August 16, 2010

"No lucid demonstration of the logic and inevitableness of Socialism affects me as profoundly and convincingly..."

"... as I was affected on the day when I first saw the walls of the Social Pit rise around me and felt myself slipping down, down, into the shambles at the bottom."

53 comments:

Michael said...

Like many American "socialists" Jack London greatly appreciated the finer things. Since his large income was derived from his book sales and not from the exploitation of the worker he was able to acquire and enjoy a rather capitalistically-sized sailing vessel, a nice spread in Sonoma and some of the other perquisites preferred by limousine liberals to this very day. Good on old Jack London!!

Michael E. Lopez said...

Ah yes, the whitewashing of the radicals. I've heard this before -- the first time I heard it was in the early 90's, but it was no doubt a bit of repeated wisdom before then.

I suppose it must be some sort of bourgeois conspiracy, this "castration" of the radical. Because we know that it couldn't be that the radical ramblings of historical figures is fairly uninteresting, could it?

Andrea said...

"If you read his work today, you can see literary semen spraying across the American century as he makes possible some of the most important writers in the United States and beyond."

Um, ew. Thanks for the visual, Mr. Hari. Why is it male writers always seem to want to outdo other male writers in crude sexual imagery? I mean, he's just reviewing a book, not fucking it. I hope.

Ew.

GMay said...

"...the radical ramblings of historical figures is fairly uninteresting..."

I was gonna say 'bullshit', but "uninteresting" works too.

Montagne Montaigne said...

Time fer a good old fashioned commie book burnin! How dare they teach our kids about their socialamism. Go back to Kenya, White Fang.

John said...

I got on a Jack London Binge back in the 90's and read a lot of his more obscure stuff.

He can be a helluva writer but he also wrote some real dreck.

Martin Eden, semi-autobiographical, was pretty good.

I also recently read "Tales of the Fish Patrol" a story about life as a fish warden on SF bay. Fiction but somewhat autobiographical as he was a fish warden for a time.

And I started listening to a Librivox recording of "John Barleycorn" about his struggles with drink. It starts with him voting for women's suffrage because he thinks that will bring prohibition. That, he thinks, is the only thing that will wean him from the bottle.

John Henry

prairie wind said...

Anyone who says Call of the Wild is a "cute story about a dog" hasn't read it.

t-man/wurly/henry buck said...

C'mon. How can you not laugh at the fact that London's mother referred to him as "my badge of shame"?

I'm going to start using that with my kids.

chuck b. said...

"[H]e wrote 1,000 words a day, every day"

Nanowrimo would have been a cinch for him.

Andrea said...

By the way, this is the first I've heard of London's book White Fang being downgraded to "a cute story about a dog." I always heard (haven't read it) that it was a pretty violent, serious, downbeat story, despite it featuring a dog. And I've always heard Jack London described as an author who wrote very masculine stories about downtrodden people in brutal conditions. Though I had no idea of his politics (because I've never been interested in him so I didn't look him up) they don't surprise me in the least. A lot of people got into socialism and like philosophies because the condition of the poor and the worker really did suck, and at that time at least communists and socialists seemed to be the only ones that cared.

But I'd never heard of him being "castrated," as Hari puts it. What are they teaching in school these days?

Ignorance is Bliss said...

From the article:

And yet there is an infected scar running across his politics that is hard to ignore.

And the funny part is, this comes after describing his racical socialism, as though that was somehow healthy.

David said...

Somebody ought to check out ZBB Energy, the company that O is visiting.

It has about 50 employees total. Apparently some of these employees are overseas--can't tell how many.

ZBB has never made a dime, yet is a public company with a total market cap of $10 million. All of its markets depend on government subsidy. It's web (under construction!) site is a mess and it's "links" to annual reports and financial statements all lead to a promotional powerpoint presentation.

The CEO is Eric Apfelbach. He was previously CEO of M2E Power and Virent Energy Systems. They are both unprofitable startups.

Here's an article (press release?) announcing Eric's hiring by M2E.

At M2E Power, a renewable energy design and development company based in Boise, Idaho, Apfelbach will be responsible for leading the company through future stages of development, including the commercialization of products with military and consumer applications, including mobile electronic devices.

M2E Power touted Apfelbach's ability to raise venture capital and form industry alliances with the likes of Honda, Shell, and Cargill as he positioned Virent as a top biofuel start-up.

Apfelbach announced he was leaving Virent in late 2008 to pursue other opportunities. At Virent, he has been succeeded by veteran energy industry executive Lee Edwards.


