Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Liberty's sword: links

"What is the Kafkaesque?" asks Alexander Provan in his piercing discussion of Kafka via five recent books, including Mark Harman's new translation of Amerika. "It is, as Walter Benjamin wrote, the form which things assume in oblivion." It is surprising that Louis Begley believes the sword in Liberty's hand seen by Karl Rossmann at the entrance to New York harbour is "a slip of the pen." Rather, it is "a deliberate alienation effect, immediately placing the promise of America in quotation marks and situating the reader in a slightly disfigured reality, where metaphorical figures become as palpable and unyielding as concrete and steel."

Elsewhere, in Understanding the Crisis — Markets, the State and Hypocrisy, Chomsky seeks to counter the mythology that "the economy is based on entrepreneurial initiative and consumer choice".
[W]ell ok, to an extent it is. For example at the marketing end, you can choose one electronic device and not another. But the core of the economy relies very heavily on the state sector, and transparently so. So for example to take the last economic boom which was based on information technology — where did that come from? Computers and the Internet. Computers and the Internet were almost entirely within the state system for about 30 years — research, development, procurement, other devices — before they were finally handed over to private enterprise for profit-making. It wasn't an instantaneous switch, but that's roughly the picture. And that's the picture pretty much for the core of the economy. The state sector is innovative and dynamic. It's true across the board from electronics to pharmaceuticals to the new biology-based industries. The idea is that the public is supposed to pay the costs and take the risks, and ultimately if there is any profit, you hand it over to private tyrannies, corporations. If you had to encapsulate the economy in one sentence, that would be the main theme. When you look at the details of course it's a more complex picture, but that's the major theme. So yes, socialization of risk and cost (but not profit) is partially new for the financial institutions, but it's just added on to what's been happening all along.
Finally, Mobylives provides more background on La Nouvelle Revue Francaise following its 100th anniversary. Along the way, it mentions Jonathan Littell's contribution to the centenary edition. As it seems to have gone more or less unnoticed, I'll remind everyone that you can read this in Charlotte Mandell's translation on this very site.


  1. Anonymous6:38 pm

    I assumed the "sword in Liberty's hand" was an Edenic allusion -- the simultaneous embodiment within a single form of both the promise of the Garden, and the now restricted passage to the Tree of Life.

  2. The Kafka Museum of the North Bank in Prague contains the Kafkaesque: the black filing cabinets with something or maybe nothing in them, the disconected telephone with no tone but perhaps it may not be disconected and perhaps somebody is listening to your breathing. The Trial is the Kafkaesque. Amerika is for me far from the Kafkaesque. Prisoners in dayglo orange is not the Kafkaesque. The Kafkaesque is Prague. The Kafkaesque is the unseen and the unkown. It is the knock on the door and nobody there. It is the house with two different numbers, a red 29 and a blue 46, or a street with two names. It's far from Amerika, sword or no sword.



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