Archive | December, 2010

Playing Cassandra.

28 Dec

A Year in Reverse, Part II.

(Part I was Deluded Democracy, about elections around the world.)

The first of these.. snippets is a dismembered essay I wrote for popmatters back in February. That essay makes less sense every time I read it, and I’m hoping the remnants of it will fare better. Another essay that would’ve made it into this series is Of Nativity, where my allegiance to Frantz Fanon was recorded for posterity to note. It has already found its way onto this blog, however, and that’s that as far as introduction goes.

Playing Cassandra.

Barbara Ehrenreich is a woman of demonstrably diverse talents. If she should want to find conventional employment, one would assume it would be a fairly easy process. Bait and Switch is a detailed exposition into why one would be wrong. In it, she goes undercover again, as she did in Nickel and Dimed, this time in the very white collar world of PR and marketing. Excluding the publishing world, she starts the book applying and searching for marketing/PR positions promiscuously, sans moral qualm and geography. Her single string is income level, yet she spends the rest of the book upgrading herself in vain. 

I read this book amazed at the ‘transition’ industry unemployment in America has spawned, converting desperation into dollars. By synthesizing selfishness with self-help, Corporate America seems to have learnt how to systemically shed people while simultaneously convincing them it’s their own fault they’re out of a job.

Ehrenreich describes her steady line of career coaches offering contradictory advice on the basis of loopy personality tests, one of whom hilariously advises her to work on her writing skills. She negotiates the catch-22 of “appropriate” attire for corporate women (simultaneously professional and feminine, without being either threatening or provocative), encounters the evangelical Right, and discovers the new workforce makes the people it retains as miserable as the ones it fires. Several of the people she networks with are employed, but desperate to find alternate employment: either because they are underemployed and dissatisfied, or because they are stretched far too thin compensating for fired colleagues. Apart from time and energy, she ultimately spends $6,000 on her job search: money spent on coaches, resume-checkers, job sites, networking “clubs” and “events”, bootcamp (essentially group therapy), a wardrobe consultant, a “professional development seminar” until, finally (and fittingly), she is offered the chance to pay someone to employ her.

Mervyn Peake, Mad Hatters.

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Deluded Democracy

23 Dec

A Year in Reverse, Part One.

Over the next week, I shall be putting up collections of things I wrote this year that haven’t made it to this blog yet. Pre-bogey readers, all ten of you, will remember I blogged for Himal SouthAsian earlier in 2010, and these were mostly written to that end. They are ‘political’ reportage, if you will be generous with your definition. Mostly, I talk about news I find interesting. This year that happened more often than is usual, as Chaosbogey’s Politics will tell you. Here is me covering other elections from the year.

The second part of the reversal was Playing Cassandra.

Antique Wine in an Antique Bottle.

June, 2010

The recent demolition of the West Bengal CPI (M) in Calcutta municipality elections brokered many fates. In a country where some form of election is a daily occurrence, municipal elections inevitably get the short shrift. Not so here.  Newspapers and pundits portend that it marks a turned tide, that 2011 assembly elections shall see the party in the bay rather than in Bengal. Writers’ Building (in Calcutta, even administration must have a booksy air) might finally see new occupation: Mamata Banerjee and her Trinamool Congress.

Writers Building

The party in present form is evidently just the Lady, a few trusted deputies, and her unwavering agenda of uprooting the CPI (M). One wonders how this party will cope with the delegation of government. To the facile observer, Banerjee’s Didi might echo that other formidable and self-reliant Lady CM: Mayawati’s Behenji (even their honorifics collide). An important difference remains. Mayawati has had spells of power to considerably enrich herself, while Mamata is that rare mystery: an impecunious politico. She is currently Union Railway Minister, an easy route to padded bank accounts. Perhaps her restraint was just prudence: what is a ministry compared to the treasury of an entire state? Will she stay uncorrupted by power once her crusade is accomplished? It is a wager Bengal appears willing to take.

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Homage to Catalonia.

20 Dec

Come close to my clamour,

people fed from the same breast,

tree whose roots

keep me in prison,

because I am here to love you

and I am here to defend you

with my blood and with my mouth

as two faithful rifles.

— Sitting upon the Dead, Miguel Hernandez.

(An edited version of this essay appeared on mylaw.net)

The Spanish Civil War is a bellwether for humanities geeks. For most, it was just one more brutal event in a brutal decade: with things like the Holocaust and atomic bombs to report, how interesting are a bunch of anarchists running around trying to change the world? There are a smattering of those in every war. For us nerds, however, the war means much more: it was a harbinger, a prophecy, a betrayal. This was as true at the time it happened as it is now; which is why all the eccentrics and writers of the world were drawn to the battle like moths to a flame. It was a war in which, as Auden once wrote, poets exploded like bombs.  Think back to any mid-century poet or journalist, and odds are they were annealed by fires across Spain. Orwell describes a very cosmopolitan Catalonia, brimming with Italians, Frenchmen, Germans, Poles, not to mention the Russians; Neruda, for that matter, made his way all the way from Chile. Spain, too, offered up her own literary sacrifices: Lorca, killed by Franco in Granada; Miguel Hernandez, lost to prison and pneumonia.

Orwell was amongst the first wave of these adventurists, and Homage to Catalonia is a bitter love-story about the country and the ideals he was determined to save. It begins in 1936, when Orwell first joined the POUM militia on the Aragon front, and closes in 1937, when he is running from Barcelona with the police, as he put it, one jump behind him. The story of how a soldier became a traitor is the story of Homage to Catalonia.

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Death and the Poet.

17 Dec

He was seen walking only with Her,

and unafraid of her scythe.

– The sun now on tower after tower, hammers

on anvils – anvil on anvil, of the forges.

Federico was speaking

flattering Death. She listened.

‘Yesterday in my verse, friend,

the clap of your dry palms sounded,

you gave ice to my song, your silver

scythe’s edge to my tragedy,

I’ll sing to you of your wasted flesh,

your empty eyes,

your hair the wind stirs,

the red lips where you were kissed…

Now as ever, gypsy, my death,

how good to be alone with you,

in this breeze of Granada, my Granada!

— Antonio Machado, The Crime Was in Granada.

This month I’m attempting “Chronicles of Short Books”, where I take small books by big writers and attempt to.. supplement them. I’m not quite sure how this works yet; broadly, I aim to stay faithful to the authors’ perspectives, but necessarily not to their knowledge. My cards have been stormy lately, there is much war and death in them, and I recommend buckling down for gloomy posts. But I’m guessing you lot don’t particularly fancy methodological disquisitions, so let’s move right on.

Orwell’s Homage to Catalonia, the small book that changed my life forever, will begin the series in the next post.  It was because of Looking Back on the Spanish War thatI went onto read Robert Fisk’s Great War for Civilisation, the biggest big-book of my young and sorry life. Between them, Orwell and Fisk taught me that the world around me demanded considerably more attention than I accorded it, and my tryst with non-fiction evolved into a full-blown affair.

This post records the poets and volunteers the Spanish war immortalised, for this was a war of illusions, and they were the ones who pierced it best.
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