Monthly Archives: July 2012

Hurried and Waiting

I happened to have an especially rough workday today.  I had a sit-down with the only seminormal sort in the bullpen — the one fellow in suite such-and-such who didn’t pretend that the Internet gymnastics we each perform on a daily basis are a religious rite — and I found out he was giving notice because the environment was “just too miserable.”  He cited passive-aggressive behavior, ineffective management, disinterest among the staff, and a generally tense milieu as his reasons.  I can’t say I blame him.

The train, too, had given him cause for departure.  The good old Blue line — we wise former Chicago-eastsiders know it’s not quite half as bad as its downright dangerous cousin the Red line — its sporadically underground, steamy-armpit stations like Logan Square and Belmont, the mixture of conspicuous hipster-yuppies, muted working-class types, and full-blown suits riding, together and disinterested, into the mouth of Chicago’s Loop.

We all hurry up or down ruddy CTA stairs only to wait at the edge of the motionless platform, to stumble into gaping-maw mechanized doors onto ribbed-metal and hard-plastic train cars and then to wait again, shuffled to and fro amid the human-cattle tide within the train car’s entrails.  As the inhale and exhale of inbound and outbound travelers inflates and contracts it’s all eyes downward, watching iPods, iPads, iPhones, Kindles, paperbacks, and sometimes feet.  We don’t look at each other anymore.

We ride and rush and gush out of halting trains at different points within the city proper.  The rush-hour crowd teems and bursts out of cavernous underground bunkers to hurry onto an eight- or ten-hour wait – until life and the commute begin again later that night.

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Roderick on the Line

Roderick on the Line

Wow.  Two guys have a conversation and ant holocausts, bird-bigotry, Kurt Vonnegut quotes, Jeremy Bentham’s head, the Humpty Dance and a whole score of other topics surface. Their podcast just might be the perfect way to spend a two hour layover at the airport.

Take Krugman as you like but…

Pathos of the Plutocrat –

While I have my own issues with Krugman as one of those polar pols, nevermind the orientation, he’s struck something here that’s struck me throughout the Hope-mongerer’s presidency.  While I can’t quite put my finger on it, I just know that the economic stagnation that’s become a defining characteristic of my generation’s (I just turned 30 and stopped wearing sandals) pathos is, in large part, due to a stubborn, mean-spirited, revanchist streak bundled up in the emotional personage of this country’s ultra-rich mover-shaker class.

Since 2010 we’ve heard that corporate treasury accounts are flush with cash — this article asks the wrong question, I think … why aren’t corporations hiring with that $, thereby increasing optimism about the wider consumer economic outlook, AND distributing it to shareholders (which tends to improve the outlook at the top-end of the wealth spectrum and create disparate distribution of wealth which some claim is even harmful for the beneficiaries) — and yet we’ve seen incredibly bleak jobs numbers during that span and in the short-run.

I can’t really enunciate what’s underfoot here.  The best that I can guess is that the tiny, ultra-privileged group of status-quo Teutonics who truly shape policy in this country are upset that, despite owning the media, our national discourse, and our economy, they haven’t been able to root out every last ounce of resentment over the gross disparity and corporatist agenda rampant in the land of the free-to-work-and-keep-their-mouths-shut and the home of the brave-and-jingoistic-when-it-comes-to-the-enemy-other-but-silent-when-it-comes-to-the-devil-within (I know, I’m sorry).  This sturdy group of look-alike gentlemen would really like it if we threw a ticker-tape parade once monthly to celebrate their hegemonic free-market for the poor, socialist for the rich economic victory.  Oh, and until they have that sort of triumphant acquiescence from every last one of us they’re going to hold our economy hostage, paint the first minority president with the resulting economic failures, and take their balls and go home until they’re able to ram, cram, foist, force a guy who looks and thinks like them in to highest office and reclaim their rightful place on the political pedestal.

Am I paranoid here? Does anyone else see things this way?  Now I’m over-anxious on a Saturday afternoon…

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In honor of…

this, this happened – here.

We’d be lucky to still have you, George, or Eric Arthur Blair, or whoever you were.  I fell in love with your sour, pessimistic-yet-whimsically-longing-for-a-simpler-time works in a Senior honors single-author course and I’ll never forget how right you were about so many things and, still, how repugnant my moderately-modern sentimentality finds some of your thought.

I still hope to someday write a long, convoluted piece on how Saul Bellow was the eyes, Orwell the nose, and some yet unforeseen author the ears of the becoming-modern essential-face.

