Forthcoming: Paramita Ghosh’s IN A FUTURE APRIL – A Novel (Radical Notes 9, Aakar Books)

It is a year before Plebiscite and the two provinces of The Lambda – The City and The Frontier – separated from each other by a gate can talk of little else. Governed by the Fairlanders, Lambda may soon be free. The City is home to the old elite. The Frontier is a land denuded of trees, the pit of factories. The old elite are cobbled into a party, the Dongs. The Partisans urge fellow workers among school teachers, field hands, newspapermen to join the strike breaking out at the factories. At the meetings, it is also decided to rethink a new culture of politics and work, before deciding whether they are ready for freedom.

FINAL-FRONT-COVER

At a time when Mir, the leader of the Partisans, is still unsure about an alternative to an independent nation-state, the news that a Partisan contingent is meeting the Fairlanders raises questions among his supporters. Is Mir giving in or breaking new ground? What is the value of taking a pause during a struggle? Is their final bloody manoeuvre a failure, a success, or both; or can their resistance be seen in other terms? In a Future April is a political allegory that tries to grapple with the many meanings of love, freedom, friendship, camaraderie, commitment and betrayal in the undecidable time of the Revolution.

Paramita Ghosh is a Delhi-based journalist. She grew up in Calcutta and began her career with The Statesman. She writes on culture and politics for Hindustan Times.

FOREWORD

“An operation carried out in the written language” – Italo Calvino

This foreword is not an apologia. It is not an attempt to provide justifications for publishing a work of fiction in a series of booklets and books that belong to the essayistic genre of critical theory and/or political analysis. The readers can themselves determine whether or not this novel, or other creative works that we intend to publish in the near future, fit into the dynamic politics of this series. Nevertheless, the question remains whether these literary-creative engagements replicate what political essays do, whether they provide insights that these essays cannot even think through.

We are not formalists who study the specificities of forms in order to see them as their own justification. In fact, there is no such formal autonomy. If you find one, rest assured it is the poverty of form that the essence generates and productivises to generate illusions of such autonomy.

“Essence must appear or shine forth. The essence is thus not behind or beyond the appearance; instead, by virtue of the fact that it is the essence that exists concretely, concrete existence is appearance.” (Hegel:197) We consider the identification and study of the practice of form very crucial to access specific levels of reality – the structural dynamics that appear through this form.

A literary work accesses aspects of reality that only a literary form can reveal. Not very long ago, Italo Calvino approached a literary work “as an operation carried out in the written language.” Literature involves “several levels of reality” and it is the awareness of the distinction between these levels that makes a literary work possible. Calvino further elaborates: “In a work of literature, various levels of reality may meet while remaining distinct and separate, or else they may melt and mingle and knit together, achieving a harmony among their contradictions or else forming an explosive mixture.”(Calvino:101)

Hence, a literary work emerges as a methodological operation demythologising Reality into levels of reality. It is through this operation that we access these specific levels. As Spinoza’s “extension” and Marx’s “sensuous activity”, literary practice is intrinsic to those levels of reality of which it is an awareness. Calvino, however, cautions against the tendency to overgeneralise, to forget the form’s immanence to its own levels of reality – in the case of literature, these levels are part of the “written world”. Calvino while “distinguishing the various levels of reality within the work of art considered as a world of its own”, and, therefore, avoiding the sirens of historicism, is emphatic in considering “the work as a product, in its relation to the outside world in the age when it was created and the age when we received it”. In fact, this historicisation is what is termed as self-awareness – when literary works “turn around on themselves, look at themselves in the act of coming into being, and become aware of the materials they are made of”. (Calvino: 103)

Almost a century ago, Hungarian Marxist Georg Lukacs had expressed very eloquently the dialectical problematic of form and content in literature and its historicity. He understood a literary genre as intrinsic to an “age”. “The novel is the epic of an age in which the extensive totality of life is no longer directly given, in which the immanence of meaning in life has become a problem, yet which still thinks in terms of totality.” (Lukacs: 56) The novel is born in an epoch characterised by the separation of labour from labour-power. In such circumstances, the totality cannot be accessed in its immediacy because forms of labour are dualised: the concrete becomes discrete, and gets individuated and differentiated from its meaning in totality. In other words, the concrete is rendered an undifferentiated mass of particular appearances. Thus we need “the force of abstraction” to access and to reproduce the totality in thought.

