Thursday, January 31, 2013

"Let us get there rather earlier, while there are still refusals we can make."

This is from a letter Samuel Beckett wrote to Georges Duthuit on August 2, 1948, collected in The Letters of Samuel Beckett, 1941-1956:
Here I have difficulty in believing that it has ever happened to me, that it may happen again, to write. In the old days, I used to make up for that, used to rejoice in it if you like, by talking in abundance, in this city of abundant talkers. Not these days. But you do have to see the two or three who are fond of you, and that you are probably fond of too, faithfully. "Ange plein de beauté connaissez-vous les rides, Et la peur de vieillir et ce hideux tourment, De lire. . .?" [Baudelaire, Les Fleurs du Mal: "Fair as you are, what could you know of fear - /The fear of ageing and the unspeakable pain . . ." in the Richard Howard translation provided by the editors, but see also several others here.] The lines that matter are those one forgets. The others one quotes easily and incorrectly. And so again the other evening great firing-off of knowledge, Neoplatonic academy, Masaccio, Foppa, Michelangelo dead and Galileo born the same year, and that old warhorse the Giorgionism of our times, of their times. And understood, overstood, this Pickwick of a Christ who died for the hard men and the executioners. Do you know the cry common to those in purgatory? Io fui. [Dante: "I was."] I went with my mother to church last Sunday, a distant church, so that she could find the pillar behind which my father would  hide his noddings-off, in the evening, his physical restlessness, his portly man's refusal to kneel. […] The weather is fine, I walk along my old paths, I keep watching my mother's eyes, never so blue, so stupefied, so heartrending, eyes of an endless childhood, that of old age. Let us get there rather earlier, while there are still refusals we can make. I think these are the first eyes I have seen. I have no wish to see any others, I have all I need for loving and weeping, I know now what is going to close, and open inside me, but without seeing anything, there is no more seeing.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Top Economists at Work

This is another one from the draft folder. I'm not sure what else I'd planned to do with it, as it looks more or less finished. No doubt I expected I'd pedantically go on about economists not understanding capitalism or the state, but it probably speaks for itself as is.

The Guardian ran an article the other day last year reporting that "top economists" are urging that the work-week be reduced to 20 hours a week, and the remaining work shared. The article is quite comical. Behold:
A thinktank, the New Economics Foundation (NEF), which has organised the event with the Centre for Analysis of Social Exclusion at the London School of Economics, argues that if everyone worked fewer hours – say, 20 or so a week – there would be more jobs to go round, employees could spend more time with their families and energy-hungry excess consumption would be curbed. Anna Coote, of NEF, said: "There's a great disequilibrium between people who have got too much paid work, and those who have got too little or none."
No doubt! Oddly, the article says nothing about whether those now working too much will have the same income as they currently do, or, if not, how they'd pay their bills. Weird.
Many economists once believed that as technology improved, boosting workers' productivity, people would choose to bank these benefits by working fewer hours and enjoying more leisure. Instead, working hours have got longer in many countries. The UK has the longest working week of any major European economy. Skidelsky says politicians and economists need to think less about the pursuit of growth. "The real question for welfare today is not the GDP growth rate, but how income is divided."
These two paragraphs say quite a lot about economists' capacity for not knowing what the fuck they're talking about.

"The change in people has to be made by the people themselves."

Among the excellent political books I read last year was Revolution and Evolution in the Twentieth Century, by James and Grace Lee Boggs, published in 1974. I had intended to write much more about the book than I did, and may still, but in the interest of clearing out my draft folder, allow me to share with you this passage from the chapter on Mao and the Chinese Revolution:
Many radicals, consciously ignoring the profound questions raised by Lenin after the Russian Revolution*, still believe that all one has to do is eliminate oppressive institutions with one audacious blow and the oppressed masses will automatically change. Many people continue to believe that human behavior is completely determined by objective conditions. [...] Institutions which promote hierarchy and exploitation must be eliminated, but institutions are not rubbed out like marks on a blackboard. The oppressed are an integral part of the system which oppresses them, unless they break loose from that system. Therefore until they begin to change themselves, i.e., to become self-determining rather than determined, they cannot get rid of oppressive institutions. Moreover, eliminating oppressive institutions only provides the external conditions for the transformation of people; it does not guarantee that people will change. The change in people has to be made by the people themselves.
(*The Boggses were neither Leninists nor Maoists, but they took the revolutions seriously, and took seriously the problems they encountered. In one of my three posts on the book last year, I said that "they are primarily interested in discussing the ways in which those movements, and their leaders, posed questions about the specific problems they faced, how they responded to failures, how positions were debated and decided on, how each different revolution went beyond the ones that came before, learning and teaching new lessons, and so on." Indeed, their discussions of four 20th century revolutions make for fascinating and, in my view, invaluable reading. Add in their brilliant discussion of American history, in particular the corrosive effects of the American tradition of compromise, and you have a volume very much worth serious attention.)

