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Against Capitalism Chat #26

Yet another article on the decline of San Francisco as anywhere anybody who used to live there would now want to live…

I realize I’ve already written enough about the tragedy of SF, but if I keep coming back to it it’s because that city was so rare and so hidden away and untouched and beautiful (I know, I know, but it’s true), it was something spectacular, and for the people living there now (not just for me, for them), it’s not. They’ve made it less than that themselves.

As have the companies they work for: companies who continue to label as progress what are only advancements in consumerism—cheap tricks based on new tech’s inherent ability to stay ahead of regulatory laws (Uber, Air BnB, etc.).

You can make an app to benefit the public, the economy at large, or you can make one to scam people. You can change a city in just the same way. In SF it’s become an economic social Darwinism. Change is inevitable, it’s our choice of how to apply those changes that should be acted upon with a conscience (didn’t we already go over this?).

It’s hard to believe the city will ever recover. It has never had such an insidious opponent. Earthquakes are easier to overcome.

for every grain of sand that runs

Our fourth presentation of A. L Tennyson for the holidays. Revere the beard.

Alfred, Lord Tennyson

 

CIV

The time draws near the birth of Christ;
The moon is hid, the night is still;
A single church below the hill
Is pealing, folded in the mist.

A single peal of bells below,
That wakens at this hour of rest
A single murmur in the breast,
That these are not the bells I know.

Like strangers’ voices here they sound,
In lands where not a memory strays,
Nor landmark breathes of other days,
But all is new unhallow’d ground.

-from In Memoriam, 1850

Merry, merry, Literary.

*

Once again, the Homeless Christmas Tree…

Homeless Tree

Read More Poetry Rant #18

It’s a confounding trend in literary fiction these days that many folks—and I’m including some editors of lit websites and publications—are trying to separate themselves from poetry, the better to lean towards pop fiction. Essentially, they are isolating themselves from those that want to fight the same fight. Firstly, it’s delusional, because the literary fiction ship is going down at almost the same rapid rate as poetry. And secondly, it’s counterproductive, since the two forms are closer to each other than they are to any others. It reminds me of the Robinson Jeffers’ quote (from 1938) about poetry living “in terror of prose, and desperately trying to save its soul from the victor by giving up its body”. 75 years later, it’s prose living in terror of pop.

One editor of a literary review website recently told me: “Poetry can be a tough sell”. I hope no one told him poetry was going to be a big seller when he first got in the game (by the way, you can’t call yourself a literary publication and have no poetry). As most of us know, poetry has never been an expedient of capital accrual. It has, however, always been of great value to those of us willing to give in to its charms. Here’s my view of one of its best practitioners. Via Coldfront, a mag that cares.

MeyerCare

Apropos of last week’s rollout of tipless dining at Danny Meyer restaurants, I offer this third-party explanation of benefits and changes to your old plan.

Firstly, all of the establishments affected are of a general type: midscale-to-fine dining one might classify them. They constitute the majority of restaurants qua restaurants in this country, that is, not food generators such as lunch spots or fast food or lower-cost outlets, but restaurants that those with disposable income go to in order to ‘dine out’, restaurants that serve a planned and selected ‘cuisine’, etc.

They are nearly all staffed by the same type of server/bartender: young, transient, many (if not the majority at this point) college educated, full of interests, culinary and otherwise.

They are all currently run on tips.

Service, the fact of one person serving another, with its implicit disparaging relationship—you are here to serve me—always requires a little dissembling. In order to serve well one must serve with a smile, or at least with the neutral face of acquired skill. What is now known as ‘customer service’ is founded on the same tradition that evolved out of Victorian norms of slavery and caste systems. Only now, money has replaced the threat of violence or the stigma of long-held cultural belief.

Where this money comes from is a funny thing. In search of profits, restaurants, unlike other American industry, have created a sort of inverse system: not reliant on outsourced production (rents, raw materials, labor markets), but instead upon outsourced wages. This makes some sense. In order for a successful restaurant to thrive it must acquire top real estate (at top rents), top food/ingredients (moreover as local as possible), and top qualified labor in these high-volume areas (usually big expensive cities). To be able to afford all three the cost of the third is handed over to the responsibility of the customer.

Read more…

we want another one! just like the other one!

Another one, over at Full Stop.

the M Train

TMM

I recently read Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, a great mass of a book, entirely on the subway, in rides of 23 to 45 minutes. Turns out, it’s a great book for this type of reading. Turns out, it’s not a great book.

For the first 400 pages (which you might consider a lot, if you weren’t reading this peculiar opus) it’s not even a good book. After that, things get more Mannian. I want to say here: I love Thomas Mann’s short stories/novellas. They are incredible feats of thick aesthetics and driving prose. Until page 440 or so, The Magic Mountain has none of this. In roughly 100-page installments, this is first shocking, then unnerving, then disillusioning, then despairing. Finally, redemptive.

It’s interesting that this translation, by John E Woods, is an updated version of the old Lowe-Porter translation, and cuts some two hundred pages in total. Those 200 extra probably would have thrown me off the chase. I am duly grateful.

Though I cannot recommend this particular literary experience, I have come around in recent years to hailing the NYC subway as a great venue for reading the laborious classics: War and PeaceTom Jones, pretty much anything by Balzac or Dickens (definitely do not read the engaging classics this way: UlyssesAbsalom AbsalomThe Golden Bowl, et al). These big, wordy, messy books are loosely fashioned, tailor-made for the desultory read. They are still engaging, certainly, but they engage via mass advances and retreats, old-school open-field warfare, so that your mind can wander up the legs of that lady standing next to you, or fortify itself against the obnoxious music of a group of young acrobats, without losing the thread, or fully departing from the world of the book.

So open those tomes New Yorkers!

If I see another 35+ playing a thumbs-only video game on his phone, I’m going to barf. Which might then at least provide a creamy aegis for my quiet reading.

Thomas the Mann

The Reign of James, Son of Richard

By the #s

James Richardson, a poet I first read in the New Yorker a couple years ago and subsequently got to know through his most recent collection, By the Numbers, and his selected poems, Interglacial, is, in this small-time reviewer’s opinion, the real deal. A man with a prodigious critical faculty, he crafts his poems in all sorts of ways: short, long, rambling, terse, comic and tragic, rhyming and rhythmic, full of figurative language and factual description.

Here’s the poem I read in the New Yorker:

“Essay on Wood”

At dawn when rowboats drum on the dock
and every door in the breathing house bumps softly
as if someone were leaving quietly, I wonder
if something in us is made of wood,
maybe not quite the heart, knocking softly,
or maybe not made of it, but made for its call.

Of all the elements, it is happiest in our houses.
It will sit with us, eat with us, lie down
and hold our books (themselves a rustling woods),
bearing our floors and roofs without weariness,
for unlike us it does not resent its faithfulness
or question why, for what, how long?

Its branchings have slowed the invisible feelings of light
into vortices smooth for our hands,
so that every fine-grained handle and page and beam
is a wood-word, a standing wave:
years that never pass, vastness never empty,
speed so great it cannot be told from peace.

It’s a fantastic poem, one of my favorites. Tightly composed, astute, enlightening, full of alliterative feeling, a focus on the science of life as much as the consciousness of it, and, in typical Richardson style, slowly musing on a theme, like ripples through the brain. So much in so little space, a true act of poetry.

Read more…