Sunday, 18 January 2009

Post- Post- Thatcherism?

If you can forgive him the Euston Manifesto for a moment, there's an interesting and in many ways correct piece by Nick Cohen in today's Observer on class and the credit crunch. Okay, so the bit about identity politics at the end is rather Daily Mail, but I think the symptomatic nature of the article is what is most interesting: once again, we see a (broadly) leftist journalist present the economic crisis as what Homer Simpson once called a 'crisetunity'.

So, in the comments section on Cohen's blog I note that one respondent has talked about an imminent return to 'proper politics'. Having worked as a university tutor for three years, I feel in a position to gauge the distance between where we were eighteen months ago and something resembling 'proper politics': it was huge. Middle-class students in Humanities are, and there is ample historical proof of this, a more than adequate political thermometer. But 'politics', even to my brightest students, is nearly always a question of social vetos and quibbles about 'authenticity' (identity politics writ small and reinscribed into the pseudo-culture of independent music.) Whimsicality tended to happen in place of discontent. Humanities undergraduates often live a life of antifolk records and knitting circles based on the quasi-political scenes in the Pacific Northwest: they tend to steer clear of challenging cultural forms in favour of those that are soothing and faux naive. I've frequently made the case on here that the likes of Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer, and the late David Foster Wallace are the representative authors of this mindset, which - understandably, of course - wants humanism so badly that they are prepared to fly in the face of a welter of available evidence. The correlative of this is that this desire for humanism, for 'only connecting', becomes, in its lack of critical rigour, a co-conspirator with those agendas that want to make homey, artisan, 'niceness' into one more income stream. Maybe modernism needs to be taught on the proviso that it is much more difficult to turn Finnegan's Wake into a marketable lifestyle choice than it is to perform a similar trick with the authenticity-driven Mcsweeneys generation.*

I guess the point I'm trying to make here is to ask whether we are yet in a position to try and anticipate positive outcomes of the Crunch. What price a renewed inquisitiveness and social conscience amongst undergraduates, for example? If they make their cultural and political choices, as I suspect they do, on a conviction that the post-9/11 world is simply too threatening to take any notice of if you have the facility to ignore it, what happens when that facility is removed? Is Blairism-Thatcherism finally going to become subject to a popular critique of its theoretical base, rather than limited interventions aimed at its particular manifestations?

* Of course, it's entirely possible that the CC and its attendant politics has very little to do with fictional form and the sociology of reading, but that's just the grain these posts tend to follow...

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