Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Simulacra: Gordon Brown and Peter Costello

Mark 'k-punk' Fisher brilliant, as usual, in seaming the political and the cultural together in what is a book review framing an analysis of the simulacrum that is British PM Gordon Brown's media vector.

If comparision of Australia's PM - Kevin Rudd - to Tony Blair in terms of empty (in the Australian MSN read empty as 'symbolic') spin-meister has any grip, then who might k-punk's portrait of Brown compare to in Australian federal politics? Oddly this line from Fisher resonates with Peter Costello's step-back from the opposition leader crown on election night, after defeat of the government in which he had been treasurer for more than eleven years:

The role he seems most fitted to play – glowering just off centre stage, plotting behind the scenes – brought with it the rich, heady jouissance of resentment. Brown could relish this jouissance only while his official goal was thwarted; just as he could exert power without holding it, the shadow of the man without a shadow, the black dog forever at the hollow man’s heels, supping on every misstep and mishap.
But now Brown has exactly what he always wanted,and what could be worse than that? The melancholy that follows from finally achieving what that he has coveted all those years, from at last having his newly manicured fingers on the holy grail for the sake of which he has spent thirty years constructing a new identity and a new set of values, must be profound. Especially when the grail so quickly become a poisoned chalice.

What Brown is might well have been what a Costello Prime Minister could have been.

Costello's memoirs could reveal something of this emotional portrait: although it seems unlikely that Costello was pursued by the Black Dog of depression, or that he glowered when next to John Howard. Costello had a different affective register to that which k-punk paints for Brown. But Costello's affective relationship to Prime Ministerial power, when it was within his reach, is what resonates.

His memoir should make for interesting reading, although the suggestion from one wag in the oz blogosphere that it be titled Almost Whatever it Takes probably won't make the shortlist.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Social change and rhythm

I've been trawling back through my note books of the past few years, and this quote from Henri Lefebvre stood out:

[F]or there to be change, a social group, a class or a caste must intervence by imprinting a rhythm on an era, be it through
force or in an insinuating manner. In the course of a crisis, in a
critical situation, a group must designate itself as an innovator or producer of meaning. And its acts must inscribe themselves on reality. The intervention imposes itself neither militarily, nor
politically nor even ideologically. Occasionally, a long time after the action, one sees the emergence of novelty. Perspicacity, attention and above all an opening [kairos: the right or opportune moment; the fullness of time] are required. In practice and in culture, exhaustion is visible sooner and more clearly than growth and innovation, more obscure [than] realities and idealities.

from Rhythmanalysis: 14-15 (emphases in original).

Are we entering into a new rhythm, a new temporality, with the break-down of neoliberal globalisation occuring in central components of the financial markets? The mode, perhaps even the rhythm, of Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's activity and leadership has the pundits and commentators, this humble blogger and PhD candidate also, guessing. We are reaching for a language to describe Rudd's rhythms: blitzkrieg, empty symbolist (a trader in Baudrillardian simulacra), the repetition of Tony Blair's emphatic spin, Howard-lite: repetition, empty, yet to be identified, still on honeymoon? All temporalities, or figurings of time, and hence of rhythms.

Lefebvre's notion of the imprint of a rhythm, logical and sensual, onto the social body through the opening provided by a crisis is one that ignores the possibility that some rhythms may well announce themselves dialectcally as crisis and resolution. Bob Hawke's Curtin-esque National Crisis approach in 1983 is an example of a temporality or rhythm that while not new certainly played into the desire for industrial consensus and truce: the National economic Summit and the Accord resulted.

But Rudd and his Labor team could well face the collapse of some long duree global political-economic system during their tenure. The depth of the current economic crisis has some commentators invoking the spectre of 1929 with its collapse of finance capitalism, mass unemployment and the onset of Depression. Others raise the moment of the Oil Shocks of the 1973-4 and the Keynesian anomaly of stagflation: this crisis presenting an opening to the iso-rhythms of the Chicago School neoliberals to imprint the measure of the flexible, rational, free and unregulated individual as the beat of choice onto a post-Keynesian order.

