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.

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