Tuesday, August 8, 2023

One of the more peculiar changes Bradbury made when he expanded his novella "The Fireman" into Fahrenheit 451 was to have Montag choose Ecclesiastes as his book to preserve in memory rather than, as it originally was, Job. Most of the other alterations are readily explained either by a desire to increase the word count or by the need to soften (so as better to sell) the story's fascism when moving from the readership of the science fiction magazines to a broader audience, but this one is a bit more mysterious. I've long felt that Bradbury decided that Job was too on-the-nose, revealed too much of himself, his own view of himself as long-suffering, subject to unjustified and unfair punishment, and indeed he fully verifies this #take in the "Coda" he wrote for a 1979 reprint of the novel. I was actually a bit deflated when I read this Coda — and the 1982 Afterword that accompanies it in the Del Rey paperback I have — because in them he confirms point-by-point my interpretation of the novel as a Hitlerian rant against the uppity masses and their insistence on having some part to play in culture, to the point where there just is no point in even arguing an interpretation, so what's left for me to do? (Unless of course you wanted to argue that he fails to convey his now inarguably intended point, accidentally writing an anti-fascist pro-people novel, which I suppose you could do, and then I could have the satisfaction of arguing you were very wrong!)

Anyway in this Coda Bradbury anecdotizes receiving a letter from a reader saying she enjoyed his work, but wouldn't it be better if it weren't so misogynistic?, and numerous letters saying wouldn't it be better if it weren't so racist? — "idiots", he calls these letter-writers, to be consigned "to the far reaches of hell". These, he says very straightforwardly and explicitly, are the book-burners he had in mind. (Yes, he says more, including some things which are not quite so loathsome, but this is how he chooses to open.) Which really should come as no surprise to anyone who's read either the novella or the novel, because the book-burner Beatty himself (or Leahy, in the novella; Irish either way, as opposed to "Guy Montag's" potpourri of true Europeanness) makes it very clear for whom he works: "the mass". (And it is enormously conspicuous that the then-extremely-recent Nazi book burnings come in for no mention, explicit or even veiled, at any point in either version: a literary equivalent of Holocaust denial.)

But to return to Bradbury's Coda, this is the context in which he suddenly refers to himself as "Job II" (only the second, mind; apparently there have been no others in the meantime). So it would appear that my hunch that between the writing of the novella and the novel Bradbury decided that putting Job in the story was going too far, saying too much (a decision he'd go back on in his even-more-shameless dotage), was correct. Montag, like his writer Bradbury, "identifies" with Job as one made to suffer unjustly, set upon by misfortune and inane "comforters", all that rightly belongs to him cruelly taken away.

But made to suffer — by whom? "God", when not taken literally by one who believes in Him with a capital H, is a tricky thing. Like everything in class society, it is a creation of class struggle, at any moment reflecting both the current disposition of class forces and the history of how they got there; in particular, and to simplify, it is the expropriation of the working classes' labor and creativity by the ruling classes: His tremendous power and knowledge is nothing but the strength and activity of the mass of the people (and, okay, that of the "natural world" as well), while His authority and demands for obeisance are the mystification of this power, its alienation from the masses by the ruling classes that claim it as their private property.

Very oddly for someone who takes religion per se as seriously as he (who in his Coda also objects to the removal of God from the classroom), Bradbury seems to associate the God of Job exclusively with the masses and their allegedly unjust claims upon their betters. Because who does Job II say is hounding him? The masses. Against whom does Montag protest by reading? The masses, who in the world-turned-upside-down state of affairs in a horrific "dystopian" future — a future Bradbury sees prefigured in the immediately post-WWII world in which fascism appears to have been decisively defeated, by the masses — are, intolerably, in charge.

But can it really be that a Bradbury would associate God exclusively with the villainy of the usurping masses? Surely not, and so we can see that he has after all not made my job as interpreter superfluous. He's still hiding something, obscuring something, confused about something. He's twisted himself up in untenable, contradictory knots.