The social body is always in crisis as it is all of us. But so too is the biosystem, from which we can and do escape, block out and deplete. Not all crises have the same urgency, weight and scale. Yet we need to carry about us an awareness of the cuts on the biospheric and social bodies: nicks and slashes that demand salving rhythms, that demand critical knowledge: critique and praxis.

Former Minister for Workchoices (marks I & II) Joe Hockey - demonstrating Baudrillard's concept of the simulacrum.

I don't think anyone, maybe even Rudd himself, quite knows what the rhythm of the 2020 Summit is or should be. From some of the participants, and from some of the footage I watched on TV, there was a sense of antipication, hope and open-ness about the possibilities for tending to periods outside the 3 year election and the voraciously constant media cycles.

By year's end, after the budget, after the official response to the Summit, by the time the USA has changed President, we should have a sense of the emerging rhythms: their crises, newness and attention to what can play. Rather than a scramble to provide market solutions to energy-driven pollution and river destruction (carbon emissions and the killing of the Murray river) I hope the opening of the 2020 Summit permits an opening to remain in the social body for some slower tempo rhythms of a new longue duree to settle under the faster tempo that we'll surely need to initiate some new compromises with liberal-capitalism.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Some fragments from Peter Osborne's Politics of time

Psychoanalytic metapsychology offers an account of the temporalization of time for the child by the death drive through primary identification as primary socialization. However, it is indifferent to the variety of temporal forms through which historical experience is constructed for adults through cultural practice - except insofar as they mirror the temporal patterns of unconscious desire. In this respect, psycholanalysis usurps the ancient role of philosophy as a 'practice of death'. In Benjamin, on the other hand, we have the beginnings of an account of the temporalization of history as cultural form. This enables us to concretize our previous depiction of historical time (the temporalization of history by the anticipation of a timeless end, a historical death), in terms of a series of culturally specific representation of ends constituting history in a variety of different ways - as ethics (Levinas), tradition (Gadamer), chronology (historicism) or modernity (Heidegge and Benjamin), respectively. Furthermore, insofar as these forms are themselves the products of historically specific practices, they are possible objects of transformative practice. We are thus able to begin to give a more concrete meaning to the idea of a politics of time. A politics of time is a politics which takes the temporal structures of social practices as the specific objects of its transformative (or preservative) intent. Benjamin's and Heidegger's philosophies are themselves part of their authors' (radically conflicting) politics of time. [XI - XII: bold emphasis added]

'Modernity' and 'postmodernity', 'modernism', 'postmodernism' and 'avant-garde' are categories of historical consciousness which are constructed at the level of the apprehension of history as a whole. More specifically, they are categories of historical totalization in the medium of cultural experience. As such, each involves a distinct form of historical temporalization - a distinctive way of temporalizing 'history' - through which the three dimensions of phenomenological or lived time (past, present and future) are linked together within the dynamic and eccentric uniyt of a single historical view. Associated with such temporalizations are both particular historical epistemologies (defining the temporal forms and limits of knowledge) and particular orientations toward practice, particular politics of time. Modernisn and postmodernism - like conservatism, traditionalism and reaction - are interventions in the field of the politics of time.[IX - bold emphasis added]

Postmodernism, one might say, is the revenge of the philosophical discourse of modernity upon Marixsm for neglecting problems in the philosophy of history. [IX]

Everyday life is lived in the medium of cultural form. Its phenomenological immediacy is the sedimented result of myriad repetitive practices, yet it is constantly open to the randomness of the chance occurrence, the unexpected encounter, the surprising event, as well as to the refiguration of its meanings by more explicit forms of social intervention. The novel is 'a culture of everyday life' [Franco Moretti, Way of the World -p35], as are television and video, the various forms of print journalism and a multiplicity of other, more informal modes of communication. And if, as Bakhtin argued, all literary genres have increasingly been subject to novelization as a process of linguistic familiarization and the creation of a certain semantic open-endedness, so, we might argue, all genres of communication (including the novel) have subsequently been subject to cinematization, the logic of montage and the image, and an intensification of that 'revolution in the hierarchy of times' whereby 'the present becomes the center [sic] of human orientation in time and in the world', which Bakhtin associated with the novel. [197 - bold emphasis added. Bakhtin quotes are from - 'Epic and Novel' from The Dialogic Imagination. p15, 7 & 30]

