Sunday, June 23, 2013

Proof 'Progress" Isn't

Really? Rape? Still?

I don’t know about you, but the massive amount of stories about rape in the last year is something out of the ordinary. During the presidential campaign we had various troglodyte chauvinist Republicans claiming rapes don’t cause pregnancy much, or women who were raped deserved it in some way. They were ‘easy’ and as such, this might be a case of ‘legitimate rape’ or “God intended’ rape. Or that ‘rape’ was a chance to have more children! This was a head-scratcher. Even though they knew that women vote, they couldn’t help themselves saying incredibly stupid and unscientific shit. 191,670 rapes were reported in 2005 in the U.S. – no small number.

Then the scandal in the U.S. military broke about the ‘rape cult’ there involving a large minority of men and officers, leading to possibly a third of all combat women being assaulted in some way. No real follow-up, no prosecution, all kept ‘in-house,’ like the Catholic Church. Even some officers in charge of looking into assaults on females were accused of harassment and assault. This was no surprise, as anti-female, anti-gay, anti-hippie, anti-foreigner slurs are all part of basic training, and have been for many years. After all, not all men join the ‘volunteer’ army due to economics or patriotism. Many join because they want to be a ‘man’ – whatever that seems to them. And being a ‘man’ in the military means hating female characteristics. Even male draftees in Vietnam who were not macho enough were abused.

Then there was the publicizing of rapes, first of foreigners, then of many local women in India, with Mumbai and Delhi being the capitals of Indian rape. 24,000+ rapes were reported in one year, but campaigners estimate the real number is far greater. Massive demonstrations followed, but the cops and government, as usual, sat on their hands. Rapists are typically not convicted. Domestic rape is not illegal. Of course, India is one of the most chauvinist cultures in the world. Sexual harassment in Mumbai is endemic. Rape has doubled between 1990 and 2008, as neo-liberal economic polices have grown. Arundhati Roy, in her recent book, “Walking with the Comrades” (reviewed below) revealed how many rural Indian women have joined the armed revolutionary groups in the forests because it is the one way to get away from Indian chauvinism.

Recently Serena Williams, a rich black woman, said that the drunk girl in Steubenville is an example of why girls shouldn’t be drunk or they’ll get raped. This ‘blame the victim’ moralism is big among the black and white middle-class. Or male comedians making rape ‘jokes.’ You gotta wonder.

U.S. colleges like University of North Carolina, Dartmouth, Occidental College, Amherst, Swarthmore, Univeristy of Montana, Oklahoma State, University of Notre Dame, Yale and UC Berkely have all recently been accused of ignoring sexual assaults - treating them as private matters like the Catholic Church and the military do.  Now Chile is in the midst of a controversy over a pregnant 11-year-old who was raped, and in which Chilean law (also heavily influenced by the Catholic Church) forbids an abortion.  These kind of events are repeated all over the world.  

This is astonishing really. At this time in history, women are still treated like sexual dog-meat across the whole world. The backwardness this reveals, even in so-called ‘progressive’ cultures, is extremely significant. As Chairman Mao said, “Women hold up more than half the sky” – ok, I paraphrase – and yet women are demonized, belittled, raped and killed, all promoted by various male chauvinist conservative cultures – Hindu, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Mormon, even Buddhist. Those cultures do not stand alone without a material foundation, much as shallow Democrats would have you believe it is all just a culture war with ‘bad people.’ Women provide vast amounts of unpaid or low-paid labor across the world (See review of “In Letter of Blood & Fire,” below), and in order to keep this coming, women HAVE to be kept in their place. It is an economic imperative for an exploitative system.

As if to emphasize this, reports have just been made about rape of female Latino farm workers in the San Joaquin Valley by supervisors in the fields.   Of course, some are 'illegal' so they are afraid to report the rapes and harassment. And now we have reports that a Norwegian woman in Dubai was raped, and then jailed for having 'sex outside of marriage.'  Yeah, you got that right.  The Muslim-crazy millionaire sheiks of this country still believe in jailing rape victims.  To top that off, female genital mutilation remains almost universal in Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti, and Egypt, with more than nine out of 10 women and girls aged 15-49 being cut. In countries such as Chad, Gambia, Mali, Senegal, Sudan, or Yemen, there has been no discernible decline in female genital mutilation... even with laws against it.  Its not the laws - it is the male chauvinist version of the religion and the subsequent culture that dictate these behaviors.  And of course, the 'laws' are not enforced.

