Counterdiscourse

1.
Liar

He has been
promising himself
for the millionth time:
there will be
no more sad poems,
but he’s a liar,
he does not believe his words,
he sees them in every stone,
arabesque of leaves & shadows
in cold evenings…
He’s a liar
devoured by her face,
her voice,
an angle of her being
that have eluded him
like he were a caged animal
pawing at the air
& the fata morgana
ambles on into the mists…
& time spins
on its axis
toward a void of days –
& he will lie again
for the millionth time
that there will be no more
sad poems
for her who flies
with the wind,
her trail of laughter
like hailstones
falling, falling, falling…

2.

The Absurd

She hands him a slim collection of Vladimir Nabokov’s Cloud, Castle, Lake, which contains the story “Signs and Symbols.” “It’s good,” she adds, but tells him the title doesn’t seem to add up. He devours the paper with perplexed ambiguity: the Russian aristocrat’s language is crisp & dense, but the narrative’s progression is a pirate’s gangplank that leads to the sea… It is a challenge: how the meaning eludes him when it is almost at his fingertips, the invisible beast of truth gawks from the wings.

It’s a story of a child detained in a ward because his parents couldn’t handle him: a suicidal freak, “a rare case” where “the patient imagines that everything around him is a veiled reference to his personality and existence. He excludes real people from the conspiracy – because he considers himself much more intelligent than other men. Phenomenal nature shadows him wherever he goes. Clouds in the staring sky transmit to one another, by means of slow signs, incredibly detailed information regarding him. His inmost thoughts are discussed at nightfall, in manual alphabet, by darkly gesticulating trees…” & so forth.

Nature speaks to him in a language of claustrophobic terror. & he would rather disappear from earth, “tear a hole in his world and escape.”

The story ends with the couple sharing midnight tea, disturbed by the ringing of the phone…

(Of course, it could be the voice of nightmare that their son hears – but this is too methodical, artificial unity & technique that attend any educated reading. But what of it then, if a crafty closure is done?)

The shrewd progression seems to flow to disparate dead-ends; & he wonders how the story can be decoded, even if only to keep a measure of pride that there is a “meaning hidden to be mined.” But he has fallen, it appears, into a trap neatly laid out by Nabokov about a reality that unfolds but bereft of any truth or direction. (Cynics may deduce a vast indifference of an émigré to Bolshevik reading.)

Things are contingent on the bottom of the abyss, logical on the edge of insanity.

An orthodox Marxist would be a cyclist running around in circles if he insists all the doors to the absolute are interrelated, like patterns on a shell.

But supposed everything, as Zizek proposes, is a sign of chaos, & the universe turns out to be an inexplicable as any cosmic explosion?

Can human drama be any different?

In Camus’s The Stranger, Mauersault, blinded, as it were, by the Algerian sun flaring in his eyes as he strolls down the beach, suddenly kills an Arab & must account for his act of absurdity & nothingness. He must be responsible for the crime, “even if for Nabokov’s child, he does not allude to the conspiracy among men.”

What political exegesis can be made of this?

3.

The Unbeliever

Which brings us to the broadsheet editorial that starts off with encomiums from Crispin Beltran’s comrades – that, even if he did not die in the streets which could have been pretty dramatic & symbolic, he would end up just the same a heroic figure because he was the iconic voice of labor, & so forth. Politicians would wade in: they didn’t agree with him all the time, but he’s worthy of their admiration & respect (although that does not absolve them of the crime of upholding neo-liberal interests).

Until the essay winds down to an ideological blip on capitalism: says the writer, who, technically sums up the paper’s political platform, which, it could be presumed, is not shared by the whole, as individuals, editorial staff: “It is not Beltran’s fault that the principle he fought for throughout his life, the right of workers to organize themselves has lost some of its urgency & its appeal. The ranks of organized labor are thinning, in the Philippines as well as abroad. In large part, this is the result of improvements in work conditions. (That was always a failing in Marx, the inability to see that capitalism may have a self-healing capacity.)”

This is a mouthful that elevates the writer to a guru higher than the theorist of historical materialism (the capacity to see is historically situated), & keeps him as mimic of Fukuyama who alleged “the failure of alternatives to liberal capitalism” & proclaimed the very end of history in a mode of production that is essentially & forever capitalist upon which mankind cannot advance any further.