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Notes on sociology of musical form and rhythm

from Bill Martin Avant rock: experimental music from the Beatles to Bjork, Open Court: Chicago. 2002

In the first half of the twentieth century, a good deal of ink was spilled in comparisons of Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky. Indeed, there is a dynamic to this comparison that describes well what happens when traditions seem on the verge of exhaustion. Schoenberg was extolled by Theodore Ardono for his systematic deconstruction of tonality, while Stravinsky was sometimes denigrated for his expressivism and exoticism. . . Schoenberg's move to the dodecaphonic (twelve-note) system can be seen as the next step in the progression from the extreme chromaticism of Mahler. . . In some sense Stravinsky, who comes after Mahler . . . instead of asking what the next step was for "the scale" and for harmony, asked what this "scale" was all about, anyway [:] a desire to be liberated from Western tonality altogether. [9-10]

[P]art of what came out of the attack on "the scale," and the concomitant turn to other scales and sounds, was an elevation of percussion. . . .In some sense, even in "classical music" . . . the "rhythm section" steps forward [11]

Robert Fink Repeating Ourselves: American minimal music as cultural practice, U California P, 2005

repetitive music implicates creators, performers, and auditors in repetitive commercial culture like advertising and television [xi]

[We] trace the presence in minimalist music of both Eros and Thanatos, of dialectical entrainment to desire as well as libidinal liberation from it, never forgetting that these lofty psychoanalytic terms are just metaphors for the bodily effects of material social constructions. [7]

[T]he repetition-structures of American minimal music broke into the Western cultural mainstream around 1965, the precise moment that the complete transformation of American network television by commercial advertising established the medium's distinctively atomized, repetitive programming sequence. Minimalism, whatever judgement of taste one might pronounce upon . . .takes on a unique cultural significance: it is the single instance within contemporary art music of what Raymond Williams called "flow," the most relentless, all-pervasive structural trope of twentieth-century global media. The sheer scope and intensity of this media torrent index an aesthetic effect that we might call the media sublime. Minimal music turns out to structure its repetitious desiring-production in much the same polyphonic way as a spot advertising campaign spreads out across diversified media vehicles . . .; its effect on the listener is the sublime perception of all those campaigns and all that desire creation perpetually coruscating across the huge expanse of mass-media flow . . .[I]n an aesthetic effect absolutely characteristic of consumer society, the sheer excess of processed desire turns out to be the biggest thrill of all. [10-11]

Justin Winkler, Space, Sound and Time: A choice of articles in Soundscape Studies and Aesthetics of Environment 1990 - 2003, 'Rhythmicity (2002)'

Rhythm is defined by the approximate repetition of a cycle – thus standing out from measure, the precise, identical repetition of a cycle. I would like to make the point thatalthough rhythm thus implies many kinds of elasticity and resilience it is actually a structure of extreme robustness. We can, together with Lefebvre, imagine that rhythmic systems develop a strength similar to those well entwined paper fibres which serve as a bridge capable to support heavy weights. Rhythm is concrete, worldly time, rhythmicity its systematic aspect. [2]

Elizabeth Deeds Ermarth Sequel to History: Postmodernism and the Crisis of representational time Princeton UP, 1992.

In this conjugating rhythm, each move forward is also digressive, also a sideways move. A postmodern narrative submits to the sequential nature of language grudgingly and at every juncture keeps alive for readers an awareness of multiple pathways and constantly crossing themes. Rhythm is parataxis on the horizontal and in motion: a repetitive element that doesn’t “forward” anything, one that is always exact but never “identical.” Narratives where time is rhythm give readers an opportunity to take up a new kind of residence in time, a way of staying in the narrative present – often literally or effectively in the present tense – that requires new acts of attention.
Rhythmic time – the time of experiment, improvisation, adventure – destroys the historicist unity of the world by destroying its temporal common denominator. In rhythmic time mutual reference back and forth from one temporal moment to another becomes impossible because no neutrality exists between temporal moments; on the contrary, each moment contains its specific and unique definition. Each “time” is utterly finite. [53-4]

[P]ostmodern narrative forces readers into a new kind of present: not the dematerialized present of historical time but what Nabokov calls the “Deliberate Present” of rhythmic time. [54]

Jacques Attali, Noise: the political economy of music, U Minnesota P, 1985.

