cattle fed on the hay grown in the marshes, truck farming for the growing populations of Provincetown and Barnstable. Now there are only tourists like me, who go out of our way to attend the churches and visit the cemeteries and colonize the beaches. The most strenuous and productive activity of the day is taking a walk or lighting the grill or vacuuming for sand, and each is a kind of foreplay.
But this is a comforting thought. “For the construction of a church is not a profitable use of the available labor,” as Georges Bataille, the renegade existentialist and part-time pornographer, insisted in The Accursed Share (1967), “but rather its consumption, the destruction of its utility.” The same goes for any cemetery.
As such, the sacred—the commemoration of the dead, who are never absent—always remains as an alternative to the profane for the same reason it remains as a rebuke to the parsimonious among us: intimacy, with oneself as with another, requires expenditure, loss, even sacrifice of both economic and emotional resources.
You can’t love yourself or your neighbor if you’re too intent on knowing God, too intent on the next life, as any number of Protestant divines insisted while objecting to the Catholic idea of “good works.” Those Pilgrims were never as puritanical as they seemed. Walt Whitman stood as heir apparent to their perversely secular legacy when he asked, “Why should I love God better than this day?”
So conceived, as the purposeful destruction of utility, the basic industries of Cape Cod are the perfect ending of the American Dream. “All sands are here called ‘beaches,’” Thoreau observed, “whether they are waves of water or of air, that dash against them.” And all roads lead to the Meeting House, where the monthly church picnics convene after services on the grounds of the adjacent cemetery, when the congregants are treading on hope, not sorrow, even if they pay attention to the pathetic inscriptions on these upright markers.
My Jewish girlfriend insisted we go to church on Sunday, July 31st, 2012, at the First Congregational Parish of Truro, founded 1709, moved to its present location in 1826. So we did, we walked the half mile and found the remnants of Christianity we expected: a mere fourteen others in attendance, almost all women, median age of about 70, and three of these women were official participants in the off-key music of the service.
Still, the austerity of the interior design was shocking, even to me, who grew up Methodist and so could later take Lewis Mumford and Max Weber for granted on the severe visual styles of Protestantism: when it’s just you and the Lord, just the Word, adornment of any kind is not only unnecessary, it’s unseemly. But the plain wooden crucifix above the altar—actually, it was just a raised platform with a simple rail—was so small, so minimal, that it was mesmerizing.
The sermon was also plain, small, and minimal, as delivered painstakingly by the Reverend Dr. Ronald Sloan, long since from Princeton Theological. He could barely get himself off the pastor’s chair behind the pulpit, beneath that crucifix, and limped slowly to his thankless task (how would you like to lecture sixteen students from a raised platform?). But there was re-creation in it.
The text was Matthew 14: 13-21, the moment of the Sermon on the Mount. The Reverend Sloan never got around to the content of this sermon, probably because the biblical grounding didn’t allow it, but I like to think that his reasons were more complicated and devious—it was July 31st, just before the two parties got together on a budget deal in Washington, when all sides were advocating savage cuts to “entitlements” as the condition of any “reasonable” discussion, and thus were disavowing the central principle of early Christianity, the criterion of need (“from each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs”).
Reverend Sloan reminded us that it’s easy to forget God, and your neighbor, in the midst of plenty. He invoked starvation in East Africa, but he also wondered why so many children go hungry here in the United States. He insisted that the real issue before us is the just distribution—his words—of this world’s goods, and, as illustration, he kept counting the loaves and fishes available to the host gathered by Matthew’s gospel before the doomed rabbi cast his spell. “Jesus shows us there’s always enough,” the Reverend said, “if we know how to share.”
It was an almost empty church. Still, the preacher’s weary voice carried beyond this space. It was amplified by the song he chose from the Pilgrim Hymnal to close the service, # 436, “O God of Earth and Altar.” I stood and sang the hymn like everybody else, an octave lower than normal so that nobody could hear me, but my voice broke anyway when we got to the verse that included these lines: “Our earthly rulers falter, Our people live and die/ The walls of gold entomb us, These swords of scorn divide.”
