Awhile back I came across these sentences in a long essay, The Dictatorship of the Present, by John Michael Colon, and was shocked at how accurate they felt. I’m an outsider to academia, I’m going to let other folks who are not me see if they want to take on the whole essay, all I am saying is what I quote here felt like saying it’s wet when it’s raining, i.e. accurate, true, descriptive. I’m annoyed to be citing two dudes here, I try to cite women generally but I use screenshots from my phone like an extension of my sketchbook sand there these were these two pieces of language that seemed to connect.
“In short, everything I was surrounded by and everything I experienced seemed to be brainwashing me into believing a single truth: things had always been like this; they would go on like this; and they would be like this forever. It hardly mattered that none of it made sense, that books existed that suggested we lived in history, and that history clearly presented alternatives. The past was something that belonged to artists and professors and other useless undesirables, and the future was to be an endless dictatorship of the present—a sprawling, flavorless, thoughtless capitalist eternity which deserved to persist because it was both the best of all possible worlds and the only one.”
He also writes:
“The stories we tell each other fundamentally shape our social world. I can’t overstate the centrality of this particular story to our cultural ideas about revolution and thus socialism.”
Last week I was trying to read this essay The Year in Struggles by Joshua Clover and the following jumped out at me:
“Kentucky’s Harlan County was once site of a war between the coal barons’ gun thugs and heroic miners (and their families and comrades), lasting by one measure from 1931–39. Eight decades after its end, a new conflict begins with the coal leviathan Blackjewel LLC declaring bankruptcy and ducking out on weeks of back pay. Wage demands are the very soul of production struggles, of the strike. “I’d like to get paid, get the money that we’ve earned,” summarizes one worker; it’s as simple as that.
Except it isn’t. As of July 2019 he is an ex-worker, one of many. Without a workplace to strike, the unemployed miners take the only reasonable step available: they place themselves on the railroad tracks and decline to move, preventing the last shipments of Blackjewel coal from making it to market. The scene is in its habits and sociology a worker’s movement to its core, with long-time veterans sharing union songs and tales of previous struggles in Bloody Harlan. But the past must change in the present. The form through which this oldest of production demands, pay us you motherfuckers, can be realized in this moment is beyond production, pure circulation struggle. It’s a moment of synthesis. But synthesis is not frozen in time; it always has a direction to it. This is how things are going.”
Anyway, as a layperson sometimes I find words or phrases here or there and I’m glad to learn them not as jargon but simply to have a way of describing, articulating something I know to be real. I learned “habitus” that way, and somewhere in the mid 2000s I heard about “theory of surplus bodies” and I am thinking about that one alot these past few weeks.
A friend who lived on her boat told me about the woman she knew who had worked as a cleaner at the docks for decades, finally managing to buy a wrecked boat, who wanted to fix it up and sail it away to someplace warm. She told me her friend had some interesting ideas, that she believed the rich didn’t need the poor anymore for anything but maybe their organs. I don’t know what happened with her, I hope she fixed up the boat and left like Pirate Jenny but in reverse.
I am thinking about that alot as well these past couple of weeks. What she believed about the shape of the world as it was becoming.
Can you describe what you think you’re seeing? Has anyone been able to? What are we in the middle, the end, or the beginning of? What can we see?