In other words, he got bounced by Virent and went to M2E. Within less than a year, though, M2E's assets were "sold," which is a polite way of saying they went out of business. Now he's "developing jobs" in speculative energy storage markets, including the fill stations for electric cars.

Virent is still in business, still not profitable, but it just announced another "round" of financing--$46 million. Backers seem to include Cargill and Shell--both heavy hitters, but who knows how much tax subsidy, grant money, etc, is involved.

ZBB stock dropped 20% on the day of Obama's visit! Thinly traded and illiquid would be an understatement in describing its stock.

I have some questions:

How in hell does this company get the President of the United States to fly out to tout it?

Does this company have any real prospects, other than hope of a government funded brass ring?

Does O really think this kind of state subsidized capitalism is going to solve the jobs problem?

Would anyone in the news media ever look behind the press releases?

traditionalguy said...

An American original. He hated sure that cannery job. As much of a pain as he tried to be, London made sure that his life left its mark. It is evil to reject a child like he was rejected, but it sure beats murder him by abortion. Incidentally, his father was not a religious man; he was an occult spiritist type like those that Crack is at war with today.

GMay said...

"[H]e wrote 1,000 words a day, every day"

Ritmo does that in two posts.

c3 said...

I like Jack London. Clearly a tortured individual and his life would impugn his political sensibilities.

"To Build a Fire" is one of the more chilling short stories (sorry for the pun, I couldn't resist)I've read.

The sight of the dog put a wild idea into his head. He remembered the tale of the man, caught in a blizzard, who killed a steer and crawled inside the carcass, and so was saved. He would kill the dog and bury his hands in the warm body until the numbness went out of them. Then he could build another fire. He spoke to the dog, calling it to him; but in his voice was a strange note of fear that frightened the animal, who had never known the man to speak in such way before.

t-man/wurly/henry buck said...

Heck, I think Jack Nicholson's character in the shining wrote 1,000 words a day.

William said...

Spraying literary semen is tough to top as an icky metaphor. However, one must commend the concept of chopping up Edith Wharton and feeding her body to the wolves for a strong second place finish. The writer inadvertently demonstrates how difficult it is to write tough, manly prose without looking a tad silly....It was an interesting article, nonetheless. Jack London had a wretched childhood. The fact that he survived does not necessarily demonstrate the ferocity of his will to live. This will to live is not dependent on intellect or talent or passion. Many children from similar backgrounds go on to find a place in the world. People want to live, and most find a way to survive. It's no great trick.....I do respect the fact that he was able to find enough affirmation to write some books detailing his struggles. I would like to note that the article respects London's socialism and considers his racism deranged. I think London's rabid socialism and equally rabid racism were leaves of the same blighted tree. He wanted someone to blame for his misery, and he wanted to destroy them. The writer disparages London's wish to exterminate inferior races but is tacitly sympathetic to London's wish to kill the oppressor class. So it goes.

traditionalguy said...

I remember someone reading Call of the Wild to me when I was 7 years old. It scared the shit out of me with a raw, brutal story of a man lost in the artic. It was too true. We should all thank heaven for warming climate instead of cooling climate whether man or solar flares is the cause.

Hagar said...

The Jack London story I remember was about a man who intended to make his fortune by hauling 20,000 (?) eggs from Skagway to Klondike to sell during the gold rush. He succeeded by dint of inhuman efforts and sacrifice, but then discovered the eggs were all spoiled. Not a pretty story.

Scott said...

Jack London was a drunk who suffered because of his alcoholism. This is useful in understanding what motivated him.

SMGalbraith said...

"Call of the Wild" was a great book; I remember reading it as a 11-year old and being mesmerized by it, especially the end contest, and then reading everything I could find. He was enormously talented.

I knew he was an appalling anti-semite but wasn't aware that he that much of a racist.

Methadras said...

SMGalbraith said...

I knew he was an appalling anti-semite but wasn't aware that he that much of a racist.


Most socialists/communists are. Even if they happen to be semites.

bagoh20 said...

Dammit! Another artist that turns out to be, or was, an ass. What is it about ability in literature, music, acting, and other arts that so strongly correlates with asshole-ness?

Every week I learn another favorite of mine is an embarrassment. It especially hurts with the songwriters.

jgm said...

Been decades since I read John Barleycorn, but if I remember right, the supposed memoir ends when he was something like 19 years old.

The sobriety, obviously, didn't stick.

Sixty Grit said...

Truly a man ahead of his time.

Youngblood said...

"Doesn't that tale deserve to be remembered, in the end, as amounting to more than a solitary dog story?"