It is also a ‘male bribe’ paid to some men in order that they can at least say, “well, I’m not a woman, thank god” much as whites in the U.S. south and now north can say, ‘well, at least I’m not black.” This divides the working class, and diverts male anger from capitalism to women – and mostly to the women they know. According to a recent WHO study, 80% of all assaults are by people known to the attacker. World-wide according to WHO, a third of all women are raped or assaulted. I suspect economic and material conditions play a large role in this.

Rape is merely a physical manifestation of economic and political domination, of the class system, of inequality, of capitalism, projected onto personal relations. Yet women have the power to upset every traditional capitalist society in the world, if they would only gain the confidence to do so. This has been lacking for years, especially in the U.S., as many women think everything is solved, and follow in the trail of the Democratic Party. Because, after all, oppression oppresses. Many don’t understand this. Many think oppression only creates ‘nobility.’ It doesn’t. It damages people, sometimes permanently, sometimes in many ways that people don’t even recognize. Fear and passivity are results of this. Even being out after dark is still a fear, so more fearful women limit their mobility.

Take Title 9, adopted in the U.S. in 1972. Title 9 changed a lot of things. For the generation of women who grew up in the U.S. prior to Title 9 (women now in their 50s and 60s) many don’t have many physical skills – self-defence, bicycling, sports skills, physical strength in lifting, etc. Some swim or garden, and that is about it. After Title 9 women were allowed to participate in sports in schools, and now many young women can do more than swim. Women are at least 1/3rd of bicyclists in our town, if not more, which means they can handle that bit of risk and effort. Younger women are less reticent to carry heavy things, to play sports, to run, to sweat, to box or fight, to canoe and portage, to roller-blade – you name it.

Affirmative action programs in federal and state, and later private employment, allowed women to enter some blue-collar working-class jobs that demand physical strength – laws that did not exist in the ‘60s or prior. Of course, these laws don’t address the role of class backgrounds, in which working-class and poor women do much more physical work than middle and upper-class women anyway, something no ‘law’ can change. Many middle class women look down on physical work as something fit for ‘washer-women,’ ‘fish-wives’ and ‘farm wives.’ Somehow they think it makes them less feminine and lowers their class standing. What it actually reveals is that they have not really absorbed the women’s movement.  Of course, middle-class men are no different.

Title 9 and affirmative action ultimately allowed some women to defend themselves better, and deflect the view of many men that women are mostly just wimps and physically helpless. There are even some female action stars in films, reflecting this development – Linda Hamilton in Terminator II, Angelina Jolie, Kate Beckinsale, etc. However, even the tougher women in the military are still raped and abused, so this is no ultimate defence - because the system protects rape and violence. Women are still second-class citizens – and in many places in the world, third-class. Yet they have one of the keys to the class war, if only they would use it.

P.S. - As if to emphasize the point on bringing back a real women's movement to the U.S., thousands of Texans flooded the Texas Legislature in Austin Tuesday night (25th) to back up a long, long filibuster by Democrat Wendy Davis against abortion restrictions.  Not content to watch on U-Tube or comment on Twitter, the huge crowd - in person - helped derail a vote to virtually end the right of abortion in Texas.  It was a small re-play of Wisconsin, an occupation of the government chambers.  What we really need is a permanent occupation of the government chambers, as representative democracy is a sham.  We need real and permanent 'participatory democracy,'  not a 'representative' democracy owned by big business, the bourgeois state and corporate media.

Red Frog
June 23, 2013

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Working-Class Hero Is Something To Be

“Searching for Sugar Man,” Documentary by Malik Bendjelloul, 2012

This British/Swedish documentary is a heartbreaker.  Sixto Rodriquez made two albums of political folk music in the early 70s, only to disappear in Detroit.  He became a huge star in South Africa (and Australia) but his records sold almost nothing in the U.S. after being issued by a small black-owned Detroit label, Sussex.  As it was explained, who cared about a Latino guy who sang psychedelic folk music?  But in South Africa he was known as “Rodriquez” – much as we know that Memphis boy as “Elvis.” 

Rodriquez was so big in South Africa because at the time young white South Africans were waking to the fact that apartheid was corrupt and the Afrikaner dictatorship smothering.  Rodriquez’s songs talked of rebellion, sex, bad jobs, a repressive government and became anthems of sort to South African youth, rising in the charts, to the point where every liberal household had a copy, and they were played at every party.  His lyrics are reminiscent of the '60s political Dylan before ‘Blonde on Blonde,’ but sung by a sweeter, clearer and more soulful voice.  Some say sounding more like Dyland crossed with Donovan.  Rodriquez has more soul in his voice than 99% of folk singers because, I think, he's grounded and real.  No mechanical crap or fake reality.  The apartheid regime had a strict policy of censorship and coupled with international sanctions, did a job of cutting off the whole population from world culture.  So Rodriquez became an underground sensation.  His albums encouraged a new generation of Afrikaner rockers and folk singers to become public. 