Just then, in a space so stripped of ornament that it could have served as a small business conference center, I understood the extravagance of the occasion. I had stopped thinking about food and sex, being in church will tend to do that, but it occurred to me that the third fundamental reality which now obtruded—the constant presence of the dead—was no less destructive of utility than the others, and therefore no less important to the living.
Bataille was right about the insane excess of the sacred, I decided, so he was right about the implicit agenda of the cemeteries as well as the churches. In this place, once a wasteland and now a vacation resort, they serve the same purpose as the beaches.
This is the kind of thinking the Silicon Valley/venture capitalist types are doing. I like the way the guy connects the robotic displacement of workers with the impending reconstruction of international relations. Not that he's right about the connection, just that the end of work changes everything, from the social composition of small towns to the content of diplomacy.
About Chapo Trap House, yet again, let me note that I didn't like Episode 106, either, even though my book was a topic of respectful discussion. The conversation foundered on UBI on that occasion as well. I wrote about it here on May 14 and 15.
I've been rethinking my attitude toward Chapo Trap House in light of the comments on my mea culpa (below). My fundamental objection to their humor is formal, in every sense. As satire, it produces cynicism, thus abstention and release from the world as it exists. It precludes engagement with the issues at hand by protecting us from the corruptions of that world. To that extent, the happy stupidity of their humor is a religious impulse--an urge to ignore this world in favor of the next. To the same extent, it's not comedy they're peddling, it's tragedy. Go figure.
Chapo Trap House is hip, so it must follow that it's smart and funny as well, right? No fucking way. These bozos just interviewed one of their fellow clowns about the politics of a UBI, and decided that it's just "not antagonistic to capitalism" because the Silicon Valley types are for it. I have never endured a more dense barrage of bullshit since I was a sophomore in college, in a dorm room, in a drunken stupor. "I love the Soviet model," one of them chirped toward the end. Good Christ, what year is it?
Been writing about public education as ordered by a magazine editor, finding out things I didn't want to know. There's that recent Pew Research Poll, for example, showing that 58% of Republicans now say that higher education has a negative impact on American life. (85% of Republicans also approve of Trump, and see the negative impact of the media at the same rate.)
An earlier Pew Poll on the state of the job market is even more worrisome. Only 16% of Americans think that a four-year degree "prepared students very well for a well-paying job in today's economy," while 50% of them think that this is what higher education is for: to "teach job-related skills."
So, higher education exists to service a job market that is broken beyond repair. Higher education is itself breaking down under the weight of budget cuts, adjunct hiring, STEM obsessions--ugh--and the loss of faith in anything we might call the life of the mind. Welcome to my dystopia, motherfuckers.
Imagine my belated surprise as I read Harrison Fluss’s tribute to Hegel, published on Bastille Day in Jacobin, of all places. Here’s a guy who enlists Hegel to defend the Terror installed by Robespierre, and who, in doing so, invokes a notion of “rational tyranny” which bears a striking resemblance to Lenin’s dictatorship of the proletariat. Here's a guy who reminds me of the right-Hegelians who read The Philosophy of Right as a rationale for the Prussian state. But he claims left-Hegelian credentials by citing Bruno Bauer and, of course, Karl Marx. What’s next? Howard Roark, the missing Jacobin?
"The indictment that hangs over society is that of 'exploiting labor.' If this charge were proved, every right-minded man should become a socialist."
That’s from the preface to The Distribution of Wealth, John Bates Clark's masterpiece of 1899, where the author raised the key social issue of his day and offered his theory of marginal productivity as a way to address it. I hold no brief for marginalism, but I do admire Clark's theoretical engagement.