The “form-giving intention” (or, what Marx in Grundrisse, of which Lukacs must have not been aware of at the time of writing this work, termed “living, form-giving, fire”) of a novelist reconstructs or systematises the totality abstractly. The totality is not immediately and organically accessed, rather it emerges in the creation of the novel through “abstract systematisation” that exposes and distances from the conventionality of “concrete life”, the “objective world”. It emerges in the process of a critique of this concrete, objective life and world, revealing “the interiority of the subjective” world, the “political unconscious”.

The living labour of a novelist creates totality in a “socially symbolic act”.(Jameson) It is a critical operation that in its Utopianism creates a crisis for subsumption – providing a glimpse of real totality beyond the swamps of false totality – of capital and state (the conventionality and its everydayness).

“To see the world in a grain of sand” – William Blake

Till recently a slice of reality was considered sufficient to grasp the truth of reality – to see the universe in a grain of sand. This Blakean radical vision originally was a reminder of metaphysical holism, that was losing its grip in the nineteenth century. It was restricted to those who saw the future as a doom or a dawn – the judgement day or a world revolution. You could make out the total sense of a particularity.

The processes of “infinite regression of quibbling and calculating” (Badiou: 40) – a continuous discretising and recombining, the so-called “creative destruction”, was effectuated by the generalised commodity economy and industrialism, which led to the perpetuation of analytics, analytical philosophies and positivism. Eventually, the Blakean vision was reduced “to see the world of a grain of sand,” so that the elements of these grains could be identified, discretised and recombined – isn’t this what production is all about?

But still you could imagine a universe of many universes – a meta was still there but as an aggregate of atomic individualities or as a forced universality. Hence, national revolutions, national socialisms, Socialism in one country, national development – however, the vision of national liberation still had an international tenor as it grasped liberation in terms of “liberation from”. The collective dream that politics embodied was condensed in the possibility to empower the dethroned subjectivity, bypass the developmental pains and still catch up or even divert.

But as the economy got more and more integrated, the humanity and sociality were further analysed and discretised – to be invested in the social factory. It is the digital recombining of anything and everything as mere numbers. As the world increasingly became a global village, we were transformed into villagers – “formed by simple accretion, much as potatoes in a sack form a sack of potatoes.” (Marx) As we were increasingly reduced, and reduced to sameness, we militantly asserted our difference. The postmodern assertion of relativities was nothing but the other side of modernist absolutism. They mutually energised one another. We assert our differences, and in an instant they are equalised, accumulated and turned into gold – and we are reduced to “packets of time, separated from their interchangeable and occasional bearers.”(Bifo: 95)

In A Future April is a novel about revolutions in this age – but being of this age, it is truly a “monstrous abbreviation” of all times, even of those revolutionary periods which were inaugurated exactly a century ago. All revolutionaries of those times were aware of the elements of passive counter-revolution in these revolutions, but the passage to the decline was always considered a struggle. Revolution and its systemic subsumption could still be compositionally, spatially and temporally differentiated. But today in late-st capitalism they both are the same. If this is a novel about precariats and cognitarians as vanguards, it is also about vanguards as precariats and cognitarians. But was this not true for all revolutions? In A Future April narrates and operates the stories of revolutions to abbreviate them into the pregnant dialectic of hope and dismay.

Pratyush Chandra,
Radical Notes
November 23, 2016

References:

Alain Badiou (2005) “Philosophy and Desire.” Infinite Thought. Trans. and ed. Oliver Feltham and Justin Clemens. New York: Continuum. 29-42

Franco “Bifo” Berardi (2009) The Soul at Work. Trans. Francesca Cadel and Giuseppina Mecchia. Semiotext(e). Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Italo Calvino (1997) “Levels of Reality in Literature.” The Literature Machine. Trans. Patrick Creagh. London: Vintage Books. 101-121.

