Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Before We Go Any Further Here, Has It Ever Occurred to Any of You That All This Is Simply One Grand Misunderstanding?

Even though I should have known from The Recognitions that the world was not waiting breathlessly for my message, that it already knew, and was quite happy to live with all these false values, I’d always been intrigued by the charade of the so-called free market, so-called free enterprise system, the stock market conceived of as what was called a “people’s capitalism” where you “owned a part of the company” and so forth. All of which is true; you own shares in a company, so you literally do own part of the assets. But if you own a hundred shares out of six or sixty or six hundred million, you’re not going to influence things very much. Also, the fact that people buy securities—the very word in this context is comic—not because they are excited by the product—often you don’t know what the company makes—but simply for profit: The stock looks good and you buy it. The moment it looks bad you sell it. What had actually happened in the company is not your concern. In many ways I thought . . . the childishness of all this. Because JR himself, which is why he is eleven years old, is motivated only by good-natured greed. JR was, in other words, to be a commentary on this free enterprise system running out of control. Looking around us now with a two-trillion-dollar federal deficit and billions of private debt and the banks, the farms, basic industry all in serious trouble, it seems to have been rather prophetic.

William Gaddis, born ninety-three years ago today, in a 1986 interview. For boatloads of excerpts click the Gaddis tag.

Clearly from this and similar eloquent testimony certain members of the community have been subjected to annoyance and serious inconvenience in the pursuit of private errands of some urgency, however, recalling to mind that vain and desperate effort to prevent construction of a subway kiosk in Cambridge, Massachusetts, enshrined decades ago in the news headlines PRESIDENT LOWELL FIGHTS ERECTION IN HARVARD SQUARE, by definition the interests of the general public must not be confused with that of one or even several individuals (People v. Brooklyn & Queens Transit Corp., 258 App. Div. 753, 15 N.Y.S.2d 295, 1939, affirmed 283 N.Y. 484, 28 N.E.2d 925, 1940).

- Gaddis, Frolic of His Own

Put on the lights there, now. Before we go any further here, has it ever occurred to any of you that all this is simply one grand misunderstanding? Since you're not here to learn anything, but to be taught so you can pass these tests, knowledge has to be organized so it can be taught, and it has to be reduced to information so it can be organized do you follow that? In other words this leads you to assume that organization is an inherent property of knowledge itself, and that disorder and chaos are simply irrelevant forces that threaten it from outside. In fact it's exactly the opposite. Order is simply a thin, perilous condition we try to impose on the basic reality of chaos...

- Gaddis, JR

  • No, I never owned Hawkwind records, I never owned Motorhead records. I don't mind either, I like when I hear, but I was never of faith. I do know the death of Lemmy needs noting.
  • The very same people who are blaming Tamir Rice for his own murder - as a young black male he should know better than carry a toy gun - are the same people who (arm their white children) would call black parents who teach their children to fear white policemen black racists.
  • And proclaim loyalty to Trump, who is not a fascist (?) but a barker of spite, because they think it pisses you off.
  • The birth of propaganda.
  • The battle for justice in Palestine comes to Santa Fe.
  • Silicon Valley and neoliberalism.
  • Notes on inventing the future.
  • White sustenance.
  • Eternal youth.
  • Let me jinx myself: I am concurrently rereading JR and reading Vollmann's latest, The Dying Grass. I read twenty pages of one then twenty pages of the other. I am 200 pages into both. Today is a Gaddis day, not by design (I don't memorize these birthdays, I look them up the night before) but serendipity. There are similarities: both are concerned with rapacious capitalism and imperialism and the shitty natural greed of humans; both are written almost entirely in dialogue with no direct attribution to the speaker - I have to know who is speaking, there are no he saids, John saids, Mary saids. I have never tried an experiment like this, it has been working, though with this bullet I'm certain to have fucked that up.

I know you, I know you. You're the only serious person in the room, aren't you, the only one who understands, and you can prove it by the fact that you've never finished a single  thing in your life. You're the only well-educated person, because you never went to college, and you resent education, you resent social ease, you resent good manners, you resent success, you resent any kind of success, you resent God, you resent Christ, you resent thousand-dollar bills, you resent Christmas, by God, you resent happiness, you resent happiness itself, because none of that's real. What is real, then? Nothing's real to you that isn't part of your own past, real life, a swamp of failures, of social, sexual, financial, personal...spiritual failure. Real life. You poor bastard. You don't know what real life is, you've never been near it. All you have is a thousand intellectualized ideas about life. But life? Have you ever measured yourself against anything but your own lousy past? Have you ever faced anything outside yourself? Life! You poor bastard.

