Did you, folks, see this beautiful story about a comedian and an angry troll? It’s very touching.
OK, so remember the essay contest? The one with the essay I really loved? It didn’t win. The essay that won was the only one of the bunch that I didn’t finish reading.
Now, please, understand that I’m a literary critic. I’m trained to read every word. Skipping anything is so hard for me that it’s an effort not to read every word on a menu. But this essay I couldn’t finish. It was truism meets bromide meets platitude. Everything in it was so unimpeachably true and so excruciatingly obvious that I was assaulted by bouts of mouth-rending yawns with every new sentence.
Apparently, though, everybody else loved it. Nobody else on the jury was a scholar of literature.
To me, worthwhile reading is the kind that surprises me. If you can’t give me any fresh content, try for an engaging, exciting format. But these sad good-kid essays that rattle off trivial ideas one was told are correct drive me up a wall.
This is why I love teaching Spanish. The material is so new to the students that the work they produce is free from the shackles of received truths.
A fellow on TV declares, “There are thousands of opioid deaths in this country every month. That’s what people care about and not some stupid border wall!”
He probably started as a completely rational person but then repeated this crap so much that he now believes it himself.
This is a quote from one of Bannon’s post-election speeches as quoted in Fire and Fury:
“I think the center core of what we believe, that we’re a nation with an economy, not an economy just in some global market place with open borders, but that we are a nation with a culture, and a reason for being. I think that’s what unites us.”
From the time when the nation-state project was born, there were fierce battles over who’ll get to define this “culture and reason for being” of each nation. My very first research project was analyzing how this battle for the construction of national identity was waged among Spain’s intellectuals. Conservatives and progressives duked it out for 200 years. What’s important, though, is that none of them doubted that it was absolutely crucial to define / invent / manufacture / name the “culture and reason for being” of their nation.
As we can see in Bannon’s speech – and everywhere around us – the conversation has shifted from who will get to define the “culture and reason for being” to whether it’s something worth doing. Moreover, the argument against defining it is not so much that it’s a useless or boring thing to do but that attempting to do it puts one beyond the pale of the reasonable and acceptable. As a result, the only people who are trying to define it are those who, like Bannon, have been far outside the limits of the acceptable for a very long time.
Of course, Fire and Fury is written from a very Bannonite perspective, so I don’t suggest we take this discussion as being literally about Bannon. The really important issue here is that the nation-state only exists for as long as we passionately believe in it. The moment we stop, the chaotic and fluid market state wins once and for all. I want neither that nor a nation-state defined by Bannonite ideology. We are being pushed to accept that these are our only options. But that’s not true.
This is a nifty trick that’s being pulled everywhere today. People are being told they’ve got to choose between market-state and some form of rabid white supremacy because these are the only options. This is precisely the narrative that keeps Putin in power for decades, for instance. And people go, “Well, if it’s between the market-state and another Hitler, then I know what I choose.” (And there is a minority that goes, “I choose Hitler”, forgetting to mention that they’d choose Hitler no matter what.) But the entire narrative is false. We have other options here, we’ve always had them. Now is the time to reject this entirely spurious idea and make the discussion our own.