"Novelist Alberto Moravia once described Pasolini as a “civil” poet, by which he meant “a poet who sees his native land in a way that the powerful of the country do not and cannot see it.” Fittingly, the director appears in this film as a disciple of Giotto, arriving to a small town to paint a fresco alongside dozens of rural men, a pointed statement that art production was and must remain a civic endeavor. "
Though Disney wouldn’t live to see it, he was granted his Reedy Creek Improvement District, which is still “governed” by a supervisory board “elected” by the landowners—i.e., the Walt Disney Company. As described by a former head executive, Reedy Creek “gave us all the powers of the two counties in which we sit to the exclusion of their exercising any powers, and of course it let us issue bonds. We could do anything the city or county could do. The only powers that still reside on us from outside are the taxing power of Orange County, the sales tax of the state, and the inspection of elevators.”
Reedy Creek handles its own planning and zoning. It lays out roads and sewer lines, licenses the sale of alcoholic beverages. Building codes? Psh, Reedy Creek employs the building inspectors. It employs its own fire department. Contracts its own eight-hundred-member security force. Technically, it is within Disney’s rights to build an airport and a nuclear power plant within the Improvement District, if Disney so desires.
But that about the whole utopian city thing? The enticement that ultimately sealed the deal for the people of Florida? It was all a ruse. The Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow was just another theme park. And though more than fifty-five thousand people work in the Reedy Creek Improvement District by day; and though more than a hundred thousand patronize its stand-alone restaurants, clubs, and theaters every night—Reedy Creek retains a permanent population of about fifty. Most of whom are company executives or their family members.
Walt Disney demanded and received the powers of a democratically elected government, and his corporation ducked the botheration of, you know, constituents. Constituents who might challenge Disney’s top-down plans or even vote them out of power. The constitutionality of this arrangement has never been challenged. I suppose this proves no one minds the arrangement all that much. But I tend to think otherwise. I think it proves that the people of Florida are no different from patsies across time and space: too ashamed to admit when we’ve been had.
“By turning the state of Florida and its statutes into their enablers,” T. D. Allman writes, “Disney and his successors pioneered a business model based on public subsidy of private profit coupled with corporate immunity from the laws, regulations, and taxes imposed on people that now increasingly characterizes the economy of the United States.”
So, huh. I guess Disney did get his “showcase for free enterprise” and his utopia both, in the end.
Again, ask yourselves: Did you know that a Google doc you created can be deleted with no warning or explanation by Google? If the hydroxychloroquine white paper was so dangerous it had to be voided out of existence, shouldn’t Google educate the public about that danger—and take ownership of whatever process they used to make their determination? Does Google conduct its own research studies and clinical trials? Is Google an arm of the U.S. government with the power to censor speech, and on what laws does it base this authority?
Genre fiction is any story created to explicitly appeal to fans of existing stories. It often refers to sci-fi, fantasy, noir, and westerns, but also includes novels about novelists struggling to write novels. Literature designates quality, while genre describes technique, and the two do not have to be contrasted, as proven by works of literary genre such as John Williams’s Butcher’s Crossing or Kazuo Ishiguro’s Never Let Me Go. Genre is defined by its reliance on tropes or themes that lie outside the story, and so it must obey rules, and expects the audience to be familiar with other stories from the genre. A superhero story must contain a superhero, and a space epic assumes space travel makes sense. This is why genre has difficulty becoming literature, and terrible genre always feels like a pedant checking off boxes: looming prophecy, evil empire, lovable rogue. Genre is the storytelling technique of the managerial class because its rule-abiding nature resembles a bureaucracy, and part of the reason members of this professional class seem increasingly out of touch is because they tell genre stories which expect the audience to accept recycled tropes.
The professional class tells a variety of genre stories about their jobs: TED Talker, “entrepreneur,” “innovator,” “doing well by doing good.” One of the most popular today is corporate feminism. This familiar story is about a young woman who lands a prestigious job in Manhattan, where she guns for the corner office while also fulfilling her trendy Sex and the City dreams. Her day-in, day-out life is blessed by the mothers and grandmothers who fought for equality—with the ghost of Susan B. Anthony lingering Mufasa-like over America’s cubicles. Yet, like other corporate genre stories, girl-boss feminism is a celebration of bureaucratic life, including its hierarchy. Isn’t that weird?
Today, however, there is an increasing number of scholars who pronounce the sublime dead. These theorists, such as James Elkins, hold that it is a historically antiquated concept, an outdated relic of Western culture. The sublime, they say, is irredeemably bound by its rootedness in 18th- and 19th-century Western thought, in Romanticism. It’s as useful as the concept of, say, phlogiston or aether.
I disagree. I don’t think that we are at risk of no longer feeling the sublime, of becoming like the sea-watchers in the Robert Frost poem who ‘cannot look out far’ and ‘cannot look in deep’. And I don’t think that the sublime is somehow becoming useless or irrelevant. But by taking a closer look at the criticisms levelled against the concept, we will be able to gain a greater understanding of this bizarre and deeply human emotional experience.
