The first intellectual consequence of the economic crisis was to undermine neoliberalism—or the belief in the sufficiency of markets to secure human welfare—as the age’s default ideology.
The Intellectual Situation
“Gentrification”: the term evokes the political and mental life of two generations of city-dwellers. On one interpretation, it was the forced displacement of the urban working class by mobile, college-educated professionals. On another, it was the restoration of city life in the imagination of a West that had supposedly given it up for suburban sprawl. An entire understanding of what cities were for and where they were going was bound up in the ambiguous word. All the energies of urban thought went into debating its meaning.
“A few months ago a lot of people thought the world was coming to an end. Now they’re dancing in the streets and going out to restaurants.” So a mutual fund strategist told the Times in mid-July 2009, midsummer, mid-crisis. Meanwhile we have a friend who works at a restaurant in Brooklyn—he hasn’t lost his job, but he makes two-thirds of what he did last year, and the restaurant’s owner has taken to gazing distractedly at the empty tables and scooting toward the door when someone reminds him he owes them money. The owner was always an alcoholic, but not like this.
Many things changed in the twentieth century. No change was more momentous and utopian than that men could choose men for love objects, and women choose women, to remake the sexual household. If the household organization of three thousand years of recorded history could be altered simply in the interest of what people wanted, in the interest of desire, then anything could be changed.
Meanwhile the US government has extended so much aid to various other sectors of the economy, and it’s expected to have to do more, that now people are worried about US credit. To buy credit protection on US government debt now costs you more than to buy credit protection on Campbell’s Soup! But buying credit protection on the US, it’s sort of a mind-bending concept. The US only issues in dollars, it only issues in its own currency. More to the point, from whom are you going to buy protection on the US government’s credit? If the US government defaults, what bank is going to be able to make good on that contract? Who are you going to buy that contract from, the Martians?
Chris Kraus’s I Love Dick is a great book to give as a gift to somebody you are hoping to sleep with. Explicit but subtle, its title contains two meanings, the first of which, despite appearances, is not aggressively sexual but in fact gentle and literary. And unlike flowers, which will die in a matter of days, I Love Dick can sit on a bookshelf for years, beguiling and suggestive.
This morning we drove to the storage unit on the outskirts of Albuquerque and put Dan’s possessions neatly into the U-Haul. There was no emotional response from anyone. We approached it as a task to be accomplished, a chore to be done, and we did it, simple as that. A life, or the remnants thereof, packed neatly into a 5×8 trailer.
He was directed to take a second test, one he could only recall later as assessing one’s aptitude in “general culture.” This, too, he passed. Finally the government told the remaining fifteen students what the tests were for. With an air of great benevolence and gravity, a functionary from the Ministry of Work told Gabriel he would be working in the movies.
Many scientists and philosophers acknowledge that they understand more about how damaged brains work—or, rather, don’t work— than about the neurochemistry of the normal brain. And yet, in its popular journalistic form, the new reductionism can or will soon describe all human behavior, from warfare to soul-making. The British physician, philosopher, and neuro-skeptic Raymond Tallis has summarized the doctrine: “A convergence of evolutionary theory, neuroscience, and other biological disciplines has led countless thinkers to claim that we are best understood as organisms whose entire panoply of behavior is directly or indirectly related to organic survival.”
Fiction and Drama
I decided to put a stop to him: I asked for twice the money. He accepted and I had to scrounge for adjectives that would bring the deeper Mexico to light. I also introduced him to Gonzalo Erdiozabal. Here in Mexico, Gonzalo resembles an arrogant swashbuckler from 1940s Hollywood. In Austria, he had people revere him as Xochipili, presumed descendant of Emperor Moctezuma.
Jadwat was unreliable. It hadn’t been true then. There had been no rain at her wedding. Today there was no sunshine. The reservoir of these tears had accumulated in the course of a difficult year. If she was distracted while driving, or couldn’t add two numbers together, or misplaced the key to her surgery, the tears found their way to the surface. They embarrassed her.
In April 1975, North Vietnamese forces overwhelmed the South and took Saigon. American troops, who had mostly withdrawn by 1973, had no way of stemming the tide. “COMMUNISTS ENTER SAIGON,” ran the AP wire: “VICTORY IN INDOCHINA” was the banner that ran across the New Left Review’s May-June issue of that year.
Reading Craigslist, I feel as though I am dipping my cup straight into the swift-flowing stream of human need. Laid-back is the only thing these people aren’t. When I step back onto the “regular” dating sites, I feel like someone coming out of bright sunshine into a darkened room; it takes a while for my eyes to readjust. Everything’s so . . . subtle. On Craigslist, people say what they want; on Nerve or OkCupid, they say who they are, and you infer the rest.
Those of us in commodity-rich, artistically saturated, more or less urbanized Western countries, at the start of the 21st century, know all too well how these games are played. We know it instinctively, so well that the kind of confession of musical taste offered above has become a drearily familiar part of everyday life. We also know it because we know “Bourdieu,” whether we’ve read the man or not.
Richard Beck’s article [www.nplusonemag.com/eminem] about how Eminem “made hip-hop palatable to suburban parents” because they could understand what he was saying is on the money. My dad, a biologist from Russia who taught at the University of Illinois, loved Eminem. We would drive around together on Saturdays and listen to the Marshall Mathers LP and the Eminem Show and assorted diss tracks that came out around 2002 and go “Whoaaaa!” whenever he said something great. It’s actually not much of a stretch to say that my dad turned me on to Eminem, or at least gave me the green light to take him seriously.