Category Archives: Politics

Art & Oil in the Age of Monopoly and Disaster Capital

Daniel Beltrá, "Oil Spill #4," from the series May 6, 2010, 2010. Photograph
Daniel Beltrá, “Oil Spill #4,” from the series May 6, 2010, 2010. Photograph. Used with the permission of the artist

It’s been a half century since the publication of Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order. 1 The book was written by the American Marxist economists Paul Baran and Paul Swezy. Monopoly Capital advances a trenchant critique of advanced industrial capitalism. Still salient, the book remains important for romanticists invested both in the Marxist tradition in critical theory, and the project of tracing the eighteenth-century British origins of contemporary constellations of global capitalist political economy. In this post, I return to Monopoly Capital, trace the text’s key contours, and argue for both its importance for understanding aspects of the contemporary ecological predicament, and the need to update Baran and Swezy’s ideas according to the concept of “disaster capitalism.” 2

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Notes:

  1. Paul Baran and Paul Swezy, Monopoly Capital: An Essay on the American Economic and Social Order (New York: Monthly Review Press, 1966).
  2. See Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (New York: Picador, 2007); Antony Lowenstein, Disaster Capitalism: Making a Killing out of Catastrophe (London: Verso, 2015).

Pride and Prejudice and Politics

As we march ahead, perhaps forebodingly, into a new epoch in America’s political climate, one might wonder exactly what can be the value of teaching Romantic poetry and prose. In the weeks immediately following the recent historic election (however one chooses to define “historic”), we must consider whether undergraduate students really want to spend their time reading Wordsworth’s “A slumber did my spirit seal” or Keats’s “To Autumn” or Austen’s Emma. When these students are otherwise preoccupied with what Twitter and Snapchat have to tell them about the current state of the world, why would they choose to bow their heads over texts that, while they may have something to say about the early nineteenth century in Britain, seem to be so distant and disjointed from our own time and place? This was a question I set out to explore this fall…and then November 8th happened.

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Ozy Ozy Everywhere, & Not a Man to Marvel

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Every chance I get, I read Ozymandias. I should clarify, though, because that makes it sound like all I do is read the same poem over and over again (in the shower, in lines at Burger King, or mowing the lawn)—that’s just not the case at all. Fall Out 4 recently came out, and my lovely-lady-scientist wife bought it for me as an birthday present. In between the soul-crushing bouts of non-stop homework, I play it endlessly. That is, of course when I’m not busy reading graphic novels for a book club I participate in every two weeks, and when I’m not playing with my puppy Huckleberry, or talking to esb70bikixyck77szfmyfriends over a weekly meeting I call “Coffee with Jammer” (I’m currently in talks with PBS about making it into a series) or when…you know, perhaps it’s better to be honest, and say whenever I stumble upon the poem, I take the time to read it. Continue reading Ozy Ozy Everywhere, & Not a Man to Marvel

The Romantic Reply to the that Terrible Question: Valuing the Humanities

One option out of a wide array of graduate seminars to choose for this current Spring semester ranging from the theory heavy to the literature heavy, and usual contenders (i.e. my much beloved courses on Modernism and the 18th c. novel) stood out among the rest in sheer ambiguity: the public humanities. The seminar is an interdisciplinary course that includes graduate students from various departments. Continue reading The Romantic Reply to the that Terrible Question: Valuing the Humanities

COP21: Opinion Piece

Forum during Women and Gender Day in Climate Generations Area, COP21, Le Bourget, France, 8 December 2014
Forum during “Women and Gender Day” at the Climate Generations Area open to the Public, COP21, Le Bourget, France, 8 December 2015. Photograph by the author

Introduction: It’s been two and a half weeks since the COP21 concluded, and it has taken as long for me to feel I could begin forming my own perspective on the events. In one of the last remaining assemblies where all nations are equitably represented, according to the aspirations of the mission, and progress is made only by consensus, 196 countries for the first time in history reached agreement in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC. The unity necessary for nations to together begin addressing industrially-produced greenhouse gas emissions was at last achieved. I believe, in part despite the criticisms of the agreement leveled by members of both the diverse global political left and and right, that when placed in the proper, nuanced, and historical perspective, the accord represents a terrific and tremendous success.  Indeed, if there was one strain of pessimism many of my friends and associates expressed before and during the conference, it was that the event would represent only “médiaques,” simply “media hype,” the image of progress without the substance of promise and action. In this post, I engage in a critical reflection on the Paris Agreement, offer my optimistic sense of what it offers, what it leaves to be done, and a speculation on where we go from here. It is my position that is precisely the image of the accord–as opposed to its actuality–that will make what it purposeively aims to do achievable. Towards this end, I also include some of my favorite images from the ArtCOP21 festival and climate-related events in which I was fortunate enough to participate.