GWF Hegel (2010) Encyclopedia of the Philosophical Sciences in Basic Outline Part I: Science of Logic. Trans. and ed. by Klaus Brinkmann and Daniel O. Dahlstrom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Georg Lukacs (1971) The Theory of the Novel. Trans. Anna Bostock. Massachusetts: The MIT Press.

Karl Marx ([1852] 2002) “The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte.” (Trans. Terrell Carver) Marx’s Eighteenth Brumaire: (Post)modern Interpretations. Ed. Mark Cowling and James Martin. London: Pluto Press. 19-109

Homecoming to Nostalgia: The Inauguration of Donald J. Trump

Cyrus Bina

“In a time of universal deceit,
Telling the truth is a revolutionary act.”
– George Orwell

When the entire arsenal of impulsive and aggressive foreign policy is deployed in absolute desperation and without accomplishment by a declining power unaware of its imminent demise, first it resorts to self-aggrandisement and spectacle, and then suddenly and viciously turns on itself through self-flagellation and serious self-mutilation. This is a classic pretext that trumps the assorted reasons for the demise of Hilary Clinton and thus the bafflement of the US political establishment and its coattail in the established media. This should concisely spell out the meteoric rise of Donald Trump, his populism, and his success in leasing the plush real estate at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington. To be sure, “We make America great again” is the alter ego of America’s demise since the collapse of the Pax Americana (1945-1979). Recognition of this very transformation is in itself a radical act.

The moment of truth has finally arrived. The slogan of “Make America Great Again” is now at the centre stage. The members of the wrecking crew in Donald Trump’s proposed cabinet are now waiting for their Senate confirmation to get to work. Donald J. Trump is now the president of the United States. And all three branches of government are in the hands of one party – a party that since Reagan’s presidency has seemingly been reduced to an apologetic bunch in retrograde politics suspended in history. The party that once took pride in being the party of Lincoln is simply taken over by a known-unknown outsider; George Soros went on to call him an “imposter.” Trump’s message though has been consistently the same: “Make America Great Again.” This “Again,” at the same time, conveys an acknowledgement of the glorious past, not-so-glorious present, and the possibility time-travel presumably to the pre-Civil Rights’ period on the domestic side and hegemony, leadership and respect (i.e., the era of Pax Americana, 1945-1979) on the foreign policy side.

Contrary to the conventional wisdom and despite his rhetoric, Donald Trump’s presidency does not seem to correspond with American isolationism. Trump’s vision is rather more in tune with the reversal of time that supposedly transports America to the 1950s, an era in which a Junior Senator from Wisconsin’s witch hunts were in full swing. And a foreign policy that unilaterally engaged in coups after coups against democratically elected government abroad with little cost – known as America’s Golden Age – under the umbrella of the now defunct of Pax Americana (1945-1979). Under the Trump administration, some even are horrified – for a good reason – by an idea that he may take us all the way back to the pre-Civil War period in race, gender, and social relations. The irony here suggests parallels with George Orwell’s “1984” in 2017 America.

The other party is not so innocent either. Democrats did not only tolerate the notorious war crimes by the Bush-Cheney administration in Iraq and Afghanistan; they nonetheless come in full circle with their own bloody misadventures in Libya, Syria, Yemen, Ukraine, to name a few, while they did some good with respect to Cuba and Iran. Overall, though, the Obama administration inherited and thus contributed to what the Bush-Cheney administration has wrought as a paranoiac state/surveillance state in America. On the foreign policy front, particularly in Libya (and the bloody overthrow of Col. Gaddafi), Hilary Clinton’s hand is bloody. On the toppling of the Libyan government and the murder of Gaddafi, Secretary Clinton bragged: “We came, we saw, he died.” The catch here is that the Obama administration had already promised the Russians at the UN Security Council that if they agreed to vote for the “no fly zone” in Libya (or abstain), it would refrain from overthrowing Gaddafi. With Clinton’s Julius Caesar-like enthusiasm, the Obama administration broke its promise. As is well known, President Obama also recently expressed his regrets for the involvement in Libya. As for the pointless involvement in the coup, against Viktor Yanukovych in Ukraine, the share of Secretary Clinton (via Victoria Nuland’s direct involvement) is not miniscule either.

