Home Page
Fiction and Poetry
Essays and Reviews
Art and Style
World and Politics
Montreal
Archive
 

***

THE WINTER OF THE WORLD*

***

By Darko Suvin

***

The Montréal Review, April 2013

***

IN LEVIATHAN’S BELLY: ESSAYS FOR A COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY
TIME

***

If I had a hammer/ I’d hammer in the morning/ I’d hammer
in the evening/ All over this land/ I’d hammer out danger/
I’d hammer out love between my brothers and my sisters/
All over this land//…// Well I’ve got a hammer/ And I’ve
got a bell/ And I’ve got a song to sing/ All over this land/
It’s the hammer of justice/ It’s the bell of freedom/ It’s the
song of love between my brothers and my sisters/ All over
this land
The Hammer Song, by Lee Hays and Pete Seeger, 1958

And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the
plow, and looking back, is fit for the Kingdom of God.
Luke, 9.62

***

1. What Are We At?

Je voy encore du païs au delà, mais d’une vue trouble et en
nuage, que je ne puis desmeler. (I still see a country beyond,
but uncertainly and darkly, which I cannot recognize.)
Montaigne, Essais I.xxvi

In 1956, in the dead-end of the Cold War, Horkheimer and Adorno embarked on recorded discussions in view of a new version of the Communist Manifesto for the new times (just as Brecht had in 1944 felt the need to renew it for the age of world wars and in hexameter form, see Essay 4). The Cold War was also the culmination of “military Keynesianism” with plentiful funding for social needs of people and an attention to them in capitalist countries in order to forestall the Soviet “communist” enemy. This led the two philosophers to state “that Europe and America are probably the best civilizations history has produced up to now as far as prosperity and justice are concerned. The key point now is to ensure the preservation of those gains. This can be achieved only if we remain ruthlessly critical of this civilization.” While fiercely inimical to “Russian bureaucrats,” they affirmed “a greater right [of the Russian Revolution] as opposed to Western culture. It is the fault of the West that [this] Revolution went the way it did.” (41). My position is the same (though I’d update some terms).

A dozen years later, the great historian Eric Hobsbawm wrote an essay where he foresaw “a combination of social disintegration and economic breakdown… more explosive than anything that occurred between the [World W]ars,” except in Nazi Germany (334). His then offbeat and outrageous forecast has been proved in spades and beyond anybody’s imagination in that generation, certainly including my own. The classical “marxist case against capitalism, that it would not work, and against liberal bourgeois democracy, that it was ceasing to exist, being replaced by fascism” (158), has become embarrassingly clear in the utter cynicism of the stockmarket fascists (as one would have to call them) who by now rule the whole world. The stockmarketeers are more elitist than the Nazi variety, but destroy the lives of labouring people and democracy from below if anything more efficiently than Hitler and the Japanese imperialists, with a global reach which those never managed: the number of hungry people has around 2009 reached the record figure of 1,250 million, near to one sixth of the world’s population…

In the half century between Hobsbawm’s lookout and today, capitalism has become more powerful, unified, and speedy than ever before. It has not only found new niches by means of profit-oriented sciences from cybernetics and electronics to genetics and nano-technology (see Essay 8), it has also colonized in capillary ways culture and even naked life—say of the immigrants and other subproletarians who are by now a world majority. In the last two decades, capitalism has definitely forsaken its bourgeois industrial roots in favour of financial fantasies creating only shameful mass misery and shameless billionaires. What may be crucial: it has most efficiently used the degeneration of the communist idea in the USSR, and other States claiming to be such, to forestall any mass rethinking on a real Left—today almost nowhere visible on the political map, so that we have to enthuse over Chiapas and Bolivia. This was done by demoralizing, through a mixture of half-truths and lies repeated with Goebbelsian obsession, intellectuals as well as labour or proletarian movements (in the widest sense), cutting that link between them the presence of which makes for the success of every revolution at its beginning, and the absence for its failure due to ossification. The giant capitalist colonization of imagination has on the Left been recognized by isolated thinkers, who therefore tend to obscurity both in their writing and their success or impact outside a narrow academic group: the list of such lone intellectual giants goes from Walter Benjamin and Alfred Sohn-Rethel to the US rethinkers around Fredric Jameson, and the only nonobscure exception would be poets like Brecht and a few others. (If I have any valid insights, it would be from standing at their crossroads, while sharing the double obscurity.)

