Soros And The European Poetry Crisis
Billionaire hedge fund manager and democracy advocate George Soros recently received the social media equivalent of a standing ovation from the world of finance. Instead of remaining in charts and data, or even in their value synthesis re: analyzing Europ’s sovereign debt crisis, he did what few money men had (and none in his position) done: he effectively used a metaphor. It was the kind of poetry that moves markets.
“Bubble” is a common enough term in popular finance, but it lacks a quantitative definition. It’s an existential state, or a spiritual one: a bloating, a swelling of the imagination glands (Dickensian?), a cultural feast that becomes a fiscal implosion. We fondly remember the Tech Bubble. We feel the presence of ghosts and of animated furniture (Marx?). Here’s what Soros wrote about on his personal blog (yes – indeed dear readers) . To be completely fair, he was reblogging his speech from the Festival of Economics in Trento Italy – but this is what “went viral”:
I contend that the European Union itself is like a bubble. In the boom phase the EU was what the psychoanalyst David Tuckett calls a “fantastic object” – unreal but immensely attractive. The EU was the embodiment of an open society –an association of nations founded on the principles of democracy, human rights, and rule of law in which no nation or nationality would have a dominant position.
The process of integration was spearheaded by a small group of far sighted statesmen who practiced what Karl Popper called piecemeal social engineering. They recognized that perfection is unattainable; so they set limited objectives and firm timelines and then mobilized the political will for a small step forward, knowing full well that when they achieved it, its inadequacy would become apparent and require a further step. The process fed on its own success, very much like a financial bubble. That is how the Coal and Steel Community was gradually transformed into the European Union, step by step.
Soros see the poetry of this “fantastic object,” this Idea of Greater Europe. And now, maybe we all see it. This poetry condenses the crisis, stocks exert downward pressure, and we economists of language try to bet on how far into the void the average worker can go.
It’s the idea that a capital democracy can function outside of national traditions, or rather, that idea that it can’t.
Enter Sam, a writer from – I think it’s worth mentioning – the UK, a strangely remote part of Greater Europe. Sam writes a book that, he confesses to me, takes on a somewhat opportunistic exploration into the concept of “austerity “- the main buzzword associated with the social consequences of this crisis. His book of poems is about a hundred pages. It’s personal. It’s dark. It features innovative use of the phrase “The New Sincerity.” It lacks the clarity and the actionable doom of Soros.
From the UK, there is this kind of critical distance that might double for an academic posture. Well, it has for a millennia. Sam is like, doing this time-tested thing with his writing that seems to examine the granular existence under this break up of the Europe Dream. His project is conservative, but also honest. The craft is dense and it goes right to the problem of being an artist in a world with really pressing issues that art doesn’t (and can’t) directly address:
In 3 years I have been awarded
£48,000 by various funding bodies
councils and publishing houses
for my contributions to the art
and I would like to aknowledge
the initiatives put in place
by the government and the rigorous
assesment criteria under which
my work has thrived since 2008
And that first section of the first poem in the first chapter starts the book. There is trouble at the center of this lifestyle, both in the academic experience, and the experiences outside of that institution – what was called the underground art world, but is now just ‘the cool parts of the internet’ – the 2/3rds virtual world of smart, slick people, ambition, dead ends, despair, and yes: small bits of fame, fortune, recognition. This crisis touches the paradise of elite culture. Europe is burning for a lot of personal reasons. Maybe poetry really does have something to do with it.
Sam’s debt crisis is less of a bubble and more of a fog – but not psedo-literary London fog of beggars and detectives ‘going steampunk’ for eternity on the page – more a fog of war, youth, knowledge, and a brand of post-Marxism (not all that rigorous – maybe I should coin the phrase chillmarx, but I won’t) that I found to be as depressing as it probably is relevant. I’m obviously a Marxist, and I was disturbed by parts of this book in a way that I’m not usually distubed. Historical/academic Marxism is typically, for me, a durable philosophy.
So yeah, I read most of the book at my desk at the ad agency, and it was good.
I wanted it all to be a little more accessible – the kind of shit that would be passed around Tumblr, like a Two Girls One Cup of poetry. Soros, but not just for hedge fund managers. The Dark Knight reads from his Twitter account level-shit, etc.
But what I want isn’t necessarily the best thing for Greater Europe. So, maybe we should take some time and actually figure this one out.