- Gaddis, Recognitions


  1. The opening Gaddis quote reminds me of Mike Nichols' 1970 film version of 'Catch-22', and Buck Henry's screenplay: Yossarian (Alan Arkin) goes to the whorehouse to tell Natley's Whore that he's been killed; he runs into Milo Minderbinder (John Voight), the sociopath running the black-market 'Syndicate', who observes that Yossarian's refusal to fly more bombing missions is "stupid. Nately never would have done that; Nately wouldn't have done anything that dumb."

    "He's dead," Yossarian says. Minderbinder nods. "Yes; but he died a rich man. He had over a thousand shares in the Syndicate."

    "He can't use them; he's dead."

    "Then his wife will get them," Minderbinder replies.

    "He wasn't married," Yossarian says. "Then his parents will get them."

    "They don't need it," Yossarian says. "They're rich."

    Minderbinder looks at Yossarian with a small, condescending smile. "Then they'll understand."

  2. Lemmy: Killed by death after a hard rock life

    Ludovic Hunter-Tilney, Financial Times

    Ian Fraser Kilmister — his birth name — died on Monday in Los Angeles aged 70, and was lionised as the spirit of rock and roll. But he wasn’t quite that. Too obdurate to be the spirit of anything — the only spirits he recognised were the drinkable variety — he was rock and roll reduced to its hardest, most refractory element. The bass lines he played, forcing along his band Motörhead’s songs, summed him up: unapologetic, unstoppable, the distillation of heaviness.

    Although Motörhead never had the commercial success of contemporaries such as Iron Maiden they were more important, a bridge between different eras. Founded in 1975, the band arose from the wilder fringes of London’s hippy counterculture, epitomised by the group Hawkwind, which Kilmister joined in 1972 until leaving to start Motörhead.

    Despite his hippy background, he and his brutal new hard rock band were adopted by the punk generation, which otherwise affected to despise everything the likes of Hawkwind stood for. Successive waves of heavy metal bands proceeded to idolise Kilmister over the coming years, from the “new wave of heavy metal” scene in Britain in the late 1970s to US thrash metallers a decade later. Like a warped kind of national treasure, Kilmister became known to all by his nickname — Lemmy.

    Born in Stoke-on-Trent in 1945, he came from the English Midlands, traditional home of heavy industry and also, not uncoincidentally, the birthplace of heavy metal. But unlike fellow Midlander Ozzy Osbourne, whose group Black Sabbath provided Motörhead with a powerful sonic model, Lemmy, who moved to north Wales as a child, had a strangely placeless bearing. He showed little nostalgia for his country of origin, and, having moved to LA in 1990, boiled his Californian life down to its least sunny essentials. His final home was just two blocks away from the bar where he spent most of his time.

    Motörhead’s songs were equally unvarying. The model was the self-titled single “Motorhead”, released in 1977 — an imposing juggernaut of a track, with crushing guitar riffs, rampant drumming and Lemmy’s guttural roar. “Don’t know how long I’ve been awake,” he rasped, while his band battered alongside him like a primitive but immensely forceful machine. The formula would not change over the next four decades. Instead it reached further stages of refinement in classics such as “Ace of Spades”.

    Motörhead were showing no signs of slowing up as Lemmy approached his 70th birthday on Christmas Eve. A new album, Black Magic, came out this year and a UK tour was due to begin next month. Kilmister was the only remaining original member. Although forced by illness to give up his beloved Jack Daniel's whiskey a few years ago, his lifestyle was as cussed and unalterable as his music.

    Amphetamines were his fuel, a drug that promoted in him a grim, ceaseless kind of hedonism — not so much pleasure as duty. He was a womaniser who supposedly slept with more than a thousand women, yet none of the dubious charm of a Don Juan attached itself to his warty features. He made no effort to look attractive — he was a toad from which no prince would emerge — and was heedless about his health. He had such a nihilistic outlook that his principal hobby was collecting Nazi memorabilia (although he insisted he had no such sympathies).

    He was intelligent — the song “Motörhead” features an inventive use of the word “parallelogram” — but chose to project a barbarian-like image. No one would choose to live like him nowadays, the biblical three score years and ten being no kind of achievement today, yet there was something exemplary about him. Unyielding to the end, he faced the prospect of mortality with heroic indifference. As one of Motörhead’s songs put it, with magnificent tautology, he was “Killed by Death”.