However, capitalism (and all of us in the Leviathan’s belly) stands today in the presence of Yeats’s rough beast advancing toward Bethlehem. Let me bracket his shambling, as in gunnery, by one very general and one very particular shot. General: in Braudel’s view, finance capitalism is not simply a stage but a recurrent “Autumn” signal of transition from one world regime of accumulation and domination (e.g. the Genoese, Dutch, British, and US ones) to another (246); it signals the destruction of the old regime and creation of a “new” one—a Winter which might be better or worse (cf. Arrighi ix-xiv). Particular: the Chicago “ghetto” in 1988 was found to harbour "silent riots of everyday life," no less destructive if usually less than spectacular. Private capital had completely withdrawn, in the years 1950-80 manual jobs fell from 36 to 5 thousand and white collar jobs from 15 to less than 7.5 thousand. There was starkly insufficient welfare support, but lots of alcohol and gun-selling shops—since police was incapable to protect victims from gangs, families had to protect themselves; the school system served mainly for "parking" of children, and infant mortality was higher than in Chile or Turkey. The informal economy was mainly based on mass drug use, a veritable industry with sales in millions of $; drug pushing was also the main job readily accessible to ghetto youths from under 10 on. There was "organizational desertification": no banks but only currency exchanges, no public schools, cinemas, skating rinks, bowling alleys, the last two clinics closed in 1989 (all in Wacquant). In short, we are here amid Weber’s "plunder capitalism" that leads to pandemics of violence; and while Chicago might (or might not) have improved in the meantime, the situation is still such in many other slums of capitalism, US or Latin American or otherwhere, where by now live 1,200 million people. Winter is arriving fast and it doesn’t look pretty. Particularly if one figures in all the wars from the First Gulf One through Serbia, Second Gulf, and Afghanistan plus Libya—with more certainly to come. By their fruits ye shall know them.

Gentle reader, you might wish to ask me: but what of a way out of our global trap? Of course I’d have many ideas, not invented by me, about components of a way out—beginning, say, with universal guaranteed income sufficient to modestly live on for all adults working 35 hours a week, and a stress on education and health (and don’t tell me there’s no way to pay for this: just pay trillions to people instead of banks and the military). Thus I honour the question as supremely important: we need to get into health, activity, and tenderness--Hays’s and Seeger’s “love of my brothers and my sisters.” But this book is primarily not about the way out (though that is its vanishing perspective point) but about the trap of hunger, despair, and violence. For truth shall maybe not make you free, but certainly enable you to become free.

2. Why the Essays in This Book

It is necessary to depict landscapes by images and remarks
because of the nature of the investigation. For it compels us
to travel over a wide field of thought criss-cross in every
direction. The… remarks in the book are, as it were, a
number of sketches of landscapes made in the course of
these long and involved journeyings…. [A]lmost the same
points were being approached from different directions, and
new sketches made…. Thus this book is really only an
album.
Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations

This book has three essays explicitly on Bert Brecht, and implicitly he has been shaping my understanding for over half a century. Essay 1 (finished in 2000) deals with his concept and image of stance or bearing (Haltung) as fundamental for fixing the dynamics of a body—any body or all bodies—poised and enabled to intervene into matters that concern any and all. I use fixing in the sense of photography, where it means stabilizing and rendering visible, thus also sharable, a latent image potentially existing earlier. This Haltung is opposed to the concept and image of “world view,” which may be, like a snowball, momentarily useful but does not wear well because it is not anchored in the ineluctably present labouring and enjoying (or exhausted and painful) body but reduced to a pseudo-scientific eye only, passively observing. To the contrary, as in Marx, people’s work and pleasure produce the world, meshing subject and object in a feedback: love is for Brecht a production, indeed, the supremely pleasurable production of an intimately complementary human relationship.