The film focuses on two Cape Town white South Africans who decide to track down what happened to Rodriquez and also to ‘follow the money.’  They had been huge fans in their youth – one ended up running a record store; the other was a journalist.  The rumor in South Africa was Rodriquez had killed himself on-stage in some dramatic way.  In the late 1990s they put up a web-site, asking for information.  In the process they find the producer of those Sussex recordings who their information shows received the money from Rodriquez' hit records.  He laughs at them and surreptitiously threatens them about money from ‘so long ago.’ 

Eventually they receive an e-mail from one of Rodriquez’s daughters.  Incredulously, they ask her how Rodriquez died.  She replies – “He’s alive and living in Detroit.”  They are dumbfounded – sort of like being told Elvis is still in south Memphis, just a lot older.  Or Jim Morrison is living in the Faubourg St. Germain. 

Rodriquez is the real thing, boyo.  He’s still a ‘deconstruction worker’ in the slums of Detroit, gutting and tearing down old houses and buildings as part of a demolition crew.  He still lives in the same house near downtown.  He made very little money doing this, but he’s been doing it since the early 70s.  At the time he was a man of mystery, playing in dumpy clubs with his back to the audience, like Miles Davis or Robert Johnson facing his corner.  Many thought he was homeless.  No one knew what happened to him except his 3 daughters.  They talk about his run for mayor; his political activism; his taking them to museums and educational events.  To this day, Rodriquez is a working-class hero, in the best and most real, John Lennon, sense.  Rodriquez is a modest man, liking his work, not intent on being famous.  But it happened.

Rodriquez never knew he was big in SA or Australia, because evidently he never got any royalties.  They invite Rodriquez to Cape Town for a concert.  He arrives at the airport with his daughters, who expect some weird reception and a concert at a small low-key club.  Instead two limos pull up.  They think they are for someone else and step aside so the important people can get to the doors.  The limos are for them.  The concert in a huge hall is sold out – 20,000 screaming fans.  Rodriquez plays with local musicians who already know all his songs.  His voice is still just as good.  Journalists thought that someone was playing a trick, faking his return to life to make money.  The minute he starts singing, they all know he is the real deal.

His two albums, “Cold Fact” and “Coming From Reality” move up the charts once again – even a bit in the U.S. which is so hostile to political music.  Rodriquez has come back to his real home – which is South Africa evidently.  He gives any money earned on a series of concerts away to his family and friends, and continues to work tearing out buildings and living in the city.  Modest, political, unassuming – and talented. 

(Read other reviews about music, “Laurel Canyon,” “Let Us Now Praise the Dead,” “Just Kids” and “In Search of the Blues,” all reviewed below. Also specifically on political music, “33 Revolutions Per Minute: The History of Protest Songs.”  Rodriquez should be mentioned there, but he’s not.)

Red Frog
June 19, 2013

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Ludd Was Right!

“In Letters of Blood and Fire – Work, Machines and the Crisis of Capitalism,” by George Caffentzis, 2013

Caffentzis is a Marxist philosopher in Maine, U.S. who writes in support of proletarian movements, no matter their formal content, while shying away from Leninism – or what passes for Leninism nowadays.  Oddly, he is probably more in tune with working-class anarchism and seems to be a ‘state capitalist’ in his analysis of pre-1989 Russia and present-day China.   He sees the class struggle not just in the activities of factory workers, but working people in every area of life.  This book is a series of essays, written from 1980 to 2010.  One of his main insights is that alienated work and the struggle against the alienated work regime is a constant thread in society.  Workers and ‘non-workers’ attempt to recover their time and energy from the capitalists, in either obvious, or in subtle and sneaky ways.  Your time, of course, is one of the main things capitalists purchase - or compel.  And ultimately you run out of time, while they plan to be here forever.

Caffentzis is a mercurial thinker, and covers many issues in a swirling analysis, but ultimately  concentrates on several key topics.  He takes on Sweezy and Monthly Review indirectly and several leftist thinkers like Jeremy Rifkin and Antonio Negri directly, debunking the latter two quite handsomely. He also enters into polemics with the ‘communitarians,’ the 'autonomous" Marxists and bourgeois neo-Freudians like Foucault.  I will track his essays, though of course I can only sketch them. 