Don't get me wrong, I got no theories. But the indictment that hangs over imperialism is that of mere exploitation. Dependency and world systems types converge on the idea that empire is a zero-sum game, through which developmental possibilities are actually destroyed by the relation between advanced capitalist nation-states and backward areas of the world—between core and periphery.
If they're right, let us follow Clark’s exhortative example, every right-minded one of us should become an anti-imperialist and more, a socialist dedicated to the annihilation of capitalism. Are they right? I doubt it. I guess that makes me a socialist who wonders what to do about capitalism, and meanwhile thinks about imperialism as a possibly developmental device.
It's hard to make the case. Direct investment (as against portfolio holdings of government consuls) wasn't the crucial dimension of imperialism, in theory or practice, until the 1890s. Trade was. That’s why colonies and “spheres of influence” were so important. When investment superseded trade as the currency of Empire, everything changed.
It’s all still changing. The “transfer of technology” hasn’t stopped since we got over the European civil war of 1914-1945. How has that worked out, for host countries and the sources of surplus capital?
But goddamn it, either it’s an empirical question—this question of imperialism—or it’s a religious question, a doctrinal issue. It is of this world or the next. "If this charge were proved . . . ."
Nicholas Kristof (Times) and John Podhoretz (Post) have today used the same word, "disgraceful," to describe the June 2016 behavior of Donald Trump, Jr., when he was offered information from the Russian government that would damage Hillary Clinton's electoral prospects and improve his father's. What do you suppose this extremely unlikely consensus means? Cover for Daddy? Cut Junior loose, let the Larger roam his new global pasture? Or?
Memo on G-20. Donald Trump is a departure from American traditions in many ways, of course, whether liberal or conservative, but his obsession with trade and his willingness to remove the US from multilateral agreements, institutions, and sensibilities strike me as peculiarly ignorant and dangerous.
The American Empire is nothing to brag about, but its inventors, ca. 1898-1948, did improve on the imperialisms of the past by assuming that colonialism was merely, or mostly, destructive. Tariffs, protectionism, spheres of influence, and trade war led directly to real war, as the evidence of the period 1894-1945 demonstrated in blood.
Enough already with that, the Americans said, let's dismantle all barriers to the movement of finished goods and capital investment. In this way, the VOLUME of world income will grow faster, so that no nation will have to increase its SHARE of world income at the expense of another. No more colonies = no more trade wars = no more war.
I know, it sounds naive. But again, it was an improvement on past imperialisms, because it refused a military definition of world power, it insisted on the integrity of national sovereignties, and it replaced racial hierarchies with stages of economic development in periodizing civilization as such.
The Americans also said that trade was far less important than investment in the grand scheme of things imperial. Surplus capital was the big problem. So bilateral agreements on trade were not the means to the end of an open door world. Moreover, the imperial hegemon, soon to be the USA, would have to run trade deficits to balance the world's accounts, as witness the UK's global economic function in the 19th century.
Everything Trump says about trade, tariffs, sovereignty, and military power betrays a profound ignorance of these issues. Well, duh. He's ignorant of every goddamn thing. But so are his advisers, his Secretary of State, for example. This is new. Not even George W. Bush was that sealed off from the past, from American traditions, to the point of idiocy.
Doug Henwood calls the new piece in NY Mag "climate change porn"--you know, like, the eschaton is already upon us, so we might as well curl up and binge-watch whatever Netflix is streaming. Pass the doughnuts.
Me, I think David Wallace-Wells is telling us something else altogether, and of course it's quite disturbing, but also galvanizing: the entirety of history, the past as such, is now on display in the physical, measurable fractures of climate change.
We don't have to periodize anymore, as if the world is an abstraction. We can see all of it in "real time," as we now say. And because we can see it, we can act upon it.