The Job of the Bible righteously protests against the injustice of, shockingly, God himself — a protest that is resolved, though its righteousness remains intact, by the revealed grandeur and superiority of God when He speaks to him from the whirlwind. There are of course many ways to interpret this, as the uncountable volumes of commentary the book has prompted over the two and a half millennia since some genius wrote it testify. And I highly doubt that Bradbury consciously understood how he himself chose to interpret it — but he did in fact choose an interpretation.

Montag too (and through him Bradbury) "righteously" protests against the injustice of God, in His aspect as the power of the working and oppressed masses. And he maintains this righteousness right through to the end, whether of the novella or of the novel. But the protest is resolved, and in just the same way as Job's: by the revelation of the grandeur and superiority of God — only now in His aspect as the ruling class. And what does Bradbury put in the place of the voice from the whirlwind? None other than the ultimate manifestation of the ruling class's seemingly infinite power: The Bomb, the cleansing fire that will at last sweep away the decadence of the cities, that will first punish and then kill the women and the grotesquely mixed population*, that will put the world turned upside down right again by turning it upside down**, that will reduce all that filth of the masses to ash from which the phoenix that is the ruling class with its refinement and culture will one day rise again.*** The change from Job to the less revealing, more vaguely "appropriate" Ecclesiastes, we can see now, was, like so many other changes, also necessary, even if not consciously so, to tone down the novel's fascism — to make it more palatable to a broad readership less amenable to it than was its original limited audience, thus to be more effective in selling it.


* "Montag, falling flat, going down, saw or felt, or imagined he saw or felt the walls go dark in Millie's face, heard her screaming, because in the millionth part of time left, she saw her own face reflected there, in a mirror instead of a crystal ball, and it was such a wildly empty face, all by itself in the room, touching nothing, starved and eating of itself, that at last she recognized it as her own and looked quickly up at the ceiling as it and the entire structure of the hotel blasted down upon her, carrying her with a million pounds of brick, metal, plaster, and wood, to meet other people in the hives below, all on their quick way down to the cellar where the explosion rid itself of them in its own unreasonable way."

** "He blinked once. And in that instant saw the city, instead of the bombs, in the air. They had displaced each other. For another of those impossible instants the city stood, rebuilt and unrecognizable, taller than it had ever hoped or strived to be, taller than man had built it, erected at last in grouts of shattered concrete and sparkles of torn metal into a mural hung like a reversed avalanche, a million colors, a million oddities, a door where a window should be, a top for a bottom, a side for a back, and then the city rolled over and fell down dead."

*** " 'There was a silly damn bird called a phoenix back before Christ, every few hundred years he built a pyre and burnt himself up. He must have been first cousin to Man. But every time he burnt himself up he sprang out of the ashes, he got himself born all over again. And it looks like we're doing the same thing, over and over, but we've got one damn thing the phoenix never had. We know the damn silly thing we just did. We know all the damn silly things we've done for a thousand years and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, someday we'll stop making the goddamn funeral pyres and jumping in the middle of them.' "

Monday, June 19, 2023

On February 22, 2022 I wrote in a notebook:
Moretti, "Homo Palpitans" (Signs, p119): "The city dweller's life is dominated by a nightmare - a trifling one, to be sure - unknown to other human beings: the terror of 'missing something', and specifically of missing it because of 'getting there too late'." I think this helps clarify how the mobility of the city can turn (be turned) into its opposite: immobility, indecision, inaction, stasis, melancholia, "depression", lockdown - always 'missing it' (and maybe even there's nothing to miss - for you); never "getting there too late" because one never "goes there" (one is perhaps not allowed to go there) at all.

Later (footnote 11, p293): "to 'the rapid telescoping of changing images' one responds with rapidity - of the glance, but especially of life. Precisely because he knows that 'one life is not enough' to do and see everything he wants, the city dweller limits his expectations and makes a continuous and unconscious selection of them." Lockdown, broadly speaking, takes advantage of one of the "logical" conclusions.
Other nightmares less trifling. New Orleans, East Palestine. Death squads policing your movements on New York subways, truck drivers killed to demolish whole portions of major highways. Depleted uranium now en route to the Ukraine. That other Palestine.

