In the staid and venerable blogging tradition, here are a series of links which may be of interest to those who find this blog to be of interest.
1) I Want to Believe. First up is an excellent essay about a topic I’ve been kicking around in my own empty and whistling skull for the past few days: conspiracy theories. In particular, their relation to reality-based theoretical concepts and narratives. Do they, in fact, taint systematic critique by a kind of association, so that talk of corporate power and structures of control become mingled in people’s minds with glutinous, carb-based alien lifeforms from the planet Sillkkkkksh? Above and beyond the obvious differences, what are the similarities these theories have to things as they actually are?
As it turns out, according to Jarrod Shanahan, these non-reality based conspiracies can actually be useful for helping people to think around the thicket of received opinion about democracy and freedom and the “free market.” It ends on a very simplistic paean to the power of the working class and the need to rise and so on, but it’s a good read, and better written than some of the obtuse stuff the New Inquiry posts. And I’ll take optimism any day at this point, over bog-standard reflexive defeatism. In one of the more interesting paragraphs, Shanahan says:
“The appeal of conspiracy theories is simple….whether its Lizard People, Ancient Aliens, Freemasons, Occupy’s “1%,” or the poor maligned Rothschilds….beneath the purported chaos of a modern world seemingly driven inexorably toward its own destruction, a secret logic hums away, unseen, yet steering with the circumspection of a protective father. In this way the conspiracy theory is a secularized monotheism which replaces our dearly departed God with an equally shadowy intelligence serving the same omniscient function. Sometimes it even lives in outer space and knows what we’re thinking.”
This point of conspiracy theories reflecting (or refracting) the logic of monotheism is an interesting one, although I am somewhat skeptical at a moment when many so writers today find the logic of monotheism everywhere. I might suggest that the theological frameworks of some conspiracy theorists are more polytheist than monotheist, simply because the various absurd or racist figures that fill them (Freemasons, Jews, Illuminati) are not privileged over one another, but often co-exist in the same conspiracy, cooperating within or vying for control of the power landscape. And this analogy seems to shrink monotheism into something which has no function other than to console believers that there is a direction and underlying purpose to the planet’s shoddy state of affairs.
More importantly, he suggests the succinct thesis: “The modern conspiracy theory is a mythologization of capitalism.” The modern conspiracy theory then, is a mythologizing and obfuscating theory, rather than one that has literally no basis or interest in reality, such as those stemming directly from Public Relations campaigns, like “America promotes freedom,” “Capitalism is the only way,” “The Democrats support unions and the working class,” and “Republicans want less government.”
2) “On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs,” written by David Graeber for Strike! Magazine. It discusses the discarding, off-shoring, and out-sourcing of productive labor, and its replacement with un-productive clerical and administrative jobs, as well as service work. Graeber argues that the uselessness of certain professions creates a psychological violence on those performing it, and in tandem with a “mobilizing resentment,” results in meaningful work (that of teachers, garbage collectors, longshoremen and women, mechanics) receiving low pay and general disdain. Nothing earth-shattering, but worth the read and well-written.
“While corporations may engage in ruthless downsizing, the layoffs and speed-ups invariably fall on that class of people who are actually making, moving, fixing and maintaining things; through some strange alchemy no one can quite explain, the number of salaried paper-pushers ultimately seems to expand, and more and more employees find themselves, not unlike Soviet workers actually, working 40 or even 50 hour weeks on paper, but effectively working 15 hours just as Keynes predicted, since the rest of their time is spent organising or attending motivational seminars, updating their facebook profiles or downloading TV box-sets.”
3) “You Can’t Hurry Love,” by Subashini over at the wonderfully named Blog of Disquiet. This is a wide-ranging essay that covers topics such as: the “Neoliberal Heterosexual Couple,” with their “gym-toned bodies” and “identical cannot-be-arsed-about-anything-but-ourselves faces”; the disappearance of the individual into image; the colonization of desire; and Brazilian race-car driver Ayrton Senna. Really an excellent piece of writing.
4) “Fantasy and Revolution,” an old interview from 2000 with China Mieville on the relation of fantasy and SF to left politics. A relevant excerpt: “Precisely because you read and write books with society in your head, the ‘escape’ that Tolkien and others aspire to is doomed to fail. In fact, it’s precisely those kind of escapist books that take the real world for granted which are most shackled to thinly veiled and highly ideological versions of that world. The problem with most genre fantasy is that it’s not nearly fantastic enough. It’s escapist, but it can’t escape.”
5) Fallen Master of the Macabre: Jessica Amanda Salmonson discusses the life and work of Vincent O’Sullivan, a lesser known writer of late 19th and early 20th century horror fiction, who knew Oscar Wilde, and died in a “pauper’s grave.” Here she tantalizingly mentions a difficult to find tale of his, seemingly a conte cruel, which will bother me endlessly until I can read it:
“Additional Decadent tales are “Will” from The Green Window (1899) & his rarest story, “The Monkey & Basil Holderness.” The latter appeared in only in the Yellow Nineties journal The Senate which Vincent regarded as superior to the Savoy & the Yellow Book. It was published by two brothers of Manchester who forever after retained Vincent’s affection, for he wrote of them: “The two Bynges who, unlike most of the Yellow-Bookites, had a strong sense of humour, regarded the whole thing as a huge joke, & one day they defied me, who was the shocker of the affair, to write a story which would explode all their subscribers. I accepted; & the story, called ‘The Monkey & Basil Holderness,’ had certainly had the desired effect.”
Indeed, Vincent’s tale made such a stir that the journal was censored, matrons no longer submitted their rhymes, while Vincent was declared “morbid & unhealthy” & castigated as “no English gentleman,” the day’s supreme vituperation. The magazine ultimately folded on account of the reaction. The story of Basil & his monkey has lost none of its shocking nature in the century since, & is probably the grimmest & most perverse of all “beauty & beast” variants ever penned.”
All I have read by Sullivan so far is “The Master of Fallen Years,” from John Pelan’s Century’s Best Horror, “The Abigail Sheriff Memorial” out of F. S. Greene’s Grim Thirteen anthology, and “The Next Room” in a Richard Dalby antho. The first two were excellent, the latter, not nearly as much. I look forward to reading more.