Bruce Sterling and I are well into our annual State of the World conversation over on the WELL. Bruce, who’s traveled the world all his life and has been in unique situations (like his travels through Russia and Eastern Europe after the fall of the Iron Curtain), truly thinks globally, whereas I’m virtually global (via the Internet) though not as well-traveled. I tend to write from a U.S. perspective, which means less these days… sez Bruce,
Back in the 90s, when I was travelling in Europe, I used to get a lot of eager queries about the USA. What’s new over there, what are you doing with your lives and your riches and your technology, why is your government like that? This was considered a matter of urgency, and most Europeans I met, who were naturally from techie, artsy and literary circles, held views of America that were surprisingly like contemporary paranoid Tea Party views. They had interestingly wacky private theologies about the Pentagon, the CIA, Wall Street, the malignant military-industrial complex and so forth… Not that they ever bothered to find out much about the factual operation of these bodies. Stilll, they were sure that the USA really mattered.
Nowadays, the Europeans are just not all that concerned about Yankees. They don’t ask; they’re incurious about America, they are blase’. Being an American in Europe now is rather like being a Canadian, and it’s trending toward being a Brazilian.
American soft power is vanishing. Foreigners are much less interested in American television, movies, pop music… America once had a tremendous hammerlock on those expensive channels of distribution, but those old analog megaphones don’t matter half as much in today’s network society.
The USA has become a big banana republic; in other words, it’s come to behave like other countries quite normally behave. The upside is that we don’t get blamed for what happens; the downside is, nothing much happens. Decay and denial. Gothic High Tech.
Bruce Sterling’s analysis of Wikileaks is long, engaging, and depressing.
The cables that Assange leaked have, to date, generally revealed rather eloquent, linguistically gifted American functionaries with a keen sensitivity to the feelings of aliens. So it’s no wonder they were of dwindling relevance and their political masters paid no attention to their counsels. You don’t have to be a citizen of this wracked and threadbare superpower — (you might, for instance, be from New Zealand) — in order to sense the pervasive melancholy of an empire in decline. There’s a House of Usher feeling there. Too many prematurely buried bodies…. This knotty situation is not gonna “blow over,” because it’s been building since 1993 and maybe even 1947. “Transparency” and “discretion” are virtues, but they are virtues that clash. The international order and the global Internet are not best pals. They never were, and now that’s obvious.
Read the whole piece and ponder how we’ve been falling into decline and denial simultaneously so many years. Wikileaks is like a stiff wind against a house of cards. Let’s hope for a better deal next shuffle.
I not only read, but studied at length, James Joyce’s Ulysses, academically a “serious novel” though Joyce said, in 1922, “…the pity is the public will demand and find a moral in my book—or worse they may take it in some more serious way, and on the honor of a gentleman, there is not one single serious line in it.” More accurately, per Steven Kellman, “it elevates plebeian characters and banal actions to artistic consideration and, celebrating them, performs what [Declan] Kiberd, in an aptly Catholic metaphor, calls ‘the sacrament of everyday life.'” In Kiberd’s new book, Ulysses and Us: The Art of Everyday Life in Joyce’s Masterpiece, he says
this is a book with much to teach us about the world—advice on how to cope with grief; how to be frank about death in the age of its denial; how women have their own sexual desires and so also do men; how to walk and think at the same time; how the language of the body is often more eloquent than any words; how to tell a joke and how not to tell a joke; how to purge sexual relations of all notions of ownership; or how the way a person approaches food can explain who they really are.
Makes me want to read Ulysses again, if Pynchon will let me.