USA Election 2020, etc

I was in the middle of tai chi class this past Saturday, outdoors at Wilcox Park as all of our classes have been since late May, when at about 11:45 suddenly the entire neighborhood erupted in cheers and car horns honking and music playing from open windows as people erupted into the streets on this beautiful, sunny, early November morning. Joe Biden had won the election. Joe Biden was now on track to be the 46th president of the United States.

I voted for Biden in the general election. I voted for Bernie Sanders in the primary, as I had in the 2016 primary. I voted for Hillary Clinton in the general in 2016.

Donald Trump, the gleeful racist and misogynist, is currently squealing and mewling that the election was rigged, that the Democrats and liberals and socialists are trying to steal from him something that he has obviously won. He is explicitly telling the white supremacists, domestic abusers, conspiracy theorists, cowards, christian nationalists, and bullies — which are the entirety of his support network — that they should be prepared to take to the streets in glorious revolution in order to protect the sanctity of the office of Donald Trump.

Naturally the entire world is laughing at Donald Trump. And much of the world is laughing at the United States for allowing to be nominated, much less elected, such a manifestly ignorant, vindictive, petty, incurious fool to the highest office in the land. This laughter is richly earned, as Donald Trump is the apotheosis of the conservative christian capitalist character which has been the only dominant power structure in the territory of the United States since 1492. White supremacy, christian nationalism, conservative oligarchy and colonial capitalism are the entirety of what the United States represents, and Donald Trump is the genius loci of the melting pot which combines these characteristics and labels it “freedom.”

There have of course been significant in-roads to try to bring equity, justice, fairness, empathy and compassion into the mainstream of American culture, and at the local level these efforts can succeed quite wonderfully. But at a national level, where elderly conservative white nihilism is baked into the political DNA, these gains are subverted, inverted and perverted into shiny rebrandings of old injustices. Slavery becomes Jim Crow becomes the carceral state. And at every step of the perversions of justice, conservative white (and invariably Christian) talking heads spout easily debunked platitudes about how we must pull together to move ahead, while the tendrils and rhizomes of capitalist-enabled bigotry and injustice find new ways to exploit and injure the vulnerable.

Some years ago, in a comment on the excellent Crooked Timber blog, Frank Wilhoit made the following observation about conservatism: “Conservatism consists of exactly one proposition, to wit: There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.“ (The full text and context of the quote is here.)

On the surface, this can appear to be nothing more than a restating of tribalism, which has been around for literally millions of years. But tribalism is ingrained, instinctive, as much a part of humanity as our DNA. Conservatism, however, is the recognition, acknowledgement, and deliberate reinforcement of that trait. 

Conservatism is the protection of that which has gone before. Therefore it is by its nature forever reductive and enforces the consolidation of resources, power and belief. “This is the way we have always done it!” yells the conservative. “This way works, why would we change it?” “If they have more, I will have less!”

This is the way conservatism is and has always been, and as Wilhoit points out in another part of his comment, how could we imagine anti-conservatism? What would that even look like? Call this “Conservative Realism.” In much the same way Mark Fisher contemplated capitalism in his brief, magnificent book Capitalist Realism, what does “not-X” look like?

Joe Biden is not a liberal. He is not a socialist of a leftist or any of the words which American conservatives use as smear words but which in reality box in those same conservatives and make them, in their gleeful ignorance and utter lack of curiosity about the world, easy to recognize. Joe Biden is (by USA standards) a moderate conservative with a gloss of liberal (not leftist; liberal) tendencies in that he is not openly calling for the culling of those who differ from him ideologically. By international standards, which are the only standards we should be using to define our politics here in the middle of the 21st century, Biden is significantly conservative. Bernie Sanders is a moderate centrist by those same standards. It says something about the power of conservative realism that anyone on this country thinks there is any such thing as a “radical leftist,” “radical socialist,” or indeed a radical anything in the left quadrant of American politics. In order to find “leftists” as destructive as mainstream conservative American culture we would have to consider the Earth Liberation Front or similar groups. And there are what, maybe fifty members of the ELF? At a similar position on the right side of the spectrum there are literally millions of second-amendment fetishizing, military worshipping, imperialist bootlicking, christian nationalist white supremacists who explicitly and implicitly by their very existence advocate and implement the immiseration, injury and death of anyone who isn’t a conservative white christian man.

