History for Another Time

Lawrence Joseph

It was, of course,
impossible to have predicted the economic
cycle had peaked, perhaps the most . . .
what’s the word? remarkable?—
perhaps the most remarkable period
in the history of capitalism. A little over
a three-hundred-seventeen point drop in the Dow
in one day, only a few points recovery the day after that.
Here was an item—forty-five-ish,
tall, with wire-frame glasses,
curly gray hair, his background
is in cable. He says
he has his visions. HorizontalNet
establishes separate Web sites
or horizontal portals—hortals he calls them—
for the waste management industry. Incidentally,
he wonders, do I have any idea how easy it is
to convert a digital watch into a timer?—
that all you’ve got to do is use
lightbulb filaments to ignite cotton
soaked in nitrocellulose, and you’ve got yourself
a detonated bomb.

Look, it’s on the record.
When asked to explain a personal motive
he may have had for the war, the President
unzipped his fly, took out his quite sizable member,
and replied, “Motive? You want my personal motive?
My personal motive is right here.”
A massacre of eight-hundred thousand
during the last hundred days is reported.
A rumor the rat is the newest unit of currency.
A skull, a child’s shoe, stick out of the rubble in a room
on the church grounds where the dead
number over ten thousand. Rain-soaked mattresses,
lampshades, rotting piles of clothing
in heaps inside artillery-shelled houses.
Rats, I think I said, are being considered
as the unit of currency by the new government.

Pressure is what
it’s about, and pressure’s incalculable—
which eludes the historian. For a charge
of ten percent above the official rates,
weapons of every caliber can be supplied
from any country, be it North or South American,
Asian, or European. The whole world sells arms
through this consortium. Implements for killing
are among the most lucrative of commodities.
Supposedly, he and his son, and his son’s
associates, have a sort of de facto monopoly
on the banana trade with Iran, linking his family
with the present occupants of the Baabda Palace.
That disturbance had no clear perimeter.
While some streets appeared safer than others,
there really was nowhere to hide. By midday
bands of looters were moving in waves
toward the small strip of shopping centers.
At one point men and women on the street
screamed, a red, seventies-vintage Cadillac
careened down the boulevard, its occupants
sitting on the edges of opened car windows
brandishing axes, the sky still bright at this end
of the city, the smoke and the sirens miles away,
at least for the time being. It is—it always is—
beginning again. It’s unreal, the extent to which
all political discourse is the same. Legal relations
arising out of economic relations—Engels, isn’t it?
I can’t remember where I read it. Let me see
if I can remember. These days it’s child’s play
to figure out how things worked, as Brecht did—
in phase one, competitive capital,
or phase two, imperialism—to find the metaphors
to express it. Each phase had its machines
(in phase one, steam-driven motors, electric
or combustion motors in phase two) and its critical
structure (realism in the first phase, modernism
in the second). The present phase,
with its electronic and its nuclear-powered motors—
the era of after, or postmodernism—has proven
more difficult to configure. Its characteristic
machine, the computer, contains no emblematic
power. You can no more describe the heart
of a computer than the heart of a multinational
corporation. What’s at the heart of a global
network of microcircuits? What is ancient
isn’t what is chronologically the oldest
but that which emerges from the innermost
laws of time. Imagining how the universe
made its “quantum leap from eternity into time.”
The universe bringing itself into being
by the accumulation of trillions upon trillions
of quantum interactions, the universe,
microscopically, forced by itself into being,
the consequence of which is that the past has no existence
except in the present. If the creation
of the universe happens outside time,
it must happen all the time, the big bang
here and now, the foundation of every instant . . .
The sudden breaking and tearing of space . . .
That ancient story, how they, in the combining
of their forms, in the necessity and logic
of purest form, in the logic of a dream—
the dimensions are inverted, and that place,
immense, is small now, the two of them
a dot on the red horizon. Neither seriousness
nor laughter is much help, either. You need only
be approached by one of the beggars
in Pennsylvania Station to see that certain rules
prevail in our midst. Still I,
for one, don’t condone cut off ears . . .

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