A Neoliberalism Reading List

(Re)reading from first to last, as I have recently, Michel Houellebecq’s entire body of translated work leaves me in little doubt that he is the only novelist in the west truly capturing the pernicious effects on individuals living through this latest manifestation of capitalism, a neoliberalism whose influence reaches deep into notions of individualism and identity.

Carole Sweeney’s reading list below is as good as any I’ve seen on the history of capitalism in the twentieth century, and most particularly on the rise of neoliberalism. I’ve read some of these and plan to read the others, and welcome any other reading suggestions along similar lines.

  • Luc Boltanski, Ève Chiapello, The New Spirit of Capitalism
  • Giovanni Arrighi, The Long Twentieth Century: Money, Power and the Origins of our Times
  • Krishnan Kumar, From Post-Industrial to Post-Modern Society: New Theories of the Contemporary World
  • Ash Amin, Post-Fordism: A Reader
  • David Harvey, A Brief History of Neoliberalism
  • Gilles Lipovetsky, Hypermodern Times
  • Paolo Virno, Michael Hardt, Radical Thought in Italy
  • Zygmunt Bauman, Globalization: The Human Consequences
  • Susan Strange, The Retreat of the State: The Diffusion of Power
  • Henry Giroux, Against the Terror of Neoliberalism: Politics Beyond the Age of Greed
  • What We Once Knew As Life

    I suspect that Houellebecq and Adorno would’ve enjoyed a bottle of wine together, grumbling together about the invasion of market relations into every corner of human existence.

    What the philosophers once knew as life has become the sphere of private existence and now of mere consumption, dragged along as an appendage of the process of material production, without autonomy or substance of its own.

    Theodor Adorno
    Minima Moralia

    New Bibliological Definitions Added

    Bibliocarnality: the mania for continuing to acquire books despite have insufficient time left to read those you possess but haven’t yet read.

    Bibliophilic neuralgia: involuntary facial twitches that accompany the enthusiasm expected by a relative who has presented you with an unwanted book as a Christmas or birthday gift.

    Bibliobender: the orgy of book acquisition that follows a 6-12 month moratorium on acquiring any new books.

    Bibliolatry by Proxy: desperate yearning to see the title and cover of the book you’ve been reading, and enjoying, over someone’s shoulder on a bus or train journey.

    Proustian Chihuahua Syndrome: the sinking resignation halfway through a book of more than five hundred pages that you haven’t got the tenacity to get to the end.

    Bibliobacchanalia: reading a book after the third glass of wine, fully knowing you’ll have to reread those fifty pages again tomorrow (but no longer caring).

    Joyce Forever

    This following paragraph is from the Preface that Borges wrote in the first volume of Pleiade series of Œuvres Complètes. Dated Geneva, 19 May 1986, this must be amongst the last texts that Borges wrote. I adore how Borges has discreetly slipped a simple tribute to Joyce into the Keats’ ‘joy for ever’ line. How many readers, I wonder, pass that sentence without spotting the reference.

    This book is made up of other books. I am not sure whether a continuous reading is the best solution in this case, it might be more convenient to enter in and out at random as one leafs through the pages of an encyclopedia or of Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholia.(…) Eliot wrote that it is less important to know what one wants than what the century wants. He claims this, as if drunk on universal history. Is it necessary for me to say that I am the least historical of men? The circumstances of history touch me like those of geography and politics, but I thing that as an individual I am above these seductions. A thing of beauty is a joyce forever, John Keats wrote in a memorable way. There are nevertheless, moments of happiness that are singular and eternal.

    Traces of Individuality

    It is wrong to pretend that human beings are unique, that they carry within them an irreplaceable individuality; as far as I was concerned, at any rate, I could not distinguish any trace of such an individuality. As often as not it is futile to wear yourself out trying to distinguish individual destinies and personalities. When all’s said and done, the idea of the uniqueness of the individual is nothing more than pompous absurdity. We remember our own lives, Schopenhauer wrote somewhere, a little better than a novel we once read. That’s about right: a little, no more.