Such a stance is also the central link in a Brechtian chain of terms and images about personality, involving equally everyday “upright posture” (Bloch) and the furthest horizons of death—in our epoch much more urgently a societal rather than a biological decision, for example in wars or the readiness to die for a cause, matters Brecht dealt with in most of his great plays from Saint Joan of the Slaughterhouses and the Lehrstücke to Mother Courage and Her Children and Life of Galileo. Further, it enables us to rethink with him the most muddy hollywoodian and TV reliance on emotion planned and deployed as an opposite of reason (see much more in Suvin, ”Brecht and Subjectivity”). Contrariwise, their fusion in a Haltung enables a body to understand and withstand.

In a long-duration view, Brecht’s opus gives us the most persuasive example of how to sublate—redefine and yet preserve—the great Enlightenment discovery of reason, outside which there is no salvation for any or all. Not by “weak thought” or sickly emotion but by the loving union of clarified emotion and precise reason; reason itself in this wider sense embracing both concepts and topologies, that is configurations in empirical or imaginary spacetime (such as metaphors).

The present volume fully participates in such an impossibility of keeping apart subject and object, in the sense that each essay has a defined object but was also felt and held by me to be most pertinent for myself and those who would be open to similar arguments, feelings, and stances. This is obvious in the case of war caused by capitalism (Essay 3) but in more mediated ways all essays have been enforced by its enraged and inflamed state in the last two decades. As for stance, it has led me to reflect on and attempt to perfect my own. Within it, the other most important opus to be constantly revisited, quarried, and updated has for me since my teens been that of Karl Marx.

Essay 2 (1993) reacts against Post-Modernist truly weak thought tabooing the central Marxian category of “totality.” It concedes that Hegel’s and the Positivists’ (in fact theological) use of it as the presupposition of a static and “natural” ontology out there as a Stoic necessity providing a stable yardstick for everything (as in Lenin’s weakest book, Materialism and Empiriocriticism) is no longer tenable. But it then affirms that no useful epistemology—a way of understanding our societal and natural environment—is possible without using a provisional totality for well-defined purposes. This puts paid, as Walter Benjamin realised, to the bourgeois concept of automatic progress: any progress we might achieve will be contingent and threatened. History has proved that to the hilt.

Essay 3 (1999-2001) is encapsulated in the two verbs of its title, "Capitalism Means/Needs War." On the one hand, psychologically, war is more than a metaphor for capitalist human relationships, it is their essence: in them, man is wolf to man (with excuses to the maligned wolves, who never kill more than they could eat). On the other hand, economically, capitalism has not only never prospered without warfare, it could not survive more than a few years without the trillions of $ of “military Keynesianism.” I cite a conservative estimate of world spending for military purposes from 20 years ago standing at 1 trillion dollars per year or 2,500 millions daily; today I guess it might be anywhere up to the double. Humanity will never have the food, education, and medicine it needs until wars are stopped. This means changing our whole way of life and power system, so it may fail. Then we are—remember the Welfare State?—descending into nuclear-cybernetic-nano barbarism.

It will be obvious from the essay’s section “Wars of Reterritorialization” how for this author, born and bred in Yugoslavia, this theme became mandatory after the NATO bombing of Serbia in the late 90s. This was, I found, a crass example of the worldwide warfare waged by the capitalist class using the criminal or Lumpen class against the working and middle classes. This has by now finally led me to return to Marx’s and Lenin’s not entirely clear but crucially necessary category of class in Essay 11—better culpably late than never.

As to the Postscriptum of 2002, it uses one of my essays on terrorism (“Access,” and see “Exploring”) to compare it with war, and concludes that the boundary between them is being erased.

A pleasing union of my masters and preoccupations then resulted in Essay 4 (2001) on Brecht’s reworking of The Communist Manifesto for our age of world wars. To the last moment of preparing this volume it was unclear whether The Brecht Heirs (an institution which is in the production of The Brecht Industry analogous to capital owners, not least in fettering production) will accord me the copyright permission for the translation of that text. This was finally given against a small payment, but the problem remains.

A theoretical point embodied by that essay is whether poetry (and its sister arts, from narrative prose through painting to music and dance) has a cognitive status. Having learned from them at least half of what I know and cherish, my pragmatic answer is: yes, poetry is cognitive— though in different ways than science and philosophy. I put some arguments to buttress this into Essay 8 (and more in my case study “Cognition”), but this is only incipient greening of--so far as I know--a theoretical desert.

