Neruda’s The great urinator

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Pablo Neruda, From Selected Failings (Defectos Escogidos) 1972-1973

The Great Urinator (El Gran Orinador)

The great urinator was yellow

and the stream that came down

was bronze-colored rain

on the domes of churches,

on the roofs of cars,

on factories and cemeteries,

on the populace and their gardens.

 

Who was it, where was it?

 

It was a density, thick liquid

falling as from

a horse, and frightened passersby

with no umbrellas

looked up skyward,

meanwhile avenues were flooding

and urine inexhaustibly flowing

underneath doors,

backing up drains, disintegrating

marble floors, carpets,

staircases.

 

Nothing could be detected. Where

was this peril?

 

What was going to happen to the world?

 

From on high the great urinator

was silent and urinated.

 

What does this signify?

 

I am a pale and artless poet

not here to work out riddles

or recommend special umbrellas.

 

Hasta la vista! I greet you and go off

to a country where they won’t ask me questions.

 

Montaigne on introspection

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If no one reads me,

have I wasted my time, entertaining myself for so many idle hours with such useful and agreeable thoughts? … I have no more made my book than my book has made me — a book consubstantial with its author …

Have I wasted my time by taking stock of myself so continually, so carefully? For those who go over themselves only in their minds and occasionally in speech do not penetrate to essentials in their examination as does a man who makes that his study, his work, and his trade, who binds himself to keep an enduring account, with all his faith, with all his strength.

Indeed, the most delightful pleasures are digested inwardly, avoid leaving any traces, and avoid the sight not only of the public but of any other person.

— Michel de Montaigne

Muñoz Molina on the novel

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The novel subjects itself to its own limits and at the same time opens itself up to an exploration of depths that are within and without (the writer) and that only (the writer) was meant to discover. You’re writing even when you don’t write. Narrative imagination does not feed on what is invented; It feeds on the past. Every minor or trivial event that one experiences or discovers in the course of an investigation can be valuable or even decisive for the novel, occupying a minimal but precise place within it, like an uneven cobblestone …

… The novel has developed on its own with the unlimited richness of reality and the blank spaces I haven’t been tempted to fill, spaces in the shadows that cannot be illuminated …

…The novel is what I write and also the room where I work. The novel is the fine-point pen that ran out of ink one day when I wrote for five or six hours without stopping and filled an entire notebook. The novel is made with everything I know and everything I don’t know, and with the sensation of groping my way through this story but never finding a precise narrative outline.

— Antonio Muñoz Molina, Like a Fading Shadow. Translated by Camilo A. Ramirez. Published by Editorial Planeta, S.A., 2014. Translation copyright 2017 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York.

one in the chamber

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Neither mood nor biology shifts according to a calendar. This body runs on its own time. The mind operates in several time zones at once. Electricity powers the heart. I eat almost nothing, fueled by liquids and books and nerves. Love, too.

I try to read the dictionary every day—at least a page. I wish I had the dedication of Malcolm X, who copied the dictionary repeatedly by hand to teach himself to read. He was in jail at the time, a petty criminal whose initial way to the light was religion. He learned that Allah’s message was a necessary truth that had somehow eluded him, had been stolen from his youth. This knowledge became an impetus to act, requiring more study. He became a teacher. His internal truth continued to evolve, much like the reader and the writer of these words.

*

To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. — Emerson

*

There’s a case, there’s a man and a case, and that man and his case penetrate time and space. Reader beware, keen reader beware, what you’re reading is rare and took care to prepare.

Notes from Streeck

“Capitalism has always been an improbable social formation, full of conflicts and contradictions, therefore permanently unstable and in flux, and highly conditional on historically contingent and precarious supportive as well as constraining events and institutions.”[1]

“The tensions and contradictions within the capitalist political-economic configuration make for an ever-present possibility of structural breakdown and social crisis.”[2]

“In fact, the history of modern capitalism can be written as a succession of crises that capitalism survived only at the price of deep transformations of its economic and social institutions, saving it from bankruptcy in unforeseeable and often unintended ways…The fact that capitalism has until now managed to outlive all predictions of its impending death need not mean that it will forever be able to do so; […] we cannot rule out the possibility that, next time, whatever cavalry capitalism may require for its security may fail to show up.”[3]

“Why should capitalism, whatever its deficiencies, be in crisis at all if it no longer has any opposition worthy of the name? When Communism imploded in 1989, this was widely viewed as capitalism’s final triumph.”[4]

