Book Notes: Salman Rushdie’s Quichotte, 2

OK, so I finished the novel, and now I’m even more sure that it’s the best Rushdie’s ever written. Which is saying a lot because everything he’s written is brilliant. But this novel is so so good.

Quichotte is a heavily postmodern novel, so I can’t recommend if it’s not your kind of thing. But if you are at all capable of tolerating anything beyond hardcore realism, then this is the novel to slide yourself into an adventurous reading mode. And there are twists of the plot, including one at the end even I didn’t anticipate!

If you are a professor of literature, drop everything and read the novel. There’s nothing you are doing at work more important than reading a brilliant novel, believe me.

Loved, loved, loved the novel, need to reread it immediately. If Quichotte doesn’t win the Booker, that will be completely ridiculous.

Agents of Totalitarianism

It’s a shame that instead of telling the nasty little twerp who wrote this piece that she’s a horrible person and needs to be ashamed of herself, people approvingly repost this ridiculous screed.

This kind of person makes every totalitarian regime possible. We should stop pretending this is cute and start pushing back against such people.

Class Belonging

My 14-year-old daughter has been inspired by Thunberg to strike today, skipping classes to head to protests in downtown Washington, D.C. She has also suffered bouts of anxiety, and I long to build a seawall that can protect her from her fears. But her example, and Thunberg’s doomsaying, have made me realize that my parental desire to calm is the stuff of childish fantasy; anxiety is the mature response. To protect our children, we need to embrace their despair.

The reason why wealthy people encourage their kids to fake despair is the same that drives them to put their children into Ivy-oriented preschools and start building their CVs at age 5. It’s a mark of belonging to the upper classes. You need to do chic things that are unaccessible to the proles, and this is one of them.

The anxiety on display here is real. It’s the anxiety about potentially being kicked out of the privileged class.

Should People Know about Terminal Diagnoses?

In the USSR, there existed a tradition of not telling people about their terminal diagnoses. I always thought this was wrong because people deserve to know the truth about themselves, all that crap.

But now I’m thinking about my friend who died two weeks ago. What did she gain from knowing her diagnosis for 4 years? She’d been a happy person the day before she was told. It’s not a way of speaking. She was incandescently happy about her life.

And the day after the diagnosis, she was just as sick but now her life was effectively over. All she could think about was the diagnosis. What was the point of stealing those remaining years from her? Or having her undergo an extremely painful back surgery when she had 3 months left to live and the surgery wasn’t going to do anything to reduce the tumors?

What was the point of all this? She had barely any symptoms and no pain except for what was caused by these useless treatments. And any months or years she gained because of the treatments, she was so miserable that it wasn’t really life. Which is what she said, so it’s not my assumption.

And if we accept that a mental state has an impact on one’s physical state, how does it help to make a person severely depressed? I honestly can’t imagine that it helped her fight cancer to sit and brood about the injustice of it all.

I honestly don’t know what the answer is. What do you think?

Superfluous People

Again, here is one of the crucial problems of our times that’s getting worse but other than impotent bleatings about UBI or “automation” we rarely even hear about it:

On the eve of the recession at the end of 2007, 12.8 percent of prime-age (25-54) men didn’t have jobs. Now that figure stands at 13.7 percent. The headline unemployment rate for this group has fallen—from four percent to 3.1 percent—but only because many of these men have simply given up looking for work. When they stopped actively searching for jobs, they no longer qualified as “unemployed.” Instead, the government labeled them as “out of the labor force,” a designation that lowers the unemployment rate but is no less harmful to the economy. The exodus of prime-age men from the workforce depresses overall workforce participation and swells the (already teeming) ranks of the non-employed. In total, 8.5 million men aged 25 to 54 are either unable to find a job or no longer looking for one.

All of yesterday’s meaningless posturing by the privileged kids about how they aren’t going to have kids is actually true for the working class men in their twenties who are out of work. They aren’t forming families. They are excluded from productive life. And nobody cares because the freakouts of the kids who have everything and are still pouting are so much more important.

The New Disguise of Austerity

All of these pseudo-climate proposals – fake meat, no air conditioning, living like medieval peasants, etc – are the same old austerity measures under a new guise.

Ten years ago, austerity was justified by the global financial crisis. Now it’s justified by the climate crisis. Austerity measures do nothing to address either, of course, but invoking (usually very real) crises makes them sound necessary.