Essay 5 (2003) was sparked by chance and kind friends but gave me a chance to look, with growing dismay, at the discipline of English Studies, in which—though I had other interests too—I faithfully laboured for over one third of a century, teaching much from medieval drama, Shakespeare, and Swift to Woolf. It is a case study of how ideology under capitalism infiltrates and bends an intellectual profession. It tallied with my reflections on my own class, the intellectuals (see “Utopianism” and “On Cognition”) and its “treason by clerics” against emancipation and against its own reason for being. With bitter poetic justice, this class of mine has now been downgraded into a push-pen amanuensis and gofer for the brainwashing at the basis of capitalist power. Only a Swiftian stance can hope to render justice to this monstrosity, and I have stolen from this all-time favourite of mine as much as I could lift.

Indignant frustration at my yearly bouts with residence permits in Europe led to Essay 6 (2006-07; and cf. its predecessor “Exiles”). It is a case not only of direct link between autobiography and intellectual production, but also of what I feel is the latter’s psychic beauty: that creativity renders the creator omnipotent, albeit only inside the tiny sub-creation and while it is being appreciated by others. But even limited divine status—fortunately also challengeable within a vast pantheon of creative godlets—is preferable to none. Inside the cognitions and pleasures of my work, police bureaucracy is held at bay. As Adorno remarked, “theory is a kind of stand-in for happiness” (53)—and it shared the ambiguous nature of all such ersatzes. Also, the alternative of “civil cohabitation” I argue for is toothless, but it is young and may get some milk teeth at least, if given a chance to grow. Which is why I’m republishing it, inside Leviathan.

Another lucky chance, the review of a misguided periodical issue, led to the brief Essay 7 (2008)—for how could I pass by an issue called “Brecht and Communism”? At the time I had begun work on my major preoccupation in these last years, the anatomy of SFR Yugoslavia, a self-proclaimed socialist State led by a self-proclaimed communist party. Most of the reviewed articles provided a perfect case of what I had to shun if I were, beyond praise or blame, to make sense of either—and Brecht was there to help me along. The essay led to the tangent of how to initially disentangle the term communism (is it a place, a horizon or an orientation?):

You've heard much untruth about it from enemies, from friends
Much untruth also…. (Brecht, Das Manifest, vv. 14-15)

Essay 8, “On the Horizons of Epistemology and Science” (2008-09) is, together with the one on war, the longest and possesses the widest scope in the volume. It is the summation of what I have, so far, understood about cognition in class society: the pernicious Unique Truth, the refusal of human history, technoscience as the life-destroying bludgeon of capitalism, plus how to use Hesiod’s concept-splitting to understand these and how to begin tracing “whither now?” To my initial two (or with Walter Benjamin three) paragons, Nelson Goodman, Gramsci, Marcuse, and Nietzsche had to be adjoined for guidance.

Essay 9, “Death into Life” (2009), was on the contrary an attempt at a summation in 5,000 words of what I would have to say to a more politically awake audience. It is not a foray onto new terrain but a consolidation of already visited terrains. It ranges widely, it had to be compressed; and I decided that I had to overcome my pusillanimous use of verse separately from prose (I’ve published three collections of poetry, see the entries in Suvin, “Bibliography B” on Armirana Arkadija, The Long March, and Abiko Annual nos. 24 and 25), or as citations to prove a point (say, Blake in the preceding essay), or, at best, as an object of inquiry (say, Brecht in Essay 4). I interleaved in each of the five essay sections a poem with its expository prose, and hope the brief repetition in those sections of what I’ve mostly written before would gain a new dimension through the condensed poems’ interaction with them and with each other.

Essay 10 arose from thinking of what I could bring to a conference of Left-wing European economists in 2009, at the beginning of our Great Depression (but before the manmade tsunami had devastated most of beautiful Greece). I went back to basics: having studied thermodynamics and read much in ecology, I tried to bring this into a critical economics, issuing in some initial policy proposals. The presupposition for them is that the power of capitalist financing would be broken. As Buckminster Fuller told us in the 1960s, we are at Utopia or Oblivion.

Essay 11 is the working hypothesis for my forthcoming study of classes in ex-Yugoslavia. My stance here, as elsewhere, is one of a mildly sceptical reuse of classical Marxism—which for me cannot taboo some insights of Lenin—not as a dogma of Truth but as a flexible guide for possible understanding and action today.