On October 7, 2021 I had written:

If I were blogging I would start a post with "At the beginning of 10 Cloverfield Lane the disaster has already occurred," with either "the disaster" or "already occurred" linking to something about Katrina, to then discuss Mary Elizabeth Winstead - the last gentrifier? - fleeing (for, the movie assures us, purely personal reasons) a New Orleans now devoid not only of black people, but people, period.
And I remember now those shots at the beginning emphasizing that hers is the only car on the road, she the only person at the gas station. (Do we even see the worker, peering suspiciously out at her? Now I can't recall.) Why? At that point, because she's broken up with her boyfriend. Only later do the monsters arrive.

Today I've come to Lamentations, which in the King James Version begins:

How doth the city sit solitary, that was full of people! how is she become as a widow!

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

I have two large paintings on my wall that my brother did maybe twenty years ago now. The first is mainly white wash with a tinge of blue at the top, vast cloudy sky, with a little bit of forested mountain landscape at the bottom rising toward the left, with deliberate fake pareidolia effects in the trees - here a stylized christmas tree complete with star on top, there most of the word "help", the outline of a poodle, others - "really there" in the mass of painted trees but done in imitation of how a real mass of trees will look like things that aren't there. To the left, rising up from the mountain well over the treeline, is a catherine wheel, slightly smudged at the edge, possibly by accident but left uncorrected. To the right, behind the mountain, looms perhaps another mountain, but bare, dark gray, of an oddly regular dome shape - or perhaps, given the slight shading, a foreshortened cone. Very high up in the sky, close to the top of the canvas, center-left, misty with distance, is an airplane, possibly a fighter jet. Lower, about medium high, to the right, larger (closer?) is a UFO, a flying saucer.

The second painting, notably but not extremely larger, takes up the gray of the dome/cone and covers the canvas with it. It is in fact a "blowup" of a portion of the first painting revealing, as in a blowup of one of those famous UFO evidence photographs, a hitherto unseen second UFO hovering against the mysterious gray dome/cone. What represented a tree in the first painting's foreground is enlarged and, as we see the graininess in a blown-up detail of a photograph, the "tree" is seen now as a number of disjointed brushstrokes (themselves of course made up of brushstrokes). And in the texture of these blown-up brushstrokes are more hints at faked pareidolia, though less definable here - some figure eights or infinity signs? is that the word "Hi"? maybe the outline of a bird?

It's a witticism of course, a joke, a sort of juvenile (he was very young when he painted them after all) meta-ness, but/and so as to be a kind of commentary or at least call for commentary on evidence and belief and truth. I like having them on my walls because I go back and forth on whether I think they're deep or dumb, and whether I "agree" with them or find them offensive - especially considering I personally hold to be true many things my brother thinks are crazy "conspiracy theories" based on nothing more than blown-up brushstrokes and (perhaps, planted) pareidolia. But they're also a reminder, to think, in general. I also like having them because I like my brother even though he's annoying.

Friday, January 6, 2023

third notes on reading, 2022

Donald Francis Tovey:
But the caution which seems so obvious to us was not noticed by his contemporary critics. We may leave out of account the oft-quoted fact that several Viennese musicians objected to his beginning his introduction with chords foreign to the key; such objectors were pedants miserably behind the culture not only of their own time but of the previous generation. They were the kind of pedants who are not even classicists, and whose grammatical knowledge is based upon no known language.
Gustavo Gutierrez:
The author is telling us in this way that a utilitarian religion lacks depth and authenticity; in addition, it has something satanic about it (this is the first appearance of the irony that the author handles so skillfully). The expectation of rewards that is at the heart of the doctrine of retribution vitiates the entire relationship and plays the demonic role of obstacle on the way to God.
Nicholas Till:
A fantastic hotch-potch of the sublime and the ridiculous, the spiritual and the popular, quasi-religious ritual and street comedy, formally Die Zauberflöte reflects the abandonment in much of Mozart's late music of the integrated complexity of classicism in favor of a sometimes almost childlike simplicity of expression, and (as in the Requiem), a juxtaposition of musical languages, with little apparent desire to achieve formal integration or homogeneity. Charles Rosen noted Mozart's renunciation of harmonic colour in Die Zauberflöte, and whereas in Idomeneo (an aria-based opera) twelve out of the fourteen arias employ sonata form, Mozart virtually dispensed with sonata form in Die Zauberflöte. If we consider Le nozze di Figaro to have represented the high point of Mozart's classical synthesis, an artistic expression of the last, supreme moment of social optimism within the Viennese Enlightenment, it is significant that after 1786 he wrote only two further works in the genre that best conveyed the classical ideal of integration: the piano concerto.