Composition thus leads to a staggering conception of history, a history that is open, unstable, in which labor no longer advances accumulation, in which the object is no longer a stockpiling of lack, in which music effects a reappropriation of time and space. Time no longer flows in a linear fashion; sometimes it crystallizes in stable codes in which everyone’s composition is compatible, sometimes in a multifaceted time in which rhythms, styles and codes diverge, independencies become more burdensome, and rules dissolve. In composition, stability, in other words, differences, are perpetually called into question. Composition is inscribed not in a repetitive world, but in the permanent fragility of meaning after the disappearance of usage and exchange . . . It is also the only utopia that is not a mask for pessimism, the only Carnival that is not a Lenten ruse. [147]

Saturday, April 12, 2008

youthful convulsions: epilepsy in Three Dollars

There are a number of rites of passage that can mark the transition from adolescence into adulthood. When I turned 18 in 1983, just too late to vote in the Federal Election that Bob Hawke won, I could’ve confidently flashed my provisional driver’s licence at Bryant’s Band room in Sydney’s Northern Beaches Manly Vale Hotel, while watching and half-dancing to Echo and the Bunnymen, in order to prove I was legally entitled to buy and sink 8 plastic cups of scotch and coke. But just like the time at Bryant’s the previous year when me and some mates had gone to see New Order play no one asked me for ID. I didn’t really start to get asked for ID at pub rock venues until I had my Black Drivers’ Licence and was paying taxes. By that stage post-punk bands like New Order no longer played at suburban pubs like the Manly Vale, and they no longer played guitar-based post punk, having moved into electronic pop and dance music. When I was finally being asked to show ID, Bob Hawke’s popularity had been tarnished by an opportunistically called early election and Paul Keating’s media star was on the ascendant even when he did issue that strange warning on the John Laws show that Australia was in danger of becoming a Banana Republic with the national economy on the tipping point of reaching the sort of maturity that the direction of the Current Account, and the value of the Australian dollar, could confirm.

I spent much of the 1980s working in the family business – a building and party equipment hire business – accumulating and playing musical equipment, reading John Irving and Elmore Leonard novels and smoking bongs. Hardly the rites to maturity. By the beginning of the 1990s an investment in piano lessons during the 80s opened a few doors into reggae and funk bands, and I left the family business to get a further education at TAFE with a view to going to University.

I left home for good.

1991 is also the year Paul Keating finally won the leadership of the federal ALP, amidst a recession that cut deeply. Just as the band that New Order formed out of – Joy Division – had been a cult touchstone for my generation, a Seattle band called Nirvana were gathering a mass culture storm around their songs and performances. Grunge arrived not only in the musical world but strangely became the name foisted on a style of dirty realist urban fiction in Australia. Andrew McGahan’s Praise published in 1992 and set mainly around Kangaroo Point and the old New Farm, Brisbane, is generally considered the germinal grunge novel, followed by a number of similarly styled novels in the period up to 1995. 1995 was a year of literary scandals. The year when the appellation grunge was retrospectively bestowed and the generationalism that Mark Davis describes and attacks in his book Gangland become a key weapon in the culture wars. Critics and reviewers with parental personas wondered if Grunge lit was as lazy as Praise’s Gordon? Good writing took hard work, and didn’t rely on the easy shock value of graphic sex, graphic drug use and graphic language. Good writing required a level of maturity that had to be earned and experienced. Grunge was typing not writing. At least Tsiolkas’ Ari in Loaded could be slotted into the fictional politics of identity, but all that reckless drug taking, clubbing and beat sex. And no job.

My own story is entwined with Praise. After the apostasy of playing funk and rap covers in a couple of bands in the early 1990s for money, an old mate from high school coaxed me into what had become of a part of postpunk scene in Sydney's inner west. Chris Lobb was a singer-songwriter who worshipped Gene Pitney, Leonard Cohen, and Captain Beeefheart and he soon made friends with other players in the inner-west alternative music scene. By the mid 1990s I was playing in a more alternative revue-style band with Peter Fenton who was attempting to reinvent himself, and earn a bit of extra cash on the side, outside of the postpunk persona he performed in his main band Crow. I was never that close to Peter, but was very impressed by him: a dynamic performer, with the onstage charisma of Robert Forster(without the camp poses) and the song-writing gifts of Don Walker. Impressive too was that he’d been chosen to play the asthmatic, premature ejaculating, unemployed Gordon in the film adaptation of Praise. When I read the novel I was caught by its realism and Gordon’s voice. It was depressing and somehow uplifting and it flowed – like Nirvana’s Lithium. Gordon’s failure to mature, his failed formation or Bildungs, resonated with me like the best of Peter Fenton’s songs, like New Order’s debut song Ceremony which was their transition song performed first as Joy Division with Ian Curtis before his suicide.

