Exploring the intersections of ecology, technology, and ideology: Marx, machines, Gibson, and Shanghai.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Marxist hotdoggin'


Marxist hotdoggin’

A micro-chapter of sheer genius and zaniness in Spook Country. From reading interviews with him, William Gibson’s background in literary theory and criticism is clear, though more often than not he emphasizes ideas on Interpretation, reveling in the multiplicity generated by every reader interface as well as his own writerly interfaces through writings and revisings. In the documentary film about him, No Maps for These Territories, he references Fredric Jameson, but only as a glancing mention of postmodernism. In Pattern Recognition, Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard, Lacan, Jameson, and Habermas make a somewhat superficial appearance, and in such a context that one cannot ascertain Gibson’s relationship with literary and critical theories (67). Not surprising in itself as Gibson seems to cultivate an authorial presence constituted by the absence of positions/commitments.

The appearance of critical theory in Spook Country, while still without disclosing an authorial position, is absolutely yet subtly hilarious. In Chapter 26, entitled “Gray’s Papaya,” the NSA-like figure known only as Brown takes his hostage-translator, Milgrim, for a Recession Special at the famous hotdog stand in New York City, for which the chapter is named. This is the one place where Brown relaxes enough to talk to Milgrim about matters other than barked demands for translation services:

“He’d have the nonalcoholic pina colada with his franks and lay out the origins of cultural Marxism in America. Cultural Marxism was what other people called political correctness, according to Brown, but it was really cultural Marxism, and had come to the United States from Germany, after World War II, in the cunning skulls of a clutch of young professors from Frankfurt. The Frankfurt School, as they’d called themselves, had wasted no time in plunging their intellectual ovipositors repeatedly into the unsuspecting body of old-school American academia. Milgrim always enjoyed this part; it had an appealing vintage sci-fi campiness to it, staccato and exciting, with grainy monochrome Eurocommie star-spawn in tweed jackets and knit ties, breeding like Starbucks.” ---p.126

What could be more brilliant than a right-wing American ranting about the dreadful invasion of the benignly capitalist America by the Frankfurt School with his mouth full of frankfurter, that German-born sausage which migrated from similar origins as Adorno and colleagues to become a primary food synecdoche for Americanness in its hotdog avatar! As such, the passage bears a complex resonance of global cultural (in)fusions, of dubious claims to origin, authenticity, and signification. The character Brown stands in for the debilitating blindness that accompanies a total readiness to simplify history, to simplify processes and the formations of subcultures. As a lateral thought here—one could easily hold up John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath as a highly influential literary sample of, albeit naively conceptualized, cultural Marxism arising from sites other than the Frankfurt School; not only that, but it intersects with the recession-element of the Spook Country passage as well as offering myriad detailed scenes of food preparation—flipping burgers was the equivalent to erotica in literature and film for early works during and immediately following as reflections on the Depression. Further out on the lateral vector--don't forget Pink's in David Lynch's Mulholland Drive. Back from that lateral, within a novel by the foremost contemporary speculative-fiction theorizer of the formation of subcultures, this depiction of a rightist conceptualization of cultural Marxism in America is a brilliantly twisted reflexive moment that causes a spatio-temporal pause within Spook Country—what might at first seem a throwaway chapter of perhaps ‘found’ dialogue becomes a node for interpreting the novel itself, and one with fantastic imagery and a hearty laugh!


Dissertation Prospect--

Critical Hotdogs: Significant Wieners in 20th Century American Literature and Film

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