Sergio Pitol on books

The book accomplishes a multitude of tasks, some superb, others deplorable; it dispenses knowledge and misery, illuminates and deceives, liberates and manipulates, exalts and humbles, creates or cancels the options of life. Without it, needless to say, no culture would be possible. History would disappear, and our future would be cloaked in dark, sinister clouds. Those who hate books also hate life. No matter how impressive the writings of hatred may be, the printed word for the most part tips the balance toward light and generosity. Don Quixote will always triumph over Mein Kampf. As for the humanities and the sciences, books will continue to be their ideal space, their pillars of support.

 

Pitol, Sergio, trans by George Henson. The Magician of Vienna, Deep Vellum Publishing, Dallas: 6. 

Notes from Asad Haider

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On Peggy McIntosh’s White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack:

McIntosh writes “White privilege is like an invisible weightless knapsack of special provisions, maps, passports, codebooks, visas, clothes, tool and blank checks.” The knapsack is carried by an individual navigating an entirely open social field. It contains tools that enable the individual to navigate this field with greater effectiveness than those whose knapsacks are comparatively empty. The resources contained in the knapsack constitute whiteness as privilege, because the knapsack is carried by an individual who belongs to the white identity.[1]

[It is assumed that] If the knapsack of privileges is carried by an individual already identifiable as white, then whiteness must be understood as a biological trait. The falseness of this notion is evident: the people who are currently described as white have a wide and complex range of genetic lineages, many of which were previously considered to be separate “races” of their own…In reality, whiteness itself is constituted by the contents of the knapsack. The constitution of whiteness as identity and its constitution as privilege are simultaneous: the knapsack’s provisions confer not only advantages but also identity upon its bearer.[2]

On the “white race”

This racial phenomenon is not simply a biological or even cultural attribute of certain “white people”: it was produced by white supremacy in a concrete and objective historical process. As Ted Allen wrote on the back cover of his The Invention of the White Race: “When the first Africans arrived in Virginia in 1619, there were no white people there.”

Allen was pointing to the fact that the word white didn’t appear in Virginia colonial law until 1691. Of course this doesn’t mean there was no racism before 1691. Allen’s argument was to show that racism was not attached to a concept of the white race. There were ideas of the superiority of the European civilization, but this did not correspond to differences in skin color.[3]

The historical record quite clearly demonstrates that white supremacy and thus the white race are formed within the American transition to capitalism, specifically because of the centrality of racial slavery. But we must resist the temptation, imposed on us by racial ideology, to explain slavery through race. Slavery is not always racial…it is a form of forced labor characterized by the market exchange of the laborer. There are various forms of forced labor, and the first form in Virginia was indentured labor, in which a laborer is forced to work for a limited period of time to work off a debt, often with some incentive like land ownership after the end of the term. The first Africans to arrive in Virginia in 1619 were put to work as indentured servants, within the same legal category as European indentured servants. In fact, until 1660 all African-American laborers, like their European-American counterparts, were indentured servants with limited terms of servitude. There was no legal differentiation based on racial ideology: free African-Americans owned property, land, and sometimes indentured servants of their own. There were examples of inter-marriage between Africans and Europeans. It was only in the late-seventeenth century that the labor force of the American colonies shifted decisively to African slaves who did not have limits on their terms of servitude.[4]

The Euro-American ruling class had to advance an ideology of the inferiority of Africans in order to rationalize forced labor, and they had to incorporate European populations into the category of the white race, despite the fact that many of these populations had previously been considered inferior.[5]

[1] Haider, Asad. Mistaken Identity: Race and Class in the Age of Trump. Verso Books, London, 2018: 45.

[2][2]Ibid, 46.

[3]Ibid, 51.

[4]Ibid, 53.

[5]Ibid, 56.

A fly in the marketplace

I have become a fly in the marketplace. I buzz and irritate my fellow men and women with newfound toxicity. Capitalism has done this to me — entrapped me in the public domain, away from my cloistered work room and much-valued solitude. Now I fly and buzz with the others, content with my lack of desire and inspiration, poised only to interact in the marketplace, consume, and procreate. I now spread the disease of mediocrity and uniformity as an instrument of the capitalist machine.