So, at the end, are these “sketches of landscapes“ by the road of life in these times a well-planned and homogenous album? I’m afraid not. I believe they share a single Haltung, with a horizon of poetic justice and an intolerance against what degrades people. They might be a collection of some oil paintings interspersed with gouaches and drawings. Perhaps pictures from an exhibition in progress?

Lucca, April 2012

* This is the preface to my book IN LEVIATHAN’S BELLY: ESSAYS FOR A COUNTER-REVOLUTIONARY TIME, which is printed “on demand” by Wildside Press for Borgo Press, Baltimore. It is composed of the essays referred to in the prefacem, which I here list for the reader:

***

1."On Stance, Agency, and Emotions in Brecht"

2. "Two Cheers for Essentialism and Totality: On Marx's Oscillation and its Limits (As Well As on the Taboos of Post-Modernism)

3. "Capitalism Means/Needs War"

4. “Brecht's Manifesto and Us: A Diptych”

5. “To Laputa and Back: A Missing Chapter of Gulliver's Travels."

6. “Immigration in Europe Today”

7. „Brecht and Communism: Reflections on and at a Tangent from a Symposium.”

8. “On the Horizons of Epistemology and Science ”

9. “Death into Life: For a Poetics of Anti-Capitalist Alternative”

10. “Toward an Economics of Physical and Political Negentropy”

11. “On the Concept of Class”

***

The book can be ordered for US$19.99 + postage (from USA or UK) from HERE

***

Darko Suvin is Professor Emeritus of McGill University and Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. He has written thirteen books and hundreds of essays in the areas of utopian and science fiction, comparative literature, dramaturgy, theory of literature, theatre and cultural theory. He has also published three award-winning volumes of poetry.

***

Works cited

Presupposed: the opuses of Brecht, Marx, Benjamin, Gramsci, some Nietzsche and much poetry.
This book is, as it were, the third in a trilogy embracing also my two books of 2010 and 2011
cited below; ideally, it should be read together with them, since they look at similar or identical
landscapes from various anglers and heights.

Adorno, Theodor, and Max. Horkheimer. “Towards a New Manifesto?” Transl. R. Livingstone.
NLR no. 65 (2010): 33-61. [cited as H-A]
Arrighi, Giovanni. The Long 20th Century: Money, Power, and the Origins of Our Times.
London: Verso, 1994.
Braudel, Fernand. The Perspective of the World. Civilization and Capitalism, vol. 3. Transl. S.
Reynolds. London: Collins, 1984.
Hobsbawm, Eric. Revolutionaries. London: Abacus, 2008 [original 1973].
Suvin, Darko. “Access to an Identification of >Terrorism<” (2001) and “Exploring
>Terror/ism<”: Numinosity, Killings, Horizons” (2004), both in his Darko Suvin: A Life in
Letters
. Ed. Ph.E. Wegner. Vashon Island WA 98070: Paradoxa, 2011, 263-305.
---. “Bibliography B,” in his Darko Suvin [see above], 355-62.
---. “Cognition, Freedom, The Dispossessed as a Classic” (2007) in his Defined by a Hollow:
Essays on Utopia, Science Fiction, and Political Epistemology
. Oxford: P. Lang, 2010, 509-51.
---. "Exile as Mass Outrage and Intellectual Stance," in Maria Teresa Chialant ed., Viaggio e
letteratura
. Venezia: Marsilio, 2006, 69-95.
---. “Utopianism from Orientation to Agency: What Are We Intellectuals under Post-Fordism to
Do?” (1997–1998) and “On Cognition as Art and Politics” (1997–1999), in his Defined [see
above], 217-351.
Wacquant, Loïc J.D. "America as Social Dystopia," in Pierre Bourdieu et al. The Weight of the
World: Social Suffering in Contemporary Society
. Transl. P.P. Ferguson. Cambridge: Polity P,
1999, 131-39.

***

 
 

Subscribe
Submissions Guide
pdf
RSS

 
 
 
home | past issues | world & politics | essays | art and style | fiction and poetry
Copyright © 2017 T.S. Tsonchev Publishing & Design, Canada. All rights reserved. ISSN 1920-2911
about | contact us | copyright | user agreement | privacy policy