Theodor Adorno once described Beethoven's late style as a disintegration of the heroic bourgeois synthesis of individual and objective reality that Beethoven had achieved in his middle-period music; a reflection of the social and political polarization in post-Napoleonic Europe. In his late string quartets Beethoven abandons classical dialectic (in particular, sonata form) to represent a fragmented, objectified landscape lit by, but no longer integrated with, the artist's own subjectivity. 'Beethoven does not bring about a harmonious synthesis of these extremes. Rather, he tears them apart,' says Adorno. In Beethoven's late music the alienation of the individual from the real world is graphically conveyed in unrelated stylistic juxtapositions: baroque counterpoint alongside quasi-sonata forms, sublime serenity alongside rustic dances. Something similar seems to have happened in Mozart's late music, the effect not of intimations of mortality (as is so often sentimentally implied) but of the bleak social and political climate of his last years.
T.J. Clark:
It is above all collectivity that the popular exists to prevent.
John Dos Passos
today entails tomorrow
Franco Moretti:
Thus is dramatically realized the ideal of every restoration culture: to abolish the irreversibility of history and render the past everlasting. Social relations, no longer fraudulent and productive of uncontrollable events, are reformulated in a transparent and spatial - that is, static - form.
Edmond Caldwell:
For most of her life she had been invisible, and while she hadn't complained she could not say she had much liked it, either. Ungrateful girl! And thick-skulled too, her mother was right, but at last she had learned her lesson: it was best never to be seen at all, to be small and unimpressive and ignored, to go at all times and in all places unregarded and incognito, was the greatest of boons. To be unseen was to have a little ground under your feet - very little, it is true - but to be seen was a trapdoor. To be unseen was to have almost nothing inside that you could call your own, but to be noticed, to be caught in this searchlight, was to be . . . turned inside-out. She was being seen. And not just by any pair of eyes but by the eye in charge, the eye behind the eyes, not the eyes you're seen by but the eye that's your horizon, the condition not only of your visibility but of your very being.
Job (King James Version):
Oh that my words were now written! oh that they were printed in a book!
That they were graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock for ever!
Antonio Gramsci:
How the present is a criticism of the past, besides [and because of] "surpassing" it. But should the past be discarded for this reason? What should be discarded is that which the present has "intrinsically" criticized and that part of ourselves which corresponds to it. What does this mean? That we must have an exact consciousness of this real criticism and express it not only theoretically but politically. In other words, we must stick closer to the present, which we ourselves have helped create, while conscious of the past and its continuation (and revival).
Denise Levertov:
all history
burned out, down
to the sick bone
Ernest Nagel and James R. Newman:
The discovery that there are formally indemonstrable arithmetic truths does not mean that there are truths which are forever incapable of becoming known, or that a mystic intuition must replace cogent proof. It does mean that the resources of the human intellect have not been, and cannot be, fully formalized, and that new principles of demonstration forever await invention and discovery.
Friedrich Engels:
It is the old story. First of all one makes sensous things into abstractions and then one wants to know them through the senses, to see time and smell space. The empiricist becomes so steeped in the habit of empirical experience, that he believes that he is still in the field of sensuous experience when he is operating with abstractions. We know what an hour is, or a metre, but not what time and space are! As if time was anything other than just hours, and space anything but just cubic metres!
Virgil (David Ferry):
Here is a beautiful shepherd's staff, the one
Antigenes often asked me for and was
Refused, though then he deserved my love. The knots
Are evenly spaced, the rings are brass, Menalcas.
William Shakespeare:
Though the seas threaten, they are merciful.
I have cursed them without cause.
Patricia Highsmith:
The window gave him nothing but his own image.
Helen DeWitt:
Eloise had written a book and been made to have discussions in which the phrase 'flesh out' was used of characters. She was just out of college. She had been reading Robbe-Grillet. She had recently seen Dogville. In a moment of weakness she had attached to four characters the sort of name that is affixed to a little primate at birth. Each was also provided with hair, eye, and skin colour, a wardrobe, some sort of plausible history. A favourite TV show. What with all these plausible names and histories, the characters went plausibly about their business like impostors in a witness protection programme.
Søren Kierkegaard:
Repetition and recollection are the same movement, only in opposite directions; for what is recollected has been, is repeated backwards, whereas repetition properly so called is recollected forwards.
W.H. Auden:
Mine the art which made the song
Sound ridiculous and wrong
Marcel Proust:
And at night they did not dine in the hotel, where, hidden springs of electricity flooding the great dining-room with light, it became as it were an immense and wonderful aquarium against whose glass wall the working population of Balbec, the fishermen and also the tradesmen's families, clustering invisibly in the outer darkness, pressed their faces to watch the luxurious life of its occupants gently floating upon the golden eddies within, a thing as extraordinary to the poor as the life of strange fishes or molluscs (an important social question, this: whether the glass wall will always protect the banquets of these weird and wonderful creatures, or whether the obscure folk who watch them hungrily out of the night will not break in some day to gather them from their aquarium and devour them).

