Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Agony of Mammon: The Imperial Global Economy Explains Itself to the Membership in Davos, Switzerland byLewis Lapham (Verso, 75 pages)

The annual World Economic Forum was just held again at an exclusive ski resort in Switzerland. If you've ever wanted a short peek at what these meetings are like, I highly recommend this book, by the Harper's editor who Molly Ivins once called the "most incisive essayist of our time." A mantle that few could challenge him for. The essay is written in a very high-minded style that conveys just the right kind of satiric regard for a gathering of the elite, without distancing you from its participants. As a Boston Brahmin Lapham is a practiced appreciator of the good things in life who sees through all the flash and glitter (without getting too distracted by all the business buzzwigs and pseudosophs) to all the economic buncom that lies beneath, without having to relay a kind of combative resentfullness that a populist like, say Jim Hightower or Michael Moore might resort to at this resort. (Molly Ivins, I'm guessing would have much more tact, even if her rapier wit would eviscerate the plutogogues and castrate the beau sabreurs much later.)

But don't deduce from all this wordplay that Lapham himself resorts to sesquipedalianism to make his point. He's too fluid and certain in his observations to have to resort to that. It's a fine read, and now that it's a few years old, quite cheap if you look it up on ABE books.

(As for me, well you can probably tell that I've also been dipping into David Grambs' wonderful book, Dimboxes, Epopts, and Other Quidams: Words to Describe Life's Indescribable People to find some of those wonderful words.)
Here are the chants I created for today's anti-war march:

"Stop the War before it wrecks us
Send the Loonies back to Texas."

"People are dead, injured, tired and sick--
It's time to impeach George and Dick."

"No more blood for gasoline...
Bring them home to build Nawleens"

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Just re-read The Great Gatsby for the first time in -- what, 25 years? Obious conclusion: The great American tragedy is the vain attempt to attain the unreachable, a theme that is so deeply rooted in many of the great American novels (e.g. Moby Dick, On the Road?), as much as the tragic aspirations toward Empire (another story) are in our history.

At the risk of launching into a disposition that might be cribbed from Cliff Notes (I confess that back when I first read the book, my sloppy reading habits led me to consult those yellow and black pamphlets far too often for my own good, once even getting me into trouble with Mrs. Todd, our Freshman English teacher, who confronted me after class to ask who wrote my paper on -- what was it, A Tale of Two Cities? -- too ebarrassed to admit I'd used the Cliff notes, I said my brother had helped me), now the novel seems less a novel than a long short story (a la Chekov) with a lot of florid writing wrapping that essential, very simple motif, expertly woven together in the plot, the characters, just about everything (the novel ending as summer ends, the violence peaking on the hottest day of summer). Gatsby asserting to Nick Carraway that he could turn the clock back five years (i.e. to before Daisy's marriage to Tom), Tom's vain (in the real sense) need to hang onto his athletic prowess in affair after affair, even Myrtle's desperate attempt to stop the car that ran her over under the imposing gaze of Dr. Eckleburg's all-knowing gaze. Lord what fools these mortals be. The impossibility of escaping from the Valley of Ashes. The unattainable green light on the edge of the pier across the Sound. (Money as elusive happiness?) The book lends itself to easy speculation. No wonder it's on all the high school reading lists.