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you missed one of the rungs in the ladder
June 9, 2018, 6:39 pm
Filed under: brave new world, chronotopes | Tags: , , , , ,

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In his essay Such Were the Joys …, George Orwell describes the claustrophobic social realities of early century England.

The social and class milieu was rooted in low church religion and upper class unattainability and snobbery, which cancelled each other: on the one hand: sex puritanism, hard work, academic distinction, no self indulgence. And on the other: anti-intellectualism, love of games, xenophobia, contempt for working class, fear of poverty,  materialism, power and leisure.

To be socially acceptable one had to live on the interest of a sizable family endowment. It was virtually impossible to attain upper class status from the middle class: best case was a middle manager civil servant, but more likely, after a lifetime of hard work, an office boy.

Today we have indifferent boomers, a majority who can’t retire, lost millennials, the precariat, giggers etc. Was Orwell’s time any different from our own?

The various codes which were presented to you at Crossgates – religious, moral, social and intellectual – contradicted one another if you worked out their implications. The essential conflict was between the tradition of the nineteenth-century ascetism and the actually existing luxury and snobbery of the pre-1914 age. On the one side were low-church Bible Christianity, sex puritanism, insistence on hard work, respect for academic distinction, disapproval of self-indulgence: on the other, contempt for “braininess” and worship of games, contempt for foreigners and the working class, an almost neurotic dread of poverty, and, above all, the assumption not only that money and privilege are the things that matter, but that it is better to inherit them than to have to work for them. Broadly, you were bidden to be at once a Christian and a social success, which is impossible. At the time I did not perceive that the various ideals which were set before us cancelled out. I merely saw that they were all, or nearly all, unattainable, so far as I was concerned, since they all depended not only on what you did but on what you were.

Very early, at the age of only ten or eleven, I reached the conclusion – no one told me this, but on the other hand I did not simply make it up out of my own head: somehow it was in the air I breathed – that you were no good unless you had £100,000. I had perhaps fixed on this particular sum as a result of reading Thackeray. The interest on £100,000 a year (I was in favor of a safe 4 per cent), would  be £4,000, and this seemed to me the minimum income that you must possess if you were to belong to the real top crust, the people in the country houses. But it was clear that I could never find my way into that paradise, to which you did not really belong unless you were born into it. You could only make money, if at all, by a mysterious operation called “going into the City,” and when you came out of the City, having won your £10,000, you were fat and old. But the truly enviable thing about the top notchers was that they were rich while young. For people like me, the ambitious middle class, the examination passers, only a bleak, laborious kind of success was possible. You clambered upwards on a ladder of scholarships into the Home Civil Service or the Indian Civil Service, or possibly you became a barrister. And if at any point you “slacked” or “went off” and missed one of the rungs in the ladder, you became “a little office boy at forty pounds a year.” But even if you climbed to the highest niche that was open to you, you could still only be an underling, a hanger-on of the people who really counted.

George Orwell, Such Were The Joys …, p 31

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a question of where love comes from
March 30, 2018, 3:45 pm
Filed under: chronotopes, the sweet life | Tags: , , ,

Image result for Mother and Son antonioni

Some people grow up scrounging for the little love they can get, and end up never really finding the consolation of a deep and abiding affection. Often they were orphans, went to boarding school, or somehow were separated from their parents.

Other people grow up fully immersed in love, and learn to not doubt the source of it. For them love is a limitless wellspring to which they eternally return for succour; it nurtures in them confidence and entitlement.

I imagine for the first group the alienation and pain can last a lifetime and even spread over several generations of lives. The entitlement of the second group can be painful to anyone looking in from an outside position of deprivation. If there is empathy then perhaps they are somewhat less aggrieved, but if no empathy then exponential suffering.

Genevieve Fox on love:

 

From the moment of my diagnosis, and then my prognosis, a positive one affording me a 70–80 percent chance of my curative treatment being successful, I pondered the nature of love: Had I left my sons enough of it? Does love endure? Is love bankable? What, in short, is the measure of love?