From Nietzsche’s Zarathustra:

Flee, my friend, into your solitude! I see you defeated with the noise of the great men and pricked by the strings of the little men.

Forest and rock know well how to be silent with you. Be like the tree again, the wide-branching tree that you love — silently and attentively it hangs out over the sea.

Where solitude ends, there the marketplace begins; and where the marketplace begins, there begins also the noise of the great actors and the buzzing of poisonous flies.

Even the best things in the world are worthless without those who first present them. People call these presenters great men.

The people have little comprehension of greatness, that is to say: creativeness. But they have a taste for all presenters and actors of great things.

The world revolves around the inventors of new values; invisibly it revolves. But around the actors revolve the people and fame; so the world goes.

The actor has spirit but little conscience of the spirit. He always believes in that with which he most powerfully produces belief — produces belief in himself!

Bolaño’s literary kitchen

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“In my ideal literary kitchen there lives a warrior, whom some voices (disembodied voices, voices that cast no shadow) call a writer. This warrior is always fighting. He knows that in the end, no matter what he does, he’ll be defeated. But he still roams the literary kitchen, which is built of cement, and faces his opponent without begging for mercy or granting it.”

— Roberto Bolaño

Echoes of silence

 

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I imagined him leaning over the page by candlelight while the rest of the hospital slept, night after night, his true voice pouring from the pen in measured strokes, filling the void of sound in his throat and in that quiet building with the voices of multitudes. The cold winter months abated, new growth sprouted in the crystalline valley below Clyvesell, and Wade was there looking out the window and writing. Sun scorched the mountain relentlessly in the summers and Wade was there with his notepad, cloaked in the solitude of night, stealing sleep during the day when he could. He worked his jobs, he attended therapy sessions, events, activities when required, which was often. But he lived for the night, when the echoes of silence throughout Clyvesell could not hush his mind, his pen.

Others

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Last week I drafted a short piece in my notebook about other people, namely my aversion to them. Today I read a passage in Fernando Pessoa’s The Book of Disquiet that puts my piece to shame. This from Pessoa:

Isolation made me in its own image. The presence of another person — one person is all it takes — immediately slows down my thinking … When I am alone, I can come up with endless bon mots, acerbic ripostes to remarks no one has made, sociable flashes of wit exchanged with no one; but all this disappears when I’m confronted by another human being. I lose all my intelligence, I lose the power of speech, and after a while all I feel like doing is sleeping. Yes, talking to people makes me feel like sleeping. Only my spectral and imagined friends, only the conversations I have in dreams, have reality and substance, and in them the spirit is present like an image in a mirror.

The whole idea of being forced into contact with someone oppresses me. A simple invitation to supper from a friend produces in me an anguish difficult to put into words. The idea of any social obligation — going to a funeral, discussing something with someone at the office, going to meet someone (whether known or unknown) at the station — the mere idea blocks that whole day’s thoughts and sometimes I even worry about it the night before and sleep badly because of it. Yet the reality, when it comes, is utterly insignificant, and certainly doesn’t justify so much fuss, yet it happens again and again and I never learn.

‘My habits are those of solitude, not men.’ I don’t know if it was Rousseau or Senancour who said that, but it was some spirit belonging to the same species as me.

Churchill on landlords

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Roads are made, streets are made, services are improved, electric light turns night into day, water is brought from reservoirs a hundred miles off in the mountains — all the while the landlord sits still. Every one of those improvements is affected by the labor and cost of other people and the taxpayers. To not one of these improvements does the land monopolist contribute, and yet, by every one of them the value of his land is enhanced. He renders no service to the community, he contributes nothing to the general welfare, he contributes nothing to the process from which his own enrichment is derived…The unearned increment on the land is reaped by the land monopolist in exact proportion, not to the service, but to the disservice done.

— Winston Churchill, 1909