Progressive reformers thus were about nothing if not channeling potentially explosive energies into conventionally productive practices. The question arises: How does one express this relationship between vitality and containment, control and release? We can reject duality at the outset, and other, more appropriate words quickly come to mind—dialectics, ambivalence, coexistence, blending and merging. The two entities become one, but not quite. There is still room, as Simone Weil observed in her penetrating exploration of human consciousness, for “a sort of dialogue between the continuous and the discontinuous”—between computation and continuity, numbers and flow. But the dialogue can turn into territorial warfare.15
Perhaps the best way to show the uneasy cohabitation of those two modes of thought in one mind is to examine the most influential quantifying vitalist, the Yale economist Irving Fisher. More than anyone else, Fisher brought the emerging science of statistics into the arena where political economy and public policy meet. Fisher pioneered not just in categorizing people but in monetizing them, body and soul. He moved statistics from mere counting to cost accounting and cost-benefit analysis. Everything had its cash value; money could be used to measure the value of anything.
Michelangelo, God’s Architect is well illustrated, but the truth is that not one of Michelangelo’s creations can be conveyed easily in a photograph. The Sistine Chapel ceiling dazzles our eyes so dynamically because it curves in a gentle arch. David is meant to be seen from every direction, but the camera can provide only one. Without standing inside the Laurentian Library and the Medici Chapel we can never truly feel the way Michelangelo has shaped these enclosing spaces by the careful arrangement of solid columns, statues, cornices, and consoles. But his late projects present, if anything, a steeper challenge. St. Peter’s is larger than our senses can grasp even when we are standing beneath its massive dome; there is no way to reproduce that disconcerting three-dimensional discomfort on a comfortably sized page. More interesting, and infinitely more moving, are the ways in which Michelangelo’s last two statues—that ravaged Pietà now in Florence and another, equally battered Pietà in Milan—strike right through to the soul by some magical trick of the old man’s chisel. It doesn’t matter that they are both unpolished ruins; Michelangelo has passed beyond the idea of completion to single out a universally recognizable instant through an instantly eloquent detail.
With the “Bandini” Pietà in Florence, it is the figure of Nicodemus, and his solicitous embrace; by carving his own portrait into the elder’s face, Michelangelo has turned his act of creation into a way of caring not just for his figures and the people they represent, but also for the viewers who take the time to stay awhile in their presence. Through his art, Michelangelo, in the person of Nicodemus, has taken on the burden of caring for us. He cares as fiercely as Caravaggio cares, actively, irresistibly, and he shows his care by letting us experience his pain as a pledge that he, in turn, will honor ours. David, completed when the artist was about thirty, presents humanity in the magnificence of youth, pride, and vigor. These late sculptures present nothing so much as the stubborn endurance of love in spite of everything: weakness, injustice, and death itself.
Michelangelo’s last statue, another Pietà (the “Rondanini”; see illustration), shows a tiny, muscular Virgin Mary holding the slumped, elongated body of her son. Their faces are barely sketched. Jesus has a free-floating extra arm, the remnant of a previous composition; Michelangelo vandalized this work as he had vandalized his previous Pietà. It hardly matters. What survives, and what no photograph can reveal, is the tension a master sculptor can pack into the Virgin’s sturdy legs, riveted to the ground as she sustains this unbearable burden, and the iron grip of the arm she has flung around her son’s corpse. She could be Atlas holding up the world, and indeed Michelangelo’s faith told him that in that moment she was clasping all of human salvation to her heart. She is a scrappy little Italian mamma performing the task of a Titan. And she will never let go.
The economist Bernard Maris, who wrote for Charlie Hebdo and was killed in the attack on its offices in 2015, published a short book about his friend Houellebecq only a few months before he, Maris, was murdered. In this book, Maris claims that Houellebecq understands the modern economy better than any economist—not that Maris has any regard for his own profession or for economics as a discipline—and he quotes with delight the words of a university teacher of the subject who appears as a character in Houellebecq’s novel La Carte et la Territoire, that her work consists of “teaching evident absurdities to arriviste cretins”.
Maris claims that Houellebecq’s target is what the French call neo-liberalism. The latter is a lazy portmanteau word, because by no stretch of the imagination can France, or indeed any Western country, be called liberal, unless it be accepted at the same time that it is also socialist, in short that it is corporatist. It is not market relations that supposedly have replaced all others, even in the bedroom, that Houellebecq reprehends, but the destruction of the human personality by managerialism in the absence of all other belief. Houellebecq has nothing to say about, or against, the relations existing between customer and merchant in Adam Smith’s famous passage about the benevolence of the butcher and baker; and indeed no one could have been harsher than he about French intellectuals’ espousal, largely humbug, of left-wing economic ideology. His target is the dehumanisation of life by a Taylorism of the soul, which requires two conditions to come about: the necessity to work in large impersonal organisations and an absence of belief in anything, be it in God, country, or even an ideology.
When viewed in 2020, Cosmopolis is exhilarating in two ways. The first is that it offers up the soothing image of a billionaire capitalist brought to heel by riots. The second is that Pattinson’s work as Packer, thorough enough that it looks like natural blankness, has since turned out to be one of the earliest indications of his talent.
One might hope that Caldwell is a prisoner of the last election cycle. But The Age of Entitlement is not a Trump-inspired book. Caldwell sketched out the argument at a Harvard lecture in 2014, well before the famous escalator ride.15 What’s impressive, or disturbing, is how the past five years slipped into the argument with bespoke precision—to the point where many reviewers assumed it was conceived as a how-you-got-Trump book. In a sense, deciding if Caldwell “lucked” out—if the 2010s were merely a feverish interregnum, the growing pains of the new constitution—is a verdict on his argument.
Writer - Critic - Poet - Editor