Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Ursula Le Guin - An Unstoppable Predilection For Alternatives

'And what is critical consciousness', asks Edward Said at the conclusion of his classic essay 'Travelling Theory' (1982), 'if not an unstoppable  predilection for alternatives?'  For Said, critical consciousness - as he found  it exemplified in figures as various as Vico,  Swift, Auerbach, Foucault and Adorno - was characterised chiefly by an openness to the transitory, the Other, the fugitive, the evanescent in human experience and human practice.  Criticism should be restless, dialectical, reflexive, forever capable not only of reinterpreting the world but also itself, of biting the hand that feeds it, of historicising or displacing its own most cherished positions or nostrums.

This 'worldliness' was also what attracted Said to some of the literary writers of whom he was most fond - Conrad or Lampedusa.  Such a worldliness was also a characteristic of the great American writer Ursula K Le Guin, whose death has been announced today.  Too often pigeonholed as a 'science-fiction' writer, Le Guin has used various genres as fictional laboratories for the dialectical testing of versions of Utopia, over a very long and illustrious career.   Would we had more  like her.

Here is an essay she wrote for a new edition of  Thomas  More's Utopia published by Verso in 2017:

A War Without End by Ursula K. Le Guin

Though even Harold Bloom has generously praised  Le Guin as a great stylist and innovator, it has surely been Fredric Jameson, of the major critics now working, who has given the most attention to Le Guin.  His omniverous and affirmative Marxism was open to Le Guin from early in her career.  Here is an essay of his from 1975:

World Reduction in Le Guin


Sunday, 21 January 2018

Bah Humbug - The New Spirit of Resistance in 2018

My last blogposting was a minor 'funny story' about Adorno (always a tricky genre), and an ecstatic announcement about my readership numbers - back in early November.  And then, typically, I posted nothing for the next two months.  No good excuses: Christmas, and then I was travelling to  Paris and Berlin.  And since my return to Dublin: work work work.

But such silence can't go on forever.  Having been reading Eric Hazan again, as I looked for the ghosts of past greatness on the rue d'Ulm and meditated on the Metro, I plan a piece on him and his writing.  But for now, here is some decently mordant reading, borrowed from the Verso website, for the bad new year!


Some economic gloom:

Are We Heading for Another Economic Crash?

Wandering the two greatest cities in Europe, I was reading Lenin's What Is To Be Done?, his early Chernyshevskian critique of putatively 'non-political' left movements and thinkers in late-nineteenth century Russia.  In the same book, he also works up his idea of a disciplined, centralised revolutionary party.  Alas, no matter the power or relevance of his ideas, they were also vulnerable to appropriation by the enemy:

The Rise of the Leninist Right

And at least one reason to be cheerful: Verso reissue Luc Boltanski's and Eve Chiapello's bracing and powerful manifesto and thesis for a radical and critical sociology of the bad new days, The New Spirit of Capitalism.   Here is Boltanski, explaining the book's project: