Editor's Choice

Als sie die Banker holten, habe ich geschwiegen; ich war ja kein Banker

All of John Quiggin's essays on economic doctrines now refuted by the current crisis are worth reading. It illustrates well how rationalizing ideology is generated to paper over contradictions, unsustainable imbalances, and inevitable reckonings.

In his most recent post, about trickle-down theories, Quiggin predicts a reemergence of class struggle in the wake of economic failure. He concludes:

Politically, the failure of the trickle-down theory seems likely to produce a resurgence of the class-based politics pronounced dead in the era of economic liberalism. The contrast between the enforced austerity of any recovery period, and the massive, and massively unjustified, excesses of the financial elite during the boom period, will produce a political environment where phrases like “malefactors of great wealth” no longer seem quaint and old fashioned.
It's tempting to cheer this development as long overdue. But when we turn to politics merely out of dissatisfaction and disgruntlement (our chance at unfettered consumerism is receding!) rather than a habit of civic duty, the danger of reactionary policies and demagoguery increase dramatically. Class-based critique is not automatically demagoguery, as conservatives assert, but in a country that has had a hard time acknowledging the existence of a "power elite" and that can be complacent about the ideals of social mobility and equality of opportunity, class-based politics can quickly devolve into the more familiar forms of American ressentiment: racism, nationalism, anti-intellectualism, and so on.

Literary critic Walter Benn Michaels makes a similar point about the disappearance of class from public debate, arguing that novelists tend to focus on those same forces of ressentiment and congratulate ourselves on our moral clarity in rejecting them, instead of looking at, say, poverty and our complicity in perpetuating it.

So maybe it’s time to forget about the Holocaust for a while and focus on the free market instead, to stop congratulating ourselves on being against genocide and to start questioning what it means to be for free trade. Although it doesn’t appear anywhere on the Times’s list [of the best novels of the past 25 years], Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho is a far better novel than most of the ones that do, and the Psycho’s self-consoling reminder, “I am rich—millions are not,” has the merit of problematizing the upper middle class’s sense of its virtue rather than, like Roth and Morrison, pandering to it.

Basically, prejudices are easier to accept and use than the hard facts about the tenacity of social class and how privilege is preserved at a more fundamental economic level. When a country that rejects class as a category has to acknowledge its real existence as a malign social force, outlandish ideologies can start to emerge. During boom times, consumer capitalism insulates us from politics, keeps the bulk of us in a stupor of self-centered individualism. When the boom ends, we generally lack the competence to engage in democratic politics in a way that's consistent with the ideals we had been taking for granted. Suddenly feeling vulnerable, we lunge at anything that might promise to punish the forces that disrupted our fever dream of hedonism. The lunatic-fringe ideas that have been gathering in world's unkempt corners like so much lint can be swept up together and take substantial form; reasonable people, bewildered by heretofore unthinkable institutional failures, may find them suddenly plausible.

No doubt financiers have been over compensated and reckless; their myopic selfishness has damned us to several years of difficult readjustment that many in no way deserve. The difficulty will fall hardest on those who prospered least during the bubble. But the financiers weren't acting out of spite or evil; they were merely enacting the logic of the system. Their behavior reflects, as Robert Reich argues here, a structural problem. If our critiques don't ascertain that, they will be futile and dangerous. Bankers will be hanged, for the wrong reasons, and those same wrong reasons will authorize a host of subsequent injustices as yet untold.

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

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Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.


20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta


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Film

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

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Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

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Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

In a staid city like Washington, D.C., too many concert programs still stick to the basics. An endless litany of Rachmaninoff and Tchaikovsky concerti clog the schedules and parades of overeager virtuosi seem unwilling to vary their repertoire for blasé D.C. concertgoers. But occasionally you encounter a concert that refreshes your perspective of the familiar. The works presented at The Kennedy Center on 25 October 2017 might be stalwarts of 20th century repertoire, but guest conductor Antonio Pappano, leading the Orchestra dell'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, reminded us how galvanizing the canonical can still be. Though grandiose executions of Respighi's The Fountains of Rome and The Pines of Rome were the main event, the sold-out crowd gathered to see Martha Argerich perform one of her showpieces, Prokofiev's Third Piano Concerto. Those who regard the reclusive Argerich as one of the world's two or three greatest living pianists—classical or otherwise—would not have left the concert hall disillusioned.

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