Summer Reading: The Old is Dying and the New Cannot Be Born

The Old is Dying and the New cannot be Born.jpeg

Love this little pamphlet-essay by Nancy Fraser! Some great quotes:

“The progressive-neoliberal bloc combined an expropriative, plutocratic economic program with a liberal-meritocratic politics of recognition.” page 12

“While social life as such is increasingly economized, the unfettered pursuit of profits destabilizes the very forms of social reproduction, ecological sustainability, and public power on which it depends. Seen this way, financialized capitalism is an inherently crisis-prone social formation.” page 38

Summer reading: Feminism for the 99%

“The division between profit-making and people-making points to a deep-seated tension at the heart of capitalist society. While capital strives systemically to increase profits, working-class people strive, conversely, to lead decent and meaningful lives as social beings.  These are fundamentally irreconcilable goals, for capital’s share of accumulation can only increase at the expense of our share in the life of society. Social practices that nourish our lives at home, and social services that nurture our lives outside of it, constantly threaten to cut into profits. Thus, a financial drive to reduce those costs and an ideological drive to undermine such labors are endemic to the system as a whole”

- Arruzza, Bhattacharya, and Fraser, Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto, page 71

Daisy with 99%.jpeg

Summer reading: The Sum of Small Things

Read a review of this book and decided to check it out for myself. Overall, it is a fascinating read about the rise of inconspicuous consumption among the so-called aspirational class. There is a lot of interesting information in the book, and it reflects on the social consequences of growing inequality in the United States and how it is becoming more and more difficult to reverse its long term effects. Forget about the Rolex and the Benz, health, wellness, education, and security in old age are the new status markers.

the sum of small things.jpg

Summer reading: Workshops of Empire

I read Eric Bennet's article, "How Iowa Flattened Literature," in the Chronicle Review a few years ago and was very excited for this book. His basic argument is that Cold War pressures, and especially the need to fight against socialist realism, deeply influenced the development of American creative writing programs in the 1940s and 1950s. A lot of the techniques that the literary cognoscenti associate with "good" writing today are really artifacts of the anti-communist politics of the Cold War.  It's a fascinating argument, and it helps me understand why much American creative writing tends to hyper-focus on the individual and the sensory experience of the world and eschews politics, philosophy, and ideas.

Workshops of Empire.JPG

Summer Reading: Talking to My Daughter About the Economy.

Because I was traveling, I actually read this book on my e-reader. This is a great introductory primer for young people that Varoufakis originally wrote in Greek to his own child, Xenia. He has a lively voice and it is a very fast read, with lots of pop culture references. I think the most useful discussion is his exploration of the difference between exchange value and experiential value, and his call for radical democratization of the economy. 

Varoufakis.jpg

Summer Reading: The Cold War: A World History

A sweeping history of the Cold War, but Westad doesn't have much to say about women. So far, I've found only one relevant paragraph which segues immediately into a discussion of militarism. 

A perfect book for Bassett hounds and history buffs.

A perfect book for Bassett hounds and history buffs.

One of the biggest changes throughout the Communist world was in the position of women. All over eastern Europe and eastern Asia the position of women had been governed by patriarchal traditions that gave them little say over resources, work, or family affairs. In areas that had had a taste of capitalism, new opportunities for women were mixed with increased social and economic exploitation. The Communist parties set out to change this sorry state of affairs, and at first many women were able to benefit from the new policies. Access to education, work, and child care improved dramatically in many places. So did women’s control over their own lives. The right to divorce and availability of birth control made for big changes in gender relations. But women were still kept out of political leadership positions, and as the regimes wanted to increase their populations, many women found themselves increasingly caught between work and duties to their families. The dual burden on women turned out to be as troublesome in societies that called themselves socialist as they were in the capitalist countries, and the on-going conflict between progressive ideas and traditional norms at least as intense.
— Odd Arne Westad, The Cold War: A World History, New York: Basic Books, 2017: page 190.

Summer reading: Axel Honneth, The Idea of Socialism, 2017

Daisy models Axel Honneth's excellent (and short) book, The Idea of Socialism

Honneth.JPG
For decades, despite a number of attempts at mutual rapprochement, the relationship between the socialist workers movement and the emerging feminist movement remained tense and unhappy. Although it became increasingly clear that women’s liberation not only required greater equality in terms of voting and labor rights, but also a more fundamental cultural change beginning with established forms of socialization if women’s voices were to be freed from the gender stereotypes imposed upon them, the worker’s movement remained blind to such conclusions, clinging instead to the priority of the economic sphere. How different the relationship between socialism and feminism could have been had socialists only been willing to take account of the functional differentiation of modern societies by interpreting the sphere of personal relationships as an independent sphere of social freedom. Had they done so, the moral standard of free cooperation in social attachments based on mutual love soon would have opened their eyes to the fact that the oppression of women begins within the family, where stereotypes are imposed upon them with open or subtle forms of violence, leaving them no chance to explore their own sentiments, desires and interests. The problem, therefore, did not so much consist in involving women equally in economic production, but in granting them authorship of their own self-image, independent of male ascriptions. The struggle for social freedom in the sphere of love, marriage and the family would have primarily meant enabling women to attain as much freedom as possible from economic dependency, violence-based tutelage and one-sided labor within the hatchery of male power. This would enable women to become equal partners in relationships based on mutuality, and it is only on the basis of free and reciprocal affection that both sides would have been capable of emotionally supporting each other and articulating the needs and desires they view as a true expression of their selves.
— Axel Honneth, The Idea of Socialism, 2017: 85-86
We are unable to anticipate social improvements in the basic structure of contemporary societies because we regard the substance of this structure as being impervious to change, just like things. On this account, the inability to translate widespread outrage at the scandalous distribution of wealth and power into attainable goals is due neither to the disappearance of an actually existing alternative to capitalism, nor to a fundamental shift in our understanding of history, but rather to the predominance of a fetishistic [and fixed] conception of human relations
— Axel Honneth, The Idea of Socialism, 2017: 4