I stumble upon the answer courtesy of an illness that forced me to look back on a childhood marked by loss and the absence of love. An orphan’s life such as my own, lived with a hotchpotch of strangers and then, from the age of fifteen, alone, kept me on my mettle. Looking back on that time with my mother-eyes, I only now see that if you’re parentless and live on your wits, if you don’t belong and wish to do so, you look out for love, take it if you find it, look out for more. But you don’t bank the love; you live off reserves, and do not accrue funds. My sons, by contrast, are emotionally entitled; they default to a state of happiness whose roots reach deep, deep into the constancy of love. There is, for them, no question of where the love comes from or if and when the supplies will dry up. This is not because I am in remission, following a successful treatment, and they no longer fear for my health. It is because they have never known a dry riverbed. The experience of love is alchemical; it creates in a child a place of abundance, of safety.

Words to Live By, Genevieve Fox



ressentiment

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Ressentiment is the emotion of the outsider looking in – to what? – with envy and powerlessness. It’s ascendant among the ranks of the precariat and gigger.

It’s an emotion that results from secularism, meritocracy, egalitarianism and market fundamentalism, ideologies which strip away social bonds and leave us each to struggle – nobly – on our own.

Ressentiment manifests in the outsider as envy, fascination and revulsion; and in the insider as vanity and narcissism.

The outsider is envious of the insider who is an empty shell. The insider, steeped in schadenfreude, hates. The outsider struggles to differentiate himself from peers and friends, and learns to love his abasement.

Rinse and repeat.

Here is Pankaj Mishra on the Age of Anger:

Ressentiment – caused by an intense mix of envy, humiliation and powerlessness – is not simply the French word for resentment. Its meaning was shaped in a particular cultural and social context: the rise of a secular and meritocratic society in the 18th century. Even though he never used the word, the first thinker to identify how ressentiment would emerge from modern ideals of an egalitarian and commercial society was Jean-Jacques Rousseau. An outsider to the Parisian elite of his time, who struggled with envy, fascination, revulsion and rejection, Rousseau saw how people in a society driven by individual self-interest come to live for the satisfaction of their vanity – the desire and need to secure recognition from others, to be esteemed by them as much as one esteems oneself.

But this vanity, luridly exemplified today by Donald Trump’s Twitter account, often ends up nourishing in the soul a dislike of one’s own self while stoking impotent hatred of others; and it can quickly degenerate into an aggressive drive, whereby individuals feel acknowledged only by being preferred over others, and by rejoicing in their abjection. (As Gore Vidal pithily put it: “It is not enough to succeed. Others must fail.”)

 

Welcome to the Age of Anger, Pankaj Mishra



memory is a form of reparation
July 30, 2017, 7:42 pm
Filed under: chronotopes, departure lounge | Tags: ,

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Are we inauthentic when we adjust our body language, tone, etc. when with different people? Or is it a survival tactic?

I moved from S India to Canada in 1979 and my new N American school chums didn’t have the emotional maturity to talk about my other life in Asia. Their words came out racist, xenophobic, jeering and smug. So, I became inauthentic and buried my past for survival.

But the memory, though smothered under the inauthentic survival strategy, persisted. Eventually as we all grew up, I found new ways of talking about my secret life in India with new friends who were older and more mature. There has been a reconciliation between the buried memory and my real time relationships.

Memory is a form of reparation. In my case a way of skirting the nativism and parochialism of American life and inhabiting – virtually and unrequitedly – the places of my childhood.

Here Colm Tóibín describes how memory makes amends:

 

Those of us who move from the provinces pay a toll at the city’s gate, a toll that is doubled in the years that follow as we try to find a balance between what was so briskly discarded and what was so carefully, hesitantly, slyly put in its place. More than thirty years ago, when I was in Egypt, I met a cultivated English couple who invited me to stay in their house in London on my way back to Ireland. They could not have been more charming.