In his first essay, Caffentzis quite literally comes out with all thoughts blazing.  This fruitful essay concerns the crucial period of the 1970s, when the ‘energy’ crisis and the ‘profit’ crisis came together.  Caffentzis asserts that high energy prices are the way capital can extract high profits across all sectors of the economy and all populations, and this is why ‘energy’ suddenly became key in the world-wide profit strategy.  He also points out that profit rates were at a low level during this period, given all the rebellions among youth, workers and women, which resulting in capital changing its basic strategy from a Keynesian one to a return to aggressive profiteering, society be damned.  I.E. neo-liberalism and the commodification of everything.

The two trends in capitalist thought on the ‘environmental’ issue are the technological fix and the return to primitive agriculture, both of which he rejects.  Caffentizis makes comparisons to physics as reflecting, not fully scientific ideas, but also capitalist ideas (see the review of “The Ten Assumptions of Science,” below), especially concerning the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics.  The bourgeois attempt to get around the law of ‘entropy’ - the 2nd Law - is computerization, according to Caffentzis.  (Which oddly enough, corresponds to Borchardt’s theory that there are forces counter-indicative to the 2nd Law.) Caffentizis supports the theory that high ‘constant capital’ invested in many machines can drain profitability – citing Marx on the falling rate of profit.  This is due to the fact that labor is no longer being as directly exploited, contradicting Monthly Review who feel this was a mistake of Marx’s.  In essence, to Caffentizis the ‘intellectual’ workers of Silicon Valley at Apple are paid for by the labor of the Chinese Apple workers at Foxconn- the River Rouge of the modern economy.  High mechanization and computerization, replacing labor, essentially has to be compensated somewhere else, and it is the ‘low constant capital’ areas (or low organic composition of capital) where this happens.   Capital is a ‘system’ that aims for an average rate of profit across the whole web of exchanges, not just in each isolated unit, and hence capital flows between capitalists, not just between workers and bosses. 

Monthly Review does not mention the computer revolution as one of the key production waves that has kept capitalism profitable, unable to understand it is equal to the railroads and the automobile as a stimulus to capitalist profits.  I think this is because this contradicts their theory of a ‘tendency’ to constant stagnation.   I sent my review article on this issue, “The Ogligopolists Unite  - The Endless Crisis …“ (reviewed below) to its author, JB Foster, who never replied. 

Caffentzis is especially attuned to unpaid housework as part of the maintenance and reproduction of the working class, considering it as mostly a female issue. The rebellion by women on this issue was part of the women's movement in the 1970s in the U.S.  This was made an international issue by Marilyn Waring, a New Zealand parliamentarian and feminist in 1988, who wrote, "If Women Counted."  However, many U.S. working-class men contribute around the home by repairing cars or the house; by building additions; by doing the taxes, paying bills or doing yard work or other traditionally ‘male’ tasks.  Since the 70s, young men are also cooking, cleaning and taking care of children.  So unpaid ‘housework’ in a wider definition, has become more and more a burden on not just on women, but both members of the family in advanced capitalist countries.  In other parts of the world, women still ‘hold up more than half the sky.’ And it is still unpaid.

Essay Two is titled “Mormons is Space.”  Yes.  In essence, capitalism’s utopia would be the denatured astronaut/robots of space-work, who have no messy human or natural issues.

Essay Three is a refutation of Rifkin and Negri.  According to Caffentzis, both based their analyses on the growth of machine/computer technology.  Rifkin believed this would lead to the ‘end of work’ - except non-profit, volunteer work; while Negri, amazingly enough, believed this would create a class of ‘computer programmers’ who would be a vanguard of independent communists.  If you’ve spent any time around computer IT people, you know these people are many times contract workers; isolated in limited time project work; can be on a 24 hour call, so that the definition between work and ‘home’ is increasingly blurred; consider themselves to be independent, ‘sole contractors,’ ‘smart’ and intellectual, ‘above’ others; and are also always afraid of the cheap labor HB1 visa substitute coming in.  They are nowhere near any kind of collective ‘communist’ vanguard - though they may be a libertarian vanguard!  As to Rifkin, he was a right-wing leader of SDS in the 60s and wrote a dreadful, anti-communist book on that experience. His idea that computers and machines would replace work assumes that capitalism doesn’t need surplus value, rent and interest.  In addition, who maintains the machines when they always break, or mines the materials, transports the materials and builds the machines in the first place?  This is a total fantasy under a capitalist regime.  Again, you can see Caffentizis continues to understand the value of ‘labor power’ in every situation – never negating it. 