2022 reading, the list

1. Charles Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle
2. Seamus O'Mahony, Can Medicine Be Cured? The Corruption of a Profession
3. Nicholas Till, Mozart and the Enlightenment: Truth, Virtue and Beauty in Mozart's Operas
4. T.J. Clark, The Painting of Modern Life: Paris in the Art of Manet and His Followers
5. Nancy E. Bernhard, US Television News and Cold War Propaganda, 1947-1960
6. John Dos Passos, The 42nd Parallel
7. John Dos Passos, 1919
8. John Dos Passos, The Big Money
9. Donald Francis Tovey, Essays in Musical Analysis vol. 1: Symphonies 1
10. Oakley Hall, Warlock
11. Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf (trans. Ralph Manheim)
12. Honoré de Balzac, Pere Goriot (trans. E.K. Brown)
13. Lily E. Kay, Who Wrote the Book of Life? A History of the Genetic Code
14. Isaac Asimov, The Genetic Code
15. J.O. Jeppson, The Second Experiment
16. Bertrand Russell, The Impact of Science on Society
17. Isaac Asimov, The Robots of Dawn
18. Franco Moretti, Signs Taken For Wonders: Essays in the Sociology of Literary Forms
19. Julien Benda, The Treason of the Intellectuals (trans. Richard Aldington)
20. Edmond Caldwell, Human Wishes/Enemy Combatant
21. Job (KJV)
22. Octavia E. Butler, Dawn
23. Timothy Leary, Ralph Metzner & Richard Alpert, The Psychedelic Experience: A manual based on The Tibetan Book of the Dead
24. Octavia E. Butler, Adulthood Rites
25. James Gleick, The Information: A History, a Theory, a Flood
26. Job (trans. Robert Alter)
27. Kary Mullis, Dancing Naked in the Mind Field
28. Clarice Lispector, First Stories
29. Octavia E. Butler, Imago
30. Antonio Gramsci, Prison Notebook 1 (trans. Buttigieg)
31. B.F. Skinner, Beyond Freedom and Dignity
32. Marcel Proust, Swann's Way
33. Leonard Susskind, The Black Hole War: My Battle With Stephen Hawking to Make the World Safe for Quantum Mechanics
34. Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451
35. Karl Ove Knausgaard, The Morning Star
36. Denise Levertov, The Sorrow Dance
37. Helena Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine volume II: Anthropogenesis
38. T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
39. Harry Harrison, Make Room! Make Room!
40. Thomas Pynchon, Vineland
41. Isaac Asimov, Earth Is Room Enough
42. Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveler
43. Ernest Nagel and James R. Newman, Godel's Proof
44. Adele Haverty Bealer, Interface: Connecting the Work of Gregory Bateson, Deleuze and Guattari, and Alain Badiou (master's thesis)
45. KPD(ML), When and Why Socialism in the Soviet Union Failed
46. C.G. Jung, Answer to Job
47. Psalms (KJV)
48. Iain M. Banks, Consider Phlebas
