Sunday, May 22, 2005

mixing lit'rature and (gasp) politics

As for Paul Ricoeur, what he sees as the opposite of katachresis is the live metaphor - for which his book, The Rule of Metaphor, is a most convincing plea.

From an interesting reading of Wallace Stevens' Sunday Morning:
COMPLACENCIES of the peignoir, and late
Coffee and oranges in a sunny chair,
And the green freedom of a cockatoo
Upon a rug, mingle to dissipate
The holy hush of ancient sacrifice.
She dreams a little, and she feels the dark
Encroachment of that old catastrophe,
As a calm darkens among water-lights.


Or, if you prefer, regarding the work of mourning:
Every Sunday at lunch my grandmother would disinter her dead brother killed 50 years ago when he dragged his shotgun through a fence and blew his lungs out.
'I always remember my brother such a lovely boy. I hate to see boys with guns.'
So every Sunday at lunch there was the boy lying by the wood fence and blood on the frozen red Georgia clay seeping into the winter stubble.
And poor old Mrs. Collins waiting for the cataracts to ripen so they can operate on her eye. Oh God! Sunday lunch in Cincinnati!

—William Burroughs, letter to Allen Ginsberg, January 15, 1953, Hotel Colon, Panama (The Yage Letters)

Colon, a canker sore on the Atlantic mouth of the Panama Canal, was a suffering city in Burroughs' day—a suffering that had metastasized further by the time I passed through on the way to Colombia, oh back around the winter of 1998. Such places are the growing slums of the "globalized" world, ghettos run (indirectly) by superpowers (mainly the US), and their spoiled, increasingly rebellious sons (international corporations) (but don't worry too much about them, nor concern yourself with the surging populist rebellion in our midst, because the free market Friedman's have granted unchecked corporate welfare the infinite santion, stamp and seal of approval of that most insidious, unspoken and apocalyptic watchword...inevitable.) Witness the bizarre, circuitous path travelled to try to play down the exponential, unprecedented rise of multinational corporations:
"Thus, very successful corporations end up investing in political power, in order to maintain and solidify their hold on a particular market.

"Has the capacity of corporations to engage in such practices increased? Given the nature of the problem it will be difficult to give definitive answer.

"There is an indirect way to measure the evolution of the political and economic power of corporations. This is to analyze how quickly corporations come and go.

"In a world where the large corporations remain the same for long periods of time, it is likely that these corporations will be able to develop stronger political networks helping them to maintain better positions in the market. Conversely, when the companies at the top come and go quickly, their capacity to build up political power will be limited."

So they analyzed how quickly the composition of the top 10, top 20 and top 50 industrial corporations listed in Fortune magazine has changed. They found about half of these companies were able to maintain their position in the last 20 years. The other half has been replaced by newcomers.

It shows "that a large proportion of those who were powerful in the past have lost some (or all) of their power, while others, who had little power, increased it quickly. All this suggests that corporate power is elusive and can quickly change."

They also found that since 1994 service companies tend to disappear from top position at a faster rate than industrial companies.

In conclusion, Grauwe and Camerman found "no evidence that the size of multinationals relative to the size of nations has tended to increase during the last 20 years."

They continued:

"Finally, we argued that there is little evidence that the economic and political power of multinationals has increased in the last few decades."
"Multinationals have not grown in size relative to the nation-states nor have they become more powerful in the last 20 years. And yet, the perception is very different.

"This leads to the conclusion that what has changed is not the economic reality. The big transformation has been in the perception of that reality. The big transformation has been in the perception of that reality. Many people now perceive multinationals as having grown in size and power, whereas they did not hold this view (or not to the same extent) 20 years ago.

"Why is it that perceptions can change so drastically while the underlying economic reality has changed so little?"

"...The popularity of ideas seems to evolve in a cyclical manner -- very much like fashion. During the 1960s and 1970s, anti-capitalist ideas were fashionable. They went out of fashion in the 1980s, but came back in full force during the second of the 1990s.

"Maybe all this is inevitable in a world where the human mind tires to grasp how 'the system' performs. Faced with great uncertainty about the functioning of the economy, people try one theory, then discard it to search for one that fit the data better, until the new theory is found wanting.

"The result of this groping for understanding is that ideas and perceptions are subject to large cyclical movements, even if the underlying reality changes little."

One can only hope the good people of Colon (and Venezuela and Mexico) are waiting with infinite piety and patience for that glorious day, when all 20 of the top multinationals stay in the top 20 for more than a mere decade or two and begin to become politically engaged, or capable of exerting some modest influence on the (otherwise free and pure) market.

You separate the Sunday sections and there are endless identical lines of print with people living somewhere in the words and the strange contained reality of paper and ink seeps through the house for a week and when you look at a page and distinguish one line from another it begins to gather you into it and there are people being tortured halfway around the world, who speak another language, and you have conversations with them more or less uncontrollably until you become aware you are doing it and then you stop, seeing whatever it is in front of you at the time, like half a glass of juice in your husband's hand.

She took a bite of cereal and forgot to taste it. She lost the taste somewhere in between the time she put the food in her mouth and the regretful second she swallowed it.

—DeLillo, The Body Artist, 21

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