Well, if you’re Joshua Clover, you certainly don’t wear socks, or at least that is the wardrobe decision he shared at the last Humanities On the Edge lecture at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. His question was, do we live in an age of exceptional crisis, and is crisis part of the structure of capitalism. Certainly, modern capitalism is seeded with crisis. Business cycles expand and contract, and during the bust, we are craving the boom, and during the boom, we fear the bust of the bubble. The housing market. Bear-Stearns. Lehman Brothers. Shorted puts. Collateralized debt obligations. All of these things are the poison pills to the economy. We are conditioned to this grasping, desperate participation in an economy that is rather like Fortuna’s wheel. One day we are at the top, the next, crushed under its weight.
Clover yearns for an end or at least a resolution of this continual cycle that enslaves people to its whims. Such a destructive end can be found in the riots and looting of the Occupy movement in 2009-2010. But wait. The port of Oakland was shut down by a strike. And yet it is still functioning today. Walmart has been hit by strikes and protests. And yet we can still buy scads of cheap plastic crap there. What happened to the revolution? Are we just more aware of our enslavement, or is our submission so total that we cannot see a way out?
Nostalgic yearning for a successful revolution forms the backbone of Clover’s collection of poetry, The Totality for Kids (University of California Press, 2006). Here, fueled by OxyContin and Google maps, Clover enjoys a schizophrenic Deleuzian cruise through the streets of Paris, waxing nostalgic for the riots and strikes of May 1968. He wants to join the kids of the Situationist movement, and he conjures their ghosts in one final dérive, drifting through le quartier St. Germain, over to the Eiffel Tower, then to the Rue des Blancs Manteaux, all the while alluding to poets and musicians–Apollinaire, Emily Dickinson, Elliott Smith, Hole, Joy Division. Not only do you feel like he knows them, you feel like he’s judging you because you don’t know them. You feel like you’re stuck at a cocktail party with him where you keep sipping your wine and nodding knowingly, hoping that he doesn’t grock that you think he’s a shameless namedropper. Then you notice that he’s not wearing socks.
The point of reliving May 1968 in this nostalgic wandering is perhaps to point out how impossible it is for such a revolution to happen in Paris today. Paris today is infused with money: money from culture, money from art, money from tourism, money from just being Paris. The transformation of the city by Haussmann in the mid-19th century has made it impossible to man the barricades. What are you going to barricade? The Champs Elysée? The Rue de Rivoli? Everything’s too wide, only the Marais has those labyrinthian streets and alleys that the revolutions of 1830 and 1832 exploited. And besides. Who wants to see the Louvre burned or the Eiffel Tower taken down with dynamite à la Gilles Ivain? The riots? Those are in the suburban ghettos of Nanterre and St. Denis. Why didn’t Clover drift over there? What, is the Place Nelson Mandela not aesthetic enough for him?
During the Humanities on the Edge lecture, Clover assured us, “Hey, cars are going to burn.” I guess you gotta break some eggs if you want an omlette au fromage. His Situationist sentimentality makes him look fake, like a poseur who is all, hey, do you know my friend Chris Nealon who listens to Elliott Smith? Hey, have you heard Hole? Hey, so last week I was up at St. Suplice and. . . Josh. You’re trying too hard. Go meet some of those kids in Nanterre, in St. Denis, in Longwy, in Metz, in Thionville. Start that revolution there, and see it spread, because they’re ready and waiting for you, and they’re not interested in dropping the names of hipsters and profs. The profs don’t like them.