|. . . 2013-04-14|
In post-Revolutionary America, slavery seemed antiquated and inefficient and unlikely to extend its reach. Cotton gins and English industrialization renewed its earning potential, and by the time Congress took over administration of the Mississippi Territory, the richest inhabitants owned plantations worked by slaves. And so, like the sensible Obama-and-Bush team members who protected corporate speculators because theirs was America's only thriving industry, and like the sensible doctor who refuses to excise a tumor because it's the only part of your body exhibiting healthy growth, Congress did the sensible thing.
Slavery was available, and so slavery was utilized, and so slavery became a necessity, and so forth and so on until push came to shove. Of course a banner like "Maintain My Position of Power" might not rally the troops, but by then the South's moneyed interests were old hands at shucknjiving:
Discarding elitist pretensions in the early republican era, alert office-seekers from the upper classes had learned to wear their oldest clothes to the hustings, affect rural accents, drink and fraternize with common folk, and fill their speeches with coarse humor and heavy-handed sarcasm in finely calculated appeals to those they ruefully called “the unterrified democracy.” Caldwell was particularly vexed by the prosperous local planter who affected poverty on the stump in order to demonize the prospect of higher taxes. The typical office-seeker in the rural districts, he fumed, was “one of these richer people, with a wagon and plenty of horses, and good houses and barns, and slaves too... and from five hundred to a thousand acres of land.” Despite his prosperity, such a man would claim in public that “he is a poor man.... He drives his own wagon, and has no pretensions to be a gentleman. If rich people want better roads, let them make them for themselves. For his part he has no intention of being taxed to gratify the rich and answer their purposes.”- Harry L. Watson,
"The Man with the Dirty Black Beard: Race, Class, and Schools in the Antebellum South"
Journal of the Early Republic 32.1 (2012)
Populist democracy wasn't created as a capitalist tool, but when populism threatens money it's simple enough for money to take up populism. Simpler to campaign when you don't have to leave a day job, or when you can afford to make it someone else's day job.
Capital found benefits in emancipated Jews; antisemitism put nary a dent in capital. Feminism was mostly pushed by and mostly benefited well-off ladies; you can say pretty much the same for any identity politics, but I guarantee, speaking as someone who's seen before and after and beforagain, you won't strike a blow against The Man by resegregating.
Anything can be abstracted into a token, and any tokens can then be more-or-less randomly shoved around in hope of local maxima. That is what the little algorithms do: they float, fasten, inflate, collapse. But lungs are not mycobacteria's way of making more mycobacteria. We tokens have another life. We are fickle, but we are not as fickle as money: money's ways cannot be ours. It cannot render delightsome what is hateful; neither can it taint a known good.
You and I only saw great movies and heard great music as mediated or influenced by the culture industries, but that doesn't make their creators industrialists and it doesn't cheapen the human value (if you'll pardon the expression) of our boffo laffs or three-hanky tears. You'd rightly feel foolish if you'd convinced yourself you advanced the revolution by preferring one LP to another, but that was clear to anyone with a lick of sense even back in 1977, even back in 1968, even back when the very best class of emigrés soaked achin' feet in a seltzer bath of Schoenberg. Alienation will not liberate you; alienation will be sold back to your budget-starved library in $80 academic press editions. As the poet sang, "Hold on to what you got, don't let it go." What you got wasn't trickled down from any incontinent old prick, and our love is not beholden.
All of which isn't news but's easy to forget in the recurrent flush of disappointment. Since the first Bush administration, in the heyday of cyberpunk's hurts-so-good technophilia, I've taken comfort in the formula above. I offer it in hope it might find use on your own block of funky, funky Broadway.
Lawrence White alerts us:
"Bo Diddley Is a Communist"
That is always the responsorial that goes through my head, & for once it's appropriate.
If I were a useful member of society I would transfer my scratchy copy of Vermin of the Blues to mp3 & download it on YouTube. That way other people could use it as they see fit, to fill in the bare patches in their mental collage.
Dr. Shpamböt proclaims:
You can definitely see your skills in the article you write. The arena hopes for more passionate writers like you who are not afraid to say how they believe. All the time go after your heart.
Thank you, Dr. S. That means a lot coming from you.
|. . . 2013-04-07|
W. lived in a small ugly city whose night life was distinguished by the emptying of a nearby insane asylum. He prepared cuisine classique a few times a year but otherwise subsisted on fast food followed by scotch and a cigar. Once, when I'd been totting up the come-hithers and stay-thences of a mutual friend, W. told me, "Just fuck her." It remains the only time I've heard the word hissed.
My problem was lack of faith, W. told me in spring of 1991. I still thought I might find a way to be happier. I had not fully learned my place. We are miserable and meant to be, said W.
We stopped speaking after I moved to California. It was one of those close friendships which last only until someone does something.