49. Isaac Asimov, Robots and Empire
50. Proverbs (KJV)
51. Marcel Proust, Within a Budding Grove
52. Walter Tevis, The Man Who Fell to Earth
53. Percival Everett, The Trees
54. Dietrich Eckart, Bolshevism from Moses to Lenin: A Conversation Between Adolf Hitler and Me
55. Barbara O'Brien, Operators and Things: The Inner Life of a Schizophrenic
56. Bram Stoker, Dracula
57. Charles Darwin, The Origin of Species
58. Astounding Science Fiction, April 1944
59. Friedrich Engels, Dialectics of Nature
60. Isaac Asimov, Earth: Our Crowded Spaceship
61. Roberto Bolaño, The Savage Detectives
62. Ecclesiastes (KJV)
63. Clarice Lispector, Family Ties
64. William Blake, Illustrations of the Book of Job, introduction and commentary by S. Foster Damon
65. Umberto Eco, Six Walks in the Fictional Woods
66. Gustavo Gutierrez, On Job: God-Talk and the Suffering of the Innocent
67. Samuel R. Delany, Nova
68. Michael Cetewayo Tabor, Capitalism Plus Dope Equals Genocide
69. Joseph Wicksteed, Blake's Vision of the Book of Job
70. Virgil, Eclogues (trans. David Ferry)
71. William Shakespeare, The Tempest
72. Helen C. Scott, Shakespeare's Tempest and Capitalism: The Storm of History
73. The Song of Solomon (KJV)
74. Carl Schmitt, Political Theology
75. Patricia Highsmith, Strangers on a Train
76. T. Mohr, Imperialism Today is Conspiracy Praxis
77. Racine, Phaedra (trans. Robert Lowell)
78. Helen DeWitt, Some Trick
79. Søren Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling (trans. Alastair Hannay)
80. W.H. Auden, For the Time Being
81. Søren Kierkegaard, Repetition: An Essay in Experimental Psychology (trans. Walter Lowrie)
82. Friedrich Engels, ancillary material in MECW 25 (related to Anti-Duhring and Dialectics of Nature)
83. Marcel Proust, The Guermantes Way
84. Worlds Hidden in Plain Sight: The Evolving Idea of Complexity at the Santa Fe Institute 1984-2019, ed. David C. Krakauer

Wednesday, January 4, 2023

second notes on reading, 2022

Having established some grounding in Marxism - i.e., for the first time, in reality - I began over the past few years what I've been thinking of as a long-term project of research into what you might call "bad ideas of the 20th century", to learn what they have in common and toward what aims they point. This led me to a 19th century precursor, Helena Blavatsky, whose immensely tedious and immensely fascist Secret Doctrine I finally dispensed with in 2022. I've mentioned her recently. It was touching to learn that she, very generously if I don't say so myself, characterizes Semites as a branch of the noble Aryan family - albeit, of course, a considerably degenerate one.

