Thursday, September 22, 2011

Le Monde 100: The Grapes of Wrath

A corporation just got ta eat, right? You wouldn't stop a poor old corporation from eating, would ya?

In 2010, Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission was passed giving corporations the same status as people, which it previously had only in the limited capacity of being able to sue and be sued. The ruling that just came down the pike last has given the corporations vast political power by allowing them to make unlimited campaign donations. 

It's as if the Supreme Court Justices never read The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck.

Since the Industrial Revolution started, there has been no lack of regret and sadness and outrage at the ability of society to operate completely contrary to the needs of the individual members of that same society. Ralph Waldo Emerson shot an enormous blast of humanity right in the face of business in his essay "Nature", when he realized that when we start viewing men in terms of dollars and cents that that vision will strip man of his essential humanity. 

This is the crux of the problem for the family in The Grapes of Wrath. The banks realize that by hiring one man with a tractor they can replace whole families of sharecroppers as they raise their bottom line. When I say banks, though, I don't mean the people who work at the bank, I mean the collective unconscious of the CONCEPT of a bank, whose undead non-soul is animated by taking a little part of every member and worker of that bank. The bank, not only is not have its own conscious, but it also does not have its own CONSCIENCE as it doesn't have the ability to see right and wrong from a human perspective. 

Steinbeck relates it this way:

"But, you see, a bank or a company can't do that, because those creature don't breathe air, don't eat side-meat. The breathe profits; they eat the interest on money. If they don't get it, they die the way you die without air, without side meat. It is a sad thing, but it is so."

So, banks and corporations aren't to blame for being hungry. But, Steinbeck says "Men made it, but they can't control it." To be mad at a corporation is like being mad at the polar bear you keep in your pool for eating your little nephew that came over for a swim. It's just following its imperative. 

This is why Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission is a ghoulish proposition and  the sheepskin that wolves will wear to dinner.

The Grapes of Wrath does everything it can do show the humanity of the individual to the point of a woman breast feeding a fully grown man. That's really the ultimate in caring for another person. But, how long before The IceCreamists have an IPO?

I'm going a little out of order because I didn't get my copy of Man's Fate. Next up, Journey to the End of Night by Louis-Ferdinand Celine.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Le Monde 100: The Little Prince

What a short little treat to gobble down after three heavy gutbombs of literature! Plus, pictures to look at!

The Little Prince looks like a children's story on the surface, but the lessons and themes that is trying to teach seems to be suitable for those who have lost their way in life by becoming overfocused on the mundane elements of existence.

This is not to say that it's not good for children. It's more like advice that a child will have no idea how to put into immediate use, only to reflect in the future on the message of the value of subjectivity in The Little Prince.

Basically, this is Siddhartha for beginners.

As the little price travels from asteroid to asteroid, each person he encounters lives on his own little planet is only unhappy when he lives or wishes to live outside of his own needs. He is aware that he is basically alone on this planet but can see others floating in the cosmos around him.

This really illustrates the happiness tied up in needs over wants.

How much room do you actually need in your house? How much food do you actually need to eat? How much money will you actually spend?

Not as much as you probably think.

The little prince can't figure out how people on Earth act.

"Men occupy very little space on the Earth. If the two billion inhabitants occupying the planet were to stand upright and crowded together, as at a meeting, they could easily live on a public square twenty miles long and twenty miles wide. All humanity could be piled up on a tiny islet in the Pacific.

Grown-ups of course will never believe you. They think that they take up a lot of space"

Another sentiment that is simple and strong is that "What is important cannot be seen," which is repeated throughout the book.If only this was more of a conversation in our society rather than the relentless consumerism and worship of monetary growth that trickles down to kids, who hopefully don't figure this lesson out before it's too late. This should be required reading in America or, at least, just in Texas.

Overall, a smashing read.

Next up, Man's Fate by André Malraux

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Le Monde 100: The Trial

When I was building a certain house, I employed an engineer whose low rate was just what was needed for the budget of the project. However, the engineer was not one who was accustomed to houses people lived in, but rather large commercial projects where there was deep involvement with the government and it's standards.

