Book Notes: Salman Rushdie’s Quichotte, part 1

I’m only half-done with the book, but I’m so enthusiastic about it that I can’t help saying something about it already.

First, a small disclaimer. I’m a huge fan of Rushdie’s and I’m positively predisposed to anything he writes. Even so, I think Quichotte is the best novel of his that I have read. It’s on the Booker Prize short list, and it’s definitely well-deserved, although I believe he has a very strong competitor on that list.

The novel has two strands. One has to do with a sort of a rewriting of Don Quixote, as is clear from the title. The second is about Indians and the opioid epidemic. Rushdie is amazing at writing about Indians. I’m not sure I understand his decision to make the Sacklers Indian and attribute the evil they did to an immigrant’s lack of respect for borders and boundaries, including those of a moral sort. But his writing about opioids doesn’t feel opportunistic or exploitative.

The Quixote part seemed strained and unnecessary at first. It’s filled with all sorts of Resister-type rhetoric, so I couldn’t get into it at first. But the deeper it gets, the less annoying it becomes. I’m still forcing myself not to leaf through the Quixote parts to get to the Indians but it’s getting easier.

Still, I can already see it’s a wonderful, wonderful novel from a really amazing writer.

Even More Harvey

There is another interesting place where Harvey intersects with social conservatives. As we think about the impotence of all these proposals that aim to change our economic system but end up strengthening its worst attributes, we’ve got to ask, but then what? What can we do? There are clearly massive problems with this form of capitalism. If we don’t like it, what can we do?

At this point, Harvey says – and I wholeheartedly agree – that we need to look at our way of being in the world. Money isn’t just bank notes. It’s a system of social relations. We need to change those social relations if we want any real change. Any mass-scale debt-forgiveness or welfare payout will leave us more indebted than before because that’s how we are. If my mortgage (which is my only debt) were paid out in full by a magic fairy tomorrow, you know what I’d do the day after? I’d buy a larger house, which I totally don’t need. And a swimming pool and a new car and a ton of books and a trip to Europe. That’s what we all would do and find convincing excuses to justify it. And hey, I’m among the more financially responsible among us because I haven’t had a dime in credit card debt for years and zero car debt or student loan debt ever. Most people are a lot more out of control than I am.

This is why Harvey talks about the human nature. There is a lot of variety, he says, in how human nature can manifest itself. It can also evolve. Shit’s not gonna change until we stop defining ourselves as consuming, purchasing, accumulating individuals. This won’t be solved by government intervention or the hidden hand of whatever.

Sorry, have to run to my book club. More later.

Book Club: David Harvey

Our university doesn’t give us a book allowance, obviously. And it’s useless to ask for any books that can be used in research for our faculty book clubs. We are, however, allowed to ask for books that improve our teaching. Because we are supposed to be always improving our teaching.

After 10 years of attending faculty book clubs that discuss such hoary old topics as flipped classrooms, the oppressiveness of merit, and the importance of assessment, I’ve just about had it with these clubs.

But then a colleague had a brilliant idea. He told the administration that our book club urgently needs to read David Harvey’s new book Marx, Capital and the Madness of Economic Reason because it will tell us how to adjust our pedagogy better to serve students from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. Yeah, it’s ridiculous but the administration bought it and provided copies of the book. Unlike the ever-popular subject of flipped classrooms that attracts crowds, our David Harvey book club only attracted 4 people.

The first meeting is today and I’m preparing. The book is very good, folks. It’s probably my favorite book by Harvey so far. What I find new and fascinating to me is that it turns out Marx knew abd said from the start that industrial capitalists – those who manufacture stuff – are ultimately going to be the losers of the capitalist game. The laws of capital reproduction mandate that capital eventually should try to get rid of labor altogether.

A point comes when labor costs become too stable for any large jolts. And that stability is something that deeply antithetical to what capitalism is. What this means is that the current developments – the primacy of finance over productions, the destruction of manufacturing, and everything we call neoliberalism – was inevitable.

Of course, there are things Marx could have never predicted like, for instance, the ever important land losing in importance to something like intellectual property rights.

A fascinating, very easy to read book.

More on the book to follow.