02. Why Not Socialism? (G. A. Cohen)

G. A. Cohen - Why Not Socialism?I don’t know, why not? Can’t remember why I ordered this– someone pointed to it online somewhere for some reason, probably political. Very, very slim primer on current directions in socialist thought. Cohen all but throws up his hands and says, “I can’t see how it can work and it probably can’t, but I’m not ready to give up hope yet.” Cohen’s problem — and I gather the problem of most current socialist thinkers but by all means, school me — is that he can’t explain exactly how to leverage generosity to move economic interests, as a counterpoint to leveraging fear or greed in the current capitalist system. But he still believes that there’s something there. As a postscript, I’ll say that I just watched the Coen Brothers’ (no relation) (actually, I don’t know that for certain — maybe related?) Hail, Caesar! this weekend and the plot revolves in large part around a group of socialist writers arguing the economic imperative against capitalism and this book was… timely, strangely appropriate.

01. Manhattan Beach (Jennifer Egan)

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer EganThe high-profile “next novel” from Egan following the Pulitzer Prize-winning A Visit From The Goon Squad. A love letter of sorts to Egan’s city. A character meditation in which daughter and father mirror and reinforce each other’s choices and traits. I intuit the genius required of the author, to wrestle with where the story wants to go in defense of what she wants to say, and to come out with a narrative that so completely erases the evidence of that struggle from the final text. Envy-making sentences and phrases, observations (a boat slides into the water “like a cat into a cushion”). Egan is also concerned with what we are guilty of vs. what we think we’re guilty of, and she plays variations on that chord in dazzling arrays all through the novel. Can’t escape yourself: wherever you go, there you are.

Lost Time

My eyes keep going down to that six-year gap. What pulled me offline, what’s put me back on?

There were kids, growing, and the complicated demands on free time that leave little for coding, or composing, or… thought, even, as damning as that looks in writing. There was a high-stakes failure in our endeavors that sent my wife and I back to the drawing board for a while. There was a poverty in my thinking when I could do it: nothing to say to anyone and no inclination to say it.

The gap itself is the surface of a lake. No idea what’s under there, when you look at it. The light just bounces off. No divers, surfacing occasionally to report. It’s been like that, undisturbed, for oh ages, and the accumulated silence and stillness gives the whole scene a sinister overtone. That’s not how an open, communicating life should be.

I don’t know that I have more, or better, things to say now. But I do recognize in myself the long, sinister inertia, and because of and beyond that, the danger of a permanent loss of capacity, and it needs correction. I think writing — even into the void, maybe, and about nothing — could be a tonic for that malady.

I’m also keenly aware now that somehow I tended to the infrastructure even in my absence, so that if and when there is something that needs saying, it can be said. It’s my hope that these etudes will make me ready to do that, when the time comes.

The Best Story Ever

The hardest thing to pull off? Is the story about an artist who writes the best story ever — or poem, or song, you get the picture — but you have to read part of that story in the narrative. And as you approach it you’re thinking, “Uh oh, there’s no way they’re going to pull this off.” How many times in your reading life do you hit the best story ever? 1 out of 50? 100? I can’t think of an example where it actually works (maybe you can?).

Anyway, most recent example: Family Feud. So much resource poured out on so slight a work. The backward storytelling thing was great. But the verses were… not the best story ever.

(Update: Thinking more about this, I’ve decided that Family Feud maybe doesn’t fit the “best story in a story” trope, exactly. Technically it does: the rap at the end of the video is the story referred to directly and indirectly throughout the rest of the short film, which serves as the story around the story. But in reality, no one makes an explicit claim for its greatness. It’s the embarrassment of riches spent on framing that story — A-List actors, special effects, high-concept narrative, Beyoncé in couture — that suggest the viewer infer the momentousness of the final, delayed Jay-Z verses. And their (inevitable?) inability to live up to the hype put this one in the same zip code, at least, as the rest of its “best story” neighbors.)

One Year

One Year, a January mix from jnonfiction
One Year, a themed mix for January. Skews light; let’s see if 2018 can take a hint.

  1. New Year – The Breeders
  2. Valentine’s Day – Hem
  3. March – Hex
  4. April The 14th (Ruination Day Part 1) – Gillian Welch
  5. Month of May – Arcade Fire
  6. June – Over The Rhine
  7. July – The Innocence Mission
  8. August & September – The The
  9. Late October – Harold Budd / Brian Eno
  10. Rose Hip November – Vashti Bunyan
  11. New Year’s Eve – The Walkmen

Like a groundhog

Popping my head back up above ground. I’ve relied on social media to maintain an internet presence for a few years. But lately I’ve felt like there are times I want to say something requiring more than 140 (280?) characters. The tools have improved, the family has maintained a webserver against all odds… let’s see if I can’t shake off the dust and resurrect the practice.

Karen Peris contributes guest vocals to one of my surprise end-of-year finds: Lost Horizons, which represents the return of Simon Raymonde (Cocteau Twins) to music making after a few years running Bella Union. The whole album is a revelation.

04. Empowered evangelicals: bringing together the best of the evangelical and charismatic worlds

Empowered evangelicals - Rich Nathan and Ken WilsonRich and Ken do a good, thorough job of fleshing out the theological underpinnings and practical consequences of Vineyard’s self-proclaimed approach to Holy-Spirit dependent evangelicalism, challenging both traditional charismatics and traditional evangelicals to reconsider the theology behind their traditions. A good primer and a good reminder why we do what we do and why we believe what we believe. Always, the bottom line is Jesus with these guys, and that’s important– they’re so concerned not to fall into the errors of either camp. Tension, not balance.