We, the machine, can write like the wind

Another reminder that the market is sometimes bad for humans. Or writers (and probably readers), in this case.

According to the NYT, Tina Brown is hot on creating a new publishing imprint that will rush books to market just a few months — one to three for writing, another one or two for editing and production.

It’s a fabbo business idea. Books fail because people’s interest moves on too quickly, she argues. True enough. Who cares about Iraq these days? Or Lehman brothers. Or what happened yesterday…  Polanski who?

But, c’mon. Damn. They’ll be short books, some 150 pages, and if you’re a beat writer, know your stuff, don’t mind working like a dog for a few months, it’s totally doable. Nobody’s going to expect prose that shimmers, and yeah, they’ll probably sell.

And this will increase the pressure on writers even more, to produce more, write faster, report less, edit less, fact-check less, write shittier sentences. We’ll get long, sometimes beautifully written academic tomes on one end of the market, and quick-turnaround jobbies by journalists and freelancers (thus further reducing the intellectual reputation of journalists) on the other, and the smart middle will be further hollowed out. More unintended consequences.

I’m going to go invest in some stock for anti-carpel tunnel products.

Thinking like a novelist, not a theorist

From the Chronicle of Higher Education, in an article well worth reading start to finish on the legacy of cultural studies. A plea for treating your ideological opponents in a non-condescending way, and trying thusly to understand why they think what they think. I would say this is thinking like a novelist (and thus holistically) about people, rather than as a theorist.

In an especially rich essay, “The Toad in the Garden: Thatcherism Among the Theorists”—in Marxism and the Interpretation of Culture (1988), edited by Cary Nelson and Lawrence Grossberg—Hall wrote: “The first thing to ask about an ‘organic’ ideology that, however unexpectedly, succeeds in organizing substantial sections of the masses and mobilizing them for political action, is not what is false about it but what is true.” What, in other words, actively makes sense to people whose beliefs you do not share? Hall proposed that leftist intellectuals should not answer that question by assuming that working-class conservatives have succumbed to false consciousness: “It is a highly unstable theory about the world which has to assume that vast numbers of ordinary people, mentally equipped in much the same way as you or I, can simply be thoroughly and systematically duped into misrecognizing entirely where their real interests lie. Even less acceptable is the position that, whereas ‘they’—the masses—are the dupes of history, ‘we’—the privileged—are somehow without a trace of illusion and can see, transitively, right through into the truth, the essence, of a situation.”

Wanted: A new political left

After four years of uncomfortable Grand Coalition, Germany’s center-right party — or more exactly, Angela Merkel, the only really popular politician here — is finally getting to lead more or less the way it wants.

This has fairly widely been dubbed the most boring election in history. Which — aren’t we in the middle of the biggest recession since the Great Depression? Wasn’t there a gigantic financial crises this time last year, technically on Merkel’s watch? Shouldn’t there be a revolution or something (and come on, 12 percent for the Linke, the former East German state party, now a left opposition, doesn’t count)?

It’s astonishing how badly the left has come out of this crisis. It’s not that the right has fantastic ideas; certainly not in the States, where they’ve collapsed into sputtering brain-fevered monosyllables. But there is no coherent alternative to centrism today. Everyone is spending like mad, in a Keynesian approach to the post-Friedman global economy. Angie’s social market economy is not radically different from what Obama wants to do the States; and here, because she’s staked out that centrist ground, she wins.

Her new partners, the liberals, want tax cuts. Maybe they’ll get some, but Germany is awash in debt, at least by its standards, and if George W. Bush has shown anything, it is that shotgun-targeted tax cuts don’t produce anything but pain and messes that have to be cleaned up later. Not much room to maneuver in that respect.

So where is the coherent left? Certainly not in Germany. Or in France. Even socialist Sweden has a center-right government. There are good ideas coming from the left, like New Deal-type spending on green technology; but this can be adopted just as well by the center-right, and will, by Merkel.

We need a new labor movement; something that reflects the realities of today’s economy. Something that represents, or is grounded in, the interests of deliberately mobile, flexible workers. Freelancers and contractors, programmers and writers and service types. Based on an economics that understands that people aren’t rational, that the free market fails miserably in many areas (but actually does work pretty well in others), and doesn’t let finance types assure the world that they’re getting hugely rich because what they’re doing is really, really good for everybody.