This morning I opened my email to find a letter from a friend who had stumbled on an essay I wrote over 11 years ago. (Which is a long time when you’re not out of your 30s yet.) Having little idea of what I’d said back then, I investigated. The piece, called “The Many Names of Politics,” serves as the introduction to an issue of Bad Subjects but also as a bit of a manifesto itself about the relationship between intellectual and political work. Reading it now, I’m struck by how much I’ve apparently forgotten in the interim. One of the main theses of the piece is about “the positive move” — that critique has no meaningful purpose without a vision of the good. And here I was thinking that I’d made a “new” turn toward more normative questions in my more recent work. Nope. It’s been there all along. It just got sidelined as I was busy doing things like building up research expertise.
Of course, the other striking thing about the intro and the issue is the presence of the International Socialist Organization (ISO), which I find more cringeworthy now than I did then. In 1995, I had several friends who had joined the ISO and were actively involved. I never joined for a variety of reasons, but within a few years all of my friends had actually been purged from the ISO. Some of whom had given many hours and days of their busy lives to it. As to the New Party, I haven’t heard–or read–anything about it in years.
The peace I’ve made in my own mind is to find organizations working for something tangible and to let my thinking roam the halls of utopia. Since moving here, it’s been limited to marching with people and writing stuff, but that too will change when the right group comes along.
I also have that experience when confronted with those old pieces. It’s frustrating to think that I haven’t made that much progress in terms of being able to articulate a position I can live with. On the other hand, I suppose there’s something positive about being able to live with positions I articulated long ago.
I’ve been thinking a good deal about parties of late, along with Kim. For my part, endless debates with a smart, non-academic Libertarian from a working-class background and a broader engagement with the libertarian — I’m not sure whether either use of the word deserves a capital “L,” come to think of it — undercurrent to Arizona politics, which conflicts with the Fundamentalism and Mormonism that have partially displaced it in many suburban areas, have me struggling to imagine a party affiliation that would make it easier to make provisional alliances across outwardly intractable ideological divides.
Maybe a strangely common experience. Pushing 60 I’m flabberghasted by what I wrote at 15! Perhaps (misquoting a facetious Vidal) we have nothing to say but a great deal to add.
That might be the story of our lives. Born fully provisioned, prefrontals preloaded with persona rapidly uncovered during childhood till, in maturity, we emerge as little preformed intellectuals (or, as is mostly the case, not). Just a mad thought :0)
Semi-related, my current quest (of too many) is pondering if/why Utopia has disappeared from the dialog of the masses, and why social fervor is missing from youth. And curious why the only lefties in my workplace are .. old.
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