Zizek Revolution

Why hasn’t the Left been able to counter the rise of right-wing populism these last few years? Slavoj Zizek makes an excellent start at answering that question (video clip below, h/t to my friend, Balazs Zsido). I would only quibble a bit, as I believe he may tend to overstate his case at times and leave a little something out at times.  When he says that every populist movement is caused by a failure of the Left, I think it would be more accurate to say that a failure of the Left is one of the things implicated in the rise of right-wing populism. There are probably multiple causes in each case, but in each case, one could also ask how the Left failed to put forth a viable alternative. I’m with him about 90% on that one, as historical analysis.

Turning from historical analysis to the current crossroads, I agree with him 100% that the Left is failing to produce a viable alternative today. The “old” Left of protecting universal health care and worker rights established post-WWII is a good thing but not enough to get us across the new horizons today. I agree with him there, although I might emphasize more than he does that the freedoms and socialized elements of Western democracies are the best thing going right now. Some of the rage against capitalism and the West needs to be thoughtfully reconsidered, as simply taking down the Western democracies revolution-style right now may well result in more oppressive structures — a turn for the worse. When I look at existing models of governance outside of the West – Russia or China, Iran and the Middle East, North and Central Africa – the freedoms of the West’s liberal democracies look relatively good. Simply knocking down the West would leave a vacuum for the other power brokers of the world, who do not seem to promise more enlightened governance. Even within the West, the “identity politics” branch of the Left (at least in the U.S.) seems all too eager to replace the West with their own oppressive and demographically determined structures. Be careful what you wish for. Things could actually be a lot worse than they are.

Am I then an “apologist for capitalism,” as some of my leftist friends might say? Not at all. Capitalism is approaching its limit. The age wherein human fulfillment is defined by how many resources you can hoard, wherein the primary relationship between people and resources is one of private ownership – this age will end, whether dystopically or utopically. The writing is on the wall in the form of ecological collapse and worldwide economic disparities that are increasingly visible with globalization. But beware the negative possibility. Just knocking down the West and leaving the field to, shall we say, less liberal and less democratic forms, may not yield the answer young Western radicals seek.

Like Zizek, I don’t have a specific answer for today’s Western leftists, but I do have a framework for answers. My framework is simply this: We need to think of the next stage not as a revolution against the West but as a revolution within the West.  We do need to move into the (post-materialist, post-capitalist) 21st century, but capitalism and liberal democracy are the matrix from which new forms will spring. Every age begins as a new birth but carries the seeds of its own destruction in the form of its own contradictions. When those contradictions reach a critical mass, the shell starts to crack. As the shell of capitalism starts to crack in the face of ecological and economic imperatives, the idea is not to crush everything but to bring forth the hidden seed that has been nurtured and throw away the husk. In particular, we need to keep the freedoms of liberal democracy intact while pushing hard and mindfully on the transformation into a post-capitalist economy that leaves no group stranded.

So yes, we need to move into a post-capitalist, post-materialist 21st century, where for example green technologies can be deployed based on what is possible, not on what is profitable. Following Zizek, I might say that we need a new Left to articulate a transformational vision for our age. Something may come of the Alt-Left, if its presently amorphous and contradictory energies coagulate around the best it has to offer. Then again, I’m not sure this radical vision will come from the Left at all. It may be that the last true radicals were in the 1960s.  Since then, Left and Right may both have become too damaged, too entrenched, to make the next turn. So be it. If the new radical vision comes from outside of today’s Left-Right spectrum, that is fine with me.