No. This is exactly wrong.

To the extent that we care about London's life at all, it's because of his masterpieces -- not the other way around.

The Romans had it right: Love the art, hate the artist.

TheGiantPeach said...

Hagar said...

The Jack London story I remember was about a man who intended to make his fortune by hauling 20,000 (?) eggs from Skagway to Klondike to sell during the gold rush. He succeeded by dint of inhuman efforts and sacrifice, but then discovered the eggs were all spoiled. Not a pretty story.


Seems like a pretty strong influence on Hemingway and Steinbeck, indeed.

Reading that review made me think that the American reading public of that time had a great love of angry young writers who saw life as an impossible struggle against entrenched forces (I think of Crane and Frank Norris, who, like London, never lived to be anything but young writers).

Seven Machos said...

This article is the perfect example of a Slate article that seems to try not to make any actual points. Salon does this, too.

Youngblood said...

Machos,

No! The review does have a point. Here's the summary:

"I didn't like Call of the Wild when I had to read it in high school. But my teacher never told me he was radical socialist! OK. He was a racist, too, but he was a socialist! And they don't focus on that in school, even though that makes him so much more exciting than a guy who wrote a dumb book about a dumb dog."

WV: banish -- I'd like to banish lame douchebags who believe that their shitty politics trump true artistry.

Seven Machos said...

Youngblood -- Thank you for that.

AST said...

I've heard this kind of cri de coeur before. No matter what we do, we get "leaders" and too many of them are evil, incompetent or both. I remain unconvinced that anybody but Christ had a better solution than America's founders, and his depends on each of us becoming a saint. Short of that, we need freedom and rights to offset the schemes of those who want to run roughshod over us, business, unions or government.

edutcher said...

Forget where I read it, but somewhere I came across the opinion of his friends in the Klondike that he was quite a wuss.

Montagne Montaigne said...

Time fer a good old fashioned commie book burnin! How dare they teach our kids about their socialamism. Go back to Kenya, White Fang.

No need to teach it. People will come to hate it when they see what it does to their lives.

TheGiantPeach said...

...

Reading that review made me think that the American reading public of that time had a great love of angry young writers who saw life as an impossible struggle against entrenched forces (I think of Crane and Frank Norris, who, like London, never lived to be anything but young writers).

It was the era of the Trust-Busters, after all. Frank Norris saw an eventual happy ending, unlike the others. "The Octopus" is very strong in that regard.

Ironically, he might have been known as the progenitor of the Western, if he'd lived a little longer. "The Octopus" (yes, it's a Western - one of the best) was published just a year before "The Virginian", but Norris never had a chance to follow up.

Freeman Hunt said...

Nanowrimo would have been a cinch for him.

Gotta write 50,000 words in a month for Nanowrimo. London would have to step it up.

Terry said...

While I read the article I thought:
"Why not just call London the National Socialist that he would have
been if he'd lived long enough to see the rise of Mussolini?"
In the Left/Right socialist split that occurred after Lenin's revolution it is clear that London
would have found his home on the Right. The very far Right.

Jocon307 said...

I had to post a comment regarding "To Build a Fire", which truly is a chilling story, as C3 said.

I'm sorry, there is no other way to describe it.

This story will stay with you, and scare you, FOREVER.

It is the only thing by London that I ever read.

This was a very interesting post, I guess Cali always had a large weirdo population!

victoria said...

Awesome talent, all his darkness aside. I remember a English teacher reading "Call of the Wild" to the class as a treat in 7th grade. The poetry of his words still haunt me 45 years later. I could give a damn about all the other stuff. Let's face it, prodigious talent begets a certain amount of crazy. Look at Hemmingway, Faulkner, at least a dozen of the 20th century talents. All a little off.

Really, who cares if he was a socialist, a witch or a bag man. Lovely, lovely stuff.


Vicki from Pasadena

Fred said...

In case anybody's interested, the Jack London Online Collection is here: http://london.sonoma.edu/

jamboree said...

The Black Panthers added a pink tint to their afros? (Seriously, w/o googling, I only have a very vague idea of what the Black Panthers stood for...)

Maybe it's not some rape of the revolutionary vision, but it's been because, up until now anyway, the body's immune system has been healthy enough to fight off invaders and destroyers?

Paddy O said...

London had the benefit of living in a time when socialism had not yet been proven as its own evil, and when there really was a lot of capitalism that was doing evil to a lot of people.

Both situations changed after London's death.