America is an overwhelmingly conservative country. This is a description, not an ideal. America is an overwhelmingly capitalist country. This is a description, not an ideal. The simple fact that Donald Trump could be elected demonstrates that the USA is still racist, misogynistic, bigoted and sadistic. The election of Joe Biden does not change these traits any more than the election of Barack Obama changed these traits twelve years ago. However, that people who are not like Donald Trump can be elected show that it is possible to move beyond the racist, money-grubbing version of tribalism which has dominated America for more than 250 years. We haven’t yet, of course, and it will be years or decades or centuries before that actually happens, assuming American ChristoCapitalist fascism doesn’t destroy the country first.

So the election of Biden has momentarily slowed the slide toward the edge of the conservative cliff, but it has not stopped the slide, and it has certainly not reversed it. For that, we need to discover not just not-conservatism and not-capitalism, but actual anti-conservatism and anti-capitalism.

And that will take a collective effort of imagination, ingenuity and will the likes of which the world has never seen.

Summer Done Gone

This is a photo of Poe sunning herself in a west-facing window, atop a pile of curtains which coincidentally are the same color she is. Maybe she thinks I can’t see her. That would explain why she attacked my hand when I reached down to scritch her.

We had our first truly cold nights this week, with lows in the upper 30s, Fahrenheit. We have managed to not yet turn on the furnace, but those days are coming to an end. Fortunately the rest of the month looks to be bright and sunny during the days which means my big old house will store enough heat to last us through the longer nights.

No new books arrived this week, which is happening more regularly as I regulate my book-buying habits, what with a global pandemic and employment uncertainty bringing to the forefront of my attention the necessity of frugal behavior.

In reading news I finished Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow which left me feeling rage, sadness, depression, despair, and a sullen bitterness about the entrenched sadism which is one of the keystones of the American psyche. TNJC, along with Jackie Wang’s Carceral Capitalism, and the first few essays from Captivating Technology, have me further convinced that complete prison abolition is the only equitable response to the overwhelmingly racist (by deliberate intent and design) carceral state which is one of the central, defining characteristic of American society here in the post-Civil War USA.

Anyway.

To cool my brain, I am reading Dyrk Ashton‘s magnificent Paternus: War of Gods, which brings to a close the Paternus trilogy which Ashton began with Paternus: Rise of Gods. I am a little over a third of the way through, an I am getting to the point where I may need to take half a day from work in order to get through the rest of the book, because I seriously don’t want to put it down. Ashton’s work is just that good!

On a related note, Dyrk has a Kickstarter running right now to print the second book of the series, Paternus: Wrath of Gods, in hardcover. In addition to being excellent reads, the artwork for the books is gorgeous and the books as physical artifacts are well worth owning.

In writing news, I ended the week just shy of 25,000 words in my work in progress. I have the current scene all sketched out and the first few hundred words written, but I hit a minor bout of writer’s block which, rather than trying to muscle through, I sat back and let it run its course and accepted that it might leave me a little shy of my goal for the month of 40,000. Better a blown deadline than burning myself out doing something I love. I can always make up the word count, and the schedule and deadline are mostly arbitrary, beyond that I would like to complete the first draft before November 1.

If you are curious, here are some of the things I am researching as I write my book:

labyrinths, memory palaces, traditional martial arts training techniques, phytoremediation, river ecologies, genetic engineering, mantras, mudras, mysticism, resonant frequencies, resource depletion, peak minerals, repressed memory, symbiosis, salvage, biomaterials, ceramics

With a little luck, when strung together by a narrative framework, it will make a good story.

Back From a Brief Break

No blog post last week, obviously. I was on vacation from work, during which time I got caught up on about six months of household tasks, chores and errands. I finally finished my taxes, and (more important!) I replaced one of the air chambers in my bed. Now I no longer go to sleep on a near rock-hard surface only to wake up in a bed as soft as one in the worst budget motel in Miami Beach the week after Spring Break. Not that I would know what those beds are like.

No books came in the previous week; these are all from the week of August 9. On the top left is the latest issue of Pulphouse Fiction Magazine. In the top middle is the latest issue of Dreamforge Magazine. On the top right is the latest issue of Jacobin.

On the bottom left is The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander. I have been meaning to pick this up for some time, after a series of conversations with my partner and several friends involved with equity and social justice. This title fits in nicely with the other books I have been reading about the carceral state, prison abolition, and reforming the police.

In the bottom center is The Color of Law by Richard Rothstein, which I also learned about through various conversations with various friends involved with equity and social justice.

On the bottom right are two books by Maurizio Lazzarato, The Making of the Indebted Man and Governing by Debt, published by Semiotext(e) as part of their Interventions series. I am sure i will have many things to discuss as I dive into these books.

