Monday, August 11, 2003

I deleted the whole post rather than keep fucking with it, so I'll try again.
Iran and China are not creatures out of some cold war nightmare. They are both countries run by governments in crisis with populations in crisis, but with those populations actively engaged in the struggles both of and against the state. I can disagree with the policies of the governments or peoples of both, even angrily so without treating them with disrespect.

In The Times Magazine today there were two pieces on players in the market: one on the dangerous idiot behind The Club for Growth, and the other an interview with Bill Gross, who runs the world's largest bond fund. I liked the way Gross came off, as I like the man I got drunk with last week, and who manages about 500 million. I have about as much respect for either of them as I can for those who enjoy power. But their seriousness is a far cry from the self serving simplicity that lies behind everything about this administration. Everything about Bush and Co. exemplifies the sort of decadent laziness that this country more and more is becoming known for. But there is no simple left/right division: green haired Naderites are about as absurd as Rush Limbaugh's dittoheads. Thomas Friedman's condescension's to the Arab Middle East is similar in many ways to Eric Alterman's towards the musicians he smirkingly idolizes. Alterman's unreflective "orientalist'' appreciation of popular culture makes me cringe. Both represent the arrogant purblind sense of superiority of the snobbishly educated American towards any who are not his own.
Yes, you need to have a love hate relationship to your subject if you want to produce anything of lasting worth. And yes, the need for 'patriotism' in the press, including or especially the left wing press, seems to make that rare, outside of the writing of regional figures. Molly Ivins relationship to Texas is a good example of what it would be nice to see a lot more of. And still you get this idiotic notion that objectivity means giving as much credence to obvious bullshit as to reason. ["The Culture of Argument" etc.]

By and large American journalists don't understand writing or argument, or the relationship of an author to his/her work. Even at their best, they're illustrators. One gets the impression from the British press that they know at least what art is even if the aren't making it themselves. There is the sense reading most of the Americans that they exist only in the passive voice: things are done to them, to us; we are affected by things and actions of the powerful, or the powerful are affected by our actions. In some vague sort of way, things seems to 'happen.' Reading the newspaper is like having a conversation at a cocktail party with a person whom you realize suddenly isn't even there, not in the sense of Jane Austen not being in the room with you, but in the sense of somehow not existing. Nonetheless a dull querulous voice is mumbling at you.
I am not much interested in the writing on most blogs, but for reasons opposite those for my dislike of journalism. If the object of the blog itself is not to document the diarist's indulgence ("I took a nice shit today.") and the author is not trying to sound like a 'real' journalist, s/he still ends up producing something too close to the narcissist's diary. Eric Alterman's 'casual' Altercation may be more self referential than his writing in The Nation but it's no more self aware.
Americans, and I suppose I am referring to educated Americans, tend either to look 'outward,' ignoring the interior -their own presence as subject-, or 'inward,' ignoring whatever lies outside their imagination. Others become involved in a medium itself, whatever one interests them, to the exclusion both of psychology and of outward awareness and responsibility. Good writing, and good thought, concerns all three: style, substance, and the object that substance, as an idea, approximates. Even the most interesting American reporters seem not to understand this. The most vulgar British hacks on the other hand, know what they've sunk to because they know where they've sunk FROM. British cynicism is made impressive by its passion. Our cynics are passive.
More than ever the best writing on America is being done by foreigners.

My other point was simple. Hapsburg Spain was not Hitler's Germany, though South America under the monarchy may have felt the same to the native population. Extreme barbarism coexisted with great culture. Fascism, for reasons I go into on occasion does not produce culture as much as destroy it, and the extreme partisans of the Bush agenda, judged clearly and without bias, have a tend towards destruction. China and Iran, and Islam in general, are going through what amounts to both destructive and creative 'Bourgeois' revolutions. The leaders in those countries are smarter and more interesting than our own. Fears about a great division, east and west etc. are absurd. The one issue that matters, and the one that conservatives on all sides are ignoring is the impact of the new and massive industrialization that is happening in China and elsewhere on the environment of our planet. That is the most serious question of the next 100 years. For our country itself the problem is that soon the way things are going our ONLY leadership will be in weaponry and kitsch. In the best scenario, politically and culturally, we're fading into the pack. The danger is in the strength of the reactionary forces that are trying now, pathetically and self destructively, to make sure that doesn't happen.
Mark Kleiman is still following the Joseph Wilson story which -almost- nobody else seems to be, and he makes one of the few references I've seen to the CBS story about the document mandating secrecy in the handling of accusations of abuse that held as official policy in the Catholic Church until 2001. Between those two he wastes time talking about himself talking about the California recall. He's right about one thing: Bustamante comes off as a bit dim.

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