Zizek video clip

Won’t Get Fooled Again

a small transgression

.                       I remember
.                       once
.                        the moon
.                           was sinking

.                       and you pushed
.                       it
.                        up with
.                           your hands

.                       “witch” i said
.                       and you kissed me

                

 

A past-life regression

A past-life regression scene (medieval) from Hippies

Jazmine closed her eyes and began to disappear into the tan acid. Her hips ached. And the joints in her fingers. Bagpipes and bone flutes, tumblers in procession past the front arches of the small church.  The circus people were making as much noise as possible to attract an audience, and annoyed geese scattered at the pipes and timbrels, flapping themselves in half-flight to the patchwork warren of rutted alleys and streets spreading out on either side of the church. Jazmine was tempted to smirk at these itinerant performers. “Damned be all these gypsy tramps,” she was thinking. She felt an arthritic pain shoot through her left hip. “So this is what it feels like to be an old woman,” she thought, as she faded into the avatar of a hobbling crone. She eased her aching bulk onto a small, rough-hewed stone wall. “Damn their money-grubbing ways.” A few townspeople gathered about the square as the gypsies circled: artisans in bright tunics and hose, monks in plain brown robes, housewives with gowns and shawls and white caps tied in the back. The traveling circus had caught wind of the Lord Bishop’s visit and smelled a chance to get what copper coins and bartered goods they could from visiting curiosity-seekers and from proud locals, whose native severity was known to yield to a more festive spirit on such occasions. Whether they deserved the old woman’s damnation for thus seeking a ration of daily bread we will leave for the philosophers to decide.

“Ach! Christ’s blood!” said the crone, and she cackled out in laughter. “We’s all the same, aye. Gypsies, Christian, heathens. We draw people in to visit our pretty church so we can take their money in our shops; the gypsy ragamuffins come to take our geld.”

As she rubbed her crusty feet, one at a time, a box turtle wandered through a breach in the stone from the dry grass behind. It plodded along but stopped to look at her skeptically. She kicked it with surprising force for an arthritic, and it landed upside down on its shell, spinning for a moment like a coin. “And damn all the devil’s vermin too.”

This wholesome exercise with the turtle seemed to give her strength. She stood, pulled a twig of oregano, pinched and put it into her pocket, and began hauling herself, hip by hip, past the timber-framed houses thatched with straw and heather. “Aye, hell is for saints and sinner alike. All be damned is justice served. Aye, but what’s this?”

She stopped suddenly and looked diagonally across the square. Jeremiah – Rebecca’s Jeremiah, William’s apprentice – loitered by the irregular limestone blocks of the church’s wall, near the rounded arch of a heavy wooden side door. The crone peered closely and kept up her muttering.

“Aye, I know thy craft. But my boy, my only son, William, is too good for thee. Thou’st so smart with that Rebecca, so cheery, but I know the game. You two’s can be quiet and sneak and talk. Aye, but others can sneak too. And listen. I can hear the demons, Jeremiah and Rebecca. I heard thy devil words, thy will to get rid of William – she the orphan wench that William took in when her curséd father was beat to death. Aye, beat to death fairly for a witch. And now the wench to plot with Herr Brighteyes against my William.”

She crinkled up her voice in mockery. “‘We’ll be free of him tomorrow,’ says he. ‘But what of the Mohametman boy,’ says she. But wait!”

A brown-skinned boy, barely a teenager, had joined Jeremiah at the side of the church. Draped over his small frame was an absurdly rich gown of black and purple, finely trimmed in gold with geometric patterns. Sandals filled smooth, beautiful brown feet. That he was engaged in some secret discourse with Jeremiah was beyond question.

“So that’s the Mohametman to do the trick. A lamb, he appears. Aye, but my William shall not be anyone’s lamb.”

The old woman hitched in closer. She pulled the oregano from her pocket, along with seven scalded black beans she had placed there earlier, and rubbed them vigorously together between her hands to make herself invisible, as local lore would have it. She crept still closer. Jeremiah looked flustered. “In a few hours,” she heard the Mohametman boy say. “After the Lord Bishop’s audience with the Burgermeister.” She was all ears, but her bean-scalding technique must have fallen short, because she was startled by a princely horseman on her heels who apparently found her quite visible.

“Hold thy course, woman,” commanded the horseman. It was Darian, the son of the Lord Bishop, in his own noble dress on a chestnut mare.

“What is thy name, woman?”

“Gammer.”

“Don’t fool with me. Thy proper name.”