    Michel Houellebecq
    Platform

    Beckett’s Cascando and Pierre Tal-Coat

    20140316-081006.jpg

    Samuel Beckett

    Cascando

    1

    why not merely the despaired of
    occasion of
    wordshed

    is it not better abort than be barren

    the hours after you are gone are so leaden
    they will always start dragging too soon
    the grapples clawing blindly the bed of want
    bringing up the bones the old loves
    sockets filled once with eyes like yours
    all always is it better too soon than never
    the black want splashing their faces
    saying again nine days never floated the loved
    nor nine months
    nor nine lives

    2

    saying again
    if you do not teach me I shall not learn
    saying again there is a last
    even of last times
    last times of begging
    last times of loving
    of knowing not knowing pretending
    a last even of last times of saying
    if you do not love me I shall not be loved
    if I do not love you I shall not love

    the churn of stale words in the heart again
    love love love thud of the old plunger
    pestling the unalterable
    whey of words

    terrified again
    of not loving
    of loving and not you
    of being loved and not by you
    of knowing not knowing pretending
    pretending

    I and all the others that will love you
    if they love you

    3

    unless they love you

    Idées Fixes of the Week

    Girl in a Blanket (1953) Lucian Freud

    Freud’s captivating Girl in a Blanket appears on the front cover of Henrietta Moraes’ memoir, Henrietta, which I have sampled in small doses alongside Colin Wilson’s Adrift in Soho. I’m fascinated with the louche, hedonistic Soho that stretched between the beat and post-hippie eras. (Moraes called the unfinished sequel to her memoir Fuck Off Darling, which is of course just perfect) Nothing of the Bohemian lifestyle that Moraes and her milieu lived could be tolerated in our age of surveillance, net curtain twitching and consumerism as economic ideology.

    I suspect that Michel Houellebecq would’ve fitted neatly in with Morae’s crowd. They would have appreciated his Beckettian mirthless humour, the finest, or at least healthiest, antidote to nihilism. My rereading of Houellebecq’s oeuvre continues, impeded only by my return to wage-orientated labour after four blissful months of reading, travel, navel gazing and walking.

    Briefly but intensely compelled to dip into Angela Carter’s work last week, nagged during an insomniac night with echoes of her highly wrought style in the depiction of sexuality in Houellebecq. There are surely broad similarities in the caustic and subversive humour of both writers. I am overdue an immersion once again in Carter’s work.

    Voice of the Sea

    What keeps coming to mind during my current Michel Houellebecq binge is that beneath the surface of his nihilism and despair is an un-extinguished faith in the redemptive potency of love and friendship, a hope that he realises is unfulfillable but impossible to abandon.

    This afternoon, feeling a little dour, I took a break from my Houellebecq bender to reread some of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, which I read at Francis’ recommendation some years ago. Once again I came across a favourite paragraph, underlined in pencil, which she repeats at the start and end of her novel.

    The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation. The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.

    The sea, in both deadly and enriching form, is almost a character in The Awakening, and Chopin’s poetic description stands in relief to the sparseness of the rest of the text.

    Nine Perfect “Products”

    1. Fuji X100 camera
    2. The Cure’s Boy’s Don’t Cry album
    3. Beckett’s “trilogy” of novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable
    4. Tony Scott’s film True Romance
    5. Dr. Marten 10-Eye steel toe-cap boots (Cherry Red)
    6. Sibelius’ The Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47
    7. Leonardo da Vinci’s Ginevra de’ Benci
    8. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining
    9. Cross “Townsend” black lacquer fountain pen (medium nib)

    [Inspired by "Houellebecq's" lament for three perfect products in The Map and the Territory. I've drifted beyond fungible manufactured commodities into performance: what can be manufactured with sounds, words, bodies and light.]

    ‘In my life as a consumer.’ he said, ‘I’ve known three perfect products: Paraboot walking boots, the Canon Libris laptop-printer combination, and the Camel Legend parka. I loved these products, with a passion; I would’ve spent my life in their presence, buying regularly, with natural wastage, identical products. A perfect and faithful relationship had been established, making me a happy consumer. I wasn’t completely happy in all aspects of life, but at least I had that: I could, at regular intervals, buy a pair of my favourite boots. It’s not much but it’s something, especially when you’ve quite a poor private life. Ah yes, that joy, that simple joy, has been denied me. My favourite products, after a few years, have disappeared from the shelves, their manufacture has stopped purely and simply – and in the case of my poor Camel Legend parka, not doubt the most beautiful parka ever made, it will have lived for only one season …’