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We have had a place in the universe since it occurred to the first of our species to ask what that place might be.

—Marilynne Robinson, Absence of Mind (2010)

 

Over the last few nights, half-longing for sleep, I’ve seen Lisa as she was at 14, the two of us almost side by side, about to take the front steps of East Hampton High School for the first time.

RK CornfieldYou’ve been awfully quiet today. What’s up?

I’ve been thinking of my attraction to bardo spaces. The in-between places. I suppose I’ve been dancing there since my early 20s when I left organized religion and began formally pursuing the visual and literary arts. An early exhibit of oils and monotypes called Between featured quasi-mythological, autobiographical figures knee-deep to chest-high in water, both on land and at sea at once. Looking back, it isn’t a surprise that ten years later I would begin seriously studying Tibetan Buddhism where this concept of the between figures prominently. It’s a natural fit for me. Any philosophy that makes a practice out of living beyond duality and with the concept of both/and feels like home.

Scott Timberg, writing for Salon, with a compelling essay on the financial struggles of America’s creative class:

Neil Young and Bruce Springsteen write anthems about the travails of the working man; we line up for the revival of “Death of a Salesman.” John Mellencamp and Willie Nelson hold festivals and fundraisers when farmers suffer. Taxpayers bail out the auto industry and Wall Street and the banks. There’s a sense that manufacturing, or the agrarian economy, is what this country is really about. But culture was, for a while, what America did best: We produce and export creativity around the world. So why aren’t we lamenting the plight of its practitioners? Bureau of Labor Statistics confirm that creative industries have been some of the hardest hit during the Bush years and the Great Recession. But  when someone employed in the world of culture loses a job, he or she feels easier to sneer at than a steel worker or auto worker.

Just before and throughout my time in graduate school I worked at a bookstore. It wasn’t a local bookstore. It was a big chain, and one of the pleasures of working in a big chain bookstore (there are a few) is recognizing just how many different types of readers are out there. Sure, chains are, to a certain extent, a bit soul-sucking. Chains don’t try to promote the same sense of self-satisfaction that local bookstores tend to do. Go into a local bookstore and you are suddenly part of a self-congratulatory community of people who think they are better than everyone else because they are such avid readers they seek out specialty books.You have your elite bookstores where you find specially brewed eight dollar cappuccinos and second-hand chairs that look a whole lot more comfortable than they actually are, as well as books that cost a heck of a lot more money than if you went to a chain. In these places you pay for the experience of feeling like a smart member of a smug elite. Another type of local bookstore you may have experienced is a “second hand” bookstore. People who go to these types of bookstores are also part of a smug elite, but they are, unfortunately, poor members of that elite. People who habitually visit these kinds of bookstores claim they love books so much they don’t even care what it is they are reading. They go in and walk out with a pile of ten books, each which has looked as though it has survived some kind of fire-the pages are yellowed, the covers are torn. This seems to somehow cement the fact that the books are important, that they’ve survived so many hardships, even though half of the books people walk out with in these stores are pretty terrible-–hardware manuals, guides to pregnancy from the ‘40s, outdated medical supply guides. But people who visit these types of bookstores are less interested in content than aesthetics (even though no one will admit to that).

I’ve often heard it said that “there is no such thing as a communist Igbo”, a reference to our intense mercantile culture. Somewhat like stereotype of Lebanese, we’ve tended to structure our very existence around what we can sell, and in this 419 age, sometimes what we can con out of others. Ok, before I get an earful, of course that’s just in reference to a handful of petty thug “areaboy” “yahoozees.”

Sometimes in my disgust for the roaring Supercapitalism that exploded out of Reaganomics, and Clinton’s deregulation of capital markets, I’ve taken comfort in the adage about my birthright to capitalism. They got be the ones fucking it up because my market gods (led by the Goddess Ahiajioku) don’t make no mistakes. And yes, my market gods had about enough, and all you have to to is check the news for the overdue actuarial apocalypse. The derivatives deluge. Head for the arks! Or never mind, it’s not really that bad.

The public radio show Marketplace put out a call for poems with an economic theme for April (so-called “National Poetry Month”). But as April winds up, 6 months deep into the implosion of global capital, the one poem seems painfully obvious. It’s well enough known, but I believe it’s  never been well enough understood.

“Canto XLV” (“With Usura”) — Ezra Pound