When the time came for us to actually follow his engineering plans, they were so cryptic that they were essentially impossible to interpret.

When confronted with the impossible nature of his plans, he stated that the typical policy of engineers in NYC was to PURPOSEFULLY make plans complicated on the premise that it would discourage the government building department from looking too closely to the plans and just stamping them approved, freeing the engineers to then properly draft the real plans for construction.

This process showed how defanged the government could be and how the Law as a concept with all it's purpose and intentions would conflict with the patience and capabilities of its very human agents.

This is the same situation that Franz Kafka faces in his book The Trial.

I couldn't help but contrast the story in The Trial with the story of Socrates in the Crito.

Socrates submit himself to the Law to the point of execution even when he disagreed with the verdict of the Law. When presented with the opportunity to escape from his prison, Socrates rejected it on the grounds that by doing so he would in effect be destroying the Law that he had taken advantage of his whole life. How could he only take advantage of the Law when it suited him and reject it when it didn't suit him. Therefore, he patiently accepted the ideal presented by the Law.

What Socrates story leaves out, though, is the awful journey one often has to take to both understand and engage with the Law.

In The Trial, Kafka paints a portrait of a vast bureaucracy that a man accused has to deal with on a nebulous criminal charge, where no authority that he encounters seems to have enough authority to handle his case thoroughly. He is never given the dignity of a clear cut judicial action that he can face with confidence as Socrates did, leaving him in a legal limbo that is both draining to his soul and society. The Law no longer is a true voice of the people but rather the voice of a schizophrenic, unpredictable and narrow-minded in it's regard to the average citizen.

The Law forces lawyers and priests and all who give counsel in the face of such an unbending structure to advise incredible compromise.

Says the Priest to Josef K., the protagonist, "you don't need to accept everything as true, you only have to accept it as necessary." "Depressing view," said K. "The lie made into the rule of the world"

It's never a pretty thing when the rubber of ideals hits the road of reality.

Now, for a bit of levity, we turn to The Little Prince!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Le Monde 100: Swann's Way: Swann in Love

After finally polishing off the rest of Swann's Way, I found my outlook transforming from reading out of a sense of duty to Man is Men to sincere interest and delight once I got on board with Proust's style.

Proust takes the concept of the formation of experience, which he illustrates through the Narrator's bedtime experiences in Overture and Combray, and shows how love wreaks havoc on one's construction of reality in the largest part of the book, Swann in Love.

Swann goes on an emotional roller coaster as he navigates his relationship with a courtesan, who loves him one day and spurns him the next. Swann jumps through hoops trying to make sense of his obsession with her and comes face to face with the concept of cognitive dissonance much like the Fox and the Grapes, where the fox, after trying so hard and failing to reach the grapes that are high in a tree, deems them as sour anyway. He must alter his sense of reality in order to suit the actual reality.

But what this really goes into is how our memories are not made out of exact mirrors of stretches of time but are rather like a book or movie, where only the moments that fit our ideal of the memory are archived together in our mind to formulate the experience.

A friend of mine went on a long road trip with his wife across America for their 10 year anniversary. He told me that they fought the whole way and squabbled and squibbled non-stop, leading him to wonder if the trip was a good idea. But, after the trip, when they sat at home reflecting on the month long excursion, they felt it was the best trip of their life! They expunged all the bad moments and strung together all the good ones, making them the building blocks of that experience.

This is exactly what Swann did with his courtesan, Odette:

"Rare as they became, those moments did not occur in vain. By the process of memory, Swann joined the fragments together, abolished the intervals between them, cast, as in molten gold, the image of an Odette compact of kindness and tranquillity, for whom he was to make, later on (as we shall see in the second part of this story) sacrifices which the other Odette would never have won from him."

This book is worth the work. So, now, for all who are following along or wished to forgo Marcel Proust's long winded nattering, on to The Trial by Franz Kafka!