per petterson

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James Wood, from the New Yorker:

I have a friend, a writer, who became so obsessed by the Norwegian novelist Per Petterson’s “I Curse the River of Time” that he copied it out, word for word—perhaps hoping that his pure replica might unlock the secrets of that mysterious book, with its curling form and drifting sentences. When he told me this, I had not read anything by Petterson. But how could anyone resist such a recommendation? As soon as I opened “I Curse the River of Time” (one of the great titles), I understood the dementing lure.

(read more here)

And who could resist *that* recommendation? Up to now I’ve only read Out Stealing Horses, which Wood calls “more straightforward and less interesting” (and more prize-winning). Was happy to find a copy of Jeg forbanner tidens elv on our bookshelf, but yes, in Norwegian…


bartleby & co

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a charming book by enrique vila-matas, consisting entirely of footnotes about writers of the No: that is, all the writers who have decided it was better – for whatever reason – not to write.

fn 9) If Plato thought that life was a forgetting of the idea, Clément Cadou spent his whole life forgetting that he once had the idea of wanting to be a writer.

His strange attitude Рto forget about writing, he would spend his whole life considering himself a piece of furniture Рhas similarities to the no less strange biography of F̩licien Marboeuf, a writer of the No I discovered in Artistes sans oeuvres, an ingenious book by Jean-Yves Jouannais on the subject of creators who chose not to create.

Cadou was fifteen years old when his parents invited Witold Gombrowicz to their house for dinner. It was only a few months (this was at the end of April 1963) since the Polish writer had embarked from Buenos Aires for the last time and, having paid a lightning visit to Barcelona, had come to Paris, where, among many other things, he had accepted the invitation to dine with the Cadous, old friends of his from the fifties in Buenos Aires.

The young Cadou had aspirations to be a writer. In fact he had already dedicated months to preparing for it. His parents were delighted and, unlike many others, had placed every facility at his disposal so that he could be a writer. They were thrilled that their son might one day be transformed into a brilliant star of the French literary firmament. The boy was not lacking in talent, he was a voracious reader of all kinds of books and he worked conscientiously to become an admired writer in the shortest time possible.

At his tender age, the young Cadou was reasonably familiar with Gombrowicz’s work, which had impressed him a great deal and which led him sometimes to recite whole paragraphs from the Polish writer’s novels in front of his parents.

And so the parents’ satisfaction at inviting Gombrowicz to dinner was twofold. They were excited at the prospect of their young son having direct contact, in the comfort of their own home, with the genius of the great Polish author.

But something very unexpected occurred. The young Cadou was so awestruck on seeing Gombrowicz within the four walls of his parents’ home that he hardly said a word all evening and ended up – something similar had befallen the young Marboeuf when he saw Flaubert in his parents’ home – feeling literally like a piece of furniture in the drawing room where they had dinner.

As a result of this domestic metamorphosis, the young Cadou saw how his aspirations to become a writer were permanently rescinded.

But Cadou’s case differs from that of Marboeuf in the frenetic artistic activity which, from the age of seventeen, he undertook to fill the gap left in him by his irreversible decision not to write. Unlike Marboeuf, Cadou did not merely see himself as a piece of furniture all his brief life (he died young), but at least he painted. And of course he painted furniture. It was his way of slowly forgetting that he had once wanted to write.

All his paintings centred exclusively on a piece of furniture and they all bore the same enigmatic and repetitive title: Self-Portrait.

“The thing is, I feel like a piece of furniture, and pieces of furniture, to the best of my knowledge, don’t write,” Cadou would say in his defense when reminded that as a boy he had wanted to be a writer.

an empire wilderness

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by robert d. kaplan

two passages strike me, each within a page from one another. have been thinking lately of Belley’s lecture about corporate totalitarianism: when efficiency/rationality overrides all other values, individual liberties start to fray…

“It’s nonsense to think that Americans are individualists,” Dennis Judd, an urban affairs professor at the University of Missouri’s St. Louis campus, told me. “Deep down, we are a nation of herd animals: mouselike conformists who will lay at the doorstep all our rights–if you tell us that we won’t have to worry about crime and that our property values will be protected.” Americans, he explained, willingly put up with restrictions inside a corporation that they would never put up with in the public sphere. Then he added that life within some sort of corporation is what the future will increasingly be like. “Just look at our [gated community] suburbs,” he said. “We are going to depend less and less on the public sphere.”

and we become unable to deal with the ‘irrational’.

As I drove through the St. Louis suburbs, I was struck by the inverse relationship between material possessions and conveniences on the one hand and social unity on the other. Are we, I wondered, increasingly a nation of overworked, lonely people? What struck me here was the high number of cars in the office parks late in the evening. In The Time Bend: When Work Becomes Home and Home Becomes Work, sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild claims that many women are actually fleeing their disorderly and tense home lives for the “reliable orderliness” of their work. In the 1980s and 1990s, the American worker’s work year increased by a month–164 hours. The link between overwork and the decline of the family seems obvious to me.