Saturday, January 05, 2013

Noted: Pascal Quignard

From Pascal Quignard's The Roving Shadows (translation from the French by Chris Turner), chapter 5, page 19:
Whereas in the life that preceded daylight we were merely a passionate sense of hearing, we become, through birth, producers of sound.

Once we forsake sounds, once we neglect the injunction and the ear, once we break down everything into letters, we disobey.

Emerging into the light, choking in the air, we can raise our eyelids and see, we can lower our eyelids and interrupt our sight, we can breathe, we can expel through our mouths the language our mothers' mouths imperceptibly put into them.

Friday, January 04, 2013

Inappropriate writing

My last post, the Josipovici excerpt, occurred to me last night. I read the story last night—actually, I read it over two nights, though it is not a long story, not at all (it is a short story)—but I read the passage last night, and it immediately spoke to me as relevant. I wanted to share it, though few would know why, though I'm not prepared to say why, not wanting to, not sure why. But I finished the story, then soon went to sleep, feeling I would type out the passage this morning and publish it. Thinking this, feeling this, felt like a distancing, itself a literature, not true, if not necessarily false. Calculating that I would share a particular passage in twelve hours time, not immediately. Though even immediately would not have been immediate. I'd have had to risen from bed, walked downstairs, sat down, propped up the book so that it would not close, and type out each word, accurately, carefully, being sure to preserve non-American spellings in the face of overly helpful auto-corrections. Distance. Time. Sleeping on it, going about my morning, taking care of errands, breakfast, cleanup, dressing, school drop-off, return. Then sitting down, propping up the book, typing. Publish. Distance. Literature. Writing, even if not my own. Not my own. My own being so inadequate, I hide behind another's. And even these words of my own, especially these words, like all of the others. Distance. Flatness. Words. Selection. Editing. Writing. Inappropriate? Why?

Noted: Gabriel Josipovici

The following is from Gabriel Josipovici's story, "He", collected most recently in Heart's Wings:
He felt, obscurely, that what was needed was a ceremonious, ritualised piece, in which the personal would gradually be extinguished and reality—the reality of death, of his friend, of his own relation to death, to his friend, and to the death of his friend—would gradually emerge. But as soon as he sat down to write he found himself involved in failure and betrayal. What he wanted was to try and make sense of a specific, a unique event, the single irremediable fact of his friend's death. But as soon as he began to write that death turned into literature, another story, well or badly told, as the case might be, but still one story among thousands. Yet what he wanted, why he was writing, was to make himself understand that this was not just another story, that this was final, irrevocable, once and for all. And to say this was not enough. It merely turned the enterprise into a slightly more sophisticated story. He had wanted to use art to honour his friend and instead found himself using his friend's death as a prop for his art.

As so often in his struggle to emerge from the cotton wool of the self into the clearer order of art—for what was art if not a clearer order?—he tried to start with the immediate: with the cloud of anguish and confusion which lay so heavily upon him. But for once a solution failed to emerge. He was trapped in the cotton wool. He could not put a sentence down without questions of style, of selection, of appropriateness, thrusting themselves upon him. He did not want to write more beautifully, more euphoniously, he wanted only to get at the reality of what had happened. But that reality would remain hidden until he found the right words, and each time he rewrote a passage, scratched out a phrase, the futility of the whole business overcame him. More than futility, betrayal.