Curtis plays a minor, but significant role in Eliot Perlman’s 1998 novel Three Dollars. Perlman’s celebrated and popular novel, which was made into a film released in 2005, has as its narrator and hero Eddie Harnovey, whose late teens are filled with following the career of Joy Division and who is reunited with his future wife Tanya, after she sends him a letter commiserating over the suicide of Curtis. The narrator Eddie tells the reader that Eddie and Tanya ‘pay lip-service to humility and give their seal of approval to anyone who listened to Joy Division, because no one we met in those early days at university read Wordsworth, Keats, Eliot, Robert Frost or A.D.Hope’ (41). At this point in the story, when Eddie and Tanya are experimenting with personas – he wears mascara to affect a pose of bisexuality, she demands the right to audition for the role of Hamlet – these characters in Perlman’s novel are momentarily recognisable as being in transition, as emerging along with history, in a process of becoming. In Bakhtin’s unfinished manuscript on the Bildungsroman - unfinished because Bakhtin used much of it to roll -up his smokes during a paper shortage – the Russian formalist writes:

In such novels as . . . Wilhelm Meister human emergence . . . is no longer man’s own private affair. He emerges along with the world and he reflects the historical emergence of the world itself. He is no longer within an epoch, but on the border between two epochs, at the transition point from one to the other. This transition is accomplished in him and through him. He is forced to become a new, unprecedented type of human being. What is happening here is precisely the emergence of a new man. The organizing force held by the future is therefore extremely great here – and this is not, of course, the private biographical future but the historical future. It is as though the very foundations of the world are changing, and man must change along with them. Understandably, in such a novel of emergence, problems of reality and man’s potential, problems of freedom and necessity, and the problem of creative initiative rise to their full height. The image of the emerging man begins to surmount its private nature (within certain limits, of course) and enters into a completely new, spatial sphere of historical existence. Such is the last, realistic type of novel of emergence. (Bakhtin, Speech Acts: 23-4)

Eddie’s dalliance with Joy Division and Tanya’s with playing Hamlet mark the moment in which their earlier, passionate romance evaporates and they separate. If Tanya and Eddie are momentarily emerging along with the world, then the sudden end to this period of experimentation which finishes with their reuniting and their committing to careers is both a missed opportunity in the novel and is symptomatic of the contradiction that Three dollars attempts, but fails, to resolve. This contradiction is between the novel’s address to, and metafictional longing for, an imagined classical public sphere and the new form of governmentality that Michel Foucault has described as neo-liberalism. In other words Three Dollars aims to hail a reader who having read Eddie’s story of middle-class un-protection – of what Paul Kelly in his story of the 1980s has narrated as the necessary dismantling of the institutions of Fortress Australia – is armed with the subjective but realist life-narrative that builds a moral-aesthetic force into arguments in the political public sphere: arguments ultimately aimed at civilising capitalism through an ethical-state which regulates the private market sphere in line with ultimate ethical values. These ethical values, Three dollars argues, I think, arise naturally from the intimate human-ness of the private domestic sphere when an ordinary, middle-class, patriarchal and heterosexual family is supported by the state. At the novel’s metafictional level, which features a Hamlet plot, the literary intervention into the political public sphere sought is based in the tautologies of Arnoldian and Leavisite Criticism – themselves social and cultural formations nostalgic for the classical public sphere of the 17th and 18th Centuries. Near the end of the novel and the plot Eddie, who has been downsized, and whose family is about to lose their home, tells us: ‘I understood that secular humanism, liberalism and social justice had not abandoned me . . . it was just that everybody had abandoned them.’ (345)

So, on the one hand of this contradiction, which I’m arguing is not resolved in Three Dollars, is the novel’s metafictional intervention aimed at circulating rational-critical debate around the devastating effects of economic rationalism, including the ascendant practices of managerial psychology. On the other hand is the symbolic representation of economic rationalism.