Timothy Leary, Jung (on whom perhaps a bit more later) - Blavatskies of the 20th century, more or less, as in their different ways are the "information" theorists (again, perhaps more later) as well as the (as they say) literal Nazis I read last year, Carl Schmitt, Dietrich Eckart, Hitler himself. Not to attribute any great originary role to Madame B. (whose own work appears to be largely plagiarized and about whom it's an open question how much the Nazis cared); I'm not searching for some Secret Idea that drove it all. But the tremendous value of actually reading these people is that it enables you to recognize it when you see it again - and again - and again - same old, same old. If you have read Mein Kampf, if you have read the almost impressively audaciously insane Bolshevism from Moses to Lenin or, as I had in 2021, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, and if you have understood how they do what they do, their new versions - most importantly those in "left" garb - have no hope of working on you. Of course Marx helps a great deal.

One finding of this research project that perhaps won't (couldn't) amuse and interest anyone else as much as it did me had to do with the bad idea of the 20th century that is dearest and most repugnant to my heart. In an email I sent to Richard one year and one day ago today, after briefly parodying Hitler's style, I added:

(I said "inwardly infinitely" because those are two of his favorite modifiers, infinite and inward - they'll often appear multiple times per page, sometimes multiple times per sentence, frequently in ways that don't seem to make any sense - which, that and other things stylistically remind me of, um, Golden Age scifi in general and most very specifically A.E. van Vogt - unlikely to have been direct stylistic influence since it was only translated into English in 1943, when the Golden Age was about to have run its course already; on the other hand so many scifi writers then were engineers, and engineers then could all read German; but seems most likely due to shared mindset and maybe shared type of influences - I wonder how similar the styles of German and American turn-of-the-20th popular literature were.)
And I did read scifi in 2022. The Second Experiment by J.O. Jeppson (who is better known by the name she openly wrote under later, Janet Asimov) was everything I want in a certain type of scifi - "dumb, psychotic, and kind of great, and all three much more so than I was expecting", as I blurbed it to Richard in an email in March. Unexpectedly it featured Margulisian speciation via symbiosis as a plot point, as does, in sickeningly distorted form, Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis series - in which we are told, as indisputable fact, that human beings are intrinsically evil due to genetic original sin and must have the genes for Goodness raped into us by aliens if we are to avoid destroying ourselves. The more one reads of Butler the more one wonders where her much-ballyhooed lefty cred comes from (answer: marketing; racist overcompensation). As usual what she does with her fundamentally fascist concept is interesting and ambivalent, but no amount of fascinating development can undo the vileness at its heart: the series is a long, thoughtful, even occasionally moving answer to the idiotic and breathtakingly repellent question, "What if fascists were right about Human Nature, but it really could be fixed by eugenics?" (Which, to be sure, has a certain internal logic: after all, if fascists were right about human nature, eugenics would be the way to fix it.) Remarkably, too, the form this asserted inescapable evil of humanity takes is: "hierarchy" - never defined, this word, and one wishes to be able to sit down with Butler's ghost and ask it what she thought the word meant, because nearly everything we're given as telling examples of this nefarious inevitable human tendency toward hierarchy is precisely resistance to the imposition of hierarchy - which, back to the question of Butler's lefty cred, certainly explains why she's so beloved today of astroturfed social media influencers pretending to be radicals who routinely slander all genuine revolutionary black liberation movements and heroes, past and present, in precisely the same terms.

Bradbury (the execrable Fahrenheit 451) and Asimov (some of the later novels and much nonfiction) I read with a specific aim in mind, though in the case of Asimov there is also some pleasure in the reading. I will not talk about either of them now, for fear of never stopping; all I'll say about 451 for the moment is that may be the first-ever pro-nuclear-holocaust novel, a remarkable achievement for 1953 (or 1951, when the even more overtly nuke-em-all-cleansing-fire novella "The Fireman", later revised and expanded into the novel, appeared in Galaxy). Hopefully I will say what I have to say about them another time. Harry Harrison's Make Room! Make Room! is of course very famous as part of scifi's long ignoble history of propagandizing the alleged "overpopulation problem"; Delany's Nova I like.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

first notes on reading, 2022

In March of this year about to end I took Swann's Way down from the shelf, just to remind myself of how it feels, how it starts, or rather how it proceeds after the start which no one could forget, and to my surprise found myself re-reading it. By the end of the year I would have read through the end (the vicious, brutal end) of The Guermantes Way. The first time I read Proust, 2013-2015, I tried not to be but was constantly aware of myself as reading a Giant and Important work, undertaking a Task which it would be Heroic to Complete. This second time I'm just reading it - picking it up when I want to and reading it. Naturally this, no doubt along with the time that has passed in my own life, the things I have done and learned and thought about in that time, primary among them time itself, means that I am more feeling and understanding what these pages are doing, the way they behave towards and in time, and not only time, this time than I did the first.

