Friday, March 31, 2017

What Do Pet Peeves and Hypochondria Have in Common?

George Bernard Shaw was a famous hypochondriac (Life photo archive)
A pet peeve is delusory. You focus on it with the underlying presumption that your life will be much improved once it’s eliminated. It’s a little like hypochondria. The hypochondriac is convinced that he or she will be happy if they are not dying of something—a highly dubious premise at best, to the extent that like the main character of Charlie Kaufman’s Synecdoche, NY we are all ultimately dying of life—only to find out that at the end of his or her search for the right to life a symptom of an even more pernicious disease crops up. That’s what people who have many pet peeves and hypochondriacs have in common. New irritations and fears are the fuels that keep their hopes alive. Without the anger at this or that inconvenience or the terror that they’ve picked up some virulent form of antibiotic resistant bacteria, they will have to face something even more primordial and base. What is it? Obviously, it’s impossible to make generalized statements about the deeper modus vivendi of humanity, but it’s probably safe to say that many of the surface bartering that individuals do with higher authorities whether they be God or fate or just the act of daydreaming and wishing employ obsession to cover up more implacable adversaries.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Final Solution: The Lumpenproletariat

Karl Marx (portrait by John Jabez Edwin Mayall)
Lumpenproletariat used to be a word that was bandied about when people took the Communist Party more seriously. It’s one of those terms that has almost nostalgic connotations referring as it does to a striation of class that one would have thought no longer existed, in our world of unionized skilled workers. Nevertheless it’s one of those interesting words which needs to get an injection of Geritol, the magical liquid advertised by Ted Mack on his amateur hour, during the same 50’s period when committed Marxists were still using the expression. Lumpen for instance connotes things with lumps in it like goulash and soup and you also think of the lumpen as people who have or have taken their lumps. In Marxist terminology the lumpenprolertariat are actually the dregs of humanity, those who have no interest in attaining class consciousness and hence aiding and abetting the struggle. Doesn’t this sound a little bit like Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables" and wasn't Clinton totally on the mark for terming Trump's constituency that? The only difference seems to be that instead of being the lowest rung, of freeloaders and petty thieves, the lumpenproletariat, now composed of aimless unemployed workers from defunct industries like coal and steel, seems to have grown. Actually it was the Marxist lumpenproletariat, now swelled like the liver of a goose that’s about to made into fois gras, that was responsible for electing a billionaire capitalist, a reborn l9th century robber baron, president.The real question seems to be not whether "deplorables" elected Trump, but what accounted for the expansion of this demographic. 

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Party Animals

Here is the now neo-con intellectual Norman Podhoretz reminiscing about the heyday of the New York intelligentsia (“Norman Podhoretz Still Picks Fights and Drops Names,” NYT, 3/18/17): “Everybody gave parties. And there was a lot of drinking. Some visiting literary celebrity would show up, Partisan Review would make a party or I would make a party. Everybody came. And it was a really passionate intellectual life. It’s hard to imagine today, but people actually came to blows over literary disagreements.” Yeah where has it all gone? It used to be that a party was a place where you got shitfaced and made passes at other peoples’ wives while breaking up long-term friendships over differences of opinion, usually of a political nature. Woody Allen’s famous quip from Annie Hall actually epitomized an era, “I heard that Commentary and Dissent had merged and formed Dysentery.” Then of course there’s the adolescent, “there’s a party in my pants, everyone is coming.” Today we live in far more timid times. People are likely to order in Chinese, agree on how much they hate Trump (at least in New York) and then feel so sickened by the regurgitation of the week’s politics and the greasy food that they have no interest in anyone, including Thy Neighbor’s Wife, to invoke the title of the Gay Talese tome. The famous parties of the 50’s were not just limited to the literary world; they were an infamous part of the art scene, dominated by hard drinking abstract expressionists. Of course if you watched Mad Men, then you realized that Madison Avenue was no slouch either. Where have all the parties gone? It’s a good question. Every once in a while the bacchanalia in some frat house results in the creation of some new statute in the state of California. But Thoreau’s line about “the mass of men leading lives of quiet desperation” seems more apropos than ever.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Final Solution: It's Never History

George Santayana (Samuel Johnson Woolf, Time Magazine)
Will history ever stop repeating itself? Will people ever learn on both an ontogenic and phylogenic basis. All evidence points to the contrary. Take for example your friend who's always getting jilted by his or her lovers. No matter what's transpired he or she always seems to pick the same unavailable girl or guy and when you try to pick example A, B or C who would have the personality traits that would make for a good companion he or she always says perfectly innocently that they're simply not attracted--without thinking why. No matter how much hurt they’ve experienced, they still don’t get that there's something deeply wrong and that their drives, which  inevitably push them in the wrong direction, are where the problem resides. Each new relationship begins with the same excitement. If you're lucky you can even catch the embarrassed grin on their face as they practically admit they're doing the same thing all over again with the hope that perhaps this time the attraction to the same kind of person will bring different results. And so the frightfully similar pattern appears on a grand scale with nation states who enter into pacts full of promise that only end in enmity and war. What's the reason for all the perpetual conflicts? The Bosnian Serb wars of the l990’s are a frightening reminder of this very propensity. Under the rule of a benevolent despot, the varying factions of the former Yugoslavia achieved a prosperity that was singular for a Communist block country of the era. Then with Tito's death all hell broke loose. Populations that had been carrying centuries of historical baggage eventually caused a harmonious society to implode.  Horrifying death and destruction ensued with no conceivable goal that could be unearthed. Everyone was a loser except for the war crimes tribunals which ended up doing a brisk business. Now the lid has been put on the hostilities though there's no evidence the simmering antagonisms won't again flare up someday. Like the man or woman who perpetually chooses a louse, there's a profound sickness in many national and international relations, an unattended to death wish, that perennially puts peace and prosperity at risk. George Santayana famously said, "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." But even those who remember seem to find a reason to travel down the same path.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Joys of Insomnia

Insomnia can be a joy, maybe not as great a pleasure as sleep, but at the very least a learning experience, providing you embrace it. Many people fight insomnia, but the dreaded scourge of darkness can easily become the thinking man’s NoDoz. Let insomnia work for you. First of all, what better way to improve your meditation practice than to count your breaths through an insomniac night? And then there's your old friend visualization. Say you've been taking tango classes with your wife. What better time to bone up on your moves than when she's lying in bed and softly snoring by your side! Look at "tossing and turning" as a new class at the gym.  If you're studying a language, insomnia is a great time to go over your amo, amas, amats. And then there's sex. It’s night. Somewhere in the big city, another couple is having hot and heavy sex. While the fact that you’re not could make you feel left out, you now have a perfect opportunity to indulge in a bit of harmless, virtual reality adultery. “In a real dark night of the soul, it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day” is the famous Fitzgerald quote. In fact, there’s no better time to enjoy illicit but safe sex with yourself. True insomniacs know that one of the secret perks of the ailment, is the voyeuristic enjoyment of other people’s romantic lives.