“Guda is my given name m’lord, but all call me Gammer these twenty years past ‘a child-rearing. The other old ladies is Gammer Elsa and Gammer Kate and such, but Gammer Guda is too much for the tongue, your honor. My old man used to say, ‘Christ’s blood, Guda, if ever in thy …’”

Darian cut her off. “Dare you taunt the Lord Bishop’s son with such a blasphemous oath! I should whip thee here and now for thy insolence.” He cracked his whip to emphasize the point.

“Oh, Jesus, m’lord, I mean no insolence. The Lord Bishop is a gentleman, to be sure. As fine a gentleman as that rascal before him, in faith …”

“Hold thy tongue! That man hard by at the church wall just now. Thou wert watching him. Is he of thy household?”

“No kin of mine, m’lord. I wouldn’t claim such a bright-eyed demon for all …”

“What business has he with my father’s boy?”

“None, m’lord.”

“How call you him a bright-eyed demon? What knowst thou of him?”

Guda could see that she had revealed too much already. But there was nothing to do but go on.

“Know him!! God’s wounds, m’lord, how should I know him? One can tell by his looks he’s a clever one, m’lord. Lord Jesus bless me if I know such a creature. My old man …” At this second reference to her long late husband – for husband he was in all things but the law – she made the sign of the cross to impress her inquisitor. “My old man used to say when Old Nick gets in a body …”

“God damn thy old man! May he rot in hell!” exclaimed Darian, perturbed by the crone’s loquacity and perhaps exercising with his own oath a right reserved for his rank.

The chestnut mare gave a quick, sudden snort, startling Guda a second time. She staggered but continued.

“Oh, Jesus, m’lord, she’s a pretty one, she …”

Darian wheeled away, unable to withstand the chatter, and in his wake, Guda saw that the Mohametman boy had parted, and Jeremiah had made it just a few steps before Rebecca herself had joined him.

hpp-cover4

 

Psychomachia and Autobiography (with frolicking hippies)

The first question people always ask me about Hippies is whether this romp through the psychedelics and sexual liberation and ideals, the music scene and the war scene, all the darkness and all the light of the late 1960s, is autobiographical. And am I like Ragman or Ziggy or Tex, etc.?

It’s not exactly autobiographical in that sense. But I draw from autobiography on every page. I am a bit part in every character. But perhaps this is tautological. Perhaps every artwork with more than one character is a kind of psychomachia, all characters projecting different aspects of the writer’s soul or psyche. Perhaps this is not just a psychological necessity (creative arts are after all self-expression) but a metaphysical one as well. How metaphysical? If all the people of the world – past, present, and future – are so many surface expressions of the single personality of godhead, then the whole great drama, the extended “vanity fair” of human history, is one great psychomachia. And divine history, too, as the figures that populate the collective imagination are just as much expressions of godhead as the figures that populate physical reality. Indeed, the figures of imagination may be more intimate expressions of godhead, as Jung’s collective unconscious transcends the individual psyche and gets one step closer the universal Psyche.

At least this literary theory, this metaphysics, seems consistent with the cosmic laws governing the created world of Hippies. And perhaps that is enough.

 

Why Democrats Keep Losing

Per white, working-class men, part of the problem is that they hear Trump and co. saying, “We’ll bring back jobs,” and they hear liberals saying, “You already have too much white and male privilege, so don’t look to us for help.” So who you gonna vote for? I say this as one who believes that the core Democratic platform is much better for workers than that of the disingenuous Trump Republicans, but the Democratic PR has been hijacked, at least in part, by academic theorists with a message uniquely suited to alienate white working-class men and their families (whose interests should be with the Democratic Party).

 

Hippies and Butterflies

I now have free review copies (Kindle or typeset pdf) of Hippies (novel) or Year of the Butterfly (chapbook of poems) for readers willing to post a brief and honest Amazon review.

Click the images for the Amazon links, or email me at the address below for the free copy if you’re willing to get a review up in the next few weeks

    

Email for review copies: drggautier@gmail.com