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The UK is kicking off its first truly competitive election in well over a decade, and as you’ll see in this surprising article, the Labour Party has decided to base its strategy on the tougher and more menacing attitude of its leader, Gordon Brown.
We live in enlightened times, huh? Perhaps in future elections, leaders can just contest the battle with baseball bats or large sticks, and thus spare us all the hassle of walking, cycling, or driving to the polls.
This UK manly contest sort of reminds me of the Canadian election in which Alliance leader Stockwell Day squared off against Jean Chretien, and each leader ensured that they were filmed looking as virile and athletic as possible. A cynical pundit at the time suggested that the only way Canadians would know who was the more manly leader would be if both leaders agreed to have sex with their respective wives on national television
Of course, in the British context, there is also a certain class consciousness at play here, given that the Tory David Cameron is a notoriously rich Eton toff. Posh boys, we are to assume, have lily white hands and would probably cry if they broke a fingernail in a fight.
Or, of course, this could all be an April Fool’s Day prank.
Even hipsters eat food sometimes. That’s just part of the conclusion you will inevitably draw from this interesting Salon article. What’s the skinny here? It turns out that when the economic downtown in America laid the boots to practically all of the economy except for oil, banking, and military invasions, hipsters – those ironically dressed, messy haired, slouching, indie-band loving kids – started to feel the pinch just like anyone else. The result has been that some unemployed or underemployed hipsters qualify for federal food stamps, which they have been known to redeem for organic salmon, Japanese eggplant, mint chutney, and other suspiciously fresh and tasty foods.
Here is a hipster for those unfamiliar with their appearance. (See the original at this great blog here.)
After the original article was posted, and apparently ticked off people who can’t stand it when the poor get a healthy diet, Salon followed it up with this: a personal defence from a self-confessed hipster in Baltimore. As you can read for yourself, he acquits himself admirably.
While organic and local foods seem like luxury items to many, it’s important to understand that cheap food is the result of government subsidies while local farmers get little to no assistance. Cheap food is the real extravagance. My interest in food stems from my having to care for a diabetic father, and good food is the only form of healthcare I have access to.
Hmmm. This doesn’t sound even remotely ironic; it actually sounds rather earnest. But there’s more.
Ultimately, though, this debate isn’t about my personal story, it’s about the shifting class boundaries in this country. The comments both attacking and defending people like me reflect the insecurities and fears we all harbor in a nation where, in a time of corporate bailouts and “Too Big To Fail,” even upper-middle-class people struggle to put food on the table.
Shortly thereafter, the hipster – OK, it’s Gerry Mak, he’s humanized himself enough now to warrant a name – deftly summarizes how economic hard times have dashed outmoded assumptions about what poverty looks like. Poverty these days might be quoting Kierkegaard to you in the food bank line.
…there is yet a deeper debate about whether we can, in a deep recession with record unemployment rates, make the same old assumptions about class based on race, occupation and education, particularly when increasingly, only poorly paid, unprotected, insecure jobs are available even to people with master’s degrees.
Reading the comments section is illuminating. The spectre of the “deserving poor” raises its head, as it appears to have done ever since Charles Dickens’ time.
Personally, I am quite comfortable with hipsters using food stamps to buy organic salmon. I am not sure why some would appear to prefer it if poor people denied themselves the pleasure of a nice meal; there’s some Puritanical loathing going on there. Moreover, I think organic salmon beats Hamburger Helper or some other pile of mass-produced shit any day.
Earlier this year, Montreal musician, Lhasa, died of breast cancer. I saw Lhasa give an inspired performance in Edmonton in about 2004 thereabouts and all I can say is that this is one of the saddest losses for the music world in a very long time. I only bring this up right now because I finally got around to buying her final album and by Lord, if there is a more moving album out there today, I will eat a full box of tear-stained tissues.
These are the lyrics of “I’m Going In,” in which Lhasa forecasts her own death.
When my lifetime had just ended
And my death had just begun
I told you I’d never leave you
But I knew this day would come
Give me blood for my blood wedding
I am ready to be born
I feel new
As if this body were the first I’d ever worn
I need straw for the straw fire
I need hard earth for the plow
Don’t ask me to reconsider
I am ready to go now
I’m going in I’m going in
This is how it starts
I can see in so far
But afterwards we always forget
Who we are
I’m going in I’m going in
I can stand the pain
And the blinding heat
‘Cause I won’t remember you
The next time we meet
You’ll be making the arrangements
You’ll be trying to set me free
Not a moment for the meeting
I’ll be busy as a bee
You’ll be talking to me
But I just won’t understand
I’ll be falling by the wayside
You’ll be holding out your hand
Don’t you tempt me with perfection
I have other things to do
I didn’t burrow this far in
Just to come right back to you
I’m going in I’m going in
I have never been so ugly
I have never been so slow
These prison walls get closer now
The further in I go
I’m going in I’m going in
I like to see you from a distance
And just barely believe
And think that
Even lost and blind
I still invented love
I’m going in
I’m going in
I’m going in
I’d like to officially and subjectively declare that today was the first day of spring in Montreal. And in a few short weeks, we’ll be seeing this again:
What a relief that will be! But even prior to the beloved tams tams taking centre stage under the mountain, there have been ample signs of our rehearsals for summer.