This essay is in contradiction to the thread of the ‘post-industrial’ society or the ‘knowledge society’ or the ‘service society’ that somehow replaced the nitty-gritty of agricultural, industrial, white-collar, pink or unpaid home labor in the imagination of the capitalist propagandists.   These kinds of theories are part of the magic of the ‘disappearance’ of the working class and work itself. When in fact the working class is the majority in the world, and with small farmers and peasants, constitute the overwhelming bulk of humanity.

Essay Four is about the continuing enclosure of the commons.  Caffentzis makes the odd statement that ‘capitalism has not fully started yet’ because it is still attempting to turn everything into a commodity.  Revolts against privatization are constant:  water (Cochabama, Bolivia - see review of “Secret History of the American Empire” and “Rebel Cities,” below); the forests (India – see review of “Walking With the Comrades,” below); artistic production (trade negotiations going on now between the neo-liberal US delegation and the French - from 6/7/2013 Guardian); intellectual property and the internet (Concerning free software and non-corporate sites. See review of “Cypher Punks” below.); charter schools (The Chicago Teachers Strike); GMO / Monsanto patented corn, etc. 

Caffentzis’ example is how hoboes ‘socialized’ the private railroads yards, cars and tracks in the 1920s and 1930s in the U.S., when the unemployed road the rails in their hundreds of thousands, which only stopped during World War II.  The U.S. Occupy Wall Street tried the same thing to ostensible ‘public parks,’ as did radicals in Egypt, Greece, Spain and Bahrain  Right now Turkish youth and workers occupying Gezi Park in Istanbul against Turkey’s neo-liberal Islamist government, have just been thrown out by police.  The government is trying to destroy a public park for a fake historical building and a mall development. (See review of “Rebel Cities’ below, on the geography of struggle.)

Essay Five continues his polemic against theories of post-industrial ‘cognitive capitalism’ presented by Negri and others. Caffentzis agrees that labor is key in the ‘knowledge’ economy (which he says actually has no definition according to these thinkers.  His definition is that it creates commodities of intellectual property...) and praises the ‘autonomous Marxists” for concentrating on the new (or increased) forms of work that have developed in the computer economy. Yet he maintains these are only more rarefied forms of commodified labor, paid for by low-capital investment labor somewhere else.  The autonomous Marxists claim that the work of IT/creative workers is so highly developed that capital no longer controls their work, and they have in fact broken its bonds.  They are in essence free agents, sort of like ‘rock stars’ who write their own ticket.  A, even very few rock stars write their own ticket, and b, most IT/creative workers are not Steven Speilberg.  Most rock stars, when taken over a lifetime, are actually temps.  It is the same with actors.  Reality is far more prosaic.

Essay Six is about a perpetual motion machine – an “SRA’ - a robot that can create and maintain itself, thus eliminating all human labor.  The capitalist dream, sort of the new version of alchemy. This seemingly theoretical exercise shows how a machine like this – or ‘tending’ in this direction, could be profitable even though they involve no human labor, thus create no surplus value.  But it could make profits because it would suck profits from low organic capital industries.  In a way, this explains what is happening in the world between high organic capital industries and low.   Caffentzis cites the prohibitively expensive ‘nuclear’ power industry as one such example of a system tending in that direction.  Profits in the system as a whole are ‘average,’ so a sweatshop that squeezes the most out of its human cattle must pay some bigger capitalist piper somewhere else, thus moving some of its profits upwards.  Caffentzis actually creates a picture that explains the present state of world-wide capitalist production and finance quite simply.   The Dickensian slums of Brazzaville and the tony suburbs of Silicon Valley are intimately connected.

Caffentzis says the next target for increased exploitation is Africa if any new kinds of high constant capital industries take off.

In a sense, Marxism explains crises through the stagnation of profits, debt and asset bubbles, over-production, imperial and class conflict.  Keynes explains crisis through ‘under-consumptionism.’  One mainly looks at all forms of labor as key.  The other puts its primary value on the consumer.  Caffentzis is quite rigorously on one side, not the other.   Any time someone starts babbling about the consumer having ultimate power, you know they are on the wrong track.  (See “No Local,” and “Reviving The Strike,” both reviewed below.)