In reading news, despite my best efforts I was unable to pull myself away from R.A. Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms books, and am still working my way through the series. I have just started The Orc King, the first of the series which is not a re-read for me. There are two more books after this one in the trilogy, and that should get me to the end of August, which is a good place to set aside fantasy novels for a while and focus on reading some nonfiction.

In writing news, I just finished the second chapter of my fantasy novel, tentatively titled Up the River to the Mountains. I expect it will weigh in at between 80,000 and 100,000 words when I am done. I really, really hope to finish the first draft before November, so I can concentrate on other things for National Novel Writing Month. If that doesn’t happen, then I will finish it during NaNoWriMo and split the final word count between the novel and few short stories. Or something. I don’t know. Writing is complicated.

Poe Dreams of Paris

This week Poe dreams of more cultured climes as she browses and also nibbles on the new issue of The Paris Review, which was the only addition to the Library of Winkelman Abbey this week.

I finally made it to the end of Sayak Valencia’s superb Gore Capitalism. It was a difficult read, not because of the writing, but because of the subject, and also because I have not had to put my head into the space of deep theory in a long time.

Between Gore Capitalism, Jackie Wang’s Carceral Capitalism and Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism, I believe I now have the proper perspective to begin writing a series of Lovecraftian horror stories where the eldritch abomination is actually the free market.

In other words, they will mostly be non-fiction.

The Shortest Day of 2019

As we roll into the holidays I have come down with one of the many and varied species of Crud which roll through Grand Rapids on an almost weekly basis. This makes me sad as this, the shortest day of the year, is also one of the most beautiful and sunniest we have had in months, with temperatures in the mid-40s (F) and local squirrels suddenly regretting having grown such thick pelts for the winter.

We had a surprising stack of books arrive here at the Library this week. I suspect it was various publishers rushing to complete their 2019 tasks before the end of the year. As a former publisher (about which more below) I can understand that.

At top left is A Creative Sojourn, a spur-of-the-moment Kickstarter backing which looks like it has a lot of content near and dear to my own heart, it being a journal of sorts kept by a group of creatives as they toured China and Tibet. The nest two are the latest from my subscription to Deep Vellum, Life Went On Anyway by Oleg Sentsov and Seven Samurai Swept Away in a River by Jung Young Moon.

At bottom left is issue 7 of Salvage, which should keep my head in the appropriate place for the rest of the holidays. Next to it is Michael Burstein’s collection I Remember the Future from Apex Books. On the bottom right is the latest from my subscription to And Other Stories, Luke Brown’s Theft.

In reading news I finished Jackie Wang’s Carceral Capitalism and Mark Fisher’s Capitalist Realism and, mind blown, moved immediately on to Gore Capitalism by Sayak Valencia. I have to say, this type of reading has put my head in an interesting and uncomfortable place, which I think can best be summed up by a tweet I posted yesterday:

Any sufficiently eldritch abomination is indistinguishable from capitalism. Corollary: Any abomination which is distinguishable from capitalism is insufficiently eldritch.

So, yeah, when I’m done with the leftist books I might need some time to reintegrate into the ever (and increasingly) wingnutty world of West Michigan.

Anyway.

A few days ago I removed from the Caffeinated Press offices the remaining copies of the twelve issues of The 3288 Review. And with that, my involvement with Caffeinated Press has ended. It was a good run, but now it’s over, and at present my strongest associated emotion is relief. I suspect that as time goes on my feelings will drift over to nostalgia tinged with regret as, for all its frustrations and long nights, it really was a lot of fun and quite rewarding in all ways except the financial.

Maybe I’ll do it again some day.

The Last Quiet Moments Before the Holidays

Oh, holidays. You never fail to leave me exhausted, burned out and tired of the presence of other humans.

As the year winds down everything within it winds up and thus the already limited available time vanishes at an ever-increasing pace. Fortunately I don’t have much to buy for the holidays and most of the shopping is already done. All that’s left is travel, and that will be done just after Christmas, which will leave a few days for sitting around the house and doing absolutely nothing.

This was a light week for acquisitions here at the Library of Winkelman Abbey. On the left is the latest issue of Dreamforge Magazine. In the middle is the latest issue of Rain Taxi, and on the right is the latest (and fortieth!) issue of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet from the always-superb Small Beer Press. These are timely as, per last week’s note, I plan to focus my reading on short fiction in 2020, and I have several years of back issues of many magazines and journals to work through.

