Herewith is Issue #11 of Politics/Letters. We’re on a roll.
The uncanny thematic of this new issue is, according to my deeply biased reading, a meditation on where class or poverty or inequality fits into the languages of fiction, and into what we have come to know as sexual politics. To my mind, these essays suggest that the either/or of reality vs. fiction is as useless as the either/or of class-based politics vs. the identity kind.
They also suggest that the political economy of sexuality, as per David Kurnick’s and David Booth’s essays, is something we might begin to understand as a moment in the history of capitalism. We have made a feature of Kurnick’s essay because it’s so queer. The erasure of the erotic in “gay literature” worries him. Us, too.
But the erasure of the economic is not a problem in this issue.
Consider, for example, how Christina Lupton and Carolyn Lesjak hover over the question of the “poverty of time,” or the “novel and the poor”—how people at work are not, and cannot be, reading. Or listen to Bruce Robbins on the unequal distribution of “precarity,” as we now call it, that edgy feeling of a precipice that surrounds us, as if we’ve reached some pinnacle we never wanted to climb, although our upward mobility was something we took for granted.
Another way to think about the uncanny in this issue is to wonder how the refugee and the exile meet up. Or do they? The refugees of our time are people who have fled civil wars ignited by torches they didn’t light—from Syria to Iraq. Does the exile speak for them? Can she?
Robbins and Eleni Coundouriotis hope so. They recall Edward Said at his most provocative, and bring us to that place where boundaries begin to seem not pointless but permeable, where the crossovers look like fun—necessary interplay, if that is a permissible category at this stage of diaspora.
They are challenged, and yet also amplified, by Frances Negròn Muntaner, who wonders how darkness, blackout, and exploitation go together in Puerto Rico, where “late modern colonial capitalism” illuminates the future—the place where the foreign can be spoken and addressed only as a domestic issue (“the foreign in a domestic sense”), by its reincorporation in the emotional vernacular that secures your local personality.
And Sally Rooney challenges all of them. “I am the only person I have ever been,” she says, in conversation with Ben Libman. Well, yeah, but since when did that person stop changing? Keep moving or die, the law of dreams that regulates so many Irish narratives, is here discarded, by the Irish narrator no less. How come?
Our Trump section is composed of Terry Schwadron’s meditation on the political reality and my psychoanalysis of the man as mere fascist. Both of us are worried, but very differently.
And now, speaking of the invisible rigors of capitalism . . . We bring you a pseudonymous poem from that anti-capitalist character who lived in Bedford Falls, once upon a time. In actual life, the author was a student in one of my recent courses on the history of capitalism, wherein final projects can take almost any form, from songs to poems to term papers. This epic was the best of those projects last year, but there will be more. It has already inspired a competition to find just one pro-capiatlist movie in the entire 20th-century canon–of which more anon.