Saturday, October 24, 2009

Meditation on Bolaño

Midmorning, sitting in my backyard, reading THE SAVAGE DETECTIVES. Page 517…almost finished. The October sunlight on the wisteria is beautiful. A noisy squirrel stops for a minute to look at me. I take his picture. I feel a little bad that I evicted Lupe, the black widow spider, from the corner in my bathroom where she’s been hanging out for the past month. She did nothing to harm me…showed not the slightest sign of aggression. During the day she would disappear in the crevice between the tub and the wall where a corner tile is missing. At night she would come out and hang in her web. I wonder if she ever got anything to eat. Nothing wrong, but nothing very interesting, either. I would have liked to see her eat. Then I thought about Jack Kerouac. I just heard someone made a documentary about his book BIG SUR, which I read a long time ago, and which I remember was not as accessible as his three greats, ON THE ROAD, DHARMA BUMS and THE SUBTERRANEANS. But more accessible than most of his other work. And I wondered, what right does a person have to be like that…drunk, unreliable…really a flake. That’s not right. For that matter, it can’t be right for me to be sitting here in the middle of the day, reading, watching the cats and squirrels, admiring the play of light in the garden. This is for the weekend. This is no way to live. What about work? What about money? What about striving to accomplish something worthwhile? I guess that’s always been my problem, I’d just rather sit in the garden and listen to the squirrel, the birds, the distant freeway noise, watch the play of light, smell the air, read a little, play around in the garden, take some pix.

And that brings me to the “jobless recovery.” I remember back in the early 70s, I was setting type for a little weekly newspaper in Pacific Grove, and I guess it was in something I was setting, about our assemblyman, advocating something (can’t remember what) environmentally questionable because it would create jobs. And I remember thinking, that’s no reason to do something. Not to create jobs. We should only do what we need to do, what adds value, what we need for the good life, and if that takes less jobs, that’s good! Remember the industrial revolution? Wasn’t that supposed to be so that we could have more by working less? Wasn’t that the idea? Well that was my idea at least. Work less and still have a good life.

“Lupe looked at him and then at me. I could feel the insects hopping from her eyes and landing on my knees, one on each knee.”

But maybe that wasn’t really the motivating idea behind the industrial revolution. Historically, it’s probably more accurate to say that the idea was that some few could have more by harnessing the masses to the machine to make more. Just think of the cotton gin, invented by Eli Whitney in 1793, a great and important innovation. It allowed slavery to expand and flourish and reach new levels of atrocity in the American south. At the same time in England, the logic of capitalism combined with the power of industrialism to devastate the working class; young children worked torturous days in the mines and mills. By the way, do you know what they called the owners of those mines and mills? Liberals! They thought they were making a better modern world. And in a way they were.

But they had to be tamed, the capitalists and their technologies. A lot of modern history is the struggle to defeat the cold logic of capitalism and enlarge the warm logic of human rights. Unions, the eight-hour day, universal education, health care for all. (What? Not yet?)

Now we are worried, because there aren’t enough jobs; and how can people live if they can’t find work? But look, we invented the wheel, the cotton gin, the computer. Just how many hours a day for how many years does everyone have to work to get done what needs to be done? How much of what we do to create jobs and wealth would we be better off not doing at all? Those metallic party balloons come to mind. Wouldn’t we really be better off if we made and sold LESS plastic crap that makes its way so quickly to our over-burdened land fills? Maybe five hours a day, five days a week, for 20 or 30 years is all a person really should have to work. Maybe we’d all be better off.

The logic of capitalism mitigates against it…we need to make more and more and more. We need to grow the economy. And this is very creative, and leads to all the things that make our lives so pleasant. But the cold logic of capitalism also leads to the jobless recovery, to the concentration of wealth and the exploitation of poverty. Society, which is to say government, has to balance the logic of capitalism with the logic of humanity if we are to move toward a better world. Maybe this is the time to think about the 30-hour work week.

“The search for a place to live and a place to work was the common fate of all mankind.”

From a personal point of view, we need more jobs. I need more jobs. I guess. I’ve got some retirement. My income is a third or less of what it was a couple of years ago. I’m not really suffering. I buy less, but eat well, and I’m in no immediate danger of losing my house. I’m happy as a clam. But I know a lot of people who are really hurting, and young people with few or no prospects. I worry about it.

But from a societal and global point of view, I think we need fewer jobs, less consumption, and an economic paradigm that does not depend on endless growth, but on sustainability. A better world with less time in the office, and more time in the garden.

“What a shame that we die, and get old, and everything good goes galloping away from us.”


Saturday, October 3, 2009

Remembering Artaud

Every once in a while, I think about Antonin Artaud and his great essay, All Writing Is Pigshit.
I think I first read this essay 30 years ago. Mostly I remembered the name. Last week, thinking about writing for my blog, I thought about it again.

This time, unlike past times, I have the internet at my disposal: Google, Wikipedia, YouTube.

First I found it at and read it. Really beautiful!

“All those who have vantage points in their spirit, I mean, on some side or other of their heads and in a few strictly localized brain areas; all those who are masters of their language; all those for whom words hae a meaning; all those for whom there exist sublimities in the soul and currents of thought; all those who are the spirit of the times, and named these currents of thought – and I am thinking of their precise works, of that automatic griding that delivers their spirits to the winds – are pigs.”

Then, of course, Wikipedia, where I got some idea of who this insane poet was: “In November 1926, Artaud was expelled from the surrealist movement, in which he had participated briefly, for refusing to renounce theater as a bourgeois commercial art form, and for refusing to join the French Communist Party along with the other Surrealists.”

Then this fantastic reading:

And finally, this gem of contemporary Surrealism: To Read Antonin Artaud's "All Writing is Pigshit" at

I love this about the internet: The depth of information and ideas, so readily available. So easy to access…What a great pigsty!