In reading news, I am almost done with Jackie Wang’s Carceral Capitalism from Semiotext(e) and it has put me in quite a mood. I am sure my writing and social media presence will reflect the influence thereof, as well as that of the other books in the stack I mentioned last week. It’s a capitalism time of year, in all its gory details.

Tomorrow after work I will head into the Caffeinated Press office to load up several boxes of books to add to the stack of boxes in my attic. At some point I may catalog them and figure out new homes at various libraries and used book stores,  but for now in boxes they will remain.

And as far as Caffeinated Press goes, that will be that. I will roll into the new year unencumbered.

Entering the Home Stretch of 2019

Wow. That year went quickly and also dragged like a drunk sloth. And we still have three weeks to go.

Last week was fairly quiet for the acquisitions department here at the library of Winkelman Abbey. Most of my subscriptions have wound down and I am not out and about purchasing new books as frequently as I have in past years. I don’t consider that a particular problem as I have enough unread books here that, were I to quit all other obligations and devote my life to reading, I would still have difficulty making it through the pile before 2030. For every 36-page poetry collection I have a matching 800+ page genre novel, and more of each are published every day.

In the middle of the above stack is the latest issue of The Paris Review. On the left is Soft Science, a poetry collection by Franny Choi which I purchased on impulse when I visited Books & Mortar to pick up my special order of the book on the right, Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? by Mark Fisher.

With the Fisher book in hand I now have a good stack of holiday reading, which I consider appropriate for some good holiday reading here at the end of 2019.

All of these books have arrived at the Abbey within the last year.

With NaNoWriMo over and Caffeinated Press winding down, as well as various other obligations on hiatus for the month, I have had a lot of time to read, which has been wonderful! I completed Dyrk Ashton‘s excellent Paternus: Wrath of Gods last weekend, and shortly after made it to the end of the magnificent Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James. Both books have sequels in the works, and they cannot arrive soon enough!

Currently I am about a third of the way through Jackie Wang‘s Carceral Capitalism. For this (and the other books in the holiday reading photo) I am going back to my roots as a student and treating the reading as a learning assignment. I am taking notes and cross-referencing, underlining long stretches of text with a blue ball-point pen. The experience has been enlightening, if such a word applies to a book as astonishing, infuriating and depressing as this one.

In my spare moments I have been organizing all of my completed, mostly-written, and partially-written poems and short stories, and sorting them into stacks based on whether or not I think they are ready to send out into the wild. Based on the advice Tobias Buckell offered in It’s All Just a Draft I have put together several lists of potential targets at which to fire off my work – fiction, nonfiction poetry, genre and themed deadlines and anthologies. Gotta be somebody, somewhere who wants to publish the work of a burned out, disaffected fifty-something dude.

With 2019, and therefore the decade, winding down, many think-pieces are surfacing on the internet, looking back on the events of 2009-2019 and how now compares to then. I have not decided if I will do something like that. If so it will certainly happen in the last day or so of the year. Wouldn’t want to miss a last-minute event.

 

Another Nano, Come and Gone

And just like that, NaNoWriMo 2019 is over. For me it was the most successful one yet. I hit 50,000 on November 20 and added around five thousand more in the last ten days. Final tally, somewhere north of 55,500 words. If I hadn’t abruptly run out of steam right after winning I could have hit 70,000 and still had more story to tell. Such are the vicissitudes of life.

This was a good week for the Library at Winkelman Abbey, mostly thanks to various Kickstarter campaigns.

At upper left is the latest Pulphouse magazine. Next to it is the fifth annual Long List Anthology of short stories which made it to the preliminary round of the Hugo Awards but did not win. Next to it is the latest issue of Poetry.

In the bottom row are the three books from the reward from a troubled Kickstarter campaign which, though it took a year longer than anticipated, finally came through with flying colors. Knaves, Scoundrels and Brigands all look to be excellent anthologies and I look forward to reading them as soon as they get to the top of the TBR pile.

To the far right of the pile are two books from Semiotext(e). On the top is Carceral Capitalism by Jackie Wang. On the bottom is Gore Capitalism by Sayak Valencia. I first heard of Wang’s book when I was researching the various manifestations and rhizomes of capitalism after browsing through The Psychopathologies of Cognitive Capitalism, the third volume of which I picked up in San Francisco this past summer. Given that this is the major purchasing month of the year I feel like these books, along with A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia by Deleuze and Guattari, might have some interesting things to teach. These are the kinds of things I read when the holiday season has me in a certain mood.

Blame that on a decade of working retail in West Michigan.

Links and Notes for the Week of February 24, 2019

Links and Notes for the Week of February 3, 2019