Intro: Between the Two Revolutions

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The first public reaction to the idea of reactualizing Lenin is, of course, an outburst of sarcastic laughter. Marx is OK – today, even on Wall Street, there are people who still love him: Marx the poet of commodities, who provided perfect descriptions of the capitalist dynamic; Marx of Cultural Studies, who portrayed the alienation and reification of our daily lives. But Lenin – no, you can’t be serious! Doesn’t Lenin stand precisely for the failure to put Marxism into practice, for the big catastrophe which left its mark on the whole of twentieth-century world politics, for the Real Socialist experiment which culminated in an economically inefficient dictatorship? So, if there is a consensus among (whatever remains of) today’s radical Left, it is that, in order to resuscitate the radical political project, we should leave the Leninist legacy behind: the ruthless focusing on the class struggle, the Party as the privileged form of organization, the violent revolutionary seizure of power, the ensuing “dictatorship of the proletariat” … are all these not “zombie-concepts” to be abandoned if the Left is to have any chance in the conditions of “post-industrial” late capitalism?

Revolution at the Gates: Žižek on Lenin, the 1917 Writings

philosophers do not make good writers

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amazing how incomprehensible one can be even when using relatively simple language.

I’m reading Hegel’s the Philosophy of Right for my sustainable development class (don’t ask), and am currently in possession of two translations–I thought that somehow if I didn’t understand one, the other could help (hmm, sort of like civil code translations?).

ahem. kinda getting stuck on Morality.

Knox edition, ¶106:

The second sphere, Morality, therefore throughout portrays the real aspect of the concept of freedom, and the movement of this sphere is as follows: the will, which at the start is aware only of its independence and which before it is mediated is only implicitly identical with the universal will or the principle of the will, is raised beyond its [explicit] difference from the universal will, beyond this situation in which it sinks deeper and deeper into itself, and is established as explicitly identical with the principle of the will. This process is accordingly the cultivation of the ground in which freedom is now set, i.e. subjectivity. What happens is that subjectivity, which is abstract at the start, i.e. distinct from the concept, becomes likened to it, and thereby the Idea acquires its genuine realization. The result is that the subjective will determines itself as objective too and so as truly concrete.

White edition, ¶106:

The second sphere, morality, therefore exhibits in its entirety the real aspect of the concept of freedom, and the process of this sphere is as follows: the will, which at the start is only as itself and therefore immediately only in itself identical with the universal will–the will that is in itself–must submerge itself within itself in accordance with this distinction; it thereby suspends itself and the distinction, positing itself, as itself, as identical with the will that is in itself. This movement is thus the working over of freedom’s new ground, subjectivity. What happens is that subjectivity, which begins as abstract–i.e., as distinct from the concept–becomes equal to it, thereby attaining for the idea its true realization: the subjective will determines itself as one that is likewise objective, and thus truly concrete.


end of poverty

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since I mentioned I was going to see jeffrey sachs, I thought I’d give a mention to his latest book, the end of poverty.

it sucks. he’s a terrible writer, and a narcissist to boot. the gist of his book is: “[insert country here: Bolivia, Poland]’s economy succeeded because of my work, and [insert country here: Russia] failed because they didn’t follow my advice.” further, he doesn’t seem to have any novel advice other than forgiving debt relief and providing more aid.

I really don’t know who actually enjoyed this book, and how it contributes to anything but more star appeal to the economist (isn’t that a catchy-sounding title to have under one’s belt?). too bad, because I agree with what he says, just revulsed by how he says it.

wee hens

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recently finished john ralston saul’s latest book: the collapse of globalism and the reinvention of the world. as the title might indicate, saul chronologically maps the rise in the idolatry of globalism (i.e., viewing the world through an economic prism) and then its miserable failure to deliver: the rising tide of globalization alone is just not enough to pull the world’s poorest out of their predicament.

saul is refreshingly good at writing. and thinking. and pulling nugget quotes from economists, political leaders, etc. my only critique is that the work feels more like a series of (rather compelling) sketches–if only it were pieced together better to make a stronger whole.

still, one of the gripping points for me was saul’s reminder that as citizens/nation states we have real choices to make; that so-called leaders should actually lead, and not merely (micro)manage. the ‘inevitability’ of economics is anything but inevitable and besides, civilizations are not led by economics. we could all make decisions in an instant that would do wonders towards the public good, if we just had the willpower to do it (like relieving debts of african countries, which have become unserviceable anyway).

The obsession of the modern manager with structure and expertise and control — usually disguised as due process — is often taken to extremes. […] this applied doctrine of form over content also favours an obsession with minutiae on the one hand and large, lazy organizations on the other. Increasingly, these organizations are the directionless transnationals. You have only to look at the West’s painful approach to global warming to see what this can mean. The whole debate has been bogged down by the unreality of favouring technical detail over the real world.

but anyway, that was a long-winded segue just to say: to all the nay-sayers that believe developing countries are doomed to fail because of corruption, john christensen describes what is essentially ‘legitimate’ corruption practiced mainly by western corporations: tax havens for transnationals and high-net-worth individuals (“hen-wees”) [this is a book review for raymond baker’s capitalism’s achilles heel]. it is sickening to think of the amount of capital flight from African countries, when so much political effort is made to patch together (minuscule sums of) aid for those same states. sigh.

the luxury continues…

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Even in this world, of course, it is the stupidest children who are the most childish and the stupidest grown-ups who are most grown-up.

what is better than spending a rainy day reading in bed? the jesus metaphors in the chronicles of narnia are over the top, but it is still a wonderful adventure! book six down, only one left… sigh.