That, it is argued by neo-liberals, capitalism can be benevolent is exactly, for Alex Callinicos, a fallacy; after all, “a benevolent capitalist who paid his workers wages that broadly corresponded to the amount of value they created would find himself out of business. For, directly or indirectly, from profits are funded the investments through which individual capitals expand and/or improve their productive capacity.” & though Marx “praises capitalism in The Communist Manifesto and the Grundrisse… he also means that the development of the productive forces makes capitalism constitutively liable to crisis.”

The global situation of overproduction & falling profits wreak havoc on the working class (note the thinning of the local ranks is proportional to the diasporic plight of labor that is kept cheap & abundant in the market, to the delight of multinational executives) – this is fundamental, almost dogmatic; & the so-called “self-healing capacity” of capitalism suppresses the grim reality of free-trade zone strikes caused by the exploitative policies, the threat to unions, human trafficking & worse, the salvaging of leaders as well as militants who are impediments to systemic stability. The decline in union organizing is certainly not a natural fate, but a handiwork of fascist violence that allows government to look the other way.

That the system, moreover, is “self-healing” doesn’t make capitalism an organic organization, virtually a living entity reminiscent of Deleuze & Guattari’s hydra, with self-corrective mechanism or an immunizing physiology that sutures labor & capital. Rather, it is the sustenance of brute force to normalize the nature of things, as it were. An economy that serves corporate or oligarchic few can always convulse at flashpoints of the politico-ideological.

After all, it is “capitalism against the planet.”

But the editorial’s patent blindness is basic to postmodernist sway in the ’90s. The writer, steeped in his fashionable discourse in elite universities, is not aware that, in the analysis of Luc Boltanski & Eve Chapiello, “the renewal of social criticism in France during the 1990s in reaction to the experience of neo-liberalism” was something “that postmodernism sought to prohibit.” For Callinicos, “the re-emergence of anti-capitalist discourses and movements therefore marks the breakdown of the hegemony that postmodernism has exerted over avant-garde thinking over much of the past two decades.”

Moreover, “there was a renewed pre-occupation with the material,” not the cultural.

An innovative capitalist system to dampen labor recalcitrance?

To show alleged egalitarian perspective of the corporate world – infected as it were by ethical code that workers do matter in the scheme of things & in keeping with the drive to humanize business – companies, according to The New York Times, have subscribed to the so-called “prediction markets” which “tap the collective insight of workers… [so as] to improve forecasting, reduce risk and accelerate innovation.” (The list so far includes Intercontinental Hotels Group, General Electric & Hewlett-Packard.)

“Employees, and potentially outsiders, make their wagers over Internet using virtual currency, betting anonymously. They bet on what they think will actually happen, not what they hope will happen or what the boss wants.”

The game enables the executive branch to pick the brains of workers, yet retain control of the managerial wheel even if the contributed ideas (which they probably missed like generals who know less than the ground troopers) rake in a helluva windfall: they may even grab the credit for it.

The emotive trap is simple: workers tend to presume they “belong” – in the process their alienation undergoes a positive catharsis, as in Greek plays where the plebeian audience turns compassionate toward the aristocracy of gods.

After all, the most accurate player “is only rewarded with a modest prize, cash or iPod.”

Pacification campaigns – intramurals, loyalty awards, trips, etc – do not occur only in the military: they are highly acceptable business practices to keep the natives contented like cows.

Paul Virilio, the philosopher of new technologies as the new revolution, is cognizant of capitalism [which bred such technology], but admits he is “faced with its exacerbation.”

“I see no alternative for the time being but resistance.”

Fukuyama does not have the final say.

4.
Liar, Liar

The crowd
that swims like piranhas
in the estero that is Cubao
suddenly
cleans his soul to the bones –
& he cannot even weep…
He doesn’t care anymore
if he sees her
“like a patient etherized
upon the table” –
organic,
pure matter
like rock or water –
when once
she quickened his blood
& seized his moments
like a hawk
that gripped him
in the talons of her being.
She’s no longer memory –
he blankly stares
at a specimen of time,
floundering on a dish,
yes, pulsating electric
but in the quick of an eye
will wiggle to a halt…
No, no, no!
But it’s as sudden as rain
that falls heavily,
mercilessly to the ground
as if it’s a crime natural
to drown all
in tears & circumstance.
Here, in Cubao
at an unholy hour,
people drowsily bare
their invisible fangs
like saffroned monks:
Humanity semaphores
in custom & tradition
it ain’t worth the hassle
all this act of truth
& passion:
Love, baby, ain’t forever
& God lies.

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