Monday, May 01, 2017


Never before have I written a review of a publisher’s catalogue, let alone one sent out by an university press.  This one is the West Virginia University Press catalogue.

The epigram blurbs one of the books featured: “Marked, Unmarked, Remembered” (by Heather Ann Thompson) is startling and extraordinary.  From its images of the past as officials wish us to remember it, to those of a past that is largely unknown to us because those with power have deemed it destabilizing  . . .”

The introduction by Derek Krissoff, the Director, says, “. . .that sense that places have deep meaning — fraught, hopeful, inspiring, contested — runs through many of our titles this season and speaks to an important part of what university presses do best.”  He’s speaking of land-grant universities in states small enough to have no other presses.  What he’s not saying is how vulnerable they are to politics, which likes things stable and profitable — until that stops happening altogether and there are demonstrations in the streets.

Listening to Trump claim that he has warm relations with the leaders of the world (“he’s a great man and I like him tremendously”), entirely ignoring that he cut off the Prime Minister of Australia in mid-phone call, refused to shake Angela Merkel’s hand, insulted South Korea, and tries to dominate friends and enemies alike.  Even his tremendously dear friend Xi Jinping looked to me more amused by this childish man than expressing friendship.  No doubt Trump will tell them all is forgiven when he wants to make a deal.

Clearly, as the pundits say, as soon as he got into office he abandoned populism, the promise that all can go back to the Fifties when we were young and life was good because we won the war.  Once in office Trump embarked on international corporatism.  That’s what he knows.  Although, in our fondness for denial we all forget that he is an Alzheimer’s victim, his progressive disease held in check only by endless walking on golf courses.  He is a master of confabulation, which is the story-telling the demented use to evade accountability.

I’ve been reflecting on writing a post called “rimming the continent,” which has a reference only some people will recognize, the same as only some people can translate “penucquem”.  The “rim” along the two coasts is where the wealth is managed.  The great American middle class, derived from the Victorian class system, uses taboos to maintain its stability.  It is a class based on money and enforces its taboos through money: if we don’t like you, we won’t buy your product, and that means you’ll stop doing it.  Or at least not publicly.  But the merchants discovered that one can sell vice, pride, gluttony, and other lies — all of which have their own stability at the cost of pain and damage, but then that’s a sales opportunity (repair) to address, right?

Struggling to get a handle on this last presidential election, someone suggested that there is a third party in the US, but maybe it’s really more like the unity of the two supposedly contrasting political parties.  That third party is money.  What seems like differences in principle is really about money, largely debt principal and sequestered taxes.  

This is also why we can’t seem to reach reconciliation between the nation, which is based on living land, and the international corporations, which are constructs invented to defy nations.  They have no existence except in bookkeeping.  The internet has both revealed this and expanded this into an addictive realm under glass.  Big time gambling on the stock market exploits time zones.

The voters elected Trump to drain the swamp but he has invited the alligators to his Cabinet table.  Now we know their names and faces.  He literally knows nothing but the virtual — not virtuous — game of profit.  His only ethic is evading the law, which means nothing to him except inconvenience.  But everyone is tired of this stuff.  Move on.

This UWV Press catalogue shows an effort on the part of the publisher to understand “us,” the worlds in which we physically dwell, and why blacking out everything that a Victorian mind wouldn’t like is a bad idea.  For instance, two books on facing pages are Hollow and Home: A History of Self and Place”: “explores the ways the primary places in our lives shape the individuals we become.  It proposes that place is a complex and dynamic phenomenon.” and “The News Untold: Community Journalism and the Failure to Confront Poverty in Appalachia.” “a lack of constructive news coverage of economic need can make it harder for the poor to voice their concerns.”

No doubt the press understands that they are flirting with danger.  Journalism and academia have an uneasy relationship.  These days an emotionally enflamed member of the Unentitled has the power through publicity to knock off the esteemed heads of universities or even heads of religious denominations.  Some of us hope to knock off the President of the USA.  The problem is what to do afterwards.

Once the actual human being is removed and regardless of the method of removal, how do we keep the horses from running back into the burning barn?  What have we learned?  Once I preached about money and its merely symbolic value.  This was a small fellowship meeting.  I asked a man, “Would you buy me a cup of coffee?”

“Sure,” he said and handed me the symbolic dollar bill.  I set it on fire.  He and others were upset, but what good was a piece of paper?  It was NOT a cup of coffee — I could not drink it.

Now we’ve moved past pieces of paper and carry a plastic cyberkey, like the key to upscale hotel rooms.  International bookkeeping tracks our monetary credits while we cash them in for actual physical things to eat and drink, to dwell in and move among.  But only some people get credits and they are proportional to something we can’t get hold of — value.  Why does a CEO make more money than a machinist?  Why does a real shark floating in formaldehyde (both the animal and the fluid needing occasional replacement) sell for huge amounts of money while a small figurative portrait in a universal human bodily fluid causes a furor?  They are just as symbolic as money credits.

This is all managed with print code: rules and laws that have been “enacted” and recorded somewhere by some body of “authorities,” called that because they are authors of order.  Ideally, that order would support the greater good.  Realistically, the writers of laws forget that they are simply composing the rules of the game about reality: they are deciding who lives and who dies, who has advantages and who does not.  They forget that if they “take advantage" long enough and obviously enough, the disadvantaged will have nothing to lose and attack them.  Maybe on an international scale.

The law has its spoken side: we call it court.  One learns how to play that game in law school.  It’s coding.  It’s not real.  It’s different in different places.  I’m reminded of the national basis of money every month when my Canadian social security check comes.  At first it came in Canadian funds, which was a problem because Wells Fargo in Valier will not exchange money between countries, not even the paper with the Queen on it, which is often in our pockets because we’re only 67 miles from the border.  

Enough people complained that all the Canadian check money was sent to a Back East bank that translated all of it at once and then sent out individual checks in US funds.  (I don’t know how to guess how much they charge to do that, since it must be paid by some government.  It’s an invisible cost of doing the distribution.)  My check varies from a little over forty dollars to a little over fifty dollars, according to the exchange rate.  It’s a small amount: I only worked in Canada for a couple of years.

When my parents in old age made a tour of the planet, my father had a brilliant idea for saving money.  He bought a couple of rolls of Kennedy half-dollars.  This was a time in which JFK was in high esteem around the world.  My father tipped with these coins, which were of less technical value than the several dollars the tip amounts ought to have been, but the symbolic value was high enough to be valued by the receivers.  Or so he thought and no one threw them back at him.

I wonder what would happen if one tipped with a coin that had Trump on it.  It’s not real.  Just a symbol of a living person, an anthropos.  Maybe there will be clues in the UWV proposed series:  Salvaging the Anthropocene.”

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