“My answer is that having no opposition may be more of a liability for capitalism than an asset. Social systems thrive on internal heterogeneity, on a pluralism of organizing principles protecting them from dedicating themselves entirely to a single purpose, crowding out other goals that must also be attended to if the system is to be sustainable.”[5]

“Capitalism without opposition is left to its own devices, which do not include self-restraint…We are already in a position to observe capitalism passing away as a result of having destroyed its opposition—dying, as it were, from an overdose of itself.”[6]

On oligarchic redistribution and the outcome of the economic crisis of 2008: “The possibility as provided by a global capital market of rescuing yourself and your family by exiting together with your possessions offers the strongest possible temptation for the rich to move into endgame mode—cash in, burn bridges, and leave nothing behind but scorched earth.”[7]

“German philosopher Max Weber (1864-1920) drew a sharp line between capitalism and greed, pointing to what he believed were its origins in the religious tradition of Protestantism. According to Weber, greed had existed everywhere, and at all times; not only was it NOT distinctive of capitalism, it was even apt to subvert it. Capitalism was based NOT on a desire to get rich on self-discipline, methodical effort, responsible stewardship, sober devotion to a calling, and to a rational organization of life…Weber’s ethical vindication of capitalism now seems to apply to an altogether different world. Finance is an “industry’ where innovation is hard to distinguish from rule-bending or rule-breaking; where the payoffs from semi-legal and illegal activities are particularly high; where the gradient in expertise and pay between firms and regulatory authorities is extreme; where the revolving doors between the two offer unending possibilities for subtle and not-so-subtle corruption.”[8]

“The Weberian attempt to prevent it from being confounded with greed has finally failed, as it has more than ever become synonymous with corruption.”[9]

“The capitalist system is at present stricken with at least five worsening disorders for which no cure is at hand: declining growth, oligarchy, starvation of the public sphere, corruption, and international anarchy. What is to be expected, based on capitalism’s recent historical record, is a long and painful period of cumulative decay, intensifying frictions, fragility and uncertainty, and a steady succession of ‘normal accidents’ quite possibly on the scale of the global breakdown of the 1930s.”[10]

§

[1] Streeck, Wolfgang: How Will Capitalism End? Essays on a Failing System. Verso Books, London, 2016: 1.

[2] 2

[3] 4

[4] 59

[5] 60

[6] 65

[7] 69

[8] 70

[9] 71

[10] 72

Fighting in the halls

I returned to my room to find my belongings disrespectfully strewn about. The nurses had dumped the contents of my dresser onto the bed, drawers included. Nothing of my wardrobe remained neatly hung. Books lay scattered like debris in the room, some of the titles lying open and visibly damaged—one page in particular tattooed with a dirty shoe print.

I snatched my suitcase from the closet floor and began packing it, first with books but then removing some titles to pack clothing and other necessities. The two male nurses entered the room as I worked. The quiet one remained quiet.

The other one said: The director wants to see you.

At first I didn’t do anything. Then I nodded and smiled, stepping slowly toward them. I raised the arm without the suitcase in a gesture of acquiescence and surprised them with a sudden charge forth in which I knocked them both out of my way and ran out the door to the hallway, sliding on the tile with my suitcase flailing in my left hand. I heard one of the nurses fall on the tile and then I heard them both scrambling after me. I ran past patient rooms with doors closed and some open to the sound of televisions playing too loud, I ran past faces turning too late to behold the humanoid blur speeding through the hall. What were the blur’s intentions? I turned right at the hall’s end toward the cafeteria but slid into a small depression made for an alarmed exit door. I waited for the nurses to run past me into the cafeteria and perhaps out the cafeteria doors onto the back lawn, but they did not. Perhaps they saw me slide into the depression or perhaps it was a poor decision, premature to try and trick them. The quiet one was there reaching for me with thick fingers, his forearms fertile with black hair. I punched him almost square in the chin with my right. It surprised him and he staggered back into the arms of the talkative one, who regarded me with eyes wide and full of violent delight.

The talkative one said: You’re fuckin dead.

