Thursday, November 17, 2022

T.J. Clark on Mike Davis

Marxism, whatever else it may be, is not a view of life. It seems to do best when it is grafted, often improbably, onto a deeper metaphysics – Messianic half-hopes, Hegelian negativity, existentialism, even a dazzled vestigial faith in poetry or music.

The best argument against Marxism I've ever read.

What the graft was in Davis’s case will be clear from a sentence near the beginning of Old Gods, New Enigmas: Marx’s Lost Theory (the closest he ever came, as he acknowledged, to a straight piece of Marxology). Marx, he says there, ‘never wrote a single word about cities, and his passionate interests in ethnography, geology and mathematics were never matched by a comparable concern with geography’. But cities, for Davis, were life itself. As he saw it, cities are the human. Marx’s proposals may be essential to understanding them, but what they truly are – what kinds of place and non-place, what forms of co-existence and avoidance, obeying what symbolic imperatives, opening or closing on what visions of the future – is the enigma Davis returned to through the decades. The wonderful muckraking of City of Quartz and the crushing arithmetic of Planet of Slums remain our best maps – our best no-nonsense phenomenologies – of progress and its price.

My only comment on Davis.  
Apocalyptic radicalism tries to have its cake and eat it, to be both Madame de Pompadour and Robespierre, because after all Robespierre spoke for decadence before anything. Materialism may describe or predict a taste for nihilism but it's not a justification. If the art of nihilism is more than its subject, because art takes work, that marks the difference only between fatalism and the need to show the record of it. The art of honest reaction is not radical.
Materialism is anti-romantic. The romance is the hope for things ending and beginning: prophesy.

I began the post above after a long dusty day at work, and I was still wearing the headphones from my ride  home, listening to a mix of hard deep house by a dj I knew years ago. My head was full of memories of clubs. At four AM on a rooftop looking out at the skyline of Las Vegas, music humming, beats and sub-beats dividing time,  as I wrote to a friend who'd spent years studying the local pathology, I felt calm. For the first time since I'd arrived, I felt no pity.

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