Sunday, March 6, 2011

Old Marx, Debbie Does Capitalism, poet as revolutionary

I continue to read Isaiah Berlin's biography of Karl Marx (entitled Debbie Does Capitalism, NO! entitled Karl Marx). My last mention of this was yesterday. Marx is now in London, having lost the Jerry Lewis look-alike contest in France. 

England is very British, it turns out. The country allows ("allows") Marx and other revolutionaries to stay but cold-shoulders them in its upper crust, colonial way.  Meanwhile, the brilliant Capitalist Manifesto is out there to inspire. The proletariat (me, maybe not you, but me) is being urged to see through and beyond received images of the rightness of the ruling elite and its self-serving institutions.

I see the poet as revolutionary. It's not a vision original to me by any means, but nonetheless . . .  Poets must reveal the great hype of capitalism or any system of rule in which so much is owned by so few. It's the nature of any society, however small, to mold us. Native tribes teach the young as well as huge countries. Simply being in relationship (to government, to institutions including religious, to family) means we have to give up a little of our selves.

With a loved one or small family that's fine, although even that small robbing of what is perceived as our true self causes some to rebel.  There are always rebels. However when ChaseManhattan, Goldman Sachs, Big Insurance, any corporation is organized around the principle of giving vast sums, overwhelming percentages of profit, to one or two percent of its workers (the Board of Directors) we give up too much.

And unnecessarily. Yes, we want to get along with family (of origin or family of friends). We need each other and so the "sacrifice" of not singing "Hello Dolly" at 3 a.m. is a small one. The sacrifice of working 40 hours a week and receiving lackluster or no insurance or a pension which disappears is too much. Millions of deaths from famine; allowing the land to be ravaged in the interests of Big Business (think, Africa; think, decimation of native Americans . . . ) is evil.

I'm a bit all over the map.  Still reading about Marx. Here's a poem on him I am appropriating from The New Yorker online. It's by Polish poet, Adam Zagajewski.

Old Marx

I try to envision his last winter,
London, cold and damp, the snow’s curt kisses
on empty streets, the Thames’ black water.
Chilled prostitutes lit bonfires in the park.
Vast locomotives sobbed somewhere in the night.
The workers spoke so quickly in the pub
that he couldn’t catch a single word.
Perhaps Europe was richer and at peace,
but the Belgians still tormented the Congo.
And Russia? Its tyranny? Siberia?

He spent evenings staring at the shutters.
He couldn’t concentrate, rewrote old work,
reread young Marx for days on end,
and secretly admired that ambitious author.
He still had faith in his fantastic vision,
but in moments of doubt
he worried that he’d given the world only
a new version of despair;
then he’d close his eyes and see nothing
but the scarlet darkness of his lids.

(Translated from the Polish by Clare Cavanagh.)

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