Paul Collier: The Future of Capitalism

With less than two weeks remaining before a general election that offers nothing but an intolerable choice between populists and ideologues, Paul Collier’s The Future of Capitalism (2018) offers some clear-headed diagnosis and ideas about how to reshape a derailed capitalism.

Jeff Taylor wrote, “The political spectrum may be linear, but it is not a straight line. It is shaped like a horseshoe.” Drift far enough left or right of centre and ideologies both gravitate to authoritarianism. Social democracy appears to be in existential crisis. Collier’s analysis of why we’ve lost our sense of obligation to others is lucid and crucially important.

The force of Collier’s book is in his synthesis of “moral philosophy, political economy, finance, economic geography, social psychology and social policy.” At a time when despair often seems the only possibility, his book offers some relief that there is a progressive and pragmatic path to healing the divisions in our social and economic fabric. The question is how long it will take for our political spectrum to swing back from extremes.

Pablo Katchadjian: What To Do

You could imagine Pablo Katchadjian’s What To Do as narrating the dreams of Lars Iyer’s two philosophy professors from his extravagantly silly trilogy of novels – Spurious, Dogma and Exodus. It has the tense humour of commedia dell’ arte, a complex improvisation built on a multiplying set of objects and scenarios.

In Katchadjian’s dream sequence narrative, multiple dreams within dreams reverberate like a two-voice sonata as the nameless narrator and his companion Alberto play a rhythmic association game with themes and counter-themes. Each of the dreams carries an individual signature but there are recurrent themes of humiliation, lack of communication, death and anxiety.

As in dreams, there is no conclusion, just a sense upon awakening of the instability of identity. What To Do isn’t incoherent and I suspect if I mapped out the cyclical dream elements I might find an underlying structure; the outcome of each episode moves in gradations to the ministructure of the next. The novel’s ninety-nine pages are best read in a single sitting, perhaps as an indulgent bracer between other books.

Like steps of passing ghosts

Tastes in critics and book reviewers, like cities and vegetables, are idiosyncratic. It probably has as much to do with voice as with the acuity of their exegesis, or exquisite taste. As much as we resist, fashion and peer pressure might play a part. Some, like Gabriel Josipovici, earn our trust and admiration for the rigour of his prose, even when our literary tastes differ markedly.

I’ve travelled a lot lately, but am in Hampshire for the autumn, with the low, dense English skies that always bring me home. Looking up some notes on Borges, I came across a poem I recorded in a notebook a few years back, by an American poet called Adelaide Crapsey:

‘Listen.
With faint dry sound,
Like steps of passing ghosts,
The leaves, frost-crisp’d, break from the trees
And fall.’

The other night I had a strange, striking dream. I rarely remember dreams and I remember little of the narrative context, but I was accompanied throughout the dream by Eileen Battersby, a book reviewer, American by birth, but who lived in Ireland, and died last year. I barely know her work, perhaps read one or two reviews when someone linked to them on Twitter. I still know little but watched on YouTube an interview with Battersby, John Banville and Enrique Vila-Matas. I can see little from her reviews to suggest we would share literary inclinations, but I liked her physical voice and passion for literature.

Forthcoming Books of Interest

Titles are removed from this list as I acquire said books. Searching should lead you to these titles, but drop me an email if you cannot find any of them. I’m acquiring fewer books these days, but the following are mostly irresistible:

Yiyun Li, Must I Go
Karl Ole Knausgaard, In the Land of the Cyclops
J. M. Coetzee, The Death of Jesus
Roberto Calasso, The Celestial Hunter
Vivian Gornick, Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader
Kate Zambreno, Drifts
Alistair Ian Blythe, Card Catalogue
Peter Weiss, The Aesthetics of Resistance, Volume II
Luis Goytisolo, The Greens of May Down to the Sea: Antagony, Book II
Luis Goytisolo, The Wrath of Achilles: Antagony, Book III
Moyra Davey, Index Cards
Aby Warburg, Bilderatlas Mnemosyne
Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, The Inhabited Island
André Breton and Philippe Soupault, Magnetic Fields
Alexander Lernet-Holenia, Count Luna
Miklös Szenkuthy, Chapter on Love
Paul Celan, Microliths
Mircea Cărtărescu, Solenoid
Amanda Michalopoulou, God’s Wife
Hans Jürgen von der Wense, A Shelter for Bells
Magdalena Zurawski, Being Human is an Occult Practise
Yevgeny Zamyatin, We
Mercé Rodereda, Garden by the Sea
S. D. Chrostowska, The Eyelid
László F. Földényi, The Glance of the Medusa
László F. Földényi, Dostoyevsky Reads Hegel in Siberia and Bursts into Tears
Hans Blumenberg, History, Metaphors, Fables
Jirgl Reinhard, The Unfinished

[11.1.20 – For ease I have now made this is fixed page, available from the menu bar at the top of the blog]

Virginie Despentes’ Vernon Subutex One

It’s only four years old but has the texture of cyberpunk science fiction, Stephenson’s Snow Crash, that sort of thing, that I read in the nineties. It’s partly the gritty urban realism that provides that cyberpunk taste, though Despentes’ Vernon Subutex I isn’t set in some near future, but navigates the joys and terrors of emerging culture in the present day. There is also the ironic social commentary channeled through the hustlers and alienated street people who exist side-by-side in this grim, violent world.

Style is central, a cynical even paranoid perspective, but without sacrificing completely the characters’ humanity. It is a narrative that is perfectly in tune with our post-war awareness that advanced societies do not by default become more humane or civilised, quite the reverse in fact.

Despentes’ Paris is not the city of Benjamin’s bourgeois flaneur, but more in tune with the concrete jungle of Baudelaire. It also contrasts with Cusk’s confined, rather claustrophobic trilogy of middle-class life, offering an alternative set of keys to understanding the ethical dilemmas of human experience in the late-capitalist modern city.