And here we come back to Ian Curtis and his epilepsy as a symbolic form if timespace, or in Bakhtin's terms, epilepsy as chronotope.

In the novel, there are three chronotopes of economic time represented. The major symbol of timespace is Eddie’s childhood friend Amanda Claremont. Every nine and a half years they cross paths and every meeting finds him with only three dollars. Amanda’s mother removes the lower middle class 10 year old Eddie from Amanda’s life because, Eddie thinks, he will stain her with his lower social standing. I read this as symbolising the boom-bust business cycle – cyclic and inevitable, requiring the Keynesian macroeconomic regulation regime to even out the highs and lows.
The second chronotope attached to political economy in the novel is Depression. Tanya suffers an endemic depression that is exacerbated by her struggle to write a political science doctorate on the death of political economics which she plans to bolster with a defence of Keynesian economics, and accelerated by her tutoring contract finishing at her campus. Tanya’s depression runs on a deeper cycle than Amanda’s nine and a half year appearance. Along with Tanya, Tanya’s father and Eddie’s uncle George both suffer from depressions that result in suicide – it’s also interesting that both these bouts of depression and suicide are structured, within the novel’s moral economy, as being caused by abnormal sexual acts or desires that conflate sex and money. Uncle George’s suicide due to a depression is coterminous with the collapse of the Bretton-Woods system, the oil shocks and stagflation of the early 1970s – stagflation being the death knell for Keynesian macroeconomic demand-side regulation. Tanya’s father’s depression runs back to the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The third chronotope is never as explicitly figured as being economic as the first two are, and this brings us back to Bakhtin’s notion that the Bildungsroman presents human emergence alongside historical emergence. What sort of historical emergence, then, might be represented in the disease of epilepsy? Rather than the deep temporal return of the dystopic seventh wave of depression, and unlike the more regular, troughs and peaks that the middle class are largely insulated from, epilepsy is a convulsive, shuddering and highly compressed oscillation that makes its victims unconscious. Ian Curtis is one of the novel’s epileptics and so is Tanya and Eddie’s daughter Abby.
What I’m suggesting here is that Three dollars while structured like a Bildungsroman disavows the primary category of this key narrative form of modernity: a transition between youth and adulthood. Youth in Three dollars can’t emerge because in the universe of the novel history is disappearing – it is contracting rather than expanding. However the figure of epilepsy, which awaits Abbey’s teenage years, and which inflicts itself on the postindustrial poet of punk Ian Curtis, is an ideologeme of the novel, operating in its political unconscious. Rather than history contracting and returning to 1930s Germany - as is the cyclic temporal logic of depression - the temporal logic of the epileptic fit is that its regulation requires a flexible, microtimed support and release regulation/ deregulation regime.

To paint this reading in bolder strokes what I’m suggesting here is that at its ostensive level Three Dollars presents an Arnoldian-Leavisite Cultural formation as being the civilising bulwark against the philistine culture and psychology of economic rationalism. Economic rationalism can’t be presented as historical emergence because its culture is regressive, and as the novel makes clear, so are those characters that inhabit its discursive regimes. However, Three Dollars cannot overcome or rather resolve the contradiction that the civilising foundations of the Arnoldian/ Leavisite Literary paradigm are based on a nostalgia for a classical public sphere that despite its self-advertised universal address, was always restricted and was structurally transformed as the domestic private sphere itself became more and more of a space of commodification and cultural industry colonisation. The contradiction here is that digital finance capital and its cultural logics – one form of which is neoliberalism - does convulse like epilepsy and that this epileptic temporality of light capitalism is historically emergent and produces new structures of feeling. History emerges as epilepsy in the novel - but this cannot be thematized as it would damage the attempt at a social-liberal Bildungs. Epilepsy, neoliberalism's dirty secret about the convulsive, unconscious, electric oscillations operative in digital finance capitalism, goes underground in the novel, attaching itself to youth.