Early on I sent this passage to my weather-obsessed father:

But Bloch had displeased my family for other reasons. He had begun by irritating my father, who, seeing him come in with wet clothes, had asked him with keen interest:

"Why, M. Bloch, is there a change in the weather? Has it been raining? I can't understand it; the barometer was set fair."

Which drew from Bloch nothing more than: "Sir, I am absolutely incapable of telling you whether it has rained. I live so resolutely apart from physical contingencies that my senses no longer trouble to inform me of them."

"My poor boy," said my father after Bloch had gone, "your friend is out of his mind. Why, he couldn't even tell me what the weather was like. As if there could be anything more interesting! He's an imbecile."
Reading it now, too, after having read so much Marx and Marxism, Soviet and revolutionary Chinese histories (that is to say, histories of peasant societies in rapid transformation), and most directly prior and relevant, TJ Clark, in his wonderful books about Manet and (read the year before) Courbet, talking about town and country in France in the second half of the 1800s, the sort of socio-geography of particularly Combray but all of the book's locations makes much more sense to me than they had before, which in turn makes things of the types that tend to be labeled "political" as well as things of the types that do not come much more clear.

It had been throughout the previous several years that I had read all that Marx and Marxism (and Soviet and Chinese histories), the previous several years that I had spent intensively reading all the Marx and Marxism and Communist histories that I had been taught my whole life there was no need to read, which changed everything. I've left very little written record of that period - scattered emails back and forth with Richard, who was doing much the same; a few notes in notebooks I never kept diligently - which is a shame because, in the absence of any Party which could reliably organize such education, I read things willy-nilly, in terribly wrong order (Lenin and Stalin are crucial but on the whole one really should not start with them! it really is better to have a solid grasp on dialectics - easy to attain! - before attempting to read Capital! - which I still haven't finished, incidentally), and it would be very interesting, if only to me, to be able to trace my misunderstandings as they slowly transformed into understanding.

Because of my having attained that grounding, or at least some degree thereof, and my having embarked on projects enabled by it, relatively little Marxism appears on my list of 2022 reading. There were the beautiful fragments of Gramsci and the elderly Engels, left unfinished in both cases because of death; there was the absolutely essential T. Mohr article Imperialism Today Is Conspiracy Praxis. I had been longing for an article like the latter for years - as I had written to Richard on December 7, 2019:

Train of thought off of this, development of imperialist finance capital over time, led me to think, my god, the first volume of Capital was in 1867, Imperialism was 1917, Neo-Colonialism was 1965. Essentially 50 years between each of them and we're now just over 50 years on from the Nkrumah. Just think about the massive changes in capitalism between each of them, that necessitated each of them. Obviously more is needed!! (And exists, though as far as I know not in anything like as condensed and singular a form.) It's not my main point to just rag on people but.... people still act like you can just read Imperialism and understand today. Obviously it helps but it's also obviously not going to be sufficient!! And then you get things like that (mostly very good) critique of queer theory using Marx's analysis of capital in his time as if THAT doesn't need to be updated! Even as it explicitly criticizes dogmatism [but then, I add now, it was written by a Trot, so what do you expect]. I guess I don't actually have a real point but I was just struck by those roughly equal time gaps and it just really drove the point home to me that theory needs to be constantly renewed.
T. Mohr's article is perhaps too brief and too much a scaffolding to qualify it as the successor to that line but it is a massive contribution and a necessary start.