American Serfdom

medical cabinet

The future composition of the Supreme Court is the most important civil rights cause of our time.

http://talkingpointsmemo.com/cafe/scalia-death-2016-implications

In the times of Nikolai Gogol, one could work for the State and by doing such become eligible for hereditary nobility. I want you to imagine being a serf then, in Russia, around 1835. Be a serf and imagine you had a voice, and with that voice, imagine that you could bring about change in the way the Regime worked. Imagine that you and other serfs, all of you together, could with your collective voices change the way the Tsar went about affairs of the State. Imagine all of you felt you had had a say in that.

When I read articles such as the one forwarded to me by a dear friend of mine—(see above)—all I hear is an all too familiar bout of petty narcissism—the delusion of a human being who actually believes he (or she) has a voice that matters in the affairs of the State. It’s a benign narcissism—not a malevolent or a malignant one by any means. And all I mean by this petty, benign narcissism is that it is the voice of a human being who falsely believes in the importance over both his place and his effect in and on the world. The reality is this man, this voice, this human being has no more effect in and on the world about him than did a serf over the Regime in the early 1800’s in Russia.

What, however, is particular and even perhaps singular about this American version of serfdom is the fatuous and altogether narcissistic belief that one has, that one is a “stakeholder” in the play of power—be it legislative, executive, or, as in this article, if but once-removed, judicial. And it is this con that keeps down, keeps away any real threat of any real revolt of any kind. So long as people in the United States feel that they have a voice, or a vote, or a measure of selfhood that matters elsewhere—and by ‘elsewhere’ I mean the government or the State that ‘governs’ them—any possible sense of revolt or rebellion is quelled ipso facto. It is that feeling of ‘having power’ versus that feeling of ‘feeling powerless’ that keeps the gristmill going. Really, it’s like gossip—possibly true, but so what? Possibly false, but so what, too? So this guy has loosened his belt a notch, or tightened it up a notch, so what?

The effect is that this man is quieted down, and everybody reading it nodding their heads up and down is likewise quieted down, likewise shut up. Who cares that the peasants, the serfs, the “yeoman farmers” as Jefferson so elegantly put it, grumble? Let ’em grumble and mumble all they want. What matters is that the serfs and peasants, the slaves and servants keep on working; and, moreover, believe in this System, which except for a few who do turn rank and begin—let’s say like Cruz or Obama or Rubio, as well as Clinton 1.3 or Clinton 2.7 (no matter which)—to work now for the State, (and thus become eligible for this inheritance of nobility which they will under no terms ever forsake), are for the foreseeable future permanently kept in their places by. And it is this extant or consequent ‘nobility’ which the Supreme Court, as it pores through any number of pages of any numbers of cases and causes brought before the Bench, will jealously guard and preserve like a dragon in its lair overlooking its treasure.

Tracy Kleigman

soviet building 2

Infidelities had not been my thing, not my strong point. Nor polyamorous détente posing as an acceptable spin-about, two-way mirror. My beloved and I, we’d hang out a spell in the local commuter lot sucking down a rum-laced smoothie and watch the parking meters there go to zilch, to zero. This was before the armistice, when public appearances as such were not frowned upon. What keeps the peace makes the peace, the newbies from the inland landlubbers used to say. And I hopped in the passenger seats of some. Fine leather seats. Doe skin floor mats. Skunk pelt shoulder rests. Chip-enhanced hi-def resolution video display on the dash and visor. Putting such spousal considerations in the glove box. Making out like an Aston Martin in spoon time. The fistful of quarters went for a while, and shining the light with my lithium battery torch over the small asphalt plain looking for love again when the high rollers bailed out at 7 pm, it wasn’t so skeezy but it wasn’t exactly not either. It was the crank crank crank near coming into the rush to come on the upcurve slope of the soon to crash downward rollercoaster cliché. So it became a thing. Doing it my way, or doing it your way. Downing that all with wheat ale at 11 pm back with my true love was some time had off 45 NE. Then we’d kick it and rub all night like it was second heaven till dawn.

Cassidie Shoyzen Miller

rocky coastline

By nightfall, the package I had had was lifted from my fingers. I didn’t mind so much. Nor by the following dawn when I had seen my photographs themselves had been by an interloper forged. Even as the footsteps taken in the snow had been replaced by another’s pair of boots, I felt no threat. Like ribbons in the wind I had let these go, let these drift away and fly. What I minded rather was the cobwebbed world of my privacy had been invaded, had been tramped upon. Somebody’s hands had rubbed themselves against the grout and tile of my simple and peaceful morning nakedness. For to be discovered in this world at large is the last thing on Earth I had ever dreamt could be. The mice that scuttle in the walls, the summertime fireflies that flash and yearn, the great open ruthless maw of the Ocean, these are the corners of Existence that had appealed to me. Old Russian women their thick coats unbuttoned and open facing the warm gray light I had been told when I was young was their second winter their eyes closed in the park sunning themselves alone I had believed then to be the only nostalgia in my life I had ever hoped for. Where then is my December? I had wished once to be the milkweed seeds the Monarch on its southward venture would breakfast upon, helping those wings on their voyage afar, perhaps to reach the green wilds of Mexico, or perhaps not. I had wished to be the paint peeling off a barn door in some local farmer’s field abandoned. I had wished only if I wished anything to be, to be but the tiniest pinprick of human light disappearing into the Universe of obscurity, a place where only my namelessness would endure…

The Shaggy Coat Of Banality

alexievich

I was sitting around in the auto shop the other day and picked up a used copy of The New Yorker that was already folded around and opened to an article that I started reading about who’d won the Nobel Prize in literature. And I stopped reading and took a picture of it on my iPhone not far into it when the winner, Svetlana Alexievich, was quoted as saying, “We live in an environment of banality. For most people, that’s enough. But how do you get through? How do you rip off that coating of banality? You have to make people descend into the depths of themselves.” And I starting thinking about the news I’d read earlier that morning through Google news; and how Douglas Tompkins, I had read about the next day, had been killed the day before that on December 8 in a kayaking accident in Patagonia, an eco-baron who wanted to save hundreds and hundreds of thousands of acres of forest by buying them up so that they’d be preserved forever, spared the onslaught of industry, development, and technology.

