Fernando Báez has a fixation with books. This comes through in the introduction to A Universal History of the Destruction of Books, his account of the ways books have been destroyed throughout the globe, when he relates an anecdote from his childhood about a flood that destroyed the library in his town, the “object of his curiousity.” “Sometimes, on the nights that followed, I dreamt Stevenson’s Treasure Island sank, while one of Shakespeare’s plays floated,” he writes, continuing, “I never got over that terrible experience.”
Last month, or the one before that, John Lanchester did a podcast on Marx for the London Review of Books. Presumably this is an effort to generate a bit of buzz for Lanchester’s new novel, Capital. From the title of the new novel alone, we can assume that there’s not a little that Lanchester owes old, dead Karl. LRBran the piece, and it really is execrable: self-contradicting and riddled with glaring errors. I’m not sure how this happened: there are a lot of commentators on Marx who could say something intelligent about his work and legacy, maybe even go so far as to speculate on what method he would take today. This is not that. It is just bad.
Stumbled across an interested series of posts (first one here) on the history of English food written by Rachel Laudan. Laudan is writing in response to an old blogpost by Paul Krugman, written in 1998, that used English food’s putative crappiness to demonstrate the bad equilibrium thesis. Essentially, the thinking is that a free market can get caught in a “bad equilibrium” where only bad goods are supplied because decent ones have never been available, and hence generate no demand. This applies to English food, Krugman assumes, because England’s early industrialization and urbanization caused the English to be exposed only to the poor-quality, mass-produced foods that industry can muster to satiate an urban populace. Hence, because the English had never tasted good food, they never demanded good food, and in the absence of a compelling demand, suppliers produced only bad food, and so the English only bought bad food. Vicious circle.
Midwinter spring is a strange season. The city is not so cold, but the air is still very dry. It parches the lining of my nostrils, causing me quaking headaches. At night, the radiator hisses wake me and I listen for the scanty distant sounds of tires on the roadtops. There are desperate thoughts in some of these times, and they drive a bit of writing in scraping, broken, inky passages over the pages of journals I’m in the habit of keeping for longer than I recognize the person who wrote them. Surprisingly, for me, anyway, the city is no longer looming so large in my future. That aching sense of it, and the way it and its demands cripple possibilities, has receded. Older, dirtier wants begin to erode images of perpetually jostling life here. The sound of the sea plays soundtrack to this, gradually overcoming carsounds. The canopy of a forest, evergreens, deciduous, gradually asserts its silhouette over that of a borough street. This fickleness is calming, in a way, and makes me aware of my desires’ mutual, shared nature.
The French gastronome Brillat-Savarin began “The Physiology of Taste” (1825) by declaring, “Tell me what you eat, and I will tell you what you are.” You are also what you read — or, perhaps, what you own.
So Leah Price writes in an article in the Times. You are what you own: ah yes, books — notice your book-reading identity relies not so much on consuming books by reading them as it does on by doing so with your money — and what they show about your personality. Checking out someone’s bookshelf for a peak into their fealties, political beliefs, taste, and, of course, spending habits, seems so self-evident that it is a strange realization that it wasn’t always something that people did.
For our day, we went to see the Cattelan show at the Guggenheim. When we arrived, the museum seemed to be very crowded: a line of people had queued up, waiting to get in, and I thought, “Well, I bet it was even more crowded during the free day.” But we waited, patientlike, with tourists and old people. “Is this the line?” “Unless you’re a member.” The crowds were denser inside. We concurred that it was a “madhouse.”
Tomorrow morning will be a definitive moment for the occupation in Liberty Plaza. Broomberg will have succeeded or not. I hope it goes well, that the occupiers can hold their ground, that the police — really, the white-shirted thugs who seem to enjoy clubbing and macing people — do not get out of hand. But we’ll see. No matter what happens with the occupation of the park, I also hope that the nascent movement survives the night and continues to serve as a magnet for disaffection. Because that’s what it is doing: drawing incoherent discontent into media discourse, drawing physical bodies together so that people can learn to organize and relate politically, drawing strangers’ conversations back the occupation’s motivations, goals, and effects. I’ve had a lot of those conversations the last several weeks. Here are some vignettes.
There’s a point, around 6:15 or so, where the discussion turns to ways that unions can reshape some of the tactics of striking. It concerns public sector workers, like nurses or garbage handlers; instead of striking, for instance, nurses could bring in more people and demonstrate how things would look and work if there were adequate funding for adequate staff. That’s a fine suggestion. But me, I like the second idea, which is instead of simply letting trash sit on the street everywhere, garbage handlers let it sit and stink only in specific neighborhoods. Or pick it all up and drop it off in specific locations. Whether or not that would be as effective is hard to say.
The change of tactics indicates a change in the conception of the goal of the strike. Not merely more wages, or whatever (quite important things). But using the actual form of what is done as a strike action to encapsulate some characteristics of the sort of society the strike would like to bring about.
And, of course, dumping trash on the lawns of the rich’s megamansions. That, that I like.
I live in New York and sometimes write things here.
One is prepared for friendship, not for friends. And sometimes not even for friendship, but at least we try: usually we flail in the darkness, a darkness that’s not foreign to us, a darkness that comes from inside us and meshes with a purely external reality, with the darkness of certain gestures, certain shadows that we once thought were familiar and that in fact are as strange as a dinosaur. — Roberto Bolaño, Between Parentheses, p. 135