The Fractured Contemporary Mind: My Interaction with Saul Bellow’s It All Adds Up

I often find myself horrified by my own inability to form sustained, iterative, progressive thoughts. My thinking is tangential and erratic; most of my intellectual activity is reactive. By and large, my mental resting-point is a near-trance tinged with equal parts exhaustion, frustration, and mild terror. I read frequently, then sporadically and, in bursts, voraciously. Each time I rest a book on the nightstand I try to think back through the meaning of the material that I’ve just read – and, here, I generally find a failure of comprehension.

Today, I’m reading Saul Bellow’s It All Adds Up, a collection of reflective essays spanning nostalgic odes to Depression-era Chicago, biographical pieces which describe the unlikely musical and political genius of Mozart and FDR, respectively, drafts on the state of the American soul and the writers, both real and potential, who struggle to revive it, and introductions and farewells to places and people of importance to the author. Throughout the book the nut of Bellow’s thought wrestles with who we (Chicagoans, Americans, Jews, Post-Modern Westerners, Globalists wrestling with, just then, Cold War realities) are, how much humanity we retain, whether we can squirrel away those humanistic holdovers in a post-Romantic, Nihilistic, materialistic world, and how we might shield ourselves from the wiles of the intellectual class he abhors.

Bellow certainly is a powerful essayist – on par with Orwell, I’d say (they both share a rabid disapproval for formal intellectuals). While Orwell relies on olfaction for exposition, Bellow draws us in with eyesight and where the Englishman steadies our attention on the meaning of material conditions, Bellow brings us to the soul. Bellow’s illustrative description of his Depression Chicago flat, for example: the decaying mattresses and “see-through sheets” and walls with buckling wallpaper which separated his bookish behaviors from the workmen’s’ trades beyond them – the steel mills, the slaughterhouses, and the furniture factories – each sustaining the city he loved dearly. These are physical-descriptor metaphors for the ruddy contemporaneous human condition. For Bellow, this was the best the world had to offer and disappointing all the same.

While I’ve sincerely enjoyed it, the book lends itself to my personal anxieties. Here we have a piece of literature illustrating the impoverished state of the human mind and soul and a reader with a sinking suspicion that his own mental state is generally out of sorts — jumbled and disrupted by a combination of a lack of personal discipline and an external overload of stimuli. We’re a species who’s greatest and most temporary happiness comes at the cash register, who’s longing lies the way of the till, and whose minds can’t be troubled with the dictates of a meaningful existence.

The discomfort transcends personal space, too, as the collection of essays takes you through Bellow’s own political journey. Here I found a quandary that I’d wager is regnant throughout our thinking populace yet unheard of in mass culture: a Nietzschean revaluation of values that’s political in nature and language. While he began his political life a Trotskyite, like so many Bellow was pushed rightward by the appalling political realism of the Stalinists who held so much sway in the early post-war era. He found his roots, then, as a liberal and, I believe, he steeled himself there for a lifetime as the world moved scattershot in a multitude of directions.

Here’s a man who’s all for the Liberal state, who’s familiar with the horrors of the authoritarian-totalitarian regime, who detests cut-and-dry jingoism while, at the same time, decries ubiquitous American self-loathing spurred on by an unctuous intellectual class. Saul Bellow was a liberal: it’s the meaning of the word that has changed.

The ultimate truth that emerges is that it is now Conservative to support the modern Liberal state. To share worries with a man like Bellow that, when a society rejects all public talk of prejudice, we’ve castrated ourselves politically and that, while formalized laws that oppress groups by color, creed, gender, sex-act, and religion are odious, a personal preference for one’s own choices and natural circumstance creates, defines, and seasons character and ought not be driven out of us as Jesus drove the demons from the swine, is now a socially and political unwieldy position to take.

Living in a multicultural world where vocal public preference is abjured and culture-clash-irritants are forced inward for contemplation, we’ve essentially stilled our social critics – those from within and without. Resentment is the only recourse for elucidation. Hatred is a human quality that’s best engendered by stifling thought and muzzling speech. In truth, we’ve created a new political-correctness-Puritanism not unlike the early-20th-century American Puritanism that D.H. Lawrence worried had broken the “sympathetic heart,” had made us all “stink in each other’s nostrils.”

The battle lines are drawn – those who wish to conserve elements of humanity that are often deemed undemocratic and, at the same time, beautiful vs. those who call for a grey mass of material equality of purchasing power and freedom of superficial expression. Neither side has a perfect platform for utopia. Increasingly, we rely on abstract technological progress, material access, and a super-abundance of choice to arbitrate our differences. This was what Bellow wrote about.

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