Again, as is well documented, this initial step eventually led to the ouster of Yanukovych and the chaos that brought the ultra-right takeover of the government through the infamous referendum in Crimea, which then paved the way for the Russian invasion. Clinton Democrats utterly miscalculated the outcome of that election by betting on the wrong horse. The ignored the fact that the country (both the left and the right) is gasping for change by any means necessary. Clinton Democrats ignored the deep cleavage in income inequality combined with profound political polarisation. They arrogantly resorted to the habitual course of action by attacking Sen. Bernie Sanders – a seemingly viable candidate that might have defeated Donald Trump if he had not been subjected to unfair, immoral, and indeed illegal shenanigans in the primaries. Thanks to WikiLeaks for revealing these very true heart-wrenching stories perpetrated by the Clinton camp and the Democratic Party that is presently on the teeter of disintegration. That is why those who care about the truth – and cause-and-effect in this matter – believe that Democrats’ cruel pomposity and crude self-assurance tossed their viable candidate under the proverbial bus. In the end, the “basket of deplorables” statement by frustrated Hilary was the one that finally broke the camel’s back.

The inauguration of Donald J. Trump is over and he is officially the 45th president of the United States. The factors that have led to his seemingly successful campaign toward his presidency are numerous, varied, and multidimensional, and historians will debate them for year and decades to come. Nevertheless, it is clear that the spectre of change is in the air and that the sizeable majorities on the right and on the left are challenging the status quo. The Pax Americana had collapsed in the late1970s, but aftereffects of its fall are still around with respect to both domestic and foreign arenas. The fact is that there is no hint of American exceptionalism in all this. The changes that transpired in the last few decades have taken us beyond the Pax Americana and beyond American exceptionalism. The United States is now as ordinary as any other nation in the new global polity in the making.

On the foreign policy side, the United States is not what it used to be, yet the forces of regression, and reaction, are insisting on being “Great Again.” On the domestic side, the fissure of deep economic inequality, political polarisation, pernicious politics, blatant racism and “white supremacy,” bashing women, Islamophobia, and other social ailments are now overtly pronounced. This election has torn the veil of political correctness and peeled off nearly all opacities that are gingerly left underneath race relations in America. Donald Trump is the sui generis messenger and now, as president, the message of divided America. And in this manner, the whole nation is naked before our eyes. This nation (and by implication the US government) is not exceptional; it is not pre-ordained for hegemony; it is not predisposed for the leadership of global polity in the making. There is a limit to what the United States can or cannot do with respect to domestic as well as foreign policy.

Therefore, “making America great again” is inevitably subject to such boundaries. The United States is a declining power and the election of Donald Trump is a hint of such a decline in both domestic and foreign affairs. We are just beginning to grapple with the aftereffects of the loss of the American century and the painful consequence of the denial of the fall of the Pax Americana since the 1980s. On the foreign policy side, the setbacks have so far been unequivocal. It may take some time to digest the truth of the shrinkage of the middle class and the disguised class warfare in the form of overt racism, sexism, xenophobia, Islamophobia, and other forms of prejudice and bigotry in the name of nationalism and patriotism. We need to fasten our proverbial seatbelts for a long, rough, turbulent, yet indefatigable ride on, in Robert Frost’s apt vision, “the road not taken” in these unflattering and uncertain times.

Cyrus Bina is Distinguished Research Professor of Economics at the University of Minnesota (Morris Campus). His latest book is A Prelude in the Foundation of Political Economy: Oil, War, and Global Polity (2013). An earlier version of this article was an address to a rally organised by students at the Morris campus of University of Minnesota during the inauguration of the 45th president of the United States on January 20, 2017.