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Charles Dickens vs. Leigh Hunt: Charity, Social Reform, and the Problem of Hell

My sister and I have two very important holiday traditions: 1) we always go to a haunted corn maze before Halloween, and 2) we always watch The Muppet Christmas Carol before Christmas. We don’t often admit to the second tradition (and when we do, we kind of pretend that we only enjoy the Muppets “ironically”), but it’s something we’ve done for as long as I can remember. It just doesn’t feel like Christmas until Katie and I are sitting on the couch, singing along to the song “Marley and Marley” while two enchained muppet ghosts rattle around the TV screen, bemoaning their eternal punishment.

marley-and-marley-o

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COP21: Halfway Through

Today marks the halfway point of the COP21 United Nations Climate Summit, a multinational effort–including some 30,000 delegates and diplomats from 195 countries–to produce a global accord to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, slow and eventually stop human-produced global warming, and begin to alleviate environmental problems associated with the industrial-scale burning of fossil fuels. Because the climate negotiators are taking today as a break, I felt it a good time to offer my summary and assessment of how matters have progressed in Paris.

Reason for Optimism

Overall, I have been heartened by a number of the advancements made. The discussion at the conference has, in large part, served to validate the optimism that columnist Mark Hertsgaard showed in his critical piece that appeared in The Nation last month. There, Hertsgaard made the case that “popular pressure” ahead of the COP21 has actively moved policy makers towards positions that would increasingly “leave fossil fuels in the ground.” This represents a major departure from the failed talks in Copenhagen in 2009, when public opinion had not yet turned in favor of policy-based action against global warming to the extent it has today. This shift is borne out by recent polling: two-thirds of Americans now believe that the US should join an international treaty to stop global warming. Continue reading COP21: Halfway Through

How Far Feminism?

It is rare that I ever have the pleasure of walking into my classroom to find students enthusiastically discussing our subject matter. Since for the most part I teach courses on poetry or nineteenth-century novels, my eighteen-year-old, twenty-first-century students tend not to get too riled up about the nuances of iambic tetrameter or “ye olden days” characters found in historic fiction (and can I blame them, really?).

Recently, however, I witnessed what other courses with more obviously controversial material might be experiencing on a more regular basis: my students were animated—and not just animated, but even aggravated!!—by the readings for their latest assigned task. They were asked to compare Mary Wollstonecraft’s Vindication of the Rights of Woman and her fictional Maria, or the Wrongs of Woman with a few contemporary articles. These latter essays suggest that women who choose today to “opt out” of the work force for the sake of raising children are still, at heart, somehow in line with the feminist agenda.

When I stepped into the room, the students were arguing about just how far—or not—feminism has come.   Continue reading How Far Feminism?

Walter Scott and the Raiders of the Lost Honours

Historical events that reveal authors as encountering the world in ways other than through their pens add a dimension of intrigue to their personal stories. In Walter Scott’s case, a particular treasure hunt in Scotland blurred the lines between the thematic content of his fiction and his personal love for Scottish folklore.

This story starts around the time when Oliver Cromwell was Lord Protectorate of England. During his reign, Cromwell sold some of the English crown jewels in order to raise money for his new government. Scotland—which had yet to be unified with England (that happened in 1707)—feared that Cromwell and his armies would invade them and steal the Honours of Scotland, their royal regalia. The Honours consisted of three pieces: the Sword of State, a gold crown that predates the 1540s, and a silver scepter, thought to be a papal gift and topped with a large crystal stone. According to local legend, Cromwell wanted to melt the pieces down; for him, they stood as a symbol of the monarchical system he opposed. The story goes that the treasures were smuggled away before he could find them. They remained missing for a century. Over time, people began to believe the Honours were simply mythical objects.

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“Monumental” Ghosts: The Spectral Statesmen of 1813

It was a dark and stormy night, less than a month before Halloween, when the leading story in The Examiner volleyed the first chilling claim of the morbidly resurrected: “It may startle our readers to advance such an opinion, but really the most vivacious persons, now living, and making the most noise in the world, seem to be dead men” (561).

Indeed, in the frosty days of fall, dead statesmen were top news for England’s press. It seemed that nary a dead man could refrain from leaving his grave to wreak new havoc on the world. Louis Alexandre Berthier, for example, was reported dead by the Dresden newspapers, only to reemerge a week later as the Major-General of Napoleon’s French armies. Napoleon himself, The Examiner declared, “was assassinated many years back, since which time he has more than once met his death in a similar way, and is now, with a want of sympathy hardly to be expected in a dead man, preparing for new scenes of slaughter in Germany” (561). Continue reading “Monumental” Ghosts: The Spectral Statesmen of 1813