Aesthetic Pragmatism

I briefly involved myself in local politics and, living in the neighborhood of a nationally ranked university, met some people who were in an economic class above mine. Am still privy to some of their conversations.

I will keep it brief: I have known fry cooks and people with doctorates, and the main difference between the two is what their daddy did for a living. The world-weary pragmatism of a Democratic insider is a class signifier. It is no more a sign of sophistication and intelligence than Bertie Wooster’s “what-ho!” tics.

On The Joker

I’ve resisted doing A Take on this one because for all people wanna pretend this is a deep movie, it’s a comic book movie by the guy who doesn’t do Hangover movies anymore because the kids are too sensitive or whatever. It rehashes a trope I have seen a bazillion times before: dude is failed by the system and so driven to violence.

Real quickly, why I don’t love it: mentally ill people are far more often the recipients of violence, not aggressors. You wouldn’t have much of a movie if it just stops with Mr. The Joker getting beaten up and just, I don’t know, doing that until he dies, but that’s the actual story.

It ends up serving a few functions:

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Historical Marxism’s complicated relationship with writing

Communism is ultimately a Utopian project rooted in the idea that shit as it’s going now ain’t acceptable, and we ought to fix it, and as part of the conversation on what we ought to fix and how, some pretty fundamental things end up questioned. Like, should our work weeks be the same? Why not a planned economy? Why not get rid of pests? We are hoping for a renegotiation, for a reassessment in who is the recipient of violence, who may speak, how we live, and that means living in ways nobody has tried before. There will be failures.

One of the things on the table: what the fuck should art be, anyway? There was a recent Twitter… thing where I believe someone identifying as Marxist-Leninist declared all genre fiction fascist, sort of defaulted to “because it is” when pressed, and couldn’t articulate much more than that. The devil deserves a better advocate, even if he must lose in the end.

Let’s take a crack at it.

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The Writers’ Inner Critic

Writers are brutal self-critics. I’m part of a small chat of mostly writers, a Breakfast Club-esque group of six of us at varying stages of our careers and working in varying genres. Between all of us, we write fiction, non-fiction, academic articles, academic books, leftist political commentary, fanfic, short stories (spec and lit fic), memoir, sports writing, ad copy writing, YA spec fic, and adult literary fiction. Pretty broad. Every one of us has had times where we go in on our own writing, and the group has had to talk us down.

These self-directed Two Minutes Hates make up the bulk of our writing talk despite them not being frequent. They’re hard on all of us. I personally make a point not to share every rejection (and I get rejected frequently because all writers do). It’s not so much that it’s repetitive or unsympathetic or what have you. There’s an intense dysphoria I feel when I spend too much time talking about anyone’s rejections and successes. Everyone else feels it, too.

To explain (maybe over-explain) this dysphoria, I want to go back to this concept of double consciousness I mentioned in this postContinue reading

Towards an Interpersonal Marxist Ethics

Marx is first a historian and economist, and the scale on which both those social sciences operate are systemic and on greater time scales than human beings live. There’s nothing wrong with that level of analysis. However, ethics is on a personal time scale. As Fuck Theory points out in a recent Patreon post, mass murder across time isn’t an atrocity to you if you don’t believe one murder is unethical. Without a personal ethics, Marxism’s theory of class struggle, even as it theorizes the eventual “win” of the proletariat, can be used by the ruling class to extend their rule. All things die. Humanity itself will someday die. Given enough time, sure, the proletariat will win. Do we have that time? And you may scoff at the idea capitalists may believe in Marxism, but friends, they sure as hell act as if they share class interests. Capitalists are flawless in their class solidarity.

It takes a system of ethics to say we ought to apply Marxism for the benefit of the proletariat over the ruling class, and ethics are personal. Ethics are acted out in the smallest of interactions. And unlike the Republican or Democratic party, where their machine keeps chugging along if there’s a rapist or a fraudster what have you in charge, we actually do have to be better. This is a Utopian project. What’s the goddamn point if we have a (potentially bloody!) revolution only to replicate class hierarchies? Marxism can help us describe history, determine how to forge a new society. But ethics will be what describes what a just society even is, and I think that’s where a lot of schisms in the modern left lie, not just on big scales, but on the local organizing and interpersonal scales as well. Continue reading