Montrealers warming themselves in the sun like lizards.
Joggers in shorts.
Couples kissing outdoors without having to rush or shiver under the hoods of their parkas.
Drinking on terrasses, or for the more informal among us, drinking out of a beer bottle scarcely concealed by a white plastic bag whilst watching rush hour traffic go by from outside a depanneur on Parc.
Today, when people were speaking of Spring, it’s like they truly considered it a reality. After all, it’s been days of this now. Sometimes chilly, sometimes not, but almost always sunny and steadily headed in the right direction. If it snows or the cold snaps now, we won’t feel so hard bitten. Because we all know that winter is spent. At this point, any return of sub-zero would be the last punch from a fighter who is going down.
There’s an interesting (and fairly scathing) review over here of a new book called Reality Hunger: A Manifesto. The author of this new book talks about the alleged irrelevance of the contemporary novel. I suppose saying this raises the ire of the novel’s defenders, kicks up controversy, hence publicity, hence more sales or Web hits, hence, mission accomplished… If that’s not being too cynical about the whole thing.
Is the novel at death’s door? Some art forms have died over the years; as the Salon article points out, hardly anyone reads or writes epic poems anymore. The radio play has almost entirely gone the way of the dodo. I don’t know why the former died; maybe it’s something to do with the decline of the oral tradition. The latter almost certainly died because of television.
It wouldn’t be unprecedented for a once-mighty medium to go down.
Fortunately, with enemies of the contemporary novel such as this, those of us who are deep friends of the ongoing medium can breathe a little easier. In Reality Hunger, according to Salon, the author: “keep[s] dodging and feinting in celebrating the irrelevance of originality or the supremacy of the documentary mode.”
It sounds like the disdain for the novel rests on some pretty flimsy argumentation. (And as an aside, I shout point out that Reality Hunger‘s author discards the merits of Jonathan Franzen’s novel The Corrections without even reading it. Well done! To slightly even the score, I won’t read his book either, especially since, well, as the reviewer points out, he was actually too lazy to write it all himself.)
So, back to the irrelevance of originality… The assertion is a familiar one. A year ago, when the documentary film RiP! came out, the central argument seemed to be that almost no idea – artistic, scientific, technological – was entirely original, hence the most important aspect of an idea was its utility to the people. So you should liberate art from outdated notions about copyright — the idea that an author, musician, filmmaker etc. could “own” the ideas in his or her own artwork and then profit from them — because freedom from copyright increases the number of people being exposed to any given artistic artifact.
Which is an argument I only partly agree with.
But a problem arises with the concept of originality. What exactly does it mean to create new art only by pasting together pieces of old art? The Salon review of Reality Hunger briefly cites Dogme 95, the Danish proclamation for a return to basics in filmmaking. Dogme 95 is worth pondering, because the rules of the manifesto certainly encouraged Dogme filmmakers to be a little more original. Dogme 95 wanted to get back to essentials like plot and character. It had a purifying effect; watch the first Dogme film, Festen, and point to single Hollywood film that can rival it for sheer depth of story and character. It’s unflinching in its focus.
So to return one last time to the Reality Hunger, apparently, quite in opposition to the genuinely subversive manifesto of Dogme, this latter-day “manifesto” apparently cobbles together its argument using, for the most part, other people’s words.
The book’s format only accentuates this slipperiness: It contains a lot of passages cut and pasted from the work of other writers and artists. This technique, which Shields calls “literary mosaic,” is meant to imitate hip-hop sampling and other kinds of musical appropriation. In the book’s final pages, he explains that initially he didn’t even want to identify the sources of these quotes, but “Random House lawyers” talked him into naming them in the endnotes. (Salon)
Personally, I think if art, and especially narrative art, becomes too self-referential, allusive, or too preoccupied with the flash of the surface, it simply succumbs to the governing logic of the society of the spectacle, since everything becomes a representation of a previously-represented iteration of our existing power dynamics. Whereas if you try really hard to get outside previous representations of reality, which obviously is not entirely possible – but if you try – and by this I mean, genuinely attempt to engage with reality directly; i.e. you visit Gaza instead of relying on the mediated account of events there, then your understanding of reality is enhanced and deepened and you up your chances of making an artistic representation of reality that is more truthful, meaningful, and original.
Here’s a great article about a great novelist, Michel Houellebecq, who is celebrated in Europe for being about as truthful, meaningful and original as any writer can be. Here’s a morsel:
…the best reason to read Houellebecq, the one I would give if I were asked, anyway, is that his work produces the scandalously rare impression of being relevant, of connecting to how life is, rather than how it might be if there were more adventures.
Along with Franzen, oh and probably hundreds more besides, here’s a living, breathing novelist. A relevant novelist. Some might say, an original one.
Long live the novel!