Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Weather & Book Report

The Korean lilacs are still blooming. I like them because they bloom after the French lilacs. They are less spectacular by far, but they meet my need for another week or two of lilacs. I don't have that sudden sense of loss: no more lilacs for a year. Instead, I have a little reprieve, thanks to the small bushes with pale, lavender-pink blossoms.

It's raining a lot. I looked at pictures of flooding yesterday: Wisconsin, Iowa and farther south, levees breaking and fields full of water.

I like rain and have been wearing a neat new clouds-and-lightning pin I bought while at Wiscon. But maybe this is too much rain.

I read Gregory Frost's fantasy Shadow Bridge and recommend it. It's set in a world that is mostly ocean, except for scattered islands. People live on a giant bridge. As you travel along the bridge, you go from city to city and culture to culture. So far (there is going to be a sequel) we don't know how the bridge came into existence. I don't think we need to know. The heroine is a story teller, who tells her stories with shadow puppets. There are stories embedded in the novel.

I like embedded stories a lot.

I also read Limbo, a nonfiction book about working class kids who get an education and move into the middle class and how difficult it is for them to cross class boundaries.

The middle class described in the book is not the one I know and knew as a kid. The author was troubled by which fork to use. I have never figured this out. Maybe I come from the one-fork middle class, and he encountered the many-forks middle class.

My middle class wrote books and made art and cared about social justice a lot more than forks.

I gave the book to Patrick, who came out of the Detroit blue collar working class. I think you could argue that he's middle class now. His job is professional. But he spent most of his adult life working front line jobs in hospitals or driving a truck, while -- at the same time -- reading Wittgenstein and Elaine Pagels. His comment on the book was, "The guy is really beating the issue to death. Life goes on, and you have different experiences. So what?"

But Patrick works in the nonprofit world and knows a lot of people concerned with social justice; and he knows my friends who are writers. So I guess we could say he has moved into the one-fork middle class. That may be less traumatic.

Who the hell cares which fork you use? They all work. What matters is art and justice.


Blogger Josh said...

Ah, it sounds like what the author styles "middle class" is what's more often called "middlebrow." People who, thanks to the mystification of class in this society, think there's some secret to social climbing that involves "rules" they have to get just right, or a whole system of signs that they're being denied access to. These people are often at the lower end of, or just outside, the class they feel themselves destined for (middle or upper) and end up investing in a highly idealized version of norms concerning propriety and status, which real aristocrats (Howard Dean, George Bush) actually don't care about.

Remember The Cultural Front? Michael Denning summarizes the position Bourdieu ascribes to the middlebrow, aka culture moyenne: “Middlebrow culture, Bourdieu argues, is the culture of the autodidact. The autodidact is one who takes the game of culture too seriously and is thus liable to know too much or too little . . . The culture of the middlebrow is always a culture of pretension . . . “ (393). These people are deeply invested in what the newspapers tell them are the right cultural markers; they buy the Guide to Contemporary Fiction to learn what to say about Updike.

Taking the game too seriously puts one in the two-fork class; more generally, such adherence to the rules –the imaginary competence that Bourdieu calls “allodoxia”– is a natural corollary to the position of the frustrated swells who believe that they could rise by their own merits if only they knew “the rules” that they have not been told.

12:12 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm from the south even blue collar working class is aware of forks.
About this weather I feel as though I'm living in Kim Stanley Robinson's Forty Signs of Rain.

9:28 AM  
Blogger Josh said...

The South must be a big, diverse place then, Theresa: Rebecca has the most disturbing table manners of anyone (outside my family) I've ever dined with.

1:12 PM  

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