The Underground Lady [Page Forty-Five]

Forty years ago, Pasolini and other critics pointed out that fascism would live on under capitalism, that the more “advanced” capitalism became (in the sense of an “advanced illness”), the more openly fascistic its culture would become.  Until one day, in the not too distant future, the consumerist media would perfect the art of mass psychological sadomasochism to such an extent, it would be invisible even to its designers.  If these critics were here today to witness the marketing executives of entertainment and politics (now the very same individuals), trying to figure out how to foist their own grostesque, sadistic tastes onto the public, re-coded as “luxury” and “comfort,” they would say that we have reached point zero.  And that the Fascisti weren’t defeated in World War II; as a matter of fact, they have won.

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There is no real type for the writer today.  All the candidates—academic litterateur, contemporary diarist, elegist of the past, and even the time honored (and not too interesting) storyteller—fail to come up to the standard of  the writer.  They are all too busy making excuses.  It’s as if, in order to write at all today, one has to apologize in advance for it.  The author did not die by critical decree, but as a result of a lack of cash sales.

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Of course, some literature still manages to get produced.  But there is no audience for it, critical or otherwise, since no one takes literature seriously anymore.  It is greeted with universal disdain and indifference, and put away with a strong dose of snarky dismissiveness.  And if you try to quote a serious contemporary author, all you get back is a blank stare, and perhaps a rehearsed response from a TV commercial.

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We should re-engineer the age of the encyclopedists.  Fed on a steady diet of free information from good sources on the internet, and the last remaining public institutions, we could produce an updated version of the encyclopedists’ wonderful works of amateur astronomy, geography, cultural studies and naturalistic biology. . . the careful, painstakingly detailed descriptions of plants and animals filling volumes. . . the everyday theories about culture and politics, constructed relatively free from the suffocating constraints of professional associations and impotent academic in-fighting.  This work would probably become wildly popular, too, since it would be unfiltered and untouched by experts and the many other layers of abstractification used by consumer culture to discredit any intellectual achievement.  Who knows, it might even start a movement of amateur scholars, bringing back the armchair critic and workaday philologist.  All we have now in place of something like this kind of popular intellectual movement, are a million hack movie critics and pompous blow-hards on the internet, all talking about the same junk culture.

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There is a certain wryness to all my proposals for a way out of the present predicament.  Ultimately I think that we will sink into corporatist slavery.  Still, it is worth making these suggestions.  One never knows.

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In most popular discourse, the glib has replaced the modern.  And really, people whose primary mode is glibness are usually not too bright.  It is a rather pathetic defense.

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Modernism was a great movement to those capable of perceiving the profound, less satisfying and finally frustrating to the merely intelligent, and perplexing to the minds of those who made no real effort at development.  It gave no hints, after all, and offered no quarter to the mediocrity.  The movement that replaced it—consumerism—is absolute and hermetic.  And it is the same to everyone: banal, yet pleasing, in a disgusting, self-indulgent way.  No one who believes in it ever complains about it.  Modernism at least, for all its supposed obscurity, had several revolutions from within.

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To write well now means to write in a certain way.  Individualism is strictly prohibited, or limited to the margins.  To write a novel today, for instance, means to write in the novelistic style—and everyone is sure they know what that means.  The great battles of the past—when a colon could put you in a critical prison from which you could never escape, when a poorly rhythmed sentence or paragraph could end your career—these have been forgotten by everyone but a handful of anachronists. 

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Of course, the idea of an established style is ridiculous.  The novel is a formless form.  It could be one word—Borges entertained this notion, and he was being quite serious. 

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Even now the novel is preparing its rebellion through multiple mutations: the serialized story on the internet, the “cellphone novella,” the “abstract novel.”  Anything, in short, that will drive the establishmentarians into a rage.

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We should write novels in dozens of languages simultaneously.  Joyce has become the future, not the past.

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Even the work you are reading right now could be considered a novel.  Why?  Because.

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We should take the corporation at its word, and regard ourselves as our own masters even while we realize that we have been enslaved.  And a master has the right to free his slaves.  Therefore, I have found the one word in which is contained a novel that perfectly expresses our situation.  Mr. Borges, are you ready?  Here it is:

Self-manumission.

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