Tuesday, February 16th, 2010

On Joshua Clover’s 1989

From the latest issue of The Progressive, here’s a teaser for my review of Joshua Clover’s new book 1989: Bob Dylan Didn’t Have This To Sing About:

What can popular music really do? Can it topple walls, stop tanks, unleash hope and change? Or are those powers really just a mass delusion, simply another part of the sale? For centuries the question of culture’s influence has occupied poets, philosophers, even those disposed to the sordid arts of politics. At the start of a new decade, poet-philosopher-activist Joshua Clover finds them worth reexamining in his dense, provocative, wonderfully written little book, 1989: Bob Dylan Didn’t Have This To Sing About.

In 1989, the scope of global events suggested political change on a scale unseen since 1968. The new expansiveness in pop music seemed to sound out a perceptual change as well. Something new was happening in what Clover calls “the unconfined, unreckoned year,” but exactly what?

Forests of hagiographies have long since taken the riddle and blood out of 1968. 1989 presents a different kind of capstone, one that leaves the left in a quandary. For the 1980s were the decade that the North American left never wanted. They remain critically under-examined, as if they were better forgotten.

But in neocon narratives, those years are carried as if on a wind of inevitability. Borrowing Raymond Williams’s startling turn of phrase, Clover is interested in describing “structures of feeling.” And the feel of 1989 was captured by Francis Fukuyama’s wacky “end of history” thesis, in which he posited from cascading global events that history had finally collapsed into the eternal truth of “the Western Idea”—World Liberal Capitalism (itself the flattening of two different subjects, “liberal democracy” and “global capitalism”).

Intellectuals love “end of” narratives: “the end of liberalism,” “the end of Black politics,” “the end of irony.” But these stories, even when nostalgic and ridden with regret and loss, are almost always rigid and triumphal. Clover takes this as a given. To him, the fact that history did carry on after the Fall of the Berlin Wall is barely worthy of comment (although this means he also misses an opportunity to cite the lyrics of Soul II Soul’s fine ’89 hit, “Keep On Movin’ ”).

But the popularity of certain “end of” narratives fascinates him, because they capture a mass consciousness, “a way of knowing.” Clover links the functions of pop music and what might be called pop history. So OK, it may be true that we live in an age of iPod isolation where smart pop criticism has retreated into microgenre formalism and an age of tabloid capitalism where the cult of celebrity eclipses even the most fashionable forms of materialist analysis. (These phenomena may be better known by their names “The iTunesification of Everything” and “The Cornel West Dilemma.”) But Clover doesn’t allow the reader to sweep all of that into a dustbin called “false consciousness” and walk away from the masses. Instead, he wants to clarify the real stakes of culture.

Clover is an acclaimed poet who may be best known for his music and film criticism. He is also an 89er who was shaped indelibly by the left movements of the era—from anti-apartheid and Central American solidarity to the AIDS crisis and anti-racism to the anti-corporate globalization movements. (Most recently, he has been a key faculty leader in the broad movement against the University of California’s budget cuts and fee increases.) But Clover holds serious doubts about pop music’s ability to “herald a new political awareness,” the notion—to borrow (and tweak slightly) Jacques Attali’s famous dictum—that music can be prophecy…

+ Buy the magazine or subscribe here.

+ Buy the book here.

posted by @ 5:46 am | 1 Comment

Thursday, February 4th, 2010

Why You (Still) Can’t Get CSWS On Amazon

First thing to say is that work on these two books has been kicking my ass. I’ll admit it has been easier to tweet than blog. I’ll also want to say that it sucks that this is the topic to get me back up on the blog, since I still have some much better posts I’ve been trying to get up in a while.

But since I know many of you have been trying to get a copy of CSWS this week in paperback or for the Kindle, especially since semesters have been starting back up, I thought I should try to give a brief backgrounder on what’s going on.

In essence, the publishing industry is now publicly through what the music industry went through about a decade ago when technology began catching up with it. Distribution has changed drastically, a development accelerated by the Amazon Kindle and these past two weeks by Apple’s iPad. There’s so much more that needs to be said about this but I need to beg off for now. I think the right time will come soon.

Specifically, here’s what’s up. My publisher St. Martin’s Press is part of one of publishing’s Big Six Companies. (Yes, Chinatown scholars, the Six Companies…) It’s an imprint of Macmillan. On the other side is Amazon. What Amazon has done is to reduce the distribution chain to…pretty much Amazon. And it has begun to act as a publisher in recent months, trying to strike deals with authors directly.

Publishers have been up in arms–over a range of issues, not least of which is Amazon’s threat of poaching, but the one important frontline to this is the fight over pricing. Amazon has priced e-books at $9.99 and publishers want more. For years, publishers have received an average of $25 for hardcover titles. (Hardcovers are released at least a year or so before the titles move to paperback.)

E-books eliminate paper costs and distribution costs, so prices should be lower. (Royalties are another frontline, and an important question…for another post.) But many also believe that Amazon has been taking an L on each e-book sold in order to advance market share for the Kindle. Publishers can’t abide that for long. (Check how they reacted last year to the price wars involving Amazon, Wal-Mart and Target…)

And after the introduction of the iPad two weeks back, discussions intensified over pricing. Apple offered the Six Companies a range between $12.99 and $14.99. Macmillan went to Amazon and demanded the e-book prices be raised to the equivalent. Amazon balked.

Macmillan then told Amazon it would treat its e-books similar to the way it treats paperbacks–it would offer them at a much later date than the hardcover releases.

Amazon went nuclear. Last Friday afternoon they retaliated by pulling all of Macmillan’s titles in all editions from their website. (more…)

posted by @ 11:22 am | 3 Comments

Previous Posts

Feed Me!






Come follow me now...


We work with the Creative Commons license and exercise a "Some Rights Reserved" policy. Feel free to link, distribute, and share written material from cantstopwontstop.com for non-commercial uses.

Requests for commercial uses of any content here are welcome: come correct.

Creative Commons License