It reminds me, perversely, of the Harlem Renaissance. Imagine that you're a young black intellectual standing at the corner of 125th Street and Lenox Avenue, and it's, say, 1926. Pretend you're Langston Hughes, or Countee Cullen, or Zora Neale Hurston. The whole history of your people is passing you on the sidewalk. That recent arrival from Alabama, he's not much more than a peasant whose parents were slaves. But then you turn and you greet W. E. B. Du Bois, and you realize that your people are the omni-Americans, who now comprehend every function of modern society, from the fields to the factories to the magazines, maybe even the local office of The Crisis.
Imagine how that would feel. That's how I'm feeling about climate change courtesy of David Wallace-Wells. The compression of what we call the past has now become what we frame in narrative retrospect as History. It's become mere reality. Time zones in any and every sense have lost their meaning.
OK, before I get too carried way, here's the passage from David Wallace-Wells that set me off:
"Humans used to watch the weather to prophesy the future; going forward, we will see in its wrath the vengeance of the past. Early naturalists talked often about “deep time” — the perception they had, contemplating the grandeur of this valley or that rock basin, of the profound slowness of nature. What lies in store for us is more like what the Victorian anthropologists identified as “dreamtime,” or “everywhen”: the semi-mythical experience, described by Aboriginal Australians, of encountering, in the present moment, an out-of-time past, when ancestors, heroes, and demigods crowded an epic stage. You can find it already watching footage of an iceberg collapsing into the sea — a feeling of history happening all at once."
I don't know whether to dance ot go blind when I see this gracious response from Angela Nagle to my review of her important, indispensable book. Is that the Irish in me? Let's hope.
She says: "Loads of criticisms of the book in here but all good ones. I had all these fights with myself while writing it so part of me agrees with all of these points."
See posts below for the review.
Visiting Bruce Robbins and Elsa Stamatopoulou in lovely Psari, Greece. Bruce prepared stuffed intestines for lunch after extensive tutelage by a village elder. James Livingston to Bruce: “Intestines of what exactly?” while digging into his second helping. Bruce smiled Shirley Jacksonishly. Funny, the previous visitors haven’t been heard from lately.
Then some goats wandered by.
The acoustics of a place will tell you a lot about where you are. I’m sitting on the veranda of a stone cottage in Psari, halfway up the green mountains that guard the fertile plains of the Peloponnese. Most people would say I have a breathtaking view from here, and I do—these hulking, rounded shoulders have shrugged off everything, from the Mycenaeans to the Nazis, and so they deserve our photographic affection. But for now, I’m more interested in the sounds of this place.
What can I hear? Dogs barking frantically down the valley, probably herding sheep. Goats trundling across the street, on the way to milking, the murmur of the shepherd a bass line that underwrites the ringing bell on the lead. Children shrieking, plates rattling, mothers and fathers quarreling, cooking, coughing, and laughing as the evening settles in. Tractors on their way from smoothing the currant fields, cars changing gears on the road that runs through Psari just above the stone cottage, chain saws roaring and screaming according to their particular usage, on wood or brush. A basketball dribbled badly, a rooster crowing tardily.
Metal gates opening and closing, wooden doors sliding, as the inhabitants of the alley below pass back and forth, exchanging fruits and vegetables and gossip before dinner. Honest anger in a language I don’t comprehend, neighbor to neighbor. Hammers falling on nails, bicycle tires humming on the tarmac. Metal chimney spouts whirring above these ceramic tiles, announcing the interior modernity of modest dwellings. Leaves rustling discreetly as the wind rises and falls, birds chirping, but only occasionally, they need some rest. Flies buzzing, they never rest, anyway. My own breathing suddenly seems loud. Then, finally, Orthodox prayers broadcast from the big church (one of seven in a village of 385 inhabitants) at the east end of town.
Everything is amplified by the stucco walls and the terracotta roof tiles. I can hear where I am because sounds ricochet here, dying down only gradually. They linger, as the inhabitants tend to do, making every personal encounter a 20-minute discovery of what happened in the previous 24 hours.
Of course it’s a beautiful vista, reminding me of both antiquity and modernity, when those formative wars were fought right here, on these mountains. The sounds of the place have the same effect on me.