The next several essays deal with an historical analysis of how Marx dealt with the question of machines, and the bourgeois ‘ideology’ of machines, as part of the political struggle in the 1800s.  The capitalist plan was that machines then, like now, were to overcome and replace humans.  Still hasn’t happened.  Caffentzis traces the machine ideology from simple machines, to ‘heat’ engines and now to the modern computer, or what he calls, as philosophers do when they can't find a simple word, the “Turing” machine.  Alan Turing developed the fullest idea of the computer in the 1930s, though Babbage had been influential, even in Marx’s time, on earlier ideas.  Caffentzis shows that Marx incorporated the first and second laws of thermodynamics in his theories, and that he was familiar with many writings on machines, though not Babbage.  Caffentizis wants to update Marx here and challenges theories that intellectual property is really created by ‘immaterial production,’ as some theorists assert.  He also repeats that machines alone do not create value. 

The last shorter essays are on war, crisis theory, social reproduction and the 2008 crash, invoking similar themes to the above. He ‘seems’ to take on Baran and Sweezy’s theory that military production is merely a sinkhole for excess profits, which I’ve always found somewhat suspect.  Without the ‘armed bodies of men’ where would the capitalists be?   How would they insure their global control?  In the imperialist era, the lead imperialist HAS to have a large military sector.  And two, military production is ALSO quite profitable, in spite of its high 'organic capital' composition.  The U.S. is the largest arms dealer in the world, and sucks billions of dollars out of sheikdoms, dictatorships, Isreal and so-called parliamentary democracies. They also benefit with ‘aid’ packages that countries use to borrow from the US for US weapons.  In other words, the military and financial sectors create more profits out of arms, not the reverse. 

And I bought it at May Day Books!
Red Frog
June 16, 2013

Happy Bloom's Day - June 16, 1904.  Celebrate what critics have voted the greatest novel ever - "Ulysses," by the exiled Irishman, James Joyce. Today is the day that novel describes, a day in Dublin.  Joyce chose this day because it was the day Joyce first went out with Nora Barnacle, who 'made him a man.'  You don't want to know, but that was Ireland after all.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Not Really Faulkner

“Child of God,” by Cormac McCarthy, 1973

The title is sarcasm.  McCarthy, a dark horse who sees himself as our new Faulkner, penned a novel that is more like a sick potboiler of horror than a literary work ala Faulkner.  Faulkner wrote un-sensational Southern noir, unlike the loyal Catholic Flannery O’Connor, who also wrote stories dipped in horror.  Unlike McCarthy and O’Connor, Faulkner never overdid it.  Faulkner's writing seems real, if hallucinatory.  McCarthy instead plumbs the depths of hillbilly stereotypes about loners living in the hills of East Tennessee.  I will not reveal the horror story here, but only to say it becomes so weird it is laughable. My Precious!  Tell me this is based on a real news story, please?  McCarthy claims it is based on a real person.  If this is true, then it only confirms all the hatred Northerners have for hillbillies and ‘red-necks.’  It is McCarthy’s gift to them.

The question is why would someone bother writing about such an outlier?  Many of McCarthy’s books – not all - dwell on violence, isolation and perversion as somehow normal.  Is this in a sense a reactionary writer offering up demons as the real heart of humanity?  Certainly in this novel it is so.

There is a religious angle to this, but damned if I can figure it out.  A plea that even the most barbaric humans must be pitied and forgiven? Somehow, it doesn't work here. 

McCarthy is a poet with words.  ‘Suttree,’ one of his best novels and poetic at that, took 20 years to write, published in 1979.  This slim volume was published in 1973 and seems like a strange warm-up to ‘Suttree.’ Both take place in East Tennessee, where McCarthy hung out for several years as a poverty-stricken tramp.  It is set in Sevier County, around Knoxville, which was a pro-union county in the Civil War (See review of “Guerrillas, Unionists and Violence on the Confederate Home Front,” below.) 

Lester Ballard is a loner and ace shot and lives on squirrels, stolen eggs and vegetables in a cave hard by the Great Smoky Mountains.  He's sort of like Gollum from LotR.  Daddy was in an off-shoot of the Klan, the White Caps.  The story is told from Ballard’s point of view, from the view of the people in town who reflect on him and in just plain third person.  Eventually Ballard goes from loner to totally alone – outside society in every way.  Is this a cautionary tale about the endpoint of total male ‘independence’?   The fantasy of living in the woods without anyone or anything?  Some would see it that way too.  In a sense, only human society restrains some people from falling off the edge. 

Cormac McCarthy wrote “The Road,” and “Suttree.” (Both reviewed below)

And I did not buy it at Mayday Books
Red Frog
June 5, 2013