Like that of Hester Lynch Thrale and Frances Burney: my fellow blitherer Thrale, raised as a child star and hoping to raise child stars, very much the little boy's dog sitting up and begging to divert a company, compulsively open and rawly needy, trapped in a world without Facebook —
— and Burney, a born writer: the "little dolt" of the family, slow to speak, slow to read, kept at home; flattened between the good-cop of her conniving father and bad-cop of her bristling stepmother; shy, prudish — refusing to open anything titled Les liaisons dangereuses, dropping Werther when she discerned its "evident tendency," shuddering at the touch of her disgraced stepsister — clueless and scarily observant:
He was frightened out of his Wits, at me, he said, lest he should do any thing improper! [...] This always much vexes me, but I know not how to conquer so unfair a prejudice, while I never can get sight of these folks, except through an opera-Glass!—In which way they most assiduously view me in return, whenever I am in Mrs. Fitzgerald's Box.
In 1781 Thrale predicted "we will be Friends these forty Years." In retrospect they look doomed from the start (but what doesn't?). Freed from a loveless marriage which had surrounded her with loveless children, facing the first mutual attraction of her life, Thrale very naturally threw herself in, even if poor Signor Piozzi might as well have been Mount Stromboli so far as friends, family, and press were concerned.
Burney's disapproval did more harm to herself than to its target. Hester Lynch Thrale had been her closest female friend and her first female mentor. Samuel Crisp, her emotional support since childhood, died the year before Mrs. Thrale's re-marriage; Samuel Johnson died five months after. Aside from an increasingly preoccupied sister, Burney was left only the ultra-respectable role model of her post-Cecilia acquaintance Mary Delany. Through her, and to the gratification of her father's snobbery, Burney was locked into the anti-intellectual isolation ward of George III's court for six years. When Burney made her own completely unsuitable marriage to a penniless Catholic, Mrs. Thrale was a decade in the past.
What interests me most about the story, though, isn't in the story. It's in the way the story's source material stays not-a-story. The living friendship was face-to-face; we can't share its excitement or comfort. But Thraliana and Burney's letters convey its death more vividly than any novel or biography could: a slog through hints, asides, petty annoyances and vehement pledges, apologies and ambiguous backchat and tiresome melodrama and well-meant betrayals and unexplained gaps, and a trailing train of increasingly relaxed wish-her-wells...
In the presence of a narrator, that sort of pacing would seem undisciplined and pointlessly arbitrary. Endurance tests like La maman et la putain come close, but the experience is best communicated through remnants of the process itself.
|. . . 2013-04-04|
Iyer doesn't just revise his prose. He polishes: smooth as a baby's bottom; clear as Coors; slick as Swingle Singers Go Bernhard. Boing Boing being potholed by jargon and brand names, Spurious always made the fastest drop-in on my blog stroll.
Nothing gladdens reviewers more than opining at length about something they sped-read.
|. . . 2013-04-02|
|. . . 2013-03-31|
There are two pictures of Venice side by side in the house where I am writing this, a Canaletto that has little but careful drawing and a not very emotional pleasure in clean bright air, and a Franz Francken, where the blue water, that in the other stirs one so little, can make one long to plunge into the green depth where a cloud shadow falls.- William Butler Yeats, Discoveries
Her new Novel called Cecilia is the Picture of Life such as the Author sees it: while therefore this Mode of Life lasts, her Book will be of value, as the Representation is astonishingly perfect: but as nothing in the Book is derived from Study, so it can have no Principle of duration — Burney’s Cecilia is to Richardson’s Clarrisa — what a Camera Obscura in the Window of a London parlour,— is to a view of Venice by the clear Pencil of Cannaletti.- Hester Thrale, c. 1782, Thraliana,
extracted from that mammoth lump of flarf
by Burney editors Troide & Cooke
As always, Thrale's of her time. And at that time objection was most often made to Cecilia's untraditionally mixed conclusion, defended by Burney as naturalism:
With respect, however, to the great point of Cecilia's fortune, I have much to urge in my own defence, only now I can spare no time, & I must frankly confess I shall think I have rather written a farce than a serious history, if the whole is to end, like the hack Italian operas, with a jolly chorus that makes all parties good & all parties happy! [...] Besides, I think the Book, in its present conclusion, somewhat original, for the Hero & Heroine are neither plunged in the depths of misery, nor exalted to unhuman happiness,—Is not such a middle state more natural? more according to real life, & less resembling every other book of fiction?
[Edmund Burke] wished the conclusion either more happy or more miserable: ‘for in a work of imagination, said he, there is no medium.’ I was not easy enough to answer him, or I have much, though perhaps not good for much, to say in defence of following Life & Nature as much in the conclusion as in the progress of a Tale; & when is Life & Nature completely happy or miserable?
A taste for what is permanent would prove as transient as any other taste, and a century after Thrale's bon mot, even Cecilia wasn't real enough to satisfy:
Fanny’s Diaries are now much more studied than her novels. Few of us would wish to exchange the journal of her life at Court for another fiction from her pen.- Leonard Benton Seeley, Fanny Burney and Her Friends:
Select Passages from Her Diary and Other Writings (1892)
|. . . before . . .||. . . after . . .|
Copyright to contributed work and quoted correspondence remains with the original authors.
Public domain work remains in the public domain.
All other material: Copyright 2013 Ray Davis.