- Wild Captioning
What follows is an attempt to address an unruly array of ideas and experiences related to a rough triad of concerns and involvements:
The first component of this triad I’ll cite is the rapidly escalating crisis confronting public education and, more generally, all sectors of the public sphere. This crisis has come to a head in a number of places throughout the world, including, and somewhat early on, in my home state of California, where severe cuts to budgets for public education have been “necessitated” by a large-scale economic downturn. This crisis, brought on by factors within capitalist investment strategies, has been manipulated to justify a capitalist takeover of the public sphere, and especially education, which is seen as a potential site for new investment, and hence profit-making, opportunities. The first victims of the privatization effort are those that remain public. The result is what might be called third-world conditions in K–12 classrooms (though it should be noted that, as soon as development has made any notable progress in nations in the third world, one of the first areas to receive increased funding and other kinds of support is education), and enormous tuition increases (the University of California’s tuition was increased by 40 percent in 2010) coinciding with a radical [End Page 279] downsizing of all three of the state’s public higher educational systems (community colleges, state universities, and the UC, with its ten campuses). The University of California is being persuaded by the business leaders who serve as its governing Board of Regents to restructure itself along corporate models; efficiency is the watchword of the moment.
A second element in my triad of concerns is what Fredric Jameson has called the “Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism.” Attempting to understand what that logic entails—its grounds, and the ideas and activities and works that flow from it—is an obvious corollary to my ongoing, active involvement in the anti-privatization, pro-public movement that has developed at UC Berkeley—a fight against staff and worker layoffs, the shrinkage of selected programs and departments, the tuition hikes, the curtailment of library hours, not to mention the selling off of one of the major library collections. But my interest in the cultural logic of late capitalism—the logic of postmodernism—is also a corollary of my literary interests, as a teacher and as a writer.
This brings me to my third area of interest, which I term late style with reference to Theodor Adorno’s essay “Late Style in Beethoven” and Edward Said’s posthumously published book On Late Style. Late style, as I understand it, enters aesthetic practice either late in the biological life of an artist or late in the cultural life of a society, and it is characterized by a release of an unmanageable overflow or surfeit of material into a work that can barely contain it. This could describe many, and perhaps most, of the important artistic works of the past thirty or more years—the major artistic works since, let’s say, the economic recession of 1973. (As an aside, I will note that in what follows, implicitly and at one point explicitly, a suggestion is made that events that occurred on September 11, 2001, produced another threshold, and cultural workers who have crossed it have worked differently since. My sense—vague and uncorroborated by hard evidence—is that a liberatory, open-ended, nonjudgmental [though no doubt overly appropriative] ethos—that of postmodernism in its positive manifestations—is giving way to something less generous or capacious under pressure of a yearning for dependable paradigms, stable fundamentals, and believable [End Page 280] authorities. The public willingness to give apparent safety priority over secured civil liberties may be evidence of such a shift.)
So—this essay rests, however precariously, on a triad of personal investments: in the maintenance of social systems to support the flourishing of all elements that contribute to the public good; in the attempt to understand the immediate political, economic, and social forces in play in the milieu in which I live and work; and in attempts to explore the possibilities and...