By employing the narrating position of the Bildungsroman in a first person narrative, Perlman’s novel attempts to overcome the historical emergence of neoliberalism by annihilating his narrator’s moment of transition. Eddie doesn’t need to grow up – to experiment, to go through a formation or apprenticeship, to complete the two tasks of Bildungs: self-determination, and normalisation. Eddie’s almost innate maturity is a judgement performed from the future anterior of the story’s end, so that Eddie’s human-ness, his ethical sensibility, his acts of kindness to strangers, are obviously and always already the right act at the right time. And this sense of Eddie’s kairos gets us closer to the challenge of an emerging arrhythmia that would normally be presented through the transitional sequence in a novel, but here must be abjected.

Such is the shock of an apparently regressive political rationality that announces itself as liberal and as being concerned with removing state interference (deregulating- privatising) from the private spheres (market and intimate-domestic), that raises the social liberal fear of a return to the laissez-faire rule-of-the-jungle markets of the late c19.
Such is the shock that this political rationality might not be de-regulative but rather is regulates through its formation of subjects and institutions.
Such is this shock that Left-Liberals cannot entertain the thought that the emergence of this structure of feeling is actually an emergence. For neoliberalism is not necessarily a regression or return and the spaces of cultural autonomy from which this rationality is mis-recognised as being a capitalism that can be civilised in the same ways as Keynesian social liberalism attempted to civilise capitalism, are themselves becoming marketized, made productive, efficient, flexible.

Effectively the novel’s failure to resolve this contradiction of forms and thereby of forces is both utterly unsurprising –for who can – and also what is most interesting about it. Every time I go back and read the novel, I oscillate between applauding its skilful presentation of the emergence of neoliberal governmentality into subjectivity with Tanya and Eddie’s private/ very public joke about Tanya’s emotional indices being analogous to the all-ordinaries, and hating the transparent technique of Eddie’s adversaries being both captured by neoliberal managerialism, but having the novel manipulate the reader into attributing moral, intellectual and cultural weakness and failure to these characters as well. Perlman would do well to take a few lessons from a writer like Amanda Lohrey whose debut novel tips constantly into Brechtian alienation of her characters. But what irks most is that in being so close to producing an effective popular critical realism – as Ken Gelder in Overland puts it – critical of economic rationalism, Three Dollars can only effect its limited critique by a deeply nostalgic metafictional invocation of its own Cultural and thereby ethical value, and by abjecting the dangers and processes of becoming from the narrator and his narrating.

By the novel’s end Eddie has achieved a series of reconciliations – he and Amanda have broken out of their cycle, Tanya is recovering from her depression, and Eddie has been beaten unconscious by neo-nazis: the scapegoat sacrificed in order that the violence can end. Eddie has sacrificed his material prospects but gained in integrity. We know Eddie has achieved manhood, not because he has been on a journey like Wilhelm Meister, but because the mistakes Eddie is atoning for are world-historical ones, and more likely ones that haunt the Jewish diaspora – Eddie is not so much in the transitional phase of becoming a man, but of performing out of his acts that will continue and constitute civilisation. Eddie’s manhood is also his father–, husband-hood and the novel ends with his return to Tanya and Abby, and the ironic prospect of a job with the finance capitalist worker Paul in Human Resources. Whether or not this irony is intended is impossible to decide, however the weight of the novel’s politics suggest that Three Dollars regards economic rationalism as just another philistine challenge to be civilised: a top job in human resources is a prime post for such social liberal work.

Am I being too hard on Perlman? That is precisely not the point or what is not at stake in this critical reading of the political unconscious of what is a consecrecated post-grunge novel. Perlman as author is working with the forms and discourses which have formed and affected his writing. It's the particular marrying, and indeed attempted compromise, of these heterogeneous forms that makes the novel a rich text: the attempt to mount a literary fictional critique of neoliberalism is what makes Three Dollars worth a sustained close reading. But the novel's project is distorted, or rather thwarted, by the literary forms chosen to realise it. Eliot Perlman, as person, is not who I have a beef with - its the text itself, that I am performing a critique on and with. In a sense it is by reading Perlman's affective and funny novel against the grain that I am attempting to come of age, and gain my literary critical license. Funny that such a test would bring a reconsideration of Ian Curtis back into my horizon.