I stepped forward and swung the suitcase up in a wide arc toward his face but it was too heavy and slow and he dodged it easily. The quiet one dove downward and got hold of my legs. I dropped the suitcase and with my hands clasped together brought them down forcefully on the back of the quiet one’s neck. I was able to bash him that way three times before the talkative one tackled me down. The quiet one had fallen asleep from the blows to his neck and only the talkative one remained. He was big and strong. He tried to wrestle me to obtain a dominant position but I slipped from his grasp and quickly got back to my feet. He stood and we squared each other up. He seemed amused but serious. He was wiry and had the composure of someone who’d fought many fights. A small crowd began to gather around us, murmuring like cats. Time seemed to slow so that passing seconds were audible disturbances. I had only been in two or three fistfights in my life, all of them during childhood. But my anger outweighed any trepidation or fear—my lack of fighting experience had been kidnapped by adrenaline. He swung for my face with his left and I dodged it. Then he swung with his right and he was too quick. He got me on the nose and my eyes welled with water. I tried to kick him and he dodged it easily. He laughed and re-centered himself with his hands by his cheeks, moving laterally like a boxer in a ring. I tried kicking him again just to keep some distance while my eyes stopped watering. He lowered his head and charged, tackling me into the wall with a thud and prompting an audible gasp from the observers, now numbering at least a dozen. We fell to the ground with him on top. He pushed himself up and raised his right hand toward his ear and I looked into his eyes to regard pure vacant fury. Then he blasted his hand into my face just under the right eye. My head bounced off the tile to another audible gasp from the onlookers. The nurse raised his fist up near his ear again.

GIBSON! screamed a voice from afar.

The nurse looked from me up to the source of the voice, his eyes wide as clarity and reason began to resurface. He dropped his hand, his chest heaving with air.

Director Hitchens’s shoes clicked on the tile as he ran toward us. A dull pain like a bruise began to spread at the back of my head. My lungs yearned for air but it was too difficult with the nurse atop me. I pushed him off, aware of swelling and extra blood below my eye, hot like lava beneath the skin.

Hitchens slid on the tile as he came to a stop. He seemed tired and haggard. He’d had a long day. He looked at me and then the quiet nurse coming to on the tile next to me and said: What the hell is going on here?

Notes from Jan-Werner Müller

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From Müller, Jan-Werner. What is Populism? University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2016.

*

Populism arises with the introduction of liberal democracy; it is its shadow.[1]

Populism is a particular moralistic imagination of politics, a way of perceiving the political world that sets a morally pure and fully unified—but ultimately fictional—narrative of people against elites who are deemed corrupt or in some other way morally inferior. In addition to being anti-elitist, populists are always anti-pluralist: populists claim that they and only they represent the people. There can be no populism without someone speaking in the name of the people as a whole.[2]

A core claim of populism is that only some of the people are really the people.[3]

Principled, moralized anti-pluralism and the reliance on a non-institutionalized notion of “the people” also helps explain why populists so frequently oppose the “morally correct” outcome of a vote to the actual empirical results of an election, especially when the latter was not in their favor. […] Convention itself is rigged. In short, the problem is never the populist’s imperfect capacity to represent the people’s will; rather, it’s always the institutions that somehow produce the wrong outcomes. Even if the institutions look properly democratic, there must be something happening behind the scenes that allows corrupt elites to continue to betray the people. Conspiracy theories are thus not a curious addition to populist rhetoric; they are rooted in and emerge from the very logic of populism itself.[4]

Populists always want to cut out the middle man and rely as little as possible on complex party organizations as intermediaries between citizens and politicians. The same is true for wanting to be done with journalists: the media is routinely accused by populists of “mediating,” which is exactly what they are supposed to do, but which is seen by populists as somehow distorting political reality.[5]

While populist parties do indeed protest against elites, this does not mean that populism in government is contradictory. Many populist victors continue to behave like victims … polarizing and preparing the people for nothing less than what is conjured up as a kind of apocalyptic confrontation. They seek to moralize political conflict as much as possible. There is never a dearth of enemies, and these are always nothing less than enemies of the people as a whole.[6]

It is with the rise of the Tea Party and Donald Trump’s rise in 2015-2016 that populism has become of major importance in American politics. Clearly, anger has played a role, but anger by itself is not much of an explanation of anything. The reasons for that anger have something to do with a sense that the country is changing culturally in ways deeply objectionable to a certain percentage of American citizens. There is the increasing influence of social-sexual liberal values in which white Protestants (the “real people”) have less and less purchase on social reality.[7]

Populists should be criticized for what they are—a real danger to democracy. But that does not mean one should not engage them in political debate. Talking with populists is not the same as talking like populists. One can take the problems they raise seriously without accepting the ways in which they frame these problems.[8]


[1] 20

[2] 19-20

[3] 21

[4] 31-32

[5] 35

[6] 42

[7] 91

[8] 103