I read about the daily murders, and the daily bombings, and the blowings-up. And I had looked over noticing how in the last weeks the headlines had shifted from money and earnings and accounts of money and earnings, to the next scene of carnage and murder in California or Paris and so on, and that money and politics had seemed to drop pretty much away from them. And I thought about how the murder of John Lennon on December 8, 1980, sitting around the auto shop that same day thirty-five years later, hadn’t been anywhere, how when he was shot and killed on 72nd Street and Central Park West then, this didn’t even come up.

A friend of mine and I had been trading newspaper articles that we read online for years. It began with a line I read once by Noam Chomsky that you had to read a news article to the last line of the article, that you had to do this to really understand it. It was there that you got what it was really all about. And last lines we read proved to be great. They were really doozies at times. They spelt out there exactly what the writer meant. Everything worked toward that last line, and if you didn’t read an article to the last line you didn’t get it. For years and years we’ve been sending each other these last lines in emails, with just the smallest and often most obscure commentaries we choose to make on these lines, as well as the links to the online articles themselves.

Over time this had changed between him and me to the reading of news not for the news’ sake, but from our reading these articles from a position of their complete banality. Embedded within news, if you read the news well, we found that there was this incredible preponderance, if you will, of the most unlikely kinds of language being used in places that you would never ever expect language to being used that way actually being used that way. For instance, in a story about a man who’d drowned in a local river, there’d be some friend in the article quoted as saying something like, “He’d been fishing for trouble for the last five years.” How could this happen? We, my friend and I, didn’t want to know that exactly, but we were keen at how often this happened. I mean, beyond just its being a self-conscious easy-play with a cheap pun, as is common and on purpose in sports headlines and articles, we found these totally inappropriate metaphors being used all over the place. So, it made the comedy of the banality of the news worse, in a way, but in another way better. Why? Because we never had to feel it. Why? Because there really was nothing left to feel. Not with writing like that. Left or right, patriotic or terrorist, political or familiar, news was never actually news. It was something else entirely.

So when I Googled The New Yorker magazine at home over the next few days and read the account of a woman describing the pieces of her husband’s body falling apart, which article I had begun and put down in the auto shop, I did feel what Alexievich had meant, I think. (This I let myself feel somehow trying, or at least trying to push to the side that everything printed in The New Yorker is entirely banal and commonplace. This is because first off, the writing reduces everything to a level of coffee table-, or at most coffee shop-banality; and, secondly, the intended readership is the readership of the self-minded, and self-appointed intellectual guardianship of the bourgeoisie, whose lifelong performance of book-and-magazine reading complements and likewise fulfills the living definition—both urban and suburban—of being the very working expression of that banality.) Alexievich simply interviewed people whose life experiences from Chernobyl to Afghanistan, are absolutely true and unimaginable, and copied out longhand, I read, these interviews, and turned them into books.

Some people in Russia, where Alexievich has lived in a tiny two room apartment much of her life for years, don’t say she’s even a writer. Others say she’s invented a new literary form. I probably remember the day John Lennon died because it’s the same day my father had been born, and I remember that, and they had happened to come together. So, for me they were fused, the way realistic irony makes that happen sometimes, not because I have a particular memory for those kinds of things, or a sense of memorabilia for the Beatles. I remember in college a professor of mine had said to me offhandedly one day once that the only place left that people felt terror in their lives anymore was in their dreams. All this, like a fairy dancing on the head of a pin, had also made me think of that, it struck me.

The Moon Will Break Your Heart

moonpath over water

Everyone loves a sunset. The ribbons of lavender, peach, orange, and purple in the eyes. It could be off the coast of Costa Rica. It could be seen across the Promenade of Brooklyn Heights. It could be remembered caught along a little, pleasant street in Hammam-Lif. It could have been St. Petersberg, Tallinn, Brno, New Delhi, or Kalamazoo. It doesn’t matter where, or from what mountaintop we have seen them. Over chemical wastelands or the most poetic climes of England, sunsets are beautiful. They restore the daylong soul and bring the tiring body a welcome touch of sightful peace. As for the moon, the moon, I’m afraid, is full of heartbreak. Its borrowed rays scatter across the darkened water like frightened fish. The fuller the face the deeper the woe. In the middle of night, like the saddest dream I ever dreamt, I wandered out upon an empty golf course one time to see the shining full moon myself. I was with a lovely young lady who did not love me an inch back. But to have been with her there this once, stranded in the middle of those acres of softly groomed grass, I could only imagine that—were we seen from afar standing so close in the sweet radiant vacancy of Earth by that all-seeing midnight moon herself—she would have exclaimed, “Look! A human treasure to behold!”