Growing up he was one of my favorite writers. His short stories are really great, and his lesser known longer works can be very good. People of the Abyss is a very fascinating read. So is his book on writing.

I also thought Irving Stone's "biography" of London, Sailor on Horseback, was great too.

I think it was that book which describes London as being the curious mix of committed socialist and dedicated to Nietzsche's philosophy. He was a communist who thought himself a superman.

And he had a lot of really huge frustrations at the end of his life, that because they were related to his expressions of wealth they undermined his socialism, but as they undermined him, they undercut his sense of being above the rest.

Still, a brilliant writer and a very interesting man who explored very interesting people in an interesting era.

dick said...

It is strange how racist so many of the liberals of that time were. Look at Margaret Sanger for one of the worst. She was all for eugenics and abortion but only as a means of getting rid of the blacks. Woodrow Wilson was a stone racist. So were most of the rest of the talented writers and intelligentsia of the day. How much of that part of their history is taught in our high schools and colleges today. Not much.

Chris said...

H.G. Wells was a ruthless eugenicist who believed that inferior people should be methodically put to death. Isaac Newton was a flaming nutbar alchemist, among other things. So what? We remember the great things done by great men and ignore their trivial and sometimes disappointing infatuations with bad ideas. It's interesting to know about, but it doesn't provide a particularly essential extra context that we NEED in order to understand their great achievements or thoughts.

John Lynch said...

Dude is most famous for writing a novel about a dog.

Really, Buck is his best character.

John Lynch said...

Oh yeah, "To Build a Fire."

I'll never, ever forget it.

London had it.

traditionalguy said...

Chris...Good point. H. G, Wells was into the social darwinism cult of necessary murder of masses. But why go after Sir Issac Newton? If his mind investigated ideas that were wrong, then prove him wrong. In the meantime his ideas got us to the moon and back.

John Lynch said...

I'll add this, that there was a time when American socialists were American, and could be nothing else.

Now they are just an extension of the European Left.

knox said...

Real men write about Goldendoodles.

Chris said...

Actually that was kind of my point Traditional Guy. I don't think Newton's loopy ideas detract from his genius, any more than I think London being a socialist makes him a better writer, or provide necessary backstory that we need in order to appreciate his writing. History can't record everything about everyone, so I don't think it's a tragedy that London the radical socialist got dropped. Radical socialists were - and are - a dime a dozen. Great novelists not so much. As for Newton...he could have worshipped the Great Pumpkin and we'd still remember him as the greatest scientific mind of all time.

Youngblood said...

Chris,

If you read the review, Hari doesn't claim that London's socialism made him a better writer or provided information that was key to understanding his works. He pretty much dismisses London's work entirely, instead choosing to lament that the legacy of this "angry, edgy radical" has been reduced by the "United States" to a "solitary dog story".

I met plenty of kids like him in high school, guys who would claim that the fact that the teacher glossed over Helen Keller's socialist activism as part of a capitalist plot to suppress the Left.

People who can only view the world through the myopic lens of their own politics are boring.

jimspice said...

God I hate it when bloggers just quote without any commentary. What AA, are you Boots and Sabers now?

Class factotum said...

The Jack London story I remember was about a man who intended to make his fortune by hauling 20,000 (?) eggs from Skagway to Klondike to sell during the gold rush.

Nobody can eat 50 eggs, much less 20,000.

deborah said...

Fred,
Thanks for the link to the London collection. Did we all read 'To Build a Fire' in school? Here is the link to it:

http://london.sonoma.edu/Writings/LostFace/fire.html

**Spoiler**


**Spoiler**



Funny thing about memory. My recollection was of the story ending soon after the snow fell on the fire, and that heart-sinking 'oh, shit' feeling. Didn't remember his wish to kill the dog for warmth.

Just to get an idea of the beauty of his writing, read the first couple chapters of 'White Fang.'

http://london.sonoma.edu/

Finally, I noticed at that site he had a wife. Curious that Hari made no note of her.

deborah said...

Knox, do you have a goldenoodle? If so, dish, please.

Ronnie Schreiber said...

Blogger Andrea said...

"If you read his work today, you can see literary semen spraying across the American century as he makes possible some of the most important writers in the United States and beyond."

Um, ew. Thanks for the visual, Mr. Hari. Why is it male writers always seem to want to outdo other male writers in crude sexual imagery? I mean, he's just reviewing a book, not fucking it. I hope.

Ew.


Why is that female commenters always seem to want to outdo other female writers in crude misandry?

Feh.

Andrea, when a female writes about sex I'm sure you regard it as erotica regardless of how crude the sexual imagery is.