The only problem was that they had an Irish maid who, as soon as I arrived as their guest, began to talk to me in the unvarnished accent of home, as though she had known me all of her life. Since she was from a town near mine, we spoke of people we knew in common or knew by name or reputation. It was all very relaxed and friendly.

Later, after supper, my two English friends asked me if I minded them raising a subject that troubled them. Did I know, they asked, that my accent and tone, indeed my entire body language, had changed when I met their maid? I was almost a different person. Was I aware that I had, in turn, changed back to the person they had met in Egypt once I was alone with them again?

I asked them, did they not also speak in different ways to different people? No, they insisted, they did not. Never! They seemed horrified at the thought. They looked at me as if I was the soul of inauthenticity. And then I realized that those of us who move from the periphery to the center turn our dial to different wavelengths depending on where we are and who else is in the room. In this world, memory becomes a form of reparation, a way of reconnecting the self to a more simple time, a way of hearing an old tune before it became textured with orchestration.

The Class Renegade, Colm Tóibín



rehearsals for revolution

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What good is it to speak out, much less demonstrate: things won’t change, the world is too big and the issues too complicated. Underlying this common argument is rank conservatism masquerading as enlightened rationalism and common sense. You have to plan and speak if you want change.

Demonstrations are rehearsals for eventual revolution; if the element of rehearsal is missing, it’s probably not a real revolution but merely a spectacle. Think, act, speak, live.

The truth is that mass demonstrations are rehearsals for revolution: not strategic or even tactical ones, but rehearsals of revolutionary awareness. The delay between the rehearsals and the real performance may be very long: their quality – the intensity of rehearsed awareness – may, on different occasions, vary considerably: but any demonstration which lacks this element of rehearsal is better described as an officially encouraged public spectacle.

A demonstration, however much spontaneity it may contain, is a created event which arbitrarily separates itself from ordinary life. Its value is the result of its artificiality, for therein lies its prophetic, rehearsing possibilities.

A mass demonstration distinguishes itself from other mass crowds because it congregates in public to create its function, instead of forming in response to one: in this, it differs from any assembly of workers within their place of work – even when strike action is involved – or from any crowd of spectators. It is an assembly which challenges what is given by the mere fact of its coming together.

The Nature of Mass Demonstrations, John Berger



an arrangement that isolates

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photo: Douglas Adesco

Family values derive logically from the Industrial Revolution which own values were to procure labour, with transportation to the place of work, with domestic arrangements (and the assumption of the nurture that may give). That may be the only concession to the pre revolution world social networks and entanglements: a dim, all but extinguished sign of what may have existed as a rich set of social realities.

The nuclear family is a recent invention. As an arrangement that, ideally, isolates a man, woman, and a few children within a single, economically autonomous domestic unit, with only casual or symbolic ties to friends and extended family, it does not seem to predate the Industrial Revolution and the rapid urbanization that followed it. Indeed, the expectation that everyone should find a place in such an arrangement appears to be Fordist in origin: the same vision of the future that caused us to believe that everyone might have a place in a system of production, might commute to it in an automobile, and might return home at the end of the day to a freestanding domicile with a family inside.

Working Arrangement, Justin E. H. Smith, Lapham’s Quarterly



tricks and dodges
October 30, 2016, 7:47 pm
Filed under: chronotopes | Tags: , , ,

Image result for tricks and dodges sir thomas more utopia

Tricks and dodges and law used by the rich to make society in their image and to use the poor to do it, when, in another way there is more than enough to go around.

“…when I consider any social system that prevails in the modern world, I can’t, so help me God, see it as anything but a conspiracy of the rich to advance their own interests under the pretext of organizing society. They think up all sorts of tricks and dodges, first for keeping safe their ill-gotten gains, and then for exploiting the poor by buying their labour as cheaply as possible. Once the rich have decided that these tricks and dodges shall be officially recognized by society – which includes the poor as well as the rich – they acquire the force of law. Thus an unscrupulous minority is led by its insatiable greed to monopolize what would have been enough to supply the needs of the whole population…”

Thomas More, Utopia, 1516