Keith Miller’s review is just surreal. And in the TLS no less.
The journal’s name, avowedly and fairly obviously, comes from the Renaissance Kunstkabinett, the princely chamber of wonders or curiosities, a system of ordering and contemplating the world which was not quite as disorderly as it seemed. There has of late been a revival of this approach in museum culture, a setting aside of Enlightenment taxonomies, which can, somewhat subversively, give the modern bourgeois museum-going public a taste of the old douceur de vivre. This is partly to do with richness, variety, a series of picturesque contrasts, that you don’t quite get if you put all your Japanese sake cups into one big glass case, say, with the oldest on the left and the newest on the right. But it’s also about exposing the public to a vanished world of privilege. The princely cabinet was a theatre of power as much as of knowledge. Certain conventions, certain “objectivities”, were widely upheld – broad Plinian distinctions between animal and mineral were generally if often mistakenly enforced, and a crocodile on the ceiling was de rigueur – but the suzerainty of one particular collector over one particular collection was nonetheless both a metaphorical reflection and a ritualized re-enactment of the divine spark which had, somewhere in the deep past, ignited the feudal principle. And on this spark, we museum-goers can warm our grateful hands today.
You could say that Cabinet works along similarly democratic lines, offering its readers a range of experiences which traditional didactic or organizational principles set aside in favour of a mundane “objectivity”. It is interested in art, nature and – in a fairly lowoctane way – science; in old things and new ones; in words and in pictures, all in an evenhanded but still inescapably capricious way. And the unlikely combinations of tone and subject encountered in its pages strive towards an enchanting, liberating effect: a tapping of the revolutionary energy of the miscellaneous. You can imagine some scholarly tut-tutting about Cabinet’s antitheoretical, and politically quietist, nature – though it is often alarmed about the environment – and you could object that the Park Slope intelligentsia who read the magazine, and from whom it solicits tax-free donations over and above the healthy cover price, constitute a kind of new princely class (it is more or less useless in any kind of workaday scholarly context). But on the whole the journal is a serious attempt to fulfil a frivolous purpose rather than a frivolous attempt to fulfil a serious one.
So help me God it gets more and more preposterous, it corresponds less and less to what I remember and what I expect as if the force of life were centrifugal and threw one further and further away from one’s purest memories and ambitions; and I can barely recall the old house where I was raised, where in midwinter Parma violets bloomed in a cold frame near the kitchen door, and down the long corridor, past the seven views of Rome–up two steps and down three–one entered the library where all the were in order the lamps were bright, where there was a fire and a dozen bottles of good bourbon locked in a cabinet with a veneer like a tortoise shell whose silver key my father wore on his watch chain. Fiction is art and art is the triumph over chaos (no less) and we can accomplish this only by the most vigilant exercise of choice, but in a world that changes more swiftly than we can perceive there is always the danger that our powers of selection will be mistaken and that the vision we serve will come to nothing. We admire decency and we admire death but even the mountains seem to shift in the space of night and perhaps the exhibitionist at the corner of Chestnut and Elm streets is more significant than the lovely woman with a bar of sunlight in her hair, putting a fresh piece of cuttlebone in the nightingale’s cage. Just let me give you one example of chaos and if you disbelieve me look honestly into your own past and see if you can’t find a comparable experience….
“The Death of Justina”
After this howl, how could the rest of the story be anything but a disappointment? It’s atypical, at any rate, and The New Yorker rejected it.
Steve Shaviro has a fantastic entry up on Joseph Schumpeter. I have to go back and reread my copy of Capitalism, Socialism, and Democracy before I can respond in more depth, but Shaviro has some great points to make, and the Nietzsche connection he draws is not one I ever would have thought of.
As Shaviro mentions, Schumpeter more than gave Marx his due; he tore up widely-held generalizations about Marx and de-Hegelized him in order to isolate his general socio-economic sensibilities from the ideas of Communism. In that light, his ideas on class structure (independent of class warfare) and its impact on society become, as Schumpeter says, useful to thinkers on the economic left and right alike. Schumpeter at points appears to try to push Marx into a conservative reformist category; he is not convincing on this point, but the vaguely anarcho-capitalist politics that result share a visionary spirit with those of Marx. And like Marx, he distrusts the intellectuals.
Shaviro says that Schumpeter’s prophecy of an increasingly socialized state hasn’t come to pass and will not, because the flaws in capitalism Schumpeter identifies–the death of entrepreneurship, e.g.–are those that are caused by the triumph of capitalism, not its downfall. I’m not so sure. The one thing the radical/conservative Republican revolution has not brought back is smaller government (has there ever been an administration who did?). While people have argued over whether the religious fundamentalist leanings of the administration are real or just posturing (I would say somewhat the latter), there’s no question that the Republicans’ (and often Democrats’) “smaller government” claims are total bullshit, designed to convince people that the money for their tax refunds will be there when it comes time to pay the piper. Instead, there is the increasing consolidation of power under the executive branch, favoritism towards a select set of companies that are cronies of the administration, and a near-total dismissal of states’ rights except on conservative social issues, which is where they get the votes.
It’s not a socialized state per se, but nor is it one that would allow for Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” brought to fruition. Likewise, the administration is devoid of anything that could be reasonably called an intellectual, but it’s full of people that share the same impractical elements that Schumpeter disliked: ideologues. Schumpeter defines intellectuals as “people who wield the power of the spoken and written word. . . [in] the absence of direct responsibility for practical affairs.” Shaviro thinks this means folks like him (and I guess myself). Well, I don’t feel any power in my words, but I know some people whose words have great power and who never take responsibility for how they affect practical affairs, and do I need to say who they are? The neocons, the AEI, the Heritage Foundation, Fox News, and the Cabinet themselves. Whether this is capitalism triumphant (Shaviro’s view) or capitalism betrayed (Schumpeter’s view) is more a matter of opinion.